Thursday, December 6, 2012

Belonging, Part II: Who Acts for the Church?

Sunday used to be a special day. My partner and I looked forward to hearing the welcome greeting each week, “Whomever you love, you are welcome here.”  I’d beam at Diana, feeling all warm and fuzzy about our Unitarian Universalist congregation. If people don’t like us, it’s not because we’re lesbians, but because we’ve been jerks.  
“Whatever body you live in, you are welcome here.” We provide special meals for those who abstain from animal products or gluten. We have a hearing loop so all can hear the sermon and music. We have reserved parking and wheelchair ramps for those who roll in.  Our congregation is rightly proud of its accessibility and welcome policies.
Diana and I sat near the window safe from the scent of people’s grooming products and detergent residues. The dome shaped sanctuary, with its minimal air circulation, has always been a problem for me because I have multiple chemical sensitivity [].   If I breathe certain chemicals or dusts, I get a hacking cough, a condition I developed analyzing Superfund waste at the EPA.
About six months ago, attendance at Sunday services doubled thanks to our dynamic interim minister and the concerted efforts of the membership committee.  For me, it’s a mixed blessing.  Now there are so many people crowding the sanctuary that I can’t escape their scents by sitting near the window.  
Sometimes I retreated to the Social Hall to listen to the service through the sound system, but being isolated from the community made me feel like an orphan with my nose pressed to the window, watching the real families feast.
To address the air quality in the sanctuary, I earmarked 20% of my pledge for air quality improvement, asking someone from that committee to contact me.  I attended the Environmental Committee’s healthy building audit, which recommended increased air circulation in the sanctuary.  I showed the minister there was no setup for moving the air in the sanctuary other than the furnace vents and the cold air return.  I asked the cleaners to use a HEPA dust filter when they vacuum.  So far nothing has come of any of these efforts, although the ladies of the Caring Connection ask me how I feel.
Lord knows I tried to go through proper channels.  I met with the Building Committee chair, but he got transferred to the Ministerial Search Committee before he could take any action on the ideas we generated.  A representative from the Building Committee told me the furnace fan had been adjusted so it ran during services, but that’s all they could do.  (It didn’t help.)  I emailed the new Building Committee chair that a Heat Recovery Ventilator and a smooth floor to replace the thirty-year-old carpet would make the sanctuary environment pleasant and healthful for all, but there has yet been no reply.  
I was getting the run-around, as though I were a fussy old lady with princess and the pea issues.  By now, others, including the minister, are complaining of the rank air in the sanctuary along with sleepiness, sore throats, or headaches.  All in all, getting something done at the congregation, which has the inertia endemic to volunteer organizations, has turned out to be more frustrating than getting something through the bureaucracy at the EPA, where I had to remind myself of the four T’s: These Things Take Time.  
 I was tempted to slam the door on the congregation. Though if I did, I would lose friendships with people I’d known for years and would be cutting off my nose to spite my face.  To maintain my connections, I participate in activities that don’t require going into the sanctuary.  I prepare checks for the bookkeepers in the office, I lead a discussion on World Religions in the library, and sometimes I attend Coffee Hour in the Social Hall.
Diana misses worshiping with me.  I miss worshiping with her and the community that was my family for almost twenty years. I find spiritual sustenance through the Church of the Larger Fellowship whose services I watch on-line religiously every Monday morning.  I’m grateful for the virtual community, but it’s not the same as being at church.
“Whatever body you live in, you are welcome here,”  means all persons, including those with an invisible disability, deserve accessibility.  Wheelchair users aren’t expected to bring their own two-by-four's for ramps, nor should those with multiple chemical sensitivity have to provide their own respirators.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Belonging, Part I: Who Speaks for the Church?

I’d been attending Unitarian Universalist services for several months when our congregation hosted a District wide UU University.  Eager to learn more about my new faith, I signed up with Sonia, one of the congregation’s respected leaders.  Participants could order a catered lunch, but since I couldn’t afford the extra money for lunch on top of the tuition, I packed my food.  At lunch time, I carried my brown bag to the Social Hall where the catered lunch was being served.  I sat down at a table eager to get to know the other students.
I crinkled open my brown bag, but before I could take a bite of my sandwich, Sonia, the organizer of the event, swooped down on me with a clipboard and a frown.  “You can’t sit here,” she said.  “These tables are reserved for those who paid for their lunches.”
I slunk out of the Social Hall, my brown bag clutched to my chest.  Who did Sonia think she was anyway, keeping me out of her stupid lunch? Why didn’t I stand up for myself and refuse to leave? There were plenty of chairs.  Most important, did Sonia’s attitude represent just one person or the whole organization?
When I spoke to Sonia later, it turned out that she assumed those who didn’t buy lunch would go out to a restaurant.  Sonia, secure in her upper-middle class status, seemed unaware that not everyone would have money to spend on a prepared meal.
If Sonia represented the congregation, I was out of there.  I consulted the minister.  She assured me that Unitarian Universalism as a whole is aware of class issues and aspires to include all income levels.  
I decided to give the congregation another go.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

UU Guilt

There’s Catholic guilt;  there’s Jewish guilt.  Many of us became Unitarian Universalists to get away from religious guilt.  But after you’ve been UU awhile, you realize that Catholic and Jewish guilt have nothing on UU guilt.
  Catholic and Jewish guilt are merely about saving your immortal soul and maintaining charitable relations with your fellow humans.  UU guilt is more.  UU guilt is Green.  UU guilt is about saving the entire planet for all future generations.  Let’s trace the opportunities for guilt in a UU’s day.
Our prototype UU starts the day with coffee, orange juice, toast, and eggs.  Each of those menu items is fraught with guilt.
  The coffee.  It wasn’t local, but was it fair trade?  Our UU could have drunk a brew he concocted from roasted, locally raised grain.
Orange juice.  Also not local in most of the United States.  Our UU could have an orange tree in his greenhouse, but then there’s the fossil fuel to heat the greenhouse.
Toast.  Did our UU grow the wheat in her kitchen garden?  Did she take the time to harvest it, thresh it, mill it, bake it?  And then our UU has the temerity to use extra electricity to make toast.  Most electricity is generated from coal.  The process of extracting coal either buries miners alive or devastates environments.
Those eggs. Were they bought at a co-op or farmers' market?  Was the hen who laid the eggs veg-fed?  Did she have the freedom to roam with her fellow hens?  Was she content?  For that matter, couldn’t our UU raise chickens in the backyard and gather his own eggs?
And that’s just breakfast.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Why I've Turned Chartreuse, Part III: Gloom and Doom Are Unsustainable

