Borrowing vs. appropriation

In an interview with Religion News Service, author Liz Bucar talks about the difference between religious (mis)appropriation, and religious borrowing:

“Religious borrowing has always existed. It’s certainly a big part of the way religion in America is experienced and consumed, especially if you think about the spiritual but not religious or the nones. Some forms of cross-tradition borrowing are positive. For me, borrowing is the bigger category and appropriation is the problematic form. And the reason it’s problematic, for me, is when the borrowing happens in conditions of injustice, oppression and power inequities. That’s what generates harm.”

In fact, we might say that syncretic religions (and most religions have at least some syncretic elements in them) depend on religious borrowing.

But it’s religious misappropriation that we have to be concerned with. And I believe Unitarian Universalists are particularly prone to religious misappropriation. Here’s Liz Bucar again:

“I think that progressive secularists, a community which the academy is full of and which I’d probably identify with, haven’t always been understanding of religious communities or thought of them as a source for what human flourishing can look like. They often think about religious communities as problems to be solved, or as people ruled by hierarchical institutions or arcane rules and doctrines. This position sets them up for maybe not being as respectful or deferential to religious claims as they could be.”

Honestly, this sounds like Unitarian Universalists. We look a lot like progressive secularists. Many of us treat religion as a problem to be solved, rather than a source of human flourishing. We set ourselves up to be less than respectful to other religions — even perhaps less than respectful to our own religion.

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