On Being An “Apostle of Non-purity”

farridaySalman Rushdie wrote, “Throughout human history, the apostles of purity… have wrought havoc among mere mixed-up human beings.”  And he’s profoundly correct, for time and again the siren call for some mythical purity by political and/or religious demagogues has inflicted untold misery and very often death to those judged impure.

I thought of this last Monday upon learning that Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI, had announced his pending resignation.  For prior to being elected Pope, then-Cardinal Ratzinger headed the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—formerly the Office of the Holy Inquisition.  Dubbed “God’s Rottweiler” by one commentator, Ratzinger was indeed an apostle of both political and religious purity—with predictably injurious results.

On the religious side, as Cardinal and then as Pope Ratzinger heedlessly slighted other Christians, Jews, and Muslims, hounded American nuns for being “radical feminists,” oversaw the suppression of over 100 Catholic theologians, and even attacked the Girl Scouts for a lack of orthodoxy on sexual issues.  Politically, he chose to protect his institution over children by failing to confront rampant child sexual abuse among Catholic priests, spearheaded an ongoing Vatican campaign against condom use in AIDS-ravaged Africa, and has claimed that saving humankind from homosexual behavior is as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.

All this and lots more really ticks me off.  It also makes me glad and proud to be a Unitarian Universalist.  To be “among mere mixed-up human beings” who favor freedom of thought over obedience, uncertainty over orthodoxy, justice and compassion over dogmatic, havoc-wreaking condemnation.  To be other (not less) than pure.  To stand, as much as I am able, on the side of love.

To be sure, many Catholics—like the revered initiator of their faith—often stand there too.  But over the centuries Vatican “company men” like Ratzinger have turned the commune into an exclusive (or rather, “excluding”) gated community.  And how ironic that those who took Jesus down from the “Son of God” pedestal—the Unitarians—are now arguably much closer to living his teaching of radically inclusive love than the institution that claims to carry on his legacy.

So as a nascent UU minister, I’m curious.  How do you think such radical inclusivity can be embodied and expanded as UUism moves into an increasingly diverse future, especially on behalf of people shamed or shunned by conservative religious (and political) traditions?  How might UU religious leaders productively approach this challenge?  And could a “theology of non-purity” lovingly inform such efforts?

I hope you will share your thoughts and comments.

Peter Farriday, NUUC Ministerial Intern


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4 Responses to On Being An “Apostle of Non-purity”

  1. Ticks me off too, thanks Peter for writing this; what a breath of clear, clean, fresh air this (and the Rushdie line, AND Unitarianism) is with so many fluffing the Pope’s pillow for heaven. It’s hard for me to arrive at something like nuance about this old weasel in white. The question is: When was the last time he tenderly assuaged someone’s hurt feelings or comforted somebody in confusion rather than nagging and offering rules and criticisms and antique curses?

    Maybe now the Vatican should be leveled to fresh earth for the construction of a petting zoo or a massive Versailles-like garden or, maybe a sex and rape abuse center.

    A mean old man upholding a centuries-old mean old man network excluding and darkening the lives of homosexuals, women, the desperate poor, choir boys, you name it. The hell with the Pope, and the nag he rode in on.

    [ If this tone is a little overbearing, please forgive me. I just quit smoking; I’m trying to keep myself over in the shade for awhile. ]

  2. Sara Willard says:

    Peter, beautifully expressed. I wish we UUs could somehow have a little more influence in the
    world (by example, not decree), so that wars, hate, domination, and fear could become pale shadows rather than overriding trumpetings…..

  3. Phoebe Conn says:

    We are following Gandhi’s advice, “Be the change you wish to see.”
    We need to let the world know more about UU.

  4. Robin Robinson says:

    Hi, Peter. I am the mom of two “mixed” children, now 31 and 29 years old. We like the archaic word, “quadroons”, because their “African-American” Dad had a very dark father, and an apparently “white” mother. Hattie actually had Native American blood, and my daughter is still researching to find out which tribe(s) and has recently brought the Canary Islands into the family tree picture. But anyway, I say this to show that the idea of “racial” and ethnic purity has been food for thought, and also a source of some contention in my life. Ironically, my own mom and dad came from German Lutheran and Italian Catholic families, respectively. You would have thought they would have been tolerant of my husband, even welcoming, after the discrimination we had experienced from their relatives. But my father disowned me when I married my husband. He relented when my daughter, whose skin is fairer than mine, was born. My own kids, born in the 80’s, had many friends whose parents were not of the same, “pure” stock and Eagle Rock was a little mini-melting pot, which made life both interesting and reassuring. But my two kids continue to look at and experience the identity question in very different ways, simply because they are two very different people.

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