Posts filed under ‘Unitarian Universalism’
Here’s a short answer from a UU joke-
After the secular humanists came along, we said that UUs believe in One God – at Most.
Now, what with the 6th Source and the pagans, we say that UUs believe in One God – More or Less.
I made a comment about the generic Divinity of UUism being rather like that in Alcoholics Anonymous- what I meant by that is that in AA there is this concept of a “Higher Power”, and while it tends to skew towards evangelical Christianity in its “default setting theology” officially they emphasize that the Higher Power can be whatever works for you and helps you in your recovery, the point is just to believe in Something.
Traditional Unitarianism was a Deist style of Christian theology- God was there, but very transcendent. Jesus was a wise teacher with moral teachings, and we should follow in his footsteps- but not the son of God or savior. Humans are born with an “original blessing” so to speak, and redeem the world themselves- the world isn’t seen as “fallen” so much as imperfect, our mission as our Jewish friends would say is tikkun olam- to repair the world. Transylvanian Unitarianism still holds this theology, and it is one of the sources of our tradition.
- Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
(To me this kind of implies a “there is one God/Force/Divine Source, and many paths to God” which is a recurring motif in many UU sermons and teachings, but it also says “an openness to the forces (plural) which create and uphold life” This second part can be seen as fitting with animism and polytheism.
- Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
This includes both religious and non-religious prophets- in Celtic/Druid traditions this overlaps a lot with the role of the bard or fili
- Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
We do encourage mindful & respectful cultural exchange/interaction, not cherry-picking and pirating!
- Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
Note that as with the Abrahamic religions, most polytheistic religions place an emphasis on hospitality- gods wandering around disguised as beggars motif pops up in many mythologies
- Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
Worth mentioning that many humanist teachings have their roots in Greco-Roman philosophy, as did the beginnings of scientific thought. To me the idolatries of the mind and spirit part warns about becoming so stuck on a certain idea, ideology, practice or belief that you miss the bigger picture, and possibly neglect other areas of your life.
- Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
This is the sixth source mentioned above, as women’s spirituality and environmentalism became influences in UUism, Paganism made its way into the UU tent. I will add though, that I often see an oversimplified Paganism = Nature is Sacred mentality promoting both within greater Neo-Pagandom and UUism. Earth-based or Earth-centered is a common self-identifier for many UUs, and this overlaps with, but is not the same as Pagan.
I would say that UUism gives me an ethical & spiritual philosophy that deals more with humans in a modern pluralist society while polytheism gives me a practice, a mythic cosmology, older but timeless virtue ethics and cultural roots.
Hey, y’all! I have moved this post to my Witches & Pagans blog, Way of the Sacred Fool. I realized something rather odd. It seems when I specifically set out to write a post for W & P I end up getting stuck, but then I’ll fluently write out something for this blog. I think I need to *just write* without worrying which blog whatever I’m writing fits into and then publish accordingly!
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!
One holiday that I’ve often wondered “How does that work in a UU context?” is Easter. I mean, at Christmas time we can talk about the birth of Jesus, and winter solstice traditions and such, and yes there are pagany springy trappings that go with Easter. But it seems much more unavoidably, traditionally theologically Christian, focused on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus,
I was told that one traditional Unitarian view of Easter was a focus on the “resurrection of community”.I guess in a seasonal context that could make sense, since in winter people tend to be more isolated and keep to themselves, while we come out and see our neighbors as spring rolls around. However, this was a theological idea from presumably a much warmer place, so my own interpretation wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense!
On this post here, it’s discussed that in some places, particular the southwestern U.S. Easter is combined with Flower Communion at U.U. churches. “Flower Communion was a ritual developed by Norbert Čapek as a ritual specifically for Unitarians. He chose to celebrate the diversity of humanity through flowers as no two flowers are exactly alike. The first Flower communion was held in June of 1923 in Prague just before the summer holidays. According to his wife, Maja Čapek, the ritual was to be more secular in its associations so as to be the most inclusive of all people, regardless of creed. An important aspect that would grow over time as their neighboring country of Germany grew in power and intolerance of Jews and those of political differences grew deeper. She stated in a letter that conflating it with Easter would probably not have met Norbert’s approval and an alternative date to June could be to commemorate the last Sunday that he preached which was March 23 before being arrested and subsequently killed by the Nazis in Dachau concentration camp. These meanings of diversity and acceptance found in the Flower Communion have nothing to do with Easter. I believe the two should be kept separate so that the fullness of each message can be contemplated.”
