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What Makes UU A Religion?

Discussion in 'Unitarian Universalism DIR' started by EverChanging, Dec 26, 2009.

  1. EverChanging

    EverChanging Eclectic

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    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?
     
  2. Storm

    Storm ThrUU the Looking Glass

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    Religion:
    UU/ panentheist/ neopagan/ process theology
    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.
     
  3. EverChanging

    EverChanging Eclectic

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    1,004
    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: Dec 26, 2009
  4. bicker

    bicker Unitarian Universalist

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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.
     
  5. Storm

    Storm ThrUU the Looking Glass

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    Religion:
    UU/ panentheist/ neopagan/ process theology
    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.

    But that's what a creed IS. It's much closer to a motto than dogma.
     
  6. Smoke

    Smoke Done here.

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    19,902
    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.

    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.
     
    Storm likes this.
  7. Storm

    Storm ThrUU the Looking Glass

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    Religion:
    UU/ panentheist/ neopagan/ process theology
    Thanks, Smoke! :hug:

    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.
     
  8. EverChanging

    EverChanging Eclectic

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    1,004
    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.
     
  9. Ebonmuse

    Ebonmuse New Member

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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".
     
  10. Storm

    Storm ThrUU the Looking Glass

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    Religion:
    UU/ panentheist/ neopagan/ process theology
    I cannot see any reasonable justification for so narrow a definition of "religion."
     
    Smoke likes this.
  11. Storm

    Storm ThrUU the Looking Glass

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    44,609
    Religion:
    UU/ panentheist/ neopagan/ process theology
    I'm bored, so I thought I'd respond in more detail.
    You should know better, then.

    That's not your call to make. They're accepted as religions by anyone who doesn't have an ax to grind.

    Reductio ad absurdum does nothing to impress me.

    Relevant definitions of religion:
    2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
    3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
    5. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
    6. something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice.

    UU clearly qualifies, as do the Eastern religions mentioned.

    The Principles are both. If you don't believe, you will not act in support of said belief.

    I've already given the definition of a creed, must I do so again? No one is arguing that our creed is theological in nature, but it is a creed nonetheless.

    ETA: You're new here, so allow me to explain a point of forum rules: no debate is allowed in the DIRs, even by members of the relevant religion. We're verging on breaking that, so if you care to respond to this post, I would suggest starting a spin-off thread in an appropriate area. :)
     
  12. applewuud

    applewuud Active Member

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    About the "creed"...
    One of the commonly-accepted meanings of the word "creed" is that it is a statement that is required to be affirmed by every member of the group, e.g. a required test of belief. The Principles and Purposes are explicitly not a creed in this sense, and there was much debate when they were adopted by the UUA fearing that they would turn into one. Many individual UU churches have in their bylaws a statement that "no creedal test shall be required for membership". We are free to disagree and debate the Principles and Purposes, not locked to them; they can be amended like the Constitution.

    Yet, we need to have a common statement that clarifies our mission, and the 7 principles do a nice job of that, and the Sources do a nice job of explaining where we've come from, our heritages. We're attached to them now, to the point that the last GA voted down an attempt to revise them.

    As for religion: linking the term to supernatural belief doesn't work all that well, academically. (For some people, the Yankees ARE their religion, unfortunately :eek: We would just criticize it as not being ultimate enough, unlike the higher belief in the Red Sox:yes:.)

    About "religion"...
    Religion is about values, your ultimate concern, and being in community with others who share most of those values. UUs can't prove the inherent worth and dignity of all people, any more than Christians can prove the divinity of Jesus. We can't prove that the democratic process is better than authoritarianism. That is why it is a faith, not a science. A religion is a belief system about the nature of the universe; most UUs believe the world is miracle enough as it is, without non-natural occurrences piercing the veil. There is still much room for mystery, without supernaturalism. Supernaturalism itself could well be the result of natural workings of our very complex and peculiar 3-part brains, and while a valid human experience, not outside the natural order.
     
