Should my kids go to a Unitarian Universalist church?
February 28, 2006 6:57 AM   Subscribe

Unitarian Universalism - is it for atheists/non-theists/skeptics/secular humanists who want a sense of community, or is it really a gathering place for people of different faiths to find common ground?

I know there have been a couple of threads that have discuss UU, but none of them have really addressed my questions.

Here's my situation (I'll try to keep it short)...I'm an atheist/nontheist - that is, I do not believe in a god or gods. I value reason and science over faith and superstition. My politics lean extremely left, and find religion to be on the wrong side of almost everything I feel is good and just.

That said, I am married and have children. For years, my nontheist wife has been saying that she would like to go to a UU church because she feels she is missing community. However, since she would be bringing along our young children, I have protested. Prior to having children, we had discussed how strongly I felt that children should be free from religious indoctrination.

Anyway, having read tons on UU on the web, I still don't understand any more about it. I have read that UU is full of "atheists with kids". I've also read that there is a huge "spiritual" component to it.

Anyway, are there any atheists who have attended or been brought up attending a UU church that could shed some light?
posted by tom_g to Religion & Philosophy (49 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I grew up Unitarian, and have gone to several UU churches. They are comprised, mostly, of liberals disaffected by whatever religious tradition they were brought up in--ex-Jews, ex-Catholics, etc.

Nevertheless, they have a profound concern with ethics, and the church provides them an opportunity to build a community of people with the same concerns. In the church I grew up with, about 40% of the "sermons" were concerned with ethics, 40% with politics, and 20% with sex or sexual politics.

I love Unitarian "types," and though I now am a practicing Buddhist, I sometimes think about connecting with my local community's UU church, just because I like the people.
posted by curtm at 7:05 AM on February 28, 2006


Off topic, I guess, but if your wife is missing community alone, there are a LOT of groups out there which can offer this without the religious component -- sports/hobby groups, interest groups (i.e. the environment, education, helping the less fortunate) etc. Community can also be fostered without an explicit subject at hand, just invite the neighbours over for a barbecue, or something. Just my two cents...
posted by dagny at 7:08 AM on February 28, 2006


If you're looking for a non-deist community group you might look into the Ethical Culture thing. It's sort of like UU without the idea of a god.
posted by bshort at 7:12 AM on February 28, 2006


I am an atheist, or rather a "you've got to be kidding that you think that humans have the capacity to understand a higher power and what petty forms of worship that power might desire" (is there a name for that kind of person?). I was also brought up in a UU church, and have mostly positive things to say about it.

That said, I removed myself from the UU church as soon as I left for college and haven't considered returning, much for the same reasons you are stating. I now have two children, which makes me all the more of that mind. Like you, I do not think church is any place for children.

I have several friends that started going to church after they had kids, for the same reason your wife has stated: community. Personally, I thought that's what my friends were, my community. They also joined more traditional christian churches, which creeped me out all the more.

But, to answer your question more directly, it sounds like you and I share our views pretty tightly, and I can tell you there is not a better "fit" for you and your family than the UUs. They have core values, but it's pretty much free form after that. Free thinking is rabidly encouraged there, and my UU church growing up had everything from atheists to muslims to buddhists to nudist christians (not kidding).

Still, I wouldn't do it. Move into a neighborhood with a personality that fits yours and call your neighbors and friends your community.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:15 AM on February 28, 2006


New England liberal here. Been to probably 30 UU services, dated a couple UU's, total atheist.

The short answer is that you can't tell what a particular congregational will be like without visiting it. Some are almost Transcendentalist and overtually spiritual, while others are so loose that it's practically just a club for liberals that meets at 10:00 every Sunday.

The thing I don't like about it that the churches I've attended are basically full of what I would call "liberal fundamentalists"-- they believe that certain tenents of liberal outlook are just given and don't need defending and if you question anything someone's going to be really offended. Plus, I can't see the benefit of dragging my ass to church in the cold to reaffirm my humanitarianism.

You won't hurt your kids by taking them to UU services. They'll either like it (the people tend to be really warm and nice even if they're flaky) or resent you for wasting their sunday mornings.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:18 AM on February 28, 2006


Wikipedia also has an excellent run down of UUs, including a breakdown of beliefs of its members.

