Peacebang’s latest post, Cancelling Sunday Morning Worship At GA: Not A "Cultural Shift" -- A Mistake , raises an interesting question about the “cultural shift” Ms. McGregor refers to when she says, “We are not a secular organization.” Is it possible that Peacebang is wrong, and that the GA planners are “culturally shifting” into the truth when they change the emphasis of the meeting to business rather than spirituality... that they have realized, if only unconsciously, that we have in fact become a secular organization?
Let’s take the “Man from Mars” test- forget history and tradition, and examine what is in front of you. Pick a dictionary- here’s Merriam-Webster Online: 1 a : the state of a “religious”- a nun in her 20th year of religion 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 3 archaic : scrupulous conformity 4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
Is there a single one of those definitions that we fit as a denomination? No; in fact many organizations that do not claim to be churches, and are legally and culturally fraternal organizations that fit that dictionary definition better than we do- the Boy Scouts and the Masons, to name just two, require their members to believe in something (pick a God, any God)- we do not.
Is there any rite or practice that we are privileged or required to do that only a religion may perform? No. Weddings may be performed by J.P.s; in many states you’re married when the license is signed, and a priest only witnesses the fact anyway. Many fraternal organizations perform funerals; the Masons (along with Rev. Clear) spoke at my father’s. We do not perform or require baptisms or any other rites.
Do we perform any social services that a secular organization may not do? No. Many secular organizations engage in disaster relief, or work with the poor, or lobby Washington. The DeMolay chapter I belonged to as a kid regularly donated to the Wheeler Mission (a homeless shelter); the Star Trek fan club I used to belong to chartered and filled an entire semi full of goods for Hurricane Hugo relief. Contrariwise, there are many fraternal organizations that perform social services that we do not do as a denomination- the Masons, for example, run retirement homes and cemeteries.
The Indiana State House of Representatives has been fighting a court battle recently over their opening prayers- the ACLU objected to the use of “Jesus”. The judge gave a definition of acceptable secular prayers they could use- and I find nothing in the “WorshipWeb online resources for worship” on the official UUA website that would violate the judge’s guidelines. Surely that’s an odd position for a “religion” to be in. We call ourselves a “faith”, and talk of worshipping together- but we are also proud of welcoming those who eschew both faith and worship.
Let me put it this way: can you write a definition of “religion” that would include the UUA as presently constituted, and not also include a Star Trek club with a socially conscious membership?
Chalicechick , in the comments to her post referrencing me and Philo, gives the best definition (useable as an "elevator speech") I have seen to date.