Unitarian Universalism is a Strange Religion, Pt. 3

I have a Twitter account that is largely about Unitarian Universalist news and thought. I have a Tumbr account which is dedicated to Unitarian Universalist ideals and Principles, as I see them. I moderate a Facebook page devoted to Unitarian Universalism. As you probably realize, reading this now, I post a lot of my thoughts about Unitarian Universalism here on A Material Sojourn. I am also more than willing to discuss my faith and the Unitarian Universalist movement in real life.

It might not surprise you to know that this leads to a lot of challenges. Atheists questioning my theology. Christians asking me to defend my humanism and my factual-but-unflattering statements about mainline Christian denominations and groups. Pagans asking me to defend my concept of divinity and my panentheist view of the universe. I am literally challenged almost every week by someone who doesn’t like some aspect of my world view or some idea I hold about God and/or religion. Rarely, I have even made a single post somewhere that has both Atheists and Christians upset with me. I don’t know what I would do if these challenges weren’t almost always coming from other UUs!

The fact is, in being a vocal Unitarian Universalist, well over half of the people who attempt to call me out on my presumed heresies, fallacies, and prejudices are fellow Unitarian Universalists. I face much more criticism for my embrace of the 7 Principles from those within the movement than from outsiders. Almost every atheist who has ever denounced my personal brand of theistic humanism has been a UU (though the UUs have not actually been the loudest or most belligerent by a wide margin). Our liberal Christians seem every bit as likely to be offended by a comment as any evangelical Christian. Pagans, I have learned, are just more likely to be contrarian and love to explore the faiths of others. UU Pagans, obviously, have a double dose of that spirit.

We have so many UUs who feel that they have been slighted in the past, either by people of faith or for being a person of faith. We have so many differing views on what the future holds for our movement and for religion in general. The core of what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist is being debated and it is in flux. We need to find that center, wherever it lies. We need a theology that speaks to us, and a vocabulary with which to discuss and share it. We cannot do that until we try harder to embrace each other, each in our own search, so that each personal revelation can inspire us all. Ultimately, we cannot be all things to all people. We should not make that our goal, either. We each are on a personal search for truth, that moves some to pray, some to mediate, some to read, and all to create a spiritual practice that fulfills us. We cannot, then, deny that some people will be more at peace in a monastery, a pristine glade, or a library than in our churches and fellowship halls. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have something to offer the world.

Ultimately, it is good that we have these discussions; when they are civil, they can be very enlightening. At some point, though, we need to establish a core, or we will loose the hearts of our members. People are tired of standing against things. People are tired of being defined by what we reject. That was the core message of one of my recent critics (more on that in the next post). We understand this, and people on the far ends, the more traditional who still relish Christian themes and vocabulary and those humanist who feel that our future lies in a rejection of all things supernatural, fear losing their place within the movement. The fact that both groups identify as strongly with Unitarian Universalism as any UU deist, UU pagan, or UU Buddhist, means that there must be a way to keep everyone in the family. What I can promise is that it is not going to be done by being spiritually timid. A religion that isn’t transformative is a religion that has nothing left to offer except a label, and our label isn’t impressive enough to stand in place of foundational teachings and transformative growth.

(For other thoughts on why this is a Strange Religion that I have embraced, please see the Strange Religion tag below)

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3 Responses

  1. I was a UU for 9 years (first in the south, then in the midwest), and it came as a gradual realization from attending many UU churches in several different states that athiesm has become the core creed of the UUs. Those who speak too boldly about belief in Divine Source/God/Goddess are ostracized and drummed out. The liturgy and worship is expunged of too many references to God – song lyrics are changed to delete God, even. One person I know was at a UU discussion group at a local UU church in the midwest, and the discussion leader made a reference to Jesus as ‘the man on a stick’. The woman was so taken aback that she immediately left and never returned. I personally experienced religious discrimination in a UU congregation after some friends and I (with the minister’s prior approval) led some neopagan activities at the church. Unfortunately there were too many athiests there, and not enough people who truly believed in God, so we ended up disassociating from that congregation. We had been regular active members for several years so they knew that we had no intentions to ‘take over’ or push our faith on others – we were just offering community events & workshops with the approval of the minister, that would help the church as well. The minister herself seemed too scared to stand up to the athiests, too scared to even discuss the issue – so much for practicing the 7 principles and embracing each other! I know there are different atmospheres in different congregations, but having felt and seen and felt this same overwhelming athiest vibe in several different congregations makes me think it is definitely a pattern. No one faith should be allowed to ‘take over’ UU churches, but that is exactly what has happened in many congregations – the athiests have pulled off a bloodless coup. Another big issue for the UUs is the relative lack of younger members – many services display a sea of grey and white hair with a scattering of younger folks, mostly married with kids – not exactly a growing faith (though in all fairness many organized religions are seeing fewer young people fill the pews).

    In my opinion, the UUs should allow the athiests to splinter off and have their own meetings, and get the UU back to worshipping God/Goddess/Divine Source. Unfortunately the cancer of athiesm has taken root in UU and I don’t know if they will recover or not. The athiest mindset was very strong and it has taken me several years to reconnect to God/Divine Source within myself. UU moved me so far away from God that I did not realize how far away that I was. In any case, thanks for posting your story – I can only speak for what I have seen and experienced. I am hopeful that a wider dialogue about athiesm in UU can be opened, as the UU faith is in peril if they don’t address this issue.

    • There is nothing stopping the Atheists from leaving. It sounds like what you are proposing is that we shove them out the door, and that seem short-sighted. I agree that there are some people sheltering in our congregations who have a lot of resentment towards religion in general or just Christianity specifically. We should be trying to help them overcome that. I agree that we shouldn’t be afraid to offend people with discussions of faith and spirit, but that isn’t the same as intentional agitation.

      There are plenty of Humanists who understand that their faith in humanity and their sense of belonging to that collective IS religion. Many humanists believe that there is something bigger than them, which can’t be shown with math or experimentation in a lab, and that is its own kind of spirituality.

      I do agree that it is wrong to allow people on either side to insult or disrespect the other. We need to be teaching all of our sources as equally important to UU identity, even when some speak to you, personally, more than others. We need the prophetic words and deeds and the ancient wisdom as much as we need scientific discovery and the understanding that God isn’t coming to save us from ourselves.

      I agree with many of your points, but I am frightened, a bit, by your tone and your word choice. The UUA has worked hard to become a political movement, rather than a religion, and the members who agree with that move can’t bare all the blame for it happening.

  2. […] Unitarian Universalism is a Strange Religion, Pt. 3 […]

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