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What I Believe

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.”