what in the World?
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Atheism, patriotism, civil liberties, 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
EROSION OF LIBERTY. Wendy Kaminer describes a "civil liberties emergency" in which Americans' freedoms are being eroded by counterterrorism legislation. However, she concedes that in some circumstances, this is warranted: "In the best of times some freedom must be sacrificed to security" ("Fear of Freedom," page 22).
Question: Have some of the new laws and regulations compromised Americans' civil liberties? If so, is the loss of civil liberty worth the gain in security? By what measure do you compare the values of safety and freedom? Using Kaminer's own criterion of safety, have these laws made us safer? If not, what might?
SKEPTICISM VS. BELIEF. Wendy Kaminer writes that a democratic government is based on skepticism, not trust; hence the system of checks and balances ("Fear of Freedom," page 25). But Forrest Church ("We Need More Pariots," page 12) takes the view that America was built "on a foundation of belief, not on a foundation of skepticism." He writes that "we demonstrate our greatness . . . through rigorous moral endeavor, ever striving to remake ourselves in the image of our ideals."
Question: Are Kaminer's and Church's views about American government necessarily opposed? Which writer has the more accurate understanding of the foundation of American government?
PATRIOTISM REDUX. Forrest Church distinguishes between nationalism and patriotism. Nationalism isolates the US from other countries, he writes, whereas patriotism impels it to work with other countries toward a shared view of justice. ("We Need More Patriots," page 12)
Question: Patriotism has not always had favorable connotations in the last forty years. Do you agree with Church's definition of patriotism? If not, how would you define it? Has your concept of patriotism changed since the 9/11 attacks? Is patriotism congruent with Unitarian Universalist values?
A THIN LINE. Sarah York reflects on her work at a homeless shelter, where she realized that she is not so different from some of the guests. "I am no stranger to the twists of circumstance that can land a person in the streets. Illness, unemployment, addiction, disability: Whose life has not been touched by at least one of these?" ("The Red Dress," page 15)
Question: Have you or members of your family been affected by any of the above conditions? How has this impacted your vision of the world or your sense of personal security?
CLASSROOM COMPETITION. The Rev. Frank Robertson, a religious educator for forty years, believes that competition has an important role in the Sunday school classroom. "What's wrong with games that involve winners and losers? Do we want to turn our boys away from UU churches because we're too cowardly to admit that competition is fundamental to our democratic society?" ("What Should We Do with the Boys?" by Neil Chethik, page 22).
Question: Should competition be part of a religious education program? If so, how should it be built in? Are there any dangers associated with competition? Is competitiveness gender related?
GENDER GENERALIZATIONS. Not all religious educators believe that gender has a crucial role in determining classroom activity. "I prefer to stay away from generalities because it puts certain expectations on our kids," says Kate Beasley. "In teaching it's important to teach to the temperament of the individual child, not the gender" ("What Should We Do With the Boys?," page 23).
Question: Does gender play a role in teaching and designing curricula? Are we avoiding certain realities by pretending gender is not a factor in student behavior and learning styles?
CHOOSING ATHEISM. Dan Kennedy quotes Wendy Kaminer on the subject of atheism: "Atheists generate about as much sympathy as pedophiles. But, while pedophilia may at least be characterized as a disease, atheism is a choice, a willful rejection of beliefs to which vast majorities of people cling" ("Are You With the Atheists?" page 35).
Question: Is there as much hostility towards atheists as Kaminer suggests? Is atheism a conscious choice? Is every religious belief a conscious choice? If so, what importance do you attach to experiences like conversion?
MARKETING PLAN. John A. Rakestraw Jr. describes the way that religion is used to sell products in both the Muslim and Christian worlds: "If Farhad Sheikhahmad has visions of Muslim men and women on motorcycles, Chevrolet apparently wants to see Christian men and women driving its vehicles" ("Religion News," page 49).
Question: How do marketing techniques tap into our belief systems, both religious and secular? When do marketing techniques cross the line and become unacceptable? Consider, too, the UUA's new media campaign to spread Unitarian Universalism ("UUA launches growth campaign," page 49). Is the marketing of some things better than others? What makes the difference?
Jane Greer is associate editor of UU World.