It is not good enough to be Free if we cannot hold each other Responsible.

I have been following, and even occasionally tweeting links to, the small, relatively new site calling its self “UU Humanist Symposium“. it seems that I will not be doing this any more.

They have posted many things that I found interesting. They have certainly posted things that I have found controversial. They have posted a number of things that I thought might lead to some interesting discussions, and it seems that several others thought so as well.

The problem is that it seems as though the community of the UU Humanist Symposium is not interested in interesting discussion and intelligent disagreement.

I point those who wish to read it to this post, where someone asks some serious and reasonable questions about the content and context of a post, and is insulted and banned for the effort.

This brings to mind my often-stated concern that we Unitarian Univerasalists are much better at Free than Responsible.

After the theist makes it clear that he accepts the atheist as part of his spiritual movement, the atheist (for I can’t call his replies “Humanist”) tells the theist that there isn’t room in the UU Humanist movement for a theist, and that he won’t even bother to try and explain why, instead blocking the querent from further participation.

This is a problem I have with militant atheists, and why I have problems accepting that some of them are committed to the 7 Principles. There are some great hUUmanists out there. I consider myself a mystical humanist, due to my acceptance of the fact that there is no “mighty hand of God” at work in the world today. Being a humanist means, to me, accepting that humanity is in charge of our own destiny, and that we have to take collective responsibility for making it a good one. To me, the 7 Principles are an excellent guideline to creating that better future and a Beloved Community. That includes “Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth” as well as “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning“. What I saw was one Unitarian Universalist trying to meaningfully engage another in an instance where the latter was pushing the bounds of a responsible statement. Instead of seeing that as encouragement, the second UU resorted to name calling and censorship of an alternate but completely UU view point.

The most UU viewpoint, in my understanding, is a healthy skepticism and honest agnosticism. It is fine to say that your life is fulfilling enough without concern for the supernatural; it is quite another to refuse to entertain the idea of something that is currently outside of the ability of science to test, much less comprehend. We are, ultimately, a religious movement. The idea that there is a creator who wants better for us and from us is an inseparable aspect of a church.  The Great Mystery is essential to the philosophies and the lives of so many UUs, as it has been for our intellectual predecessors.

I will not be following this blog and longer. I will not encourage others to do so. Many of the post seemed to me to reflect an irresponsible viewpoint, and one that is being voiced more and more loudly by people in our Unitarian Universalist communities. It is not, in my understanding, an acceptable UU philosophy to be wed to your ideas to the point of irrationality. It is not healthy to be so dedicated to an idea that you cannot even abide civil dissent. It is dangerous for us to embolden those who seek to eliminate God from our churches. It will prove fatal to our movement if we allow fundamentalist factions to fracture our small movement. There has to be room for all seekers-after-truth. We cannot try to shut down those who disagree with our theologies as long as they fellowship with us in good faith and good will.

There is no room in my congregation for fundamentalists or any stripe, who cannot be wrong because they are righteous. There is not room for those who cannot have reasonable disagreements or debate. There is no room for those whose philosophies cannot be questioned. It is outside the bounds of my Principles, and the Principles of the UUA as I understand them. We need our principles to act as a covenant between us; with out at least that, we have nothing to rally around. Without that covenant, we accept that anything goes, and the behavior of this on-line community has proven that being a UU has to be about more than paying dues.


19 Responses

  1. The site struck me as a little shrill and way too defensive. Little there of interest to me. However short of breaking one’s covenant, I think there’s always room regardless how wrong the opinion. Simply because there’s no real way to expell them for thoughts alone.

    • That is one terrible byproduct of polity: as long as a congregation will take your dues, you are a member of the UUA. These people are clearly out of covenant, as they claim that their UU has no room for theists of any stripe. That goes directly against several of our principles. Still, all we can do is sound like liberal Christians, saying “They don’t speak for us: even though they ARE part of that us.

  2. I think it is an interesting site, find myself somewhat sympathic to what I think is the underlying frustration, I still need to read more. It is not a congregation, it is a blog. Yes, the tone is angry, that is where they are at. It will be interesting to see how it progresses.

    • There won’t be any progress on this issue, as the moderator has banned someone who asked thoughtful and insightful questions for asking questions at all.

  3. The notion one can be a UU out of step with the plurality of UU belief is a tough one for many UUs to accept even though it’s long been our practice.

    While I’d raise my hand if one called out how many in the room are Humanits, I find most of the organized Humanists these days awfully stale. They seem a mustly lot stuck fighting wars from the 30s.

