Unitarian Universalists Complain About Atheist Ads

***Update***: Here is the ad in question (PDF)

UU World is the free denominational magazine for the Unitarian Unversalist Association.

In their Fall, 2009 issue, they printed a paid ad from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I don’t have a scan of it at the moment, but to my understanding, it featured their six bus ads with a request for donations so FFRF could place the posters across the country.

The ad placement makes sense — a lot of atheists belong to UU congregations and would be likely donors to FFRF’s ad campaign.

But several UU readers couldn’t believe such an ad was allowed in their magazine.

I am stunned, appalled and very disappointed with the managerial decision at the UU World to publish a FULL PAGE advertisement by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in the Unitarian Universalist denominational magazine. This organization is not merely atheist or agnostic — they are ANTI-religion. We have absolutely no business carrying their advertising in our denominational magazine.

I am deeply offended by the ad copy, which suggests that anyone who believes in God thinks that fairy tales are true, and that such a belief is tantamount to slavery. And furthermore, I am embarrassed that people in my congregation will see this. I have worked so hard to help my congregation claim and own their religious feelings and feel GOOD about being religious people. How can I explain this?

Of course, FFRF’s purpose is the promote church/state separation and to educate the public on non-theism. FFRF also helps atheists realize there are others out there like them, hence the ads.

Not only that, but the bus ads that FFRF places are not going after the type of community and spirituality that UU congregations tend to promote. FFRF tends to go after the Religious Right and the religious extremists who want to force their views onto everybody else.

So you would hope the UU World business manager would defend placing such an ad. Not everyone will be a fan of FFRF, but there was nothing inherently wrong in publicizing a non-theistic stance.

Those hopes were dashed by business manager Scott Ullrich:

I have come to the conclusion that it was a mistake to run this particular ad. While the stated mission of the Freedom From Religion Foundation is entirely consistent with UU values, this ad seems hostile to all religion. To be more specific, I believe that I failed to help the advertiser match their message to our readers. An ad spotlighting FFRF’s purpose of “working for the separation of state and church” would have been more appropriate than one that for many appears to be condemning religion in general.

That’s a depressing response. The ads are not hostile to religion. They simply showcase famous people who happened to be atheists. They reach out to others who may think the same way, which do happen to be many UU folks. What look to be a few vocal opponents forced the magazine to apologize for a perfectly appropriate ad.

I’ll post the ad once I get a copy of it.

(Thanks to Steve for the link!)

  • Kate

    AAAAAAAAAAARGH…as a UU, I’m embarrassed by that reaction. We should know better!!!

  • Shannon

    I want to see the ad before commenting. Some of the atheist ads I’ve seen *are* hostile to religion in my opinion. I’ve also never understood why so many atheists seem to think Unitarians are one of them. Every Unitarian I’ve met has believed in a god, they’re just all warm and fuzzy about it.

  • Ron in Houston

    I think there are valuable lessons here. First of all perceptions are important. Whatever message you’re trying to convey can get easily lost if you are perceived poorly.

    While I disagree with the UU’s and don’t share their perception of the ad, I do understand that they can easily perceive it differently. UU’s are at least nominally a religion. I can understand how ads seeking freedom FROM religion could be offensive to them.

    The other thing I have a hard time understanding is if the FRFF is advocating for separation of church and state why not approach that issue directly rather than beating some religion strawman.

  • Kate

    Every Unitarian I’ve met has believed in a god, they’re just all warm and fuzzy about it.

    Hi, my name is Kate. I’m an atheist and a UU. There are others like me, in my congregation and across the country. It’s nice to meet you.

    And by the way, it’s Unitarian Universalist, not Unitarian.

  • Shannon

    Wait, I just looked at the “six bus ads” link. You’re really saying those aren’t hostile to religion? I think I have a different definition of hostile than the average atheist. They’re funny, they’re true, but I can totally see why people wouldn’t like them.

    I still want to see the actual ad though.

  • Matto the Hun

    Yeah, because religion and “God” aren’t hostile to human beings.

    Except that they are.

  • Shannon

    Sorry Kate, I don’t *know* you ;-) I should have written every Unitarian I’ve met in person (including the one who said she “felt sorry” for my kids because they were being raised without any faith).

    My mom briefly took us to a Unitarian church when I was a kid and as far as I can tell, it’s religious. We’ve also always said “Unitarian”. Maybe that’s a regional thing?

  • Shannon

    God isn’t hostile to anyone because he doesn’t exist (bada bing!).

    And yeah, religion can definitely be hostile. Religion itself and religious followers. But you know, call me crazy, I prefer to try and be a better person than that. I don’t like evangelicals of any stripe, even those who are trying to “convert” people to atheism.

