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Saturday, October 29, 2005

More on tomorrow's civil rights march in Boston.

A reminder to Boston-area readers that several events this weekend — especially a Sunday afternoon march from Roxbury to Boston Common — will mark the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which finally put some teeth into the laws guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote. The march starts at the First Church in Roxbury (home of the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry), where the program begins at 1:00. Ignore today's chilly pseudo-snow showers; it will be sunny and pleasant in Boston tomorrow. It looks like the march will begin sometime around 2:30.

Rep. John Lewis, who participated in the 1965 Selma protests that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, will speak at Boston Common in the later afternoon. The rest of the line-up is a who's who of political, religious, and community leaders.

Today's Globe profiles two community leaders whose friendship has helped bridge the divide between the suburban Jewish community and the urban black community, and who have helped make this weekend's events possible. Sid Topol is an 81-year-old philanthropist and leader in the Jewish community; his brother marched in Selma. Ron Bell is a 42-year-old African-American community organizer who has been the driving force in setting up the march. They're inspiring individually, but their working friendship over the past five years is even more impressive.

("Friends on the March," Bella English, Boston Globe 10.29.05, reg req'd; "Profile: Rep. John Lewis," Religion & Ethics Newsweekly 1.16.04)

Posted by Philocrites, October 29, 2005, at 10:42 AM | 1 comments

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Where, oh where are the Philocritics?

Here's a fun way to find out whether you're the only Philocrites-reader in the entire hemisphere: Visit the Philocritics map at Frappr and put a pin on the map for your location. Soon we'll know where all 20 of us are. (If you'd rather not attach your zip code to your actual name, use initials or a pseudonym.) Thanks for the tip, KS!

Posted by Philocrites, October 27, 2005, at 11:23 PM | 9 comments

Organist walks out on priest's anti-gay marriage appeal.

Today's Boston Globe tells the story of a brave Roman Catholic cantor and church organist who lost their jobs for challenging an archdiocesan official's anti-gay marriage pulpit appeal. Maria Cramer reports:

At the pulpit of St. Gabriel Church in Brighton, an official from the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston was telling parishioners how to sign a petition to ban same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

As he looked on, said Patrick Kilduff, the church's organist for 28 years, he grew angry that the archdiocese had chosen a Saturday Mass to make what he considered a political statement.

So before he was supposed to play the closing hymn of the Mass on Oct. 8 , Kilduff walked away from his organ in protest. His cantor, Colleen Bryant, stood in front of the congregation and told them that they did not have to sign the petition if they did not want to.

Moments later on that rainy Saturday afternoon, the church pastor fired Bryant, and Kilduff resigned in a fury.

In an interview yesterday, Kilduff recalled telling the priests of the parish: "'I'm done. I can't believe what you guys have done.'"

I'd be surprised if a few more church musicians don't discover that the church's campaign against gay rights creates an irreconcilable conflict for them on a personal level. After all, many talented and faithful church musicians are gay, and it would be hard to be a church musician who doesn't know, care about, and deeply respect gay colleagues.

Here's to Kilduff and Bryant's courage.

("Two Sidelined after Protesting Altar Call on Ban on Gay Marriage," Maria Cramer, Boston Globe 10.27.05, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, October 27, 2005, at 10:17 PM | 5 comments

The parable of the lost parakeet.

Two posters started showing up all over the neighborhood last weekend. The first, which featured a color photo and nothing in the way of design, said:

Parakeet / Budgerigar -family pet

Please call if you see her and let me know where she is. If she lands on you take her inside and/or call: 555 555 5555
Lost near Central Sq., 10/21, but could fly anywhere. Bright yellow and green with dark markings. Loves millet, small birdseed. Eats bird seed, bird pellets, (rice, cereal, beans).
Sometimes comes to claps "pretty birdie" or "Jingles", and says, "Pretty birdie" when in quiet mood. Not cold hardy.
Thank you. M—

My heart was breaking for this boy even as I stood there laughing at the sweetness and childishness of it. And then, three hours later, as Mrs P and I walked toward Harvard Square, another poster that looked almost like an indie rock band promo:


She's yellow with a green patch on her back, but she looks greenish all over when she gets dirty.

She is very tame and sweet. She might sit on your shoulder and make a smooch sound because she wants a kiss.



