Tag Archives: religion

a church just like mine

Two days ago, a madman walked into a church just like mine (and only four hours away from mine) and opened fire, killing two people and injuring others.

Compared to many religions, Unitarian Universalism is a tiny denomination; we have maybe 100,000 members in the United States. So this tragedy hits extra hard — particularly because the man wielding the weapon didn’t choose a church at random. No, he deliberately planned to attack the Knoxville UU congregation because of its liberal social policies. He hates liberals, says the letter he left in his truck; he hates gays. Apparently, while he was shooting, he was shouting hatred for all to hear.

The banner at my Louisville, KY church reads, Civil Marriage Is a Civil Right.

The banner at my Louisville, KY church reads, "Civil Marriage Is a Civil Right."

High on one of the outer walls of my church hangs a banner that says “Civil Marriage Is a Civil Right.” My congregation of about 300 people are very progressive in our politics: I’d estimate us to be 90% pro choice, 95% Democrats, 100% supportive of gay rights. UUs don’t adhere to a specific creed; rather, my church includes atheists, humanists, pagans, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and those who create their own spirituality.

Many beliefs, but one congregation. Why do we come together? Because we find truth and meaning in the seven principles that all Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
  • Although we have no common prayers or mantras, we recite a covenant each Sunday. UUs everywhere speak a variation of these words each week:

    Love is the spirit of this church, and service is its law. This is our great covenant: to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.

    We are liberal. We are welcoming to all. And for this, a man decided people just like me deserved to die.

    the age of accountability

    Tim has written an excellent, thought-provoking essay about the FLDS sect and their indoctrination of woman and children into the belief that it’s OK for a middle-aged man to “marry” and have sex with multiple underage “wives.” He points out that many religions offer their own indoctrinations of one sort or another, and he points out that in many Christian churches, very young children are encouraged to get up and proclaim their own personal relationship with Jesus. He ends his essay as follows:

    Perhaps the members of the FLDS Church are afraid that if the girls were older, that they might choose to not marry 49 year-old men. Perhaps they might not choose to engage in that kind of lifestyle at all. Perhaps they would choose to think for themselves, instead of just falling mindlessly into behaviors that are so easily encouraged when a child is so young.

    Perhaps Christians (like myself) are guilty of the same thing with spiritual issues.

    I had no idea that children made “professions of faith” at age 5 or 7. But here’s the thing: kids that age also make “professions of faith” in Santa Claus. They’re raised in an environment where the adults around them tell tales of a big guy in a red suit who arrives by night with a sleigh full of toys; and sure enough, on Christmas morning, the toys are there. So of course they believe in Santa: the proof is under the tree, plus their parents told them this was The Truth. They’ll continue to believe until reason and common sense (or friends in the know) convince them otherwise.

    Now I’ll use Christianity as an example, although I don’t mean to single it out. Take a small child who’s being raised in a Christian environment. The child’s parents tell them about the big guy in heaven and his son, and about all the wonders that befall those who Believe. It’s clear that having a “personal relationship with Jesus” is a Very Big Deal to the child’s family and friends. And sure enough, the child sees that when people get up in church on Sunday and talk about their relationship with Jesus, those folks get a lot of positive attention. The child knows that their parents expect them to announce their belief at some point. Maybe one of their friends has already made the trip to the altar and been subsequently showered with praise. So of course the child will do the same thing: all the evidence is that they’ll be rewarded for doing so, and their parents have told them that this is The Truth. They’ll continue to believe — how long? In some cases, forever. In other cases, until new people, new situations, or their own contemplation, convinces them to change their minds.

    I go to a Unitarian Universalist church. We don’t have a specific creed or dogma; each member is free to determine their own spiritual path and individual belief structure. Our Sunday School classes teach the basics of all the major world religions, familiarizing our children with the history, major figures, and beliefs of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Humanism, and more. We stress to the kids that it will be up to them to determine what they believe.

    But despite that broad education, the fact is that our kids also have a natural tendency to believe in the same things their parents do. My own children have grown up with a Humanist/Atheist mother and a Humanist father who has a vague sense of god as the life force that binds the world together. We’re very liberal Democrats. And surprise, surprise, our teenage kids have liberal beliefs about social issues, they’re Obama supporters, and my daughter is a professed Atheist.

