Wednesday, August 01, 1990

Is the Antichrist a Unitarian Universalist?

Four years ago, I gave my first sermon here, it was on cults. I defined a cult as being a dangerous religion. This sermon is about a particular dangerous religion.

Many Christians believe that the book of revelations foretells an anti-Christ, a man who will rule the world and cause the whole world to worship his image. He will also persecute Christians severely, and God's wrath will be poured out upon the world. Eventually god will destroy the world, judge the living and the dead, and create a new heaven and a new earth.

Modern fundamentalist Christians Have made a number of predictions about the nature of the religion that the antichrist will bring about in the world.

The Left Behind series is a fictionalization of evangelical eschatology. (Eschatology is a part of theology dealing particularly with final things, such as death, or in this case, the end of the world.) They have sold 55 million books over the past 10 years, and the authors, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, have become major leaders in evangelical Christianity.

The Left Behind books give some description of what the Antichrist’s Relgion is supposed to look like. It is a blending of all the world’s religions. It is universally accepting of all people. It’s leaders see it as a modernization of what were the established religions, seeing wisdom in ancient teachings, but also recognizing modern knowledge and practice. It is intended to be a more enlightened religion, to better guide humanity through troubled times.

What is special about Unitarian Universalism?

What Unitarian Universalism has is a rich tradition of recognizing the importance of people determining their own beliefs. This is something most other religions do not have. It is not that we lack beliefs, not even that we lack common beliefs. The thing that makes us different from almost every religion, what is in effect, our central teaching, is that seeking the truth is more important than teaching it.

When you have an idea that is so powerful that it has changed the world several times over, yet there is only one religion that dares to promote that idea, You realize that that is a religion of note. We have seven ideas that powerful.

Tim LaHaye thinks that there is a war of ideas being waged right now in our society. In another book he co-wrote, Mind Siege, Tim Lahaye lists the ideas that are threatening Christianity, and the people of the world.

The ideas are:

Atheism, or anything other than worship of his Biblical God.

Evolution, because it reduces humanity to the status of an animal.

Amorality, which is what he calls the idea that people are capable of determining what is right and wrong.

The Autonomy of man, The idea that humanity can be self sufficient, and does not need God’s help or slavation

Globalism, The idea that we should have a goal of a peaceful world community.

These ideas are increasingly popular beliefs. Evangelical Christians see their beliefs being marginalized, and they are afraid. Their eschatology predicts a world church led by the Antichrist, so they conclude that it is these beliefs that the Antichrist will promote, and these beliefs are finely woven into the religion depicted in the Left Behind Novels.

I make a special note of Tim Lahaye’s fear of a peaceful world community. It is interesting and frightening that if we ever achieve a lasting peace on earth, this worldview would be invalidated. This makes any move towards a lasting peace a threat to their ideology, and any such threat must of course come from the antichrist. In fact the only peace on earth predicted by this worldview is brought about by the antichrist, just a few years before the end of the world. At the same time, implying that this form of Christianity is an enemy to peace only makes us look guiltier in their eyes.

The Idea he calls the Autonomy of Man, is I think the best example of how this religion resembles Unitarian Universalism. We have a history of casting aside restrictions and going outside of boundaries. In General, we do not seek salvation from God, and we do not rely on ‘him’ to solve our problems on earth. We believe that people can think and reach correct conclusions. Tim Lahaye believes that human reason is flawed, and leads to rebellion from God.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with Unitarian Universalism is the use of reason.

The largest difference between Unitarian Universalism and the religion of the antichrist, is that the latter requires worship of a single man, by everyone, and by force. Strangely I think that Tim Lahaye sees this as a minor difference.

I think that there are two problems that Unitarian Universalism has, that could lead it to become more like the religion of the Antichrist, and Less like what we want it to be.

First is the difficulty of recognizing and rejecting ideas that are against our principles. Because we value acceptance, we can be hesitant to subject the ideas of others to scrutiny.

Paradoxically, the second problem is that we sometime are not as accepting and open as we should be.

It is very often observed by newcomers to UU communities that we can be hostile (perhaps unintentionally) to those who hold more traditional or conservative views. It can come in the form of harsh remarks towards the faith we were raised in, or just the natural tendency to relegate ideas that you disagree with.

It seems that most of the time I hear of a UU church, it is because its majority(perhaps Humanist, Christian, or Pagan) has alienated one or more of its minorities(Perhaps Christian, Pagan, or Humanist) I wonder what if any, minorities at our church we have alienated.

One thing that most fundamentalists believe is going to happen just before the rise of the antichrist is the Rapture of the church. In this event, all believing Christians instantly vanish to heaven, all over the world.

How would religious liberals react if the religious right suddenly lost its influence? After the initial shock wore off, we might look forward to a brighter, saner world.

If that ever did happen, and it looked like fundamentalists were coming back, We might really dread having them around again. Sometimes when you really want something, and especially when you're really afraid of something, you can forget what you really believe.

