By August Berkshire
In the early days of the atheist/humanist movement, we looked to the Unitarian Universalist (UU) churches for some of our new members. This made sense because, until our groups formed, the UU churches were the most nontheistic organizations around. They offered humanistic programs and tended to use words like “god” and “spirit” metaphorically. Some of their members embraced a more openly atheistic group like ours and joined us.
Today, as the UU membership ages and dwindles, we find them looking to our atheist and humanist groups for members. But the problem is is that atheists and secular humanists are neither Unitarians (believing in one supernatural god) nor Universalists (believing in supernatural salvation for all). So, while politically most of us would vote the same way most UU members would, UU churches really aren’t a good fit for most atheists.
A longtime friend and colleague, and a member of a local UU church/society that has had atheist ministers in the past, told me that their organization was filled with atheists and could well become “Atheist Central.” This got me to thinking:
In the past I had assumed that Minnesota Atheists might well purchase a building from a small extreme religious congregation that ran out of steam. (Jehovah’s Witnesses buildings are ideal for our purposes.) But if atheists are the majority of a UU church/society, maybe we should see about officially taking it over and renaming it an Atheist-Humanist Center. This should, of course, be a friendly takeover, supported by the overwhelming number of their existing members.
But before we contemplate doing that, we should ask ourselves why there are any atheists in UU societies at all. Part of it may be habit: some atheists started going there before they found out about our group. Part of it may be proximity: a UU church/society is closer to where they live than most of our activities. But I think a big part of it is that UU societies are more family-friendly or inviting than we have been up to this point. It’s not that we have been anti-family; it’s just that we haven’t made a special effort to accommodate those members who have children (for example, by offering child care at meetings). I hope this will change in the future; I know we have members who will help with this.