The Universist Movement: Lost in the Fog and Lovin' It
When one rejects the idea that there is a God who is concerned with the beliefs and behaviors of humans, and who has certainly not granted any knowledge of Himself via Special Revelation, then one is free to go about one's business as though He did not even exist. But what is one then to do about that nagging feeling in the "soul" that finds awe in the creation and cries out for meaning, value, purpose, and answers to life's great mysteries? How do we foster hope, peace, and ethical standards for all mankind? Well, according to the founders of the Universist Movement, you make up your own religion. All Atheists, Agnostics, Deists, Pantheists, and Transcendentalists welcome. Those with knowledge or convictions about God need not apply.
For those not yet familiar with this new and growing religion, formed by a group of medical students out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, here are some choice excerpts from their official website along with some of my comments.
The Universist Alternative can be summarized in one statement:My "reason" informs me that the case for Christianity is solid and that all attempted counter-arguments against the resurrection testimonies fall short unless one first presupposes that miracles cannot occur. My "experience" tells me that Christianity resonates with my deepest intuitions about the world and human nature. I could be wrong, but you'd have to give me good "reasons" to change my mind.
Universists apply personal reason and experience to the fundamental questions of human existence, derive inspiration from the natural uncertainty of the human state, and deny the validity of revelation, faith and dogma.
Universism is the world's first rational religion. Reaching to the heart of humanity's religious impulse, we have uncovered not faith, but mystery. Not complacency, but awe. We have found an essential element of the human experience in harmony with reason - not in spite of it. Universists know the fuller our understanding of the universe, the greater our appreciation for a reality beyond our imagination. We celebrate individual reason, inspiration in nature, and hope in progress.Of course, it would be "unreasonable" to assume that this "religious impulse" has anything to do with the possibility that a God actually exists and has seeded us with the desire to seek after Him. No, this must be an evolutionary vestige. A most unfortunate mutation in that there is no selective advantage in whiling away your time shaping idols and attending to endless rituals while your competition gathers their food and sharpens their flint.
For many, Universism is a way for atheists to pine for something beyond ourselves, to celebrate the wonder of the Universe... but still be atheist.
Universists share the following five principles:"Searching" is good, but finding is prohibited (more on this later).
I. The most important thing is the search for meaning and purpose, as in relationships and love, understanding and knowledge, experiences and emotions, or elsewhere.
II. There is no absolute Truth that applies to all people; ultimate knowledge of the nature of existence cannot be communicated, it can only be reasoned or experienced personally. The natural state of most individuals is uncertainty, motivating curiosity, openmindedness and appreciation for the experiences and thought of other beings.This has the unmistakable smell of a truth claim. In fact, there's quite a bit of metaphysical groundwork lain by them in order to define what is and is not a Universist — "doctrine," if you will. Additionally, this claim of the "natural state" of individuals being "uncertainty" seems to fly in the face of their concession that humanity has a "religious impulse." This impulse seems to express itself globally in religions that are incorrigibly dogmatic, which is the very thing they are seeking to flee with their own dogma.
III. Morality depends on individual circumstances and relationships. Any action's ultimate rightness or wrongness can only be determined by those involved in the action. Good and Evil are ideas that can be useful, but are inaccurate if used to describe the nature of the universe.Of course they are moral relativists; they must be without either a God to ground morality or without revelation to assist in determining what the standards might be. I wonder, though, do they believe that when I disagree with them about their ethical standards or seek to impose mine upon society that I am "wrong" or doing something "bad?" Their materials are filled with moral judgments against the intolerance of traditional religions and the perceived harms that it has done to society. They are certainly free to propose whatever organization or story that they like, but they overstep their philosophy if they propose that it is a "better" way than mine. Better according to what measure?
IV. Social structures such as governments and institutions are useful insofar as they help individuals to flourish - that is, become and remain healthy, happy and able to work toward their goals that do not interfere with the rights of other individuals to work toward their goals."Rights?" What the heck are rights and where did they get them? According to their ideology, rights can be only what the state grants you, since there is no Author of rights or no rights gene. But this makes no sense, because they are suggesting that government's role should be to foster the preservation of these rights. This implies that they believe that rights are objective entities that transcend temporal governments. Unfortunately, this smacks of a theistic worldview, which is tacitly rejected by this group (Deism is the nearest thing they will countenance according to their literature). This means that "rights" are merely those things which they have predetermined that they desire to possess. More power to them in lobbying the state for whatever rights they deem desirable, but they are certainly not rationally justified in claiming to have a "right" to such "rights."
V. All life is free in the universe, limited in potential only by the physical laws of nature.If not for those pesky physical laws then our selves would be free to ascend to the very heavens (a godless one, of course). In reality, though, the entire concept of "freedom" is problematic for most of those who would be drawn to this religion. If we are merely citizens and material of the universe, then we are subject to the laws and forces which drive that universe. This article of faith, according to their model, might justifiably then read, "All life is determined, driven and limited by our biology and environment." But that wouldn't make a very "inspirational" creed, now would it?
We wanted to fix what was wrong with [traditional religion] by determining why it failed, in order to make a satisfying replacement for faith. Our conclusion was that the opposite of faith, Uncertainty itself, is the only satisfying antidote, and only when it is fully embraced and celebrated for its contribution to our daily lives and human progress as a whole."Uncertainty" is the chief article of faith, and the act of capitalizing it is to "enshrine" it (as they admit elsewhere). But it is one thing to admit one's ignorance; it is an entirely different thing to celebrate and make a creed of ignorance and indecision. Were any Universist to come to an actual conclusion he must necessarily be branded a heretic and excommunicated from their "church" ("Meetups," I believe they call them).
Universism is the method, the primacy of the Search, and the solidarity in Uncertainty.
It is not uncertainty which has been the contributor to humanity, it is curiosity and the desire to transcend our ignorance — to find Truth. And these things are fueled by our belief that there is real truth and knowledge to be acquired. To even claim that there could be such a thing as "human progress" implies an objective standard, and admits that we have made some movement toward that end.
A faith-based worldview means there are people who know the Truth and others who do not; this leads to division and often hate. In a Universist worldview, no one can claim knowledge to certain Truth, this means each person's efforts at the Search are respected.But if they cannot claim certain knowledge then they cannot claim that no one has found the Truth. They have no grounds for their rejection of other religions that are based on revelation. Also, it is naïve to think that the solution to the issue of tolerance is to simply deny Truth. It seems more reasonable to say that the solution is the proper application of the concept of tolerance itself, which is the idea that we may all be civil and gracious toward one another even while we may have disagreements. The Universists are in reality just adding one more belief system into the mix of what must be tolerated within society.
It's not what you believe, it's how you believe it! The future of religion is faithless.It's an exclusive inclusive party! BYOB (Bring Your Own Belief), so long as it's not labeled, "God Says." We'll pour 'em all in to the Hairy Buffalo barrel and drink ourselves silly to the promise of a gloriously uncertain future.
The entire creed of Universism turns out to be logically self-refuting. Might I suggest the following for their consideration:
We absolutely believe that there are no absolutes.
We are certain that uncertainty is the way.
We believe it is right to reject right and wrong.
We have faith that all other faiths are in error.
We assert our right to the enjoyment and preservation of our rights.
We practice tolerance for those who share our vision of tolerance.
We are committed to the journey without a destination, and the search without an object.
Glory be to the Mystery, the Uncertainty, and the Openmind. Amen.