Monday, January 20, 2014

Response to Fred Wooden

In a recent post I listed several ideas that are prominent among Unitarian Universalists that I think need challenging. One was this, and the my challenge to it in italics.
The political polarization in America is a problem that Unitarian Universalism is called to try to bridge, or overcome, or ameliorate.


The present political polarization is the result of long-standing conflicts coming to the surface, sharpening and intensifying. The reason why political conflict is so heated now is because these issues are approaching a resolution. The majority of the population want a society governed by principles that reflect the basic assumptions of liberal religion. There is tremendous resistance to this by a coalition of forces that do not respect the worth and dignity of all people, who do not favor equity and justice, who are empowered by undemocratic practices, who are willfully blind to the effects of our economy on the planet. The political polarization of the country is uncomfortable, but it is a good thing, because basic issues, our issues, are on the table. This is the moment when we need to be bold and brave and engaged.
Fred Wooden responds:
I disagree with your analysis that “these issues are approaching a resolution.” One could say the same about the run-up to the American Civil War, or the end of the French monarchy. Yes they were resolved but created in their violent wake issues that haunt us now. I am also not sure that the population wants the principles you say. They want the outcomes, but I am not sure they share the values so thoroughly. In all, I think you are too optimistic in this assessment.
Now, this may seem like a quibble, but the most important thing for me is correctly discerning the historical moment.

Basic issues are never resolved. The Civil War resolved the issue of slavery, but the contradiction between the wealth created by the exploitation of a subjugated African people in the South and those people shifted and continued. And when African Americans migrated en masse from the South, the contradiction nationalized and continued.

I think that we might make new highwater mark for multi-racial popular democracy in the next decade. Previous moments in history that are similar are the New Deal, especially the creation of Social Security and the Wagner Act, and the Great Society Reform movement of 65-66 (Medicare, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act). Each moment was created by a much larger social movement, which brought about a chance for real reforms to be enacted. Each moment of reform creates a furious counter-reaction; we are in the dying days of the Nixon-Reagan counter reaction to those King/Johnson (?!?!) reforms. Those of us who yearn for the Kingdom of God have to maximize our wins, and endure the storm that follows.

The danger I see for liberal religion is that we will not see the opportunities in this moment, but stay defensive and hunkered down, as we have for decades, assuming that the population is not potentially with us.

1 comment:

Elz said...

In "Angry Men," Michael Kimmel emphasizes the confusion that arises when the most visible and accessible forms of communication give their allegiance to goals other than reporting the facts. Some just want to make money, some want to gain advantage by promoting certain political agenda. But he points out that the full impact of a response to change comes from the emotional intensity of responders, as well as the number of them who care. This is the place where moderates and lefties keep getting beat: people are throwing hand grenades, and we're still talking about "use your inside voices" and "take another look at your argument." Tom is right that most people agree with us, but Fred is right that that is not enough.

As to revolution and civil war, these things happen more often than we believe. Perhaps that's because we limit our study of history to such a small slice of the whole human pie. Heck, most Americans don't even know all of what happened either on this continent, or among the ancestors whose children became our forebears.