Dear Ones- This month we’ll be exploring the 5th of the seven Principles we, as a Unitarian Universalist congregation, affirm and promote: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
This is one of those “middle” Principles that are so often overlooked. Most of us know the 1st (which speaks to the “inherent worth and dignity of every person) and the 7th (which addresses the “interconnected web of all existence”), but we’re often a bit fuzzy about the other five in the middle.
Perhaps we take this one for granted. “Of course we believe in a democratic process.” “Of course we believe in the right of conscience.”
But I also believe that democracy is a fragile thing, and if we are not vigilant it can devolve all-too-quickly into tyranny.
In our congregations it might take the form of a “ruling cabal”- a group of unelected individuals who work “behind the scenes” to manipulate and control the congregation for their own ends, or to undermine the work of the majority for whatever reason.
And, of course, in the larger society (nationally and internationally) we are seeing threats to democracy on what seems an almost daily basis.
In the Spring, 2017 issue of UU World there is an excellent article on our 5th Principle, written by Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University. The article is titled “Be a Patriot”, and in it Snyder gives 20 ideas of what we, as ordinary citizens, can do to help maintain and strengthen our democratic institutions.
There isn’t space in this newsletter to explore all 20 of his ideas (I would recommend you read the entire article at https://www.uuworld.org/articles/be-patriot) but there are a few that I do want to lift up:
“When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.”
We see this time and again: immigrants and refugees are described as “criminals” and “rapists”, Black males described as “thugs”, or anyone who disagrees described as a “bad actor”.
“Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.”
Unfortunately, “the unthinkable” happens all-too-often these days. Our world is a dangerous place where the question is not “if” the unthinkable will happen, but rather “when”. And when it happens, we must not jump to hasty conclusions, to generalize, or be too quick to assign blame to “those people”.
“Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.”
This, of course, is a corollary to his next point:
“Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.”
Media Bias/FactCheck, Politifact, Snopes, and FactCheck.org are excellent resources for determining what is “fake news” and what is real. Think critically and investigate before spreading what might be an untrue statement.
Repeating the same lie over and over again does not make it suddenly become truth. In our democracies, just as in our theological lives, we must consider and decide for ourselves that to which we will pledge our allegiance- to give our hearts, minds and souls.
And, of course, voting is an important duty of any patriot- so if you haven’t done so already in early voting here in Maryland, on November 6 – VOTE!
Wishing you peace and blessings,