UU Humanists and Pagans; Can This Marriage be Saved?
Yes! And the Children Will be Scientific Pantheists
|Richard writes a note about the staging:
For the fun of it, I entered the hall from a side door, dressed in a long black cape. I wore the cape throughout the reading of the creation story.
I went to considerable effort to darken the hall for the “Creation Story”. While it was being read to the children, I showed a power point presentation of slides starting with deep space views of the cosmos, moving to pictures of the planets (especially Earth), moving to electron microscope pictures of cells and tiny animals and plants, moving up to plants and animals and concluding with scenic vistas of earth.
I purposely did not have a question and answer period. I didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to debate the strengths and weaknesses of various religions and philosophies with the plethora of university professors in the audience.
I receive some very nice compliments on the service and handed out 10 or so WPM pamphlets to those who expressed interest.
Lighting of Chalice
Our chalice lighting words this morning come from Albert Einstein- “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. One to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.”We light this second candle to remind ourselves of our sister church in Korisbitoc, Romania
Creation Story Introduction
Almost all religions have their Creation Story – Scientific Pantheism does too. The only thing remarkable about ours is that it is constantly being discussed, argued about and changed. To the best of my understanding, here is the creation story that most Scientific Pantheist currently believe.
In the beginning all that IS, WAS, but we don’t know what it was like.
Much less than a blink of an eye later, all that is — consisted of a little unbelieveably heavy ball 100,000 times hotter than the center of our sun. And it was neither good nor bad, but simply was.
From that tiny ball came THE BIG BANG, the biggest explosion that ever was, where everything that IS started spreading out creating all space, matter and energy.
During the first 3 minutes of this explosion all existing matter was created. At that time all matter existed only as super tiny subatomic particles . Soon thereafter some of these particles combined into helium ions.
And it was neither good nor bad, but simply was.
In the following hundred thousand years, the universe grew and cooled enough to allow the two lightest atoms, helium and hydrogen to form. And while helium and hydrogen are very small, they like all matter, do attract each other. So over a very long time, the helium and hydrogen began to clump into lumpy clouds of gas. These collided and formed billions of galaxies each with billions of stars.
And it was neither good nor bad, but simply was.
Inside each star, helium and hydrogen fuses together in nuclear reactions, that give off huge amounts of heat. Over time the fusing together inside the stars makes larger nuclei like carbon, oxygen, and calcium. Have any of you heard of a supernova? Well, eventually these first stars explode, blowing out into space all their matter. Very heavy elements like lead and uranium are made during the explosions.
And these explosions are neither good nor bad, but simply are.
Then the star making process starts again.
The stars that form from the matter sent out by the first stars are more complex. As they come together, they bring in more of the hydrogen that didn’t get caught up in the original stars and they fuse it together as their fuel. Later, they too collapse and explode creating ever more complex stars.
Our own star, the Sun, is a 2nd or 3rd generation star about 4.5 billion years old. As it formed, some of the matter nearby came together into asteroids and planets, including our Earth. —PAUSE—
Stars are so hot that matter only exists as subatomic particles and elements. Chemicals like we have in our bodies can’t form there. Away from stars, matter cools to temperatures where the elements can combine into chemicals and chemical reactions take place. And that is neither good nor bad, but simply is.
On our Earth, temperatures and the mix of chemicals were such that the elements created by the stars could start to combine into complex chemicals. This probably occurred near deep-sea thermal vents. This soup of complex chemicals eventually produced the chemicals that are the building blocks of living beings. We call them, nucleotides. (You can think of them as the Lego’s of life.) The nucleotides then combined into long ribbon like chemicals we call ribbon-nucleotides, or ribonucleotides. Ribonucleotides further evolved into a more stable chemicals called deoxyribonucleotides. Deoxyribonucleotides are the basis for most of the cells on Earth, including your bodies.
As those cells grew and met with different environments, they evolved into various beings. Some still get their energy from deep-sea thermal vents, like the first complex chemicals. Some, like cyanobacteria, algae and plants developed ways to get their energy from the sun. Others, the animals, get their energy from eating those beings.
And that’s neither good nor bad, but simply is. —PAUSE—
Over time, more and more complex beings evolved and continue to evolve. And the less complex beings also continue to evolve into new beings. The ones that manage to survive and reproduce in the environment, in which they live, live on and evolve.
