Monday, April 14, 2008

Free on-line ordination

I am still in shock. While visiting family in New Jersey, (including some great grandson experiences with two year old Elliot!), we met a neighbor. A high school teacher, smartly dressed in a suit, he was obviously in a hurry. He announced that he was off to officiate at a wedding. Seeing puzzled looks, he explained that he had recently been ordained by the Universal Life Church Monastery. With pride he told us it was his fourth wedding.

Apparently this organization believes in the rights of all people to practice their beliefs, regardless of what those beliefs are, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others and are within the law. They therefore ordain persons who are totally non-religious or even anti-religious because they are looking to change negative perception of religion while encouraging people to fearlessly state their religious beliefs, even if the only thing that a person can say is that he or she does not have any beliefs.

I am still processing this information. I suppose I am not surprised that an outfit should offer ordination free on-line, nor that they should practice relativism so glibly. But, they claim over 20 million ministers have gained such free ordination since 1959. Are these intelligent people who sincerely think that anybody can "do religious ministry"? Or people on a crusade, who would see the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ as part of the "negative perception of religion"? Or people after a quick buck? What about those who seek their services - do they care so little about belief?

I am still reeling from this encounter. What's your response?

10 comments:

wsuriano said...

As I recall, this, and other similar ordination schemes, got their start as a tax dodge. If you were an ordained minister in a church you could avoid income taxes. It was not entirely successful once the IRS caught on. So there may well have been an economic motivation for getting ordained.
That being said, there is something far deeper that troubles me. The anti-Christian lobby has as one of its primary goals to suck the meaning out of words that are significant to believers. Their targets include words like marriage, parent, mother, father, sin, hell and a whole lot of others. These folks have now sucked the meaning out of ordination. I think this is most troubling because, to many of us, words are not just words, but packages that transmit ideas and concepts. By cheapening the word, you cheapen the idea or concept, leaving behind a shell that can be filled with anything you want. Meaning becomes meaningless. What a battle we're in!

Dawneen said...

"It depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is." Bill Clinton

MRC said...

Dr. Quicke,

This is the first time I've run across your blog, so I have yet to peruse the rest of your postings, but I feel a need to respond to you and your readers.

As a member of the ULC and one of their ordained ministers, I would like to share a little insight into the attitudes of fellow members, as well as my own.

I was raised Catholic and had accepted it as my faith from the beginning; but right after my confirmation, I started to see Christianity in a whole in a new light. In short: I could not agree any more with a system of beliefs based on so much fear, arrogance, and contradictions. From there, I set on a path of self discovery, studying the religions of the world in an effort to find something that fit my own outlook on life and the world, which led me to label myself a "universal agnostic."

Later, several things happened that augmented my outlook: first, a change in environment (moving from the city to a rural area) gave me a new respect for nature and also made me rely on the Internet as my source for information and current events. My attitude changed from needing to believe in something, to just accepting nature and the world for the incredible/beautiful complexity it was. I felt anything more than that was just going to be either (1) something completely fabricated within myself, and/or (2) nothing more than following the "sheeple" and what they thought. So I found myself to be an atheist.

Not long after this, I ran across the ULC in my surfing and found a whole bunch of people with the same attitude I had: beliefs are yours and no one can or should try to dictate your own thoughts or feelings.

I find your statement of "practice relativism so glibly" to be perfectly representative of people who have faith in an organized religion; the very idea that a human can be moral based only on their own understanding of human nature and the interaction with fellow humans, is completely beyond your comprehension.

I've been asked (argued with is more precise a description) "How can an atheist have morals?" My answer: the same way any human can have morals. The difference being the atheist accepts morals and the need for them in society as a given... the way a human should act (civilly, as it were); while the believer needs an authority figure to tell them what to do (and not do). I'm happy to say I've embraced this "out-of-the-box" thinking, and I believe I am a better person because of it.

Another thing you said: "Are these intelligent people who sincerely think that anybody can "do religious ministry"? "Anybody"?No, not all at least. It's been my experience that these people are not only intelligent, but serious about their beliefs and want nothing more than the freedom to practice them. In some cases, they are disenchanted apostates who still have spirituality in their hearts, but find they can get more from it without the structure or demands of organized religion.

If you are seriously curious about this, I suggest you read some of the ULC Forum posts. I think you'll find your assessment(s) somewhat specious, if not outright prejudice.
***
On that note, I'd like to address wsuriano's comments: You obviously understand that words are representatives of ideas and concepts; yet you yourself "suck the meaning" from them by even suggesting that anyone could diminish their meaning by using them for what they are: WORDS. The meaning that gets assigned to them comes from you and your usage. Words like "marriage, parent, mother, father, sin, hell" have the same meaning to them as they have to you; the difference being they understand those concepts beyond the limited, parochial definition you hold. You accuse them of leaving words "empty" to be filled with whatever meaning works, yet that's exactly what religion has done to such words: defined the concepts based on their use within their tenets, and nothing more. Sorry, I don't accept such small-minded thinking.