  • Kate

    Well, the one thing about UUs is that we’re hugely diverse in belief or lack of belief. Congregations can range from very theistic in flavor to very humanist. Our own minister was rejected from several congregations because he “believed in God too much”. But there is a humanist/atheist group within our fellowship, as well as a Christian group, and I think even a Buddhist group. So there are UUs like me, who are strongly atheist, and others like the one you met who felt sorry you weren’t raising your children “right”.

    The Unitarians and the Universalists merged awhile back, so while people often say “Unitarian” for brevity, it tends to piss of the Universalists. ;) So “UU” is fine for short. I think it might be a regional thing.

  • http://bornagainblog.wordpress.com justin

    Um… but… if you believe in gods you DO believe in fairy tales. So where’s the problem?

    Actually most UU’s I know here in Tulsa are pretty open to atheism/agnosticism. They often look at me like I’m silly to not believe in SOMETHING. But they accept me.

  • Shannon

    @Kate – Oh, when did they merge? That would have been, um, early 80′s that I went? Was it after that? I had no idea it was two things merged together. Maybe we’re just too lazy to say it all, lol!

    A few years ago I was looking into local UU churches (looking for a sense of community) and they were all too religious for me. First of all, they’re all called “church” (I have no idea if that is everywhere or just here). On the websites they list “sermons” and “ministers” and the whole thing. Maybe I’m just letting the terminology put me off but it really didn’t feel right to me.

    We also briefly tried Ethical Culture as kids. *That* didn’t feel churchy but again, maybe it’s where you are.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    My wife and I got a UU minister to marry us. It worked very well. We picked them because they knew that if they mentioned god, they’d not get paid, and they did a nice secular service.

    It astonishes me that a group that I thought of as rational would have members that claim “offence” at these ads.

  • Shannon

    @Justin – “They often look at me like I’m silly to not believe in SOMETHING. But they accept me.”

    Your first part up there, that wouldn’t be good enough for me.

    Oh, just went to the local UU website and they have “worship services”. I do get that they are atheist friendly, but it really seems like a religion to me.

  • Shannon

    You know, take some of those quotes and make it about atheism (and you *know* that people like Jon do think this way about atheists).

    “As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free from the slavery of atheism”

    “Atheism is not believing what you know is so”

    Imagine those two on a bus going past you in the street. Would that be hostile against atheism? I mean sure, I’d be ok with the ads (edited to say, I mean I wouldn’t try to get them taken down) because I believe they have the right to post them, but if I saw that on a bus, I’d probably spout some choice words about how stupid it was.

    You know what I do like? The Katherine Hepburn one. It’s not putting down other beliefs, but it’s not hiding either. It’s advocating kindness. I would like to see that one on a bus.

  • Shawn

    The ads are not hostile to religion. They simply showcase famous people who happened to be atheists.

    They showcase famous atheists, yes, but what the the UU readers are complaining about are the statements being showcased. The McQueen quote is unambiguously anti-religion. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to want ads omitted that are at odds with the message of their privately-owned (I assume) publications. I thought Ullrich’s response was spot on.

    My preference would be for the FFRF to be more defensive than offensive. I think there’s a huge population that might listen if the message was just 1) “Don’t allow any particular religion to be preferred in government” and 2) “Atheists exist”. They may sour on the message if the tone is overly confrontational.

  • J. Allen

    Perhaps the “Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone” would have been better.

  • Pustulio

    The American Unitarians merged with the Universalists in the early 60s, but there are still European Unitarians who are not Universalists. That said, the UUs are not a monolithic organization as people tend to think. While most UUs are pretty liberal, there are UU congregations that are more on the conservative side, considering themselves Christian first and eschewing atheism and new-agey pagan stuff and the like that you find in the more liberal UU congregations.

  • http://bornagainblog.wordpress.com justin

    @shannon Oh, I don’t go to the church, but many of my friends are UU attendees. I tried it out, but the woo is palpable and I just felt embarrassed for everyone, talking to various euphemisms for God like there is such a thing.

  • Shawn

    Shannon@

    They’re funny, they’re true

    In the spirit of wasting bandwidth, my take:
    Dawkins: 100% agree.
    Dickinson: I disagree that faith is a fine invention
    McQueen: If you put the ball and chain on yourself, are you still a slave? I don’t know. Maybe if the others, also chained, would kill/mutilate/rape/ostracize you if you didn’t wear it too? At what dilution does the punishment for not wearing the ball and chain become so inconsequential that you’re no longer really a slave? When you get kicked out by your parents? When your granny frowns at you for not bowing your head during the blessing?
    Twain: 100% agree.
    Darrow: 100% agree.
    Hepburn: Agree with the sentiment, but find the wording sloppy.

  • http://www.uuchurch.net LarryD

    I am an atheist, a UU, and a member of FFRF…

    I have found the combination to be quite compatible and helpful in my own personal growth.

