As reported on my other weblog, I’ve decided to sponsor a Universist face-to-face discussion group here in Salem. Currently the group has two members: me and my wife, Laurel. This makes it easy for us to meet, but it would be nice to expand the membership between the confines of Hines.
So if you live in the Salem area, consider becoming a group member (sign up here). Though this discussion group will be under the Universist banner, there’s essentially no difference between the philosophy of Universism and what gets preached here at the Church of the Churchless.
I know this, because I read all the way through the Universism FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) today. A brief browse of the Universist web site had led me to strongly suspect that Universism and me were highly compatible. Studying the FAQs convinced me that this was the case.
[Note: the Universism Movement FAQs were edited after I wrote this post. They now are considerably improved and more readable. The comments below refer to the original version.]
Highlighter in hand, I was expecting that I’d mark some “?”s in the margins. After all, I rarely agree completely with a philosophical or metaphysical writing. However, in making my way through the twelve pages I only encountered one area of significant potential disagreement, and that was soon cleared up.
My sole question mark was penned in when the author, Ford Vox, said “We have no authority to pronounce a religious truth we find because as Universists we recognize there are no universal religious Truths, just personal ones, and even those are open to challenge with new experiences and information.”
That struck me as an overly confident statement for a movement that espouses an ardent embrace of uncertainty as an antidote to faith-based religious certitude. Who can say whether there are universal religious truths? Maybe they exist; maybe they don’t. Universism says that “We cannot have a true search if the conclusions are preset.” Wasn’t Vox doing just that?
However, on the next page I read the answer to this question: “What does Universism mean when it says there is no universal religious truth? Isn’t it likely that God exists or doesn’t, one or the other is the truth, for example?” Here’s a portion of the excellent answer:
Objective reality is that which we can learn about through science. Universism addresses the domain of existential, religious and moral questions for which science has no certain answers. Universism presents the empowering absence of a religious reality that applies to everyone. In the absence of religious reality, no one has religious authority.
It can truly be said "Universists have faith in nothing." If universal religious truth is ever found it will no longer be religious Truth, it will be science fact. Presenting a religious truth requires faith, a dangerous concept eschewing reality. Rather we advocate reasoned uncertainty in these areas until they are made apparent through the light of science.
When a fact becomes known, it is no longer religious. It is mystery that makes things religious, and it is mystery that Universism advocates we use as a motivating force for good, for continuing progress to understand that mystery, beginning with the individual search, rather than funneling the mystery's power into faiths which can spiral out of control.
The domain of Universism will shrink with every advancement of science, and ultimately disappear completely. In the meantime, Universism will accelerate the progress of science by emphasizing to humanity how open our possibilities really are, how our future is limited only in imagination.
Nicely said. Here are a few other quotes about faith from the FAQs that I enjoyed:
Faith is adherence to a religious Truth despite evidence to the contrary and without continuing efforts to seek out, understand and weigh evidence. Faith devalues the universe and disrespects our individual efforts to understand the universe.
Universists do not rely on the “comforting” force of faith in our lives; we no longer need constancy and tradition. In its place we celebrate the living world that changes every day, the reality we know, and the aspects of reality that are uncertain. Our constancy is our engagement with the universe and our ready receptivity.
[Universism] is a philosophy liberating people from faith whether that faith is Christianity or atheism or deism (etc.), replacing that faith with open continuing inquiry. It is the great insight of Universism to state that an absolutely certain atheist or deist or pantheist (etc.) is harboring a faith, just as a Christian; she is not a freethinker.
I was a bit reluctant to embrace an “ism,” but the FAQs reassured me that Universism is a commitment to the open-minded search for truth and not the holding onto of any set-in-stone dogma.
Anyway, “Universism” is just a word. What’s important is the philosophy expressed by the word: “A progressive, naturalistic worldview in which all meaning and purpose is understood through personal reason and experience.”
I’ve got no problem signing on to that.