Thursday, April 30, 2009

In honor of Beltane and Mayday

I offer you The Mummers' Dance by Loreena McKennitt

P.S.- This is my 500th post!

Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and UU

In the last few years we have seen two iconic American automobile companies killed by the incompetent management of General Motors. Any car buff who isn't also a corporate executive can tell you why they died; they were niche products- the best in their niches- but the managers never understood that.

The Oldsmobile was the luxury car for those who despised Cadillacs. Its customers were an uniquely American blend of status seeking and puritanical reverse snobbery... it was everything the Cadillac was at half the price; so somehow buying it was not an extravagance, but sensibly seeking good value for the dollar.

The Pontiac line was simply the highest performance motor vehicle that it was possible for normal mortals to buy. It was the Ferrari at one tenth the price- and GTO and Trans Am owners would often tell you that in normal street corner to street corner driving where a a full race engine couldn't wind up, they were better than the Ferrari. They were the heroes of number one hit songs, movies, TV shows, and frequently at the top of the most-stolen lists.

But GM tried to turn a niche product into a full product line, econoboxes, sedans, etc., just like every other automobile. It evidently never occurred to them that Olds and Pontiac customers didn't want econoboxes and "sensible" sedans, and that those who did already had brand names they were loyal to. Requiescat in pace, American Icons.

What does this have to do with UU? Unitarian Universalism is a niche religion, as Unitarianism and Universalism before them had been. At some levels, UUs understand this; there are many jokes- composed by UUs- to demonstrate how different we are. But many UUs don't seem to understand another facet of niche products- that they are a fixed percentage of the market, neither growing nor falling without some unusual circumstance at work.

UU's market share has fallen in recent decades because of some competition, just as GTO and Trans Am sales fell slightly whenever a new model Mustang came out. Some of the more spiritual types became Pagans or liberal Christians. Some of the ones who were strictly political action types left when secular action groups became more viable. Some of those who were UUs only because we would marry them when nobody else would have now been welcomed back to their preferred churches.

But the spiritual types who also valued reason and seeking stayed. (And thank you, Boston, for hurting their feelings by disaffiliating all the believer organizations) The political activist who also needed fellowship in their lives stayed. We have achieved our market share of the current social structure, after the upheaval of the last few decades.

What this means is that no vast growth program is going to work, any more than a vast advertising campaign can make an F150 customer buy a Celica. The way to increase Celica sales is to make it more of what the Celica buyer is looking for to retain your current customer base, and wait for social change to naturally increase that base- appealing to F150 buyers is a waste of resources. Similarly, the way to grow UU is to make sure it is giving existing UUs more of what brought them here, make it the best UUA it can be, and not waste resources in scarce times trying to attract people who aren't going to stay anyway. Stop doing those things that are driving current UUs away, retain our base, and the numbers will take care of themselves. Something to think about for the upcoming election.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Where readers come from

Do those of you with blogs of your own ever spend time looking at where your readers come from? It can be fascinating. I get a lot of hits from other blog's blogrolls. (Thanks, y'all) But there are other sources- the largest being Google searches- some very interesting ones. Here are some of the recent Google searches that linked to me:
conservative unitarian
marijuana hazards
large uu churches theist
rubin edgar
cuumbaya chords
"peter parker is an asshole"
gay basher forums
nice-what's the original meaning
cause of the war in iraq
silly beliefs
generic chaos magic
another phrase for according to
"conflict with my friend"
quantum god
cubic function for bmi
the word for the definition, to have lost blood
racism programs

Some of those connections are obvious- they're actually tittles of some of my posts. Anything about the war in Iraq is bound to be a popular search, and that Rubin bloke has gotten me a lot of hits, and more than a few have become regular readers. And I can understand a search for gobbledygook or silly beliefs leading right to me... but getting a first-page association with "another phrase for according to"? I know why the search for "peter parker is an asshole" led to me, as that phrase appeared in comments to a post- but who searches for something like that?

