Once "God"--the quotation marks have been necessary since at least the Enlightenment--is merely a concept, new questions arise:

o Why, for example, should we frame our religious questions in God-language at all? More politely, we might ask: "To what extent, and within what limits, is God-language (or Goddess-language) really helpful any longer? Aren't there clearer ways of framing our important questions and provisional answers?"

o And if we decide to use the symbols and metaphors of God-talk, why should we talk in terms of monotheism? As some Jungians have made clear, in real life we have competing demands on us, not a single booming voice.

Our task is not obedience (as in the Abraham and Isaac story in Genesis 22), but discernment. We must balance equally valid demands of parenting, career, personal fulfillment, adventure, lust, responsibility, and a dozen more. Even if we're to use the symbols of deities to express the seriousness of our desired allegiances, real life seems clearly to be polyvalent, not monotheistic.

Why remain within the biases of Western religions? The most we can hope for through most Western salvation stories is a relationship with "God," mediated through "correct" beliefs, rituals, or behaviors. In Eastern religions, the goal is to realize our identity with the sacred powers of life--or, in Buddhist thought, to outgrow the need for all illusions, including the comforting ones. Isn't this a preferable and more advanced level of spiritual aspiration?

Goethe said the person who doesn't know two languages doesn't truly know even one, meaning that when we can only say things one way, we will confuse our way of thinking with "the way things really are." If we have no religious language, we're left mute. If we know only one religious language, we will confuse the map with the territory and defend that one map long after it has gone out of date.

This is the area within which our problem lies.

This article is excerpted from Salvation by Character: How UUs Can Find the Religious Center,' which appeared in the April 2000 issue of the Journal of Liberal Religion.