The ethical culture thing seems interesting, but I should say that my experience with growing up UU involved no explicit instruction on what UUs think God is. Sunday school was more like one long (and for a kid, exceptionally boring) survey course of the world's religions.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:20 AM on February 28, 2006


UU churches have members, with kids or no kids, that range from atheists to humanists to earth-based worshipers to moderate theistic Christians. My best advice for you is to attend local UU churches and see which, if any, you can feel comfortable at. I see your in MA, so there's probably quite a few around.

They vary a lot church to church. Most ministers, in their sermons, assume some level of higher/spiritual power. But again, that varies. In terms of children, I've never attended or heard of a Sunday school class at a UU church that indoctrinates into a particular set of believe--even about the existence of god. To answer your first question, I'd say it's slightly more the first, but definately the latter as well. As curtm says, a fair number of UUs are the outcasts of other religions. My guess is that that will be less so in Massachusetts since there's been such a long history of Unitarianism there (for example, the original Pilgrim church house in Plymouth, MA became a Unitarian church in 1800 and the congregationalists had to move across the street).

In terms of politics, most UU churches and members are solidly left socially. Slightly less so fiscially because most UUs are fairly wealthy, but more so than any other church. I'd say that there is a good chance, if you're willing to shop around, you'll be able to find a church you, your wife, and your children would like and feel comfortable in. In case you haven't found it, here's the UUA Congregation finder.

Overall, defining UUism is a tricky thing. Both "parts" (Unitarianism and Universalism) have historically assumed either an unifined God in the former or a God of Universal salvation in the second. And the Unitarian churches in the former Transylvania (where Unitarianism began, more or less (it's more complex than that of course)) are still, without a doubt, Christian, just without Jesus being part of God.

However, in America, it's progressively become less and less Christian. With, as I say above, variations. Since the UUA is non-creedal and non-dogmatic, it's hard to define. But all UU churches attempt to follow the Principles and Purposes. So, I'd say, unless you're deadset against the idea, try attending a few UU churches. Maybe iwthout your kids, although I'm sure that they won't be indoctrinated in a day or two.
posted by skynxnex at 7:21 AM on February 28, 2006


In my experience, if you're really a committed atheist who believes in science, you probably won't find UU any more palatable than any other religion, because you'll find a lot of people who just generically believe any sort of spiritual stuff that comes their way. (Not to be offensive, I just think this is how an atheist would view it).
posted by dagnyscott at 7:23 AM on February 28, 2006


My husband is a dyed-in-the-wool atheist, and I'm slightly less dogmatically so. We're both very leftist in our politics, interested in moral/ethical issues, and try to be connected to our community. We met at our UU church.

That said, the biggest warning I can give you is that the level of humanism, spirituality, etc., depends very strongly on the individual UU church, its minister (if there is one) and its members. Age of members often matters--I understand that the bigger UU churches about 45 minutes away from my tiny one have a lot more older members who are die-hard humanists and allergic to any kind of "god talk," so their services focus a lot more on social action and ethics (no "Dances of Universal Peace" for them, thank you--which they might find at a younger or more "crunchy" UU church). I see that you're from Massachusetts, tom_g, which is pretty much the hotbed of UU-ism, so you may have several options within a decent radius; check out a couple churches and see what might suit you or your family best.

I follow a lot of UU internet discussion and it seems pretty clear these days that the UUs who feel more disconnected to/have more concerns with the path that the religion seems to be taking are those who have theist leanings, rather than atheist. I think most of my local church members are atheists, but they're generally atheists who are, in fact, willing to listen to theist service leaders discuss their own beliefs. I also think that when people talk about "God" in services, they're a lot more likely to talk about "him" as a concept and are very aware that different people, and different religions, are going to have very different interpretations. No one's going to come out and say "this IS the truth about God, dammit!"

Re kids and religious indoctrination--UU religious instruction is generally geared toward teaching kids to think critically and behave ethically (i.e., with kindness, compassion, and reason), rather than indoctrinating them or teaching them superstition. Many curricula investigate different religions in order to give kids a more thorough understanding of what makes religious people tick and what might be valuable within each religion (and I think that these days, that kind of understanding is going to be vital to navigating the world).