Hand-written at the bottom: "Reportedly seen in this area. Please call me if you have any info."

With so much grief in the world, it was interesting to come across these articulate expressions of what I imagine is the loss of a 9- or 10-year-old child, a loss that I suppose is only keenly felt by the child and, indirectly, by parents. I imagined what the parents are thinking — The bird is dead, but how can I tell my child not to hope? — and the conversations that must be taking place every day in those homes — Why hasn't anyone called?

When Mrs P leads the Children's Chapel at her Episcopal church each week, the kids are always praying for ailing, missing, or dead pets. They're learning about the complexity of love, of course, and preparing for losses that will be much more shattering. The amount of grief in the world is unfathomable — something I felt when confronted by one tiny, almost dismissable loss and remembering the much larger human losses behind each morning's headlines — but I imagine that these children, postering the neighborhood with prayers for the return of their birds, are also learning from the example of their parents' love and willful hope.

Sometimes, the only thing you can do is poster the neighborhood.

Posted by Philocrites, October 27, 2005, at 08:19 AM | 4 comments

Go Sox!

After 85 years, the other Sox win it, too. Doesn't it feel good?

Posted by Philocrites, October 27, 2005, at 07:32 AM | 1 comments

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Davidson Loehr on fascism.

Davidson Loehr discusses his new book, America, Fascism, and God, with Charles Derber at "The new F-word?" Loehr says:

Fascism, as the marriage of business and government with business giving the orders, combined with an over-the-top nationalism, is the perfect ally to help keep people in an obedient rather than in an uppity mode. And fundamentalism, always an ally of power and greed, is the perfect form of religion. Together, these three—plutocracy, imperialism, and fundamentalism—form a dangerous kind of perfect storm, complementing each other perfectly, especially when you add their nearly complete control of the media.

The unraveling of President Bush's credibility lately makes me think that we're not nearly so far gone. What do you think?

Posted by Philocrites, October 25, 2005, at 08:44 AM | 20 comments

Marking the 40th anniversary of the Selma march.

A broad coalition of groups will mark the 40th anniversary of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in Boston this weekend. Retracing the Struggle will commemorate the march that helped win the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 by retracing another march route: the three-mile march Martin Luther King Jr led from Roxbury to Boston Common in April 1965 to protest segregation in Boston's schools. I'll be there.

I admit that I'm not usually one for marches or protests, but this one has particular resonance for me. In 2001, just after I started working at UU World, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations obtained an audio recording of King's eulogy for James Reeb, the Unitarian Universalist minister who was killed in Selma in March 1965. Here's the story I wrote about UU involvement in those historic events; here's King's eulogy [pdf]. (The Palm Sunday sermon I preached that spring at the First Church in Jamaica Plain talks about the march, too.)

I'm especially interested in hearing from Boston-area Unitarian Universalists who plan to take part. If you're coming with a group from your congregation, are you bringing your banner? The march begins at the First Parish in Roxbury at 1:00. UUA President William G. Sinkford will co-lead the march.

How fitting that the nation remembers Rosa Parks today, almost fifty years after her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Al., bus to a white man galvanized the civil rights movement.

Posted by Philocrites, October 25, 2005, at 08:28 AM | 0 comments

Monday, October 24, 2005

The ski resort in a desert on a sacred mountain.

Randal C. Archibald's Times story about the court battle between 13 Indian tribes and the Arizona Snowbowl — a ski resort operated on Forest Service land that the tribes consider sacred — is interesting on so many levels.

The tribes complain, for starters, that the ski resort's plan to generate artificial snow using treated wastewater will spiritually pollute the mountains:

A lawyer for one of the tribes likened it to "pouring dirty water on the Vatican."

In a trial that began this month, 13 Indian tribes who regard the peaks as virtual living deities of the highest order argued that the plan would interfere with their religious practices, including the gathering of mountain water and herbs they say the artificial snow would taint.

"The mountain is like a power plant," Frank Mapatis, a spiritual leader in the Hualapai tribe, said in court. "You plant a feather there, and it is like plugging into a power plant."

The clash of worldviews is fascinating in its own right, but the part of the story that I couldn't get my head around was this:

Eric Borowsky, a principal of the resort, said in an interview that despite bountiful snows last season, most other recent years have been dry. In the winter of 2001-02, the resort was open only four days and revenue was only 1.5 percent of the budget.

