Members' Musings

While our minister, Rev. Michael Leuchtenberger, is on sabbattical, we will fill our Musings space with insights from our members.

September 2016

by John Warner

Worth and Dignity

During a recent worship service Rev. Kate Braestrup asked the audience to self-identify as either Democrat or Republican. In a crowd of well over a hundred people the count revealed only two lonely Republicans in the very back row. What might this say about whether our church is actually being open, inclusive and affirming of the worth and dignity of all human beings?

We have learned from our work in conflict resolution these past eight years that conflict often arises as a result of genuine differences among human beings. Acceptance of the fact of those differences is what our conflict resolution team calls “multi-partiality”. It’s basically the recognition that love, compassion, equanimity, understanding and acceptance are the keys to living together in peace. While we might not necessarily agree with someone, we do seek to affirm the humanity of that person and to honor what they say as being the feelings, needs and truth as they experience it. Try to imagine for a moment just what it would be like to live in a world where people actually listened to you and understood the issues that affected your life and where you actually listened to them as well!

What would it take for UU’s to become “multi-partial” with respect to religious and political beliefs? For one thing, we could actively seek a better understanding of how different people actually make their moral decisions and, in particular, how people with whom we might disagree make those decisions. The answers here can be found in the research findings of the field of moral psychology. Jonathan Haidt’s best seller, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are divided by Politics and Religion”, answers these questions in very simple language. His most important conclusion for liberal minded people is as follows: there is more to “morality“ than caring for people who have been harmed and restoring fairness to people who have been cheated. In fact, his research has identified six different basic sources of morals, only two of which consist of caring and fairness. The other four are liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. In one form or another, it appears that practically every human culture in the world uses some combination of these same six sources of morals. How individuals and cultures each intuitively choose and emphasize those sources creates the differences in our perspectives of the world. These differences ultimately help to create the conflicts that we deal with every day.

But here’s the problem that UU’s and other liberal groups seem to have: since we tend to feel strongly that our most sacred value is caring for victims of oppression, we primarily focus on at most three of the six sources (caring, liberty and fairness). By comparison, conservatives actually display a more nuanced moral pallet than do liberals by actively using all six of these sources. Is this possibly the answer as to why we as a church don’t seem to provide a very comfortable “sanctuary” for the broader variety of spiritual seekers who just might be interested in our kind of church?

We UU’s and other liberals just might reconsider our thinking that “we” are right and “they” are wrong. We also might consider getting to work to broaden our tent by active recognition of the differing ways that other people see the world!