I completely agree that the two should be separate! Spring Equinox of course, may be celebrated in addition to Easter by U.U. Pagans and earthy humanists- Nowruz, the Persian New Year is also celebrated on the same day. Personally I find the themes of Passover- liberation from slavery and oppression- to be more relevant than Easter. And indeed I do celebrate Passover if one of my Jewish friends invites me to do so. But otherwise, it is not really my holiday. A couple years ago I went to Minicon, a science fiction convention that is held in the Twin Cities during Easter weekend. One of the coolest people I met there was an older Jewish lady from New York. She shared with me, an anecdote- a conversation she had with African-American friends. She told them- you folks need your own Passover! Once again, such a holiday wouldn’t be mine to create or celebrate. A while ago while celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, and watching all the inaccurate memes posted by my fellow Pagans, I thought about how disconnected St Pat’s is from actual Irish history. It seems like we celebrate Irishness in this rather shallow way without really contemplating what our ancestors (spiritual or physical) went through to get to this country. So maybe we also need an Irish-American equivalent of Passover. There are also various historical events we could be commemorating, such as the Easter Rising. Once again, I feel pretty darn ignorant about Irish history!
As I’ve discussed before, I was raised in the United Methodist Church, with parents who were involved in racial/social justice organizing both within the UMC and in broader society. Most Protestant denominations in the United States broke apart over the question of slavery or of integration. Many of them have made official apologies, acknowledgements of wrongdoing to African-Americans and sometimes American Indians depending on their history. Unitarian Universalists are a largely white denomination and we too have been working at racial reconciliation. Some congregations have made apologies to the family members of Black ministers that they didn’t call, there is at least one U.U. church that has a plaque in honor of the slaves who built the building. We have a long way to go, and are far from perfect, but we are committed to this journey. Recently I read “The Selma Awakening” by Mark Morrison-Reed, a book about U.U. involvement in the Civil Rights movement. Before the march to Selma, U.U.s had made various proclamations against racism, and made some attempts at integrating the ministry, with very mixed results. When Martin Luther King Jr. called upon clergy of all faiths to come march to Selma, many U.U.s heeded the call, and this was a turning point in the U.U. commitment to racial and economic justice.
I am trying to take what I am learning about U.U. racial history and apply it to a Pagan community context, but in some ways I find the situations are not very comparable, probably no more so than if I were to compare to the history of the United Methodist Church.
- Though considered heretics and persecuted at times in Europe, in the U.S. for the most part, Unitarians and Universalists could practice their faiths openly and freely with formally recognized churches and clergy
- Wicca came “out of the broom closet” in the 1950’s, and Paganism more broadly in the 1970’s. There were earlier groups, the Church of Aphrodite was formed & legally recognized in 1939 in New York, but they are outliers.
- While tending to be mostly white, and sometimes insular, people of color could technically join both U churches, though they were not always accepted.
- Covens and esoteric orders, being initiatory and secretive, tended to stick to a mostly white middle-class social network.
- Public, celebratory groups and festivals opened up Paganism to a broader spectrum of people, book publishing and the internet even more so.
- The Unitarian Universalist Association is one organization, albeit a loose structure, that congregations belong to as members.
- Pagan groups are mostly small and local, with a minority having a larger organizational affiliation. Most Pagans are solitary. (There’s one similarity- there are many U.U.s that do not have a local congregation or fellowship)
- Unitarian Universalism affirms social justice oriented values- while some Pagan traditions (like Reclaiming Witchcraft) may affirm commitments to peace, environmentalism, gender equality, etc. and individual Pagans might connect activism with their personal beliefs and practices, Paganism in general is not united under any set of principles, and even Wicca specifically does not require any socio-political commitments. (Which is fine, by the way- I’m certainly not proposing a platform for all of Pagandom!)
I think we need to delve into our history in order to understand where we are now. I am going to start by talking about Wicca and related ceremonial magic groups and esoteric orders in Britain and the United States. This is partly because I simply know more about this history, not because other traditions don’t matter, and also because of the influences they have had on other forms of Paganism. American Asatru arose as a separate movement, with different socio-political and cultural influences, so it makes sense to discuss it separately. If you have information about the history of inclusion and exclusion of various ethnic and other groups from your tradition of Paganism, polytheism (or insert preferred label) that you would like to share, please link, I’d be interested in hearing about it. (Also please let me know if I get anything wrong!)
Feeling like a human being, and connecting with other humans can be a struggle for me as an autistic person. So often, qualities that are defined as essential and “natural” to humans don’t come as naturally to me, or as I’ve come to realize, simply *work differently*. Over time, the definition of human has broadened- in Western Enlightenment tradition, only white land-owning Christian men were accorded full human rights. Hundreds of years later, we are still working on the whole “all are created equal” thing. In Unitarian Universalism we acknowledge this in the First Principle- “We affirm and recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every person”. This is in contrast to the Christian belief in Original Sin- which was actually not a part of early Christianity, we have stodgy ol’ St. Augustine of Hippo to blame for that one. We believe in Original Blessing, that every child is born a redeemer.
