Monday, July 24, 2006
I'm taking a break for a few weeks. To limit the damage spammers can do while I'm offline, I've closed the comments at most posts, lit candles to half a dozen saints, and crossed my fingers hope to die. (That should do it.) The entries I've posted in the last two weeks or so remain open, however, and if you promise to remain civil, I hope you'll carry on a conversation with each other in those posts. Or wander off to the many fine blogs you can find through my guide to UU blogs, UUpdates, or The Daily Scribe. I wouldn't want you to get bored, you know.
Personally, I'm thinking a lot about books and trees and photographs. As I mentioned earlier, you can find out when I've decided to resume blogging either by clicking refresh every five minutes for the next several weeks or by making judicious use of my feed — like signing up for my automated email, which delivers new posts right to your inbox! Just put your email address here:
I understand it's summer right about now. I think I'll go outside and check it out!
David Schwartz writes about the terrifying realization that atrocities are often defended in rational, pragmatic, and entirely commonsensical terms. We must learn to "resist reasonable atrocity," he writes. "We must keep ever vigilant against good people, with good, rational reasons trying to convince us of terrible things."
In the news, Jane Greer reports on a confrontation between abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion activists outside the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, last weekend. Meanwhile, Sonja Cohen keeps her weekly vigil tracking Unitarian Universalists in the media with a global warming special edition.
And a bit of advance warning: I won't be posting "This week at uuworld.org" updates for the next two weeks — but just because I'm taking a break from the Web doesn't mean the magazine shuts down. Oh, no: There will be new stories at uuworld.org. But you'll have to remember to check them out by yourself. (Of course, there's always the email newsletter or RSS feeds to help you remember!)
Friday, July 21, 2006
The front page of the Boston Globe reports this morning that Hillary and Julie Goodridge, the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit that brought same-sex marriage to Massachusetts, have separated. Hillary is program director for the Unitarian Universalist Funding Panel; the couple were married by UUA President William G. Sinkford at the UUA headquarters in Boston. From the Globe:
Mary Breslauer, a spokeswoman for the couple, confirmed the separation last night. She said the couple are focused now on trying to do what is best for their daughter, Annie, 10.
"Julie and Hillary Goodridge are amicably living apart," Breslauer said in a telephone interview. "As always their number one priority is raising their daughter, and like the other plaintiff couples in this case, they made an enormous contribution toward equal marriage. But they are no longer in the public eye, and request that their privacy be respected."
Breslauer said they have not filed for divorce. She would not comment on their plans and offered no other details.
The story also notes that since May 2004 there have been 7,300 same-sex marriages in Massachusetts; approximately 45 have since filed for divorce.
("After 2 years, same-sex marriage icons split up," Michael Levenson, Boston Globe 7.21.06, reg req'd; see also "Julie and Hillary Goodridge, lead plaintiffs in Mass. marriage lawsuit, have separated," Susan Ryan-Vollmar, Bay Windows 7.20.06)
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
"Democracy is giving the world's peoples their voice, and they want to talk about God," write Timothy Samuel Shah and Monica Duffy Toft in Foreign Policy. So much for the secularization thesis:
If people are wealthier, more educated, and enjoy greater political freedom, one might assume they would also have become more secular. They haven't. In fact, the period in which economic and political modernization has been most intense — the last 30 to 40 years — has witnessed a jump in religious vitality around the world. The world's largest religions have expanded at a rate that exceeds global population growth. Consider the two largest Christian faiths, Catholicism and Protestantism, and the two largest non-Christian religions, Islam and Hinduism. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, a greater proportion of the world's population adhered to these religious systems in 2000 than a century earlier. At the beginning of the 20th century, a bare majority of the world's people, precisely 50 percent, were Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, or Hindu. At the beginning of the 21st century, nearly 64 percent belonged to these four religious groupings, and the proportion may be close to 70 percent by 2025. The World Values Survey, which covers 85 percent of the world's population, confirms religion's growing vitality. According to scholars Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris, "the world as a whole now has more people with traditional religious views than ever before — and they constitute a growing proportion of the world's population."
