Tuesday, October 31, 2006
I haven't read David Kuo's book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, but I've been fascinated by the conversation surrounding it. Tom Ashbrook interviewed Kuo on NPR's On Point (one of my favorite podcasts), where he came across as sweet, thoughtful, and naive. Two recent reviews draw particular attention to the Evangelical roots of that naiveté. Alan Wolfe writes:
Tempting Faith is in its way a significant book, not for what it teaches about the Machiavellians in the White House — surely there are no longer any surprises to be had on that front — but for what we learn about young, idealistic, and phenomenally naive Christians such as David Kuo. It is not an analysis of a mentality, but a documentation of it. To be sure, there is no doubting Kuo's sincerity. His faith in God is unwavering. He is truly committed to good work on behalf of the poor. He did eventually leave the White House, and with the publication of this book he testifies to the cynicism that he found there. But his recovered righteousness is itself a kind of alibi. For people like him served as enablers for one of the most immoral presidencies Americans have ever endured. If we are to know what makes Bush so bad, we need to know more about why people who are so good could ever have been seduced by him.
And not just seduced. Kuo, whose goodness is as self-evident as it is a tad creepy, continues to defend Bush after this most self-professed of Christian presidents robbed the poor to pay the rich, broke his covenant with the Framers who wrote the Constitution of the United States, launched the first war of choice in our history since Polk attacked Mexico or McKinley attacked Spain, justified torture without a qualm of conscience, and, to top it all off, wound up treating his Christian supporters with a contempt that would put the most determined secular humanist to shame.
Wolfe suggests that Evangelicals were seduced by George W. Bush's false piety because of their religious preference for "testimonies": "[C]ompared with every other religion on the face of the earth, they judge sincerity by the power of the stories they tell each other." (And what a story-teller Bush has been.) Wolfe puts it even more sharply later in the review: "Sincerity, for them, is everything, which is another way of saying that facts are nothing. The proof of their faith is its credulity."
Peter Steinfels offers a less barbed review in the New York Times, but he makes the same point. Steinfels writes:
Mr. Kuo's religious forthrightness itself raises another intriguing question about evangelical culture. Evangelicals frequently demonstrate a verbal facility and emotional warmth in articulating their faith — in spontaneous prayer, for example, or in personal testimonies — that other believers envy. But does that put a premium on words and feelings rather than on actions and results?
Steinfels concludes his essay with a response to Kuo's call for a religious "fast" from politics:
Ultimately the lesson Mr. Kuo hopes his fellow evangelicals learn goes far beyond this president and his policies. "At the end of the day," he said, "politics is easy; God is hard." Politics, by setting up very tangible enemies to be defeated, "gives the illusion of a solution," he said, while God demands personal transformation. "What," he asked, "is harder than to be transformed by unconditional love?"
This very contrast between political change and personal transformation has deep evangelical roots, of course. Secular progressives might counter with the mirror image of his formulation: God is easy; politics is hard.
And then there is another possibility: God is hard, and so is politics — at least the politics practiced with a good deal of skepticism, with an anticipation of compromises and setbacks, and with a recognition of the pride and egoism, as the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out, that infects even (or perhaps especially) humanity's most faith-based initiatives.
("David Kuo on Tempting Faith," Tom Ashbrook, On Point [NPR] 10.18.06; "The God that never failed: A golden age of credulity, in politics and in religion," Alan Wolfe, New Republic 11.6.06; "The disillusionment of a young White House Evangelical," Peter Steinfels, New York Times 10.28.06, reg req'd)
Monday, October 30, 2006
What a useful tool Paul Wilczynski has put together at UUBlogSearch.com. It performs site-specific Google searches on approximately 50 Unitarian Universalist blogs and other content-rich sites (using Google's co-op tool), including uuworld.org and UUA.org. If you want to find out how a topic has been discussed on the two primary denominational sites and on a host of blogs, your search just got much easier. Thanks, Paul!
Kimberly French profiles the inventor Lewis Latimer (1848-1928). The son of an escaped slave, Latimer helped Alexander Graham Bell invent the telephone and later worked with Thomas Alva Edison, for whom he invented key elements of the light bulb. Latimer also helped found the Unitarian church in Queens, New York.
