Friday, June 26, 2009

UUA GA Quickie #2: More about Evil

There is a lot to be said for Bill Sinkford's emphasis on the language of reverence in Unitarian Universalism today. After all, we cannot be a faith that intends to shape the world if we trap ourselves with academic formalities and euphemisms. The life we lead is profoundly affected by religion, by the divine, and if we cannot address the holy as holy, then we have failed in understanding life. And so far at GA I have seen a positive move towards the language of reverence, towards and acknowledgement of that which is divine as divine, and towards the truly meaningful parts of human life as religiously powerful. This is a positive step.

What concerns me, however, is the ease with which we adopt the language of denunciation and evil. To me, the strongest part of our UU heritage, and the most gut-reactionary part of my being, is the abscence of sin as a meaningful concept in human life. This has a lot to do with my personal character - as someone rather political, it does me only harm to assume evil on behalf of my opposition. But I have said my piece here about evil and politics, and this is more than that.

The concept of evil, of sin, of profound wrongness equal to the peaks of reverence all strike me as oppositional to the Unitarian understanding of inherent worth and dignity. More importantly than that, they to me stand in stark contrast to our Universalist heritage. The core tenent of universalism is that God loves all of us too much to ever see us without redemption. And I think the usage of evil in UU discourse removes the possibility of change and redemption for any who finds themselves as oppositional beings.

Not that I am willing to elmininate the usage of evil from our discourse entirely: the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda, the US slave trade, the conquest of the Americas, and myriad other actions stand out in my mind as evil. But those are actions not individuals, and while we can deplore them now, denouncing the dead is in no way helpful. For evil to be a useful concept, we have to be able to examine the why of evil; the who is almost meaningless. With a who, we can assign blame. With a why, we can understand how evil happens and has happened in the past, and we can act on that information.


It is also important to notice how powerfully alienating "good and evil" are for our humanist and athiest co-religionists. We should be exceptionally careful with the use of "evil" for that reason alone.

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