Sunday, December 30, 2012

Someone has to say it out loud

Today's political conservatism is inconsistent with religious liberalism, and in particular, with Unitarian Universalism.

That's the first thing that must be said out loud.

It is not because Unitarian Universalism has become intolerant; it is because today's political conservatism, as embodied by the Republican Party, opposes the core value of religious liberalism: the reverence that is due to each person and the seamless reality of the universe.

Religious liberalism and political conservatism have diverged only recently. There used to be many Unitarian Republicans who were "socially liberal, fiscally conservative."  Such a stance is no longer possible in the real world.  The present Republican Party is whole-heartedly committed to reactionary social policy, especially patriarchy, white nationalism, and heterosexual privilege.  Social liberalism is being systematically purged from the Republican Party.

And fiscal conservatism? Today's political conservatism is no longer interested in avoiding deficits and minimizing debt, but has taken on the perspective of economic libertarianism.  And it must be said that economic libertarianism is not compatible with the direction that liberal public theology is taking.  A prudent concern with debts and deficits might have been, but economic libertarianism is not.

"Standing on the Side of Love" is a current UU statement of religiously liberal public theology.  It is an extension of ideas of 'the beloved community' and the 'kingdom of God': acts of imagination of a social order based on something more than a narrow and thin concept of due process and rights.  It is not a stretch to name what we want as the institutionalization of love: a social, political and economic order that is actively engaged in the nurture of every human being.  For those that say that "Love" is too grand and emotive concept to use in a political sense, I remind you of Elie Wiesel's comment that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.

Indifference is a concrete political and economic value.  Indifference is the act of not caring about what is happening to someone, of denying any connection to it.  When an investor cheers the announcement that the management of a company has reduced its workforce by some thousands of employees, that investor knows that the lives of some of those employees will be ruined forever.  The investor, however, is indifferent to that fact.  He or she may feel some twinge of pity, but that pity has no practical bearing. When state-provided benefits are cut, the legislators who mandate such cuts are indifferent to the effects of those who will suffer.  Military commanders are often indifferent to the death and destruction an operation might have on civilians.

Conservative and Libertarian economic policy is institutionalized indifference.  What companies, corporations and investors do to maximize their profits is all-important; it is OK that they are indifferent to the consequences on others.  In fact, the conservative political program is prevent any requirement that economic decision-makers be accountable for what happens to ordinary people.

Yes, religious liberalism is deeply committed to individuation and self-determination.  Thinking for oneself, knowing and naming one's self-interest, resisting the pressures of conformity are strong values for us.  But so are accountability, solidarity with others, and compassion.  There is no way that one can stretch religious liberalism's defense of the right of individual conscience into a defense of institutionalized indifference to one's social interconnections.

Politically conservative Unitarian Universalists are in a difficult spot.  Their political loyalties and their religious values are at odds.  They are not the first people in the world to find that themselves in such a position. It is one of the perils of a spiritual life.   If religion is to mean anything, it should have the power to bring under judgment all of one's loyalties and practices.   What is ultimate in one's life?  One's religion, or one's political opinions, or one's economic interests?

The discomfort and anxiety that political conservatives in religiously liberal institutions is profound.  In many cases, they experience it as feeling unwelcome.  Everyone else shares an unspoken agreement, and our conservatives feel invisible and unacknowledged.  Their opinions are scoffed at, or ridiculed.  And so, they accuse religious liberals of hypocrisy: "We claim to welcome everybody, but not Republicans."

The second thing that must be said out loud is this: The discomfort of politically conservative UU's is their problem to solve.  Unitarian Universalist congregations cannot fix it.

3 comments:

Christine Robinson said...

Of course, conservatives believe that it is better for people to leave them free to manage themselves and that if they realize they have to, they will rise to the challenge. They would call this tough love.

I think a more problematic issue for UU's and political conservatives is that political conservatives often base their stands on faith, wishful thinking, and refuse to deal with observable reality. Religious liberalism can't cope with that.

It may be the socially conservative UU's problem to deal with, but it is all of our loss to have become a politically monolithic religious movement. It's boring, and it will be harder for us to understand our world.

JMP said...

"...political conservatives often base their stands on faith, wishful thinking, and refuse to deal with observable reality. Religious liberalism can't cope with that."
Actually, standing on faith, wishful thinking, and refusing to deal with reality are the basis of all religions, liberal or conservative. They just disagree on what ideology to follow.

I started attending a UU church in hopes that it would support me in finding my own philosophy to live by, not to be told how to vote in order to save the world. Unfortunately, it is turning into the left-wing mirror image of right-wing fundamentalism. I don't want to talk about politics when I go to church; I do not believe politics or laws will change people. People only change within, one at a time. Religious groups should stay out of politics, or lose their tax exemptions.

A guest said...

You said: "Conservative and Libertarian economic policy is institutionalized indifference."

Wrong. It's about empowering individual responsibility and natural ability, and promoting the content of your character over physical appearance or background. That fits perfectly into a religious liberal framework.

You said: "There is no way that one can stretch religious liberalism's defense of the right of individual conscience into a defense of institutionalized indifference to one's social interconnections."

Our social interconnections need not rely on socialized federal programs. Using the government to force everyone (via taxes) to be charitable and compassionate is not... charitable or compassionate. There are other ways (independent of the government) that people can voluntarily hold each other up in the name of compassion. You don't need the government to do it. All you need is people. In other words, you and me.

UUism needs to divorce itself from government and get busy building communities, not political crusades. If and when that ever truly starts happening, then UU conservatives will be able to sit at the table, as they should.