In the news, Jane Greer reports that the East Shore Church in Kirtland, Ohio, draws attention to the problem of domestic violence with a dramatic outdoor exhibit each October: They install life-size figures along the road in front of the church memorializing women killed by their partners. Don Skinner reports that the UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund has approved grants to support the staff of the three Unitarian Universalist congregations in New Orleans for another year. And Sonja Cohen keeps watch for Unitarian Universalists in the media.
And if you need some good Halloween reading, try Patricia Montley's "Festival of the Dead" from the uuworld.org archives.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
The Rev. Peter J. Gomes, the longtime preacher at Harvard's Memorial Church who delivered prayers at the inaugurations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, says he has finally thrown in the towel on the Republican Party. He writes in this week's Boston Globe Ideas section:
A native of Massachusetts, I was brought up on a very simple political syllogism: Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves; Abraham Lincoln was a Republican; therefore, vote Republican. With few exceptions, I have done so. It was always a matter of pride to me to belong to the party of Coolidge, Lodge, Saltonstall, Herter, and Sargent, men of probity and good government — or "Goo-Goos," as James Michael Curley used to call them — and I was proud that the first black senator in Congress since Reconstruction was Edward Brooke, a Republican from Massachusetts.
Thus, it was no small thing to abandon the party of Lincoln, and I did so not simply to vote for Deval Patrick but to affirm that the values I have always held, that stood for the best in Massachusetts, are now to be found in this non-Yankee from Chicago. Ronald Reagan, at whose second inauguration I offered the benediction, once said that he hadn't left the Democratic Party but that it had left him; I must say I feel the same way about the Republican Party.
("Words and deeds," Peter J. Gomes, Boston Globe 10.29.06, reg req'd)
Update 11.2.06: Gomes isn't the only Brahmin Republican to jump ship. The Globe reports that prominent members of the Lodge, Phillips, and Saltonstall families have switched to the Democratic Party and will be voting for Deval Patrick. ("GOP icons lament party's drift, head for other side," Steven Rosenberg, Boston Globe 11.2.06, reg req'd)
The convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts yesterday did not adopt a controversial resolution that would have asked priests to stop officiating at marriages. Mrs Philocrites reports that the sponsors of the original Resolution 1 offered a substitute resolution instead, which in its first part called for a year of conversation about marriage and in its second part urged priests not to solemnize marriages. The convention tabled the second part of the substitute resolution, concluding that it would be premature. Rather than opt out of performing state-recognized marriages, the diocese chose to spend a year thinking about it.
(Mrs Philocrites, who attended the convention as a non-voting candidate for ordination, did not get a copy of the substitute resolution, so I don't have the final text in front of me.)
The sponsors of the original resolution said they decided to offer a substitute resolution after meeting with groups of priests and laypeople in deanery meetings throughout the diocese in the weeks prior to the convention; they concluded that more conversation was needed. I take it that they encountered quite a bit of opposition or ambivalence among their colleagues. The diocese did the right thing.
The convention did adopt Resolution 4, the other marriage resolution on the agenda, which asks the next General Convention to authorize changes to the marriage liturgy in jurisdictions that allow same-sex marriage.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
I'm coordinating a Taizé worship service for the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship's "Revival" conference in New York City next weekend, and I'd love to recruit a handful of singers and instrumentalists to help with the music. If you play the flute, oboe, violin, viola, or classical guitar, and are coming to Revival next weekend, please let me know at philocrites (at) gmail (dot) com — and bring your instrument along! (If you play another instrument and would be interested in participating, get in touch and we can see if some of the music could be adapted.) If you have some practice singing a cappella in a small group, I'd also love to hear from you.
Taizé music is beautiful but simple, and working obligato parts into the music as the congregation sings adds a wonderful dimension to the worship. The Taizé service is first thing Friday morning at the Fourth Universalist Society in New York City. We'll rehearse Thursday night after the conference's opening worship service.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Well, now, here's a novelty: A 6-minute YouTube film in which a purple space alien finger puppet promotes seven "cosmic principles." For discussion: Zany, quirky, and (more or less) amusing amateur films are a great way to spread the word about Unitarian Universalism. What do you think?
And who's next? Will Chutney take his line of coffee-hour comic strips to video?
