Age Twenty-Two: Forever Hold the Peace


280. Chuppah

In Judaism, a chuppah (from the Hebrew word for “covering”) is a ceremonial canopy used in weddings. Traditionally, the chuppah is a large piece of cloth supported by four wooden poles. This is richly symbolic. The chuppah represents a tent, like those where the ancient Israelites held wedding ceremonies thousands of years ago. Even more importantly, it symbolizes the couple’s new home as a married couple.

The bride and groom stand under the chuppah as they recite their marriage vows to each other. In Jewish religious law, the chuppah is a room all by itself, which means that the marriage technically takes place in privacy—yet because the chuppah is open around all sides, the couple’s family and friends can still watch it and provide their love and support.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, when Danielle gets married at the White House, vows are exchanged under a chuppah in honor of the Jewish roots of Danielle’s family. But the wedding brings together traditions from many faiths, and is presided over by a female Unitarian minister. Rabbi Schneerson and other religious leaders offer their blessings. The Unitarian minister begins the ceremony by saying, “A rabbi, a minister, a priest, and an Imam preside over a wedding …”

See entries for Talmud, Unitarian, and Rabbi Schneerson.


281. Unitarian

The Unitarian movement is a religious tradition that grew out of Christianity, but has since developed substantial differences with most other Christian denominations. For most members (including myself), it represents a dogma-free search for philosophical truth. It is now estimated to have about 800,000 followers worldwide.

One of the most important and common Christian beliefs is the idea of the Holy Trinity. This says that although there is only one God, this divine being exists as three distinct “persons” or aspects. God the Father is seen as the creator of the universe, Jesus is his “Son,” who came to earth as a human being two thousand years ago, and the Holy Spirit is seen as the will of God, or the part of God that inspires people and guides them in life. Some of the earliest Christians disagreed with the idea of the Trinity, but they lost the debates about the issue that happened during the first few centuries after the lifetime of Jesus. During the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, though, some Christians in Eastern Europe began to reject belief in the Trinity.

In the English-speaking world, people began rejecting the Trinity as part of a movement called deism, which began during the late seventeenth century as the Enlightenment was beginning. Philosophers like John Locke (1632–1704) believed that there is a divine being of some kind, and that this being is ultimately responsible for creating the universe, but that the divine being does not intervene in human affairs or cause miracles. Deists said that human reason was a better way of understanding truth than religious scriptures or doctrines. For this reason, they rejected the Trinity and said that God was a single, fully united being.

Deism was mainly a philosophical movement as opposed to a religion, and there were not deist churches or rituals. But by the late eighteenth century, the idea of rejecting doctrines like the Trinity spread to some Christian churches in America, especially New England. The new religious movement soon called itself Unitarianism (from uni-, meaning “one” in Latin) to draw a contrast with Trinitarian (from tri-, meaning “three” in Latin) churches. In emphasizing the undivided nature of God, Unitarians took a view similar to that of Judaism and Islam, which also focus on God being perfectly united.

Around the same time that Unitarianism was spreading, another Christian religious movement called Universalism was growing in America. Universalists differed from most other Christians of that time by rejecting the idea that some people would go to hell forever after they died. Instead, Universalists believed that God will give everyone salvation and forgiveness.

Both Unitarianism and Universalism became very liberal traditions within Christianity. They encouraged the use of reason, scientific inquiry, and free thinking, and allowed their followers to disagree on many religious and philosophical issues. In 1961, the two groups merged, forming the Unitarian Universalist movement. Although Unitarian Universalism (or UU) has its roots in Christianity, it no longer requires belief in any particular Christian ideas. Unitarian Universalists are free to experiment with ideas from other faith traditions, or even to not believe in a God at all. Instead, the UU movement focuses on seven principles to guide its community:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

Famous Unitarians throughout history have included second US President John Adams and his wife, pioneering first lady Abigail Adams, the women’s voting rights activist Susan B. Anthony, Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nobel Prize–winning scientist Linus Pauling, and inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee.

I was brought up with a religious education in a Unitarian Church that did not espouse any particular dogma or set of beliefs. My parents were secular Jews, and having fled Hitler in 1938, they wanted a more universal religious upbringing that emphasized tolerance. The theme of my religious education was “many paths to the truth,” and that the apparently inconsistent metaphors used by different religious traditions are all talking about the same reality. We would spend six months at a time studying a particular religion and then move on to the next. While we were studying a religion, we would go to their services, read their books, and bring their religious leaders into our discussion group. There was also an emphasis on justice in this life and we were very involved in the civil rights movement. I went to civil rights marches with my mother in Washington, DC and elsewhere during my childhood. I also belonged to a national Unitarian-Universalist youth organization called Liberal Religious Youth which changed its name to Young Religious Unitarian Universalists or YRUU (why are you you?). My experience with my Unitarian upbringing has had a significant influence on my worldview as an adult, although I still identify culturally as Jewish.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, a Unitarian minister officiates at Danielle’s wedding. To set a lighthearted mood, the minister opens the proceedings with a joking comment on the interfaith nature of the ceremony: “A rabbi, a minister, a priest, and an imam preside over a wedding …”



282. National Security Council

In the federal government of the United States, the National Security Council (NSC) is the main advisory body to the president about issues of war and terrorism. It was established by President Harry Truman following World War II, to handle the complex challenges of the Cold War. American leaders understood that stopping the Soviet Union from taking over more and more of the world would require a coordinated national and international effort. The then recent experience of fighting against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan showed that rivalries and misunderstanding between different parts of the government caused serious problems. Military branches like the Army and Navy wanted America to pursue very different strategies, while diplomats at the State Department and bureaucrats at different agencies all had their own ideas.

Creating the National Security Council provided a place where all those voices could be heard at once, and could have direct and open dialogue with each other. By law, the NSC is chaired by the president, and is often advised by the vice president. The president also selects a National Security Advisor who takes special responsibility for the NSC and helps the president decide among the different suggestions made in meetings. The Secretary of Defense, secretary of state, and Secretary of Energy all represent their respective agencies, while the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff represents uniformed military personnel, and the Director of National Intelligence represents the spy services. Other senior officials, such as the White House Chief of Staff, Attorney General, and Secretary of Homeland Security, often attend NSC meetings.

Unlike Congress, which has formal, binding votes, the NSC is only an advisory body. This means that the president is free to take the advice of NSC members, or decide not to. Usually, though, presidents appoint people they trust to the National Security Council and follow their advice. The NSC helps the president handle international crises, decide when to use military force, and respond to terrorist attacks. It also gives advice about how American foreign policy can be used to advance American interests and ideas.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, after Danielle’s wedding, her reception is interrupted by an urgent message from her National Security Council.

See entries for Cold War, Thermonuclear weapons, and Joint Chiefs of Staff.



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