My Universalist touring

This is the religion post. If you’re here for the linguistics stuff, you might want to check out my conlang blog.

My Dad grew up Baptist. Grandpa was Mormon, but only in because missionaries helped him move to Salt Lake City. Or so the family story goes. My other grandfather was probably Jewish, but assimilated after immigrating and more or less disavowed his background. My Mom went to a country protestant church and later was introduced to new age beliefs. Both of my parents took me to a variety of churches Among my sisters are Lutherans and Catholics.

I’ve mentally tried on for size all the religions of the world. I’ve joined the Russian Orthodox Church and Unitarian-Universalist. But didn’t attend the former for very long and I’m lapsed in the later because it was too stressful dealing with my son at church. Advice to parents– kids will put up with church better if they go most all the time. On the other hand, most church services either are completely inappropriate for kids (as in boring, over their heads) or there is a massive child care problem that causes the everyone under 40 in the congregation to get up after 10 minutes to help with Sunday school (at least that is the UU tradition).

A good religion is a community of the sort of people I’d like to hang out with, doesn’t fail the giggle test and has a certain pragmatism to it.

Christianity fails the giggle test or doesn’t speak to me most of the time. It was probably more fun 2000 years ago when it was addressing something that was missing in the pagan traditions of the time.

I don’t really believe in the physical existence of anyone’s gods, so I suppose I’m an atheist, but atheists, in practice are too angry to hang out with. Some significant part of the atheist community are Christian heretics. Their beliefs are reactions against Christianity and not an independent approach to life.

UU’s are cool people to hang out with. I noticed that the Universalist part is actually a real organizational pain for the UU’s. If you mix traditions, then you get a wild mix of contradictions. So UU’s universalism is, in my non-scholarly opinion, a watered down Christianity and the assumption that other major world religions are much the same–independently discovered rehashes of Christianity. On the otherhand, more than any other organization the UU’s tolerate pagans, Buddhists and other people who dabble in world religions.

I like Buddhism most of all as a religion that speaks to me and passes the giggle test. It’s a serious and pragmatic religion. It is also thoroughly Asian. As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s hard to join a club if you need to speak Vietnamese first. The English speaking Buddists in the US tend to be overwhelmingly Zen or sometimes Theravada. So that means a lot of sitting and not interacting with anyone. I get enough of that at work. Again, I like most of the Buddhist traditions and when you try to join a Buddhist club, they’re generally promoting one sort of Buddhist, and often are linked with the Asian organization who likewise wants to promote one sort of Buddhism. Nichiren is the most extreme example of this, although the sentiment that one shouldn’t mix schools is common.

I like Asatru because it involves the Icelandic language and I’m a language geek. Animism and Polytheism, on the otherhand, completely fails the giggle test if I imagine myself believing it is anything but reification I’d have to giggle. (Reification a very cool word, it means thinking about the abstract as if it were concrete, e.g. death, war and love personified) More so than a typical religion, Asatru requires you to be picky about what parts you want to adopt. Historical Germanic pagan practices are reputed to have included human sacrifice. Probably most of the historical believers believed that the Gods really existed and weren’t just personified ways to discuss abstractions. On the otherhand, Asatru, like Tibetan Buddhism, is more fun than Zen, Lutheranism– with better stories and rituals.

Universalists are disruptive when they join a religion. The religions of the world really are different, not just rehashes of the same thing, (except on a superficial level, else we wouldn’t be calling them all religions!) A function organized religion is promoting a code of conduct, a way of seeing the world. Having members promoting incompatible codes and viewpoints is a challenge. Not even economic departments are immune to this– the economic department full of like-minded academics will run smoothly and have fewer intercine battles. And even if a group is homogeneous, some part of them will start quibbling over minutia.

Anyhow, time for a summary. It’s rough being a Universalist. Next I’ll see if I can write up what the elevator speech for Asatru would be, were I an Asatruar.

Politics and Guns

A few days ago, a man in Knoxville Tennissee made a political statement by going to church to kill some liberals.

I always try to go to any nearby UU church when I’m traveling– It’s always nice to be able to hang out in place with a familiar sort of people even when I’m out of town.

The UU church is a place for people who like to think big thoughts, like about how to achieve peace, social equality, justice.  For a sometimes materialist like myself sometimes it sounds vacuous.  But thinking about big ideas do work, and they do have real life consequences.  A progressive outlook on life isn’t just a matter of style, diet and driving a Prius.  A progressive outlook transforms the world.