    My daughter is 16. I believe she’s mature enough to make a statement about her belief (or lack thereof). My son is 13; he’s still sorting out his thoughts, and I wouldn’t ask him to make a firm statement about where he stands on religion. I wouldn’t begin to ask a 5 or 7 year old for a real, permanent statement of their faith — just as they’ll say they believe in Santa, if you ask them about religion you’ll get a recitation of what they know their parents want to hear and whatever will get them the most positive attention.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

    Along similar lines, I expect this is why nationally, laws indicate that kids under 16 can’t legally consent to have sex; having raised a child to that age, I’ve definitely seen this age as a defining point in her growth and maturity. My almost-13 year old son is by no means anywhere close to being ready for the emotional or physical toll of a sexual relationship.

    I consider it unconscionable for the FLDS sect to “marry” girls that age to men so much older; girls of 13 or 14 aren’t ready to give informed consent to sex with anyone, let alone a 40 or 50 year old man. I absolutely believe that those women and children go along with the program because domineering older men have embedded those thoughts in their heads from infancy on; and in their sequestered environment, they don’t know any other way. As Tim suggests, if the sect waited until the girls were mature enough to make their own choice, they would almost certainly resist the idea of a union with a vastly older partner they have no affection for.

    If we all waited until our children were 16 before we mentioned our religious beliefs (or political stands, or any other strongly held opinions), then I think many people would be surprised and perhaps shocked at the outcome. If I presented the notion of Santa Claus to my daughter out of the blue today, she’d be very unlikely to believe. If a 16 year old who had never heard stories of any supernatural origin of the earth or been told of a supreme being were given an outline of Christianity’s fundamental tenets, including the 7-day creation, the virgin birth, the rising of the dead man, and so on, I think they’d be very unlikely to believe that, either.

    But we all want our children to be like us, and to believe what we believe. I am a parent; thus I indoctrinate. The important difference between me (or my Christian friends) and people like those in the FLDS sect is that we’re trying to give our children positive, constructive beliefs that we think will help them lead good lives and be good people. The FLDS parents (and others in similar cults) are giving their children negative beliefs that encourage them to participate in harmful, destructive, even illegal behavior. As far as I’m concerned, their right to teach their children about their faith ends when child abuse begins.

    seeing red

    https://i0.wp.com/darmano.typepad.com/logic_emotion/images/red.jpgI heard earlier on NPR that one of the guidelines given to organizations that are caring for children taken from the polygamous sect in Utah is that they should, as much as possible, remove the color red from the environment. In addition, caregivers shouldn’t wear red clothes. Why? Because sect members associate the color with evil or Satan, and therefore the children might be frightened to see it in their surroundings.

    As I listened, I looked at the walls of my kitchen / office alcove / dining area, which are — you guessed it — red. My gosh, I thought, those poor kids would be scared to death if they came in here.

    I mentioned this to my daughter just now, when she got home from school, saying that the children would probably think they’d encounter Satan personally in this house with all the red walls. Maybe so, she said, “But you could tell them he only comes to visit on Wednesdays.” 🙂

    life, liberty, and the pursuit of reality

    https://i2.wp.com/www.choosereality.org/art/choose-reality-3-120x50.jpgThanks to my friend Jack, I have a new adjective for myself: realist. He introduced me to the website of the Church of Reality.

    It sounds like another April Fool’s joke, but it’s a real church with missions that I absolutely agree with:

    1. We Believe in Reality – the Way It Really Is
    2. We Spread the Sacred Message – Reality
    3. We Choose the Sacred Direction – Forward
    4. We Honor the Tree of Knowledge
    5. We Ask the Sacred Moral Question – What Is Good?
    6. We Issue the Sacred Challenge – How do we know that what we believe is real?
    7. We Are Activists – We Make It Happen
    8. We Unite Religion and Reality

    From the website:

    Since no one knows all of reality, the Church of Reality is a religious commitment to the pursuit of reality the way it really is. We think about thinking. We wonder about wondering. We try to understand the understanding of understanding. We are Explorers, not followers. The phrase “What is Real?” is our Sacred Question and the word “Reality” is our Sacred Message. We talk about reality, think about reality, and aim to make reality more important in society.

