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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A joke about liberal religious sectarianism.

I'm still making my way through recordings of the General Assembly events I would love to have attended in Portland. Right now, I'm enjoying Paul Rasor's Murray Grove lecture on "Universalism and the Sectarian Element in Liberal Religion." In it, he tells the following joke ("shamelessly stolen and rewritten" from an old Baptist joke, he said) to illustrate how sectarianism persists even in today's tolerant, expansive, inclusionist Unitarian Universalism:

I was walking across a bridge one day and I saw a man standing on the edge about to jump.

I ran over and said, "Stop! Don't do it!"

"Why shouldn't I?" he asked.

"There's so much to live for."

"Yeah? Like what?"

"Are you religious?"

"Yes," he said.

"Me, too! What religion are you?"

"Unitarian Universalist."

"Me, too! Are you restorationist or ultra-universalist?"


"Me, too! New England Convention or Philadelphia Convention?"

"New England."

"Me, too! Transcendentalist or biblicist?"


"Me, too! Broad Street group [sic] or Free Religious Association?"

"Free Religious Association."

"Me, too! Institutional Free Religious Association or scientific Free Religious Association?"

"Scientific Free Religious Association."

"Me, too! Are you theist or humanist?"

"Depends on what you mean by theist," he said.

"Me, too!" I said. "Are you oriented more toward supernatural theism or process theism?"

"Process theism," he said.

"Me, too!"

"Do you prefer Charles Hartshorne's philosophical panenethism or Henry Nelson Wieman's naturalistic theism?"

"Hartshorne's philosophical panenthism," he said.

I yelled, "Die, heretic scum!," and pushed him off.

These days, of course, when history and theology don't stir up passions among UUs in quite the same way as various approaches to "the countering of oppressions," we might have to recast the joke yet again to get at the liveliest sectarianism among us — but such a joke would have left large segments of the audience indignant rather than laughing, so Paul probably took the wiser course.

P.S. I noticed, while looking for some Web resources that would help people dig a bit deeper into the allusions Paul makes in the joke, that very little is readily available about these various doctrinal and ecclesiological movements in Unitarian and Universalist history. Also, Paul gets one wrong: My faves — Henry Whitney Bellows and Frederic Henry Hedge — were considered the "broad church" Unitarians (not the "Broad Street" group) in opposition to the more radically modernist Free Religious Association in the 1870s. I guess that just means I would have been pushed off earlier.

Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 3 July 2007 at 9:15 PM

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Scott Wells (Boy in the Bands):

July 3, 2007 11:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

"Philadelphia Conventio . . . . " AHHHhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Seriously, I think the Convention question would have to predate the ultra-Universalist/Restorationist one.


July 4, 2007 03:11 PM | Permalink for this comment

Scott, that was one that I couldn't recall. And I couldn't find a post on your site to help me. Can you tell us about that particular controversy?

Scott Wells (Boy in the Bands):

July 4, 2007 08:22 PM | Permalink for this comment

No controversy, just two very early attempts at a national organization. Neither worked, unless you're counting the New England Convention as the meeting of 1793 rather than 1785. The 1793 Convention "took" and continued as the Universalist General Convention, later dba Universalist Church of America.


July 4, 2007 10:44 PM | Permalink for this comment

It was shamelessly stolen from Emo Philips--- about the Baptist convention. Emo's version is a little more convincing, but the point is well made.

Of course, my favorite under-the-radar joke about UUs is about the "kittens for sale."

I spend a lot of time researching jokes because I use them during the offering time, figuring that laughing about money makes it easier to part with it.

Let me know if you haven't heard/ read/ seen/ the "kittens for sale."



July 5, 2007 10:26 AM | Permalink for this comment

Dano, I think you'd better tell us.


July 5, 2007 01:19 PM | Permalink for this comment

The version of "kittens for sale" I know is a generic nineteenth century political joke. It goes like this.

One day the Democrat candidate for office makes a speech in a small town. A teenager shows up with a box of newborn kittens and a sign advertising "Democrat kittens for sale."

The next week the Whig candidate makes a speech and the same kid shows up with the same kittens and a sign saying "Whig kittens for sale."

A journalist who covered both rallies asks the kid, "Last week those kittens were Democrats. What happened?"

The kid replies, "Their eyes opened."

I haven't heard a Unitarian version, but it isn't hard to imagine one.

I like this joke from the 1800 presidential election. It is based on the fact that Adams supporters in New England spread the rumor that if the Republican Jefferson were elected he would replace all Bibles with his own editted version.

An elderly woman in Connecticut approaches the lone Republican in her town and asks him to hide her family Bible. She is afraid that Jeffferson will win and attempt to confiscate it.

The Republican says, "I think your fears are unwarranted, but I am happy to do as you request. But why do you think your Bible is any safer at my house than at yours?"

"They would never think to look for a Bible at the house of a Republican."

Stephen Merino:

July 5, 2007 06:09 PM | Permalink for this comment

I can't resist. Here are a couple I heard recently.

First one:

A man spent his life savings on a new Ferrari. It was incredibly important to him so he decided that it would be appropriate to have the fine vehicle blessed. He placed a phone call to a Catholic Priest and said "Father, I have spent my life savings on a beautiful Ferrari. Would you please give it a blessing?

The Father hesitated for a moment and then asked "What is a Ferrari?"

The man thought that if a Priest did not know what a Ferrari was he could not appreciate the exquisite engineering and excellent road handling abilities of the car and politely told the Priest that he would look elsewhere.

He next called a Jewish Rabbi. "What's a Ferrari?" the Rabbi asked. Again, he decided to look elsewhere.

He then called a Unitarian Minister. "Minister, I have spent my life savings on a beautiful Ferrari. Would you please give it a blessing?

The Unitarian hesitated momentarily and replied "What's a blessing?"

Second one:

Q. What do you get when you cross a Jehovah's Witness with a Unitarian?

A. Someone who goes around knocking on doors and asking people what he believes.


July 7, 2007 08:31 AM | Permalink for this comment

Man, Philo, that's an arcane inside joke. How'd it go over with the audience?


July 7, 2007 09:20 AM | Permalink for this comment

Fausto, on the recording I'm listening to, people laugh at every "Me, too!" and at several of the specifics. Maybe GA-goers are history buffs in ways I had never imagined — or maybe (as I can attest) Paul Rasor is just a really entertaining lecturer.


July 8, 2007 01:13 PM | Permalink for this comment

Chris, I found the "kittens for sale" joke--or at least a variation of it--in the "humor archives" at my UU message board. Here it is, followed by a link to all the rest...


On her way to church one Sunday morning, a UU minister noticed a young child in the parking lot of the nearby Catholic church, with a box and a sign: "Free kittens, from a good Catholic family!" She smiled to herself, mentally wished the child good luck, and went on her way.

About the middle of the week, she saw the same child, with the same box, outside the Methodist church, this time with a sign that said, "Good Methodist kittens! Absolutely free!" Impressed with the child's tenacity, she went on into her board meeting.

Finally, the next Sunday, the child was in her Church's parking lot, with a new sign reading: "Unitarian Universalist kittens! Free to a good home!" This time she stopped to chat.

"Weren't you outside the Catholic church last Sunday?"

"And on Wednesday, weren't these Methodist kittens?"
"They sure were."

"Well, how come they're Unitarian Universalist kittens now?"
"Cause today their eyes are open!"



I first heard it in the early 1970's at a rural Universalist church in Georgia...and I think the kittens were Universalist, rather than UU. Obviously it's a "fill in the blank" joke.



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