    Science oddly has long past them by. They seem to miss out on the wonders of today’s physics and still fighting some battle alongside Darwin.

  4. Thomas, I understand everything you said here. My brief attempts to bring the conversation back to a pluralism/singularism one, rather than theism/atheism, were leading to a downward spiral that I’ve seen before, and I left before unfortunate words were exchanged. That notion of religious pluralism is embedded in our faith-tradition, including the UUA bylaws. And so is the intention of free congregations to covenant together in a mutually-expressed gratefulness for our diversity as a strength rather than a liability.* There are people on various opposing sides of our tradition who do not seem to understand this official covenant… this gratefulness…and, as you said, I think it calls into question either their understanding of, or the sincerity of, their UU-ness. There is, of course, a kind of small “h” humanism that runs throughout our tradition and has for centuries, but an attempt to establish a “large H” humanism (or an Atheism that is unwilling to have respectful conversations and to grow relationships with others of different perspectives) only undermines our attempts to build the beloved community that many of us sincerely want to have. Thanks for your post, Thomas, and Bill, while we may disagree at times over conservatism, I count you as a person of much sincerity and good will. As I read it, that is the essence of the “covenant” and of what ultimately brings us together as UU’s as well.

    * “Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith, we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision. As free congregations we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support.”

    • It can be hard, at times, to remember that all UUs are working towards the same goal of beloved community. We will disagree on how to get there, and what it will look like on the grand scale, but we know that it will be when we have reached “[t]he goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all”. The problem is that we acknowledge, as a tradition, that this only comes with the freedom to conduct a responsible search for our place in the world, with the right of every person to have a voice in that community, and with a covenant to encourage each other to grow as people. These are not all conditions that everyone is willing to concede in their personal view.

      I have said in previous posts that we need an internal movement to create a truly UU theology that encompasses all of the sources, rather than leaving it to congregations to pick their favorite to the near exclusion of the others. We harbor a lot of people who resent religion, and while it gives me hope that they will work through that and find a spiritual home, rather than a social club, not all of our congregations ARE spiritual communities at their core. I find it troubling.

      I have said many times that I would rather be part of a tiny collection of dedicated and spiritually vibrant people than to see millions of dues-paying stone-cold UUs. I am completely uncomfortable with the idea of Unitarian Universalism becoming an anti-religious movement. There is room for every theology, and even for none, but (as you say) the pluralism and the dedication to seeking something greater than ourselves in integral to UU identity.

  5. All I can say is “RIGHT ON,” and thank you.

    • Thank you for the reply and the share. It is nice to know that we can each be part of the conversation. I love it when something strikes a nerve and inspires sharing and replies.

  6. I was struck by Bill’s line, “They seem a mustly lot stuck fighting wars from the 30s.” In a large number of congregations- particularly, it seems, in the Midwest where decades ago UU was the only refuge for a humanist- there is no tolerance for theists at all… many older members fly into spittle spewing rage at the sound of “Godtalk”. We just had a situation in my (now former) congregation in which the minister was forced to resign. From the letter organizing the opposition to the minister: “Many new members are coming to us with Catholic or other similar religious backgrounds. They have a God belief that they do not want to give up; but are happy to be without dogma, or the need to repent each week. They love this. I understand and respect their viewpoint and beliefs. They assume that UUI has always been this way and cannot understand why many older members are unhappy.”

    Can’t have those ignorant newbies believing there was a time in which a belief in God was welcome in a UU church! The secular humanists won- after the congregational meeting, the 135 theists resigned their memberships, so the 184 remaining Secular Humanists kept their church. Victory for the kind of UU writing that symposium, but not for UUism.

  7. I’ll repeat as I written elsewhere that the UUA P&P were created for the bylaws ONLY – many many organizations’ bylaws have this section in them. Because the P&P were so controversial, a great deal of work went into them and this is why they resonate so well with the vast majority of UUs, HOWEVER, they must not be used to exclusively define us — this would be the antithesis of their purpose and I draw your attention to the last section of the P&P of II.C-2.4 (the 7 principles are section II.C-2.1) which states this. I realize there is a difference between creedal test and covenant, but it is a slippery slope I feel obligated to caution and potentially defend.

    With regard to your blog post, well done. Don’t agree with several finer points but these are in the end irrelevant and the thrust strikes home.

