Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Right and Left Together

What Religious Liberals and Conservatives Have in Common

a sermon delivered at the Unitarian Church of Quincy , Illinois November 12, 2006

Opening Words

Hatred can never cease by hatred. Hatred can only cease by love. -- the Buddha

First Reading

From Who's Afraid of Freedom and Tolerance? in the Fall, 2005 issue of UU World.

If there is one basic thing conservatives do not understand about religious liberals, it is [our] sense of commitment. They see us champion choice over obligation, but misunderstand our reasons. They understand us to be advocating a superficial and nihilistic way of life. They think we want to choose our own moral codes so that we can pick easy ones that rationalize our every whim. They believe that we want the freedom to define our relationships so that we can walk away from anything that looks difficult.

James Dobson described the liberal viewpoint this way in a speech before the Council for National Policy:

There are no transcendent values that will stand from time to time. When human life becomes inconvenient, you can get rid of it, because it was not created by God, because there is no God, and it's all subjective and whimsical and you make up your ideas as the circumstances arise.

This expectation of superficiality colors everything conservatives see us do. Protest marches, for example, look like petulant expressions of transient anger rather than evidence of an enduring commitment to a vision of a better world. Put-downs like 'do-gooder' don't disparage our desire to do good; they question its stamina. Today, they suppose, we want to save the whales, but tomorrow we'll move on to whatever new cause is fashionable. As we lack a fixed scripture or any other visible anchor, they think, our commitments must surely blow with the wind. And because this picture looks so absurd and foreign to us, we don't bother to deny it.

In fact, religious conservatives and liberals share more concerns and beliefs than either commonly admits. 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 [liberal] life is a different way to pursue these goals, not a denial of them.

Second Reading

From a speech by James Dobson to the Council for National Policy. This section of the speech comes shortly after the one quoted above, where Dobson has presented what he calls the “postmodern” or “relativistic” view of morality. He continues:

Now, obviously, not everyone accepts this notion. And I'm here to talk to you today about those who don't. ... They're good people. They love their kids. They love their spouses, their families. They love their God and they are very, very concerned about what's happening today. They see this moral freefall. They see this moral relativism and they're very concerned about it. It contradicts everything they stand for and they also feel under attack. They feel under assault by Hollywood and they can't do anything about it and by the rock music industry that just sells sex and violence and all sorts of evil to their kids.

And MTV they see the television and ... cable TV and all those sorts of things. They see it and they're very alarmed about it and they can't do anything about it. They feel the culture has got their families. The culture is like a river that flows in front of us and their kids are caught in this current and they're being carried downstream and so many of them are being wounded by it. ...

These people out there are worried about what they see and they're in contradiction with the elite and with the cultural trend setters and it is very difficult for any of us to get anyone in government to understand those people or to treat them like they had a legitimate point of view, and that is my concern.

Sermon

Back in April, I talked about what theists and atheists could learn from each other. Today I want to discuss a different reconciliation: What religious liberals have in common with religious conservatives.

This sermon had its start right after the previous one, from two conversations I had here in Quincy with old friends. One of them told me more-or-less what was in the Dobson reading – that the fundamentalists he knows seem to feel just as powerless as religious liberals do. I responded tactfully, saying something like, “They own the government. What do they want?”

Apparently, that's not how it looked to them – even before Tuesday. Sure, political leaders flatter the religious right and pander to it, but still the country moves in the wrong direction – from their point of view as much as from mine. They look at “this moral freefall” and imagine that some hidden liberal establishment must still be in control.

In the second conversation, another friend told me about his son, a young man not too far out of high school. The son works an unskilled job, and seems to have no plan for doing more with his life. Now, under other circumstances that lack of career ambition could be downright admirable -- if, say, it meant that he had rejected materialism and was putting his energy into doing good or making art or even just appreciating this beautiful world. But, as his father tells the story, it just reflects a lack of depth, a failure to grasp that something important is going on in life. If the son can keep gas in his car and occasionally buy something for his girl friend – well, what more is there?

As I listened, I imagined how such stories often play out: Eventually it gets old, going from one lousy job to the next, hanging with buddies who never grow up, and never quite living up to your responsibilities. After a while -- maybe after a divorce or an illegitimate child or two -- disillusionment sets in.

