Activity 4: The Premises of Reason
Activity time: 20 minutes
Materials for Activity
- Handout 3, Scientific Salvation
- Three small objects for a ritual, perhaps smooth stones, flowers, sea shells, small sculptures or craft pieces, or candles
Preparation for Activity
- Copy Handout 3.
- In advance, invite up to nine participants to volunteer as readers (the selection calls for one Narrator and eight Readers; you may choose to read the Narrator part). Give the readers the handout before this workshop so they can prepare to read their parts aloud.
Description of Activity
Introduce the activity with this brief story about James Luther Adams, using these or similar words:
James Luther Adams (1901-1994) was the leading theologian and social ethicist of Unitarianism in the twentieth century. His wide-ranging studies in psychology, philosophy, and religion and his ministry of teaching and lecturing led him to his belief that "religious liberalism affirms the moral obligation to direct one's effort toward the establishment of a just and loving community." But he was not naive about how challenging this aim was. One of the most profound experiences of his long life came in the 1930s, when he made two trips to Nazi Germany and was detained for a short time by the Gestapo. That experience helped shape his meditations on the use, and misuse, of reason as a source of ethics and knowledge. In his essay "The Changing Reputation of Human Nature," he wrote: "The world has many educated people who know how to reason, and they reason very well, but curiously enough, many of them fail to examine the pre-established premises from which they reason, premises that turn out on examination to be antisocial, protective camouflages of power."
Distribute Handout 3, Scientific Salvation. Offer this background:
The Reverend Mark Harris explored a little-known and deeply unsettling chapter of Unitarian Universalist history in his 2008 Minns Lecture, "The Science of Salvation." His lecture included consideration of the relationship between liberal religion and the eugenics movement.
Invite volunteers to read the handout aloud.
Following the reading, allow time for participants to express their questions, thoughts, and feelings about this difficult chapter of our history.
Invite participants into a short time of silence. After a few moments, place the three objects, one at a time, on the chalice stand, using these words as you place each object:
(First object) We offer this in remembrance of those who have done great good, yet following the dictates of conscience as best they knew them, also stumbled, bringing harm to a hurting world. May we have compassion for all who struggle in human imperfection; may we be ever mindful of the premises of power.
(Second object) We offer this in remembrance of those who suffer harm at the hands of others whether through intentional malice or through misguided altruism. May we have compassion for all who struggle in human imperfection; may we be ever mindful of the premises of power.
(Third object) We offer this reminder for ourselves, so that the lessons of history may guide our actions today and in the future. May we have compassion for all who struggle in human imperfection; may we be ever mindful of the premises of power.
Including All Participants
Be mindful of participants who have a disability or who are close to someone who has a disability. This conversation may raise difficult issues and emotions.