Does anyone else get such curious referring links?


Monday, April 27, 2009

Why I don't buy the "ticking bomb" scenario

Behind the political debate over the actual torture memos and instances is the generic question of situational ethics versus absolute moral codes. I come down on the side of absolute moral codes because I do not believe in the unique situation.

Some things must be unthinkable; once the unthinkable becomes merely the unusual, then it becomes an ever more attractive option. It becomes the destruction of all morals by the salami method- slice by slice. You don't think so? Let us stipulate, for the sake of argument, that torture would be effective and the information gathered thereby accurate, even though history questions this. Now let's examine the classic ticking bomb scenario- NY is about to be bombed, and you have one of the terrorist gang in your custody- do you torture him for the location of the bomb?

If you said yes, let me reset the scenario for you. Suppose that your captive is not a member of the cell that is actually doing the bombing, but is a member of the organization, and knows the names and contact information of the perpetrators- do you torture him? Logically, if you said "yes" before, you should agree here, too- if not, can you give any logical reason why not?

If you said yes, then answer me this: suppose your captive was not himself a terrorist, but knows who the terrorists are and how to find them- a brother perhaps, whatever? After all, both Christian and Islamic moral codes- as well as all other religions I'm aware of- teach that if you know of a criminal plot and do nothing, you are guilty of the same crime- "One who eats meat cannot sneer at the butcher". In many countries, he would be legally guilty as well- accessory before the fact. Do you torture him? If you said yes to both of the above, I don't see how you can say no now- the principle is the same.

Now let us suppose the captive is a real hard case- you've waterboarded him a hundred times, and he hasn't talked. Time is running out, and 14 million lives are at stake. Do you move on to more traditional means, hot coals and nutcrackers? Is he more important than 14 million Americans? Isn't the principle the same as it was before? Before you answer, let me offer you an alternative- would you waterboard his child in front of him to break him? After all, everyone keeps telling me that waterboarding leaves no lasting physical effects, the kid is in no physical danger. What do you do- give up, put him on the rack, or waterboard his child?

Now suppose your chain of information was wrong at any point- congratulations Mr. macho Jack Bauer, you've just tortured the innocent child of an innocent man.

There are other slippery slopes than the one above, once you have established the principle of "greater good". Suppose it weren't 14 million New Yorkers. Suppose it was a real life version of the movie "Black Sunday", an attack on the Super Bowl. Would you torture him to save 100,000 people? Suppose it were an office building- do you torture for 1,000 people? Suppose it were a nightclub- do 200 victims justify torture? Knowing that we will torture when necessary, how many police will feel justified "merely slapping some guy around a little bit" when he feels it's necessary? After all, it's not like it's "real torture". Or maybe using his Taser to torture instead of to subdue, because "it leaves no lasting effects"? I mean, I wouldn't ordinarily do it, but this case is so important...

At this point, whenever I'm arguing "situational ethics" with someone, I'm always asked, "What if it were your wife at stake?" I am going to answer, but before I do, let me point out that this question is not a valid question for the discussion, because societal ethics and personal ethics are entirely different things. for example, it's moral for a society to tax its members, but it's not moral for me to shove a gun in my neighbor's face and demand money. My answer: I don't know for sure; nobody knows how they would behave in an emergency unless they've experienced it. But I do know this: if I succumbed to temptation and tortured the perp, I would NOT claim that I had done the right thing. PG had it exactly right in her comments on The Chaliceblog" ; I would expect to be arrested and prosecuted for it, and I would plead guilty. I would be guilty, both of the law and of my personal understanding of right and wrong. It has been said that we will have justice when those who were not injured feel as outraged as those who were; I would add that we can get there if those who are injured can retain their morals and ethics.

Monday, April 20, 2009

It's not been a hard winter,

but evidently the kitties think it's been a long one. Our oldest, Laurie, about whom I've written here , here , and here has commandeered the Easter basket- despite being ridiculously too large for it- I guess on the theory that artificial grass is better than no grass.

