Religious Humanism

The living tradition we Unitarian Universalists share draws on many sources. We officially list six. Our fifth source is:
“Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.”
The Liberal Pulpilt's previous series, "Respond to Whose Love?" reflected on the fourth source:
“Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbor as ourselves.”
Now The Liberal Pulpit explores the issue of God from a humanist angle. Some background about that:

We are celebrating this year the 80th anniversary of the 1933 Humanist Manifesto. (I know many of us have been making the circuit of celebratory '33 Manifesto anniversary parties!)

The Manifesto was very much a product of developing Unitarian thought. Unitarian ministers such as Rev. John Dietrich and Rev. Curtis Reese began thinking about a religion without God in early years of the 20th century. Dietrich and Reese met each other 1918. Dietrich was then serving the First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis and Reese was serving a Unitarian congregation in Iowa. They and others collaborated in further developing Unitarian Humanism.

The Humanist Manifesto of 1933 had 33 original signatories, 15 of whom were Unitarian ministers, including Dietrich, Reese, and one Rev. R. Lester Mondale (a relative of former vice-president Mondale), who, late in his career, served Community Unitarian Church at White Plains for a stint in 1962 and a second stint in 1965. One Universalist minister was a signatory, as were 17 other prominent public intellectuals who had been brought on board with the project.

The entire manifesto is just 11-hundred words – a couple pages. Please CLICK HERE and give it a read, or re-read. Here are some excerpts which will give you some of the flavor of the document (including the male-dominated language of the time). This is about one-third of the entirety:
"The time has come for widespread recognition of the radical changes in religious beliefs throughout the modern world.... In every field of human activity, the vital movement is now in the direction of a candid and explicit humanism.... Today man's larger understanding of the universe, his scientific achievements, and deeper appreciation of brotherhood, have created a situation which requires a new statement of the means and purposes of religion.... We therefore affirm the following:
Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created. Humanism believes that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as a result of a continuous process....
Humanism asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values….
Religion must formulate its hopes and plans in the light of the scientific spirit and method.... We are convinced that the time has passed for theism, [or] deism,...
Religion consists of those actions, purposes, and experiences which are humanly significant. Nothing human is alien to the religious. The distinction between the sacred and the secular can no longer be maintained....
In the place of the old attitudes involved in worship and prayer the humanist finds his religious emotions expressed in a heightened sense of personal life and in a cooperative effort to promote social well-being....
We assert that humanism will: (a) affirm life rather than deny it; (b) seek to elicit the possibilities of life, not flee from them; and (c) endeavor to establish the conditions of a satisfactory life for all, not merely for the few.... Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement.”
I am stirred and moved by the boldness of these Humanists 80 years ago – by their vision and their hope.

The implicit critique of traditional religion – which, for them, pretty much meant Christianity – is valid. The West's religious tradition has often not harmonized well with the understandings emerging through the work of scientists. The West's religious tradition has sometimes obstructed rather than aided progress in addressing modern social problems. It has often separated people rather than bringing them together. So the Humanists said, “Let’s do religion. Religions have always been means for realizing the highest values of life, and we need that. But let’s have religion without God."

Today we still live in a world where people plant bombs – on themselves, in cars, in buildings – and fly jet airliners into buildings – and are led to do so in a way that is enmeshed with their understanding about something they call God.

Today we still live in a world where, only somewhat less violently, people want to take away women’s reproductive freedom, and punitively stigmatize gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, and their thinking makes heavy and frequent reference to something they call God.

Today we still live in a world where our children are liable to be told by their classmates that they are going to hell.

Today we still live in a world where a few people make it their life's mission to devise elaborate refutations of evolution, and where more than a few people work to change the public school science curricula to present as science their views about something they call God.

Today we still live in a world where our own experience of many religious institutions is that their devotion to something they call God goes hand in hand with authoritarianism: they don’t allow questioning; they don’t allow critical thinking; they demand uncritical acceptance of authority. They say that the authority is a book, but the perceptive quickly see the authority really is a community of human leaders who have settled on one interpretation of that book, when the book itself equally well – or better -- supports very different readings.

Today we still live in a world where we see that “faith” so often means “believe what the authority figure tells you to believe and pray what the authority figure tells you to pray.”

Today we still live in a world where countries that measure higher on religiosity, venerating something they call God, also measure higher on violence, drug and alcohol addictions, teen pregnancies, imprisonment rates, and high school drop-out rates.

No wonder it would seem important to Humanists three generations ago as well as today to call for a religion that doesn’t have this thing called God in it.

* * *
This is Part 1 of 3 of "There Is No God and She Is Always with You"
See also:
Part 2: The New New Atheism
Part 3: Idolatry

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