  13. xkatz

    xkatz Glory to God!

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    If you can say you are a Universal Unitarian or that you go to a UU church, then I think it's safe to say it's indeed a religion. Also to add on, a religion is a system of beliefs that can be incorporated formally or informally and religion doesn't necessarily have to include the super natural (at least that's what think it means)
     
  14. Apion

    Apion New Member

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    140
    Since we're dealing with definitions and cultural practices, Geertz' take on religion may be the most appropriate.

    "A religion is (1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."

    Does the UU fit that description?
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2009
  15. Storm

    Storm ThrUU the Looking Glass

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    Religion:
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    Arguably, but who is Geertz, and why should I lend him more authority than the dictionary?
     
  16. bicker

    bicker Unitarian Universalist

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    The dictionary was written by biased humans. I remember reading a definition of "abortion" in a dictionary that labeled it categorically as immoral, when we know that reasonable people disagree about that.

    If you (the generic "you") choose to affix any specific status to something that is a matter of personal perspective, like "religion", then it is nothing short of mental masturbation to impose your own personal precepts regarding what is "religion" onto those who do not share your personal perspective. That would be no different from me imposing a requirement that you understand the nature of ATSC and QAM, and the differences between the two, in order for you to be considered "intelligent".

    Arbitrary and capricious distinction, in matters such as this, just demonstrate arbitrariness and capriciousness, not distinction.
     
  17. Apion

    Apion New Member

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    140
    Did you already exhaust Google?
     
  18. EverChanging

    EverChanging Eclectic

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    I know this thread is very old, but I will add that the Nicene Creed should not be defined as a set of propositional statements about reality. I have first hand experience of Christianity, including the Catholic (including non-papal Catholics), Anglican, and Protestant/Reformed traditions, and from what I've learned from clergy and my other experiences of liturgical churches is that the creeds ultimately point to a mystery that cannot be put into words. Indeed, the Nicene creed is referred to as the symbol of the faith, and thus the mysteries it points to cannot ever be fully exhausted. As a symbol of faith, the creed is a myth, not an article in Scientific American, and thus there are Christians who do not believe in the supernatural because they do not read their myths literally.

    This is relevant to the thread in that it seems to be assumed that Christians must interpret their creeds and traditions in a supernatural light. This is not absolutely necessary on the basis of the Nicene Creed alone. It thus seems far fetched to exclude Unitarian Universalism from religion because it doesn't affirm the supernatural.
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2011
  19. JonathanCid

    JonathanCid New Member

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    63
    That article sounds like an excuse for making broad attacks on religion, while avoiding giving offense to the most liberal of religions (Unitarian Universalism) by just say "Well, you guys aren't really a religion." It's kind of a backhanded compliment. They're saying we're too nice to be a religion, because of course, religion is evil, and we're not. Therefore, we must not be a religion... But we are. Members here have defined religion as a formal system of beliefs, as profound trust, perhaps in that formal system of beliefs. I would add another definition that falls in line with these, which is that religion is a person's ultimate worldview. Unitarian Universalism is the ultimate worldview we ground ourselves in for those of us who are Unitarians, and we try to live our lives in accord with its principles. This alone makes us Unitarian Universalist, and makes Unitarian Universalism a religion. I hope no one takes offense if they sympathize with the "new atheist" movement, the anti-theistic movement, but I've noted before that this movement has a tendency to want to define religion, God, and anything else they argue against in whatever manner is most convenient to their arguments. I would argue emphatically that Unitarian Universalism is a religion, it is a path of devotion, it is a way of life, it is an ultimate or fundamental worldview, it is a profound trust in certain principles.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2011
  20. seeker57

    seeker57 Member

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    Hey Jonathan, I like the way you put this.

    For me, Unitarian Universalism is a way of life, and my acceptance and putting into practice of the seven principles is my covenant with that way of life.

    Unitarian Universalism is indeed a religion.

    Peace,

    Seeker
     
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