P.S. to certain colleagues: Yes, I know about the alliteration in the title; I'm sorry. P.P.S. Hat tip to the LiveJournal UUs.
Update 6.23.07: Here's a video interview with filmmaker Peter Bowden, discussing the prospects for video evangelism.
Monday, October 23, 2006
I hope you'll consider joining me (and Peacebang and Mr Lively Tradition and a bunch of other fine people) in New York City November 2-5 for the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship's "Revival" conference at the Fourth Universalist Society, 160 Central Park West near the Natural History Museum. The theme this year is "Universalism: God's Reviving Grace." The keynote speakers are Jim Mulholland, co-author of If God Is Love: Rediscovering Grace in an Ungracious World, and Professor Gary Dorrien, author of The Making of American Liberal Theology: Crisis, Irony, and Postmodernity: 1950-2005. I'll be leading a Friday morning service of prayer and song in the spirit of the ecumenical Taizé Community in France; more about this soon.
Full-time adult registration is $150. A special $75 rate is available for seminarians and young adults (under 35). To register or to get information on one-day registration and rates for youth, visit the conference registration page at UUChristian.org.
Allison Trzop, a recent graduate of Emerson College's Master's program in publishing and writing, took a personal interest in Beacon Press's controversial decision 35 years ago to publish the Pentagon Papers, the U.S. government's secret history of the Vietnam War. In writing her Master's thesis about Beacon Press and the Pentagon Papers, she writes that she was "awed and saddened" by the parallels she sees today. And from the UU World archives, Warren R. Ross offers a short history of the UUA and Beacon Press's decision to publish the leaked government report. (You can read Trzop's Master's thesis [pdf] and other 35th-anniversary materials at Beacon.org.)
In the news, Jane Greer reports that several Unitarian Universalist groups condemned President Bush's signing of the Military Commissions Act last week. Don Skinner reports that UUs in Kirkland, Washington, learned that it's not so simple to move a church across the street. And Sonja Cohen monitors Unitarian Universalists in the media for the news blog.
(I heard rumors of another Stephen Colbert mention of Unitarian Universalism recently, but haven't seen a link. Any YouTube junkies out there?)
Saturday, October 21, 2006
A profoundly misguided resolution is on the agenda for the convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, to be held in Boston October 27-28. Here it is in its entirety:
1. Resolution Regarding the Ministry of Blessing Marriages, submitted by The Rev. Barbara Edgar, The Rev. Mally Lloyd, The Rev. Steve Smith, The Rev. Pam Werntz and the Rev. Skip Windsor.
Resolved, that it is the sentiment of the 221st Convention of the Diocese of Massachusetts that beginning January 2008, Episcopal marriages be presided over by an agent of the state; and be it further,
Resolved, that it is the sentiment of the 221st Convention of the Diocese of Massachusetts that marriages in the Diocese of Massachusetts be limited to the blessing of the union as a holy act and that clergy not act as an agent of the state for any form of civil marriage.
What this seems to mean — ignoring any conflicting definitions of marriage in the resolution's two halves, not to mention the front-page Boston Globe article about the "sexual justice" issue motivating the sponsors — is that the diocese would instruct priests not to sign wedding licenses for any couple under any circumstances and to instruct all couples seeking to be married in an Episcopal service to arrange for a civil officiant who would marry them and sign the license before the couple's "union" could be blessed by a priest.
Oh, the questions this raises! Living in Cambridge, Mrs Philocrites and I know several seminarians and priests who support this proposal — dear friends among them — but it sure strikes me as a bad idea on multiple levels.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
The front page of today's Boston Globe carefully lays out the sequence of events that led the dean and associate dean of the business school at the Mormon Church-owned Brigham Young University to send an official invitation to alumni soliciting their support for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. A Mormon apostle and former president of BYU, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, had encouraged using the business school alumni organization to recruit LDS supporters, although a church spokesman says Holland met with Romney campaign representatives to remind them of the church's political neutrality.
Did the business school email, sent to 50 members of the alumni association and 100 members of the school's National Advisory Council, violate that pesky IRS limitation on political endorsements or electioneering by nonprofit organizations? The associate dean, W. Steve Albrecht, when asked about the email by Globe reporters, said, "It wasn't something BYU did, it wasn't something I probably should have done, and it was bad judgment," (Translation: Whoops! I wish I'd taken the alumni email list home and sent it from my AOL account!)
