So J has been reading Emerson because he's teaching "Movies and the Meaning of Life" and the text uses Fight Club to teach Emerson's concepts.
And he had a question: he discovered that Emerson left his position as a Unitarian minister because he could no longer perform the Eucharist in good conscience. This led us to wonder: Why did Unitarians ever celebrate the Eucharist - I mean, what was the thinking behind that? Is it that Christ was a manifestation of the One God? And I assume that you no longer celebrate Eucharist, or am I wrong? If so, why do you? I'm just honestly interested in your Christology. I have a lot to learn about this church!
Anyway, the class is really neat. I will try to get J to email me the syllabus and I'll post it for you...but it's all based on the book Movies and the Meaning of Life: Philosophers Take on Hollywood edited by Kimberly A. Blessing and Paul J. Tudico (Open Court, 2005). J tells me "it's only good if you're a philosophy professor and you can correct all the errors in it." (apparently he's not entirely on board - plus you have to remember he was a filmmaker once so he's got strong opinions about exegesis of movies) But it's been a useful starting place and students love the class. It might make a cool church class as well. If you have a philosophy professor handy. :)
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I think Emerson's departure from ministry had a number of catalysts, serving communion being but one. His transcendentalism was inherently characterized by a severe spiritual individualism; organized religion, some could say, actually would become a barrier to such an expression. Church was, at the very least, expendable to a transcendentalist. Emerson did remain a member of the Unitarian church in Concord until he died. So, I think the vocation itself was not particularly pleasant for him. I think he preferred the free time to write.
I think early Unitarians celebrated the Eucharist because the distance between them and the congregationalism they were leaving behind was short. I also think they believed in its need, in an adjusted or modified sort of way.
Many early Unitarians understood Jesus to be the Son of God, but not God. Jesus, as the Son of God, was still the savior of humanity. Many even embraced the virgin birth, miracles, and the resurrection. Jesus became 'divine' by office, rather than by nature. Many also understood the Bible to be a product of revelation. This all started to change in during the time of Parker, Channing, Emerson and transcendentalism. It caused a great deal of tension in early Unitarianism. I, however, think this change was for the better.
Today, the Eucharist is still celebrated among the UU Christians, but that's about it. The larger association has evolved well beyond the Unitarianism held by early Unitarians in both Europe and Boston. It also has evolved beyond the Universalism it merged with in 1961.
Jesus, for me, is human. A special human, but human. I place him in the same lofty category as Moses, Siddhartha Gautama, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, etc. These are special human beings who set the bar high. I don't personally believe in the original sin of Christian orthodoxy, nor do I believe in the need for redemption from it. I believe in a Jesus who pointed toward his God and a kingdom (realm) wherein social, political, and religious egalitarianism was the ideal. Pointing toward it got him killed. He died because of what he was saying and enacting among the common folk, not for my original sin. I, as a result, won't partake in a Eucharist which gives thanks for such redemption. I can't. Today most Unitarian Universalists can't (save the Christians in the UUCF).
Jesus is an important religious figure in my life, but he is not the only one.
So one more question:
do you consider yourself (or does your denomination consider itself) Christian?
Me? No. I'm a Humanist. The Association? No. It is now a post-Christian movement characterized by religious humanism and pluralism. It is also presently working to define itself as a religion proper. There are, however, Christians who identify as Unitarian Universalists and they formed the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship. Everyone is welcome at the Unitarian Universalist table.
This fact creates a lot of difficulty, but it is difficulty worth having.
I hope this helps!
And I'll gladly add to the discussion. I am a Unitarian Universalist, but each of these terms almost needs to be bracketed, because historically Unitarian and Universalist have grown to different meanings. For example, Unitarian meant, literally, non-Trinitarian (often by way of Arius, or later by Socinius. However, at this point, Unitarian (I believe, and probably with justification) means "religious liberal, non-creedal, free thinking". So I can identify myself as a Unitarian who is more than likely a Trinitarian--but only in as much as the sense that I recognize the early Christian writings which identify Jesus as LORD; I'm not terribly concerned with issues of hypostases or persona or ousia. (I think more along the lines of George Fox, who essentially was Trinitarian but wasn't too concerned with Trinitarian dogma). As far as original sin and atonement: I'm not of that crowd. I take a theological stance more along the lines of Eastern Orthodoxy: that the Incarnation was to help us in the path of divinization or theosis, and to reconcile us to heaven.
As a member of the UU Christian Fellowship, I also can't claim to speak for other UU Christians: some broach Trinitarianism, some probably see Jesus in the Arian sense of "adopted divinity", or perhaps just a particularly special prophet. The reason I am Unitarian, though and not simply a mainstream Christian is that I do not believe that Christianity exhausts revelation, that God does not reveal theologies (okay--I stole that from Barth), and because I am more concerned about how I orient myself toward life and God (fides qua) than what the particulars (the fides quae) of belief are. My denomination has room for me as I am now, if I move towards humanism along the lines of shawn, or embrace a particularly neo-pagan or a zen orientation, and I won't be brought up on doctrinal charges. Okay, I do hope that makes sense.
Yes, I do imagine there are a variety of reasons for the Eucharist in the UUCF, redemption from original sin being but one. I should have said "save SOME of the Christians in the UUCF," rather than 'speaking' for all of the Christians in the UUCF. I was not, of course, trying to do so.
I didn't even address the Eucharist issues. No, remember that most Eucharistic practices likely stem from UUism's origins as a Reformed tradition. Eucharist = memorial, or (more positively), the original sense of communion: an act of solidarity. But, there are many takes and many spins.
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