It has been nearly 6 months since I officially signed the book to join Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church. My original reasons for revisiting the UU churches in town (as this is not my first encounter) is to find a regularly-meeting community and children’s program for my little daughter. I have a few thoughts I would like to share about my experiences and observations. A lot of these have to do with the tension I have felt between being a Unitarian Universalist and a somewhat anti-theistic atheist activist.
I identify as an atheist. I feel weird about identifying as a Unitarian Universalist — largely because I don’t want to have to explain what that means. I’ve been comfortable with identifying as an atheist for some time now. I feel caught in a bit of a nowhere-land at times in how to identify to myself. I’m a church goer now, and an atheist. Does this makes me a secular religous person, dispite the apparent contradiction? I don’t think the standard categories fit me anymore.
I’ve had the opportunity to go on visits to families with newborn babies, help organize a summer picnic, and join the Youth RE as an elementary age guide. I’m still very new at that and still working out what it means. I sought out volunteer opportunities because I know what if I didn’t, it would be a lot harder to make personal connections. And without personal connections, I would soon lose interest and leave.
Religious Respect or Lip-service?
A couple weeks ago there was a nice meeting with some Muslim women for a discussion of what they believe and how they navigate in American culture. It’s very important to humanize Muslims and steer clear of stereotypes and prejudice. And at the same time, I felt sometimes like the serious questions of the harm done in the name of Islam were glossed over as merely ‘cultural’ not real Islam. I didn’t press the issue because I don’t think that would have been approprate in that setting. I am appreciative of how they did not shy away from my questions about what happens if someone from a Muslim family decides not to be Muslim anymore, and why some people wear a hijab and others don’t. It feels to me like they were presenting a pretty moderate version of Islam, and that is alright. Muslims don’t all believe the same way in all things, and it’s the same with Christians and any other religions.
What concerned me somewhat was when representatives of our church went out of the way to and that it’s just the way we practice that is different. It came out in things like wishing “peace” on Muhammad every time he’s mentioned. I think it’s fine if Muslims do that, but not if there is an expectation that I non-Muslims should do it too. I feel like others in the church doing that sets an expectation that we should.
Why I am staying (for now at least)
I am staying for the community and for the children’s program — my original reasons in joining. I also see the value in making connections with people who don’t hold beliefs exactly the same as mine so long as we share the same basic values. It helps keep me honest, and gives me a change to practive tolerance and listening. Besides that, it reveals some sorces of useful inspiration that I may have overlooked otherwise.
This post is nowhere near comprehensive of my experiences at TJUU, and I will be writing more about that in the future.