17 March 2008

Who Speaks for Me?

I got a letter from the Unitarian Universalist Church this morning. After assuring me that their church "celebrates the inherent worth and dignity of every person and seeks to build a peaceful, just and compassionate society," and that "We believe no one should have their beliefs defined for them," church president William G. Sinkford passed the hat.

"Our greatest challenge today," he wrote, is "to give public voice to progressive values and take a stand for social justice. Not to shy away from the debate about moral values, but to embrace the discussion and reframe it while there's still time to have a positive impact on the current political season."

It's an admirable sentiment. But do you find something wrong with the picture when, after this inspiring exhortation, I'm asked to give money to them so they can embrace and reframe the discussion. Here's the closing pitch:

Here's what I can promise you. For the next several months one side will be swinging their 'moral values' like a blunt weapon. Either we respond peacefully but insistently with moral values of our own, respecting the broad diversity of faith in this country, or we yield the debate to them.
We believe that, in a democracy, voting is an act of faith and an act of hope. And so is speaking up for what you believe!
I think the greatest calling for people of conscience in the year ahead is to advance our progressive morality and protect religious freedom...With the political campaign season in full swing, we urgently need your help to raise our voice and put liberal moral values into action to create a more moral society.

I got a similar letter last week from Barack Obama. The Senator goes on for a page with inspiring stories of people who stood up and said, "Yes, we can." Then he warns that "Now, we know change isn't going to be easy. It's not going to happen overnight. We're going to have to work for it and fight for it. But if you're willing to do that, then I urge you to consider a contribution of $50, $100, $250 or even more if you can to Obama for America."

Teddy Kennedy sent a letter along with Obama's. He says "we know dreams alone do not change a nation. Action does." As for Obama, action takes the form of a donation in one of the suggested denominations.

I know that the Supreme Court once ruled that campaign donations were a form of political speech, but this is ridiculous. I thought I was a citizen in a democratic republic, and that I had a personal responsibility to make my voice heard, or my words seen, for what I believe in. I learn instead that I can best exercise my rights, best take "action," by donating money so politicians can buy commercial time and religious lobbies can -- well, I'm not sure exactly what the Unitarian Universalists intend to do, but it probably involves buying advertising space or time. Economics of scale dictate all. Freedom of speech for millions of people is best concentrated into an Obama campaign ad. Believe it or not.

Call me stubborn or even antisocial, but as long as no candidate, no party, or no lobby represents fully my own interests and beliefs, I would only be alienating my own integrity by becoming a donor for any of these fundraising machines. I speak for myself, and I write for myself on this blog. I flatter myself that I'm doing my part to advance the debate by adding an idiosyncratic viewpoint that can't be reduced or labeled in the usual way. If more people did likewise, we might sooner realize how few of us are actually represented by the Democratic or Republican parties. The more we learn to speak for ourselves rather than give others money to speak for us, the sooner we might cure ourselves of the Bipolarchy that has plagued the nation for nearly 200 years.

Who speaks for me? I do, and to a more limited extent I speak for the Think 3 Institute, but I don't claim to speak for anyone else. To everyone else I say: speak for yourselves, or obey without question.


Robin Edgar said...

"We believe no one should have their beliefs defined for them."

That`s funny. . . So how is it then that the UUA and its very aptly named Ministerial fellowship Committee decided that it was "within the appropriate guidelinbes of ministerial leadership" for the "Humanist" U*U minister Rev. Ray Drennan to define my monotheistic religious beliefs as being nothing but "silliness and fantasy", my revelatory religious experience as "your psychotic experience", and my religious activities as "your cult"? I might add that U*U minister Rev. Ray Drennan also defined God as a "non-existent being" and belief in God as "primitive" in his Sunday sermons and even had the gall to suggest that most of the rituals of all of the world`s religions (except U*Uism of course) are "meaningless". I hope U*Us don`t mind if I quite justifiably define Rev. Ray Drennan`s beliefs, and the like-minded beliefs of similarly narrow-minded, intolerant and abusive "Humanist" U*Us, as fundamentalist atheist bigotry. . .

I speak for myself on The Emerson Avenger blog and on U*U Tube. ;-)

Samuel Wilson said...

Thanks for writing, Robin. I hope you'll excuse me for saying that this just comes with the territory of organized religion. It would seem that even the most liberal denominations have to define themselves by excluding someone else, if only to preserve the integrity of a brand name. If the Unitarian Universalists were to live up to their apparent pretensions, they would abandon any institutional identity whatsoever.

Robin Edgar said...

Thanks for responding to my comment Samuel. I can understand how denominations might have to exclude people who disagree with their beliefs or set of principles to preserve the integrity of their brand name as you put it but in my case I was excluded for demanding that U*Us live up to their purported principles and other claimed ideals. I certainly concur that "pretensions" is the operative word here. Lately I have been saying that the so-called "UU World" is the Potemkin Village of religions. Strangely enough, when I speak up for what I have very good reason to believe Unitarian*Universalists go to great lengths to try to silence me. . .