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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Uh oh: Here come the Christian humanists!

The polite fiction that Mrs Philocrites and I are an "interfaith couple" because she is Episcopalian and I am Unitarian Universalist — a fiction maintained more by the UUs than by the Episcopalians — will clearly evaporate if mainline Protestants adopt a label I already claim: Christian humanist. Sure, the phrase juxtaposes two theological positions that many Unitarian Universalists believe stand in opposite corners — which is always fun! — but the Christian Century puts in a good word for abandoning "liberal Protestant" or "mainline Protestant" and explicitly embracing the larger tradition in which my theological liberalism clearly belongs:

Humanism captures liberal Protestantismís emphasis on intellectual exploration, on doing theology in conversation with other modes of knowledge. Since the Renaissance, humanism has designated a movement that takes learning seriously and celebrates the ability of scientists, poets and historians to expand knowledge and shape the world. Christian specifies that this appreciation of human freedom and potential is not ungrounded or unlimited, and that human identity is not simply whatever humans want it to be. As creatures of God, humans are most truly themselves when fulfilling divine purposes. And it is ďin Christ,Ē the divine and human one, that we learn what it means to be fully human.

The magazine's subtitle puts it simply each week: "Faithful living, critical thinking." That's the goal of my ecumenical household.

Sadly, though, if liberal Protestants abandon the much-abused word "liberal," we Unitarian Universalists will be virtually alone in openly claiming the liberal theological tradition. And it seems that as UUs struggle to recognize distinctions between liberal theology and liberal (partisan) politics, we're growing unsure about the term ourselves. (Most "conservative" Unitarian Universalists have, in my view, simply embraced one among several varieties of liberalism — which is why I refuse to abandon the word liberal in a Unitarian Universalist context.)

So I'll be glad to see Christian humanism catch on — but I'm not throwing in the towel on liberalism. "Mainline," however, really is a polite fiction that needs to go.

("Term Limit: Rethinking 'Liberal Mainline'," Christian Century 5.31.05; thanks, Chuck!)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 24 May 2005 at 8:38 AM

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May 24, 2005 10:40 AM | Permalink for this comment

What about progressive Christian? A bunch of us at TCPC are struggling to see where the movement goes. How do we connect so many unchurched folks who want the Christian Humanism, but do not have a place to turn. How do we brand this CH of which you speak? Branding is the issue I think. The Evangelicals get Business Week. Where are we besides quick blurbs on the daily show:)?


May 24, 2005 11:34 AM | Permalink for this comment

I heart Christian humanism. Seriously, though--I'd encountered Renaissance humanism in college, when all I'd heard about was secular humanism, and I thought it was a terrific concept, and a term worth reclaiming. I'm behind in my CC reading (that's Christian Century, not Chalice Chick!) so I have to get to that article. Thanks!


May 24, 2005 01:41 PM | Permalink for this comment

When I preached to the UUs of Ft. Myers, FL, Sunday, I had the minister introduce me as a Christian Humanist. Chris, this is not a new idea but one which predates Teilhard de Chardin, who proudly embraced the tradition.

I have long been offended that atheist UUs have usurped this title for themselves when the historical meaning of the word is something else. But I guess it is okay to just make s**t up.


May 24, 2005 02:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

I, too, am a Christian Humanist. There are many folks here at the Eliot Church who are. Interestingly, however, this is not a term that most of them use. I, like RevButter, think that branding is a major part of the issue. In my church we often describe ourselves as "Liberal Christians" which isn't always the case as many "Eliots" are fairly orthodox around the Trinity...

I am also behind on my CC reading. I will see what groovy things it has to say...

PS. I linked to an article on Unity about this subject some time ago. It is in my April archives. I will try to find it (ah, technology!)...


May 24, 2005 02:29 PM | Permalink for this comment

I personally prefer "Religious Humanism." It's more conducive to my inter-faith leanings, and that's coming from a person who has made Jesus of Nazareth and his message of an egalitarian community his philosophical fulcrum.

I have also, being the centrist that I am, tossed the word 'liberal' ... for 'progressive.'It might just be semantics though ...


