UUA Ad in Time Magazine Oct. 5

As many UUs have heard, the Unitarian Universalist Association has placed a full-page ad in this week's issue of Time magazine. The ad (available in PDF form here) reads:

Nurture Your Spirit. Help Heal Our World.

Maybe you’re uncomfortable with the idea of God — or at
least someone else’s idea of God. Yet maybe you yearn
for a loving, spiritual community where you can be
inspired and encouraged as you search for your own truth and meaning.

This is a church, you ask? Welcome to Unitarian Universalism.

Over 1,000 congregations nationwide. We invite you to join us.
(It should go without saying that the PDF version is a heck of a lot more visually appealing than the blockquote above.)

Here's how another atheist in my UU congregation reacted:
As someone guilty of more than his share of griping regarding the UUA's comments on atheism, I have to say I like this ad a lot. Were I unfamiliar with UUism, I would read that advertisement and be intrigued.
That goes for me, too. The ad isn't perfect, but it's very good; it's a nice first step toward UU outreach to nonbelievers.

"A Theology" of Exclusion and Arrogance

A partial response to
"Universalism: A Theology for the 21st Century," by Rev. Forrest Church

Earlier this month, a friend of mine from my church recommended that I read a semi-recent (late 2001) UU World article by Rev. Forrest Church called "Universalism: A Theology for the 21st Century." My friend told me that she "admire[s]" the article, and that she'd "love to know [my] thoughts!"

I had in fact read Church's article, though it was some years ago. And, as regular readers of this LiveJournal are aware, I am well acquainted with Forrest Church. In addition to several discussions I have participated in on various Internet forums, this LiveJournal contains my all-too-lengthy responses to two Church works: his 2003 General Assembly sermon, "Born Again Unitarian Universalism," and the best-selling "classic introduction to Unitarian Universalism" he co-authored with former UUA President John A. Buehrens, A Chosen Faith. (I mentioned those same responses, twice quoting Church directly, in the sermon I delivered in my church in July 2006).

I've read plenty more of Church's material, and I'd like to find time to respond to more of it. For one, I think this more recent UU World article (in which Church both (a) savages the controversial 2005 Danish caricatures of Muhammad as "hate speech" that was properly silenced and (b) declares anyone who "dismiss[es] the world's scriptures" to be "as much of the world's problem as they are its solution") deserves a thorough rebuttal. But time is not always on my side. In any case, the point is that I know Rev. Church's work all too well.

In that light, I regret that I have to tell my friend that the 2001 article in question, "Universalism: A Theology for the 21st Century," is unfortunately just more of the same from Church. As usual, Church makes worthwhile points here and there--but, for me at least, they are entirely drowned out by the stunning number of nasty attacks, personal insults, and outright lies about nonbelievers that suffuse Church's article. Any notion I might entertain that Church's "theology for the 21st century" is amenable to me is buried under the overwhelming tone in his piece (as in so much of his work) of deep antipathy toward me and anyone who sees the world the way I do.

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Preach It, Brother Frederick

A Frederick Douglass quotation cited in this Daily Kos post pushed the right buttons for me this evening. Here's Douglass:
If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must pay for all they get. If we ever get free from all the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and, if needs be, by our lives, and the lives of others.
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Look Out: Rieux Delivers a Sermon

Here's the text of the sermon I delivered on July 9, 2006, from the pulpit of my UU church. A few names and identifying details have been changed to protect the innocent. (And me.) My excuse for the 14-month delay is that I've just gotten around to turning this into a hypertext-ready post (as you'll see, there is a link or three in there). I thought some folks here might find it interesting....

May 19, 1991, was the first time I ever got up in front of a religious congregation to regale them with my ideas. The occasion that Sunday was my confirmation at my mainline Protestant church, a fairly liberal congregation in the suburbs. During the service, I stood in front of the church and told the assembled multitudes that I believed in "God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth" and in "Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord," who was crucified and was resurrected for our sins.

That was a long time ago.

Actually, as a ninth grader who had been dreading confirmation day for months, I was already pretty sure I didn't believe most of those things. Basically, I was very confused and unsure about theological matters, but I knew there wasn't much room for my doubts in the expectations of my very faithfully Protestant family. I despaired at finding a community that welcomed my skepticism.

Later on in high school, after plenty of reading and thinking, I realized that I didn't believe that a God existed--that I was an atheist. In college, that life was actually kind of exciting; I got to do a lot of reading about the history of religious dissent and doubt--a history thousands of years old, with plenty of heroes like Socrates and Margaret Sanger, Bertrand Russell, Mark Twain, Robert Ingersoll, Salman Rushdie, and many more.

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What do you think?

[Cross-posted to chalice_circle]

"The Nation" article on the 'New Atheists'

[Cross-posted from chalice_circle]

Apparently I missed it when it first came out in late June, but this article by Ronald Aronson in The Nation caught my eye this evening:
The great success of the New Atheists is to have reached [non-believing Americans], both speaking to and for them. These writers are devoted, with sledgehammer force and angry urgency, to "breaking the spell" cast by the religious ascendancy, to overcoming a situation in which every other area of life can be critically analyzed while admittedly irrational religious faith is made central to American life but exempted from serious discussion.
I'm with PZ Myers: I think Aronson stretches a little bit to find something in the works of Sam Harris, Daniel Dennettt, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens to criticize, but in the main it's a very good piece.