We humans are lucky in that we are aware of this process and the world around us. We have brains, eyes, tongues, noses, ears, and skin to interact with all that the Earth and beyond have become.
Some Scientific Pantheists refer to us as “the universe aware of itself”. Many people view humans as the end result of this evolutionary process. Scientific Pantheists see that we are just a point along a long chain of evolution.
Who knows what evolution has wrought in other areas of this wonderful universe.
Welcome, announcements and offertory –
Opening Hymn – #175, “We Celebrate the Web of Life”
If we were to switch places, you up here and me in a chair, the questions in my mind as you began your service would be, why are you up here and why did you choose this topic. At the risk of assuming that I’m normal, I’ll start there. I’m here because discovering Scientific Pantheism has been a life affirming discovery for me. Previous life affirming events for me were spending two years in the Peace Corps, reading the book Soil and Survival (the subject of the last sermon I delivered) and coming to Camelot – I mean Corvallis. I’m not sure how much it’s the ongoing celebration of living in Corvallis and how much it is owning a belief system that affirms who I am and what for me is true, but lately I find myself grinning for no obvious reason. So I’m up here in an attempt to make a positive difference in your lives and in our fellowship’s community life.
A little know fact about my partner, Valerie, is that she is a dissertation shy of a doctorate in Adult Education. She tells me that I should inform you from the start, the road this talk will take. So here it is. First I’ll discuss a bit of what Pantheism is. Then I’ll move on to the problem marriage of the UU Humanists and Pagans and the Elmer’s glue that holds them together. After a brief overview of my journey to Scientific Pantheism, I’ll provide some artistic and some defining descriptions of Scientific Pantheism and I’ll conclude with why I believe that Scientific Pantheism provides a stronger brand of glue for the Humanist / Pagan marriage.
As a general rule, I hate talks that start out by quoting the dictionary. But, I’m going to make an exception this time, because there is a definition of pantheism in many texts and thus in many people’s experience that is misleading… that could distract from hearing about the similarities between pantheism / humanism and paganism.
The Wrong definition translates the Greek roots pan meaning “all” and theos meaning “god” to mean belief in all or most gods. By this approach pantheism becomes a synonym for polytheism, believing in many gods. Discard that definition. It is a misunderstanding and is not in keeping with the historic or current use of the word.
The correct definition combines pan and theos to mean, “All is god”. According to the American Heritage dictionary “pantheism is defined as “the doctrine identifying the Deity with the various forces and workings of nature”. My favorite definition comes from Walter Mandell, via the Scientific Pantheist E-mail digest – “Pantheism is a religious philosophy that holds that there is no supernatural God or Gods; but rather that the universe, as a whole, possesses attributes traditionally attributed to divinity, such as – power, magnificence, grandeur, and omnipresence. Pantheists regard the universe itself as sacred. It is all that IS, WAS and EVER WILL BE. Pantheists seek to feel, know, and celebrate its sacredness – through love and other profound human experiences, through deep contact with the natural world, through the arts and sciences, and through ethical action.”
To reiterate, pantheism is the philosophy that the universe is divine, and conversely that there is no God but the combined substance, forces, and laws that are manifested in the existing universe.
I titled this sermon “UU Humanists and Pagans; Can This Marriage be Saved? Yes! And the Children Will be Scientific Pantheists” for two reasons. First, I had heard of the round table held at General Assembly on Humanist / Pagan marriage and hoped that I’d find fodder for the sermon at the GA web site. While I didn’t find all that I wanted there, I did find a start.
The Pagan round table leader, Rev. Kendyl Gibbons, in her prepared statements suggested that her pagan beliefs were a natural outgrowth of the Religious Education she received growing up in a UU church. She pointed out that her RE upbringing included rationalism that threw out all mysticism, including God, Jesus, Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. Quoting her “It was a daunting world, stripped of ceremony or symbol. Two objects of reverence only were permitted to us. Year after year we poked bean seeds into waxed paper Dixie cups half-filled with potting soil and were given to understand that something special and inexplicable was happening… And if any of us were lucky enough to find the carcass of a dead robin in the back yard, we were encouraged to contemplate the mysterious change that differentiated it from its living counterparts.” She goes on to interject that “It baffles me that anyone could be surprised that such an educational program should produce a generation of UU’s who find themselves hungry for the color and drama of ritual, and at home with the cross quarter [and solstice celebrations] of the year”.