May 24, 2005 02:32 PM | Permalink for this comment

Melanie, I learned about Christian humanism my freshman year at BYU -- two years before I became a Unitarian Universalist.

More intriguing to me is that "religious humanist" has been reclaimed by Gregory Wolfe at Image and the Center for Religous Humanism to describe a movement emphasizing the arts in the "Judeo-Christian tradition." Even the Friends of Religious Humanism, the religious organization rooted originally in the Humanist Manifesto, has renamed itself "HUUmanists."


May 24, 2005 03:41 PM | Permalink for this comment

Wolfe's use of the term within a Judeo-Christian tradition of the arts is very intriguing, I agree. It also gives more leverage to the point you and the Christian Century are making as regards a movement away from more familiar/popular labels.

Also, Wolfe has a book out, which you may already be familiar with, titled "The New Religious Humanists." I just obtained it and have yet to read it in depth. It looks very good from what I have already skimmed. It too is filled with what would otherwise be called "Christian Humanism."

All of this aside, I think 'Religious Humanism,' although claimed by Wolfe in a particular manner, is much broader than his own traditional expressions reveal ... at least I hope so.

Matthew Gatheringwater:

May 24, 2005 05:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

I find the eight forms of humanism outlined in the link to be helpful when I get into one of those "Which humanism?" discussions.

I think that there is an internal contradition within "Christian Humanism" if we are talking about the kind of humanism that finds ultimate value and meaning within human needs, abilites, and aspirations. It is hard to imagine this kind of humanism agreeing that human freedom and identity should be limited by Christian values. I would hate to lose that kind of humanism within the Unitarian Universalist movement especially since, from Channing's doctrine of human nature forward to today's UU transhumanists, the willingness to move beyond Christian concepts of "creatureliness" has played an important role in Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist advocacy for cremation, family planning, abortion rights, and euthanasia--all issues condemned in their time by the majority of Christians.


May 25, 2005 12:56 AM | Permalink for this comment

I have been thinking and publicly suggesting for some time that Unitarian Universalism inherently assumes a humanistic (in the classical sense of "humanist")theological orientation. I also find the false dichotomy of "Christian" and "Humanist" in the UU family a huge waste of our time and energy.

Philocrites, when you say that UUs are alone in officially identifying as having a liberal religious orientation, don't you mean denominationally (or, "associationally" if we're being picky)? Because, of course, there are all kinds of humanist, liberal Christians out there in the ecumenical world whose various doctrinal/creedal/confessional commitments don't allow them to claim the "liberal" title in an explicit way.

Is this coherent? I've been up way too long.

Matthew Gatheringwater:

May 25, 2005 03:10 AM | Permalink for this comment

This Sunday, I'm preaching about one of Jesus' parables and how I felt his life reborn in me. I dream of offering a regular rotation of Bible study in adult religious programming. I hope I don't become one of the people that perpetuate anti-Christian ignorance and disrespect within Unitarian Universalism. But I am also worried about what I perceive as a backlash against Humanism within the UU movement. I was shocked recently to hear a minister of long standing that I respect complaining that s/he was tired to having to cater to the remaining Humanists in their church. As if the humanists didn't have a right to their religious home or as if their discomfort with theistic religious language was merely an irrational prejudice. As if Humanist cautions about idolatries hadn't in fact been one of the spurs for the development of new religious language that has, ironically, helped Christians to find new ways to imagine God.

I get a sick feeling in my stomach every time I hear a UU leader talking about old humanists, starchy humanists, humanist dinosaurs, and cold, cerebral humanism that is all head and no heart. I think it is because, as a naturalistic religious humanist, I have more at stake than UU theists and Christians. After all, as Peacebang points out, theists and Christians have potential liberal religious homes outside Unitarian Universalist congregations; where are our atheist and agnostic humanists supposed to go to church on Sunday? Ethical Culture is even less viable than UUism and, besides, I made the choice to be a UU partly because I thought my religious life would be enriched by being part of a pluralistic religious community. The reality has often been a sense of theological isolation and sometimes outright prejudice.

