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 Contents: UU World March/April 2003
March/April 2003

Emerson, money, 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

RESPONSIBLE SPENDING. In "Money and the Spirit" (page 14), Dan Hotchkiss describes the benefits of a healthy attitude towards money: "The thoughtful use of money — spending, saving, investing, giving — is an effective way to care for others and realize our visions of a better world."

Question: Are your choices about money congruent with your Unitarian Universalist values? Do you support any charities or causes? What factors enter into your decision-making about spending, saving, investing, and giving your money?

TABOO TOPICS. Hotchkiss talks about people's reluctance to discuss money matters at church: "Faith and money are so private in our culture that we can avoid serious conversation about either one, and certainly a conversation that brings one to bear on the other." ("Money and the Spirit," page 14)

Question: Do discussions about money have a role in church life? How does your congregation raise funds? Has the process gone smoothly? If not, are there ways to make it easier? Why are the topics of money and religion so emotionally loaded?

GIVING IT AWAY. Chuck Collins gave away his inheritance at age 26 to nonprofit groups. His father urged him to rethink the decision, considering the needs of a future family: "What if you have a child who has Down syndrome? Think about the cost of the care." ("From Riches to Responsibility: Defending the Estate Tax," by Kimberly French, page 35)

Question: Do you think that Collins used his money responsibly? What choices would you have made? What role do nonprofit organizations play in our society? Should the government subsidize nonprofits? What about religious nonprofits?

WWED? Ralph Waldo Emerson disdained many of the popular charities of his day: "the education at college of fools; the building of meeting houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots, and the thousand-fold Relief Societies; though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar, which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold." ("Emerson's Shadow" by Forrest Church, page 31)

Question: How do you think Emerson would spend his money if he were alive today? Would he be as caustic about charitable donations as he was in 1841?

HOMETOWN PROPHET. The American Unitarian church did not immediately embrace Emerson's beliefs. The Christian Examiner, a leading Unitarian periodical, wrote of Emerson shortly after his controversial 1838 "Divinity School Address," "Defend us from the wordiness and mysticism, which are pretending to be a better literature, a higher theology, and almost a new revelation." Yet, Richard Higgins writes, "by 1861, the same periodical rejoiced in Emerson's 'prophetic mission' of challenging the church and awakening a new religious sense." ("Emerson's Mirror," page 25)

Question: What evidence can you see of Emerson's impact on the denomination as it is today? How are his values reflected in Unitarian Universalist thinking and polity?

GROWING PAINS. Forrest Church writes of the paradox between Emerson's emphasis on individualism and the needs of a social institution: "If we are ever to grow up, the anti-institutionalists who gravitate to our institutions must take a little of their precious Emersonian freedom and invest it more generously. Only then will we bond together in redemptive community." ("Emerson's Shadow," page 30)

Question: Do you agree with Church that "Emerson's shadow blocks us from becoming who we might be"? How can individualism coexist with the social needs and commitments of a religious community? Do you think that the Unitarian Universalist movement is still in its adolescence?

ADVANCING TECHNOLOGY. Pipher sees some new technological developments as threats to our social structure: "Rapidly our technology is creating a new kind of human being, one who is plugged into machines instead of relationships, one who lives in a virtual reality rather than a family. And just as families have unraveled, so have communities." ("In Praise of Hometowns," page 40)

Question: Do you agree with Pipher about the negative impact of recent technology? How do you weigh the negative consequences of technological changes against technologies that have improved the quality of life? Is high technology creating new ways of behaving? How does this differ from earlier eras?

QUESTION OF TASTE. John A. Rakestraw Jr. describes the highbrow-lowbrow cultural continuum and observes that some tastes change dramatically over time. For example, opera in the nineteenth century was considered popular entertainment. ("Religion News," page 52)

Question: Are there particular activities or affinities in your life that were once considered lowbrow and are now considered highbrow, or vice versa? Consider your preferences in art, music, hobbies, and sports. What do you enjoy now that would have embarrassed previous generations?

Jane Greer is managing editor of UU World.

 Contents: UU World March/April 2003
UU World XVII:2 (March/April 2003): 63

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