The challenge for liberal movements, of course, is to look for ways to promote and strengthen liberalism — human rights and pluralism especially — in religious as well as secular societies. That's going to be a bigger challenge with every passing year. Shah and Toft don't offer prescriptions for secularists, liberals, or democrats — but they do describe the ways conservative religious movements around the world are quickly adapting:
Far from stamping out religion, modernization has spawned a new generation of savvy and technologically adept religious movements, including Evangelical Protestantism in America, "Hindutva" in India, Salafist and Wahhabi Islam in the Middle East, Pentecostalism in Africa and Latin America, and Opus Dei and the charismatic movement in the Catholic Church. The most dynamic religiosity today is not so much "old-time religion" as it is radical, modern, and conservative. Today's religious upsurge is less a return of religious orthodoxy than an explosion of "neo-orthodoxies."
A common denominator of these neo-orthodoxies is the deployment of sophisticated and politically capable organizations. These modern organizations effectively marshal specialized institutions as well as the latest technologies to recruit new members, strengthen connections with old ones, deliver social services, and press their agenda in the public sphere. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, founded in 1964, "saffronized" large swaths of India through its religious and social activism and laid the groundwork for the Bharatiya Janata Party's electoral successes in the 1990s. Similar groups in the Islamic world include the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan, Hamas in the Palestinian territories, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Nahdlatul Ulama in Indonesia. In Brazil, Pentecostals have organized their own legislative caucus, representing 10 percent of congresspeople. Religious communities are also developing remarkable transnational capabilities, appealing to foreign governments and international bodies deemed sympathetic to their cause.
Just in case you were looking for some international perspective on religious politics.
("Why God is winning," Timothy Samuel Shah and Monica Duffy Toft, Foreign Policy July/August 2006, reg req'd)
As Philocrites slouches towards a summer hiatus, I must call your attention to a new blog Unitarian Universalist ministers, seminarians, and lay leaders should be reading: The Lively Tradition. (Welcome back to blogging, LT!)
As for that hiatus, this blog is likely to take a good long break for a few weeks. The spam patrol is frustrating enough that this year, rather than invite good friends to fill in as guest bloggers (and inflict the spam patrol on them), I am toying with the idea of turning comments off while I spend some time ignoring the Internet. I realize a dormant blog is a no-no to Blog Experts, but I figure it's better to invite no comments than leave commenters wondering why their comments are being ignored. I'll probably finish planning the hiatus by the weekend.
Of course, you can be the first to know when I've returned to blogging by signing up for Philocrites email alerts! See that little orange icon over in the sidebar with "Subscribe" next to it? Put your email address in the box and click the subscribe button to get Philo delivered daily. Or you can sign up right here, right now:
While I'm ignoring the Internet, you can send me things I should pay attention to when I get bored of reading books and admiring trees and architecture. Send links and thoughts to philocrites at gmail dot com.
Monday, July 17, 2006
UUA President William G. Sinkford writes about unifying trends in Unitarian Universalist worship. Also this week: an image by UU photographic artist Elaine Croce-Happnie and a news story about the vandalism of a New York church's marriage equality banner, which church members carried in a gay pride parade. And be sure to check out the news blog, where you'll learn this week about a British Unitarian minister who happens to be a Druid as well — and about my friend, the Rev. Sue Spencer, who is leaving parish ministry after 21 years to enter an Episcopal convent.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
- Beliefnet: largest interfaith website features lots of commentary and news about religion
- Books & Culture: smart commentary from orthodox Christians
- Christian Century: leading journal of liberal mainline Protestant commentary
- Click on Judaism: Reform Judaism's outreach magazine for young adults
- Commonweal: independent liberal Catholic commentary
- CrossCurrents: academic commentary on culture and religion
- First Things: high-brow neoconservative Christian commentary
- GodSpy: Catholic arts and culture
- Harvard Divinity Bulletin: contemporary religious issues, interpreted by Harvard scholars
- Image: religion and the arts
- Journal of Liberal Religion: liberal theology and Unitarian Universalism
- Killing the Buddha: irreverent views of American religion
- New Pantagruel: brainy countercultural orthodoxy
- Religion and Ethics Newsweekly: PBS newsmagazine
- Religion in the News: excellent review of top religion stories, three times a year
- The Revealer: unpious commentary on religion journalism
- Ship of Fools: British magazine of "Christian unrest"
- Sojourners: Jim Wallis's progressive Christian monthly
- SoMA Review: irreverent review of religion and culture
- Sunstone: independent Mormon commentary
- UU World: weekly magazine of the Unitarian Universalist Association
Updated 7.17.06. Other recommendations welcome!