When called to task, UU ministers generally condemn theological exclusion, but there is a more insidious and widespread tendency to minimize real religious differences. These are the folks who, when asked if they are a theist or atheist reply "both" and create theological chimeras like "materialist naturalist mystic." They are the knee-jerk proponents of "both/and" when the fact is that there are some irreconcilable differences between the religious experiences and values of theists and non-theists.

I've always thought that the Unitarian tradition called me to tolerate these differences and to celebrate the more numerous similarities, but toleration is no longer one of our cardinal values. It has been replaced by the demand for acceptance, which sounds nice but is, in fact, a kind of intellectual violence. I want my UU Christian friends to be distinctively Christian and I claim the same right for myself as a non-Christian UU. I have tried to be a Christian and a theist and sometimes I re-try, just to double-check, but I cannot, while maintaining my values and intellectual integrity, make that leap. I realize that my earnest search may not reveal the truth and that, even if the truth were shown to me, I may not recognize it. I know that people more intelligent than I have found their way to theism and so the best I can do is to continue to seek truth in humility and try and practice tolerance because, given the same information, reasonable people will differ on this issue. I'd like to think that there is room enough around that gray area to build a religious life, but I'm not always sure my religion will let me.

Jeff Wilson:

May 25, 2005 04:31 PM | Permalink for this comment

What was that Emerson said about "corpse-cold Humanists?" Oh wait, that's not right. The wheel keeps on revolving. . .


May 26, 2005 08:59 AM | Permalink for this comment

Matthew, I wouldn't try to set Christian limits for religious humanism within the UUA, since I'm neither a spokesperson for nor an advocate of orthodox UU humanism, and since I'm not empowered in any way to set limits for others. I'm simply saying that I understand that my humanism recognizes certain sorts of limits that are consistent with a worldview I'd identify as Christian. I'll also continue to assert the inadequacy of certain forms of humanist theology on what are in many ways humanist grounds.

Ultimately, I don't find "ultimate value and meaning" within human needs, abilities, and aspirations -- if by "within" you mean that ultimate value and meaning are simply, wholly human or cultural products, or that human values should be referenced entirely to human needs, abilities, and aspirations. It's not all about us; we're not the measure of all things. I don't deny the cultural and even personal dimensions of meaning. I simply think that reality transcends and ultimately limits the human -- and that on some level a religious perspective and a viable ethics have to assert humility in the face of those ultimate limits on the human. "We are the earth upright and proud" does not express my faith.

Matthew, if we were to get into discussing the trajectory you've outlined from Channing to transhumanism, you'd find that I simply don't follow that trajectory. For me, the "inherent dignity and worth of every person" is a philosophical and political commitment that also has a deep root in a religious vision of human creatureliness, although of course there are ways to hold the philosophical and political commitment on secular or at least non-sectarian grounds. But, since you brought 'em up, that commitment does lead me to some pretty serious misgivings about abortion, euthanasia, and a variety of other willful assessments of which sorts of lives have a dignity worth protecting. (Before people start jumping up and down with worry, I've not gone over to the Dark Side; save your tomatoes. I'm just acknowledging that my ethics and theology don't let me adopt a happy optimism about all the "wonders still the world shall witness.")

I'd gladly welcome a renewed expression of religious humanism within the UUA. It's a problem that the most widely held perspective within Unitarian Universalism lacks the vigorous and dynamic forms of public expression that you'd think it would be generating. I'd like to believe that there's a lot of depth to religious humanism, and I'm eager for more evidence of that. Unfortunately, I've also come to recognize that I'm not its champion, and so as much as I'd welcome its renaissance, my theology isn't encompassed by UU varieties of humanism.


May 26, 2005 09:09 AM | Permalink for this comment

I share your dismay, Matthew: "I get a sick feeling in my stomach every time I hear a UU leader talking about old humanists, starchy humanists, humanist dinosaurs, and cold, cerebral humanism that is all head and no heart."

