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Monster: Who Really Killed the Knoxville Unitarians?

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I'd say that Unitarians were God's thoughtful people, but they make no particular claims about God. In some parts of the country that takes real courage.

My first wife and I joined a Unitarian church in suburban DC and raised our kids there. She and I were from different religious backgrounds - in a way, I was from different religious backgrounds, raised in Judaism but with Catholic and Southern Baptist relatives. We both practiced Buddhist meditation (and found others there that did the same.)

Unitarians tend to be intellectual, verbal, literate, thoughtful, and from a variety of backgrounds. Some are atheist, some are agnostic, others believe in God in a variety of Eastern and Western forms. Some would describe themselves as "ethically Christian," although others would not - and it is not an exclusively Christian group. The running joke among Unitarians was that the name "Jesus" is only heard when someone falls down the stairs, and that the only sacrament is the black coffee brewed after services.

The Unitarian Universalist (or UU) denomination is the product of a merger between Unitarianism and Universalism, two centuries-old Christian denominations. Unitarianism was founded on the belief that the Trinity was illogical and that there could only be one divinity. Universalists believed that God was too merciful to condemn anyone to an eternity in hell, and that even the most evil person would get out of there eventually (after fifty thousand years or so). Eventually they merged and abandoned all dogma. (You can read the Knoxville church's website for a summary of beliefs.)

When my work sent me to Hungary, I arrived in the only nation on earth that ever had a Unitarian state (during the reign of King John Sigismund, who decreed religious tolerance in 1568). Ralph Waldo Emerson is the closest thing to a saint that UU's have. An ordained minister in the church, his Harvard Divinity School address was revolutionary in its day.

Emerson rejected all claims of the supernatural in the Bible. He said that miracles were "monster," in the original meaning of that word as "against nature." In a characteristically striking turn of phrase, he said they were "not one with the blowing clover and the falling rain." Emerson was telling us that the beauty of the manifest world should be enough.

Is it worth killing a person for believing that?

My current (and future) wife and I were married by the Rev. Forrest Church at All Souls Unitarian in Manhattan. (Dr. Church is now teaching us how to face death.) When at several points in my career jobs came up in the Deep South, I always checked to see if there was a Unitarian Church nearby. One of those job possibilities, which I chose not to pursue, was in Knoxville.

Jim Adkisson of Powell, Tennessee was the man with his finger on the trigger. He had mental health problems, and a hard and bitter life. He apparently left a letter explaining that he hated the church for its liberal beliefs and opinions. And the church had a sign outside indicating it welcomed gays and lesbians.

Who really killed those Unitarians? Was it the preachers who spread hatred and intolerance? The politicians who court and flatter them instead of condemning their hate speech? The media machine that attacks liberals, calls them "traitors" and suggests you speak to them "with a baseball bat"? The economic system that batters people like Jim Adkisson until they snap, then tells them their real enemies are gays and liberals and secular humanists?

If you ask me, it was all of the above.

You killed them, Pat Robertson. You killed them, Pastor Hagee. You killed them, Ann Coulter. You killed them, Dick Morris and Sean Hannity and the rest of you at Fox News.

The shooting began while the children of the church were putting on a musical based on "Annie." One broad-shouldered church member blocked the bullets from hitting other people, and died. You don't need to believe in dogma to be a hero. Remember that song from "Annie"? It probably got on your nerves like it got on mine. "The sun'll come out tomorrow."

The sun coming out. That's natural. It's one with the blowing clover and the falling rain. But a man driven insane, then programmed by society to kill people just because they're loving and tolerant?

That's monster.

RJ Eskow blogs:

A Night Light
The Sentinel Effect: Healthcare Blog
Future-While-U-Wait
RJ Eskow at the Huffington Post

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