Monday, July 24, 2006

Speech by Executive Director of Amnesty International

I commend to you Bill Schultz's marvelous Berry Street Essay from General Assembly this year. I just read it for the first time. I was at the zoo when he delivered it in St. Louis.
Because I knew that what he had to say would make me sick, make me angry, make me woozy and nauseous with over-identification, and would too sorely tempt me to stand up and scream, "TELL IT, Bill!"

Having just finished it, and indeed feeling woozy, nauseated and totally vindicated by Schultz's condemnation of the Theology Lite being perpetuated by so many UUs today, let me recommend it to you. But let me also warn you: if you don't like what I've been saying about UUs and sin, you're not going to like this, either:


Blogger Caroline Divine said...

Outstanding. Thanks for this.

But I am surprised --and perhaps appalled, I'm not sure, it's too late in the day for me to figure that one out-- that he seems not to believe in the inherent worth of every human person. Perhaps I misinterpret? Is inherent worth different from fundamental dignity? 'cause the fundamental dignity of the human person is a non-negotiable. No?

I will re-read this sometime, more slowly, to make sure I've gotten the nuances.

But on the notion of sin and evil (and resurrection, yeah!) oh yes. And glad Bill has quoted our beloved Dr. Adams. (I haven't been a UU in decades, and all the time I knew JLA, I wasn't a UU any more, but he was a friend, mentor, and teacher, and I am glad to see his wisdom quoted.)

Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

Caroline Div.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

hey, the pleasure is all mine. Scott Wells sent me the link and reminded me that I had yet to read it. Thanks, Scoots.

Blogger Doug Muder said...

I'm not sure what "Theology Lite" means or who is supposed to be preaching it.

The main lesson I pull out of Schultz's sermon is that morality is fundamentally a community process, and that an individualistic morality is ungrounded in some essential way.

I think UUism has inherited a problem from monotheism: the two-story Universe, in which there is the individual and God and nothing in between. We need to re-introduce "spirits of the community" to represent the communal processes of discernment. (Walter Wink starts in this direction with his discussion of angels in "The Powers that Be".)

Blogger Jaume said...

Doug, if there is a problem with "nothing in between", it is a Protestant problem. Other, older, varieties of Christianity have plenty of intermediate beings, and even Islam has djinns and angels.

Blogger Jaume said...

I find interesting that Schultz deals with the same issue that was central to my paper at the ICUU Theological Symposium early this month: the implications of the word "inherent" in the P&Ps. I think that the word "inherent" is our direct theological connection to the Radical Reformation, in opposition to Calvin's view. I do not think that dignity may be assigned: that is what Greeks did with their slaves, quoting Schultz's initial argument. However it is obvious that people can diminish, ignore or insult their own inherent worth and dignity by committing atrocities in Auschwitz, the Gulag, or Guantanamo alike (or now in Lebanon).

Blogger boyinthebands said...

From the Credit where credit's due department:

I got the link at

Blogger boyinthebands said...

I think that when Unitarian Universalists speak of community there is a memory of what used to be called human brotherhood -- a term that's not been uniformly replaced and leaves us groping around for a replacement. (While I like some old terms, I'll leave brotherhood for men's organizations and history books. Perhaps we could use sisterhood. I've grown up hearing "sisterhood is powerful.") So community has to do double-duty with the local church. And localism tends to win, especially in times of threat and social crisis.

Blogger ms. kitty said...

It seems to me that "inherent worth" means we are born with worthiness. But it also seems clear that our inherent worth can be perverted, by circumstance, by cruel treatment, by our own decisions to hurt others deliberately.

Blogger powderblue said...

I’ve heard some Unitarian Universalists discuss the benefits of changing our first principle to “The inherent worth and dignity of every being.”

One cited reason is that most everyone believes their cats and dogs have worth and dignity, but virtually no one believes that’s because some human bestowed these qualities upon them. They have it inherently. That’s why our love for them is unconditional (well, most of the time).

