Friday, April 29, 2005
I recommend Dan Kennedy's Boston Phoenix article about watching the
Christian nationalist "Justice Sunday" broadcast last weekend with a dozen members of a conservative Congregationalist church in New Hampshire, but he says one thing that is worth clarifying. After interviewing the Southern Baptist-trained pastor named David Bezanson, an affable but hard-right guy, Kennedy writes:
Liberals and progressives are forever making the mistake of thinking they can win over the other side, and are thus forever frittering away whatever small advantage they have by compromising with the right, making deals, and giving up on some of their principles in the hopes of obtaining concessions somewhere down the line. Statements such as Bezanson’s are a useful reminder: the religious right aims to win, period.
Who could doubt that the religious right "aims to win"? And yet the reason Democrats have needed to get religion is not in order to sway the religious right. There's a huge middle in American religion between Ted Haggard's militant Evangelicals and, say, Unitarian Universalists. Methodists, for example. Many of these people aren't activists in the culture wars but are trending Republican because the G.O.P. dresses up its odious policies in religion- and family-friendly garb. They're not fundamentalists (and certainly not Dominionists), but they are the audience for improved communication from Democrats.
Liberals don't need to peel away Southern Baptist voters, and couldn't even if they tried. I'd be content if the Democrats could simply do a better job of seeming to understand mainstream Protestants.
Meanwhile, Kevin Drum is looking for "appealing, wide-ranging, and clearly unconservative" principles that liberals are for — the liberal answer to "low taxes, traditional family values, and a strong military." Give it a try.
Our ad has shown over 8,000 times, and it’s closing in on 400 clicks now. That gives it a click-through rate that’s better than four times the rate you’d expect from a direct mail piece, for instance. And for about the cost of a DVD.
Well done, Brother Sharp Stick in the Eye of Parody (and co-conspirators)!
For recent examples of more generally-targeted Unitarian Universalist publicity campaigns, see the Bay Area Unitarian Universalists page — the beginnings of a regional effort like the ambitious one underway in San Diego — and the UUA-sponsored Houston-area "Uncommon Denomination" campaign, which just concluded.
Richard Louv (a San Diego Union-Tribune columnist) has been studying children's experiences with the natural world, and has concluded that technology, parental worry, and hyperscheduled activities are cultivating "nature-deficit disorder" in children:
He came up with the term, he said, to describe an environmental ennui flowing from children's fixation on artificial entertainment rather than natural wonders. Those who are obsessed with computer games or are driven from sport to sport, he maintains, miss the restorative effects that come with the nimbler bodies, broader minds and sharper senses that are developed during random running-around at the relative edges of civilization.
It's an interesting article, but the most troubling section comes at the end:
Mr. Louv refers to parents' abduction fears as "the bogeyman syndrome." But he suggests that the more likely bogeymen are people who "criminalize" outdoor play through neighborhood associations and their covenants. His own neighborhood's residents' association, he said, is known to go around tearing down tree houses.
"If all these covenants and regulations were enforced, then playing outdoors would be illegal," Mr. Louv said.
And to let a child loiter is almost unthinkable, said Hal Espen, the editor of Outside magazine in Santa Fe, N.M. "The ability to just wander around is a much more fraught and anxiety-prone proposition these days," he said. "There's a lot of social zoning to go along with the urban zoning."
For Ms. Herzog, the fitness director, the local schoolyard has become the latest casualty. It was fenced off recently for security: a "lockdown," she called it. "That doesn't allow active play on the school grounds" during off hours, Ms. Herzog said. "It's not getting any easier."
None of this was part of my 1970s childhood in Orem, Utah, where a mob of us kids was usually rushing around from one yard to the next, launching dirt-clod wars in our unfinished subdivision, or playing football in the front yard of the church. Even when we moved to Eugene, Oregon, in 1982, my parents let my brother and me ride our bikes along the river to the planetarium or to the mall. Although I know I spent a lot of time in front of a TV or computer screen (Commodore Pet, anyone?), my childhood memories are full of outdoor adventures in a lower- to middle-class neighborhood.
Do herds of children still run free? What's it like in your neck of the woods?
P.S. Despite tomorrow's rainy forecast, the Boston-area Liberal Religious Bloggers & Readers Picnic at the social hall of the First Parish in Milton — details here — will step away from the pixelated glow of the computer screen for real-live human company and as much nature as nature lets us enjoy. If we had scheduled it for today, just think of the outdoor games we could play!
("Growing Up Denatured," Bradford McKee, New York Times 4.28.05, reg req'd)
Thursday, April 28, 2005
The New Yorker's Jane Kramer isn't a big fan of Benedict XVI, either:
In his homily to his fellow-cardinals, on the first morning of their conclave, Cardinal Ratzinger had warned that modern society was threatened by a “dictatorship of relativism.” But it might have been more accurate to say that it is threatened by a dictatorship of absolutisms, including his own. This is a world in the tightening grip of orthodoxy, of literal “truths” and crusading certainties, and early last week it was the hope of many Catholics that the Church would begin to break that grip and return to them the right to exercise their own consciences on matters that do not concern faith so much as the realities of their intimate lives . . .
("Holy Orders," Jane Kramer, New Yorker 5.2.05)
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
The San Francisco Chronicle brought the world the news (cough, cough) of "Unitarian Jihad." But Bay Area readers aren't restricted to a diet of satirical Unitarianism: This past weekend, the Chronicle also profiled the real-life pockets of reasonableness and harmony brought to San Francisco's Tenderloin district by the Faithful Fools ministry, a "ministry of presence" among homeless people in the city. If you'd like to read more about the program, journalism professor Bill Woo described a Faithful Fools "street retreat" almost four years ago for UU World.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
James Carroll contrasts two of Benedict XVI's predecessors — the forward-looking John XXIII, who initiated the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and Pius IX, the anti-modernist who codified the doctrine of papal infallibility in the First Vatican Council — and holds up John XXIII's legacy:
In opening the council in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope John denounced those who opposed his "aggiornamento." Their voices, he said, "make their way to us and offend our ears: voices that are burning, it is true, with religious zeal, but not equally gifted with tact and good judgment. In the current conditions of human society, they can see nothing but betrayal and destruction. They say that in comparison with the past, our age has done nothing but decline and deteriorate. And they behave as if they had learned nothing from history, which is the teacher of life." The pope's voice must have risen as he said then: "But we have to decisively contradict these prophets of doom who keep on predicting nothing but disaster. . . . We want to dedicate ourselves zealously and fearlessly to the task posed by our age."
John XXIII explicitly defined that task by identifying, in his 1963 encyclical "Pacem in Terris," what he called the signs of the times — three reasons for tremendous hope. They were the strides being made by workers toward economic justice, the end of colonialism, and the women's movement, what we would call feminism. John XXIII explicitly saluted women for, as he put it, "demanding both in domestic and public life the rights and duties that belong to them as human persons."
