Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Rejectionist Theology

If I had to describe my own faith journey over the last fifteen years in one sentence, it might be that I moved from understanding my faith only in terms of what I was against, to building a faith based upon what I am for. For years, whenever someone would ask me what I believed, I might have a few sentences that shared a positive belief, but I had whole volumes of things I no longer believed in, or was adamantly opposed to.

This change in focus, from what I am against to what I can be for, was a change not just in my theology but a change in my whole life. I came to Unitarian Universalism looking for a way to oppose religious hatred; I found a vision of the world and our relationships in it that turned my fear and despair into hope and courage. Before this shift, I chose my political party based upon what I feared. With the shift, I found that my politics moved away from fear and towards building the nation that I want to live in. Before making this change, I found my relationships among those who feared the same things I did. Afterward, I began to find relationships among those with whom I share dreams and hopes.

So, when I find someone who is stuck in that same kind of Rejectionist theology and understanding of life, my heart bleeds. It is an encounter that happens often, both in and out of our Unitarian Universalist churches, and even in the UU seminary that I attend. When I ask someone to share their faith with me, and they begin the conversation with “Well, I don’t believe in …” I feel my soul drop, just a little bit. That bit of sinking is not just for them, but also for all of the years I spent in a similar place.

At 19 years old, feeling wounded and confused in the wake of my conscious choice to leave my conservative Christian faith behind, I encountered a book based upon this kind of Rejectionist theology. I have (half jokingly) said that this particular book should have a warning label that says, “Confused young people, Beware!” It presented a tiny snippet of positive beliefs about God, and about understanding the natural world as scripture. But the overwhelming majority of the work is dedicated to showing any and all possible flaws with Christianity.

The book, which brought me to call myself a Deist for the next fourteen years, was “The Age of Reason” by Thomas Paine.

Now, there is nothing inherently Rejectionist about Deism. It is the belief that God exists, created the Universe, and now lets it operate according to natural laws. It is the belief that the “word of God” is found not in any human language but in the “creation” itself. Deism teaches that we can find answers to life’s buy cheap imitrex ultimate questions through reason.

Through my years as a Deist, I came to have an issue with the faith’s understanding of individualism and lack of religious community, but some of these basic tenets are still a deep part of my theology, particularly the idea of the creation being scripture.

However, I found that, in the over a decade of work I did within Deist communities, the majority of those who accepted that label (including myself for a long while) did so because of all the things “Deism” was against, not what it was for. I found an ugly underside of anti-Christian, anti-Semitism, and anti-Islamic thought in many fellow Deists and Deist organizations. I found Deists who used the 9-11 tragedy to further their hatred, and I found others who used Deism as a way to place all of the world’s problems at the doorstep of Christians. I even said and wrote a few things in this light myself. Not all Deists took it to this extreme, and before I left the faith we had even founded an organization to bring together those who were trying to develop a more positive vision of Deism. But with so little positive theology and vision, there was so much room for fear and hatred.

I focus on Deism because that is what is within my experience, but I find the same kind of rejectionist theology within Humanism, within Wicca, within Atheism, within some western Buddhism, within secularism… even within Unitarian Universalism. I once co-officiated an introduction to Unitarian Universalism class in which my co-facilitator, when asked what UU’s believed in, began listing “Well, we’re against the Trinity, we’re against Hell, we’re against injustice, we’re against fundamentalism…” etc. Sigh.

I believe that Rejectionism is, at its core, the mirror image of fundamentalism. It is the focusing of all of one’s spiritual beliefs and energy on what you “oppose”, and it allows no compromise. It has the same kind of energy as fundamentalism; it has the same kind of clarity. It becomes a simple stance in a complex world, and we humans are often attracted to simple stances.

Yet it creates a worldview based in anger and hatred. It creates a self-view as someone who is marginalized by “evil” forces. It creates a “faith” that is not based in faith, but rather in fear. Stay stuck in that rejectionist theology too long, and it can lead to despair and resignation… or to violence and isolation.

Moving away from Rejectionism changed my life, and now I go through my days not in fear and anger, but in hope and possibility. And, most importantly, I have learned how to listen to what the “creation” is saying to me in ways I never could have before. Perhaps that means I am more a “Deist” now that I ever was.

Yours in Faith,


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