I used to identify as a Unitarian Universalist (UU) and an atheist. That’s getting harder and harder for many to do as these groups grow apart. Some have asked, “Can an Atheist be a Unitarian Universalist?” For this atheist the gulf between theism and non-theism within my UU congregation became too large. Perhaps one day I’ll do another atheistic sermon as a guest speaker, but I probably won’t speak as a UU again.
UU’s are ok with atheism, as long as it’s not taken too seriously. Be a good atheist, not a trouble maker. When it comes to your core beliefs “don’t ask, don’t tell” is a good policy. Even better call yourself an agnostic and be prepared to recognize and celebrate the many advantages gained from more spiritual perspectives. You are not an equal at the table in discussions of meaning and value. Ancient books and traditions, sanitized of course, are much more deserving of respect than anything a godless person might develop through reason.
Even so, UUs are probably atheist’s best friends today. But most UU’s that speak out and support atheism leave a lot to be desired. Let’s look at a UU sermon supporting atheism titled Spirituality of Atheism. This sermon is more sympathetic and appreciative of atheists than most. It starts off decrying shameful bigotry committed against an atheist. The sermon tells the story of an “outed” college professor receiving anonymous notes, threatening phone calls, having his car vandalized, his 9 year old son physically attacked, and enduring organized efforts by churches directed against him. The sense of injustice and the sympathy offered is a good start. We need friends who recognize the bigotry we face and speak out against it.
But then Reverend goes on and although he says he understands our anger, he ends up comparing prominent atheists to the anti-atheist bigots who harassed the college professor:
- … “End of Faith” atheists like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens who espouse rigid, rampant intolerance against anything that’s NOT atheism, whose “one way, one truth, one life” mentality is just as narrow and fundamentalist as the bigots who attacked Dr. Zellner, except they’re going in the exact opposite direction.
I’m pretty well read as regards Harris, Dawkins, Dennet and Hitchens. I can’t imagine what they all might have all done to deserves this collective comparison to the bigots who threatened, bullied, attacked and vandalized the college professor and his family. It’s not often you see UU’s even gently criticize religious extremist, but the kindly Dr. Daniel Dennet is fair game for a horrible slur. I don’t want to pick on this minister, he seems more welcoming than most. UU leaders and publications frequently refer to “militant” and “fundamentalist” atheists, terms they do not so readily apply to others. I can never really figure out what these “new-atheists” have done that is so horrible. But for this “ creed-less religion” harsh assumptions around atheism seems to be emerging as a dogma that needs no justification ,defense or calls for any further discussion.
As I mentioned earlier UUs are probably the best religious friends atheists have. Because they share a lot of similarities and common goals atheists and UUs should be allies and friends. But when our best friends within that group equate us with those who vandalize, terrorize, threaten and attack, it makes me wish we had better friends.