The Humanists round table leader took the track of reiterating our UU covenant statements regarding “Acceptance of one another” and “free and responsible search for truth and meaning”.
Attempting to determine if the humanist position was just that, an acceptance of pagans based on adherence to the UU covenant, I visited the UUA’s humanist Web site and found an interesting analysis by Richard Wayne Lee of the University of Alabama entitled “Strained Bedfellows – Pagans, New Agers, and “Starchy Humanists” in Unitarian Universalism.
His abstract states “Despite the considerable resistance of its largely humanist membership, Unitarian Universalism, in recent years assimilated such new religious movements as neopaganism and new age. In accounting for this apparently unlikely development, I examine the historical development of Unitarian Universalism, it’s integration of new religious movements, and the internal conflict this provoked.”
He goes on to note that the most widely held beliefs amoung U and U has varied over the ages. We started out as Enlighted Christians, as an outgrowth of rational examination of Protestant doctrine. Soon thereafter transcendentalism replaced Enlightened Christianity as the dominant Unitarian belief. Then in the 1920’s and 30’s humanism moved into Unitarianism and Universalism.
Lee states – “At the height of the humanist dominance in the 60’s, UU activism in civil rights and antiwar movements had imbued members with a sense of shared identity and purpose. However, in the 70’s, UU’s joined Liberal Protestants in focusing on personal growth and self development – and membership declined. Lee maintains that the 80’s call for a “spiritual” revitalization, by our UU leaders, was a planned effort to expand our membership through an appeal to the 60’s generation as their children came of school age. He goes on to talk about the influence of the rising tide of female ministers on the UUA.
Lee concludes his text by asserting that the reason that the UUA has been able to change doctrine throughout its history is its “cult of the individual”. That as long as our primary goal is supporting “The free and responsible search for truth and meaning” for each individual, we’ll be open to such sweeping changes in theological demographics.
Seen in the light of this history, the rise of interest in our “spiritual” lives represented by pagans, Buddhists, Taoist and other Eastern religions, is not something new, but rather a continuation of our history. But where does that leave us, regarding the current “Marriage” “Opportunity”?
If I’m an ethical humanist or even a religious humanist, knowing that I’m the most recent winner of the doctrinal wars of the UUA doesn’t exactly make me feel any better about changes that feel wrong headed and illogical. If I’m a pagan or have an interest in creating more ritual and a more celebratory experience in Sunday morning services, knowing that I have UU evolutionary history on my side, doesn’t get me dancing in the isles for many years to come.
The crux of the conflict is the apparent contradiction between our desire to not compromise what our rational minds can discern about the universe and the desire to be a part of and celebrate our connection to the Earth, each other and the cosmos.
That brings me to the second reason that I titled this sermon “UU Pagans and Humanists, Can this Marriage be Saved? Yes and the Children will be Scientific Pantheists. My second reason is that I’ve found that pantheism, at least the Scientific / Naturalist form has bridged a gap for me between my rational humanist mind and my desire for a religious basis for my need for celebration OF and reverence FOR the natural world.
The spiritual path that brought me to this point went something like this – I joined the UUA in the fall of 1977. As with many, maybe most newcomers, my beliefs at that time were defined more by what I didn’t believe that what I did. Over the years of exposure, without any serious study, but steeped in a culture of ethical and religious humanists, my orientation became that of a humanist. However, I am also a long time member of the Sierra Club – and it has always bothered me that the UUism I experienced focused on humanity almost to the exclusion of the “interdependent web of all existence”. To find ways to connect to nature and to develop Earth based ethics I looked into Native American Spirituality and the emerging Covenant of UU Pagans. But the Native practices I found were all as translated by the Christian missionaries. There were way too many references to the Great Spirit. I came to believe that the only way for that path to work was to adopt a native culture and live it.
The CUUPs events that Valerie and I attended were wonderful. I loved that Pagans aren’t afraid of creating or recreating rituals and celebrations. Their events engaged my heart and my emotions / were fun and did connect with the earth and our fellow creatures in a meaningful way. But, the gods and goddesses, mostly the goddesses kept getting in my way. The rational part of my humanism just wouldn’t allow me to translate the goddesses into metaphors of nature.
