A UU Perspective on Utopian Storytelling

I had a very startling experience at a church service recently.

I attend a Unitarian Universalist, or UU, church in Tampa Bay. Our minister has been on sabbatical for about six months, so lay members have been filling in for her during her absence.

Last Sunday was our Valentine’s Day-themed service, given by our RE (“Religious Exploration”) director. Typically, these services have been pandering at best, discomfiting at worst, given the UU disposition towards selfless love that sometimes translates into anti-individualistic groupthink (more on that in a bit). In one homily, the speaker all but denounced the worth of the individual receiving a specific kind of love in favor of getting a more non-specific, collective love instead. (The worst was a reading of the treacle children’s book Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch.)

Yesterday was a bit more interesting.¬†You can read the script here, but here’s the synopsis:

The town of Beneficence has lost its all-knowing, ever-loving mayor, and the townspeople now need to choose a replacement, someone who has a “perfect heart.” After a long search, a stranger comes forward, with a perfect heart and a sense of justice, but no wisdom or experience. The stranger is challenged by the old woman at the well, whose heart is scarred and warped from a lifetime of risk-taking and pain. The town chooses the old woman, because wisdom and experience are more important than perfect judgment.

First, our UU utopia of Beneficence is pretty damn Socialist (or perhaps Communist, depending on how you interpret the text). We UUs have a pretty progressive disposition, but the taxation policy described, where everyone gives money to the town freely because¬†there’s just so much love, is a bit extreme. Even as a progressive I found it way beyond what should go into a Sunday service.

Second, while I’ll give the story credit for using very little hand-waving to make the premise work, a perfect heart (or even a heart with wisdom) is not the only criteria you should use for choosing a leader. What about political connections? Specific leadership experience? A clean criminal record? Should Beneficence require a birth certificate for candidates? (I found it irritating that the stranger’s appearance is almost a Birther’s retelling of Obama’s presidency.)

I dug the themes of innocence versus experience, but the marriage of personal wisdom into a political agenda was a bit much. As played in church, it also had another layer of meaning: the roles were all performed by members of the Board of Trustees. It’s as if they were saying, “Trust us — we have perfect hearts!”

I’m not sure I want in on a UU utopia. I’d also appreciate a Valentine’s Day service that actually pertains to the modern notions: how relationships work, how we should love one another, how we should expand the right to marry to gays and lesbians. These are all things that the UU church already does. Save the utopian fantasy for fiction. Or better yet, let me write it instead.