Friday, August 26, 2005

UU World article: Who's afraid of freedom and tolerance?

My article Who's Afraid of Freedom and Tolerance? is on the cover of the Fall issue of UU World, the flagship magazine of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

This would be a fine place for comments on and discussion of that article.


Elizabeth said...

I very much enjoyed your article in UU World. It gave me both understanding and hope about the situation we are in with the Christian Right. Your approach to understanding our differences is refreshing. I have forwarded your article to my friends and family so that they might have some insight into the Fundamentalist worldview, one that is so different from what I've been exposed to while growing up. Trying to love our enemies and bless with hope those who curse us with anger is tiring when I would like to, like you said, "give them hell." Your article helps me to hold my ground. I look forward to reading your other writings on this subject. Thank you.

Tina said...

Your article really spoke to me, Doug. As someone who was raised Catholic (but never felt like I belonged), I've only recently been exploring the UU religion.

I've often wondered why the Christian right have such a hard time with Liberals in America. But it's hard to imagine such vastly different world views, when you're only familiar with one. (Even though I have family that fits the definition of Conservative Christian.)

I was particularly interested in the part where you talked about commitments and choice. I've often felt like the things I believed in meant so much more to me than some of the "arbitraty" values that (in my case) the Catholic religion "forces" on other members of my family. It always seemed completely empty to me when I was supposed to belive something that made absolutely no sense to me, only because some church leaders somewhere decided this is what I was supposed to belive. Those values meant nothing to me and it made that religion seem like the easy way out. Someone else does all of the thinking for you.

Whereas, it's the values that I found outside of the structure of the church that mean the most to me, because after much thinking and reading and reflecting, I've decided they made the most sense.

But now I can see that those family members that think this way wouldn't understand why my values mean so much to me - because our brains are wired in two very different ways.

I think it begins to help me understand how they can profess to follow a peace-loving Jesus, yet still vote for and support politicians that start wars and steal money from the poor. That worldview does not allow them to question their leaders and does not give them the freedom to think that another way is possible.

As you said, it's up to religious liberals to not only talk about freedom and choice, but to explain why we want those things.

Thank you for this article. It's helping me to let go of some of my anger and frustration at organized, conservative religion and to realize that I can be religious/spiritual and be a liberal at the same time.

Incidentally, I found it interesting too to read your article in conjunction with an article that ran some time ago on UU World - "The Fundamentalist Agenda" (

Amanda said...

As an Episcopalian who was raised "moderate/conservative" Southern Baptist in Texas by increasingly politically-Right parents, your article spoke to me and gave me new ways of explaining my world view to the folks back home.

I feel that those of us who grew up in "traditional" society but have ended up in the transitional one have an obligation (there's that word...) to be a bridge for the families we grew up in to this frightening new world.

Thanks, and I intend to share your article with other liberal Christians I know, especially ones who were raised in conservative families.

fmodo said...

What a wonderful article.

It resonates with my own personal experience being raised by a Chinese mother, and an agnostic father whose obligation-based upbringing found new content in the Confucian philosophy he explicitly adopted. The transition from western to eastern obligation-based concepts was easy, because the underlying assumptions about the definition of family were so similar.

My question is this--besides the UU community, what does the author see as the historical roots of the choice-based family, and what characterizes the cultures where it takes root?

The article implies choice-based families are associated with the rise of capitalism, but I wondered if you had more to say about the historical and cultural context...


Brent Watkins said...

Reading this article was difficult, as I encountered presumption upon presumption about Conservative Christians. Most of these presumptions I believe to be untrue…beginning with the subtitle, “Why are fundamentalists so frightened by liberal family values?”

I’m not sure what the you mean by the label “fundamentalist”. Does he mean Evangelicals in general? Dispensationalists? Pentacostal? Charismatic? Full Gospel? The variety of hues in faith among Conservative Christians is incredibly broad and apparently not understood by Unitarians. I assume what the you mean by fundamentalists are Christians who believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God – but I’m afraid there’s much meaning freighted with that label beyond mere doctrine.

To begin with, I know of no Conservative Christian who is “frightened” by liberal family values. To oppose something is not to be inherently frightened by it. Liberals, however, frequently presume fear associated with their views, as the author goes on to repeat conservative reaction as being one that is fear based. Take, for example, the debate regarding homosexuality. Those opposing the extension of civil rights to include homosexuals are often labeled “homophobes”. These individuals are often not at all afraid of homosexuality or homosexuals, but do adamantly oppose their worldview and political agenda.

