Posted on March 31, 2014
We would like some information about UU non-theists' opinions on the use of words like the ones in the word collage above in Unitarian Universalism. Please respond to this poll if you consider yourself a UU (even if you are not "officially" a member) and if you are a non-theist of any type (atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinker, ignostic, apatheist, etc.) Once you place your vote you will see the current vote counts.
Please share this poll with your friends so we can get the widest sample possible.
If you would like to elaborate on your answer, please use the comment form below.
the typical UU congregation is a mixture of theologies. Wise UUs use inclusive language (that whole "willing and able" thing) where possible, inviting congregants to join in "a spirit of prayer or meditation" or some such. I won't begrudge others their seats in the boat, as long as it's clear they're holding one for me, too.
It is not reasonable to expect others to agree with non super naturalists views. If UU's want to have people they have to make everyone feel welcome. The language of Reverence is one way to do this. The language of poetry is another. To me it is like looking at my son. I know he is an animal, mammal, made of atoms and he is human etc. That is all scientifically true. But when I look at him and call him my "son" I am using the language of poetry and reverence to express my feelings about him. The same goes for my view of Nature or the Cosmos. I look and sometimes I say "God!" as a way to express the highest feeling I have available. But I do not believe in the supernatural or a personal god at all...and yet I can say "God" and it really expresses something I feel.
As Sunday Services chair in a predominantly humanist congregation, and an atheist myself, I work closely with the minister, music director, and worship associates to be mindful of language. We often have discussions and sometimes get complaints about song lyrics, even if they are from the 'gray book". I have written several sermons on this subject, such as "A Humanist Looks at Death" and "An Atheist Who Loves Jesus". Glad to share these if there is interest, send me your e-mail address. I am at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm in the boat that doesn't
I'm in the boat that doesn't require secularists, like me, to leave our integrity behind. Like Michael Werner says, in "Regaining Balance", religious language has become a manipulative tool that allows us to pretend we area all talking about the same things when in fact there are irreconcilable differences. I agree with him. The UUA will either cling to the religious language of the dark ages, or accept the challenge to create the poetry of the future. Others are already creating this poetry. I wish the UUA all the best, but I'll be in the boat that's heading for a bright, non-delusional future.
poetry of the future
I love it when a service truly finds a way to use "the poetry of the future". The problem is, there isn't that much of it yet, and I think it's a lot to expect of a service leader to write new poetry.
I think Salman Rusdie captured the situation when his character India in "Shalimar the Clown" finds herself thinking in religious terms in spite of her non-belief: "Again with the religious imagery. New images urgently needed to be made. Images for a godless world. Until the language of irreligion caught up with the holy stuff, until there was a sufficient poetry and iconography of godlessness, these sainted echoes would never fade, would retain their problematic power, even over her."
It would be great if the new imagery "caught up with the holy stuff". But the reality is that it hasn't.
Poetry Of The Future...
Thanks for the reply! I agree with your perspective of "reality"...within the UUA. I should have been more specific, by saying that fact-based thinkers are, indeed, finding meaningful community, & authentic language, with new, growing institutions, like the AHA, CFI, & FFRF, & now, countless local groups. In fact, the FFRF publication even features a regular "poetry page". It saddens me to see a great institution like the UUA cede so much of our progressive history (like the Humanist Manifesto), & so much of our market share, to other groups, simply because we're so chained to epistemological egalitarianism. Can we evolve, & adapt, or will we go the way of the dinosaurs?
the poetry of the future
I'd say that there's a lot more poetry of the future than many people realize. However, you'll find most of it in popular culture, not in seminaries or academia. Pop culture is and always has been where most people live. This is an example of the disconnect with the world that follows from UU elitism - both intellectual and spiritual. Of course, pop culture in its raw reality rarely meets the ethical, cultural, and academic standards that UUs generally apply, so it arrives late, edited, and diluted. It's far too messy, commercial, and politically incorrect for a Sunday Service or discussion group.
what does integrity look like?
