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Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Humanism That Both Troubles and Sustains Me


This will get to the point in the end. Just bear with me as I make my way there.

When Humanism is mocked within Unitarian Universalist circles, it hits me on a personal level. At a point in my life when my Christian faith had disappeared and I felt ‘lost,’ Humanism gave me a perspective that made the situation manageable, and showed me a path forward. Humanist principles and ideals have sustained me through some very challenging times over the past several years, and has been far more stabilizing than my Christian worldview ever was for me.

Still, I understand why UUs might deride Humanism. If you read the early thinkers like Reese and Dietrich, it’s pretty absurd the extent to which they extol the virtues of reason and the human capacity for progress. The same could be said, though, of much that was written by early Unitarians and Universalists, which can come across to us now as fanciful and overly optimistic. Their flights of fancy back then don't keep me from being a Unitarian Universalist now.

On December 26, 2013 I boarded a plane to rejoin my wife and kids in Brazil, who had moved there 14 months before. When I got on the plane I had considered myself an evangelical Christian for 20 years. When I disembarked in Sao Paulo the following day, I was an atheist. It wasn’t a particularly bad plane ride! In reality my faith had been troubled for a couple of months preceding. One way or the other, when I could no longer see the world through a theistic, Christian lens, that was the end of it. The question that lingered with me for three days was ‘now what?’

In my prior ministry study I had learned that Unitarians were essential in launching modern, non-theistic Humanism. With that in mind, I found a couple of Kindle books online (by more recent writers), and found that this was a perspective that aligned with where I found myself post-Christianity.

I’ve found in both the Humanism independent of Unitarian Universalism, represented organizationally by the American Humanist Association, and in the ‘religious Humanism’ within the UU, that there is a serious generation gap. Boomers and older Gen Xers tend to defend ‘freedom of speech’ which includes some racist attitudes, and the younger Gen Xers and Millennials tend to be working for progress and social justice. To the former group, ‘anti-racist’ and ‘intersectional’ are offensive terms, and you can even hear some of them say that BIPOC folks are 'too thin-skinned.' 

All this is to say that I see the future of Humanism and Unitarian Universalism bound up together, not because of a tie that needs to remain in place, but because of a historic connection and an ugly, persistent similarity in being structured to favor white supremacy. At the same time, while I encounter many people in my local congregation who fit the ideological profile of being Humanists, they do not identify with that term. In my assessment, Humanism will and should remain as part of the UU identity, but I don’t know how likely it is that it will continue to be named as such in our circles.

Then again, as Amos said to Amasias, I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet. As far as I can see, it’s anyone’s guess which way UUism and Humanism will go in relationship to each other. I just hope that in the meantime, we can learn to be a little more gentle with one another.