Some news and politics blogs I'd recommend:
- American Scene: The Atlantic Monthly's Ross Douthat
- Michael Bérubé: so funny, so left
- Center for Citizen Media: Blog: Dan Gillmor
- CJR Daily: journalism reviewed daily
- David Corn: The Nation's Washington editor
- Donkey Rising: from the Emerging Democratic Majority
- Gadflyer Flytrap: progressive group blog
- In Media Res: Russell Arben Fox
- Media Nation: Dan Kennedy
- New Donkey: Ed Kilgore and the DLC
- Orcinus: Dave Neiwert on the really scary right
- The Plank: The New Republic's blog
- Political Animal: Kevin Drum and the Washington Monthly
- Real Clear Politics: whole lotta links
- Romanesko: the state of journalism
- Street Prophets: Daily Kos's religion spinoff
- Andrew Sullivan: superblogger
- Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
- Talking Politics: Adam Reilly for the Boston Phoenix
- TPMCafe: Josh Marshall and friends
- Tapped: The American Prospect's blog
- Matthew Yglesias: one smart guy
A handful of religion blogs I'd recommend:
- Baptized Pagan: my Catholic theologian buddy
- Bartholomew's Notes: religion journalism, especially international
- By Common Consent: liberal Mormonism
- Camassia: my favorite Christian blog [lapsed]
- Christianity Today Weblog: so much religion news!
- Crunchy Con: Rod Dreher's Christian counterculture
- Dervish: Islam down under
- dotCommonweal: fresh takes from the liberal Catholic magazine
- EpiScope: Episcopal goings-on, by ENS editors
- Even the Devils Believe: Chris Tessone, Independent Catholic priest
- Faithful Democrats: community site for Christian Dems
- Father Jake Stops the World: liberal Episcopal priest
- Get Religion: sharp conservative religion journalists
- I Am a Christian, Too: liberal Christian
- Jesus Politics: they're everywhere these days
- Jewschool: fresh takes on Jewish culture
- Mainstream Baptist: the rabble-rousing Bruce Prescott
- Nate Knows Nada: Episcopalian political scientist pal o' mine
- Noli Irritare Leones: great Quaker blog
- Michael Paulson: Boston Globe religion reporter [coming soon?]
- Real Live Preacher: what a writer!
- Reformissionary: church planting and evangelism
- Religion Diversity News: from Harvard's Pluralism Project
- Religious Liberal: Dwight's theology and politics
- The Revealer: Jeff Sharlet and friends
- Theolog: Christian Century editors tackle the 21st
- Times & Seasons: center of the Mormon 'bloggernacle'
- Velveteen Rabbi: Rachel's Jewish renewal blog
- Wild Hunt: Jason Pitzl-Waters tracks modern Paganism
- Atlantic Monthly: long, thoughtful, centrist analysis
- Flak: non-commercial media criticism
- Boston Globe Ideas: more culture than NYT's "Week in Review"
- Nextbook: Jewish culture
- NY Review of Books: a college survey course in every essay
- New Yorker: don't tell me you don't subscribe
- Orion: beautiful magazine about place
- Poetry Daily: everybody needs a poem
- Pop Politics: commentary on popular and political culture
- Wilson Quarterly: Reader's Digest for really, really smart people
Another guide moving out of the sidebar and into the archives. Your recommendations are welcome!
