Stephen Kahn

In Hard to tell on March 14, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Almost by accident, I began attending some Transition Whidbey meetings. After a few innocuous sessions with ecological and agricultural themes, I began to suffer an uncomfortable feeling, something like what I feel as a person with mild allergies when hay fever season begins or a cat has been sitting on my lap. As the meetings became more “touchy-feely” and “New Age,” I realized I was having (in a very mild way compared to a person who has undergone real combat or some other traumatic life and death situation) a kind of PSTD reaction. The people I saw participating in Transition Whidbey reminded me uncomfortably of the people I had encountered at Cerro Gordo decades ago.

In my days of involvement with Cerro Gordo, I perceived many of the participants as vulnerable to a leader who struck me as something like a cult leader and something like a scam artist, but not quite fitting either profile exactly. In the Transition movements, I saw what appeared to be similar personality traits, including:

  • optimism – normally an admirable trait, but carried to the point of wishful thinking and lack of sensible alertness and wariness in many cases
  • striving for peace and tranquillity – again admirable qualities and goals, but also rather counterproductive when edging into traits such as denial and head in the sand foolishness.
  • aversion to conflict, again an issue of striking a reasonable balance between hostility and aggression and passivity and timidity on the other hand.
  • religiosity while denying any religious belief. This is a tricky issue. I am an utterly irreligious person (something like Christopher Hitchens in this regard – though obviously not as smart or informed); however, all my life I have maintained fairly good relationships with quite a few very religious people. One of the traits I find exasperating in “New Age” groupings, such as Transition Whidbey, is that they simultaneously say something along the lines of “We are not religious” and “We believe in God, and we are very spiritual.” I can accept and mingle with non-sociopathic and tolerant religious believers, but I now find that I prefer straight-forward, unvarnished, unflavored religious belief. I drink both coffee and tea. In both cases, I drink them “straight,” without sugar, cream, or a lot of fancy flavorings.

[to be continued]

  1. How very strange, and fascinating. I am reading “Of Human Bondage,” and found the following quote on Unitarians incredibly apt: “A Unitarian very earnestly disbelieves in almost everything that anybody else believes, and he has a very lively sustaining faith in he doesn’t quite know what.” I suppose that is a mindset you will find in any extreme school of thought be it political, religious, or philosophical.

  2. My wife and I were married in a Unitarian Church, and except for attending my brother’s wedding (in a marriage that did not last), I’ve never gone back. My wife’s best friend goes regularly to Unitarian services, and to be sociable whenever my wife visits her friend, my wife accompanies her to the service. My cynical take is that Christianity was one of the first “social networks” (long before Facebook); when a Christian was travelling in a strange town around 100 A.D. or so, he or she knew they could get a friendly greeting, a wholesome meal, and a safe place to park the camel.

  3. I googled “transition whidbey” and you came up on page 1, so i presume many are learning about it through you.

    My wife felt that our kids ought to have some exposure to spiritual thought of some kind or other. Being unbelievers, we took them to the local Unitarian church and ended up teaching Sunday School class to youngsters there, which seemed a little strange. After a while, our kids begged us to stop making them go, so that ended that.

    • Immunization is still a controversial issue. (My parents believed that if we avoided white sugar we would not get polio, so we were not immunized during the height of the polio epidemic. We didn’t get polio. So there you go. However, my doctor spent six months in Afghanistan doing his military service a few months ago and saw lots of unimmunized children with polio. So there you go.)

      Anyway, I suspect that you just inoculated your children against religious belief.

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