    In my own estimate, the reaction by some UUs has been over the top and that ultimately some equilibrium will be achieved.

  • Shannon

    Pustilito, thanks. Yeah, for whatever reason, I’ve always heard “Unitarian”. I had no idea that wasn’t right.

    The ones around here are definitely atheist friendly and full of non-Christian stuff too. They definitely seem to be modeled after churches and the language sounds religious to me, but then they have Buddhist holidays, Wiccan ceremonies, etc. So they are definitely inclusive! I don’t mean to insult them and do think they are cool (I’m not anti-religion myself). It’s just that they are too religious for *me* at this point in my life.

    I’ve also noticed that *most* religions aren’t monolithic like people think. For example, I find it interesting to see what Americans are doing with Catholicism – if they keep going, they might have to splinter off because American Catholics don’t really fit the Papal view of what they should be. So it’s not surprising that more (generally) liberal groups like UUs are different church to church.

  • Siamang

    Those ads seem a little bit provoking.

    I can see why people complained.

  • http://avertyoureye.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    Having read the ads now thanks to Hemant’s update, I can see why some religious people would be offended by these ads.

    “I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose”? Yeah, that could be offensive.

  • justanotherjones

    I tried it out, but the woo is palpable and I just felt embarrassed for everyone, talking to various euphemisms for God like there is such a thing.

    I had the same experience when I went to a local UU church at the urging of a friend who is an agnostic member. It had too much Jesus, too much woo and the sermon/talk that day was pseudo-sciency ~ I could not wait to get the hell out of there.

    I do think the ads are provocative and could be taken as a bit hostile, I can see why some members might be offended. Unless they were looking for this reaction, they might have been better served by going with the … you’re not alone ads.

  • http://www.atheistnexus.org/profile/StephanGoodwin Stephan Goodwin

    I think the FFRF could have picked a better ad to run in a UU magazine. I’m not a UU myself, but my wife and I do go on occasion if the topic that week is interesting, and there are a lot of diverse beliefs there. Any ad that could be seen as denigrating “faith” in a such a circle could be seen as a bad idea.

    The FFRF and the UU are natural bedfellows, but it is a relationship that has to be carefully built up. Additionally, the image painted by many of the FFRF could worry many UU members. Not that the image is accurate, but that is hardly the point.

    They should apologize for offending anyone as that was not their intent, and run a lighter ad, like the “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” That would have been more appropriate for their crowd.

  • Alan E.

    San Francisco has been running many of those ads, plus one or two others, for a couple weeks now, but I haven’t heard much of a stink. The same bus line, MUNI, also ran the Islam ads that said “SUBMISSION TO GOD” on them, or something like that, a few months ago. Again, I didn’t hear much then either. The only religious stink right now is between a Muslim mosque and the mayor over property issues.

  • Rieux

    As an atheist who spent seven years as a UU, I find this story entirely unsurprising. Within the past twenty years, UU congregations have become vastly less welcoming places for atheists and other kinds of religious skeptics. It has become common to see fangs-out malice directed at atheists by prominent ministers and national Association administrators; the two most recent Presidents of the UU Association have publicly preached horrendously nasty and/or exclusionist notions about atheists, and UU World magazine has published outrageous attacks on us.

    At this point, it seems to me that UU atheists–and, indeed, there are thousands of them–are in a position very similar to gay Republicans. As an atheist who left UUism because of its total failure to rein in bigoted attacks by its clergy and administrators on nonbelievers, I don’t understand why any atheist would contribute money to people who continually marginalize and dehumanize us.

    Looking at the religious aspects of many intergroup conflicts, at the violence carried out by zealots in the name of religion, some people conclude that the world would be safer “religion-free.” They may even try living this way themselves. But too often they only practice a form of self-delusion. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the human spirit. As C.S. Lewis said, the opposite of a belief in God is not a belief in nothing; it is a belief in anything. Sweep the demon of religion out the door and, like the story in the Gospels, you may only succeed in making room for an evil spirit worse than the first—this one accompanied by seven friends (Luke 11:24-26; Matt. 12:43-45). Zealous atheism can perform this role of demonic pseudoreligion.

    - Rev. John Buehrens (UUA President 1993-2001), in A Chosen Faith (1998), the Association’s best-selling “classic Introduction to Unitarian Universalism”

    For an atheist to expect CHURCHES to pander to the a-theistic search for truth and meaning is like hiring a dental hygenist with no arms to do your cleaning, and expecting her to do a good job of it.

    - UU minister, Norwell, Massachusetts

  • http://www.americanthinker.com Jon

    It would seem to me that readers of UU World have every right to be offended by these ads in UU World. After all, UU World should acknowledge that they have a very broad readership base, these ads are likely to offend some, if not a significant portion of their readership. Once readers complain about the ads, the correct thing for the UU to do as an organization is to apologize. Isn’t their mission is to serve the reader?

