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Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Godless Church of Unitarian Universalism, part 1 of 2

I have previously posted with regards to Unitarian Universalism and had some very interesting comments by a reader (see comments section of this post). I have also previously considered the attempts, hopes and/or wishes of the “New Atheists” to establish a new atheist religion.

Unitarian Universalist, Rev. Rod Richards, gave a sermon, I suppose, entitled, Godless: Atheism in Our Language, Our Culture, and Our Movement

He stated, “I enjoy doing weddings, not least of all for the opportunity it gives me to spread the good word about Unitarian Universalism.” Christians will instantly recognize that there is a vast difference of perspective and purpose: Rev. Rod Richards seeks to preach the “gospel” of his particular “church” while a Christian pastor would have stated, “I enjoy doing weddings, not least of all for the opportunity it gives me to spread the good word about Jesus Christ.”

The premise of the sermon is Rev. Rod Richards’ claim that “Unitarian Universalist…are Christians and Buddhists and Mystics and Atheists.”

Rev. Rod Richards claims that their atheist parishioners are indicative “of just how unique our religious community is in this world.”
He points out that,

“The humanist challenge to Unitarianism occurred back in the early years of the previous century. People like Unitarian ministers John Dietrich and Curtis Reece challenged the integrity of our non-creedal stance and asked why our definition of religion could not expand to include ‘a religion without God’?”

Within the sermon this is also called a “democratic religion” and a “humanist religion.”
Rev. Rod Richards offers the words of an early Unitarian Universalist hymn:

“Why need to look for miracles outside of nature’s law?
Humanity we wonder at with every breath we draw.”

With reference to Unitarian Universalism, Rev. Rod Richards points out that its foundations consisted of sentiments such as those expressed by Curtis Reece who “said that belief in God was ‘philosophically possible, but not religiously necessary.’”
He further states:

“They understood that ethics and morality were not handed down from on high but must be negotiated and agreed upon down here on earth until people could come together to affirm the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family [a]s the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, as happened with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No one went up the mountain to receive this document; the peoples of the United Nations had to come together and create it.”

Of course, we all know how marvelously the UN has upheld human rights around the world, right?
It is fascinating that he makes reference to “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” since he is paraphrasing the Declaration of Independence which states that these were “endowed by our creator…nature’s God” which is considered “self evident.”

Rev. Rod Richards is kind enough to provide the Unitarian Universalist definition of “religion” as “that which inspires and guides our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to all of life.” [italics in original]. Then again, I should perhaps say that this is not a Unitarian Universalist definition but Rev. Rod Richards’ particular and peculiar definition since, as I have previously evidenced, Unitarian Universalism’s primary dogma is basically, “Thou shall not speaketh for anyone else nor haveth dogmas—except for this one; the rejection of which will get you excommunicated.”

Rev. Rod Richards claims that his definition “excludes no one” but, of course, it excludes everyone who does not agree with it and this is the primary and fundamental fallacy of Unitarian Universalist’s pseudo-syncretism: by defining tolerance and unity as agreement with them they exclude the exclusivists and thus they become the very thing which they condemn.
Simply stated, a more accurate, and generally accepted, definition of “religion” is a systematization of worshiping God. Moreover, note that the Bible is very, very anti-religion and that the only positive mention of religion in the New Testament states, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). While this is somewhat tantamount to Rev. Rod Richards’ community based concept of “relationship to all of life” there is, at least, one crucial difference, “in the sight of our God and Father” rather than, “in the sight of the United Nations.”

Rev. Rod Richards notes that Unitarian Universalism not only holds to “varying beliefs about God, but the question of whether there is a God” [italics in original].

In another typical pseudo-tolerant move Rev. Rod Richards singles out Christianity for criticism,
“In the controversy that surrounds the opening of the movie, ‘The Golden Compass,’ evangelical groups are railing against atheist author Philip Pullman and the ‘stealth campaign’ of the movie studio to sell
atheism to children.
Ted Baehr, of The Christian Film and Television Commission, said ominously,
‘Children who buy into this are going to be trapped in a sad, desperate world.’ Trapped in a sad, desperate world? Just by watching a fantasy that was written by an atheist? Are atheists that scary?
Pullman expresses surprise at these criticisms and challenges his Christian critics to quibble with the values that he promotes in his stories: tolerance, love, kindness, courage, duty, and individual freedom over blind obedience. He is hardly inviting kids into murder and mayhem. And the truth is, if we want to read some books that have some scary connotations and interpretations, we need go no farther than to the Holy Scriptures of any religion.”

I certainly cannot discern whether Rev. Rod Richards simply lacks knowledge or is part of the misinformation campaign. But this I know with certainty; he is mistaken and Philip Pullman is disingenuous. Please attempt to note the tolerance, love and kindness in the fact that Philip Pullman has stated that his books, his children’s books, are about “killing God” and that he is “trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.”[1]

Get the picture?

