Posts tagged ‘unitarian universalism’

Humanist, Naturalist and other Definitions

I’m not interested in jumping into any religious debates currently, but I thought I’d shed some light by trying to sort out some definitions.

Atheist– There is/are no god(s)  Theoretically could believe in an afterlife, magic, divination or other non-scientific proven things.

Agnostic– Knowledge of god(s) is unknowable- many people use it in the sense of “I’m not sure” or “I don’t care” which would be an Apatheist. More about the a/gnostic & a/theists axes here.

Skeptic– person who uses critical thinking, reason, and logic, though they may not be consistent in how they apply these tools! Could include religious people but communities of skeptics typically don’t. Skeptics originally were a school of Greek philosophy

Freethinker/Freethought– one who thinks freely, especially in matters of religion and philosophy- originally this was used for Deists and people who questioned the doctrine of the Trinity, but has been mostly taken over by nontheists.

“None”– demographic rather than a self-identifier, person who has no institutional religious affiliation. This could include some Pagans.

Spiritual But Not Religious– many “nones” describe themselves as such, many Pagans do so as well, though I find the assumptions behind the division of “spirituality” with “religion” to be rather tiresome, I think we should listen SBNRs define this for themselves individually rather than just writing them off as flaky, which many mainstream religious folks and atheists alike often do.

Nontheist– includes atheists, agnostics. Depending on how you want to define things, a pantheist, deist, animist or ancestor venerator (with no deities) could also be nontheists. This isn’t typically a self-identifier, but I use “nontheistic pagans” as a broad term for pagan-identified folks who are less deity-focused. (If I ever get someone’s identity/label/tradition wrong please let me know)

Humanism– philosophy or life-stance that focuses on human needs, this life, a positive view of the body and the world, humans making the effort to improve themselves and the world, reason, critical thinking and the scientific method. Typically a humanist is at least agnostic or not focused on questions of the existence of gods, spirits and the afterlife.

An older definition of humanism (pre Humanist Manifesto) that is still used particularly in educational settings, is of Renaissance humanism, belief in the value of individual freedom of expression, education in the humanities, exploration of what it means to be human. This is the sense that I might use it for myself, but it requires so much explaining and disclaiming that I don’t usually bother!

Secular Humanist– pretty much the same as the first definition of humanism.

Religious Humanist– Humanists who want to have rituals, celebrations of rites of passage and/or the seasons, possibly buildings/organizational structures similar to churches, and sometimes humanist celebrants and chaplains who officiate at ceremonies or provide ethical or spiritual counseling. Religious humanists can be found in Unitarian Universalism, the Ethical Society/Ethical Culture, Sunday Assemblies, Jewish humanist groups, and various forms of Paganism, Buddhism- Secular Buddhism, Nontheist Friends (Quakers) and various people who attend church services because they like the community/music/etc. even if they aren’t sure how much of it they believe in.

Religious Naturalism– viewing the Earth, universe in a reverential manner, as a mystery, way of seeking meaning, based in scientific inquiry. This may be the “new” religious humanism. Spiritual Naturalism is another version.

Anti-theist– one opposed to belief/worship of God(s), who wants to convince religious people to leave religion behind. Please note that not all atheist activists, even those who actively criticize religion are necessarily anti-theists. Often it’s hard to tell though since they typically conflate all religion with fundamentalist Christianity and Islam. I would typically exclude these guys from humanism, whether secular or religious, since they treat most humans with such disdain. Interestingly, I’ve mostly seen this used pejoratively, but I’m starting to see people self-identify with it. Another person I know uses it as “I believe gods exist, but I want nothing to do with them!”.

Pantheism– seeing God/the Divine as the same as the Universe/nature

Universal Pantheist Society-includes pantheists, panentheists, cosmotheists, religious naturalists etc.