Also intriguing: Don Stirling, Romney's Utah-based campaign consultant, says the Mutual Values and Priorities (MVP) initiative is intended to engage religious leaders from diverse traditions — but he acknowledged that the campaign has only met with LDS leaders. (Among the recruits so far: the chief executive of the church's book publishing division and the president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.) More intriguing, Stephen Zwick, the head of Romney's PAC, told the Globe that MVP had been abandoned and distanced the PAC from the effort — even though the MVP leaders were actively recruiting people earlier this week.
Final thought: Like any politician, Romney is going to work every set of contacts he has — and the Mormon community is his obvious personal base. But the media does its job well when it monitors how well campaigns are abiding by the law. The Globe headline may imply misbehavior by Mormon Church leaders, an implication that the story doesn't firmly establish, but the email from BYU officials does look like a violation of IRS regulations.
("Romney camp consulted with Mormon leaders: Eyes nationwide network to aid White House bid," Scott Helman and Michael Levenson, Boston Globe 10.19.06, reg req'd; "IRS officials stepping up enforcement," Michael Levenson and Scott Helman, Boston Globe 10.19.06, reg req'd)
Update 10.23.06: See the Salt Lake Tribune's coverage of the response by the LDS Church and by Kem Gardner, the Utah businessman who says, "I'm to blame for this whole mess." ("Romney pal takes blame for dust-up: LDS Church denies claim it backs Romney," Thomas Burr, Joe Baird, and Peggy Fletcher Stack, Salt Lake Tribune 10.23.06)
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
The October meeting of the board of trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association is meeting in Boston this weekend. You can find the agenda and a bunch of written reports right here. The meetings, held at 25 Beacon Street in Boston, are open to the public.
Someone may have forgotten to renew the domain registration for Terry Mattingly and friends' religious journalism blog Get Religion, because it has been replaced with one of those "under construction/buy this domain!" landing pages. Has anyone heard of a new address for the site?
Update: Looks like the host's DNS server may have gone haywire. Get Religion is back.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
An article in the Times Week in Review section about political demographics jumped out at me in a rather personal way. It turns out that not only did I grow up in the most solidly Republican place in the U.S. (Utah County, Utah), I'm also part of the most Republican age cohort in the country.
David Kirkpatrick describes a study that shows that "voters typically develop a party preference based on the political atmosphere at the time they come of age and grow more attached to that party over the course of their lives." Hmm.
My senior year in high school encompassed the election of George H.W. Bush and the end of Ronald Reagan's presidency, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the protests and crackdown in Tienanmen Square, which I remember vividly. The Berlin Wall fell later that year. Even though I attended my first Democratic Party caucus in Orem, Utah, in 1989 as a newly eligible voter and convert to liberalism, I was rather vividly aware that almost everyone I knew was a Republican. (There were four of us at that caucus. My parents were at the G.O.P. caucus that evening, held in the junior high school auditorium.) Can't say that I'm surprised that the late '80s looked like mighty good times to impressionable youngsters, thanks to the president I had described in an eighth-grade U.S. history research paper as one of the greatest presidents in American history. (I also worked diligently on a large charcoal illustration of Reagan in my art class that year.) Ah, the follies of youth.
But back to the newspaper article. There's good news for Democrats in this study:
"The longer Bush's approval ratings stay in the mid-30's, the more lost young Republicans there will be in the next generation," said Donald P. Green, a political scientist at Yale. But by the same rule, voters who came of age in the Reagan era are reliably Republican. Voters around the age of 36 are the only age group in which Republicans outnumber Democrats, according to 2006 surveys by the Pew Research Center. And it will be decades before they pass through the populace, "like an elephant through a boa constrictor," Professor Hansen said.
Let's see: I turn 36 next month. (Be sure to take a look at the accompanying graph.) But it's not much of an elephant that's passing through that boa constrictor: Although more 35- and 36-year-old Americans identify with the Republican Party, aren't those of us born between 1969 and 1971 from the low point of the Generation X baby slump? My cohort may idolize Reagan, but I can't imagine that two years worth of gung-ho Gen X Republicanism really constitutes a big deal — especially when you check out how strongly twentysomethings today identify with the Democratic Party. There's a whole lot more of those kids of the baby boomers than there are members of the Class of '88 or '89.
