Unitarian Universalists see chance for growth in growth of secularism

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For Nathan De Lee, going to church as a kid was an ordeal.
De Lee, a Unitarian Universalist, grew up in rural Kansas, where members
of his faith were few and far between. Attending services meant an
overnight trip to Kansas City, Mo., where the nearest Unitarian
Universalist congregation was.

Today, getting to church is easy for De Lee, an astronomer at
Vanderbilt University. He’s a regular in the choir on Sundays at First
Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, which has a congregation of
about 500.

De Lee is one of a growing number of Unitarian
Universalists, a group of people who believe in organized religion but
are skeptical about doctrine. The denomination grew nationally by 15.8
percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the Association of Statisticians
of American Religious Bodies.

Although they remain small in total
numbers with about 211,000 adherents nationwide, Unitarians believe
their open-minded faith has a bright future as an alternative to more
exclusive brands of religion.

They might be right, said Diana
Butler Bass, author of “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church
and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening.” Bass, who has studied
thriving progressive churches, said Unitarian Universalists can fill a
niche in conservative religious cultures such as the Bible Belt.

Written By: Bob Smietana
continue to source article at washingtonpost.com

22 COMMENTS

  1. “In our tradition, you get to be wrong,” he said. “God is big. God is magnificent. You can’t tell me that we know everything there is to know about God yet.”

    No matter what the sect is called, it’s still part of the Big Delusion.

  2. There was another article about polyamory and the UUs that linked to this one; I was glad to learn about that movement but probably past the point where it will benefit me. As I started reading this story, I had a moment of hopefulness, maybe I ought to go check out the UUA again after so many years. It might be an okay place to visit and find some reasonable minds and a dinner date or something. Then I got to this paragraph where it talks about “water communion”. WATER COMMUNION??? FYI: “everyone starts with a cup of water and pours it in a common bowl”. Give me a break, when did this happen and why? Don’t the restrooms already perform this function?

    When I was a kid, we went to a UU church a few times. I didn’t see any such thing. In the mid/late 1980′s, I belonged to a UU church for a year or so, got to know some people, etc. I was around long enough to know I didn’t miss “communion” because I hadn’t been there the right week or phase of the moon. I had even signed the membership book but got no wind of cabals or secret services. I do recall somebody, defectors from some more mainstream group, expressing a wish that we had a bit more of the trappings of the sort of place they had come from – you know, like incense without the priests.

    Now I must concede that this was in New England and nearly 30 years ago. A whole lot of political and religious stuff has changed since then and for the worse. Did I miss something back then or has the UUA gone into reverse or been suffering from ecclesiastical creep? Anybody out there have any insight into this?

  3. “A group of people who believe in organized religion but are skeptical about doctrine”.

    This attitude annoys me to no end. These people don’t care about what is actually true, instead they only focus on ritual and put it all down to “searching for the truth” and “finding your own path”. For them religion is just a set of feel-good rituals but forget that a central part of religion is dogma. Without dogma it’s not religion, it’s just a set of regularly performed choreographed social functions.

    • *In reply to #3 by Aztek: My view of UU was that it was essentially deist. From this perspective, I see no reason for dogma/doctrine. It was basically a home for people who wanted to follow their own individual path in the company of others with similar objectives. Since my original post, I checked out the UUA site. I am aghast at what I found. The water communion thing is just one of a jumble of nonsense that has morphed my conception of it into a hodge-podge of horses hit The calendar is now filled with a plethora of celebration days ( https://www.uua.org/worship/holidays/index.shtml ) drawing heavily from the Judeo-Christian tradition with a smattering of things like Kwanzaa, Ramadan, LGBT days, Gaelic days, UN day, May Day … Amazingly there are NO days relating to several other apparently irrelevant spiritual traditions: Native American, Hindu and Buddhist! (e.g. the Buddha’s birthday). It seems to have turned into a carnival.

      “A group of people who believe in organized religion but are skeptical about doctrine”.

      This attitude annoys me to no end. These people don’t care about what is actually true, instead they only focus on ritual and put it all down to “searching for the truth” and “finding your own path”. For them religion is just a set of feel-good rituals but forget that a central part of religion is dogma. Without dogma it’s not religion, it’s just a set of regularly performed choreographed social functions.

