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Choosing to Wound: "A Chosen Faith" Chapters 5-6




(This post is the third section of Choosing to Wound: Why A Chosen Faith Harms Unitarian Universalism, my response to Forrest Church and John A. Buehrens’ best-selling “Introduction to Unitarian Universalism.” To read my essay starting with the introduction, please click here. You may use either the internal “Previous section”/“Next section” links or the forward arrow/backward arrow LiveJournal buttons (above) to navigate the essay.)



Previous section (Chapters 1-2)


III. “World Religions” Source

5. The Cathedral of the World

Page 82 (Church)
Yellow flag

Such awakenings may happen only once in a lifetime, or many times. But when they do, what you took for granted before is presented as a gift: difficult, yet precious and good. Not that you know what to do with your gift, or even what it really means, only how much it matters. Awakening to the call stirring deep within you, the call of life itself—the call of God—you begin your pilgrimage.

That Church considers this kind of “call” to be “the call of God” is not in itself troubling. The problem is that a person reading this book would have no idea that a large proportion of UUs do not find it meaningful to consider such personal epiphanies to have anything to do with “God.” A Chosen Faith is allegedly an introduction to Unitarian Universalism entire, not merely a description of Church’s and Buehrens’ personal belief systems; surely the authors of any such introduction have a strong responsibility to portray our religious diversity accurately. The perspectives of UUs who do not see “God” in the way Church and Buehrens do are entirely ignored in A Chosen Faith—except, of course, when those perspectives are being cruelly maligned.



Pages 84-85
(Church)

Red flag

The central image in this chapter is the “Cathedral of the World,” which Church intends to symbolize all of human endeavor. The windows represent our religions as well as (we learn later in the chapter) many other ways of seeing the world. “The windows,” writes Church, “are where the light shines in.” Church continues:

As with all extended metaphors, this one is imperfect. The light of God (“God” is not God’s name, but our name for that which is greater than all and yet present in each) not only shines down upon us, but also out from within us. ....

Fundamentalists of the right and left claim that the light shines through their window only. Skeptics can make a similar mistake, only to draw the opposite conclusion. Seeing the bewildering variety of windows and observing the folly of the worshipers, they conclude that there is no light. But the windows are not the light. The whole light—God, Truth, call it what you will—is beyond our perceiving. God is veiled. Some people have trouble believing in a God who looks into any eyes but theirs. Others have trouble believing in a God they cannot see. But the fact that none of us can look directly into God’s eyes certainly does not mean that in the light and the darkness, mysterious and unknowable, God is not there.


The first issue I have with this passage is that it compounds the problem from the previous passage—the message that UUs have a consensus view of what “God” means. (Moreover, the view described happens to contrast sharply with many of the multifarious views held by real UUs.) Who exactly is the “we” in the phrase “our name” in the first paragraph above? It sure seems to be drawn in contrast to the “you” of “call it what you will” later. The implication is that “we” UUs see “God” as “that which is greater than all and yet present in each,” while “you” non-UUs might call that “Truth” or some other terms that aren’t important enough to put in this book. Like most of the yellow-flagged passages in this document, the above section implies that people who don’t see “God,” “faith,” “religion,” “spirit,” etc., in the same way that the authors do cannot be UUs.

This passage gets a red flag, though, because in the latter paragraph above Church baldfacedly lies about his favorite whipping boys, those awful “skeptics.”

Recall that the “light” in Church’s metaphor does not symbolize the monotheist god—rather, it represents the “light” of goodness and truth (“call it what you will”—how kind of Church to allow us such freedom) that religious liberals believe is behind all of the commendable ideals of the world’s religions. The “light” may be equivalent with Church’s idea of “God,” but it is clearly not equivalent to, say, the Pope’s idea. (Or, I hasten to point out, mine.)

So what exactly are these dimwitted “skeptics ... conclud[ing]”? According to Church’s metaphorical description, we’re concluding that there is no “Truth,” meaning, beauty or wonder. To be a “skeptic” is to be a sad, nihilist killjoy. Needless to say, I find this outrageous.