“I have observed that not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage,” said John Stuart Mill [1828 speech on Perfectibility].    Pessimists continue to get credence, despite their track record.
The Times of London predicted in 1894 that every street in London would be piled nine feet high with horse manure in fifty years.  And they would have, had things gone on as they were.  However, things don’t go on as they always have. Just like we can’t forecast the weather more than about ten days out, we can’t predict human ingenuity. The automobile, although not invented for that purpose, kept manure off the streets.
Eminent historian Arnold Toynbee in 1950 predicted the imminent onset of World War III, but obscure meteorologist Lewis Fry Richardson did the math and said, “A long future may perhaps be coming without a third world war in it.”   [Steven Pinker The Better Angels of Our Nature pp 189-190].  Toynbee didn’t account for the fall of nationalism, the revulsion toward war, and a world increasingly interconnected by communication and trade.
Ken Olson the founder of the Digital Equipment Corporation said in 1977, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”  Who would when they weighed a ton, took up a whole room in the house, and cost a fortune?  Olson didn’t account for the human ingenuity that shrank computers and their cost.
The Greens are really good at pessimism.   Here’s one example from the Club of Rome from the rear cover of their massive bestseller Limits to Growth in 1972: “Will this be the world that your grandchildren will thank you for? A world where industrial production has sunk to zero. Where population has suffered a catastrophic decline. Where the air, sea and land are polluted beyond redemption. Where civilization is a distant memory. This is the world that the computer forecasts.” [Quoted by Matt Ridley at Angus Millar lecture 10/31/11 Edinburgh] To stave off the predicted disaster, the Club of Rome recommended strict controls on population and no more economic expansion.
Forty years later, grandchildren have been born to those who were young adults in 1972.  World population has doubled to seven billion, who still breathe the air and drink the water.  With World Gross Domestic Product almost twenty times the 1972 figure, industrial production and civilization have continued. Poverty and war are on the decline.  Women’s lot is improving. [Christian Science Monitor 12/26/11].  The world didn’t follow the Club of Rome’s advice, yet their dire predictions turned out dead wrong. I guess the computer made a mistake.
The only pessimistic prediction I’ll believe is this one:  Imagine Thor, a hoary Viking, saying in 1000 CE, “Yo, Greenlanders, listen up. This warm weather pattern won’t last, eventually supply ships from Norway won’t be able to get through the North Atlantic ice and the Greenland colony will collapse.” Thor would have been right. The Greenland colony did collapse –  not because humans couldn’t survive in Greenland but because the Greenlanders spurned the ingenuity of the native Inuit who knew how to cope in the Arctic. [ Jared Diamond Collapse]
The reason dire predictions don’t come true is because things don’t go on as they always have.  Something unforeseen happens. New ideas crop up as human beings exchange ideas in the process of specialization and trade.  These cross-fertilizing ideas form a collective brain.  That collective brain has kept our species flourishing for thousands of years. [Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist] May it continue to do so.

Why I've Turned Chartreuse, Part II: Go Local, Go Medieval

If we limit ourselves to local food, our diets are limited to what can grow locally.  No more coffee or bananas.  We’d adjust to drinking roasted barley brew and eating apples, but what if our local crops fail? And fail they will.  Although locavores argue that local food staying in the local economy ameliorates local food insecurity, when there isn’t any local food, interdependence adds food security.  Looking at the larger geographic area, more food miles are a good thing.
  We are likewise told to only buy local because local dollars stay local. We’re told to boycott WalMart, the store that brings low prices to poor people.  Support your local bookstore rather than that big bad  But someone living where there’s no local bookstore can buy any book from Amazon and local bookstores can’t stock the volume Amazon does.  Buying in a bigger market gives us more choices.  Moreover, the workers in a big box store are local who will spend their wages locally especially if there’s a local low price WalMart.
In the United States, very small businesses that do less than $500,000 worth of business and engage in no interstate commerce are exempt from labor laws, leaving their employees subject to exploitation. In contrast, employees at and WalMart must be paid federal minimum wage and overtime.
The eat and buy local movement implies that local people are more worthy than outsiders. “You’re not from around here, are you?” is hardly a hospitable greeting.  Keeping our food and purchases local sets up an invidious distinction between local (us) people and non-local (them) people. What about the inherent worth and dignity of every person?  I eat Corvallis food, but not that dreck from Eugene or Salem. Who knows where it’s been?
When groups of people compete, it’s win-lose, but when people trade it’s win-win.  Everyone can be a foodie when Oregonians trade their marionberries for California artichokes!
The world the locavores want to return to sounds like the 14th century medieval manorial system.  We imagine bucolic villages where everyone knew everyone else growing their own organic food. But what happened when local crops failed?  From The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley: “the price of wheat approximately trebled in 2006-8, just as it did in Europe in 1315-18.  At the earlier date, Europe was less densely populated, farming was organic, and food miles were short.”  Just what the locavores advocate.
Let’s examine the 14th century stats.  “Europe was less densely populated.” The population of Europe was approximately 70 million in 1300;  it’s increased ten fold – to about 700 million  today [2012].  “All farming was organic.” Crop lands had to lay fallow some of the time to replenish their nutrients and feed had to be grown for the draft animals, taking up crop land that couldn’t be used to feed people. Yields were small, 10% of what they are now.  The potato, which flourishes in Northern Europe and produces more than twice as many calories per acre than wheat, hadn’t been introduced from the New World yet.  “Food miles were short.”  They had to be.  There wasn’t the technology to ship food in the 14th century.  No trucks, freeways, railroads, steam engines, or airplanes.  During the famine, this meant food couldn’t be moved from the unaffected Southern European regions to the famine regions.  
A short digression: remember the story of Hansel and Gretel, the children who were left in the woods to fend for themselves when food got scarce?   That story originated during that Great Famine of 1315-18 when the adults would abandon children and the elderly.  By 2008, we’d forgotten the grim reality behind the story;  Hansel and Gretel are just fairy tale figures.
The frequent famines demonstrate there was no sustainability in the manorial system.  When times and weather were good, population grew exponentially, but available arable land grew arithmetically.  Until new sources of energy in the form of fossil fuels were discovered, Malthus was right.  Fossil fuels also help capture nitrogen for fertilizer from the air and thus preserve land to grow food for humans.
  After Europe recovered from the famines, the Black Death or plague decimated the  undernourished population.  One-third to one-half of the population died.  Other contributing factors were the overcrowding, lack of hygiene, and prevalence of rats. Neither the church nor the government could address the problem.  Superstition was rife.  People blamed the lepers and the Jews for the plague, so they killed them. The 14th century locavore’s world was a violent one.
In the 21st century the plague organism Yersinia pestis is still extant.  A dozen people a year are infected in the US, but we bathe, wash our clothes, keep rats out of our dwellings, and eat well, factors making an outbreak unlikely.  If there is one, we have antibiotics, laboratories, communication to stop a pandemic in its tracks.
Our sixth Unitarian Universalist principle counsels us to commit to the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. We likewise value the life of the mind.  The 14th century was an eat local/buy local world.  Was there culture?  Not when most people were illiterate.  Was there peace?  No, there was almost constant war among competing fiefdoms. Was there liberty?  Not for the 95% of the population who were serfs.  Serfs were one step up from a chattel slave – they couldn’t be sold individually, but they had to stay with the land.  Was there justice?  Not if you recall the grisly public torture-executions for offenses that aren’t even illegal today.
We Unitarian Universalists need to dig to the root of issues like the buy and eat local movement.  A movement whose end result is a return to the 14th century medieval manorial system is not just nostalgic, it’s reactionary.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why I've Turned Chartreuse: Part I. Let them eat organic cake

Yes, it’s true.   I’m no longer Green. I’ve turned chartreuse.  I’m going to explain my transformation in three sections:  I. Let them eat organic cake.  II. Go Local, Go Medieval.  III. Doom and gloom are what’s unsustainable.  

