The Elephant and the Emperor

Sean from Across, Beyond, Through asked the following in the comments of the entry, “Is being many harder than being one?”:

Just checking here–your position is that Unitarianism and Universalism were intentionally changed in order to be more palatable? To each other? To society at large?

I think that there was an embarrasment about the way Unitarianism and Universalism had been, and a fear that these older modes of being wouldn’t carry the religion — and perhaps not support America — into postwar living. Since the two groups that would accomplish this transformation (of themselves, of society) were the Universalists and Unitarians, they needed to be closer together. So yes, to all of the above.

Doing so cut us from our roots and traditions, despite protestations that we “draw” from them, and that was the big mistake, even if it was earnest and (at the time) sensible.

But Sean also challenges me: “And I think my knickers get in a twist because I don’t hear anything that passes as respect or affection for Unitarian Universalism in your posts.”

Fair enough. My loves within the institutions of Unitarian Universalism include the churches I serve and have served, my colleague-friends, and those supports that make maturity as a Universalist Christian possible. As such, I don’t love Unitarian Universalism, in part because I’m not sure it’s an it.

The most I can concede is that Unitarian Universalism is a complex of ideas and assumptions, bound more by historical accident than philosophical cohesion, that infuse so many congregations, schools, and other institutions. If some of the ideas that animate me weren’t present, I would have left long ago. Indeed, I become a real crab when denounced by persons (including colleagues, to their shame) as an ontological impossibility. I may be a minority, but I am real, and since when as excluding minorties been a part of Unitarian Universalism.

Well, in fact, it has been. Theological and social minorities anyway. But that says more about human nature than a denomination.

But this is more than about being member of a thin theological minority hanging on; it is about the soul of the fellowship.

I’m of the age — thirty-four — that I cut my political teeth in the tail end of the Queer Nation/ACT-UP era. (I’ll give you a moment to digest that visual.) I was never a member of either group (mainly because I was closeted during their years of greater vitality) but the ethos did bring me out. (If they were juvenile, well then look to the White House in those days.) I continue to insist that silence equals death.

My experience is that we’re all supposed to agree and be alike, even if it is alike in a perverse criticism of culture (as I’ve seen in some fellowships) or in socio-economic norms (as in worshipping NPR) — and that real dissent isn’t really welcome. Again, human nature. OK, fine. But it doesn’t give us a sense of commonweal or trust, and it can’t help us be a reasonable participant (I refuse to call us an “alternative”) in American and Canadian religious life.

So I’ll even act like a crab to the nude Emperor, it it helps him find some clothes.

1 comment

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.