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Letters, Summer 2006
Readers respond to the Spring 2006 issue.
THE GREAT STORY
Thank you for the beautiful cover and Amy Hassinger’s article about the exciting work of Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd (“Welcome to the Ecozoic Era,” Spring 2006). Spreading the “great story” involving both science and religion is especially important just now, when creationism/ intelligent design proponents are challenging the teaching of evolution in our public schools.
Readers may like to know that a new organization, Unitarian Universalist Religious Naturalists, is being formed to bring together all who resonate with Barlow and Dowd’s message. To learn more, write to Jgoodbrook@aol.com.
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
“Welcome to the Ecozoic Era” referred to Julian Huxley’s book Religion Without Revelation as an inspiration for Connie Barlow. Well and good, but I couldn’t help wondering how her husband reconciles the contradiction of being led to science by two revelatory religious experiences. Huxley, as I read him, seemed to be calling for a new humanism that rejected the irrational aspects of religion. Your story illustrates the difficulty of such an undertaking; more than seventy-five years after Huxley wrote his book, for many people, revelation is still a source of inspiration.
Lake Mills, Wisconsin
Hassinger asserts that Barlow and Dowd appealed to her because they supplant the “cold-hearted vision of the universe” implied by scientific accounts of evolution with a hopeful, utopian vision. But happier stories from either left- or right-leaning religions do not help science. They ignore and discount the suffering entailed in natural processes like evolution. They also undermine the moral lessons we might learn from the bleaker aspects of our history. If natural processes are positive agents, we are relieved of some responsibility for our fate. If nature places no particular value on human life or the good, we must choose to help one another.
I applaud the effort to reconcile science and religion, and I agree that we need to change the way we see ourselves and our place in the universe. But a new creation myth, no matter how scientifically accurate, is not the answer. Do we really believe that embracing a new story will bring about a more peaceful, caring world? When are we going to stop trying to intellectualize our spirituality? When are we going to stop looking outside ourselves for understanding, meaning, and the way to a better world?
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
The Transcendentalists believed that humankind is the measure of all things. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The power which resides in [man] is new in nature. . . . We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents” (“Self-Reliance”). Yes—in fact, we were so ashamed of it that we threw it out altogether. We insisted that we are not divine. We are merely a part of nature, no better than the other animals, in some ways worse.
Emerson may or may not have been right about the divine idea. We can’t know that. But we do need to give ourselves credit for accomplishing something truly remarkable on this planet. For too long we’ve disparaged ourselves as the naked ape. We need to re-read Emerson. He said it all.
Lois Wells Santalo
El Cajon, California
How one wishes that science and religion could indeed “stand together” as equals and partners in the perennial quest for human knowledge and understanding! However, regarding the most profound questions of existence, scientific truths have been elevated above religious ones. Science, by its own standards, can offer no verdict concerning such questions. It may brilliantly analyze the nature of matter, but must remain silent on what really matters: life’s origin, purpose, and meaning.
The Rev. Rosemarie Carnarius
My mother often said that there had to be some great intelligence, like God, to create such a complex and beautiful universe—her own pre-intelligent design theory. She admired Albert Einstein for his awe at the universe’s wonders despite his rigorous scientific mind. Naturally, her ideas influenced me; I thought this was the way to reconcile the seeming opposites of science and religion. Now perhaps, with a new way to tell the ever-unfolding story housed in our cells, we can evolve toward a more unified world spirit.
I was disappointed in the cover art on the Spring 2006 (“The Wonder of Evolution”) issue of UU World. Why depict a lone human—the very species on the planet that seems bent on destroying it? Why not a depiction of the various and amazing plant and animal species (including humans) that have evolved over millions of years? Indeed, a montage of “this wonderfule life,” as Darwin put it, would have had more impact and meaning.
Biologists have not found a benign director of evolution other than chance or natural selection. The fact that the universe was not made for humans and is totally indifferent to their fate is hard for people to accept. I glory in it. When I go out in the woods and hear mostly silence I know I soon will be gone except in the memories of a few people who will also be gone. This is my source of wonder. How a small individual in one species of animal could have evolved even so limited an appreciation of existence.