(On preview, what Mayor Curley said sounds about right--including the reservations about the liberal fundamentalists, which is an issue for many current or potential UUs--including me--who get suspicious of overly homogenous groups and/or the potential for too big a sense of moral superiority or snottiness. Still, UUism has proven very helpful and hopeful for me, despite these issues--and I also think that's it's valuable that we CAN identify them as issues, rather than blindly following cookie-cutter religious tenets.)

Good luck--let us know where you end up?
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:26 AM on February 28, 2006


"is it for atheists/non-theists/skeptics/secular humanists who want a sense of community, or is it really a gathering place for people of different faiths to find common ground?"

Neither (or both). It's for anyone who wants to explore their own personal religious beliefs within a wider community. That may or may not lead to common ground, but the point is that each individual finds her own path. Some of those paths are theistic and some are atheistic. If you don't want to expose your children to religious ideas at all, don't go to a UU (or any) church. But if you just want them to think critically about religion, you're not likely to find a better place for that than a UU church.
posted by scottreynen at 7:29 AM on February 28, 2006


I'd visit a local service by myself before taking the kids.

I tried out a service a few years ago, and was utterly turned off with all the god-this and god-that.

It can be very comforting for folks who grew up going to church and miss that structure. To someone who didn't go to church, it was pretty damned creepy.
posted by frykitty at 7:31 AM on February 28, 2006


In high school, one of my best friends was the son of a UU preacher. Despite being rasied by this minister, my friend maintains extraordinarily nontheistic beliefs--I can't say that he is an atheist, but I really don't think he concerns himself with the thought. I remember sitting at their dinner table and playing conversational table tennis about ethics; I heard no mention of a higher power at any point.

That said, I've never actually attended the UU church.

I have heard, though, that the youth retreats are drug-filled orgies for teenagers. I have no substantiation for this, only a number of independent reports.

Here in Philly we have the Ethical Society. Perhaps you have something similar in Mass? They say something about having chapters in Boston. Actually, having now read a bit of their site, this seems to be a +1 for the Ethical Culture stuff mentioned above.
posted by Netzapper at 7:36 AM on February 28, 2006


I understand where folks are coming from with the whole theist, anthropomorphic "god" thing. I've done the UU thing in the past and felt the Sunday "service" was still too "traditional," at least the place where I attended. And there's no Ethical Society group around here, unlike in NYC.

What about the Quakers? I have been thinking and reading a great deal about them lately, though I have not attended a meeting yet. I like the idea of not needing/wanting any intermediaries in your relationship with "the light," however you may perceive that."

I have no interest though in attending Quaker meetings just to turn into an anti-war activist (although I sympatize with the cause).

Any thoughs or experience with the Quakers?
posted by bim at 7:54 AM on February 28, 2006


I like the Quakers a lot, but in my experience, they are definitely theistic. You will hear a lot about God and Jesus around Quakers.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:59 AM on February 28, 2006


Like everyone else says, the big deal about UUs is based on what their membership is. I went to the UU in the town I'm from a couple times, there were heated debates from members as to whether they were leaning too far to the spiritual side or what.

All in all, though, there's no reason to be so religiophobic. Even if it is a meeting place for a ton of denominations to communicate with one another, it's better for your kids than sitting them at home with a stack of Hume. They'll end up joining a crazy religious sect when they go to college if you don't build up their tolerance accordingly, and a UU is a safe place to do it.
posted by soma lkzx at 8:02 AM on February 28, 2006


The First Parish in Concord Mass. has several hundred sermons on-line. The more recent ones have podcasts. You can get an idea of what we talk about from that.

My favorite UU joke: What is a Unitarian Universalist? An atheist with children.
posted by stoney at 8:04 AM on February 28, 2006


Personally, I've been very much not impressed with the UUs I've interviewed. It may not exhibit the strong form of religious indoctrination wherein some revealed truth is drilled into children, but it does bear some strong similarities. The uniformity of the membership, the need to emulate various traditional religious poses (ministers, hymns, confessions), and, most disturbingly of all, the not-critical-or-skeptical-everything's-ok attitude towards traditional religions. There are stories, though admittedly no real stats, of UUism serving as a gateway drug for your more classical religious kookery. Also (and the Wikipedia article confirms this for what it's worth) there is a growing theistic trend in UUism, especially as more and more Pagans show up. So, I'd say keep the kids far, far away.

