I’ve been sitting on a reply to Rieux, who wrote a comment a couple of days ago in “Mutual Respect at Philocrites and in the UUA.” Since I called him out, and he responded respectfully, he deserves a thoughtful reply. And that takes time.
Here’s his comment:
As for â€œfighting badly”â€“there is something to be said for not sinking to the level of oneâ€™s opponent, but (as the Peacebang-Rieux, er, dialogue demonstrates) Iâ€™m on par with plenty of other commenters on the Net in being prone to fighting vitriol with vitriol. I have a hard time responding to lines like â€œWho are these people who still think that itâ€™s special and unique to reject traditional images of the Deity?â€ with love and kindness.
Iâ€™m not sure that â€œthe machinations of snarky Christians and our well-honed gallows humorâ€ really does justice to some of the prominent shots that Iâ€™ve seen nonbelievers take from UUs. The very legitimacy and worth of UU nonbelievers as people is called into question by some of this stuffâ€“and not infrequently itâ€™s from high places in the UUA. The trend you see (and I do too) toward UU theism and Christianity being on the â€œsexyâ€ rise wouldnâ€™t trouble me if I didnâ€™t get the idea that some of the (ever-more-) powers-that-be donâ€™t plan to treat the â€œless-fashionable setâ€ terribly kindly.
Iâ€™m not asking for your permission to be an atheist and humanist. I just want the ugly treatment to stop. Iâ€™m happy to apply the same criteria to folks on my side of the theological aisle, if that mattersâ€“Iâ€™d love it if the mud fight stopped in both directions.
Do you see any risk, any potential problem with UU believers treating their nonbelieving neighbors poorly? Is there any way we can object to such matters without being silly victimologists?
First, don’t believe I have anything against you personally. If I disliked you — which would be pretty hard to do, seeing as we have never met — I wouldn’t reply, and would flush your comment. (This is neither a democracy nor a public utility.) I still think you fight badly; that is, uneffectively and with unintended results. The written word — especially quickly written, as in blogs — conveys emotion and intentionality with more ambiguity than the spoken word, which is why I prefer the latter. That said, you come off unsympathetically and a bit paranoid.
I know this viscerally because I (with nearly every UU Christian minister; Peacebang, you’re not off the hook) have done the same thing before. I have fought badly — defensively, snidely, hyperbolically — and never got anywhere good with it. Reread some of the comments made here and at Philocrites with the shading, “Don’t make the same mistake.” There’s nothing wrong in my book with a good, hard wordy fight so long as it resolves more conflicts than it creates.
Now, let’s look at one of the phrases that has lead to offense. I’ve heard variations on both sides of the sentiment before, for what it’s worth: Who are these people who still think that itâ€™s special and unique to reject traditional images of the Deity?
Even though it comes out of frustration and pique (I don’t hear malice) I’d invite you to read the question literally. Bless our souls but as Unitarian Universalists we do pride ourselves as precious and different, and cultivate a grandiose sense of self like few can. I suspect it is a side-effect of our small numbers, elusive mission, uncertain institutional future, and a Arminianizing trend (a hallmark of Unitarianism, adopted by Universalists to their peril; really, it is a hallmark of Americanism, too) toward smugness and self-cultivation. I think the most important word in the above question is still. It is high time all of us get past the sloganeering and get on to some of the more sustantive theological, philosophical, and ecclesiological work I know we’re able to do. (This is one of the reasons I’m over the “elevator speech” jag. Does anyone actually know, with some degree of detail, what Bill Sinkford means when he refers to the “Good News of Unitarian Universalism”?)
Let me ask Peacebang’s question — and I think I know her well enough to intuit a variation, say, if martinis were served — “So, Rieux, spill: what’s the truth?”
My experience with Unitarian Universalists — one reason I’ve given up Arminianism for good ol’ Universalist Calvinism — is that we’re nice to our friends, more than capable of being complete turds to those who aren’t, and that above all, we respect strength and despise weakness. Which is to show that we’re just as human as everyone else.
But you asked for an action point: if you don’t like the way you and your ken are being treated, stand up and demand something. (First, figure what point you want to make, then make it.) You’ll have to be thoughtful, patient, deliberate, and un-self-possessed. (All, you may note, are classic spiritual disciplines.) Don’t talk yourself out of getting a blog: you’ll not get a better platform at any price. Consider dropping the veil of anonymity.
If you think you see a bully, stand your ground. You’re hardly likely to be clobbered, and we promise not to be threatened.