Thanks to Atheists, UUism is no longer a Religion
Does anyone make the connection between the lack of ethnic & socio-economic diversity in Unitarian Universalism and what amounts to a suppression and denial of religious ecstasy, mysticism, and ritual? This seems to get occasionally mentioned, but since we only seem to pat ourselves on the back for our theological/spiritual praxis diversity, but not actually discuss and engage with it. We might have to talk about touchy-feely spiritual “woo” stuff, that would be too gosh darned awkward!
OK, I get that we’re typically “low-church” based on our congregationalist & Puritan roots. And we’re big on Enlightenment-style free-thinking and rationality. But I’ve heard stories about U.U. fellowships/societies that made me scratch my head. A group that insisted that lighting candles at Christmas time was “too religious”. OK, even if it’s a purely humanist observation of the Earth’s axial tilt, you can still light candles to celebrate the winter solstice. Light in darkness. It’s not just a religious thing! And another UU fellowship that wouldn’t sing hymns- yes the even the “Yay, We are Privileged New Englanders and Reason & Religious Freedom Are Fabulous!” type ones. They were too worried that music would lead people to be emotional and be easily manipulated and they’d turn into a cult. Or something. So yeah, my favorites in the hymnal tend to be African-American gospel/spirituals, even though I’ve never been enslaved or anything nearly so bad, I feel a lot more connected to that musical tradition when I’m feeling depressed and sheepishly un(der)employed while trying to filter out perky “Get your pledges in!” speeches. Even when we sing a whole service-full of gospel songs, the minister usually has to cajole the stiff-upper lipped white folks into clapping and *really* belting out the Hallelujahs. And I’m pretty sure we’re in no danger of becoming a cult…
People have told me that Unity is the “conservative/traditional/Christian” Unitarian church in the Twin Cities, which my raised-fundamentalist Lutheran fiance finds especially amusing. Probably because of things like…we have a supplemental hymnal for Christmas for the songs that were kicked out of the official UU hymnal for being too Christian..and even those have some theological adjustments from the traditional versions! Atheists whine to me about being offended by references to the super-vague “Ground of Being”, Spirit of Love and Life and what have you…I have serious doubts that this essence is the same deity as YHWH, if it’s a deity at all…I’m sorry, but if you are an atheist (especially an educated white atheist) in the Twin Cities metro, your license to whine about oppression has been officially revoked. There’s the Minnesota Humanists, the Minnesota Atheists, and MN Atheists for Human Rights, the First Unitarian Society which is pretty staunchly humanist, and if that’s still not ungodly enough, the Sunday Assembly meets there once a month. I believe there ought to be space in UUism for a variety of religious viewpoints, including atheism. Problem is, UUs are too wishy-washy. When a UU criticizes New Atheists (i.e. anti-theists) people get mad and claim we’re “oppressing” all atheists. When I came in here as a Pagan & polytheist, I didn’t complain about the default monotheistic/Biblical language. I studied the history of UUism and understood its origins in deeply religious people. I didn’t expect it to meet all of my specific spiritual needs, I was mostly looking for a broader and more stable community. Now there are other Pagans with religious hangovers that act just as bratty as some of the atheists, and conversely there are plenty of atheists who play nicely with the liberal religious heritage of UUism, while carving a slice for themselves- contributing sermons, rites of passage, readings, etc. that fit with their values and beliefs.
I’d suggest everyone take a good look at the history of creating secular religions- whatever term you want to use- you’ll see that they’ve all appealed generally to a relatively small elite, and withered usually after a generation or two.
The Cult of Reason of the French Revolution is long gone. The Ethical Society/Culture isn’t radical enough for the atheist hipsters. Humanist Judaism remains a small movement, known almost only in the United States, (Alex de Bouton, a French secular Jew who proposed “Religion 2.0” seemed oblivious to its existence) Reform synagogues, which are also often pretty humanist friendly also face a decline as steep as mainline Protestants. Are secular replacements for religion mostly of interest to people with a religious upbringing? Will Sunday Assembly go the way of the Cult of Reason in another generation? On the other hand, there’s always sports- and fandoms of other types!