I think this passage (which Church has repeated perhaps thirty times in sermons and other speeches featuring the “Cathedral of the World”) is a good example of the terminological bait-and-switch frequently practiced by Church, Buehrens and the rest of the portion of religious liberals who happen to be not particularly atheist-friendly.

First, they define “God” to mean something quite different than what orthodox monotheists (in this context, I think it’s worth noting that orthodox monotheists constitute a majority of the population of the planet) take it to mean. Second, these liberals notice that certain unwashed “skeptics” (or atheists, humanists, “secular materialists,” etc.) have stated that we don’t believe in God. Third, they write harrumphing attacks like the one above on “skeptics,” browbeating us for having the gall to doubt the existence of “that which is greater than all and yet present in each” or whatever idea of “God” they favor.

But they’re attacking a straw man. The vast majority of religious skeptics I’m familiar with understand “God” to mean ... exactly what the billions of orthodox theists tell us it means. That’s the “God” we disbelieve in. In Church’s metaphor, we “skeptics” do not deny the existence of the “light”; we just dispute (as does Church!) that it all originates from a few particular windows in the cathedral. Frequently we doubt that the light comes from outside the cathedral at all (as opposed to “out from within us”), and we are often distressed by the scarlet decorations on some of the more popular windows. That’s a far cry from Church’s insulting straw-man “skeptic”; indeed, it’s not so far divorced from the view Church himself expresses regarding the cathedral.

I should add that, again, there is nothing wrong with interpreting “God” in a broader way than an orthodox Christian or an ordinary atheist does. The problem comes when the liberal fails to understand (in Church’s and Buehrens’ cases, I fear it is quite intentional) that an atheist’s declaration, “I don’t believe that God exists,” almost always references a very different idea than the liberal’s. Importing a liberal definition of “God” into the sentiments of someone who doesn’t see it that way can only lead to trouble.


Pages 85-86
(Church)
Red flag


[After a negative description of “One True Religion” exclusivist theologies:]

One impartial response to this war of conflicting convictions is to reject religion, to distance ourselves from those who attempt, always imperfectly, to interpret the cosmic runes and gauge their responses accordingly. There are two problems with this approach. One is that such rejection deprives us of a potentially deep encounter with the mysterious forces that impel our being and the opportunity to illuminate, if but partially, its meaning. The second is that none of us is able to resist interpreting the cosmic runes. Consequently, not only the world’s religions, but every ideology, every scientific worldview, every aesthetic school, has its windows in the cathedral of the world. In each the light and darkness mingle in ways that suggest meaning for those whose angle of vision is tilted in that particular direction. Attracted to the patterns of refracted light, the playing of shadows, the partial clarification of reality, these people are also worshipers; their windows too become shrines.

Church’s treatments of the “two problems with this approach” are themselves problematic.

On the first, surely a large number of UUs doubt that abandoning orthodox religion (which, significantly, is what many of us think “religion” means) “deprives us of a potentially deep encounter with” anything. Many of us are here because the religions we were brought up in were barriers to “deep encounters” generally; it was staying that was a deprivation, not leaving.

Again, “cosmic runes,” “mysterious forces that impel our being” and so on are ideas that have nothing to do with the lives of thousands of UUs, though a newcomer reading this book would obviously get the opposite idea. My way of seeing the world just has little to nothing to do with “mysterious forces that impel [my] being”; the book’s terminology once again puts me on the outside rather than the inside of Unitarian Universalism.

Church’s “second” problem, though, points up the more basic flaw with this paragraph: Church is playing fast and loose with the term “religion” in a particularly silly way here. “It doesn’t make any sense to reject religion,” Church argues, “because everyone is forced to come to terms somehow with the deep questions of life, and I’ve decided to call that exercise ‘religion.’”

