Once again a vigorous group of readers wrote letters in response to the July/August issue. A third of the seventy-six letters were in response to “Embattled Faith” by Neil Shister. Seventeen responded to “The Ultimate Canvas” by Gary Kowalski. Six reflected continuing response to the corporate personhood articles in the May/June issue, and four letters anticipated the General Assembly coverage in the September/October issue. A larger number than usual responded to departments or news items.
In preparing “Mailbox” for several issues, one statistic has begun to stand out: gender. In response to the March/April issue, we received letters from ten women, fifty-one men, and two male/female couples (as far as we can tell by the inaccurate method of divining by first names). For May/June, it was nineteen women and fifty-six men; for July/August, it is twenty women and fifty-six men. On average, 24 percent of our letters come from women, yet 64 percent of our readers are women, according to a 2001 readership survey. We don’t know exactly what this means, but we have noted that particular articles can create an even greater discrepancy. We welcome your comments (we value your advice, although, as you will read next, we may not print it).
The New York Times recently published “To the Reader,” a column by its letters editor, setting out qualities he looks for in selecting letters for publication. We share some of the same criteria: “fresh, bright writing,” brevity, stylishness. Almost all of the letters we select for publication respond to articles that appeared in the magazine or relate directly to the subject matter of an article. Rarely do we publish responses to an article in more than one issue, so timeliness is also a virtue. Tone matters, too, and we encourage generosity of spirit and constructive criticism even in letters disagreeing strongly with the content of an article.
I read with excitement Neil Shister’s article on Unitarian Universalists in the armed forces (“Embattled Faith,” July/ August) while sitting in a tent at Camp Patriot in Kuwait. I have always had an interesting time trying to explain what the Unitarian Universalist church was to people in my unit. I signed my name in the book at the church in Eugene, Oregon, the week before my National Guard company was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
While I acknowledge the conflict between my own personal political beliefs about the validity of this war and my sense of duty and responsibility, being on the ground here has given me a perspective on the hardships the Iraqi people have endured under Saddam and the aftermath of the first gulf war I never had before.
The draw for me to the army and the Unitarian Universalist church was my strong belief in fighting against tyranny and persecution in all its forms. While history will ultimately judge the validity of this war, I am comforted by the fact that the ideals I feel I stand for in my dual role have not compromised each other in the least.
SPC. DARREN C. VYFF
Kuwait Naval Base
I agree with Neil Shister that our democratic values are the bedrock upon which we can come together as Unitarian Universalists in spite of our differences on war and peace.
I cannot speak for others, but as a twenty-year veteran line officer of the armed forces, I think that support of the troops is founded upon embracing the values we serve and fight for. Members of the armed forces swear an oath to defend not the homeland or the flag or even our families. We swear to defend the Constitution. I have always believed that we swear to defend the ideals and principles embodied in the Constitution. It is why I continue to serve in the armed forces.
I embrace Unitarian Universalism and take comfort and spiritual satisfaction in being a member of a congregation. In part this is because UUs embrace the democratic principles I hold dear—even to the point of speaking openly against actions of our government which I help implement. Whether I agree or disagree with such positions is not at issue. Unitarian Universalists support me, at least, by openly practicing the democracy I am proud to defend.
CDR. THOMAS R. BEALL, USN
Middletown, Rhode Island
Neil Shister’s “Embattled Faith” made interesting reading, except that I found very little about Universalists. From the War of 1812 through World War II, it would seem the Universalists were silent, and we know that’s not so.
Chuck Howe’s recent biography, Clarence R. Skinner: Prophet of a New Universalism, relates the story of Skinner’s pacifism during World War I. His stance earned him the enmity of the faculty at Tufts and made him unpopular throughout Boston at a time when people believed the Germans would soon storm the Atlantic beaches. Howe tells us the president of the university was so exercised at Skinner that he wouldn’t speak to him when they chanced to meet on campus.