World Pantheist Movement– scientific/natural pantheism, broke off from the UPS and is now larger

Panentheism– sees God/the Divine as both pervading and transcending the Universe

Secularism– Not the Same as Atheism! In an United States context it can mean separation of church and state- state secularism. A secularist may advocate for the rights of nonreligious people, and ending forms of religious privilege, dissuade religious influence over political decision-making and public discourse- they can be religious or non-religious on a personal level. Christian fundamentalists/evangelicals in the United States often claim that advocacy for separation of church and state and loss of Christian privilege is “creeping secularism/secular humanism” and is an erosion of their religious freedom. Seriously, for years I didn’t know secular humanists were a real group of people, because they just sounded like Jerry Falwell’s imaginary bogeymen!

November 17, 2015 at 7:11 am 6 comments

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!

June 30, 2015 at 11:26 pm 2 comments

Resources for Ex-Muslims & Their Friends

Between being part of the Pagan, GLBT, disability and feminist communities, I hear a lot of stories about people leaving the faith traditions they were raised in (though I know many GLBT, disabled folks and feminists that find welcoming religious or non-religious communities- just not always the same ones they started out in!) Oftentimes the stories of people leaving Christianity predominate, to the point that we forgot that some folks come from other backgrounds- Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, secular, “red diaper baby” etc. Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims is coming up, and this is often a difficult time for people who are not “out” to their families about their non-observance. There’s also a range of potential scenarios involved depending on what country a person lives in, their family, particular sect and culture. To people from a non-Muslim background reading this- please keep in mind there is a huge range of diversity of levels of tolerance, religious freedom, and observance and practices both in predominantly Muslim countries and in countries with small or sizeable Muslim communities.

Here is a video with suggestions for how to deal with Ramadan for ex-Muslims who are not “out” to their families.

Another great video, useful for both Pagans/polytheists, liberal/moderate religious folks as well as non-theists is about Criticizing Religion Intersectionally The video is from the perspective of a ex-Muslim woman from India who now lives in Britain- she explains how to criticize the claims or ideas of a religion without attacking the people holding it, especially when they are from a minority background.

We Need More Liberals Willing to Criticize Islam, says Ex-Muslim Leader– While ex-Muslims can typically rely on both religious liberals and atheist activists to oppose the Christian Right, they often encounter racist insults and other unfair accusations from many directions when they critique Islam, policies in mostly Muslim countries and so forth.

Check out the orgs- Ex-Muslims of North America and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain

One thing I’m wondering about is why these groups seem to only include non-theists, I imagine ex-Muslims who join other religions may still be looking for support and community. If any ex-Muslims who practice another religion have had good or bad results in getting in touch with these groups, please let me know. There are probably groups for Muslims that have become Christian (especially ones that try to convert Muslims) but I’m especially wondering about people who don’t fit into any of those categories. Here’s one personal account by a Muslim woman who become Unitarian Universalist-

From Islam to Unitarian Universalism

To be frank, I think a lot of ex-Christians in Western countries should examine how really oppressed and marginalized they are in their families and communities compared to the things ex-Muslims have to deal with! Yes, we do have problems, but listening to these stories really puts things into perspective!

June 19, 2015 at 11:23 pm Leave a comment

Is UUism just my Spiritual Safety Husband?

Th term safety husband (or wife or spouse) refers to a friend that you would consider as a suitable if less than ideal partner to marry, should you not meet the spouse of your dreams, especially by age 40 or 50.  (I could comment about the rather messed-up tyranny of couple-dom that this concept promotes but that’s another post!)

Anyway, I have been wondering if UUism is really just my spiritual community equivalent of a safety spouse. After going thru lots of bad break-ups, I thought well, this “person” is nice, we have enough in common, share the same general values, zie owns a house and lives nearby, it’s a stable place to raise a family. I enjoy our visits together, but still wonder if I need a little more passion and good ritual in my life. Am I really being a good enough partner if my heart isn’t it this enough?

In the Pagan realm, I wonder if to find a stable community I’ll need to compromise and join a coven- there are many well-established ones here. Reclaiming shares a lot of my values, and they have a thriving community. But I don’t think my heart would be in that either. Non-Wiccans/Witches seem so scattered throughout the urban sprawl. Meanwhile I have a lot of trouble motivating myself to practice as a solitary.

