Friday, December 26, 2014

What Do You Think Of The UUs?

So, someone asks me what I think of this column that was in the New York Times about church for atheists, beginning, oddly enough with Unitarian Universalists.   Being from New England, in some ways the birthplace of American Unitarianism but, also Universlism, my first reaction is to wonder how they could believe that the god they don't believe in is one instead of three, though I know that's not really what UUism is about these days.   I happen to know an old lady who once told me, rather bitterly, that her family were devout Universlists, who grew up in a Universalist church and who were very unhappy with the amalgamation of their denomination with the Unitarians.   I sympathized with her and it gave me my one and only chance to use one of my two Unitarian jokes, that the Universalists believed God was too good to damn anyone to hell and the Unitarians thought they were too good for God to damn them to hell.  She said she thought that summed it up.   She goes to a United Church of Christ church, these days.

I have thought it was rather odd for Universalists who believed that everyone was saved from burning eternally in hell fire by a good and loving God - the definition of univeralism - would have chosen to hook up with folks who not only didn't believe in God but didn't believe anyone was saved but just rotted or, more modernly and cheaply, burned temporarily in a crematorium.   I'm kind of sad to see that they seem to have been subsumed then submerged by the Unitarians who I always found tended towards the smarmy and self-satisfied. Since the article by Garrison Keilor I started the month with expressed his annoyance with Unitarians for taking God out of Silent Night and generally being way too impressed with their cleverness, perhaps that feeds into it as well. Some UUs have that in common with some of the more annoying Catholics and fundamentalists I've encountered, an irritating tendency to transmit their own sense of virtuousness, though through their superior cleverness.   I've met UUs who have said they found that annoying as well.

There are Unitarians who have scandalized their fellow UUs by recalcitrant belief in God, an afterlife and, even more daringly, thought Jesus might be on to something.   My other UU joke is that the only time anyone says "Jesus Christ" in a Unitarian Universalist church was when the janitor slipped on the stairs.  I'd really like to meet more of those daring folk and talk to them.  

I don't know any atheists who go to a specifically atheist church so I can't say anything about that.  I suspect it's not a venue for the promotion of humility and self-doubt.   But it's their business if they want to go there, I don't have to.


  1. After seminary, I rejected (finally) the soteriology of the atonement (damnation without salvation, basically), but I've never thought of myself as a Universalist.

    Known a few Unitarians, too; find them rather annoying; not unlike the Congregational church here in town, so pure to it's New England roots (it's now a UCC congregation, BTW) that it's "meeting house" is modeled on one in New England (as they will tell you proudly) and there are no religious symbols anywhere in the space (as the retired pastor proudly told me when I met him before his retirement. He's still a friend of mine.).

    But that's me. I'm bemused by atheist church; I used to bring it up to on-line atheists who insisted atheism is not a religion. Derrida was working on a religion without God; more or less; and Bonhoeffer wanted to craft a religion without religion; or rather a worship of God without religion. He was rather disappointed in the church, but he also saw so much of it as standing between the individual and God, which seems to be the primary complaint of so many on-line atheists: that church goers are hypocrites (again, heard that since I was young enough to notice), and cheats, liars, prevaricators, fornicators, and generally not people to have over on a Saturday night, and God is a lie because church is a lie.

    I think that's where Bonhoeffer was going, although his problem was the church in Germany that acquiesced to Hitler, and his reasoning was more theological than strictly practical.

    I'd have to read his late letters again to begin to make good sense of his ideas.....

  2. If we're going to reject any area of human culture because a large percentage of those involved with it act like people act then no area of human culture isn't going to be rejected. Totally secular institutions are full to the gills with people who act like that - music departments are notorious for their gossip, false witness, hypocrisy, back stabbing, sleeping around, adultery, .... and that's not to mention the musical sins. You'd have to give up music if absolute purity were a requirement.

    I find it hilarious that the online atheists are such puritans about such things considering the absolute cess pools that atheist blog communities and blogs are. The James Randi "Educational" Foundation website is a good example. You can add anything to do with Penn Jillette, Christopher Hitchens, the Ayn Rand cult..... Yet the atheists are as sniffy and hypocritical as any stock character from restoration drama.

    1. I came back to say I didn't mean to argue with your definition of "universalist." Puritans is precisely how I think of the on-line atheists: their complaints about Christmas, for example, would please Increase Mather.

      Wonder if they realize just how culturally bound their thinking is, when all they while they think they are "freethinkers"?

  3. There is something really annoying about a certain type of Unitarian who is obviously and competitively most interested in being moderny and sciency. Not quite as bad as a blog atheist who knows everything they know from watching the Discovery Channel but as bad as someone who watches similar stuff on PBS.

    I have known UUS

  4. cont. I have known UUs who were absolute peaches, though.