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Saturday, May 14, 2005

'Sojourners' reader: 'Unitarian Jihad' misses the mark.

The progressive Evangelical magazine Sojourners reprinted part of Jon Carroll's "Unitarian Jihad" column in its May 4 e-mail newsletter, prompting the following reply in this week's newsletter:

I am part of an organization that works to influence [Michigan] state policy on behalf of low-income people, and the Sojourners e-mails often provide a breath of fresh air during my workday as we fight what often seem to be losing battles. Though I appreciate your analyses and viewpoints immensely, I was disappointed to see that you reprinted the satire "Unitarian Jihad" [SojoMail 5/4/2005]. As a person of faith currently making my spiritual home in a Unitarian church, I would like to say that the author of the satire seems to have no idea what the Unitarians stand for or how they conduct their witness in the world. While it is true that many Unitarians seem to be unaware of the climate of dialogue and the appeal to "faith informed by reason" that takes place in the best of evangelical churches, it is equally true that many evangelicals wrongly see Unitarians as morally relativistic, solipsistic or even anti-Christian (I urge evangelicals who are under this impression to read the Unitarian Universalist Statement of Principles and Purposes.) In fact, Unitarians and evangelicals can and have made common cause in appealing to the moral obligations of people of faith to contribute to a more just society. Divisive pieces like this do nothing to bridge what is often a lack of understanding between the two approaches to faith.

Bless you, letter writer Peter Ruark, for affirming and proclaiming the Unitarian Universalism of the future and downplaying, overlooking, or simply not knowing about the ineffectual dithering of many of us in the more recent past. May your numbers grow!

And may the people who thought, I think I'll check out Unitarianism, after reading about the "Unitarian Jihad" find churches that resemble Ruark's vision rather than the endless church basement discussions of how the world should work that Carroll parodied. We should be better than the jokes about us, but I'm not Pollyanna enough to pretend that, on the whole, we are. Yet.

(Thanks to reader L.R. for calling the letter to my attention.)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 14 May 2005 at 2:15 PM

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May 14, 2005 06:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

It is comforting to read that we are not morally relativistic, solipsistic, and anti-Christian. I only expect that the statement is true in practice and not just in theory!


May 14, 2005 06:43 PM | Permalink for this comment

My heavens. What a lovely compliment by Mr. Ruark. I'd like to hear more from him.

Dan K.:

May 15, 2005 07:16 PM | Permalink for this comment

Huh. Interesting. I loved the Carroll piece, because I love Carroll, and I'm familiar with the spirit in which he satirizes things. To me, this was centrally about praising the common sense and decency of the UU approach, while peripherally mocking the extremes to which that can lead. And yet, you're right--if I'd never heard of him, if this was my first introduction to his work, I'd read it in a totally different way.


May 19, 2005 04:10 PM | Permalink for this comment

Wow! I didn't know my comments to Sojourners provoked a blog response; I stumbled upon this website while Googling for a work-related item that includes my name. All of the preceding comments are well-taken. Perhaps my optimism just comes from being relatively new to my UU church (2 1/2 years) and having not had time to get cynical. I suspect, though, it's because we've got a great church here in Lansing where, unlike in your big Northeastern liberal cities, UUism is a relatively radical notion rather than being just one more established church in a historical building where the society folks come to schmooze.


May 21, 2005 04:55 PM | Permalink for this comment

I have met UU's who are morally relativistic, solipsistic and anti-Christian within my own groups over the years.

But one can imagine members of other (nominally Christian) religious groups who are equally so. I don't care if others are Christian or not, but moral relativism is pretty serious.

Peter has a point. When your religious group has become a place merely to socialize, then you have a problem.

I'm a former UU - now a Quaker.


May 24, 2005 05:59 PM | Permalink for this comment

The morally relativistic, solipsistic and anti-Christian are welcomed to the UU fold though right? I should certainly hope so.