    However, to take it to another level, I am unsure why a theist would be offended by these ads. For people that are well-versed in the subject matter, none of these quotes should be new. The opinions of these people are well-documented, and just because someone disagrees doesn’t mean one need take offense.

  • Aj

    I thought UU was a belief in belief type organisation and while they tolerate atheists they don’t tolerate suggesting that their beliefs are like fairy tales or not true, if you’re an atheist you have to keep your views to yourself. I’m pretty sure Butterfly McQueen wasn’t referring to the UU, or the slavery her ancestors suffered.

    I am deeply offended by the ad copy, which suggests that anyone who believes in God thinks that fairy tales are true, and that such a belief is tantamount to slavery.

    Those are interesting interpretations. Clearly this person is an idiot.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Actually…

    In this case, I can see the complainers’ point.

    Follow the link. The content of these ads isn’t just to say, “Hey atheists exist.” These ads are hostile to religion. I don’t have a problem with that… but let’s call a spade a spade.

    And these aren’t ads on public buses, where presumably there’s an obligation for ad policies to treat all viewpoints equally. We’re talking about a publication with a particular point of view… and ads that run completely counter to that point of view.

    Let me put it this way. A little while back, the United Church of Christ submitted an ad to my blog with the message that religion and science were not mutually exclusive. I don’t agree with that message. In fact, it runs directly counter to the message of my blog. So I rejected the ad. And I think I was completely within my rights to do so: not only my legal rights, but my moral rights.

    A public bus is one thing: it’s public space, supported by all of our taxes. A private publication is another thing entirely. It the space that one person, or one organization, uses to express their viewpoint. And they absolutely have the right to refuse ads that run directly counter to that viewpoint.

  • Ben

    These ads are definitely hostile to religion, the UU are correct, for sure. Unquestionable.

  • CatBallou

    Aj, I don’t understand why you said this:

    I’m pretty sure Butterfly McQueen wasn’t referring to the UU, or the slavery her ancestors suffered.

    Did you leave out a word or two? Because she clearly refers to her ancestors. What am I not getting?

    And as an atheist, I agree with others here who say that [some of] the ads are clearly hostile to religion. They’re fine on a bus, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the UU to reject them in a magazine.

  • Siamang

    Greta Christina wrote:

    And they absolutely have the right to refuse ads that run directly counter to that viewpoint.

    I think it goes further. If I can paraphrase a big tenant of UU, it basically says “If someone believes something different from you, that’s cool. Just don’t be a dick about it.”

    So these ads kind of go against the whole UU groove, which is more “don’t be a dick about religion”. It’s not the atheism that offends. It’s the dickishness.

  • Siamang

    Hemant wrote:

    The ads are not hostile to religion. They simply showcase famous people who happened to be atheists.

    Hang on, I need to fix that for you:

    The ads are not hostile to religion. They simply showcase famous people who happened to be atheists saying things that are hostile to religion.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I got a chuckle from a quote from the wikipedia page on Unitarian Universalism.

    Unitarians and Universalists often have had common interests and communication between them. In the often-quoted words of Thomas Starr King, pastor of the San Francisco Unitarian Church at the beginning of the civil war: “The Universalists believe that God is too good to damn them, and the Unitarians believe they are too good to be damned!”

  • teammarty

    Of course, we must appease the UUs. MAybe we should pray with them to show that we’re really nice people after all. It’s just more STFU if you’re not one of us. Fuck em.

  • Siamang

    Well, teammarty, the ad WAS asking UU members to donate money to the FFRF.

    So asking someone for money while you’re saying “fuck you” to them is kind of the definition of stupid.

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com ollie

    I am not surprised. It is a mistake to associate UUism with rationality.

    Rationality is allowed in the UU universe, in terms of finding one’s own “spiritual path”. But it is bad form to use rationality to dismiss the beliefs of others.

    That is one reason I left; I can respect people but I can’t honestly say that I respect their “beliefs”.

  • Aj

    CatBallou,

    Did you leave out a word or two? Because she clearly refers to her ancestors. What am I not getting?

    She is not saying the slavery she is free from is the same slavery of her ancestors. She is talking about the importance of being free from control. “Slavery” isn’t just one thing that happened in tropical plantations, it comes in varied forms. The blogger who complains about the ads gives no context of the quote, and to many people “slavery” commonly means just that specific kind.

  • http://www.cstdbill.com/ Bill

    I, too, was a U-U for several years, a member of the First Unitarian Church of St. Louis (not “Unitarian-Universalist Church”). One of the early ministers was William Greanleaf Eliot, grandfather of T. S. Eliot and founder of Washington University in St. Louis. His wife founded a girls’ school, Mary Institute, now part of MICDS, a private high school.

