Who should do theology?

Got a message from jfield of Left Coast Unitarian about doing Unitarian Universalist theology. He, too, thinks it is important, but in thinking about going and getting a degree in theology he finds himself less than enthusiastic.

Getting a doctorate isn’t the only way to do theology, I contend. I believe the person who had the most influence on Unitarian Universalist theology in the past century was… Sophia Fahs. Her excellent series of church school curriculum books helped to shape a theology of naturalistic theism that was also receptive to humanism. I was in church school a little past the height of the Sophia Fahs curriculum, but when I look at her books now, it’s clear how her curriculum books shaped me. Jesus the Carpenter’s Son helped me think of Jesus as a fully human political and religious thinker. The Church across the Street shaped my understanding of how I should relate to other faith traditions. Martin and Judy (which my mother taught when she taught Sunday school in the 50’s) has me seeing religion growing out of everyday experiences.

I might put Kenneth Patton second to Sophia Fahs in terms of theological influence. Patton was a humanist who believed in the power of symbols and liturgy. He developed exciting new ways of doing worship services without needing a reference to God, Goddess, C’thulhu, or whatever. You could argue that his experimentation with high-church humanism laid the groundwork for contemporary UU theology. His use of American folk tunes for hymns has, I believe, profoundly shaped the way we conceive of worship — after Kenneth Patton, we have to go beyond music composed by “dead white men” in the high Western tradition. If we would pay more attention, I think we’d see that Patton opened us to amazing possibilities in multiculturalism (even if his personal approach had a whiff of colonialism).

Oh, and forget trying to base theology on the “Seven Principles.” While Christian theologians do tend to ground their theology in interpretations of their sacred texts, the “Seven Principles” are excerpts from the UUA’s bylaws, and — alas — lack the poetry and human depth of the Christian and Hebrew scriptures. The “Seven Principles” function fairly well as a profession of faith (thought I still prefer the old Universalist Winchester Profession for sheer poetry, even though I pretty much disagree with it) — but the “SevenPrinciples” are definitely not theology.

Indeed, I sometimes wonder if one of the things keeping Unitarian Universalists from doing theology in our local congregations is that we make the false assumption that the “Seven Principles” are sufficient. They aren’t. They say “what,” but not “why” or “how” or “when.”

To answer the question in the title: Yes, Virginia, you should be doing theology, too.

One thought on “Who should do theology?

  1. Administrator

    “Martin and Judy” (which my mother taught when she taught Sunday school in the 50’s) has me seeing religion growing out of everyday experiences.

    I grew up on Martin and Judy and agree about the importance of Sophia Fahs to the UU faith heritage.

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