Jack,

“Responsible” is one of the words in the UU Fourth Principle. “Free and responsible” is not the same as “free.” Eklof’s distribution of his book was not responsible. Frankly, I have said much more inflammatory things at GA. But I didn’t announce myself as a gadfly and I didn’t claim my truths were “inconvenient.” It’s about the packaging.

As you know, I was not at General Assembly. Here is how events unfolded from my perspective:

I got calls and emails on Sunday morning from several people I know and trust to sign the letter. People who I trust to be fair-minded and compassionate.

I checked Amazon, read the cover, and clicked “look inside.” Frankly, I didn’t need to see any more at that moment (though I have now read the book). If you put beans and onions in a recipe, the outcome contains beans and onions. If you put alt-right and neoliberal ingredients in a book, chances are the product will taste of alt.right and neo-liberal.

We’ve both been watching American culture spiral into ugly and extreme left/right camps. The cover of the book is enough to signal its alt-right and neo-liberal message: “safetyism,” “identitarianism,” “political correctness.”

Then look at the title of that section of the book, a gesture toward a book I had read, a very dumb neo-liberal attack of the old guard against the young and the center-right against the far-left.

Also, why call a book “inconvenient”? Clearly, the author thought he was saying something that he actually couldn’t accomplish saying by repeating tired neo-liberal tropes. There isn’t anything “inconvenient” about calling Millennials “snowflakes.” It’s merely dumb and mean.

The third heading mentions a “rational frame,” clearly casting the subject of that section as “irrational.” There wasn’t any argument here, only polemics of a very tired variety.

Also, calling Unitarian Universalism “America’s most liberal religion” seems merely odd to me. “Liberal” means too many things to have any meaning as it’s used in that sentence. Since the preceding words were neo-liberal dog-whistles, I assumed the word must mean “religiously liberal,” not politically. UUism is many things. But “most liberal” religiously speaking isn’t one of them. That would be Quakerism.

The introduction to the book, available on “look inside,” indicates that the subjects are going to be “insider baseball” in Unitarian Universalism viewed through a particular lens. A lens that many people — especially younger people of color — find offensive.

Not necessarily wrong, mind you, merely offensive. It’s all in how you package it.

The phone calls and emails I received indicated that this book was causing a ruckus, and the UU Humanist booth was one focal point of the ruckus, as was Humanism itself.

That’s one reason I signed the letter. To isolate Humanism as best I could from the kerfuffle as quickly as possible.

I quickly add that I don’t know anything about the “intent” of the letter I signed. I didn’t ask and frankly I’m not interested enough to pursue the question. My intent was to do anything I could to distance Humanism from the cliches and stereotypes we are often attacked with in that “most liberal” of religions. That, and stop the harm caused to young people of color.

Now for process, because that’s where everybody involved really messed up. I should mention that I have served as a process observer in covenantal discussions at GA between the Right Relations Team and aggrieved and aggrieving people. It’s a pain-staking, boring, but fair way of talking through GA incidents.

There’s no requirement for GA participants to agree to a Right Relations Team meeting. But most do. And ministers really, really should, as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t know if you’ve seen Dr. Anne Schneider’s book on this topic. The book is now available on Amazon. Unlike the Eklof book, the Schneider book is reasoned and measured.

On page 87 and following in the book, it is clear that Rev. Eklof understood the situation — which is utterly unlike the rumors of what happened. He was free to distribute his book at his booth. And he needed to meet with the Right Relations Team. He was never barred from the building. He threw a bomb and let others deal with the damage.

As to the UUMA letter, I have no idea why it says what it does.

I should mention that as a writer and have long belonged to the organization PEN America. That organization opposes all forms of censorship, including the recent spate of university conflicts. I am in agreement with that organization, and in solidarity with writers, intellectuals, and artists of any stripe.

Tone-deaf and/or mean should always be perfectly legal. We all have the right to say whatever we like, but none of us has the right to be listened to. Those of us who are at times listened to have a responsibility to facts and open conversation. Most of us don’t honor that responsibility, but we do have it.

“Logic” and “reason” in the current discussion are straw men. Note that the Jones/Okun “Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture” does not use the word “reason” at all. “Logic” is used twice, not as a form of reasoning, but as the antithesis of “emotion.”

Surely most people know that the logic/emotion and mind/body dichotomies have been decisively shown to be false. Nowadays, it’s best to refer to these as System I and System II, after Daniel Kahnaman.

Also, Humanism as a concept is much older and more far-flung than Europe and its former colonies such as the United States. Humanism — unlike Christianity — can’t be dismissed as colonial or painted as merely an outgrowth of the Enlightenment or Reformation.

The concept of reason does have its blindspots, many being the result of all of reason’s emotionality. Take a look at Object Oriented Ontology if you’re interested in what’s really a problem with reason and logic.

As I mentioned, I don’t know the intent of the letter that I signed. My intent was to stop a meaningless kerfuffle that was damaging both young people and the tennis position of Humanism within UUism. The book is not evil or wrong. But the process that everyone involved chose to pursue was clearly wrong.

How do we do better in future? Frankly, I’m not sure anyone has learned much. Which is the biggest tragedy.

BTW, when he stops playing linguistic and culture-war games, Eklof makes a very good point about the failure of Universalism and Unitarianism to coalesce since the merger in 1961. This point is actually important, unlike whether or not “young people these days” are too sensitive or if the current anti-racism/anti-oppression initiative is the correct way to proceed.

Notice how we don’t discuss what is actually important in the book.

David

Written by

Poet, Senior Minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a Humanist congregation. Amazon author's page amazon.com/author/davidbreeden

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