Sunday, August 26, 2007

Classism and Unitarian Universalism

I sat down and read the article Not My Father's Religion in the UU World tonight by Doug Muder, after just skimming it earlier in the week. I made a bunch of notes, but a longer post is going to have to wait until I get home on Tuesday from Nestor's memorial service.

Some of my margin notes are things like "I don't believe this", "this is insulting to working class people", "theology is not the point of going to church for many people", "but working class retirees do other things, just not job-related things after retirement", "some groups of people are walking UP the road to success; others are looking down at it from above", and "what the hell is a boutique religion?"

What does the cliche (for it has become a cliche) mean that Unitarian Universalists are classist, that we have a classism problem? Muder's article doesn't really explain that to me.

I look around my congregation and at the congregations where I have been a member in the past and I see lots of people who are like me, whose education was hard-won, who have never traveled far and perhaps are not very interested in world travel, who don't have fancy houses, just ordinary ones, who read murder mysteries and do crafts, who play old folk songs on old acoustic instruments, who don't dress in designer clothes or have designer pets or big honking cars.

The people I know who choose other religions than UUism are smart people, educated people, fine people. They are not interested in UUism because to them, we're not really a religion. We're nice smart people, but we aren't a religion by their standards. We know we're a religion, but their definition of religion is different from ours. This is not a problem!

Okay, I'd better not go farther till I get a chance to think this through more carefully.


Jamie Goodwin said...

I have to say as a working class person I was not insulted by Doug's article although I disagreed with a lot of it to.

I agree that UUism for the most part is made up smart, dedicated, hard working people and also think that there is a definate vein (often unintentional) of class prejudice.

I am not sure I like the term "classism" because there is an intentionality implied in it. I think the problems I face and other working class UU face are more of misunderstanding and the fact that we have not given our class prejudices much thought.

If your interested you can read my thoughts about Doug's article here.

Bill Baar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill Baar said...

I don't know if it was an insult, but it was out-of-touch.

When I was young and red and ran with the IWW, I wrote a paper about fighting for the working class.

My English teacher smiled, gave me an A, and said she had not heard young people talk like me since she was at the U of Chicago in the 1930s.

So Workerist talk sounded dated in back 1968. It still sounds quaint today.

Ms. Theologian said...

I haven't really formalized any thoughts on the essay (though I've read it three times, so I think it succeeded in provoking a lot of thought).

I do think that perhaps the landscape of work has changed. I'm not even sure the white-collar and blue-collar divisions are there in the same way they were, considering the number of underemployed folks who are college educated and work in supermarkets and factories. I wonder how the changing landscape of work has changed this debate in UUism.

ms. kitty said...

Jamie, my "insult" comment wasn't about the whole article, though it came across that way in my post. I think Doug is onto something we need to consider, but it just deals with surface layer stuff.

And I think we are all working class people, even those with more resources and privilege than the rest of us. Like Ms. T says, the landscape of work has changed and "white and blue collar" terms are not so accurate any more.

What delineates a "service" class person from a "served" class person? Not necessarily education or philosophy, but necessity, preference, heritage, locale, and others I can't think of at 6 a.m.

Doug's right, we all need to think about this, and I appreciate his venturing into the territory, even though I don't think we've gotten far enough. He's started us down that path; we need to continue exploring it.

Bill Baar said...

And I think we are all working class people...

If my mega-millions number comes in Tuesday, don't count me as one.

America's dominated by Knowledge workers. There are immigrants who bust their tails with manual labor. But the old class frame's gone.

I'll post on the article in a bit but I think it leads to a bad direction for the Church.

Being a boutique religion isn't a bad strategy at all.

Go to your local mega-Church and you'll find groups tailored to different stages of life and segments of people.

America's a hugely diverse place and individuals constantly shifting their circumstances, and relationships.

It's that constant change people face that the Church should address.

The notion one remains a "worker" for their entire life is stale....

Mystical Seeker said...

Coincidentally, I was just attending a progressive Christian church study group last week and the question came up of how in many churches, everyone pretty much looks the same. The question arises of how a church can be true to its mission if it only caters to those of a certain socio-economic status. The Quaker meeting in San Francisco addressed this question years ago by relocating its meeting house from a solidly middle income neighborhood to a more gritty neighborhood in the inner city. If one is really committed to opening up the church community to the least in society, then remaining a quiet little exclusive country club isn't the way to do it. This is a critical issue for Christianity. I can't speak for how this relates to UUism.

As for the issue of class, I would only point out that the Marxist definition of "working class" has nothing to do with blue collar or white collar, but rather whether you sell your labor on the market place and if that is how you earn your living. By that definition, the vast majority of people are working class. That includes many "professionals", from teachers to computer programmers.

Joel said...

Sweet Fancy Moses! Could that batting helmet analogy possibly be any more condescending? Not to mention the implication that only the "profesional classes" have the leisure to exercise their intellect; the rest of us clods are too busy fighting for survival to reach that point in the evolutionary scale. (At least the author doesn't attribute it to an innate inability to appreciate the finer things.)

He completely discounts the possibility that his father (and the rest of us dogmatists) are able to accept the concrete reality of both a working life and a traditional religion for the same reason: it's tangible, it's objective, and it's not subject to our desire for it to be different. Their life, like their religion, simply is what it is.

I suspect Doug Muder may be one of those of whom it's said "Some folks are just educated beyond their intelligence."

Comrade Kevin said...

Regardless of whether the article in question contained a variety of offensive statements or not, I'm glad UUism is having this discussion, finally.

This has been a long time coming and maybe the discussion fostered by this article can have a very positive effect.

kimc said...

Doug asks us who his father would talk to at a UU church. I started to say I would have trouble thinking what to say, but, you know, that may not be true. I have patients who are working class, much less educated than I am, and I often have no trouble talking with them. My problem is the taciturn ones -- and you find taciturn people in all classes.
I think part of our problem is that UUs have a larger percentage of shy people in our congregations. We are unsure -- of ourselves, of our theology, of our place in the world.

Pythia said...

I'm a 66 year old senior woman whose only income is social security; over half of my income pays my rent. I have no other assets.

I managed to complete 4 years of college via junior college with a C average.

I immediately joined the nonskilled clerical army in offices doing mind numbing repetitive meaningless paper pushing for 25 years. The next 10 years I was a word processor and administrative secretary.

I have a difficult time both economically and intellectually feeling comfortable in my UU metropolitan large church. I think sometimes that most UUs aren't able to walk a mile in my shoes. They can't relate to me; they don't understand. They place expectations on me that my life is like theirs and that I can afford to, ei, go to church retreats.

I feel like a shadow walking amongest you, that I am representative of the least.

I am just beginning my journey as a poor senior and I am terrified.


Ms. Theologian said...

So part of what Pythia touches on, and Doug as well, is the assumptions that parishioners make in UU (and maybe other) churches that the folks in the pew are similar, if not identical, to them in terms of items like college education (and all the subtleties of where exactly), job, and cash flow. This seems to be the root (part of the root?) of the problem, imho.

Bill Baar said...

...the assumptions that parishioners make in UU (and maybe other) churches...

That's a bad habit today's Liberalism has gotten itself into.

Too many Liberals assume one belief logically dictates a whole series of subsequent beliefs.

And woe to those who fail to toe the line because they can only be explained as self-loathing hypocrites.

I sat through a framing the issues session in our congregation revolving around a Muder sermon citing UU divorce rates and how we were so much better than Evangelicals.