29 December 2010

Stained Glass, Plate Glass, and the "Cathedral of the World"

Several months ago, my partner was teaching the "New Unitarian Universalist" adult religious education class and she shared a story in this curriculum by Forrest Church. The story is titled "Cathedral of the World."

This story uses the differing variety of colors, windows, and refraction in stained glass as a metaphor for the mystery one finds in religious exploration.

However, this story brought to mind another analogy that first read in Isaac Asimov's writings where he uses stained glass and plate glass as metaphors to talk about complex poetic writing and simple direct writing. I will write more about this metaphor later on.

A few days ago on the UU Theology email list, a list member made the following comment when discussing truth, knowledge, and religious meaning:
"You are making a distinction that I did not consider-regarding demonstrating that a concept is true removes its meaning. I think that is mainly true. We no longer get a lot of meaning out of medical cures-like we did when we thought spirits and shamans were responsible for that. Getting inoculations is no longer very meaningful. They remain meaningful in the pragmatic aspect of accomplishment-and predictability-but lose meaning in the more meaningful sense of personal meanings."
Again, this comment also brought to mind Asimov's stained glass and plate glass analogy. Asimov borrowed this analogy from Jay Kay and expanded on it to describe how he perceived his writing style.

In his memoir, he mentioned that there is writing that resembles a stained glass mosaic. A stained glass window is beautiful in itself and it lets light in through the many colored fragments. But one cannot see too clearly through them. To continue with this analogy, there is poetic writing that beautiful in itself and has great emotional impact. But this sort of writing can make comprehension more difficult.

Plate glass has no beauty of its own. Ideally, one should not even notice that it's there at all. It allows you to see what is happening in the world around you. Asimov suggests that his plain-and-direct, non-poetic writing style is analogous to plate glass. Ideas flow from the writer to the reader with few to no barriers to reader comprehension.

Colored glass mosaics have been known sense ancient times. Creating clear plate glass that doesn't distort one's view of the world is much harder. Even though it's less beautiful and less "poetic," it's much harder to make.

To take Asimov's stained glass and plate glass analogy further and apply it to the email comments quoted above, perhaps the shaman and spirit view of illness is a "stained glass" way of looking at the world. There may be more emotional meaning and poetry in this way of looking at the world. And the way of looking at the world that gives us immunizations, germ theory of disease, etc is a "plate glass" way of looking at the world. What we've lost in poetry and "meaning" we've made up in lives saved and suffering averted. Fair trade perhaps?

I want to take this analogy a bit further. Let's use the analogy of a moving car zipping down a high-speed freeway with lots of other traffic on it as a metaphor for the complex world we live in. We're cruising down the road at 70 miles per hour (approximately 115 km per hour for our European readers).

In this analogy, would we want the poetic and beautiful stained glass mosaic for our windshield? Or would we want a windshield that gives us the best possible view of world as we are hurtling down the freeway at high speed?

During the early years of the AIDS epidemic, some did try the shaman and spirit approach for understanding this disease. The shaman and spirit folks suggested that AIDS was God's curse for homosexuality. Those who were less poetic and less meaningful in their understanding suggested that a virus was responsible and there were practical things one could do to reduce risk, pain, and suffering (testing for infection, safer sex prevention, basic research into the disease with the hope of finding a future cure or vaccine, etc). Again, I'm OK with giving up some poetry if it reduces suffering in others.

I think giving up some poetry and meaning here is a fair trade.

22 October 2010

Juan Williams and Bigotry

First, here's what Juan Williams said on Bill O'Reilly's show:
"I'm not a bigot, but when I get on a plane, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."
Source - NY Daily News (22 October 2010)

Bigotry is an emotional response and not a rational response.

I can understand having an emotional response but I don't understand the refusal to critically examine this sort of emotional response before opening one's mouth and sharing it with the world.

If a person like Juan Williams is unwilling to do this sort of critical reflection, then maybe this person might lose his media job for very justified reasons - namely stupidity.

I'm not too worried about Juan Williams - he won't starve to death due to unemployment. He was recently hired after this incident by Fox News.

In a post-9/11 world, the person wearing "Muslim garb" (whatever the frak that might be) is the person who is least likely to be planning a serious terrorist attack. Remember the real 9/11 terrorists wore Western-style clothing so the could blend in. A terrorist who is trying to actually do the job will blend in successfully.