"No business in the world can stay in business if you miss 98.5 percent of your revenue," Mr. Borowsky said. The 777-acre resort pays the federal government 1.5 percent of its annual revenue in rent, which in 2004 was $138,957.

Sounds like simple bad ecology to me.

("Commerce and Religion Collide on a Mountainside," Randal C. Archibald, New York Times 10.23.05, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, October 24, 2005, at 07:53 AM | 1 comments

Monday, October 17, 2005

Taizé service this Thursday.

Ecumenical readers in the western suburbs of Boston may be interested in joining Mrs Philocrites and me in a Taizé worship service this Thursday evening at 7 at St George's Episcopal Church in Maynard. (I've been recruited as the musician. Gulp.) Here are directions.

Posted by Philocrites, October 17, 2005, at 10:16 PM | 0 comments

Sunday, October 16, 2005

When the church doesn't want to welcome the prodigal.

Wow. The Rev. John Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ, offers a pointed and illuminating critique of the resistance of some in his denomination to the UCC's embrace of gay people and same-sex marriage. In the midst of a report on the difficulties the denomination has faced since its General Synod approved a resolution supporting same-sex marriage this summer, he said:

“We know there are those in our church who struggle out of their own sense of biblical integrity over the church’s welcome and affirmation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people,” he said. “But when I receive emails and letters from UCC members railing against such a welcome, angry that God’s gracious love is lavished on the unworthy, bitter that the church’s attention is being directed to the lost rather than to those who have faithfully tended the farm, then I sense the voice of the older brother in our midst.”

He also urged candor about the organized, well-funded movement to undermine progressives in the mainline churches:

“Groups like the Evangelical Association of Reformed, Christian and Congregational Churches and the Biblical Witness Fellowship are increasingly being exposed even as they are increasingly aggressive,” Thomas said. “Their relationship to the right-wing Institute for Religion and Democracy and its long-term agenda of silencing a progressive religious voice while enlisting the church in an unholy alliance with right-wing politics is now longer deniable. . . . United Church of Christ folk like to be ‘nice,’ to be hospitable. But, to play with a verse of scripture just a bit, we doves innocently entertain these serpents in our midst at our own peril.”

("Prodigal’s Resentful ‘Older Brother’ Still Undermines Faithfulness, Thomas Tells UCC's Executive Council," J. Bennett Guess, United Church News 10.15.05)

Posted by Philocrites, October 16, 2005, at 08:51 AM | 11 comments

Friday, October 14, 2005

UUA trustees meet in Boston this weekend.

The agenda and reports are available at the Board's page on the UUA Web site. Meetings of the trustees are open to the public.

Posted by Philocrites, October 14, 2005, at 05:48 PM | 0 comments

Roots, don't hold me too close.

The Unitarian Universalist blog post of the week is surely Fausto's "What a Great UU Church Could Be," written in response to this post at Boy in the Bands. It's a perennial question: Is there really a place for Unitarians and Universalists — classically defined — in the new "UUism"?

I won't weigh in here because the conversation Fausto is hosting is quite good, and I don't have much to add beyond what I said last year: We need better narratives about our tradition's evolution. The basic issue for religious liberals who are anxious about the quiddity of Unitarian Universalism comes down to making sense out of the mixed metaphor in "Spirit of Life": roots hold me close, wings set me free. If you take both parts seriously, you've got a good thing going; if you only pretend to, you've got a sham.

Also good this week: "Curiosity Turned Into a Rant: On Christianity and UUism" at Never Say Never to Your Traveling Self; and, in case you missed it, Rev PeaceBang went down to Baton Rouge to help out for a week and has several great posts about the trip and how you can help.

Posted by Philocrites, October 14, 2005, at 08:22 AM | 5 comments

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Notable new histories (tangentially Unitarian).

Readers who share my fascination with 19th-century Boston Unitarianism will want to note several recent scholarly books and some very fine reviews. (Yes, it's review week here at Philocrites.)

