30 August 2007

A Reply to Not My Father's Religion

In Doug Muder’s portrait of the class issue in UU churches (Not My Father’s Religion, UUWorld Fall 2007) he paints a picture of opposition between the “working-class” values of self-control for one chance at redemption in a harsh world-maze and “professional” values of inspired living through indulgent forgiveness from a bird’s eye view of the world-maze. I suspect that this portrait condemns us to failure before we even start by emphasizing the false idea that we have an inherently superior perspective over people of “lower” classes and conservative theology.

It is fundamental to our faith that no one has a privileged view of the ultimate playing field, although everyone’s views of it are different. The vertical metaphor of “higher” and “lower” classes is one of the fundamental foundations of the problem and by repeating this metaphor that implies class advantages are inherent we will continue to entrench the problem.

We all travel the same world-maze making decisions about how to fulfill our moral responsibilities to our selves, our families and our communities. Self-control is a key to success no matter what your situation.

What distinguishes the moral visions of conservative and liberal religion is emphasis on either fearfully conserving the status quo or positively progressing towards improving ourselves and the world.

Conservative religion seems to value stopping negative forces, controlling vices, and confronting evil. The conservative moral challenge is having enough self-control to control or eliminate their evil impulses and the evil in the world, even if that sometimes means becoming indifferent to pain and suffering in themselves or others.

Liberal religion is concerned with enhancing positive forces, encouraging virtues and creatively expressing goodness, truth, beauty, joy and unity. Our liberal moral challenge is having enough self-control to keep ourselves open to the suffering and pain of the world even as we work in the world to alleviate and prevent it.

The moral question for our faith is whether we have truly heard the concerns of those who do not respond to our invitations to join us. The answer is to regain our moral grounding in empathy and compassion for their experience of the world. Then, help them see how their suffering is not merely a personal journey to, or through, hell, but can become a strategic approach to helping others gracefully navigate the maze. Let’s call them to the possibilities that we can honor their suffering and help them contribute to eliminating the systemic need to force some people into it in the future. That is what Muder’s dad accomplished by living true to his moral values, persistently fending off immanent moral disaster by working at the factory, and taking the time to nurture his son by playing ball. The abundant opportunities his son has obviously had are ample testaments to his ultimate success.

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