- American Prospect: best liberal political magazine overall, led by Michael Tomasky
- Dissent: social democratic quarterly features Michael Walzer
- Foreign Affairs: journal of the foreign policy establishment
- Foreign Policy: wonky but accessible
- Mother Jones: progressive investigative journalism
- Nation: old lefty
- New Republic: contrarian liberalism
- Reason: libertarian
- Slate: contrarian like the New Republic, but fun!
- Washington Monthly: best liberal magazine no one knows about
- Weekly Standard: neoconservatism central
This is a work in progress; your recommendations are welcome!
NJ Jewish News previews the Progressive Faith Blog Con, where I led a conversation about the Christian blogosphere this morning and then participated on a panel about blog technology. (Check out the liveblogging at the conference blog.) Robert Wiener quotes me midway through the story.
("On-line religious liberals plan meeting for Montclair," Robert Wiener, NJ Jewish News 7.13.06)
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
I'll be on the road again this weekend — this time for the first-ever Progressive Faith Blog Con, Friday through Sunday at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey. (If you register right now, it's only $25, or show up and pay $45 at the door.) I'm excited to meet people like Velveteen Rabbi and longtime correspondent Chris Tessone, and there are will also be bloggers from the Muslim, Buddhist, and Pagan blog communities. (XPatriated Texan deserves a big round of thanks for getting this ball rolling!)
My interests run strongly toward using blogs and other new technologies to facilitate improved interfaith dialogue and the revitalization of moderate to progressive faith communities, while many of the blogs represented are focused more on fighting the religious right or reviving the "religious left" as a political movement. It will be interesting to see how much or how little these interests overlap.
Some of the activist blogs and organizations at the conference are well known. Street Prophets's Pastordan will be there; so will the anti-right wing Talk to Action's Bruce Wilson. The religious left organizations range from the Interfaith Alliance (which produces Air America's "State of Belief" radio show) and Rabbi Arthur Waskow's Shalom Center to newer groups like the Christian Alliance for Progress and the Faith in Public Life Resource Center.
I'm a panelist on the "Talking Tech" session Saturday afternoon and I'll be leading the Christian bloggers' breakout group earlier that day. (I believe only two other UU bloggers are currently registered for the conference, so it hardly seemed necessary to have our own breakout group.) Here's the conference schedule; the panels will be broadcast via irc for those of you who'd like to follow along, and I imagine someone will come up with a way to track liveblogging from the conference.
Mrs Philocrites and I were married three years ago today. I've never made a better decision in my life.
And, since I can't help but notice that the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention is scheduled for today, I'd like to say that we proudly support our gay and lesbian friends who have married or look forward to marry. I hope my fellow citizens will oppose the proposed constitutional amendment that seeks to unmarry the neighbors.
Update 7.14.06: The legislature delayed the vote on the proposed amendment until just after the November elections.
Monday, July 10, 2006
Techsoup ("the technology place for nonprofits") offers a useful review of seven key blogging tools with an eye to the needs — and financial realities — of nonprofits. The recommendations will be helpful to ministers and congregational leaders thinking about launching a blog, too. See "Seven Blogging Tools Reviewed" (6.28.06) and "A Nonprofit's Guide to the Blogosphere" (5.22.06)
Update 7.11.06: And here's a Washington Post article about ministers' blogs: "Cyber-savvy pastors blog when the spirit moves them" (Megan Greenwell, 7.9.06; thanks, Scott!).
Theologian Rebecca Ann Parker urges us to take love more seriously. "It is not sufficient to relegate love to a few moments of sentiment or to celebrate it in effusive accolades about the compassion of the American people," she writes. "We need to love from the start — not as an emergency strategy when everything has gone wrong."
Also this week: Jane Greer writes that the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta has a distinctive flaming chalice sculpture — a phoenix rising from the flames, a symbol of the congregation's rebirth half a century ago. In the news, Don Skinner reports on two UU churches that were damaged by the flooding that affected the mid-Atlantic states in the last week of June. He also reports on tree-planting evangelist Phil Shulman, who is rallying groups to plant ten trees each. And Sonja Cohen rounds up other news stories about UUs and their congregations for the news blog.
