Against Illiberalism

Against Illiberalism, A critique of illiberal trends in liberal institutions, with a focus on neoracist ideology in Unitarian Universalism

by David Cycleback (ברוך בן אברהם ושרה)

Comment from the Fifth Principle Project

We are presenting the following Discussion by David Cycleback, a Jewish philosopher and cognitive scientist, as a Guest Contributor. David’s paper is thoughtful, well written and documented. The paper is an excellent single source to understand how illiberal ideologies such as Critical Race Theory are eroding UU Enlightenment values such as freedom of belief, democracy, and tolerance.

David writes, “. . . following illiberal trends in other institutions, the national UU leadership has been taken over by radicals who are trying to transform UU into an illiberal, top-town church. It controversially declared UU “a white supremacy culture.” In a church that advertises itself as having no creed, it unilaterally declared an extreme version of critical race theory as a “theological mandate” for all congregations and UUs.”

We recommend you download and read the paper slowly. It may take one or more sessions to read, but your time will be well spent.  The paper can also be a resource for discussion groups.

Other Comments from the Paper

I just fundamentally believe that we should be fighting for a world in which there are no caste systems, in which people are judged based on their individual merit and character, in which we move from the historical construct of race, rather than reifying it. I just don’t think you look at history and believe making people fixated on their immutable characteristics and saying those immutable characteristics have immutable power leads to anywhere good.

Bari Weiss, author of How to Fight Anti-Semitism

This paper examines recent illiberal trends in traditionally liberal institutions. Specifically, it critiques extreme “anti-racism” approaches based on critical race theory (CRT) and the ideas of academics such as Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo. It also focuses on Unitarian Universalism, a historically liberal church. Recent national UU leadership has adopted an extreme version of critical race theory that has caused strife and division and undermined long-standing UU values such as freedom of speech and expression, pluralism, freedom of conscience and democracy.

Many well-intentioned but misguided white UUs and young ministers have bought into a radical racial essentialist and antisemitic ideology and approach that not only do most minorities not subscribe to, but that is ultimately counterproductive to social justice and healthy communities. As the paper details, some of the strongest voices against critical race theory and illiberalism come from minorities.

David explains that illiberalism, dogmatism and authoritarianism are oppressive of all groups, minority and majority, and should be rejected wherever they appear, including in Unitarian Universalism.

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Access the paper here.  Against Illiberalism. A critique of illiberal trends in liberal institutions, with a focus on neoracist ideology in Unitarian Universalism

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Jim Aikin
3 months ago

Cycleback’s discussion is excellent. (He even spelled my name right most of the time.) I haven’t yet explored the links in the PDF, but there are a lot of them. A valuable resource!

David Willkomm
David Willkomm
3 months ago

I felt validated by Cycleback’s article, when he stated whites are not a monolithic group. My privileged life ended at 16 yo, when my Dad lost his car dealership in 1966. Like many other whites that served in the Vietnam War, I felt I was in the lower class living in poverty for 10 yrs. before earning my MSW, and having a professional career. I tried to get a local PBS reporter to do an investigative report on the current UU conflict, but he declined. Would love to see a documentary made to explain the issues to the general public.… Read more »

Barbara Keating
Barbara Keating
3 months ago
Reply to  David Willkomm

Thank you.  I also especially appreciated Cycleback’s point of recognizing white diversity.   The blanket accusations of “white privilege” negates the reality of the wide range of socio-economic status.  My father was not privileged.  He grew up in the poverty of the Great Depression during which his parents lost their home so they had to live with his grandparents.  Then he fought two wars, WWII and Korea.  He was proud of WWII but not Korea about which he said the same that my friends said about Vietnam; that it was a dirty war about which our leaders lied to us and in which our soldiers were put… Read more »

David
David
3 months ago

As the author, I can say that, in the paper, the pushback against the “white as one monolithic people” stereotype is, in particular, coming from two black law professors: Stanford’s Ralph Richard Banks and Harvard’s Randall Kennedy.   Further, in the paper, Glenn Loury, a black professor at Brown University who was the first tenured black economics professor at Harvard, pushes back against the idea of categorizing whites as “a single people,” because he says that’s what white nationalists do. He points out that “blacks,” “browns,” “yellows” etc. also have no single cultural, economic, political, language or geographical heritage. That’s… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by David
David Willkomm
David Willkomm
3 months ago

Barbara,nice to hear your Dad was able to share some of his feelings about his service with you ! As a VA social Worker for many yrs., I learned a lot about the effects of war on both the combatants & their families. I feel sorry for the Russian troops brutalizing .Ukainians, because down the road, the soldiers will have their own form of “mental malaria” same as we Vietnam Vets developed, when we returned stateside. Doubt if Russia will provide any debriefing and/or counseling afterwards.