Read the whole thing. ("A Pope for Today," James Carroll, Boston Globe 4.26.05)
Alex Beam satirizes the growing trend of product placement in movies, television shows, and now Broadway musicals by suggesting ways for school teachers and ministers to cash in, too:
Don't let the timeservers on the school board decide whether God made the universe or whether we evolved from the monkeys. Let the market decide. If the right-wing crackpots — sorry, "people of faith" — can spend megabucks to promote knuckle-dragging judges, they can surely finance some creationist teaching in local schools. See how much they will pay, then go across the street to the National Science Foundation, and shake it down for a "donation." You want play? You have to pay! That's what I call economic Darwinism.
Churches aren't normally thought of as profit centers. OK, the vestry has rented out the steeple for a Verizon cellphone tower; that's a good start. Now think outdoor signage. Change that dippy message facing the street, "God Is Your Best Friend" to "God Is Your Best 'Friends' Every Night at 7 on WLVI-56!" Do you have an after-service "coffee hour"? Call it "Starbucks Hour," for the right price. They can print catchy Bible quotes ("Be not rash with thy mouth") on the sides of the cups.
("It's Time for a New Brand of Journalism," Alex Beam, Boston Globe 4.26.05)
Yesterday's Globe featured a story about "green burials," an idea that brings the Ash Wednesday sentiment, Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return, into contemporary environmental-mindedness: "No embalming, coffin, or headstone. All natural." Says an advocate of the practice, "To me, the idea that I could become worm food is an honor." As unappealing as I find the thought of my own death, I rather like this approach to burial.
("For Some, a Casket Just Isn't Natural," Mark Pothier, Boston Globe 4.25.05)
Monday, April 25, 2005
Check out the Progressive Christian Blogger Network digest, where you can find the latest posts from dozens of blogs. Naturally, many are focused right now on last night's "Justice Sunday" right-wing megachurch rally in Louisville.
Don't forget: Next Saturday is the much-anticipated picnic for liberal religious bloggers, commenters, and readers in the Boston area. Bring the whole family! Amble on over to the official invitation for details and conversation about the big event.
Posted by Philocrites, April 25, 2005, at 08:07 AM
Sunday, April 24, 2005
A great letter to the editor in today's Boston Globe, by a retired United Methodist minister:
In the early 1970s, I was concerned about some of the same issues as Pope Benedict XVI when I began work on a thesis entitled, "The Concept of Transcendence in the Christian/Marxist Dialogue." My concern was that Marxists and Christians have a check on their drift into "relativism," and a basis from which to challenge the idolatries of Stalinism, Nazism, and much of Christian fundamentalism, and future temptations.
The new occupant of Peter's Chair does not seem to realize that the opposite of a "dictatorship of relativism" can be the idolatry of assuming that one church, one person (an illusion to papal infallibility), or one government can have the truth in hand, and thus speak for truth without danger of error.
I am as concerned that there be self-criticism in the Roman Church (and in those Protestant churches that have sold their souls to the religious right) that acts as a check on the sort of fanaticism that ends in the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, the McCarthyism of the House Un-American Activities Committee, or a scientism that assumes that all human problems can be solved by scientific method.
In our time we desperately need leadership that will open us to greater truth, not anchor us to the idolatries of the past. What we need is an idea of Transcendence that reminds us that all of us — individuals, churches, governments — are finite, not infinite. We are not God. We do not need a renewed idolatry of the sort that many of us hoped had been put to rest by Vatican II and Pope John XXIII.
Rev. James A. Stillman
The false choice that many religious conservatives want us all to embrace — that you either accept the absolute authority of some institution, doctrine, person, or class, or allow human civilization to veer off into the chaos of relativistic individualism — needs to be challenged again and again. When a person, institution, or doctrine claims to be above criticism, beware: You've just found an idol, a false god.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
On the heels of the Los Angeles Times story that said that "Subaru is the Unitarian Church of automotive brands," the Fresno Bee says that one UU congregation begs to differ: Twenty-three people at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno, California, drive Toyota Priuses. That's approximately 10% of the church's households! Happy Earth Day, everyone.
Rick Heller at Transparent Eye points to an extremely provocative comment over at Jay Rosen's journalism blog, PressThink. Jeff Gill, a Disciples of Christ minister, observes that the professionalization of journalism gave journalists a false sense of their own authority and the newspapers that employed them — but his provocative suggestion is that the professionalization of the mainline Protestant clergy during the same period has dangerously misled ministers about the nature of people's religious commitments. It's as if entrepreneurial Evangelical and Pentecostal ministers are blogs and late-night talk shows to the mainline Protestant churches' daily newspapers, and they are drawing audiences away from the old establishment.
Friday, April 22, 2005
How shall we interpret "Justice Sunday," the
Christian nationalist megachurch telethon scheduled for this Sunday around the truly outrageous notion that Democrats oppose some of President Bush's judicial nominees because they're "people of faith"? That lie itself would be noxious enough, but in his bid to be the next Republican presidential nominee Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist — who has signed on as one of the telethon's marquee participants — seems to think nothing of playing to a bunch of Evangelical triumphalists by pretending that he agrees. And that really is unacceptable.
Do I object to politicians coddling their political base? No. But there comes a point when political leaders should draw a line and not cross it. Characterizing one's political opponents as treasonous crosses that line, for example. Characterizing one's political opponents as "enemies of people of faith" crosses that line, too. Why? Because it's flagrantly false.
What the Evangelical triumphalists are really saying, of course, isn't that all people of faith are right-wing Republican Evangelicals. They're saying that only right-wing Republican Evangelicals — and their political allies among traditionalist Catholics and perhaps small groups of Jews and Mormons — are "people of faith." Mainline Protestants, moderate or liberal Catholics, Jews who vote Democratic, religious but non-Christian Americans, and anyone who doesn't share Antonin Scalia's judicial doctrines — all the rest of us, in other words — are enemies of the faith. A politician has no business in that business. When the subtext of an event becomes "This country ain't big enough for the both of us," a politician ought to go the other way. Just Us Sunday is bad politics, even it seems like good church to some people.
If you haven't already, tell Senator Frist how appalling it is for him to encourage this kind of deceitful misrepresentation of millions of people of faith and good will who simply don't share the radical Christian right's views. Call him (politely but firmly) at 202-224-3344, fax him at 202-228-1264, or send him email.
Look, I'm no fan of the filibuster, but the danger in what Frist has signed up for has little to do with the legislative maneuvering around judicial nominations. It has to do with a poisonous mischaracterization of a difference of political opinion. Democrats oppose some of President Bush's nominees not because of their faith but because of their jurisprudence. Furthermore, some of Frist's colleagues — like House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who all but said judges had it coming to them if they pissed off conservatives — are radically undermining our constitutional system of checks and balances, not to mention quietly nudging people toward acts of violence.
