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September 27, 2009: “Why We’re Proud Darwin was a Unitarian (And Why We Believe in Him, But Aren’t So Sure About God): Bring a Guest Sunday”

A visitor to a Unitarian Universalist church sat through the sermon  
with growing incredulity at the heretical ideas the minister  
expressed. After the sermon, a member of the congregation asked the  
visitor: ?so how did you like it??
   ?I can?t believe half the things the minister said? sputtered the visitor.
   ?Oh good, then you fit right in!?

   Then, of course, there?s the classic-?Why does the Unitarian  
Universalist cross the road??     ?To support the chicken in its  
search for its own path.?

   Trying to describe Unitarian Universalism is not an easy task, and  
humor often helps, especially if we can use stereotypes that contain a  
grain of truth about ourselves. It?s difficult for many people to  
understand a way of thinking about religion that is not couched in  
either/or terms  or that does not require just one way of thinking.  
It?s not easy to talk about a church  where the sermon title implies  
that the minister may believe in Evolution, but not in God! I do  
describe myself, after all, as a Religious Mystical Humanist, but more  
on that later.

    Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religious denomination that  
draws from two traditions: the Universalists, who organized in 1793,  
and the Unitarians, who organized in 1825. They merged into the the   
Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in 1961. Both groups trace  
their roots  to the early Pilgrims and Puritans in Massachusetts  and  
o overseas, their heritages go back centuries to  England, Poland, and  
Transylvania. The Unitarians were so named because they did not  
believe in the trinity or the trinitarians, and saw Jesus as human,  
not the divine. The Universalists were so named because they believe  
in universal salvation rather than predestination- that loving God  
would save all humankind. Both these terms were heresies actually from  
the beginning of Christianity, but especially  after the Protestant  
Reformation, then in colonial New England as religious evolution began  
to taker place.

   Indeed, the oldest continuous church in America, the Pilgrim church  
in Plymouth, MA became a UU church in 1805! But, we?ve been sitting on  
the franchise, brothers and sisters, because we don?t proselytize.   
Oh, no not us!  We don?t believe in converting people because most of  
after all, don?t believe in original sin, hell, even heaven or any  
kind of afterlife, so there?s no real  REASON to convert people since  
we don?t have to SAVE THEM FROM ANYTHING!  Well I know a lot of folks  
who need saving – from themselves! From despair? From loneliness! from  
meaninglessness? from lack of community!  Maybe we should rethink  
salvation, too!

   We say we want to grow, though. That seems to be OK. It?s as if the  
word, ? growth,?doesn?t have any religious connotation. The difficulty  
is that we?re really not sure why we want to grow unlike the mega  
churches of the traditional Christina movement.

   OK. So why are we proud Darwin was a Unitarian and why do we believe  
in him when some of us aren?t so sure about God? I?ll have to admit  
that part of the title was in response to a big sign that the  
conservative church up the street had out for the last couple of  
weeks, which I noticed they?ve recently taken in, that said ?The Bible  
Vs. Darwin,? and I?ve no doubt that Darwin came in second. Their Bible  
verses on the sign are usually the more conservative type that seem to  
me negative and condemning, but that?s what some religious folk want,  
of course. Not us. They take the Bible literally, or at least, they  
think they do. Actually, they take some parts literally, since the  
Bible also contradicts itself. Believe me, EVERYONE interprets the  
Bible and there are a variety of interprestions even in conservative  
circles !
   This year is the  200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin,  
and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the  
Species. His grandfather was an outright atheist ,and Darwin  
considered himself more of an agnostic, but he attended a Unitarian  
church with his mother. in England. Jesus was not part of the Trinity,  
not divine, not part of a need for salvation. But he would have been  
taught the teachings of  Jesus about love and justice, about community  
and compassion.  ?I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free, ?  
wrote Darwin,? so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved  
(and I cannot resist forming one on every subject), as soon as the  
facts are shown to be opposed to it. ?

In an August 15, 2006 NY Times article on evolution and Creationism,  
astounding stats- ?Did Humans Evolve? Not Us, Say Americans?

?In surveys conducted in 2005, people in the United States and 32  
European countries were asked whether to respond ”true,” ”false”  
or ”not sure” to this statement: ”Human beings, as we know them,  
developed from earlier species of animals. ”The United States had the  
second-highest percentage of adults who said the statement was false  
and the second-lowest percentage who said the statement was true,  
researchers reported in the current issue of Science. Only only 39.7%  
in US accept evolution! Only adults in Turkey expressed more doubts on  
evolution. In Iceland,
85%  agreed with the statement.?

