There is a tendency I want to discuss which for lack of a better name I would call "asshole contrarianism." I have written in this space about the issues that arrise when freedom is treated as if it were the only virtue in the world. I am torn between the notion that this kind of contrariness stems from reason being turned into an end rather than a means or more from the lack of reason.
In UU communties, the devils advocate, naysayer or "asshole contrarian" is stereotypically seen as a cranky humanist, but sadly it is a syndrome that affects UUs of all theological (and atheological) stripes.
Most of my UU blogger colleagues feel a certain derision towards people who might be described as "true believers." I am at a stage in my life where I have been idealistic and optimistic. But I am also at a stage in my life where I am done being jaded and cynical, with everything kept at a protective, ironic distance.
I remember when I was younger I sometimes had friends who quit listening to certain bands once they became popular (REM and U2 were both common in my generation) as attempt to demonstrate their uber-hipness.
Sometimes I feel like people, in an attempt to protect themselves from vulnerability, the pain of caring or the numberous risks of intimacy feel the urgent need to deflate anything that other people are starting to believe in.
Recently I have seen this on the UU Theology listserv as people attack conceptions of gnosticism, presumably just because it is popular among some segment of UUs. Politically I have seen it in attempts to knock Cindy Sheehan down a notch after she became popular.
On some level, I think the tendency towards group think often generates a tendency towards oppositional group think. I will admit that I am a fan and admirer of both UUA president Bill Sinkford and Starr King School for the Ministry president Rebecca Parker (who preached an amazing sermon for SKSM chapel yesterday). It is a necessary corrective to have some degree of skepticism towards leaders like this. But I think there is no need to knock them down a notch just because they influence people or to knock people who are influenced by them.
Too many people it seems, especially among a wide swath of UUs, want to feel wholly self-invented.(I especially see this as a marriage of Manifesto humanist supersessionism and Reaganite bourgeois rugged individualism) For me, I am happy to recognize my influences.
My political thinking is influenced by the anarchism of Peter Kropotikin, Leo Tolstoy, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, as well as the marxism of Rosa Luxembourg, Bertell Ollman and Harry Braverman. The socialist ideas of Michael Harrington are also a key inluence.
Theologically I am influenced especially by Jacques Ellul (a Barthian conservative Christian anarchist) and Paul Tillich (a theological liberal who courted with socialism). If the whole Bible were the Gospels and Romans 8, I would be a great Christian too. Mahayana Buddhism also shapes my thought, especially sutra passages about Avalokitsvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion.
Intellectually, I am influenced especially by the Frankfurt School and some of the more reasonable and socially engaged postmodernists.