The implications of that need to be considered for the beings trapped in the cages and machinery of our industrial agriculture system. Humans are different than other types of beings – they’re different from one another, too. When it comes to being tortured, though, all of us scream.

Blogger Erin Elizabeth said...

I agree with the interpretations of "inherent" above, ie, as the opposite of original sin. Every one, every being, is born with inherent dignity, but it can be diminished to the point where someone becomes a torturer. It's at that point that the rest of us have to assign that person dignity in order to keep ourselves from diminishing our own. Just some thoughts from an armchair theologian over my morning tea.

Blogger Dunno said...

If this speech is directed at polly-anna-ish beliefs within the spirit of UUs about whether humans can produce horrible evil, and if such beliefs are widespread, then to that extent it is welcome.

But, more generally, it seems to me to repeat one of the same mistakes that PeaceBang (with all due respect) made earlier in the great Calvin debates. It is mistake to think that recognition of inherent human dignity is equivalent to the recognition of basic human goodness. The first is a claim about what presons deserve--and is fully compatible with believing in original sin--the second is a claim about the moral character of persons.

An upholder of inherent dignity believes that even bad and depraved people deserve certain sorts of treatment, for example equality before the law, a fair trial, freedome from torture, and perhaps much more (depending on the moral philosophy). The dignity view entered our moral lexicon in the 18th century with the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant, who held--roughly--that our capacity for rational autonomy was the basis for our dignity. He also, btw, maintained a version of origianl sin. The Kantian view of diginity and autonomy is a basis for claiming that there are universal human rights--a view that Schultz just ignores.

Most surprising and disappointing in the Schultz piece is his rejection of inherent dignity given that he has lead a major human rights organization that upholds integrity of HR documents such as the UN Declaration (and others) which *explicitly* found the notion of human rights on inherent dignity! There seems to be deep confusion here, in my humble opinion.

Blogger Caroline Divine said...

"dunno," that was my point (in the surprised and appalled part of my post). In my religious community (Episcopal Church), we have this as part of our baptismal vows: "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?" And in the Catholic Church, where I sojourned for quite some time, the dignity of the human person is basic, basic, and I'm not talking about the abortion issue here, I'm talking about the poor, the imprisoned, and what the Hebrew Bible calls "the widow and the orphan" -- those whom contemporary capitalist consumer society, and violent societies everywhere, ignore, demean, disown, and disrespect.

Torture is wrong because it violates the basic dignity of every person. Doesn't matter whether that person has a Harvard degree or is a ditch-digger, is two years old or eighty.

I agree that the issue of whether those who torture others have forfeited a chunk of their humanity is a real one. Is torture evil? Yes. And I agree that the speech seems to be directed at what you ("dunno") call polyannish beliefs. Rightly so. To believe that with a little education we can fix evil is unrealistic. (And I say this as an educator who works her tail off to make a difference in how students will choose to live their lives -- also as a professional minister who as such is also an educator.) This is what used to make me nuts, back in my UU days, when they had a brochure (which mercifully does not exist any more as far as I know, and note, I am not trashing all the lovely UUs on this blog who let this happy Anglican barge in and chat) in which the UUA proudly advertised that as a denomination it had more people with master's degrees than any other, or some such. The implication being that this was a reason to join up. To which my answer was, since when did graduate degrees make people compassionate and just? The Nazi doctors were highly educated. I'm still not going to resign from being a professor, or from preparation for ordination as a priest, but one can be uneducated and deeply humane.

Okay, rant button *off* -- I need to go read about church trouble in the 4th century ;-).

Blogger SC Universalist said...

I always thought that mentioning "the inherent worth and dignity of every person" was another way of saying "do unto others as you want them to do to you". Treat people good, not because they deserve it, but because we should just do it. "as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto Me"
And do UUs as a group really have trouble with thinking folks who do bad are just misunderstood? Gee, just get them talking about their unfavorite politicians then!
Talk about finger pointing at sinners! Yow!


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