I close this blog post with a clip from Family Guy that pokes a bit of fun about our current xenophobia for those who dress differently:

11 September 2010

Do "New Atheists" Ignore Liberal Religion?

[Note - this blog post started out as a reply to "Islam, Fear, and Lies" on Rev. Cyn's blog.]

Do the so-called "new atheists" ignore liberal religion? Do they uncritically condemn all religion by assuming that the most extreme religious fundamentalists are representative examples of religion in practice?

These are very common criticisms of the "new atheist" writers.

However, I don't think it's a matter of the so-called "new atheists" ignoring liberal religion.

It's simply a matter of liberal religion being so tiny in numbers and influence that's it's not relevant to the questions surrounding the harm that religion causes in modern society.

As a "first-order approximation," one can ignore the influence of liberal religion in the wider religious world.

I'm sure that any suggestion that liberal religious folks ignore our lack of religious influence that begins with the equivalent of "consider a spherical cow in vacuum ... " will be condemned as too simplistic.

But there is data to back up what I'm saying.

All one needs to do is look at the exit polling data after the California Proposition 8 vote that denied marriage equality for all California residents in 2008:

Protestants were supporting Proposition 8 (65% in favor vs. 35% against).

Catholics were supporting Proposition 8 (64% in favor vs. 36% against).

Contrast the majority of religious persons voting against against marriage equality with the "none" demographic group (no religious affiliation) -- they were 90% against Prop 8 and only 10% in favor of it.

Religion appears to interfere with the ideal of supporting justice, fairness, and equality for all citizens.

And having no religion seems to be much more helpful in promoting justice in this example.

Second, some of the so-called "new atheists" like Sam Harris think that the moderate and liberal religious members of the various religious traditions are ineffective at countering their religious fundamentalist co-religionists.

Here are a few passages from Sam Harris' book The End of Faith where he discusses this:
According to Gallup, 35 percent of Americans believe that the Bible is the literal and inerrant word of the Creator of the universe. Another 48 percent believe that it is the "inspired word of the same" ... still inerrant, though certain of its passages must be interpreted symbolically before their truth can be brought to light. Only 17 percent of us remain to doubt that a personal God, in his infinite wisdom, is likely to have authored this text or, for that matter, to have created the earth with its 250,000 species of beetles. Some 46 percent of Americans take a literalist view of creation (40 percent believe that God has guided creation over the course of millions of years). This means that 120 million of us place the big bang 2,500 years after the Babylonians and Sumerians learned to brew beer. If our polls are to be trusted, nearly 230 million Americans believe that a book showing neither unity of style nor internal consistency was authored by an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent deity. A survey of Hindus, Muslims, and Jews around the world would surely yield similar results, revealing that we, as a species, have grown almost perfectly intoxicated by our myths.
While moderation in religion may seem a reasonable position to stake out, in light of all that we have (and have not) learned about the universe, it offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence. From the perspective of those seeking to live by the letter of the texts, the religious moderate is nothing more than a failed fundamentalist. He is, in all likelihood, going to wind up in hell with the rest of the unbelievers. The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. We cannot say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; we cannot even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivaled. All we can say, as religious moderates, is that we don't like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on us. This is not a new form of faith, or even a new species of scriptural exegesis; it is simply a capitulation to a variety of all-too-human interests that have nothing, in principle, to do with God. Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance ... and it has no bona fides, in religious terms, to put it on a par with fundamentalism. The texts themselves are unequivocal: they are perfect in all their parts. By their light, religious moderation appears to be nothing more than an unwillingness to fully submit to God's law. By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally. Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question ... i.e., that we know there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us ... religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness.
Finally, some "new atheists" like Greta Christina are concerned with religion from a philosophical point of view. Greta thinks that religion is faulty from an epistemological point of view. And she would raise this philosophical objection even with moderate and liberal religious voices like the United Church of Christ:
I think science and faith are mutually exclusive.

Now, before you jump down my throat: I think religious believers can be scientists, and good ones. The evidence for that is pretty obvious. Most scientists throughout history have been religious believers, and many scientists today are as well. I'm not saying that having religious faith means you can't be a scientist.

