Why would a Humanist want to be a Unitarian Universalist? As the president of the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association, I get that question a lot. And, to be frank, I ask that question of myself a lot.
The recent Easter holiday merely underlined the point. For those of us who don’t fit into the Christian hegemony, the fact that so many UU congregations—and ministers—celebrate the holiday feels just plain weird. Christian churches do it better.
Let’s face it: UU Humanists are doomed to feel as if we are supporting a rather out-dated colonialist institution. We hear prayers to great mysteries that we don’t find mysterious. We hear prayers to the “god of many names” when we find all 2,500 names (and counting) figments of the imagination. We get tired of a liturgy that is glued to mainline Protestant Christian terminology.
As a minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis—the first UU congregation to become explicitly Humanist and stay that way—I’m doubly perplexed. When I’m outside the safe confines of FUS’s religiously neutral space, do I really have to sit through “worship” of concepts that my congregation rejected a century ago as old fashioned?
Why haven’t more “Unitarians” become “Zero-tarians” or Nada-tarians? Answer: many have, but they stopped coming to church. There is a reason that so many “First Unitarian” and “First Universalist” congregations exist and so few “Second Unitarian” and “Second Universalist” congregations exist in cities across the US. UUism remains a religion for those half-way and three-quarters out of religion. I fear this isn’t a position that can be sustained.
Still, I remind myself that for that century of growing Humanism, the people of my congregation have stuck with Unitarianism and now Unitarian Universalism. Why?
I think the answer is an essential insight of Humanism: to universalize is to tyrannize. Universalizing Humanism, even if we think it is the only and the one true way, creates tyranny. Perhaps we think that this particular tyranny is the truth, yet the insight deconstructs itself when examined closely. Perhaps there are universal human truths; but who decides or declares that universality?
Partial truth and relativized understanding appear to be the eternal human condition.
This reminder may be the greatest gift of Unitarian Universalism to Humanists. UUism, with its insistence on creed-less gathering, is always going to seem a bit old fashioned and quaint to Humanist ears. Yet when we look at the religious spectrum and compare the state of UUism to the other end of the religious spectrum . . . well, milquetoast tastes very wholesome, doesn’t it?
How’s that for a reminder?