Nevertheless, you goe on to reference the book "Spirit and Flesh: Life Inside a Fundamentalist Baptist Church" that apparently draws a wealth of observations from the authors experience with a single Baptist Church. From what I’ve observed of Unitarians recently (including this author), “Fundamentalists” are lumped into a single stereotyped group without regard to denomination, geography or disposition in their surrounding community. You go on to make broad assumptions about Conservative Christianity based on second hand perceptions from an author whose views were shaped by only one particular congregation – a congregation that doesn’t sound like the Conservative Christian communities I’m familiar with.

According to the Barna Research Group, 7 percent of Americans consider themselves "Evangelical" Christians. That’s a significant percentage of our population, so you can imagine the great degree of diversity in perception and opinion among such a widespread group of Americans.

What Barna reveals in it’s exhaustive and ongoing surveys of faith among Americans is a consensus among Evangelicals regarding one thing: The importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Beyond that, you can better understand what Conservative Christians believe if you read documents like the Nicene Creed or more recently, the Lausanne Covenant. I was unsure of why you focused on statistics regarding the moral failure among Christians. We aren’t shamed by failure, we are empowered by the hope we have in Christ.

I do agree with your point that there is much Conservative Christians don’t understand about Religious Liberals. This gulf of understanding was what I thought the author purported to be exploring in his discussion, but found his discussion of how misunderstood religious liberals are was matched by his apparent misunderstanding of Conservative Christians, so I find little substantive value in your discourse.

I do agree that religious conservatives and liberals share more in common than either care to admit. “Both have loyalties that go beyond self and the convenience of the moment. Both reject the materialism of popular culture. Both seek something more substantial than the momentary satisfaction of desire or the endless striving after status. The committed life is a different way to pursue these goals, not a denial of them.” This is true. I might go on to include both are passionate about the needs of the poor, both are incensed by injustice, the list goes on.

“But the committed life requires freedom, because only voluntary commitment has meaning. We give our members the freedom to doubt and encourage them to question their beliefs not so they will see all beliefs as whimsical and contingent, but quite the opposite: We find that hard-tested and hard-won beliefs are more likely to withstand the challenges of modern life.”

This too is the essence of Christianity and the foundation of scripture. God is glorified when His creation glorifies and serves Him as a product of their free will. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live…” (Deuteronomy 30:19) The point though, is that our destiny as human kind is a life submitted to the Will of an Omnipotent God. This is where liberalism diverges from conservatism – Liberals rebel against “obligation” as the author suggests. Evangelical Christians see our obligation to serve God as our great honor and desire. Why? Because we desire to love God with all our heart and all our mind and to love our neighbor as our self. It is our privilege to humble ourselves before an Almighty God. This act of humility is the ultimate empowerment of the individual, because we experience the personal and supernatural presence of the creator of the universe through our acknowledgement of His Lordship over our lives and all that concerns us. Do we always do this? No! But this is still our goal and the primary focus of our lives.

We see the “freedom” of liberal religion as nothing more than arrogance – a denial of the price paid by Christ as He sacrificed his life to model what manner of love we should have one for another.

“But in order to communicate our message, we need to understand the anger and helplessness of the Christian Right…”

Again, I think it is arrogant to presume the “Christian Right” is helpless and angry. I think religious liberals would like Christian conservatives to be helpless and angry.

Sorry to dissappoint you.

Brent said...

Regarding my post above. I apologize for the shifting use of "he" and "you" - I originally wrote this response to my Unitarian father who asked my thoughts about this article - then hastily tried to convert this to a response to you as the author.

Anonymous said...

Brent's comment simply proves how damaging is the inculcation of self-loathing on which conservative religion is based. Belief in myth and superstition is deliberate ignorance that inherently breeds hate.

Anonymous said...

We very much like your article & plan to use it next Sunday in our Episcopal adult formation class.

Kim said...

I really love Doug's article, I disagree with Brent, and I am not the "Kim" that posted above.

Kim said...

Brent said, "This too is the essence of Christianity and the foundation of scripture. God is glorified when His creation glorifies and serves Him as a product of their free will. "

If this were true, then Conservative Christians (TM) wouldn't want to make abortions illegal -- because that takes away free will about choosing the "moral" choice and forces people to comply instead of persuading them to do so. This implies fear that the persuasiveness of your religion is lacking. So, I think Brent is wrong about the fear issue and Doug is right.

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