I.  Let them eat organic cake!
It all started with an article in the Spring 2007 UU World  called “Ethical Eating” by Amy Hassinger. The article advocating eating local organic veggies.  I pictured Mom, Dad, Dick, and Jane piling into their vehicle for a trip to a family farm to purchase their week’s veggies.  How idyllic. Then a nagging voice in my head said, how come veggies from California sometimes cost less than local Oregon veggies?  Wouldn’t the price reflect the shipping cost?
I did some math.  It’s cheaper in terms of pounds of food transported per gallon of gasoline when the food is moved in loaded semitrailers (despite their longer miles and fewer miles per gallon) compared to the family car because the family car carries food by the pound,   whereas the semitrailer carries food by the ton. []  Instead of believing we’re saving the planet by eating local, let’s think of local organic food as a luxury like hand-made custom shoes.
Since ethical eating involves paying more for comparable  food, Unitarian Universalists are saying that in order to be ethical you have to be rich.  How can Unitarian Universalism be a multiclass movement when it tells people that to be good Unitarian Universalists they have to spend more for their food?  Ethical eating is not only irrational but classist.
I see the shade of John Calvin, he of the elect and the damned, in the ethical eating movement.  Calvin, the man who condemned our Unitarian martyr Michael Servetus, believed in predestination, the belief that from all eternity most people were damned to hell and there was nothing anybody could do about it.  His views were diametrically opposite from the later  Universalists and from current Unitarian Universalist principles.
The above is more than arcane theological speculation.  In the real world, you could tell who were the elect because God favored the elect by making them rich. The elect started out morally good and became economically good.  Therefore the rich were the morally good.  Quite a change from Jesus’ idea that a rich man couldn’t get to Heaven any more than a camel could fit through the eye of a needle.  I can hear John Calvin cheering ethical eating from his 16th century grave.
Sure, fresh local food tastes better, and the family farm is a romantic ideal.  However, nostalgia’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  That bygone family farm involved isolating, back-breaking labor, much of it performed by unpaid children.  The article advocates growing your own food as the purest way to eat locally and ethically.  It’s fun to farm as leisure, but when your life and livelihood depend on a successful crop it’s not fun any more. Not everyone finds it a spiritual experience to hoe and weed in the hot sun.  And what about the fossil fuel farmers need to get to town every week?
Hassinger poo-poos the Green Revolution (crop breeding, chemical fertilizers and pesticides) that prevented famine in India and Pakistan in the early 70s.  She says, “The dramatic increase in crop yields has been credited with relieving famine in some regions of the world, most strikingly in developing countries like India and Pakistan.  The Green Revolution had a huge unintended consequence: an increasingly unsustainable agriculture system.”   Should the starving eat organic cake?
The organic movement smacks of ideology – suffering now for the sake of the glorious future.  From The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker p 328:  “Most of us agree that it is ethically permissible to divert a runaway trolley that threatens to kill five people onto a side track where it would kill only one.  But suppose it were a hundred million lives one could save by diverting the trolley, or a billion, or – projecting into the infinite future – infinitely many.  How many people would it be permissible to sacrifice to attain that infinite good?  A few million can seem like a pretty good bargain.”   By opposing the Green Revolution we’re not letting a few peasants starve now for the future health of the entire planet, are we?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Doctrine of Discovery, Part III: Who's indigenous, who's a colonizer?

A 2010 Arizona law, SB1070, criminalizes offenses against federal immigration rules and requires police to ask anyone they stop for papers proving their legal status. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio enforces the law in draconian ways. Ironically, Arpaio was himself born to Italian immigrants and wouldn’t have had his successful life if his parents hadn’t come to the United States. Sounds like Joe Arpaio was an anchor baby!  Churches and civil rights groups have been protesting SB1070 and its harsh enforcement.
After they were both arrested in 2010 for protesting SB1070, the Rev Colin Bossen, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland, interviewed his cellmate Tupac Enrique Acosta, an invited guest at the Unitarian Universalist 2012 General Assembly.   Acosta is a founding member of the UUA’s Arizona partner organization Tonatierra.  The Acosta quotes are from a blog by Bossen.
According to Acosta, “The purpose of SB1070 was to consolidate the perceptions of some white Americans around an America that is white in a continent that belongs to them.” Yes, the law is racist, since Latinos are more likely to be stopped.
Acosta further states, “SB1070 would not exist without the Doctrine [of Discovery].”  The Doctrine of Discovery was a series of papal bulls issued between 1452 and 1493 stating that when Christians discovered a land inhabited by non-Christians, the Christians had the right to kill or enslave the native inhabitants and seize their land. Not only does the Doctrine of Discovery take the fall in some eyes for the sorry state of today’s Indians, Acosta’s notion that it’s responsible for  SB1070 is specious, along with the remainder of his logic. The desire to restrict jobs and government benefits to those who are legal citizens is reason enough for such a law.  If the United States repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, would SB1070 be repealed?  I think not.
Acosta explains how the bill penalizes native indigenous people: “SB1070 is designed to enforce a border that divides not only the United States and Mexico, but the indigenous peoples who belong to the Uto-Aztecan language group.  They have been moving back and forth between what is now the US and Mexico long before either country existed.  SB1070 criminalizes their traditional freedom of movement.” However, modern nation-states have defined borders in contrast to nomadic hunter-gatherers.  Bills, unfortunately so far unsuccessful, have been introduced in Congress to make all enrolled Tohono O’odham tribal members United States citizens.
Doug Muder of the UUWorld quotes Acosta: “indigenous people are not immigrants.”    Can indigenous people ignore borders because they’re just migrating from one part of their territory to another?
“The struggle against SB1070 is the continuing indigenous struggle against colonialism.”   For Acosta, the Mexican and Central American migrants are also indigenous, although many Mexicans and Central Americans  are descendants of the Spanish conquistadores, hence aren’t truly indigenous. Moreover, citizens of the United States aren’t mounting a colonization campaign into Mexico, which has its own immigration restrictions. Finally, the Doctrine of Discovery assigned land to Spanish Christians who proselytized the Mexicans.  We now have two semi-Christian nations and according to the Doctrine of Discovery, you shouldn’t steal from other Christians.
“We didn’t come to legalize ourselves before the state of Arizona.  We came to legalize Arizona; colonization is illegal,” says Acosta. “If we’re going to legalize Arizona we have to decolonize Arizona.” Does decolonizing Arizona mean all non-indigenous (per Acosta’s definition?)  people have to leave?  I hear an echo of ethnic cleansing. Giving the country back to the Indians would cause more injustice than it would fix.  Similarly,  reparations to the slaves who were likewise victims of the Doctrine of Discovery is a nice idea in theory, but after five generations, impractical as well us unfair to carry it out.
It takes a lot of resources to pursue and punish migrants, even though they’re kept in tents and fed only twice a day.  Rather than squander resources on a futile goal to keep “them” out of  “our”  country, why not use those resources to help migrants become contributing, legal citizens?
Because Acosta connects SB1070 with the Doctrine of Discovery, Bossen lauds him as a theologian. On the contrary, Acosta comes across like a politician.
Acosta’s calling attention to the Doctrine of Discovery focuses attention on injustice committed in its name, and that’s good. But rather than concentrating on the Doctrine of Discovery itself, it makes more sense to think of the Doctrine of Discovery as one expression of a meme, an idea, concept, or cultural norm that’s passed along from person to person. The Doctrine of Discovery meme says powerful people have the right to take land and resources from weaker people.  The meme itself is what we need to repudiate, not the Doctrine of Discovery.
A second meme is buried in the Doctrine of Discovery.  The Doctrine of Discovery separated Christians [worthy people] from non-Christians [unworthy people].   Acosta reasserts this separation meme when he separates indigenous from colonizers.
We Unitarian Universalists affirm the inherent worth of every person and justice for all.  We are all one human race.  Todos somos una raza.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Doctrine of Discovery, Part II: The Ideology Issue