The rapidly reviving religious left is responding to Just Us Sunday in a number of ways:
Meanwhile, people who believe that justice belongs to everyone and not just to right-wing Republican Evangelicals are sponsoring "Social Justice Sunday." Sponsors include the Clergy and Laity Network, Faith Voices for the Common Good, and the Texas progressive group DriveDemocracy. Sojourners has set up its own mechanism to tell Senator Frist how you feel about "Justice Sunday." And UCC minister Pastordan's blog FaithForward is collecting statements from a much broader spectrum of people of faith — a moving tribute to a better and less divisive America.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Back in February, I called attention to Doug Muder's essay, "Red Family, Blue Family: Making Sense of the Values Issue." (Available here.) A shorter version appears in the new issue of UU World, focused on George Lakoff's Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think and James M. Ault Jr's Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church. See "Making Sense of the Conservative Worldview."
Okay Unitarian-Universalist and American literary history buffs, be sure to read Adam Gopnik's essay about the brilliant, violent abolitionist John Brown. I'd like to call your attention especially to the way the Transcendentalists — our most famous Unitarians — embraced Brown after he and four of his sons slaughtered five pro-slavery men in Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas. That's right, after. Reviewing David S. Reynolds's new biography, Gopnik writes:
Brown was never arrested or tried for the Kansas killings, and when he came back East he found himself a hero—though not with the members of Garrison’s abolitionist “establishment,” who were firmly pacifist and consumed by their own sectarian squabbling. Instead, it was the high Transcendentalists, Thoreau and Emerson and Alcott first among them, who became Brown’s fervent admirers and propagandists. Some of Reynolds’s most illuminating pages are devoted to Brown’s relationship to the Transcendentalists. The historical cliché has been that the Transcendentalists had their heads too far up in the clouds to see what was happening on the bloody earth below. Reynolds, however, following Stauffer, establishes that they were Brown’s most important intellectual allies.
In a way, it was an early instance of radical chic: the Transcendentalists preferred a real man to a squabbling set of Mrs. Jellybys. But there was more to it. They shared a disdain for materialist Northern society—which Brown had bankrupted himself out of, and which the Transcendentalists viewed largely with baffled dismay. Whatever else Brown might be, he was not a trivial man, or a worldly one: he was not a merchant with a Sunday cause. He was a free man already in a state of liberty. In a way that recalls the idealization of Jean Genet by the French existentialists, it was his own freedom from constraints, as much as his urge to break the shackles of others, that drew the Transcendentalists to him.
He received the backing of a group of wealthy abolitionists who called themselves the Secret Six, though a less secret secret group is hard to imagine. They included Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the man who was later Emily Dickinson’s patron. (Reynolds has some fascinating speculative pages on traces of Brown’s life in Dickinson’s poetry, one essentially fanatic American imagination speaking to another.) From that time on, Brown was devoted to fund-raising and recruiting for his Southern invasion plan, which soon centered on the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry.
Another member of the Secret Six was the radical Unitarian minister Theodore Parker — along with Emerson one of the saints of Unitarian intellectual history — whose involvement Dean Grodzins describes this way:
Parker grew convinced that there could be no wholly political solution to the slavery crisis. During the proto-civil war in Kansas territory, he raised money to buy weapons for the free state militias, and later became a member of the secret committee that helped finance and arm John Brown's failed attempt, in October 1859, to start a slave insurrection in Virginia. When Brown was arrested, Parker wrote a public letter defending Brown's actions and the right of slaves to kill their masters (John Brown's Expedition Reviewed).
Gopnik makes the case that Brown was central to the American Civil War:
By writing John Brown out as an oddity or sideshow, [Reynolds] insists, we miss the essential reality of the war: what was unthinkable and extremist in 1859—the armed descent of the North on the South to end slavery—had by 1864 become a mass movement, so that the war could be understood as what Lincoln called “a John Brown raid, on a gigantic scale.” Brown is the first mover in the American tragedy, the man who struck the bell and struck it hard.
I'm not sure I had very directly confronted the fact that the Transcendentalists knew they were funding a murderer and terrorist when they embraced John Brown's rebellion. (Loaded word? Sure, but it fits precisely, as Gopnik shows.) Brown and his supporters illustrate how clarity of purpose can justify violence, a tragic outcome of commitment — something I thought about when reading Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club, which also focuses on a handful of New Englanders in Emerson's orbit during the Civil War.
("John Brown's Body," Adam Gopnik, New Yorker 4.25.05)
Hooray for Connecticut, where the legislature — you know, the people elected by the people themselves — passed a law yesterday allowing same-sex couples to enter legal civil unions. The Republican governor promptly signed it.
Are civil unions as good as marriage? No. I've come to agree with Jonathan Rauch's conservative argument for legal same-sex marriage — which includes the idea that civil unions are not an acceptable alternative in the end — but I also agree that legislative moves in the right direction are absolutely vital to the long-term prospects for same-sex marriage. Depending on the courts is not enough because, as we've seen over the past year, it fuels popular backlash movements to amend constitutions and strip the judicial branch of its independence. The activist legislators of Connecticut have done a marvelous thing.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
I had only seen the news stories about the in-depth UCLA study of religion and spirituality among American college students and still haven't read the full report. So I hadn't yet come across this passage — which says some very interesting things about college students who identify as Unitarian Universalists — until I read it in a UUA.org news item about the study:
Of particular note was the study's findings regarding Unitarian Universalist students. According to the study, "students choosing Unitarian [Universalist] as their religious preference produced what is probably the most distinctive pattern of scores, differing significantly from students in general on 11 of the 12 measures." Specifically, of the 19 religious groups broken out in the survey, UU students had the highest response scores on measures of spiritual searching, volunteer service, social justice work, caring for others, and interest in/respect for different religious viewpoints.
Religious liberalism: Good for you, good for the world around you.
Saturday, April 16, 2005
What am I reading now? The April/May issue of the Boston Review, which features "American Salvation: The Place of Christianity in American Civic Life" by Princeton professor Albert J. Raboteau (an Orthodox Christian and scholar of African-American religion); "Compassion Capital: Bush’s Faith-based Initiative Is Bigger than You Think" by Lew Daly; "Taking Faith Seriously: Contempt for Religion Costs Democrats More than Votes" by community organizer Mike Gecan; "Losing Faith: The Democrats Called, but They Didn't Call Back" by GBIO organizer Ari Lipman; and especially "Christ's Militia: How Evangelical Protestantism Came To Dominate American Religion" by historian Gary B. Nash. Good stuff.
I've been thinking about President Bush's week-long flag-lowering deference to the pope. How many days will the flag get down on bended knee for your faith's leader?
Let's see: If there are 67,259,768 Roman Catholics in the United States and there are 604,800 seconds in a week, then the flag-lowering to church-affiliated-citizen ratio is approximately 0.00899 seconds. If your religion has 67.2 million members in America, you get a full week. Keep these numbers handy the next time a religious leader dies.
Here are the next four largest denominations in America, converted into seconds of state-sponsored mourning:
Southern Baptists: 16,439,603 members = 147,792 seconds = 41 hours. But whose death should trigger these 1.7 days of government mourning for the Southern Baptists? Richard Land? That would make a certain sort of Rovean sense, wouldn't it?