Today, while sitting at my desk, working on my novel, I saw Laurie pulling plastic grass out of the basket and shoving it over the side of the table. I shifted my seat to see what the heck she was doing, and was able to see she was burying a catnip mouse on the floor below the edge of the table, where someone else had left it. When the mouse was well and truly covered, she jumped down to a chair, then to the floor, and walked right past it and out to the sunroom, presumably for food and/or water. I just shook my head- I've long since given up trying to figure out cats. I returned to my novel.

A little while later I heard the frantic scrabbling of claws, and looked up in time to see Laurie run at full speed back into the living room and leap upon the pile of plastic grass! Little green streamers went flying everywhere as she dug through the pile of grass 'til she "found" the mouse- which she bit in the middle of the back and shook in that patented kitty neck-breaker move. Then she flung the "dead" mouse in the air and rolled upside-down in the "grass".

I don't know how old 14 cat years are to a human... but I hope when I'm that age and senile, I'll be able to make my own fun like she does!

Wholly human

Logan Geen over at The New Unitarian Universalist has an interesting post on The Humanity of Jesus . This is an issue I wrestled with as a teenager some forty years ago, eventually deciding, in the words of former All Souls minister Ed Harris, that wholly God and wholly human was one too many wholly's for me.

For me, one of the bigger convincers was doubt. It is basic human nature to doubt- and the question of the existence and nature of God is the greatest source of doubts. Mighty cathedrals are monuments to doubt, not faith- grandeur to convince followers they backed the right horse. Even if you have no doubts whatsoever about the existence of some God, you will have doubts about your understanding of God- in the Bible, even prophets who had conversations with God had moments of doubt. Even Jesus had doubts on the way to the cross, and said "Why have you forsaken me?" while on the cross. To me, these doubts made Jesus wholly human.

But wholly God? How can God doubt God's existence, purpose, and plan? I have never said, "Me, me, why have I forsaken me?" Did Jesus, perhaps while meditating alone in Gethsemane, induce a state of autohypnosis and plant a posthypnotic suggestion to forget himself for a while to experience human doubt and fear? Why did God have to die to satisfy a law that he himself had written? I could not believe that Jesus was wholly God.

Was Jesus special? Certainly. Was he a conduit of God? Yes- as are we all. Of course, conductors come in large capacity and small, with more or less resistance... he was a transcontinental high-voltage line, where most of us are the wire that connects the battery pack in the back of the radio. But God? No. To me, there was clearly a reason the word "trinity" does not appear in the Bible- that Jesus was wholly human.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Kentucky Derby Dilemma

(Guest post by Ginger Monka)

I'm in a dilemma for Kentucky Derby Day this year. I've always made an event of the Kentucky Derby and probably have the world's largest collection of Kentucky Derby hats and mint julep cups for someone who's never actually attended the race but only watched in on the telly. But, this year, my dear friend for nearly 40 years is having a 50th birthday party that day in another part of the state. (Her birthday was in March but the party is on Derby Day, go figure)

For most of my life, there's been no dilemma; any time that Dad and I were in the same city, getting together to watch the Derby and sip mint juleps was a given. Dad wasn't particularly a horse fan or a racing fan, but he spent his adolescence in Louisville, so the Derby was special. One of my favourite stories of his youth involved the only time he was a live spectator at this event, when he sneaked into the infield through a hole in the Churchill Downs fence. Since Dad was the most punctilious arbiter of exemplary conduct I've ever known, this anecdote made him more human and accessible to me.

The first Kentucky Derby I remember, I was rooting for a horse named No Robbery. Research shows that this was the 1963 Kentucky Derby, won by Chateaugay, while No Robbery finished fifth. (Google is a wonderful thing, n'est ce pas?) I was following Dad around the yard while he did yard work while listening to the pre-race festivities on a transistor radio. When he harvested the mint for the juleps, he gave me a sprig to chew and I was amazed and entranced that this wonderful flavour, heretofore linked only to Christmas candy, was in a plant that grew in the yard.