The Peabody SistersFor example, Christine Stansell writes a wonderful, captivating review for The New Republic of The Peabody Sisters, Margaret Marshall's new book about "our American Brontes" — as the dust jacket calls Elizabeth, Sophia, and Mary. Elizabeth is the most famous: She was an educational reformer, early feminist, Transcendentalist publisher, and female businesswoman in 19th-century Boston, among other things. She also managed not to marry Nathaniel Hawthorne (who married Sophia instead) or Horace Mann (the educational reformer who married Mary). A tale of triangulation, innovation, sexism, idealism, and more! I haven't started the book yet, but the review itself is definitely something you'll want to read.

Also worth noting: the publication of Daughter of Boston: The Extraordinary Diary of a Nineteenth Century Woman, Helen Deese's edition of the journals of the Boston Brahmin Caroline Healey Dall. Dall apparently kept a 45-volume diary between 1838 and 1912 (!) and participated in pretty much every happening Boston cause from Transcendentalism to abolition to women's rights, so her diaries are clearly an important resource for feminists and historians. Conveniently, Deese restricts the book's focus to the pre-Civil War period — just as Stansell's biography of the Peabody sisters does — so readers can see how the same things looked to the striving Peabodys and the entitled Dall. (Publisher's Weekly gossips that Dall says something snide about Elizabeth Peabody.) Daughter of Boston is a Beacon Press book — and the editor will be in Boston next week for several appearances and readings. She'll be speaking at the Old South Meetinghouse downtown at noon on Thursday, for example, and at the Harvard Coop that evening at 7.

Finally, James M. McPherson reviews two books about extraordinary officers of Massachusetts regiments in the Civil War — many of them Unitarian Brahmins. Sadly, McPherson's review in the New York Review of Books is available only to the journal's super-subscribers, so you'll either have to pony up $3 to read the article, or make a photocopy at the library. I urge you to do one or the other. I'd quote some tantalizing passages, but I've misplaced my copy already. Warning to the preachers among you: It's less sermon-ready than the Peabody sisters review because noblesse-oblige and duty aren't the sexy Unitarian themes these days that they were in the 1850s and 1860s: We're more likely to run from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" than to embrace it, and let's just say that the class position of these officers puts them on the far side of our contemporary political correctness. But if you wonder whether Unitarian ethics in the 19th century had teeth, you'll want to read McPherson's article. The books he reviews are Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry by Richard F. Miller and The Nature of Sacrifice: A Biography of Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., 1835–64 by Carol Bundy.

("Sister Act," Christine Stansell, New Republic 10.10.05; "Brahmins at War," James M. McPherson, New York Review of Books 52:15, 10.6.05)

Posted by Philocrites, October 12, 2005, at 11:00 PM | 2 comments

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Contemporary atheism watch.

The current issue of Bookforum riffs on the famous 1966 Time magazine cover — "Is God Dead?" — with the eminently contemporary question: "Is God Still Dead?"

Stephen Colbert's "This Week in God" leaves Jon Stewart's audience in stitches, but, Ronald Aronson writes, "it is a bit jarring, after Colbert's polished irreverence and his audience's unforced delight, to return to the real world and be reminded that it is irreligion, and not religion, that is on the defensive today."

Aronson reviews a bunch of recent titles about atheism, including firebrand Sam Harris's The End of Faith, theologian Alister McGrath's The Twilight of Atheism, and sociologist Alan Wolfe's The Transformation of American Religion. But after dissecting Harris and McGrath, he praises four other books that don't depend — as older arguments for atheism often did — on the assumption that technological progress would simply usher in an age of moral progress and enlightened secularity. (Oops!)

Julian Baggini's Atheism: A Very Short Introduction sounds like the book that Unitarian Universalist ministers and seminarians especially should read: a positive presentation of atheism that doesn't radiate hostility for religion. (My own approach is to try to understand the appeal of nonreligious worldviews so that religious communities might engage them more honestly, which makes me a postmodern modernist, I suppose.) Aronson describes Baggini's basic approach to atheism:

It is rather a kind of growing up, a turning away from "the innocence of supernatural world views" and an acceptance "that we have to make our way in the world." In a highly accessible style, Baggini (who writes for The Guardian and is editor of The Philosophers' Magazine) covers what have become familiar themes: the argument for an understanding of the world based on natural laws and according to evidence; the centrality in human life of moral choice about what is right and wrong; the "view that life's ultimate purpose must be something which is good in itself and not just something that serves as a link in a never-ending series of purposes"; and the cautionary lessons about zealotry to be learned from the history of both religion and atheism.

