Wednesday 23 December 2009

Episcopalian Frightens Unitarians (Not)

An Episcopalian convert by choice has attacked Unitarians for undermining Christmas and stealing Christian clothes. Garrison Keillor, once a Plymouth Brethren, but who then had a liberal conversion and became Episcopalian, decided to attack both Unitarians and Jews over rewriting Christmas carols and drawing on other festivities that belong to Christians.

Don't rewrite and pinch Christian carols, he says: Silent Night has been rewritten, he says, to say more about silence and less about God, and this happened in the location where Ralph Waldo Emerson (a Unitarian and ejected Unitarian too) preached (the First Church of Cambridge). He says:

Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that's their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite "Silent Night." If you don't believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn "Silent Night" and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough.

Then he immediately bashes the Jews similarly, adding:

Did one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't.

He declares, for all our benefits:

Christmas is a Christian holiday - if you're not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down, eat figgy pudding until you puke, but don't mess with the Messiah.

Don't worry mate: I don't. But Jesus was a Jew, and he believed in one God. He did not turn himself into a salvation figure, like Paul did in a thoroughly ahistorical manner for an exporting Gentile Christianity, but pointed to an immediate future almost present and the action of a justice filled supernatural God. Dominic Lawson defends the Jewish bit, but Unitarians have long looked after themselves (and, come to think of it, so have Jews) and there is some solid agreement between historical, progressive Christian and Jewish scholarship and the Unitarians regarding Jesus. The difference is, Unitarians pinch things and get on other people's nerves. But I'd buzz off, regarding the celebration, personally, but - just to annoy, and for the aesthetics - will still turn up for the evening concert late on the 24th and into the 25th.


-frank said...

He's from Lake Woebegone where...

"all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average".

Mmm, I always thought he was Lutheran.


Donald Schell said...


I think your piece, 'Anglicanism Gives Way to Democratic Centralism' is insightful and very useful.

But on Garrison Keillor, you (and a lot of other readers in various publications) missed his satirical voice. The indications that he intends satire are all over this piece. The satrical stance he's taken is a smug Christian with a strong personal sense of owning that territory. From that stance he says all kinds of non-P.C., offensive things. The most blatant indicator it's satire is this - "...if you're not in the club, then buzz off."

Keillor's finding his way from a Plymouth Brethren house church childhood makes him very, very conscious of any church's inclination to define grace in terms of turf and spend big effort defining who really doesn't belong.

Coming to the Episcopal church, he has noticed and repeatedly commented on a more liberal version of the same phenomenon. He sounds like a bigot because he thinks that's what he's hearing.

Do we know how readers took Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal"?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I'm hearing but losing the ability to listen. I never know now when irony is intended. People tell me when it is happening, but I only believe some of them. I think I believe you.

James said...

I don't know how pinched our faith is. I rather thought our strength and shadow was expansiveness. That said it is my experience that most of us Unitarian Universalists (the Unitarians in the US) do like Christmas, if in our own way...

James said...

also a post script to Mr Schell. I admire your generosity of spirit. But as a narrow and pinched fellow, I just don't see much (any) satire in Mr Keillor's rant. I understand there is that old gored ox thing, so I'm trying to be careful. But, this article much like his piece on homosexuality seems more revealing of his hurt and clinging than of some larger perspective...

At least so it seems to this reader...

Anonymous said...

'This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough.'

Christians suffer so much, Catholics suffer so much, Baha'is suffer so much. Suffer, suffer, suffer, and suffer some more. Merry merry and happy holidays, Adrian!

Anonymous said...

Funny Wobegone man,

I'm freezing my pantheistic butt off in a newly snowy Portland OR. Oh thats it, I'm not warrior enough.