Free and Responsible Search Means Going Beyond Wikipedia

It’s interesting to see non-Christian UUs actually talking about the Universalism in Unitarian Universalism. Most of this talk has started recently because of a clip floating around featuring Rob Bell, minister at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it to you. And his book, Love Wins, comes out on March 15th–so buy it and support him if you can.

Anyway…I was going through the front pages of UUpdates and  came across a title that struck my interest: “A few religious beliefs, and I’m not a Calvinist.” Well, I’m thinking as an Unitarian Universalist, it’s good to know that you’re not a Calvinist. So I decide to read the post. The first paragraph says this:

So, did some reading up online.  (Books?  Psh.  If I can’t get the basics of it from wikipedia, then I don’t have the time to delve into it with actual books.)

Hold up…wait a minute…

Seriously?!?!?!?!??! If you can’t get the basics from Wikipedia then you’re not going to go and read a book about a subject????? Wikipedia???

Don’t get me wrong…I like Wikipedia. I go to it when I need to know somebody’s birth or death date. Or, when I was writing up a piece on the Scottsboro boys, I went to Wikipedia to make sure that I had the name of an organization right. I even look to Wikipedia to see what references a particular article uses.

But on a subject like Calvin and Calvinism, is it really responsible to base what you think about him and it on an article that you read on Wikipedia?

As fundamental as Calvin and Calvinism are to Unitarianism and Universalism, shouldn’t you at least take a passing look at a biography of him or read some of the Institutes before coming to some major conclusion about him?

Wikipedia has it uses. It is a great online encyclopedia. But honestly, how many of us would have chosen Unitarianism, Universalism or Unitarian Universalism based on an encyclopedia article? So if you wouldn’t choose something based on an encyclopedia article, why would you say that you’re NOT something based on a similar article?

A free and responsible search for truth and meaning means going beyond Wikipedia.

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17 thoughts on “Free and Responsible Search Means Going Beyond Wikipedia

  1. In slight defense, having read several books on Calvin and Calvinism, I would be inclined to go with Wikipedia myself.
    On the other hand, this means one would miss the idea that there are unitarians and universaalits who were Calvinists – or at least believers in “Calvinism improved”

  2. When I initially heard of Unitarian Universalism, I *did* read the Wikipedia article first to get the low-down on whether it appeared something worth exploring. I liked what I read, so I showed up. I’ve yet to see anything about UU spirituality in my local libraries or bookstores, so online reading was the way to go.

    When I read his article, I had a different interpretation than you. I got the sense the what he meant was that if he couldn’t figure out the place to start to look for books from wikipedia, figuring out the basics from the books would be too time consuming to explore. For complicated topics, Wikipedia is good with establishing basics, to gain a sense of what you should look for before you commit yourself to a couple hundred pages, as oppose to going to a library looking up “Calvin” and finding perhaps a dozen books, uncertain which ones are good. It doesn’t sound like he writes out books completely as a source, though he doesn’t use them there.

    Frankly, until now, I had no idea that UUism had derived anything from Calvinism. Looking it up, it seems like it was a response to? (As my gut initially suggested) I’ll have to look it up in further detail when I have more time.

    My search of World Cat for “Calvinism Unitarian Universalism” had only four hits, three were the same version of a microform letter. The other is here:

    http://www.worldcat.org/title/serious-call-in-christian-love-to-all-people-in-the-form-of-a-letter-to-henry-colman-minister-of-the-unitarian-independent-congregational-society-in-salem-mass-being-an-answer-in-part-to-a-book-which-he-read-to-his-people-on-the-7th-december-1824-at-the-opening-of-a-new-meeting-house-also-an-appendix-to-the-same-being-an-address-in-love-to-all-people-particularly-those-who-hold-the-doctrines-of-calvinism-and-universalism/oclc/13384658&referer=brief_results

    Published in 1825.

    There are 120 hits for “Calvinism” and “Universalism”, many published in the 1800’s in a debate between various Protestant sects.

    Frankly, after looking that up… I do not blame him for reading online sources. I think your critique is a bit harsh.

  3. Wow. Really?

    You are absolutely right. In order to form any religious idea or opinion, I should eschew summaries written by communities and just go straight to seminary to explore these topics in depth so I can get a grade on them to put on my refrigerator. Forget working over 40 hours a week, forget trying to live a good life, I should just sit and study all day instead of trying to live my life the best I can.

    I’m not sure who granted you the authority to be the ultimate arbitrator on what constitutes a valid free and responsible search for truth and meaning, but getting a start on wikipedia certainly works for me, and this post comes off so elitist to me it’s hard for me to stomach.

    So far you’ve reamed me out for not caring about bylaws because they’re fundamental to Unitarian Universalism, and now for not deciding to read oodles of books on Calvinism before deciding I’m not a Calvinist because that’s fundamental to Unitarian Universalism. Certainly feeling the love of Univeralism here.

    You don’t need to study up to be a good Unitarian Universalist.

