Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Unitarian Universalism is a religion for the mature, the courageous, the brave

Dr. Ovid Byron, the entomologist's wife, Juliet, an anthropologist,  has come from California to visit with her husband as he does his field work on the Monarch butterflies in Tennessee. The couple is having dinner with Dellarobia and Cub, a professional middle class couple, with a farming couple 20 years their junior.

      Ovid was explaining something to Juliet that he called the theory of the territorial divide. With some confusion, Dellarobia understood this was her theory, he was attributing it to her, though the terms he used were unfamiliar: climate-change denial functioned like folk art for some people, he said, a way of defining survival in their own terms. But it's not indigenous, Juliet argued. It's like a cargo cult. Introduced from the outside, corporate motives via conservative media. But now it's become fully identified with the icons of local culture, so it's no longer up for discussion.

     "The key thing is," Juliet said, resting her elbow on the table, that beautiful wrist bending under the weight of its wooden rings, "once you're talking identity, you can't lecture that out of people. The condescension of outsiders won't diminish it. That just galvanizes it."

     Dellarobia felt abruptly conscious of her husband and her linoleum. "Christ on the cross," she said without enthusiasm. "The rebel flag mudflaps, science illiteracy. That would be us."

     "I am troubled by this theory, Dellarobia," Ovid said, "but I can't say you are wrong. I've read a lot of scholarly articles on the topic, but you make more sense."

     "Well, yeah," Juliet said, "that's kind of the point, that outsiders won't get it." p.395

Most human beings although they benefit from the knowledge and technology gained from science are scientifically illiterate. The skill of scientific thinking and problem analysis has never been acquired by most people as a result of their education to facilitate a higher level of more deliberate and purposeful functioning. Most people still function based on emotional responses to what they perceive as external circumstances fueled by unconscious conditioning based on the avoidance, containment, or elimination of fear.

The avoidance, containment, and, if possible, the elimination of fear, is achieved by the security of belonging to a group of like minded people who will have your back and help protect you. Identification with the group, it's symbols, rules, values, beliefs, practices becomes important, so the individual thinks and feels, for survival. And yet we live in a time where "group think", especially if the "group think" is wrong, is especially important for the survival of the whole species of homo sapiens.

Juliet seems to be saying that correct understanding, right mindedness, must come from within the group, because if the group perceives the attempts to change their "group think" as coming from without, they will just feel threatened and become more "galvanized".

What is the Unitarian Univeralist approach to people caught up in "group think"? It advocates in its fourth principle the "free and responsible search for truth and meaning" but not many people have the temperament, or the maturity, to be what are called "free thinkers". Perhaps it is the fifth principle, "the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large" which has the best utility in this situation of dysfunctional "group think". I was taught as a Roman Catholic that my conscience was the final arbiter of right and wrong. To be right with God meant that I was to bring my conscience into compliance with what I thought and felt God was calling to me to do. As long as I went with my conscience I would be all right. As St. Paul says in his letter to Corinthians, "If God is with you, who can be against you." It was the will of God, not the group, that was to be used as the final guide to my choices and decisions.

The psychological consideration is whether the individual is mature enough, has the courage,  is brave enough to stand up for his or her conscience? If not he or she may go along with the group out of fears of punishment, being dismissed as crazy, or exile and excommunication for rocking the boat, going against the grain, disturbing the status quo, stepping on the toes of the leaders of group who have the power to enforce compliance.

Unitarian Universalism is not a religion for the weak, the cowardly, the insecure, the people pleasers. We understand that our environment is being changed by human activity and that species are being made extinct and the weather is changing leading to significant changes in the geological functioning of our planet. The moral question is whether we, homo sapiens, will take responsibility or continue with the same because of the short term profit and security of the familiar? 

What is happening to our climate is a matter of science. What should be done about the changes that science is learning about is a matter of ethics. The ethical base for Unitarian Universalism articulated in its seven principles can be the saving grace for all species at this time in our geological evolution of this planet. Will we be a light unto the world, the yeast in the dough, the salt of the earth?


  1. I have heard Unitarian Universalism referred to several times by several different people, usually pastors, as a "movement". I find this an odd appellation. It reminds me of a social cause rather than a religion. It makes me wonder what these pastors and religious leaders think they are doing and what the mission is of the organization they are supposedly leading? For me, when I hear this term, I think of bowel movement, and shit, not to be disrespectful, but to refer to Unitarian Universalism as a "movement" is a gross misunderstanding of the depth and meaning of the spirituality UU can convey, inspire, and inculcate in its adherents. What the world needs now in this time of climate change is not a movement but an awakening and it must come from within as is pointed out in this article. It can't be forced on people, it has to raise consciousnesses. UU has the ingredients, but is it up to the job? Not if its leaders don't appreciate and understand, the depth and significance of the faith.

  2. I find something in the writing here refreshing. It is thoughtful, substantive, down to earth, and to the point. A lot of the UU literature seems kind of pie in the sky, psychobabbly, liberal, pollyannish blather. The articles here are clearer, more reasoned, relevant, and inspiring.

    It is obvious that the faith of the author is practiced daily in a more rigorous and purposeful way than I usually find.

    I don't know the person at all who writes these articles but I am appreciative of finding a skeptical contemplative spirit here with whom I can relate.