One Derby day, the year after college graduation, the minister brought me a Siamese kitten (there was a long-running supply of same, due to one prolific queen with a tendency to escape; a number of the kittens ended up in our family). Said kitten had not yet been named by post time. After the race, (1982), Dad and I concluded that the only conceivable name for this kitten was Gato del Sol, the same Gato del Sol mentioned in
this post.

Dad passed eight days before Derby Day three years ago. His memorial service was the evening before, and quite a few family members were still in town over the weekend. A bunch of siblings and step-siblings assembled in the motel room to watch the race and even those in family who ordinarily don't do mint juleps did that year, in honour of Dad.

The following year, Joel and I were in Lexington for Dad's Jahrzeit on Derby Day, very lucky to have found a motel room, since it incidentally happened to be UK commencement day as well. We watched the Derby in the hotel bar, where, although, alas, no juleps were to be had, the race was on and most spectators rose for My Old Kentucky Home.

I have mixed feelings this year. The tragedies of Barbaro and Eight Belles demonstrate that a race horse's quality of life isn't what I would hope and that breeding for speed at the expense of strength isn't such a great idea. There's the conflict with my friend's birthday party. And yet...I'll go to the party but try to get home in time to do the Derby ritual. And as a Plan B, find a sports bar between there and here that serves juleps.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I almost know what it feels like to have a disease named after you.

Yesterday's post required several man-hours of highly trained labor to produce. Yeah, I know, it reads like it took about ten minutes of a fourth grader's time, but "The miracle of the dancing bear is not how well it dances, but that it dances at all"- I was having computer problems that almost had me thinking the only way to reach my readers would be by postcard.

Ok, we've all joked about how twitchy Microsoft products in general are, and how Vista is easier to spook than an abused Arabian horse. But I developed a strange problem, even for the Vista/Explorer combo- whenever I attempted to paste from Works (I use Works rather than Word because I'm too cheap to pay for Word, while Works is bundled free. There, I said it.) to email or Blogspot, Explorer crashed! This was a catastrophe... I must have a spellchecker, and the email program doesn't have one. (well, it does, but it borrows the dictionary from Word. And as I haven't paid to activate Word...)

So, with a bit of trepidation, I contacted MSN online chat tech support. Man, did I get a pleasant surprise- their customer service people are just as nice as their products are twitchy! After the first screener determined I wasn't the type who calls to complain that the cupholder that slides out from the side of the computer is broken, I was quickly transferred to a real tech named Cathy. She was both patient and good humored (meaning she sent a smiley face at one of my bizarre comments), and quickly set up a shared desktop link. Then over the course of a couple of hours, she did a disk clean, optimized performance, ran both the MSN9.6 and the Explorer 7.0 through all kinds of cartwheels, uninstalled and reinstalled them, retested, and finally declared that she had determined that the MSN software was not at fault, apologized for not doing more, and gave me a case number and contact info for the Microsoft troubleshooters. As it was approaching midnight, I put that call off to this morning.

So this morning, after breaking fast and getting fresh coffee, I call Microsoft. The answering computer connected me to a nice man from India (I'm not guessing from his accent, we chatted about the weather here and there) who also set up the shared desktop connection, and started plumbing into the bowels of the browser. He was able to determine that one of the automatic security updates sent out yesterday had caused an unforeseen compatibility problem, and that downloading the latest generation of Explorer would solve it. He actually thanked me for bringing them the problem so quickly, because it was a specific combination of conditions that had caused it, and that he would immediately email this information to the developers and other techs so they would be prepared for the complaints they were sure to be getting shortly.