And then, as I imagine the story, he's born again. Suddenly disillusionment is broken, and there is something deep and important in life: Jesus – Jesus as interpreted by a conservative church. Not the compassionate Jesus of the Beatitudes, but the apocalyptic Jesus who someday will save the Good and send the Evil to Hell. Hallelujah!



Now, from here this sermon can go two ways, and I've actually written both of them. The sermon I'm not preaching today explores why I don't expect this young man to have a liberal awakening. You see, I don't resent the power of the religious right to awaken such people, I envy it. Because liberal religion has a class problem. Where is our transforming message for the unskilled and the uneducated? Why is it so hard for us to call people of all classes and backgrounds to a deeper, more meaningful life?

But this morning I want to take the other path by asking this question: How does my second conversation illuminate my first one? How does my friend's son help us understand this strange feeling of helplessness on both the Left and the Right? I feel oppressed by the James Dobsons and Jerry Falwells, only to discover that they feel oppressed too. Isn't somebody winning? Shouldn't somebody feel empowered?


To start answering that question, I want to raise this one: Assuming that this young man really is the way I've imagined him, what religion does he belong to today? Because whatever it is, I think that's the religion that's winning.

Now, I'm not asking where he was baptized or whether he attends services somewhere. I want to know about the religion he's actually practicing. The superficial approach to life, the belief that you buy some things and satisfy some desires and that's all there is -- who teaches that? Is that liberal? Is it conservative?

I think it's neither one. And that's my answer to the paradox:: Religious liberals and conservatives alike feel that America is slipping away from them because it actually is. This other religion, which is neither liberal nor conservative nor even moderate, is actually in control.


Now, I understand that it's hard to take this argument seriously. I seem to be talking about some kind of consumer hedonism, and surely it's just a metaphor to call that a religion. There is, after all, no Church of Consumer Hedonism in Quincy or anyplace else, no place where people are getting together this morning to celebrate the superficial life and preach the Consumer Hedonist theology. Because there is no Consumer Hedonist theology or theory of the afterlife or anything. There is no clergy, no membership list, no newsletter, no committees or any of the other trappings that all others religions have.

So it's tempting, when we talk about religion, to leave Consumer Hedonism out. Later on I'll describe the problem that causes, but before I get to that, I need to explain why it makes sense to call Consumer Hedonism a religion at all.

I think the reason Consumer Hedonism looks different from other religions is that it's the dominant religion of our society. The dominant religion always looks different.

You see, when a religion truly dominates a society, it's like air. You don't see it, and you can't point to it because it's everywhere. A dominant religion doesn't seem to have members because everyone is a member. It doesn't seem to have a temple because the World is its temple. The reason we don't see the temple of Consumer Hedonism is because we live in it. We can't get outside of it.

Only when your religion doesn't dominate society do you need a building like this one. Churches are like fortresses; you build them because the world out there is foreign territory. You enclose a space that your religion can dominate, because it can't dominate the world out there. If it did, you wouldn't need any special schools or rituals. Just by living, people would breathe in your teachings. Just by living, they'd perform your rituals.

The fundamental questions a religion needs to answer aren't about God and the afterlife, they're about life here and now. What should we be trying to do? Where should we look for fulfillment? What is going to save us from misery? What really matters and why? Some religions may need a theory of God or the afterlife to make sense out of their answers, but Consumer Hedonism doesn't. That doesn't mean it's not a religion.


So what are Consumer Hedonism's answers? Basically this: Only two things are really worth doing in life – satisfying your desires and projecting the right image. If you could do both, you'd be as fulfilled as it is possible to be. So how do you do it? You satisfy your desires by buying things and by manipulating people into giving you what you want. And you cast the right image by aligning yourself with the saints of Consumer Hedonism, the celebrities.

No Sunday school teaches us how to worship the celebrities, but we all do it. Sometimes we imitate them. We wear their t-shirts and sunglasses. We repeat their famous lines, which we know by heart, as if we learned them from a catechism. Or we worship them from afar. We know their nicknames, their cars, their pets, and the convoluted mythology of who has been married to who.