    • You’ve more or less summed up why I like them. I don’t really give a toss whether people believe in a god – it’s religion, and specifically religious dogma, that causes the problems. A wussy, pointless religion with no rules or doctrine is harmless and I view the trend away from religion towards spitituality as a happy development.

      In reply to #3 by Aztek:

      “A group of people who believe in organized religion but are skeptical about doctrine”.

      This attitude annoys me to no end. These people don’t care about what is actually true, instead they only focus on ritual and put it all down to “searching for the truth” and “finding your own path”. For them religion is just a set of feel-good rituals but forget that a central part of religion is dogma. Without dogma it’s not religion, it’s just a set of regularly performed choreographed social functions.

    • In reply to #3 by Aztek:

      “A group of people who believe in organized religion but are skeptical about doctrine”.

      This attitude annoys me to no end. These people don’t care about what is actually true, instead they only focus on ritual and put it all down to “searching for the truth” and “finding your own path”. For them religion is just a set of feel-good rituals but forget that a central part of religion is dogma. Without dogma it’s not religion, it’s just a set of regularly performed choreographed social functions.

      That is the defining characteristic of religion, so long as everyone goes “woo” together, does the right kind of woo, and does it at the right tempo, that’s all that is important.

  4. Pffffuh. Talk about ‘woo’! The biggest mishmash of non-doctrine gobbletygook, so people can feel good about singing and praying to nothing or no one in particular. Technically, FSM-ists (Parmesan be upon him), or Satanists would be welcome as well.
    They should just call it a clubhouse and pick places to have their week-end parties.

  5. I suppose this ridiculous non-religious church comes from the need for community ritual and ‘cleansing’. I enjoy a weekly ‘baptism’ myself. I go to the pool, put on a ‘shortie’ wetsuit, and do what they call ‘apnea’ here. That is a series of underwater endurance swims, and games. It’s usually with the same people, and we tend to repeat the same games hundreds of times throughout the year. It’s loads of fun, and you feel great afterwards. Since this is Belgium, we drink beer and eat frites as our post-swim communion, but I’m convinced it is psychologically the same ritual — minus the guilt.

    • *In reply to #5 by justinesaracen: I would appreciate having a community of secularists to be part of that provides the sort of supportive environment found in some of these religious groups. It’s hard to know whether religion or alcohol clouds the mind the most, although we can get arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol but not of religion. I am not a swimmer and not athletic, so I would probably be very welcome or comfortable in your church, nor would young children or non-drinkers. What’s all so different about your denomination from any other designed to exclude all but those who think or drink the same way? Guilt is a human emotion not a religious one and to be free of it hardly seems like a positive attribute. *

      I suppose this ridiculous non-religious church comes from the need for community ritual and ‘cleansing’. I enjoy a weekly ‘baptism’ myself. I go to the pool, put on a ‘shortie’ wetsuit, and do what they call ‘apnea’ here. That is a series of underwater endurance swims, and games. It’s usually with the same people, and we tend to repeat the same games hundreds of times throughout the year. It’s loads of fun, and you feel great afterwards. Since this is Belgium, we drink beer and eat frites as our post-swim communion, but I’m convinced it is psychologically the same ritual — minus the guilt.

    • In reply to #5 by justinesaracen:

      I suppose this ridiculous non-religious church comes from the need for community ritual and ‘cleansing’. I enjoy a weekly ‘baptism’ myself. I go to the pool, put on a ‘shortie’ wetsuit, and do what they call ‘apnea’ here. That is a series of underwater endurance swims, and games. It’s usually with the same people, and we tend to repeat the same games hundreds of times throughout the year. It’s loads of fun, and you feel great afterwards. Since this is Belgium, we drink beer and eat frites as our post-swim communion, but I’m convinced it is psychologically the same ritual — minus the guilt.