Friday, July 7, 2006
A quick hello from Nauvoo, the town on the Mississippi River that the Mormons founded and then abandoned when their leader, Joseph Smith, was murdered back in the 1840s. And what on earth is Philocrites doing in Nauvoo? My sister, who lives in Chicago, is getting married this morning in the rebuilt Mormon temple.
And since I'm in Illinois this weekend, now would be a great time to mention that I've been too busy to post anything about Sen. Barack Obama's landmark speech to Call to Renewal last week, but I know you're itching to talk about it.
Tuesday, July 4, 2006
My mentor and friend Tom Stites spoke last weekend at the Media Giraffe Project's conference, "Democracy and Independence: Sharing News and Information in a Connected World." His speech, published on Dan Gillmor's Center for Citizen Media Blog, describes how daily newspapers have abandoned low- to mid-income readers as advertisers have narrowed their focus on the top 40 percent of earners. The result is that more and more Americans — the people who no longer read newspapers (in print or online) because their interests are not addressed by newspapers — are not getting information they need to participate fully in our democracy. Online news, blogs, and other elite media can't fill this gap, he says. The problem is not the medium: Newsprint works great, but the contents — and the economic system that supports the newsroom — are driving readers away.
Tom found some fascinating evidence for this argument in surveys by the Pew Center for the People and the Press. Among people with annual household incomes from $50,000 to $75,000, the percentage of people who had read a newspaper the day before they were surveyed had actually gone up by a percentage point between 1998 and 2004, to 58 percent. People with household incomes over $75,000 declined by five points, however, to 55 percent — but many of these people may be like Tom, who reads weekday news online rather than in a newspaper. The bad news is at the lower end:
For citizens with household incomes of less than $50,000, readership has plummeted. For people in households earning $30,000 to $50,000, readership is down by 13 points, to 35 per cent from 48; for people in $20,000-to-$30,000 households, it's down by 9 points, to 34 per cent from 43 per cent, and for people in households with less than $20,000 income, it's down 11 points, to 27 per cent from 38 per cent. In terms of percentage of decline, the falloff exceeds 20 per cent for all three of these groups — in only six years.
Tom concludes his speech:
Many of us think about citizen journalism and blogs as the saviors of democracy, and while they certainly have impact and show lots of promise, so far they reach a much smaller and much more rarefied audience than daily newspapers. We talk of readers as the audience, as the users, and as the people formerly known as the audience, believing that they are participants in the news process now. It's much more accurate to say that some are participants now, and to acknowledge that the majority do not participate, and that no small number never will. Many of us are committing the marketing sin of thinking the customers are like us. Some are like us, but most citizens are less educated than us, and make less money than us, and have far more uncertainty in their lives.
So my plea to all of us, myself included, is that we keep America's discarded readers in mind as we work to strengthen journalism and shore up our withering democracy. We need to remember that they're citizens, too, and to take care to make sure they have easy access to quality journalism that squarely addresses the issues that affect their lives. Unless we do, there's a good chance that our democracy is doomed. Or, at the very best, our democracy will be disfigured by a class divide that's the 21st century equivalent of our nation's earliest days, when voting was restricted to white male property owners.
Two other discussions about journalism's future that captured my attention last week: OnPoint's conversation with Jim Lehrer, Ben Bradlee, and Jeff Jarvis about the future of news (6.19.06) and Slate's tenth-anniversary forum at the New York Public Library, "Online Media and the Future of Journalism" (6.15.06), featuring Malcolm Gladwell, Arianna Huffington, Michael Kinsley, Norm Pearlstine, and Jacob Weisberg.
Monday, July 3, 2006
Just in time for the Fourth of July, Forrest Church wonders what the second and third U.S. presidents (both Unitarians) would make of modern-day American religious politics. (He also shows up in today's Christian Science Monitor in a story about competing interpretations of the founders' religious views.) Also this week, Don Skinner writes about community ministers, who build bridges between Unitarian Universalist congregations and the larger community through their work in social service and advocacy organizations.