If you fall out of step with the celebrities, no church council has to vote to shun you. It happens automatically. Conversations just pass you by. Everyone else laughs and you're there saying “What? What?”

But if you could be one with the celebrities, if you could have the same car or the same haircut or learn to flash the same smile – you'd be so cool. How could you not be totally fulfilled?


Except for the Amish and a few other closed communities, every child in America is raised Consumer Hedonist. Most of us still practice it. Here's a test. It's a take-home test, self-graded. Psalm 38 says, “In thee, O Lord, is my hope.” Where is your hope? When you daydream about a better life, what specifically are you hoping for?

Better things like a house or car?

Physical satisfaction like food or sex?

Something to improve your image, like a big promotion or a diet that really works?

Or maybe you think about money, which stands in for all three? Some people hope in the Lord. Some people hope in the Lottery.

Whatever your hope is, wherever you look for a better life, that's the religion that is real to you, the one you're counting on to save you from misery. And not until you become disillusioned with that religion will you have any deeper spiritual awakening.


Most of us do get disillusioned at some point, because Consumer Hedonism is all sizzle and no steak. You actually can't be fulfilled by satisfying your desires and impressing people. Brad Pitt and Britney Spears will not save you. We all know that at some level, but Consumer Hedonism laughs at our knowledge. It sells us movies about its own emptiness and invites us to project an image of being wise to it all. You can buy things to flesh that image out, and imitate a whole other pantheon of celebrities. "This medallion comes from Tibet. It's, like, so spiritual."

No matter how many times we fail to consume our way to fulfillment, it always seems like our own fault. We bought the wrong things. We picked the wrong celebrities. (Tom Cruise really did not come through for me this year. And I don't even want to talk about Michael Jackson.) Salvation-by-coolness could still work, if you were just a little bit cooler.

No it couldn't. Don't try again. Don't try to do better this time. It doesn't work.


It doesn't work because there really is something deep and important going on in life, and you can only find fulfillment by connecting with those deeper values. This is the message of both liberal and conservative religion. Both. If you can't hear that message in the other side, listen harder.

Liberals and conservatives alike reject the emptiness of Consumer Hedonism, and nurture values that transcend desire and image: Values like family and friends and community. Compassion for the stranger. A just society. Appreciating the wonder of creation. Building a personal relationship with Beauty and with Knowledge and with Understanding. When those values are part of your experience of every moment, when you have trained yourself to experience them as immediately as you experience your physical desires, you're there. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”


The main difference between religious liberals and religious conservatives is in where they look for those values and how they hope to bring them into the world. Conservatives look to traditional values, a way of life that they believe worked for our ancestors. Typically, a conservative faith has a Golden Age it wants to preserve or restore: Eden, ancient Israel, the Jerusalem of the Apostles, the Medina of Muhammad, or even the small-town America of Norman Rockwell. Conservatives see the deeper values of those communities being replaced by practices that satisfy more superficial desires.

Liberals, on the other hand, attach their vision of deeper values to a future Utopia or to a Platonic ideal. They see themselves not as restoring a Golden Age, but as marching onward and upward towards a world more perfect than has ever existed before. Two centuries ago, a world without institutionalized slavery was a complete dream. No Golden Age had ever achieved it. But here we are.


Whether the Past or the Future makes a better home for our dreams of higher values -- that would be an interesting debate to have with the conservatives. And we could have it – after we recognize our common struggle against Consumer Hedonism and its empty values. The beginning of a productive liberal/conservative dialog is for both sides to acknowledge that we share a nightmare, a Dystopia:

  • Where all relationships are transient.

  • Where life is cheap.

  • Where winning is everything.

  • Where no one will sacrifice for the common good.

  • Where impulse satisfaction outweighs any consequences.

  • Where the innocent are not protected.

  • Where the old are cast aside and the next generation is left to raise itself.

  • Where profit is the ultimate argument, and money answers all questions.

  • Where no one is willing to stand on principle, and truth doesn't matter.

We both see that path and we both don't want to go there. In theory, we could work together to avoid it. But in practice we can't even talk about it in a civil tone. Why? Because we both imagine that Consumer Hedonism isn't really a religion, and so we let it slip out of the picture. We both forget what we've been struggling against, and instead imagine that we've been struggling with each other.