I find the poll data Aronson quotes especially interesting:
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P.Z. Myers Sued; I'm Spartacus!

As these sites, among many others, have announced, my favorite blogger, P.Z. Myers, has been sued by a rich, wannabe-biologist kook because P.Z. posted negative reviews regarding (two versions of) a bad, pseudoscientific book written by said kook.

The gory details of the suit are available at the links above, but the nub of it is that the kook alleges that P.Z.'s publication of a single phrase--calling the kook "a classic crackpot"--has inflicted damages to the kook in the amount of fifteen million dollars.

The specter of rich jerks suing the tar out of any blogger who dares to criticize them or their work (written or otherwise) is extremely frightening--it poses a threat of what free-speech advocates call "a chilling effect" on free expression. Even when P.Z. and SEED magazine (his employer and co-defendant) win this suit, there's the risk that that chill will remain.

So I'd like to propose that as many of us as possible in the blogosphere stand up to this attempt at intimidation. (It would at least be interesting to see if the kook has the chutzpah to sue all of us.)

To get the ball rolling:

For the reasons P.Z. Myers has set forth, Stuart Pivar is a classic crackpot.
Who's with me!?!

8/29/07 update: The kook has dropped the lawsuit; he's been (voluntarily) Expelled from court. Huzzah!


An Exhortation to Atheist Pride

Evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins has launched an initiative he's titled "The Out Campaign," an effort (consciously patterned after GLBT folks' marvelously successful practice) to encourage those of us who do not believe in gods to "come out" of the atheist closet for the purpose of countering anti-atheist bigotry.

It surely won't surprise anyone who's been reading chalice_circle lately that I'm enthused about the Out Campaign, but it seems to me that UUs generally ought to support the effort as well, just as we are proud to support GLBT coming-out campaigns. When members of a marginalized minority decide to stand up for themselves--voicing pride in who they are and where their "free and reasonable searches for truth and meaning" have brought them, and banding together to oppose their mistreatment at the hands of a hostile majority, it seems to me that UU tradition, ideals and history all call out for us to lend our support.

Dawkins describes his reasons for launching the Out Campaign in an essay that I find pretty inspiring. An excerpt:

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A Response to Philocrites

Somewhat against my will (or at least my better judgment), I've been jumping into the fray to defend Christopher Hitchens in a several UU Web discussions within the past week or two. Perhaps the most prominent such discussion (though probably, also, the least baselessly derogatory toward Hitchens) has been this thread at big-time UU blog Philocrites, on which I commented last night. Philocrites replied, and I put together a rejoinder. However, said rejoinder got far too long for a mere comment thread (not to mention a several-day-old one), so I'm moving it here.

If you're interested in the discussion, you should probably catch up on the thread over at Philocrites.


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Born All Right the First Time

A response to
"Born Again Unitarian Universalism," by Rev. Forrest Church
The following is the text of a message (with a few subsequent revisions) sent to Rev. Forrest Church on July 9, 2003:
Hello, Rev. Church.

I write this evening to express my feelings about statements of yours that I have encountered in my exploration of the religion we share.

I have considered myself a Unitarian Universalist for roughly two and one-half years now, after a liberal Protestant upbringing, a relatively painless apostasy and several years of otherwise unaffiliated atheism and humanism. My curiosity about UUism began late in college, when I was dating a religion major who had (and has) a strong interest in American liberal religion. The first book I read about UUism was yours—
A Chosen Faith—and I’m afraid the results weren’t good. As a nonbeliever, I did not react well to matters like the book’s contention that “zealous atheism” is a “demonic pseudoreligion” (though if memory serves, it was Rev. Buehrens who penned that, not you) or cutting quotations from C.S. Lewis and Dag Hammarskjöld. My theretofore piqued curiosity about UUism was seriously squelched: I was extremely dubious that I could possibly feel at home in a group that reacted to skeptical and doubting lines of inquiry as consistently, reflexively negatively as your book does.

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Sunshine and Shadow

A response to
Where is God?: Locating the Holy in Our Lives,” by Rev. Patrick Price,


Atheism,” by Rev. Roger Fritts
Two UU sermons I’ve read recently present an interesting contrast. Each is a sermon delivered by a UU minister from his UU pulpit a little over four years ago. Each (like almost every piece I’ve discussed on the Internet) speaks explicitly and directly about atheism. Importantly, each minister believes in God, making the sermon’s treatment of atheism all the more interesting.

The two UU theist ministers and their respective sermons, though, take decidedly different approaches toward describing and reacting to nonbelievers. For anyone interested in understanding where UU nonbelievers who are concerned for our future within Unitarian Universalism are coming from, it seems to me the differences are worth examining.

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