We had our annual singing of “God Rest Ye Unitarians” yesterday, best known for its refrain of “O, tidings of reason and fact, reason and fact….” Several people asked for copies of this parody Christmas carol. Here it is, with music based on an 1846 SATB arrangement by Rimbault (click on the image below for a full-size score):
6 thoughts on “God Rest Ye Unitarians”
This post went up on Facebook, and a friend asked why I was making fun of another religion’s festival. My response:
Well, actually, Christmas is one of *our* religious festivals, too. I’m doing or getting ready for so much Christmas stuff at my current church (Xmas concert by our choir and Xmas caroling yesterday, Xmas pageant this Sunday, candlelight service on Xmas eve, etc., etc.) that it’s coming out my ears.
It’s also worth noting that Christopher Raible wrote this parody back in the 1960s when Unitarian Universalists were still very much a part of mainline Protestantism. And this parody is very much a product of its times, when mainline Protestants were heavily into “death of God” theology, when Protestant theologian Harvey Cox wrote “The Secular City,” when quite a few Protestants like theologians Gordon Kaufman and Bernard Loomer were drifting into religious naturalism, etc.
Since then, Protestant Christianity has moved back towards a kind of neo-orthodoxy, while Unitarian Universalists have moved further into post-Christianity. But even as post-Christians, it’s crucially important that it’s Christianity that we’re “post-“. Anyway, great question, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to hold forth on a subject dear to my heart!
Dan, I was the Facebook friend, as you know, and now that you’ve got comments turned back on, and I’ve a bit of time, I’d like to follow up a bit more.
My question was not why you asked why you were making fun of another religion’s festival, but others’ religious festivals. I wasn’t claiming that Universalist didn’t or wouldn’t or shouldn’t celebrate Christmas.
I’ve always found you a person with great respect for people who believed or worshipped differently from you, and so it surprised me to see this show up on your website. It helps to know that this is a product of the 60’s, I guess, and so I imagine your first contact with it was you might have been more, well, self-righteously correct. So perhaps it is just self-mockery when you sing it? Claiming that Christmas is “just a pagan feast” is certainly a silly, mocking statement. The whole song suggests a classic inside/outside attitude — smart people like *us* making fun of stoopid people like *them*. But it’s just a silly song, in the end.
More substantively, it’s worth noting that there are Christians who are trying to be post-christendom without becoming post-Christians. You might enjoy The Naked Anabaptist or The Myth of a Christian Nation, if you haven’t come across them already (I suspect you might know the later if not the former).
I think the lyrics satirize those who take the literal trees too seriously and hence miss the story and meaning in the forest.
Hey, Will — I always thought of this parody as making fun of Unitarians who take things too seriously — things like the higher criticism of the Bible, and Ancient Near Eastern cultures — so seriously that they forget the transcendent values of the Christmas holiday. In that sense, “God Rest Ye Unitarians” is an extension of Emerson’s critique of “corpse-cold” Unitarianism — a religion that places way too much emphasis on the head, at the expense of the heart.
Which I think is what sheliaclicks is saying in her comment above.
Ah, that makes perfect sense. Punch up, not down (as they say). Much more like you.