clash of the worldviews, or, sources of miscommunication.

24 Jul

It happened again recently.  I was at a gathering of Unitarian Universalists and the person leading worship used some God language, without explanation or qualifications.  As is usually the case, some people loved it, some people got angry, and some people didn’t know what all the fuss was about.  As I watched the interaction, I saw a repeat of a situation that seems to becoming more and more prevalent in our UU congregations: a miscommunication that stems from a clash of worldviews.

Here is what it looks like when leading worship:BWI-WorldviewCultureCircles

When Modern Pat uses “God” in worship, it is rare, and usually something that Modern Pat is against.  Modern Pat sees God in a very specific way: the old man in the clouds, pointing His finger at human beings. However, Modern Pat will use all sorts of euphemisms instead of “God”: ground of our being, the Ultimate, etc.

When Postmodern Chris uses “God” in worship, it is with an important invitation:  Postmodern Chris will always invite the listener to interpret “God” in whatever way works for them.  Postmodern Chris might then refer to some of the euphemisms that Modern Pat uses.

When Neomodern Riley refers to God in worship, there are no quotes, and there are no conditions or qualifiers. There may or may not be any euphemisms, because Neomodern Riley understands that all these words point to the same unknowable place.  Neomodern Riley assumes that the listener will interpret God in whatever way works for them, that the listener does not need to be told to make such a translation.

The trouble arises when Neomodern Riley is trying to communicate with Modern Pat, because Modern Pat does not feel included, and often feels explicitly excluded, and Neomodern Riley is not sure why.  There is a clash of worldviews.

So what does this mean for our relationships and interactions with one another within our faith tradition?

Modernists, you are beloved members of our faith community who are not intentionally being excluded. I invite you, the next time you hear words you don’t agree with in your UU congregation, ask yourself if you and the speaker are coming from similar, or different, worldviews.

Neomodernists, you are also beloved members of our faith community. I invite you to remember that some of us have not caught up with your radical inclusion – it might be helpful to add some euphamisms or qualifiers occasionally.

Postmodernists, you are also beloved members of the our faith community, and you have the advantage of being able to understand and bridge the other two worldviews. Rock on!

13 Responses to “clash of the worldviews, or, sources of miscommunication.”

  1. Lee Marie July 24, 2015 at 5:59 pm #

    LOVE it! You will be quoted … with attribution … of course!

  2. Beverly Moore July 25, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

    Wonderful explanation. I think in my congregation people became much more understanding and less reactive to God (and Jesus) as well because of exposure to Transyvanian Unitarians. However, more recent congregants don’t have that experience.

  3. Lynne Bodle July 27, 2015 at 4:07 pm #

    So, Dawn, does this mean you should know the culture you’re swimming in??? Lynne

  4. David R Witke August 4, 2015 at 12:50 am #

    What you are saying, then, is that we are failing to communicate accurately with one another. If you use one definition of a word, and I use a different definition, then neither of us is hearing what the other actually means. Not much creative interchange in such a situation, is there? Wouldn’t it be better if we both used words with precise meanings, shared meanings, so we each know what the other is talking about. If you mean god, say god; if you mean nature, say nature; if you mean love, say love; etc.

    • hekatesgal (@hekatesgal) August 10, 2015 at 12:41 pm #

      I.dont know what you mean by god. God, like love, has many meanings, thing the god Whitehead describes is the same as Yahweh is the same as Shiva etc. I would disagree with that. Hiwever, I.would love to have a conversation about it! [ re: love to.which you save d above has.some kind of meaning – Plato described two-thirds, eros and platonic love, Christian frequently use ‘agape’ etc. my love for humanity is different than my love for cherries.and is different than how I feel about my children)

      • Steve LaBonne August 10, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

        But the word god meant, pretty much exclusively, something like Yahweh for thousands of years and has had “many meanings” for merely dozens of years. That is a scenario that is almost guaranteed to cause mis-communication. Perhaps the heroic effort of liberal Protestant theologians to give it many meanings was a well-intentioned but ultimately

      • Steve LaBonne August 10, 2015 at 4:17 pm #

        (Sorry, a couple of words got cut off) unsuccessful experiment.

  5. caelesti August 10, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

    I think one of the problems is, religious & poetic language is by its very nature ambiguous and subject to interpretation- especially language chosen by UUs. When people are more explicit about what they mean, it often takes out the poetry & mystery of it.

  6. Joshua W Davies Jr. August 11, 2015 at 6:46 pm #

    Social tradition relative to the world view of any individual can only be overcome by simple logic within a rational discussion with someone with the same background. As human beings we are all related to and interdependent on everything else within the closed environment that produced us. The average person who believes in a God concept has faith based on a motley of definitions. These concepts can span the entire realm from simple pantheism to a supernatural Diety that may or not play an active role manipulating our finite realm. To mention God in a sermon is usually based on a traditionally accepted humanitarian concept that any individual can appreciate. We usually use the term God to accentuate the importance of a subject. Any one that is upset by the words usage should reexamine his own traditional meaning of the God concept.

    • Steve LaBonne August 12, 2015 at 8:15 am #

      I’m fascinated by the continuing insistence, usually accompanied by a very defensive tone, on the continued use of a word which has no generally accepted meaning among us and is known to consistently cause misunderstanding and dissension. What lies behind this insistence and what is supposed to be accomplished by it? I would genuinely like to understand this phenomenon better. It has all the earmarks of a tribal badge, and that troubles me.

  7. Rev. Dawn August 19, 2015 at 7:07 pm #

    I thing it is great that the comments here are illustrative of the exact points I was trying to make! Thanks!!

  8. Rud Merriam August 12, 2016 at 7:59 pm #

    I just returned from a UU Leadership training week. During one small group session I internally questioned whether I should be there or even attending my church. After answering a set of questions, we all answered around the circle, I was surprised to hear a minister in our group say she fully agreed with my position. The next morning I thanked her and said I’d learned:

    “Don’t let the religious jargon get in the way of being spiritual or religious.”

    Incidentally, this training is the first time I grasped what is meant by spiritual and religious.

    Quibbling about God, Spirit of Life, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster terminology is a distraction from doing the work we should do.

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