United Methodists: 8,251,175 members = 74,178 seconds = 20 hours of mourning. But the Methodist Church "has no single general officer or executive," according to the denomination's website, so the General Conference will have decide how to allocate the White House's respect for the president's denominational affiliation. (Isn't Protestantism confusing?)
Latter-day Saints: 5,503,192 members = 49,473 seconds = 13.7 hours of mourning for President Gordon B. Hinkley, whom Mormons regard as a prophet.
Church of God in Christ, Inc: 5,449,875 members = 48,994 seconds = 13.6 hours of mourning for International Presiding Bishop Gilbert Earl Patterson.
Fascinating, no? Start with the latest reported membership figure from the National Council of Churches 2005 Yearbook, multiply by 0.00899 for the number of seconds, then divide by 60 and divide by 60 again to find out the number of hours. (I hope my more mathematically inclined readers will kindly report all computing errors, math not being my strong suit.)
I'm surprised that President Bush hasn't already called for somewhere between 1.3 and 4.7 hours of lowered government flags for Archbishop Iakovos, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in North and South America, who was buried in Boston yesterday. (The lower number is based on a 550,000 member estimate for the U.S.; the higher number is based on the 1.9 million member estimate for everyone in his hemispheric archdiocese that news accounts keep mentioning.)
And how would the denominations that most of my readers call home fare in the President's new faith-based governmental mourning initiative? Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold: 5.8 hours. United Church of Christ General Minister John Thomas: 3.2 hours. Unitarian Universalist Association President William G. Sinkford: a little more than half an hour — if you count adult membership and religious education enrollment for the UUA as a whole.
You may be thinking: The President is never gonna lower flags for any of these people. And you'd be right. Because the gesture was political from the start, aimed at cementing the deepening Republican loyalty of Catholic "Heartland Culture Warriors" while sending a sympathetic message to "Convertible Catholics."
Observant readers will have noticed a box on the sidebar announcing that Philocrites is a member of Beliefnet's new Blog Heaven — "Where Faith Blogs Go When They're Good." Blog Heaven currently tracks 26 of Beliefnet's favorite religion blogs from across the religious and political spectrum, pointing to the latest post at each blog and generally promoting each site. Way down at the bottom in the "Other Faiths" section, you'll see Philocrites.
How cool is that? I'm glad to see friends like Holy Weblog (my hero!), Father Jake Stops the World (another member of the Progressive Christian Blogger Network), and Dave's Mormon Inquiry up here in Valhalla, too. It's humbling, of course, to be included in a list that features big-media players like GetReligion (please, sir, can I have some more?), Andrew Sullivan (everybody's favorite gay neocon), and The Revealer (religion is so much weirder the more seriously you take it). But my lonely Unitarian Universalist self is led to a theological question as I type on my cloud-top computer and try to get acclimated: Could this really be heaven? After all, there are so few of us here, whereas Universalists have always argued that salvation is ultimately a gift to everyone. Hmm.
Beliefnet plans to introduce Blog Heaven next week with much fanfare, so long-time readers may notice a bit of knee-knocking as I try to get used to even more traffic around here. I'll be pointing people to the many fine offerings of the Unitarian Universalist Interdependent Web, of course, as well as the outstanding work of the Progressive Christian Blogger Network (permanent blogroll here). I hope you'll help me welcome all sorts of new visitors.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
If there were a Lutheran Jihad, and they were giving out Lutheran Jihad Names, I wouldn’t have had to join the Unitarian Jihad. But the Lutherans are all distracted by this Sexuality Task Force, so they haven’t gotten around to forming a Solidarity with Unitarian Jihad Task Force. But then, if they did, they would recommend that:
We not change our policy of condemning Jihadish behavior, but…
. . . we forego disciplinary action towards Lutheran clergy that, for reasons of conscience, make common cause with Unitarian Jihadis . . .
. . . and we continue to dialogue regarding whether the ELCA desires to allow the Jihad issue to divide our church.
Of course, there would also be the dissenting view from the Word Alone Lutherans that, since Luther opposed actions against civil authority, any cooperation with the Unitarian Jihad makes us un-Lutheran, or worse, Calvinist.
Oh no. Look what we've done.
Attention younger clergy colleagues! An ad in the new Christian Century describes a program sponsored by the Lilly Endowment, the Hinton Center in Hayesville, North Carolina, and the Fund for Theological Education that you may be interested in. The First Parish Project (pdf) offers "an on-going peer support and learning community for seminary graduates 35 and under serving churches of smaller membership." The project involves a "national gathering of young pastors from all denominations for six sessions over two years" for 25 ministers and includes room, board, and transportation from anywhere in the U.S. for only $100 per session. See page 31 in the April 19 issue.
Mrs Philocrites — who is on her way to becoming an Episcopal priest — and I have just read a marvelous essay by Mormon feminist Lorie Winder Stromberg: "Power Hungry" (first published last year in the independent Mormon magazine Sunstone and reprinted by the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog). You didn't know there were Mormon feminists, did you?
As the May/June issue of UU World announces, the bimonthly magazine of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations will become a quarterly in September — but will also launch a weekly online liberal religion magazine later this year. Editor Tom Stites describes the changes in his column. Subscribers should be receiving their copies right about now.
Magazine readers should certainly address their feedback to the magazine, but I'd welcome comments here about hopes for the online magazine.
Lest people misunderstand what I'm encouraging with all this attention to the "Unitarian Jihad" fad, let me clarify a few things — and give you an opportunity to vent:
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Friends, does the Los Angeles Times Auto section have us pegged?
Subaru is the Unitarian Church of automotive brands: ecumenical, accepting, self-sufficient, observant of the natural world and reverent before it. Thoreau would have driven a Subaru, if you could have gotten him to stop playing with the windshield wipers. . . .
Subaru of America has probably the most coherent buyer profile of any car company, a profile boiled down to the Walden-esque description "inspired pragmatists." Subaru is big with teachers, healthcare workers, technical professionals, skiers, cyclists, kayakers, lesbians.
Yes, the "L" word. It's not like I'm outing Subaru. According to Tim Bennett, director of advertising for Subaru of America, the company has been cultivating bonds to the gay and lesbian community for longer than a decade, supporting its causes, such as the Rainbow Endowment, and specialty media.
Cuts close to home, I say — although we settled for a Honda Civic and a "T" pass. ("Holy Roller," Dan Neil, Los Angeles Times 4.13.05, reg req'd; thanks, CF!)
Doug Muder writes another deeply perceptive and illuminating essay, this time about Pope John Paul II's critique of market capitalism and Marxism in the 1981 papal encyclical Laborem Exercens. Muder explains first that political ideologues see the pope in their own image, but that John Paul II's legacy is broader than ideological stereotypes:
If you believe religion is mainly about sex and gender, Pope John Paul II was a conservative. He opposed not only abortion, but contraception as well. He wouldn't allow women to be ordained as priests. But Laborem Exercens is about the moral foundations of economics, and it reveals a very different pope — a radically liberal one.
