The Cause: To Take Up or Not?
Before I turn the blog over to her, however, I just want to mention something. My Sainted Girlfriend is a Unitarian and she speaks rather highly of the faith. I, on the other hand, am not a Unitarian, and would just like y'all to know that her remarks do not constitute an actual endorsement of the faith from the Total Drek staff. Don't get me wrong- Unitarians are usually a bit more tolerant than a lot of other religious groups, and I approve of this open-mindedness, but my distrust of organized religion is deep and bitter. So, hey, that's fun right?
So, without further delay, please welcome our special guest-blogger!
As Drek has mentioned several times on the site, I identify as a Unitarian Universalist. For me, a sociologist sold on Durkheim, Unitarianism provides the best of many worlds. It provides me with both ritualistic activities and a sense of community, a sense of community that I often feel is sorely lacking in our modern world. Beyond that, however, Unitarianism provides for me a liberal religion that cares more for living in harmony with ourselves, those around us, and the natural world, than for dogmatic creeds and directives. More specifically:
We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote:
- The inherent worth and dignity of every person.
- Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.
- Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.
- A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
- The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
The living tradition from which we share draws from many sources:
- Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.
- Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.
- Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life.
- Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.
- Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
- Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
As you can see from the UUA covenant and mission statement, Unitarianism is a very open religion (so open, in fact, that some have claimed it isn’t religion at all, but that’s fodder for another post). This is a significant reason why I have chosen to claim it as an identity. Thus, I was dismayed this past summer when I heard the minister of my church proclaim in a sermon, “Fundamentalism is evil.”
As a Unitarian, a social psychologist, a somewhat reasonable person (I know I’m not always that reasonable, Drek), and as a political and social liberal, I take great umbrage with this claim for several reasons. First, as a social psychologist, I know that there is a very small gap in calling “fundamentalism” evil to starting to label all “fundamentalists” evil. As empirical research shows, once stereotypes become rooted in the brain, it is very difficult to dislodge them, as we probably have all seen in our lives firsthand. Secondly, as a Unitarian, and as someone who attempts to keep an open mind in part because I ascribe to a religion that encourages that behavior, I was shocked to hear the minister of our church reduce a large proportion of the United States, and not an insubstantial population of the world(!) to a stigmatized state. Third, as a reasonable, observant person, I have known non-fundamentalists and fundamentalists alike who were “evil” (I wouldn’t personally choose that term myself), and non-fundamentalists and fundamentalists who were “good” – the law of averages would tell us that. One of my best friends, someone I’ve known since 5th grade, is a fundamentalist Christian, and she is one of the most loving, conscientious, non-evangelical individuals I have ever met. And finally, because I’m all the things listed above, plus the fact that I consider myself a liberal (as in open-minded), I have to say that I think that statements like my minister’s are dangerous and stupid (yes, I realize the irony that I’m judging someone here, but these are my opinions after all). For us as a religion, it will do us far more good in the long run to embrace all types of voices than to ostracize the ones we don’t like (the way I’m reading it now, my minister is open to homosexuals, transsexuals, those of any socioeconomic background, and any racial/ethnic background, but not fundamentalists). If we truly are a religion that searches for truth and meaning and embracing the myriad voices out there in the world, putting up a wall will not help us. It will also not help us convince others who are closed-minded (fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists alike) that perhaps "putting ourselves in each other's shoes and walking around in them" is not such a bad idea. Especially in this time of "red vs. blue" states, deciding to take up a position that those who don’t agree with us are evil is an inherently dangerous thing to do - and perhaps eerily similar to the fundamentalists my minister opposes. We are already so divided that creating more divisions seems extremely naïve to me.
But back to my minister’s comments… Towards the end of our services, we often have a time period in which the congregation can respond to the sermon. We had one of these periods on this particular day. Two responses from members have stuck with me. One retired woman said something to the effect of, “I completely agree with the minister’s whole sermon!” Another member, a middle-aged man, said, “As a Unitarian who considers himself a Christian, I will continue to love my fundamentalist neighbors as myself.” At this point, I became unfrozen from my shock at the whole proceedings long enough to nod my head in agreement. (As an aside, I’m glad that I did this. I was sitting at the front of the congregation as pianist that day, so I’m pretty sure most of the congregation could see my support for that man.) I’m including these member responses as a sign that at least some of the members in the congregation that day did not agree with my minister’s words.
Since this day in church I have recounted this story numerous times to old friends, family, and new friends (Slag). They have all been sympathetic, and a number of them have encouraged me to talk to my minister. Although every time they encourage me to talk to her I agree and feel ready to go tell her how I feel, it has been months (this occurred in June) and I have yet to talk to her, or to return to my church, which is an important place for me.
Recently I’ve found myself in a similar position, but very different situation. In light of male banter to which I was privy, and which perpetrated both male and female stereotypes, I found myself wondering whether I should have said something about it to these men or not. I don’t think they were meaning to be derogatory, and there's every possibility that I completely misconstrued their remarks, but it makes me wonder about how the structures in which we live will ever change if we do nothing when we see it in action.
This all leaves me with the following specific question, “Why have I not said anything to my minister?” And more generally, “What does it mean in situations where I do nothing? And what would it mean for our world if we did nothing?” I think my personal answer to the first and second questions is that usually when I do nothing I’m scared – scared of others thinking I’m wrong, scared of truly verbalizing my beliefs to myself as well as others. However, as a Unitarian and sociologist and liberal and reasonable person and woman, among other things, I don’t feel proud to examine my behavior and find records like this. I’m not always sure when we should speak up and when we shouldn’t; everything is so "PC" in our world today that just saying that someone is physically attractive can be construed the wrong way. So when do we take up “the cause?” When do we decide that something is important enough that we are morally obliged to do something to change it? I honestly don’t know the answer. But I do know that come this Sunday I plan to say something to my minister.
- Drek's Sainted Girlfriend