I know the canonical explanation of the flaming chalice: that most common liturgical practice in Unitarian Universalist churches. It has to do with Jan Hus, and the Unitarian Service Committee and all that. But that flaming chalice was a print image. Something happened that brought it into three dimensions, and made it a liturgical standard.
I think this must be the third or fourth Olympics where I’ve gone, “Oh, that’s where it came from.” Referring, of course, to the lighting of the Olympic flame, or cauldron. (Though this year’s looks like a WMD a lá Dr. Evil.) Match too the banner parade at General Assembly with the parade of nations.
But I think the borrowing — if indeed there was borrowing, conscious or not — goes past appreciating a moving ritual. There’s some metaphysical overlap that needs to be reinforced.
Now, I will first admit that Christianity, with its particular world-view, is at such a low ebb within Unitarian Universalism that the usual strategy for its adherents is to leave for greener pastures. This I say without self-pity or ire.
But this leaves a vacuum. A good number of Unitarian Universalists describe themselves as “unhyphenated” — which is to say that hold the majority stake in the fellowship and understand (if not always with crystal clarity) what “UUism” is about. (I’m still trying to figure out what the “Good News” Bill Sinkford keeps going on about. If the “world needs it” shouldn’t be understood?) Here’s my take.
More or less, it is a folk religion based on giving modern scientific claims and biases the weight of metaphysics. That this is a misappropriation of science is besides the point. In the last few generations science and technology have captured the imagination of so many people — East and West, rich and poor — that it seems to be a neutral place to stand over and against traditional worldviews, traditional religions included. So science and its claims win out over superstition. That a reliable number of young ministers seem to break from this orbit each year must perplex the unhyphenateds. (It perplexes me; but I really believe this is God’s act, not mine.) The humanist taglines, like “The earth is enough and all” and “We make our own salvation” puts the burden for reality, for sentience — and here I’m borrowing freely from Hudson Smith — on human consciousness. And what a terrible burden it is: a scant few billion minds, birthed as a group a twinkling of geologic time ago, and rarer in the huge, cold, inky cosmos than a Lawrence Welk album at a rave. Ah, the idolotry of the human mind and its powers has to be one of the most pervasive, if socially acceptable, superstitions alive today. Every time I hear a non-theist ponder life “out there” I hear the cry that sentience might be out there still if the human race should snuff life from this world.
Add to the confusion that much of “UU Christianity” today is the application of the above to Jesus, making him a reasonable ethicist or a social revolutionary. The Process God dwells within nature, and holds little appeal to me, for the same reason except that it is the Big Crunch and not a-bombs that will wipe out the last sentient mind. (With the Christian house divided, little wonder we still see no unity of action or witness, but that’s another posting.)
So back to the Olympics. What the hell with the end of the opening ceremony? I mean the faux-preggers woman. (Hubby exclaimed sarcastically: “She’s giving birth to a lightbulb.” I responded: “I wonder who’s the father.”) She wanders out to the middle of the arena and is greeted with a lightshow culminating in a representation of the double helix of DNA.
I can’t tell what that has to do with the Olympics, but it has everything to do with making sense — mythic sense — of the world we’ve inherited. The Olympic games, with its emphasis on accomplishment, cooperation, and excellence (forgetting commercialism for a moment) need a religion to match these lofty goals. None of the existing religions would do, not only because of favoritism, but no self-respecting religion would indulge the ego so much as the Olympics must to be successful.
Not that they have anything on Unitarian Universalism for ego. How else could we, might we dare to posit ourselves on the cusp of world-religion-hood?