After carefully explaining the encyclical's argument — an explication you really should give yourself time to digest — Muder steps back to look at the big picture:
What stands out in Laborem Exercens, for me at least, is not any particular system or doctrine or policy, but an image and a challenge. . . .
The image is the Great Workbench, where all the work of humanity is done. The Great Workbench always has space for one more, and there's always something that needs doing. Tools are waiting there to be used, and they belong to whomever can wield them. You are not chained to the Great Workbench, but you can take pride in the work you do there and claim some part of it for your own.
John Paul's message, as I receive it, isn't that any particular human Ism will give us the Great Workbench — not capitalism, not socialism, and certainly not communism. It is, instead, a standard by which all the Isms should be judged and found wanting. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
And that, in this age of triumphant capitalism, is a message worth repeating. The Market, no less that the Politburo, is a fallible human institution. Its makings and its judgments should never be taken for granted, and never exempted from criticism. . . .
The challenge is to justify the property system — not just the who-owns-what of it, but also the why-anybody-owns-anything. As property owners — and even the poorest of us owns something - we stand between our fellow humans and their divine inheritance. We stand, in essence, between the Creator and his other creatures. How do we justify that position? Do we stand as mediators that transmit divine grace, or as idols that block it?
To challenge the property system, as John Paul did, is not to deny that it can be justified. Capitalism and private property have won out over rival systems for good reasons, as the experience of the Pope's native Poland undoubtedly made him well aware. But we can't justify the economic system in one way, and then use it in another.
If, for example, we believe (as at some level I do) that the capitalist system in the long run can provide everyone with the opportunity for a better life than they could have under any rival system, then we must carry that promise with us and judge ourselves by it. We cannot justify our appropriation of humanity's inheritance in this manner, and then treat the world's crushing poverty and hopelessness as mere collateral damage. It indicts us. It strikes to the heart of our self-justification.
("Laborem Exercens: The Liberal Legacy of John Paul II," Doug Muder [Pericles], Daily Kos 4.10.05)
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Last Friday's San Francisco Chronicle humor column by Jon Carroll warned of the looming threat from the "Unitarian Jihad." Carroll himself stopped by Philocrites to express amazement at the widespread fear — ahem, enthusiasm — the jihad has generated since its debut last week. How much enthusiasm are we talking about? Why, it's practically a mini sensation on the Web, folks, a pop-culture moment that some enterprising Unitarian Universalists should promptly grab.
Blog trackers like DayPop and BlogPulse show continuing high interest in Carroll's column and in the two "Unitarian Jihad name generators" that have sprung up in its wake. When I started this post earlier this evening, Carroll's column was the number 3 link at DayPop's Top 40;the name generators were number 5 and number 36. But DayPop is small potatoes compared to the traffic BlogPulse is monitoring: BlogPulse had tracked 1,064 blog references to the phrase by this evening and highlighted its "burstiness" in Monday's roundup of weekend blog activity.
More intriguing, however, is how the sudden popularity of the phrase "Unitarian Jihad" compares to the much-commented-on surge of online interest in the United Church of Christ after two broadcast networks rejected its "bouncer" TV ad in December. There are obvious differences, of course, which I'll get to a minute, but let's focus on the opportunity first. Here's a chart comparing the trend lines for "Unitarian Jihad," "United Church of Christ," and "Episcopal Church" over the past six months:
The orange line shows what percentage of all blogs mentioned "United Church of Christ" in the last six months. You can very distinctly see two major spikes: The first surge of blog attention happened around December 1, 2004, when blogs rallied to the church's defense after the ad's rejection. (The denomination quickly realized that it had just been handed a publicity bonanza, and tapped all that blog energy for more than 137,000 visits to its "Find a Church" web page and $23,000 in donations to its FCC license appeal campaign and at least a portion of approximately $500,000 for its ad campaign.) The second surge took place during the third week in January, when the UCC website challenged Focus on the Family's weird anti-Spongebob Squarepants campaign with an article and photograph showing the president of the denomination extending the church's radical hospitality to the cartoon character.
The green line shows blog references to the Episcopal Church, which has been in news a lot lately as the Anglican Communion reacts to the U.S. church's confirmation of the election of an openly gay bishop.
The blue line represents the sudden appearance of "Unitarian Jihad." As you can see, it rocketed past the height of the UCC's sudden online fame. It's much too early to tell whether any of that visibility will translate into interest in actual Unitarian Universalist "cells" — ahem, congregations — but if we were creative right now, we might be able to point people to the "pockets of reasonableness and harmony" that are already scattered throughout the country. (One way would be to link some of the popular phrases from Jon Carroll's column to pages introducing Unitarian Universalism or to the UUA's Find a Congregation page, as I've just illustrated.)
Why should we be thinking this way? Consider that in the past four days, my website has been visited more than 300 times by people doing web searches for "unitarian jihad." There's also the peculiar fact that a really dizzying number of people have already started talking about organizing themselves into local cells of the Unitarian Jihad. Weirdly — touchingly — they're finding genuine inspiration in a parody of real Unitarian Universalist beliefs and practices. They're not just cracking jokes and enjoying a good blue-state vibe about the state of American culture, either: Here's a member trying to figure out how to do some diplomatic outreach to the Unitarian Church. Wow. We should find some ways to introduce them to the real thing.
Much of the fervor for Unitarian Jihad is in the LiveJournal universe of blogs, where viral marketing works unusually well. Unlike the UCC's surge into the blogosphere, which tapped into the more media-focused political blogs that use Movable Type, Blogger, and Word Press, the LiveJournal blogs don't publish ads, so it's not possible to attempt any kind of marketing outreach to the venues that have generated the most interest in the concept. But there are hundreds of Unitarian Universalist users of LiveJournal; by all means, UU LiveJournalers, join the Unitarian Jihad community and introduce your local congregations to all the people who are looking for pockets of reasonableness and harmony!
A few caveats: Buzz about a humor column is obviously more fleeting than commentary about a church's rejected ad or news stories about a church's controversial stand on homosexuality. Unlike blog buzz about the United Church of Christ or the Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Jihad buzz isn't about our congregations even though it clearly reflects our congregational culture (for good and bad). But it conveys key features of our religious life and vision and introduces half of our name to all sorts of people who didn't know there was a name for such a worldview. I say let's find some ways to tap into that interest.
Who's got some good ideas?
