#85 | Becca Boerger | Categories of Sources

I’ve rewritten my suggestion, based on many of the comments here and in the workshop:

As Unitarian Universalists, we are inspired by the world’s religions and wisdom traditions, by science and other secular sources of knowledge and meaning, by the creative arts, which open our hearts to life’s joys and sorrows, and by the direct experience of wonder and mystery which expands our minds and spirit. These sources ground us and sustain us in ordinary, difficult, and joyous times. We honor the pluralism of our lineage. Moving forward, we discern and build upon Unitarian Universalism’s sources, mindful of the cultures in which they evolved."


Great job! And nice to “meet” you last night!

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I agree. I think this is wonderful both in the content and form. The first sentence is long, and yet it flows …. And you got everything in there!

And, yes, nice to “meet” you on Zoom!

I want to share my thoughts about the first sentence (all the while knowing I’m likely irrelevant here).

For me, “inspired by sacred and secular understandings…” is VERY different from “…inspired by the world’s religions and wisdom traditions…”

I know the sentence goes on to define science, and secular sources and other sources…

But for me it is true that I am “inspired by sacred and secular understandings…”

And it is FALSE BIG TIME that I am “…inspired by the world’s religions and wisdom traditions…”

In particular, as an atheist, I am flat out NOT INSPIRED BY THE WORLD’S RELIGIONS. Not. Not. Not. Curiously, I do not have that whiplash reaction against the phrase ‘wisdom traditions.’

Would it loose too much to simply start with…

“…inspired by the world’s wisdom traditions, by science and other secular sources…”

That is, by deleting “the world’s religions”… For me, as a delegate, having “world religions” in there like that is enough to make me vote against it, despite liking very much the rest of the inspirations as written. Just my thing. Surely way outlier.


I appreciate your comment, Bek. My reaction is that world religions are an inspiration for Unitarian Universalism. Perhaps it should come later, after other inspirations? Would that make a difference?

There are, indeed, several proposed amendments which have very similar themes to this one: #14, #229, #486, #14, #206, #460, #66, #290, #277, #147, #61 all wish to add some key sources/inspirations while retaining at least some of the new language.

It’s hard to believe that a single author could alone write the perfect amendment, so I agree completely that we need some kind of iterative process. Many of these suggestions have ideas that strengthen each other, so if amendments with similar goals and wordings can converge and take inspiration from each other, then we will end up with better amendments and fewer amendments with overlap.

As a scientist myself (I visited your church once before while working at Jefferson Lab in NN), the world’s religions are very important to my understanding of spirituality, and at the same time, I would say that my job as a physicist is to investigate the mind of God. Newton, Pythagoras and those other old white dudes were natural philosophers and would have nothing to say about the secular understanding of the “scientific process” – an enlightenment age idea.

Even if we UUs today don’t want to be influenced by Christianity and mainstream religion, we cannot escape the historical fact that UUism and UUs have been inspired by specific religious traditions. Look at our hymnal: most of the gray hymnal is Christian hymns with different words. It seems audacious to sing Christian melodies and end services with “amen, namaste, blessed be” while also claiming that Christianity and the world’s religions haven’t influenced UUism or UUs.

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Yay! As a fellow atheist I agree. Nope. Not inspired by religion(s). Not at all. “Wisdom traditions,” that I can agree with.

That said, I just don’t think leaving out religion entirely is going to fly with the majority of UUs

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Hi Becca, curiously for me, even this makes it ok: “inspired by wisdom traditions and world religions…”

Yes, you are absolutely right that world religious are an inspiration for Unitarian Universalism - surely… For me, seeing “the world’s religions” first was just shocking but before trying to put it anywhere later in the paragraph, I just switched the order, moving “world religions” behind “Wisdom traditions,” and somehow that really gentled it for me, giving me a contest for understanding the notion of world religions.

That is, I personally am not inspired by the world’s religions, but in the context of ‘wisdom traditions,’ that helps me see the wisdom of religion as opposed to flat out religion religion.

Man, trying to explain this visceral reaction I had is tough. Thank you for reaching back out.


I’m not sure what you are getting at in this paragraph. Are you saying that Newton, Pythagoras and other “old white dudes,” even though they were ground-breaking natural philosophers, still believed in God and hence the Enlightenment is inseparable from religion?

