Religion Beyond Belief Exists Only In Fantasy Land

On any given Sunday I guess somewhere around 5% of UU congregations use the reading by Sophia Lyon Fahs:

It matters what we believe.

Some beliefs are like walled gardens. They encourage exclusiveness, and the feeling of being especially privileged.

Other beliefs are expansive and lead the way into wider and deeper sympathies.

Some beliefs are like shadows, clouding [children’s] days with fears of unknown calamities.

Other beliefs are like sunshine, blessing [children] with the warmth of happiness.

Some beliefs are divisive, separating the saved from the unsaved, friends from enemies.

Other beliefs are bonds in a world community, where sincere differences beautify the pattern.

Some beliefs are like blinders, shutting off the power to choose one’s own direction.

Other beliefs are like gateways opening wide vistas for exploration.

Some beliefs weaken a person’s selfhood. They blight the growth of resourcefulness.

Other beliefs nurture self-confidence and ignite the feeling of personal worth.

Some beliefs are rigid, like the body of death, impotent in a changing world.

Other beliefs are pliable, like the young sapling, ever growing with the upward thrust of life.

Yet there seems to be a cadre of UUs who think that we can be a religion beyond belief–at least if I’m reading the conversation on the “Congregations and Beyond” facebook page right.

Let’s be clear about one thing friends…this cannot be had both ways–either UUism is a religion beyond belief or it matters what we believe.

Now…why do I say that religion beyond belief exists only in fantasy land? Simple. Religion, at its base, is about what one believes about humans, the nature of humanity and their relationships thereof. So to say that there is a religion beyond belief means that there is religion beyond humans. And that is not possible.

UUs need to stop being afraid of religion. It is easy to be religious without being dogmatic/doctrinaire. But you must believe something. Maybe if we took Fahs seriously we would grow.

8 thoughts on “Religion Beyond Belief Exists Only In Fantasy Land

  1. There is a lot of talk like that on various UU leadership email lists, It feels a lot different on the lists than in the pews (chairs). While I’ve been an UU for 30+ years, I can’t tell if UU leadership self-talk has gotten better or worse – it does seems better in the pews (chairs) though.

  2. This “Beyond Belief” stuff seems to be an initiative of UUA President Peter Morales arising from his sermon titled ‘Religion Beyond Belief’.

    See also –

    Video of Rev. Morales delivering his ‘Religion Beyond Belief’ sermon –

    It gets “interesting” at the 10:30 mark.

  3. I think that Sophia Lyon Fahs makes their point very well. It’s not the “what” of our beliefs but the “how” and the “what next.” It’s not so much the doctrines we happen to hold at any particular point in our personal journeys but how we come to hold them, how tightly we hold them, and how well they inform us to be in relationship with ourselves, with others and the world around us. I guess I just don’t see the controversy.

    • Hi Ron,
      I don’t think its as much a controversy as I think it might be a clash of different worldviews. I don’t see how any group that calls itself religious can get beyond what they fundamentally believe about humans. It’s easy to get beyond dogma, doctrine or creed. But I truly believe that you can’t get beyond what you think about humanity.

      I could also be using a different interpretation of the word beyond. And so I might be seeing something that’s not there.

  4. Well, I’ve just woken up, and haven’t finished my first cup of coffee, BUT, my religion also includes my own ethical ideals and my relationship to them, my understanding of the order of life and the universe and my relationship to that/those and probably some other stuff. All are “beliefs” though. To believe beyond belief doesn’t even make semantic sense …. The closest I can come to understanding the phrase would be to accept believing in the mystical, which I do sometimes, with awe, and yet, that is still a matter of believing a belief. Bunny

  5. Agreed. Beliefs matter. (And in the category of “belief,” I would include hopes, dreams, values, prejudices, fears, etc. – not just theology.) What we think about who we are and how we fit into the universe matters. Even if we aren’t conscious of them and never examine them critically, our beliefs shape our actions and the world around us. To me, Unitarian Universalism at its best is about helping us be conscious of our beliefs, about testing and shaping our beliefs in a way that enriches our lives and the lives of those around us. I think I get what at least some of the “beyond belief” folks are trying to say – our religion is not about identifying any one true creed or orthodoxy. But if it is not about examining, challenging, refining and living our beliefs together, then what’s the point?

  6. Good as it is, I would have preferred “It matters how we believe”, instead of what. It really describes her words better, I think. That would speak to the “attitudinal core” of UU, which of course results in beliefs but isn’t bound to stop there. Wallace Robbins said something very similar…. “Ours is a non-creedal church not because we have no beliefs but because we will not be
    restrained in our beliefs…we dare not fence the spirit .” To focus on the “beyond belief” part in an either-or fashion goes against what both were trying to convey.

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