Hmmm. I am a minister serving in on of the most conservative counties in California. Christian hegemony in everywhere. And the congregation that I serve as co-minister, welcomes the entire slew of UU theologies, including atheism. When we first arrived, four years ago, there were several atheists who let us know that "the language of reverence" was not for them. Not only that, that they were offended by it. We invited them to keep listening. To find the places in the service where the language was actually chosen just for them. I am so glad that we can be their ministers. Preparing UU worship is like creating a buffet. Would you be offended that I choose vegan food? Really? Offended? Would it impact your integrity in any way to have food offered that you would pass by? Am I offended when others choose to eat meat? No. It is their choice. A meal, as a worship service, or Sunday program, needs to feed all who show up. The handful of Christians in our congregation, who cannot find a home in our very conservative county, need to hear the name of god spoken, on occasion. It does not harm their integrity when we speak of human goodness... of that huge capacity of human morality. No, we are not speaking of the same thing when we talk of Mystery, and the Holy. We are naming differences that matter. Differences that exist within our shared community. And if you walk out, because your integrity is somehow in question when the words for the Divine are spoken, then you miss the incredible awe with which we speak of humanity. I would love to find a way to have you stay in the room, without your being offended that others find nourishment from different sources. Any ideas?
I've never heard a Humanist use the word "offended" about the use of religious language in a UU service. If the use is so persistent that it makes them feel uncomfortable, or the use of religious language is defended in such a way as to disparage Humanism, or the minister uses it in a way that implies it is the common understanding of those present (such as in a responsive reading), I guess that would be offensive. But from your obvious desire and effort to reach out to Humanists (based on the sincerity of your question), I'm going to assume that's not the case and the issue is with them in their choice of words to describe their feeling. Still, the feeling is obviously real and it's probably something more like feeling excluded and like they do not belong.
Going with your metaphor of a spiritual buffet, I'd say "not nourished" is more the feeling I get and what I've heard from those like me. If I went to a vegan dinner and was presented with corned beef, then I might be offended. If I went to a general buffet (like a UU service) and there were only meat dishes, I would feel unwelcome (and therefore offended). If I went to a general buffet, (where the organizer recognized vegans would attend) and someone taught us how to debone a chicken, I would be offended. So, my suggestion would be to provide only vegetarian/vegan dishes at general buffets. Those nourish everyone. Occasionally put out meat but label it well. "I know this is not for everyone, but this is meat and some find it satisfying." At a potluck, where everyone from the commuinity brings their favorite dish, I would encourage people to just label their offering as well. "Corned Beef (meat). This is my grandmother's famous corned beef recipe and it makes me think of her every time I cook and eat it."
Our minister does not use God language in a Sunday service except when he speaks for himself alone. He does not say, "Dear God, help us...." He includes a lot of readings from Christian scripture and from other religious texts, as well as secular poems and readings, but he talks about the message in them, not the "Truth". We also have Vesper services and "Spiritual Conversations" which appeal to the more traditionally religious in our congregation and nourish them (and which I attend occasionally because they can be beautiful even if they aren't my cup of green tea without milk). But we also have a vibrant Humanist group that holds meetings. Those are my vegan potlucks! Those are my like-minded friends who make me feel at home in my congregation while all the members are my like-hearted friends who make me feel proud and privileged to be a UU.
Unitarian Universalism can include Humanism but it is not Humanism. I was a fundamentalist and discovered Humanism within UU. I want others to have that chance. I am a devout Religious and Secular Humanist. I need both but I appreciate the UU's for giving everyone a place to search. We need to join Humanist and Secular groups for that purpose and let UU's consider it all. I would like to see a little more Humanism in my local UU and I am going to make it happen.
What is religion about?
Humanists have been religious language challenged for some time. In his book, The Humanist Way: An Introduction to Ethical Humanist Religion, Edward L. Ericson, covers the issue from his perspective as a leader in Ethical Culture and American Humanism. One of his essays is at http://www.faithfreedom.org/Articles/Ericson/humanistreligion.htm
One point to note is that the three Humanist Manifestos show a changing view as to humanism being a religion.
The problem many have with this issue is that there is no universal characterization as to what constitutes a religion, a point made clear in the foreword of The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. I think Voltaire had it right.
