Noted without comment

It may not surprise you that the data show that people who regularly participate in faith communities are likely to live years longer than those who do no. People connected to communities of shared purpose are less lonely, more motivated, more hopeful, and more fulfilled. Even still, I don’t know anyone who ever joined a church because of advanced metrics.

— Rabbi Sharon Brous, The Amen Effect: Ancient Wisdom To Mend Our Broken Hearts and World (2024), p. 41.

Job alternatives for ministers

Usually I ignore whatever employment advice LinkedIn sends me in their periodic emails. They usually notify me of religion jobs for which I’m wholly unqualified: pastor at an evangelical Christian church, priest at a Roman Catholic church, etc. I guess their job-matching algorithm can’t figure out what a Unitarian Universalist is. But today, I saw that one of their emails offering me some good job advice….

Screen shot from a LinkeIn email; text of the email given below.
Screenshot: detail of LinkedIn email

“Hiring trends for Minister roles,” the email begins. “Personalized insights powered by industry and recruiting data from LinkedIn. 16% drop in the United States job market in the past week, but new jobs are still available. People with similar roles applied to these jobs: CDL Class A Driver, Scott Hesford Landscaping, Inc….”

Hmm. I know that the job market for ministers is declining. Given the ageism that exists in ministerial search committees, if I lost my current job I’d likely be hard-pressed to find another position. So yeah. Getting a Commercial Drivers License as a back-up plan might be a good idea.

Easter as a cultural holiday

Someone I know was worried when I said I hadn’t bought Carol an Easter gift. I immediately felt guilty. Is that what one is supposed to do these days?

It turns out this is in fact a growing cultural trend. Religion News Service asked recently: “Is Easter the new Christmas?” They reported that there are now elaborate Easter gifts for children, along with Easter egg hunts for adults: “…at a time when fewer people are identifying as Christian and church attendance has been slow to recover from the pandemic, celebrations of the most sacred day on the Christian calendar are becoming bigger and more detached from their religious roots. In their place, events like the Adult Eggstravaganza Egg Hunt… the Boozy Bunny Egg Hunt, hiding plastic eggs containing candy and little bottles of alcoholic beverages for residents over the age of 21… [and] kiddie pools full of summery gifts….”

Gag me, as the Valley Girls used to say, with a spoon.

I’ve come up with a name for this growing movement: Consumer Capitalism As a New Religious Movement, or CCANRM (pronounced “kanrum”). No, this is not the Secular Age — this is the age when CCARM takes over from Christianity as the biggest baddest religion — when CCARM takes over from Buddhism as the most effective proselytizing religion among the Cultured Despisers of Religion.


I did not get Carol an Easter gift. She was happy that I did not. We did not have a special meal. We just had our usual cook-it-when-you-feel-like-eating meals. We went to the Sunday service at First Parish, we spent an hour at social hour talking with people, we took a long walk in Whitney-Thayer Woods. It was a good way to spend a nice spring day.

Perceptions of religious affiliations

According to a recent Pew survey, Americans perceive Jews more favorably than any other religion: 35% have a very or somewhat favorable view of Jews, 58% have no opinion, and 6% have an unfavorable opinion. That’s a 28 point “balance of opinion” between favorable and unfavorable. Mainline Protestants ranked second, with a 20 point balance of opinion.

Evangelical Christians had a 2 point balance of opinion in favor. However, most religious persons have a positive perception of their own religious group. If you remove the opinions evangelical Christians had of themselves, then they wound up with a negative 14 point balance of opinion.

Finally, people apparently tend to have a higher opinion of religious groups where they know someone that belongs to that group. Thus, Muslims and atheists fared poorly on this survey, probably in large part because so few Americans know an actual Muslim, or a real live atheist. However, atheists tend to have negative views of other religious viewpoints.

Link to the survey on the Pew website

Link to Religion News Service summary of the survey results

Is it Theodore Parker, or not?

I was thinking about using the well-known Theodore Parker quote in this Sunday’s service, the one that reads:

“Be ours a religion which, like sunshine, goes everywhere; its temple, all space; its shrine, the good heart; its creed, all truth; its ritual, works of love; its profession of faith, divine living.”

It didn’t sound quite right somehow, so I thought I’d check up on it. Did Parker write it, or is it simply something attributed to him?

