We all have a sacred text
We all have beliefs. Anyone who says they don’t have a sacred text, no collection of wisdom and ideals they hold dear is either lying or unaware. Saying you don’t just means you aren’t being upfront about what guides your life.
That thought is brought to you because of an interesting blog post by my friend Ellen Cooper-Davis, who is herself responding to a sermon, or at least it’s title: “Without a Sacred Text, How Can Unitarian Universalists be Moral?”
To paraphrase my favorite theologian, James Luther Adams, everyone has faith in something. It’s our responsibility to make sure our faith is placed in worthy things. The sacred texts, written or not, that inform our faith are key in helping us shape a faith that is worthy.
The question isn’t whether we have a sacred text (written or otherwise), but whether we have a shared sacred text. This is a more complicated question. In many ways, we (and here I mean “we” as residents of the United States, and perhaps Western nations as a whole) have a shared cultural understanding deeply informed by shared sources like Greek philosophy, Jewish and Christian texts and thought, and Renaissance and Enlightenment ideas.
Conservatives are fond of saying this is a Christian nation. Liberals are fond of arguing this proposition. Mostly, this argument bores me. Both sides are right, because we have a shared culture, or perhaps a collection of shared cultures that overlap and bear strong similarities. Christian thought and theology, all of it Biblically-based, has heavily influenced our culture. We have many shared assumptions about our lives that are from this worldview.
The sacred and profane
Unitarian Universalists have opposed fundamentalist views (many of them Christian) that say there is only one right way, only one real sacred text. We have recognized that truth comes from many places and is still coming to us. But saying, as Cooper-Davis does, that we there is no difference between the sacred and the profane isn’t that helpful either. There’s a space between making a claim to unique truth and saying that there are no claims. In other words, you don’t have to affirm, say, the Bible as the only truth, but neither do you have to say everything is sacred. The reality is that truth is found in many places, but not everywhere. It’s easy to say that everything is sacred. Just as it’s easy to say that nothing is. Neither is really true. Truth is found in many places, but not everywhere. We have to sift through sources, using our reason and experience to decide what is speaking to us in this moment and this context.
But we don’t have to start from scratch. Tradition is a help for us. Time-tested, tradition-upheld sacred texts are a good place to start our shared understanding. In particular, the Bible should be relevant to us all, because it and Christian thought and theology have deeply influenced us already. Other respected, traditional texts also offer a time-tested starting place for seeking religious wisdom and truth. Our search will take us to other texts, both traditional and non-traditional, of course.
My point is this: we have a sacred text, and perhaps it’s time we start taking it seriously.