Thank you for Jane Greer’s wonderful article on the successes of the Gloucester Universalist Church (“Gloucester’s Revival,” Spring 2006). I am a member of a Universalist congregation that originated as the First Universalist Society of Cincinnati in 1827.
Although our original church buildings have been swallowed up by city development, our history seems to closely parallel that of Gloucester. I admire that Gloucester has been able to carry on with the “old” while adding the “new” in such a sensitive way.
I think it must be difficult for people who grew up, like Barbara Wells ten Hove, with Unitarian Universalism “imposed gently, with love for their unique spirits” to understand how religion was forced on many of us as very young children (“A Stranger in My Own Hometown,” Spring 2006). In a discussion about coping with our religious “hot buttons” at my church today, some of us recounted how we were told as preschoolers that we would be tortured eternally for sins, including sinful thoughts.
We have worked hard to overcome these experiences. I take pride in changing the trajectory of my family’s religious history. And I know it would be easy to overcompensate with an “anything goes” parenting philosophy. I actively work on Wells ten Hove’s suggestions on including and serving children, youth, and young adults in a way that will strengthen their relationships with our church. I also hope my daughter and son will continue to be active in UU organizations and will feel welcomed there.
Being compassionate, while standing up for our beliefs, and judiciously discerning our goals is a calling for all UUs, the “home-bred” as well as the “come-inners.”
I too am a “home-bred” Unitarian Universalist (sixty-five–plus years), a survivor of LRY (Liberal Religious Youth), and commonly the only such in any meeting in my church. As I listen to each in a circle announce the former church from which they have fled and the number of years they have been clean, I wonder if we are becoming a ten-step religious recovery program.
A non-UU cleric once asked me what it was like to have been “born free.” I could only say that being a UU was simply what I had always been and would always be and that as with many freedoms, it wanted some continuous working on and attending to. And so I stick around, as does Wells ten Hove, as a sometime stranger in my hometown, as an occasional curiosity and minority within a minority.
Frank C. Mahncke
I enjoyed the article “The Joys and Challenges of Covenant Groups” (Winter 2005). Donald E. Skinner was absolutely correct when he wrote, “Many congregations are finding that, as covenant groups increase and mature, keeping them vital takes work.” It takes a clear sense of purpose, a deep understanding of small group ministry, and a steady supply of energy to maintain a thriving program. The UU Small Group Ministry Network (smallgroupministry .net) is an excellent resource for those congregations working to keep their programs vital as well as for those thinking of starting a program.
MEANING OF THE 60S
I have been struggling with my commitment to Unitarian Universalism over the last few weeks, and reading my first issue of your magazine helped me to sit with my doubts and questions. My only criticism is of Christopher L. Walton’s book review, in which he asserts that “the sixties have grown less compelling” and avers that UUs are retreating from their “bygone counterculture” (“Counterculture Church?,” Spring 2006). I feel that this dismissive attitude toward the tremendous cultural, social, and political inroads made during the late ’60s and continued by different countercultural groups is one reason why the right-wing has so sol idly dominated the cultural discourse for the last twenty years. UUs need to realize that members of contemporary countercultures—Neopagans, goths, etc.—should be evangelized with the good news of Unitarian Universalism. Part of that evangelism would consist of re-envisioning the not-so bygone counterculture and providing a space for it to flourish anew.
Jason B. Mierek
The photograph of Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd obtained through Religion News Service (Spring 2006, page 27) was taken by Leslie Pilder.
In a Spring 2006 news story (page 45) we referred to the Union for Reform Judaism incorrectly.
We neglected to include the names of the Rev. Jody Shipley, Karen Gunderson, the Rev. Dr. Lee Barker, and Abby Arnold among the founders of the UU Legislative Ministry of California (Spring 2006, page 46).
The Rev. Amber Beland was ordained in Milford, New Hampshire, not Milford, Massachusetts, as written in the Spring Milestones (page 52).