For a moment there, I felt special. There must be millions of year old laptops using Vista and Explorer who download their updates faithfully, and I was the very first to complain- the kind of perverse pride Baron Munchausen might feel at having a syndrome named for him. But then it occurred to me that perhaps there weren't as many as I thought- of student laptops whose owner was too damn cheap to activate the preloaded Microsoft Office Suite when the six months free trial expired- it was only the combination of Works, Explorer 7.0, and the specific security update that would cause the problem.

Oh, well, the real point is that I received hours of individual attention both from the Microsoft Network and from the Microsoft Explorer tech team, and they solved the problem, (and more; my computer is running better now than it did before this all happened!) and they did it all for free. The cost for the right to bitch is the obligation to give kudos when deserved. Kudos, MSN. Kudos, Microsoft.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Equal rights for Gods and Goddesses?

Remember last October how Joe Biden concealed a statue of the Goddess Diana behind a draped flag when he gave a speech in Pueblo? (See it at The Wild Hunt ) Everyone assumed it was the brass boobies that offended- but maybe not! President Obama gave a speech at Georgetown University Tuesday, and the White House requested a similar cover-up, but in this case it was the name of Jesus that was covered up. Perhaps it was the divinity rather than the cleavage at issue. We could test the issue- ask him to speak at a UU church, and see if the White House asks us to cover up our patron saint

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The 50 best US Television Shows

It's always interesting to see what others think of us and our culture- here, courtesy of the TimesOnline, a British critic gives us The 50 best US Television Shows

My question for the telephone forum

I received an email from the UUA yesterday announcing a telephone forum with the candidates for UUA President.
"On Friday, April 17, at 3:00 PM (EDT), the Unitarian UniversalistAssociation will host a one-hour telephone forum with the two candidatesfor UUA president, Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman and Rev. Peter Morales. The forum will originate from UUA headquarters in Boston and will bemoderated by UUA Secretary Paul Rickter.

Those wishing to ask questions of the candidates are invited to submitthem by emailing no later than Thursday, April 16,9:00 PM (EDT).

Those who wish to listen to the conversation are invited to call1-213-286-1201. When connected, please enter the following access code:117-113-425.For technical difficulties during the actual conference call, pleaseemail ."

My question is this: I notice that the time and day of the forum guarantee that whatever time zone one lives in anywhere in the continental US, it will occur during the workday. Do you assume that everyone interested in, let alone voting in this election is retired, or has an employer willing to let them place an hour-long long distance phone call on company time?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Religious Right concedes defeat

That is the headline of a story last Friday in the . "Leading evangelicals have admitted that their association with George W. Bush has not only hurt the cause of social conservatives but contributed to the failure of the key objectives of their 30-year struggle." They see the church as the main victim of this failing. "Unease is rising that a nation founded - in the view of evangelicals - purely as a Christian country will soon, like northern Europe, become “post-Christian”. Recent surveys have suggested that the American religious landscape has shifted significantly. A study by Trinity College in Connecticut found that 11 per cent fewer Americans identify themselves as Christian than 20 years ago. Those stating no religious affiliation or declaring themselves agnostic has risen from 8.2 per cent in 1990 to 15 per cent in 2008."

Their anger is not aimed at liberals, however. "A growing legion of disenchanted grassroots believers does not blame liberal opponents for the decline in faith or the failures of the religious Right. Rather, they hold responsible Republicans - particularly Mr Bush - and groups like Focus on the Family that have worked with the party, for courting Christian voters only to betray promises of pursuing the conservative agenda once in office." I see an object lesson for liberal Christians and UUs in all this. We have been taking the same route, with far too many expressing their religion by faxing congressmen rather than serving their community. We are in a very real and present danger of having this evangelical's lament becoming ours: "Ray Moore, president of Exodus Mandate, a South Carolina-based group which organises home-schooling for Christian children, said: “Political involvement by Christians is not wrong, but that’s all the big groups did for 25 years. They were more concerned with fund-raising and political power than they were with our children’s welfare.” Any objective observer would say that sounds a whole lot like us- anyone who receives the social justice emails must acknowledge it.

