Why Can’t UUs Celebrate Belief Has Much As They Celebrate Doubt?

Here we go again. In the newest issue of the UU World, UUA President Peter Morales writes an opinion piece which is headlined “Belief is the Enemy of Faith”. Before I get to the heart of my fundamental disagreement with Peter’s thesis, there is one minor point which I think I need to bring up.

To quote Peter’s opinion piece:

Young people are rejecting all religion in numbers we have never seen before.

This is true, for certain groups of young people. When you start looking at the numbers as they are, certain things become apparent. Young people of color are NOT “rejecting religion in numbers we have never seen before.” And as long as the talk continues to lump all “young people” together, nobody will address what the religious landscape of the US really looks like. That, however, is another post for another time.

Anyway…the main point of Peter’s opinion piece seems to be that “belief” is a bad thing and that the mission of Unitarian Universalism in this time is to usher in a new age of freedom from belief. Well, I call bullshit.

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.

-Sophia Lyon Fahs

At some point, my dear UU friends, UUism must stop being a negative religion and actually articulate a positive vision. When will we (as a collective) start to celebrate/encourage belief in the same way that we celebrate/encourage doubt (anybody else remember the “when in doubt—pray, when in prayer—doubt” mess)? If doubt is an important companion to faith, why isn’t belief just as an important companion?

It matters what we believe my friends. What we believe about humanity and its ultimate end matters. If you have no beliefs about humanity and its ultimate end, then why work for justice/peace/tolerance/freedom/etc.? To work for those means that you BELIEVE something.

Belief is the enemy of faith only when the belief brings more destruction (thanatos) into the world instead of more creativity (eros).

It matters what we believe.

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17 thoughts on “Why Can’t UUs Celebrate Belief Has Much As They Celebrate Doubt?

  1. I think that Rev. Fahs’ statement is more about style of belief more than content…more about “how” we believe more than what. Of course we believe, but I agree (with Rev. Morales) that while beliefs are very important, our approach to religion is ultimately about the fruits of our beliefs rather than the origins. Among our beliefs, I think, is the role of critical thinking and honest questioning…honest doubt…as a necessary servant of truth and meaning.

    • You tried this argument with me before. It didn’t fly with me then, it doesn’t fly with me now.

      If Fahs thought that it mattered HOW we believed, she would have written a companion piece saying “It matters how we believe.” She did not write such a piece, so I think it is reasonable to think that Sophia Lyon Fahs really did think that “It matters WHAT we believe.”

  2. The “not enough belief” argument is common, but I don’t think it’s all that substantial. We all have beliefs…can’t escape it. In fact, a lot of those doubts can easily be turned around, re-phrased and converted into beliefs. In my experiences, I find plenty of UU belief…every single day. Even in my Faith of the Free Facebook group and page, there are belief statements prominently displayed…both coincidentally by Forrest Church. One says, “one light, many windows” and the other says “We Unitarian Universalists have inherited a magnificent theological legacy. In a sweeping answer to creeds that divide the human family, Unitarianism proclaims that we sprang from a common source; Universalism, that we share a common destiny.” To this day I still haven’t gotten one complaint (from “my dear UU friends”) about our use of these two “belief statements”.

    • I am saying that there is no such thing as religion without belief. Show me one, and I’ll change my argument. To celebrate doubt without also celebrating positive belief will get Unitarian Universalism nowhere and will make UUism more irrelevant than it is now.

  3. I don’t think that Peter Morales himself is without beliefs. It seems that he believes that belief is a bad thing. He also makes the same mistake that many UUs do in implying that UU is the best religion because it’s the only religion that doesn’t think it’s the best. This is obviously wrong in two levels: 1) the simple paradox and 2) other religions also preach religious tolerance.

    Denying that statements like this are beliefs and acting as if there are no beliefs simply makes them more insidious. Beliefs can’t be scrutinized and evaluated if people don’t even admit they have them.

  4. Pingback: Is belief the enemy of faith? | Speaking of...

  5. Pingback: ‘It matters what we believe’—and more from the UU web « uuworld.org : The Interdependent Web

  6. There are 12 statements quoted above regarding belief. In each one, the nature and value of the belief is based on the outcome of holding it. Since no examples are given, I can only guess at the content of these good or bad, desirable or undesirable, constructive or destructive beliefs. The types of results being described could take hours, months,or generations to become apparent. On what then do you base your beliefs?

    • Most people’s beliefs (mine included) are based on experience, whether lived, learned, or collective.

      The opposite question, since you say that “the types of results being described could take hours, months,or generations to become apparent”, don’t the results of non-belief also take time to become apparent?

      • I don’t understand what you mean by “the results of non-belief”. I can attempt to define what I believe, but the range of what I don’t believe is virtually infinite. How could it’s effect ever be measured in a meaningful way?

        I can give you many reasons to work for justice/peace/tolerance/ freedom/etc. that don’t require definitive or absolute beliefs. I live a real life in a real society in a real world. I don’t need to believe that I have a complete understanding of humanity or a knowledge of the ultimate end of one species (humanity) in order to have values and a meaningful life. I find life to be fulfilling without metaphysical beliefs. That doesn’t mean that I have no beliefs. By the way, this is a long-established Unitarian way of believing (more than 200 years old), something which the current generation of UU ministers and scholars appear to have forgotten.

        In my experience, people in the UU community aren’t skeptical of belief, but they’re often skeptical of specific religious beliefs which don’t appear to have any factual basis.

      • I can give you many reasons to work for justice/peace/tolerance/ freedom/etc. that don’t require definitive or absolute beliefs.

        Sorry, I don’t buy this. In order to work for “justice/peace/tolerance/freedom/etc.”, you must have some definitive or absolute beliefs about HUMANITY. If you don’t have some definitive beliefs about humanity, then how would one judge what is unjust/violent/intolerant/oppressive/etc.? Or that anything is unjust/violent/intolerant/oppressive/etc.?

        Living in the “real world” necessitates having definitive beliefs about humans/humanity. We wouldn’t survive without them. I did not say that it must be complete, as we are constantly learning new things about our environment and our interplay with that environment. But I did say that we must have them.

        You say that you can give “many reasons to work for justice/peace/tolerance/freedom/etc. that don’t require definitive or absolute beliefs.” You dropped off the main part of what I said in that sentence; that we must have some definitive/absolute beliefs ABOUT HUMANITY. But since you say that you can do it, do it. I would be interested in that list.

  7. I’m glad somebody is pointing this out. I, too, didn’t care for Peter’s article. Although we use the words “affirm and promote”, does that not also mean that we “believe” in the inherent worth and dignity of every person?

    • Not necessarily. We could have a long lively discussion about whether every person actually has worth and dignity. But if we “affirm and promote” it, if we act as if it were true, that tends to make life a lot more pleasant.

      • Personally, if I didn’t believe in a principal I ‘d have no reason to support it or work for it. I agree that it’s debatable if “everyone” has inherent worth and dignity, but I believe it’s a good general principal to go by.

  8. The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day’s biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers’ lives. It’s edited by CNN’s Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN’s worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero .

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