First I searched his collected works for the phrase “Be ours a religion like sunshine.” Nothing. Then I searched his collected works for “sunshine.” Finally I found what I was looking for in Rufus Leighton, editor, The World of Matter and the World of Man: Selected from Notes of Unpublished Sermons (Boston: Charles W. Slack, 1865). It’s the last sentence of a one-paragraph sermon note which bears the title “Man’s Spirit Reported in His Physical Condition”:

“A man’s soul presently reports itself in his body, and telegraphs in his flesh the result of his doings in spirit; so that the physical condition of the people is always a sign of their spiritual condition, whereof it is also a result. I mean the bodily health of men, the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the houses they live in, the average age they reach,— all these depend on the spiritual condition of the people, and are a witness to the state of their mind and conscience, their heart and their soul. True religion, like sunshine, goes everywhere; or a false form of religion, like night and darkness, penetrates into every crack and crevice of a man’s life.” (pp. 76-77)

Hmm. This actually has a quite different meaning than the well-known Parker quote. It’s about “true religion,” not about “our religion.” And it’s about how religion affects the physical body. And it’s really just notes towards a proposed sermon, so it’s not really an idea that has been fleshed out.

Now, where does the rest of that well-know Parker quote come from? It comes from the book Spiritualism, chapter four of which is titled “Of the Party That Are Neither Catholics Nor Protestants.” This chapter begins by saying, “This party has an Idea wider and deeper than that of the Catholic or Protestant, namely, that God still inspires men as much as ever; that he is immanent in spirit as in space. For the present purpose, and to avoid circumlocution, this doctrine may be called SPIRITUALISM.” It’s important to note that by “spiritualism,” Parker did not mean the spiritualism that involves seances, communicating with the dead, or the Spiritualist Church of America. I supposed he meant Transcendentalism, but a Spirit-filled version thereof; I suspect he means something like a religion that is moved by the Spirit directly intuited.

In any case, Parker then goes on to tell us how his version of “spiritualism” may be defined. He says things like: “It relies on the divine presence in the Nature of Man”; and “It calls God Father and Mother, not King; Jesus, not brother; Heaven home; Religion nature.”

Parker then locates his version of “spiritualism” within what we today might call a post-Christian religion. He says, “The ‘Christianity’ it rests in is not the point Man goes through in his progress, as the Rationalist, not the point God goes through in his development, as the Supernaturalist maintains; but Absolute Religions, the point where Man’s will and God’s will are one and the same.” Now cone a series of further definitions, such as: “Its Source is absolute, its Aim absolute, its Method absolute. It lays down no creed; asks no symbol; reverences exclusively no time or place, and therefore can use all time and every place.” After a few of these defining sentences, we finally reach:

“Its Temple is all space; its Shrine the good heart; its Creed all truth; its Ritual works of love and utility; its Profession of faith a manly life, works without, faith within, love of God and man.”

Somehow phrases from this longer chapter got picked up and passed around, and mushed together. So in 1888, we get:

“One man may commune with God through the bread and wine, emblems of the body that was broken and the blood that was shed, in the cause of truth, another may commune through the moss and the violet, the mountain, ocean, or the scripture of the suns which God has writ in the sky. Its temple is all space; its shrine the good heart; its creed all truth; its Ritual works of love and utility, its Profession of Faith, a divine life.” (Everyday Helps: A Calendar of Rich Thought, compiled and arranged by L. J. and Nellie V. Anderson [Chicago: New Era Publishing Co, 1890], entry for May 24)

And gradually, over time, as different editors picked this up and altered it — and stuck on the bit about “be ours a religion” — we wind up with the familiar quotation. But that familiar quotation is really two quotations combined. Both of those quotations are taken out of context. The wording of both quotations has been substantially altered.

In short, I would no longer call this a Theodore Parker quotation. It’s Theodore Parker filtered through New Thought, and with much of the Transcendentalism removed. Or to put it in terms of a food metaphor, it’s Theodore Parker with much of the nourishment removed, and extra sugar added to make it more palatable; empty calories, in other words.

Final verdict: if you’re going to use this quote (and honestly, after finding all this out I’m hesitant to use it ever again), the best attribution would probably be “arranged from Theodore Parker.” Or maybe “based on Theodore Parker.”