Religious, supernatural, and paranormal
I am a former UU. Part of what drove me from the church was the almost ludicrous open acceptance of any and all religious and spiritual language. I have heard sermons/talks/presentations in a number of UU congregations about angels, spirits, new-age medicines, chakras, and even telepathic vegetables (that one was pretty much the final straw).
Too often the "responsible" part of "free and responsible search for truth and meaning" was lost in an attempt to be spiritual.
To me, it feels neither responsible, nor ethical, to be a willful, or even passive, enabler of religious cultural hegemony. It makes me feel like a phony. Tolerance is a beautiful virtue, but it shouldn't become an idol.
Where is the 'line'?
I have been asking 'where is the line?' for a few years in my own congregation. I am coming to the scary realization that there is no line: it is 'anything goes' --from believing in angels to talking to dead people and so on... The problem is that rational thinking among UUs is now just another option on our 'theological menu' along with 'magical thinking' of all sorts. I have become very concerned about this issue. I know some people in my own and other congregations who believe in reincarnation, angels and miracles, not in a poetical sense but for real. What is next? The world was made in six days? Most people I talk to do not seem to be bothered by this situation. Strangely enough, these are people who are very bothered when they hear about creationists wanting to have 'inteligent design' taught alongside with evolution 'to present a more balanced view to students.' Why not, it is par for the course... Language of reverence? Reverence to what... Certainly not reverence for reason and rational thought. All this is very depressing...
I guess I knew I needed to "draw the line", when folks at my local UU decided to ceremoniously bury crystals at the 4 exterior corners of our building. At around the same time, a respected (paid) church leader, proudly announced that she encourages her own children to go into abandoned buildings to try & record paranormal activity. How should I respond to these messages? By smiling, nodding, & "affirming"? Still, the "spirit world" messages are the least of my concerns. At least they aren't advocating female circumcision, or trying to pass legislation that forces little children to observe "one nation under god" posters, in public schools. Instead of calling for heightened tolerance, I'd like to hear someone...anyone...calling for more outrage! To me, the "line" is when self-referential "anythingism" trumps critical thinking.
What language is acceptable
One of my favorite sentences among these comments is the one from a former UU, "Too often the 'responsible' part of 'free and responsible search for truth and meaning' was lost in an attempt to be spiritual. All religious language is not equal. I don't mind occasional references to "God" (hey, I sing in our choir & our director talks frequently about how difficult it is to find non-theist religious music) or "spirituality," especially naturalistic forms. And poetic/metaphoric references are sometimes music to my ears. I understand that UUism is a pluralistic religion, but there's limit---that's where "responsible" comes in. "Prayer" and "miracle" go over the line into the supernatural, and I still flinch when I hear UUism called a "faith."
Fell in between two options
Though I voted for the first choice, I fall in between the first and second. My inclination is to be disappointed rather than annoyed!
Keeping the Doors Open for Humanists
I have 2 concerns with “god talk”. First, when humanists, who may have heard that UU is welcoming to non-theists, hear these words they will understand them in the common orthodox meaning and never come back. Those already in the congregation may also leave. With time, our congregations will become less and less inviting to humanists. This is already true in many of our congregations.
Second, I don’t think many UU ministers use the word “God” in its traditional sense, but their definitions are usually very fuzzy. Often I have no idea what they mean when they invoke God. I cannot be inspired by statements that seem meaningless to me.
How do you expect to attract those who lean toward the critical thinking of scientific skeptisism with such wishy-washy language?
Of course the god talk (and the fuzzy definitions) are designed to keep from being aliened by those who would demonize us if we knew what we do and don't believe. Pretending there are no UU atheists (by keeping us quiet) is deceitful. Besides, when I first attended UU (early 1960s in Arlington, VA and Flagstaff, AZ), the Sunday morning programs were inclusive and had little or nothing that would offend anyone, really living up to the creedless claim. I've even heard UU members ask what UUs believe! They don't understand creedless! In Patel's Ware Lecture at the 2013 GA, he even expressed astonishment that there are any UUs who object of creeds, so that should be some indication hidden it is: www.uua.org/love/ga/287238.shtml
Now some use the UU principles as a creed, hardly different from claiming three is one in the trinity. I've seen a tremendous change since 1990, when a booklet was on the shelves to pick up called, Unitarian Universalism - a Religion for the non-Religious, by a former head of Starr King and his wife!
