“How Lucky We Are!”
Over the last few years many people have begun to wonder why so many of our fellow citizens fall prey to misinformation, believing all manner of conspiracy theories, strange tales divorced from reality, and outright lies. There are many answers as to why folks are ready to believe these things, including: longstanding distrust of institutions and government, much of it very reasonable; the lack of civility in our public discourse; and the nefarious corrosion of social media hysteria. But one reason that lies and misinformation remain a common part of our social fabric is that many institutions prop up the worst of these lies.
Beliefs have consequences, and beliefs need institutions to perpetuate, legitimize and promote their beliefs. Many of the worst things believed by growing numbers of Americans – QAnon, white supremacy, stolen election nonsense, Jan 6 insurrection whitewashing, etc. – these are promoted by institutions like news organizations, once legitimate political parties, and even religious denominations. This cautionary tale reminds us of a few things.
First – it takes organized, sustained effort to dispel myths, promote truth, defend the innocent and demand justice. Defending the truth doesn’t happen in isolation, but only with collective effort, often working through institutions that are transparent, accountable and receptive to critique and new revelations. UUCM is such an institution. Second – congregations, like UUCM, gathered around common principles, dedicated to truth, covenanted to walk together to build Beloved Community are perhaps the best institutions to fight against myth, error, destructive mythologies, and more. Third – we must remember that this work is not a task but an orientation of being – it is a generational endeavor whose work is part of the joy and toil we always engage together for the benefit of all humankind, the planet and society.
Imagine the difficulty of convincing people that the ideas and assumptions they have built their worldviews upon are not only in error, but actually part of what ails our society? People spend so much time in echo chambers of nonsense and betrayal they find it almost impossible to believe anything other than what they have already concluded. This is as true about theology as it is of politics; it is why it is so tough to speak about religion in casual circles, because most folks have not thought through the consequences of the things they believe. Lately, the very values of liberty, tolerance, truth and kindness necessary for our Social Contract to operate and flourish are being eroded.
One Antidote: Attend, engage, promote, and publicly proclaim the value of institutions like the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair. Bad ideas have lots of support; life-affirming practices, ideas and theology desperately need our defense, our love, our collective public witness and our financial support.
What we do together is a matter of ultimate importance. The ideas we explore, compose and promote are those we know enhance our own lives; they also promote civic engagement, amplify love, and enable safer, more productive communities. Many of the organizations you support also do things we do, but here, we engage the Theological debate undergirding all of those values, and in so doing we spread a healthier vision of what it means to be religious in today’s world. Beliefs have consequences. Let us continue to be a house that treasures the exploration, articulation, revision and celebration of life-affirming ways of seeing humanity, society, the world and its creatures. Let us discover how we best serve that world, all while championing innovations of the spirit that enhance life, love and safety for all. We are blessed to walk these paths together.
In faith and reason,