I'm saying that -- as approaches to life, as approaches to understanding reality and engaging with the world -- faith and science are radically different. Science is an approach to life and learning that is willing to question anything, give up any belief or opinion, if a preponderance of evidence contradicts it. Faith is an approach to life and learning that starts with an assumption that it isn't willing to discard. The more progressive faiths are willing to bend and change to adjust to reality; but the basic assumption -- the existence of God and the soul -- can't be relinquished if you're going to maintain the faith. It's an approach to life based on an assumption that's not only unproven, but unprovable. And it's an approach to life that says it's okay to make this big, unrelinquishable assumption about the nature of reality based entirely on tradition, authority, and personal intuition.

(That's an oversimplification -- of both faith and science -- but for the purposes of this post, it'll have to do.)

And if you're a scientist with religious faith, it's very likely that, at some point, your faith and your science are going to collide. And when/if it does, you're going to have to make a choice. You're going to have to decide which approach you value more.

(The big conflict in the 20th century was obviously evolution, colliding with the idea of life being designed. In the 21st century, I think the big conflict may be neuroscience, colliding with the idea of the soul.)
If most religious folks were religious liberals (e.g. Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, Quaker, Reform Jewish, Ethical Culture, etc), Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Greta Christina, and other "new atheist" writers probably would not be the outspoken critics of religion that they are today. There might be much quieter philosophical objections but we wouldn't be seeing the large number of best-seller books.

We deceive ourselves and others when we object to the "new atheists" first-order approximation descriptions of religion by pointing to religious liberals as a counter-example.

03 August 2010

Excerpts from "Companions for the Journey"

At All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Shreveport, we have a recurring sermon series where members share the journey that led them to All Souls and why the continue to stay.

On 25 July 2010, I was one of three persons who talked about these questions and here is what I said:
The journey that led me to this church
Good morning – I'm Steve Caldwell and here's the journey that me to All Souls.

Does anyone know what a Unitarian Universalist is?

Well, the punchline for this joke is “An atheist with children.”

And that joke is the short version of my journey. But there is a longer story as well.

Many years ago, my first encounter with Unitarian Universalism happened in 1981 when Susan and I had out wedding in Athens, Georgia.

We were looking for a setting for us to get married. Susan was raised as a questioning Roman Catholic by a Presbyterian mom and Catholic dad. And I wasn't very religious (much to the aggravation of my Mom).

We both had relatives who would be more comfortable with a religious wedding instead of simple justice-of-the-peace ceremony.

Susan's dad suggested that we talk to the Unitarian minister in our town. He thought this would be a solution for both of us.

I attended church occasionally but I didn't call myself a “Unitarian” or a “Unitarian Universalist” yet. In 1980-1981, “signing the book” was just too religious for me.

A few years later when I enlisted in the Air Force, I told the recruiter that I was a “Unitarian” and that is what they put on my dog tags.

Fast forward to 1987 when Delia was born. We faced a dilemma that many UU parents face. How do we let our child know what our values are and also let her discover her own values? How to achieve this delicate balance?

From our wedding experience, we knew about Unitarian Universalism but we were far away from the nearest UU congregation because we were living in a small town about 3 ½ hours north of Detroit (Wurtsmith Air Force Base - near Oscoda).

However, we discovered that the UUA have an excellent “church by mail” program for isolated families like ours (Church of the Larger Fellowship). We did some UU stuff with Delia around the holidays and such. And we added yet another wonderful person to our family when Charlie was born in 1992.

Shortly after Charlie was born, we left Northern Michigan for Rapid City, South Dakota. In Rapid City, we discovered that there was a “real” UU congregation for our family where we could meet with other Unitarian Universalists face-to-face. And they had real religious education classes for our children as well.

After 3 years in South Dakota, we moved once again to Shreveport and Bossier City in December 1995.

I had visited All Souls a few times during the autumn of 1995 before our entire family moved to Bossier City.

I remember Ron Thurston and Charlotte Crowley who were working the membership table greeting newcomers like myself when I first visited on a warm September day.

Compared to our “church by mail” experience and our small lay-led fellowship congregation in Rapid City, we were amazed by how big All Souls seemed to us at the time.