And so, when liberals defend freedom and tolerance, James Dobson hears the voice of Consumer Hedonism saying that "There are no transcendent values ... it's all subjective and whimsical and you make up your ideas as the circumstances arise."

And when conservatives defend traditional values, we liberals also hear the voice of Consumer Hedonism: “It's all about striking a pose, building yourself up by tearing others down, projecting an image of goodness and righteousness without having to do the hard work of compassion.”

Neither side has to lie to make its case, because Consumer Hedonism has in fact corrupted and subverted people on both sides. That's what it does, and it does it very well. You set out to make the world a better place, and you end up buying things and striking a pose. You try to take The Road Less Traveled, and you wind up at The Road Less Traveled Gift Shop. You try to walk the narrow path, and you wind up buying a t-shirt that says “I Walked the Narrow Path”. Whether you set out to the Left or to the Right, the gravity of Consumer Hedonism is always pulling you back.


So how do we restart the liberal/conservative dialog? I think we begin by recognizing the trick that has been played on both sides. We've all been left holding the bag. We all look guilty. And so we're all going to have to calmly and patiently deny accusations that we can't imagine any sane person making.

So, for example, liberals really do need to say that we support marriage and don't want to tear it down. I feel silly saying that. I've been married for 22 years. I've nursed my wife through two life-threatening illnesses. What sane person could imagine that I want to tear down marriage? But conservatives do imagine it, because Consumer Hedonism does undermine marriage, and I've been left holding that bag. So I need to reassure them. I need to emphasize that I support gay marriage because I support marriage. Whether people are gay or straight, when they turn away from transient promiscuity and sign up for the more challenging life of commitment, I support that. I understand that they didn't do it that way in the Golden Age, whenever it was, but I hope for a future that is better than the past.

On the other side, religious conservatives need to say that they don't want a theocracy, that they aren't aiming to set up a Christian version of the Taliban here in America. I'm sure they'd feel silly saying that. Because what sane person could imagine that they want Christian Taliban? Well, I could. A little reassurance would really help.


Holly Near has a song called Singing For Our Lives, and I've heard it several times in Unitarian churches. One of the verses starts, “We are gay and straight together.” And you can keep the song going as long as you like by doing that verse again with other kinds of difference: young and old, black and white, rich and poor, and so on. One substitution I've never heard in a Unitarian church is “left and right.” Because we don't think of ourselves as Left and Right together. We built those walls to keep the religious right out, not to welcome them in and sing.

I thought about writing that song into the order of service, but I decided it would be too manipulative. I don't imagine that I've been that convincing. Most of you, I suspect, are probably still not ready to sing about Left and Right together.

So I'm not going to ask you to sing it. I'm just going to ask you to think about it. What if liberals and conservatives could realize how much they have in common? What if we all understood that traditional values and progressive values are allies against the real enemy, which is no values at all?

That's the vision I want to leave you with. It may not be Eden or Utopia, but I like it.

Closing Words

Never let your zeal outrun your charity. -- Hosea Ballou

29 comments:

Brett Keller said...

Well said, and very encouraging. At the university I attend I'm surrounded by conservative Christians who are convinced the religious liberals and secularists alike are leading us all to hell. But it seems to me that the real danger is the MTV lifetstyle that has so thoroughly shaped the dreams of many of my most conservative, religious friends. Would that we had more role models of self-sacrifice and a life impelled by more than consumerism (one good one is Paul Farmer). Thanks for writing.

Bill Baar said...

I think it's neither one. And that's my answer to the paradox:: Religious liberals and conservatives alike feel that America is slipping away from them because it actually is. This other religion, which is neither liberal nor conservative nor even moderate, is actually in control.

Surprize, you've discovered what conservatives have long known.

But nothing's slipping away from religous Liberals or Conservatives because they never really owned anything in the first place. Protestants just thought they did for a time.

The fundamental questions a religion needs to answer aren't about God and the afterlife, they're about life here and now. What should we be trying to do? Where should we look for fulfillment? What is going to save us from misery? What really matters and why?

Answers UU's prone to waffle about. We want marriage-equality which is a code for same-sex marriage, but were silent on polygmay.