    The Church of Reality is a new breed of religion that is based on reality rather than mythology. We answer the great questions that other religions address, like what is right and wrong, how do people live together in a community, and what are our responsibilities to ourselves and to each other. We address these concerns in the context of our evolutionary history, our present reality, and our future evolution.

    https://i1.wp.com/images.cafepress.com/product/15677294v2_240x240_Front.jpg… Realists are not without values or morality. Our values are based on Humanism rather than a fictional holy book. As Realists, our values include Positive Evolution, Exploration, Honesty and Integrity, Freedom, Individualism, Peace, Courage, Environmentalism, Compassion, Justice, Inclusiveness, Scrutiny and Doubt, Humility, Reason, Wisdom, and Personal Responsibility. We believe in Original Virtue rather than Original Sin. We are a Doubt-Based rather than Faith-Based religion.

    https://i1.wp.com/images.cafepress.com/product/170409123v6_240x240_Front_Color-BlackWhite.jpgVery cool — and exactly in line with my existing thought processes as a Unitarian Universalist, an atheist, and a humanist.

    Consider me a member of the Church of Reality. My shirt and my bumper sticker are now on order. 🙂

     

    Addendum: In an interesting coincidence, several hours after I posted the above, a smiling woman in her 50’s just knocked on my door carrying a Bible and a small pile of other literature. She began, “Hello, we’re out today talking with our neighbors about the Bible, and in particular about the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us, and…” Me (smiling): “Oh, no thank you.” Her: “You aren’t interested?” Me: “Not a bit.” Her: “You aren’t a Bible reader?” Me: “Not a bit.” Her: “OK, well, have a great day, and thank you for being so friendly about it!” I was glad she didn’t get pushy, and she was glad I wasn’t rude, so it was a fair trade.

    This is the third religious visitor I’ve had in the last few months. Perhaps I need to keep a little pile of literature of my own by the door, to give them: cards with the URL of this blog, issues of Skeptic magazine, pamphlets from the American Humanist Association, a list of Biblical contradictions…

    I don’t get it

    https://i0.wp.com/purpledoll.hautetfort.com/images/medium_Sadness.jpgThe week before Christmas, the mother of one of the girls in my daughter’s church youth group died of breast cancer. The woman was 49 years old and had known she was in a terminal condition for well over a year. I don’t know the details of what treatments she underwent and when exactly her treatment options ran out, but I do know that she spent the last months fighting fiercely for every possible day.

    The daughter my daughter is friends with is in high school. An older daughter is in college. The woman’s divorced husband had shared entirely amicable joint custody for more than 10 years.

    At the memorial service, held at our church the week after Christmas, a small, sturdy box made of dark wood, reminding me of a miniature treasure chest, held the woman’s ashes. The box was surrounded by greenery, photographs, and dozens of tiny candles. Numerous friends and relatives came forward to speak of the woman’s love of life, of her adoration of her children as well as any other children she encountered, of her humor, her kindness, her intense caring for those around her.

    The minister who led the service wasn’t our minister, but a pastor who, among other things, leads support groups for women with advanced breast cancer. Often, when I attend funerals, I’m offended by the lack of attention paid to the individual who has died: the clergy person puts forth a few generalities that too often indicate he or she didn’t know the deceased personally, and then proceeds to offer endless doctrine-specific prayers. In this case, the minister was both eloquent and personal; she was gentle and understanding in her guidance of the service and her dealing with the family. Her prayers were meditative and, although Christian, open enough to encompass the thoughts of mourners from many faiths.

    But (you knew it was coming, didn’t you?) she made one statement that yanked me completely out of the quiet thoughtfulness of the moment and sparked a quick flare of anger that I’m obviously not yet over. In one of her prayers, after referring to the deceased woman’s joyful life and loving family, the minister said something like the following: “And now she is with You, the one who loves her most of all.”

    Excuse me? Which part of a God loving her most of all relates to letting her suffer during her treatments and deciding that she should die? Which aspect of love is linked to allowing a still-young woman to waste away before the eyes of her children? How exactly does the God who supposedly loves her more than anyone else justify her months of pain, her too-early death, and all other aspects of removing a marvelous person who had so much to offer the world? And how does a minister dare to stand in front of dozens of grieving family members and suggest that anyone loved the dead woman more than they did?

    I’m at a loss to understand or forgive such a statement.

    stumbled upon

    Yesterday I discovered Stumbleupon. It could easily suck up far too much of my time, because it’s showing a truly eerie sense for the kinds of sites I’ll enjoy. Just now, for example, it gave me this.

    https://i1.wp.com/www.hermitscave.org/forum/get_attachment.php/ef1a564912ed74ad43526e93acc61edb/haahaeu4.jpg