Susan McWethy
Susan McWethy
3 months ago

I love the expression “race narcissism.”

This paper is so clear and helpful. I know I will be referring people to it in future discussions of anti-racism.

Miles Fidelman
Miles Fidelman
3 months ago

David… If I haven’t said this before, it’s a great paper. Somebody should send it to the Pew Program on Religion in America – might get some visibility.

Barbara Keating
Barbara Keating
3 months ago

Thank you, David Cycleback, for so well articulating and explaining my discomfort, disillusionments, and disappointments with the UUA and woke extremism.

Stephen Polmar
Stephen Polmar
3 months ago

David Cycleback’s excellent article clearly lays out all the faults, hypocrisies and contradictions of contemporary Unitarian Universalism and the role that the UUA, UUMA, UU seminaries played in bring the denomination to this juncture.  There is a complete disconnect between the 7 Principles of Unitarian Universalism and the practices and attitudes advocated by UUA and the UUMA. In this month in which the denomination’s theme is Awakening, I doubt that a sufficient number of members of the denomination have awakened to the fact that what had been the exemplar of liberal religion in the United States has now become an… Read more »

Sasha Kwapinski
Sasha Kwapinski
3 months ago

The comparison with religious fundamentalism is spot on. I turned away from fundamentalist Christianity decades ago largely due to their hammering about how we are (supposedly) collectively guilty or culpable due to Adam’s transgression in the Garden of Eden. Collective “white guilt” is little more than an updated, politically correct remake of the same fictional concept. It’s interesting how people on opposite ends to the religious spectrum can nonetheless display the same mentality. Jews, as the article points out, do not fit and cannot be “shoehorned” into the CRT scenario. Other religious minorities which also may constitute interesting case studies… Read more »

Paul De Moor
Paul De Moor
3 months ago

Yes, Thandeka makes that same point about “Original Sin”in her 1999 presentation “Why Antiracism Will Fail”.

Barbara Keating
Barbara Keating
3 months ago

Of special concern are Cycleback’s comments on page 50 about “’the biggest danger to local congregations is the takeover of seminaries and the credentialing of clergy …’” … “many newly ordained ministers have worked to stifle dissent in congregations … platform only the UUA-approved agenda, and censor, punish and even expel dissenting congregants.”  It was a sad, disconcerting experience to observe my former congregation decline from democracy to manipulative autocracy and bullying; from transparency in minutes, reports and newsletter items to omissions to opaqueness to misrepresentations; from a congregants-reflective sense of community and social activism to empty gestures and progressive posturing… Read more »

Stephen Polmar
Stephen Polmar
3 months ago

You make an important point of how the policies and attitudes of the UUA in particular are destroying our congregations. Behaviors that are part of the “cancel culture” that have been accepted and fostered by ministerial leadership when it comes to racial justice issues are carried over to local congregational issues. The result, in my own experience, is a dysfunctional congregation and a church on the path to self-destruction. I also speak, as you do, from personal experience.

Terry Anderson
Terry Anderson
2 months ago

I too grieve for the UU congregation that I felt compelled to leave after the Canadian debate/discussion on the 8th Principle. However, I have been enjoying the streamed services from UU Church of Spokane. They are now only streamed but about to start a more interactive service via ZOOM to share/parallel the in-church service. Todd Eklof is an excellent and a very personable teacher/preacher so despite his notoriety, it is helping me grieve the demise of the Canadian Unitarian culture into wokeism.