Isn’t it obvious that the only real “problem” this argument highlights is the mismatch between Church’s understanding of the “R” word and whatever it is that blockheads like me are “reject[ing]”? The “problem” isn’t my rejection, it’s Church’s inability to understand or to convey accurately what it is I’m rejecting. (If “religion” has to be that broad, then, gee, I guess I reject “supernaturalism” or some such. What an absurdly semantic complaint.)

Again, here we have the bait-and-switch: Church sees someone saying “I reject religion,” imports his own definition of “religion” into that person’s statement and crows about how inadequate, if not stupid, the result is.

Finally, religious fundamentalists frequently accuse secularists (quite falsely) of “worshipping” reason, science, ourselves, etc., so it hardly feels good when a UU minister chimes in on that point. This is yet another example of a religious term being used in a very liberal manner (“worship” means something different to Church than it does to, say, Pat Robertson) without mention of the fact that not all UUs utilize the word that way. This one stings a little more, though, because of its similarity to a common slander.


Page 94
(Church)

Red flag

Some parents do not want to impose religious training upon their children, preferring instead to let them make up their own minds when they come of age. This stance is only superficially “liberal,” for it deprives the children of any criteria for judging.

This is the first example of an ugly tendency both authors display in this section of the book to spit venom at parents who have the gall not to bring their children to a church. (The above is bad, but Buehrens’ slashes in the next chapter are much worse.) These attacks have troubling echoes of a Madison Avenue “hard sell”: to me they evoke Harold Hill’s “Trouble with a capital ‘T’ and that rhymes with ‘P’ and that stands for Pool” routine in The Music Man—or, indeed, “Turn or Burn” fundamentalist theology. I wish the authors wouldn’t try so hard to diagnose a horrible malady in you, dear consumer, that their new and miraculous product will cure at low, low prices.

Regarding this passage specifically, I would think that nearly any UU would find more fault with (a) a fundamentalist Sunday School that crams exclusivist, anti-gay, anti-science (etc.) hatred into children’s minds via indoctrination than they would with (b) some “free faith”-committed parent who worries about the coercive potential of an R.E. classroom. I am not convinced that (b)’s perspective would be terribly objectionable even if UU religious education were flawless. In contrast, the risk of (a) goes entirely unmentioned in A Chosen Faith, giving readers the clear impression that the authors consider the churchless parents they depict to be twits at best and child abusers at worst.

Of course, Church’s dishonesty regarding the term “religious” recurs here. Given the broad definition of “religion” Church has asserted (both in this chapter and on p. 5), I’d like to know how he thinks a parent could escape “impos[ing] religious training” on his children in the first place. If every single way of dealing with life’s necessary questions is “religion,” how could a parent possibly avoid “religious” child-rearing? (Indeed, how could any interaction any parent ever has with her child fail to be “religious” under this terminology?) Church seems to change his definitions to suit whatever aspersion he’s casting at the moment.

Regardless of how one sees the term “religion,” though, Church’s allegation that a childhood without formal religious education necessarily “deprives the children of any criteria for judging” is laughable. Surely no UU believes that “criteria for judging” on religious questions can only be gained in Sunday School! (Church and I—he a UU theist brought up by at least one secular humanist and I an atheist brought up in Protestant Sunday School—are ourselves shining examples of “criteria” that came from somewhere besides formal religious education.) I think the “criteria” he describes come unavoidably from living life; R.E. can be a valuable part of the journey, but it’s hardly a fundamental necessity. (And, of course, sometimes it’s a serious impediment.)

I get the sinking feeling that Church’s real problem is not that unchurched children are “deprive[d] ... of any criteria for judging,” but that they’re deprived of his criteria. Which doesn’t reflect terribly well on him—or, in this book, on us.


6. Dialogue

A general note: this chapter is utterly awful. A seething rage at nonbelievers is palpable in the very ironically named “Dialogue.”


