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09 December 2006 @ 03:30 am
As I've learned about and become more involved with Unitarian Universalism through the Second Unitarian Church of Chicago, the experience has moved me to reconsider my vocabulary of religion.

I don't believe in a personalized deity or deities who need or desire my worship and obedience, and I've come to believe that everything I am and will be is part of the natural universe. My sense of UUism is that it is (or strives to be) compatible with such a naturalistic outlook. Yet, while the UU liturgy and Seven Principles are generally circumspect about "God," they do lean rather heavily on "faith" and "spirit." On Sunday mornings, UUs get together in "worship" focused on these concepts.

If I resolve to appreciate the miracles of the merely natural, what do these words mean to me? Can I meaningfully participate in the UU religion -- or any religion -- if I believe that all the magic is being achieved in accordance with the laws of physics? If so, is this practice still "religion" or merely fellowship? Is there anything important in the distinction?

As an American, I often look to the gospel of Noah Webster (as kept by his associates, the company of the bros. Merriam) for clarity in questions of language. As an technical editor in an electronic medium, I do a lot of cutting and pasting to find the clearest through-line in jumbles of meaning. Working from this background, and using orthodox dictionary definitions, I've tried to piece together a possible description of what goes on each Sunday at 2U that doesn't require recourse to the supernatural. Here's what I ended up with:

UUism involves religious worship:

A form of practice with its creed and ritual manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality -- a cause, principle, or system of beliefs for which there is no proof.

This practice serves to recognize, explore, and celebrate the divine spirit:

The infinite mind as revealed in the immaterial intelligent or sentient, moral and emotional nature of human beings.

Color key:

"Editorial wisdom"

From the Book of Merriam-Webster -- with which to create your own mashup, or to argue...


1: an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms

2b: a supernatural being or essence: as SOUL 2a --> "the spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe"

4: the immaterial intelligent or sentient part of a person

5a: the moral and emotional nature of human beings
5b: the quality that arouses emotion and sentiment


1b(1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural
1b(2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance

2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith


1: relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity

2: of, relating to, or devoted to religious beliefs or observances

FAITH (n.)

2a(1): belief and trust in and loyalty to God
2a(2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
2b(1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof

3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially a system of religious beliefs

GOD (n.)(capitalized)

1: the supreme or ultimate reality, as:
1a: the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe
1b: the incorporeal divine Principle ruling over all as eternal Spirit: infinite Mind


2: reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also: an act of expressing such reverence
3: a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual

DEITY (n.)

3 : one exalted or revered as supremely good or powerful
Current Music: True Margrit - Losing Face By Degrees
stargazzystargazzy on December 9th, 2006 10:37 pm (UTC)
I Have to Ask a Hard Question
So, any conclusions? Would you say that at this point your participation at 2U qualifies as religion or as fellowship? Or is that something you're still working on?
Tongue, Fennel, and Funnelsomepeople on December 10th, 2006 03:50 am (UTC)
Re: I Have to Ask a Hard Question
Since I'm leaning toward the notion of a religious organization as a specific type of fellowship, I'd say "both."

I could live with an understanding of the UU religion as a spiritual fellowship, where the spirit is an amazing property of this physical universe that we can't currently quantify, and which is therefore an object of faith and a matter of every person's subjective reality.

In practice, I think I need to see for myself what makes the UU/2U sort of fellowship more or less valuable in my life. I'm tempted to go off the same sort of tangent as when I responded to one of your posts about unschooling, wherein I would:

1. List all the things a religious group *does*, both for its members and through its members for each other and for the world at large

2. Consider which of those things feel most important to me and evaluate over time how well UU/2U does them or gives me a way to do them that compares favorably to other paths or groups.

But this probably says more about my own peculiar way of overthinking this sort of thing than it is anything useful for the world outside my head.