Thursday, February 25, 2010

CC doesn't think Kinsi is a bad Unitarian at all

Though she's very much enjoying his series about why he is one.

As objectionable as the phrasing "bad Unitarian" is to one who takes the creedlessness aspect of UUism seriously, the basic idea that we should examine the ideals we've set up and see if they are really the ideals we want is sound and is something we should do more often. I don't entirely agree with the conclusions Kinsi comes to, but I can appreciate his process and I think it's something we should be open to.


Ps. Criminal justice *headdesk* of the day.


UUpdater said...

It is not necessary for a group to have a creed to be able to define someone as a bad member, or even an outsider. In fact it is the sign of a healthy organization that it can do such things. Long time ago I wrote about how one of the essential aspects of evolution was the development of an immune system, and I think it is applicable to organizational development as well. A healthy organization can discern such things.

For example the Boy Scouts are a non creedal organization. They do have an oath and a law. A Boy Scout that is a disobedient, inconsiderate, disrespectful jerk is clearly not a good Boy Scout.

To say that there can be no concept of a "bad Unitarian" is to reduce the concept of being a Unitarian into a meaningless nothingness. For example if one values the tradition of congregational polity within UUism then one could rightly argue that a Unitarian claiming that the UUA should "take charge" and "enforce policy" in UU congregations is not being a "good UU". Ok, maybe you would stop short of that, but that's fine.

As noted in my comment to Kinsi I also disagree with the assessment that he is a "bad Unitarian". I think it would do more good than harm to examine what does and does not constitute a good Unitarian (or UU, etc.). I think a clearer understanding would help, and proclaiming that any such definition is in and of itself "bad" will only lead to more confusion, and less coherence.

Chalicechick said...

I'd say the Boy Scouts, and any other group that reserves the right to kick somebody out based on their beliefs, has a creed in practice if not in name.

I tend to regard "Unitarian" as a statement of identity and like most statements of identity the concept of being a "bad" member of that group doesn't really apply unless one takes a highly oversimplified view of what the identity means. An Asian person whose vales differ from traditional Asian values is not a "bad Asian" and one who either supports Castro or doesn't should ideally not be called a "bad Cuban" by those who disagree.

I very much disagree with those who do not appreciate church polity and have argued with them plenty of times here, but I don't see that disagreement as making them bad UUs. After all, most of them have motivations (wanting to work together better to do more good in the world, wanting the religion to take a more uniform and ritual-based approach under the idea that a stronger religious identity will attract members) that are commendable by any reasonable reading of UU values.

I have mixed feelings on Kinsi's series as the majority of articles are focused on what I view as pointless cultural markers. If he truly has been given guff by other UUs for every single one of them, OK, UUs in my hometown have better things to do than police each other's recycling bins and I suspect that is generally the case. And I suspect that most UUs who would judge another UU's music preferences are at least somewhat kidding, not seriously trying to treat anyone like a bad UU.


Anonymous said...

Heh, thanks CC.

I'll tell you the truth - despite these being reasons I've felt like I'm a bad Unitarian, I actually do think I'm a good Unitarian (thats coming Sunday.) I have to say, this whole process, from the initial thoughts last week to writing them this week, has been a pretty special process, one that I would encourage more folks to examine.

Chalicechick said...

I think serious examination of how one fails to live up to one's own worthy ideals is a valuable tool for spiritual discernment. I think self-congratulatory examination of one's failure to live up to someone else's wrongheaded ideals can easily lapse into smacking at a straw man.

IMHO, you've done some of both in your series and my only real objection is to your title in that I don't think even the folks at your church who recycle and have bumper stickers would call you a bad Unitarian over it. You differ from what you perceive as mainstream UU culture in several ways and seem on the whole very proud of those differences. That part seems perfectly fine. But the "Bad Unitarian" motif you've set up makes it look like somebody has labeled you a bad Unitarian for not thinking that the whole world should be Unitarian and my guess is that just isn't the case. I'm sure there are some UUs who think everyone should be UU, but my bet is that a clear majority think that UUism should be an option but that it isn't for everyone. My guess is that even those who DO think the whole world should be UU don't think that everyone who disagrees is a Bad Unitarian. So, the "Bad Untarian" thing just sort of paints other UUs badly for a set of beliefs that I don't think most UUs hold.