Did the Doctrine of Discovery cause or justify greed and exploitation of native peoples? It’s unlikely the Pope received a flash of spontaneous illumination telling him to initiate colonization. Given the timing, it appears the Europeans created the Doctrine of Discovery as a religious justification or a divine mandate for the colonization process.   The Vatican used religion to justify a political purpose, a misuse of religion.
Moving from the 15th to the 21st century, in our Unitarian Universalist world, does our religion inform or justify our politics?  Do we take Unitarian Universalist  principles and apply them to political issues?  On the other hand, are our minds made up and we cast a divine mandate onto our politics?
Philocrates, actually Chris Walton, editor of UU World, says, “The danger is not that Unitarian Universalists derive their political values from their religious commitments, but that they sometimes dress up their political values in religious clothing . . . It’s a way of claiming extra legitimacy for a political opinion by treating it as divinely or at least religiously mandated.”  Blog 12-26-02
For instance, we affirm the goal of world community.  Some may believe the best way to achieve world community is via free markets and globalization.   Others may feel open borders are the best way to go.  Still others may think the United Nations is the best way to achieve world community.
But what if people who had already decided the United Nations was a perfect organization joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation to make sure nobody questioned whether the UN was the best and only way?  Now we have an ideology: politics joined with religion.  “The . . . danger of a political ideology that pretends to be religiously motivated is that it demonizes its political opponents,” says Walton. Not a way to respect the inherent worth and dignity of others.
Another feature of ideology is that one must use any method to further one’s cause. The end justifies the means.  Ideologues use propaganda. They cherry pick facts to fit the case.  They use emotional appeals rather than reason.
Returning to the Doctrine of Discovery issue, the Unitarian Universalist Association apparently believes the Doctrine of Discovery caused oppression of indigenous people, therefore repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery will end it.  There is a video on the UUA website, supposedly a grandfather explaining to his grandchild the evils of the Doctrine. The video illustrates that repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery has become an ideology because the video is propaganda rather than a free and responsible search for truth.  One piece of evidence for the persistence of the Doctrine of Discovery the video cites is that the early settlers in the northeast named streets and towns Canaan. This proof rests on the dubious assumption the early settlers recognized a connection between the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites and the exploitation of the Indians.  However in the United States, there are 11 cities named Canaan (representing conquest), 25 named Salem (representing peace), and 49 named Greenville (representing prosperity).   Proving the United States is four times more interested in prosperity and twice as interested in peace as in conquest?  Or since the Canaanites invented the alphabet, the settlers were vested in universal literacy.
When we Unitarian Universalists remember the free and responsible search for truth and meaning, we won’t need to stoop to propaganda.  Facts speak for themselves.
“You need not think alike to love alike,” said early Unitarian Francis David.  We Unitarian Universalists love alike, that is, what unites us is working together for social justice. Social justice, Tikkun olam or repairing the world in the Jewish tradition, has two parts, helping the victims of injustice – charity – or modifying systems – political action.
Charity, acts of compassion, such as feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, visiting the sick,  the corporal acts of mercy are the proper province of churches.  We take care of those in our own congregations and extend our charity to the wider community.
The problem with acts of compassion is it’s one act at a time.  It’s a lot more efficient to tackle injustice from a political perspective.  Legislation like food stamps and rent control address the problem of hunger and housing for the many, not just one at a time.  Political change is infinitely more efficient because it fixes a whole system.
Hence, we Unitarian Universalists often enter the political arena. We work for immigration justice, water justice, environmental justice, food justice.  (Whatever we work for we call it justice.)  We rail against injustice but we don’t have clear goals or strategies to get there, which is bad politics.  Moreover,  politics divides people.  There’s more than one right way to accomplish a goal.  Politics attracts people who are angry at injustice, that is, it attracts angry people.  Also political work is like women’s work; it’s never done.  There’s always more injustice to fight against.
We have only a finite amount of energy to work for a better world.  Spending time and energy to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery is not a good use of it, because the Doctrine of Discovery never caused oppression in the first place.  An analogy:  Christine Robinson on the glass ceiling for women ministers. “That letter to Timothy which says that women can't preach, and how it trumps Jesus' evident attitude towards women seems to be the cause [of inequality among female ministers], but we all know that the cause is much deeper than that, and that Timothy is only an excuse.”  Iminister blog 8-26-08
I suggest we keep our political arm separate from religious life. We could take a lesson from the Quakers.  The Quakers worship in silence, but they have a separate political arm, the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
To honor those who work for a better world, I suggest a Heal the World ceremony.  Participants add stones to a hollow globe representing earth.  Each stone represents a good deed or progressive political action.  This ceremony respects different ways and avoids wrangling over the best way.  Tikkun olam.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Doctrine of Discovery, Part I: Repudiation No Panacea

