It’s not easy to herd cats, as a memorable Super Bowl commercial showed us. Similarly, I’m wondering how the Universist movement (a “faithless” alternative to traditional religion) is going to be able to organize hard-to-corral freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, deists, and the like.
Here in Salem, Oregon I’ve organized a Universist discussion group. I’ve also helped Ford Vox, the founder of Universism, rewrite the movement’s FAQs (frequently asked questions). So my observations are from a friendly perspective, in contrast to those who see the rise of Universism as work of the Devil and the Anti-Christ.
In our Salem Universist meetings we haven’t yet discussed Universism, per se. The topic just hasn’t come up. Sort of strange, isn’t it? Universism bills itself as an alternative to faith-based religions, yet says that it is a religious philosophy. A philosophy without substantive content, in which the individual search for truth and meaning is all-important, not preset answers.
So when we Salem Universists get together there’s no mention of Universism. We simply talk about what’s going on in our lives, and how we’re trying to grapple with the Big Questions. Is there a God? If so, what kind? What’s our relationship with the cosmos? Does life continue after death? To name a few.
There’s nothing uniquely “Universist” in all this. We’re being open-minded, non-dogmatic, and respectful of each others’ opinions. The Universist movement says that these are desirable qualities, but so does almost everybody.
Thus I’ve been trying to figure out what connection exists between talking with friends in a coffee house or living room, and Universism central—which has a fancy web site and is garnering increasing media attention (CNN’s Anderson Cooper probably will air a story about Universism next week).
Increasingly it seems to me that there is a clear distinction between the organization called “Universism” and people who are drawn together under the Universist banner, or otherwise, to discuss spirituality, philosophy and the Meaning of It All. You can’t herd independent thinkers into a corral that they don’t want to enter, even if the fences say “We don’t fence you in.”
I mean, the nature of every organization is to be organized. And when you organize, you necessarily make decisions that affect the entire organization—not just one person. Yet the central tenet of Universism is that each individual is responsible for determining his or her own philosophy of life and morality. Which produces a conflict. Mild, perhaps, but still a conflict.
After Hurricane Katrina hit I got emails from Universism central saying that a charitable arm of the movement had been formed to solicit donations for medical equipment. As Scrooge-like as this may sound, I wrote to the head Universist honcho and told him that there are lots of charitable organizations that my wife and I donate money to. Hopefully, I said, Universism won’t get drawn into becoming a “do-gooder” group when this isn’t its stated mission.
Similarly, this excerpt from a message that went to Universist activists raised my eyebrows:
We’re organizing a Universist ministerial corps to perform weddings, funerals, other ceremonies and spiritual counseling. Universism of course holds that none of us have any special authority about religious matters. Our ordination of Universist ministers will simply certify that this organization is comfortable with these individuals representing themselves in an official ministerial capacity as Universists.
Maybe this is appropriate, but I was attracted to the Universist movement because it didn’t seem to have the attributes of a religion. Yet here we are with ministers being appointed by someone with the authority to anoint them as certifiable Universists, even though the organization says “none of us have any special authority about religious matters.” Again, a contradiction.
I support Universism. However, when I first wrote about it I expressed some qualms about joining up with an organized “ism.”
Cats don’t change their spots. I’m still resistant to being herded. Even into an expansive corral.
Yes I agree Brain, in fact I would say that all of us seekers are totally unique and independent and naturally resist being herded. In fact I believe that is why we like to visit your weblog. Your Church of the Churchless is a breath of clean fresh air, free and open with no fences. Like an open woods. Ha! Like the 100 Aker Wood in the story book of Winnie the Pooh.
He He He --- That really fits doesn’t it!? Yea Brain, you have a daughter, -- I have 4 daughters. You know about Winnie the Pooh too. --- So perhaps we are all cartoon characters. Let me see. – you would be Rabbit and we always come to your house for a party. You are the brains (Brian –> brain:-) Very good! You are our organizer, our guru, the best speller of all, very decisive, pushy, - -a take charge kind of a guy.
Then let me see, who else fits? Ok, of course we have Tao. He is like Eeyore , the old gray donkey who likes to eat thistles. No wonder he is always so depressed. He is intelligent and next to you the best speller, but he always has a big problem with his tail falling off, and his house falling down. And he wants to be noticed, and above all hates to be bounced by Tigger.
Tigger the tiger. Ha! That's me, that’s ET ! “T - I - Double Guh - er" Tigger is bouncy very active and fun-loving. Hmm. Yes, and I am a tiger in Chinese astrology too. Tigger is all about bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, and fun, fun, fun. He loves to run and bounce and his favorite thing to do is play detective!! That fits too, I am a runner and I have the seva of being the International Tape Detective on the RSSB DAT Team. Wow! How this fits. And I am always getting in over my head like Tigger who says "That's what Tiggers do best!" But then I am always up beat and positive and manage to get out the situation just fine, like Tigger. And Tigger always says "That's Re-dikorus." Changes words around just like me. And I very much love his little song about being the only one:
The wonderful thing about Tiggers,
Is Tiggers are wonderful things.
Their tops are made out of rubber,
Their bottoms are made out of springs.
They're bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy,
Fun, fun, fun, fun, FUN!
But the most wonderful thing about Tiggers is...
I'm the only one.
Well, enough of my funny analogy. I will leave it to the other visitors to decide who they are-- Piglet, Roo, etc.
Anyway, before my digression started I was thinking that the Universism’s challenge – the herding of cats, can be best handled by having a very loose structure, with few rules, in other words don’t try and heard them at all. Just like you do not herd us here. People come here to learn, to be inspired, to get a breath of fresh air, and as all good teachers know in order to learn it is best accomplished by having plenty of space, lots of interesting stuff to play with and as few rules as possible. That way we just have a party at Rabbit’s house and we all learn and just have fun.
That’s my thoughts, so as Tigger always says;
"T-T-F-N, Ta Ta For Now!",
Posted by: ET | January 29, 2006 at 07:32 AM