What will I want to talk to other progressive faith bloggers about at the first-ever Progressive Faith Blog Con in two weeks? (I hope you'll consider attending.) Two vitally important observations from the final volume of Gary Dorrien's trilogy on the history of liberal theology in America, which he boiled down into a long but illuminating essay in CrossCurrents earlier this year. (The book comes out in November.)
Dorrien suggests (if I may be excused for oversimplifying) that liberal Christianity's power to shape the culture and to influence public life depends on the strength of its roots in local communities — in churches — and on the ability of theologians to express its core themes in compelling and accessible ways to an audience that extends far beyond the academy. Uh oh.
Here are a few excellent paragraphs from the tail end of Dorrien's retrospective essay, "American Liberal Theology: Crisis, Irony, Decline, Renewal, Ambiguity" (CrossCurrents 55:4, Winter 2005):
A hundred years after the liberals gained control of Harvard and effectively began the tradition of American liberal theology, it faces an ambiguous future. On the one hand the pluralization of theology, the beginning of a religion-science dialogue, and the mere beginnings of multiperspectival interreligous thinking make the twenty-first century the most interesting time in history to pursue theology. Liberals are strong on the skills, tools, sensibility, and attitude needed for engaging in interdisciplinary and interreligious thinking. They do not have to compromise their fundamental principles to practice theology as multiperspectival conversation or interreligious dialogue.
On the other hand liberal theologians have seen their house shrink while evangelicals redefine the sociological meaning of "mainline Protestantism" and the Vatican stifles progressive currents in the Catholic church. Protestant evangelicals boast large membership gains and professional networks, while the scourge of liberal Catholicism, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, has ascended to the papacy as Pope Benedict XVI. The generation of theologians that returned to liberalism after the collapse of neo-orthodoxy retired at the end of the century, often to be replaced by theologians committed to postliberalism, evangelicalism, the "radical orthodoxy" movement, Catholic orthodoxy, or a variant of Protestant confessionalism. Having entered the 1980s outflanked by movements to its ideological left, liberal theology generally moved to the left, and struggled to find a public voice in a rightward-moving religious and political landscape.
Liberal theology has no purpose or integrity as anything but a progressive tradition. Its renewal does not depend on selling out its critical spirit or progressive heritage. Throughout its history, however, liberal theology has made its strongest appeal when it fuses its two heritages with spiritual power. From its Enlightenment/modernist heritage it has emphasized the authority of modern knowledge, affirmed the continuity between reason and revelation, championed the values of humanistic individualism and democracy, and usually distrusted metaphysical reason. From its evangelical heritage it has affirmed a personal transcendent God, the authority of Christian experience, the divinity of Christ, the need of personal redemption, and the importance of Christian missions.
The movement's historic figures — those who made liberal Christianity compelling to millions — were gospel-centered modernists who fused the two languages with conviction: Bushnell, Beecher, Rauschenbusch, Fosdick, Niebuhr, and King. Even Tillich can be counted in this group, though he was an exceptional case in several ways. Other influential proponents of liberal theology also fused the modernist and evangelical faiths: Gladden, Munger, Bowne, Clarke, Brown, Mathews, Macintosh, Harkness, Knudson, Mays, Van Dusen, Muelder, DeWolf, Ferré. In the past generation liberal evangelicalism has withered as an option for academic theologians, yet whenever liberal theology finds a large audience, it speaks a gospel of personal faith in biblical terms. Gomes, Borg, and even Spong are closer to Beecher and Fosdick than to the (narrow sense) "modernist" and postmodernist academic theologies of their generation. They explicate biblical texts and focus intently on what it means to have a personal faith in the postmodern age.
To put it bluntly, liberal theology has broken beyond its academic base only when it speaks with spiritual conviction about God's holy and gracious presence, the way of Christ, and the transformative mission of Christianity. That is not how a great deal of liberal theology has spoken over the past generation, to the detriment of liberal theology as a whole. In the past a spiritually vital evangelical liberalism sustained religious communities that supported the entire liberal movement. What would the social gospel movement have been without its gospel-centered preaching and theology? What would the Civil Rights movement have been without its gospel-centered belief in the sacredness of personality and the divine good?
