Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mike Hogue on recovering the roots of Religious Liberalism

Some quotes from email exchanges with Mike Hogue, Assistant Professor of Theology, Meadville Lombard Theological School.

I quoted Hoque,
I think contemporary UUism needs to recover, and through recovery to integrate, the insights of the humanistic and theistic patterns of thinkng that are at the roots of religious liberalism.
and I asked,
How exactly, does one go about the recovery? How does a lay person, a Church member; go about that?
He wrote back,
I have several ideas. Keep in mind that there are multiple spheres in which this recovery and reintegration needs to take place: individual, communal, and institutional. What I take you to be asking about are what individuals and particular church communities can do. Within these spheres, I think it would be helpful to encourage reading/discussion groups around a couple of issues.

First, at the most abstract, consider the question "what is theology"? If theology is systematic critical reflection about ultimate concerns, often construed symbolically as "God," what are the various ways of construing ultimate concern? Asking the question in this way, I think, opens the meaning of "theology" to a great deal of comparative work, rather than isolating it to reflection on and within particular traditions. But, one needs also to ask, what are the sources for our ultimate commitments? Are they sourced strictly in individual experience? In the traditions we inhabit? In rational inquiry? In sacred texts? And third, in what ways does the object of our ultimate concern organize our lives? Are we actively faithful to such ultimate concern? Do our lives correspond in behavior and character to the commanding meanings of our sacred center? Asking "what is theology" and addressing these three angles on the question (what "are" our ultimate commitments, "where" do they come from, and "how" do our lives correspond to these commitments ) are important basic moves in reflectively engaging our religious and spiritual depths. I think, too, that through such engagement it will be likely that theists and humanists will discover that each has much to learn from the other and that neither pattern of thinking exhausts the insights of the other. In other words, they can be complementary ways of being religious.

Second, to guide this kind of deep individual and communal dialogue, it might be good to have some focal texts. I would recommend reading pairs of books together, such as John Dewey's "A Common Faith" and some of James Luther Adams' writings, as collected in "The Essential JLA". First of all it is crucial to understand what each is really saying, reading the books charitably as best as one can for the authors intent, asking questions about the contexts out of which each author was working, and how these may be shaping his insights and questions. Second, initiating a conversation about the internal consistency of each vision presented and then pursuing their pragmatic moral effects if lived.

Just some very rough thoughts about this...

In my "intro to liberal theology" class I organize lectures and readings around particular tensions within the liberal religious tradition, pairing one thinker with another and using each to interrogate the other. The aim of this is to lead students through the kind of integrative recovery of seemingly disparate patterns of theological thinking in order to enrich their own theological self-understandings.
Mike gave me a plan. It's got the pieces I need; that fit with my way of thinking (which may set me up for a charge from some wag that they see little thinking in anything I blog!), but the dialectic process of contrasting two opposites, two conflicting thoughts, to get a synthesis, is how I prefer to think about all things.

Mike also outlines an approach to recover Religious Liberalism based on history. Which takes me to my next quote from our exchanges.

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