Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Why I Like Gnostic Spirituality as a Model for UUism

Descriptions of spiritualities (like the Gnostic Spirituality described in this blog here and here) are models of course. By model I mean a representation of an idea rather than the direct experience of it.  I think models are useful if they help a person understand something better so it becomes more useful or satisfying. This is the sense in which I think that understanding UU as a religion with a largely Gnostic Spirituality viewpoint is handy for me.

UUs often struggle with the question of what makes us a religion when we don't have a creedal statement like others that we are more familiar with. I've had this difficulty myself, despite being a UU for about 20 years. I now feel that an important barrier to understanding my own faith came from having covenant spirituality as a model that I grew up with and being unable to see past it.

As a quick summary, in my wife's book "The Gnostic New Age" she describes four different Spiritualities - Servant, Covenant, Mystical, and Gnostic.  I've already talked about the Gnostic Spirituality and how that relates to UU. I won't go into detail about the descriptions of the other three, but (very simply and very roughly) the four are:

   Servant: Human beings serve powerful gods, who are wholly other, and our purpose and survival depend on figuring out how to appease them (think Ancient Greek and Roman pagan religions).
   Covenant: Human being make a covenant with a god, who is wholly other, so that the god is bound along with us to this covenant and our purpose and survival depend on keeping up our part of the deal (think Judaism and Christianity).
    Mystical: Human beings can by some method make direct contact with a god which is wholly other, and can come to know or even be transformed into that god or an image thereof.
    Gnostic: There is a transcendent god that an aspect of which is contained within the human being, and our purpose and survival depend on us nurturing that part of ourselves so that it manifests and overcomes whatever evil gods and powers are holding us down in this life.

Okay, like I said this is a very simple and very rough description of these four spiritualities.

Anyway, I grew up in life pretty atheistic. I viewed myself as a secular humanist when I was young.  I knew I had interest in religion (and even in being religious maybe) but I just couldn't bring myself to believe in a personal type god that the folk around me who were religious did.

When I became a UU it was because UU had a tradition of accepting humanists (even secular humanists) into fellowship - in fact many of their founders were humanists. But this was always a bit unsatisfying to me in that it didn't feel like I was necessarily part of a religion or religious community. It was more like I was at a place that humanists could hang out with like minded (liberal) religious folk and have a community. Not a bad thing, but not quite what I deep down really wanted - a religion I could whole-heartedly feel a part of, intellectually and spiritually.

My difficulty was that I could never get fully behind the idea of a personal god who took an interest in the day to day workings of life and intervened in human affairs.  What April's book gave me was a spirituality that could circumvent that problem.  While the covenant spirituality I grew up with seemed difficult to conceive of without such a god (as did the less familiar, to me at least, Servant Spirituality and Mystic Spirituality), Gnostic Spirituality, with its transcendent God, did not.  When theologians like Paul Tillich wrote about God as a "ground of being" or "ultimate concern," those were concepts of God I could get behind, but there was still something missing in the sense that it was hard for me to reconcile God as a "ground of being" with the very personal God metaphors to be found in the religion I grew up with (Christianity, a religion with a Covenant Spirituality).

Once I saw that I could shift the spirituality of the religion to a Gnostic one, I could quite easily match the "ground of being" type of idea of God with the transcendent God (or in UU terms, transcendent mystery and wonder). They fit, for me, in a way that the "ground of being" God and the covenant God of conventional modern Christianity didn't.

Finally, the UU religion didn't seem anymore like a square peg being fit into a round hole. The characteristics of Gnostic Spirituality form a grouping that religious and philosophical groups have used consistently through the last couple of thousand years and that makes for easy metaphors and consistent mythologies that fit (I think) extremely well with the theology of folks like Paul Tillich and my chosen religion, Unitarian Universalism. Once I decided to view UU using that frame, the possibilities seemed endless.

What I want to focus on in this blog is this general gnostic spirituality, Unitarian Universalism, and the intersection of the two in our churches, lives, and pop culture. So I plan to feature links to UU events and happenings nationwide, and notes about UU and gnostic references I see in pop culture. And I hope, thereby, to learn a little more about how to develop a sense of Unitarian Universalism that works for me both intellectually and spiritually.

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