But you're right that there are irreconcilable differences between worldviews -- and that's why I've concluded that the definitions many humanists offer for their worldview are designed not to encompass my own. I tolerate and respect that, and hope to enjoy their tolerance and respect, too. Ideally, I'd also like to find ways to engage those differences meaningfully, because even though some perspectives are irreconcilable, I do think dialogue can be mutually transformative.

As one of my intelletual heroes, Alfred North Whitehead, wrote in Science and the Modern World, "A clash of doctrines is not a disaster, it is an opportunity." Perhaps not always an opportunity for synthesis, but an opportunity nonetheless.


May 26, 2005 11:43 AM | Permalink for this comment

I make a distinction between Humanism and Atheism. What I find troubling is when folks call themselves Humanists - which, as I understand the term, is an affirmation of the human and our potential - but spew forth an angry hostility towards "belief" in any form. Where is the affirmation? Where is the positive statement of spiritual/theological/philosphical grounding?

Atheism - again, as I understand the term - is merely a negation of the beliefs of theists. Not much of a platform for spiritual growth or community building. I know many Atheists who call themselves Humanists, but what I tend to experience with them are folks who long ago abandoned their own search for truth and meaning in favor of belittling the efforts of others to do so.

I'm not in favor of the harsh characterization of Humanists that has bubbled up in our movement in recent years. But I am a strong proponent of encouraging one another's spiritual growth, and I don't see enough of that going on. How do we encourage Humanists to deepen their understanding? How do we discourage exclusivist ideologies such as Atheism (which, it seems to me, shares more in common with fundamentalism than it does liberal religion) from holding our communities captive by demanding that the words we use fit into its purged and therefore limited vocabulary?

All of this begs the question that I get asked fairly often - why would an Atheist go to church? When I first started coming to a UU church, I considered myself an Atheist, and at first the draw to the church was to find a place where there were others who had figured out what I had figured out. There was a smug arrogance just beneath the surface of the community that I liked very much. But it didn't stick - in time I found that I was coming to church because it wasn't enough for me to just not believe. I needed to understand my religious journey in broader terms. I found that what I really needed was liberation from the constraints of my religious upbringing. I needed to discover that words and ideas could mean more than the catechism told me they did. Because it turned out that my past experiences were, in fact, meaningful and formative, and if I abandoned the language and idea of faith altogether, those experiences were somehow cheapened.

So, this Atheist went to church because somewhere, deep inside, I wasn't satisfied with the "answer" I had found. One of the great gifts of Unitarian Universalism, when we're at our best, is that we provide a community which encourages continual growth and movement. None of our "answers" are sufficient for any length of time, and we our liberal faith challenges us to keep moving. This necessarily leaves us open to many possibilities when it comes to an understanding and expression of religious ideas, and why Humanism which has devolved into Atheism can be such a damaging influence on our communities and our larger movement.

Matthew Gatheringwater:

May 26, 2005 12:42 PM | Permalink for this comment

Chis, it is a pleasure to tolerate you! :) You are one of the people I would hate to lose to a denial of theological distinctiveness in what I believe would be a misguided pursuit of unity by pretending Unitarian Universalists all pretty much believe the same things.

Far from throwing tomatoes, I'd do my best to shield you from them when thrown by the likes of Dawkins; you'd never catch me calling myself a bright and others dim! Nor would I argue that there are no ultimate limits imposed by reality on human nature. At the core of my humanist faith, however, is the belief that the struggle against these limits is worthwhile. It is perhaps telling that my religious heroes are Manfred and Gilgamesh--characters whose willfulness is what makes them noble, human, and tragic.

I have difficulty, however, understanding how you would be willing to submit to creatureliness when it is a doctrine that has been used (perhaps misused?) again and again by Christians to limit areas of human inquiry, to bolster divinely-ordained inequalities, and to condemn whole classes of humans. I have a hard time believing that you are talking about the same kind of creatureliness that has been used to justify slavery, to subjugate women, condemn homosexuality, anathemize birth control, and (to pick an example from today's headlines) to limit stem cell research. So, what kind of creatureliness do you mean? All my life, I have had to struggle, one way and another, against people who have linked what is immoral with what is unnatural. I find it particularly challenging when those people are part of my own religious community.

