This morning I received a message from a friend who recently joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation for the first time a little under a year ago. The message asked for my take on an article posted on the Huffington Post titled "Welcoming Unitarian Universalists Home to Humanism", by the executive director of the American Humanist Association, Roy Speckhardt. At the time, I thought that the article was freshly written and posted - I now see that it was originally posted on that site in 2013. Nevertheless, I enjoy receiving such queries from friends and gave my friend a rather wordy response, essentially stating that I disagree with much of the author's premise, and explained why using just the first sentence of the article. I will respond to the content of the rest of the article in as many posts as necessary, and I hope to continue the many great conversations I have been having with UUs and others about the past, current, and future state of affairs among Unitarian Universalist worldviews.
And now that I've piqued your curiosity and you've read the article (seriously, read that first), what follows is a version of the response I sent to the friend who asked my opinion. I invite your opinions in the comments. I welcome constructive criticism and debate. I do not tolerate abusive language or mean-spirited diatribe. Here we go!
Note: There has been discussion over the appropriate use of the word "humanism", and the differences between various forms it takes, such as religious humanism, secular humanism, etc. What I understood from the word's use in the article and the meaning that I ascribe to it below is probably more accurately termed "nontheism", or "antitheism", as the case may be.
What an interesting article! Thank you for sharing it with me. My take on it, for the most part, is that I disagree with him almost in entirety. Starting with the first sentence, which reads in part that a humanist approach has been viewed as "the appropriate neutral philosophical place for all UUs to convene". Full disclosure - I am a theist, not a humanist, but I will try to be as unbiased as I can in my response. By and large, I don't believe that UUs should be neutral in our outlook, philosophy, faith, or other positions, whenever a strong opinion is preferable to neutrality. I also oppose the insinuation that "all UUs" must have the same position on the nontheist-theist continuum. That misses the larger point of Unitarian Universalism altogether.
From among our Six Sources (listed here with our Seven Principles), the one drawn from humanism itself reads:
"Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;"
One of the major influences humanism has had on Unitarian Universalist thought is that we cannot and ought not allow any one "idolatry" overtake us. Note, too, that it says "of the mind and spirit". We should no more idolize the supremacy of reason than we should allow theism to be the only valid stand that a Unitarian Universalist may choose. Sure, humanism has held a high position of power and influence in the UU world for decades now, but it certainly should not be the place where we all "convene". Rather, I believe that we each forge our paths, along with others on similar paths, and we convene together with our differences and learn one from another. "God talk" may be uncomfortable from time to time for those who don't find such language useful, or even believe it to be harmful. The lack of such "spiritual" language is distressing for those of us who are not humanists. Church should be a place where we work through our discomforts, together, not a place where everyone toes the same line.
All that from just the first sentence!
Humanism is a vital and necessary part of Unitarian Universalism...but it is only a part, not the whole.
I now ask self-identified humanists who read this article: What is your take on it? Do you feel threatened by shifts in language or tone in your congregation? Would an increase in "god talk" in your congregation, if not to the exclusion of more "neutral" language, be a deal-breaker for you? My observation is that this same argument — that one or the other group within the broad tent of Unitarian Universalism is falling victim to some position ostensibly hostile toward it — is being made from all sides. Many UU Christians and other theists have written similarly about how humanism threatens the historical dominance of theistic thinking in our earlier history. This is not a new conversation, but the tide seems indeed to have swung some, which is what I imagine spawned this article. I hope we can find our way to a place where people feel validated, secure in their views, and unthreatened by those who don't share their theological/philosophical stances.
Bet you weren't expecting an essay! But there you have it, my take. Or the beginning of it, anyway.
To be continued...