So I was left with the same question as the UU Humanist / Pagan panel – Do we have to give up our rational function to live more “spiritual” lives?
My answer NOW is an emphatic NO. I find that Scientific Pantheism provides a sound philosophical basis for integrating my whole self, rational and spiritual, within a religious framework that addresses the compelling issues of our times.
So far I’ve used both the general term Pantheist and the modified term Scientific Pantheist without differentiating them. The definitions of Pantheism I’ve shared, play out in many ways. Just as there are sects in all the other major belief systems there are many ways of expressing pantheism. Pantheistic concepts have developed throughout the world and throughout the ages… arising from philosophical thought as well as religious. There are monistic pantheists, which believe that all is one substance called matter/energy. There are dualistic pantheists that believe in an all pervading spirit as a separate expression of matter/energy. Some pantheists would feel very much at home with pagans, taking the references to various goddesses and gods as metaphors for various aspects of nature and humanity. Some consider pantheism only a philosophy and question whether it can function as a religion.
The only version that I know enough about to present to you this morning, calls itself variously, Scientific Pantheism, or Natural/Scientific Pantheism. It began as an organization about 3 years ago as people signed onto sending and receiving E-mail on the topic. Some of those people, who were interested in developing it as a fully functionally religious body have recently incorporated it under the title World Pantheist Movement.
In a moment I’ll move into a discussion of the principles that the members of the World Pantheist Movement have agreed to as the basis for organizing. But first I’d like to share with you some of the words of this remarkable group that sparked my interest, fired my imagination and opened my eyes to ways of celebrating the universe, based only on what we can establish scientifically as existing.
Bill Bruehl, one of the contributors to this movement, writes – “We are the universe aware of itself. It is an insight that has become my mantra. When I say it to myself, it evokes powerful feelings and profound insights. It is not a metaphor. It is real, a fact. And when in the course of my daily distractions, I remind myself once again that I surely am the Universe aware of itself, I thrill to the realization of those myriad connections, that that web includes even those I am angry or disappointed with. In those connections, I find meaning in the seasons of my discomfort, and reinforcement sustaining my determination to treat Earth and all of its children with reverence.”
Victor Danilchenko, another member, wrote – “Bethany Rose asks ‘Science is not spiritual, is it?’ Well, that depends entirely on what you mean by ‘spiritual’. By some definitions of ‘spirituality’, one cannot be ‘spiritual’ unless they are a dualist or theist. However, I think that Carl Sagan captured the essence of the broadest sense of ‘spirituality’ when he defined it as ‘human relationship with the noumenous’, by which he meant our relationship with that which is cosmically greater than ourselves. One’s relationship with the Universe, one’s feelings toward mathematics, one’s experience of nature, or one’s relationship with a theistic deity…, are thus all spiritual relationships. I am a hard-core atheist, an apprentice scientist, and an amateur philosopher; I hold rationality supreme, and I reject faith outright. I nevertheless consider myself spiritual — it’s hard to quantify, but I seem to have it despite taking rationality to the extreme.
Lorien Lowe writes words that I suggest we use as a guided meditation. I invite you to close your eyes as these thoughts are read: “This place that I live in is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the universe. When I walk on the soft earth of the forest floor, I can feel myself growing down into the earth as though my toes were turning into roots as I walk; when I breathe in the scent of redwood boughs and water and earth, I absorb those things into my blood and they are a part of me; when I watch the sun setting over the ocean, the sky is on fire and my heart is on fire and as the sun glows, so do I. When there is fog and it is cool outside, my own breath fogs and mingles with the ground-cloud around me and floats on to nourish the forest along with the mist from the bay. As it is beautiful, so am I. When our solar system was spinning into condensation, the same dust that made the sun also formed planets, and the same stellar dust of this planet eventually formed me. Someday, it will be a star again; maybe later it will become other planets, or stars, or novae. The wood of my desk is made of cells very like my own, and contains nucleotides that would be indistinguishable from my own; the bones and vessels and nerves of my body are arranged in the same pattern as those of my dog, though some of the shapes are different. I could no more live separate from this sacred universe than a cell of mine could live outside of me, without the blood and heart and muscle that sustains my whole.”
