Thursday, March 01, 2007

Follow Up Thoughts on Unitarians and Neo-Pagans

A few follow-up points on the recent conversations here concerning Unitarianism, Neo-Paganism and Evangelical Christianity:
Lonnie, NatureSpirit leader and frequent contributor here, complained that the JPBC discussion on Unitarian-Universalism (sorry for just using the first U of the UU in previous posts!) falsely charged that all UUs were social liberals and were pro-abortion. He said:
I think you've rather blatantly misinterpreted Unitarian Universalist beliefs (note, I didn't say "Unitarian"). First of all, you assume that religiously liberal necessarily means politically liberal. That's not always true, even if it is often the case. For example, one of my close friends at the church is openly Pro Life.
Granted that all UUs do not believe the same thing. In defense, I would say I was going by what I read on the UU website. The UU has taken numerous pro-abortion stands through the years. See the women's rights page of the UU website which lists pro-abortion resolutions in 1963, 1968, 1973, 1975, 1978, 1980, 1985, 1986, 1987. Furthermore, the 1987 clearly states:
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED: That we reaffirm the right to choose contraception and abortion as a legitimate expression of our constitutional rights.
Despite Lonnie's protest and his testimony of at least one Pro-Life UU member, the official position of that non-creedal body is clearly to support abortion. The research here can be applied to other social issues simply by searching the UU website. So, yes, liberal religion does necessarily lead to liberal politics.
Next, I think those reading the discussion will find Lonnie's post today (Are NeoPagans the New Transcendentalists?) on his blog to be of interest. For one thing it sounds like the whole flyer episode created some controversy in the local UU concerning the Neo-Pagan subgroup. Lonnie also acknowledges that Neo-Paganism in the UU is a bit tamer than in other quarters. He states:
Truth be told, most UU Pagans are far more moderate than many other outside groups. For example, it is not unusual for me to attend a Reclaiming event, and have it be clothing optional, but I think its rather clear you'd never see that sort of thing at a UU Pagan group. Nonetheless, the same ideas espoused by Walt Whitman and other Transcendentalists are still quite radical today, and while other UU's might find them interesting reading or philosophically worthwhile, they may not be willing to follow them as literally as many modern NeoPagans do. So while Whitman may have praised the merits of nudity, poly amory, and biocentric equality, you'll still find these ideas to be radical in practice within a UU Congregation. If that's not enough, UU Congregations have leaned increasingly Humanistic over recent years. Pagans are often not only theists but polytheists. We also don't make any appologies for anthropomorphizing nature, indeed we almost flaunt it.
Back in the day, well known Transcendentalists like Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Theodore Parker were kicked out of Unitarian Churches because of their radical ideas about abolition and women's rights. As a parallel, I've witnessed several CUUPS Chapters have a falling out with their parent congregation then disolve. Apparently, the problem is big enough that CUUPS even has a whole guide published on how to maintain a good relationship with your congregation. Our group, NatureSpirit, has done a reasonable job over the six years of our existence of avoiding conflict; however, our success has also made us more daring. I think now that some of our members are more willing to take on works of activism and publicly speak their views, I think life will get a little more challenging. Of course, I'm also learning that conflict isn't always something to be avoided. Sometimes it is only in conflict that we can be truly honest with each other. I can only hope that like our Transcendentalist ancestors that Neopagans can somehow find a way to maintain our connection to UU's, and that our fellow UU's will be patient with us until we figure out how our thealogy can be reconciled after all.
Hmmh? I wonder if our local public school officials knew that Neo-Paganism sometimes includes things like clothing optional "Reclaiming events," "poly-amory," and "biocentric equality" in its "thealogy"? I'll let my readers judge whether our discussion at JPBC on both Unitarianism and Neo-Paganism was accurate, as well as whether or not it makes any difference if the local school board allows Neo-Pagans equal access in sending home flyers in public schools alongside Baptists and Methodists in the name of religious tolerance and diversity.


Tree hugging said...

Gosh, and I was just going to comment on how much I enjoyed your last sermon... (seriously, I was)

Yes, it's true. There are even a few folks in our church that don't agree with us on the flyer issue. That really shouldn't be surprising, and I find it to be consistent with my words earlier that we are a diverse group of people who don't always agree all the time.

As to my rather extreme example about Whitman (and the loosest reading of Leaves of Grass would indicate that he does espouse such things), my point was that the views of Transcendentalists would be seen as extreme even by today's standards among even Unitarians. If you look at the rest of my Blog entry, you'll also see that I reference that most UU Pagans are far more restrained (You wont see nudity at our rituals, that's for sure!). That said, it is a true statement that there are indeed modern pagan groups that do practice nudity and/or polyamory, but truthfully it isn't really all that common, even among the groups were it is acceptable.

I did however find it quite ironic that you pointed out the same point I did simultaniously --- that being the link between the radical ideas of folks like Thoreau and the Neopagan movement. (and you claim we don't have anythign in common...)

Tree hugging said...

Oh, and one other minor misunderstanding... From what I understand, it doesn't take all UU's to agree on something for the UUA to issue a statement about an issue. The general understanding of such statements is that a majority of UU's believe ____. If you read most of those statements you notice some kind of disclaimer that provides wiggle room for those who many not always agree.

Of course, I'm not a UU Theologian, so you shouldn't take anything I say as the final word on that. All I can speak to is my experience, and that has been that there are a diversity of viewpoints on just about every social issue even if we do generally lean politically liberal.

Don Wolf said...

Lonnie's comment catches one of the things many find hard to understand about UU congregations--there is no central church authority. Unitarian Universalism does not have a central creed, but rather a set of seven principles (listed a little further down). One of these tenets--and one taken very seriously in my experience-- is "The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large." Each congregation is its own entity, choosing their own minister, voting on congregational governance, and choosing--as an individual congregation--which issues or positions to support.
Our congregations are diverse. Ours includes Christians, Buddhists,Jews, Humanists, Atheists (honest!), Pagans, and a variety of other beliefs. It's difficult to generalize, but one thing most have in common is an interest in a deeper understanding of their own beliefs and an interest in understanding the beliefs of others. Beyond the seven principles, it is difficult to accurately describe what UUs as a body believe.

The Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism
We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote

The inherent worth and dignity of every person;

Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;

The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;

Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.