It is fascinating to me that Channing, like his more orthodox contemporaries, believed that humans were created in God's image, but what he saw reflected was radically different from what others saw. He said humans were most like God in the expression of their creative potential and this is the argument he used to describe the immorality of slavery. (I recognize that there is more than one trajectory from this point. Besides anti-slavery, I forgot to mention that it also led to support for eugenics among both the Universalists and Unitarians--even after WWII.) I can't tell if you are saying you don't think the trajectory I describe exists or it is simply one that is not meaningful to you.

I think you are unfortunately correct in your assessment of religious humanism within Unitarian Universalism. Vigorous and dynamic is not how I'd describe it, either. The fact that depth discussions of humanism are available outside Unitarian Universalism is what bothers me particularly. But when humanism becomes a whipping post for everything UUs don't like about themselves, is it any wonder? Ultimately, I think a large part of the blame lies with humanists themselves who, in past generations, may have arrogantly supposed that any "reasonable" or "right-thinking" person would have shared their convictions and therefore little effort was needed to disseminate or educate. If there is to be a renewed expression of humanism within Unitarian Universalism, it will have to start with a willingness to articulate and defend its point of view.

Matthew Gatheringwater:

May 26, 2005 12:44 PM | Permalink for this comment

Jeff: Emerson said that from *outside* Unitarianism. What weirds me out is that we have internalized this criticism.

Matthew Gatheringwater:

May 26, 2005 01:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

Jason, While I do not deny that there are atheists of the type you describe (perhaps particularly in your part of the Bible Belt or perhaps in reaction to their rejection of another religious tradition, say, oh I don't know, maybe monastic Catholicism), I think your criticism stems from confusion over just what it means to be an atheist despite the fact that you describe yourself as a former atheist. (Dr. Rieux, where are you when we need you?) Most atheists do not share your understanding of atheism as merely the negation of belief or a kind of anti-theism. I think you'd be hard pressed to find that point of view in the comments I've shared in this discussion, for example.

You seem to be saying that "exclusivist ideologies" such as atheism are spiritually immature and damaging to UU congregations and yet you are defining atheism unfairly, in a way most atheists would disagree with. I'm sure you don't mean to give offense, but can you see why that kind of attitude is hurtful to me and other atheist Unitarian Universalists?


May 26, 2005 02:47 PM | Permalink for this comment

Matthew, how do you define your Atheism? I find it difficult to talk about what "most" Atheists claim or how they define the term. I can only speak about those I know, and I'll certainly admit that my perspective is colored by the culture in my (not totally red) neck of the woods.

I don't want to be hurtful with my way of approaching this topic. But I have to say that you're right - I do consider the kind of Atheism I have encountered in my personal experiences to be "spiritually immature and damaging" to the larger community. If we're going to be serious about the interactions between the theological foundations of the folks in our churches, we can't have people hanging around counting the number of times the word "God" is said on Sunday mornings. The folks who do that in my church call themselves Atheists, and I'm not interested in accomodating them by tailoring my every word to their particular standards. I am, however, interested in creating a respectful community where ALL are encouraged to grow spiritually and personally.

Most of the folks in my congregation, according to our latest survey, consider themselves to be Humanists (as do I, for that matter). But only a few call themselves Atheists. I think that's an important distinction. I don't believe in some "old man in the sky" God, but I don't call myself an Atheist, either, because I'm not willing to rule out the possibility that there's something greater than my own limited perspective.

Again, I'd like to know how you define Atheism. I don't know how to define the term without some kind of contrary reference to the faith of others. If we were to adpot Atheism as a seventh "source" for our Living Tradition, what would that statement look like?

...Atheist teachings which remind us that some people think the other sources named above are just a bunch of hooey...

Kidding aside, I really do want to know how Atheist UU's (outside of the Bible Belt, perhaps) would describe their spiritual foundations, or how they understand and engage in the practice of religious pluralism in our congregations. How do they show respect for
people in their community who really do believe and follow a path which seems antithetical to their own?


