(or, why I am a Unitarian Universalist, part 1)
“Naturalism replaces theism, but it doesn’t replace religion.”
That quote is from the concluding remarks in a recent debate on cosmology and the origin of the universe. The entire debate is fascinating, though a lot of it is certainly above my pay-grade. This is a topic which inspires awe in me and which I intend to research in more depth, in the near-future.
I really like what the naturalist in this debate, Sean Carroll, has to say here in his closing speech. The main reason that I identify as a Unitarian Universalist is precisely because of the sentiments that he expresses here. In my previous religious identity (modern conservative Evangelical/Baptist) there was simply no room to ask “what if they were wrong?” What if all of the prophets and wise-men and sages of the Biblical era were simply misguided and confused about fundamental aspects of our universe and how it, and we (Homo sapiens) came to be? (Note – this wouldn’t rule out them being right about some things, I no longer view Holy Texts as “take it or leave it” legal contracts) There wasn’t real room to ask (or even approach) such a question for the simple reason that the answer was already decided and participation in the group depended upon continuing to accept the provided answers (and for things you simply can’t accept you are required to “take it on faith“).
Within Unitarian Universalism it is not only acceptable to ask such questions privately (no one will fear for your eternal soul or presume that you have a character defect) but members are actually encouraged to ask such questions and to bring them out into the open for serious review and discussion. This reflects a deeply held value which I believe stems (in large part) from our Unitarian heritage. The early American and British Unitarians were liberal in their fellowship with others, but they were also not afraid to buck the trend of the dominant tradition at the time (orthodox, Calvinist-leaning Trinitarianism) even though this lead to their expulsion from traditional groups. Many of their key theologians valued the arguments for doctrines and believed that reason and faith ought to be inseparable friends, rather than enemies (like many religious liberals they observed that reason often lost out to faith when there was a conflict). Today, this desire to embrace rational inquiry is expressed in the “fourth principle” which all UUs covenant to affirm and promote.
The fourth principle which we seek to promote is:
“A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”
To that I say “Amen.”
[Note: you can read all of the "7 principles" of UU here: http://www.uua.org/beliefs/principles/]