UU 2.0:  Now Freethought-free

cuddle sessionBelieve?  Don’t?  We don’t care because it doesn’t matter!  Just come and join our weekly cuddle sessions.  No one will ask you what you believe or tell you what to believe.  Even our cherished 7 Principles are entirely optional.  Believe in equal rights for gay and transgender people?  Great.  Don’t?  Fine, either way, because we’ll never know.

We don’t ask, and we don’t tell.  You may have heard the slogan “If you see something, say something”, the idea that to be responsible, loving citizens, we have to speak up when we see things that don’t add up.  Well, not in UU.  If you want to speak up, you may, but only if no one objects to the way you speak up.  We’ll make sure that no one makes you uncomfortable, and that you will not make anyone feel that way.  But don’t worry, that almost never happens in UU, because people like that rarely show up, and when they do, they usually just don’t come back.  Whew!

In UU, we are nice at all costs.  UU was born in freethinkers like Michael Servetus.  He boldly told the Catholics and Calvinists that the Trinity made no sense.  We love to pick up reflected light from his great sacrifice at being burned at the stake for that.  But today, we are anything but freethinking because that might cause a conflict, and that would harsh everyone’s vibe.  UU is a safe space.  You won’t find any tough love here, so relax.

What if someone shows up who is familiar with UU’s history of freethought?  Don’t worry, we know how to deal with that.  We use shunning.  It’s very effective, and we always have plausible deniability.  We can just say a person made us feel uncomfortable.  It usually only takes one treatment for such a member to leave for good, taking his whole family with him. Vibe restored!

You may be worrying that some churches have a vibrant apologetics movement.  Members are educated about their tradition, and are urged to be ready to defend their positions.  Rather than getting offended or deflecting challenges to their faith, people react charitably, trying to take in the often well-founded critiques of religion, and even considering where their faith might be wrong or in need of improvement.  The idea is to have good reasons for what you believe and communicate them, even to detractors.

You won’t find any of that in UU!  If a member were to suggest that we can be more inclusive, or more in line with the 7 Principles, our proven techniques drive them away.  We won’t require you to defend any UU positions, or even to understand them.  We’re creedless, so the 7 Principles are mostly for show.  If we took them seriously, we’d have to hold our members to them, and in this postmodern era, that would be bad for business.  Oh, we love to take shots at Right Wingers, but that’s ok because there are never any present.  Conflict avoided!

We like to say we’re radically pluralistic, but that’s required!  Everyone is welcome, as long as you fit in.

So, UU is a no-conflict zone.  Still not reassured?  You’re probably wondering how UU makes sure they only drive out real abusers and troublemakers, and not someone who is honestly concerned about living up to UU’s principles.

Consider this recent case:

One cunning UU sought out the Humanists in UU and posted his invective on their Facebook page.  He thought that if anyone was a freethinker in UU, it would be the Humanists, but boy was he wrong.  He had the temerity, based on UU’s own statistics showing that UU is inbred, to post “UU is inbred”.  Well, the admin was on top of things and banned him.

We hope you can now see that there is no possibility this caring man had our best interests in mind.  He had his own narcissistic agenda to make sure we were living the 7 Principles (in this case, the responsible search for truth), and that is just not what we’re about.

So, as much as we hate to make anyone feel unwelcome, it is sometimes necessary to purify our church.  If freethinkers are not expunged, our Safe Space is infected and that infection could grow.  Believe me, we’ve seen it happen.  When outspoken, “caring” people show up, perfectly comfortable churches are often transformed within months into challenging, vibrant movements with almost constant discussion about how to best serve everyone, not just the members who happen to fit in because they never risk saying anything of import.

So, please check us out.  Not because we need you or the diversity you might bring.  But because you need us.  You need a Safe Space.

Well, that’s 800 words of 8th grade English, so it’s time to stop.  Remember:

This isn’t your parents’ UU.
This isn’t Enlightenment UU.

This is UU 2.0.  We’re with it and in the know.

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5 Responses to UU 2.0:  Now Freethought-free

  1. Maria Greene says:

    This is very well written, Don. Entertaining and funny. As the person who banned you from the UU Humanist Facebook page, let me say that I’m quite content with my choice. This, your own blog, is the place to go on and on and on and on about how narrow minded the UUs are and how your “tough love” is what’s needed to save it. The UU Humanists’ page is not that place. You called your local fellowship’s members inbred (etc) and yes, that’s obnoxious and ban-worthy. If you can only attack, even those who are trying to be your friend like me, then it does not surprise me that you only have broken relationships at your fellowship. Be well, but I’m done engaging with you.