    The general debate pits Christian-talk UUs (inclusion of religious terms such as “god”) against Atheist-talk UUs (exclusion of religious terms such as “god”) with each feeling ‘dissed and not understanding the importance to the other. The two positions have the appearance of being antithetical to one another. To try and always please both is to leave yourself in a highly constricted and usually bland place. My solution? Each group must suffer the others position over and over in turn, with sometimes acquiescing to one and sometimes the other, and each group probably complaining and maybe finding a balance to the complaints but more hopefully each group trying to learn from the discomfort of the other to enrich and deepen their own search.

    • I’ll repeat, as I have written here more than once, that I am fine with that particular slope. It is a risk I think we have to take if we are going to define our movement, rather than letting Keillor and Clobert do it for us. We need to recognize that being a UU is about more than paying dues.
      I have said before that we need to cook up a truly UU theology that allows people to feel more connected to one or more sources, but still asks them to draw from all. We need to push people to explore how Jesus and Buddha said some of the same things. We need to seek out a humanist viewpoint in our social justice work, to deepen the experience. We need to understand that the 6th source is about the interdependent web, and not just catering to the pagans. They are all a valuable part of what UU is.
      We cannot honestly encourage each other towards growth if we cannot be allowed to question strongly held beliefs and disturb comfortable positions. We have to do it with love and respect, but growth cannot happen if we are not challenged. As I have written here before, we need to define what is “reasonable” in a religion that seeks scientific truth along side divine revelation. Obviously, the authors of the Symposium would call my path irresponsible, and I feel the same way about theirs. We are both right, in as far as there is no definition provided in the bylaws, and UU theology is, in reality, only 50 years old, and doesn’t hold any true authority, anyway.
      Please read through my UU-tagged posts; I would welcome more of your thoughts.

  8. I was in a UU Church hat recently imploded for these very reasons. The humanist pushed out God and used their power/ control of the board to push the pastor out even though the majority was behind the pastor. UUI went from a membership of over 300 to a membership of 100 from May to August. Basically it was a theology issue. There were other items thrown in to disguise the real issue. This article really speaks to the struggles we experienced. But it doesn’t even touch the pain and devestation it brought to hundreds of us or speak to how it reflects on UU as a movement in general. The wounded and churchless are seemingly unreachable now. I wish the UUA would address these issues and help churches before theyimplode like ours did.

  9. I’ll mention that after they banned someone for disagreeing, I posted a comment – which they edited out before it posted (they approve comments for posting). My sense is that there’s some real hurt; but, they do a deep disservice to our faith. I really appreciated your comment, “The most UU viewpoint, in my understanding, is a healthy skepticism and honest agnosticism.”

    • At my last check, the comment I posted asking where Gil had been disruptive or off topic was simply rejected and never posted.

      They are angry, not-so-gentle people, and they are definitely not speaking for me.

      • Same here – now the comments are down. Part of my thought is – I am literally one of the people who filled out the survey they referenced in one post (midwest UUs). And I am one of the 54% Humanists and part of the percentage (I forget) that marked boxes related to God, and even some liberal Christianity (and Taoism). Being a humanist for some (maybe many) of us isn’t separate from a belief in something Holy/Sacred/Greater than us. My guess is that the majority of my congregation would say they are humanist AND believe that something greater than humanity exists. They will diverge on what that “something greater” is or how it should be addressed, but they believe it’s there. It’s kind of nice that humanism can be a part of that faith, but with blogs and arguments like the ones we are hearing – it frankly turns me off.

  10. “This is a problem I have with militant atheists, and why I have problems accepting that some of them are committed to the 7 Principles.”

    Militant atheists aka fundamentalist atheists cannot possibly be committed to the 7 Principles of Unitarian Universalism because their closed-mindedness regarding God and theism, to say nothing of their anti-religious intolerance and bigotry. . . clearly violates several of UUism’s Seven Principles, perhaps most notably the Third Principle which calls for –

    Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

    Indeed, as you rightly point out here as I have done numerous times before. . . they tend not to to genuinely honour and uphold the Fourth Principle which affirms and promotes –

    A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

    but that may be said about many other UUs, including top level UUA administrators. . .

    • You are correct, of course, that you have pointed this out before, and you are right to do so, but it gets lost in all the other noise you create. It would be really helpful if you would stick to valid and reasonable statements and assertions, but none of us expect that this will become your nrom.

      I did not actually delete the last line of your comment, but it almost kept it from getting approved at all.

  11. I’m a humanist UU but I agree with everything you’re saying 100%. I think fundamentalism in *any* form is always a bad thing; atheists are sorely mistaken if they think they’re exempt from this. I always cringe when I see my fellow non-theists heaping scorn on those who believe differently, ESPECIALLY in the UU community which is *founded* on the concept of “we need not think alike to love alike.”

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