Find yourself on that chart. Do you see anything there that helps explain part of your own coming into political consciousness?
("Voters' allegiances, ripe for the picking," David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times 10.15.06, reg req'd; "Today's voters: How generation influences party," Bill Marsh, New York Times 10.15.06, reg req'd)
A bleak story in the New York Times this morning reports that Iraqi Christians are in desperate straits. Nothing unites like hatred, and the sectarian Muslim violence in Iraq has found at least one common homegrown enemy: the Christian churches, no matter how ancient, which are being linked to "the crusaders" and to the newly unpopular Benedict XVI. (The article points a finger at Benedict, but the U.S., which has devastated an appalling number of Iraqi lives in our Rumsfeldian folly, is more directly to blame for making Christians vulnerable.)
In the midst of a lot of depressing examples is this bit of long-historical context:
Christianity took root here near the dawn of the faith 2,000 years ago, making Iraq home to one of the world's oldest Christian communities. The country is rich in biblical significance: scholars believe the Garden of Eden described in Genesis was in Iraq; Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldees, a city in Iraq; the city of Nineveh that the prophet Jonah visited after being spit out by a giant fish was in Iraq.
Both Chaldean Catholics and Assyrian Christians, the country's largest Christian sects, still pray in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
Curiously missing, however, is the most famous biblical place in Iraq: Babylon.
("Iraq's Christians flee as extremist threat worsens," Michael Luo, New York Times 10.17.06, reg req'd)
Monday, October 16, 2006
Jean Wyrick writes about her teenage daughter's tattoo: "Another gauntlet thrown down / in the ongoing Mother-Daughter Wars."
In the news, Don Skinner reports on changes announced for next summer's General Assembly. And Sonja Cohen keeps on tracking Unitarian Universalists in the media.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
I'm not fond of sharp lines marking the borders of that nebulous circle called "Unitarian Universalism." But distinctions are useful, and it makes sense to me that John Cooley limits the feeds he features on UUpdates, the amazingly useful aggregator for UU blogs and websites, to people who identify as Unitarian Universalists. But what happens when a dedicated Unitarian Universalist decides that they no longer feel at home in the UUA, and you've grown used to following their online writing using an aggregator?
I miss reading Shawn Anthony's Lo-Fi Tribe in my frequent visits to UUpdates, just as I miss reading Michelle's Metacentricities (formerly Pearlbear's Blog) — and very much as I will miss the eventual departure of Scott Wells's Boy in the Bands and James Estes' Peregrinato. So I've created another Kinja digest called Former UUs. I think of it as an aggregator of friends who have moved on or are moving on to other communities. (And because of the catholicity of my Unitarian Universalism, they're all still featured in the UU Blogs Kinja digest I also maintain, even as they've headed for the United Church of Christ.)
Feel free to recommend other blogs by former UUs in the comments. This is not, however, an invitation to recommend anti-UUs sites.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
What a week to be too busy to keep up with the news. The Boston Globe and New York Times both ran long, multi-part series on church-state relations in the U.S., which I've only begun to digest. Here's a list of the stories:
- Boston Globe: Exporting Faith
- Bush brings faith to foreign aid: As funding rises, Christian groups deliver help — with a message (Farah Stockman, Michael Kranish, Peter S. Canellos, and Kevin Baron, 10.8.06)
- A U.S. boost to Graham's quest for converts (Peter S. Canellos and Kevin Baron, 10.8.06)
- Religious right wields clout: Secular groups losing funding amid pressure (Michael Kranish, 10.9.06)
- Past foes of church-state ties turn supporters (Michael Kranish, 10.9.06)
- Together, but worlds apart: Christian aid groups raise suspicion in strongholds of Islam (Susan Milligan, 10.10.06)
- For those excluded, loan program is no success (Farah Stockman, 10.10.06)
- Healing the body to reach the soul: Evangelicals add converts through medical trips (Rick Klein, 10.11.06)
- A piece of Hollywood is converted into a call to Christianity (Rick Klein, 10.11.06)
- New York Times: In God's Name: Favors for the Faithful
- As exemptions grow, religion outweighs regulation (Diana B. Henriques, 10.8.06)
- Where faith abides, employees have few rights (Diana B. Henriques, 10.9.06)
- Religious programs expand, so do tax breaks (Diana B. Henriques, 10.10.06)
- Religion-based tax breaks: Housing to paychecks to books (Diana B. Henriques, 10.11.06)
I'm posting these links so I can get around to reading them. Hopefully they'll interest you, too.
