Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why all the anti-UU hate?

It’s been a tough week for Unitarian Universalists in the media. Unless you’ve been hiding out in a cave, you have probably heard about Garrison Keillor’s weird and bitter diatribe against Unitarian Universalists in a piece published over at salon.com. In that piece, Keillor gets upset that our hymnal has slightly altered the words to the hymn “Silent Night.” Keillor also rambles on about our self-authoring approach to faith. This aspect of our faith was championed most poetically by the Transcendentalists and especially Ralph Waldo Emerson. It has to do with listening to your conscience and being open to “transcending mystery and wonder” rather than insisting that religious authorities mediate your faith for you.

In truth, the approach to religious understanding that calls on Unitarian Universalists to build their own theology is not perfect. If you listen only to your own “inner voice” your theology may wind up solipsistic. Freedom of conscience can mask intellectual laziness and provide a buffer against exhortations to grow. But, at worst, it is the far lesser of two evils. To live democratically we need not only free speech, a free press, and freedom of assembly. We also need a free mind, free inquiry, and free religion. These are the antidotes to tyranny and fascism.

But I’ve already been around the block with Garrison Keillor. Now I find out that Unitarian Universalists are also slammed in an article on holiday gift-buying by Noreen Malone that ran on slate.com. In her article Malone goes way out of the way to take shots at us, writing,
“The perfect generic gift ought to share attributes with the loose strictures of Unitarian Universalism—vague and inoffensive, warm and fuzzy and enveloping and giving the general impression of standing for something while not really standing for anything in particular. The gift-giver must sacrifice panache at the altar of practicality.”
Before I turn to Noreen Malone’s criticisms I want to comment on just how weird it is to see Unitarian Universalism attacked on these two particular web-sites. Both Slate and Salon are media-sites that are left of center. These sites are not taking talking points from Pat Robertson or James Dobson. They are sites where you can read feminist commentary and where gays and lesbians don’t get trashed and bashed.

Let me go back to Malone’s paragraph. In fact, a couple of the things she writes about us can be framed in a positive way. There are certainly worse things than belonging to an “inoffensive” faith community. It sure beats belonging to an “offensive” faith community. I wouldn’t necessarily use the words “inoffensive” and “enveloping” to describe us, but I would use synonyms: accepting, inclusive, welcoming, respectful, compassionate, and open-hearted.

It is the part about being vague, fuzzy, and refusing to stand for anything that I take issue with. These comments are insulting. They are cheap shots. And they are false. Our theology is not vague, but complex. When we reject simple ideas about God and the afterlife it may seem like vagueness. In fact, it is not. The truths in life cannot be easily summed up in a few short phrases and when we attempt to do that we diminish God. To embrace paradox is not the same thing as being vague.

However, it is the part about not standing for anything in particular that is the most patently false. Want to see what we stand for? Check out the Standing on the Side of Love campaign for starters.

Unitarian Universalists have been the leading religious voice for marriage equality in the United States. On this issue we possess moral clarity and we have shown up time and time again.

In many communities in our country teens do not have access to medically accurate information about human sexuality except at Unitarian Universalist churches that teach the Our Whole Lives program. In their schools they are lied to about contraception failure rates and treated to conservative moralizing instead of honest education.

Stand for nothing? My UU colleague Rev. Kathleen McTigue would beg to differ. Hundreds of our congregations involved in Congregationally Based Community Organizing would beg to differ.

Take a look at what is happening in Uganda. I might add that this evil is being supported and encouraged by religious conservatives in the United States. But let’s not worry about any of that when we can pile on the Unitarian Universalists for changing the lyrics of hymns and for being "warm and fuzzy."