    I was an atheist then as well as now; but not all Unitarians and/or Universalists are. Indeed, some are specifically Christian except for one thing: the doctrine of the Trinity makes them go, “What!?”

    I was interested mostly in the adult-ed program and served on that committee for several years. I figured that if I never paid any attention to anything I didn’t already agree with, I’d never learn anything. 8-)

    I left for a while when my company had me on an extended detail in Memphis; and when I got back, “my” minister, Earl K. Holt III, had left and the church seemed to have turned more new-agey than I remembered. I no longer felt at home.

  • http://www.catpoop.info satanhimself

    My wife (a liberal Christian) and I were married by a UU leader, and we attended a small UU congregation in a predominantly blue-collar region when our first kid was very young. I have several atheist friends who are UUs and I know a UU leader who is supportive of the local atheist group in which I am very active.

    That said, I would really like to know what UUs have in common if some are Christians, some are Pagans, some are Buddhists, some are atheists. Could it be that what they have in common is a general humanism that all humans share? If so, why don’t they call themselves “humanist” congregations, and abandon the supernatural?

    I contend that some UUs like being part of a “church” because it helps them fit in socially into the general community…after all, they are “churchgoers” and most Christians don’t know the first thing about the UU “faith”, so they assume that UU is a Xian denomination. I know this was the case in that blue-collar area. They WANTED the community to ASSUME the group was Christian. And the congregation had an elderly organist who played awful organ music, just like in Xian churches. But the “sermons” or whatever they were called were usually the most boring and knee-jerk liberal “environmental” and “bleeding heart” diatribes and the like.

    If atheists had their own facilities (and didn’t call themselves atheists), they could probably draw a lot of people away from UU. But atheists aren’t known to spend a lot of money on establishing “communities”.

    As for the ad, yeah it was probably too critical of religion to appear in even a UU magazine.

  • ChameleonDave

    Shawn:

    If you put the ball and chain on yourself, are you still a slave?

    Seneca:

    Nulla servit?s turpior est qvam volunt?ria.

  • ChameleonDave

    Hemant, your blog has a problem with Unicode.

  • thilina

    I don’t see consider the ad to be so bad that it should have been pulled from the mag. But it does seem a poor choice on the part of the FFRF, considering the message they want to send vs. the message they are sending, as well as not considering the target audience.

    I’m not too knowledgeable about UU, so I’m quite intrigued about what the sermons are about. I wouldn’t expect it to be much more than an expansion of “be good, and do good things”. Having people of many different religions in the same sermon and not offending anyone tends to restrict the material you can use.

  • dumas

    I’m an atheist, a member of a UU church, and I just joined the FFRF after seeing this ad. Not that the ad convinced me; I knew about the FFRF already. It was just the final impetus for me to get around to joining.

    I don’t know about other UU churches, but I’ve never heard Jesus referred to as deity in the one I attend. Sometimes religious traditions are referred to, but I’ve never heard a prayer to a deity. Maybe it just depends which UU church you visit.

    And I agree with Shannon, the word “church” doesn’t seem quite right. I just can’t think of a better one.

  • http://www.cstdbill.com/ Bill

    ‘…why don’t [U-Us] call themselves “humanist” congregations, and abandon the supernatural?’

    One fellow who went to First Church in St. Louis (I can’t remember his name) said that he didn’t want to leave all of metaphysics entirely to the fundamentalists.

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    As I recall, the Unitarians expelled Humanists and Atheists in the first half of the 20th century, or they left for incompatibility reasons. I’d have to search it. The compatability between atheists, humanists and the UUs as of then became like the false compatability of science and religion. The UUs went docternally, with religion(feel free to correct me if I’m mistaken on their doctrine). These complaints by the religious UUs don’t surprise me, only disappoint.

    In the early sixies as a child I was taken to Unitarian ‘sunday school’ but didn’t go often, but vaguely remember fairy tales of jesus. I’ve since been friendly with some who go on secular issues. I was surprised to discover in my adulthood that they’d become so goo-goo god/spirit/mystic talking, and only feel welcome there as a guest.

    To me there is science, philosophy/ethics. The rest is myth/fairy tales/fiction and harmful magical thinking.

  • AxeGrrl

    Shannon wrote:

    You know what I do like? The Katherine Hepburn one. It’s not putting down other beliefs, but it’s not hiding either. It’s advocating kindness. I would like to see that one on a bus.

    I’ll ditto that :)

    When it comes to ‘tone’ and message, I haven’t seen anything better as an atheist/FFRF ad.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    I don’t see that atheists have much ground to complain here. The ads are hostile to religion (I’m a little baffled as to how anyone could claim that they aren’t). But even if they aren’t, so what? It’s a private magazine. If they decide that innocuous pro-atheist ads, or ads for the Democratic party, or ads for pork products, aren’t consistent with UU values, that’s their right, I don’t see whats wrong with that. “Atheist monthly” can in turn decide whether they feel like running innocuous Christian ads or not. If a governmental agency decides not to run atheist ads, I’ll get worked up about freedom of speech, and separation of church and state, but a private magazine has the moral right to decide what ads are consistent with their values.

