Rieux (dr_rieux) wrote,

My Reaction to That Sermon

After I had heard (and read the transcript of) the sermon I posted below, I posted that transcript on the internet forum run by my church’s young adult group. Two of my friends replied that they didn’t think much of the sermon; here was my response (I’ve changed some names to protect identities):
I would put things much more strongly than Lester and Eliza have: I think this is an outrageous and offensive sermon that cruelly insults anyone whose way of looking at the world fails to meet Rev. Smith's standards of piety. I think the idea that Rev. Smith (and quite possibly James Fowler) meant to communicate no notion of superiority/inferiority gets cut to ribbons by the manner in which she actually treated the various stages in the sermon.

I agree with the comments here that the entire "stage" system--I think it's especially the numbers--necessarily implies superiority/inferiority. Quite possibly that can be "blamed," as Rev. Smith puts it, on Fowler (who, I learned in researching the original post, was a Christian theologian), but it's Rev. Smith who chose that model to promote in her sermon.

The central contrast Rev. Smith draws--centrally important to me and, it sure appears, to her as well--is between Stage 4 and Stage 5. Take a look at how she treats those stages: nearly every word she has to say about Stage 4 is a severe criticism, if not a malicious taunt. (I mean, "rationalism" with a growl? What the heck is so disgusting about rationalism? And what business does a UU minister have treating it so childlishly?)

I would also argue that that section of Rev. Smith's sermon is peppered with hostile misrepresentations of secularists' beliefs. For example, the notion that my kind
tend to find that the symbols or the words that evoke memories of a non-literal religious truth to be actually offensive--because a story is either true or not true, and if it’s not true, i.e., historically factual, then it shouldn’t be told
...is a damnable lie. Real-life secular people are thoroughly interested in fictional stories that speak to us, whereas Rev. Smith has seriously misrepresented the real concerns we have regarding religious myths.

Worse than those criticisms, though, is the contrast with Rev. Smith's depiction of Stage 5, which appears to be the realm of demigods. These heroes who favor us with "'both and' rather than 'either or' answers, and commitment to justice transcend[ing] boundaries of race or class or nationality".... my goodness, I fear I'm not worthy to kiss the ground these people walk on. The contrast is stark: Stage 4 people deserve a thorough reaming, but there isn't a single thing about Stage 5 that deserves the slightest discouraging word. What kind of responsible account of human differences could possibly look like that?

And Rev. Smith makes her intentions clear: she wants to see UUism move from a (boo hiss boo) Stage 4 orientation to a (angelic choir) Stage 5 one: "this world is hungry for this, and are we. It’s a time for gentleness and care." Apparently we Stage 4 Neanderthals are incapable of gentleness and care!

To me, this was a very scary sermon. I think it treats people like me as crippled inferiors to the Enlightened Stage 5-ers in our midst and then declares that our kind is not long for this (UU) world.

I have my own disagreements with "Stage 5" ways of seeing the world. After the kind of aggressive pigheadedness that I see in things like this sermon, I have a hard time not lashing out at the self-satisfied tenets of "the postmodern age" that Rev. Smith is so enthusiastic about.

But, really, particular concerns about "Stage 5" worldviews aren't terribly relevant. I'm much more concerned about the inhumanity that this sermon--the Fowler-stage system, and the denigration of "lesser" stages that he and she have hung on it--communicates. It sure appears to me that this sermon calls very much into question our commitment to the First and Fourth UU Principles. Surely "the inherent worth and dignity of every person" and "the free and responsible search for truth and meaning" are supposed to apply to those of us in Stage 4 too, right? If so, what business does Rev. Smith have bashing us so broadly?
After that, the thread on the young adults forum became a debate over whether the minister is in fact intentionally malicious or just clueless about the effect that her rhetoric has. (I argued malicious.)

In the end, I think the subject matter of the sermon quoted above is a prime example of the unhappy UU-clergy trend I wrote about in the sermon I preached from the very same pulpit, fifteen months before “Rev. Smith” honored our congregation with her presence.

What do you think?
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