I wonder if your wife really wants community. There are a lot of places to get community. Instead of spending your Sundays listening to a 'minister' I'd say either do volunteer work as a family or, even more fun if your kids like it, go the creative route and look for some arts project--a play or the like--that can involve the whole family.
posted by nixerman at 8:08 AM on February 28, 2006


Response by poster: Thanks everyone.
I'm going to have to go this weekend to see what it's all about. I can't imagine how a place called a "church" that has a "minister" and has "sermons" isn't going to make me nauseous. However, we'll see...

Regarding some of the comments above - I actually don't want to hide religion and superstition from my kids. However, I want them to learn about it like they would learn about any myth, social ill, or illness. This is my job, and I feel that it could be undermined by a bombardment of spirituality and "religion is good" stuff.
posted by tom_g at 8:10 AM on February 28, 2006


tom_g, upon re-reading your question it may be that your wife is less interested in community (since there are tons of alternatives) and more in a sense of structure and the feeling of belonging. Do you have a large extended family? Know your neighbors well? A lot of friends? You may want to talk with your wife some more and determine if the real problem here is 'belonging' since, in that case, the role-play incorporated into UU may be a necessary part of any solution.
posted by nixerman at 8:16 AM on February 28, 2006


Response by poster: nixerman. You're probably on to something. To be honest, I don't understand where she's coming from with regards to the whole church thing. However, while we're not really friendly with our neighbors, she's active in social, parenting, and quasi-political groups.

Also, she was raised w/o religion and didn't go to church, so it's not a "return to my childhood comfort" thing.
posted by tom_g at 8:27 AM on February 28, 2006


is it for atheists/non-theists/skeptics/secular humanists who want a sense of community, or is it really a gathering place for people of different faiths to find common ground?


short answer - yes
posted by caddis at 8:32 AM on February 28, 2006


I grew up Unitarian Universalist in Dallas, TX. My mother was the director of religious education at our church for a trillion years. My father was the president of our church at one point, and sat on several committees (UU churches have secular leadership). I attended church religiously (ha) from birth to college. It's my impression that the degree of spirituality varies by geographic area (they are more religious-y in the northeast for example), and by congregation (you might shop around if that's an option), and zeitgeist (can't really change that one, sorry). I did leave the church, and I'm not sure that UUism really fits me anymore, though I highly recommend that you (or anyone interested) check out a few churches before writing it off, especially if you are looking for a community.

As far as my experiences as a child, it was not a theistic upbringing in the slightest, and the community was by far the most important part of it. Indeed, my family's social life revolved around the church (Sundays + potluck dinners + family friends + camping + high school activities, etc.), and yet I honestly do not recall the word "God" even being spoken during all of this, except in stories, or as examples of what *other* faiths believe. And by stories, I do mean Bible stories or Torah stories (mainly), though in these cases, God was presented as a belief of the people *in* the story, and the main point was the ethical outcome/dilemma. God was never described as something that I should believe in or relate to or have a personal relationship with blah blah blah. God was never described in the present tense, I guess, is what I'm trying to say. If this is what you want for your children, it's definitely possible.

I would also highly recommend the sex ed that is part of the middle school age curricula. It was a separate class outside of church that lasted for a year I believe (they've changed it since then). It was excellent, and I am constantly thankful that I was given this knowledge when it was useful, and raised in an atmosphere where sexuality was taught and encouraged and respected. Overall, my high school life in the church was amazing and rewarding and awesome, simply because the kids I met were way more interesting, intelligent, cultured and open-minded than those I met at school. Of course, it *was* Dallas, TX, so there ya go. I am still in touch with church friends, 10-15 years later.

Conversely, in my adult life and gradually through my high school years, I found the UU church stifling, boring, dry, and hypocritical. But I do think that some of this is simply because I was raised in the church, if that makes sense, and I would still encourage anyone to try it out for themselves.