A red state outlook transforms the world, too.  Gun fetishism is not just macho tough talk.  It isn’t just flashy style.  Jim David Adkisson, steeped in the big thoughts of Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity was tranformed and went to the Knoxville UU with enough bullets to kill 76 men, women and children.  Unlike better armed churches, the Knoxville congregants stopped the gunman with their own bodies.

These guns are not just symbolic totems.  What does the conservative movement really intend for the radicalized members of the right to do with these guns?  Don’t these talking heads–Bill, Mike and Sean–realize that the ideas they push on the airwaves and in pulp bulks aren’t just boisterous hot air, making people feel good about being a member of the club conservatives– but these are ideas with the power to transform the world in a direction that even they can’t possibly want?

We up here in Arlington hold Knoxville’s sorrow in our hearts.

Is the Universe sentient?

Sentience is like to be something that happens to thinking machines at a certain level of complexity. Now the question is, is the universe itself in any sense a thinking machine? Because if it is, then it certainly has the level of complexity required to be sentient.

Anyhow, it seemed like a more interesting way to pose the question, “Does God exist?”

Why I Joined the Unitarian Universalist Church

It was a third choice, I’d rather go to an club based on Buddhism or Existentialism, but they don’t quite exist the way I’d want them to.
1) The Buddhists can’t get their act together and organize in a way that targets American life. Current Buddhists organizations are a poor fit for families, ‘generic ethnics’ (people who aren’t Asian and speak an Asian language)

2) The philosophers, atheists and humanists have no organization at all and the atheists are just a bunch of angry people.

3) There are lots of Buddhists lurking among the Unitarians

4) The Arlington Unitarian Universalist Church of Virginia has an incredible array of social events that take place at and through the church

5) The sermons are not dogmatic and are friendly to Democrats and free thinkers.

6) The social structure reminds me of the church I knew when I was little, but it doesn’t have the drawbacks of the other Christian Churches, such as a hard line socially conservative outlook

7) It tends to attract intelligent and friendly people

Well, I guess a church can’t be all things to all people

I’ve been trying to get with the program at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. I joined, I pledged, I try to attend the Young Adult events–I meet more people that I do sitting at home and feel somewhat part of a community, although being a father and 32, I’m not quite suited for the Young Adult group, a bit too young for the older group and way too young for the 40-50′s group. I’m incompetent at singing, leading and teaching, so I’m sorry to say I’m not helping out there much. I’m can’t stand the after service coffee hour–it’s about as appealing as striking up conversations with people on the metro. It isn’t that the people there are less friendly than elsewhere, I just suck at schmoozing with strangers.
I think the original church (circa 32 AD) was sucessful because the cost of entry was pretty low. Jesus was looking for members amongst anyone, including the poor, the sick, the wreched, the criminals– I can’t find the quote but there was a line in the bible when Jesus was being criticized by the diciples for hanging out with the riff-raff where there were perfectly good, upper middle class, cool Romans to be converting. (I can’t quote his response, my knowledge of Christianity is a bit scanty, I’m much better versed in Buddhism.) The cost of entry is a bit higher now. Now you need to be socially competent, work well in teams and on comittees, organized, and know how to teach sunday school.
I’m a divorced dad and I try to take my son to Church on the alternating weekends, this week I he got kicked out of class because I’d been freeloading for too long–parents need to be teachers to send their kids to Sunday school and be a teacher’s assistent on alternating years, so a parent can’t actually to to service anymore (although I supose one could teach during the first service and attend during the second–which would exceed my son’s attention span). For me, this hardly seems fair to anyone, because I would be doing a subpar job of teaching little kids for four lessons for every one lesson my son would be able and willing to attend.

My son, who was too enthusiastic about going to church anyhow, UU or otherwise, (somehow he’s become a bit of radical atheist, I’m not sure where he picked it up–I think he got it from the criticism that I heap upon fundamentalist Republicans or from his atheist mom), is now back to being hostile to religion again as a exclusionary club.
The joke is, “Those who can–do, those who can’t–teach.” Why should I teach what I know nothing about?

I checked the Catholics website, they are a much friendlier to parents who don’t know how to teach little kids– there you only need to join the club and pay a registration fee and sign up early since they have limited space. It is a pity I can’t bring myself to believe most of the things on the creed.