When the antichrist comes to lead his chosen faith, we may be more willing than we would like to think we will be. He will use the fourth principle against us. He will rely on our acceptance of his free search for truth, and let us forget his responsibility. Then appeal that since fundamentalism is clearly not a responsible search for truth, people should not be free to adopt it.
This is a danger we should watch for, whether the antichrist appears or not.

An interesting thing about Christianity is that it seems to be hooked on this 'waiting for the messiah' concept. Originally, the coming of the messiah was a Jewish prophecy; the messiah was to rule the world justly, with Israel getting its proper position among the nations. Jesus came, and His follwers claimed him as the messiah, but then he died. But he promised he would rise from the dead.

According to the bible he did, but then he left again, he ascended into heaven. But he promised to come back, and this is where we are now, Christians, like Jews, are waiting for the messiah, but there's more. Many Fundamentalist Christians, like Tim LaHaye, believe that Christ will come again and 'rapture' the church before the anti-Christ ruled tribulation period. He will instantly take all believers to heaven, to spare them the suffering to come. After that, there is another 7 years, during which any new believers will again be waiting for Christ to return. When he does, He will rule on earth for another thousand years before he finally destroys the world, and create 'a new heaven and a new earth' So technically, the end of the world is not at Christ’s second coming, but his fourth.
I think there might be something intrinsic in the human condition that make this idea recur. We want to hope for something, when what we are hoping for comes and goes without changing our lives, we hope for it to happen again, always believing that /this/ time it will be as we imagine.

Jesus never taught how to govern. He taught you to be kind, even when evil was done to you, and he taught to forsake everything to teach this forgiveness to others, but he did not teach how to live in a society where everyone knew his teachings. He told his followers how to respond to judgments against them, but not how to judge (indeed he taught not to judge)

When Christianity was developing, it was persecuted. In order for the faith to survive, its leaders had to teach Christians how to cope with that persecution. They emphasized and expanded on the teaching 'blessed are you who are persecuted for my sake’ they warned their followers that if they went out with the truth, the world would be against them.

The failure of Jesus to teach explicit law, meant that when Christianity became dominant in an area, and it was time to establish a civil law, the only suitable basis was the Jewish scripture, which is generally much harsher than Jesus’s teachings.

Another thing that happens when Christianity is dominant, is that it isn’t persecuted anymore. No more crucifixions, no more hungry lions. (unless you were a heretic) But what is a Christian to do? They were missing out on the blessings that come with persecution. One option is to go find people who don’t accept the Christian message, and push it on them until they do something mean to you. Then you’ll be blessed. Another option is to promote some heresy. They’re easy to come up with, even accidentally, if you just think on your own for a little while. If you tell someone, and they threaten you, then you know that the world is persecuting you for teaching the truth, and again, stick you your guns no matter what, and you’ll be a martyr and a saint. The third option, especially if you’re a Christian on the high end of the social ladder, is to decide that every slight against Christianity is a form of persecution. From taking ‘under god’ out of the pledge, to putting a planned parenthood clinic, anywhere, you see Christianity being attacked, fight the good fight against the pagans, and you will be blessed.

My point is that because Christianity was abused in it’s childhood, it has developed a faith-wide persecution complex; and because it didn’t have enough guidance early on, when it had to make tough decisions it latched on to the only authority it knew, the old testament. That is why some Christians are so annoying.

Unitarian Universalism is in the minority. We do not have to contend with crucifixions or hungry lions, (yet) but we do sometimes feel a level of hostility from the larger Christian culture. Especially those parts that link our beliefs to pure evil.

In my sermon on Cults, I suggested that the best way to deal with dangerous religions is to actively engage their members in dialog, in order to Highlight the deeper core beliefs that all religions have in common.

We need to find ways to deal with that hostility, but we need to make sure that we are not scarred by it. We need to be careful about what teachings and traditions we leave behind. We need to make sure that if, someday, the most powerful man in the world hands to us the churches of the world, we can respond with compassion and maturity.

The word Satan means ‘adversary’ I think a way to avoid being cast in the role of Satan is to not be adversarial.

We need to find ways to cooperate with people who have values fundamentally different from ours. I think that in most cases, it would be enough for us to suggest a course of action to take. If we choose our suggestions carefully, our advesaries will agree. In this way we can direct their efforts to causes that everyone agrees is beneficial, and show them the common ground we have.

Where we do not agree on a course of action, we must do an odd thing: we must cooperate with them anyway. Here I use 'cooperate' in an odd way: We must support their personal and spiritual growth. It is not normally the UU way to tell people what to think, and that's not quite what I'm suggesting. We affirm that all people should have a free search for truth, but we need to recognize that not all people seek responsibly. It is our job as a UU congregation to promote a responsible search. Through this 'cooperation', we help our adversary in their personal growth. This is 'Loving your enemy'. By always trying to do what is best for each person we encounter, we will get what is best for everyone.

I believe that by prompting people to continue to explore their values, and by exploring ours, we can come to agreement, if not in theology, then in action.


At 2:34 AM, September 05, 2005, Anonymous Kim said...

The Autonomy of man, The idea that humanity can be self sufficient, and does not need God’s help or slavation.

Interesting typo.


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