Theology. It implies theism or a deity. As does the word “thealogy” which implies goddess deities. Both exclude the range of beliefs or ethical constructs that are found in our UU congregations. Years ago, I came up with the term, “cosmological ontology” to replace the word “theology” but was mercilessly caricatured at the Russell Lockwood Leadership School (a weeklong leadership school for lay leaders) for the term. I used the word “cosmology” because it asks the ultimate question of the origins of the universe, the “where do we come from” question. “Ontology” is the study of being, of what it means to exist, a gander into the ultimate nature of things. When we combine the words cosmological and ontological, understanding them in this context, we have a term that can replace theology or thealogy to describe how we make meaning in the world.
Cosmological Ontology looks at all of the big questions of meaning making: Why is there suffering? What it is death? What happens after our physical deaths? What does it mean to parent? What is forgiveness? What is love? What is compassion? How can I develop and maintain relationships of integrity? What am I to do with my life? What is beauty? What are my responsibilities as I live my life? What is required of me? What guides my decision-making processes? What are my morals, my ethics, and my ground for and of being? Cosmological ontology allows us to ground ourselves in the cosmos itself, in stardust and evolution. It allows us to define new ways of Be-ing and of Do-ing human tasks. And it recognizes that we live in a pluralistic world that asks the same questions from varied cultural, religious, and intellectual frameworks.
I think that in some ways, the sole human task is to place our individual and collective selves in the Mystery. That requires imagination, creativity; not arrogance or even certainty. It requires asking questions with a holy curiosity when we are engaging with persons who use a religious language that is not ours or profess a faith that we cannot relate to. It is remembering that each of us “bears and seeks a piece of the truth.” I find myself less and less judgmental and more and more interested in understanding religious and spiritual differences and pluralities.
I believe that the faith of our childhoods is, in most cases, not the faith we embrace as we end our lives. Faith is not static but constantly informed and shaped by all forms of knowledge and lived experience from the noetic to the spiritual to the sciences. Our grey hymnal is called “The Living Tradition.” I believe that faith should be something living, growing and stretching, flexing, reassessing, letting go of, and taking in to sustain us throughout the seasons of our lives. At this point in my life, my faith “stance” is that of a mystical humanistic religious naturalist. Simply put: I believe in the Mystery of life. I am religious because I am seeking what it is that “I am bound back to” at the core of my being. I am humanistic because I do not currently embrace a deity. I am a naturalist because it is the natural world that drops me to my knees with a sense of awe, reverence, and wonder.