Don't Be a Boy Scout

Given the ways the perspectives of Humanists have been ignored or belittled in Unitarian Universalism in recent years, one would think that they would be the most likely to support those who are being criticized for seeking to dismantle a system that oppresses people of color, among others. Sadly, while many UU Humanists seem to 'get it,' there is an older generation of white Humanists who appear to be missing the point and failing to see their inconsistency.

In 2009 a misbegotten attempt at updating the Principles and Purposes would have had us affirming the Christian roots of Unitarianism and Universalism and only mentioning the contributions of Humanism, earth centered religion, and Eastern spirituality in passing. The desire to avoid having a creed is good, as is the directive in the bylaws to review the Principles and Purposes every 15 years to ensure that doesn't happen. The suggested text itself, however, was an affront to the diversity of viewpoints within Unitarian Universalism, and an insult to anyone who doesn't identify with Christianity.

In 2016 the leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Association betrayed their non-theistic members and failed to stand up for atheists generally when they signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Boy Scouts of America. The acceptance of gay youth and leaders was enough for the UUA to drop the boycott that had begun years earlier. The weasel-words of the document and the later mealy-mouthed justifications for it made allowances for non-theistic UUs being accepted under the guise of 'Unitarian Universalist theology,' a special status not accorded to non-theists outside of Unitarian Universalism. It was enough to have UUs included, but standing up for people outside of UU cirlces was, apparently, too much to ask. The shirt-tail inclusion made non-theistic UUs feel as though they were considered second class members.

And yet, even with these and other instances of slams and slights against Humanists and atheists, many white UU Humanists appear to have no qualms about marginalizing black, brown, indigenous, immigrant, and lgbtq+ folx through accusations of 'political correctness.' I've heard rumblings of resentment within UU Humanist circles over the past few years regarding a glorious past of Humanism that has been lost. Talk of a pendulum swinging this way and that comes up, as well as accusations of 'christo-mysticism' within UU congregations, and laments over how Universalism undermined the healthy Humanism of the Unitarian churches.

It's all so ridiculous.

There was never a Golden Age of Humanism within the American Unitarian Association. Many churches, particularly the fellowships that sprang from boxes, amounted to Humanist lecture halls. Others, particularly the historic churches of New England, maintained a progressive form of Protestant Christianity. The matter was never settled one way or the other prior to the merger in the early 1960s that gave us the Unitarian Universalist Association.

There is no damn pendulum. There is the human mind looking for patterns, and making them up when sparse evidence of one can be found. People have found both traditional organized religion and the austerity of old fashioned Humanism unfulfilling, and are taking up Unitarian Universalism's offer of a free and responsible search for meaning. It isn't reason that people are rejecting, but rather certainty in particular answers and confidence in some institutions.

In this desire for a more meaningful faith, experimentation with practices drawn from Christianity, Eastern religions, and other forms of spiritual expression is taking place in both homes and congregations. Language is being broadened to include terminology found in theistic belief systems. Mistakes are being made, and in some places Humanists are wrongly being shouted down when they ask for just a bit less god-talk. After all, why adopt the language of dying Christian denominations if the largest religious demographic in the United States is the 'Nones,' many of whom grew up with no connection to a church, temple, mosque, or synagogue at all, and to whom such terminology is alien?

More grace is needed, along with more willingness on all parts to listen, think deeply, and love truly. Humanists should be heard, and they in turn should be among the most ardent advocates of inclusion within the Unitarian Universalist Association. Certainly, none of them should ever be found publishing a screed representing white fragility in print, calling for oppressed people to toughen up, and glorifying reason over though that should ever be an either/or decision.


Second Draft Of New UUA Principles and Purposes
Commission Appraisal -

Memorandum Of Understanding