Baggini asks whether atheism is necessarily against religion. The concluding picture he gives is of a secure and positive outlook, without hostility, combating harmful consequences of religion to be sure but no less critical of militant atheism. His final chapter is a masterpiece in trying to understand the impulse behind religion, the inevitable gulf between believers and nonbelievers, and the fact that since both will continue to share the world for a long time to come, the wisest path to coexistence is through genuine openness and the willingness to be proven wrong.

The conclusion of Aronson's long and engaging review is worth the attention of religious humanists as well as their secular humanist cousins:

Taken collectively, the writing of the new atheists offers a set of promising ideas. Harris, for all his negative energy, provides a potentially rich idea about mysticism, as cultivated in Eastern religions, as a "rational enterprise." In Buddhism, he argues, reaching beyond the self has been carefully and closely described and need not be left to faith but may be empirically studied. Baggini's rejection of dogma and militancy on all sides is not only refreshing but intellectually important; Wielenberg talks about the possible contribution of neuroscience to a future secular ethics. But by far the most important idea contained in these books is Harbour's effort to cast the discussion as a matter of worldviews.

As Alan Wolfe points out, the newly revitalized religions have made next to no changes on the doctrinal level. But they have modified their practices, appeals, and attitudes in a more accepting and nurturing direction, creating a new sense of community. This is more than a matter of marketing; it involves living one's faith and meeting people's needs. Atheists have much to learn from this. If the appeal of atheism relies on arguments or it casts itself as a messenger bearing cold hard truths, it will continue to fare poorly in today's world. For secularists, the most urgent need is for a coherent popular philosophy that answers vital questions about how to live one's life. As McGrath points out, classical atheists were able to provide this, but no more. A new atheism must absorb the experience of the twentieth century and the issues of the twenty-first. It must answer questions about living without God, face issues concerning forces beyond our control as well as our own responsibility, find a satisfying way of thinking about what we may know and what we cannot know, affirm a secular basis for morality, point to ways of coming to terms with death, and explore what hope might mean today. The new atheists have made a beginning, but much remains to be done.

("Faith No More?," Ronald Aronson, Bookforum Oct/Nov 2005: 16-19)

Posted by Philocrites, October 11, 2005, at 08:12 AM | 10 comments

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Unitarian Universalist podcasting in the news.

Not only has the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, California, started podcasting, the church is getting media attention for it. An 84-year-old church member who can't get to church every week tells the The Argus, "It really comes in handy. It's really delightful to hear the minister's voice coming off the speakers of my computer."

Young and old alike are getting into it:

It's also a great public relations tool, said the Rev. Christopher Craethnenn, the new 29-year-old minister of religious education at Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley (

"One of the things the liberal church is trying to learn from (those) in more conservative circles is how to do outreach. When your faith isn't grounded in evangelism, it's harder to bring people in. Our religion is really grounded in free exploration so we work really hard to bring people into our circles," said Craethnenn.

Along with Craethnenn, co-ministers Barbara Hamilton-Holway and Bill Hamilton-Holway will be featured in the future podcasts, along with community ministers, seminarians and lay people in the congregation. The church has some 500 members and the trend seems to be catching on quickly.

"We have 10 to 30 people a day who are downloading the sermons," said Brett Hamilton, a listener who also helps the church with its podcasting technology.

Very cool. ("iPods Spread Berkeley Church's Gospel," Kristin Bender, The Argus 10.9.05; I originally linked to this story at another paper's site that didn't have the funky picture of the minister with the iPod: no picture, no link is my new motto!)

P.S. My iPod is stocked almost entirely with music. I've only subscribed to three podcasts: Slate's Daily Podcast, which I recommend; iTunes New Music Tuesday, which I enjoy but which hasn't inspired a single purchase; and MacCast, which is so much more geeky than I am.

P.P.S. You know what someone should do, "godcasting"-wise? Convince Carl Scovel to have his archive of King's Chapel radio talks converted into podcasts. They'd be perfect. My loyal KC reader and I will have to talk about this.

Update 1.17.06: reports that two dozen UU congregations are now podcasting the living tradition.

Posted by Philocrites, October 9, 2005, at 07:26 PM | 4 comments

Roman Catholics for marriage equality.

