Nontheistic humanists, monotheists and Pagans can all share in UUism
Note: I’m going to use the term “non-theistic humanism” because humanism is technically broader than atheism, in spite of how many people use the term- I also see “secular humanism” and “religious humanism” used to mean various things both in a UU context and outside. By non-theistic I mean people who may be atheist, agnostic, or basically just don’t think God or a concept of the divine is that important.
I am always hearing stories about monotheists who visit a UU congregation and don’t feel comfortable because of the lack of God language, and conversely nontheists who don’t feel comfortable at a congregation that does include God language. Then I hear from Pagans/polytheists who feel uncomfortable with both! (Though I’m sure there’s plenty of others who do feel comfortable in their congregations- complainers tend to be louder!)
A while back I read this interview with Maria Greene, president of the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association, and while I empathized with some of what she had to say, other things made me cringe.
“UU is a creedless religion, but it was really the cradle of modern Humanism. There’s still a strong core of reason in the UUA, along with a very Humanist set of ethical principles we all agree on. I believe Humanism is the “special sauce” that distinguishes the UUA from other liberal religions, and that UUs need to emphasize and promote it in order to evolve and adapt to the world today. I know that other organizations in the Secular Coalition for America with us think we’re “too religious”—even though they accept that we completely reject the supernatural.
Well I suppose you could nitpick about whether God(s) are supernatural or not- I know many Pagans & polytheists reject that language, seeing the Gods as a part of nature. But still I was kind of like, umm ouch.
Another quote- “Humanism has outgrown its religious upbringing though, just as many of us have as individuals.
In my opinion, the UUA has to get past its traditional, Protestant Christian roots and grow into a collection of communities that value justice and compassion”
So if humanism has outgrown its religious roots- there are humanist groups and Ethical societies and such. I can understand if a nontheist joins a UU church in part because they are looking for a welcoming community, and they live in an area where there are few opportunities to feel safe being openly nontheist. But to join a religious organization and then get upset when it does religious things, and demand it change for you- that seems pretty arrogant to me. I am a polytheist- and I joined the UUs with the full realization that they were operating from a monotheistic base. I was comfortable with that, due to my liberal Christian upbringing, and I respect that it has Christian roots. I think it can make space for Pagans, Buddhists, nontheistic humanists and so forth. But for anyone group to try to takeover and demand that only they are catered to is contrary to the spirit and purpose of UUism. Each congregation is self-governing and has its own distinct culture- based on the majority of who is a member, and who is the most active and influential. In my area, we have several UU congregations, so a person has the option of travelling to a different one if they prefer a different UU flavor. But in most places, if there is a UU congregation or fellowship, it is typically the only one for a good distance. In those scenarios especially, members need to be careful to make sure they are welcoming to a broad spectrum of people. But I would say the same of any congregation. If I go to First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis, I know I’ve signed up for a Humanist service. But I expect to be treated with respect if I share my religious beliefs. I don’t have that same social expectation when I walk into a non-UU humanist or atheist group (though typically I have found the Minnesota Humanists to be quite welcoming). That is the difference. But heck, even at Unity (which some people tell me is “so traditional and Christian” in a way that I think is rather funny- people sometimes look at me funny for believing in any God, let alone multiple Gods. Oh well, I’m used to having people look at me funny!
Last quote from Maria Greene- “As part of my work for the UUHA, I’ve just started putting together a program that will bring the Secular Student Alliance’s Secular Safe Zone program to UU congregations. As part of receiving that designation, congregations will have to include atheists and other nontheists in their welcoming statement—which will get the conversation going about how welcoming they really are.” OK, so do we now need to have a statement that mentions every theological flavor of UU? I think that should be rather redundant for UUism, but more importantly we need to talk about theological diversity within congregations and not just single out humanists as needing special treatment.
Great comment that very much fits with my own views- Christine Leone Tracy “As a UU minister I have to say I’m a little frustrated by the idea that UU’s should “seek to be more Humanist.” Our polity is exclusively congregational, meaning we place the authority at the congregational level. Some congregations are VERY Humanist and others are not. That’s the joy and challenge of Unitarian Universalism. What I see the UUA moving toward is a more pluralistic understanding of faith — a place where seekers of all theologies can come together and grow, and make the world a better place, bound by our common vision for the world rather than “what’s in our heads.” My congregation in Annapolis has a Darwin-inspired summer camp for kids and an annual Darwin Sunday, and we often refer to science, wonder, and human potential in services and classes. However, we ALSO refer to the Bible, Buddhist teachings, Earth-centered wisdom, etc. UU’s have SIX sources of Inspiration. Not one. Not just Humanism. Not just Christianity. Those are only 2 of the 6. And we seek to be inspired by all of them.”
Yes- that is why I am a UU and not just a Pagan/polytheist- I find inspiration in many religions and philosophies- including humanism. But reducing UUism to only one of those influences would be losing what is unique about us.
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