We must take this lesson to heart. Politicians and political movements come and go- the pendulum always swings. I have lived long enough to see both the Democratic and Republican parties, both Liberalism and Conservatism, declared dead and buried. The way to avoid being swept aside by the swings is to lead on moral principal rather than following partisan positions- which we have been guilty of in the past. I hope the new President of the UUA, no matter who it may be, will stand firm on the separation of church and political party, so that we UUs can avoid in the future the frustration the Religious Right is feeling today.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Forgiving one's religion

Is the message of Wiccan priest Harry Dorman, published in the Traverse City Record-Eagle . "Beyond interfaith considerations, there can also be "intra-faith" issues creating points of discomfort within one's own faith. In such instances, we may need to forgive our religion in order to set aside its perceived imperfections." He says. " must step back and embrace the larger question -- whether a circumstance is significant enough to destroy the faith-follower relationship.
If the answer is "no," the proper action becomes that of forgiving one's religion and moving on within it. This is a better course of action than quickly and/or blindly divorcing one's religion in favor of another -- one that most likely comes with its own imperfections."

This is a message people of all religions need to hear, but Wiccans and UUs possibly the most. Nobody can bad-mouth a Wiccan like another Wiccan, and some UUs can hold grudges for decades- but that's only half the story. NeoPaganism and Unitarian Universalism share an important trait- having a much higher percentage of adult converts than most mainstream religions. This results in a high percentage of people who have been hurt, are still resentful, and spend a lot of time and bandwidth bad-mouthing their former religions.

While understandable, this behavior is unseemly. Whether your pain came from a former religion or a current congregation, give it up- forgive your religion. As Rev. Dorman says, "Learning to forgive ourselves, those around us and, when necessary, our religion will help us find joy in our diverse and interconnected existence."

Thursday, April 09, 2009

An inadequate answer

In the latest post in the "Peter Morales for UU President" blog, Morales Addresses “Humanist/Theist” Question , Peter addresses the following question: "Our denomination seems to be undergoing a philosophical shift. Twenty years ago in our congregation, the concept of a “Christian UU” seemed nonsensical. Now our congregation has a Christian UU minister and many of the secular humanists of previous generations, despite the acceptance of diversity that we say we believe in, are feeling bereft - bereft of a sanctuary from the world of deity (Christian or otherwise). The UU church was the one place in many UU’s lives where those who lived to a different drummer, theologically speaking, could live without the expectation that they subscribe to a divine being. Where they could go on a spiritual or religious journey without having to subscribe to the supernatural. How will you lead us as we struggle with this fundamental challenge?"

I thought his response began well- "Religion is not ultimately about what we believe. Religion, literally “that which binds us together,” is much more about what we love, what we share and what we aspire to become. A congregation is a religious community of memory and hope." I thought he carried that a bit too far with "Only in modern western society are religious groups defined by what they believe."- that's only true if you define "modern" as "within the last couple thousand years", and "western" as "including the middle east, and as far as the Indian subcontinent and up to Tibet", but I realize that's a quibble. But I don't believe he ever directly addressed the last and most important sentence of the question, "How will you lead us as we struggle with this fundamental challenge?"

I would have liked to have heard him address some of the underlying assumptions of the question. While I realize that historically many UU congregations have been- and many still are- majority atheist, has there really ever been a time when the very concept of a "Christian UU" was "nonsensical"? And if so, wasn't that an offense against our tradition of openness and welcome, rather than a policy to be protected? Why does the presence of a theist in the congregation create "...the expectation that they subscribe to a divine being."? Not all Christians are evangelical, and many other faith traditions actively discourage- even forbid- conversion. While I am happy to answer questions about my faith, for example, not only do I not seek converts, I would be less likely to accept one than an orthodox rabbi. Am I, or that rabbi, really so scary atheists need a sanctuary from us?