Monday, October 9, 2006
A story in the Globe about the movie American Hardcore includes the following passage featuring my friend, the Rev. Hank Peirce, who has many a story to tell about his punk rock days. (There's a bonus mention of Ralph Waldo Emerson at the very end, too.)
Virtuous warriors or prodigies of hostile behavior, in the end the charged-up teenagers of the hardcore movement were simply grappling and groping for truth: A very American spiritual impulse runs through the whole thing. DC's Bad Brains became Rastafarians; New York's Cro-Mags would turn to Hare Krishna. Up here in the Northeast, Hank Peirce, roadie-in-chief for Boston straight-edgers Slapshot, became minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford. Interviewed in his study in Osgood House, Rev. Hank sits serenely beneath a 200-year-old oil painting of David Osgood, the church's third pastor. He sees no discontinuity between his past and his present.
"You can't be two people," says Peirce. "You've got to include who you are every step of the way. Are there things that I did when I was touring with bands that I'm embarrassed about, and wouldn't do today? Of course! But punk rock was a place where you learned to be who you were. People got into punk rock because they were smarter than everybody else in their school, or because they were dumber than everybody else in their school, or because they were gay, or weird, or had horrible lives, or were homeless and turning tricks in the Fens. And you might not have been accepted because of what you did, but you certainly weren't turned away because of what had happened to you."
("Film celebrates Hub's hardcore past," James Parker, Boston Globe 10.8.06, reg req'd)
Update 10.18.06: And here's Hank in the Weekly Dig: "Hardcore for the Lord" (Jed Gottlieb, 10.18.06). That photo up there, by the way, was staged after a very well-mannered evening of conversation about denominational matters at the 2006 General Assembly in St Louis.
Frances Moore Lappé writes about what she calls living democracy. "Very practically," she says, living democracy "means removing the power of money from decision-making and infusing the power of citizens' voices throughout public life."
In the news, Don Skinner interviews the 91-year-old widow of Pluto discover Clyde Tombaugh about the ninth planet's demotion to "dwarf planet" status. The article notes — and how cool is this? — that the Unitarian Universalist astronomer's ashes are on their way to Pluto!
Also: The UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund has distributed another $237,000 in grants to organizations helping to restore the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast. And Sonja Cohen keeps an eye out for Unitarian Universalists in the Media on uuworld.org's weekly news blog.
Saturday, October 7, 2006
With Mitt Romney off and running to be president, here's my advice to political reporters who want a question to ask him about the way his Mormon faith might inform his politics: First, do some background reading on Joseph Smith's prophecy that the U.S. Constitution will one day "hang by a thread" and that elders of the Mormon Church will come in to rescue it. Six other Mormon Church presidents — who are considered "prophets, seers, and revelators," just like Joseph Smith — have also used this image, and it's a perennial fixture of popular Mormon discourse about politics. Romney must be familiar with the image — you don't grow up Mormon in America without hearing it — so I'd be curious how he interprets it.
In 1991, Brigham Young University president and former U.S. solicitor general Rex E. Lee — Samuel Alito's boss — cautioned BYU students not to jump to hasty conclusions about what "hanging by a thread" means. He then added:
Even though we have not been given the exact meaning of the prophets' statements about the Constitution hanging by a thread, the scriptures do define the conditions on which freedom in the land of America ultimately depends. I am satisfied that whatever else may eventually hang in the constitutional balance, this much is clear: The continuation of the blessings of liberty depends finally on our spiritual righteousness. As the Lord told the Jaredites in the Book of Ether [one of the books in the Book of Mormon], this is a "land of promise." And "whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, . . . if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ." If the people fail to keep this covenant, they "shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity" (Ether 2:9-12).
Ask Romney about that. Lee was offering a restrained interpretation of this bit of Mormon theology. How does Romney's view compare?