YRUU's Steering Committee appears to have reached some impasse with the UUA administration over the selection of the next one-year staff position in the UUA's Youth Office. In the past, the Steering Committee has had a role in selecting the two YRUU Program Specialists, or YPSes, who are full-time employees in the office. UUA President William G. Sinkford says in a letter to the Steering Committee (which Joseph Santos-Lyons posted on his blog) that the next appointment will be called the "Youth Ministry Associate" and will not involve input from the Steering Committee. Sinkford explains:
Whatever the reasons, the Steering Committee’s demand that UUA staff leave the meeting so that SC alone could decide on the September YPS recommendation was clearly outside the boundaries of established procedures. Excluding the people who would work with and be responsible for the YPS staff, and refusing to discuss the issues interfering with collaboration, moved SC outside of right relationship with UUA staff to an extent that needs to be acknowledged. At this point, proceeding with “business as usual” is not possible.
Is there another side to this story? There always is — but again, with a letter circulating and, to the best of my Googling ability, no sign of any response, Joseph's post is all I have to go on right now.
Surprise! The Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary has scheduled a hearing for this afternoon on new marriage legislation, some favorable to same-sex marriage, some opposed. MassEquality and the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry — two groups I support — are encouraging people to stop by the State House during their 10:00 a.m. press conference or the Committee's 1:00 p.m. hearing, both in room B-2.
The Religious Coalition's press release adds:
If you cannot come the the State House, please call Rep. Eugene O'Flaherty, and Senator Robert S. Creedon, the co- chairs of the Joint Judiciary Committee and tell them that you oppose any anti-gay bills and amendments. This is about real families, about civil rights and religious liberty.
Here are their telephone numbers: Rep. Eugene O'Flaherty 617.722-2396; Senator Robert S. Creedon, Jr. 617.722-1200
Friends, you are invited to the first ever Philocritics Family Picnic on Saturday, April 30, from noon to four o'clock at the First Parish in Milton, Massachusetts — a lovely suburb just south of Boston.
You may ask yourself, "And just who is a Philocritic?" If you're a liberal religious blogger, regular reader of Philocrites, or relative of either of the above, you probably qualify. (If you are a spam robot, however, no matter how faithfully you visit the mt-comment.cgi file, you may not attend.) Children and partners are welcome — and I know that a half-dozen kids are already planning to be there, so don't be shy about bringing your brood.
Of course you can meet all of your favorite Boston-area Unitarian Universalist bloggers — Tom of Prophet Motive, the mysterious PeaceBang, the equally mysterious Fausto, Philocrites (and Mrs Philocrites!), Adam of Unity, Rick "Transparent Eye" Heller, Paul Wilczynski — who am I forgetting? — and hopefully I can even lure Pericles down from his New Hampshire polis. There are even rumors that Scott Wells (the Boy in the Bands) and Chalicechick may trek all the way from Washington, D.C. And I hope my ecumenical blogging buddies will come, too.
I'm planning to bring a big bowl of potato salad, food of my people, and encourage Philocritopicnickers to bring a potluck dish. If you're a carless urbanite (or have a car and some extra seats in Boston, Cambridge, etc., and would be willing to provide some transportation), e-mail me and we'll see what we can do.
Monday, April 11, 2005
Two weeks ago, the National Council of Churches released its annual tabulation of the largest 25 Christian denominations in the U.S. and their growth rates. (I don't know how I missed it until just now.) The numbers reflect the figures collected or reported in 2003 by the denominations themselves — which is worth remembering — but they represent the latest comparable figures. Highlights:
The Catholic Church remains the largest faith group in the U.S. with 67,259,768 members and a growth rate last year of 1.28 percent. The second largest denomination in the U.S. is still the Southern Baptist Convention with 16,439,603 members and a growth rate of 1.18 percent. The United Methodist Church is third largest with a reported membership of 8,251,175 and a growth rate of .002 percent.
The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints, with a reported membership of 5,503,192, rose from the fifth to the fourth largest church in the U.S. The yearbook noted that the church “continues to grow remarkably” at a rate of 1.71 percent last year.
A reported surge in membership of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) has placed the communion on the list of the largest American churches. The Syosset, N.Y., based church grew 11.11 percent to 1-million members, according to the yearbook.
Other churches in the top 25 that continued to grow in 2004 are the Assemblies of God, 2,729,562 members and a growth rate of 1.57 percent; the Episcopal Church, 2,320,221 members and a growth rate of .57 percent; the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1,432,795 members and a growth rate of .14 percent; and Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1,041,030 members and a growth rate of 1.82 percent.
Churches that declined in membership in 2004 are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,984,925 members, down 1.05 percent; the Presbyterian Church (USA), 3,241,309 members, down 4.87 percent; The Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), 2,488,936 members, down .95 percent); American Baptist Churches in the USA, 1,433,075 members, down 3.45 percent; and the United Church of Christ, 1,296,652 members, down 2.58 percent.
The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (which is nowhere near being in the top 25 — yet!) is talking about a growth rate of 1.2 percent for 2004, which seems to compare quite favorably to these figures. I haven't yet seen a final report on the latest Unitarian Universalist membership figures — but since the UUA Board of Trustees is meeting this weekend, maybe we'll know soon.)
Sunday, April 10, 2005
Ole Andersen, proprietor of the Danish Unitarian blog Palnotoke, has officially launched the newest UUA-sponsored email discussion group, UU Theology. He has already assembled a very diverse group of UUs from across the globe, and they're writing so quickly that I'm already two days behind.
Jaroslav Pelikan explained the significance of John Paul II's ecumenical efforts among the Orthodox churches. Now Evangelical historian Mark Noll explains how the pope encouraged a surprising but politically potent rapprochement with Evangelical Protestants:
Catholics and evangelicals who advocate conservative convictions on chastity, family, and community have found each other as co-belligerents, and this co-belligerency has eased much of the hostility that once separated the two movements. . . .
But politics is only part of the story. Alterations in a range of religious beliefs and practices are running just as deep — or even deeper. Only a generation ago, evangelicals almost universally condemned Roman Catholicism as a badly flawed, or even false, form of Christianity.
What thawed the Evangelical Protestant hostility to Catholicism? Noll points to something that might surprise theological liberals:
Multiple forces lie behind these developments, the most important being the ongoing effect of the Second Vatican Council, the great conclave of all Catholic bishops convened by Pope John XXIII shortly before his death in 1963. After the Council was over, the evangelical theologian David Wells, who now teaches at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, concluded that the Council's actions had ''rendered the vast majority of Protestant analysis of Catholic doctrine obsolete.'' Wells correctly predicted that the Council would push change among Catholics in many different directions, with some moving toward social radicalism and theological liberalism and some moving closer to evangelical theology and practices.
As a result of the Second Vatican Council, Catholics sought ecumenical dialogue with many other Christian bodies, including evangelicals. The Council's stress on encouraging the laity and on opening the Scriptures to the whole church also led to new points of contact with evangelicals. These developments are not leading to a formal union of churches. But they have led to much better communication and a general relaxation of mutual suspicion.