So what have the current members of Scientific Pantheists agreed to as a statement of belief? There are a total of nine credo statements. I just thought you might like to know, in case your mind begins to wander, I mean wonder. The first follows pretty much from the definitions given above –
We revere and celebrate the Universe as the ever-changing totality of being, past, present and future. It is self-creating, self-organizing, and inexhaustibly diverse. Its overwhelming power and fundamental mystery establish it as the only real divinity.
The second expands on the definition and begins to show what members want for themselves and the religious movement.
All matter, energy, and life are an interconnected unity of which we are an inseparable part. We rejoice in our existence and seek to participate ever more deeply in this unity through knowledge, art, celebration, meditation, empathy, love and ethical action.
The third continues to hint at where Pantheist ethics might differ from humanist. I’d love to expand on this one, but that had better wait for another day. I will note here that although we only number a couple hundred members, we do already have the equivalent to a UUA ‘social” action committee.
We are an inseparable part of Nature, which we should cherish, revere and preserve in all its magnificent beauty and diversity. We should strive to live in harmony with Nature locally and globally. We believe in treating all living creatures with compassion, empathy, and respect. We believe in the inherent value of all life, human and non-human.
If the forth begins to sound like the UUA, there is good reason, many of the members are, like me, long time UUA members. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a new group within the UUA in a few years …SUUPs – Society of UU pantheists – has a nice ring to it. The forth statement is –
We believe in freedom, democracy, justice, equity, and non-discrimination, and in a world community based on peace, an end to poverty, sustainable ways of life, and full respect for human rights.
Statement five lets you know that Scientific Pantheists are monistic. It states –
We believe there is only one kind of substance, matter/energy, which is not base or inferior, but wonderfully vibrant and creative in all its forms. Body, mind, and spirit are not separate, but all inseparably united.
Six reiterates why science is in the name, it states –
We respect reality and keep our minds open to the evidence of the senses and of evolving science. These are our best means of obtaining and refining our knowledge of the Universe, and on them we base our aesthetic and religious feelings about reality.
Credo statements 7 and 8 are beliefs derived from the above.
We see death as a return to nature of our elements. Our actions, our ideas and memories of us live on in the world, according to what we do in our lives.
We believe that every individual can have direct access through perception and emotion to ultimate reality, which is the Universe and Nature. There is no secret wisdom accessible only through gurus or revealed scriptures.
The last statement reflects the reality that even in a religion with only a few hundred members, we don’t agree on everything. It states –
We respect the general freedom of religion, and the freedom of all pantheists to express and celebrate their beliefs, as individuals or in groups, in any non-harmful ritual or symbolic form that is meaningful to them.
So why will the children of UU Pagans and Humanists be Scientific Pantheists? Because it honors the best of both traditions. Ethical living, reverence for humanity and our fellow living beings and more—reverence that extends beyond to the natural world to the universe. The use of reason, the willingness to revisit our beliefs when new information becomes available – and a willingness to celebrate all this with our hearts, our feet, our voices and our imaginations.
Oh, and one footnote, the “children” are real, as well as figurative, 10 percent of the members of the Sci-pan email group are youth aged 18 and younger. And that doesn’t include the children of the adult members. The marriage is resulting in a growing family.
Celebration our Connection to Earth – Many pantheists would be uncomfortable having religious services inside, away from the natural world. They would want us connecting more directly with areas less touched by human kind. In that spirit, we have brought some small items inside for you to experience. As the trays are passed down your row, please pick up something that appeals to you and use any or all of your senses to experience your selected item. Pay attention to the details. If you brought your magnifying glass, now is the time to use it. Stay with your experience until you learn something new about the item or about yourself.
Please stand as you are willing and able and turn to the person behind / in front of you and share what you’ve learned.
Special Music – “What a Wonderful World”
Some members of the World Pantheist Movement think that the song the Choir is about to sing should be our theme song. Thank you Susan for finding the music. Thank you choir for performing it.
Sharing of Joys and Concerns
It is the tradition of this fellowship to provide time in each service for us to share significant joys and concerns. I invite you now to do so.
#79 “No Number Tallies Nature Up”
A religion that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly touched by conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge. (Carl Sagan)