The Sleep of Reason

Sometimes I have to think about things for a while, in a vague and disorganized way, before what’s bugging me snaps into focus. As I’ve continued to mull over the controversy within which the Unitarian Universalist community has lately become entangled, I think maybe I’m starting to get a glimpse of the root from which (to mix a metaphor) the poison vine has sprung.

You might think the root would be racism, but no, that’s not it. For one thing, the goal of the gang of ministers who have been attacking their colleague, Reverend Todd Eklof, is to eliminate not just racism but also sexism, heterosexism, cis-genderism, able-ism, and presumably any other engine of social discrimination and marginalization whose muffled putt-putt-putt and smoky exhaust they detect emanating from behind the wainscoting.

Just to be clear: I applaud that goal. I share it. The problem lies not in the goal itself but in the methods they’re using to try to achieve the goal.

In the original Open Letter to Eklof, we find this: “We recognize that a zealous commitment to ‘logic’ and ‘reason’ over all other forms of knowing is one of the foundational stones of White Supremacy Culture.” And in the letter of censure issued last week, we find this: “…we cannot ignore the fact that logic has often been employed in white supremacy culture to stifle dissent, minimize expressions of harm, and to require those who suffer to prove the harm by that culture’s standards.”

I’m seeing a connection between those two quotes and what a friend of mine said when this thing first erupted a couple of months ago: that her goal was to listen harder to people who have been marginalized, traumatized, discriminated against, etc. Now, my friend is a lovely person. She’s also a computer programmer by profession. What I think she was saying was that her approach to understanding the controversy is to set aside her rational thought processes in favor of simply witnessing — and accepting at face value — the expressions of pain coming from the people in those marginalized communities.

She told me she trusted the ministers who penned the Open Letter. She didn’t feel it necessary to read Eklof’s book and judge its contents for herself.

What my friend is intent on doing (or was doing when she said that; I’ll have to ask her if she has had any second thoughts) seems to align well with the ministers’ attempts to downplay or disparage Eklof’s careful use of rational, logical processes. Given a choice between accepting a raw expression of emotion on its own terms or, alternatively, engaging in a reasoned thought process that might provide perspective or allow a more nuanced interpretation, the ministers are coming down solidly on the side of judgments that are based solely on emotion, not on reason.

The Enlightenment is dead, folks. We’ve done an about-face here; we’re marching (or slithering) back into the Middle Ages.

The UU ministers are not doing this in a vacuum. To a considerable and alarming extent, our whole culture is sliding in that direction. Not that our culture was ever soundly based on reason, but 50 years ago we sent people to the Moon. Today we have an alleged President who lies repeatedly and enthusiastically, who is profoundly ignorant about almost everything — and millions of our fellow anthropoids happily chow down on whatever sort of shit he’s shoveling. Millions of people reject the use of vaccines, the evidence for climate catastrophe…. Okay, I won’t go any further with that. You know what I’m talking about.

I joined the local Unitarian Universalist church because I need to be part of a community, and it’s the only church in town where atheists are welcome. But at the moment, it appears one sort of orthodoxy (the theistic sort) is being supplanted by another sort that is just as toxic, or possibly even more toxic. The new orthodoxy, as represented by the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association, seems to be that the use of reason is to be denigrated; that we’re to be guided henceforth by raw emotion. The expression of emotion is, ipso facto, valid, and must not be questioned.

Also, your emotions had better be the correct ones.

The danger here should be obvious to anybody over the age of twelve. If one bunch of Unitarians embraces one set of emotions as true and important, while another bunch embraces a different set, how the holy fuck are we supposed to sort out who’s right and who needs to learn better, if we can’t use logic or reason?

When logic and reason are gone, what’s left is force. Browbeating. Mob rule. When the mob is shaming you and you’re not allowed to defend yourself by an appeal to reason, you’re pretty much screwed.

Todd Eklof is being shamed for using reason. Shamed by his fellow ministers. And there’s no appeal from the court of unreason. All verdicts are final.

I don’t want to belong to a church that rejects reason. If that’s the consensus of Unitarian Universalism today, I’m tempted to say, “The hell with it. I’m outta here.” On the other hand, there’s this thing in the Sunday services about how each person is worthy and sacred. So … am I not worthy? Am I not sacred? Maybe I should just stick around and be stubbornly reasonable. What are they gonna do — kick me out for being annoyingly intelligent?

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6 Responses to The Sleep of Reason

  1. Pingback: Shut Up! You’re Not Liberal Enough! | Jim Aikin's Oblong Blob

  2. Munro Sickafoose says:

    I am a UU minister who was appalled by that letter. So were/are many others, but are afraid to push back. When they finally posted it on the UUMA FB page, here is what I posted in response:

    This is a shameful document that will be remembered as low point in our history! Orthodoxy by fiat is not the UU way.

    This censure does not represent me and many other ministers – and I believe the signers are in violation of UUMA covenants in ways far more egregious than anything Rev. Eklof did.

    Apparently the 4th Principle is now a bludgeon to silence dissenting opinions. And this censure does not honor one of the sources that inspires and guides many of our congregations: Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.

    If our leadership can’t affirm and promote our values, principles, and sources, perhaps they should resign and make room for those who will.

    And having said that, I offer the signers the chance to come back into covenant with our guidelines, our principles, and our traditions.

    They might start with an apology to Rev. Efklof and the withdrawal of this travesty of a document. And then start listening and trying to address the real issues dividing us instead of spinning, shaming, and silencing.

    I’m ordained but not fellowshipped, a dues-paying member of the UUMA, and there isn’t really squat they can do to me. Kick me out, I suppose, but that wouldn’t really hurt me much. Might even help! But I’m not going to be silent about this.

    There are ministers and laity pushing back. Please stick around and reasonable with us!

  3. David Wadleigh says:

    A high proportion of the marginalized and traumatized are leading or very involved in our social justice ministry. Some people have been marginalized and traumatized several times over by belonging to several different groups of marginalized foix. I observe that such people are often triggered by events, understandably so, to the point where calm reason is not possible and they are completely consumed by a strong emotional response. I think it is a grave mistake to have these people who are so affected and prone to suffering PTSD from their past do the leading, and would think it better if they would recuse themselves from reason or judgment making while they are prisoners of their emotions. I think the decision of the UUMA to value emotional response over reason reflects on their own inability to reason well once they have themselves become emotionally overloaded.

  4. Evan Rose says:

    Expectations of Conduct
    “I will not speak scornfully or in derogation of any colleague in public. In any private conversation concerning a colleague, I will speak responsibly and temperately. I will not solicit or encourage negative comments about a colleague or their ministry.”

    • midiguru says:

      The original Open Letter tries to tiptoe around that guideline by mainly focusing on the book, but in a couple of passages the ministers who signed the letter do in fact speak scornfully and in derogation of Eklof. However, the letter of censure is, arguably at least, in a different category. As I’m not a member of UUMA myself, I’m not in a position to read their bylaws and learn what procedures are available for censure. Perhaps the letter of censure should have been sent to him privately rather than publicly. The publication of the letter of censure certainly violates this guideline, but perhaps the bylaws call for publication.

  5. Allen Lang says:

    Some who signed the rebuke to GADFLY admitted that they had not read the book. This is disgraceful. Those who read its reprise of THE CODDLING OF THE AMERICAN MIND must agree that we have become so concerned with never treading on anyone’s toes that we’ve allowed Pecksniff to establish the rules for debate. We can say anything in our discourse except that god has three heads, so long as we say it with love and listen when our colleagues to reply.

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