If that is the case, I’m not sure it is a very strong argument. Although it is true that out-and-out atheism was rare in the Enlightenment, it is also true that the trajectory of the Enlightenment was toward a rationalizing of religion, deism, unbelief, secularization and ultimately atheism. Why weren’t more Enlightenment thinkers atheists? Largely, I believe, because no one lives in a social or cultural vacuum and there were huge social pressures on people at the time not to be true atheists. (Deism was a great way of essentially having one’s metaphysical cake and eating it too.) Today, there are still social pressures against openly identifying as an atheist, but there are no where near as strong as they were back in the 18th century.

As for Newton, I don’t think his personal beliefs had any bearing at all on his laws of motion or universal gravitation. Besides Newton was also a believer in the occult and alchemy, and I don’t think anyone would make the argument that the alchemy and the Enlightenment were linked in any kind of meaningful way. But again, maybe I am misreading you and you aren’t trying to see an essential link between the Enlightenment and Christianity.

As for Christianity being part of our “living tradition,” I find it strange that on the one hand certain UU leaders are deeply concerned about the whiteness of our tradition and want to move away from that and then turn around and insist that we are a religion with Christian roots. Well, if we can move away from one unfortunate aspect of our tradition, why can’t we move away from other unfortunate aspects.

What bothers me quite a bit (from time-to-time – I am not always obsessing about this) is that UU’s are so stuck on being a “religion.” I would think that a group of intelligent, open-minded, creative people who want to create a better world for themselves and others would first and foremost ask how we are to do that and only secondly insist upon religion. Too often, I find that people take “our faith” or “our church” or our “religion” as a starting point (because – tradition! our identity! we’ve always been like this!) and only then ask how can we make this religion as wonderful as possible.

Alec, question – on this quote from your comment, are you taking “the mind of God” literally or artistically/poetically? Just wondering.

and here and in your comment about the gray hymnal, and even the very structure of our services – Protestant through and though – I stand down. you are right. Even if we don’t want to be influenced by Christianity etc, “we cannot escape the historical fact…” Your words lead me to confront my own attempted escape, my own looking other directions, ignoring THAT one, but yes, yes… you are quite right.

Thank you!
Bek Wheeler, UU Fellowship of the Peninsula, Newport News, VA

Sorry for the sloppy phrasing – I think the enlightenment is the point where you can meaningfully distinguish science from religion, but the legacy of “science” tries to claim much more than that. I think it’s very important to have something along the lines of “science and reason” in the sources, but I would say that the influences of science is not totally secular, even today. Before the enlightenment, people like Newton (Side note: even if we say that Newton’s Principia began the enlightenment, his own influences would have come from before that, and ironically Leibniz would be a better example) and Pythagoras (notably not Christian) were themselves motivated by religious, mystical ideas, not ideas about “hypothesis, data, conclusion” or “peer review”. I certainly don’t see an essential link between Christianity and the enlightenment or between Newton’s personal relationship with his God and the conclusions of the Principia, but there is a historical one, and for that reason alone, I think it’s wise to be skeptical of the motives of science.

Science, as we understand it now (a system of laws based in logic/math that explains previous observations and predicts future observations), is a very new tradition. It’s a tradition that, like the others before it, claims to have access to truth. Just as we must contend with Christian ideals vs the reality of the Christian church, we must also contend with the actual institution of science which sometimes seeks to preserve certain power structures. We scientists will claim that our methods reveal “Truth” because it can be peer reviewed and repeated, but you can’t get a paper published or funding if you’re just confirming a known result.

I actually think the racial parallels are an okay analogy here. One thing that we (white people) have been asked to wok on is accountability. Accountability doesn’t mean ignoring or denying our past; it means acknowledging the social dynamic that whiteness makes; it doesn’t mean being less white, it means recognizing that all races aren’t being treated equally, even if we believe they should be.

I can acknowledge that I have benefitted directly from systematic racism, even if I try to be an ally, not the least because of the opportunities of my grandparents. UUism has also benefitted directly from the institution of Christianity – an institution that eventually rejected us before we rejected them. The reality of American history is one of racial crimes, done largely by white people, and those that feel that this history reflects poorly on them would like to deny its existence. I don’t find it acceptable for us to deny the reality of our past because it’s no longer who we are. I think it is possible to take accountability for our past and still commit to moving beyond it.


I think my answer is “yes”. I could substitute “mind of God” for “machinations of the world”, or “the ‘True’ nature of reality”. I prefer the gods, but “the minds of the gods” just doesn’t sound as good, and sometimes one must prioritize aesthetic choices over thematic ones.