Falsely neutral term holds unspoken assumptions
Language of Reverance needs to be retermed "Language of Christian Reverance", as LoR is used to justify Christian terminology to largely non-Christian congregations - or perhaps "Language of Christian Domination" would be more appropriate given the religions role in US culture and society.
Words have meanings
Words are meant to communicate. When we use a word like "prayer" or "faith" to mean something different from how the rest of our society defines them, we are communicating poorly. If a service is full of words that don't speak to me I had might as well be in a UCC church. I became a UU in the 60s and resent it when people say I am "stuck in the 60s." The church has changed, but I don't see it as a change for the better.
I would have liked a choice somewhere between the first two: I neither relate to nor derive any benefit from the traditional religious language. It annoys me a little (mostly because I don't think the people who use it have fully thought through whatever it is they are talking about), but does not quite rise to the level of "major concern".
language panel coming up
After a recent dust storm of controversy when our freethought gourd invited Peter Boghossian to do a presentation about his book "A Manual for Creating Atheists", I got into a conversation with a another congregant, a theist, and the minister over our intentionally provocative use of Peter B.'s quote, "Faith is not a virtue," on the promotional material. It actually got cut from the order of service. I proposed, and we are planning, a panel discussion for the entire congregation with 3-5 speakers on the use of language like 'faith', 'prayer'. 'god', etc. and how can we engage in useful dialogue with these charged words.
Please, please, please record this!
I would very, very much like to hear this conversation! (But, alas, I am on the wrong coast.) There is some potential that there may be a similar conversation held at the UUA General Assembly in Providence.
Religion requires the idea of God, not God
Most of us have at one time or another taken what I call the "religious stance." That is we have had the experience of awe, reverence, worship, etc. We have, many of us, thought about just what should be the proper object of the religious stance. Some have responded, "that than which none greater can be conceived." If we are committed to filling in this vague description with a more specific ideal, and to guiding our lives by its light, then I think we are religious.
Religious communities should have as a defining trait the communal quest for the proper object of our religious feelings, emotions, and stances. We need to find a consensus for our conceptions of "the proper object of the religious stance" and "that than which non greater can be received," and to realize that it's that agreed upon Ideal and not whether it exists or not that should guide our communal efforts. This religious quest needs be ongoing, tentative, and always open to revision. We Humanists acknowledge no final authority on the matter. We have only ourselves, in public dialogue, to search for the idea of God.
The Good Book
These comments all seem to forget that as Humanists we are always dealing with Humans. We seem to be turned off when people in the UU happen to believe in something unscientific. But we share so much with them...our emotions and feelings...a desire to communicate with wiser people than ourselves when we need to like family, friends, etc. What is prayer other than this desire that leads to communicating with other humans? Theist believe in an invisible being...then go talk to the same people we do.Can we not understand this need? Community is not easy or even possible if we must agree on so much first. I was sick and a fundamentalist christian came to my rescue with $1000. I am an atheist. If he and I can be brothers why must people in the UU not patiently explain what they mean and just be in community? Why is it such an irritant to some to have to translate words into their own understanding? Is this really such a burden? If Christian UU's can tolerate a non theist service cannot a Humanist do the same?
I agree that community and connection is the most important
Rick, I agree with you that human connection is the main value of our community and that we should seek to not just tolerate our differences but to appreciate them. I think we can do that and still keep our language inclusive and not traditionally religious/theist. When individuals express their personal beliefs I respect them and affirm their right to that belief even if I might challenge them or express a different belief. Dialog is healthy and good when done with mutual appreciation. It is when representatives of the institution use theistic language and belief assumptions without any attempt to include those of us who don't accept the supernatural that I have a problem.
I am surprised by the
I am surprised by the expectation here (in the comments, not the survey) that all the language used in a UU service should be aligned with one's own particular spiritual orientation. How could that even work, in a UU congregation? We comprise many different points of view, many understandings of the supernatural from outright rejection to deep belief. I know that I share my sanctuary with Wiccans and Jews and Christians, off the top of my head, and I'm sure there are plenty of other god-centered beliefs sitting out there in the pews too. I am an atheist, but I don't expect everyone to alter their language to suit me, and I don't see any need for them to.