May 26, 2005 06:12 PM | Permalink for this comment

I like the notion that we are at our best when fullfilling divine purposes. Whether we call that humanism or not isn't really important to me. And whether or not we use religous language to express that notion is not important. My divine inspiration might be your personal insight, or vice versa.

Whether or not we are divinely inspired or humanly inspired we would probably all believe that it is our job to do the work of implimenting that inspiration. That's sapiential eschatology in John D Crossan's terminology. Even if we believe in God(s) it's our job- not the deity's-
to bring forth justice to the world.

I am a member of a large UU church. One where the ministers use a lot of Theistic language. There are tensions, mostly unspoken, between those who like the Theistic language and those who prefer the more secular language of previous ministers.
But we have a diversity of outlets, services, classes, etc. where all expressions of faith and opinion can be heard. But, I think the real unifiying force is the joint work we enagage in, particularly in our various social justice action groups. that's where our liberalism, humanism, progressivism, radicalism, religiousity all comes together. Plus we always find ways to eat and drink and enjoy life together.

Dan Harper:

May 27, 2005 10:25 PM | Permalink for this comment

Wow, what lengthy and thoughtful comments people are making! And my main reaction was getting all grumpy because Chris got his copy of Christian Century 3 days before I did.

My next reaction -- William R. Jones predicted all this in an article he wrote for Christian Century back in 1974. Title of the article: "Theism and Humanism: The Chasm Narrows." To sum up a complex argument, Jones basically said that humanocentric Christians have a lot more in common with humanocentric humanists than they do with theocentric Christians. Definitely worth reading -- I'll bet if you did a Web search, you could find it online.


May 28, 2005 06:53 PM | Permalink for this comment

I think the question of how we encourage spiritual growth within UUism for all our people is a good and worthy one. Thanks to whoever brought it up.
It bears asking, what does spiritual growth look like for a Humanist, an Atheist, a Theist, a Trekkie (just kidding), etc.?
I'm not even sure what it looks like for a UU Christian, although I have much clearer markers that are taught by the classical Unitarian tradition. Are there such "markers" for other orientations that are already out there that we might refer to for wisdom?

I was talking with a group of young MIT scientists today who are all non-believers in the traditional sense but who said that they were very interested in coming to church mostly in order to (ya got it), "Grow spiritually" (or to give their children a religious education, or for community).
I asked them whether it would be fair to say that spiritual growth for them might be described as (approximately) increasing their sense of reverence and love and awe for the intricacies of creation. They generally said, "yea, something like that."

I was not surprised that every single one of them were pretty much in love with their area of research. I asked them whether they thought there was a spiritual component to that love and they said yes there was, although they had never thought of it quite that way.

My last sermon of this church year is focused on how we can grow spiritually during our summer hiatus. Thanks for being so timely, yo.


May 31, 2005 03:25 PM | Permalink for this comment

No religion can be all things to all people. When congregations play the game of euphemism and rotating theological coddling, it wears away at the depth of what UUism could (and sometimes does) offer.

As Iíve said here before, itís ok for likeminded people to gather together for whatever (peaceful) purpose; it is not an automatic rejection of other ideas nor is it inherently intolerant.

I think the idea of tolerance has been taken in a strange direction in some UU churches; the Dalai Lama can tolerate Roman Catholicism without having to incorporate the Eucharist into his religious duties. Religion, including associated ideologies like atheism and non-theistic/atheistic humanism should be able to express their depth without fear of trying to appease some faction; the same of course goes for theism.

What I sometimes see happening in UUism is, in an attempt to make everyone happy, UUism gets watered down. Thatís a shame in my opinion.


May 31, 2005 04:34 PM | Permalink for this comment

In another online discussion a few weeks ago, I responded to the suggestion that certain indignant UU theists hoped to revive a pre-humanist style of Unitarian expression and worship as follows:

It is not possible to return to a "Golden Age" of 19th-century Unitarianism before it became infected by humanism. The core affirmations of humanism are, and have always been, indistinguishably present in the core Unitarian affirmations of the perfectibility of human nature and the natural humanity of Jesus.