We abortion is a right? But were unclear on the moral status of the unborn. We're unclear on were the lines should be drawn. We have no response to the statement abortion is murder? (An elderly UU woman told me the unborn are parasites in response?)

Scalia tells us no judge is any better equipped to make moral judgements on such questions as the next citizen. He tells us marriage, abortion, stem cell research all belong before State Legislatures; not courts.

Yet when presented with two judges in the mold of Scalia: Roberts and Alito, the UUA denounces one and remains silent on the other, claiming it just doesn't know enough about Roberts to say.

Dobson certainly knew.

Your zeal doesn't outrun your charity Doug, but it often runs well beyond answers to questions religion should be responding too.

Pointing to your own marriage answers nothing. People, our Legislaters in Illinois, want to know what marragie should be. Give some definitions. They can't codify yours.

When we passed a domestic partnership ordinance in Oak Park, it was largely symbolic. The workers in the village who had health insurance already had coverage on both partners. The woman who sought to claim her disabled mother as a domestic partner (and really needed the insurance) was turned down because that wasn't a family combination.

Conservatives have a straightforward answer that at least has the wait of precedence and tradition behind it.

Liberals waffle around and say this isn't the kind of marriage-equality they have in mind.

...and that's why regardless of your 22 years of Marriage Doug, we Liberals still look arbitrary when it comes to morality. We flip from marriage as bondage in the free love 1960's to marriage-as-right (for some) in 2000.

We're not thinking hard enough about the questions religion should answering. Refusing to answer and just pointing to our nice lifestyles just doesn't cut it for people... especially people who can't live like us.

The Emerson Avenger said...

"You enclose a space that your religion can dominate, because it can't dominate the world out there."

Yes, I have noticed how that plays out in some rather totalitarian Unitarian "churches". . .

I'll be back. . . ;-)

powderblue said...

This is enlightening. Thank you.

kim said...

I'm so glad to hear you saying this: I've been saying for years that the conservatives blame the liberals for the lack of morals and the liberals blame the conservatives, but it's really a third group that is responsible....
I recently was introduced to Spiral Dynamics, which is about World Views, and it has another version of similar ideas -- it says that conservatives and liberals both are community oriented, but there is another group in between that is individual-oriented, more "every-man-for-himself" and very money-centric. Sounds very similar to your ideas here.

The Emerson Avenger said...

"I'm so glad to hear you saying this: I've been saying for years that the conservatives blame the liberals for the lack of morals and the liberals blame the conservatives, but it's really a third group that is responsible...."

Wrong Kim it is unethical and immoral liberals and conservatives who are mostly responsible for giving liberals and conservatives a bad name. Ditto for U*Us. . .

In fact I finally got around to printing out the "CHURCH" OF THE IMMORAL MAJORITY picket sign slogan that I dreamed up years ago and will be displaying it in front of a certain unmentionable Unitarian Church that definitely has a quite liberal majority of immoral "liberals" as members. . .

I recently came across a little known U*U blog that has the following very apropos words written in a recent post about why liberals have a bad name these days -

"I've learned that most people of all political leanings tend to be tolerant and understanding. Some conservatives actually are compassionate.

The problem is there are a large bunch of tyrannical fascists parading around pretending to be liberals.

Tyranny of the left is not liberalism. It's tyranny."

Needless to say I concurred and pointed out that there are a certain number of U*Us who are actually tyrannical fascists parading around pretending to be U*Us and that too many other U*Us allow them to get away with it. . . I've been exposing and denouncing Totalitarian Unitarians for over a decade now but how many U*Us have done anything about it? Virtually none as far as I can see but I will be doing my bit once again within the next hour or so. . .

Anonymous said...

Robin -- why are you so mean and hateful? Why do you enjoy hurting people's feelings so much? Do you really get off on your cruelty?
You may or may not have been what your accusers called you when you started, but you are now.

Doug Muder said...

I'd really appreciate it if commenters would try to stay close to the topic.

I'd rather not start deleting comments other than spam, but I don't want to be hosting arguments that have nothing to do with my posts. It would be great if voluntary cooperation would take care of my concerns.