Liverpool, New York
It is a contradiction of terms to support the troops while opposing the war. While I “support” the servicemen and -women of the United States in the sense that I respect them as human beings, I also respect the basic humanity of the Iraqi troops and all other people. The lives of Americans are not more valuable than the lives of non-Americans. Unitarian Universalists have a right and a responsibility to speak out on issues of social importance. A preemptive strike against a nation that poses no realistic threat to the United States is not only wrong but also a violation of the basic principles of our faith.
American soldiers have the right to their own beliefs about war and peace just as everyone else does. However, when these beliefs result in the death and suffering of others, those who do not share those beliefs ought to stand up and proudly say, “I do not support this war, and I do not support those who wage and fight this war.”
The Ultimate Canvas
Thank you for including Landscape, 1795 by Cai Jia in the July/August issue. I had my own experience of feeling fullness and contentment while gazing at the beautiful picture and rocking in my chair so that sunlight and shadow played on the page. I was sitting in the morning shade cast by our volunteer backyard oak tree. I will keep this issue of UU World for both the landscape and the fine, thought-provoking article, “The Ultimate Canvas” by Gary Kowalski.
Gary Kowalski’s article introduced the concept of process theology to me. The ideas, eloquently expressed, hit home like a rainbow on the roof. I thought, “This is why—not fully realizing it—I became a Unitarian a few years ago.” The interdependence and interaction among events in the universe create the ever-changing Big Picture. I understood more deeply how to define God.
As someone who has recently discovered the works of Charles Hartshorne, I was pleased to read Gary Kowalski’s article about process theology. I encourage readers to explore these ideas more fully, since no brief article can do justice to a philosophy of such scope and subtlety. Hartshorne’s system provides elegant and logically rigorous solutions to many of the most difficult problems in philosophy. It describes a unified universe in which the same process operates on many levels, from the subatomic level to the universe as a whole. The result is a rational, yet spiritual, view of the interdependent web, giving us a wonderful basis for liberal theology.
EDWARD J. STEFFES
Gary Kowalski described process theology and attributed its development in part to Charles Hartshorne. I was surprised that he did not mention Buddhism in the text, since the description of process theology reads like a description of the Buddhist view of the world. I do not deny Hartshorne’s contributions, but let’s give proper recognition to a philosophy that was developed thousands of years ago and has provided a path to the understanding of the human condition.
The Buddha, however, did not need to go to the next step of labeling the process as God. Why must we drag the God word into process theology? As the definitions of “God” increase, the usefulness of the word in transmitting information decreases.
I enjoyed reading “The Ultimate Canvas” because Dr. Charles Hartshorne was a member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, Texas. The article states that Hartshorne did not consider himself a Unitarian, but Charles, as he preferred to be called, was a pledging member of our church. If he wasn’t a Unitarian, perhaps “Deist” best fits his religious conviction.
HENRY R. HUG
UUA President Sinkford’s “Our Calling” essay in the July/August UU World says, “Unitarian Universalist ministers have been performing ceremonies of union for gay couples since 1984.” Surely he’s been getting calls and e-mails on that statistic. I, for one, did my first such ceremony for two women around 1972 and another for two men around 1975. Surely there were others in years prior to 1984.
THE REV. MICHAEL O'KELLY
Clarksburg, West Virginia
I am pleased to see that there is a Unitarian Universalist alternative to Boy Scouting (“UU News,” July/August). The attitude of BSA has troubled me for years. However, I feel compelled to point out that Girl Scouting offers a viable program for all girls, regardless of race, creed, or sexual preference. As a Unitarian and a board member of our local Girl Scouts council, I am proud to be a part of two organizations with such similar values and goals.
WILLIAM J. HOLSTEIN
Ardsley, New York
Spreading the Word
I recently spent much time waiting in doctors’ offices. I found the magazines in the waiting rooms uninteresting, filled with advertisements, and worn out. Once I happened upon a Watchtower magazine, and it struck me: We Unitarian Universalists need to do this! The next visit I planted my UU World front and center on the magazine rack (with my address removed.) Future issues will find themselves in cafeterias, commuter trains, and more doctors’ offices. Now I can enjoy your wonderful magazine and use it to help “spread the word” too! Our church also collects back issues to offer to those who are considering membership. Thanks for a great magazine that shows our Principles and Purposes in action.