   Isn?t that incredible? People in other advanced countries believe in  
evolution, but  not in the US. That in this day and age, people in  
this country  still don?t believe in Darwin, but do believe in the  
book of Genesis which was never meant to be science?
   Sir Robert May, President of the Royal Society in England, perhaps  
talking about evolution and those people who don?t believe in it, said  
– “We share half our genome with the banana.  This is more evident in  
some of my acquaintances than others.”
   Or  British Biologist, JBS Haldane, after a lifetime studying  
creation was asked what he had been able to conclude about the nature  
of the Creator.  ?God,? he said dryly,?Seems inordinately fond of  

   Darwin held off publishing his famous book for many years because he  
feared what the outcome would be; indeed he feared it might destroy  
religion! He certainly knew it would cause controversy, yet he  
couldn?t have imagined that it would till be going in in the he 21st  
century! When he died  his friends wanted to put a quote on his  
headstone from Emerson??Beware when God lets loose a thinker on this  
planet.? Emerson, a Unitarian minister before he became a famous  
author and lecturer became a strong supporter of Darwin and was  
himself a lover of shall we say worshiper of nature seeing the divine  
within as a naturalist theism. As in Transcendentalism there was what  
we now call earth-centered spirituality in nature that some might call  
God, others, evolution .

   Traditionally we have been open to science, so when one looks at  
famous Unitarians  one sees a long list in the sciences including  
Isaac Newton, Jospeh Priestly (discoverer of Oxygen) and Tim  
Berners-Lee , the creator of the world wide web.

    We have been turned off by traditional religion for the most part  
and when we take our  surveys we fins that 90% of us were raised in  
other religious traditions, though more and more people are coming  
with no religious tradition!

   In an article on the UUA website titled, ?The Relationship Between  
Religion and Science,? Reverend Gary Kowalski, writes, ?Faith comes to  
us in the form of questions and quandaries. In the book of Job, for  
example, God speaks in the interrogative mood rather than imperative.  
?Brace yourself,”?the Almighty warns Job. ?I will ask questions and  
you will answer.? From the whirlwind, God queries, ?Where were you  
when I created the heavens and the earth? Have you comprehended the  
vast expanse of the world?” A lengthy list of inquiries ensues…. And  
as a result of this relentless quizzing, Job is finally reconciled?not  
because he has been given any answers or rationalizations that could  
account for his fate, but because he has been forced to encounter the  
enigma of existence at deeper, more daunting levels.

   Einstein was one who cultivated a taste for mystery. In the last  
decades of his life, he was regarded as a bit of a crank by other  
physicists, bent upon a seemingly quixotic quest for a unified field  
theory when scientific fashion was headed elsewhere. Now, fifty years,  
later, researchers have rejoined Einstein’s pursuit, understanding  
that while he never did obtain his elusive quarry, he was at least  
asking the right questions, drawn on by an almost romantic attraction.  
…?To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting  
itself as the highest wisdom and most radiant beauty which our dull  
faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms?this  
knowledge, this feeling,” proclaimed Einstein, “is at the center of  
true religiousness.?

   The lens of science and the lens of faith can complement each other  
if we realize that neither one offers a complete picture of universe  
we inhabit. Both are needed if we are to see clearly and walk steadily  
through this world. For as Einstein said, ?religion without science is  
blind; science without religion is lame.??

Rev. Gary Kowalski is the author of best-selling books that explore  
spirit and nature, including The Souls of Animals , Goodbye Friend:  
Healing Wisdom For Anyone Who Has Ever Lost A Pet , The Bible  
According To Noah: Theology As If Animals Mattered , and Science & the  
Search for God .

       That?s why we believe in Darwin and science, and yes, why we?re not  
so sure about God! That is, the ?old? God, indeed, what I might call  
the ?church? God, the one that seems to be outdated or the one we  
often hear contrasted between let?s say the ?Old Testament God? and  
the ?New TEstament God,? that?s no God at all then, of course! We  
don?t say that about science, do we? Most of us believe in modern  
science and don?t believe in traditional  religion, but have not  
religion behind, We are still searching for new meanings and  
understandings. We are still  religiously evolving.