Two things bother me on this thread: First, Emerson Avenger's vague innuendo about "a large bunch of tyrannical fascists parading around pretending to be liberals." Readers either already know what this is about (in which case it's redundant) or they don't (in which case a vague stain spreads across their impression of a couple hundred thousand UUs).

Second, if you want to psychoanalyze Emerson Avenger, please do it on his blog. And especially don't do it anonymously here.

Doug Muder said...

Bill Baar's comment had a lot of content. Let me respond to some of it.

First the easy one: Judge Alito should have been filibustered for reasons that have nothing to do with social issues. I think the biggest challenge facing the Court is the Bush administration's usurpation of the roles of the other two branches of government. Alito has an imperial view of executive power, which I think we'll see this year. He will join Thomas as the Court's fascist minority. Roberts' views are less clear-cut, but I worry about him.

As to marriage and abortion, liberal views are always going to look more muddled than conservative. We're much less inclined to impose a bright line of good-and-evil on a situation, which I think is to our credit. The root legal problem with respect to abortion is that the biology doesn't lend itself to a bright line. Conception is too soon to start protecting a fetus and birth is too late, but there's no discernible "moment of ensoulment" in between.

On marriage, we muddle along. Society has been muddling along with respect to marriage for centuries, maybe forever. The definition of marriage changes in every generation. Or rather, there has never been a clear definition that everyone bought into. Marriage stays traditional enough to remain coherent, but has never been sharply in focus. I don't see that as a problem.

I completely agree with Bill that we should think harder about the questions religion should be answering. I just don't think that we should shut up until we have all the answers.

The Emerson Avenger said...

Hi Doug,

I thought that I was on or close to the topic. Certainly I was 100% on the topic raised in Kim's spurious assertion that it was some undefined third group that was really responsible for both liberals and conservatives being considered to be immoral. I was just pointing out that immoral and unethical pseudo-liberals and pseudo-conservatives are largely responsible for the fact that liberals and/or conservatives are considered to be unethical and immoral.

There was no vague innuendo in my post. In fact the phrase that you characterize as, or present as an example of, "vague innuendo" was a quote pulled from another U*U blogger and it was hardly vague in any case. . . You may read the rest of his post here, along with the follow-up commentary. I think that you will agree that it is very apropos of what is being discussed here. Certainly it is 100% apropos of Kim's comment. Maybe Kim's comment took the thread off topic. I don't think that I did.

Indeed the very reason that I embed pertinent links in my posts that provide examples of what I am talking about is so that those who don't already know can find out. Anyone who does already know what I am talking about has little choice but to agree that oh so "liberal" Unitarians aka U*Us
can and do behave in ways that are quite symptomatic of totalitarianism. N'est-ce pas? If U*Us don't want that stain to spread they should responsibly do something about it when supposedly "liberal" U*Us behave in ways that justify describing them as "Stalinistic" or even at "tyrannical fascists" etc. Remember that it was not The Emerson Avenger but rather other U*Us who first used these words to describe their fellow U*Us, or fellow "liberals". I just happen to agree with them based on what I myself have either witnessed, or directly experienced, within the U*U World. . .

Just as moderate Muslims have a moral and ethical responsibilty, and indeed an "enlightened self-interest", to reel in their intolerant and abusive extremist coreligionists so do U*Us. . .

I too have very little respect for cowardly anonymous trolls. I stand behind what I say by attaching my name to it. Even if The Emerson Avenger is an appropriate and kinda fun pseudonym, all anyone has to do to know who The Emerson Avenger is in "real life" is to read the profile at the top of every page or in my blogger profile. The anonymous troll's comment is not supported by what I stated here. It was not "mean and hateful" and certainly not "cruelty". Those words are much more appropriately used to describe the behaviour of rather too many U*Us towards Robin Edgar aka The Emerson Avenger, which is precisely why The Emerson Avenger blog came into existence in the first place. . . That is my last word on that subject in this thread although I may comment further on the subject raised in the original post.

Thanks for showing your fellow U*U*s that "memory holing" censorship is not the best way to deal with The Emerson Avenger Doug. You have earned my respect and even gratitude as far as that goes. The U*U pretense to being "opposed to censorship by church, state, or any other institution" while actually behaving more like "tyrannical fascists" in repeatedly trying to censor and suppress my legitimate criticism and dissent is just one example of why "liberals" and indeed U*Us have a bit of an image problem these days. . .

