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Ex Nihilo

When wrong is right

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The official church website of the Universal Life Church proudly greets its visitors with the following message:

"The Universal Life Church has no traditional doctrine. We as an organization believe in that which is right. Each individual has the privilege and responsibility to determine what is right for themselves, as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others." (

At the bottom of the same webpage is a box with a picture of the ULC's International Headquarters in Modesto. Beside it, a caption reads "OUR BELIEF: To do that which is right"

I'm quite a fan of that belief and the organization that has promoted it, against steep odds, rancor from high places, and any number of other obstacles both in and out of the courtroom, since its establishment in 1959. After all, is there any person of good will, no matter his faith or lack thereof, who can possibly object to such a straightforward, unburdened, and inspirational message? That's why I've been proud to be an ordained ULC minister ever since I applied to be one on the last day of my senior year in high school.

In the time since, I have taken a long and winding journey to discover myself and what it is that I truly believe. Often I've encountered spiritual/religious roadside attractions, detours, roundabouts, U-turns, and not a few dead ends on my merry way to get to a place I can call home. Yet no matter how off the beaten track nor how exotic the locale in which  I've found myself, I've never been in a landscape so remote that the belief -- "To do that which is right" -- did not have application. For that reason, while I've questioned my beliefs many many times over the years, I've never questioned my fit within the ULC.

Around five years ago, I had the good fortune to stumble across this Forum. I met unique people on journeys of their own who shared my passion for politics, philosophy, religion, and culture and who were not afraid to engage others of divergent viewpoints in more or less constructive discussions and debates.

I was hooked!

I've enjoyed many years, many discussions, and many debates here. Thanks largely to the thoughtful community of posters and no less to the administrators and other staff that keep it all running.

Due to personal events and family commitments, I stopped posting and, for a long period, even visiting. A couple of weeks ago I returned.

Which brings me to the reason for this post (Since currently I am having trouble posting and accessing the website, I will probably not be able to reply or even read responses to this, so I've decided that the Open Pulpit is the most appropriate place for my message). Recently, in some of my comments, I expressed that the posted viewpoints of other members were wrong. A few fellow forum members took issue with my use of the word "wrong" and questioned both the value and the motive of the tactic. I will address the latter first.

What's the motive?

As I have stated before, I fully support the core belief of the ULC to do that which is right. But, with all due respect to the late Reverend Kirby Hensley, it isn't merely a belief. It's a commission, a call to action. We are not just to believe in that which is right (though certainly that that is one part of fulfilling this belief). We are to DO that which is right. As a ULC minister, I believd I have a moral obligation to live up to the church's one belief to the best I am able in my daily life as well as when I am acting in my ministerial capacity. As the website says, it is my "privilege and responsibility" to do this.

Now, it appears to me that to do that which is right includes implicitly the duty to avoid that which is wrong. This, of course, begs the question "what, if such notions even exist,  is right and wrong?"

Clearly, because the church references the word "right" in its statement of belief, it espouses a commitment to the idea that right exists, which implies that wrong exists. By this I mean that if right is to have any meaning at all, things must exist that are not right, that is, things that are wrong.

Some believe that right and wrong are relative and subjective terms, refusing to accept the idea of an objective moral code. I cannot interpret the church belief to include a relative/subjective view of morality. You see, if no objective standard of right and wrong exists, then these terms have no clear meaning and are relegated to one's opinion only, which is subject to change without notice, to lack a consistent and logical basis, to be non-uniformly applied for non-related, artificial reasons. Worse still, there's no way to determine which opinion should be accorded greater deference than the other, since the worth of even the methods and factors used to make such a determination are based solely on opinion when no objective measure is available or relied upon. All becomes vanity, vanity, vanity, as King Solomon said. Where no objective standards exist, the inevitable result is nihilism imo.

I do not believe such a view can be read into the church's belief. The statement doesn't say "do that which you believe/opine/guess is right". It says "do that which IS right" which I can only think suggests objectivity. To argue with Shakespeare, somethings, maybe even all things, are good or bad, regardless of thinking them so.

One might counter that the church teaches that right and wrong are individualized concepts when it says "each individual has the privilege and responsibility to determine what is right for themselves, as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others." Perhaps that is the case. But I believe a much better case can be made that the application of the objective right and wrong in any circumstance is a personal endeavor and cannot be alienated, delegated, or assigned to another. We are all moral beings who cannot avoid making  moral determinations because even the abdication of the act, is itself a moral act.

What is also clear is that the ULC makes no authoritative claims on what the standard is, choosing instead to allow its ministers room for self discovery on this point. As for me, I have used this freedom to discover, and then re-discover Jesus Christ as my Lord, God, and Savior. My wish is for everyone else to find that joy as well. Freely and without having their rights infringed upon in the process.

Because I believe Jesus to be the one true and perfect Lord. I believe his teachings to be authoritative, not just for me but for everyone, whether they know it or not. This obviously includes his moral teachings.  Since one aspect of doing that which is right is helping to show the way for others who appear lost or unaware that what they are doing is wrong, I think it is my duty to let them know I think they are wrong when. This has been my motive in telling fellow forum members their posts were wrong.

When I use the word "wrong", I use it to mean that I think a post is incorrect. I believe that is more than clear given the context in which I use it. One fellow forum member stated that using the word meant "someone is arrogant and being a right toss pot". Granted, he and I are not from the same part of the world and geographical/cultural idiosynchrasies can lead to misinterpretation from time to time. However, I feel fairly certain that "wrong" generally means incorrect in his country too, and any claimed connection to "toss pots" does not appear in any dictionary that I can find.

But the reaction, or over-reaction rather, to the word, to the point of members openly discussing ignoring me and having me punished, is truly puzzling to me. Is the fear of being told by a stranger online that he thinks one of your ideas is wrong so disconcerting that you seek to have him silenced? What does that say about your confidence in your beliefs and your ability to defend them intellectually? How fragile is the foundation of an idea that can truck no criticism at all?  As much folks may want their critics to sit down and shut up, it should be pointed out that just because someone can't say you're wrong won't necessarily stop him from thinking it.

This leads me to the second issue...

What is the value?

Clearly, some here doubt the prudence of directly telling others they are wrong when you think they are. It's impolitic, I suppose. But it certainly gets the point across clearly. And while we don't like to hear it,  being told when we are going the wrong way is often the best way to get back in the right direction. When I look back at the time I've wasted doing the wrong thing, going the wrong way, how I regret not having someone there to point it out or the good sense to listen when he did. Daniel Boorstin wrote a wonderful essay on "Negative Disovery" in his book Cleopoatra's Nose. It discusses the value of dicovering that something is wrong. I highly recommend it.

Does it encourage debate rather than simple discussion? Yes, it does. But here, as Section 6.c. of the Forum Policies puts it, "debate is encouraged."

Lastly, some may feeling telling others that you think they are wrong offensive. I don't concur but I find very little point in debating a person's feelings. I believe the Forum Policies support me on this point. In the same section, it states that pointing out that someone is incorrect is ok when done respectfully. To that I say whole heartedly....


So until the next time we get to chat or if we don't....

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

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