    And I didn’t do in depth research before deciding to become a Unitarian Universalist. I took the Belief-o-Matic quiz, it popped up UU, and figured I’d go check it out. And I did look it up on wikipedia. You know, I can’t recall any book I’ve read all the way through about Unitarian Universalism. Yet I’m a pretty damn good UU. How bout that.

  4. If John Crossan and other “historical Jesus” scholars are correct, it’s very likely that Jesus was an illiterate peasant.

    Crossan’s estimate is that 95% to 97% of the 1st Century CE Jewish population was illiterate (ref. _Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography_, page 25).

    If Matt has read just one Wikipedia article on Calvinism, he’s probably done a lot more reading that Jesus.

  5. “Yet I’m a pretty damn good UU. How bout that.”

    Yes Kim.

    Matt is a pretty damn good UU in my books.

    How bout that? 😉

    But then again, so are you. 🙂

    P.S. Matt you forgot the all important Unitaruian question mark at the end of your query “How bout that.”

  6. I do not allow my students to use wikipedia. Anyone can edit it to say whatever they want and pass it off as fact. I wasn’t allowed to use it when I was earning any of my degrees. I do not think it is a credible source. Nor do I go to it for any type of information.

  7. Good for you, Haley. Having eschewed Wikipedia though aware of the caveats that would allow you to use it wisely, you can devote yourself to the endless stream of peer-reviewed nonsense that gets published each year merely for the purpose of jumping through hoops in order to advance careers. 🙂

    • And yes, Haley, students need to learn how to go to those other sources, but Matt Kinsi is not a student. He is working a demanding job that consumes his time and energy and uses much of the remainder of his time active in young adult leadership in his church. If he finds it a better use of his time to go to the equivalent of Cliff Notes, it’s still more than most people do.

      • Paul….
        Please tell me this was sarcasm. Because if it was not, then I must say that I think we read two very posts from Haley.
        But this brings up another point…Matt works and when he is not working is doing things for his church. And? Does this mean he should get some kind of pass because he used the Cliff Notes version of a book instead of the book? Before I went to seminary I was working 2 jobs and doing stuff at church and was sitting on the board of an independent affiliate. Lots of UUs work demanding jobs and do things for their church–there’s nothing special about that.
        What does being responsible mean if we can use the Cliff Notes? hmmm…I think I just found my next post.

      • Wow. Again, really Kim?

        First off, I certainly don’t need you or anyone else to grant me a “pass.” Because your opinion of my personal search for truth and meaning honestly doesn’t matter. Your rather elitist definition of responsible certainly isn’t relevant to me, and if this is the definition of responsible you have then I’m willing to bet most of the country and most of our faith are gong to be turned off.

        Weren’t you rallying on at one point on your blog about UU cultural elitism? You really don’t see the hypocrisy of this intellectual elitism (granting me a “pass”?!?) that you apparently can’t let go?

  8. Whether or not you are a student is not the question. The question is what is a credible source and how do people decipher between what is credible and not credible? Lots of people have demanding jobs who take time to discern what they wish to believe based on source credibility. It is each person’s right to believe what they want. We all live in different spheres. Some live in business, religious, academic, technology, etc or smatterings of many spheres. No matter what sphere we find ourselves in credibility will always be essential and critical for those who wish to be taken seriously.

  9. Haley – since I’ve apparently offended the intellectual sensibilities by using wikipedia (which was what one line in that initial post of mine she pulled to rant about?) can you point to me what in that wikipedia article on Calvinism is wrong and what sources from the “experts” it can be refuted with? With the appropriate works cited/annotations? I look forward to your post.

  10. Pingback: It doesn’t matter if you don’t know who Origen is. What matters is love. | Spirituality and Sunflowers

  11. Matt – I was not offended. I was stating a general well known fact by those who collegiately teach. There is no need to do any harpooning per anyone’s statements. I would suggest that your anger around this issue may come from something else in your life. Only you can decide what is going to be best for you and if looking at wikipedia is what you choose to do, that is your choice. In making your choices others may decide to take you seriously or not and that is their choice. I am, however, going to call you to a more productive way of communitcating that leaves out the sarcastic need to prove something to someone other than yourself.

  12. Haley – No, anger isn’t coming from other aspects of my life. It’s for someone choosing to call me out for being not “responsible.” I find it interesting you’re calling on me to work on a more productive way of communicating without calling attention to this initial post (and the post from yesterday.)

    The philosophy of knowledge is pretty interesting to me. You say it’s a “well known fact” – but what makes something a “fact”? The collective agreement from those who teach collegiately?

    If that is indeed the case, the collective of the masses isn’t enough to make something a fact (aka wikipedia), but the collective agreement of the academic world is?

  13. Matt – It is apparent that you and I do not agree about the initial post. No big deal. Something is a fact based on continual testing and receiving the same result each time, hence the existence of the scientific method. I have yet to read the post from two days ago.

    It is pretty difficult to separate academics from the collective masses since most of the collective masses have, in some way, been in contact with academics. There are no clear lines between the many spheres of living. A person can be an academic as well as a politician, faithfully religious, etc.

    For now, we can agree to disagree and I thank you for the continual engagement around this particular subject.

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