Where Are We Going?
Preached 9/15/2019 at SouthWest UU in N. Royalton OH
By Rev. Meg Mathieson
It is so good to be together this morning. It feels good to gather together because it is in our blood to do so. Gathering together is what humans do, it’s what we have done, and our ancestors have done, and their ancestors. As long as humans have been a species, we have made rituals of gathering together.
And we have been looking to the stars and to the sky and to our own interior lives in order to make some sense, in order to make meaning, to create meaning. Our most ancient ancestors - the ancestors that you and you and you and I share - were creators. They created meaning, and they gathered together to do so.
As far back as 300,000 years ago, humans were making meaning through rituals, stories, and gatherings, and those resulting beliefs universally imagined a Goddess. In different ways throughout most of human history, the divine was worshipped as a female creative force.
On March 8, 1977, International Women’s Day was proclaimed by the United Nations. I know because I was there. I was there in the sense that I was born that day.
A little later that same year, the Unitarian Universalist Association unanimously passed the “Women in Religion Resolution.” Also in 1977, a “Goddess conference” was held which would inspire the Unitarian Universalist curriculum that is titled, “Cakes for the Queen of Heaven.”
Isn’t that a wonderful title? Cakes.
It refers to a line in the Hebrew Bible’s book of Jeremiah, where folks who reject YHWH, the Hebrew god of the scriptures, are described as worshipping a “Queen of Heaven” by baking cakes for her.
So, you might already be aware that “Cakes for the Queen of Heaven” is a UU curriculum that builds upon and deepens work done by previous authors such as Raine Eisler’s “The Chalice and the Blade,” Merlin Stone’s “When God Was a Woman,” and pretty much all of Starhawk’s works.
In her 1995 book, Shirley Ann Ranck sums it up nicely: “Before the advent of the major world religions as we know them, and for a long time after their birth, human beings of all races practiced Earth-centered, women-centered religions for many centuries.”
She goes on, “the Goddess religions of the ancient near east never really died but came down to us in the form of Witchcraft, ancient religions were deliberately misdescribed and slandered by the Church of Rome as it struggled to gain political power.”
It’s so important for us to look back - to try to see our ancestors in faith as clearly as we possibly can, in order to be able to look forward and imagine where we are going.
Our ancestors in faith may have been more like Unitarian Universalists than we have been taught to believe.
As Unitarian Universalists, many of us do not identify ourselves as Christians, but of course, we must acknowledge that our denominational pedigree is inherited through the Protestant strain of the Christian tradition. We can trace the gatherings of our people, those who called themselves Unitarians and those who called themselves Universalists to the early 19th century, or a little before that.
Like everything we do, it lacked coherent organization. The development of Unitarianism and Universalism in the US was a groundswell, fuzzy and undefined, marked by individuals going their own way, and other individuals happening to go the same way. Eventually Massachusetts, in the early 19th century, once a hotbed of Puritanical fervor, found itself in a crisis of duality: much like our political crisis today - where the ever-forward march of liberalism and progressivism is challenged by those who declare themselves to be orthodox (Orthodox, which in Greek means “right teaching.” Ortho for correct and doxy for opinion or teaching.)
There have always been folks declaring themselves to be the chosen ones who hold the “right teachings” those who self-identify as orthodox. And there have always been those of us challenging them.
It is happening in the United States now as we push against the conservative Trump administration, who consider themselves “orthodox”, or holding the correct beliefs, it happened in Massachusetts in the 19th century, as our denomination first came to life in its current form, and it has been happening since Christians began calling themselves Orthodox, since before Jewish leaders began calling themselves orthodox, way into ancient history.
Ah there is nothing new under the sun, is there? I think the liberal, the Unitarian, the Universalist, would declare that there is nothing new under the sun until we make that new thing happen!
What is also not new is that there have always been Unitarians. And there have always been Universalists. UU Rev Mark Harris outlines this really well in an article titled “Our Historic Faith” He says:
“Unitarians and Universalists have always been heretics. We are heretics because we want to choose our faith, not because we desire to be rebellious. “Heresy” in Greek means “choice.” During the first three centuries of the Christian church, believers could choose from a variety of tenets about Jesus.
Among these was a belief that Jesus was an entity sent by God on a divine mission. Thus the word “Unitarian” developed, meaning the oneness of God. Another religious choice in the first three centuries of the Common Era (CE) was universal salvation. This was the belief that no person would be condemned by God to eternal damnation in a fiery pit. Thus, a Universalist believed that all people will be saved. Christianity lost its element of choice in 325 CE when the Nicene Creed established the Trinity as dogma. For centuries thereafter, people who professed Unitarian or Universalist beliefs were persecuted.”
This is our heritage, a proud history of question-askers and heretics, folks who have been unwilling to submit to a god who is too small to withstand some inquiry. Christianity has not been one straight line from a historic conservative belief to our liberal thought of today. No, Christianity, and indeed much of the history of human faith around the globe has been hammered out in the fire of folks like us, folks who questioned the norms and pushed against what was assumed to be orthodoxy, right teachings.
We have a proud heritage of 300,000 years of heretical, free witchcraft, the vast majority of which took place in Africa, and almost all of which took place in the building of civilizations by non-white people.
In “God is Not One,” author Stephen Prothero lays out the idea that all religions purport to solve a problem, but they disagree on what the problem is, let alone how we should be solving it. Again, this sounds a lot like our current government! For instance, he says, for Christians, the problem is sin, and the solution is salvation from sin through Jesus. Contrast this to Buddhism which claims that the problem is suffering. Not sin, but suffering. Subtle but quite different.
When you view the human problem as suffering, the solution, according to Buddhism, is reaching nirvana by letting go of attachments.
Muslims would claim that the human problem is pride, and the solution is submission.
Judaism teaches that the problem is exile, and the solution is a return to God.
Reaching all the way back to our ancestral Goddess faiths, the problems had to do with nature - with appeasing and caretaking. With a mutual survival.
How do humans survive nature, and how do we live in such a way that nature survives us? For many years, modern male archaeologists have assumed that these early or “primitive” religions were concerned with fertility. But fertility, we now know, is a narrow way of viewing the answer offered by the faith of our most ancient ancestors. The ancient religion’s answer to the problem of living in peace with nature is broader than fertility - it is creation. Not just in a literal bodily or sexual sense but in a holistic, spiritual sense.
A younger generation, sparked by the very real impending ecological disasters, some of which are already evident today, a younger generation has begun to embrace this Goddess religion, the ancient indigenous faiths of our ancestors, in the shape of Wiccan, Celtic, Nordic, Caribbean, African, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern indigenous faiths. A younger generation that does not have the privilege that many of us have had to turn a blind eye to the ruin that humans have done to our Earth. When the oceans rise and the beautiful animal species of the earth are gone, the only religion that will survive will be the one that strives to answer the most pressing problem of them all: not the problem of sin! The problem of living in peace with nature.
Who are we?
We are liberals. We are of a liberal faith. By our nature, we covenant together to hold in the highest esteem these two principles: compassion and truth.
Where did we come from?
We have always been here. Questioning the status quo. Being pushed underground when orthodoxy holds power. Popping back up again every. Single. Time.
Where are we going?
Well, our covenant points toward a continued right relationship in compassion and truth. And we are going where our beautiful Mother Gaia takes us, as she spins, hurtles through space. I imagine that someday, the great goddess Earth will shrug us off like fleas. But for now, we as Unitarian Universalists are entering a new era of that old, old, old-time religion. That religion where humans come together, we gather, as we do. We gather and we find holiness in our gathering.