Page 99
(Buehrens)

Yellow flag

[Describing an overseas program his daughter attended in the 1980s, one that featured children from many different parts of the world:]

The children she met in the village were from Thailand, Japan, the Soviet Union, Argentina, Norway, Rumania, Britain, Brazil, Turkey, Spain, and Italy, plus staff from Lebanon and the Ivory Coast. After a month she came back having made friends from a dozen different cultures and faiths.

“Faiths” seems to me to imply that everyone there (even the kids from the Soviet Union and Rumania?) was part of a (narrow-definition) religion, that there was no one there of “no faith.” Or, perhaps, that people who would testify to “no faith” aren’t worth mentioning in a passage (a book?) like this.

Like most of the yellow-flagged passages, this one is hardly a deep affront—but the cumulative effect of a long series of convenient omissions like this one is the impression that the authors have never heard of a secular person who has any value as a human being. And, more to the point, repetition gives the reader the clear idea that such people certainly do not belong in Unitarian Universalism.


Page 101
(Buehrens)

Yellow flag

Encounters with people of different backgrounds, cultures, and religious outlooks are becoming more and more frequent as population grows and our world shrinks. In such encounters there is sure to be some conflict. Differences can be threatening. ... A secular American parent can feel threatened by a young adult child’s devotion to some Eastern form of spirituality.

Again, the “cumulative effect” point. What’s clear about secular people in this book is that there’s something really wrong with us. In A Chosen Faith we’re “obstinate,” “delude[d],” “confus[ed],” ignorant, isolated, idolatrous, vain, empty, dismissive, suffering, fearful, and here “threatened.” And there are no counterexamples.

It also occurs to me that conventionally religious American parents can feel threatened by a teenaged child’s decision that he does not accept the mainstream Christian beliefs they brought him up in. That kind of “threat” gets no treatment in this book.


Page 103
(Buehrens)

Red flag

The mother of all offensive A Chosen Faith passages.

Looking at the religious aspects of many intergroup conflicts, at the violence carried out by zealots in the name of religion, some people conclude that the world would be safer “religion-free.” They may even try living this way themselves. But too often they only practice a form of self-delusion. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the human spirit. As C.S. Lewis said, the opposite of a belief in God is not a belief in nothing; it is a belief in anything. Sweep the demon of religion out the door and, like the story in the Gospels, you may only succeed in making room for an evil spirit worse than the first—this one accompanied by seven friends (Luke 11:24-26; Matt. 12:43-45). Zealous atheism can perform this role of demonic pseudoreligion.

I find this utterly outrageous; it’s the most blatant violation of the Fourth Principle by a UU I have ever seen. I can’t believe this man was the president of the UUA.

Here are my specific objections (the last six are more distressing than the first three):
  • As an initial point, it’s clear that we’re not talking about a broad notion of “religion” here. Religious violence, C.S. Lewis’s “belief in God”—this is “religion” as theism and/or supernaturalism. Carl Sagan expressing non-theistic wonder at the immensity of the universe is not something that even the most “[z]ealous” atheist finds fault in, notwithstanding that it’s certainly “religious” by the definition Church has provided (or the one Buehrens describes in Chapter 10). Finally, the idea of “[z]ealous atheism” as a “pseudoreligion” necessarily presupposes that there is a narrower core to “religion” that such a thing can be “pseudo” to. By the broad conception the authors claim to favor, “Zealous atheism” is a religion. So no, Buehrens has something else in mind when he refers to the “religion-free.”

  • “Violence carried out by zealots in the name of religion.” This phrase (which implies that the “zealots” in question are perverting their religions) is one reasonable interpretation of such violence, but it’s not the only one. It is not clear—not even to every UU—that “zealots” are necessarily wrong when they claim their religion supports the terrorism they commit.