Noll concedes that John Paul's "primary interests in inter-religious dialogue were aimed not at evangelicals, but at bringing the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches together, and then in repairing Catholic relations with Jews and Muslims." I wish he would have said more about how the changing culture of American Evangelicalism has itself led many Protestants to a greater interest in and appreciation for Roman Catholic and Orthodox forms of Christianity. (And my hunch is that the Evangelical crush on Rome has been somewhat stronger than the Catholic crush on Colorado Springs, although another part of the story is that a growing number of American Catholics have become so fed up with the Catholic hierarchy that they have abandoned the church altogether.) Noll's upcoming book, Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism, will undoubtedly have a lot to say about this.
I also wish I understood how the lay reform movements that have sprung up in response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church will play out; it isn't clear to me yet whether groups like Voice of the Faithful or parishes like St Albert the Great (where a six-month 24-hour-a-day sit-in by the congregation convinced the Archdiocese to reverse its decision to close the liberal church) point towards vital expressions of liberalism in the church.
For theological liberals, it must be said that Vatican II has played out somewhat differently than many had hoped. To see such successful Evangelical-Catholic partnerships and such faltering signs of genuine liberalism throughout the church is discouraging.
("The Evangelical Pope?," Mark Noll, Boston Globe 4.10.05)
E.J. Dionne Jr writes about Pope John Paul II's paradoxical legacy for the New Republic:
Do you think of Pope John Paul II as the man who condemned "luxurious egoism" and "imperialistic monopoly"? Do you remember him as the friend of workers who asserted "the priority of labor over capital"? Do you honor him as the first Pope who visited a synagogue, who told Catholics to embrace Jews as "our elder brothers," and who condemned anti-Semitism "at any time and by anyone"? Do you regard him as the hero of human rights who helped bring down Communist dictatorships and battled the death penalty?
Or do you think of John Paul as the man who presided over the condemnation of theologians who questioned the Church's teachings (on birth control) or preached liberation theology? Do you see him as intransigent in refusing to allow questioning of the all-male celibate priesthood? Do you note the extent to which he has transformed the Church by appointing conservative bishops and by naming a College of Cardinals likely to keep Catholicism on a traditionalist path?
"A sign of contradiction" was a favorite John Paul phrase, and it might be said to define his papacy. In his effect on Roman Catholicism's relationship to the world, his achievement will be judged as liberal. But his impact on the Church he leads has to be seen as conservative. These terms are vexed, and John Paul himself would probably reject them—he'd insist on his own consistency in opposing both the Marxist and capitalist forms of materialism, in arguing that the spiritual is always primary, and in asserting that the Church's central obligation is to doctrinal clarity. But the Pope's version of consistency does not necessarily match that of the world that is judging him. That's the paradox at the heart of his papacy.
Also in the New Republic's papal legacy issue, Michael Sean Winters offers a dense appraisal of John Paul's Christian humanism and his reassertion of Christocentric anthropology. You'll need a theological education to follow Winters's argument, but if the names Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar mean anything to you, you'll want to sign up for your free four-week online subscription to read it.
Saturday, April 9, 2005
James Estes of Peregrinato has turned the UUA Ministerial Fellowship Committee's reading list — the books every candidate for ordination is expected to know — into an Amazon.com reading guide: "So You'd Like to Become a Unitarian Universalist Minister." Thanks, James!
Friday, April 8, 2005
Boston Phoenix media critic Dan Kennedy, whose Media Log I admired so much that I launched my own blog back in 2002, is leaving the paper to teach journalism at Northeastern University. The Boston Herald reports to my dismay that he's "not sure about the future of his blog." Meanwhile, Dan's Phoenix article about the pope's death is definitely worth checking out.
Oh, my: San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll parodies a handful of things Unitarian Universalists probably wish others didn't think about us. He pretends to have received an anonymous manifesto from the "Unitarian Jihad." For the record, I do endorse this part of the communique:
We are Unitarian Jihad, and our motto is: "Sincerity is not enough." We have heard from enough sincere people to last a lifetime already. Just because you believe it's true doesn't make it true. Just because your motives are pure doesn't mean you are not doing harm. Get a dog, or comfort someone in a nursing home, or just feed the birds in the park. Play basketball. Lighten up. The world is not out to get you, except in the sense that the world is out to get everyone.
Thursday, April 7, 2005
An organization in New York City called Interfaith Voices is bringing together progressive religious people from a variety of traditions. Among other activities, they have scheduled a day-long conference called "Reclaiming Our Voices: Progressive Religious Values Promoting Liberty and Justice for All" on Saturday, May 7. Keynote speakers include Bob Edgar, head of the National Council of Churches; Robyn Lundy, executive director of Tikkun; and Paul Smith, minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn. The conference will take place at the very easy-to-find Fourth Universalist Society, 160 Central Park West, where my friend and colleague Rosemary Bray McNatt is the minister. Sign up for the conference before April 15 and the cost is only $15.
Monday, April 4, 2005
Earl Holt, the minister of King's Chapel in Boston, is presenting a pair of lectures the next two Sundays about the historic church's theological tradition. The April 10 lecture is "Whatever Happened to Unitarian Christianity?" The April 17 lecture is "King's Chapel and the Future of Unitarian Christianity." Both lectures will be held at 9:30 a.m. in the Martin Luther King Jr Room at the Parker House Hotel next door to the church.
A recurring problem facing this particular blogger: I often read articles I think are so important that I set them aside to comment on when life slows down, which it doesn't, so I never remember to say, Read this. Instead, I'll simply say, Read these:
- "The Soul of New Exurb" by Jonathan Mahler (New York Times Magazine 3.27.05, reg req'd), the best article I've read on the sociology and political role of the Rick Warren-style Evangelical megachurch. See also "Jesus Christ's Superflock: Megachurches Have Found the Secret to Attracting the Unchurched—and It's Not Just the Sunday Service" by James B. Twitchell (Mother Jones Mar/Apr 2005, sub req'd), which focuses on small-group ministries and especially on megachurches' outreach to men.
- "Gambling with Abortion: Why Both Sides Think They Have Everything to Lose" by Cynthia Gorney (Harper's 11.04); see also "The Women's View" by Jodi Enda (American Prospect 4.1.05).
- "Knowing Our Minds: When It Comes to Extraordinary Medical Decisions and the Ordinary Business of Living, the Ideal of Individual Autonomy Is Not So Simple" by Michael Bérubé and Janet Lyon (Boston Globe 4.3.05); see also "Did Descartes Doom Terri Schiavo?" by John Leland (New York Times 3.27.05, reg req'd).
- "Faith Full: Why Liberals—Not Conservatives—Are the True Heirs to America's Religious Tradition, and How They Can Take It Back" by E.J. Dionne Jr (New Republic 2.21.05, sub req'd).
Jaroslav Pelikan, the great historian of Christian doctrines, writes today about John Paul II's ecumenical accomplishments: "The Great Unifier," New York Times 3.4.05, reg req'd.
Sunday, April 3, 2005
The Rev. William Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, released this statement on the death of the pope:
Our hearts go out to faithful Catholics everywhere as they mourn the loss of their beloved spiritual leader. We honor the example that John Paul II set in our religiously pluralistic global community by reaching out to other faiths in a spirit of peace and reconciliation. In our still violent world, John Paul never failed to witness on behalf of the innocent victims of conflict and war. His deep compassion will serve as a lasting legacy and tribute.