In the September, 1829, issue of The Congregational Magazine, a cranky correspondent complains about an innovation of which he does not approve:

To the Editors.— … Many of your friends were surprised and amused to read, in your number for June, of a minister being ‘installed’ over the Congregational Church in Belfast, and of an ‘installation prayer’ having been offered on the occasion. We are familiar with the terms as connected with the different orders of knighthood among the nobility, and some of the higher functionaries in the national hierarchy, but for introducing them to describe the ‘installation’ of an independent minister, there surely exists no authority, and I am desirous of preventing your valuable miscellany being appealed to as countenancing such an abuse of words…. Yours, &c., Verbum Sat.”

The Congregational Magazine was a publication aimed at Nonconformists in the Reformed tradition who used congregational polity. In terms of their polity (i.e., church governance), they would have been fairly close religious relatives to mid-nineteenth century British Unitarians.

This seems to imply that “installing” a minister was a new practice in the mid-nineteenth century, at least among U.K. nonconformist congregations. So when did Unitarians and Universalists in the United States start talking about “installing” ministers? A quickie online search turns up plenty of mid-nineteenth century installation sermons, but nothing earlier than that.

Songs and signs — Isaiah 13:15-16 and Genesis 19:6-8

Religion News Service reports:

“If you’re an exvangelical who has been scrolling through TikTok lately, you may have stumbled across a duo singing what sounds suspiciously like evangelical worship music. Until you hear the lyrics. ‘Anyone who is captured will be cut down and run through with a sword,’ they sing in harmony, guitar strums in sync. ‘Their little children will be dashed to death before their eyes.'” [They’re quoting Isaiah 13:15-16 from the Bible.]

I recommend watching the TikTok video. It’s quite well done. And it makes you think.

It reminds me of some Unitarian Universalist teens I knew twenty years ago, long before the days of TikTok. Their eyes had been caught by the fans at sports events who held up signs reading “John 3:16.” This Bible verse is the favorite of traditional Christians: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It is supposed to entice nonbelievers into becoming Christians.

In response, these Unitarian Universalist teens decided that they were going to make a sign that read “Genesis 19:6-8” and hold it up during a Red Sox game. That’s the Bible passage where a mob besieges Lot’s house, because he’s hiding some angels from God. The mob demands that Lot throw the angels out to them, so they can lynch them. But instead Lots offers to throw his virgin daughters out to the mob to be raped by them. He’d rather sacrifice his daughters than betray the angels.

The Bible is a complex book. It contains some good ethical writing, it has some profound mystical moments, but it also contains passages that are difficult to interpret, and it has icky bits as well. You can’t just pick out the dozen verses you especially enjoy, and ignore the difficult parts and the icky bits.


I thought I overheard someone say, “The Supreme Court backed coaches preying on the field.” Preying? You mean, preying on children and teens…?

It took me a moment to realize that the Supreme Court was not supporting child-molesting coaches, but was instead allowing coaches to offer supplication to their deity before and after sports games.

Sadly, given the ongoing sexual abuse crises in some conservative Christian denominations, my momentary confusion is somewhat understandable. Even I — and I should know better — subconsciously associate organized religion with unsavory unethical actions of male leaders.

“Whitened Buddhism” and the opiate of the masses

Carolyn Chen, a UC Berkeley sociologist who studies religion, spent the last few years studying religion in Silicon Valley. She’s especially interested in the way work has become a religion for the tech workers of Silicon Valley — and in the way tech companies use religion to keep their workers in line.

Not surprisingly, given the stark realities of Silicon Valley, Chen finds that White supremacy is alive and well in this toxic mix of work, religion, and corporate control. In her book Work Pray Code, Chen writes about how tech companies co-opt Buddhism in service of making workers compliant and more productive:

“Most White Westerners don’t realize that the Buddhism they know is a particular brand of Buddhism that has been repeatedly altered and adapted to appeal to them…. This brand of ‘nonreligious’ Buddhism, however, has racial implications. It associated Asian Buddhism’s ‘rituals, robes, and chanting’ with ‘the complications of religious tradition.’ It dismisses the religious reality of most Buddhists who are Asian and is therefore a form of White supremacy….”