  • “Some people conclude that the world would be safer ‘religion-free.’” I submit that this is an absurdly shallow account of the skeptical objections to religious doctrine[2] forwarded by people like Anaxagoras, Protagoras, Epicurus, Cicero, Lucretius, Seneca, Voltaire, David Hume, Ludwig Feuerbach, John Stuart Mill, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Thomas Henry Huxley, Karl Marx, Robert G. Ingersoll, Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell, Margaret Sanger, George Orwell, Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Isaac Asimov, Gene Roddenberry, Carl Sagan, Douglas Adams, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Dan Barker, Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina, Jerry Coyne, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Stephen Hawking, Christopher Hitchens, Wendy Kaminer, Paul Kurtz, Adam Lee, Michael Martin, P.Z. Myers, Maryam Namazie, Taslima Nasrin, James Randi, Gene Roddenberry, Michael Shermer, Victor Stenger, Julia Sweeney, or Stephen Weinberg. There is far more to skeptical criticism and rejection of religion than the mere point that many religions have promoted violence, but the impression you’d get from reading “Dialogue” is the opposite.

  • “Try.” “Life as a secular person is futile. What fools these ‘religion-free’ mortals be.” Buehrens apparently believes that there isn’t a single person in the world who is successfully living a life of integrity and meaning that happens also to be “religion-free.”

  • “Self-delusion.” This sends the same message. How dares a Unitarian Universalist minister defame another person’s (non-) religious journey this way?

  • “Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the human spirit.” “To dissent from my belief system is to be a spiritual ‘vacuum.’” I find this flatly disgusting. (And just to prove that he means it, Buehrens repeats this sentence, verbatim but for an added comma, eight pages later.) Non-believing readers of A Chosen Faith will notice that this insult closely resembles a similar line that we are frequently fed by fundamentalist Christian evangelists: that “atheists have a God-shaped hole in their hearts.” (Uh-oh.) The striking similarities between right-wing proselytizing and several sections of this book are both ugly and hard to ignore.

  • C.S. Lewis. This man was a priggish sexist and Christian exclusivist who would have been disgusted by Unitarian Universalism. In his vastly overrated apologetic works, Lewis’ treatment of nonbelievers (which, in his context, clearly includes every UU) was uniformly ignorant and degrading—plus, he took repeated nasty potshots at the “occult,” which is unquestionably the way he would have categorized modern Neo-Paganism. To quote this man as an authority on the nature of religious doubt is just outrageous. The sentiment Buehrens attributes to Lewis[3] is a ridiculous, dehumanizing insult—par for the course for Lewis on this particular subject but beyond the pale, one hopes, within UUism.

  • Quoting the Bible to prove the depravity of atheists. Just unbelievable. Presumably Buehrens forgot about Psalm 14 (and 53), which would have suited his purpose nicely:

    The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
    Nonbelievers reading this book will get the message from this passage, quite clearly, that UUs’ conception of nonbelief comes straight from the Bible. Given that we don’t fare too well in that book, it’s no leap to the realization that we won’t do any better in UU congregations.

  • “Demonic pseudoreligion.” I submit that no UU minister, ever, under any circumstances, has any basis to accuse any belief system of being a “demonic pseudoreligion.” What in the world is that phrase doing in this book?
The utter loathing that Buehrens communicates in this passage is impossible for a secular person reading the book (or at least for this one) to ignore. In seven sentences, Buehrens makes it clear that Unitarian Universalists abjectly hate anyone who tries to live without “a belief in God” or outside of what she or he considers to be “religion.” I have a hard time finding sufficient words to communicate how offensive this passage is—especially given the context, in that this book is precisely the source that a curious nonbeliever (such as this one) would consult to learn what UUism is about.

There is some biting irony in the fact that this passage is at the center of a chapter titled “Dialogue.” On top of the obvious implication that there’s no point in conducting a dialogue with self-delusional, demonically pseudoreligious spiritual vacuums, the message that this placement communicates (it’s the only specific attack on any belief system in the chapter) is that the one thing bridging the gap between traditional religions and UUism is that they both find atheists disgusting. I have a hard time inferring anything else from this passage other than that Buehrens is interested in beating up secular people so that he can score atheist-bashing points with the godly readers on his conservative flank.