Frankly in both settings, I have the similar situation of having people whom I’d consider close acquaintances but not really friends. I have known some of the regulars of the Wiccan Church of Minnesota (WiCoM) since I took a Wicca/Paganism 101 class when I was 16. (My dad signed off on it) They all know me by name, will say “Mariah, how are you doing? Haven’t seen in you in ages!” and even give me a (consensual) hug. There were a couple of people I ran into at Paganicon that wanted to get together for coffee chats. One of them was a person from the Cauldron Forum- several of the same folks that were there last year were present- Veggiewolf, HeartShadow (I know at least some of their actual names, just using the screen names for privacy and in case other folks reading this know them) It turned out one of the Kemetic peeps (sorry, she has a long Egyptian name I can’t remember!) lives not far from me so yay. So maybe I will make some new/old Actual Friends. I also think I should get together with folks on the BOP board and get to know them better.

Just generally continuing to Get a Life is good!

March 19, 2015 at 4:50 am Leave a comment

U.U. Race Relations Compared to Pagan Race Relations

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!)

March 5, 2015 at 4:49 am Leave a comment

Being Human

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.

February 26, 2015 at 1:21 am Leave a comment

A UU Pagan & a Muslim walk into an Irish pub

So, a couple of days ago my partner and I were discussing an article he had just read, written by a Muslim critiquing the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. More on that another day!

I made some comment about my accepting attitude towards Muslims, and he challenged this by bringing up an incident he witnessed in which I offended a Muslim co-worker/friend of mine. I found this rather ironic, considering that we’d just established that offending Muslims (intentionally or unintentionally) is not the same as hating or excluding them. Still, Little Miss Amateur Interfaith Diplomat has been racking her brain trying to remember what this was and recalled today that it was something about the story in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to him, and then at the last minute, a lamb shows up as a substitute sacrifice. If I recall correctly, I brought this up after noting that fairy tales in their original forms were not what we’d consider appropriate reading material for children, but then children back in Ye Olden Days were not protected from “Scary Adult Stuff” in the way that they are now. I then noted the similar irony to the popular belief that the Bible is this nice kid-friendly book, the Abraham & Isaac story being a prime example of Great Ways to Traumatize Kids. Children’s Bibles typically include this story, along with Noah’s Ark, Creation and “the Fall” etc. (To be fair, we also need kid-friendly versions of Greek and Norse myths…) Anyhow, being a mom to 3 sons, and a Muslim my co-worker was taken aback to hear me speak ill of this story, she thought it was a nice one about having faith in God (which is how all 3 of the Abrahamic faiths typically view it) I can’t remember if I said much more, but I did decide it was wisest to let it go, and agree to disagree so no further offense would take place, especially since we were there to entertain the guests on the tour at an Irish pub, and more light-hearted conversation would certainly be preferable!

Thing is, even if it was somehow an appropriate situation for discussing, I’m not sure if there is really a way to explain without horribly offending Muslims, Christians and Jews alike how this story conflicts with my basic theological, philosophical and ethical principles. (And I’m sure some of y’all struggle with this one yourselves!) I have trouble imagining this story being used in a UU Religious Education setting (yes, Biblical material *is* included in our curriculum, along with material from lots of other religions!)

Some Christians approach this story by trying to connect it with God giving up his only son, Jesus in sacrifice instead of humanity- but Abraham doesn’t give up his son, as a lamb is sent as a replacement. This sort of “See, this old Jewish story *really* supports the Whole Jesus Thing!” is why I tend to prefer looking at Jewish interpretations of Jewish texts, with more than one viewpoint.

It’s also looked at as- in the Bad Old Days of idol-worship, people sacrificed babies, but now that the One True God has come along, we know better than to do that! According to this Biblical scholar, human sacrifice was a widespread but rare practice in the ancient Near East, including in Israel.

In the Qur’an, the son being sacrifice is Ishmael but the basic “Have faith in God” message is the same. Is this supposed to be more about obeying God, no matter what, even if what God asks seems crazy or impossible? Or is it about trusting that God will provide, even if a situation seems hopeless? Both are recurring themes throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. I’ve also heard claims that God doesn’t test or tempt people. (Just blame Satan instead, right?) Wait, are you reading the same book as me? Job? Joseph? Moses and all his buddies? Really, following this advice in the modern world could result in a lot of Bad Things- homelessness, unemployment, alienating most of your friends and family. Having your kid taken away after you threaten to sacrifice him or her.