I believe that the questioner was right that finding fellowship between atheists and theists is a fundamental challenge we must struggle with. This may be an even more important issue that the much-debated question of growth, for growth is certain to throw ever more theists and atheists into the pews together... and if the presence of a Christian UU Minister is going to leave atheists "feeling bereft - bereft of a sanctuary from the world of deity (Christian or otherwise).", and believers are going to hear Dawkins quoted at them, (which the questioner did not do, but is a common happenstance in my experience), then not only will the new members not stay, but many old ones will leave. It's all well and good to say, "Compassion, community, justice, peace. These are good humanist values. They are also the teachings of Jesus. Let’s join hands and bring these values to life.", but we need leadership to get there from here.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A religion for hard times?

I have been pondering Doug Muder's UUWorld article by that title, and his blog follow-up , which sums up the article nicely: "What I want to call faith -- and I think I'm being consistent with many major religions here -- is a third response to uncertainty, one that senses a way to move forward without demanding promises about how it will all come out. That kind of faith is independent of dogma, and many UUs have shown it at some point in their lives." He asks in the article, "Does Unitarian Universalism provide, support, or engender that kind of faith?", and asks those of us who have survived hard times to testify about our experiences.

Like many others, I'm a hyphenated UU- in my case, a UU-Pagan. My Pagan faith does not guarantee that everything will be alright in this world. Nor does it provide certainty about the afterlife, if any; the only thing I'm sure of that in respect is that the Divine is not small or petty- if I make myself worthy of this world, I need have no fears about the next. In a way, my Pagan divinities have something in common with a good general or political leader... a good leader does not promise victory; he gives his followers the tools needed to win, then asks them to do their best.

What tools am I given? My Pagan faith tells me that I am loved. It gives me a place in the universe- "Like the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here." It gives me techniques to still panic, find calm, and banish despair. It shows me how to take that calm, gather energy, and address my problems. It sets boundaries, what situations and solutions are acceptable, and what is beyond the pale. This prepares me well for what Doug calls "the third response", moving forward without demanding promises; indeed, to my faith, that is the first response.

But that is after the hyphen- what about the UU part? There are echoes of much of my credo in the Principles and Purposes- though the PPs are stated as suggestions rather than truths. My spiritual life has been greatly enhanced by my UU experiences- making community with a far more diverse group than I had known before, invaluable discussions, small groups, fascinating forums and blogs, But despite having been an enthusiastic UU for more than a dozen years, I'm afraid that UU itself is still like monosodium glutamate in my life- a flavor enhancer for what I already had, rather than a stand-alone religion in its own right. For me, the answer to Doug's question is that UU does not provide or engender that faith. It does support it- although even there I have to ask whether UU supports the faith, or merely provides a venue to meet the friends who support that faith.

But I also realize that I come to this question with my own preconceptions, so I will repeat Doug's question to all of you with a different slant to it. This is directed at the unhyphenated UUs; those who were raised UU, or came to UU completely unchurched, with no previous faith tradition, and have survived truly hard times: Did Unitarian Universalism give you what you needed to persevere through those dark times, or did it merely enhance and assist what you already had? Was it the entree, or the monosodium glutamate? What did it give you?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Some flaws in the Belief-O-Matic test

The The New Unitarian took the Beliefnet Belief-O-Matic test and posted his results, which inspired patter pensée to do the same. I've done this before, but decided to do it with commentary this time, as I have some questions about how they get their results. In any kind of sorting program, the choice of criteria and how heavily to weight them is crucial- in Cladistics , for example, if you count bipedal locomotion too highly, you'll have humans more closely related to ostriches than orangutans. Here are the results:

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
2. Neo-Pagan (94%)

Not surprising that these two are on the top; I claim them both- but I think the order should be reversed. There are two reasons why; the first is abortion. Pagans and NeoPagans tend to be as split as the general public on abortion, but I have never met, nor heard of, nor even met anyone who has heard of a pro-life Unitarian- except me. It should be noted however that I am pro-life in the moral and religious sense, but not in the political sense- I have come to believe that it is not possible to craft legislation that will not be abused by one side or the other. But I am unaware of any other UU anywhere who believes that life begins at conception.