But then, this would also explain such a bigoted opinion as to suggest the ULC's ordination is nothing more than an economic incentive.
***
So, Dr. Quicke, I hope you see that (most of) those who do the online ordination do not take it lightly, and (usually) have a reasoned position for doing so. I also suggest (again) that you do some research before drawing any conclusions about a subject so obviously new to you.

I apologize for the long post, but thank you for the opportunity to give you an alternate point of view.

Peace

Dawneen said...

To MRC: Although "beliefs are yours and no one can or should try to dictate your own thoughts or feelings", I believe that when we see someone going down the wrong path that we have a moral obligation to try to redirect them. That does not mean that I have to pick them up and carry them away with me, but to try to show them the error of their ways. Their way of thinking may be confused. I understand that that is probably your desire as well, to show me the "error" of my ways. Nonetheless, I believe that there are distinct meanings to words and there is one God that desires and, in fact, commands that we give Him his rightful place as Sovereign and Lord in our lives. I would think that your love for nature (creation) and realizing its complexity would draw you to the realization that there is a Creator, the one true God. I pray that you find Him. Have you read Romans recently? You may find if you read it again that it has something to say to you. I hope so.

MRC said...

To Dawneen:

"I believe that when we see someone going down the wrong path that we have a moral obligation to try to redirect them."
"Their way of thinking may be confused."

That is an admirable "cause" (to help people); but you've given a perfect example of what I mean by the "arrogance" of believers: Who's to say someone's path is "wrong?" How do you determine whether something someone does or chooses (for themselves) is an "error of their ways" or "confused thinking?" In an effort to help, you assume the path you have chosen for yourself is not only the correct one, but the correct one for them.

"I understand that that is probably your desire as well, to show me the "error" of my ways."

On the contrary, I have absolutely no problem with you believing what you believe. I DO, however, have a problem when YOU don't afford me the same courtesy; and I RESENT any efforts on your part to tell me I'm a fool for thinking/believing what I believe. I would never do that to you, no matter how much I may disagree with you. As I said, THAT is a tenet of the ULC I hold dear: complete and unconditional acceptance and freedom.

"I would think that your love for nature (creation) and realizing its complexity would draw you to the realization that there is a Creator, the one true God."

That's because that is what you believe. I feel that nature is impressive enough to stand on it's own. An entire universe of life and incredible structure created from the the very matter that powers the stars and galaxies...a fascinating subject I would prefer to keep free of speculative intangibles. In other words, I accept such brilliance as a natural given; to add a deity to it actually disrespects and belittles nature for the wonder it is.

Finally, it is also interesting that you point out Romans, as I feel it reinforces my above point(s). To me, Romans is nothing more than a record of Paul's efforts to evangelize those he sees as pagans. So again, we have a presumtive arrogance that says, "If you don't think like I do, then you're wrong."

Sorry, I don't think like that.

wsuriano said...

To MRC:

I was amazed by your postings how much we have in common. I was raised in about as rural an environment as you can get in the lower 48 in a Catholic family. I am a lover of nature and still spend as much free time as I can backpacking somewhere. I am also an amatuer astronomer/astrophotographer. I too see the beauty in creation - it is magnificent. My undergraduate degree is in philosophy. I also went down a similar path as you. I dropped out of the Catholic church and, to this day, am not a big fan of "religion." Indeed, I struggled for many years at the brink of atheism before accepting Christ. Isn't it amazing how two people can travel a similar path and yet end up at a totally different destination?

Dawneen said...

To MRC:
Please accept my apology for any offense that I may have caused you. Your beliefs are yours to have, to hold and by which to live. I do want you to think about what I had to say just as I thought about your beliefs. Your ideas do press me to think and I hope you understand that part of my faith requires that I share the gospel message with others, but not to force anyone to believe it. What you do with what I share with you is totally and completely up to you.

Blogging has some limitations and, I believe, can prompt misunderstandings that would never occur in person. For example, I have never wanted to argue with you as you discussed in your earlier blog. I wanted to explain my testimony and beliefs. By posting your comments, I understood that you did want to engage Dr. Quicke and others to consider your viewpoint with the understanding that others might agree or disagree with you and would respond to your comments. In my remarks I tried to express that if I believe someone has missed something really important that I should share with them my beliefs while not forcing my beliefs on them. From my viewpoint, you do not understand my beliefs. That does not mean that I think that you are a fool. I have no reason to demean you nor would I want to belittle you in any event.