Human history is rife with injustices: those on a small scale like the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti to those on a large scale like the Nazi Holocaust and the African slave trade.  One of the biggies has been the seizure of land occupied by indigenous peoples.
Around the middle of the 15th century, explorers found land outside Europe. The Doctrine of Discovery, a series of papal bulls promulgated from 1452 to 1493, stated that when Christians discovered a land occupied by non-Christians, the land belonged to the Christians who could kill or enslave the current inhabitants.  This presumptuous and cruel statement is still on the books in the United States. In 2009, the Episcopalians and the Quaker Indian Committee advocated repudiation of the doctrine, followed by the World Council of Churches and the Unitarian Universalists in 2012.
Did the promulgation of  Doctrine of Discovery initiate five hundred years of exploitation and brutality toward the native peoples of the Americas?  This seems to be the point of view of the Unitarian Universalist and other religions’ campaign to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.  It follows if the Doctrine of Discovery is repudiated, the exploitation of native peoples will cease and we can rest knowing we did a good deed.
Not so fast.  Given the timing, it appears the Europeans created the Doctrine of Discovery as a religious justification or a divine mandate, for the colonization process that had been going on since the beginning of history.  It’s not just white people conquering people of color.  More technologically advanced peoples have always driven out the more primitive. This hoary human tradition began when Homo sapiens exterminated Homo neanderthalensis.  During Biblical times, God congratulated the Israelites for their genocide of the Canaanites.  In the first millennium, the Bantus drove out the !Kung in Africa, the Han Chinese routed the indigenous peoples in China. [Jared Diamond Guns, Germs, and Steel]  Then Europeans continued this brutal tradition when explorers found lands occupied by less technologically advanced peoples.  Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery won’t change the human propensity to conquer weaker people’s territory.
  The world of the 21st century is very different from the one in which the Pope issued this doctrine. In 1452, Europe was a collection of about 5,000 principalities all warring with each other.  No one state was powerful enough to keep the peace.   Now the Great Powers of western Europe have learned to get along.  They haven’t fought each other since 1945, the lifetime of the first Baby Boomers.  Also, western Europe’s deaths by homicide are the lowest in the world.
The 15th century was a violent life for the indigenous inhabitants of the world as well as for Europeans.  In pre-state societies deaths by war and homicide are almost three orders of magnitude higher than in modern state societies. [Steven Pinker The Better Angels of Our Nature p 64] But five hundred years later former colonial lands are administered by modern states.  Now Europe’s former colonies such as New Guinea have laws, police, courts.  No more raiding, feuding, or waking up with a spear through your side.
As an Auyuna man, a hunter gatherer native of western New Guinea put it, “Life was better since the government came.” How could this man who was colonized say life became better?  Because it was safer.  The man continues, “A man could now eat without looking over his shoulder and could leave his house in the morning to urinate without being shot.” [Pinker p 56] Although the colonization process was often brutal, the upshot is a safer life for all.  
If states are to keep the peace among its citizens, they can’t allow competing jurisdictions within their borders.  For instance, the United States won’t allow Mormons to run Utah as a theocracy or Mississippi to become a slave state.  So why would the federal government allow a first nation to establish a competing jurisdiction within its borders?  The Doctrine of Discovery is still on the books, so to speak, because it’s cited in Indian vs. non-Indian land use cases in the United States in order to squash competing jurisdictions, not to enslave or kill Indians.  Currently the doctrine is interpreted to mean that any indigenous people living within the borders of a larger state merely have the right of occupancy as domestic dependent nations. Indian nations do not have the rights of other sovereign nations outside US borders.
Rather than use our limited time and energy fighting a symbol few have heard of, let’s further political and economic power for the Indians, the key to successfully integrating minorities into the mainstream. Focus on indigenous education, support federal grants and scholarships so that Indians can follow the path of other minorities.  In terms of political power, Indians got the right to vote in 1924 and have held national office.  Organizations like the Native American Network encourage voting.  In terms of economic power, one aspect of making money the Indians have been successful at is gambling. The federal government allows the Indians to flout state laws such as Oregon’s constitutional ban against casinos;  therefore the Indians have a monopoly.  Are casinos a form of Affirmative Action?
Especially as religious organizations, let’s avoid the je me souviens (I remember, the Quebecois motto remembering the glorious New France of the 1760s) syndrome. Remembering past injustices only foments anger and violence and does not move anybody forward.  We can’t fix past wrongs; the victims are long dead.
In conclusion, let’s not be injustice collectors, but justice seekers.  The Doctrine of Discovery is an arrogant anachronism;  may it die in the mothballs of history. And may the greed and exploitation that inspired it die as well.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Phlogiston for the Unitarian Universalists

Good morning!   Today we’re going to learn about phlogiston, a substance that never really was.  Got that?   All together now PHLO-GIS-TON!  I’m  going to show how the phlogiston story illustrates that knowledge and belief complement each other.  Then I’ll move to the religious implications of phlogiston or how to respect a belief you think is wrong.
Check out the Unitarian Universalist Principles and Sources in the front of your hymnal.  Our third Unitarian Universalist Principle asks us to accept one another. Our fifth Source counsels us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science.  What about accepting those who do not heed the guidance of reason and the results of science?  How can we reconcile the third Principle and the fifth Source?   How can we address with respect a fellow Unitarian Universalist who holds beliefs we consider against reason?
In the reading, Pinker [Steven Pinker The Better Angels of Our Nature p 181] says we can have confidence in beliefs backed up by data and logic.  Beliefs we have confidence in I will call knowledge.  For example, we have knowledge the earth goes around the sun rather than the sun going around the earth. We can be pretty sure of knowledge.  We trust the data.  We see the logic that developed the data into a paradigm.  Knowledge is universal, accessible to all humans.
I defined knowledge as beliefs backed up by reason and observation;  I’m defining beliefs as tenets that are held by individuals or a limited group.  Beliefs may have a scripture to back them up, but they don’t have corroborating data.  One such belief:  the moon is made of green cheese.   PSE
How can we discriminate between knowledge and belief?  In Unitarian Universalist culture, we are taught to listen to each others’ stories.   We’re likewise taught to respect each other’s beliefs and because experiences and feelings are all valid, we assume all beliefs deserve equal confidence.   Listen to what Isaac Asimov has to say on that subject.
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”   [Isaac Asimov, column in Newsweek (21 January 1980).]
Let’s investigate how we obtain knowledge we can have confidence in.  Scientific knowledge begins with beliefs or working hypotheses that seem to fit what’s been observed. In the 18th century there were two theories of combustion or burning.  The first working hypothesis was the phlogiston theory. Our Unitarian forebear Joseph Priestley, minister and chemist, was a staunch supporter of the phlogiston theory.
The phlogiston theory stated that all combustible substances contained a substance called phlogiston.  Then during burning, the phlogiston was released, leaving a dephlogisticated substance.  For instance, when magnesium burns it releases the phlogiston it contained and leaves a dephlogisticated substance.    Priestley, the chemist, discovered a gas that he named dephlogisticated air because that gas could suck up more phlogiston than ordinary air.
The Antiphlogiston theory, the oxygen theory, left out phlogiston.  It stated that during combustion a substance in the air, oxygen, combined with what was being burned to form a third substance. In the above example magnesium would combine with oxygen to form magnesium oxide. Another example, when the carbon in fossil fuels burns, it combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide.  Don’t both the phlogiston theory and the oxygen theory seem plausible?  Maybe the phlogiston theory even more so because it doesn’t postulate a third substance, the oxide.
Priestley, who was a better minister than chemist, was the last phlogiston holdout against the Antiphlogistians, the oxygen guys.  Priestley, the minister, believed that God and nature were the same.  Possibly he maintained his faith in phlogiston, the wrong theory, because his belief confused his science.  His belief  led him to focus only on the data rather than scientific hypotheses and theories.   Historian of science John McEvoy says that "Priestley's isolated and lonely opposition to the oxygen theory was a measure of his passionate concern for the principles of intellectual freedom."
Finally, chemists like the Roman Catholic Antoine Lavoisier started weighing compounds and gases in closed vessels before and after combustion. Something wasn’t right;  phlogiston had a negative mass.  Something that weighs less than nothing of course can’t exist. Thus ended the hundred-year reign of the phlogiston theory. The oxygen theory triumphed.  Priestly, however, is credited with the discovery of oxygen, the modern name for dephlogisticated air.
From a 21st century standpoint, some of us agree with Priestley’s philosophy but nobody believes in phlogiston anymore.  However, the phlogiston theory produced some scientific insights.  It permitted chemists to see apparently different phenomena as fundamentally similar: combustion, rusting of metals, and the respiration of living organisms. (All these phenomena involve combining a substance with oxygen.)  The idea that metabolism is not due to a mystic Life Force – it’s just chemistry – paved the way to modern pharmacy.  The belief in phlogiston was useful.  I’ll discuss more about usefulness of beliefs later.
  What makes it even harder to distinguish between beliefs and knowledge is that knowledge takes on a political or religious value.  Here are some examples:  first the one I alluded to earlier whether the earth goes around the sun.  When Galileo proposed this idea, the Church, which had to believe the earth was the center of the Universe, got so threatened they threatened Galileo with torture.
In science versus religion controversies, those who take the scientific position are not just factually wrong, they are heretics, morally wrong.  For instance, science supports evolution; whereas the Bible read literally supports creationism or Intelligent Design, the idea that a supernatural being created the Universe. You have to believe in Intelligent Design to be a morally good Fundamentalist.
Liberal left beliefs and science are likewise intertwined. How should the data be interpreted? Those who disagree with the politically correct view of a topic like global warming or the peacefulness of primitive peoples are considered morally challenged outcasts who deserve to be denounced.  Those who doubt climate change are vilified as Deniers.  Pinker says anthropologists who doubted the peaceable nature of primitive peoples “found themselves barred from the territories in which they had worked, denounced in manifestoes by their professional societies, slapped with libel lawsuits, and even accused of genocide.” [Pinker p 43].
Although beliefs are individual or are held by a limited group, the positive aspect of beliefs is they give our lives meaning.  For instance, the concept of East in the Four Directions comprises air, morning, spring, childhood, creativity, and new beginnings.  When Unitarian Universalist Pagans acknowledge the powers of the East,  new beginnings take root in their lives.  Another example, Fundamentalists feel that if God created the Universe and them and has a plan for them then their lives have meaning. If they evolved by means of natural causes, life has no meaning, and anarchy and violence will reign.
Religion eventually incorporates scientific knowledge into its belief systems.  After 400 years, the Catholic Church apologized for the Galileo affair.   Maybe someday the Fundamentalists will be able to accept evolution.
Beliefs have symbols that unite people around them, for instance the flaming chalice unites Unitarian Universalists. Rev Bill Gupton of the Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church in Cincinnati says, “I encourage you to find your own, unique, personal way of engaging this chalice we light each Sunday morning . . . there are many ways of looking at the flaming chalice as there are individual Unitarian Universalists. For some, the chalice is the light of reason amid the darkness of superstition. For others, it is a beacon of hope in times of distress. To some, it represents the warmth of the community we share in our congregational life, or a reminder that we are neither the first, nor the last, people to gather in this manner. For others, it symbolizes the freedom of belief institutionalized in our Unitarian Universalist churches.”
Sometimes scientific knowledge and symbols of belief intersect.  For instance, there’s a chemical, oxytocin, the hormone that makes us kind and gentle, you might call it the mercy hormone. Nursing mothers produce quantities of this hormone.  What about letting nursing mothers, suffused with oxytocin and thus kind and merciful, run world affairs?  Tsutomu Yamaguchi  . . . who survived both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, suggested, “The only people who should be allowed to govern countries with nuclear weapons are mothers, those who are still breast-feeding their babies.”   [Yamaguchi quoted in Pinker, p 684].  Note that in medieval and renaissance paintings, the Blessed Virgin Mary, a symbol of mercy, was often depicted as a nursing mother.
Instead of looking at beliefs and knowledge as opposites ends of a line, let’s look at them from a different direction, what is the usefulness of a  belief?  I quote from the Rev Tony Larsen of Olympia Brown UU church in Racine, WI:
“For example, if believing in God helps you be a better person - or at least doesn't make you a worse person - then fine, believe in it. We encourage your belief. If being an atheist helps you take more responsibility for creating a better world - or at least doesn't prevent you - then fine, don't believe in God. We encourage your atheism. The only beliefs we don't want you to have in this church are the ones that lead you to hurt people...I can't tell you what the bad beliefs are, because sometimes the same beliefs do different things for different people...For example, a lot of folks believe that there's a heaven and a hell after you die. For some people, that is positive, because they wouldn't be good otherwise. I would rather have you trying to be good because you realize that's a better way to live - rather than because you're afraid of punishment or hoping for reward. But if you're not going to be good without believing in heaven or hell, then it's a positive belief in your case.”
In conclusion, I look to science for beliefs I can have confidence in about the material world, but I treasure symbols that are meaningful to me, such as the rich metaphors in the Four Directions, the Blessed Virgin Mary from my Catholic background, and our beloved Unitarian Universalist chalice.
To answer the questions I posed at the beginning, the religious implications of phlogiston are:   Even if beliefs don’t deserve confidence or aren’t true in the scientific sense, they nevertheless deserve respect as long as the beliefs don’t lead the person to hurt others.   Remembering the function of beliefs lets us respect all beliefs.  Just like with the Phlogistonists, even if  beliefs aren’t true in the scientific sense,  beliefs may have usefulness for the believer.  In addition, maybe a belief is a meaningful symbol. Maybe a belief makes a better person.
May we heed the guidance of science and reason, accept one another, and encourage each other to spiritual growth.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Phlogiston, for theToastmasters

