05 November 2012

Unitarian Universalism from Hellenic Eyes

Recently, I started attending one of the Unitarian Universalist churches in my city. The specific congregation I chose is lay-led (meaning no minister) and contains less than 30 people on an extremely well-attended day.

In my exploration of different UU churches, I found the ones that allowed lay leaders to talk, along with conversation among the entire congregation, to be the most engaging. It must have some association with the idea of flipped classrooms in academia — you get people involved so their brains light up and can take away something meaningful. Lectures, be they in church or elsewhere, tend to only get large brain responses if we have severe issues with the lecturer’s talking points.

But why am I talking about Unitarian Universalism on a blog for Hellenists?

Yesterday, the lay leader of the service talked in the abstract about the pathway that brought her here. She talked about mottoes: how each of us carries one or more of them to cope, and how they are actually beneficial to spiritual practice and social engagement.

Human beings have a clearly-defined social drive. I go to the service because Unitarian Universalism offers me a way to engage with non-coreligionists in a less-judgmental-than-usual space and to be honest about the path I follow.

In the grand scheme of things, of course I find ideas and concepts within discussions with them that I cannot support. People active in Unitarian Universalism have a tendency to go overboard with two of the Seven Principles — “acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations” and “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning” often become an excuse for a spiritual free-for-all that is accompanied by a discomfort with those who have set paths. Most UU congregations I have interacted with experience this confusion, and it sometimes makes navigating them difficult. The same is true for generalist pagan groups, which sometimes do things such as have a European celebration (such as Mabon or Samhain) and Chinese elemental invocations just because it sounds like a good idea in their search for meaning and openness to other ways of thinking.

As a Hellenist, I follow a specific religious practice. Our ritual language allows us the freedom to think about the little adjustments and not spend the time worrying over ritual structure beyond deciding which hymns we will use, whether we should sacrifice coffee or the more traditional wine and olive oil, which calendar is “most Hellenic,” or whether the gods accept incense made using anachronistic techniques (i.e., not nugget-style on charcoal). In my case, it’s a conflicted feeling about Demeter’s gift of gluten-containing grains because my gluten sensitivity is strong enough that a small amount will send my digestive system into a fit.

Some of the above things turn into arguments, which is refreshing, yet sometimes ridiculous. On the Hellenic spectrum, I have religious interpretations somewhere between the very strict and very liberal. My favorite philosophies, Stoicism and Neoplatonism, didn’t fully develop until ... a bit after 5th Century BCE Athens.

We are a diverse group of people, and that diversity is emphasized by interacting with other groups. I chose the UU church I’m attending because, as it has CUUPS, it’s easier to come out as a polytheist than it would be if the congregation had consisted entirely of ex-Catholics and secular humanists. (Of course, outside of the online circles, people haven’t exactly been exposed to the “I’m a polytheist, but not pagan” argument that we have rehashed over and over again in the polytheistic blogosphere.) It’s an interesting position to be in.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that the Unitarian Universalist Seven Principles are valuable ways to foster religious engagement across ideological lines. They provide a suitable framework for engendering respect among people with diverse backgrounds.

As with other things in life, creating strong habits (in this case of religious practice) benefits the human organism, and so I encourage people who are spiritual explorers to ensure that the methods they adopt create strong routines, regardless of whether the routines and habits come from assuming a specific ideological framework or not.

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