More Thoughts about Unitarian Universalist Humanism

I’ve been following an on-line discussion about the way Unitarian Universalist humanists should relate to their UU congregations. Some want to form local UU congregations that are explicitly humanistic, while others like the diversity of groups that include theists, atheists, and agnostics, and focus on common values.

After I posted about this topic recently, one person commented that a theologically 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.”

I couldn’t agree more. I have seen this sort of thing happen many times – even among good people. We humans find it so difficult to respect those who disagree with us about religion (or politics, or morality).

I also have another concern about setting up explicitly humanistic Unitarian Universalist congregations. Unitarian Universalism is a non-creedal religion. In the past few decades few if any of our churches have taken a formal stand in favor of some theological position. If we start setting up humanistic congregations, we’ll soon see congregations that formally privilege liberal theism, neo-Paganism, etc. That sort of theological fragmentation sounds very destructive.

On the other hand, forming more humanistic groups within UU churches could be quite positive. Within Unitarian Universalism, theism is now more commonly affirmed than it was 30 years ago. As a result, some atheists and agnostics have felt marginalized. They need to feel the supportive community of their fellow humanists. And having different theological groups doesn’t need to be divisive. If one congregation contains local chapters of groups such as HUUmanists, the UU Christian Fellowship, and the Covenant of UU Pagans, that could actually encourage respectful conversations across theological boundary-lines.

Roger Christan Schriner

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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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Beyond Bad Religion

In response to one of my recent posts about Heathen’s Progress, ChristianAtheist wrote:

“OK, so we know what bad religion looks like, in terms of lots of propositions, ineffability at the points at which you need clarity, lots of cognitive biases, irrationality and an emotional investment in a group membership that is hard to shake. What would good, non-fundamentalist, realistic, eyes wide open, flexible religion look like? And will a group of people adhering to such a theology be able to form a cohesive, sustainable group?”

That’s a good list of what’s bad about some faith communities. I would add: a heaping dose of arrogance and self-righteousness, hostility toward other spiritual pathways, and suffocatingly-tight control over the personal behavior of group members.

What would constructive and creative religion look like? Certainly the quality of relationships within the community would be crucial. People would treat each other with care and respect, allowing flexibility for individual differences instead of embracing members in a vise-like grip.

Instead of being belief-centered, such a community would be value-centered, focusing on the commitments we make to each other and the larger world. One such commitment would be: Always stay open to new discoveries, including the discoveries of the physical and social sciences.

I have met many people who have felt a deep need to belong to a positive and non-dogmatic spiritual community. When they meet like-minded individuals they are delighted to make those connections. The formal and informal groups they create are often strong and viable.

Any other suggestions?


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A Bridge-Building Vision

I recently read a blog by the Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern about her vision for her congregation in Palo Alto. Some of her ideas were relevant to my goal of building bridges between many different philosophies of life. She wants her church to be a place:

“where we confront every dogma–the ones we receive and the ones we promote. …

where we accept and celebrate the gorgeous variety of humanity, and dissolve all categories. …

where we seize on every nugget of wisdom, however unlikely the place we find it, and hold it up and share it so that everyone can have every bit of insight human experience can offer. …

where we allow no differences of theological language, spiritual practice, chosen metaphor, or life story to prevent us from walking together.

where we move again and again from false either/ors to encompassing, empowering both/ands. …

where we claim the heritage of all wise thinkers, all brave heretics, all unflagging activists, all teachers and disciples, all artists, all speakers of wise words, all lovers of humanity, all carers for the small and delicate.

where we stay in the circle and know we will not give up even when we don’t know how to make this crazy quilt of community hang together. …

where we ask the hard questions

. . . and listen to the answers

. . . and listen even when the only answers seem to be silence and mystery.”

Thanks, Amy, for these bridge-building ideals. For the full text of her essay see:


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