The other dividing issue is God. Belief in a divinity is completely optional for a UU, but other than the Satanists, I have never heard of a Pagan atheist. They may argue about how many gods there are, but every Pagan I know agrees on at least one. Were I writing the test, I would weight these questions much higher in separating UUs from Pagans.

3. Liberal Quakers (91%)
4. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (86%)

I can't argue with numbers 3 and 4; I get along well with Quakers and liberal Protestants. Mainline Protestans are a little more problematical- there's this "Trinity" thing...

5. New Age (85%)
6. Secular Humanism (84%)

I find it hilarious that these two are rated so closely together. While there are tolerant religious humanists, everyone I've ever known who self-describes as Secular Humanist has nothing but contempt for anything New Age- or "Woo-Woo" as they prefer to call it.

7. Mahayana Buddhism (77%)
8. Theravada Buddhism (72%)

These two look better on paper to liberal eyes than they do in practice, especially in terms of social justice.

9. Reform Judaism (70%)
10. Baha'i Faith (68%)
11. Orthodox Quaker (67%)
12. Sikhism (67%)
13. Taoism (66%)
14. Nontheist (65%)

I have no real comment for most of 9-13, but Nontheist? Personally, I'd have put that at the very bottom!

15. New Thought (64%)
16. Scientology (60%)
17. Jainism (59%)
18. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (53%)
19. Orthodox Judaism (52%)
20. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (46%)
21. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (46%)
22. Islam (45%)
23. Hinduism (38%)
24. Eastern Orthodox (36%)
25. Roman Catholic (36%)
26. Seventh Day Adventist (27%)
27. Jehovah's Witness (16%)

No real arguments on these, either. How about you? any surprises on your matches?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

10 terms not to use with Muslims

That is the title of a fascinating article from Christian Science Monitor writer Chris Seiple.
"As President Obama considers his first speech in a Muslim majority country (he visits Turkey April 6-7), and as the US national security establishment reviews its foreign policy and public diplomacy, I want to share the advice given to me from dear Muslim friends worldwide regarding words and concepts that are not useful in building relationships with them. Obviously, we are not going to throw out all of these terms, nor should we. But we do need to be very careful about how we use them, and in what context. " What follows is a study in how translations- even word for word- frequently do not convey the exact meanings intended; words, even ideas, are colored by history and culture that you may be unaware of.

While this phenomenon is fairly obvious to students of language and history, it is equally true but much less obvious that this occurs within cultures as well. We talk about the melting pot, and "American culture", but even with TV and the internet we are not a unified culture- just a few miles or a few years can still make a vast difference in the words we use and the meanings of them. If race and religion are factored in, the differences can arise within just a few blocks. Or even in the same house, between generations.

I first became aware of this as a teenager. My mother had destroyed some of my literature that she had found, deeming it obscene. During the course of the ensuing fight I called her a book burner. She burst into hurt and furious tears. "How can you call your own mother a Nazi?", she screamed. You see, when and where she grew up, a "book burner" was a Nazi. Not "Nazi" like people at church use it today, meaning "Republican", but a genuine Jew-killing, goose-stepping Nazi. So even though she had in fact just burned a book, she was certainly no book burner!

I know that this effect crops up in the blogs and forums I frequent. Sometimes a response will be (to me, or to the original poster if it's my response) so non-linear, so non-sequiter that it's obvious that we have just talked past each other without comprehension. But I suspect that sometimes when emotions flare, the same thing has just occurred, but just subtly enough that it wasn't caught. I wonder how much pain and violence has been caused over the years by an uncaught connotation-shift?