A few weeks ago I became a Universist. I didn’t have to give up my churchless faith to do so, for Universism is a marvelously kindred philosophy. The Universists just are a lot more organized than the Church of the Churchless ever will be and have a much cooler web site.
They actually sign people up who are willing to affirm that they fit the definition of a Universist. I figured, “What the heck?” and proclaimed my allegiance to Universism (pronounced “universe-ism”). I’d already joined the Unitarian Jihad, so signing on to another uni-philosophy seemed right in line with the trajectory of my spiritual evolution—which some would say is heading straight for hell.
Well, I’ll have some interesting company there. Such as John Armstrong, assistant director of the Universist movement. Last Tuesday I listened to a radio interview with Armstrong on the arch-conservative national Lars Larson show. The Universists had sent me an email about the show, saying that Armstrong’s interview had been moved up a day because of Bush’s impending announcement of his Supreme Court nomination.
I liked Armstrong’s style a lot. As I often not-so-humbly say about someone, “He made a lot of sense, since he sounded an awful lot like me.” Except, Armstrong was more calm and collected than I suspect I would be if I ever conversed with the hugely annoying Lars Larson. And Armstrong had a rich supply of quotes on hand about the Deistic beliefs of this country’s founding fathers, a subject I know little about.
You can peruse these quotes at Deism.org, a related Universist web site that Armstrong was able to plug shamelessly throughout the interview. I do have to give Lars Larson credit for having Armstrong on his show (this was a repeat appearance), for Larson and most of his regular listeners are devout fundamentalist Christians.
Armstrong persuasively argued that George Washingon, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, among others, were Deists, not believers in Jesus. The Universists say that Deism is “belief in God as revealed by nature and reason combined with a disbelief in scripture, prophets, superstition and church authority.” The founding father quotes they’ve assembled certainly seem to support Armstrong’s assertion, which didn’t go over well with Larson (to my great delight).
I can’t recall the exact Jefferson quote Armstrong read on the show, but I think it may have been this one: "One day the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in the United States will tear down the artificial scaffolding of Christianity. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His father, in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."
Armstrong skillfully pointed out that the Universist skepticism about organized religion is exactly in line with the virtues of freedom and independence that this country was founded on. “Don’t tread on me.” “Give me liberty or give me death.” He said that Russia became free (or, at least, freer) when its people rose up against the power of the state dictating every aspect of their lives.
Yet now the United States government is trying to force religion, in the guise of Christianity, down citizens’ throats. This is un-American, Armstrong said. The United States Constitution doesn’t mention religion at all, except to say that it must be kept out of public affairs.
Larson didn’t have much of a response, other than to bring up the pitifully weak argument that I’ve heard him use before: “But the last words of the Constitution say, ‘In the year of our Lord…’”
Good God! God damn closed-minded conservative talk show hosts! My use of the name of God just now doesn’t mean that I’m a Christian; it’s just a way of speaking. The same is true with “In the year of the Lord,” Armstrong said.
The Universist FAQs are worth perusing if you want to know more about this intriguing movement. I applaud Armstrong and his fellow Universists for their efforts to make personal reason and experience the foundation of a spiritual (or non-spiritual) world view.
Still, I sympathize with John Horgan. He wrote in his “Keeping the Faith in My Doubt” essay that he wouldn’t be joining the Universists or any other areligious group:
“First of all, I’m just not a joiner, more out of laziness than anything else; I avoid commitments that might jeopardize my sports- or sitcom-watching time. An organization for freethinkers--one of the Universists self-definitions--also strikes me as oxymoronic, like an anarchist government. Isn’t the point of being a free-thinker eschewing categories like Satanist, Scientologist or Universist?”
Yes, it is. Horgan concludes that each unbeliever could form his own personal “ism” with its own name. He says, “Since Universism is taken, I’ll call mine ‘Horganism.’ You can revile it, admire it, or ignore it, but you can’t join it.”
Amen to that.