Classical Humanism and Unitarianism

August 5, 2014 at 2:14 am 9 comments

As I’ve discussed before, I’m not always sure how polytheism fits in with the cultural milieu of Unitarianism. I’ve always seen my participation in Unity as being pretty separate from my polytheistic armchair philosophizing (I would be mis-representing myself if I were to say practice!)

Here and there, I have conversations with other Pagans/polytheists that make me realize how UUism gives me a distinctive outlook. I come across forms of paganism which don’t seem compatible with UU ethics and philosophy. Other times, I wonder about the classical roots of the Enlightenment & Renaissance philosophy that heavily influences UUism. How might we re-emphasize those roots, and bring a more pagan/polytheist ethos into UUism? Because for the most part, Neo-Paganism has seemed more like yet another religious movement that UUism has broadened to include.  Feminists exploring Goddess theology, and people interested in eco-spirituality brought it into the fold. This brings an emphasis on immanence, rather than the more traditional deist transcendence of UUism. The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) is a sub-group within the UUA and individual congregations, I don’t know how typically well-integrated elements of Pagan liturgy and theology are into general services at these congregations. I’ve never been especially interested in forming a chapter because UUism is already so broad and generic enough, that I don’t want another super-broad watered down Pagan group. And all this touchy-feely emotional ritual stuff seems often out of place in a tradition that otherwise seems to be all about the mind, the logic and reason of humanist atheism or deism.

I’ve been finding myself moving away from Hellenismos due to simply feeling very culturally and temporally out of place in the tradition. I’m familiar with the mythology, but the customs and practices feel all too strange to me. I could say the same about any Pagan or polytheistic religion really. I need my religion to be personal, I need it to be relevant to my urban American life.  We all do. In looking at ancient Greek and Roman religion and philosophy, could we find some of that relevance, and perhaps find some compromise between the awkward gulf between theists and atheists?

To be honest, I haven’t studied philosophy formally much. It tends to give me a headache. Heck, so does theology after a point. Theoretical questions are interesting to ponder sometimes, but I need practical philosophy. For those of you who are more familiar with this area of study, do you have any suggestions?



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  • 1. hessianwithteeth  |  August 5, 2014 at 3:04 am

    What areas of philosophy have you looked into? I know some are more difficult to get through than others, and it differs from person to person. I prefer epistemology, and my partner prefers ethics.
    If you’re unsure what you’re most interested, or what will be more helpful for you, I’d suggest reading something like The Philosophy Book. It basically gives you an overview of some of the most influential concepts of philosophy. I’d suggest figuring out which bits interested you the most and doing more specific research based on that. I hope that helps.

    • 2. caelesti  |  August 5, 2014 at 4:45 am

      I’ve mostly studied political philosophy and ethics. The book you mentioned looks like a good place to start. I also like the books that use pop culture to study philosophy- I read the Simpsons one which is OK, but the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter ones look better. One dude (and why are they almost all dudes?) I am going to avoid is Ken Wilber. He makes my head hurt!

  • 3. eclecticalli  |  August 5, 2014 at 3:39 am

    UUism is kind of strange… (I say this as someone who, at one point, was in school with the idea of becoming a UU minister). There’s the historical reality of Unitarianism, but then there’s the modern permutation of it that is Unitarian Universalism (something that I would argue often is neither Unitarian nor Universalist).
    Each and every congregation is different, I’ve seen some incorporate Pagan ritual and liturgy quite well into their regular services (as well as be much more about the heart than the head). Depending on where you are, there are different influences that come into play as to how a particular congregation is going to look — when I was in New England I noticed that the ones that had originally been Unitarian congregations (historically more white-color individuals) were more of the academic/mind approach, where as the ones that historically had been Universalist (historically drawing from more blue-color populations) were more of the heart/spiritual. This is by no means a clean-but divide, but it is certainly an influence.
    Probably just more to feed into the questions, but that’s kind of what my own personal spirituality/theology is about..finding more questions!

    • 4. caelesti  |  August 5, 2014 at 4:49 am

      Yes, UUism is definitely a tradition very distinct from both Unitarianism and Universalism by themselves, and I’ve heard of those characterizations you’ve mentioned. I’ve visited a few other congregations- it is hard to size them up just from one visit, I know at our church it really varies each Sunday. Sounds like you still think like a UU, whether you identify as one or not!