I'm embarrassed to have missed this earlier, but there is a very simple way for Roman Catholics in Massachusetts who support civil marriage equality to speak up. The Catholic bishops in Massachusetts are gung ho for banning gay marriage, of course, but in this case they're sadly misguided.

If you're a Roman Catholic in Massachusetts who would rather sign a petition protecting same-sex marriage rights in the Commonwealth, the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry has a petition for you. It reads, in part:

As Roman Catholics, we differentiate between sacramental marriage and civil marriage, and therefore we perceive that same-sex civil marriage poses no threat to our Church. While we respect the authority and integrity of the Church in matters of faith, our prayers and reflection have brought us to a new openness on this issue. We urge the Church to treat with respect in both word and deed same-sex couples who have entered into civil marriages.

If these words speak to your experience, please consider adding your name to the coalition's Roman Catholic Statement Supporting Marriage Equality for Same-sex Couples in Massachusetts.

Posted by Philocrites, October 9, 2005, at 05:57 PM | 9 comments

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Get Philocrites in your inbox.

At last there's a simple way to subscribe to Philocrites via email: Enter your email address under "Subscribe" in the sidebar and get entries in your inbox. The email subscriptions are managed by FeedBlitz, in partnership with FeedBurner, which now provides rss/xml syndication for the site.

Update 6.18.06: The FeedBlitz email service is still available — and the couple dozen people who are already using it will continue getting their Philocrites email updates from FeedBlitz — but now that FeedBurner is offering email subscriptions directly, I'm promoting the FeedBurner service in the sidebar. (You might also like Squeet's email delivery service, which I find more attractively laid out than FeedBlitz's.)

Posted by Philocrites, October 5, 2005, at 10:44 PM | 2 comments

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

The deep religious roots of New York tolerance.

Russell Shorto's history of New York City's impact on American political ideas ends with a long meditation on religion (of all things). Fundamentally, it's an attempt to root the pluralism and tolerance of the city — and, by extension, American cosmopolitanism and liberalism —in the religious worldview of the Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam:

Maybe this is the root of the historic tension between the country's two political traditions. The Puritan one, hogging the high moral ground, encamped in its shining city on a hill, has always despised the rowdy and godless gangs of New York. The us-them divide that conservative Christians maintain holds that, historically, they have Christian morality on their side while others have only their Enlightenment gods of science and reason. And some of their opponents like to believe this as well.

But it's a false divide. Both the Puritans who settled New England and who bequeathed to American politics much of their dogma, and the Dutch founders of New York based their societies on Christian principles. They just had different approaches to theology. The Puritans were more typical of their era, when religious intolerance was official policy in most nations. (It's true the Puritans themselves fled intolerance, but once they established themselves in America, they set up their own brutally intolerant regime.) Dutch Protestants, however, had experienced horrific violence at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition, and many had had enough of religious absolutism. Tolerance became codified into Dutch law, and Dutch cities, which had high concentrations of minorities, flourished. As a result, when the Dutch founded their New World colony centered on Manhattan Island, it, too, was a mixed society, and it, too, had as its social glue this notion of tolerance.

The point is that tolerance was at the time seen most fundamentally as a theological issue. The Puritans' righteousness came from the conviction — common to all absolutists — that their faith was the only correct one, so that God compelled them to uphold it and to vanquish others. Those who argued for tolerance did so from a more humble, but equally theological, stance. In the words of one early advocate of tolerance, "Many will be damned on Judgment Day because they killed innocent people, but nobody will be damned because he killed nobody."

Looking all the way back, then, New York's mixed society, and with it America's, owes its origins not to accident or geography but at least in part to a Christian conviction, won by the experience of slaughter and mayhem, that we — whoever we are at the moment — may not be smart enough to know God's mind. The unlikeliest notion in the world therefore follows: that New York's cultural mosh pit is built on a foundation of humility.

The attacks of 9/11, with their apocalyptic overtones, were pure protein for the Puritan impulse, with its conviction of America's God-ordained role in history. Those who would stand up to the Puritan strain, which many people believe has reached the stage of posing an unprecedented danger, might want to exploit the fact that their tradition, just as much as the Puritans', sits on a religious foundation. Pluralism and morality aren't two separate things but are joined, and it's from that juncture that much of what we call American comes.

