Monday, November 04, 2013

Why the "Lively Tradition"

Welcome to new readers, who may be visiting from the UU World.

 A religious tradition, like Unitarian Universalism, stays alive by looking at the present moment with fresh eyes whenever it can.   It asks itself, again and again, what is happening now?  How have conditions changed?  Are we speaking to what is happening now?  Are we offering yesterday's nostrums and platitudes?  How can we see the future if we cannot even comprehend the present?

The overriding concern of this blog is that Unitarian Universalism is not so much a fresh and relevant voice for today.  This is not a generational argument on my part.  I am a boomer through and through, and only a half a year out from choosing my Medicare supplemental insurance.  But I can see that we UU's are lagging behind reality.

I am most concerned about our public theology: the implications that we draw from our liberal religious theology about the state of the world and public policy.  I know that most UU's are more afraid that we lag behind in worship style and in community creation.  I think that these are secondary questions.

The primary questions are "Who are we?  What do we stand for?  What are we embodying in our social practice?"  The perceptions about us that we should be most concerned about are the ones that go like this:  "Unitarian Universalism: there's no there there" and  "Unitarian Universalism: nice people who have mastered the arts of inoffensiveness".

One of my starting points is my perception that contemporary Unitarian Universalism is still recovering from the 40 year dominance of anti-liberal conservatism in this country -- a period that started with Nixon and finally began to break up with the election of Obama.  (Presidents are only the tip of the iceberg of public thinking.)   UU's operate on the assumptions that we have little social power and that the majority of people would be angry with us if they knew about us.  I think that those days are coming to an end.  A new progressive majority is rising and the presumptions of liberal religion are at the heart of the new social system.

The questions about which this blog is trying to stimulate discussion and change:

1.  The state of our democracy and liberal religion: I point to all the ways that I think it is clear that the Tea Party/Republican/Libertarian/Conservative Christian coalition is actively seeking to thwart the power of the emerging progressive majority.  I think Liberal Religion should fight to expand government of, by and for the people.  Now.  But Unitarian Universalists are stuck in nostrums of the past: the supposed differences between Liberal Religion and Liberal Politics, the necessity of political neutrality in congregations, the need to not offend anyone.

2.  The conditions of poor and working class people in our economy and the incredible power and wealth of the 1%.  What's happening now out there are fights for a living wage, and to improve the conditions of fast food workers, and what will be a big fight to expand Medicaid in red states.  What's happening in here, in UULand, is a focus on "classism" as a type of exclusion within our congregations, making "class" an "identity" which matches our old ways of thinking.  Are we willing to be allies of the working poor and poor out there?

3.  Who are we? Beyond our sectarian and denominational identity, who are we and who are allies in what social struggles?  I am trying to shift the discussion from "what do our UU Principles demand of us as social practice?" to "what are the social implications of the centuries old liberal religious tradition?"  The former is sectarian, self-serving and isolating.  The latter makes us part of a larger historical movement, where there are numerous allies.

4.  And everywhere, on questions of theology, worship and church practice, this blog hopes to look beneath the self-satisfied conventional wisdom and happy talk of contemporary Unitarian Universalism: the atomization that prevents discussion. (One of the reasons people say there is no "there there" in UUism, is that UU's avoid saying that there is "we here".)

And it is equally dissatisfied with all the oft-repeated "old school" griping about UUism: that we need to return somehow to being the most liberal wing of mainline Protestantism and a happy wildlife refuge where the soon to be extinct moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats mix and mingle.

If none of this is clear, stick around.   I hope that it gets a little livelier around here.

2 comments:

Elz Curtiss said...

"Poor and working class" is so 19th century these days. More and more, what I see is a new group of people who have the job skills, who have the credentials, but who fall behind economically because of the way they do what they do. Yes, I am one of these people, and so are many members of my family. This is common when markets are oversupplied with potential workers. In the past, God dealt with it through medical or military kill-offs, from the Black Death to World War II. The European experiment in democratic socialism represents a desire to sustain the benefits workers would have from a smaller economy without collapsing the population traumatically.

I don't see our economic elite and cultural underclass recognizing their own interests in supporting a mixed economic model with strong safety net for workers and regulatory protection against external costs the government has to pick up.

I doubt the UUA can talk about all that with its current leftist, anti-historical model of "prophecy." But a whole new generation of members is addicted to those yellow teeshirts, and there really isn't much hope -- until they start hitting their own pastoral emergencies and see the wider role of religion.

Anonymous said...

The plight of the "poor and working class" is a very real and growing problem in 21st century America This pain is now spreading into the ranks of middle class, college educated professionals who, in years past, considered themselves immune. The first step toward social change is forging alliances. This begins with understanding that we are all in the same boat, even though we might be sitting in different seats.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/17/us-usa-economy-poverty-idUSBRE98G0PN20130917