      • 5. eclecticalli  |  August 5, 2014 at 4:52 am

        I was raised UU, so I’ll probably always think like one a bit — my own religious identity is complicated, and most of my distancing from being UU (I technically still do identify that way) has to do with the larger organizational structure than anything theological 🙂

  • 6. K.M.H  |  August 5, 2014 at 8:50 am

    I left the UU church not too long ago because of a lack of connection with the divine energy there. They were mostly political and not very spiritual at all. There was nothing personal about it, nothing about how to better ourselves in such a way that we could then go out and help the world.

    Some speakers that would come in would talk about their experience as a hospital chaplain, but then not explain the spiritual significance of it, or we’d learn about different faith, but not really do any real worship. That’s what I need: a place to WORSHIP with other people, and I wasn’t getting that at the UU.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the people at the UU and I am on board with what the believe and do, I just needed more.

    As for feeling out of place in a tradition, I recent went through a similar situation in my faith as a Kemetic. The Ancients’ faith revolved around the flooding of the Nile river. If the river didn’t flood, the people didn’t eat. Today, the flooding of the Nile is controlled by dams, and the actual flood has little to nothing to do with whether or not I eat. When I thought about how much Christianity has changed and continues to change, I realized that my faith as a Kemetic could and really had to change as well to work in a world much different than what it use to be. If we imply that the Gods are stagnate and unchanging, then we imply that they have limits, and I don’t believe they do.

    That was my biggest argument with an old friend who was an atheist. He believed that if we could disprove portions of the Bible, that it would bring into question the rest of it, including the concept of there being a God at all. I compared our changing views and beliefs about the Bible to the understanding of a heliocentric solar system. We use to believe, based on what we knew at the time, that the earth was the center, and the sun revolved around us. We learned more as society changed, and our views changed, but it didn’t discount the process of science simply because this conclusion or idea was wrong.

    It didn’t really bridge the gap, but he said I was one of the few theists that he could stand, so I guess that counts for something, right?

    • 7. caelesti  |  August 5, 2014 at 10:03 pm

      I actually like the social justice emphasis (I find there’s not enough of that among Pagans- these Pagan activists I hear about I never seem to meet in person!) but I agree that’s not a replacement for spirituality. It’s part of living our spirituality, but it’s not actual spiritual practice. I really go there for community rather than worship at the actual services, I get more in-depth experience with smaller group activities. I’ve heard messages from Pagans, Christians, and atheists who have all said they left the UU’s because their church was unfriendly to their viewpoint, just shows how much each church differs. There’s too much paranoia about one person discussing their spiritual viewpoint on the pulpit, automatically means they’re being dogmatic. This is ridiculous. It’s made very clear in my church that each individual speaks for themselves, I think that makes it easier for people to find common ground.

  • 8. Guerilla Witch  |  August 5, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    In my experience, every UU church is unique, and every CUUPS group is even more unique! I feel like each congregation and group has its own distinct energy and direction, some more humanist, others more spiritual, etc. If you’re interested in seeing what can be done in CUUPS from a polytheist perspective, I highly recommend reading through John Beckett’s Patheos columns ( They do a really good job of trying to discern the spiritual needs of all their members and then rotating through a schedule that meets as much as they can. The group in my area seems to be much more vaguely general Wiccan and/or Neopagan, so I happily attend regular Sunday services nearer rather than trekking out to the CUUPS group. Some weeks feel very monotheistic, some weeks are entirely nontheistic, but I always feel like I get something out of it. I’ve been having a lot of thoughts lately on how to use the infrastructure of CUUPS to meet the needs of polytheists, but I’m not sure of its viability outside of the organic growth in something like Beckett’s Denton group.

  • 9. caelesti  |  August 5, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    Yes, I enjoy reading John Beckett’s column- one of the best on Patheos. The Denton CUUPs sounds great, I like their approach of taking turns with different types of paganism rather than trying to do a Lowest Common Denominator Paganism which is all too common. I think I’d enjoy some sort of discussion group- heck even one that discussed theology and practice in general. That’s one thing that’s kinda odd among UU’s, I always wonder what the person next to me does/believes spiritually.


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