    • donsevers says:

      >I’m done engaging with you.

      Sure, we all choose whom we hang out with. But why should our chemistry have so much power over you, and why should you prevent me from reaching others? The issues remain. If we only engage an issue until we hear something obnoxious, we’re not committed to engaging it.

      >You called your local fellowship’s members inbred (etc) and yes, that’s obnoxious and ban-worthy.

      Unless it’s true. If it’s true, it’s vital information, and you should be glad someone cares enough to take a risk and tell you. At worst, I’m wrong and a crank. Nothing to worry about. No point in shooting the messenger.

      When someone objects to my tone, I like to say, “Ok, how would you like to put it?” If they can’t phrase the point in a way they find acceptable, the problem isn’t tone. They don’t want to hear it at all, and tone is a ready excuse.

      The big worry is that congregations like mine in Des Moines, and groups like the UU Humanists, have evolved effective defenses against hearing uncomfortable truths about themselves. But what possible tone would make hearing bad news pleasant? This blind spot could cause them to go down with their ship, never knowing they had a leak.

      Unless, of course, members don’t want their organization to be better. It seems many, including the leaders, want UU to remain the way it was when they got there. That’s the opposite of being inclusive, or progressive.

      I was attracted to UU because it said it fostered pluralism. And it does in some ways, but it practices discrimination based on tone. In my church and in the UU Humanist Association, tone has become a shibboleth and an excuse for shunning. Of course people prefer a certain tone when they are at church. But if we are committed to pluralism, we have to embrace pluralism of tone!

      This is where UU has lost its way. It is no longer committed to freethought, only the easy pluralism of supporting certain underdog groups. The much harder tasks of loving one’s enemies and the responsible search for truth are not even sought in some congregations. And they are sure not to notice it.

      After Michael Servetus was burned by Calvin for his Unitarian views, Sebastian Castellio defended Servetus by saying

      “Who burns a man does not defend a doctrine, but only burns a man.”

      • donsevers says:

        PS, Maria, I was about to say that I sincerely hope that you never say anything anyone in power thinks is obnoxious, and that you never are cast out because of it.

        But then I remembered that well-behaved women seldom make history, and I suspect you have a lot to offer the world. So, my real hope is that you use your courage wherever you are, and say whatever you think is needed, and that the organizations you choose to work with value that.

    • donsevers says:

      > If you can only attack, even those who are trying to be your friend like me, then it does not surprise me that you only have broken relationships at your fellowship.

      I wonder if Maria has ever reflected about whether my comments were attacks. Charity suggests she could take me at my word (I’m genuinely concerned about UU), or that I’m simply wrong. Rationality suggests the same thing: what could I possibly gain by attacking? Sympathy leans the same way: this poor guy has no idea how he’s coming across.

      And my object was UU culture, not her. If I cited America’s great sins, I suspect she would feel a bond with me, even though we’re both Americans. Tough love is a real thing. I get that it sounds parental and obnoxious, but that’s it’s nature. It has to break through denial.

      I chose my words carefully when I posted on her site. I did it because if UU keeps doing what it’s doing, it will keep getting what it’s getting, which is no growth for 50 years and a polite but moribund culture. More praise is not what UU needs right now.

      I have many fine friends from my time in UU. But I will admit this much: my tone is a result of ultimately not needing UU. It is the tone of someone who knows they may need to make other plans. I would like to find a home there, but not at any cost. So, I say things that people immediately recognize as laying our relationship on the line. I didn’t start there. For my first 3 years, I played music in the services, I was a guest speaker in the summer, I helped in RE and I led book studies on Wed nights.

      But I steadily spoke up about what I saw, because I saw a side of UU most don’t see. And I wasn’t quiet about it.

      If we speak our minds, we’ll have fewer friends, but the right ones, and they will love us for who we are, because they know who we are.

      “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” – Norman Vincent Peale

  2. donsevers says:

    Is it in line with UU principles to cast someone out because we find them obnoxious?

    Try this:

    “You called our country’s drone policy terrorism and yes, that’s obnoxious and ban-worthy.”

    Of course we can stop talking with anyone we like, for any reason. The problem is it’s too easy. Turning away leaves the issue unexplored.

    If we’re committed to the responsible search for truth, I think we have to have thicker skins, a little curiosity, and a willingness to point our skepticism inward. When we hear something we don’t like, we have to resist our initial reaction to withdraw and ask if there is any truth in it.

    The principle of charity is vital if we are going to associate with a wide range of people, with people who are not like-minded.


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