Rev. Meredith Garmon
Dear Unitarian Universalists,
I just want to say: thanks! Thank you for siding with love. And against cruelty.
Isn't everyone against cruelty? As someone raised UU, I grew up assuming that was the case.
In January 2007, LoraKim and I were living in Gainesville, Florida, so of course we watched the NCAA football championship game that month, and of course we rooted for the home team Florida Gators against the Ohio State Buckeyes. When Florida, slight underdogs going into the game, won 41-14, I was glad. All around me the town was celebrating.
I was in a celebratory mood myself, and left the TV on for post-game reporting. Post-game shows seem to like to include fan reaction segments -- don't ask me why. They cut to a scene in Columbus, Ohio and showed a woman bedecked in OSU red and white. She was dejected, of course. In fact, she was crying. The broadcast cut back to a Gainesville bar, and two young men who had been watching the bar TV and had just seen the shot of the Ohio woman crying. The young men gleefully jeered and mocked her.
That was the moment I lost interest in college football. I'd been a football fan all my life, and I understood that jeering and mocking the opposition before the game -- and a certain amount of gloating afterward from partisans of the victor -- were to be expected. Yet I was unprepared for the delight I saw being taken in another's pain: the evident pleasure in cruelty for its own sake. The brief shot of those celebrating Gator fans haunted me. As I processed my horror, a more extreme example of the same phenomenon rose to mind: the photos I'd seen from the 1920s of smiling, celebratory white faces at the lynching of a black person.
All of this came back to me this week as I read Adam Serwer's article, "The Cruelty is the Point," and Lili Loofbourow's "Brett Kavanaugh and the Cruelty of Male Bonding." Cruelty, directed toward women, apparently functions as a bonding mechanism for some men, a means "for intimacy through contempt." Oh, dear God.
Political theorist Judith Shklar is credited with saying "liberals are the people who think cruelty is the worst thing we do." I am quick to distinguish a religious liberal and a political liberal, recognizing that many people are religiously liberal and politically conservative. I don't know if viewing cruelty as "the worst thing we do" is actually any less prominent among political conservatives than political liberals, but Shklar's point resonates with me as a characterization of religious liberals. Moreover, I have always appreciated that Shklar's way of putting it avoids claiming that liberals actually are less cruel -- just that, when we are, or discover that we have been, we think of it as "being at our worst."
My life as a Unitarian Universalist has kept me in the company of people with an intuitive revulsion to cruelty -- people who see cruelty as, indeed, worse than, say, betrayal, dishonor, subversion, cowardice, or desecration -- which, of course, can also be devastating human failings. I'm so grateful to all of you who keep UU congregations going, who give your lives to sustaining liberal religious communities, who see cruelty as the worst thing we do and therefore see care and kindness as the best, and who keep lit the flame of care and kindness as the supreme value. During these times when the celebration of cruelty -- seems to be ascendant, the only hope I see is . . . you -- the people who side with love. Thank you. You're lifesavers!
Gratefully, so gratefully yours,
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