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Letters, Spring 2008
Readers respond to the Spring 2008 issue.
Thank you for excerpting Forrest Church’s new book (“America’s Founding Faiths,” Winter 2007). I would like to point out two weaknesses. First, he says the United States won the War of 1812, but even casual students of American history will know it was a tie. With the slowness with which news spread back then, word of Gen. Andrew Jackson’s victory in New Orleans (January 8, 1815) reached most Americans before they heard of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent (December 24, 1814) and by the time they learned that the result was a tie, it did little to diminish the feeling of triumph.
The second weakness is that at the end of the essay, Church calls Lincoln a “national theologian.” At this year’s National Book Festival, Douglas Wilson, author of Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words, said that Lincoln used the Bible the way he used Shake speare: It was a source of stories and images that the American people knew and that he could borrow to make his own points, but that he never engaged in doctrinal disputes.
In celebrating the separation of church and state, UUs have a one-sided view of the Jeffersonian heritage. If we embrace church-state separation, does that mean we deny that our modern civil rights movement and the nineteenth-century abolition movement had a religious basis as well as a secular one?
Both William Lloyd Garrison and Martin Luther King Jr. decried the idea that churches must remain neutral and silent in the face of secular evil. Although we invoke King’s “I Have a Dream” speech constantly, we ignore his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” addressed to the Birmingham religious establishment, which had considered him a modern day carpetbagger upsetting race relations.
While the First Amendment says Congress may not establish a church, it affirms the right of religion to advocate in the free exercise of religion.
Gerald R. Adler
I was shocked, disappointed, and outraged when, after reading UUA President William G. Sinkford’s column about the UUA’s national marketing campaign (“Our Calling,” Winter 2007). I turned to page 43 (“UU News”) to see what the ad campaign was about. “Is God Keeping You from Going to Church?” is what I saw there. The message I believe many will see in that question is this: “If you don’t like or are afraid of the idea of God, UUism is for you.” It doesn’t matter what the small print below that glaring message says; one thing it will likely accomplish is to attract those who are running away from some version of God.
In my view this is a negative message that detracts from the positive message of our UU values and principles. Moreover, it has the potential to insult the beliefs of many UUs for whom the idea of God is an important tenet of faith.
Hillsborough, North Carolina
Thank you for the profile of Karen Tse, a truly inspiring individual who has clearly found her calling (“Spirited Defender,” Winter 2007). It’s just a matter of time before the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to her. It’s pieces like these and that by Kate Braestrup (“One Thing I Am Sure Of”) that make me proud to call myself a Unitarian Universalist.
Mandatory sentencing came about in part because the public demanded that legislators do something to prevent judges from taking into consideration factors exogenous to the criminal act. For every one of Melissa Mummert’s “horror stories” (“Tragic Consequences of the War on Drugs,” Winter 2007), there are countervailing horror stories of defendants under identical circumstances getting widely disparate sentences from different judges, an inequity at odds with our Second Principle [“Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations”]. The proper solution is, instead, to seek pardons or commutations for deserving convicts and to question the moral and practical efficacy of the underlying drug laws themselves.
James Ishmael Ford’s reflection on attending the cremation of a child who had lived only four hours caught my eye (“On the Death of a Child,” Winter 2007). Eight years ago this fall, I lost my first child, who was only three weeks old when she succumbed to sepsis.
Ford’s conclusion that four hours is as good as 100 years and that a golden rod cut near the foot of a golden statue is just as gold as if cut anywhere else rang hollow. If any words have helped at all, they came from two books I read the year after my daughter died. The first was Rabbi Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People. The other came from The Art of Happiness, as told by the Dalai Lama to Howard C. Cutler. His Holiness says that Western society stigmatizes sorrow and sadness. I couldn’t agree more.
So please let me be sad. Let us be sad. If it were somehow wrong, unhealthy, or pathological to be sad when a loved one dies, we surely would not be made this way. To call this life an illusion is no better than the dour Christian belief that only Heaven is worth living and dying for. This life is worth loving and celebrating, and its loss is worth grieving and mourning.
Columbia, South Carolina
I experienced such a pleasurable “Oh-duh” moment when I read about the Rev. Debra Haffner’s dust-up with Bill O’Reilly about sexuality education for children (“UU News,” Winter 2007). When I was pregnant with my second child this year, it seemed perfectly natural to explain to my two-year-old that I had a baby growing in my uterus, a word that now makes regular appearances in her vocabulary.
I never considered the religious implications of what I was doing. But if the abstinence-only folks derive their position from religious values, of course my preference for giving my child accurate information about her body comes from my religious background! Having taken the “About Your Sexuality” course at least twice in my teens, I should have recognized what I was doing. Thanks for the salutary reminder.
“About Your Sexuality” is the UUA sexuality education program that has been replaced by “Our Whole Lives.” —The editors
John Nichols’s essay, “Feeling Like an Exile,” discusses one of the Psalms about the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people (“Reflections,” Winter 2007). He says of the Babylonians: “Babylon was an urbane civilization where the people worshiped many gods but none seriously.”
Who sets the standard for what “serious” piety is—twenty-six centuries after the fact? The acceptance of religious diversity by ancient polytheists, whether in Rome or in Babylon, has often been construed as a lack of piety by conservative Christian apologists. However, seeing this come from a UU is a bit dismaying. Given our non-creedal nature it seems rather hypocritical to presume that just because one extends the courtesy of letting other people practice their own religion means a lack of devotion to one’s own.
After many tribulations, Star Island is back in business (“UU News,” Winter 2007). UU World readers may wonder what happened to the conferences scheduled for those weeks that Star Island was closed.
The answer is that some of the conferences came to Ferry Beach, the UU camp and conference center in Saco, Maine. Just a week before our summer staff training week, the Rye, N.H., fire department told the staff at Star Island that they could not open until work was done on their facility to bring it up to code. Star Island’s executive director asked Ferry Beach executive director Craig Lentz if we could take in two of their conferences. After some discussion about logistics, we said “yes.”
For more than 100 years Ferry Beach and Star Island have had a friendly rivalry. But, when the chips were down for Star Island, we were there with a helping hand. We fulfilled our UU mission to provide an experience that embodies the spiritual, mental, and physical revitalization that a week at Ferry Beach can provide.
The Rev. Fayre C. Stephenson
Ferry Beach Park Association
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A timeline accompanying Forrest Church’s article “America’s Founding Faiths” (Winter 2007, page 30) gave the wrong year for Thomas Jefferson’s reelection. He was reelected in 1804.