Thursday, May 7, 2009

Draft Statement of Conscience on Peacemaking

While I do not object to the contents of the current draft Unitarian Universalist Statement of Conscience on Peacemaking, it simply does not go far enough to garner my support as a statement of vision and aspiration. Therefore, I intend to submit my thoughts in the coming weeks, possibly as a prelude to a formal suggestion for amendment at General Assembly. I have drafted language that I might use in these discussions. I share them with you to solicit your feedback, so that I can be as clear and effective as possible. I would appreciate your reactions to the following.

The present draft Unitarian Universalist Statement of Conscience on Peacemaking leaves insufficient room for me as a pacifist to enter in affirmation. The Theological Principles expressed are those of a pacifist. However, the assessment of Where We Stand permits too great a latitude for armed aggression and the self-perpetuating cycle of violence to continue from one generation to the next. I cannot condone the use of military force as a method to inflict the will of one group of peoples over another, regardless of the sincerity of the purpose. Those who live by the sword will always find justification in "humanitarian purposes" and "self-defense."

The proposed statement represents an admirable first step. However, I need this Statement to clearly express a Unitarian Universalist vision of future human society. In order to open space for me in the document, I respectfully suggest the following words be inserted just before the final sentence of the draft.

Unitarian Universalists envision a future society free of violence and oppression, of unlimited justice and freedom, without which there can be no peace. Humankind took thousands of years to hone its knowledge and fashion its skills and behaviors as war makers; it will take time to fully reclaim our human legacy as peacekeepers. We pray that someday all men and women will live with peace in their hearts and love for each other. Until that time, in reverence for all life, we covenant to practice peace by minimizing violence at all levels of human interaction.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Atheist Dictionary of Religious Terms - Religion


From: Anglo-French religiun, Latin religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back
Date: 13th century
1 b (1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2 a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
4 a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

Hexham's Concise Dictionary of Religion
Hundreds of different definitions of religion exist each reflecting either a scholarly or a dogmatic bias depending in the last resort on the presuppositions of the person making the definition. Religion clearly contains intellectual, ritual, social, and ethical elements, bound together by an explicit or implicit belief in the reality of an unseen world, whether this belief be expressed in supernaturalistic or idealistic terms. A number of the more common definitions are those that presume the existence of the Sacred (Peter Berger, Emile Durkheim), the Supernatural/Divine (James Frazer, Immanuel Kant, Rodney Stark), or Order/Purpose (William James).

Some definitions of the term focus more on the presence of different states of being and humankind’s grappling to come to terms with those differences, without making judgments regarding the nature of other states. George Hegel called religion "the knowledge possessed by the finite mind of its nature as absolute mind," while Friedrich Schleiermacher called it "a feeling for the infinite," and Alfred North Whitehead described it as "what the individual does with his own solitariness."

Some etymologists connect "religion" to the Latin ligare, which is the same root of the word ligament, meaning "to bind." Re-ligare, therefore, would mean to bind again, perhaps in a ritualistic manner, or in meaningful practices.

Atheist Definition: Religion is the collection of practices by which groups of people come together repeatedly to find meaning in the relationship of themselves and of humankind to all existence, known and unknown.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Atheist Dictionary of Religious Terms - Spirit


From: Middle English, from Anglo-French or Latin; Anglo-French, espirit, spirit, from Latin spiritus, literally, breath, from spirare to blow, breathe
Date: 13th century
1 an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms
2 a supernatural being or essence: as Holy Spirit or Soul
4 the immaterial intelligent or sentient part of a person
5 a: the activating or essential principle influencing a person b: an inclination, impulse, or tendency of a specified kind: mood

Hexham's Concise Dictionary of Religion
In some religions, spirits are disembodied entities that display the characteristics of individual persons, and are sometimes regarded as the souls of dead ancestors. Spirits can interact and even communicate with the living through dreams, illness, and unusual events which reveal the presence of a spirit. The soul is the immortal element in human beings sometimes regarded as our true self. The immortality of the soul gradually replaced the earlier emphasis in early Christianity that the central concept was the resurrection of the body.

One may assume that the human brain is the seat of information collection and processing and that the glandular system contributes much to our emotional responses. Does anything remain unaccounted for in that system of human physiology, requiring the presence of an immaterial sentience essential for personhood? If so, do we interact with other humans, other sentient beings, even inanimate objects in ways that do not occur on the material plane of measurable observation?

In recent years, thinkers such as Jung have postulated a collective unconsciousness based on the occurrence of acausal coincidence, and that some level of deep meaning exists in universal symbols and human archetypes as revealed in mythology. Others argue that the search for meaning and significance where none exist gives rise to pseudoscience and undocumentable paranormal practices.

Atheist Definition: Spirit describes those essential elements of individual identity that are immaterial and do not, therefore, adhere to physical or medical laws. An individual’s spirit may interact with others, or with all existence (Spiritus Mundi, the spirit of the world) in ways that may reveal shared experience or common affect from which one may glean meaning. If one is concerned with the association with Spiritism, then the word perhaps may be used interchangeably with the terms "mind" or "soul."

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Saving My Own Life

The journey toward ministry can be frantic, and I have epitomized just how crazy that trip can be for the past three years. Lately, however, my body has been talking to me, telling me that maybe the time has come to slow down...just a little. Fortunately, I have been listening.

Last Monday night, I was having dinner with a new acquaintance in the Upper West Side, near Columbia University. I took the subway early to explore the area on a gorgeous spring day. At one point, I sat on a bench on a traffic island in the middle of Broadway where it crosses 103rd Street. I sat and read and just soaked in the City. I called my son to share the moment with him, but he wasn’t home.

Later that night, I felt sick - sharp chest pain, short breath, and eventually vomiting, which made me think I had some kind of bad reaction to my spicy dinner. A diagnostician I am not. At 8:00 Tuesday morning, my son returned my call. He had been up all night (ah, to be 22 again) and knew I would be awake. When I told him I was sick, he insisted that I get to the hospital. He persisted until I relented and drove to the emergency room (yes, the nurses yelled at me for that, too).

By the time I lumbered into the ER, my heart rate was 240. It seems I had been in arrhythmia for hours. They shocked me to return my heart to a normal rhythm (not an experience I recommend). The doctor told me that if I had waited much longer, I would have likely passed out and died.

Twenty-four hours later, they installed a defibrillator in my chest. My prognosis seems very good, although I will not ever again be able to use a cell phone in my left ear, or have a long list of other machines within six inches of the device. Now, I am recuperating at home contemplating all of this, and have come to the following conclusions.

  • I owe my life to my son, to his stubborn insistence that trumped my stubborn resistance;
  • I owe my life to the relationship I have with my children, whom I love deeply; and
  • I owe my life to setting aside the time to take a brief moment to sit and watch life pass by.

I am more committed now than ever to my ministry, to getting the most out of every day I have, and to letting go of petty, unimportant trivia that bombards our lives. And, part of my ministry will become sitting on park benches in the middle of major thoroughfares, or other opportunities to just experience life in all its flavors.