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  #1  
Old 12-26-2009, 05:30 PM
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Default What Makes UU A Religion?

Here is an article advocating the idea that Unitarian Universalism is not a religion: Daylight Atheism > Unitarian Universalism: A Matter of Definition

I have wondered about this question before, but consider UU a religion for the following reasons, even though it did not meet the definition of a religion given by my UU anthropology professor for the purpose of her class, in which religion is defined as necessarily containing a supernatural component:

1) it originated as two sects within Christianity
2) there are religious rituals/rites and worship
3) a set of principles specifying, to some degree, appropriate behavior, as well as bylaws
4) there is a hymnal, containing hymns and inspirational readings from a variety of sources
5) congregations are maintained with clergy that essentially serve the purposes of a church

I do acknowledge that Unitarian Universalism is a modern religion, and thus has stretched the term "religion" to some degree, but I think there is enough continuity in its tradition to classify it, at least for practical purposes, as a religion. Also, there is no universally agreed upon definition of religion, even in the field of anthropology, so stretching the word a bit to include modern religious movements is not necessarily inappropriate.

Thoughts?
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  #2  
Old 12-26-2009, 05:39 PM
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My answer is simply faith, which I understand as a profound trust.

From the article:
The fact that they call themselves a "religion" is example #1. UU has no sacred text, no statements of dogma, and no formal creed. It doesn't even require a belief in God, and it proclaims that atheists and agnostics are welcome in its congregations. The only thing that connects UU members is a set of seven principles for moral behavior, which you can justify to yourself in any way you like.
The Prinicples ARE our creed, in which we place our shared faith.
The historical meaning of that word has always included some supernatural component and some set of shared beliefs, and UU has neither.
Buddhism, anyone? Taoism? The author merely reveals his ignorance.

The rest is merely uncharitable speculation on our motives in "calling [our]selves a religion," a decision he clearly no more understands than respects.
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  #3  
Old 12-26-2009, 10:33 PM
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Buddhism, anyone? Taoism? The author merely reveals his ignorance.
Yes, I mentioned these to my professor when I questioned her about her definition of religion. Her response was that the Tao and Buddhism are rooted in some type of supernatural reality, even if it doesn't exactly include magic and other types of supernatural elements. I'm not sure I completely understand her meaning, but that's because she was only able to speak about it very briefly.

In any case, I agree with you about this author. "Religion" is a hard word to define, and there is no universal definition. I think UU'ism qualifes. Many atheists, and sadly many humanists (I count myself among them) define religion quite narrowly, I think, to justify their rant against all religion. I criticize many religious beliefs and practices very much of the time, and I don't think humanists should stop doing that, but I acknowledge the beauty, the poetry, the art of it, as well.

It's quite nontraditional to refer to the covenant as a creed as you do, but many have argued as much. I tend to separate it from a creed in that the principles are simply something we should affirm and live by rather than believe. Yet it is clear to me that even these principles have some implications -- for instance, acknowledgment of life as an interconnected web. (Is that a type of creedal belief? Some might say so, but it could also be argued that the notion of the interrelatedness of life is established beyond mere belief.) There also must be reasons we come to embrace these principles -- various theologies, philosophies, ideas, although those matters are, of course, up to the individual in our religion.

Last edited by EverChanging; 12-26-2009 at 10:40 PM..
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  #4  
Old 12-27-2009, 06:17 AM
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I've seen a lot of treatises that say that in order for something to be a religion it has to, effective, require taking mythology as fact. That kind of self-defining reality is really the biggest problem I see with dominant religions.
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Old 12-27-2009, 09:05 AM
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Originally Posted by EverChanging View Post
It's quite nontraditional to refer to the covenant as a creed as you do, but many have argued as much.
I've never understood why. Just look at the definition:
1. any system, doctrine, or formula of religious belief, as of a denomination.
2. any system or codification of belief or of opinion.

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I tend to separate it from a creed in that the principles are simply something we should affirm and live by rather than believe.
But that's what a creed IS. It's much closer to a motto than dogma.
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  #6  
Old 12-27-2009, 09:38 AM
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UU has no sacred text, no statements of dogma, and no formal creed. It doesn't even require a belief in God, and it proclaims that atheists and agnostics are welcome in its congregations.
Imagine! A religion that isn't dogmatic or exclusive! I think the problem here is that the author just can't understand a religion that rises above the most negative aspects of the kinds of religion he's used to.

Quote:
The only thing that connects UU members is a set of seven principles for moral behavior, which you can justify to yourself in any way you like.
Nonsense. However much UUs value their seven principles, it's the sense of community that really connects them. That's probably what really connects most religious communities.
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  #7  
Old 12-27-2009, 09:42 AM
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Thanks, Smoke!

It's not that I'm entirely unsympathetic to the author's perspective, really. If anyone cared to dig through my old posts, they'd find that when I first joined RF, I pronounced UU "more an interfaith alliance than a religion." However, over time I have developed a deeper appreciation of our covenant.

I don't just believe in the Principles, I have faith in them.
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  #8  
Old 12-27-2009, 12:51 PM
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I agree, Storm, that there is some sense in which our covenant could be called a creed, although most websites and info about UU will say we are creedless or covenantal, not creedal.
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  #9  
Old 12-28-2009, 08:08 PM
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Hi folks,

I'm the author of the post mentioned in the first comment in this thread, and I thought I'd stop by and address some of the feedback.

First of all: My fiancee and I have been attending our local UU church for over a year; we've both signed our names in their membership book, and the minister is performing our wedding in a few months. So, if anyone still thinks that I'm ignorant about Unitarian Universalism, let's put that to bed right now, thanks.

Regarding Buddhism and Taoism and whether they're religions, my answer is "it depends". Some sects of Buddhism and Taoism explicitly do teach belief in the supernatural - like Pure Land Buddhism, or the Taoist sects that teach worship of the Jade Emperor - and those certainly do qualify as religions. Others, like Zen Buddhism, don't include a supernatural component, and I would argue that those are not religions, but are more like philosophies.

I think the only definition of religion that makes sense is "an organized system of belief in the supernatural" - and by that definition, Unitarian Universalism is not a religion, which was the argument advanced in my post. You can use a different definition if you like, but I've yet to see such a definition that wouldn't also sweep up a variety of groups and causes that people pattern their lives around and advocate passionately, yet are clearly not religions. (If I make it my life's work to follow the exploits of the New York Yankees, is baseball my religion? If I'm a fervent vegetarian and actively promote that lifestyle to everyone I meet, is that my religion? What if I belong to a chess club that has games on Sundays? A book circle?) My definition cleanly excludes such marginal cases.

As far as UU's seven principles, I acknowledge that they have some affinity with religious creeds - but the key difference is that a creed is a statement of belief, whereas the seven principles are guidelines for action. As I said, you can justify the UU principles to yourself in any way you like. By contrast, a religious creed like the Nicene Creed or the Islamic shahada is clearly a set of propositional statements about reality. To put it another way, the difference between a church creed and the UU principles is the difference between "is" and "ought".
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  #10  
Old 12-28-2009, 08:10 PM
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I cannot see any reasonable justification for so narrow a definition of "religion."
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