    This blog is from a speech given at Toastmasters on July 2, 2012.   It’s about a substance that never really was -- phlogiston!   What was it good for?  The phlogiston story illustrates how a wrong idea can lead to a useful concept. 
    Scientific knowledge begins with working hypotheses, tentative theories, that seem to fit what’s been observed.   Between 1650 and 1750 there were two theories of combustion or burning. The first working hypothesis was the phlogiston theory.  
    The phlogiston theory stated that all combustible substances contained an invisible,  odorless, weightless material called phlogiston.  During burning, the phlogiston was released. (Picture the phlogiston like a flame.) After combustion, a dephlogisticated substance remained. For instance, when magnesium burned it released the phlogiston it contained to the air and left a  dephlogisticated substance, magnesium’s true nature, called the calx.  Air could hold only so much phlogiston, which explained why a burning candle extinguished in a closed jar. 
    It was also noted that a mouse died if left in a closed jar. Rather than attribute the mouse’s death to the loss of its Life Force, the phlogistians understood that the role of air in respiration was to remove phlogiston from the body.  More importantly, the phlogistians realized that  apparently different phenomena, the process of combustion and the  respiration of living organisms, were fundamentally similar because both involved the release of phlogiston. 
    Joseph Priestley, minister and chemist, was a staunch supporter of the phlogiston theory. As a minister, Priestley helped to found Unitarianism in England.   As a chemist, Priestley discovered a gas that kept a candle burning or a mouse alive longer than ordinary air.  He named his new gas dephlogisticated air because it could suck up more phlogiston than ordinary air.
      The Antiphlogiston theory, the oxygen theory, was the inverse of the phlogiston theory.  Instead of phlogiston leaving a burning substance, the oxygen theory stated that a substance in the air, oxygen, combined with the burning substance to form a third substance. In the above example magnesium would combine with oxygen to form magnesium oxide, formerly seen as the calx. Another example, when the carbon in fossil fuels burns, it combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide. 
    Don’t both the phlogiston theory and the oxygen theory seem plausible?  Maybe the phlogiston theory even more so because it doesn’t postulate a third substance, the oxide.  
    The phlogiston theory had its problems from the get-go.  For instance, the calx left after magnesium burned weighed more than the original magnesium.  Priestley, who was a better minister than chemist, was the last phlogiston holdout against the Antiphlogistians.
     Then other chemists like Lomonosov and Lavoisier started weighing compounds and gases in closed vessels before and after combustion.  Something wasn’t right;  phlogiston had a negative mass.  Of course, something that weighs less than nothing can’t exist. Thus ended the hundred-year reign of the phlogiston theory. The Antiplogistians, the oxygen guys, triumphed.  Priestly, ironically, is credited with the discovery of oxygen, the modern name for dephlogisticated air. 
    In the 21st century, some of us follow Priestley’s religion, but nobody believes in phlogiston anymore.  However, the phlogiston theory, although wrong, produced the very important scientific insight I alluded to earlier:  that is, combustion and respiration in living organisms were the same process. We now see both as processes combining a substance with oxygen.  The idea that respiration in our bodies is not due to a mystic Life Force – it’s just chemistry – paved the way to modern medicine and pharmacy. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dunbar's Number and Optimum Congregation Size

