Freedom From Religion?

Have you seen the print version of the new UU World? The inside cover is a full-page ad for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Does that not seem a bit odd – if not counterproductive – in a religious organization’s official magazine?

Now, just to be clear, I support FFRF’s work toward the separation of church and state. And I respect those whose free and responsible search for truth and meaning has led them to conclude that there is no God in any sense of the word.

But some of these quotes aren’t just supportive of free thought, they’re insulting to people of faith – whether that faith is theistic or non-theistic. Mark Twain: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” Clarence Darrow: “I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.” They assume (or at least, strongly imply) that the God of orthodox Western religion is the only possible view of God there is, and that religion is all about accepting a series of supernatural propositions.

In fairness to the editors of UU World, I see some of this attitude in my own UU church and I read it online. There will be some UUs who will like this ad, and may even be encouraged by it.

In my limited experience, the real tension in Unitarian Universalism isn’t between theists and non-theists. It’s between those who find meaning and value in traditional religious language, stories, forms and practices and those who are so offended by their association with conservative religions that they don’t want anything to do with them.

I see this tension most clearly in discussions about Sunday worship services. The more our services follow a “generic Protestant” format (to say nothing of some of the Pagan-themed Sunday services I’ve led) the more I hear complaints from a vocal minority who want nothing to do with that. But the alternative of lectures and “programs” doesn’t feed my soul, nor does it satisfy what I think are the needs and desires of the clear majority at my congregation.

We can cooperate to build a better world, but we’ll never be able to build a cohesive religious community as long as we’re forced to design our services to the lowest common denominator.

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About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.

  • Anonymous

    What is your point? You "churches" are over run with atheists (aka, humanists) and so there is no God in your "places of worship". No God = no religion; the only thing you people seem to worship are your own egos. I laughed when I read that you are so angry about the FFRF advert. You need to make up your mind whether you are indeed a "religion" and what that means for you all. And please don't give me the "we accept everyone" because I know that is not true; you also know that your "churches" are torn apart by the disagreements between traditional Unitarian Christians and the newcomer UU Jews, UU Muslims, UU Pagans, UU Witches, UU Buddhists, and UU-whatevers! Talk about being in denial.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06208142626285495635 Robin Edgar

    Enjoy!

    More coming. . . :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00875369837359076688 JohnFranc

    I wish the anonymous commenters would choose a clever pseudonymn, or at least label themselves Anon-1, Anon-2, etc. That way we'd know if they're all the same person or not.

    In any case, this anonymous commenter makes the same mistake the anti-religion folks make, just in reverse. Namely, that worship must mean prostrating yourself in front of some superior being we have no proof even exists.

    For me, worship is acknowledging, honoring, and celebrating the highest ideals and aspirations I know. For me, it's helpful to see these personified as gods and goddesses – beings that are subjectively real to me, even as I freely acknowledge I can never be sure they objectively exist.

    If others see these ideals as nothing more than concepts we should work to make real so we can make the world a better place to live in, then I have no conflict with them.

    My conflict is with those who refuse to use traditional religious language and forms to express these ideals and who argue that those of us who do are somehow misguided and intellectually inferior to them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06208142626285495635 Robin Edgar

    There may not be any absolute proof that God exists but there is plenty of circumstantial evidence for God's existence, including the testimony of many people who have claimed direct personal experiences of God of one kind or another over several millennia. . . Some people like to dismiss the classic 'Argument From Design' aka Intelligent Design aka ID but, as someone who can and does claim a profound direct personal revelatory experience of that being/thing we generically call God, indeed a religious experience of the prophetic variety, I think that such people are just a tad "blind" and fail to see the signs that are quite obvious to others. There is *lots* of evidence of Intelligent Design in the Universe indeed many quantum physicists talk about how "finely tuned" the Universe is.

    Anonymous's criticisms of Unitarian*Universalism are quite regrettably founded in some rather unfortunate truths about the current state of The Tiny Declining Fringe Religion™ aka The U*U MOvement™, as I have already pointed out elsewhere in responding to his or her similar comments, even if Anonymous does over generalize a bit. U*Us would be very well advised to pay heed Anonymous's accusation about U*Us being in denial of reality that is obvious to others. If U*Us were not in denial of reality The Emerson Avenger blog would never have come into existence. Obstinate U*U denial of the anti-religious intolerance and bigotry, and related discrimination and harassment, that I and other people have been subjected to by "fundamentalist atheist" "Humanist" U*Us is a major contributing factor to why our little war of words was not concluded over a decade ago, and is still ongoing. . . When U*Us finally get around to responsibly acknowledging the anti-religious intolerance and bigotry that I and other people have been subjected to by self-described Humanist U*Us, and provide some real restorative justice to me and other people who have been harmed by U*Us, the U*U World will be a better place than the "tiny, declining, fringe religion" that it currently is due in no small measure to foolishly condoning such anti-religious intolerance and bigotry in U*U "churches" for decades now.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06208142626285495635 Robin Edgar

    Not to put too fine a point on it Jon.

    *My* conflict is with those Unitarian*Universalists U*Us who not only refuse to use traditional religious language (except when belittling and maligning believers) and who intolerantly and abusively argue that those Unitarians who actually have the audacity to believe in God are somehow misguided (such as being "crazy" "psychotic" "nutcases" for example. . .) and intellectually inferior to them. Like wise my conflict is with all those U*Us who turn a blind eye to such intolerance and bigotry and do little or nothing to provide justice, equity and compassion to those who have been harmed by it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06917275516051074093 Batbogey

    I don't know what galled me more about this advertisement: the antagonistic tone of some of the sample bus signs, or the meta message about UUism you see between that ad and Rev. Peter Morales' letter.

    We ARE a religious movement. Member congregations of the UUA and the regional districts are "in covenant" with those organizations.

    But this sort of thing in the UU World and some of the unfortunate ads from the UUA in Time magazine make UUism look like an escape hatch from organized religion. Sometimes, I feel as if UUism is treated both by the UUA and the local congregation as the gateway drug to secularism.

    UUism is a legitimate religious alternative. It is not an alternative to religion.

    As for the ad, I'd like to have been a fly on the wall during the meeting about whether or not to run it as it was run.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06208142626285495635 Robin Edgar

    So would I Batbogey, indeed I'd like to have been the *gadfly* on the wall during the meeting about whether or not to run that highly questionable advertisement. I am particularly interested in knowing who else was involved in that meeting, especially if there were any high level UUA officials who were involved in the decision to run the ad in the UU World magazine, or who at least gave their "blessing" to the decision to run it. When UUA President Peter Morales is on public record as asserting that Judaism, Christianity, Islam and any number of other "old religions" (no doubt including Druidism and other pagan religions) are "obsolete religions created for another time" I can't help but wonder if he brought any personal influence to bear in favor of publishing this deliberately provocative and obviously offensive anti-religious ad. Did Scott Ulrich fall on his sword to protect others? God knows. . .

  • Maineac

    It seems to me that the purpose of religion is to answer the un-answerable questions. Many of those questions from the past have been answered by science. Some will probabaly never be answered. A person who truely claims to be an atheist is making a statement of faith in their answers to things like "What happens when we die?"

    I attend church reqularly, but, alas there is no UU church near me. So I attend the most liberal church I could find in the area. I like to sing. But most of all, it forces me, once a week, to sit down and think about what I believe. Even though much of what I hear I cannot accept, it forces me to defend my beliefs to myself. And, after all, when it comes to my un-answerable questions, my beliefs are the only ones that count.

    So don't be so hard on those athiests, they have faith just as you do.


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