The Last Word (I Promise!)

By now I’m thoroughly fed up with the back-and-forth on Todd Eklof’s book The Gadfly Papers. Eklof himself has been besmirched by the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association, and without a clear explanation as to why they censured him. His critiques of what he sees as disturbing trends within Unitarian Universalism have not been undercut by his critics in any serious way.

We had a discussion of his book this week in our local UU book club. Our own minister, who I’m sorry to say signed the Open Letter, mentioned a document that she said pointed out inaccuracies in the book. I asked her where I could download that document, and she sent a link. It’s not easy to find this essay using a search engine; it was written by Elissa Lowe, who seems to be a member of Eklof’s UU congregation in Spokane. (I’m guessing; Lowe mentions UUCS without ever spelling out what the acronym stands for.) I did manage to find another critical essay, this one by Dennis McCarty, a UU minister.

I like to keep an open mind. If there’s a case to be made against Eklof’s book, I want to hear it. So I downloaded and read what my minister had recommended. And by golly, Lowe spotted three inaccuracies in Eklof’s book! None of them is significant with respect to his central thesis, but there they are. There’s also one seriously overblown bit of rhetoric, which Lowe points out. Eklof should have hired a good editor.

I’ve spent the past couple of days going through Lowe’s and McCarty’s essays. They’re remarkable, and not in a good way. I have now written a critique of their critiques. Rather than upload my own essay directly into this blog, I’m making it available as a PDF. You can download it, if you dare, using this link. I’ve tried to keep it both readable and non-inflammatory, but I fear I may have failed on both counts. The topics of concern are rather labyrinthine: Who said what, what the context was, what they meant by such-and-such a term, what did or didn’t happen at some point.

And who, outside of the tiny UU denomination, gives a flying fuck? Nobody. It’s a tempest in a teapot.

If you’d care to do some further research into all this (and I can’t say “God help you,” because we Unitarians eschew the use of the G-word), I suggest a short book by Anne Schneider called The Self-Confessed “White Supremacy Culture”: The Emergence of an Illiberal Left in Unitarian Universalism. It’s on Amazon, $5 for the e-book.

I fear this controversy is more than a bit reminiscent of our current state of political paralysis in the United States. It’s no longer possible to have a meaningful dialog with people on the other side of the aisle, because our premises have become too disparate. One group thinks Unitarian Universalism is wallowing in “white supremacy culture.” You can’t talk to them; they don’t even speak the same language. If you try to disagree with them, that only proves you’re a white supremacist.

I’ve had enough of it. I’m going to go put on my bedsheet now and … oh, wait. I wasn’t supposed to mention that.


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4 Responses to The Last Word (I Promise!)

  1. Davidson Loehr says:

    Thanks for your work on this, Jim. It is hard to keep pretending to care. I wrote a critical/scathing letter to the UUMA Board back around August. Never got a response, of course.

    I think the real problem is a lot bigger and deeper, and may not have a good answer. Liberalism doesn’t have anything healthy or relevant to our culture any longer. It used to represent the working class and unions, and of course our token victim groups: mostly black people, later (and less passionately) Hispanics, then gays, lesbians and that alphabet. But they’re all really token victims, which means that we are just using them: demeaning and dehumanizing them, treating them as too stupid to breathe, unimprovable, because if they would be improved they wouldn’t need us, and their only use for us is letting us cop a cheap feeling of relevance and righteousness. This is way bigger than the UUA. Clinton and Obama sold our the whole working class, shipped their jobs to China and Mexico. Obama laughed about it when challenged, said those jobs aren’t coming back, you’d need a magic wand, etc.

    Now Trump is bringing those jobs back, and he and his Republicans have claimed the working class — all those people in the flyover states: the Deplorables, et al. I don’t see how the Democrats can get them back. So they represent no one except, in their desperation, the fringe exceptions. And that’s not enough to ground a healthy politics or religion in.

    The history of this that most of us are aware of includes (it’s 1:30 am, so this won’t be long):

    — liberalism has been sloughing off tradition, supernatural, God-centered religion for a century and a half. — they’ve had nothing comparable to replace it — starting in the 1960s, they found a new secular religion which, for many liberals, replaced it: environmental activism. (Good book on this, the 1983 The Coercive Utopians, by husband/wife sociologists Rael and Erich Isaac. (I’m glad to send the 25 pages of excerpts I typed from it, with page numbers.) — The religion we sloughed off had featured a supernatural, afterlife, utopianism. We wanted a utopianism here and now, without any spooky gods or supernaturalism. This is what made Marxism is attractive, because it’s also what he sought, and what all the horribly murderous and failed socialisms have promised, before creating a series of dystopian governments that have murdered an estimated 110-260 million of their own citizens in the past 100 years. Why, because the mortal enemy of utopias is any group of people who don’t believe it and won’t pretend to believe it. They must be “re-educated”, silenced, or murdered. But there’s no other formula for a this-worldly utopia, and liberals don’t know where else to turn. (It helps — I know you all know this — to remember that “utopia” literally means “no place”.) — So, as the Isaacs point out, utopian dreams, by their essential nature, will and must become coercive. — Another way of putting this is to say that environmental activism quickly became a secular fundamentalist religion, which is pretty ironic! Activists don’t care about truth. They already have The Truth That Can Save Us All. They are only interested in converting or coercing others. I look at Bernie Sanders and only see an angry old man who wants to be obeyed, and wants the power to force others to obey his screwy dystopian vision.

    I don’t see what liberals can do. My own route was to learn a lot about religion, get my Ph.D. in theology, the philosophy of religion, philosophy of science and Wittgenstein’s “language philosophy”, then try to back off and find a bigger picture that could replace that of traditional religion. It involved a lot of reading in comparative religions (Mircea Eliade was one of the professors at the Divinity School), Joseph Campbell, trying to articulate a generic picture of a legitimate heir to religion that still centered on ontology rather than just ideology. But the “New UUs” don’t want that. They found a narcissistic and solipsistic ideology involving their token victims, and I have no idea how they could be pried off of it. Ridicule seems the best response. Glad I’m retired, but sorry for the young ministers stuck in that crap.

    Maybe the “hope” is that all religion is slowly dying. A dozen or more years ago I read that church attendance in the US was below 18%. Younger people are finding other ways to get answers to who they are and how they should live. They don’t seem to be very good answers, but our grandparents didn’t think much of our religious answers, either.

    Anyway, I went on too long. Glad you’re trying to engage the horrible mis-leaders in the UUA and UUMA, Jim.

    Davidson Loehr


  2. Matt Buckley says:

    Kimberly French did not choose the title of her article “After L, G, and B”. The editors did. She unsuccessfully tried to get it changed.
    Also, she showed an early draft of the article to six of the people it mentions, including her daughter and her daughter’s girlfriend, and told them that if there was anything in it that they did not want in there, then she would remove it, and that if they wanted to withdraw from the article altogether, they could do that too. She made all the changes they asked for.

  3. fjcasper says:

    I had not known of your piece on Lowe. I thought you might be interested in my take.

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