Long story short: fantastic experience as a child. Less fantastic experience as an adult. Email's in profile.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:49 AM on February 28, 2006


Which MA UU church are you going to be attending? If you tell us the community you live in, we might be able to steer you away from a bad first experience. For example, you will surely run screaming from King's Chapel in Boston.
posted by MarkAnd at 8:52 AM on February 28, 2006


However, I want them to learn about it like they would learn about any myth, social ill, or illness.

You sound like a fifteen year old whose parents made him go to church too much. Come on! How much of an inpediment is religion, really? It isn't going to kill anyone if your kid believes that we're all connected, or that he's gotta say a few words before he eats a meal, or that frogs have souls. The danger lies in extremism, which is as true with religion as it is with nonreligious. Your condescension is obscene, and is a worse role model for your kids than any half-serious pagan.

How bad is it to sit around with a bunch of people who believe different things and hear what they have to say without prepping your kids with the idea that they're all culturally poisoned? You're bordering on the abstinence-only education version of the religious world - give your kids the mental skills to think critically and understand that different people have different beliefs, don't pack them away and shout about the scientific heresy Those People are committing.
posted by soma lkzx at 8:53 AM on February 28, 2006


How much of an inpediment is religion, really?

For many of us, it is a profound impediment.

There are lots and lots of people that do not believe in supernatural forces or beings and would prefer to not attend a gathering where their children would be inculcated with superstitious beliefs.

Referring to the poster's beliefs as obscene is deeply offensive and has no place in AxMe.
posted by bshort at 9:20 AM on February 28, 2006


A little late to the party, but you can see for yourself the variety of things that are taught in Unitarian Universalist Sunday schools. As you can see, there's quite a variety. There's also the OWL program, which is a sexuality-education program that is (if it's anything like its predecessor, AYS, which I took) about ten times more useful and informative than anything you're going to get via a public school.

I was raised Unitarian, and I have to say that if you want your kids to believe "all religion is poisonous and evil", then the Unitarians aren't the place to go. But if you want them to approach belief systems with an open mind and be able to appropriate the lessons of value that come from them (and yes, there are some), then Unitarianism would be worthwhile.

And really, what soma lkzx said. Would you tell your kids "Don't have sex" or "Don't do drugs", and that's the end of the discussion? Or would you try to guide them to make their own decisions, and tell them why you don't think such activities are wise? And which of the above would be more likely to stick?
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:21 AM on February 28, 2006


Re: kids and religion - I spent 12 years in Catholic school. I started doubting early on, gave up as much Catholic practice as I could get away with, and am now atheist. My point is that your child is likely to make his or her own choices about religion, especially since you are religion-free. My family tried hard to make me a Catholic, but it didn't work at all. I completely understand the need for community, and I think the UUs would be a fine choice. Visit first to see if you like the community.

I raised my child with no religion. I have always offered to support him if he chooses any religious faith. He went to a church-related camp weekend with a bit of proselytizing, but he has shown little interest in religion. As noted, talking to your kids about your values is a good plan.
posted by theora55 at 9:30 AM on February 28, 2006


Referring to the poster's beliefs as obscene is deeply offensive and has no place in AxMe.

And referring to religion as a social ill and illness has a place? I'm a typical nontheist lefty mefite but that's pretty lame to me.
posted by soma lkzx at 10:12 AM on February 28, 2006


From my very limited experience of UU congregations:

(1) what dagnyscott says: there's a lot of pagan mysticism / spirtuality / Gaeaist stuff going on, and there's a communal mandate that anyone who isn't interested must be elaborately polite and accepting about it, no matter what you think.

(2) the politics are crushingly monolithic -- take the most conservative southern white Evangelical chuch you can imagine, and exactly invert the politics, while exactly preserving the complete disdain for skepticism and intolerance for dissent, and you've got it.
posted by MattD at 10:13 AM on February 28, 2006


the kids I met were way more interesting, intelligent, cultured and open-minded than those I met at school.