I come to my church for many things, probably community most importantly. I don't require that everyone in my community pass a doctrinal test to make sure we're in agreement on all things religious. I find it bizarre, really, to object to religious language in a humanist church, as long as that language manages to remain inclusive - the four words cited above can be used inclusively, and are, in my UU congregation.
This reminds me, frankly, of the "keep the Christ in Christmas" nonsense, and the insistence of certain Christians on saying "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays." Are we really that intolerant?
Very, very good analogy, Melissa!
I really like the analogy of "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays". I'm so glad I posted this poll and got this conversation going. I can completely understand that perspective.
I guess the question is what defines inclusive language?
Another analogy that someone used (not in this particular discussion thread) was to making language gender inclusive. Many people (women and men) objected to being asked to use "people" instead of "men" or "humankind" instead of "mankind". They cited tradition and the fact that everyone knew women were include in "mankind". They knew what was meant and could translate easy enough. It took a long time for feminists to get general agreement that such language is sexist. I think it is the same with theistic language. Sure, it is traditional and I know it can be interpreted to include me but it perpetuates the idea that theism is the superior position just as men were superior to women.
Theism is not equivalent to sexism
I think there is a distinction - and an important one - between the kind of sexist language you reference, such as using 'men' to refer to all people, and using language like church, faith, religion, etc. The difference is that sexism is not part of the value system that Unitarian Universalism embraces, and I hope no longer a part of the value system of our larger culture. (Of course sexism still exists; but we have reached a point where collectively, I think the majority opinion, at least, is that sexism is wrong.) But religious faith DOES have a place in Unitarian Universalism. We are not exclusively a collective of non-theists. If we say we value and embrace multiple viewpoints, then we have to allow those viewpoints to be expressed in their own appropriate language. If "acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations" is one of core principles, and "a free and responsible search for truth and meaning" is another, then it is intolerant to insist that some of us neuter our language in order to make others more comfortable, and to restrict those for whom truth and meaning have a supernatural element to using only non-theistic language.
My use of language that isn't applicable to you or that doesn't feel true to you is not necessarily a denial of your truth. It certainly can be. I take your point that while using words like "mankind" may have at one time felt innocuous and traditional, it in fact argued for a particular male-centric point of view; I agree. I do not agree that using theistic language in a UU setting is analogous, because I think that a UU settingdeliberately, consciously, thoughtfully accepts theistic viewpoints as valid in a way that we do not accept sexist viewpoints.
I'm sure that my reaction to this question is shaped by my own particular congregation, where there is a broad diversity of spiritual viewpoints and no one dominating point of view as far as I can tell. I imagine that in a congregation where I felt that I was in the minority as a non-theist, or conversely, in the majority as a theist, I might be far more strident about calling for language that reflected my own personal views. It simply doesn't feel necessary. I'm not challenged or disturbed or threatened by the new age spirituality or Christian belief or Wiccan theology of my fellow church members, because none of us is trying to convert anyone else. We seek the truth in love, as the covenant goes, and we're pretty chill about it. I really enjoy hearing other members talk about their beliefs and I recognize that they're sharing their particular path; they aren't insisting on it, advocating that we all follow the same path, or denying the validity of my path.
If you're going to make the argument that theistic language is restrictive and intolerant in the way that sexist language is, then by implication, you're equating theism with sexism; that is, you're suggesting that theism is an intolerant system with an invalid point of view. I disagree.
I am suggesting that institutionally we should be inclusive
I am not implying that theism, in general, is intolerant and invalid any more than I would imply that all men are sexist. Men, in particular, got defensive when the impact of male-dominant language was pointed out to them. Male-dominated language reflected the cultural bias of the time and changing it, making people more sensitive to it, helped improve the culture.
There is a very, very strong cultural opinion that atheists are immoral, untrustworthy and unpatrtiotic. UUs have always welcomed Humanists, atheists and other non-theists so I am not saying that theist UUs are intolerant any more than I would say my dad is sexist because he still uses the language that he learned growing up.