If people have been jerks to you about each of those individual preferences and traits, I'm sorry, that sucks and they are wrong. But I don't get what good tarring all of us with that brush actually does.

So yeah, on the whole a great series of articles that I think people should read and think about, but I'm not loving the title.


UUpdater said...

Perhaps the Scouts wasn't the best example, but even if a Scout would meet the criteria of a de facto creed it does not automatically make them a good Scout. A disobedient, rude theist would still be a bad scout. I knew an atheist Eagle Scout (he was in our youth group) who just didn't feel the need to let anyone know his beliefs. By all counts he was recognized as a good scout. It is entirely possible to be able to recognize good/bad without a creed as the foundation.

You are a student correct? I assume the faculty has some means of discerning if you are a good or bad student and assigning grades appropriately. Does this mean there is a de facto creed?

In terms of identity labels I agree people should not be defined by their ancestry. But in order for the label to have any meaning or value it is necessary for there to be some criteria other than self selection. I guess if you go far enough back in my ancestry you could trace it back to Africa. I am an American. I could self identify as an "African-American" if I wanted to. But if this identity is to truly be meaningful in terms of sociological studies, scholarships, etc. then the persons using those labels had better have a way to properly identify those that they are studying or that deserve the scholarship. Allowing identity labels to be entirely a matter of self selection renders them effectively useless. If your purpose is to eliminate the use of labels it is a good plan. If you wish labels to be useful, not so much.

I would not call a UU who doesn't understand UU polity a bad UU, but that is because I have had it beaten into my head that actions should be described as bad and it is improper to call a person bad. If the UU was to try and attain their noble goals while working within the UU framework then I think this would be far more productive than simply declaring polity broken when they do not understand it. I do think they would be better, more productive UUs if they understood how best to work toward their goals. And helping people toward this end does not necessitate a creed. Placing value on the religious heritage does not make it creed.

I have witnessed and heard about congregations crippled by the unwillingness to address problematic members. In the instances I have heard of this a large part of the issue was the congregation being uncomfortable making any type of value judgment, and not wanting to "stifle their individuality". Fortunately in the instances I have heard about the problem eventually resolved. Either by establishing congregational norms for behavior, or when necessary expelling the person from the congregation. In no instance was the solution the adoption of a creed. As long as one is willing to make the distinction that a "bad Unitarian" does not make one a "bad person" I am willing to use the term, and I do highly value the creedless nature of UUism.

Chalicechick said...

I'd say that the Scouts have an unspoken creed and that both being a reasonable person and believing in God is part of the creed. I assumed that if the national organization had gotten wind of the kid's atheism, no amount of reasonableness would have kept him in the troop.

In a loose sense, education does have creeds and we're tested on them all the time. Ask a physicist who DOESN'T believe in string theory how that goes for them. But we're pretty far from a religious context here.

Going back to the question of identity, I've heard a few arguments about who is, for example, "black enough" and who isn't. None of those arguments have come off well for anyone involved as far as I could ever see, and all of them involved potentially painful accusations that could only be made with subjective criteria and a big chance of unfairness.

(((I have had it beaten into my head that actions should be described as bad and it is improper to call a person bad)))

Maybe, but I'd say that labeling people as bad being "pointless" and "counterproductive" are more the issue.

You know that I agree that polity is a good thing and knowing how to work within it is also a good thing. You linked to somehting I'd written to that effect this morning. However, I fail to see how labeling people who don't get it "bad" would be helping them understand polity. To me, it sounds more like writing them off entirely and inviting them to ignore you since you've clearly made up your mind about them. I don't listen well to people whom I feel have written me off, do you?

As for the "obnoxious church member" instance, I don't see what good labeling them a "bad Unitarian" would do. My guess is it would piss them off and inspire more obnoxiousness and they would have a lot of fun taking those words out of context and quoting you widely as evidence for their mistreatment at yor hands. Why not point out the specific behaviors that are obnoxious and request that those change, with followup consequences if/when they don't?
Kicking them out because they, say, won't stop making crude comments to youth group members, makes a lot more sense and seems a lot more defenseable than just kicking them out because they are "Bad Unitarians."

So yeah, I fail to see how sing the label "Bad Unitarian" does any good and it seems like it could potentially do a lot of harm.