That's something I should have mentioned, and might be useful in floating your decision, if your wife is saying that she's interested in a community for your kids, as well as herself. I've been able to watch a smallish group of kids grow up during the nine years I've been at my UU church. Two of them, I mentored through the "affirmation" process that's offered to them in their early teens, which is sort of kin to a Catholic confirmation and Jewish bar/bat mitzvah and sort of not, because it truly encourages the kids to explore and develop their own religious and/or ethical belief systems and figure out where they fit into the UU religion (if they do at all). All these kids--not just the ones I knew more closely than the others--were extremely bright, self-aware, kind and articulate, most likely the kind of kids you'd probably LIKE your kids to hang around with.

I suspect that that may be similar in most UU churches, even if it sounds a little Lake Wobegon-ish (UU kids also get the highest SAT scores!)
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:16 AM on February 28, 2006


I am an atheist, or rather a "you've got to be kidding that you think that humans have the capacity to understand a higher power and what petty forms of worship that power might desire" (is there a name for that kind of person?)

Agnostic.
posted by delmoi at 10:19 AM on February 28, 2006


Response by poster: Sorry for offending you soma. I didn't mean it to be offensive - really. Also, you are attributing to me things for which I have not stated.

Note: Not a justificiation of my statements, and not a means to start an argument, but I think you might want to look into memetics (in particular, Dawkins' views on religion and memes). Not saying it is 100% correct. However, I just want to direct you to what science has to offer in explaining certain aspects of human religiosity.
posted by tom_g at 10:31 AM on February 28, 2006


I'm an atheist who misses the community of the church I was raised in. Over several months, I tried four different UU churches in the San Jose California area, and all of them were way "too religious" for me. I was expecting a discussion of how to be a better person in the world, and the services did include that, but always in the context of the xian bible and god and jesus. I was impressed with other things about the experience but decided it couldn't work for me. Good luck finding something that meets your family's needs.
posted by olecranon at 10:52 AM on February 28, 2006


I've went to several UU services when I was in Chapel Hill, NC. There was definitely no talk of God. More like meditating and semi-bad music. But, they were still all nice folks, and seemed like generally good, liberal people.

As for the Quakers, there were a lot of those in Chapel Hill too, and they took on a very atheistic worldview as far as I could tell. Then again, we are talking about a liberal hotbed here.
posted by matkline at 11:57 AM on February 28, 2006


Would you tell your kids "Don't have sex" or "Don't do drugs", and that's the end of the discussion? Or would you try to guide them to make their own decisions, and tell them why you don't think such activities are wise? And which of the above would be more likely to stick?

Just out of curiosity, how does that square with this:

I have heard, though, that the youth retreats are drug-filled orgies for teenagers. I have no substantiation for this, only a number of independent reports.

(I have heard the same, from several UU friends).

In other words, are you really saying that the UU program is more likely to influence kids not to have sex or do drugs? Or is it that the UU program will at least help them make wise choices about birth control, etc. I'm not trying to make a value judgment, just wondering whether it's fair to make the claim that UU kids are less likely to do drugs and have sex because the message would be more likely to "stick."
posted by pardonyou? at 11:58 AM on February 28, 2006


I have heard, though, that the youth retreats are drug-filled orgies for teenagers. I have no substantiation for this, only a number of independent reports.
Probably gay orgies at that, I dated 2 guys in highschool who were UUs.
posted by matkline at 12:07 PM on February 28, 2006


In other words, are you really saying that the UU program is more likely to influence kids not to have sex or do drugs? Or is it that the UU program will at least help them make wise choices about birth control, etc.

Neither. I was making a parallel: one's children should be encouraged to make responsible, well-informed decisions about religion, just as they should be encouraged to make responsible, well-informed decisions about drug use and sexuality.

And as far as the drug-filled orgies go, I must have missed out on them when I was growing up as a UU. What a gyp.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:09 PM on February 28, 2006


Thanks for the response, seriously.

And as far as the drug-filled orgies go, I must have missed out on them when I was growing up as a UU. What a gyp.

I had a similar thought -- instead of growing up in a non-religious household, why couldn't my parents have let me go to a UU church and attend all of those retreats?

I will say that a few years ago my neighbor was a "chaperone" on a UU youth trip to Amsterdam. I was led to believe that trips to the "coffee houses" were on the agenda.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:49 PM on February 28, 2006


I grew up UU, but drifted away as I got older.

