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?