A while back I attended a three-week “Getting to Know UU” discussion group, for those who are considering joining a Unitarian Universalist congregation (and I did join the congregation). At the beginning of the meeting we were all asked to introduce ourselves and explain how we arrived there—sort of a brief spiritual autobiographical sketch. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to present it as a logical A to B journey before, or even to think of it that way. Still, as it often happens, answering someone else’s questions taught me things I didn’t realize I knew.

Unitarian Universalist Association

I’d already been meditating on just who I am, what I believe, and what I want to accomplish in this life. If I died today, how would I want my daughter and other loved ones to remember me? What would I want them to know about what I thought, hoped, believed, wished for, and why? I’m finding that being a parent makes me far more conscious of time, and of planning for the future, than I was before. My mother has always said, “Twenty years from now, who will know the difference?” when one of us was obsessing over something. I’m coming to better appreciate her perspective when it comes to minor issues, but I think she applied it too liberally.

Some things cannot be adequately expressed in words, but must be lived on a daily basis. Still, my words are an important part of who I am, and I feel some need to try to express my beliefs through them. By publishing them, perhaps I’ll find like-minded souls with whom to strike up a dialogue, or perhaps they’ll at least provoke contemplation in those who read them. I do not claim to be wise, nor do I claim to express any eternal truths. My beliefs and values have evolved throughout my life, and I expect them to continue to do so as long as I exist—I abhor stagnation.

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe simply because it has been handed down for many generations. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is written in Holy Scriptures. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of Teachers, elders or wise men. Believe only after careful observation and analysis, when you find that it agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all. Then accept it and live up to it.—The Buddha on Belief, from the Kalama Sutta

So…I was a pagan when I wrote many of the articles on this site, but over the last few years I’ve evolved into being an agnostic atheist. That means that I don’t claim to absolutely know whether there are or are not any deities (although I find it extremely unlikely that there are), but I do not believe that any exist. I’m also a Unitarian Universalist—and no, there isn’t any conflict between being UU and atheist or pagan. It isn’t easy to explain what being UU means in a couple of words, as there’s a lot of diversity within our association. We’re a non-creedal religious group. What we do agree on is expressed in the UU Principles and Purposes. The UUA Bookstore has a rather nice article that’s also informative, We are Unitarian Universalists. Beyond the principles and purposes, you’ll find that there are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, (obviously) atheist, and pagan UUs.

I believe that everyone has the right to determine his or her own beliefs and the freedom to follow the path those beliefs dictate. Groups like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition are welcome to their views, but the fact that they try to impose those views on everyone else is absolutely wrong. That’s why I got involved with the Greater Atlanta Interfaith Alliance. It’s also one of the reasons I’m a Unitarian Universalist—because it permits me to be part of a community of faith that welcomes and affirms people of all paths, and gives my child exposure to those paths in a positive way. I want her to have the information to make a fully informed decision about her own path when she’s old enough to do so—I will not make the mistake my parents made of trying to force her to follow my own path.

I believe that for every right in this life there is a corollary responsibility, and that only a fool tries to exercise one without fulfilling the other. In terms of belief, that means questioning everything. If you believe what your parents believed, whatever you were raised in and have believed throughout your life, you probably just inherited your religion as a habit. You may have gotten your political views the same way, and I’m not going to take you very seriously, to be honest. There’s a saying among Christians that “God doesn’t have any grandchildren” but few actually consider that in its fullest, because they were indoctrinated into their religion as small children.

Politically, I believe that taxes are the price we pay for civilization. My definition of a civilized society is one in which there is sound infrastructure (roads, bridges, airports, utilities, etc.), a reasonable degree of safety so that ordinary people can walk down the streets without worry at any time. The basic human rights and freedoms of speech, religion, privacy, healthcare, equality of opportunity, representative government, pursuit of happiness and so on are guaranteed. No, I don’t believe in giving everybody a free ride. I think that every adult who can work should work and pay fair taxes, but that children, the elderly, and the disabled should have a decent standard of living provided for them. A strong safety net is an important part of a civilized society.

I think everybody has the right to determine what they do with their own bodies, including what they put in them. I happen to think it’s too stupid for words to put substances in your body that cause you to lose control of yourself. I won’t be around anyone who is out of control. I don’t consider “but he was drunk” to be an excuse for anyone’s bad behavior, and support an absolutely zero-tolerance stance on crimes like driving while intoxicated (one offense, one jail stay, don’t pass go, don’t collect $200). I think the “war on drugs” is actually an excuse for the government to chip away at our freedom, and I’m wholly against it.

I believe that because I’ve exercised my right to bring a child into this world, I must fulfill my responsibilities by providing for and educating my child until she is an adult—and doing my best to see that she grows into being a responsible adult. I believe that being a parent is both one of the greatest rights and one of the most immense responsibilities any person will ever experience. I’ll admit to being pretty judgemental about people based on how they parent and how their children behave—I choose not to spend time with people who don’t parent well, because their children are generally little monsters. I realized some time back that I don’t “like” children any more than I “like” any other particular group of people. I enjoy the company of intelligent, well-behaved people, and don’t like to be around noisy, rude or stupid people—no matter how old they are.

I believe that I am responsible for protecting myself, my family, and my property. It is my right to use force in responding to threats to our safety.

I judge people by their words, deeds and abilities, rather than by their appearances, ancestry (race, ethnicity, etc.), gender, sexual preference or religion. I ask that the same factors be used in judging me. The entrenched bigotry of the churches in which I was raised was one of the biggest reason I left all organized religion for many years. I refuse to be part of sexism, racism, homophobia, religious discrimination, or anti-intellectual campaigns, or to be associated with any organization that promotes those evils. I believe that laws that exist solely to enforce religious standards on those of us who do not share those religious beliefs are inexcusable and ludicrous. Prohibitions against marriages between consenting adults of any sexes and Georgia’s ridiculous sex laws are just two of the examples that come to mind immediately.

I believe that the more love one gives to others, the more you receive. I don’t know if Spider Robinson said it first or was quoting someone else, but to quote him, “Shared joy is multiplied, shared sorrow is divided.”