TELOS: Sacred & Secular, Parish & Practices

By request, I am humbly reposting as a blog, a response I wrote a week ago to the Atheism 2.0 TED discussion by Alain de Botton.  In the interest of tuning it in more to current congregational themes, I have given it a name. It isn't an autonomous essay, so if you haven't checked out the Botton video, it would help. It's at the bottom of this blog.  Thanks for reading.  


TELOS: On the Unitarian Universalist Sacred and Secular, Parish and Community Practices 


I'm listening to this on the TED channel as I write. I don't think I need to hear him because I know where he's going just in the first few minutes, and concur. I think it's obvious. But I am an artist and sometime educator, and I understand that Western culture can stand on it's own and apart from the church which was it's patron.

Culture and learning and making images and music is civilization.TED IS a sermon to me! And standing outdoors reading devotional poetry to the moon constitutes a lovely song of praise to God ... atheist though I may be.

What I am interested in, per the question of GOD and atheism, is the atheist's typical conceptual entanglement with the traditional judeo-christian deity: the cosmic (anthropomorphic) author, intercessor, coach, and judge of an individual; the parental (patronizing, authoritarian) figure that de Botton refers to as being embodied in religious institutional culture; the force that simultaneously infantilizes, bullys, extorts, and provides the devotional breast from whose monolithic succor we are not intended to be weened from. (This is a simplistic description of both sides ... ) This is the magic and poison - the light and the dark sides, the way that language casts powerful befuddling spells  - all right there.

As an atheist I find very attractive the possibility of saying "god bless you;" or "god works in mysterious ways." I like the idea, liberty, and grace of being able to refer to concepts such as "providence" and "creation" as literal physical and divine forces that may inform my love and the shape of politics and history. I think Nietzsche and Hegel would not have been people bereft of this gratitude. And I believe our deist founding fathers were not.

Creation,providence and grace is manifest. It's embrace is self evident. But unlike the christian or theist who tautologically construes this as proof of their god, I do not. And atheists should have a vocabulary for talking about this stuff, because religious experience, which I actually consider phenomenologically, an esthetic experience (which has been co-opted by this corporation called a religion)  is a fundamental dimension of human experience. Some powerful people took that stuff and calledit religious. That doesn't make it so.

So this becomes a question of getting back, as Saint Joni Mitchell expressed it, to the garden. And I think what Botton is saying in a way, is that "Atheism 2.0" lets us do that in a perfectly natural un-hypocritical way by saying ritual is okay; culture and lecture and sermon and didactic lessons on being wellare to be praised and worshipped (meditated upon) on their merits. Basically, we have to retake this human space which "secularism" seems to keep at arms length.


As this church transitions, I think we have a beautiful opportunity to consider novel alternatives to the traditional clerical hierarchy whose organizational vestiges seem inevitable but are not. Which is to say maybe we don't need a minister who is a lead executive, or a minister that sends a lot of time writing and delivering sermons.

I can imagine, perhaps half the number of sermons - the other half would be TED-like conversations given by lay leaders in the church, and other community leaders  who may be professional policy makers, musicians, activists, organic farmers, socially conscious local/regional business leaders - widening our beloved community. (Yes. This is concurrent with Rev. Morales's vision for UUs, and I actually think that this particular congregation is uniquely endowed to give prophetic shape to that transformative community experience he describes. We're seeing a prologue to this in VOICE activities right now.)

Consonant with the kind of didactic content that Botton proposes, the promotion of a lay sermon fellowship would also serve to diversifyvoices and conversations from the "pulpit," and give both youth and veteran, members and visitors, access to that part of ministry which uniquely enfranchises verbal authority - be it verse or oratory, enchantment or persuasion - of knowledge, grace, and experience on a multilateral basis (which is not permitted by the (ahem) euro/phallo-centric paternalistic structure imposed by the traditional pastoral model. 

So this could be a model of a society in which we listen and speak across communities and pay grades, class, sexuality, and color, etc., praising the spirit and the logos. 

I don't mean to deny the value of professionally trained clergy at all - that is as it does, but this is a proposal for possibly extending the covenant of intrinsic respect and mutuality, by activating a forum of curiosity and concern, while structuring the organization to a degree, more familiar to a 21st Century egalitarian common sense.

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