Sunday, October 05, 2008

Send in the Wikipedians

As a lifelong Unitarian, I love to make fun of my particular niche in organized religion for its tendency toward verbosity. Unitarian hymnals will often substitute three-syllable words for phonetically simple terms such as "God" and "man" and thus often render traditional spirituals unsingable. Now the Unitarian church has begun seeking input on its Principles, which apparently needed more explanation and elaboration in the minds of church administrators.

This draft, structured like an online survey or tutorial -- complete with time completion bar -- invites feedback from individual members, although there are so many constraints created by checkboxes designated as "excellent," "good," "okay," and "not acceptable" that it curtails the possibilities of real deliberation, since there are no useful categories for debate.

As a writing instructor interested in paragraph coherence, I find sentences like those in the following section almost unreadable.

Section C-2.3 Sources.

The living tradition we share draws from many sources.

Unitarianism and Universalism are grounded on more than two thousand years of Jewish and Christian teachings, traditions, and experiences. Unitarian Universalism is not contained in any single book or creed. It draws from the teachings of the Abrahamic religions, Earth-centered spirituality, and other world religious traditions. It engages perspectives from humanism, mysticism, theism, skepticism, naturalism, and feminist and liberation theologies. It is informed by the arts and the sciences. It trusts the value of direct experiences of mystery and wonder, and it recognizes the sacred may be found within the ordinary.

Wisdom and beauty may be expressed in many forms: in poetry and prose, in story and song, in metaphor and myth, in drama and dance, in fabric and painting, in scripture and music, in drawing and sculpture, in public ritual and solitary practice, in prophetic speech and courageous deed.

Grateful for the traditions that have strengthened our own, we strive to avoid misappropriation of cultural and religious practices and to seek ways of appreciation that are respectful and welcomed.

It's interesting to imagine the role that a Google doc or a wiki may have played in creating this collaboratively generated prose. I would like to know more about the role of computer-mediated communication in creating collective statements from religious organizations.

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