Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Is UU missing the "new" New Atheist boat?

One of the Sunday Assembly Boston committee members shared the October 2013 sermon above, with the advice that we keep in mind we are not just another group, but a new congregation that other leaders of other congregations are still trying to make sense of.

My thoughts.

Kendrick points to institutional insularity as a reason why UU is not connecting effectively with the population of religiously unaffiliated freethinkers coming out of the woodwork in groups like Sunday Assembly and Humanism; I wonder if there isn't another important factor: the language gap.

In his sermon, he uses terms like "transcendental", "faith", and "spiritual hunger". Now, I know what he means, but the register of this vocabulary seems to be a world removed from the science-infatuated, skeptically-inflected, irony-wrought idiolect of the new freethinkers. I can map his meaning onto my own ethical outlook, sure, but I fear I am not the typical case. For many more people among those he would be seeking to tell about UU, the ecclesiastical and vaguely supernaturalistic vocabulary of the UU tradition is likely to evoke a powerful response of suspicion and even disdain.

In my conversations with UU and HUU leaders and parishioners, I've encountered confusion, wariness, and even dismissal in regard to Sunday Assembly (and to the older project of re-orienting the Boston Atheists as a congregational group). These are folks who have good reason for wondering if we aren't a bunch of johhny-come-latelys, here to co-opt their place as *the* obvious destination for liberal-minded freethinkers in search of community as a connection to "something greater". I share this opinion because I think it is important that we keep in mind that our work in organizing SA isn't taking place in a vacuum; there are allies out there, that we can work with and learn from, and establish relationships of mutual aid, as long as we know that they are there, and are alert to the potential sensitivities. And I share it with full confidence that Kendrick is a certainly a potential ally.

Relatedly: After taking a few months off while occupied with wedding planning, I'll be restarting the Boston Interpath Workgroup with monthly meetings for discussion and position paper publication, in March 2014. If anyone here on the distro is interested in joining, please let me know.