Salman 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