      What you missed about the Unitarians, is that there is no guild associated with their religion

    • *In reply to #9 by papa lazaru: My understanding is that modern UU is strictly monotheistic, rejects the Trinity and views Jesus as a human exemplar. The Unitarians and Universalists were originally Christian, evolved and merged ~1960 after a hundred year courtship (Andover-Harvard Theological Library http://www.hds.harvard.edu/library/). Religions proliferate, recombine and evolve like viruses. *

      The Neutral People of Christianity.

  6. I’ve met many Atheists at my local Unitarian Universalist church & our Atheist Society meetings are held in the “church” every month. Granted, our UU church is a lot more anti-religion than the ones in the states. For many of us atheist UU members, common humanist values outweighs religious difference.

  7. The UU Seven Principles set out what “Unitarian Universalists congregations affirm and promote”. -- www.uua.org/beliefs/principles/. 
    The Seven Principles reflect Unitarianism's humanist roots, completely void of religious language. -No mention of religion, faith, God, sin, salvation, heaven, Jesus, etc. The first champions, “The inherent worth and dignity of every person”, and the forth, “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning”. 
    But Unitarians have also had from the beginning a clash between those leaning humanist-Enlightenment and those seeking a faith-based religion. Like the Catholic church, UUA ministers' and leadership's self interest groups them on the side of religious faith while membership has a more humanitarian outlook. It seems neither the Vatican or UUA ministers can envision a place for themselves, having a career, in a humanist institution with its implied secular and intellectual under-pinnings. This internal conflict is reflected in their garbled message and resulting growth problems, especially as the “nones” increase in the advanced nations. 
    
  8. It helps to remember that the term “humanism” as a term for a godless ethical belief system was championed by atheist UU ministers (also original Humanist Manifesto signers) back before WWI. Not all atheists would feel comfortable at UU services — sometimes the woo-to-atheist ratio isn’t favorable. But for those of us living in deeply religious parts of the US, it can be a real respite and a place to meet other atheists.

  9. “Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies”

    American religions have (or even need) their own statisticians?!

    The fact they have such an organisation immediately makes me doubt any figures they come up with for the size of their congregations. They can hardly be considered impartial observers.

    I would like to ask the ‘statisticians’ a question: based on absolutely no evidence, what is the probability that any given statement about something completely undetectable is accurate?

    And once they have admitted that the chance is essentially zero, I would ask them how I could determine the accurate statements from a large number of other similar statements many of which are contradictory?

    Given that, using statistical methods, the only possible conclusions are: 1- we can’t determine the accuracy of anything within our field, and 2- we can’t determine fact from fiction, it would be interesting to learn why they even bother.

    I also wonder how they rationalise these findings with “Thou shalt not bear false witness”

  10. It’s kind of amusing to see lots of comments from people who have only a slight knowledge of UU. Part of the problem defining the UU church is that it is a bottom-up organization, where most churches are top-down. Because of this, UU congregations tend to be different from one another, and the UUA really doesn’t dictate what the congregations believe or do. Some congregations have a lighted challice during the weekly ceremony, but many don’t, it’s not a requirement. Some congregations have a “water communion”, but again, it’s not a requirement. I should say that this “ceremony” usually consistes of people bringing water from their home or from their travels to mix in a common bowl, which is really just a symbolic way of saying we are mixing the flow of our lives together, to be supportive and kind to each other.
    UU congregations acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of belief. We eschew forcing any particular dogma on others, but we believe that exposing people to the variety of belief in the world will help each individual find a path that is comforting and caring. Our ceremonies tend to emphasize connection to other people in the commonality of spiritual needs: relief from lonliness and isolation, sharing of grief and joy, celebrations that connect us to each other and to the earth. I’ve never heard a UU member deny scientific knowledge of any kind. We support equality quite vociferously, and are welcoming to all.
    In short, UU churches provide the “church experience” of sharing with others, without the demand of conformity to dogma or specific practices. As for “doctrine”, I’ll quote from my own congregation’s “manifesto”: “Love is the doctrine of this church, the quest for truth is its sacriment, and service is its prayer.”
    I find nothing silly or distasteful about a group of people getting together to care for and support one another, and to think about the human experience.
    I’ve been a Unitarian Universalist for over 30 years.
    I’m currently the president of the congregation I attend.
    Most of them know I’m an atheist.

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