The Emerson Avenger said...

"Two centuries ago, a world without slavery was a complete dream. No Golden Age had ever achieved it. But here we are."

And where might that be Doug?

The Emerson Avenger said...

Oops! Messed up the link.

Doug Muder said...

Crap! I hate it when I correct something and then publish the wrong version.

My wife caught the slavery mistake the day before I gave the sermon, and I changed it to "institutionalized slavery". But somehow that version didn't make it onto the blog. I'll fix it.

The Emerson Avenger said...

Glad I was able to help Doug. ;-)

OTOH is there a huge difference between institutionalized slavery and non-institutionalized slavery? I doubt if any slaves see any difference worth talking about. . .

Jim Claunch said...

In a world that must have sides, dualism,and definition even to the basic level of male and female to even exist how silly it seems for "conservative" and "liberal" to be exempt from the tension that is life. What honest person does not have a value to conserve the good while also knowing that if things do not change they are dead? Rocks don't change and are very dead. On one side is the bondage of the prison and on the other side is the anarchy of chaos. The Extreem bondage of unlimited conservatism and Unbound Freedom of runaway liberalism both are rightly feared by those who struggle live between these two extreems. Each left to itself has the power to destroy what we concieve to be life. Conservatives put a limit on just how much must be conserved and Liberals have a limit on just how liberal society may become. Limitless Conservatism and Limitless Liberalism each would consume their Shadow and life must have its opposite. Limitless anything does not do well in our world that must have limits,forms,definition,objects. Death and Eternity have no fear of such extreems but in life there must be a tug of war with no ABSOLOUTE winner. After watching the news for so long it is time for a comedy which in time is no longer funny. There is a little monk in each Protestant when they go on "retreat" and a little Protestant in every Catholic when they "protest" a total obedience to the Pope-" no birth control who does he think he is kidding". Perhaps it is the idol of being consistent that is our prison. Could it be that a consistent conservatism is just as death producing as a consistent liberalism? Sometimes when opposites and enemies embrace both learn, grow and are enriched. That would be sometime not EVERY time.Individuals seem to usually want to run from their Shadow but somehow it continues to abide. Conservative Christians may "hate" sin yet the honest ones say they do "sin". Not so consistent. Liberals may say they "hate" people who have image and not substance but watched closely they too at times do more than play at triviality.Not so consistent. Could it be that each group prides itself in being the holy, right and just crowd but depends deeply on their own Shadow to make them Real? Does Real need Unreal to be? What if the two "groups" were in reality one but THAT Truth is their common deepest fear. Perhaps Hedonistic Consumerism,Liberal religion, Conservative religion and even the unnamed little group are all much more alike than different- somewhat like an individual from day to day or the world from age to age. The same but yet different is a hard concept but it is in our face. Consentency and Change what if they were one? Well if that were so the best logical minds of the conservatives and the liberals would have something to ponder from different sides of the same one room. Perhaps rocks do change and become dust that later settles to become a rock once again. Was it a rock or was it dust or was it dust becomming rock or rock becoming dust? Perhaps the liberals and conservatives will have different answers but it is what it is all about "both" groups. At such times Webster and Aristotle both close their books that define and give the best rules of logic and listen as Gomer Pile says, "Surprise,Surprise,Surprise" . What is a poor boy to do and where is the right grouping for such a time and place as THIS. Some will try to find one but perhaps there is only one.

Anonymous said...

You attract some weird commenters, Doug.

Myself included, of course.

Interesting sermon; glad you posted it. I expect the phrase "Consumer Hedonism" will be rolling around in my head for a while.

kim said...

It occurred to me on re-reading this that your list of Consumer Hedonism values:
Where all relationships are transient.

Where life is cheap.

Where winning is everything.

Where no one will sacrifice for the common good.

Where impulse satisfaction outweighs any consequences.

Where the innocent are not protected.

Where the old are cast aside and the next generation is left to raise itself.

Where profit is the ultimate argument, and money answers all questions.

Where no one is willing to stand on principle, and truth doesn't matter.

