2009-09-26

Farthest from Traditional Religion

Yesterday I read an article that suggested that Unitarian Universalism is farther from traditional religion than even atheism despite the use of religious language, symbolism and ritual because UUism isn't focused on whether gods really exist whereas atheism is defined solely by its stance (or lack thereof) toward this question. Of course, many, if not most, UUs have an opinion whether any gods exist, and some may even think the answer important, but UUism as an ideology simply doesn't address the issue. I can appreciate the author's point, but I don't think this difference necessarily makes UUism farther from traditional religion; it may just make it equally far in a different dimension. Atheism retains the definition of “god” — even if only to argue that definition is incoherent — but denies that it corresponds to anything in reality whereas UUism, to the extent that UUs indeed use divine terminology, retains the word “god” but frequently changes its meaning to something other than a supernatural entity such as the universe itself or an abstract concept such as altruism. I argue that Humanism is farther from traditional religion than either atheism or UUism because it doesn't use the word “god” at all, and it also encompasses much more than an view on one particular topic.

But it's not a competition, and we have to remember there's significant overlap between the various groups. Over half of UUs consider themselves at least small-H humanists, a third agnostic, and almost a fifth atheist. (The choices weren't exclusive on the survey in question.) All big-H Humanists are by definition atheists, though I have no idea what percentage of explicit atheists consider themselves Humanists.

I know that some people dislike, or at least claim to dislike, personal labels, but I myself find them useful. (I refer to those other people as anti-labelists!) My blog certainly attests to my tendency to change and think about changing labels relatively often. I find that it helps me think more clearly about myself and my relationship to the world.

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5 comments:

Makarios said...

Well, "spiritual" atheists are often drawn to UU so that says a lot right there.

Anonymous said...

Since, at bottom line, all I can say about the existence of any god is "I don't know," I'm an agnostic. But using science and rationalism, and the the realm of statistical probabilities, I find no evidence to believe in any god so I'm an atheist. I can easily agree with and try to live by the minimum principles of humanism, so I'm happy to think of myself as a humanist. But how did I arrive at all of these positions? By being a free thinker. So if I have to label myself I'd say I was first a free thinker and as a result of this a weak atheist, humanist.

Does this make any sense?

Jim

Makarios said...

So you think that statistically highly improbabile things never happen?

What makes you think that you're a free thinker? It seems to me that those who are born without believing in God (all of us) and remain non believers in God (atheists) and the least free thinking people of all.

Anonymous said...

Makarious:

You are putting words in my mouth. Is that a tactic you use often so you can play the staw man game?

I don't believe in Russell's tea pot or unicorns, but of course I can't prove with certainty they don't exist. But all evidence overwhelmingly indicates they don't and that's why I discount their existence. When you absolutely prove a god exists (which one?), or Russell's teapot, or a unicorn exists I'll send you $100---I can't afford more than that.

Perhaps it takes more thinking, independently minded thinking, to believe there is no god in a world that throws him/her/it up at us so often, trying to prostelitize us than it does to be prostelitzed usually from youth and with threats of punishment or rewards for following the party line. By the way, what makes you think I'm not? Also, you never answered my question, just attacked me.

Jim

Makarios said...

Does this make any sense?

No