If you need convincing that religion apes culture, then all you need to do is look at how American Unitarian Universalists have organised their denomination to look exactly like the US politicial system: they elect a President for four years, with the possibility of standing for a second four year term, exactly like the national system.
And it seems to me the UUA system has all the disadvantages of the secular system it's imitating: elections last a mind-boggling long time (18 months), they cost a ridiculous amount of money, and they are founded on egotistical self-promotion.
It's not suprising I suppose. UUs are often political junkies that are very into elections, they were up last week celebrating at the Obama victory. No doubt they enjoy another election that they can get their teeth into closer to home. But is this the best way for a religious community to run itself?
I don't wish to say anything bad about the two declared candidates in this election, I've met one of them, and am likely to meet the other in a few months. In person and from afar both people impress me. But it's the system that disturbs me.
The idea of election websites for religious leaders feels me with a kind of dread. Maybe its because my theology of leadership rejects that kind of self-promotion ("Why do you call me good? Only the Father is good?") or maybe it's just my cultural British sensitivity that finds such American electioning just distasteful. But whatever it is - yuck! - It's a visceral rejection of it all.
But I think a large part of it all is just my sense of what an overwhelming waste of money it all is. The fact that this system requires Unitarians to donate their money to the cause of one candidate to run a website and a campaign seems just plain wrong to me.
And all this and it's not even a general election, the only people that vote are the delegates at the next General Assembly. So why do you need a campaign at all? Shouldn't it just be a process of careful discernment by all voting delegates at the 2009 GA?
Compare this to the British process for electing an Executive Committee. We're in the middle of this process too; but it started after, and will finish before, the American process. Firstly there is not one President, but an Executive Committee of eight people. This automatically makes a big difference. But more importantly than this, there is no campaigning, no websites, no money spent by any candidate on gettting themselves elected. And this is when we are holding a general election. Theoretically every Unitarian in the country can vote in this election.
And rather than campaigning websites we have this forum where anyone can submit a question to be answered by the candidates. This to me seems a much better, and more economical use of the internet to facilitate an election process. Although it does seem that only four out of eleven candidates are using this forum currently.
I've received a little book with the candidates' election statements in the post and will post of my ballot paper some time in the next few weeks. It's all so much more gentle and British than the system of our American cousins.
No doubt our system isn't perfect. But I would much prefer this one than the American one. I don't do it that often, a blog is a place for shouting from the sidelines after all, but I want to say how well I think the denomination does this. I'm glad to be on this side of the pond right now.