Gold River, California
I was shocked to read that Kansas City Unitarian Universalists erected six billboards advertising “Unitarian Universalism, the Uncommon Denomination” (“UU News,” July/August). For the past fifteen years I have been active in the fight against billboard blight, which destroys our countryside’s scenic values and degrades our municipalities’ efforts to beautify their cities. Scenic Tennessee has succeeded in banning billboards in several cities, including my own. As a member of Scenic America I have supported efforts in many other states.
Advertising our offer of alternative religion on billboards is not in accord with our Seventh Principle. By this principle, we are expected to support the scenic values of our planet Earth. Send out the word—yes! But on billboards?—no!
Johnson City, Tennessee
Small is Good
Embracing the power of smallness might help propel us along the road to becoming “the most dangerous church in America” (“Our Calling,” May/June).
In a conscious awareness of our small numbers we might be moved to strengthen the healing voice of mutual respect.
In the frank exploration of the details of our own minority status we might find a unique ability to express our solidarity with other minorities.
We might even pay attention to the special qualities of our small voice. The dissident voice forever shouting may easily assume the sound of unapproachability in the ears of persons of worth and dignity. Former UUA president Bill Schulz, speaking at the fall Mass Bay District conference last year, urged us to try speaking quietly to moderate Americans in the effort to persuade, rather than denouncing or ridiculing those whom we regard as foes.
As a consciously minority religious movement, we might come to appreciate, also, our true dependence on the original ideas and practices of the larger religious community. What a wiser tone we might acquire were we to accurately assess our place in relationship with the ancient and more tradition-based religions among whom we seek to grow.
Combining passion with a more humble understanding of ourselves might even release our power to retain and integrate the many visitors called to our doors by the sincerity of our principles.
I’ve often felt it a shame that, because of the “baggage” we carry (coming out of the various religions from our past), we feel the need to exclude any mention of specific beliefs or concepts. (I’ve particularly noticed the exclusion of traditional Christian beliefs.) In our efforts to be politically correct, I fear that we’re erring to the extreme in sanitizing our discussions. In some ways, I agree with President Sinkford (“Our Calling,” March/April) about the idea of taking “God” off our list of banned words/concepts. Whether we agree or not with the tenets of any particular faith, we do live in a world where Christian beliefs abound (in a variety of forms), and we should be just as active in understanding them and building tolerance—or at least building a context for understanding—as we are about non-Christian beliefs.
As an example, I’ve become aware of the gap in my children’s education when it comes to the basic Bible stories that are so often referred to as examples/metaphors in U.S. culture. I’m finding the need to teach them the stories, not out of a spiritual belief in the Bible, but to provide context for understanding our culture—just as an understanding of Aesop’s fables, Greek mythology, Mother Goose stories, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, the works of Shakespeare, and the music of the fifties and sixties each contribute to that same, shared context. It’s all part of the world we live in, and we don’t live in it better by hiding from it or pretending it doesn’t exist.
Bottom line: whether we individually believe in one god, or many, or none, being open and accepting of all those beliefs is part of who we are as Unitarian Universalists.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Due to an editing error, Jaume de Marcos’s “Looking Back” article about Michael Servetus (September/October, page 64) inaccurately summarized the views of Prof. Ángel Alcalá. The sentence should have read: “The distinguished contemporary Servetus scholar Ángel Alcalá has said that the two greatest legacies of Servetus are the right to freedom of conscience and radicalism as a method.”
De Marcos explains: “Servetus’s radicalism is, in Dr. Alcalá’s
words, ‘a disposition to methodically investigate in an individual
way, with no fear about the consequences, the bases and presuppositions
of any opinion, belief and teaching that is shown to us as true.’
This legacy from Servetus, the radical search for truth regardless of
personal comfort, even to the extreme of losing one’s life, is a
key element that links Servetus to historical Unitarianism. It is reflected
in the Principles and Purposes of the UUA as the ‘free and responsible
search for truth and meaning’ and is at the very basis of true liberalism.”
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