What a disgrace.


Pages 103-04
(Buehrens)

Yellow flag

Over the years I have become convinced, as Jung was, that the problems in the world are not caused by faith; they are caused by the lack of authenticity and openness in faith, and by the pseudofaiths that substitute for a healthy spirituality of mutual respect and dialogue.

This is all too convenient: it reduces a defense of faith to a tautology. Of course “faith” is good; if it’s bad, then it’s not “faith”! How delightful.

I guess the philosophical name-dropping (“as Jung was”) is more silly than offensive. I sometimes bring in Respected Figures to support my sentiments in one area or another, despite the weakness of the implied Argument From Authority, so I can’t be deeply critical of that little gambit. But here, we have no quotation, no demonstration that Carl Jung actually agreed with Buehrens on this point—not even the poor guy’s first name! Sheesh.

Finally, until I see some serious remorse for terrible insults he has fired off at nonbelievers (most prominently, the ones on page 103), I’m afraid that I can only be enormously cynical about any appeal Rev. John A. Buehrens makes to “mutual respect and dialogue.” How I’m supposed to respect and enter a dialogue with a guy who clearly hates my guts is beyond me.


Page 108
(Buehrens)

Yellow flag

[During a description of the married life of Buehrens and his wife, an Episcopalian priest:]

Our daughters, Erica and Mary, have been thoroughly exposed to both traditions. At a certain point they were told, “This year you can go to either Sunday school. You choose, but you can’t stay home.”

I strongly suspect that Buehrens shares Church’s disdain (see p. 94—and then the next quoted passage below) for churchless parents who “deprive[ ]” their children “of any criteria for judging” religious matters, but to me the above decree doesn’t seem particularly respectful of Erica and Mary’s freedom of conscience. If Mary had (1) told her father that she found both churches’ religious education programs to be disrespectful of her beliefs and (2) pled for conscientious objector status, would she have been drafted into Sunday School anyway? Does a one-time president of our association approve of forced religious indoctrination?

Again, consider the message that this passage sends to nonbelievers reading this book to satisfy their curiosity about Unitarian Universalism. Here we have a former president of the UUA boasting that he forces his children to attend Sunday School whether they like it or not. Is this a welcoming message, or will it alienate potential UUs? How many will conclude that UUism is no better—no less authoritarian—than the religions they have found meaningless or wrong? (Heck, if we’re forcing innocent kids into R.E. over their substantive objections, are we any better?)


Page 110-11
(Buehrens)

Red flag

One cost of avoiding religion altogether may be spiritual isolation. Too often today couples are already socially isolated. ... Having raised their children in a spiritual vacuum, apart from any religious discussion or community, committed secularists are sometimes shocked when their offspring suddenly join a high-demand cult or follow a seductive guru. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does the human spirit. The lure of the various isms, though hardly unknown to religious people, may be even more intense for those who avoid religion.

More disgraceful atheist-bashing.

I’ve already mentioned the constant negative portrayals of secular people in this book (here “spiritual isolation”), and I’ve protested the “Nature abhors a vacuum” smear. (There is something pretty galling about being hit with the latter twice in one chapter, though. Buehrens is not subtle about his distaste for nonbelievers.)

This paragraph makes two specific factual accusations: (1) that children of “committed secularists” join cults at a higher rate than other children; and (2) that “the lure of the various isms ... may be more intense for those who avoid religion.” (Again, these claims make no sense unless we’re talking about a narrow definition of “religion,” rather than the broad view the authors sometimes claim they hold. The whole point of the broad ideas of “religion” occasionally favored by the authors is that under them, one can’t “avoid religion.”)

(1) and (2) are both very serious accusations. Buehrens is saying, in no uncertain terms, that you will either give your children to him, to his wife, or to someone (Jim Jones, David Koresh) far worse. For my part, I seriously doubt that either of Buehrens’ claims is true. I find it unconscionable that Buehrens supplies no evidence whatsoever for such damning contentions.

