Unification News for July 1996


Absolutes: Who Needs Them?!

by Dr. Kathy Winings

I'm struggling! But I am not struggling in the way you may think. I am struggling with the way our society has made the word "absolutes" into a dirty word. I have just read another article, in a long line of articles, in which a mainline Protestant writer is taking issue with a more conservative Christian's stance on absolutes. The debate boils down to this: Christians and religious people must be tolerant and understanding in dealing with others' faiths and persons of a different lifestyle and sexual orientation. Therefore, there is no room for absolutes, EXCEPT when it comes to what my faction represents-usually this means the broader social concerns of peace and justice.

There are several things taking place here that concern me. First of all is the equation of absolutes with the concept of being unloving, unconcerned and nonunderstanding. As a Unificationist, I sincerely try to love others with the heart of a daughter of God. I also try to understand the "other" and fathom why they do what they do and where their heart is. I would also hope that I am concerned enough about them to take the time to understand, love and reach out to them. To believe that one's chosen lifestyle is not appropriate when judged by what I believe to be God's standard of life is not the same as saying I can't love them. Love does not mean a blanket acceptance of all of one's actions and behaviors. This is like saying that in order to really love my brother, I also have to be tolerant and accepting of his stealing, violence or other expressions of deviant behavior.

We are too accustomed to living in an "either/or" paradigm. This type of paradigm can lead to absolutism. But absolutism is not the same as believing and espousing absolutes! What I believe God is calling us to do is to be clear about who we are, what is a good set of beliefs, and who God is-while at the same time having the capacity to love others with God's parental heart-offering them a choice. There is another paradigm: "and/but." This says: I love you and will try and understand your heart, but I do not believe that your actions are healthy for you as a child of God. I can honestly say that I love the young adult generation. I spend most of my life either teaching or working with them. And, I understand the challenges, difficulties and decisions that they must make. However, I believe that sexual morality and purity before receiving the Blessing is an absolute. That does not make me intolerant of the young adult generation-it just makes me intolerant of an action which is hurting their eternal lives.

The problem has arisen when those espousing absolutes create an aura of absolutism or cannot distinguish between loving the person with the heart of a parent and decrying the act. However, both sides are guilty of this sin. Those who have spoken out against racial or social injustice have acted as badly as those who today decry moral pluralism, tolerance, and alternative lifestyles. Consequently, both sides have been guilty of intolerance and misunderstanding. That is what happens when your only choice is either/or.

Second is the subtle ability of a group of individuals who enjoy being the majority to determine what can be an absolute and what cannot be an absolute simply because they have the power to do so! It is times like this that I am happy that as a Unificationist I am considered to be part of the marginal group of society. Without those living on the margins, we would have no one to speak prophetically-to offer a real choice. The established religious world has historically accused the Unification Church and other newer or younger religious movements of not offering choice because we espouse absolutes. Now look who's calling the kettle black! The established community tells us that there are no absolutes except for what they declare to be an absolute.

And if we don't like that, tough! We are then labeled intolerant, unloving, and on and on. Now that is real choice!

The prophet has historically been misunderstood and unwelcomed. So be it. If they were completely welcomed, they might very well lose their sense of objectivity and insight. More importantly, they might lose their prophetic ability. Had Isaiah not loved God and the Israelites, he would have let Judah and Jerusalem continue their unjust, immoral and arrogant ways. Jeremiah also chastised Judah for its faithlessness and disobedience because of his concern for Israel's future. The same can be said of all the prophets of Israel. John the Baptist was also a prophet. And of course Jesus was the penultimate prophet. Today, these spiritual visionaries would probably be labeled intolerant, unloving or nonunderstanding-as indeed they were labeled in their own times.

Third, this attitude has created the myth within our minds that absolutes and those who believe in them are somehow evil, wrong or bad. End of story. Absolutes are not the problem. We imperfect human beings are the problem. In our attempt to understand who we are, our purpose and place in life, and life itself, we are constantly challenged by this question of what is right and wrong and who is right and wrong. "Naturally, I don't think I am wrong. Therefore, you must be in error." Now, when it is a group of people who hold all the cards that begins to express this thought, we can begin to understand why we have relative standards, conflicting standards, and a fear of absolutes.

Absolutes need not, perforce, be seen to be evil or bad. Nor should they be a conservative or liberal "problem". In reality, they are those points which remain pure, unrestricted and complete in order to guide all peoples at all times in their behaviors, attitudes and lives. They should be those points which are determined by a force outside of our human, finite, imperfect existence-concepts formulated by the one who created all life and which thus stem from a loving and concerned parental heart. If seen in this light, absolutes are the loving thoughts and points of guidance by which we can evaluate our daily lives and our development. Of course, they may also challenge and confront us. However, that does not make them evil and bad-a thing to be feared.

So where does that leave us? First, it would help if we stopped reacting negatively to the notion of absolutes-this means both pro and con. Each faction, group or individual holds to a certain set of absolutes-whether they call them absolutes or not. All of us believe in some set of principles or concepts which profoundly motivate our actions. If we cannot recognize this fact, we are only kidding ourselves. So let's stop the name-calling. Here it would be wise to remind ourselves that our list of absolutes includes the ability to love as God loves.

Second, we will probably disagree as to which set of absolutes is "right". Therefore, we need to be willing to talk with each other deeply and sincerely in order to discern what is an appropriate set of absolutes for sons and daughters of God to espouse. This means in word as well as deed. If we have enough humility and are prayerful, I believe that we will be able ultimately to discern God's loving message in this process. If my set of absolutes are correct, they will ring true with the seed of God's original nature that is within us- that "imago dei." Acting and speaking out of arrogant hubris, hatred or self-righteousness will not benefit either group.

Finally, as a global society, we need to recognize that we really do need absolutes. We cannot possibly guide and evaluate our lives with our own limited, finite and imperfect minds. That is like the blind leading the blind. We need to set aside our personal wants and desires long enough to realize that absolutes are not something to be feared.

What is to be feared is our own response to absolutes, our unwillingness, resistance and difficulty to change, and our own sin and hubris. However, the starting point is me-if I am totally honest with myself and God, then I can only conclude that "I" need absolutes. If our conversation can begin here, we then will have made tremendous progress in our struggle with absolutes.

Dr. Kathy Winings is the executive director of IRFF (the International Relief Friendship Foundation) and the director of ecumenical affairs for HSA-UWC (the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity).


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