Individuals do not need to "neuter" their language, but ministers speaking from the pulpit or UUA officials in their communications need to be inclusive in their language -- they need to add "and" or "or" after their invocations of a god or calls to prayer. They need to be aware that using traditional religious language makes non-theists feel like second class citizens (and turns off a huge fraction of Millenials for somewhat different reasons). It feels like an endorsement of the cultural bias. Being asked to redefine concepts like God to be non-supernatural and still use or translate the words for those concepts feels like we are being asked to accept the inferiority of the non-theist viewpoint.
Religion v. Theism
Was this survey meant to ask about "religious" language or "theistic" language? As a Religious Humanist, I am mostly disinterested in the language of Theism - inserting "God" into the discussion. The language of "Reason and Reverence" or of "Awe and Wonder" is not so problematic, in fact it is often welcome and appropriate. The language of "community" is definitely acceptable. So what definition of the word "religious" should we be using in answering the survey? Thanks! :-)
Ah, now we get to the meat of the matter
If you feel that most of the words in the word collage are acceptable (just not the word God) then the third option is probably for you.
When answering the survey, would you object to a minister invoking God's blessing? Would you object to being asked to pray for the success of a goal (like the outcome of a court decision)? Do you dislike calling your building a church (if that's what it's called)? Do you object to Sunday worship and wish it was Suday service? Do you have a problem with being included as a "person of faith"?
I wouldn't bore you all with a poll for each word. :)
As long as we keep the language of reverence (The religious redefinition game) humanism will continue to be marginalized and the fuzzy theist position will grow. The Millenials will not join and the UUA will continue its downward trend. Look at the outcomes, all else is noise.
Thank you for "Regaining Balance"!
Mr. Werner, I'm so glad you chimed-in to this thread, because I've wanted to thank you for your book. I read it 3 times, cover to cover! My copy is absolutely covered in highlighted passages. LOL. I knew I would agree with most of your perspectives, but you really opened my eyes to so many new aspects of this topic, including that whole post-modern epistemological relativism subject. WOW! Thank you for your for articulating the problem; for your courage; & for caring! I would love to hear you speak on this sometime, & ask you what sort of reactions you've received to the book. Do you have a website?
I also want to thank Maria, & the UUHA, for this much-needed forum, & conversation.
I was planning my funeral which would include people who were certain I was going to hell. I am an ardent atheist and a joyful religious Humanist. I planned it the way I wanted and included the reading of the chapter "The Good" out of The Good Book by AC Grayling. But recognizing the presence of the supernaturalists I included many moments of silence for prayer for those who loved me and wanted to pray for my soul, Others could just wait or think of me or whatever. Is that what you mean Maria about inclusive from the pulpit? I did not die...thank God! Oops I mean Nature...Cosmos....Universe...the Doctors...etc.
The two words that make me uncomfortable are "God" and "prayer" because of the strong suggestion of a supernatural entity being invoked and addressed. (Instead of prayers I like the "blessing" form: " May we, . . ") "Faith" is OK because its use is so close to "trust" and "hope" __ essential ideas! Many of the other words -- spiritual, sacred, theology, soul -- have lost any clear meaning and that's OK. We all stumble, looking for language that "works" for us! But there is one word that I like very much in spite of its Christian origins, and that is "covenant." I take it to mean a deep, strong, serious commitment, and commitment is central to my understanding of our religion. "Promise" is too ordinary; that is why I want to keep the word "covenant." It is not ideas that our common religious life must search for. "We covenant to affirm and promote . . " It is the regular, present reminder of our commitment to try to live in the light of our principles. They are very, very rich, and can be transformative. I am a better person than I was when I first joined, as an intolerant atheist!
I had been an active UU for 33 years, particularly active as a leader. The changes in language being used is more theistic and Christian, and I believe has occurred as a strategic move to appeal to the masses. I've been told more secular congregations are not growing, although I don't know for a fact if that's true. As a humanist, I feel forsaken by the UUA. And while I don't begrudge inclusivity, I find the token two humanist services a year far from inclusive. I've actually felt quite unwelcome as a humanist and heard us described as cold, impersonal and boring. I am none of those things. The two churches closest to me both have theist ministers, so I have left the church because I feel unwelcome, forsaken, and really heart broken by it all. I supported this religion because I felt it would always provide a home for humanists like me. And it just doesn't feel like home any more.