  • stogoe

    anyone who believes in God thinks that fairy tales are true, and that such a belief is tantamount to slavery.

    Welp, it kinda is. I mean, I could deny it, but why should I lie?

    Listen – I will defend to the death your right to believe in stupid and violent fairy tales. But I will not believe them myself, nor will I shy from criticizing those fairy tales and the monstrous harm they inspire in our world.

    why don’t they call themselves “humanist” congregations, and abandon the supernatural?

    Because the members aren’t simply humanist, they actually are christian and pagan and buddhist etc and they want some acknowledgement of that.

    UU is a very congregation-driven religious community. There’s no doctrine from on high broadcast down – so a majority atheist congregation will be more secular, and one where there are many liberal live-and-let-live christians will have more god-talk.

  • http://lyonlegal.blogspot.com/ Vincent

    The irony here is that my wife and I considered attending a UU congregation here in Maryland when we first moved here.

    We decided against it after visiting the church and reading through their list of events.

    They were waaaay too anti-religion for us. Spent most of their time Christian-bashing it seemed.

  • Neon Genesis

    I can see how the Mark Twain and Emily Dickinson ads would be offensive to the UUs. I don’t find the Dawkins ad to be that offensive since don’t most liberals reject a literal reading of the OT because of that criticism? From what I know about the UUs, the Katharine Hepburn ad sounds like it would fit in with UU values. And they could always say “they’re spiritual but not religious” and the Mcqueen ad could still work. But speaking as an atheist here, I agree that as a private magazine, they have the right to pull whatever ads they want and I get the impression that they’re pulling the ads because they’re anti-religious, not because they’re pro-atheists. And when you think about it, it makes about as much sense for a religious magazine to be running an anti-religious ad as it would for an atheist magazine to run ads promoting religion. Then again, I’ve seen Sciencetology ads promoted on Friendly Atheist.

  • Rieux

    Greta wrote:

    If I can paraphrase a big tenant of UU, it basically says “If someone believes something different from you, that’s cool. Just don’t be a dick about it.”

    So these ads kind of go against the whole UU groove, which is more “don’t be a dick about religion”. It’s not the atheism that offends. It’s the dickishness.

    I think I pointed out at some length, above, that the Unitarian Universalist Association and its administrators (and clergy and house magazine, UU World) continually violate that “ten[e]t” with regard to atheists.

    Take, for example, this lovely passage from UU Rev. Forrest Church, also printed in UU World (the same magazine that just declared it should have censored the FFRF ad):

    Life is a miracle that can’t be explained without explaining it away. Our most profound encounters lead inexorably from the rational to the transrational realm.

    Many leading scientists are far ahead of us in this regard. Some recent discoveries in physics and cosmology make no apparent sense according to known canons of rationality. Probing the mysteries of the universe and the mind, researchers on the cutting edge of knowledge find themselves moving freely between the rational and transrational realms. Where does that leave the poor camp followers, who believe in science but don’t embrace mystery? Having traded God for truth, they are left with neither.

    - Rev. Forrest Church, “Universalism: A Theology for the 21st Century,” UU World magazine, November/December 2001)

    When it comes to atheists, it certainly appears that the “don’t be a dick” rule doesn’t apply, huh?

    And excuse me–exactly how is the FFRF ad “being a dick”? The thing quotes six prominent people expressing dissent (and, if you insist, hostility) toward religion. I don’t see a “dick” there; I see six perfectly understandable and defensible assertions, and the point the FFRF is making is that important and thoughtful people, both in history and in the present day, have dissented strongly from religion. That’s not “being a dick”; that’s being honest about who we are!

    Why is the ad so disgusting? Why does it deserve to be silenced–by an organization that claims to “affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning”?

    And I have to admit I’m flabbergasted that Greta “Atheists and Anger” Christina, of all people, is chiming in in defense of an organization that is here directly discriminating against atheists and our ideas. What the hell, Greta? This church does not deserve your support.

    And you know what else? I think we need to have some goddamn perspective about this [hostility] business. I mean, I look at organized Christianity in this country — not just the religious right, but some more “moderate” churches as well — interfering with AIDS prevention efforts, trying to get their theology into the public schools, actively trying to prevent me and Ingrid from getting legally married, and pulling all the other shit I talk about in this piece.

    And I look at atheists sometimes being mean-spirited and snarky in blogs and books and magazines.

    And I think, Can we please have some goddamn perspective?

    [....]