Paul De Moor
Paul De Moor
3 months ago

I got out my yellow magic marker and I was going to highlight the passages that I thought were particularly poignant, but I quickly realized that I would have ended up highlighting everything. This is a very readable and spot-on treatment of the current crisis in Unitarian Universalism. It never ceases to amaze me that so few people in my local congregation have any awareness of these issues. Reading this article makes me feel that I am not alone in my concerns about the future of our religion.

David Cycleback
David Cycleback
3 months ago

I did a final editing of the paper with the help of Jim Aikin. The final copy is linked below. Of course, feel free to share.

https://centerforartifactstudiesorg.files.wordpress.com/2022/04/cycleback_against_illiberalism.pdf

Lee
Lee
3 months ago

Thank you for your time and effort. I see you labeling UUA actions as “extreme Critical Race Theory” and then you soundly criticize Critical Race Theory. But surely the labeling step is not needed. I’d find this more compelling if you listed the UUA actions that you find lacking and then criticize them directly. (Maybe you did and I didn’t see it. If so, then I apologize for this stupid question.)

David
David
2 months ago
Reply to  Lee

My sharp criticism was of the extreme, dogmatic version of CRT. The following chapter considered the less dogmatic use of it, which puts it in a different perspective.

Lee
Lee
3 months ago

As someone who has spent a lot of time with anti-racists, I see the use of “white privilege” here to be different from the use by anti-racists. According to anti-racists, white privilege is not something that makes white people racists; it is not something that white people should feel guilty about. Instead “white privilege” means that (for the most part) white people get treated properly. A group of white people is not assumed to be a gang; running while white is not a crime; white men are passionate rather than disturbingly angry; etc. Anti-racists are hoping that we can build… Read more »

Tom C
Tom C
2 months ago
Reply to  Lee

The intention of anti-racists using the term “white privilege” doesn’t matter, only impact. I am deeply offended by that term as well as the term “white supremacy culture.” I don’t care that you redefined it to make it to make yourself feel good.

Lee
Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Tom C

Words matter and these discussions about what are good words to use are important. However, I argue that ending racism is more important than is describing it using the right words. So, yes, let’s find a shared language to describe the problems but, if you have the time or resources, please also put at least as much work towards solving the underlying problems.

Tom C
Tom C
2 months ago
Reply to  Lee

If ending racism is more important than language, anti-racists would change their language to draw more people in instead of pushing them away with divisive language.

My guess is the language used by the UUA is deliberate and you just want everybody to feel good about it so you change definitions and are dismissive to the experience of others.

Lee
Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Tom C

Indeed there are some anti-racists who agree with you that a change of language would help. On the other hand, other anti-racists want to focus on actions and consider the efforts to perfect the language to be a delaying tactic. I am a “both and” person here. I want to work on the language and I don’t want the actions to have to wait as we work on the language. Towards working on the language, I am offering my translation services where I see differences of term usage. I am hopeful that increased understanding will narrow the gap, so that… Read more »

Tom C
Tom C
2 months ago
Reply to  Lee

Unfortunately, my sarcasm didn’t get you to think about why it’s ok for UU anti-racists to use language that is offensive while having a tenant that impact > intention. So my conclusion is that impact > intention only applies to certain people. Evidently, I am not one of those people. You take the language used by the UUA and redefine words in an attempt to make everybody feel good about what the UUA is doing. Mandate doesn’t mean “impassioned plea.” Of course, I don’t believe that the UUA is really redefining “mandate.” I believe the UUA really does mean “an… Read more »

Lee
Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Tom C

In circles where I travel, both intent and impact are important. Having good intentions doesn’t mean you can ignore impact and, vice versa, having good impact doesn’t mean you can ignore intentions. The reason that you get push back when starting a sentence with “I didn’t intend …” is that people want you to remember that impact is important too. It’s not that impact is important only.

Tom C
Tom C
2 months ago
Reply to  Lee

So what is it about me that lead you to disregard the harm inflicted by your language?

