Many of us continue to feel frightened and vulnerable in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States. We’re fearful for the values we hold dear, the vulnerable populations we are committed to protect, what shape our own lives may take, and for the future of our nation itself. There is reason to feel that way: Muslims, people of color, women, the entire LGBTQ community, immigrants (particularly but not exclusively Middle Easterners and Mexicans), those who “look Middle Eastern,” are all threatened based on who they are rather than on anything they might have done. Now more than ever, we need to stand together against the forces that seek to divide us. All of us—each and every one of us—stands to lose if the forces of exclusion, oppression, and division prevail.
Humanism and religion are fundamentally in accord on this basic point. Many people equate humanism with either secularism or atheism. While some humanists are either secularists or atheists, not all are. Some humanists are anti-religious, but not all are. Humanism is a thread that has been woven into the fabric of religion for centuries, and continues to be. Christian humanism was born in the Renaissance. Today there are vibrant humanistic emphases in most of humankind’s religious and spiritual traditions.
It’s worth reviewing both our Sources and our Principles in this context, since for many of us in our beloved community, neither remains in the forefront of our minds a lot of the time [I’m including myself here.] Religion and humanism flow together in our values and commitments; both our Sources and our Principles can encourage, guide, and support us in the difficult work that lies ahead.
We Unitarian Universalists draw on Sources that sink our roots deeply into both religious and spiritual traditions and humanism: In addition to our direct experience of the wonder and mystery of life, we draw on not just one religious or spiritual path, but all of them. While Jewish and Christian teachings receive their own bullet point in the Sources, they do not stand alone. While they may hold a privileged place for some of us, they do not for all of us. The humanist sources on which we draw remind us that faith and reason need not contradict each other, and warn us against idolatries and demagogueries of all sorts.
Our Principles too reflect values that are common to both humanism and religion. Adherents of some faith traditions, or of certain interpretations of them, may quarrel with some of our Principles. Even among ourselves, interpretations vary widely, and our own interpretations may change as we grow. Some humanists may not fully embrace the emphasis on spiritual growth mentioned in the third principle. Adherents of religious traditions such as the one in which I was raised tend to emphasize human sinfulness and depravity over the inherent worth and dignity of all people. That being said, the overall thrust of the Principles is one that those who identify as religious, spiritual or humanistic can hold in high esteem:
Our affirmation of the inherent worth and dignity of all persons leads directly to the importance of justice, equity and compassion in our relationships. This unites religious people and humanists in their opposition to deporting people because of who they are or where they come from. It also mandates standing against human trafficking, abuse, and a host of other issues on which those in both groups agree. Our emphasis on acceptance helps make our faith communities safe places for a wide variety of people. It also encourages us to be open to diversity, to learning from the paths of others whose vision nay be very different from our own. In this climate, religion and humanism can enrich each other. Our emphasis on a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, widely shared by humanists and progressive religious and spiritual traditions alike, stands against demagoguery and heavy-handed authoritarianism of all types.
Many religious persons and humanists alike can agree on the importance of extending the use of the democratic process as widely as possible. For many of us, this is a key factor in shaping a world of peace, liberty and justice that extends to all people. And that community extends beyond just people to embrace the entire web of existence. We humans do not live in isolation, but as one elements in a vast, interconnected web of life.
Our richness lies in our diversity and our inclusion, in our strength and in our compassion, our hope in our ongoing commitment to the values that protect and uplift all. In my mind, religion and humanism are not adversaries. They are partners on a common quest. People who draw their sense of meaning from religion or spirituality, and those who draw it from immersion in the world of humanity and nature – are human beings, people, before we are either humanist or religious. We seek lives of meaning, value, and purpose, however we define that.