The most important task I see for progressive religious blogs is not primarily to rally activists or to "fight the right." (Those are important tasks, but in the long term they are secondary tasks.) Instead, it is instead to strengthen, grow, perhaps even transform communities of faith by developing forms of communication that popularize, contextualize, and evangelize the faith. In their own small way, blogs can help revitalize liberal churches — because liberal churches need revitalization if they are to accomplish the work that only they can do.
Sunday, July 2, 2006
Jaume expressed some understandable concern about my comment that "I maintain a mildly bifurcated spiritual life in which certain deeply meaningful parts of my faith are almost never engaged by Unitarian Universalism." He wrote:
[I]f people have two religions, one that is the "authentic" one, the one that appeals to their innermost spiritual feelings, and then UUism as the liberal church that they attend because of some commitment to liberal values or because they like to visit an interfaith place for interesting conversation, or to hear intelligent sermons, then this is a death knell for one of those two places, and I think I know which one is the loser.
I have a response in two parts. First, I have never considered Unitarian Universalism "my religion." Unitarian Universalism is my faith community. As far as I'm concerned, the name is a term thrown over the broad variety of congregations, practices, and traditions affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association. It also describes a variety of traditions around the world that have identified themselves as Unitarian or Universalist or Unitarian-Universalist. Some people think of Unitarian Universalism as a religion on a par with, say, Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. I don't think of it that way, but I can see that for many UUs their faith community is taking on characteristics of a new religious movement.
For me, Unitarian Universalism is more like a denomination than it is like a religion. And one of the peculiarities of American religious life these days is that many people are becoming post-denominational in their religious identification. One friend is a Mennonite who attends services at an Anglo-Catholic monastery; another is an Evangelical who attends an Episcopal church; another is a Lutheran who has been bopping around between UCC and UU churches; and I've been ever so slightly suspended between Episcopal and UU churches since I first visited a Unitarian church and an Episcopal church back in 1991. There are aspects of each tradition that I find very appealing — which is why I joke about the merits of the Unipalian Church ("creedless ritual"!). That's also why I think of my marriage as ecumenical rather than as interfaith: My wife and I share a religion, which we practice and understand in different ways.
The second thing I would say is that there will always be people for whom institutions and their traditions are not wholly satisfactory. I fully recognize that there are UUs who are convinced that Unitarian Universalism is the very best, most complete, most life-savingest, supercalifragilistic religion there ever will be. I respect and even admire that. Perhaps it's because I found myself at odds with the religion I inherited that I have never been utterly converted to the ism in Unitarian Universalism. I am quite devotedly a theological liberal; I have come to terms with the fact that I'm a weird sort of Christian; and I want Unitarian Universalist churches to thrive and I especially want liberal religion to get its mojo back; but I just don't expect to find my own values and deepest beliefs institutionalized completely in any one place.
Oh, one more thought: By acknowledging that there are parts of my personal religious life that take place outside of Unitarian Universalism, I'm not suggesting that Unitarian Universalist congregations and institutions can't serve or promote genuinely satisfying religious lives. I think they can. In fact, they do. But I am saying that UU congregations operate within an increasingly post-denominational world in which people bring a range of expectations and needs that a single institution may not be able to fulfill.
Part of what amazed me about my visit last summer to Taize in France is how that ecumenical community of monks reaches out to Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern-rite Catholic, and Orthodox Christians from all over the world. Taize provides a form of spirituality that doesn't belong to any one tradition but that enriches all of them. Those of us who feel drawn beyond our own denominational boundaries for spiritual direction, dialogue, prayer, or other forms of religious life aren't necessarily renegades — nor are we evidence that our own traditions are failing people. We may simply be finding ourselves drawn to the depths of multiple traditions.
The challenge for congregational leaders is to find and articulate a rich enough vision of the liberal religious life that many people will be drawn to it — including people like me, who are drawn to it despite the fact that it doesn't fully satisfy me.