Making serious, defamatory attacks on a minority based on (what Buehrens appears to think is) mere conventional wisdom about that minority is a practice with a very ugly history. The similarity between this passage and some of the more regrettable instances of gay-, Jew- and race-baiting in history is very troubling.


Page 114-15
(Buehrens)

Red flag

Forrest and I both feel privileged and enriched to serve in a tradition where dynamic religious pluralism and dialogue are fostered. In our congregation we have active groups for Christian Awareness and for Jewish Awareness, a scattering of members from Muslim and Hindu backgrounds, and a number of participants in a Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship. Our worship is clearly shaped in a pattern that seems Protestant, but really goes back to the early synagogue, with hymns, readings, a sermon, and a benediction. It includes music from the rich heritage of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish spirituality. Occasionally, we may even use something special, like the Gustav Holst Hymns from the Rig Veda. But all variations are developed within the strong, familiar pattern and are consistent with what our worship tradition represents.

If those patterns, like our understandings of marriage, have roots in the Protestant Reformation, it is not simply because that’s where our historical roots as a movement lie. It is also where many of us have come from recently. A survey of our backgrounds in the early 1980s showed that 19 percent of all Unitarian Universalists were raised as Methodists—the largest single group among us. A roughly equal number came from other liberal to moderate Protestant denominations, and a slightly smaller number had backgrounds in evangelical or conservative Protestant churches. The number of former Roman Catholics (like myself) seems to be growing, and was very nearly equal to the Methodists. About 5 percent are of Jewish heritage. Some had little or no religious training. Others identify with non-Western religious traditions.


This passage starts off by trumpeting the “dynamic religious pluralism and dialogue” in UUism. It then invokes the names of a large number of theological perspectives—and no skeptical philosophy makes the list. This despite the fact that almost half of all UUs, according to a poll conducted in 1998 (the same year A Chosen Faith was re-published), considered themselves humanists. Buehrens’ omission is glaring: it’s clear who belongs and who doesn’t in his UUism. (There’s no mention of Earth-centered spirituality in the list, either—though Buehrens might argue that that was a fringe element in UUism at the time he wrote the above.)

The second paragraph, on “backgrounds,” sends the message that all but a miniscule few UUs grew up as Christians. And none of them, apparently, were humanists—“little to no religious training” is where we’re relegated. In this passage, nonbelievers are put in the same category as (and indeed treated as) inanimate objects.

To give what purports to be a description of the full spectrum of religious diversity within UUism and relegate humanists and atheists to the “nothing worth mentioning” pile is pretty insulting.


Next section (Chapters 7-8)



2: Indeed, I’d say that “the religious aspects of many intergroup conflicts [and] the violence carried out by zealots in the name of religion,” for me at least, is something like the fourth-most important reason to dissent from (narrowly defined) “religion.” (1) The lack of evidence for anything supernatural; (2) the Problem of Evil; and (3) the clear support for violence, hatred and injustice that’s contained in the stated tenets and/or “holy” books of several religions are all, I submit, more pressing reasons to be nonreligious than the one Buehrens cites.


3: I’m skeptical that Lewis ever actually wrote this. The offensively anti-atheist tone makes the attribution plausible, but I can find no independent record of Lewis making this statement. However, a very similar quip—”When a Man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything”—is commonly attributed to G.K. Chesterton, another priggish Christian apologist. ... Though that attribution is in doubt as well, because Chesterton scholars can’t find it in any of his works. Nevertheless, the “maxim may be the single most quoted line from Chesterton's prolific pen.” What is clear is that a large number of people enjoy hurling personal insults at atheists.

Among the areas in which I think the Chosen Faith authors stumble badly is in their research methods. (See also Buehrens’ unbelievable error regarding Cecil Dawkins in Chapter 8 and Church’s fumbling attempts to cite the first two Humanist Manifestos in Chapter 9.)
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