I had to make an unexpected trip to Tennessee this week to deal with some family matters. All is well and I’m back now. While I was there, I fell into a religious discussion with someone who attends a fundamentalist Baptist church, much like the one I grew up in.
In the course of our discussion, he made the statement “I wish I didn’t know what I’ve learned about astronomy and geology and biology. I wish I could go back to when I just believed what the Bible said.”
A church sign near this person’s house said “Life has many choices, Eternity only 2″. If you have lived your whole life in a religious environment that preaches eternal joy for those who follow the right religion and eternal torment for everyone else, that teaches the Bible is the literal and inerrant Word of God, and teaches that Satan is constantly looking to deceive those who lean on their own understanding, accepting scientific and historical evidence that is well-supported but counterintuitive isn’t as easy as those of us who’ve already changed religions a time or two may think. If even a Ph.D level theologian can see no choice but to accept what he’s always been taught, how difficult can breaking away be for those with lesser education and intellectual skills?
My conversation with this person was polite and friendly. I stated my beliefs, made my case, and then listened politely to what he had to say. It was a conversation, not a debate. One of the good things about being a universalist is that I don’t have to worry about people ending up in hell if I can’t convert them to my way of thinking. I hope I managed to clear up some misconceptions he had about science and about Unitarian Universalism. I hope my example of following where the evidence and my religious experiences lead will give him confidence to ask difficult questions and accept the answers he gets.
But as long as he’s in this fundamentalist environment (not just his church, but also the wider environment that includes church signs), that will be a difficult journey.
And this is why I say yet again: UUs, Pagans, and practitioners of all free and liberal religions must never stop preaching universalism.