I do not interpret the First Principle as meaning that humans are perfect. At some point we are all going to mess up in both minor and major ways, and we need to find forgiveness, atonement and redemption. I believe these concepts are often missing in Pagan religions, with their emphasis on cosmic justice and harsh honor codes, but I think they can be found if we look more deeply. They may express themselves differently in Paganisms but they are still present. Paradoxically, in different types of Christianity forgiveness and redemption can be at times too easy and too difficult. I’ll go into this more in another post (and after more research!) but suffice to say that in most Pagan religions, personal responsibility needs to be taken for wrongdoing. It is not easily forgiven by a god who will take away your sins. There is usually some type of ritual purification, both spiritual and physical that takes place, and atonement made to the community and to the spirit world with material offerings.
In the esoteric philosophy of Thelema, “Every man and woman is a Star”. Each person, then must find their True Will (Thelema means “will” in Greek) their higher purpose, which cannot conflict with that of any other person. Freemasonry also focuses on human self-improvement.
It is not surprising to me to find similar ideas in these other philosophies, because they also are very influenced by the humanism of the Enlightenment. For anyone who has interest in both UUism and magic, those are two paths I would suggest checking out, and both are very theologically open.
A suggestion I’ve seen here and there in discussions of Pagan theology, and how Pagans present ourselves to the general public, including interfaith work, is that promoting a style of Paganism as nature or earth-based- as opposed to a focus on Gods/spirits or a particular culture- is a way to make Paganism seem more “mainstream”, whatever that means.
First-off, I think if you are talking about Paganism to the public, it’s better to give a description of your own path or tradition rather than trying define the ever-moving Pagan umbrella/tent. Lately I have taken to calling myself a polytheist, and going to more detail from there, as a way of bypassing the Pagan = default assumption of Wicca issue. Nothing against Wicca, I’d just rather have Wiccans explain it themselves. I’ve also given up on distinguishing Wicca from Paganisms and Witchcraft traditions that waddle and quack like Wicca but loudly squawk that they are not.
Anyhow I’ve seen this implication arise somewhere amidst the debates between polytheist and non-theistic pagans and polytheists and Wiccan/Witches/closely allied Pagans. I don’t feel as if I have skin in the game of either of said debates but I am wondering about it, because “earth/nature-based” is a description frequently used by CUUPS- the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, and for that matter earth-based is often instead of Pagan in UU settings. I’d like to hear some feedback from folks of varying viewpoints on this, I just ask that y’all play nicely together.
I don’t see Earth-based as necessarily more mainstream. There’s a big spectrum between Sierra Club member and eco-anarchist, or someone who drives a Prius, shops at Whole Foods and someone who consistently uses rags for toilet paper and has a completely wilderness based lifestyle. I see a term like Earth/nature-based spirituality as being overlapping with, but also broader than Paganism. Some forms of Paganism aren’t very nature-y. Some indigenous/traditional religions might identify with being Earth/nature-based but not the pagan label. Individual spiritual but not religious folks (SBNR) might call themselves earth-based but not Pagan- I suspect those folks are more apt to contemplate nature, do outdoors activities but not so much engage in formal ritual. Several of my relatives fall into this sort of category- my uncle uses the term “Blue Domer”- the blue dome- the sky is my cathedral, he says. Theologically they might be pantheists, panentheists, deists, agnostics, atheists, or animists. There are even Earth-based Jews, Christians and Buddhists. This is all totally cool and awesome, it’s great to see people connecting with nature, physically, spiritually and mentally. It’s great to see environmentalism taken more seriously. But the commonalities I find with hikers, bikers, campers, recyclers and such across the board are different than the commonalities I find with broader Pagandom, or with UUs for that matter. It’s hard to explain I guess. Basically, when I use a term that attracts all kinds of people who enjoy nature, I will encounter some cool people, but not necessarily the freaky geeky radical queer tribe that I feel at home with! For reasons of practicality, sanity, wanting to be in touch with reality, and to be honest decent shots at career networking, I don’t limit my interactions to just Pagani. But in spite of their dysfunctional, disorganized goofiness, it is often with Pagans that I feel the most at home. Earth-based is one of our labels, yes, but it’s part of a bigger tag cloud- (since I’m talking about earth, it makes me think “dust cloud”!)