Unitarian Universalist Humanism

Recently I’ve been following a discussion thread about how Unitarian Universalist humanists should relate to their UU congregations, and to the Unitarian Universalist Association as a whole. Unitarian Universalism is a denomination that accepts people of all faiths and philosophies. It seeks unity by supporting common values rather than a common theological or philosophical creed.

Some of our churches contain sub-groups that focus specifically on one sort of lifestance, such as liberal Christianity, neo-Paganism, or non-theistic humanism. The Humanist Roots group that I sometimes attend at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto is an example. But there are those who favor the formation of local UU congregations that are explicitly non-theistic.

Some discussants have been enthusiastic about this possibility, while others have been disappointed at the suggestion that our local congregations should be philosophically homogenous.

What do you think? Is there value in groups that include theists, atheists, and agnostics, and focus on common values? Or is it better for theists and atheists to attend different congregations?

Roger Christan Schriner

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5 thoughts on “Unitarian Universalist Humanism

  1. I think there is much value in congregations including theists, atheists, and agnostics. A completely homogeneous group too easily falls into nasty habits, sneering at those not there to hear it, making “jokes” that are little short of hate speech, not quite realizing how far down that path they’ve gone in the absence of anyone present to call them on it. This leads to being unconscious of just how offensive one’s speech patterns and thoughts have become so that when finally talking to someone in the other camp, you’re unaware of why they feel insulted.

  2. VERY well put. So many comments about religion (and politics) have an in-group tone — “You and I are obviously right, of course, and those who disagree with us are just being silly.”

  3. Joel Monka is in a position to know very well that there are many Humanist dominated UU churches that harbor UU Atheists who fall into nasty habits such as sneering at those UU Theists who actually ARE there to hear it, to say nothing of making “jokes” that are little short of hate speech (I have personally experienced such “jokes” uttered by Atheist UUs myself), and not quite realizing (or indeed caring. . .) just how far down that path of intolerance and abuse they’ve gone, even when someone does call them on it. . . I have first hand “direct experience” of such antireligious intolerance, and even some outright bigotry, practiced by Humanist UUs, including but by no means limited to one self-described “Cosmic Humanist” UU minister who could also be reasonably described as a dogmatic Atheist UU. Over the span of almost twenty years, I have seen plenty of evidence of similar behavior by UU Humanists in all of the North American regions of the UU World, as well as in Europe. In fact, if I remember correctly, and I am pretty sure that I do. . . Joel Monka himself recently quit his own UU church in Indianapolis, as part of a schism that saw a significant portion of the congregation terminate their memberships, precisely because its Christian oriented UU minister was effectively “run out” of the church by the dominant Humanist faction. Am I wrong Joel?

    But yes, like Joel do I think there is much value in UU congregations including theists, atheists, and agnostics, however they must deal firmly and forthrightly with problems arising from intolerant and abusive UUs (Humanist or otherwise) failing or refusing to honor and uphold the claimed principles and purposes of UUism, especially when the minister of the congregation is part of that problem. As Joel knows from his own bitter experience that caused him to leave his UU church, it does not always work that way. . . If it is not possible for UU Humanists and Theists to get along together in mutual respect and cooperation then perhaps it is best that congregations do arrange to attend different congregations, or provide two different services in the same UU church.

  4. I don’t mean to speak for Joel in this matter, but his statement, “A completely homogeneous group too easily falls into nasty habits [of disrespectful communication]” does not logically imply: “NO heterogenous group EVER engages in disrespectful communication.” He was suggesting that it is easier to make hostile comments about some theological position when no one who holds that position is present. As a general rule, I assume this obvious.

    Robin Edgar is right to point out that within Unitarian Universalism heterogeneity is not an absolute barrier against disrespectful comments. I am sorry to hear of Unitarian Universalist societies in which theists are put down. I am also sorry when I hear about UU theists demeaning humanists. Fortunately, in the UU congregations with which I am familiar, theists and atheists seem to co-exist quite comfortably. In this polarized nation, that is quite an accomplishment.