    Even if the sermon was trite, the music banal, and my mind too restless to gain insights during the meditation, connecting with my church community (about 100 people on Sunday mornings)  always renewed me.   I loved going where I knew everyone, where I was known.  Where I knew the minister and the minister knew me. 
    Then we hired a new young minister who turned out to be a dynamite preacher.  Attendance doubled.  By the time I welcomed all the new people, there was no time at coffee hour to connect with my old friends.  My community had disappeared into the crowd. 
    There’s a scientific reason for why the tenor of my congregation changed.   Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary anthropologist from Oxford, says, “...there is a natural grouping of 150.   This is the number of people you can have a relationship with involving trust and obligation – there's some personal history, not just names and faces.”  That number, 150, has become known as Dunbar’s number.
    The Alban Institute, a consulting, research, publishing, and education firm that focuses on church life, confirms that once attendance surpasses Dunbar’s number, churches lose their family feeling and the governance undergoes a qualitative shift. 
     According to the Alban Institute, in a  Pastoral church congregation of  50-150, the congregation has a sense of family—everyone knows everyone else.   Each member can expect personal attention from the pastor. The majority [71%] of all churches in the United States are this size. 
    Once a church has more than Dunbar’s number of 150 adults and children attending it becomes a  Program church.  At that point, a qualitative shift occurs and a true organization comes into being.  Formal governing, formal communication, formal leadership roles and responsibilities, and explicit procedures become necessary.
     As our church expanded into Program size, running the place got more formal and complicated.  For instance, committees now had to submit their minutes to the Board which became simultaneously more remote and more powerful. Church work became more talk than action; I felt like Sisyphus rolling that stone uphill forever. 
    Everyone in the congregation seemed to assume that church growth was a good thing, but Texas minister James Nored says in blog: “...this growth [>150] will cause a loss of intimacy and knowing everyone who is in the church.” 
    If people in our church complained, “we’re getting too big,” the staff told them to join a small group, but strong personalities dominate small groups. Besides, joining a group means you have to go to church more than once a week –  for Sunday and for the group.  Not only that, since small groups are often segregated by age, gender etc, we lose our mixed, intergenerational community. 
    In a Program church, says the Alban Institute, the minister recruits and leads key lay leaders and staff.  This team creates separate programs for children, youth, couples, seniors, and other age and interest groups. The church becomes known for the excellence of its programs.
    As far as I was concerned, my church was trading community for potentially improved programming.  Programming, shmogramming!   As I see it, lectures and music are available elsewhere, but community is priceless. 
    Rather than let our congregations jump the shark and grow beyond Dunbar’s number, let’s do spin off churches.  In a church plant, twenty or thirty members agree to take their pledges and their energy to found a satellite congregation.  The satellite group can rent a room and use taped sermons from the home church until they get a minister. They have both their own community and the resources of the home congregation.  When the satellite church expands to Dunbar’s number, it can spin off again.
    Grow the movement, but keep community.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Better Angels Return in a Sermon

