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Letters, Spring 2007
Readers respond to the Winter 2006 issue.
SCHULZ ON TORTURE
With all due respect to William F. Schulz’s experience as head of Amnesty International USA for the last twelve years, I disagree with his consignment of the UU principle of the “inherent worth and dignity” of all people from an active, affirming principle to a “myth” (“What Torture Has Taught Me,” Winter 2006). With worth and dignity comes responsibility. While we can never love nor condone the actions the worst of us have done to each other, the people involved are human beings. To diminish one is to diminish all.
Ithaca, New York
William F. Schulz struggles with the UU Principle of the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Schulz focuses on the torturer as he grapples with the obvious question: Does a person who tortures other human beings have any kind of “inherent worth and dignity”?
I believe that the difficulty that many UUs have with this principle lies in a misunderstanding of its in-tended meaning. Humanist Manifesto III clearly states, “We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity.” It does not say that all people have inherent worth and dignity. Clearly they do not. As Schulz points out, people have “to be assigned worth . . . and taught to behave with dignity.” This is our responsibility.
James Carroll Simms
Glen Allen, Virginia
Schulz attests that “the horrible truth is that the vast majority of torturers are average Joes and, on rare occasions, Janes. Turning Joe into what most of us would regard as a monster is remarkably easy. You put him in a restricted environment, such as a police or military training camp, under the command of a vaunted authority figure. You subject him to intense stress.”
Unfortunately, it has been proven to be far less complicated to turn average people into torturers. Stanley Milgram, in his landmark experiments during the 1960s, found that simply by subjecting a normal person to an authority figure demanding that the person administer painful treatments to other subjects, that person complied.
The balance of power is a very delicate one as we have seen here in our own country during these past few years. Normal, average people give quite a bit of deference to figures in authority. We all need to be ever watchful of this balance being tipped in the wrong direction.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
NEW ORLEANS REPORT
I read with considerable interest and some dismay “Partners in the Gulf” by Michelle Bates Deakin in the Winter 2006 issue. Interest, because I spent five weeks last spring living in a FEMA trailer and working as a volunteer liaison for Habitat for Humanity in St. Bernard Parish. Dismay, because once again the situation has been portrayed in a distorted manner.
The implication in the article is that not enough effort has been made to help the disadvantaged. This is certainly true, although I would attribute much of this to the size of the task. It is also true that for the people of St. Bernard Parish, nearly everyone lost everything. New Cadillacs and old pickup trucks were equally damaged along with homes of every size, shape, and quality.
The fact is that people from all economic levels were the victims of the largest natural disaster in the history of this country. Focusing on which human or agency is to blame takes much needed energy away from the recovery effort.
John F. Dye
GROWING WITH DAVIES
Warren Ross’s article on growth in the D.C. area is inspirational to all of us who want our Unitarian Universalist movement to grow (“Growing with Davies,” Winter 2006). It contains, however, one incorrect fact of history. It states that the Silver Spring, Maryland, congregation, founded in 1952, is “the last specifically Universalist extension effort before the Unitarian and Universalist denominations merged in 1961.” The Universalist Church of Sixteen Acres in Springfield, Massachusetts, was founded in 1954 and led successively by Keith Munson and Bill DeWolfe as minister. The Sixteen Acres church eventually merged, well after the consolidation that created the UUA, into what is now the Unitarian Universalist Society of Springfield, Massachusetts.
Lawrence R. Ladd
I enjoyed “Growing with Davies” about the expansion of UU congregations in the greater Washington, D.C., area in the 1950s. My parents were founding members of Cedar Lane Church in Bethesda, Mary-land. I remember well their great admiration for A. Powell Davies’ strong voice against McCarthyism at a time when few others’ were heard. Today as we see the lines between church and state blurring, I feel that the UU message is as relevant and important as it was then.
STICK YOUR NECK OUT
I very much appreciate John Graham’s Forum essay “Stick Your Neck Out for a Meaningful Life” (Winter 2006). As the author of the article “Microcredit Revolution” (March/April 2005), I also appreciate the mention of Muhammed Yunus as an exemplar of the practice. I must note, however, that describing Yunus as a banker who “founded the Grameen Bank and created a global model for creating economic self-sufficiency among the poor” misses the point. While Yunus is now known as “banker to the poor,” when he stuck his neck out in 1974 and used his own money to pay off small debts for a group of craftspeople, he was an economics professor at Chittagong University. He was inspired to take this radical action after he and a group of students visited the nearby village of Jobra and discovered that craftspeople were paying such high rates of interest to moneylenders that they could not make enough from their work to support their families.