Now I was raised Methodist, and we were taught that it was ok to interpret the Bible for yourself, and use strange Satan-influenced things like…(gasp) critical thinking skills. And it was mostly about Jesus, and his ethical teachings, not so much his death and God screwing with people’s heads. But still, I was like, what the heck do I do with this book that everyone says is so important? What does it mean? It was no wonder that I got into mythology and fantasy, and no one was claiming that those things had All The Answers, and yet I found deeper truths there, of a more poetic and less literal nature.

It’s funny that I still can go on about this, when none of this really matters to my religion, but still these stories pervade my culture, my memory. They are part of our heritage as Unitarian Universalists and we do talk about them even if we view them as less authoritative. They’ll be made into books, movies (hopefully not by Walden Media, please God!) again and again. Our kids will hear about them from *somewhere* and ask, and I will probably just end up saying- God acts like a jerk in the Bible. A Lot. Like a boss who makes arbitrary orders that don’t make sense.  Just don’t say anything about this to Grandma..

January 29, 2015 at 2:54 am 5 comments

A Guest at the Kwanzaa Table

A couple years ago I intended to write a series of posts on a different set of seven principles- not the UU ones, but the Nguzo Saba, the principles of Kwanzaa. Here’s a link to my earlier post. My struggles with Krampus…err depression have gotten in the way enjoying almost anything this year, holidays most of all! I went thru most of November and December in a haze, almost refusing to participate in Christmas Eve festivities with my partner & his family. Just Not In the Mood! Sometimes you just have to work thru your moods and force yourself to be there, because it’s not about you, it’s about family. Depression makes you self-centered by its very nature, and sucks the joy out of life.

I was reminded of Kwanzaa again by various things such as the prominence of Black Lives Matter campaign in current events, including discussions in the Pagan, polytheist and U.U. communities. In the communitarian values of Kwanzaa, I find pieces of what feels missing from the Nine Norse Virtues, which seems like more of a reflection of American libertarian individualism than the tribal values of pre-Christian Europe.

Upon further reading, I discovered that the Nguzo Saba are part of a broader philosophy known as Kawaida (meaning reason or tradition in Swahili) created by Dr. Maulana Karenga. All this is of course, centered on the experiences and cultures of African peoples and the African diaspora, but I feel that those of us outside of that can also learn a lot. We too are cut off from our roots, sometimes violently, even more so when we go back to the destruction of pre-Christian European spiritual traditions. Is it in part, due to that disconnect, that profound alienation, that many of the peoples of Europe sought to conquer the rest of the world, and later after at least partly realizing the errors of our ways, collect tidbits of music, clothing and spirituality to feed the spiritual hunger within us?

And as an neurodivergent and autistic woman, who has often felt excluded from definitions of “humanity”, I have found many resources in the liberation movements of other oppressed peoples. There are such things as Disability Studies, disabled liberation theology and disability culture(s), but they are not very well developed yet or well-known or accessible to many people, particularly outside of certain countries. To that end, I have often looked to political and cultural theories about race, gender and sexual orientation to put together my own disability theory. There is an emerging sense of “peoplehood” among many disabled individuals, across many types of disabilities, bodies and minds, genders and cultures.  And so I come to the Kwanzaa table as a humble guest, to learn, to show solidarity and to listen, grow and celebrate.

Articles on Kwanzaa:

Official Kwanzaa website

The Blank Candle, a documentary about the holiday narrated by the late Maya Angelou

Wikipedia article

Kwanzaa Guide

We Can Learn About the Real Meaning of the Season from a Holiday Most of Us Don’t Celebrate

Christianity & Kwanzaa– Great article for better understanding Kwanzaa within its Kawaida context!

Let’s Stop Making Fun of Kwanzaa

December 30, 2014 at 12:54 am Leave a comment

Six Types of Atheists- Relevance for UUs & Pagans

Atheists, agnostics, skeptics, freethinkers and humanists- I identify loosely with several with those labels with the exception of atheist- in fact I feel atheists have a tendency to take over words for themselves which apply more broadly. The latest one is Pagan. Who has a “claim” to the word pagan? A messy question for another day! I see heathen get used, but usually in a more joking manner, and they generally aren’t aware of its use by Norse/Germanic pagans. What types of atheists make good allies for Pagans & UUs, and which types mesh well enough to even be included in UU & Pagan groups?