    Roger Christan Schriner

    • Thank you for posting my comment about how Unitarian Universalist Humanists engage in the nasty habits that Joel Monka spoke about in his comment Roger. As I said, I have personally experienced this kind of intolerance and abuse, and have seen plenty of evidence of other people experiencing similar mistreatment in all regions of the U.S.A. I do not dispute that UU Christians and UU Theists may at times fall into similar “nasty habits” but, in my close to two decades worth of experience and observation of the “UU World”, I have only seen three instances of people accusing UU Theists of being intolerant of Humanists whereas I have lost count of how many people have very credibly accused UU Humanists of intolerance towards Christians and Theists. I should add that some of those people who made the accusations were not themselves victims of the intolerance, but comparatively neutral witnesses of it who publicly expressed their dismay online.

      Yes, Joel did suggest that it is too easy for people to make hostile comments about “others” when those “others” are not present, this is sometimes known as talking behind people’s back, but my main point is that when UU Humanists engage in making hostile comments about Christians and Theists there are often at least a few Christians and Theists there to hear it and be offended by it. In fact the intolerant UU Humanists that I am speaking about often make a habit of deliberately targeting Christians and Theists with their supercilious condescension (at best) and hostile “hate speech” (at worst). I have experienced this anti-religious intolerance first hand, witnessed others being subjected to it first hand, and seen numerous complaints about such intolerant behavior posted to the internet (when it is not actally expressed on the internet. . .) over a time span of at least a decade and a half now.

      This antireligious “bad attitude” towards Theists engaged in by a subset of Humanist UUs, and all too often tolerated and condoned by the rest of a Humanist dominated congregation who do not actually directly engage in it, is in my informed opinion a MAJOR contributing factor as to why Unitarian Universalism has been “a tiny, declining, fringe religion” (to use Rev. Peter Morales’ words) for several decades now. In my assessment Unitarian Universalism will remain “a tiny, declining, fringe religion” if it does not significantly reduce (or ideally completely eliminate) this antireligious intolerance on the part of Atheist UUs that seems to be quite pervasive in UU churches. In fact it only takes a handful of intolerant Atheists to make any given UU “Welcoming Congregation” a very unwelcoming place for Christians and Theists if the rest of the congregation fails or refuses to call the perpetrators to account for their behavior. This intolerance has been the proverbial “Elephant in the Room” of UUism for decades now, but little has been done to effectively deal with it.

      I am honestly glad to hear that in the UU congregations with which you are familiar, “theists and atheists seem to co-exist quite comfortably”. Of course sometimes appearances can be deceptive. . . but I too have seen evidence of *some* UU congregations in which UU Theists and UU Atheists do seem to co-exist quite comfortably, which “is as it should be” in terms of the current configuration of Unitarian Universalism. Sadly, it seems that there are still a LOT of UU churches where UU Atheists are unready, unwilling and possibly even psychologically unable to get along with UU Theists, to say nothing of non-UU Theists. Within the last year or two several UU ministers have made assertions online to the effect that anti-Christian intolerance is still pervasive in UU churches throughout the U.S.A. As I understand it, and I *may* be “less than accurate” here, in which case Joel may correct me, the Christian UU minister of Joel Monka’s UU church was forced to resign by Humanist UUs a year or so ago, and this forced resignation led to a schism that caused about a third of the congregation to terminate their memberships in protest.

      Anti-Christian and broader anti-Theistic intolerance appears to still be a significant problem within Unitarian Universalism and, while *some* progress may have been made in some areas, I have reasonable grounds to believe that there may well have been a resurgence of anti-religious “bad attitude” on the part of Atheist UUs in the wake of the “New Atheist” movement of Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens et al. If Unitarian Universalism wants to enjoy any significant grow, certaknly if it wants to reach its full potential for growth in America, it absolutely MUST work hard to ensure that UU “Welcoming Congregations” are genuinely welcoming to liberal Christians and other Theists. In fact, one of the ironies of Unitarian Universalist “Welcoming Congregations” is that liberal Christian, or otherwise Theist, LBGT people often discover to their chagrin that, while their sexual orientation may be welcome in a UU “Welcoming Congregation”, their religious orientation is anything but welcome. Yes, there are in fact liberal Christian LBGT people, including some UU seminarians if I am not mistaken, who have left Unitarian Universalism as a direct result of Atheist UU intolerance of their “religious persuasion” as it were.

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