I second the description of religious education as being sort of a survey course of other religions. I found it fascinating, and it helped me understand that no single religion had a monopoly on The Truth or ethics / morals, etc. Plus, frankly, some religious stories are rather good and highlight things like duty, right conduct, love, peace, tolerance, values, and so on in an illuminating way.

I think that being able to see some value in these traditions myself helped me be a lot more tolerant towards my friends in school who were of other religions. I didn't believe in god myself, nor did I think of religious people as The Enemy or completely insane or anything. I could sort of understand some of why they believed, and what their traditions did for them, because some of it (a little here, a little there) resonated with me as well.

I think this can really be a valuable lesson in respect for kids to learn. Face it - your kids are going to have to deal with religious people in most areas of their life. If they learn disdain and contempt for others' beliefs, people will pick up on that, and I think it can be like throwing sand in the gears of certain social machinery. It's important to get along with people you don't agree with religiously, is really all I'm getting at. You certainly don't have to agree with them, nor do you have to turn a blind eye to the bad things that religious dogmatism and violence have wrought.

I was relatively involved with the church youth group stuff as a teenager, and I enjoyed it even though we had not a single drunken orgy. I made some good friends, learned a lot about listening and respect, and generally enjoyed the company of people who were a lot more intelligent on average than the kids I encountered in school.

I grew up in the Denver, CO area, and four UU churches pooled their 9th graders to do a yearly tradition called the 9th Grade Trip. We spent all year doing fundraisers and retreats and so forth, learning about the Hopi and Navajo Indians, then in spring, around Easter, we got to go on a 10-day bus trip and visit their respective reservations.

We were paired up with kids at the Rock Point School on the Navajo reservation and got to go to classes with them. It was an amazing and surreal experience. I was one of the lucky ones who got to spend the night at my buddy's house. I felt really privileged to be able to learn so much and see things I never would have otherwise seen. It was one of the coolest things I've ever been a part of in my life.

Every UU congregation has its own flavor, as it were, and these things change over time. Your mileage may vary. I think there is a decent likelihood you could find a congregation that is to your liking. The thing is, it's kind of a non-homogenous group overall, but I think a bit of tolerance and understanding for people who don't believe 100% exactly as you do is a healthy thing, and you might make some really excellent friends and stuff.

Good luck, however it ends up.
posted by beth at 1:20 PM on February 28, 2006


And referring to religion as a social ill and illness has a place? I'm a typical nontheist lefty mefite but that's pretty lame to me.

Slagging the original poster because his beliefs don't agree with yours is not what AxMe is for. If the question offends you, then don't read it and don't answer it.

If you feel that the question is so offensive that you can't just let it stand, then either flag the question or post a complaint in MetaTalk, but what you're doing is entirely uncalled for.

You want tolerance for your religious views, but you're completely unwilling to give others the same courtesy.
posted by bshort at 1:27 PM on February 28, 2006


This may come across as an overly harsh opinion of religion, but here it is:

Going to church as a child had much to do with why I am an athiest today.

The angriest, saddest, and most-cruel people I know are devout.

In my experience, once the veneer of welcome wears away, any church is generally aswarm with power-struggles and hypocrites. As a small example - I have witnessed church choirs behaving unethically to assure their supremacy at an "important" service.

It's not the community I'd choose to introduce the concept of "community" to my children. It might be the sort of community I'd use to introduce concepts like "duplicity" and "wilfull ignorance"

As far as the accepting politeness of the UU churches goes, I tend to not be politely accepting of any advocations of spiritualism, even if it is not theism, so I'm at a loss as to why anyone would bother to go to a "church" if they were a non-spiritual person.

But that's just me, and I could be wrong.
posted by Crosius at 2:49 PM on February 28, 2006


bshort, there is no need to be short with soma lkzx. I find your belligerent, confrontational nature rather off-putting. If you want to whine about perceived hypocrisy perhaps you shouldn't dabble in it yourself. In other words, stop trying to silence soma lkzx because of his relatively innocuous complaints regarding the poster's word choice.