    Are you really looking at all of this shit I’m talking about, a millennia-old history of abuse and injustice, deceit and willful ignorance — and then on the other hand, looking at a couple of years of atheists being snarky on the Internet — and seeing the two as somehow equivalent? Or worse, seeing the snarky atheists as the greater problem?

    If you’re doing that, then with all due respect, you can blow me.

    – somebody (“being a dick”?)

  • http://deleted Siamang

    Rieux,

    That was me you quoted, not Greta Christina.

  • http://deleted Siamang

    My point is, you can be combative. But understand when you’re being combative against religion in the magazine OF A RELIGION, you’re kind of going into someone’s house and pissing on the rug.

    The magazine took the money. So someone thought it was okay. But know what you’re doing. These ads aren’t innocuous.

  • Rieux

    Actually, I’m kind of flabbergasted by much of this thread: on an atheist blog, we have a bunch of people dropping in to say “Yeah, the ad is hostile to religion; they’re right, it should have been refused.”

    With all due respect, what the hell, people?

    Yes, that ad expresses hostility toward religion. WTF is wrong with that?

    According to the UU party line, there’s no requirement of any kind of belief–religious, “spiritual,” certainly theistic–in order to be a UU. The official UU Association statement of principles claims that the Association “covenant[s] to affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Supposedly this allows UUs to dissent from–to express hostility toward–religion!

    But, in incidents like this one, that party-line myth runs smack into reality: the Unitarian Universalist world is just as full of anti-atheist bigotry as the rest of our atheophobic society is. “Free and responsible search”? UU World has decided to hell with that: try to express “hostility toward religion,” and you should be censored.

    So okay, fine–UUism is full of atheophobic bigotry, which should be unsurprising in an atheophobic society–but now, on an atheist blog, we have people (some of them, at least, atheists) popping up to agree with the decision to censor speech that’s critical of religion?

    Again, what the hell, people? Might I perhaps suggest that we shouldn’t support bigots’ efforts to silence us?

    “I’m not religious,” people sometimes claim. “Then tell me about your experience,” I say in return. We may not be conventionally pious, but we all experience life, and there are religious dimensions to explore within that experience.

    I make the same point to those who tell me, “I don’t believe in God.” “Tell me about the God that you don’t believe in,” I often reply. “The chances are that I don’t believe in ‘Him’ either.” I believe, as Dag Hammarskjöld did, that “God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity. But we die on the day when our lives cease to be illuminated by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.”

    - Rev. John A. Buehrens (Unitarian Universalist Association President, 1993-2001), in Chapter 2 of A Chosen Faith, “the classic introduction to Unitarian Universalism.”

  • Rieux

    Oh, goodness–that was a horrible misattribution indeed.

    In that case, I have serious egg on my face WRT Greta.

    My severe apologies, Greta. Mea culpa.

  • Rieux

    Siamang (I’d better get that right) wrote:

    My point is, you can be combative. But understand when you’re being combative against religion in the magazine OF A RELIGION, you’re kind of going into someone’s house and pissing on the rug.

    I don’t think you have much experience with UUism.

    It’s actually not unquestioned that Unitarian Universalism is “A RELIGION.” It has (or claims to have) no particular beliefs. It claims to welcome atheists. It claims, as I wrote, to “affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning”–even when that search leads one to disbelieve in all religious notions.

    So matters are far less simple than you pretend when you shout “OF A RELIGION.” It’s not obvious that UUism is one.

    Now, in their current headlong rush toward marginalizing and disrespecting the thousands of atheists in their ranks, the national UU Association has, in the past several years, vastly played up the idea that UUism is a “religion”–though, significantly, they understand the word “religion” in a vastly different manner than just about anyone else does. For example, they understand it to mean something very different than Butterfly McQueen did in the line the FFRF quoted in the ad.

    The UUA claims UUism is a religion in just the same way that secular humanism is a religion. Or love of life. Do you think that’s what McQueen (and Darrow and Dickinson and Twain) were attacking?

    But know what you’re doing. These ads aren’t innocuous.

    No, but they don’t contradict the stated principles and ideals of the Unitarian Universalist Association in the slightest. What they violate is the bigoted religious privilege that keeps atheists marginalized in the United States, and which UUs like to pretend that their Association (or “religion”) is free from.

    The point is that the UU party line on that point is a crock. This incident is a clear episode of nasty atheophobic discrimination, and it puts the lie to the notion that the UUA is a safe place for atheists and our ideas.

  • TXatheist

    I fired off an email to Scott letting him know I’m a UU and FFRF and appreciate the ads.

  • Brian

    So, whether or not there are atheist UU (there are) the MAJORITY of UU are NOT atheist. Now, why would you BOTHER putting an ad in a magazine that was going to offend most of the readers?

    Also, I think the response was great. basically “I should have worked with them better to craft a better message.” Anything like “I’m an atheist, and it’s ok” to “lets hear it for separation of church and state” or whatever, would have been fine. Those quotes, however, *ARE* offensive to anyone with any amount of faith, and you’re not going to gain members that way.

