Friday, January 4, 2008

Illusions in America Today #1

The positive meaning of disillusionment is that we can be freed of our illusions. Since I risk misunderstanding and possibly offending strongly held beliefs, I want to be clear exactly what I mean when I call something an illusion. I believe that this country was created with some intent to adhere to a range of noble concepts that were, to a large part, new paradigms for running a nation. They were as imperfect as the people who created them, but I value these concepts and would like to see a return to them, or at least a valiant effort to strive toward them.

While our rhetoric today may still reflect the ideals of the founders, our society today has strayed far from their vision. We may use the same labels, but our actions belie a hypocrisy of commitment, priority, and ideology. What are our illusions in 21st century America? There are many, which I will address in future posts, including among others: democracy, capitalism, freedom, education, and family. But, in this first post, I will address the illusion of primary personal importance. In 21st century America, religion is an illusion from which we should be freed.

What can a person in seminary studying to become a minister possibly mean by saying that religion in America is an illusion?
  • As an atheist, I see my nation violating universal codes of moral behavior, often in the name of the Christian God, to further its own agenda. What part of 'Thou shalt not kill' are we not understanding? When was the last politician we elected who was meek, merciful, pure of heart, and a peacemaker? What would Jesus think of 21st century America?
  • As a humanist, I see millions in my nation continuing to embrace willful ignorance, supporting creationism and intelligent design. I see my government spending billions on an illegal occupation while millions at home lack decent medical care, fairly funded schools, and well-maintained societal infrastructure. Where is the righteous indignation of our churches?
  • As a Unitarian Universalist, I see our government continuing to abrogate the rights of gays and lesbians by denying them equal rights to marry, and invading the personal private decisions to end life.
  • As a parent, I see one church leader after another accused of crimes against children and learn that the church itself not only knew of the behavior but willfully acted to conceal the knowledge from the victims. I see one religious leader after another modeling shocking personal behaviors while railing in the pulpit against those in our society who are marginalized already.
  • As an aspiring minister, I see few of my colleagues calling out corporate war profiteers, or politicians owned by special interest groups. I see few of my colleagues preaching against the power structures supporting racism, classism, ageism, homophobia, and all of the other psychoses of fear and hate infecting our nation.
I could go on, but probably do not need to. If you hold that a creator God loves you and will reward you with an eternity in a heavenly hereafter if you simply believe in him, then nothing I say can ever sway you. But, if you see God largely as an invention to control the masses and to keep people from critically assessing the activities of their religious leaders, then you should be examining this illusion. If you see most religions today as a pleasant anachronism with nothing to offer in the way of solving modern problems, then you should be examining this illusion. If you want your church to truly love all people and to commit action to social justice and equality, then you should be examining this illusion.

So does this mean that all organized religion is worthless? No. But, I do believe that we need to examine the role that religion plays in our lives and ask whether or not our churches are, or can ever meet those needs. In a disillusioned America, what form of church should we aspire to create? Personally, I believe that Unitarian Universalism provides one answer. As a church that does not force a creed on members, and that values the search for truth and meaning, I believe Unitarian Universalism can address many of the illusions of religion while still providing the loving community, acknowledgement of life transitions, and the worship experience. Unitarian Universalism welcomes you whether you are atheist, agnostic, pantheist, pagan, or poly-, mono-, or henotheist. The world has seen many prophets over the centuries, many of whom have delivered a similar message of compassion. Unitarian Universalism honors all of them and their universal message.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


Over the winter break, my son and I had a number of conversations about his future and the state of the world in general. He is a 21-year-old student attending Ohio State University. Tyler is a bright and creative young man. But, he also feels a good deal of frustration in his life and sees few role models out there to mentor or inspire him.

Interestingly, we found that we agreed on many observations about 21st America, although our approaches to dealing with those problems may vary in technique and intensity. As one might expect from a young man, he is inclined to revolutionary change and abandonment of dysfunctional systems. I am still inclined to changing the system from within. The upshot of our discourse was that we would begin the process of drafting a manifesto for a new kind of revolution -- one that creates a new type of society within the existing structure -- and eliciting feedback from others. So here goes.

Why are so many people disillusioned with the current state of American society? Everywhere we turn, we hear people who have turned off the political discourse and, when they do vote, make their choices based on selecting the lesser of available evils. Many young people, after spending 16 or more years in institutionalized education, find themselves unemployable, unfulfilled, or significantly unprepared for the "real" world. Our daily lives seem filled with a bombardment of consumerism and the resultant unhappiness derived from debt and impossible expectations. Many adults find that they cannot give their children the quality of life they received from their parents, and must combat seemingly uncontrollable forces of substance abuse, over-medication, and over-exposure to sex and violence in our media.

Why are so many people disillusioned with the current state of American society? Because we are reminded every day that our nation is not what we thought it was. We are reminded every day that our nation is not what we were taught it was. We are reminded every day that our nation is not what it should be.

What does it mean to be disillusioned? Disillusionment is betrayal. Many of us are frustrated because we cannot live lives that make us happy. We feel angry because it sometimes seems that everyone in any position of authority is either a liar, a cheat, or a fraud. We sense hopelessness because we see no answers to the multitude of problems that beset us. Many Americans feel that their country has in many ways fundamentally betrayed them. That is the negative view of disillusionment.

Is there a positive meaning of disillusionment? I believe that there is. Disillusion means that we are being freed of our illusions. Disillusion means that we have the capacity to make change and to define our nation. By embracing disillusion, we can shed ourselves of outmoded ways of being and create a new society. In my next installment, I will begin to discuss our illusions in 21st century America.