This list sounds very much like the "values" of large corporations. This is not simply a blanket liberal condemnation of corporations, but a real evaluation of how they are. Corporations do not have consciences. They don't have compassion. (these things are why they shouldn't be "persons", even legally.) They do have rules that money and maximizing profit is mandatory.
Just throwing that out there....

By the way, one of the people I sent a copy of your sermon to was very impressed and is quoting you at her church.

kim said...

You see, when a religion truly dominates a society, it's like air. You don't see it, and you can't point to it because it's everywhere. A dominant religion doesn't seem to have members because everyone is a member. It doesn't seem to have a temple because the World is its temple. The reason we don't see the temple of Consumer Hedonism is because we live in it. We can't get outside of it.

As I reread this, it occurred to me that this is the source of the "Anti War on Christmas" movement. Christianity is used to being that ubiquitous background religion, and is fighting having to give it up to Consumer Hedonism (can't offend the customers!), and blaming it on liberals because they aren't seeing the Consumer Hedonism as it's own religion.
Yes, we liberals think we should be more inclusive and say Happy Holidays to anyone whose religion we don't know, but that isn't really the unconscious objection. The objection is to no longer being considered the natural default assumption.

Doug Muder said...

Kim,

The "War on Christmas" is a great example. I'll have to remember your analysis of it.

powderblue said...

When I posted earlier to thank you for your sermon, I wish I had remembered this 2005 cover story from The American Conservative (published by Patrick Buchanan). It’s by Matthew Scully, a conservative and former senior speechwriter to President Bush.

“Fear Factories” reminds us liberals that the basic human values of fairness and mercy transcend politics and ideology.

www.amconmag.com/2005a/2005_05_23/cover.html

kim said...

There is, after all, no Church of Consumer Hedonism in Quincy or anyplace else, no place where people are getting together this morning to celebrate the superficial life and preach the Consumer Hedonist theology.

You know, I'm not at all sure this is true. Malls would pass for churches of Consumer Hedonism, and that flickering blue light coming from the box in our homes is the home alter for the religion. We celebrate the superficial life at malls and movies, in front of the tv, reading ads on buses and billboards, and the ever-changing bible is the latest issues of People and Us magazines....

kim said...

Doug-- May I have permission to reprint this article on Andy Schmookler's site, None So Blind?
Andy asked me to ask you if it's ok, and I couldn't find any "contact" eddress for you.
If you would like to look at the site, here is the home page:
http://www.nonesoblind.org/
and here is the blog home page, where it would most likely be posted (it would definitely be attributed!)
http://www.nonesoblind.org/blog/index.php

Doug Muder said...

Kim,

Oh, absolutely, reprint it. I keep thinking I need to redo the whole blog look and maybe my whole web strategy. But at a minimum including a response address and reprint criteria.

I'm loose on republication: If it's attributed and it's not so out-of-context that it seems to say something completely different, I think it's great. More readers.

DaNutz said...

Brilliant sermon! I appreciate the call for us "liberal Christians" to seek common ground and understand those on the right. I've too often fell into the trap of bashing the religious right without acknowledging that they are also people seeking the heart of God but have chosen a different path.

I particularly like the term "Consumer Hedonism". History has proven that a common enemy is the most poverful force in bringing unity.

Thanks for the conviction, inspiration, and hope!

kim said...

Thanks Doug -- I think it's a really important piece and needs to get to more people.
--Kim

kim said...

Doug -- Your article has been posted at None So Blind. Have you seen it there and the discussion?
I am a bit surprised at the folks who don't seem to understand it, though others were as excited about it as I am.
I have tried to explain it to the ones who aren't getting it. I hope it's helping. Some people just don't want to give up their black and white, two sides and two sides only ideas.

kim said...

Have you heard of The Church of Stop Shopping?
http://www.revbilly.com/

Anonymous said...

Doug -- If i had your email address, I wouldn't be posting this here, but I thought it might be valuable to know, just in case someone else feels the same way I do:
I didn't reply to your post above on ex-gay programs because the first comment is by The Emerson Avenger. I'm scared to post. Maybe others are too? It just occurred to me, that I should make this anonymous too. Sorry.

kim said...

I hope you don't mind, I nominated this for a UU Blog award.