Religious Humanism and me

It’s about time I say it explicitly. Some of you have suspected, although when asked I usually just say, “I’m a Unitarian Universalist!” But the truth is, I am a religious humanist. It’s how I practice religion.

There are many “isms” that are a part of our tradition: theism, deism, humanism, pantheism, religious naturalism, paganism, agnosticism, atheism and too many more to list comprehensively. Then we have many devotions or ways of practicing faith within our tradition: Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hindu, Earth Centered traditions, and more.

I’ve been accused of being a theist. [Simply put: belief in a supernatural God = theism.] I pray during worship, for example. That must be a sign of a theist. Yet prayer for me is no longer theist in understanding or practice. I pray to open myself to all the love and strength that surrounds me, seen and unseen. I pray to get beyond myself and my understanding of “how things work.” Some of the greatest religious humanists I know have prayed in such a manner (I learned from them), especially in our public worship settings where one’s understanding of what is “beyond myself” may be very different from another’s. Public prayer is for all of us, not just the service leader! I’m not a theist.

For a long time I thought I was a deist, or someone who believes reason and observation are sufficient to determine the existence of God, and that traditional religious explanations of miracles (or belief in such) are misguided. “God gave us reason, not religion,” as the World Union of Deists say. Deism has never been engaged enough for me to inform my character and action in the world. And I don’t believe in their God.

I’m certainly informed by Buddhism, but for me it’s practice, not religion—and I’m no more Buddhist than Christian or Jewish, the traditions in my family of origin from which I pull so many rich myths and stories—myths and stories which inform how I live in the world and touch an unconscious awareness that reason alone cannot reach.

Religion humanism fits well. While secular humanism (or pure atheism as it is promoted in many best-selling books) claims that humanity is better off without religion or ritual, religious humanism lifts up our human need to gather in beloved community for solace, strength, and solidarity with likeminded souls. It is based in reason and reverence, in the clear-headed language of science and the “night language” of myth. There are Jewish humanists, existential humanists, even Christian humanists. All humanists, to quote Bill Murry, one of my professors at Meadville Lombard Theological School, believe “in the worth and dignity of every person, a commitment to human betterment, and the necessity for humanity to take responsibility for themselves and the world.” Personal belief is therefore secondary to our responsibilities to the common good. Religious Humanism is a core of my religious faith.

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