An unfair question? Too arcane? I don't think so. This a place where church doctrine directly addresses the U.S. Constitutional order. It suggests not only a theological interpretation of politics but a potentially theocratic politics that may well be contrary to liberal democratic pluralism. Can American Jews and Hindus and Muslims and Unitarians and Pagans and atheists and others participate in a national "covenant" with "the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ"?
Do I think a President Romney would spend much time thinking about Mormon eschatology? No: I actually think his father's more moderate Mormonism rubbed off on him more than he can afford to reveal, making him more pragmatic and calculating and less idealistic or ideological. (Or so I hope.) But if his faith — by which I mean his own religious tradition, not his pandering to the social views of conservative Evangelicals and Roman Catholics — matters in the presidential race, it matters especially on those points where his tradition has something very particular to say about the purpose and fate of the U.S. government.
Monday, October 2, 2006
I realize this is a very last minute announcement, but having commented before about the long absence of the civil-rights documentary "Eyes on the Prize" from TV, I'm very pleased to note that PBS will begin airing it again tonight. (Check your local listings, etc.)
Neil Miller profiles Rozanne Gates and Suzanne Sheridan, the UU couple from Westport, Connecticut, who launched a minor cultural sensation this year when their novelty song, "90-Pound Suburban Housewife Drivin' in Her SUV," debuted on NPR's "Car Talk." (The songwriters popped in here at Philocrites back in March.) Also this week: Abhi Janamanchi writes about his decision, as a UU minister, to fast for Ramadan.
In the news, Don Skinner reports that the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu hosted an interfaith service at the Hawai'ian state capitol to mark the start of Rosh Hashanah, Ramadan, and Durga Puja (a Hindu holiday). He also reports that the UUA's new healthcare plan is only 50 subscribers — and two weeks — away from its enrollment deadline. As always, Sonja Cohen keeps track of Unitarian Universalists in the media at the magazine's news blog.
P.S. Although I've tried to keep magazine-related announcements to a minimum here (loathe as I am to mix business with pleasure), I think you might be interested in two small ways uuworld.org is reaching out to its online readers: Like The American Prospect, Bitch, yes, and Seventeen magazines, UU World has a MySpace page. The magazine has also ventured into LiveJournal land, with weekly postings to the Unitarian Universalist LiveJournal community.
Sunday, October 1, 2006
Deep in an arcane thread of conversation, Fausto offered this story linking Unitarian Universalism's past to its future. After reading his, do you have a story to offer in response?
If it's down-to-earth, grounded stories that we need to rely upon to save us, here's ours:
We are not the anything-goes, follow-your-bliss New Agers, though we may appeal to some of them. We are not the Thoreauesque transcendental loners, though we may appeal to some of them. We are not the religious humanists or intellectual atheists or logical positivists, though we may appeal to some of them. We are not the wounded ex-Christians escaping religion done badly, though we may appeal to some of them. We are not the countercultural rebels and firebrands, though we may appeal to some of them. We are not the product or continuing tradition of 19th- or 20th-century intellectual rebellions against the prevailing religious suppositions of those eras, though we may appeal to some who would continue to rebel. We are not a community of prophetic scolds whose duty is to publicly name and deplore every sin of the larger society, though we may appeal to some who think of themselves as Jeremiahs.
What we are is what we have always been: the liberal Puritans. We are the First (literally!) Churches in Plymouth, Salem and Boston, and their hundreds of affiliated daughter congregations, still alive and still offering the same vibrant and valid witness that we have for almost 400 years. We stand for redemption by the unlimited power of love rather than a selective gift of grace; by the power of self-improvement rather than the magic of special doctrines; by the diligent nurture of righteous character rather than the passive acceptance of God's favor; by the unceasing search for knowledge, because there is no divine principle which can be contrary to truth; by diligent and selfless service to society, especially its least fortunate members, in humble gratitude for and stewardship of whatever earthly blessings and privileges we may enjoy.
Our history repeatedly shows that the farther away we wander from this, our core identity, the weaker and more enervated we become. But by the same token, in each generation we discover anew that this core is what makes us who we are, and who we have always been, and that when we return to it, we find renewed strength.
Update 10.3.06: Make sure to read the back-and-forth about Fausto's story over at Making Chutney.