In the words of some religious dude, "First take the timber out of your own eye before you remove the splinter in someone else's eye."

And besides, you [deliberately?] misinterpreted what soma said anyway, all I can do at this point is kindly suggest that you relax. Perhaps some transcendental meditation would help.

To be honest, I would have been grateful to have parents that exposed me to the Unitarian Universalist church. I myself am an atheist who was raised, but I think the U U church provides a solid moral background and intelligent spiritual discussion that might not be as evident outside such an environment.
posted by cloeburner at 4:32 PM on February 28, 2006


*raised Catholic
posted by cloeburner at 4:33 PM on February 28, 2006


I really wouldn't worry about your kids at all. My parents are closet athiests/ indecisive agnostics who sent all five of their children to religious services to expose us to religion. I think they were whistful about giving up on faith, and thought we should see the other side of the coin. They found a mellow church of harmless, middle of the road liberals, and we went through the motions until we were 12 or so. It was enough that if one of us had needed religion, we would have had a place to explore it.

My folks also thought that religious training would help us read literature better and improve our SAT scores. They were right. I remained remarkably detached and amused from the experience. I still suspect that most people attend church for alterior motives.

We're all adults now, and have formed our own opinions anyway, and nobody is the worse for wear. One brother is a little too much into the UU for our taste, but we all adore the wife he met at church, and like to see him happy.

Just give it a try and see how you/they like it before you get upset. My dad has attended church maybe 25 times; five baptisms, five confirmations, a few times to hear my mom sing. That's really all that is required of you.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:42 PM on February 28, 2006


Okay, I've probably said enough, but keep in mind that your freedom from religious doctrine is a great safety blanket for the kids. My friends' parents (from other churches) tried to frighten me with hell, but it never worked, and generally amused me.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:52 PM on February 28, 2006


UU kids have a reputation for scoring consistently. What do you expect when you get a bunch of liberal teenagers together...
posted by phrontist at 6:00 PM on February 28, 2006


bshort, there is no need to be short with soma lkzx. I find your belligerent, confrontational nature rather off-putting. If you want to whine about perceived hypocrisy perhaps you shouldn't dabble in it yourself. In other words, stop trying to silence soma lkzx because of his relatively innocuous complaints regarding the poster's word choice.

"Wisecracks don't help people find answers."

And neither does insulting the poster.
posted by bshort at 8:40 PM on February 28, 2006


My mom felt pretty like your wife, so my parents took my brother and I to UU Sunday school until we hit our teens. I distinctly remember the only time anyone ever read from a Bible, and it was in the context of comparing the Christian origin myth to the African and Native American origin myths we'd already studied. My father (a hardcore atheist and armchair anthropologist) was the Sunday school leader at the time. I think we learned more critical thinking skills than anything else.

It was a good experience for me. I developed some really close friendships with the other kids and with the ministers, and I got over my fear of old people by spending time with some of the elderly (and very cool) members of the congregation. At times I especially appreciated the role of "counselor" that ministers also hold, it gave me an adult whose opinion I valued to run things by. You may think your kids should just come to you for that, but trust me when I say that it's good for them to have someone who isn't their parent too.
posted by cali at 10:11 PM on March 1, 2006


The UU church is Unitarian - and Universalist. One God, all dogs go to heaven. Unitarian churches tend to be more atheist, Universalist more spiritual. It helps to know what they were before the unification.

We went there for a time - as theists. What got us going was that all of our friends - wherever they were - were UUs.We thought we should check it out.

Their basic creed (although not said at every church by any means) is:

Love is the doctrine of this church, the quest for truth is its sacrament, and service is its prayer, To dwell together in peace, to seek knowledge in freedom, to serve one another in fellowship, To the end that all souls shall grow in harmony with the divine, thus do we covenant with one another - and with God.

They took that last bit out, and we left the church. The fact that a church couldn't mention the word God was disturbing to us, even though our "religion" is liberal in the extreme. If you're an atheist, you don't need a church. Really.

The other thing that bothered us was that the three UU churches we attended all had violent schisms while we were there - and hey, that's almost too religious for us.
posted by clarkstonian at 8:42 AM on March 10, 2006


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