Fourth and final lecture for a class on UU humanism
For me, it is a basic axiom that religion is lived out in human communities. In the culture wars of the past half century, our society has somehow gotten the mistaken notion that religion can be boiled down to irrational beliefs; that is to say, religion has become equated with a certain narrow subset of ontotheology. From my point of view, however, religious practice comes first, and the explanations come along later to try to explain why we’re doing what we’re doing. Praxis antedates theoria; liturgy and practice trump ontotheology. That being said, I think it is worth examining some religious humanist practices in order to better understand the religious side of humanism.
Let’s start with the stereotype of a religious humanist community. According to the stereotype, religious humanism is a religion of the head, not the heart and body. Therefore, religious humanist communities spend their time in endless debate about intellectual matters. Because intellect is highly valued, and because intellect is somehow equated with the possession of college and graduate degrees, status in this stereotypical community is determined in part by an individual’s level of academic attainment: post-docs rank far higher than bachelor’s degrees, and if you only have a high school diploma you’ll be expected to keep your mouth shut. Furthermore, the sciences outrank the humanities by at least two degrees, so that a bachelor’s degree in science trumps a doctoral degree in English literature. This stereotypical religious humanist community vigorously roots out anything that looks, sounds, or smells like more traditional Western religions, so there are no sermons (though there may be lectures and talks), no candles nor much in the way of visual interest, no hymns or psalms (though songs might be allowed), and no reading from scriptures.
Now obviously I have drawn a caricature of religious humanism here. Continue reading
The committee on ministry here at First Unitarian has been slowly working on a covenant, mission statement, and goals for our church. Recently, one member of the committee on ministry and I searched the Web for church mission statements. I must have read more than a hundred mission statements of Unitarian Universalist churches. They are not good. They are bad:– unrealistic, verbose, full of insider jargon, boring, uninspiring, —
Instead of just being nasty and snarky, maybe I should say what I think makes for a good church mission statement. My criteria for good mission church mission statements come from two main sources, Peter Drucker and John Carver. I’ll give an overview of Drucker and Carver first, next give you my own six criteria for good church mission statements, and end by giving the only two good mission statements for Unitarian Universalist churches that I was able to find. Continue reading
The Economist online has an excellent appreciation of Peter Drucker, the management theorist who died on November 11. The article’s assessment of Drucker’s legacy makes it worth reading if you have the slightest interest in this field. After a thoughtful, balanced examination of Drucker’s achievements in business management, the unsigned article says:
Moreover, Mr Drucker continued to produce new ideas up until his 90s. His work on the management of voluntary organisationsâ€”particularly religious organisationsâ€”remained at the cutting edge.
Cutting edge, and very useful — his work continues to guide what I do in congregational life. I only hope that Drucker’s work in management of voluntary organizations is now taken up by a new generation of talented thinkers.
What’s the role of dissent within a non-profit organization? Here’s Peter Drucker’s answer, from his book Managing the Non-Profit Organization: Principles and Practices (Drucker includes churches as non-profit organizations):
…Important decisions are risky. They should be controversial. Acclamation means that nobody has done the homework.
Because it is essential in an effective discussion to understand what it is really about, there has to be dissent and disagreement. If you make a decision by acclamation, it is almost bound to be made on the apparent symptoms rather than on the real issue. You need dissent; but you have to make it productive.
About seventy years ago, an American political scientist, Mary Parker Follet, said that when you have dissent in an organization, you should never ask who is right. You should not even ask what is right. You must assume that each faction gives the right answer, but to a different question. Each sees a different reality.
Personally, I have found dissent to be a source of energy and inspiration in my work in UU congregations. Dissent may not be comfortable (especially when the people who dissent from me turn out to be right, as is often the case) — but a congregation without dissent would be dead.