Adam Snider

Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Where Does Tolerance End?

In Religion on November 24, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Author’s Note: This is only a half-formed thought, at present. I am writing this largely as a way to help myself explore these thoughts; I actually hope to come to a bit more of a solid understanding of my personal thoughts on this and then present something similar as a sermon at my church in the future.

Where does religious tolerance end? At what point does someone cross the line where I can no longer respect their beliefs?

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot in recent months.

As a Unitarian, I am supposed to respect the religious beliefs and values of others. The 3rd and 4th principles of my faith talk about this, stating that Unitarian Universalists are to affirm and promote:

  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth […]; and
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Now, that first one, technically, ends with “[…] in our congregations,” but I think it is fair to extend it beyond just UU congregations. We should at least try to accept all people and to encourage all people to grow spiritually (in whatever way they find meaningful).

But, at what point can I say, “No. I will not respect your beliefs.” At what point can I draw that line?

I believe that the line must be drawn in the sand at some point. I cannot simply say that, as a liberal religious person, I accept any and all beliefs. I do not. I cannot.

If you believe in a personal god who will answer prayers, fine. I don’t, but I won’t disparage your beliefs. This is not the sort of thing that I’m referring to when I talk about drawing a line.

I’m talking about beliefs and values which are hateful. When someone uses religion as an excuse for committing acts of terror, I will draw the line. When someone uses religion as an excuse to discriminate against LGBTQ people, I will draw the line. When someone uses religion as an excuse to eliminate democracy, to commit murder, or to otherwise commit acts of evil, I will draw the line.

These lines are easy to draw. And, I don’t feel that they are outside of the realm of that 4th prinicple that I mentioned above, affirmation and promotion of  “A free and responsible (emphasis added) search for truth and meaning.” Using faith and religion as a justification for evil acts means that you are no longer being responsible in your search, and so I am comfortable drawing these lines.

But what about more subtle lines?

What about the church whose members say that homosexuality is a sin but that they hate the sin, not the sinner? Do I have to respect and accept the beliefs of these people? If they are not actively harming anyone with their beliefs, do I have to accept them? Am I violating the principles of my faith if I do not accept them?

Technically, these people are not hurting anyone—not directly or intentionally, at least. But they are being discriminatory. They are claiming that something as inherent to a person’s identity as their sexuality is somehow wrong unless it matches a specific definition of heterosexuality (and, most likely, not any sort of queer heterosexuality).

It would be one thing if they were simply being exclusionary. By just about any definition, all groups are exclusionary to some extent or another. Even Unitarians are exclusionary. We would not accept into our fold, for example, the people I described earlier—the people who use religion as an excuse to promote hatred and evil.

And, in practice, we are likely just as exclusionary as most other religions, though we may not be willing to admit it (or even consciously aware of it).

So, I would be OK with beliefs which are exclusionary. That is the nature of most religions. I am not OK with beliefs that are discriminatory. And so I find it hard not to drawn a line in front of even that more “tame” form of religious homophobia—the hate the sin not the sinner variety.

But this, I guess, is where things fall apart for me. I’m drawing this line, but is doing so the “right” thing to do? Does doing so violate the principles by which I try to live my life?

I’m not sure.

And, because I often find myself on the side of religion in debates about ethics and morality, on the side of the religious person, saying that religion is not inherently evil or immoral but that human nature causes many of us to interpret it in a way that justifies our actions, I don’t necessarily know where to draw the line.

What if I draw the lines to rigidly and too close. Do I end up vilifying religion? Do I end up boxing myself into a situation where I end up saying that my faith is the only true faith?

More thoughts on this to come…please leave any comments that you may have…


I joined the Unitarian Church of Edmonton

In Religion on May 1, 2009 at 8:25 am

I was going to call this post “I joined the cult,” but my SEO instincts won out over my humour instincts. 😉

It’s true, I have joined the Unitarian Church of Edmonton (UCE). I submitted a membership application about 3 weeks ago (as did Sara) and the board accepted it sometime during the week following.

Why did I join the church? Well, essentially for all of the reasons that I mentioned in my earlier posts, “Why I go to church,” and, “Choosing a spiritual home.”

I feel a sense of community at UCE—especially now that there is a young adult social group for the Gen X and Gen Y members of the congregation (all of whom seem to be really cool people)—and I really feel like I’ve found something that’s been missing from my life since I started going to church.

Plus, I very recently starting calling myself a Unitarian—I even updated my religion on Facebook (and we all know that nothing is real if it isn’t on Facebook). Since I have started identifying my faith in this way, it only seemed logical to become a member of the church.

Will this change my relationship with the church? Probably not. I’ve been attending regularly for months now, and I already felt like I was becoming a member of the church. I’ve begun identifying my spiritual/faith beliefs as UU. All that I’ve really done is to submit the paperwork and make it official.

I mean, OK, now I’ll be able to vote on church issues during general meetings (or, rather, I will be able to vote once I’ve been a member for 2 months). And, I suppose that, maybe, I’ll feel a bit more willing to give money and volunteer time to the community than I did before. But, ultimately, all that I’ve done is to make official what I’ve already been putting into practice for several months now.

Are you a member of a church/synoguage/mosque/temple? When did you join? What made you decide to become a member of your particular church (by which I mean the congregation, not the religion itself)? I’d love to read your answers to these questions in the comments.

Choosing a spiritual home

In Religion on March 12, 2009 at 1:51 pm

I’ve been trying to write this post for far too long now. I kept thinking that, in writing about the fact that I have chosen a new spiritual home, I should write a post comparing the two churches I was choosing between—Unitarian Church of Edmonton (UCE) and Westwood Unitarian—and saying what it was about UCE that made me choose it over Westwood.