Chalicechick invites me into a bit of self-disclosure through bibliophilia, so here are my answers to the bookish questions she passes along:
You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
In Bradbury's novel, books are suspect and therefore burned by the state — so renegades memorize their favorite volumes and turn themselves into a living library. What would I memorize? The two strongest candidates are two books I became obsessed with in college and read over and over again: The Unexpected Universe by Loren Eiseley and Science and the Modern World by Alfred North Whitehead. But if I were stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, I'd want to hang out with the people who were novels and plays.
Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Cilla in Johnny Tremain stands out as my first crush on a character. I loved that book when I was ten — and it established the image of Boston that lasted until I moved here in my mid-twenties.
The last book you bought is:
Max Weber: An Intellectual Biography by Fritz Ringer and Identity in Democracy by Amy Gutmann. (I almost never buy only one book at a time.)
The last book you read was:
The book I finished most recently was Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith by Martha Nibley Beck, to which I had a very strong and complex reaction. I'm trying to write about my response, so I won't try to summarize it here. Let's just say that the literature of post-Mormonism has not yet achieved subtlety.
What are you currently reading?
I won't even mention books I sample or skim at work, where I'm buried alive in review copies. At home I'm reading Orhan Pamuk's novel Snow, have just started Derek Walcott's book-length poem The Prodigal, and am mere pages from finishing Mark Fritz's Lost on Earth: Nomads of the New World. When I feel like being intellectual, I pick up John Gray's Isaiah Berlin or Christianity in Jewish Terms by Tikva Frymer-Kensky et al.
Five books you would take to a desert island.
The Complete Essays of Montaigne
Dante's Divine Comedy, if I could somehow get several different poets' translations all at once
Alberto Manguel's A History of Reading
And, because being on a desert island is probably the only way I'll ever truly be made into a contemplative, Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation
Who are you going to pass the baton to (three persons) and why?
I'd ask Matthew Gatheringwater, who used to have an awesome blog but may simply have to post his reply in the comments; Beth Young, academic mom extraordinaire; and Erishkigal of Exiled from the Underworld, a Tulsa UU whose interests really run the gamut.
Rana El Farra, a Palestinian scientist profiled in James Benet's New York Times Magazine article on Palestinian politics after Yasir Arafat's death, posted the following comment in reply to my mention of the article:
With much eagerness, I waited for the March 13th, 2005 issue of the New York Times Magazine. I was interviewed by James Bennet the magazine whom I invited to my parent’s house. Yet I was very disappointed at what I saw for the following reasons:
First, describing me as “the real political face of Hamas’ has raised so many concerns and has seriously jeopardized my research and work relations. I seriously object to such a description just because I might vote for them in the upcoming elections or because I happen to just cover my hair. I am not a member of Hamas or any other political organization. Like citizens everywhere, I will make my choices in the elections according to what I believe is in the best interest of my community.
Second, it is clear that the reporter lacks a true understanding of the situation that made him put words into my mouth that I did not say and made implications that do not apply to my situation. I am a very open minded Palestinian woman that hopes for peace and believes in our right to fight the occupation by legitimate methods of resistance that does not include the targeting of civilians or suicide bombings.
Third, I was very clear that Hamas as a political party and municipal service provider might be successful based on the work they have done in Gaza. Yet I am very supportive of the role of Fatah (Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas political party) to carry out the negotiations towards peace with the Israelis.
Fourth, during the interview, I mentioned the strong relations that I have with Israeli professors whom I cooperate with on health and science issues. This part was totally absent from the article. Including my comments brought out would have stressed the fact that coexistence is phenomenon that I believe in and actively practice on a regular basis.
Finally, I would like to make it clear that I object to presenting my picture to the world this way through your magazine. I trusted you and apparently you did not deserve this trust since you were more intent on publishing your perspective than accurately reflecting my point of view. I respectfully request that you publish my objection letter in your magazine.
Rana F. El Farra
My site is one of the few places that mentions El Farra and I can appreciate her concerns about how the magazine's portrayal of her could interfere with her work, so I'm posting her comment to the front page in the event that the Times Magazine doesn't publish at least a portion of her letter.
Saturday, April 2, 2005
It's too bad that no one in the Unitarian Universalist Association today could fill the shoes of church historian George Huntston Williams (1914-2000), who enjoyed the unusual distinction as a theological liberal of being a personal friend to Karol Wojtyla (1920-2005) and, to my knowledge, the only Unitarian Universalist ever knighted by the pope. Forrest Church wrote about Williams after his death:
Even his best-known book, The Radical Reformation (1962), displays the creative tension between his dedication to individual conscience, especially with respect to the separation of church and state, and his devotion to the church universal, in its responsibility for the character of society as a whole. This devotion was never more evident than during his participation as an observer at the Vatican II Council in 1962 (eloquently expressed in the sermon he delivered in the Cathedral Church of St. John in Boston following Pope John XXIIIs death in 1963). Williams had the unique distinction of having been the only person in the United States to predict the election of Pope John Paul II. He wrote a book on The Mind of John Paul II and was knighted [to the Knighthood of St. Gregory the Great] by the pope in a special celebration in St. Paul Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Williams would have been able to put the pope's legacy into useful and surprising perspective.
Rich Barlow interviews Tufts University chaplain and medical ethicist David O'Leary in this morning's Boston Globe. O'Leary, a Roman Catholic priest, is the author of 1999 dissertation that argues that "Catholicism permits the cutoff of food and water to patients in a persistent vegetative state." The final two exchanges in the interview are especially worth noting:
Q: You mentioned that families have to factor in their own views. I can see some religious believers saying your approach is relativism. There's no universal moral imperative against killing; we're on a slippery slope.
A: If you have sound medical opinion counseling family members that there is no hope, to let someone die is part of our human nature. We're finite beings. Families are always free to make their own decisions as long as they rely on medical opinion and, if they're Catholic, on the wisdom of the church.
Q: What would you say to those who are fearful that letting Terri Schiavo die would contribute to a "culture of death?"
A: I think there are some questions about what the culture of life, versus the culture of death, is saying. The church's teaching is always that life should be respected as a gift from God. [But] we need to rely on the full wisdom of the church's teaching, and when we talk about life, it's usually an active life.
I've been present in many hospice [cases], families who are saying goodbye to a loved one, and it's a very prayerful moment. But we are just letting the person die and go to God.
Earlier in the article, Barlow quotes O'Leary's dissertation:
"Physical life is an important but limited value," O'Leary wrote in his dissertation, which the Catholic Center at Tufts published as a book. "It serves to make possible the obtainment of a more important good: love of God and love of neighbor. When that good is, for physical reasons, not accessible, then medically dependent life may be permitted to end."
("Priest States Case for Allowing Life to End," Rich Barlow, Boston Globe 4.2.05)