Beyond the progress narrative

Over at Left Coast Unitarian, James writes:

In general, I believe that Unitarian Universalism (though in particular I am thinking of pre-consolidation Unitarianism) constructed a post-christian identity based on Humanist Manifesto style supersessionism and the progress narrative. For a variety of reasons, the progress narrative does not really work any more. I don’t think anyone has really come up with anything else to fill the vacuum left in its wake.

That vacuum may be filling in some interesting ways. Carole Fontaine, a Unitarian Universalist scholar (professor of Hebrew Bible at Andover Newton), has pointed out that Unitarian Universalists are well-suited to negotiating between the two main camps of human rights organizations: those who do human rights out of divine law (theistic), and those who do human rights out of natural law (non-theistic). Her contention is that we already know how to have conversations across those boundaries. A summary of one of her lectures on the topic states:

Fontaine began by asking, “What will it take to form a global conscience for planet Earth?” Using both feminist analysis and deconstructionism, she looked at how the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur’an can influence understandings of human rights. Fontaine contends that Unitarian Universalism, with its traditions of religious tolerance and free inquiry, stands in a unique place to promote understanding between differing conceptions of human rights. Link

A wider application of the same principles (of relatively free inquiry, and relatively greater religious tolerance) could have Unitarian Universalism understanding one of its roles as facilitating conversations across various boundaries, in a postmodern world populated with many groups having quite different worldviews. This idea would place us as one more group among equals, thus avoiding the trap of thinking we’re the best of all religions.