("All Political Ideas Are Local," Russell Shorto, New York Times Magazine 10.2.05, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, October 4, 2005, at 10:16 PM | 5 comments

Monday, October 3, 2005

I miss The New Republic's old headline style.

On Friday, switched headline styles on the magazine's homepage for the worse, although I can justify the change. I've long admired the terse, witty headlines in the magazine and on its site (where each headline was always followed by a brief, more explanatory blurb), but now they've dropped the blurbs and settled for longer, more descriptive, and much duller headlines.

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, October 3, 2005, at 09:50 PM | 2 comments

Sunday, October 2, 2005

Purifying the church, one 'liberal' priest at a time.

Remember how tactfully the Boston Archdiocese handled the closure of a parish elementary school this spring? They abruptly shuttered the place two days before graduation — with the children's pets and projects and diplomas locked inside — for fear that parents would hold a vigil protesting the school's announced closure. That won friends for the church all up and down the city's Catholic political ladder: "Reprehensible," said the mayor; "unconscionable," said the City Council president. Deft, Archbishop O'Malley!

Having honed his tactful leadership on the schoolchildren of Our Lady of the Presentation School, Archbishop O'Malley last weekend axed the Rev. Walter Cuenin, one of the most capable — and liberal — priests in the archdiocese. Why? Apparently the Newton parish's openly reported financial practices — reviewed by the archdiocese in multiple regular audits — included a $500 monthly stipend and a leased Honda Accord for the priest that the archdiocese now says violated its rules. Did they ask Cuenin to have the financial practices amended to conform with the archdiocesan policies? No. Better to ask him to resign and demand repayment of 12 years worth of stipends.

That's one way to show a priest that welcoming 1,800 people to Mass each week is simply unacceptable. Last year, the archdiocese canned another liberal priest, the Rev. Ron Coyne, who had revived a struggling parish, rekindled many people's Catholicism, and made the parish vibrant and financially secure. Remember how that story played out? The archdiocese closed St Albert the Great, put Coyne on some sort of indefinite suspension, and then — after a ten-month, 24/7 vigil by the parishioners — reopened the parish and gave them the priest who preceded Coyne. That's visionary leadership, folks!

The archdiocese claims that Cuenin's forced resignation had nothing to do with his public criticism of the archdiocese's negligence in the child sex abuse scandal, or with his parish's sponsorship of Voice of the Faithful, or with his statements welcoming married same-sex couples to take an active part in the parish. Sure it didn't.

Naturally, Cuenin is being replaced by Cardinal Law's former spokesman, who presumably drives a Civic.

For a while I simply couldn't fathom why the archdiocese would want to close large, financially secure parishes like St Albert the Great, or why it would want to demoralize large, vibrant places like Our Lady, Help of Christians in Newton. Isn't it insane to attack large, lively, healthy congregations? But then I realized: The Church isn't simply trying to get rid of so-called liberal priests like Ron Coyne or Walter Cuenin; they're also trying to "purify" the church of liberals altogether.

Peter Boyer's New Yorker article about Pope Benedict XVI ("A Hard Faith," 5.16.05, posted on a Call To Action website) suggested that Benedict wants to "prune" the church down to a fervent, orthodox insurgency against modernity. The church's militant conservatives like to claim that liberalism weakens the church. Boyer writes:

Evidence for the traditionalists' argument that those corners of the Church which cling to tradition have fared better, even prospered, tends to be anecdotal, because Church records do not distinguish between "conservative" and "liberal" parishes or seminaries. It seems clear, however, that some "conservative" religious orders have suffered no shortage of vocations, or callings to serve the Church.

"The more you present Christ faithfully, they're going to come," Raymond L. Burke, the Archbishop of St. Louis, told me. "Young people, particularly, are very responsive. And they don't want a watered down version. In some sense, if it's not hard they suspect it and they're right to do that, because our faith is demanding."

I don't dispute the idea that many young people want to be shown a religious path that gives them discipline and substance — that's been one of my themes as a Unitarian Universalist! — but I do dispute the suggestion that a faith must be authoritarian, reactionary, traditionalist, and repressive in order to be "hard."