That's a big part of the reason there were so many Unitarian signatories to the original Humanist Manifesto I, and why it was welcomed so enthusiastically thereafter by so many Unitarian congregations, methinks. HM I gave a convenient label to a set of assumptions that Unitarians have always accepted, but have often struggled to explain and defend.

However, HM I also contained a number of stridently atheistic assertions about the invalidity of historic religious tradition that I think are not necessary to the affirmation of the worth of the human spirit. Using "humanist" as an interchangeable euphemism or synonym for "atheist", as often occurs among self-identified humanist UUs, abuses the real meaning of the word. You need not affirm theism or supernaturalism or Christianity in order to affirm the essential nobility of the human condition, but you need not condemn them as idolatry, either. Nevertheless, because these denials and condemnations were expressly included in HM I, subsequent "humanists" have tended to include atheism in their canon of "humanist" dogmas, and they point to HM I for the authority to do so with the same absolutist zeal that fundamentalist Christians use to find their incontrovertible authority in the Bible. The result in many congregations has been a regrettable shift in emphasis from the affirmation of human worth to the prohibition of theistic expression and traditional worship vocabulary -- and I think it is this prohibition, rather than any inherent conflict between humanism and theism, that is the source of much internecine conflict over "humanism" today.


May 31, 2005 06:34 PM | Permalink for this comment

ďThe result in many congregations has been a regrettable shift in emphasis from the affirmation of human worth to the prohibition of theistic expression and traditional worship vocabulary -- and I think it is this prohibition, rather than any inherent conflict between humanism and theism, that is the source of much internecine conflict over "humanism" today.

I agree, and well said.

Matthew Gatheringwater:

June 5, 2005 12:17 AM | Permalink for this comment

Jason: If you are genuinely interested in atheism, there are plenty of online resources you can study that would be a better introduction than anything I could say. (Dr. Rieux's site has some great essays and links.) You might also check out a book by Robin Le Poidevin called _Arguing for Atheism_. It is short, readable, and I'm reading it too, so it might be fun to talk about it. (Feel free to e-mail me.)

I realize you are joking, but what you say in jest, other UUs are saying in earnest. What seems remarkable to me is that you are holding up a stereotype of atheists that is at odds with your experience in this discussion. Far from saying anyone else is full of hooey, I have admitted that I have tried but am unable to embrace theism, that I have respect for theists, that I do not consider theism and atheism to be placed in relative terms of intellectual achievement, and that I respect the right of individual conscience within UUism which leads to distinct theological positions. Furthermore, I have advocated the practice of tolerance. Consider the implications of this and add another to your catalog of interactions with atheists. I don't know if it can outweigh your negative experiences, but it ought to count for something.

While the UUA's source statement does not actually contain the word "hooey" there is a section that you may feel comes close. It is the part that says, "Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of mind and spirit." Liberal religion is critical religion, in constant self-examination and reformation. In that sense, yes, there is a limit to what we can believe. We can't believe what we know is not true. We must test carefully when choosing to believe what we do not yet know is true. The thing is, the method of liberal religion is useful in both theistic and atheistic perspectives. (The fact that you are a theist who does not use the "old man in the sky" imagery is an example of a freedom from one kind of idolatry long enjoyed by Unitarians and Universalists who re-imagined the angry God of Calvinism.) I think this is what the original post was pointing towards in the discussion of Christian humanists.

You asked how atheists show respect for people in their community who really do believe and follow a path which seems antithetical to their own. I've been thinking about that for some time now and I think my best answer is that we try to keep talking to you. I hope you will keep talking, too--not just with me, but with the folks you believe are holding your congregation captive.

A lagniappe: the deep felt conviction, in every fiber of my being, that human love is a power far transcending the relentless, onward rush of our largely deterministic cosmos. All human life must seek a reason for existence within the bounds of an uncaring physical world, and it is love coupled with empathy, democracy, and a commitment to selfless service which under girds the faith of a Humanist. Bette Chambers, former AHA president


August 10, 2005 12:01 AM | Permalink for this comment

Obviously I'm atrociously late to this party, but I wanted to say thanks to Matthew for the kind words.

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