Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow discusses fast thinking, our first reaction that saved our ancestors’ lives when confronted with saber tooth tigers. He then contrasts fast thinking with slow thinking, the kind of thinking that led our ancestors to modify hand axes, invent spear throwers, and sew skin clothing.
Continuing to think slow, people reasoned from principles revealed by sages, but they didn’t test the results. People believed Jews caused the plague in the 14th century, so they threw them down the wells. Nobody questioned the validity of that claim or that witches caused crop failures, making it necessary to burn them. Life was brutal in pre-scientific times.
It wasn’t until the 17th century that the scientific method was formulated. The scientific method works to gain evidence based knowledge about the world. Phenomena are observed, someone makes a hypothesis about the phenomena, someone tests the hypothesis, someone publishes, someone else test the hypothesis. When new data need too many fixes to fit the old theory, new theories are postulated, giving rise to more hypotheses, testing and so on and on, from fire starting to FaceBook. Science explores, is pragmatic, goes with what works.
Unitarian Universalism began with slow thinking. Michael Servetus was brutally executed in 1553 for his slow thinking that made him conclude belief in the Trinity wasn’t justified by the Bible. Using slow thinking, Unitarian Universalism explores to see which beliefs and practices work to make a good life for all, taking its inspiration from the words of the hymn, “To build the common good and make our own days glad.” At their best, Unitarian Universalists reason like scientists.
Fundamentalist religion on the other hand is dogmatic, since the Word has already been revealed. Preachers persuade the congregation to choose the right path to salvation. Services emphasize emotion.
Politics likewise persuades, using emotional rather than rational arguments. Its style is fast thinking, more like fundamentalism than like Unitarian Universalism. Instead of the crisis of going to hell, politics exaggerates any actual crisis and if there aren’t any handy crises, one will be invented. Weapons of mass destruction, anyone?
Perhaps because it’s more efficient to change the world via legislation than to help individuals one at a time, Unitarian Universalism is now emphasizing political issues such as immigration and climate change. This emphasis on political action has changed the association’s emphasis from slow thinking to fast thinking. For instance, rarely are such concepts as the nutritional and moral superiority of those who can afford to consume local organic food questioned. But Unitarian Universalists should beware of failure to question such claims. As Voltaire said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”