Jo Anne, your comment is very interesting to me. I am not currently a UUA but was contemplating looking into it mainly because of Kenneth L. Patton worship material. I am aware that is long ago and things must have changed. I called a local uua and was told about Tai Chi, Paganism, Fracking for oil but it was hard to get a handle on humanists in this little congregation. I was disappointed though I may still visit. I have over the last 20 years of being a Humanist developed my own solo spiritual practice modeled on what I did as a pastor of a Nazarene Church in the early 80's. I use The Good Book by A C Grayling as a meditation tool and even have a form of what can only be characterized as humanist prayer which involves remembering my family, being thankful for my life and even addressing the cosmos which can hear me through my own ears and cares for me through other humans in my life. I contemplate death and learn to let go and accept the unavoidable in life. I am sorry you are now away from the church you loved. What will you do now? Walk on your own like me? I am very fulfilled but also lonely and looked forward to sharing in real fellowship with others who understand my way. Have you found any other fellowships to take the UUA place?
Thank you for your comments, Rick. To answer your questions, what I hope to do is learn how to live a "spiritual" life as a humanist without invoking a god that I don't believe in, or calling on Christian teachings, or sitting through meaningless services. If there were a UU church within 30 miles of me with a Humanist minister who could help with that, I would support it in a heartbeat and soak in all it had to offer. Until then, I will seek my own path and continue to look for like-minded people. In terms of community, it comes in many forms. My church community was just one. I am a writer and therefore have a writing community of fellow authors and publishers. My husband is a runner, and we have the running community. I have a huge family (7 kids and 19 grandkids) that are a bit of a clan. When I had previously viewed the church as a means to do charitable work, I now realize I can do that on my own by getting involved with different charitable organizations--yet another community. Like many religious organizations, the UUA does so much good work, I remain a friend. But I just don't fit there any more as a member.
So that's my plan and I'm sticking to it. Thanks again.
What is the 'R' in Religious Humanism?
It is difficult to make a comment about the use of religious language, since there is no clear boundary separating "religious" from non-religious language. Eustace Haydon, of blessed memory, wanted a definition of religion that chould include non-theistic humanism. In that spirit, I sometimes define "religion" as human behavior when oriented toward the "big picture." In some situations it is appropriate to use non-empirical, metaphorical language such as "dignity" and "respect," instead of traditional religious language like "sacred," to refer to humans. Religious language is often powerful and frequently dangerous. When leading a "worthship" service in UU congregations I deliberately use "spiritually inclusive" language, although exactly what that means requires further thought and comment. Thinking about language is important, especially for leaders, but I hope it does not distract us from the more important items on our agenda. In the spirit of the Buddha, sometimes we should stop asking about what we call the arrow and just pull it out already!
Okay, here goes. I’ve been a Unitarian for more than 65 years. I’m also a retired English teacher and sometimes poet. As such, I see the use of religious language as the result of poor vocabulary. It also exemplifies an unwillingness (or inability) to communicate clearly, resulting in soft and mushy ideas. For older Unitarians, that was The Original Sin. Not long ago, church-going resembled a Master’s Class with members minds animated and stretched into rigorous thinking. “Define your Terms” was our mantra. No more. Today we take shortcuts, formulate elevator speeches and use terminology based on the lowest common denominator. Ten words or less. Tweet me a rif, baby. We can blame the seminaries, the Boston Brahmans, or the concentration toward profit and loss. We’ve put up with junk to make things easy. We got what we deserved.
Emotions, ideas, and UU culture
People think with ideas, but they also think with emotions. Although some people are equally comfortable with either mode of thinking, there's a tendency to specialize in one or the other. In simplified terms, we have a thinking mode and a feeling mode. Reason, logic, and scientific language express ideas with accuracy, but are much less effective for expressing emotional experiences. Religious ritual, art, poetry, and music are much more effective for expressing emotion, but are often inadequate for defining intellectual ideas and theories.