Our kids enjoyed having RE classes where half of the kids did not have “Caldwell” as their last name.

And that's the long story about how I got to All Souls.

The reasons why I've stayed
The other question that I've been asked to talk about the reasons why I've stayed.

Charlie overheard me asking Susan about this and he had one possible answer – “computer tech support.”

But I should provide a more complete answer than that.

We don't talk about “salvation” very much in Unitarian Universalist circles. I've never heard anyone in a UU setting ask “are you saved?”

Hellfire and damnation in Unitarian Universalism went out of fashion back in the early 1800s with the theological writings of Hosea Ballou and other early Universalists who rejected the idea of Heaven and Hell in the afterlife.

We do have a theology of “salvation” today – we just don't talk about it very much.

Rebecca Parker (President – Starr King School of the Ministry and one of our leading theologians) provides a short and pithy summary of our implicit theology of salvation.

“We offer salvation from those things that deny life or make life less whole.”

When I heard this, a light bulb went off over my head. To me, this explained why I'm at All Souls and active as a Unitarian Universalist elsewhere.

I've been very active in our denomination as a curriculum trainer for the Our Whole Lives lifespan sexuality education series that we jointly developed with the United Church of Christ.

Our sexuality education curricula are just one example of the salvation what we offer – just one example of how we can save people from those things that take away life or make it less whole.

For example, a person who is struggling with negative messages about bodies and sexuality which are all too common in the Southern “Bible Belt” culture would find a message of salvation in a church like ours which teaches that our bodies and our sexuality are a good part of the human experience.

And there are plenty of other ways that we can provide salvation in this life to a world greatly in need of salvation.

The promise of salvation – along with providing computer tech support – is why I stay at All Souls.

Thank you.
The audio podcast recording with Gia Motti, Kathy Osuch, and myself can be found online here.

25 July 2010

Salvation -- July 2010 UU Salon Topic

The July 2010 UU Salon topic is "salvation." Here are the questions for all of us to consider:
  • What is it?
  • Who gets it?
  • How do you get it?
I'm going to start off with a short segment from my answer for the June question where I wrote about Universalism:
The UU religious educator and curriculum author Kate Erslev provided a descriptive summary of current-day Unitarian Universalist theology of salvation in her UU Identity curriculum for young adults:
Once again, in contrast to the predominant foundation of the theology of Calvinism, our roof was raised by the 19th century Universalists. Universalism gave us a roof that saved us all. They said that what saves us is the power of creative love made viable to us in the person of Jesus.

Do we need to be saved from Hell? The Universalists said that we create heaven and hell on earth. We need to be saved from the Hells that we create.
The portion of Kate's curriculum that talks about UU theology and how we view salvation was based on Rebecca Ann Parker's talk that she presented at the 2002 LREDA Fall Conference on theology of religious education. Rebecca talked about how our current-day implicit theology of savalation or soteriology comes from our Universalist heritage.

One short and pithy statement describing current-day UU theology of salvation that I heard at this conference from Rebecca Parker was that we offer salvation from those things that deny life or make it less whole.

As an Our Whole Lives educator and curriculum trainer, this simple statement about salvation explains why we offer sexuality education in our congregations. We provide sexuality education because it offers salvation in a very real sense.
This view of UU salvation may sound just too simple, but I'm OK with that.

So ... here are my answer to the questions about salvation.

What is "salvation"? -- it's anything that saves us in the here-and-now from those things that deny us life or make that life less whole.

Who gets salvation? -- In theory, it should be more available than it currently is. Many of the things that deny us salvation are human-created. But there are some things that we cannot change such as incurable disease and natural disasters. It's our job as Unitarian Universalists to help create a world where suffering is reduced even if we cannot eliminate all suffering in this world.

How do you get it? -- Ideally, we would all get salvation. Given the imperfect world we live in and the reality that there are some things we cannot change, we should work to ensure that as many people as possible should experience salvation. As we learn more about the world and each other, we may find out that what we've done in the past may have denied salvation for some.

