I can write passionately and articulately about social, political, and moral issues. The media’s preoccupation with across-the-world child molesters, Senator’s bathroom habits, and the rescue of little children who’ve fallen down wells get me ranting about our seemingly endless ability to focus on the myopically sensational and tragic-yet-unimportant in life. These stories can really get me going and eager for time at the keyboard.
My theology, on the other hand, isn’t a cause I can either march or type for.
I just finished a six-week course at church designed to help us think about our personal theology. The final exercise was to write down our thoughts to share with the other class members. I learned that I have little desire to convince or enlist others in my beliefs. Putting down on paper a compendium of my take on the deepest issues raises only the shallowest of interest.
Writing makes an exact man, according to Sir Francis Bacon. But I have no desire to write theological statements more detailed than the granularity of the data they are based on. Describing life and death and God from an all-encompassing perspective creates a burden of consistency and thoroughness which I feel inadequate to meet.
My theology is informed and described by my statements on life’s topics and by how I live. I build my theology by living and by participating in communities of challenging people. Can I share this?
I enjoyed, worked, and have taken a pause from my stream-of-consciousness life with the talking, reading, and thinking about the five topics:
• Do I believe in God?
• What is the meaning of my life?
• What happens to me when I die?
• How do I find truth?
• Who am I?
Overall, I am surprised at how much I believe the Unitarian Universalist line on these issues: I know of no place to obtained the externally revealed truth, I have to puzzle out the significance of different options, and, ultimately, how I act and live is more important than discovering the Correct answer to the unknowable.
I cannot divine the answer to all these important issues based on what I can know or even reason out. If anything, I am adverse to some theologians/philosophers’ needs to take the mystery out of the center of life.
Logical 2007 science fails to win me over because of its limited knowledge, and religious tautological dogmas make me sputter, “Yes, but … !”
My failure to settle on either certain atheism or any particular spiritual wisdom is, ultimately, what’s can best be pointed to as “my theology”.
One session’s instruction to develop my personal 10 commandments grabbed me. Developing a prescription for my life has meaning and helps me find meaning, determine where I find truth, and discover who I am. And, while I cannot sculpt God or know what happens after I die, I can measure my actions against what I do know, what is true for me.
My commandments are individually-targeted “Thou shall’s” focused on our day-to-day world. Mine are more strongly phrased than the consensus class product, and less consciously universal. For example, I did not – in fact, I think, cannot – try to accommodate cultural differences. My instructions are meant to be absolute, not subject to reinterpretation according to already-defined differing beliefs.
My commandments say that Thou Shall:
1. Work actively to improve the lives of others
2. Do the greatest good for the greatest number
3. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
4. Be your neighbor’s keeper
5. Know what you don’t know
6. Exploit your life, including your mind, body, and imagination
7. Respect yourself, your neighbors, and the beings and environment around you
8. To thine own self be true
9. Judge not, but be unafraid to protect and promote life
By telling how I feel I am commanded to act to be fully human, I am telling you what I believe about truth and who I am. I am telling you what I hear God say and therefore what I know about God.
Other class exercises have been helped me examine and exchange values. The ranking of levels of charity, the building of our straw towers of Babble, the creation of our visions of God, etc. each prompted me to appreciate how other good people approach practical issues and handle them differently from me. Learning yet again that there is no One Way or One Good Action is a lesson I cannot repeat too often.
I valued the less homogeneous moments of our class. They’ve made me think, “Why do I believe people are basically good?” instead of bad. But, in general, I am struck that there wasn’t a raging theist who gets personal detailed instructions from God each night, or a Buddhist practitioner who has personally experienced spiritual depth so that they know how they must act the rest of their lives.
A dedicated follower or believer probably wouldn’t enroll in a class to build a theology that already is fleshed out.
Still, my sense of uniqueness and of standing against the cultural norm is challenged when I realize that my anti-establishment theology fits in with the dominant culture in our community.