Philip Pullman intolerantly states his children’s books are about “killing God” and “trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief,” then Christians react negatively, and then Rev. Rod Richards praises Philip Pullman and condemns Christians. This amounts to beating up the victim for complaining of abuse.

You know when your church is in trouble when a sermon not only approvingly quotes an anti-God/religious tirade by Prof. Richard Dawkins but when it merely and uncritically regurgitates one of atheism’s most ubiquitous yet, fallacious arguments. Rev. Rod Richards stated:
“Scientist [read as: militant atheist activist] Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, responds colorfully to those who ask him the question: ‘If there is no God, why be good?’
Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God’s approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment?
That’s not morality, that’s just sucking up, apple-polishing, looking over your shoulder at the great surveillance camera in the sky, or the still small wiretap inside your head, monitoring your every move, even your every base thought.
As Einstein said, ‘If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.’
[bold replaced italics in original]

Indeed, Rev. Rod Richards and Prof. Richard Dawkins would do well to learn the following from Albert Einstein: scientists should stick to the science in which they are trained and not pretend to be equally adept as armchair logicians, philosophers, theologians, etc.
Notice, first of all, their combined unloving and unkind intolerance: if you are the sort of person who is perfectly moral but you are moral due to fear or punishment they condemn you—you are not allowed to disagree with them; or you can disagree and suffer their looking down their collective noses at you. This is clearly and utterly intolerant.

I have responded to this fallacious argument in two essays:

The Red Light of Punishment

Is There a Common Misconception Regarding Absolute Moral Claims?

Thus, I will merely sketch a response here:
They are presupposing that they can read the minds and discern the motivations of those whom they condemn. How do they know who is moral due to reward and punishment? Apparently, they merely consider whether someone adheres to such a presumed system. Yet, even then; how do they know? Let us consider Christianity, for example, Christians would likely answer “Why be moral?” by referencing “For the love of God and the love of humans who were made in God’s image.”

Consider this scenario: a soldier is honored with a Purple Heart. During the ceremony Rev. Rod Richards, Prof. Richard Dawkins, Albert Einstein, et al, stand up and shout that the soldier is undeserving since they were merely acting out of fear of punishment and expectation of reward, “If they deserted they feared charges of treason and they were heroic merely due to expectation of being rewarded with a Purple Heart!!!”
I elucidate these points and also point out that atheists are not to be considered as being of pure motive in the essays referenced above.

Rev. Rod Richards also made another confusing and fallacious statement,
“I have often thought that, even if there is a God, atheism would be the most reverent stance toward such a divinity, in the manner of the Jewish tradition of not being allowed to speak God’s name.” [bold replaced italics in original]

Indeed, atheists consider atheism holier than theism and Louise Antony has claimed that God prefers atheism.
Note the fallacies:
If there is a God; denying His existence is the most reverent stance—how?
In the manner of the Jewish tradition of not being allowed to speak God’s name—irrelevant.
The Jewish tradition of not speaking God’s name is due to reverence for the God whom we Jews worship.
Atheists do not speak God’s name, except whilst besmirching Him or as part of an expletive, due to one of atheism’s consoling delusions: out of sight, out of mind—or perhaps; out of mind, out of sight.

Rev. Rod Richards further demonstrates Unitarian Universalist intolerance and fallacies in stating,
“Theists can have a rather disturbing habit of not only believing in God, but talking in depth about what and who God is. It seems, well, sometimes rather irreverent and presumptuous to be on such familiar terms with what is apparently such an awesome figure.”

Yet, as I noted in this parsed essay, and in particular in this segment: Unitarian Universalists believe that “if there is a God” God approves of their pseudo-inclusivism and condemns exclusivism. That is to say, Unitarian Universalists, at the bottom of it, claim to have the one true revelation of God’s will—even if that will is that God be disregarded. Moreover, theists may claim that what we can know about God is precisely that which God has revealed about Himself for the purposes of having us know about Him.

Note that in attempting to express pseudo-syncretism the fallacies cannot help but surface and I hope that you have a better handle on detecting and dissecting them.

Let us consider further examples:
Rev. Rod Richards states,
“There is a spectrum of worldviews that make up atheism, just as there is a spectrum of worldviews that make up theism. There are a variety of interpretations and ramifications of ideas, whether religious or scientific or philosophical, that we need to bring out into the open and discuss.
And atheists are saying, we need to grapple with them as humans, one to another. We cannot pass off our piece of the discussion to a Divine Being whose existence is not recognized by all.”

Not surprisingly, the last sentence presupposes atheism / humanism / secularism. After all, theists may argue that we cannot pass off our piece of the discussion to humans who reject and/or are in open rebellion against God. Also, they may argue that by not referencing a Divine Being they are being intolerantly left out. Lastly, if the discussion is to take place based upon that which is recognized by all no discussion will take place.

[1] New York Magazine, Philip Pullman Realizes ‘Killing God’ Not the Ideal Sales Pitch.
I wrote about this in
Atheism’s Sales Pitch to Children

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