Lee
Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Tom C

We are talking about the “white privilege” language, yes? In regard to that, I provided the meaning of that term in the circles I travel in, with the hope of removing (or at least significantly mitigating) the harm. It is apparent that that was insufficient, so I’d like to continue the discussion. It would help me to understand this better from your perspective. When there is ill intent from the speaker who says “white privilege” then I can see a path where that would harm you. But in that case, I would think that my explaining my understanding of the… Read more »

Jim
Jim
2 months ago
Reply to  Lee

I’ll take a stab at this. It is a moralistic socio-political judgment based solely upon skin color. If a white child wins a spelling bee, after hours and hours of hard work and preparation, it diminishes that child’s accomplishment to call them “white privileged” (especially if the 2nd place finisher was a black child). They should feel deservedly proud of their hard work and accomplishments. They should have their self-esteem enhanced, rather than diminished by unfair terms based solely upon skin color. Similarly if that white child is in tears after being bullied by other children (of any color) calling… Read more »

Lee
Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim

Thank you for being in this discussion with me. My experience is that the people who use the phrase “white privilege” would agree with you that the spelling bee champ should be deservedly proud and the bullied child deserves our utmost sympathy, regardless of race. We are on the same page there. In the circles I travel in, the term is used as in “white privilege doesn’t mean that you don’t have your own struggles; it means that your skin color isn’t one of them.” In particular, the phrase is not a negative moral judgement, it is an aspiration that… Read more »

Jim
Jim
2 months ago
Reply to  Lee

I don’t believe the definition you have given is genuine.

Lee
Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim

That clarifies things, thank you. Is it that you have personal experience of a particular person using “white privilege” in a conversation with you that caused harm, or maybe it happened to a personal friend?

I am hoping that I am losing the trustworthiness competition to you directly, or to a personal friend of yours, rather than to a media pundit.

Lee
Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim

The words quoted from Peggy McIntosh are from thirty-three years ago! If the “white privilege” phrase is that harmful, are there more recent examples?

I’d especially like to hear your experiences or those of people you know personally. I trust real people more than I trust the talking heads in the media.

Jim
Jim
2 months ago
Reply to  Lee

I must say I am surprised and pleased that you read that link. I hope it gives you some material for reflection. Words do mean things and I find your rhetorical “redefinitions” of such things like white privilege to be less than satisfying. Occam’s razor and all that. I think it is worthwhile to look at the origins of the phrase – even if it was 33 years ago. YMMV. So, since you are continuing to post here, I’m still wondering if you managed to obtain a copy of “The Gadfly Papers” and taken the time to inform yourself more… Read more »

Tom C
Tom C
2 months ago
Reply to  Lee

So you must evaluate my lived experience before you decide whether there is enough impact?

Lee
Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Tom C

I do not wish to evaluate your life experience, I wish to learn from it. I trust real people like you much more than I trust media pundits.

Paul.demoor@zimbracloud.com
Paul.demoor@zimbracloud.com
2 months ago
Reply to  Lee

What strikes me about the use of the term “white privilege” is that it makes fair treatment a “privilege” when I think it should be considered the norm. All people should be treated fairly as a a matter of course. It should not be a privilege enjoyed by some.

Lee
Lee
2 months ago

I agree that being treated fairly should be the norm for all. I agree that people who are treated fairly would call it the norm.

What word would use instead of “privilege” in the sentence: “Relative to the mistreatment that commonly happens to People of Color, instead being treated as if they were white would be a privilege”?

Jim Anderson
Jim Anderson
2 months ago
Reply to  Lee

Have you looked at “Why Anti-Racism Will Fail” by Rev. Thandeka? https://files.meadville.edu/files/resources/thandeka-why-anti-racism-will-fail-447.pdf The whole sermon is well worth reading and paying close attention to but re “privilege” here’s what she says: To answer this question, we have to turn to the second problem I have found in UU anti-racist strategies: the errant assumption that white America works for white Americans. Any one who cares to look will quickly discover that it doesn’t – at least, not for the vast majority of them. The privilege that, according to the anti- racists, comes with membership in white America, actually belongs to a… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Jim Anderson
Lee
Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Anderson

Yes, exactly. From the perspective of someone who is left-handed in this context, being right-handed would be a privilege. The goal is not to criticize right-handers, except to extent that they harm left-handers.

White privilege doesn’t mean that you don’t have your own struggles; it means that your skin color isn’t one of them.

Dr Teresa Goodell
Dr Teresa Goodell
1 month ago
Reply to  Lee

Precisely what I have learned from my exploration of racism and how to engender equity. I think the terminology of anti-racism turns people off, until they explore it further and strive to understand.