Brother Rail Gun of the Short Path
Discordian Universalist


May 24, 2005 09:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

Not by me, MathiasTCK -- but since no one asks me and I have no say in the matter, congregations are free to be as relativistic, solipsistic, and anti-Christian as they wanna be.


May 26, 2005 09:38 AM | Permalink for this comment

I took interest in Lynne's closing line about being a former UU, now a Quaker. Though I no longer attend Quaker meeting regularly, Quakerism remains very dear to my heart; in fact, if it weren't for the fact that the local meeting is at an unworkable time for my family, I probably would have never discovered UUism. I see liberal Quakerism and UUism as complementary, with Quaker silent worship emphasizing the experiential and mystical side of liberal religious practice and UU church services emphasizing the intellectual and aesthetic. There may be UU's that are interested in somehow combining the two forms of practice. If so, perhaps that is a direction that some UU churches might consider taking, for example offering an "optional" silent Quaker-style meeting before the main UU church service for anyone who is interested.


May 26, 2005 05:05 PM | Permalink for this comment

Philocrites, you are saying that if someone came to your congregation who struck you as relativistic, solipsistic, or anti-Christian you would not be welcoming?


May 26, 2005 05:38 PM | Permalink for this comment

As people who have met me can attest (I hope), I'm pretty friendly pretty much all the time. I'm nice even to people I (very secretly) regard as fools. However, if in conversation I could tell that someone visiting a church I attend hoped my congregation would encourage, enable, or indulge their relativism, solipsism, or anti-Christianity, I'd try to help them see how the liberalism of the Unitarian Universalist tradition would try to wean them from all three.

I think it is the church's role to be hospitable, not indulgent. I tend to think that judgmentalism is a turn-off primarily because it exudes self-righteousness, but judgment itself is a good thing. (I wouldn't have picked the name "Philocrites" if krites, judgment, weren't high on my list of virtues.) And I'd think it's my role, as a church member and student of my own religious tradition, to be discerning and self-critical --judging myself (and other people, too) against the virtues and values of my tradition. I'd want to do this in a generous, hospitable, and forgiving way -- but no one is served by uncritical acceptance or by being a pushover.

How's that for a way of saying that I'd love the solipsist but hate the solipsism? Or, to put it another way and with regard to another one of the terms you brought up, I'd do my best to greet an anti-Christian as humanely as possible so that they might see me -- a Christian -- as someone deserving their respect, hospitality, and generosity, too.


May 26, 2005 06:57 PM | Permalink for this comment

I believe you are suggesting that we be welcoming while still discouraging those 3 bad things?


May 26, 2005 08:34 PM | Permalink for this comment

I have a lot of friends who would identify as anti christian, and some that seem pretty moral relativistic. I wouldn't go so far as to accuse any of them of solipsism fortunately :)

Anyway, I'd like to think my UU church would welcome them. The one I remember growing up in would have. I can picture long intellectual discussions for and against solipsism, moral relativism, or even the usefulness of a particular bible passage in the modern era, but none of these things would mean we wouldn't have been welcoming.

-Brother Rail Gun of the Short Path


June 15, 2005 06:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

Dagnabit, I was hoping for some debate :P Truth be tol, the reasion I keep checking back here is because this site seems to be the most popular that features either MathiasTCK as a search term or Unitarian Jihad.

What can you do :)


June 15, 2005 09:10 PM | Permalink for this comment

We are apparently the world's number 1 distributor of quality MathiasTCK. But people who want a dose of genuine Unitarian Jihad should head on over to the International Unofficial Unitarian Jihad.

In answer to your earlier question, I am explicitly urging Unitarian Universalist churchgoers to be warm and welcoming while discouraging relativism, solipsism, and anti-Christian prejudice -- each of which strikes me as deeply illiberal and contrary to the best impulses of the Unitarian and Universalist traditions.


August 15, 2005 12:58 PM | Permalink for this comment

Just thought I'd let you know that I link to you in a sermon I did yesterday on this topic.:

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