The Better Angels of Our Nature

    Good morning!  As befits a new year, my sermon this morning emphasizes optimism, not doom and gloom.  Even though as David Brooks says, [NYT 11/27/04] only pessimists are regarded as intellectually serious.  I want to share with you from a dog trainer and Unitarian Unversalist perspective a wonderful new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker, an evolutionary psychologist at Harvard.  This book combines the enjoyment of a sudoku puzzle and a Grisham thriller:  the fun of seeing patterns and finding out how the patterns work out.  Pinker summarizes his 700 page opus in one sentence:  "Violence has declined over long stretches of time, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species' existence." 
    When I tell people the thesis of the book, most say no, that can’t be and give me one example of modern violence such as turmoil in the Middle East or Africa.  However, one event, which could be an outlier, does not a trend make.  Besides, we remember recent events, then since they’re easy to remember, we believe these events are more probable.  Pinker looks at the long span of human history and counts acts of violence over time.   Think of Brother Gregor Mendel who counted his peas and founded modern genetics.  Instead of peas, Pinker counts acts of violence per capita of world population.  He then graphs them and as you flip through the book the trends all approach zero.
    Pinker corroborates Martin Luther King, Jr who used to say, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”  King was paraphrasing 19th century abolitionist and Unitarian minister Theodore Parker.  The original quote:  "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice." 
    Theodore Parker divined the bend toward justice by means of conscience; Pinker proves it with facts and stats.  I’m going to emphasize what Pinker calls the humanitarian and rights revolutions; most people find these changes easier to accept than the diminution of violence from war and homicide.  Here’s an example of how we can visualize the humanitarian revolution: let’s take a virtual journey to the Benton County courthouse.  We’ll see a clock tower, a grand staircase and a green lawn.  Is there a debtor’s prison in the basement? Will we see an adulteress stoned?  Will we see a witch or heretic being burned at the stake?  Will we see devices to publically hurt and kill people such as a whipping post or gallows?   Will we see a slave market? An emphatic No! to all of the above.  Rather we might see an art show or peaceful protestors.  Those are examples we can all observe of the humanitarian and rights revolutions.
    We’re going to travel through history following three bumper stickers Pinker cites: LOVE THY NEIGHBOR, SHIT HAPPENS,  ALL PERSONS ARE CREATED EQUAL. All of these bumper stickers represent great moral advances, even SHIT HAPPENS.  You will see why.
    First bumper sticker aphorism: LOVE THY NEIGHBOR.   At the Ware lecture during the 2011 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly Karen Armstrong spoke about the Golden Rule and compassion.  I quote from her lecture:   “Each one of the major faiths . . . has developed its own version of the Golden Rule, never to treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself.”
    Armstrong continues,  “My favorite Golden Rule story belongs to Hillel, the great Pharisee, who was an older contemporary of Jesus. A pagan came to Hillel one day and promised to convert to Judaism on condition that Hillel could recite the whole of Jewish teaching while he stood on one leg.  Hillel stood on one leg and said ‘that which is hateful to you do not to your fellow man. That is the Torah, and everything else is only commentary. Go and study it.’”   Our own second Unitarian Universalist principle affirms and promotes justice, equity and compassion in human relations. 
     But think of what society was like during Biblical times. As Pinker says, “The Bible is one long celebration of violence.”  Stoning was prescribed for offenses like adultery that are no longer criminal.  Beating children was a virtue.  Women were the spoils of war to be raped by the victors.   Human sacrifice was on its way out, but slavery and genocide were taken for granted. How remarkable is it that the Golden Rule came out of the society depicted in the Bible!
    So what has changed in 2,000 years to bring about a society where we see all as fellow beings, where we are safe from cruel and unusual punishments, and we all have rights?
    First, what Pinker calls the Pacification Process took place.  As you all know, I’m a dog owner and as a dog owner, there’s nothing in it for me when my dogs fight.  So I insist on peace, not because I’m nice, but because I don’t want expensive emergency vet bills.   I’m the Queen in charge of both dogs; they don’t get to settle their own disputes via violence. Similarly, when larger entities than clans and tribes developed, the larger entity became the peacekeeper.  No more hunter-gatherer raids on neighboring settlements.  No more Hatfield-McCoy type feuds.  Pinker says as kings took over during medieval times, “Turf battles among knights were a nuisance to the increasingly powerful kings, because regardless of which side prevailed, peasants were killed and productive capacity was destroyed that from the kings’ point of view would be better off stoking their own revenues and armies.”  Less violence. 
    And for the dogs living in my home, it’s in their best interest to curry favor with me with
Sit! Stay! Off the couch!  because I dole out all the good stuff like food, walkies, and belly rubs when the dogs do what I want.  Such a civilizing process happened during medieval times.   Pinker says, “A man’s ticket to fortune no longer consisted of being the biggest baddest knight in the area, but making a pilgrimage to the king’s court and currying favor with him and his entourage.  The nobles had to cultivate their manners so as not to offend the king’s minions, and their empathy to understand what they wanted.  The manners appropriate for the court came to be called courtly manners or courtesy.”   By refraining from gross behaviors like blowing their noses on the tablecloth, people developed self control.  The homicide rate in England has declined to  about one thirty-fifth of what it was in medieval times.  Courtesy leads to less violence.
    In an economic system based on land the only way to get richer was to steal someone else’s, but in an economy based on trading surpluses, your neighbor becomes more valuable to you alive than dead.  As commerce grows, so does communication.  About 3,000 years ago the Phoenicians invented the alphabet in order to trade between the Egyptians and the Babylonians. 
     As commerce has grown, so has violence declined.  Robert Wright, author of NonZero about the expansion of cooperation through history, says, “Among the many reasons why I think we shouldn’t bomb the Japanese is that they made my minivan.”   A thought: globalization leads to peace.
    Pinker suggests that the Humanitarian Revolution, when the state became less brutal in enforcing its will, began in 1452 with the invention of the printing press.  Literacy spread and by about 1700 the majority of Englishmen could read and write. During that century, the 1700s, philosophers such as Hobbes, Spinoza, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Madison, Jefferson, and Hamilton formulated the Enlightenment.   Basically, the values of the Enlightenment were that reason, not faith or authority, was the supreme arbiter and the well being of all humans was the paramount value.    
    Sound familiar?  Our Unitarian Universalist principles celebrate the well being of all humans when we remember our first principle, the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and our second principle, justice, equity, and compassion for all.  Our fifth Unitarian Universalist Source states, “Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.”   
    During the 1800s, circulating libraries became widespread, mostly featuring novels.  When English majors read novels, they look for imagery, symbolism, metaphors, and verisimilitude. Note $10 word! When unsophisticated people like me read a novel, we identify with the characters and we want to see what happens to them.   During the 19th century, Pinker suggests, as people identified with fictional characters, they gained empathy for people different from them.  Slavery, judicial torture, cruel and unusual punishments, and debtor’s prisons were all outlawed during the 19th century Humanitarian Revolution.  Less violence.
    My next bumper sticker aphorism is SHIT HAPPENS.   What’s implied in that bumper sticker is natural forces rather than witches or the devil cause bad things to happen.  Even if the vet doesn’t know why my dog got sick, it wasn’t because Diana put a spell on him.  Which saves Diana from being tortured until she confesses she’s a witch then brutally executed for being a witch. This is what used to happen.  Now SHIT just HAPPENS and there’s no blame or punishment.  Belief in spells and witches, along with some religious dogmas, are examples of ideologies, statements that can’t be proven with data accessible to all. 
     How can you tell if a belief is an ideology?  The ideology is more important than the people involved.  The glorious future justifies current suffering.  Scientific statements can be established with data, but the only way to establish an ideological statement is by converting, by force if necessary, those who don’t believe in it. 
    After the 19th century of advances in toleration and humanitarianism, we had a bad half century, 1900-1950, a half century ruled by romantic counter-enlightenment ideologies that weren’t religious, but secular.   Non religious ideologies such as nationalism, honor, and the glorious nature of war fueled World War I.  That war, the war to end all wars, put an end to the ideology of the glorious nature of war, but new secular ideologies arose: communism, fascism, and the belief the Jews, rather than witches, did it.  World War II was fueled by fascism and communism. Communism fueled famines in Russia and China.            
     Although in 1950, the eminent historian Arnold Toynbee saw World War II as the penultimate step toward disaster, an obscure physicist named Lewis Fry Richardson “chose statistics over impressions to defy the common impression that global nuclear war was a certainty.  More than half a century later we know the eminent historian was wrong and the obscure physicist was right,” says Pinker.
    Now to my third bumper sticker aphorism:  ALL PERSONS ARE CREATED EQUAL which applies to the Rights Revolution between 1950 - 2012, within the lifetime of many in this room.  
    The rights of racial and ethnic minorities.  In the 1950s, racial segregation was enforced by law and custom, whereas now even mentioning something as mild as that segregation avoided conflict gets a person in trouble.  Segregation took much violence to maintain.  Remember the deaths of our Unitarian martyrs James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo.
    The rights of women.  Societies moving away from cultures of manly honor and where women get a better deal tend to be less violent.   Males have an incentive to compete for females, whereas females have an incentive to stay away from risks that would orphan their children.  Women on the average are the less violent sex;  as they gain influence, the societies they live in become less violent.   Married men are less violent because they’re invested in their children rather than competing with other males.  Then as girl fetuses and infants are allowed to live, unbalanced sex ratios don’t develop.       
    Societies with a scarcity of women have an excess of poor men [the rich ones get the available women] with nothing to lose who may become thugs, mercenaries and disturb the peace.  Although as parents know, two year olds are the most violent age, most violence is committed by fifteen to thirty year old men.
    The rights of children. Violence toward children used to be how you taught them; now you can’t hit kids even if they’re driving you crazy.
    The rights of gays.  Gays are no longer demonized as sick and wrong.   Hillary Clinton said in December 2011: “Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”  Later that month the United Nations endorsed  the rights of gay and transgender persons.
    The rights of animals.  As well as people, animals are also considered to have rights.  In my humble opinion, times weren’t ripe until the mid 90s for Karen Pryor’s technique of no punishment clicker training for dogs.  The method had been around since the 1950s, but in an era when children were still being spanked, who cared about “correcting” dogs?  Temple Grandin advocates humane slaughter.  Even Michael Vicks’ fighting pit bulls aroused sympathy.
    I’ll close with one more reason why the world is becoming less violent.  Despite what you see on television, people are getting smarter.  In 1984 James Flynn discovered that IQ test companies were renorming the scores.  Later generations given the same questions as earlier generations got more of them correct.  The eponymous Flynn Effect has been found in 30 countries for over 100 years.  The biggest gains weren’t in math or vocabulary, but in the items that tap abstract reasoning, the ability to think in “what if?” terms.  This ability is similar to being able to put oneself in someone else’s shoes that is, expand the circle of moral consideration and live the Golden Rule.  Smart people understand that a world without violence is better for all and can figure out how to get there.   
    In conclusion, I quote again from Pinker’s book.  “[The nostalgic] claim our ancestors did not have to worry about muggings, school shootings, terrorist attacks, holocausts, world wars, killing fields, napalm, gulags, and nuclear annihilation.  Surely no Boeing 747, no antibiotic, no iPod is worth the suffering that modern societies and their technologies can wreak. . .[But] unsentimental history and statistical literacy can change our view of modernity.  For they show that nostalgia for a peaceable past is the biggest delusion of all. . .On top of all the benefits  modernity has brought us in health, experience, and knowledge, we can add its role in the reduction of violence. . .Today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species' existence."    The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.   May it be so.