Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I hate to be a spoil sport, but...

This morning's Ministry Days presenter was a waste of time. Dr. Sonia Sanchez is billed as a "motivational" speaker. Perhaps she was meant to be inspirational. I was unmoved, mostly, except during the times I was intellectually insulted.

To lift up the good things first. She is a very nice woman. She is strong and caring. A huge heart. A huge passion for justice and compassion for the oppressed. She seems to have personally made a difference in many people's lives as a teacher and as a social justice activist. I salute her.

But I didn't need to hear a lecture about the supposed ability of water crystals to respond to positive and negative thought. This is psuedoscience that undercut, rather than supported her point about the importance of the words we speak to each other. Nor was her argument supported by reference to homeopathic medicine: the supposed ability of water to "remember" the "essence" of substances infused in it and then removed.

I looked around the room at my colleagues, everyone of whom is required to have at least a Masters Degree and couldn't believe we were passively listening to this nonsense. Is it not possible to have a speaker who can appeal to our hearts without insulting our brains?

We missed an opportunity this morning, a precious opportunity to speak to the gathered ministry of our faith. What message could we have heard this morning? A presentation on the dire situation of our churches today? Words about the crucial role of our faith in the culture? Practical tools for our ministry? A lecture that lifts up the important connection between good thinking and healthy spirituality? Instead we had a lecture that perpetuated the quackery of new age spirituality and that further pulled down the already abused position of science in America. This is the kind of foolishness that drives people away from religion. I grieved for our ministry that at the close of this lecture my colleagues stood and applauded.

This was not a morning that moved our faith forward. It pulled us back and pulled us down. Not motivational. Not inspirational. Not a proud morning for Unitarian Universalism.


Scott Gerard Prinster said...

Wow... awesome words, Ricky. I probably would have walked out on a lecture like this, I'm embarrassed to say -- I have a low tolerance for wish-fulfillment nonsense. Not long ago, I preached about science and religion at a smallish congregation in our area, and three laypeople expressed their concern to me at coffee hour that I had been less than positive about psychic readings and other New-Agey practices.

I fear that our inclusivity has left us unable to distinguish between legitimate sources of wisdom and those that simply make us feel good. Short of saying, "this is knowledge, and this is nonsense," I'm at a loss about how to get UUs to use their heads.

I'll be looking forward to others' impressions of Dr. Sanchez' program.

Steve Caldwell said...

Unitarian Universalism used to have at its core a valuing of reason when examining religion.

Our Unitarian ancestors found themselves rejecting the doctrine of the trinity because it didn't make sense and it was a human-created doctrine that isn't found in the Bible.

Our Universalist ancestors found themselves rejecting atonement theology because it didn't make sense for any god to demand a human sacrifice.

Both of these examples show our heritage of applying reason to religious matters.

Unfortunately, we are starting to give up that heritage.

A recent commenter on Minnesota biology professor PZ Myers "Pharyngula" blog said the following about Unitarians:

"My only complaint about Unitarians (and it's a petty one, I know) is that some of them are just too damned nice. They mean well, but many are so opposed to 'rudeness' or conflict they sometimes get steam-rollered."


Another commenter said that one of our flaws was our "no belief too silly" acceptance of nearly everything.

Robin Edgar said...

"Both of these examples show our heritage of applying reason to religious matters.

Unfortunately, we are starting to give up that heritage."

I am sorry to have to say so Steve but Unitarians aka Unitarian*Universalists have been failing quite miserably to apply reason to religious matters for quite some time now. . . In fact many of today's U*Us don't seem to be particularly inclined to apply reason, logic and rationality to various other matters either. I expect that The Emerson Avenger blog would not even exist if U*Us had used the proverbial "brains God gave them" (even if they don't believe God gave them brains) and applied some good old fashioned Unitarian reason in responding to my serious grievances about various U*U injustices and abuses. I have been telling U*Us for years now that they have largely abandoned the Unitarian heritage of applying capital 'R' Reason to religious matters. The irrational and indeed very much emotion-driven behavior that I have encountered amongst U*Us is really quite astonishing in light of the Unitarian emphasis on reason and U*U principles that call for a free and *responsible* search for truth and meaning. I have said it before but it bears repeating -

Some U*Us are very free with the truth but far from responsible with it. . .

Robin Edgar said...

Thanks for posting that Rick and, as you might have guessed already, I consider you to be a shining example of rationality and reason*ableness in the U*U World. You have earned my respect several times over.

Best Regards,

Robin Edgar