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Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota recently landed a $1.5 million grant that will be used to explore ways that church leaders can reshape and deepen congregational life — members connecting to a congregation, to one another, and to the world. As the nation fragments into smaller and smaller — and secular — sub-groups, this connection becomes more urgent.

I find it surprising — and brilliant — that Luther Seminary is spending a million and a half bucks studying how to connect to the rapidly-secularizing US population, at the same time that most liberal Christian congregations are exploring how to…


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When William Ellery Channing gave his famous Baltimore ordination sermon, nowadays titled “Unitarian Christianity,” Rev. Channing was fed up and wasn’t going to take it any more: Trinitarian Congregationalist ministers were calling the fledgling movement of which Channing was a member “Unitarians,” a term designed to be disparaging.

Channing decided to take the Trinitarians up on their offer of a term and in that sermon claimed “Unitarian” for the movement. Channing used as gospel text 1 Thessalonians verse 21: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” Channing saw this…


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It’s easy to see the question of self as an abstract philosophical discussion. The question is easy to see that way . . . because the question of self is an abstract philosophical discussion. Except it’s not. Because each of us has a conception of a self and we live our lives based on that conception. That fiction. That conception might feel quite natural, as in naturally occurring. But it is not. Most likely, your conception of self, like mine, is socially conditioned. Thrust upon you.

The French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas centered his critique of modern Western society in our…


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Breaking down entrenched power with ideas is neither quick nor easy. But a young scientist, Thomas Henry Huxley, saw the power of Darwin’s dangerous idea immediately. On the 23rd of November 1859, only days after the publication of Origin of Species, Huxley wrote Darwin a letter. Here’s a bit of that letter:

As for your doctrines I am prepared to go to the Stake if requisite . . . I trust you will not allow yourself to be in any way disgusted or annoyed by the considerable abuse & misrepresentation which unless I greatly mistake is in store for you…


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In 1776 when the US Declaration of Independence appeared and in 1859 when Darwin’s Origin of Species appeared, the Christianity that held sway across Europe and the colonized Western Hemisphere and Africa was about hierarchy. It established humanity’s place in the Great Chain of Being and a person’s place in the social pyramid.

And it Othered: “beasts” were Other and could be tortured and killed with impunity; non-Christians were Other and could be displaced and killed with very little provocation and with no other excuse than that they were not Christians. Africans could be enslaved with impunity. Women could be…


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Columnist David Brooks recently wrote,

Others have to be reminded of the basic rules for perceiving reality. They have to be reminded that all truth is God’s truth; that inquiry strengthens faith, that it is narcissistic self-idolatry to think you can create your own truth based on what you “feel.” There will probably have to be pastors and local leaders who model and admire evidence-based reasoning, wrestling with ideas.*

As a Humanist, I don’t agree with Brooks that there’s any “god’s truth,” except insofar as “god’s truth” is the truths of the cosmos. Spinoza’s kind of truth.

However, also as…


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The editors ask a simple question to begin this volume on the topic of agnosticism: Given the sea change in the religious landscape the past several years, does the traditional question, “Do you believe in God?” still have a yes or no answer? The follow-up question is: If more people knew about agnosticism, would they perhaps choose “none of the above” to the yes or nor polarity of the existence of god/gods?

Another good question: Is agnosticism merely a refusal to commit or a valid “belief” in its own right?

More good questions:

Is agnosticism a type of atheism, or…


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It’s easy to consider religions as immense, and old, and hide-bound — immovable monoliths. It’s easy to see them that way, and often, religious leaders strive to achieve just such a view — the patina of age providing a kind of aloof dignity to a set of ideas that might otherwise appear absurd. As a matter of fact, often new religious movements strive for just that patina effect, claiming that their very novelty is a return to the ancient roots of a particular tradition.

Let’s forget for a moment the false correlation between the ancient and the true and think…


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I see humanism as a fruitful oscillation between traditional theisms and doctrinaire atheism. We know that a violent god is a god of the immature, and that a divisive god is a god of the short-sighted and the irresponsible. We also know that “the divine” is a symbol with many meanings. After all, the Greek origin of the word symbol meant “heaped together.”

One thing that appears both historically and empirically clear is that human ideologies never work all that well. Social systems. Economic systems. Political systems. Religions. Philosophies. And on. Symbols. Heaps. …


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Religion, philosophy, government . . . they all have one thing in common— all are products of the human mind. They are examples of human creativity. Judaism is a long poem. Christianity is a somewhat shorter poem. Capitalism is a short poem. Democracy is a short poem.

All are works of art, works of human imagination. Over time, individuals interact with these large poetic narratives — by being born into them; by living in their purview; by adapting to them or leaving them. Because they were here when we arrived in the world, it is easy to miss the fact…

David Breeden

Poet, Senior Minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a Humanist congregation. Amazon author's page amazon.com/author/davidbreeden

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