UU Humanist Takes On Spritual 'Malarkey'
(Universalist Herald - January-February 1998)
By James A. Haught
Religion has two components: (A) the humane - preaching
compassion and brotherhood; (B) the supernatural - worshiping
invisible gods and saviors, anticipating magical heavens and
hells, rebuking unseen devils, praying for miracle healings,
I've always felt that A was marvelous and B was
When I was young, Unitarian Universalism mostly
reflected my view. Although the denomination contained a wide
variety of people, nearly all the members I knew were
science-minded rationalists, mostly chemists and college
professors. They rejected supernaturalism while endorsing
humanitarianism. That fit me like a glove. I never thought of
UUism as a religion, but rather as a humanist philosophy.
Gradually, I came to see the world as a huge loony bin in which
billions of people pray to hundreds of deities that actually
don't exist. I felt that priests of many stripes aggrandize
themselves by perpetuating delusions. To me, it's grotesque for
them to teach children that an invisible deity waits to punish
or reward them after they die. Belief in a spirit realm has
endless variations - from "channeling" souls from
Atlantis, to foretelling the future with Tarot cards. I felt
that honest people have a moral duty to challenge the whole
rigmarole. To this end, I wrote many "freethought"
articles and books.
Meanwhile, our denomination changed, with a trend away
from my view. Perhaps it happened because we're tolerant
liberals who welcome everyone as equals. "New Age"
mystics and "Earth Goddess" pagans felt at home in UU
congregations, and invited their friends. Now we're a peculiar
mix of old-line agnostics and "spiritual" newcomers.
Today, one of the trustees of my fellowship is a Wicca
practitioner. I guess she's a "good witch," but I'm
afraid to ask.
Embracing everybody in a creedless church is a noble
notion, but it presents problems. What will we do if
"God-hates-fags" fundamentalists, or white
supremacists, or abortion clinic harassers begin attending? They
are people too. Being all-inclusive, we couldn't turn them away.
(This seems far-fetched, I admit - but a decade ago, I'd have
said the same about Wicca witches.)
Frankly, I can't think of any solution to our
humanism-versus-spiritualism tug-of-war. I wouldn't expel anyone
from the church - and I'm not ready to quit myself. Maybe it's
good that a sour old cynic like me is confronted with
starry-eyed believers. It forces me to clarify my values and
ideas, for the internal debate. I won't stop expressing my view
that supernaturalism is hokum, but I want to do it in the
To remind UUs of their skeptical tradition, I put my
writings into an Internet web site, and I'm e-mailing
congregations around North America, inviting members to read my
pitch. I really don't expect to have much impact, but I want to
keep the voice of doubt from dying out entirely in our