When I read UUA Trustee Linda Laskowski: Why I Support Morales I had been strongly leaning for one of the candidates for UUA President, but without strong conviction, or even understanding why I felt that way. This endorsement clarified my thoughts and feelings; the race was not about who was the best choice to attain our goals, but about what those goals were- the basic philosophy of religion.
The sentence that made the penny drop was, "I believe we do offer much to a hurting world, and through working with like-minded individuals and alliances can be part of “saving” it — and in the process save ourselves and this faith we love." I know that many UUs agree with this, perhaps a majority... but my reverence for the democratic process doesn't blind me to the fact that the majority can be wrong- they have this exactly backwards.
Saving the world is the province of governments and political movements, and Goddess knows we've had quite a few of those! We've tried clans and kings, direct democracy and representative, theocracies and dictatorships, and none have managed to establish justice or end misery. The problem lies not in the institution, but in the fact that institutions are run by people. Millennia of evolution made us the most dangerous and aggressive species on the planet; we were already the keystone species long, long before the first civilizations began. The instincts that served us so well in the struggle of Man Vs. Jaguar are the very ones that create the struggle of Man Vs. Man, the ones that turn man into monster. We can't save the world as long as it's being run by killer apes.
This is where religion comes in. Religion isn't about changing the world; it's about changing the man in the mirror- if you can save him, the world will follow. If we loved our neighbors as we love ourselves, the problems we're trying to save the world from largely wouldn't exist in the first place. If we save ourselves, we will save the world in the process. Of course I don't mean saving us from Hell, I mean saving us from our follies, our petty vanities, our unthinking angers. Of all the sermons preached in all the UU congregations last year- tens of thousands of sermons- I'd bet you could count on one hand the number of sermons on sin. Don't roll your eyes at me; I'm not talking about preaching a vengeful God- the Seven Deadly Sins are just as deadly even absent a god, you know.
The world needs a church that teaches that spirituality is not the exclusive province of the true believer; one that teaches that the words of the prophets are true not because of which god inspired them, but because they point the way to a better life; one that teaches that right and wrong are valid concepts not because it will save your soul, but because wrong thoughts and wrong actions cause the misery we see around us. The world needs a church that can help the individual deal with the insanity he sees all around him, help him find meaning in a world that tells him individuals are meaningless without telling him to wait for the pie in the sky. The kind of message that mainstream religions, by their very nature, cannot deliver. Whether we can- or even want to- remains to be seen.
Linda said, "...if this faith is saved from irrelevance it will be because most of our 1000+ congregations are able to perceive the need for change and move in the direction that keeps us relevant." Too true. But I feel the only change that can return us to relevance is to return to the things that a church does. The certain path to irrelevance is to continue our headlong rush towards becoming just another political action committee. Spending all your time and money trying to grow the church when you don't understand why it exists in the first place is another path to irrelevance. And for these reasons, I will be voting for Laurel Hallman for UUA President. I believe that Laurel's decades as a minister and her "Living By Heart" show the instincts and temperament of a church leader. I don't know that we can become a relevant church again, but I believe she's our only hope.