Nine years ago Barbara and I bought our place in Naples, but only in the last four years have we spent much time here. As snowbirds, and lifetime liberals, we now realize what sheltered lives we live when in Michigan. Before retiring, Barbara worked for a labor union, I taught college undergraduates.
We’ve come to see ourselves as strangers in a strange land. Although our Naples neighbors are cordial and respectful of our privacy, they are all of them chest-thumping conservatives. Whenever politics comes up, they take it for granted we share their views. New kids on the block and greatly outnumbered, we bite our tongues and keep our commie-liberal-socialist opinions to ourselves.
With no real religious motive, at some point we started attending Unitarian Universalist services. Unitarians have always been firmly located in the liberal camp, and at last we found ourselves in the company of like-minded people. My catch phrase is that the UU church of Naples should be thought of as a sleeper cell of subversive progressive thinking.
It felt good both in emotional and intellectual terms to hear people affirm the importance of reason, and to practice it without first channeling ideas through a litmus test of some kind. In fact, the only thing the church called on members to subscribe to was a commitment to reason, along with an attitude of tolerance toward everything except intolerance.
But there is a fly in the shoo-fly pie of paradise: Barbara was raised Catholic. Although the Church’s intolerant attitude toward divorce led her to leave, a residual strain of Christian faith still runs deep in her. With me, it is more a rill or trickle, swelling at times, but soon slipping back to negligible proportions.
Even so, I have continued to attend services alone. I am grateful to the minister, Kathleen Damewood Korb, and to the members who have generously welcomed me without pressure to officially join. In what is fully consistent with UU emphasis on critical thinking, Barbara remains skeptical.
--How was it?
--Good. Very thought-provoking.
--What thoughts were provoked?
--Well, Katy talked about many things. She presented a funny list of UU attributes. She said UUs were Bo Bos. Bourgeois bohemians. They all went to college, drive environmentally correct cars, eat free-range chicken, drink Fair Trade coffee and listen to NPR. Then she talked about how difficult but necessary it is to get the UU message out. She said we are often too quiet and insular in our beliefs. Too pleased with ourselves, and given to condescension.
--Being too quiet about UU beliefs. I’m not so sure I know how much noise you can make about them.
--I think I sense some irony headed my way.
--Not at all. You know I’m sympathetic. I just find it tepid, that’s all.
--You mean the emphasis on reason and skepticism as opposed to faith.
--Well, yes, that is what I mean. I’m just wondering how you can spread the Good News when you think a belief in the existence of God is a matter of opinion.
--You know that’s not really stating the issue.
--No? How is that not stating the issue? Does anyone attending a UU service have to believe in God?
--Reasonable, compassionate people don’t necessarily believe,so no one is forced to—
--But if you do happen to believe in God, that’s OK, you’re welcome.
--What you believe as a Unitarian is your private business. Just as it’s your personal responsibility to live according to those beliefs.
--You mean the ones that are your business, that you and you alone are responsible for.
--In other words, belief in the existence of God is a matter of opinion.
--I sense this is not an area likely to bear conversational fruit. You aren’t wrong, but neither are you exactly right. I suspect most UU members believe in keeping an open mind.
--About the existence of God.
--Heads He is, tails He ain’t.
--OK. So what else happened?
--They always invite people to voice their joys or concerns.
--I suppose “concerns” would be things like death and losing your mind, that kind of thing.
--Terminal illness and surgeries do play big roles, so yes, that’s true.
--I’m sorry, but calling death or dementia a “concern” is too UU for words.
--Anyway, today the emphasis was on joys, not concerns. A young couple was there with their new baby. Of course UUs don’t baptize children, but they do have a naming ceremony. I think it was Walter.
--I see. I bet UUs also have a “ceremony” for voter registration.
--Very funny. And someone had died and left a bequest to the church. To be used for building a children’s garden. The man who told us about it was very witty. He said there were already plans to offer the garden as a venue for wedding ceremonies. He added it would also be a great place for couples to sign pre-nuptial agreements. For a fee.
--Yes, that’s good.
--I don’t see such a joke resonating with the Baptists down the street.
--No, not likely.
--Reason enough to attend, don’t you think?
--Maybe. But as with the existence of God, I would have to say the jury’s still out.