Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Louisa May Alcott and George Will

George Will's recent column mentioning Unitarianism has me thinking about Louisa May Alcott.

Specifically, Will's description of "the Emersonian faith that we please God by pleasing ourselves."


Well, I can't claim to be an expert on Emerson, but that doesn't ring true to me. And, as I said, it has me thinking about Alcott, a Unitarian of that time.

Her most famous book is, of course, Little Women. But for a taste of Unitarian ethics, I would guide you toward "Eight Cousins." It is a novel written for youth, but it is lovely. It is chock-a-block with lessons about diligence, the glory of hard work, exercise, whole foods, raising strong women and men ... and sacrifice.

A quote from that book, that I will admit to trotting past my own kids:

"It is necessary to do right. It is not necessary to be happy."

Gee, that doesn't sound like pleasing God to please ourselves.

The context of this quote is that the bachelor uncle, quietly, has ceased smoking, because he feels it's a bad influence on his teenage nephews. It leads to the heroine, his orphaned niece and ward, giving up her heart's desire of pierced ears in exchange for her cousins stopping smoking.

It's simple, sure. The best morality stories are.

To have this marvelous, moral religion reduced to, "If it feels good, do it," exposes the writer of the article as one whose theology most assuredly includes a belief that the only way we can keep from being monsters is to believe in a punishing God.

How dreadfully unnecessary.


Anonymous said...

Isn't life full of contradictions though, pleasing ourselves to please God?

Reminds me when my oldest daughter came back from attending a friend's church. "I still remember the Bible verse they had us memorize, Mommy. Do not love the world or things of the world for it means you do not love god."

I thought, okay good lesson, so I asked her what it meant.

I don't know. They said if we memorized it we'd get a piece of candy.

?! I couldn't help thinking those Sunday school teachers contradicted the meaning of the lesson they were trying to impart.

Berrysmom said...

Thanks for the reminder about the value of reading older literature. We are so smitten with the latest, newest thing that we might forget how wonderful some of the older books are.

Hmmm, I think I feel a blog entry coming on. Stay tuned. And thanks for your blog. I read it faithfully.

uuMomma said...

We haven't read Eight Cousins, so thanks for the recommendations. Thanks, also, for the literature and history lesson: I've been asked to "represent" the UUs on a local radio station (low-power, "we have TENS of listeners at any given moment"), and this gives me something to look into and give back on the show. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

How interesting that you see Eight Cousins in the UU light. Long before I joined a UU church, as an elementary aged kid, I loved that book- it's probably the only book I've ever read 10 times. What was most entrancing to me (coming from a divorced family, rare in those days) was how the aunts and uncle loved her into becoming a better person, and how she was part of a "made" family that helped her "become" who she was- more of a tomboy with courage- not a girlie girl, as her aunts were raising her to be.

Thanks for bringing up a new way to look at my favorite book from childhood.

Cincinnati mom

Kristy Shreve Powers said...

Eight Cousins has been on my bookshelves since I was a little girl. I don't know how many times I've read it. I think adults need more reminders than children about living a moral and courageous life, so that's what I read it for now. An Old-Fashioned Girl by Alcott is another one that I love for the same reason.