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Letters, Summer 2008
Readers respond to the Spring 2008 issue.
Responses to war
I enjoyed reading Paul Rasor’s article “Prophetic Nonviolence” (Spring 2008). I suggest, however, that the article reflects the profound disconnect between the church, as a source of moral guidance and authority, and the public (including UU members), who desperately seek to reconcile the unhappily contradictory imperatives that guide our choices. Certainly Rasor implies the danger of this “bumper sticker” theology: War bad—peace good. Nonetheless, the interaction of factors affecting judgments of war and peace is so subtle and so complex that the most casual observer recognizes that the bumper sticker may be the best the church can do.
Espousing just war principles is no longer meaningful or relevant. Modern war-making involves a scale and barbarity unimaginable to fourth-century clerics. Killing has become exceedingly efficient and ruthless, with 90 percent of modern war casualties being civilians. We American Unitarian Universalists are wrong to continue to enable our nation’s war-makers by suggesting that we might be inclined to accept their ongoing use of killing and violence to achieve their goals.
St. Paul, Minnesota
I attended a lecture at the Air Force Academy as part of the annual National Character and Leadership Symposium (NCLS) and the speaker was Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.). In addition to our NCLS group, most of the Cadet Wing was in attendance. Wamp gave a great speech and, near the end, quoted John Stuart Mill: “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” Before Wamp got to the second sentence, 2,000 cadets completed the entire quote out loud. Wamp said, “I guess you know that one.” Even though I am not a supporter of our current war in Iraq, this event almost brought tears to my eyes.
I think the debate between pacifists and just war advocates is outdated and pretty useless. Often the debate comes too late to matter. Being opposed to a particular war is not the same as being for peace. The problem we face is not this or that particular war but war itself. We need to turn away from this centuries-old debate and reformulate the discussion to analyze why we have wars and how we can abolish war itself. The real question is, “How do we create peace?”
Kent D. Shifferd
Paul Rasor’s excellent article leaves out what several ethicists now are including in deliberations about the “just war” tradition: jus post bellum, the just conditions at the cessation of a war. Since legitimate wars are fought for the purpose of establishing a just and lasting peace, that consideration also is very important to our deliberations about just wars. We know, for example, with the benefit of hindsight that the peace at the end of World War I was not a just peace; otherwise, the next war would not have been fueled so quickly by the dissatisfaction on the part of the vanquished.
Palm Coast, Florida
Home grown UUs
In “Home Grown Unitarian Universalism” (Spring 2008), William J. Doherty presents some wonderful insights into raising Unitarian Universalist children, while strengthening the connections to Unitarian Universalism of the whole family. However, while most other denominations are trying to hold onto their younger members as they age, meeting their spiritual needs as well as helping them develop as leaders, Doherty seems to advocate the old, tired idea that it’s natural and OK for our youth and young adults to leave our midst—after all, they’ll come back when they have children of their own.
If youth and young adults leave, we’re missing a vital part of our family. And doesn’t their absence say something about how poorly their needs are being met? Why would anyone want to come back to an organization that doesn’t seem to want them in the first place?
Brooklyn, New York
Doherty refers to children attending religious education “soccer schedule permitting” and chalks this up to a culture of disengagement. I have no argument with what he claims is the result of sporadic attendance.
I wonder though if it might be more fruitful to examine the cause of sporadic attendance. Actions people take and choices they make are always their best attempts to get their needs met. If soccer really is some people’s reason for not attending religious education, rather than trivialize it, maybe it would be more helpful to find out why it meets their needs better than Sunday school does.
Christine Heberge Rafal
Reading the classics
Books should be read for enjoyment, and it makes me sad to think someone reads books not to learn, escape, or for simple pleasure (“Why I’m Sticking with Classics” by W. Frederick Wooden, Spring 2008). Instead they read for the enjoyment of feeling more intelligent than others. I for one will never limit myself to only one set of books. I enjoy my mix of Little Women, Angela’s Ashes, Harry Potter, X-Men, Al Franken, and anything else that happens to fall into my lap as long as it’s good.
Praying as UUs
My comments relate to your recent article “Praying as Unitarian Universalists” (Spring 2008). How can you separate prayer and God? One can bend and twist the meaning of “prayer” in any way you want, but it will always snap back into its historical position alongside God. Many, maybe even most UUs, have cast aside the idea of an interventionist God. Why then, should we hold fast to a word that supports an idea in which many of us no longer believe? If some congregations feel the need to have a period of silent reflection, why not simply call it that?
Harvey and Jackie Erikson
General Assembly ID
All of us are rightly indignant at the requirement for ID at GA (“Photo IDs Required for Attending GA,” Spring 2008; online coverage, 11.2.07). But I’m tired of only being indignant—I want to be effective. Rather than boycotting this event, wouldn’t it be more meaningful if our presence there helped secure the promised redrawing of the port boundaries so that in the future others wouldn’t have to present IDs? I can imagine the reaction of city leaders if we were to suggest we might contact other potential convention center customers, e.g. mainline Protestant denominations, and encourage them to avoid Fort Lauderdale until the port boundaries are redrawn. That would be an exercise of power instead of an exercise in indignation.
The Rev. Craig Roshaven
Fort Worth, Texas
As someone who underwent a gender transition, I have become very sensitive to situations where I have had to show a photo ID. There were times when the photo on my ID did not look much like the person I was becoming, and, even after getting an updated ID with a new name and a new photo, having to show my ID would out me to anyone who looked at the gender marker. I remember two times in particular when showing my ID caused an issue, once when driving into Canada and once at an airport. In both cases I was told to wait while being checked out.
While the world is becoming more knowledgeable about transgender issues, showing an ID can still be cause for concern for those of us who are transgender.
I am saddened and disappointed to learn that we plan to hold our 2008 General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, despite the imposition of security measures that may compromise the attendance and participation of those persons who do not possess a government-issued photo ID, especially those of the general public who may wish to attend the Service of the Living Tradition.
To proceed with GA 2008 in Fort Lauderdale under the conditions imposed by the federal government serves only to enable the creation of separate classes of people. By acquiescing to the restrictions, we fail to seize the opportunity for a remarkable teaching moment.
I love GA and look forward to it each year with great anticipation. However, I prefer to live my UU beliefs and principles and will boycott GA 2008 as a matter of conscience.
Brian G. Kahler
What is the big deal? Certainly anybody who flies must have a picture ID to get onto a plane.
Why don’t we try adjusting the negative attitudes in the direction of knowing that every time we are asked to show our ID, we are doing our own tiny bit for the country. By being willing to carry and to show our ID, we are complying with the precautions that are considered necessary for the security of the country.
Bel Air, Maryland
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