For example, the UU Committee on Goals published results of its survey on beliefs and attitudes within the denomination on sexual orientation in 1967:
  • 7.7% of UUs believed that homosexuality should be discouraged by law
  • 80.2% that it should be discouraged by education, not law
  • 12% that it should not be discouraged by law or education
  • 0.1% that it should be encouraged
This shift in attitudes between 1967 and today means that more people are being saved from those things that make our lives less whole -- this is true for BGLT folks and their allies.

24 June 2010

Like beauty, sexuality may lie in the eye of the beholder

I'm not at the 2010 Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in Minneapolis, but I've read this morning that two UU bloggers have commented on their interpretation that the opening ceremony chalice lighting was "laced with sexual innuendo."

Here's the link for the opening ceremony video (chalice lighting starts at the 22:43 point in the video. The chalice lighting was delivered by Rev. Fritz Hudson, minister of the Unitarian Church of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Here's the text of his chalice lighting as printed on the UUA web site (line breaks added to make it easier to read and I've edited the web site text to better match the words spoken on the video recording - changes are within the brackets):
Into the circle of the wide prairie sky, we come together, each of us casting our personally unique circles.

—we come carrying around us the circle of those whom we love

—we come carrying upon us the circle of those whom we represent

—we come carrying within us the circle of our apprehensions & our aspirations.

Circles, in motion, whose borders touch—may repel each other, may hold their borders, may demand separate space for separate accommodation,

Or circles, in motion, whose borders touch, with a little push, a little release, may overlap

[May inter-penetrate], can even seek each others' center.

There's friction in such [inter-penetration], as circles pass through circles.

But, in all the rubbing, should two circles' centers find each other, touch, rub
the spark, the spark [like a prairie star]

can ignite a holy prairie fire.
This reading from this minister seems so full of Midwestern earnestness that I don't think his intention was sexual innuendo.

But even if he were using sexuality as a metaphor in liturgy (which may be a more constructive way to frame this than calling it "sexual innuendo"), is this a bad thing?

If your answer to this question is "yes," why do you think it's a bad thing?

I certainly hope the answer isn't some variation of "what will the neighbors think?"

19 June 2010

Hymnary.org - another resource for smaller congregations

Back in January 2010, I mentioned the "smallchurchmusic.com" as an online resource for mp3 audio recordings that can be used to sing some of the public domain melody songs in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal.

Last night, I discovered another online resource -- hymnary.org. This web site has scores that can be printed out and MIDI transcriptions of public domain hymns that can be edited and used in smaller congregations to accompany singing.

Both of these online music resources can be used by smaller congregations who cannot afford a paid pianist or organist and also don't have a volunteer keyboard musician in their membership's talent pool.

12 June 2010

Universalism in Our History and Where We Are Today

Recently on the "The UU Salon" blog, the topic of Universalism was introduced for discussion during the month of June 2010:
Universalism, the "other U." What does it mean to you? Do you resonate with Universalism, or not? What about the Universalist perspective challenges or comforts you? This is what I've been thinking about lately, and I'll post on it over at Earthbound Spirit in a day or two.
First, classic "No Hell" Universalism was important prerequisite for the development of freethought within Unitarian Universalism and our society.

Universalism has spread beyond the earlier Universalist Church of America and the present-day Unitarian Universalist Association to moderate and liberal Christianity. And this is more important than we realize.

As long as the threat of eternal torment in Hell was a possibility, it would be hard for those who concerned for the well-being of others to let them have freedom of belief.

Sam Harris talks about the problem that Hell in religion poses for freedom of belief in his book The End of Faith:
Many religious moderates have taken the apparent high road of pluralism, asserting the equal validity of all faiths, but in doing so they neglect the irredeemably sectarian truth claims of each. As long as a Christian believes that only his baptized brethen will be saved on the Day of Judgment, he cannot possibly "respect" the beliefs of others, for he knows that the flames of hell have been stoked by these various ideas and await their adherents even now.
So ... moving away from the traditional religious idea that there is only one (traditional Christian) way to avoid Hell allows us to have the religious diversity we have today within Unitarian Universalism and beyond.

Both UU Christians and UU Humanists owe a debt of gratitude to this weakening of the Hell concept. And so do many, many more within Unitarian Universalism.

Second, the movement away from atonement in Universalist theologies of salvation to other ways of gaining salvation was an important part of our current-day Unitarian Universalist theological development.