When you asked "Who's to say someone's path is 'wrong?'", I would answer God is to say. It is hard for me to accept that since I would like to go my own way; even as a child I would stomp my foot trying to get my way rather than listen to my father or mother. Unfortunately, as I have observed my own life apart from Christ and that of others on their own path, it does not lead naturally to lives full of peace and love, but rather to contention, hatred and even death.

The way I determine if my ways are just and right is whether they square with what God says; do I love Him above all else and love others as I love myself? It would not be right for me to force you to believe as I do nor would it be kind to allow you to go your way without a word to cause you to reflect. Therefore, when I look at the opportunity I have when I write to you, I believe it is best to explain to you what Christ has done for us all to free us from sin and give us full, joyful lives. Christ led a perfect life and died to overcome sin and death. My beliefs do not imply that I think that I am better than anyone. I think that no matter how grand anyone on this earth is compared with one another that compared to a perfect God, our highest achievements and most selfless acts would still leave us wanting. Thankfully, God did and does love us. That’s why He said “For God so loved that world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”

Thanks for your acceptance of me and my beliefs. I’m thankful we live in this land that allows us each the freedom to our own beliefs as well as to discuss them openly.

I do wish you the peace that transcends all understanding.

MRC said...

To wsuriano:

"Isn't it amazing how two people can travel a similar path and yet end up at a totally different destination?"

Indeed. I also find it interesting that you left the church/your faith only to return (in whatever capacity). I'd love to explore that if you are interested in a further exchange(?)

***

To Dawneen:

"Please accept my apology for any offense that I may have caused you."

Please, no apology needed. I may be vehement in my delivery, but I'm not/was not angry/upset. This isn't the best format for debate, but Dr. Quicke's blog has given us the opportunity to exchange our views, and that's what the Internet is all about.

"Your ideas do press me to think and I hope you understand that part of my faith requires that I share the gospel message with others, but not to force anyone to believe it."

That is a very fair point and I appreciate you saying so. I do reiterate my wish that [Christians in general] would allow [non-believers] that same latitude. (...at least acceptance that the non-believers position is just as valid as the [believer's] position). I have yet to experience this myself, thus why I pointed it out in my earlier comment.

"When you asked "Who's to say someone's path is 'wrong?'", I would answer God is to say."

I expected that answer, but since I do not believe in God, I hope realize that that answer has no relevance in my world. I prefer humans to search for the answer to such questions without God as consideration (at least initially). I think people would more readily find answer(s) more relevant to themselves (personally). That's not to say the answer for them isn't God/Christ, but I think it's better to come to that conclusion after looking at all of the possibilities.

"Thanks for your acceptance of me and my beliefs. I’m thankful we live in this land that allows us each the freedom to our own beliefs as well as to discuss them openly."

I whole-heartily agree. I want to thank Dr. Quicke (who has been decidedly quiet through all this) for letting us readers use his blog for the discussion.

Peace and love.

MichaelQuicke said...

To Mrc, Wsuriano and Dawneen
I have been reading your comments with such interest over these past few days. Forgive me - being "decidedly quiet" is my classroom technique! I try to present an issue that genuinely interests me, and then seek not to interfere as people respond! And it's not easy on-line because we often miss the humanity, humor and vulnerability behind cold words.

Originally I confessed astonishment about free-line ordination. Your responses mrc have been honest and revealing. My beginning point was as an ordained Christian pastor, who went through years of training in "revealed" religion, and for whom the conducting of marriages is an extraordinary privilege of helping prepare people, with (obviously) a Christian world-view.

By the way, I think that is the biggest divide between us. That I seek to speak of "revealed" truth in the Bible and in Christ. I realize (and grieve) that it can sound so arrogant when Christians sound off that they have the truth and treat others so discourteously. Actually, this "revealed" truth is profoundly disturbing to the human spirit....and part of my journey of faith (and it is faith) has been to come to terms with this "outside authority." Obviously Romans can be seen as Paul's thinking only - and who cares? Jesus Christ can be argued away as largely a construct of his disciples (especially Easter) who then lied about their consequent martyrdoms in the early church. But I struggle to live with it as divine truth, and to live in its consequences. In contrast, your heuristic journey is much more appealing! But there is no way that I want you to hear arrogance in my confession. I think that dawneen has expressed that spirit well.

This encounter has taught me to be careful how I highlight issues. It have been invaluable and ultimately shown coutesy and openness to each other. And maybe wsuriano can have a continuing conversation?

wsuriano said...

To MRC:

I'm almost always game for a further exchange. You might want to use my direct e-mail, wsuriano@sbcglobal.net, since we're a bit off-topic here. Given my rather hectic schedule, the timeliness of any response is dictated solely by conditions largely outside my control. Patience would be appreciated.