UU tradition for at least 200 hundred years has included both modes. Unfortunately, we've been locked in an either/or mindset for most of this time, although in reality neither mode is obviously superior. It all depends on what you're trying to express and communicate. For a long time, I've hoped that we could consciously create a place where both modes are recognized and valued. The secular rational humanists tried to eliminate symbolic language and ritual; now the spiritual mystical people of faith are trying to remove scientific fact, reason, and theory. I personally think that both attempts will ultimately fail because they don't include the whole range of real human experience. Openly acknowledging both orientations will never be easy or comfortable. Most people prefer to hang out with their own type. On the other hand, the rewards can be profound when you learn to appreciate another mode of perception in its own terms.
I'm personally comfortable with symbolic language, although I much prefer the symbolism of science fiction and mythology to that of traditional religion and theology. I also love the beauty of a scientific theory that explains the world in a credible way. I know from personal experience that other people need faith and mystical understanding in ways that I don't. Although I won't trade my humanist scientific mode of thinking for religion and spirituality, I can't find any basis for claiming that my way is inherently superior. There are aspects of life that religious people manage better than I can.
I think that I have the right to be a secular humanist UU. I have to give that same right to a religious humanist UU and a theist UU, for example. Arguing about which is ultimately more true seems to be a great waste of time and energy, and yet that's mostly what we do. Is it possible to move from an either/or mindset to a both/and worldview? It's not easy because I don't really think the different modes of perception are very compatible, although each is likely true in its own way. The context of what people believe is so important, but we rarely give it our attention. I realize that I'm suggesting that we learn to live with paradox, not a comfortable choice for most people. I have noticed recently that more young people seem to be moving in this direction.
Over the past hundred years, the Unitarians changed the words of the hymns to downplay Jesus and to achieve gender neutrality. Some of the God words survived. Sinkford started a debate about God words and it simmered but was not resolved. I worry the a broad pluralism will not define an image of where we want to go. We humanists who want a congregation will compromise as long as it is comfortable and productive. Having a Humanist Group within the congregation helps to maintain a presence. Sorry for rambling
I'm not a lifelong UU, but have been for 22 years - long enough to witness the pendulum swing from very humanistic to more "spiritual" to going back in the other direction. I fulminated against words in songs (member of the choir) for several years, but have made somewhat of an uneasy peace with religious words. If someone wants to call something "spiritual" that I think of as "emotional," I can live with that. I draw the line at metaphysical, however, but our congregation does include some of that persuasion. I was very happy to find UU in my 50's and now in my late 70's guess I'll stick with it, ever the HUUmanist.
UU as a "Religious Faith".
Everyone knows there is clear statistical correlation between religiously and poverty, ignorance, anti-science, anti-democracy, etc. Why would any humanist support religion?
Religion is the wedge, the tool, used, across the board, by those in opposition to UU humanist values. Why, then, does UU leadership push “Religious Faith” and ignore the humanism of members?
There is a time-tested model for how religious ministers are trained, preform, and paid. The UUA has chosen, in the last 20 years, to act as a union hall for its “credentialed” ministers over representing the humanist values of its members. Supporting UU “religious faith” enables the sidelining of humanism in UU.
Lets get back to our Unitarian humanist roots and core UU Seven Principles which make no mention of God, religion, faith, etc. -Nothing overtly religious, only the innocuous the mention of “spiritual growth” in the Third Principle.
I would add “Reverend” and “Minister” to your graphic of religious buzz words. I don't “revere” anyone nor desire “ministering”.
I don't like or dislike "religious language". It depends on what language, in what context.
How does "religious language" effect me.
I do not like the use of the words, but can exchange them in my brain for those that work EXCEPT in song!! I am closest to my spiritual side at those times and when God, or Jesus, or H/he shows up... it irritates me in the middle of my rejoicing!
I don't like "anythingism" (I'm going to steal that phrase)
As UU membership has declined over the years, I see the UU's frantically trying to appeal to everyone, but as Michael Werner has pointed out, "If everyone is your customer, no one is your customer". And I agree that the "responsible" part of a free and responsible search for meaning seems to have gone by the wayside. I think that in trying to appeal to everyone, atheism and humanism have been marginalized in an effort to not offend anyone. I wonder if the UU's who talk about appealing to everyone ever realize how many atheists and humanists have left their congregations.