This morning, I listened to a Unitarian Universalist (UU) minister deliver a message that, depending on one’s perspective, might be considered either uplifting or lodged between belief and infuriating bewilderment. There was nothing wrong with the message, nor the mode of delivery; the woman delivering the message was not the issue. The issue (if there is one) rests with the interpretation I find myself able to make. I’ll readily admit I do not find the ceremony attached to UU worship services particularly appealing; in fact, I am uncomfortable with it. The ceremonies seem to me attempts to legitimize an aberrant diversion from Christian and Jewish roots by borrowing the rituals of the abandoned parents. That’s probably too strong. But I am less than enthusiastic about the “worship” services in the UU environment. While I can appreciate others’ embrace of the ritual, I find myself…not repelled by it, but very uncomfortable with it.
Notwithstanding the aforementioned disenchantment with the service, I found certain aspects of the message, especially the message that all of “us” are and should be seeking to embrace even those with whom we disagree, appealing. To a point. One of the fundamental precepts of UU is a belief in the inherent dignity of every human being. I take issue with “every.” For example, I think Donald Trump and many of the people with whom he has surrounded himself are beneath contempt; in my view, they have no dignity and deserve nothing but acidic scorn. While I wish I could see the value buried beneath that monstrous shell, I cannot because I do not believe it is there. I’d rather acknowledge my judgment of those people than assert, falsely, that I see dignity and decency in even the most monstrous among us.
Yet, the wish for decency and the encouragement to seek the dignity in others is a powerful and moving message. So, I waffle. I waffle between being turned off by the “church” tone of the worship services and being appreciative of efforts to seek goodness and decency through ritual.
When confronted with incredible acts of compassion and decency, I am moved to tears. When I see people risk themselves and their comfort and lifestyles in service to others less fortunate, I can barely contain my emotions. Yet when I witness the more base aspects of humanity that prey on others and seem to experience no compassion for their victims nor guilt for their behaviors, I can barely contain my rage. Perhaps I can put it in perspective by writing about this pair of hypothetical situations. First, consider a dog that’s been mistreated and abused its entire life and is cornered in an alley by child who teases it. If the dog lunges at the child and bites it, I feel pity for the child and for the dog; both will deserve my compassion. But consider another situation: a rabid dog responds to taunts by a man—trying to lure the dog into a van to take the animal to participate in a dogfight—by ripping the man’s throat open before being shot by animal control officers. I feel no compassion for the dog, nor the man with a potentially deadly throat wound. Does that make me a bad person? I don’t know. Maybe.
Does any of this explain what I’m thinking about UU? No. But I didn’t promise it would, did I?