The UU religious educator and curriculum author Kate Erslev provided a descriptive summary of current-day Unitarian Universalist theology of salvation in her UU Identity curriculum for young adults:
Once again, in contrast to the predominant foundation of the theology of Calvinism, our roof was raised by the 19th century Universalists. Universalism gave us a roof that saved us all. They said that what saves us is the power of creative love made viable to us in the person of Jesus.

Do we need to be saved from Hell? The Universalists said that we create heaven and hell on earth. We need to be saved from the Hells that we create.
The portion of Kate's curriculum that talks about UU theology and how we view salvation was based on Rebecca Ann Parker's talk that she presented at the 2002 LREDA Fall Conference on theology of religious education. Rebecca talked about how our current-day implicit theology of savalation or soteriology comes from our Universalist heritage.

One short and pithy statement describing current-day UU theology of salvation that I heard at this conference from Rebecca Parker was that we offer salvation from those things that deny life or make it less whole.

As an Our Whole Lives educator and curriculum trainer, this simple statement about salvation explains why we offer sexuality education in our congregations. We provide sexuality education because it offers salvation in a very real sense.

24 April 2010

UUA Demographic Trends and "Tipping Points"

The Unitarian Universalist Association President Rev. Peter Morales just released a "Policy Governance" (tm) monitoring report titled Monitoring Report—Global Ends (dated March 2010). In this report, Rev. Morales writes about some troubling growth trends:
On the other hand, certain trends are profoundly disturbing. Progressive people are becoming more secular. One only need to look to Europe, where liberal religion in general and Unitarian Universalism are tiny. Here at home, our very modest rate of growth, always well below the growth of the population, has ceased. We are no longer growing.
Also in this report, Rev. Morales also discusses the regional differences in growth trends:
The chart above shows that three of our regions (Southland, Western and Mid Atlantic) have grown significantly. Unfortunately, the North Atlantic is in serious decline. In a decade it has gone from our second largest region to our smallest.

Here is the chart showing the North Atlantic regional growth trends over the past decade:

And here is the chart showing the Western regional growth trends over the past decade:

The North Atlantic Region and the Western Region are experiencing different growth trends.

Even though the historical roots for both Unitarianism and Universalism run deep in New England, our numbers are shrinking in New England.

This shrinkage in New England may related to the increase in the "None" religious demographic affiliation in this region. And this region may have reached a "tipping point" demographically for Unitarian Universalism (more to follow on this speculation).

First, you may be asking what exactly are "Nones." Here's a description from the American Religious Identification Survey 2008 report on this demographic group (American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population):
One of the most widely noted findings from the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS 2008), which was released in March 2009, was the substantial increase in the No Religion segment of the U.S. population, whom we designate as "Nones." The Nones increased from 8.1% of the U.S. adult population in 1990 to 15% in 2008 and from 14 to 34 million adults. Their numbers far exceed the combined total of all the non-Christian religious groups in the U.S. Who exactly are the Nones? "None" is not a movement, but a label for a diverse group of people who do not identify with any of the myriad of religious options in the American religious marketplace – the irreligious, the unreligious, the anti-religious, and the anti-clerical. Some believe in God; some do not. Some may participate occasionally in religious rituals; others never will. Nones are easily misunderstood. On the one hand, only a small minority are atheists. On the other hand, it is also not correct to describe them as "unchurched" or "unaffiliated" on the assumption that they are mainly theists and religious searchers who are temporarily between congregations. Yet another incorrect assumption is that large proportions of Nones are anti-rationalist proponents of New Age and supernatural ideas. As we will show, they are more likely to be rational skeptics.
Here's a list of the North Atlantic Region Districts provided by the UUA web site so we know what states are in which district:
The Western Region is experiencing growth but this region also has a high percentage of "Nones" compared to the national average of 15% of the total U.S. adult population. Here's a list of the Western Region Districts provided by the UUA web site so we will know what states are in which district:
Here's a listing of the North Atlantic Region states listed in rank-order by percentage of "Nones" in the adult population:
  • #1 - Vermont (34% "None")
  • #2 - New Hampshire (29% "None")
  • #4 - Maine (25% "None")
  • #10 - Massachusetts (22% "None")
  • #13 - Rhode Island (19% "None")
  • #28 - Connecticut (14% "None")
And here's a listing of the Western Region states listed in rank-order by percentage of "Nones" in the adult population (please note that the ARIS report did not have data on Alaska or Hawaii so they're not listed below for that reason):
  • #3 - Wyoming (28% "None")
  • #4 - Washington (25% "None")
  • #6 - Nevada (24% "None")
  • #6 - Oregon (24% "None")
  • #8 - Idaho (23% "None")
  • #11 - Colorado (21% "None")
  • #11 - Montana (21% "None")
  • #14 - California (18% "None")
  • #16 - Arizona (17% "None")
  • #19 - New Mexico (16% "None")
  • #28 - Utah (14% "None")
  • #36 - Texas (12% "None" - Western Texas near El Paso is part of the Mountain Desert District while the majority of the state is part of the Southwest District)
Both the North Atlantic Region and Western Region have higher percentages of "Nones" when compared to the US average. However, the most-recent ARIS report shows that New England has taken the lead on this trend.

