What’s the benefit of the talk?

I’d rather be sanguine about all the discussion about religious language, what is authentically Unitarian Universalism, the cautionary tale concerning belief-freedom, and how our little band can make a difference, but this seems to be the umpeenth chapter in a saga that has neither finish nor goal. And it should have at least one. (Thanks to Burton Carley for punching a hole into the “journey” fetish that consumes us and so many others. Carl Scovel writes one of his little radio addresses on the same subject, in Never Far from Home. See “Give Me Jesus,” pp. 236)

Unitarian Universalism — at least the phenomenon of liberal religion of which it is the principle representative; I almost wrote embodiment, but that suggests a cohesion not in evidence — seems to be caught up in these life-or-death struggles. They’re certainly sexier than painting the church office or sending out pledge letters, but unlike mundane parochial tasks, I’m not sure how much good it does.

Wasn’t it Hauerwas that suggested that churches should give up their willful programming for a year and retire to pure prayer for God to transform the body? I’d settle for Unitarian Universalists spending a devoted year in parochial tasks. Painting, mending, shoring up, editing, throwing out, polishing, whatever — in a word giving the silent, dependable people a break, and giving each other a break from the purposeless anxiety that purposeless talk seems perfect to cultivate.

Perhaps the church buildings would look a little fresher and newcomers would pick up on a level of activity lacking in some places. Perhaps it would prove (particularly in the plurality churches, where the power is shifting) that new people can be trusted to keep the institution going.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. I study religion at Duke, my opinion of Hauerwas isn’t very high. Anyway, about talk. Seems to me that maybe this is how UUs do theology, heck, how we do religion in general. We talk about it. At our best, we talk to each other about it, and it is conversation with listening and consideration, not simply spouting of opinions. I know in my case, I’ve had A LOT of food for thought recently from the various discussions you mention. And yes, I’ve been hearing them (or their ancestors) for many years, decades even. But I at least continue to learn, both about what UUism is for others (something I find interesting both as a UU and, sometimes more so, as a scholar of liberal religion), and often about perspectives I hadn’t considered and which enrich my own views. Also, I don’t know what else you’re expecting from online forums. Is anything other than talk even possible? What else would you have us do online? Not asked in a snarky way. Whether it is hashing things out at Philocrites with others, or the Universalist theology I’ve been doing recently on my blog, the medium more or less limits us to words. If there’s another direction for online UUism that you can recommend, I’m all ears. But certainly I doubt online forums are the extent, or even a particularly big part, of the UUism of most folks involved in the talk. My UUism at least is mainly in the world, not cyberspace, and not especially wordy there. I suspect others could say the same.

    While you’re advocating the deflation of the “journey fetish,” what is the one finish/goal that you desire us to have? How would you have us achieve it? Also not asked in a snarky way.

  2. I thought about Hauerwas with a bit of irony: there’s a man without an unpublished thought, but if you went to seminary in the 90s you were running with him non-stop. Not that I don’t like to talk and write, but I think electronic media — for Americans — is about as efficient (not to be sneezed at) and democratic a vehicle as you’re going to get. But even on this blog I trot out rather homey church-domestic hints. That’s what we can do online.

    But when we meet — and certainly in congregations — we need a better model than the much-vaunted study groups and elevator speeches. Sometimes a productive project “says” more to its participants than a study process.

    As for a goal, I don’t know there is a common goal and that’s part of the problem/reality. The most common goal for the UU Christians I’ve know is to find a real Christian church, and I’ve known a lot to go. But dwelling with “the journey” (without the identification or even hope of a goal) strikes me as enforced adolescence, and that’s not sustanable.

  3. A journey without hope of a destination, is a process without a purpose. And a process with no purpose begs the cynical question, “Why bother?”

    Classical Universalism has a purpose – universal salvation. Where Universalists have differed is in the area of method / process of universal salvation.


  4. On the other hand,
    hiking is a journey where the trip is the point,
    and literature is full of of classics where the trip is the point.
    Indeed often reaching the destination of the above isdefinately NOT thing about the journey!

    Not saying however that I would mind a wonderful ending to my journey of life :-) !

    Steven (voted “mr contrary” in ropes courses) Rowe

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