I use to live in an area where a Unitarian Universalist (UU) sanctuary was literally right across the street from the place I lived. I didn't know much about UUs or their religious tenants. Honestly, I was so stuck in nihilism for such a long period of time that I had a difficult time caring much about any religion. Also factored in was my agnosticism, which led me to really not caring much about any religion. Sure, I had a desire to know the basics of what people believed but I didn't really WANT religion. I had too much Lutheranism growing up, thank-you-very-much.
When my daughter was born, something changed in me. I felt it was necessary to at least expose her to the broader religious tenants that govern our society. I rationalized that just because I didn't find purpose in a religious community, that should mean I should intentionally deny her any education or experience on the matter. So when I started exploring the UU across the street, I found that it was an extremely open community that mashed the old Christian Unitarian church ( a sect that rejected trinitarianism) with a sect that rejected the concept of hell (Universalism). The result was an accessible community that almost anyone could walk into with no dogmas. Sounds cool, right?
We went to a few sermons and I discovered a minister that was hip, a congregation that was similar in temperament to me, and a religion that didn't preach hellfire. Plus, they have a bitching coffee hour and the music was almost always on point! For years, I participated in events and listened to the spiritual musings of the minister and many guest speakers. I participated in meditation sessions and my daughter grew around UUs. But something nagged at me. I had a hard time identifying it at first but the social events that preceded COVID-19 really helped me identify the schism that had developed within.
First, I discovered that I indeed did have a spiritual path. Don't laugh, this was a surprise to me! My concept of spiritual growth had a lot to do with reading Carl Jung. I was also exploring meditation and yoga, which helped me to experience (and control) my mind - something that also gives a mystical-like experience when practiced. I discovered the teachings of Buddha and learned the advantages of staying on a path - of living on the path with a smile. I opened my mind to Jesus and his Sermon on the Mount. I considered that prospects of a man trying to change the world for the better, only to have his message be a death sentence. Through a recovery community I discovered the spirituality accessible through deep connections and learning to deal with suffering. And through family I learned the time-honored skill of love and redemption. Oddly, however, I didn't really get any of these lessons through the UU. I listened to a great deal of sermons. A few of them really moved me. But none of them changed me in any way. That was my first issue with UUism, it didn't really change my internal spiritual barometer. I had walked in a half full, but I was never really topped off.
Also, around the same time, pronouns entered the mix. This was perhaps the thing that gave me the greatest internal conflicts. Almost instantaneously, speakers and parishioners were announcing their pronouns from the podium. It seems like a silly thing to bother me, but yet I was. I see the use of pronouns as a type of identity politics that has now taken over social protocols. There use to be a time when, if you misgendered someone, you just apologized and corrected the mistake. My name is Stacy, I was a skinny boy with a girl's name. I went through that - often! Did social protocols have to be changed? Especially in the UU, which is - without a doubt- the most liberal religious community on the planet. Does anyone really think that anyone within the community would act with malice towards another on the basis of gender? Yet, the protocol was adopted by members seemingly without any conversation on what social good would arise form such a practice. Does the congregation feel more welcoming? More inclusive? Ah - there might be the rub. Perhaps this is not being done for any social good, but rather for the perception that those partaking in such an activity might be more welcoming. And while I can never definitively say what people's intentions are, I sometimes wondered if my fellow UUs were in-fact virtue signaling ( and maybe not even conscious of it).
It's not like I didn't talk to these congregation members in coffee hours or at social functions. There was indeed a lot of social activism and extreme opinions on a variety of topics. Many of the people held beliefs that centered around social rebellion, defiance and greater good. Unfortunately , they seemed less interest in anyone else's sense of greater good. And there was the rub. This blog is entitled Freethinking. I am a freethinker. I explore all kinds of ideas, even ones that piss me off. But I'm not very good at hive mind thinking. Maybe that's part of the problem I have with religion. There is still too much of me that wants the freedom to cast doubt, to question others and maybe even have difficult conversations. To me, that is what it means to be truly free. I don't think the UUs participate in speech suppression, but rather do anything they feel contributes to the common good. In so doing, I rarely - if ever -would see a discourse on why behaviors were inherently good or bad. Was this not the role of religion to answer?
This lead me to a greater realization that my growth as a spiritual being was happening outside the UU, and my connection to the congregation increasingly strained by any lack of that development. Indeed, connection to others (a form of spiritually) was difficult for me in the UU but was often deep and rich in other communities. Perhaps my spiritual path lies in rich discourse, in a way where feelings and emotions are shared and felt. I don't mind being in the audience, but occasionally I'd like to be a speaker!