UU diary, part 4: closing the loop
This follow-up post is long overdue. It’s been almost a year since I attended a delightful pot-luck dinner hosted by a very nice couple who are active members of the Unitarian-Universalist church I tried out in 2012 (and wrote about here, here, and here).
Eventually, most of the dinner guests left, and I was free to talk candidly with the church’s pastor, my hosts, and a few others. I told the pastor I would probably not be attending the UU church regularly. My explanation went something like this:
The UU church seems to be made up of two types: People who ‘still’ have some kind of supernatural belief and people who have lost all supernatural belief. The sermons, songs, and literature use some religious language, but it feels like lip service — like no one really thinks (for example) that a personal god is listening to the prayers that are said there.
It seems clear that people go to UU churches to shed or moderate whatever supernatural beliefs they grew up with, not to maintain supernatural beliefs and certainly not to acquire more of them. So religious terms and symbols seem disingenuous and even counterproductive for the typical UU church member’s journey.
Expanding now on what I said that day:
The UU church seems to use ‘holy stuff’ to draw believers the way Christian churches since the ’70s have been using ‘worldly stuff’ (e.g., religious pop music) to draw in unbelievers. In both cases, the church seems to expect new members to eventually outgrow their affinity for whatever bait drew them in.
Seemingly inclusive statements like “Unitarian Universalism offers diverse and meaningful ways of connecting with the sacred” may not be intentionally misleading, but they are still ambiguous. The word “sacred” has a starkly different meaning for a Baptist than for an atheist; thus, as used, it’s meaningless.
In the services I attended, prayers were addressed to “God of many names.” As an unbeliever, I objected to having a prayer in the first place. And I imagined that theists in the room objected (or should have) to language that left room for “God” to mean abstractions like “moral principles” or “the Cosmos” rather than a personal being like the creator/judge/redeemer of the New Testament. To try to please everyone in such a situation is naive.
I had hoped that the UU environment would be a good place for me, my wife, and my youngest son to explore what we believe and why, but the church’s rituals and artifacts indulge traditional belief in a way that feels condescending, and I found that too distracting. (No personal gripe with any UU church leaders or members — on the contrary, I found everyone to be very kind.)