For me personally, my gods are the mathematics. That is, the whole body of all possible mathematics. Philosophers have long speculated about the relationship between god and math, and I propose the relationship is a simple one: it’s an equals sign. It’s intangible, immaterial, and abstract, yet it manifests in every aspect of the physical world. It comes to us a priori (perhaps the only a priori knowledge) as children. It is universally consistent (Ask me about Gödel incompleteness some other time…) and directly accessibly to anyone, yet no one will ever truly understand it. Can one speak of math literally vs. figuratively? I’m not sure I know what the distinction would be for something so totally abstract.

It’s nice to see that some people have included mathematics specifically in their Inspirations rewrite, but it’s implicit already since everything is made of math in the end.

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Well, Thank you!. I LOVE this. Have copied your words to save. For me, inveterate atheist (or maybe it’s just a “no-thank-you-very-much to the Christian cosmology”), I revel in the utter unknowability of it all, the unfathomability of true infinity, beginning, ending, time, space. Wow!!! I LOVE the unanswerability of it all, and I find the usual god explanation boring or just an equivalence to the fact of not knowing. For me, I’ve marveled at physics and astrophysics as descriptions of the structure of existence. And that’s what I hear in you saying mathematics = mind of god. Somehow, this got through my god-recoil. Mathematics, fractals, patterns. Ok! Lots to think about. Thank you.


What I see here is someone re-defining the word “god.” UUs are champions at this! I have seen UU’s call everything and anything God. My God is Evolution! My God is the Love that Binds us all together! My God is All Being!

What is the point of this exercise? Why is it important to use the same term, “god” to describe things, ideas, experiences and feelings that the vast majority of humans do not understand as God? Do we feel like we need religion so badly that we need to manipulate language in order to feel like we belong? Or for some other reason?

I understand that these non-god gods have some of the attributes of traditional Gods — universal, original, powerful, etc. At the same time, they are philosophically unnecessary, they don’t add anything that cannot already be explained by something else or simply accepted as “the way it is.” Traditionally gods were created to fill in the gaps, to explain the otherwise unexplainable. I suppose you could say that the system of mathematics is otherwise unexplainable. But why can’t we just be satisfied with that, instead of trying to “deify” it?

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I think that’s just the inherent problem of trying to reduce a concept to a single word. There will never be a single word which can be used to describe “all the spiritual stuff” or “all the good stuff” because only words in combination have meaning.

For me when I speak of gods in the most general sense, I mean “the form of the spiritual world” (which includes the possibility of the empty set, e.g. the pure a-theology) and “god” is a familiar one-syllable shorthand. In a rhetorical context, aesthetics can be as important as accuracy.

When I see the word “spiritual” I either wonder “what the heck is that?” or I think “oh that’s that awe, wonder, ineffability, infinity that makes you feel funny” and leave it at that. Maybe it’s the emotional response to infinity.

What do you mean when you use the word “spiritual”? (And no fair using the word ‘god’ in the definition.).

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Only easy questions in this thread, eh?

For the purpose of Article II, I think it’s fine (and perhaps best) to rely on the cultural, non-prescriptive understanding what what “spiritual” is. That is, if we asked random people to name some “spiritual” stuff, I think most people would have some answers: god and gods, heaven and hell, pantheons of spirits, yin and yang, the soul, natural or universal forces, metaphysical abstractions (like justice and mercy), unexplainable experiences… and any other possible answers.

If I were to go with something more prescriptive for “spiritual world”, I’d go with something like

“the whole set of immaterial or non-physical things, which may be beyond one’s direct access or feel ‘greater’ than one’s self.”

And now perhaps I must specify what it means to “have access” to something, and if we really have access to anything at all, but I think a discussion on the nature and ontology of reality is beyond the scope of this thread. So to stay on topic, maybe we can continue this discussion via email.


I can see that “world religions” being a bump - with a sense of humor I would add “the good part” of world’s religion (but I think that is implied).

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It’s actually “Wisdom from the world’s religions” - so I take that as “the good part”.
From a historian’s perspective, I prefer that language, since it does feel more quantifiable and definite than “Sacred understandings” which doesn’t really mean anything (or, to be fair, is probably meant to mean whatever you wish it to mean).

It’s a little pototoes / potatoes… but I do find “sacred understandings” to not include the wisdom I have gleaned from religions that I personally do not follow, but, am sometimes inspired by. Or I guess at that point it becomes a “secular understanding”? I am not sure the intent of that term.


This is why we added “discern” in the draft I shared with my congregation (it’s around here somewhere as #460 and is also being workshopped as one of the “mid-form” alternatives alongside @beccaboerger’s shorter one.

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