I came across this study- copy pasted it here, with some added commentary

How many ways are there to disbelieve in God? At least six, according to a new study.

Two researchers at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga found that atheists and agnostics run the range from vocally anti-religious activists to nonbelievers who still observe some religious traditions.

“The main observation is that nonbelief is an ontologically diverse community,” write doctoral student Christopher Silver and undergraduate student Thomas Coleman.

“These categories are a first stab at this,” Silver told the website Raw Story. “In 30 years, we may be looking at a typology of 32 types.”

Silver and Coleman derived their six types of nonbelievers from 59 interviews. We’re pretty sure we’ve spotted all six in our comments section.

1) Intellectual atheist/agnostic (often but not always activist type) Some friendly to religious liberals, others more broadly anti-religion

This type of nonbeliever seeks information and intellectual stimulation about atheism.

They like debating and arguing, particularly on popular Internet sites.

(Ahem.)

They’re also well-versed in books and articles about religion and atheism, and prone to citing those works frequently.

2) Activist (generally also the intellectual type, some anti-religion/anti-theist, others are more like “faitheists” 

These kinds of atheists and agnostics are not content with just disbelieving in God; they want to tell others why they reject religion and why society would be better off if we all did likewise.

They tend to be vocal about political causes like gay rights, feminism, the environment and the care of animals.

3) Seeker-agnostic- Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) many UUs, many Pagans- this describes me! Agnostic with a polytheistic worldview & an aesthetic/intellectual enjoyment of ritual & mythology. I feel that’s a more intellectually honest description, though I use polytheist for short. At the end of the day I feel I have more in common with them. 

This group is made up of people who are unsure about the existence of a God but keep an open mind and recognize the limits of human knowledge and experience.

Silver and Coleman describe this group as people who regularly question their own beliefs and “do not hold a firm ideological position.”

That doesn’t mean this group is confused, the researchers say. They just embrace uncertainty.

4) Anti-theist (sub-type of the activist) New Atheists, typically. This is the type that probably would *not* mesh well in a Pagan group, interfaith group, or a UU congregation! Ableist attitudes (such as “religion is a mental illness/neurological disorder” or “religious people are stupid” are disturbingly common.

This group regularly speaks out against religion and religious beliefs, usually by positioning themselves as “diametrically opposed to religious ideology,” Silver and Coleman wrote.

“Anti-theists view religion as ignorance and see any individual or institution associated with it as backward and socially detrimental,” the researchers wrote. “The Anti-Theist has a clear and – in their view, superior – understanding of the limitations and danger of religions.”

Anti-theists are outspoken, devoted and – at times – confrontational about their disbelief. They believe that “obvious fallacies in religion and belief should be aggressively addressed in some form or another.”

5) Non-theist (Apatheists, functionally agnostic) my partner falls in this category

The smallest group among the six are the non-theists, people who do not involve themselves with either religion or anti-religion.

In many cases, this comes across as apathy or disinterest.

“A Non-Theist simply does not concern him or herself with religion,” Silver and Coleman wrote. “Religion plays no role or issue in one’s consciousness or worldview; nor does a Non- Theist have concern for the atheist or agnostic movement.”

They continue: “They simply do not believe, and in the same right, their absence of faith means the absence of anything religion in any form from their mental space.”

6) Ritual atheist (secular Buddhists & Jews, UUs, some Pagans?) Alain de Botton- Religion 2.0

I suspect for a lot of sci-fi/fantasy/comics & games fandom, fandoms can function as surrogate religions for the ritual atheists. Music & sports do as well.

They don’t believe in God, they don’t associate with religion, and they tend to believe there is no afterlife, but the sixth type of nonbeliever still finds useful the teachings of some religious traditions.

“They see these as more or less philosophical teachings of how to live life and achieve happiness than a path to transcendental liberation,” Silver and Coleman wrote. “For example, these individuals may participate in specific rituals, ceremonies, musical opportunities, meditation, yoga classes, or holiday traditions.”

