One Good Thing About the Rise of Authoritarianism

If you’ve read a lot of inside stuff about Unitarian Universalism the last few years, you’ve noticed ministers (and others, but a lot of ministers) decrying the “antiauthoritarianism” of rank-and-file Unitarian Universalists.

Equating “antiauthoritarianism” with “antiauthority” is just as dishonest as the people who try to equate “spirituality” and “spiritualism”, and in just the same word-warping manner.

So here’s the good news: I haven’t seen one such use of “anti-authoritarian” since the last election. As Samuel Johnson said, “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Looking authoritarianism in the eye reminds the weary and forgetful of the virtues of standing firm and saying no, middle finger and all.

It’s a small blessing, but I’m not in a position to turn anything down!

5 thoughts on “One Good Thing About the Rise of Authoritarianism”

  1. Can you cite some examples of Ministers decrying antiauthoritarianism among the rank and file? This is news to me and I do try to keep up.

    1. Hi, Bill,

      I stuck antiauthoritarian “Unitarian Universalist” into Google and on the first page:

      Those are two of the top three hits, from fairly prominent sources. I left off a couple from less prominent ones. It’s a common enough theme that I got annoyed by it, which means I may overstate its presence. And to present the case for anti-authoritarianism, here’s another hit a little further down the page:

      Anti-Authoritarian Code of Conduct for Religious Leaders

      which illustrates why it’s so very wrong to confuse anti-authority with anti-authoritarianism:

      …As a leader in a community, I will not be bought or intimidated. I will present the message of my faith honestly and prophetically, whether or not it is what the government or other groups want to hear. And as a community leader, I will challenge others when they lie.

      I will not be shy about my commitment to my core religious and spiritual values: love without boundaries, a world without hate, and service to and concern for others without discrimination. And I will resist those who would undermine such values…

      A minister who practices that brand of anti-authoritarianism is a minister whose authority I will respect. One who does not? Not so much on my end, either.

  2. Thanks, this helps. In either the New Your Times or Time Mag there is an article about a group of leading Unitarian Ministers responding to the rise of Neo Orthodox theologians. Karth Barth mostly and I think they lumped in Paul Tillich. That surprised me because I thought Tillich had been a favorite of Unitarians. The Ministers condemned Neo Orthodox theology as authoritarian. Not a hard sell in 1956 about a bunch guys with German names.

    These sort of sweeping condemnations of Authoritarianism (and today I would ad Racism and the rest of phobias one can stand accused of) sort of lazy critiques that often hide the real problems at work. A fear of getting at the root of things so easy to just cast a blanket charge.

    That’s been a long standing habit. Layer on shrinking number of jobs for a surplus of Ministers and a financially troubled UUA and things really start to go south. I’m reading very few Ministers or anyone else offering any kind of analysis for what’s ailing UUism. Rev Scott Wells on his blog an exception.

    A UU Congregation not an easy thing to Minister too. They never have been. I think there is a history of not treating Ministers well. So when UUA says there is an uptick in racial antagonism between Ministers of Color and congregations I’d really like to see some statistics from UUA around this. Just how many times to they get called in to negotiate such conflicts? My experience has been they happen often. Every UU Church I’ve been involved has gone through some dispute. Sometimes pretty ugly.

    We had the Minister in Ok convicted of heinous crimes. Very little has been said about that or what UUA’s or the Ministerial Fellowship’s responsibility was there.

    There are hard questions out there but the word “authoritarian” is usually a sign to me that they’re not going to get addressed or thought about much.


    1. I was very slightly acquainted with Ron Robinson–Tulsa isn’t far–and knew people who worked with him. I can’t speak to the organizational response, but on the human level, but I can tell you there has been a lot of soul-searching among the folks I know.

      No one knows the future of the UUA. If our only challenge were facing up to rapid generational turnover, that would still be an existential threat.* I’d think that’s a solvable problem–cohorts have been aging for a long time!–but do we have a handle on it?

      Then there are the hard problems.

      My hope is that things get unsettled enough that people have the openings to try new things, some of which work and catch on.

      *Congregations will live or die depending in large part on the order in which their members age out.

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