What began as an academic action-research project became Grameen Bank, nine years later. I think this is an even more powerful story than one in which a banker founds a bank, albeit with a new concept.
Rev. Dr. Dorothy May Emerson
MY INKED DAUGHTER
Many thanks for publishing my “Poem for an Inked Daughter” in your Fall issue. To my great joy, I have heard from dozens of people about this poem, including several of my former students scattered about the country I did not know were UUs. Many parents of teens have contacted me; one teacher who assigned the poem sent me her students’ responses; an 87-year-old UU presented it for discussion in a class she is taking.
I am gratified that this poem, about holding fast to our rebellious teens, seems to have touched so many people of various ages and stages in life. Perhaps it’s important for me to add that I wrote this poem a handful of years ago when my “inked daughter” was indeed a challenge; today she is a lovely young woman in graduate school with whom I am, thankfully, very close.
Fort Collins, Colorado
I have just finished reading “Adoption’s Complications” by Jane Greer (Bookshelf, Winter 2006).
As a parent of four children, one of whom came to us through the journey of adoption, I agree with Greer that with all of the changes in the adoption process, it is wonderful to see the increase in information available on the subject.
Families are built in myriad ways and there are similarities for all of us, biological parents and adoptive parents. It is always difficult for me to read or hear of adults who are wanting to find just the right child for themselves, though I realize that we all have dreams of who that may be.
Of course the reality is that whether you are able or choose to give birth, or whether you adopt a child, it is always a leap of faith. There are no guarantees in this life that our children will grow up healthy, happy, mentally stable, or developmentally normal.
Lyme, New Hampshire
REASON AND REVERENCE
I welcomed William Murry’s “Rea-son and Reverence” (Reflections, Winter 2006) for its expansion of the term “humanism” to encompass the experience of spirituality. Such redefinition of traditional language helps establish common ground between UU theists and nontheists.
However, I was troubled by the inconsistency of cautioning us against “hubris” and, at the same time prescribing for us the only “viable” religion for the twenty-first century, a religion whose characteristics are defined as “musts.” Prominent among these “musts” is the rejection of supernaturalism. Murry states, “This rejection of supernaturalism distinguishes liberal religion from other forms of Western religion.”
Placing such limits on what constitutes acceptable UU theology in the twenty-first century seems to me to verge on endorsing a creedal test for UU membership. I trust the denomination is not moving in this direction and that, true to the value we place on religious pluralism, we will always make room in our churches for theistic and nontheistic supernaturalism as well as for both types of naturalism.
St. Cloud, Minnesota
As a humanist, I have been hurt by the charge that we are insufficiently reverent, so William R. Murry has my sympathy as he tries to explain the reverence of humanists in “Reason and Reverence.” However, I find myself disagreeing with his attempt.
Humanistic religious naturalism is no doubt an accurate label, but un-necessary since it does not express anything other than that which the term humanism already means. Humanism has always been “informed by cultural developments and recent discoveries in the natural and human sciences and grounded in the larger context of religious naturalism.” My humanism offers me “depth, meaning, and purpose without sacrificing intellectual honesty or the spiritual dimension.” The central concept that distinguishes humanism from other religions is that we accept that our religion is made by humans. So, why does it need adjectives? Should Christians be renaming their faith “compassionate, tolerant Christianity” to distinguish themselves from the inquisition and complicity with Ralph Reed? These are challenging times for humanists, but the central challenge we face is not what to call ourselves, but how to live.
My first reaction to reading “‘Welcoming Congregations’ Exceed 50%” (News, Fall 2006) was a feeling of great pride. (Welcoming Congregations are certified as deliberately inclusive of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.) But then I started to wonder why almost 50 percent of our congregations are not welcoming. The Welcoming Congregation program began 18 years ago. What are those other 510 congregations waiting for?
I also wonder about the complacency that might set in after being designated a Welcoming Congregation. For many years my congregation offered classes at least once a year, but it has been many years since our last one. In that time, we have had a significant change in our membership. Though we still claim to be a Welcoming Congregation, and I believe we are, a significant number of our members have not gone through the training and education.
Jan Alicia Nettler
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