   Our former UUA president , Bill  Sinkford, had been urging Unitarian  
Universalists to develop their ?Elevator Speech? – how we would  
explain our faith between the first and 13th floors of an elevator  
trip with a stranger who asked about our religion. His  version was :   
       ?The Unitarian side of our family tree tells us that there is only  
one God, one Spirit of Life, one Power of Love.  The Universalist side  
tells us that God is a loving God, condemning none of us, and valuing  
the spark of divinity that is in every human being.  So Unitarian  
Universalism stands for:  one God, no one left behind.?

    And we know that the use of the word, ?God,? may be a stumbling  
point, because we need to know further what Bill means   who God is,  
and of course who or what God is not. I prefer not to use the term,  
God, in my elevator speech whether I describe my personal belief or  
what I think we could say about UUism in thirty words or less. Other  
than maybe saying when we die we go to a discussion about heaven or  
whether God exists.

   Here?s mine as I?ve told you before : ?UUism is a free and  
responsible search for religious meaning and a  religious dimension in  
beloved community. Most of have come out of other traditions where we  
have been turned off by traditional religion,  creeds, and religious  
language because they no longer feed our souls. As a movement we have  
spiritually evolved out of liberal Protestantism into a more universal  
unity., but still religiously liberal. Some of us still refer to  
ourselves as Christians, others atheist, humanist pagan, theist,  
pantheist, or what I like to call religious explorer. What unites us  
is  religious freedom, tolerance, reason, love, and a universal sense  
of morality embodied in the Golden Rule. ?
    Or if I havea little longer I?ll add this, which I?ve said before:
   ?I feel a theological kind of gravity which beckons me toward HE, She  
or IT, which encourages all of us to find HE, She or IT. God to me is  
neither male nor female but IT, in the words of the children’s game of  
Tag, a simple game really. Someone is chosen or volunteers to be IT,  
and when they touch us then we are IT. And I swear at times, I cannot  
help myself but see God in human form in the beauty and innocence of  
children at play, and God reaches down, behind me so I cannot see  
his/her/it’s face, and says playfully and lovingly, “Tag, you are IT.”  
And so in my turn I run to tag as many friends as I can, and even look  
for God, so I can in return, say, “Tag; you and I are IT.” “Tag,” I  
say to you the congregation and all the universe which must by  
definition include God, “we are IT.”

   And since we?re not much on commandments and I performed a wedding  
last night, I  read THE TEN SUGGESTIONS  which I had written many  
years ago. At  wedding I co-officiated with a Rabbi , I asked him  
about it, wanting to make sure he wouldn’t;t think them disrespectful,  
but he was fine with them. A During the receiving line, I met his  
wife, who really liked them and asked for a copy of them. I wondered  
if she put them on the refrigerator and he had to pass by them every  
time he went to get something out of the fridge.


1. Find Out who you really are and what you want out of life; then  
find out what life wants out of you. Find your own way to be religious.

2. Give up the need to be right( usually you’re not!). When there is  
stress in your relationship, find your part of the blame and admit it;  
be the first to apologize, and then change that part of your behavior.

3. Cultivate love all around you; develop and nurture a deep and  
profound love of life and people.

4. Be slow to anger and quick to forgive. Grudges are much too heavy  
to carry around, and they tend to multiply the longer that we hold them.

5. Take care of your heart, mind, and body – practice love,  
intellectual stimulation, and physical health.

6. Find a way to make the world a better, happier, more loving place.

7. Beware the “sin” of cynicism; attempt to see the positive instead, and
avoid putting others down.

8. Be kind to animals- yes, but also to each other, your elders,  
yourself and to all people, Be kind to Mother Earth.

9. Have lots of fun; don’t work too hard, and don’t take life too  
seriously. No one on their death bed wishes they had put in more hours  

10. Learn to truly share, working for social justice in the world and  
relational justice in your relationships.    -Rev. Arthur G. Severance

   May we share our journeys together and may we find here what we seek.  
May we do more than walk together, may we also love one and help one  

Amen, Peace, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum(may Peace be  
upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A  
Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one  
more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to  
ministry. ?Vaya con Dios? is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is  
?Go with God,? So I adapted it to say ?Vaya Con Su Dios, ?Go with your  
idea or interpretation of God.?

Peace,Love, Shalom,Salaam, Blessed Be,Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su DiosEvent type