Many people were drawn to the "liberal" parishes in the Boston area precisely because they had seen what the authoritarianism of Cardinal Law had given them: decades of cover-up and denial about child-abusing priests. They were tired of the "hard" faith of trusting that a clearly deceitful hierarchy would make the right decisions for them. If priests like Cuenin and Coyne weren't "presenting Christ faithfully," the archbishop should accuse them of heresy or apostasy — but I suspect they were faithful disciples who simply didn't believe that dishonesty and deceit are Christian virtues.

Think about what we've witnessed in the Boston Archdiocese. Our Lady, Help of Christians — Cuenin's parish — wasn't faltering; it was growing. Under Ron Coyne's leadership, St Albert the Great had surged back to life, completed a capital campaign, put money in the bank, and helped many disillusioned people rediscover a place in the church. Coyne empowered the laypeople so successfully that they kept the place running seven days a week for ten months after O'Malley shut them down and banished him. That's a hard faith.

Look: One of the reasons that conservatism is thriving in the church today is because some members of the hierarchy (urged on by militant independent Catholic organizations) are deliberately squeezing out whatever "liberalism" they can find, no matter how dynamic, faithful, and evangelistic that so-called liberalism might be. The little Ratzingers who are cheering on Catholicism's retrenchment aren't pruning away dead wood; they're chopping off live branches. They're not just trying to get rid of priests like Cuenin; they want the liberal laity in his parish out, too.

P.S. Here's the Boston Globe's coverage of Cuenin's resignation: "Church Critic Resigns: Says Archdiocese Alleged Impropriety," Michael Levenson and Lisa Wangsness 9.25.05; "Archdiocese Names Insider to Replace Outspoken Pastor; Newton Parish Protests Ouster," Michael Paulson 9.27.05; "Letter May Shed Light on Ouster of Pastor: Suggests His Views on Gays Played Role," Michael Paulson 9.28.05; "Ousted Priest Gets a Show of Support from Fellow Newton Clergy: Non-Catholics Assail Decision," Matt Viser 9.30.05; "Parish Plans Rally in Support of Cleric," Matt Viser 10.1.05; "Dislocation, Scrutiny of Priests Raise Fears: Archdiocese Denies Politics Behind Moves," Michael Paulson 10.2.05. Boston Globe commentary: "Smear Tactics," Brian McGrory 9.27.05; "Editorial Journal: A Priest's Leadership," Thomas Gagen 9.30.05; "Reality Sets In—Rome Rules Boston," Joan Vennochi, 10.2.05.

Update 10.27.05: Cuenin asks the parish to stop asking for his reinstatement [AP 10.27.05].

Update 11.13.05: A parishioner has called my attention to the organization committed to Cuenin's exoneration: Our Lady's Friends.

Update 1.12.06: The parish's Finance Committee has issued a report criticizing the archdiocese's justifications for removing Cuenin, according to the Boston Globe:

[The report] criticizes the policies used as the basis for his removal as being vague, inconsistent, and not readily available.

The committee, for example, requested updated copies of archdiocesan policies, and said it had been told by the archdiocese that "they cannot be located."

The report also says that it could find no written prohibition against a parish providing its pastor with a leased car, though the archdiocese said that policy was implied in regulations about reimbursements for mileage involved in clerical and pastoral visits for the parish.

The committee also says that the $5 per day limit on stipends is ambiguous. "Based on past practices in the archdiocese, this limit has been seen by many as not applying to stipends/offerings given for marriages, baptisms, and funerals," the report said, arguing that priests in active parishes receive much more than $5 per day.

("Parish report denounces ouster of Newton priest," Matt Viser, Boston Globe 1.12.06, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, October 2, 2005, at 09:43 AM | 7 comments

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Updated guide to UU blogs, at last.

I hadn't updated my annotated guide to Unitarian Universalist blogs since June. (Sorry!) There are great new additions, although I'm sorry to have had to remove several great blogs that lapsed this summer. If I've overlooked a blog you've told me about, please forgive my forgetfulness and remind me in the comments here. And if you've just started your blog, or only just discovered that there are other people blogging about Unitarian Universalism, please don't be shy: Promote your blog in the comments.

You'll also notice that I've adjusted the site's syndication; check out the new and improved feed.

Posted by Philocrites, October 1, 2005, at 10:32 PM | 2 comments

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