  • Rieux

    Now, why would you BOTHER putting an ad in a magazine that was going to offend most of the readers?

    Because it contained important ideas that deserve to be published, and because (given the UUA’s supposed principles) there are no legitimate grounds for offense. That ad is only offensive to people who have bought into atheophobic bigotry. The FFRF should ignore bigots.

    Those quotes, however, *ARE* offensive to anyone with any amount of faith….

    Oh, the poor darlings! It must be so awful to read somebody saying something unkind about an idea you hold. Should we send the complainers lots of hugs and kisses to console them?

    News flash: there is no human right not to be offended. And your acceptance of religious privilege–the very thing that keeps atheists a marginalized and despised minority–is very ugly.

    you’re not going to gain members that way.

    You’re demonstrably wrong. As the FFRF has pointed out, they’ve already gained members as a result of that ad.

    Try again.

  • http://lyonlegal.blogspot.com/ Vincent

    I wonder if there is a change in the UUA.

    More and more people are leaving their religions. People are getting fed up with their churches but not wanting to give up on God. Are they moving to the UU churches? Is the demographic split between warm + fuzzy theists and atheists shifting in the UUA to make atheists even more marginalized in their ranks?

    Just a thought.

  • Rieux

    Vincent wrote:

    Is the demographic split between warm + fuzzy theists and atheists shifting in the UUA to make atheists even more marginalized in their ranks?

    As an atheist who spent seven years (2001-08) as a member of a UU church….

    Yes.

    Our resistance to religious language gets reflected, I think, in the struggle that so many of us have in trying to find ways to say who we are, to define Unitarian Universalism. I always encourage people to work on their “elevator speech”-for when you’re on the 6th floor and you’re going to the lobby and somebody asks you, “What’s a Unitarian Universalist?” What do you say? You’ve got about 45 seconds. Here’s my current answer: “The Unitarian side of our family tree tells us that there is only one God, one Spirit of Life, one Power of Love. The Universalist side tells us that God is a loving God, condemning none of us, and valuing the spark of divinity that is in every human being. So, Unitarian Universalism stands for: one God, no one left behind.”

    – Rev. William H. Sinkford (Unitarian Universalist Association President, 2001-09), sermon, “The Language of Faith,” January 12, 2003 (boldface added)

  • Alex

    Our great Theodore Parker and heretic also got thrown out by the Boston Unitarians for his blasphemy. So it’s nothing new for the UU power structure to censor or excommunicate heretical or blasphemous people or organizations.

  • http://occams-zweihander.blogspot.com Robin Edgar

    For the record: One Robin Edgar got thrown out by the Montreal Unitarians for his peaceful public protest against the anti-religious intolerance and bigotry that he was subjected to by the far from friendly, indeed the intolerant, insulting, and outright *hostile* and abusive Atheist leaders of the Unitarian Church of Montreal.

    You are quite right Alex. It is in fact nothing new for the U*U power structure to censor or excommunicate critics and dissenters who U*Us choose the fate of portraying as heretical or blasphemous people. Outrageously hypocritical Unitarian*Universalists aka U*Us will even go so far as to have such “heretical” people unjustly arrested on trumped up criminal charges in order to try to suppress a peaceful public protest. . .

  • http://the-wonderful-wizard-of-uus.blogspot.com/2009/09/freedom-from-religion-foundation.html Robin Edgar

    Getting back to the controversy arising from the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “FreeThought” Bus Sign Campaign ad in the UU World magazine it should be noted that some agnostic Humanist UUs considered the ad to be inappropriate and hostile to ALL religion even non-theistic religion. No doubt the ad that offended these *religious* Humanists was the Butterfly McQueen quote which did not float like a butterfly but did sting like a ‘B’ for boorish. . . It is one thing for a person to speak about freeing themselves from their own personal “slavery” to religion but quite another for someone to assert that ALL religion is “slavery”. Anyone interested in reviewing what Unitarian*Universalist bloggers thought about the FFRF ad in the UU World magazine should follow this link to the UUpdates blog aggregator and browse through the various blog posts and attached comments. It’s probably not *too* late to comment on their blogs yourself if you want to. I had quite a bit of fun parodying the ads on The Wonderful Wizard of U*Us blog (linked from my name) as well as on The Emerson Avenger blog and the Occam’s Zweihander blog.

  • http://jessicasideways.com Jessica Sideways

    I am a UU and I was really happy to see that they initially published the ads. And I’m sad to see that they took them down after a few religious mental cases bellyached.

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  • Damon

    This is really a no-brainer: Unitarian Universalism is a religion (yet a dogma-free one) – placing an ad from a group based on Freedom From Religion in a religious publication makes somewhere between little and no sense.


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