what in the World?
The dilemma of Afghanistan, and other matters
The following questions, based on this issue's contents, are designed to stimulate spiritual reflection and adult education group discussions.
by Jane Greer
COMMITTING TO AFGHANISTAN. David Zucchino writes of the deep disappointment that many Afghans feel about their treatment at American hands, and quotes one Afghan: "We thought the Americans were good people. But they just drop their bombs and leave. They don't explain. They don't apologize" ("Dignity Under Siege," page 24).
Question: Does the United States have obligations to help meet the tremendous needs in Afghanistan for food, shelter, medicine, and political stability? Should the U.S. be involved at all? If so, how? Some congregations are helping with Afghan relief or reconstruction (see page 29). Are there ways that your congregation can contribute?
IS DEMOCRACY UNIVERSAL? Zucchino writes about Afghanistan: "Imposing Western values of democracy and human rights is a long-term and ultimately frustrating endeavor in a nation with a tribal and patriarchal culture" ("Dignity Under Siege," page 23).
Question: Unitarian Universalist congregations are dedicated to "the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large" (the UUA's fifth principle, page 4). How does that commitment extend to Afghanistan? How do you feel about U.S. involvement in a country that may never share our ideas about democracy and human rights? Is democracy a system applicable to all people? Does democracy have certain prerequisites, such as an educated electorate or a certain level of economic stability?
OPIUM TRADE. Zucchino reports having mixed feelings about seeing the widespread cultivation of poppies, which Afghans sell to the international drug trade. Said Ehsan Sadat, who owns six acres of poppies, tells him, "Yes, we know it is poison, but we have to feed our families" ("Dignity Under Siege," page 26).
Question: The UUA's General Assembly in Québec City this summer passed a Statement of Conscience that called for the decriminalization of all drugs in the U.S. and condemned "the practices of scorching the earth and poisoning the soil and ground water in other countries to stop the production of drugs that are illegal in the United States." How do you view Afghans who earn money through the illegal sale of opium? If the U.S. decriminalized drugs, how might it affect life in Afghanistan? In your community?
MLK AND LIBERAL RELIGION. Rosemary Bray McNatt writes that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. found much to admire in liberal theology and had attended Unitarian churches in Boston as a student. But, she writes, "by the time his faith had been tried by the civil rights movement, King had said No to the sunny optimism of liberal faith an optimism frankly untested in the heat of the battle for liberty and dignity for African Americans" ("To Pray Without Apology," page 30).
Question: What kind of hope can Unitarian Universalism offer to an oppressed and suffering people? What do you think King meant when he wrote that "liberalism had been all too sentimental concerning human nature and that it leaned toward a false idealism"?
MAKING ROOM. McNatt asks whether Unitarian Universalists can whole-heartedly welcome people who believe in God: "There are many people who have found help and hope and strength from a source greater than themselves to endure what has often seemed unendurable. Do we risk their sharing with us how it is they have survived? Do we dare make room for them to share and to celebrate, to witness to what they have seen and felt and intimately known?" ("To Pray Without Apology," page 32).
Question: How successfully does Unitarian Universalism welcome people with diverse religious and cultural traditions? Is it possible for UUs to embrace those who still stand by traditions and beliefs that they themselves reject? Does tolerance and inclusion also mean loss? Are there invisible barriers in your congregation assumptions, expectations, ideas that turn people away?
PATHS TO GROWTH. Warren Ross writes about the fellowship movement, which was for several decades the primary method for establishing new Unitarian and later Unitarian Universalist congregations. Lay-led fellowships sprouted all over North America, and a few grew into sizable congregations. The UUA is now focusing on starting much larger congregations in major metropolitan areas. ("A Precarious Path," page 49.)
Question: Small congregations and large congregations have different personalities. How would you characterize the differences? Considering the fellowship experience, with its advantages and disadvantages, what will be gained and lost by trying to start new congregations with several hundred members? What impact will these large churches have on the Association? On the society at large?
IN THE MIRROR. The Rev. Forrest Church satirizes our inclination to compare ourselves to others: "You have a co-worker who is enormously creative. Overlook the fact that she has just broken up with her fifth husband and has a 'little' problem with alcohol. Forget all that. Simply measure your creative capacity against hers and weep." ("Make Yourself Miserable," page 17.)
Question: Do Church's observations strike a chord? Are there any traits or talents you secretly envy in others? Is the process of comparing yourself to others natural? Is it aggravated or shaped by other forces? Is it possible not to do it?
Jane Greer is associate editor of UU World.