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Empty water bottles

Unbottled

We've bottled everything from water to religion.
By Jeffrey A. Lockwood
Summer 2014

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One of the most profitable products on the market is bottled water, which allows consumers to be assured that a material essential to life is non-toxic and pathogen-free. Those who have the funds can now buy what all people should have—clean water. Bottling has become our society’s answer to nearly everything that threatens one’s body or spirit.

We’ve bottled communities for decades. These are most assuredly not “easy-open” containers. Indeed, the safety seal is the prime means whereby contaminants can be kept from infiltrating the oasis of socioeconomic uniformity. Gates and guards assure the purity of the neighborhoods enclosed by the thin walls.

Bottled education provides a carefully filtered curriculum with federal inspectors assuring that the product meets government standards. And if you’re worried that there might be some impurities, then expensive private schools will bottle-feed children using texts that are unpolluted by disturbing questions about privilege and power.

To assure that new parents won’t have to take any chances with contaminated offspring, we’ll soon be able to offer bottled children. Test-tube babies were nothing; once we work out the genetic filters to remove undesirable traits, we’ll be able to deliver a pure product to your door (make that a six-pack if you’d like to be sure of having some spare parts).

The media is busy bottling information, at least for those who are willing and able to pay for high-speed internet, cable television, or a similar drinking straw through which to imbibe distilled views of the world. We can now slurp up carefully sieved news, with all of the distasteful complexities removed—no foreign matter to threaten the safety of our presuppositions.

The most worrisome bottling enterprise is religion. Uncontaminated by doubt, with all ambiguities removed by a ministerial filter, many churches offer a safe and pure product. Free samples of literalism unadulterated by interpretation—or so the label claims—are provided. And tithing assures unlimited quantities of watered-down theology for those parched by a sense of doubt or responsibility.

For my part, I avoid the bottlers and their filtered products. I take my chances with the rest of my neighbors in our ungated Wyoming community. I drink tap water and listen to public radio. And I sent my kids (produced without genetic purification and fed without bottled formula) to public school mixed in with brown, poor, and disabled students and doing-their-best teachers.

I drink from the reservoir of spirituality, into which flow the floodwaters of the world’s religions, the creek of direct experience, the streams of prophets, the brook of earthly traditions, and the wellspring of reason.

I will allow the silt to settle out, scoop off the flotsam, and strain the debris through my teeth. What is left will not be sanitized, distilled, pure, or lifeless.

And that animated, uncouth, turbid broth will quench my thirst.


This article appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of UU World (page 56-57). Photograph (above): © Acik/iStockphoto.

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