organizing for spirituality

I recently finished reading Harvey Cox’s latest work, THE FUTURE  OF FAITH.  One of the things that struck me was the wonderful narrative he developed of the history of the early church.  A very readable story of the early church, much like I might have read in seminary forty years ago, but with a BIG exception.  Cox includes in that narrative all the discoveries of the non-canonical gospels,  such as those of the Nag Hammadi library, the Gnostic gospels and other texts.  To speak as if there was this single thing, this single organism, some unity which one could call the early church is misleading.  It was the ‘early church fathers,’ from very early on, who scripted this “imagined community.”

Cox’s chapter 7, “Constantine’s Last Supper: The Invention of Heresy,” lifts up our Unitarian Universalist heritage in the usual way about Arius. It affirmed for me more strongly than ever that debates over doctrine are debates about polity and governance.  The early church creeds are loyalty oaths to the Roman Emperor.  They are about power, authority, not compassion, spirit.  The Arian debates are the archetypal ecclesiastical event.  In the name of promulgating the faith, we will evade the faith: we will worship the Christ, not do what Jesus did.

Cox as a Baptist minister as well as Div School Professor, knows this struggle has been going on since the first of days.  Perhaps because so many religious organizations have fallen into the hierarchical model,  12 Step programs have sought a different mode of being together.

Most agree that such programs  ought never be “organized.”  The 12 Traditions light the path.  Tradition 6 says that problems of money, property, and authority  easily divert people from the primary spiritual aim. They are not part of the program.   From my experience with business combines, not-for-profits and religions congregations, avoiding through Tradition 6 the greasy pole of ambition, 12 Step programs  can stay disorganized.  But some consensus about how to avoid organization amongst us, a little bit of some sort of organization, is needed.

I just finished William Appleman Williams’ EMPIRE AS A WAY OF LIFE (because of the introductory by Andrew Bacevich). Heavy book!  Williams  writes that in part we Americans have sought empire as an evasion of community.

I cannot help wondering that if organizing for spirituality we end up in some form of idolatry, and loose our way, forgetting about  community.


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