For many of these nonbelievers, their adherence to ritual may stem from family traditions. For others, its a personal connection to, or respect for, the “profound symbolism” inherent within religious rituals, beliefs and ceremonies, according the researchers.

(Problem is I couldn’t figure out where a non-theistic path such as Buddhism would fit in- though I suppose it would depend on the kind of Buddhism. By secular Buddhism I mean the practice of meditation & some philosophy without the belief in karma & reincarnation. )

December 12, 2014 at 5:06 am 9 comments

Chalica & Charity

I found a different approach to Chalica that I liked. It’s the newly invented UU holiday, consisting of lighting a chalice (or 7 chalices) for 7 nights in the first week of December in honor of each of the 7 Principles of UUism– in case you just “tuned in” to my blog. This Mom shares many different holiday traditions with her kids, and often will acknowledge the first day of a multi-day observance (Chalica, Hannukah, Las Posadas) and discuss it with them over a special meal. I’ve seen various suggestions of simple things to do that tie in with the 7 principles, but if you are trying to do actual volunteer work that would be tricky to schedule all in one week! So instead she suggests spreading Chalica out– doing four different acts of charity that relate to the First Principle- “We light our chalice for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” in December, and then continuing to do that for the other principles in the following months from January thru June.

Since I have a lot more free time than money, I was already thinking of trying to do some volunteer work during December as gifts to my communities. Many charities and non-profits also get frustrated that the Thanksgiving & Yuletide generosity burst peters out, meaning very lean times in summer for many families. After you go thru the 7 principles in whatever manner you choose, you can do more stuff and relate to other values you find meaningful- the Kwanzaa principles, the Beatitudes, the Quaker Testimonies, polytheist virtues and so forth. It’s important to clarify that while the 7 principles are guide us, but they are not a creed or an entire system of ethics. Maybe this isn’t really Chalica so much as a plan for how live out your Unitarian Universalist values!

While poking around old Pagan/polytheist posts about Yule vs. Consumermas- I found this very insightful comment from PSVL (Lupus for short) “One of the things that is really starting to rankle on me in terms of the overculture’s overconsumption at this time of year is the entire phenomenon of “Toys for Tots.” While the people doing it have good intentions, if someone’s family is so poor that they can’t afford toys for their children at Christmas, then there’s something wrong that is much worse than that their children have no toys, and that therefore because they have no toys they will have “no joy” at this time of year. The thousands of dollars spent on toys in these efforts–toys that will often be broken, forgotten, or lost in a year–could be better spent on money for basic food for the needy throughout December. Occasionally, in the “wish list” things that needy families put out, with children and teenagers asking for something, one finds “I’d like a bed” or “I’d like some sheets and blankets.” That is something that I think should be encouraged, not “I want an MP3 player or a Nintendo Wii.”

I do think children need toys- but frankly throughout history, most of the time non-aristocratic children just made their own toys. Toymaking as a craft or industry is pretty recent. Heck, so is the concept of childhood! What is important though, is that children have safe items to play with that stimulate their imagination, creativity and help them learn about and explore our world in a developmentally appropriate way (based on individual child, not the age of the child). Often-times low-tech *and durable* is better. Building toys. Dolls & action figures (for all genders) that don’t need batteries, the kid gets to imagine what they can do *without* batteries.  One of the funnest “toys” when I was a kid was a big refrigerator box! This makes me sound like a mean grown-up, but buying kids what they say they want isn’t necessarily the greatest idea. Is it really what they will spend a lot of time enjoying and get a lot out of? Or is it just the most advertised toy that all their peers seemingly have, so they have to have it!

Unity Unitarian Church has a “Mitten Tree” each year, that people can add articles of warm clothing to (including our Uknitarian club!) We also collect- not just in winter but throughout the year, personal care items (small shampoo bottles) clothing, money for bus passes and other things to help people who are coming out of prison and returning to society to help them out as part of the Amicus Reconnect program. Many other places of worship, schools, non-profits (both religious & secular) have similar programs.

November 22, 2014 at 12:21 am Leave a comment

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