For this last insight, Chen cites Race and Religion in American Buddhism: White Supremacy and Immigrant Adaptation by Joseph Cheah (Oxford Univ. Press, 2011); looks like I’ll have to add that book to my reading list. Chen then goes on to detail the ways in which Whitened Buddhism ignore the religious realities of Asians:

“For the vast majority of Buddhists who reside in Asia, Buddhism is a devotional faith that involves the veneration of deities and beliefs in the supernatural. For example, in Chinese, the phrase that describes practicing Buddhism, ‘bai Buddha,’ translates to ‘worship Buddha.’ Most lay Buddhists in Asia orient their devotional practices — offerings of incense and fruit, ritual chanting, praying, bowing, donating money to temples and monasteries — to the attainment of merit or a favorable rebirth….”

Of course, for Silicon Valley tech companies enamored of Buddhism, what Buddhism is really all about is things like meditation. And meditation is supposedly a value-neutral “technology,” not a religious practice. Whitened Buddhism focuses on things, like meditation, that can increase worker productivity and worker compliance. Whereas non-White Buddhism is deliberately ignored:

“Whitened Buddhism tends to protray the ‘religious’ Buddhism of Asians and Asian Americans as burdened by unnecessary accoutrements — ‘complications,’ ‘culture,’ ‘folklore,’ ethnicity,’ baggage’ — that distract from the essence of the Buddha’s teachings. For example, Mandy Stephens, whose company runs a meditation app for corporate clients, explains that they distill medication to ‘the fundamentals,’ ‘the part that isn’t religious or spiritual.’ Her company gets to ‘the fundamentals’ by getting rid of teachers who are ‘zany gurus’ [i.e., non-White] and replacing them with ‘strait-laced [White] trainers’ in [Western] business casual clothes. The chanting at the local Asian temple is ‘folklore,’ says former tech executive Pierre Beaumont, irrelevant to ‘what’s good for me in meditation.’ Mandy and Pierre dismiss the very elements of Buddhism that tens of millions of Asians hold most dear.” [my comments in brackets]

Because if you’re White, it’s apparently OK to co-opt whatever you want out of other religious traditions, and use it for whatever you feel like. And then you can say it’s not even really religion: “This Whitened Buddhism becomes a ‘universal philosophy’ and ‘science.’ It become ‘White’ — floating above context, invisible, and normal….” [Chen, excerpts from pp. 165-167]

I find the entire Silicone Vally Religion of Work to be repellent. But I find this especially repellent: co-opting a non-White religious tradition, perverting it from its original purpose to stop the endless cycle of rebirth, and instead using broken bits of it to control workers.

Indeed, as Chen notes elsewhere in her book, when tech companies offer things like meditation and mindfulness training to help tech workers deal with the overwhelming demands of Silicon Valley overwork, these companies are merely offering “therapeutic interventions, Band-Aids lovingly applied to deep and gaping wounds. Their programs might not be too distant from the ‘opiate of the masses’ that [Karl] Marx wrote about.” [Chen, p. 85]

Baseball and religion are both in decline

Religion News Service reports:

“Tom Johnson loves baseball. And he loves the [Christian] church. Both, said Johnson, a former Minnesota Twins pitcher turned pastor, are in trouble. They’ve lost touch with their past and with ordinary people. They’ve become too much of a show, their leaders too disconnected from their audience, he said. Both religion and baseball see the people in the pews and the fans in the seats as sources of revenue rather than valued partners or supporters. They’ve betrayed the people’s trust, he said, and trust is hard to regain.”

The article goes on to talk about how boring baseball has become “boring and joyless.” That’s one of the reasons I no longer follow baseball — it’s not longer a game, it’s all about algorithms and analytics. My reaction to the postponement of Opening Day — yawn.

As for organized religion, in addition to religious leaders becoming disconnected from the people in the pews, Johnson offers this pointed critique:

“‘The [Christian] church has shot itself in the foot by not adhering to the values that have attracted it to people down through the centuries — that is, caring about the poor and those who are on the margins,’ said Johnson….”

Johnson may be on to something here. Organized religion does sometimes feel as boring and joyless as baseball, with leaders who only see the people in the pews as sources of revenue. This is even true for non-Christian religions like Unitarian Universalism. All too often, I’ve heard UU leaders saying, “We need to grow our congregation in order to increase revenue.” All too often, I’ve seen UU congregations very concerned with their own bottom line, yet with little energy left over to help unhoused persons find food and shelter.

Maybe this is the real reason behind the rise of the Nones (those with no religious affiliation) — religion has become too much like baseball.