I'm wondering if we've reached a "tipping point" in New England with respect to this increasing percentage of "Nones" (a "tipping point" describes " ... any process in which, beyond a certain point, the rate at which the process proceeds increases dramatically").

As the "None" demographic increases in other regions to 25-30% and beyond, will we see shrinkage of Unitarian Universalist congregational membership numbers? Are the growth trends in New England a warning for the rest of the UUA? How do we best market ourselves in a culture that is becoming increasingly secular?

The ARIS report suggests that adult "Nones" could account for around one-quarter of the American population in two decades.

This could be an important demographic trend for our future.

Although "Nones" are presently 15% of the total US adult population, 22% of Americans aged 18-29 years self-identify as Nones. As this growing "None" adult population become parents, they may not see a need to join Unitarian Universalist congregations or enroll their children in Unitarian Universalist religious education programs.

What do you think?

10 January 2010

smallchurchmusic.com -- A Useful Music Resource for Small Unitarian Universalist Congregations and Fellowships

Yesterday, I was helping a friend who attends a nearby smaller lay-led Unitarian Universalist fellowship find prerecorded instrumental music to accompany congregational singing.

Many of the familiar Unitarian Universalist hymns are also available on audio CD for use in congregational singing, and she has used these resources before (a useful listing of what is available can be found online on the Church of the Larger Fellowship web site).

However, she couldn't find any music to accompany "Here We Have Gathered" (#360 in Singing the Living Tradition). The melody for this hymn is called "Old 124th" in the hymnal. That indicates that it's a traditional hymn melody and probably in the public domain ("Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways" as I discovered later).

We did a quick Google search for "hymn mp3" and found "smallchurchmusic.com" -- an online archive of music Resources for congregational and small group singing (mp3 files, midi files, PDF scores, and lyrics available. The public domain music on their web site can be downloaded freely. The copyright-protected music requires a small fee for use. According to this web site, there are 2560 public domain mp3 files available for download on it.

So ... a quick download of the "Old 124th" mp3 audio file and then burning it to audio CD will now mean that a small lay-led congregation that has lost its pianist will be able to sing "Here We Have Gathered" with organ accompaniment.

More on Ministerial Formation and Education

Rev. Tony Lorenzen (minister of Pathways Unitarian Universalist Church) posted a link to this article published by The Christian Century on his Facebook page.

The article seems relevant to the recent Unitarian Universalist blog discussions on "ministerial formation" and "ministerial credentialing."

Here's a short quote from the article:
Some senior pastors of large and influential congregations do not have a seminary degree, including Brian McLaren, who has served as pastor for a vibrant and growing congregation and been one of the main inspirations of the emergent church movement. Increasingly bishops and other judicatory leaders are less interested in whether someone went to seminary than in whether the person is an effective leader.

The genie is not likely to be put back in the bottle. The M.Div. will probably not have the same authority in the future as it's had in the past. It will be similar to the M.B.A.—a valuable degree if it has formed people well and is obtained from a strong program, but not a necessary credential.
The article is titled "Pastors by degree" by L. Gregory Jones (Dean of Duke University Divinity School).

I wonder if this ministerial formation change in the emergent church movement and megachurch movement will find its way into Unitarian Universalism.