02 June 2007

"Critiquing Ideology" or "Bashing Another's Beliefs"

This past week, several discussions (many very heated) have popped up in a response to a Church of the Larger Fellowship article.

This article briefly mentioned the decision at Starr King School for the Ministry to stop using the term "brown bag" to describe lunchtime talks where one brings one's lunch to the talk. This is due to the historical association between brown bags and colorism discrimination.

One good place to find many links to these blog conversations is Philocrites blog article "Brown bag landmines, culling the affiliates, and more."

The Unitarian Universalist minister author of Ms. Kitty's Saloon and Road Show commented on her concerns about ministerial collegiality in the "brown bag" blog conversations.

One of the replies to Ms. Kitty's concerns voiced her belief that a criticism of an ideology should be permissible:
"An ideology was being critiqued. Ain't no guidelines against that and I hope to God there never will be."
Of course, this comment opens up the question what's an ideology and what's a sincerely held religious belief?

The online Merriam-Websters provides "a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture" as one definition for "ideology."

Since an ideology is just a term to describe an organized collection of ideas, the term would include most religious belief systems (e.g. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Paganism, Humanism, etc).

Do we want any ideologies to be off-limits from criticism in Unitarian Universalist communities?

For example, would a "Dawkins" or "Harris" criticism of belief in God and traditional religion be OK or would that be off-limits in a Unitarian Universalist setting?

I guess that Unitarian Universalist Christians will need to remove the term "Christian-bashing" from their vocabularies for two reasons:
  1. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever been "bashed" (physically assaulted) for being a Christian in a Unitarian Universalist congregation or other settings -- mostly it's a verbal criticism of ideology.
  2. Criticism of ideology is OK for some Unitarian Universalists and some Unitarian Universalist Christians.
But do we want to live in a congregation where this frank criticism of ideology happens?

I think that no ideology or system of belief is so sacred that we cannot look at it critically.

However, I do see a problem with excessive criticism of ideologies in our congregations.

How do we examine an ideology critically in such a way that we don't shut down communication and eventually end up in the heated ritualistic exchange of verb-pronoun combinations?


Christine Robinson said...

It's all a matter of style. Critique my cherished belief...about God, PC language, or anything else, but critique the belief, not the believer, make an attempt to see both sides, don't fly around in righteous fury as if your belief is the only one a decent person could hold, and stick to "I" statements. There's a big difference between saying, "For me, Humanism is an inadequate description of the world we live in," and ranting about faith blind humanists who always say or do whatever, dismissing them all as outdated idiots. There's a way to say that you don't find Christian doctrine compelling without being Sam Harris. There's even a way to talk about theological schools that is respectful of persons' choices and loyalties.

This time of year, ministerial and student tempers are short.

Boy in the Bands (Scott Wells) said...

You're at least ten years too late to suggest the UU Christians should stop talking about themselves being bashed. Or at least, if there is anyone speaking seriously in those terms, I've not heard it and cannot find it.

The only references I have found about Christians (inside the UUA or out) being "bashed" by Unitarian Universalists come from -- cue the irony -- non-Christian Unitarian Universalists.

Something happened in the UUCF -- much talked about and little documents -- where inward paranoia and hand-wringing became self-affirming participation. I think the watershed was the wider use of Internet technologies, but I'm a little close to the subject to be objective.

Steve Caldwell said...

Christine Robinson wrote:
"This time of year, ministerial and student tempers are short."


Thanks for the tip on the seasonal variations in attitude.

I can understand why seminary students could be potentially short-tempered and stressed out -- end of school year, just finishing final exams, etc.

I'm curious about what could cause ministers to be short-tempered and stressed out. It's the beginning of summer and my congregation's minister is looking to several weeks of real time off (vacation) and time away from the church (study, reflection, meeting with other ministers, etc).

Is this trend a mostly UU ministerial trend or is it true in other denominations that have year-round church and a year-round ministerial prescence in the pulpit?

Thanks for any insight you might have on this church professional sociology question.

Steve Caldwell said...

Scott Wells wrote:
"You're at least ten years too late to suggest the UU Christians should stop talking about themselves being bashed. Or at least, if there is anyone speaking seriously in those terms, I've not heard it and cannot find it."


That's interesting to hear.

Maybe what I'm seeing and hearing in my congregation and my district is just a regional variation difference.

I see more folks in my district who are comfortable being UU Christians (the UUCF director is a minister in my district). I also see more folks who are still strongly reactive to Christianity. And they're not all older Unitarian Universalists either.

UU youth who are told by their high school classmates that they're going to hell, etc generally take a dim view of Christianity. When I hear this in youth group settings, I acknowledge that this must hurt but all Christians don't act this way. Concrete examples often come down to mentioning members of our congregation who are UU Christian, mentioning that the OWL program was jointly created by Christians, etc.

However, I've heard members in my congregation express both shock and disapproval over my non-belief in God during adult RE classes I've participated in -- shock and concern that one's life would have no meaning without God. This is generally not said as an "I" statement but rather as a "you" or "your" statement.

I attended an adult RE class that explored questions related to theodicy such as "if God is good, then why do bad things happen to good people" and other related concerns. The class was sponsored by our congregation's UU Christian Fellowship Covenant Group but was open to everyone.

During the discussion, I suggested that the questions surrounding God and bad things happening to good people have an assumption built into them that there is a God. If there isn't a God or if God isn't a theistic intervening in daily affairs type of God, then the theodicy dilemma is less of a dilemma from my perspective.

The facilitator of the covenant group said that my questions were disrespectful of his beliefs and he viewed them as a form of "Christian-bashing." He also considers non-theistic views as something Humanists should keep to themselves because they might drive away potential members.

Finally -- one can look back to the letters to the editor section of UU World in 2002 to see the response to articles related to Parker and Brock's Proverbs of Ashes.

Here's the URL:


This isn't the past year but it's more recent than 10 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Life is short. Maybe UUs should spend less time thinking about how ignorant / cruel / unscientific / other religions are and more time finding their own way to ... whatever expression you want to use. Question for scholars: what percentage of the Buddha's teaching is spent on attacking other views? (At times like this I wish I had taken some history of religion courses.)
Dudley M. Jones. (jonesdudley@hotmail.com)