The problem with this approach, and the reason that I’ve finally abandoned it, is that in saying what I like about UCE the post kept sounding like I was criticizing Westwood. That was not my intention at all. It’s simply that UCE is better fit for Sara and I, so we have decided that it will be the church we attend regularly.

Without commenting on Westwood, then, what is it about UCE that made us choose it? Well, I can’t pretend to speak for Sara, but here are my reasons for choosing the Unitarian Church of Edmonton as my new spiritual home:

  • I like the belief system (or lack thereof, depending on your point of view) that Unitarian Universalists share. The openness and liberal philosophy have strong appeal for me.
  • I like the minister; his sermons are thought-provoking and insightful. He’s also got a good sense of humour and isn’t afraid to let it show when he’s at the pulpit—religion doesn’t have to be deadly serious.
  • The congregation is large enough that I will probably be able to meet some like-minded people and perhaps even make some new friends, but small enough that it still feels like a fairly close-knit community (of which I am very slowly becoming a part).
  • They offer a lot of opportunities to learn new things. Currently, Sara and I are taking two courses through the church: Our Neighbouring Faiths (an introduction to 6 major world religions) and The New U (an introduction to Unitarian Universalism, including the history of the faith in general and of UCE in particular).
  • Like all UU churches, UCE is welcoming of everyone, regardless of race, colour, creed, religion (seriously), gender, sexual orientation, income, or anything else. To be able to be a part of such a welcoming community is an amazing feeling.

There are lots of other reasons, too, but mostly I just feel comfortable at UCE. I’d probably have checked it out a long time ago if I had known about it sooner.

It feels very good to have found a spiritual home where I can explore my own faith on my own terms while still being part of a welcoming community who can help me in my journey (and, eventually, I hope to be able to help others, whether by volunteering at the church or by just talking about spiritual matters with other members of the congregation).

The next step, I guess, is to become a member of the church. I haven’t quite decided that I’m ready for that, but I think it’s likely in the cards. Hell, one day I might even start calling myself a Unitarian Universalist.

Why I go to church

In Religion on January 28, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Since I first visited the Unitarian Church of Edmonton (UCE) four weeks ago, I have attended every week. Part of the reason for this is that I’m still trying to decide if UCE is the right place for me.

But, my reasons for continuing to go to church are more numerous than that one point alone.

I have a number of reasons for attending church, not least of which is the fact that each sermon at UCE is as much about learning new things as it is about connecting with my spiritual side.

My reasons for going to church include:

  • Feeling a connection to god, whatever god may be.
  • Feeling a connection to a caring and compassionate human community.
  • Connecting through physical contact with other people.
  • Feeling more connected to Sara.

Let me explain each of those points in greater detail.

Church makes me feel closer to god

While this may seem like a strange thing to say, given my view of god as something impersonal and largely absent from the day-to-day workings of the universe, I feel closer to god when I attend church services.

I can’t really explain why. I guess it’s just that church brings out my spiritual side. That’s one of the main purposes of attending a church service—nurturing the spirit—so I suppose this should come as no surprise.

Watching people light candles of caring and concern, or lighting my own, makes me feel close to god (and to other people). Listening to sermons sometimes make me feel closer to god. Most importantly, moments of quiet meditation make me feel closer to god.

It’s that last point that, in a way, surprises me the most.

I have always thought of faith and religion as something very personal. The experience of god is a very individual experience. In this regard, it makes perfect sense that a moment of quiet meditation would be a moment where I feel close to god.

What surprises me, I guess, is that I feel that experience more strongly when I’m sitting in my seat at church than when I’m meditating anywhere else.

But, again, church is designed to be a spiritual environment. It’s a place where we can open ourselves up to whatever it is that we believe in.

The nature of the space allows me to open my heart and mind to the possibility of the something greater than myself, and so private meditation within the bounds of the church building tends to be more intense than it would be in another situation.

Church connects me to a real and human community

The second major reason that I go to church is because it is a community. I am a social creature as much as any other human being, so I enjoy the idea of being a part of a like-minded community where I am free to be myself.

While I am not a humanist in the secular sense of the word, my beliefs are heavily influenced by humanist thought. I believe that the human world, the everyday actions that define who we are, is as important and as spiritual as anything supernatural that may or may not exist.

Being a part of a church community, a community made of fellow human beings, helps to remind me of the importance of our humanness. It also reminds me that, as humans, we are more alike than we are different.

This reminder that all humans are, at the core, mostly the same, helps me to move beyond the prejudices and stereotypes that all of us tend to develop. In many ways, I think this is what the first principle of UU—the affirmation and promotion of the inherent worth and dignity of every person—is all about.

Church gives me a physical connection to others

This is a small thing that has a big influence on me.

I’ve read before that physical contact is a basic human need. We are healthier and happier when we touch other people. This is in no way a sexual thing. (Unfortunately, I can’t seem to track down the study I’m referring to.)

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been a fairly closed off person. I used to be uncomfortable hugging people as a way of saying hello or good-bye. I am not uncomfortable with this anymore, but it’s not something that I do often.

To be honest, other than the occasional handshake with a client or co-worker, I would likely go for days, even weeks without having physical contact with another human being if I was not in a romantic relationship (one of the few places where I’ve always felt comfortable touching another person).

However, despite the fact that I’ve often been uncomfortable touching people, this is more to do with social expectations than any kind of physical comfort. We live in a society where we’re not supposed to touch one another.

In fact, quite the opposite of not wanting or needing to have physical contact with other humans, I enjoy it. It makes me feel happier and healthier.

Because of this, I really enjoy the fact that, at the end of a church service (at least at UCE) we hold hands with the people on either side of us and sing a short song. This simple act of holding hands with people who are, for the most part, strangers, has a powerful effect on me.

It heals me. It connects me to other people. It connects the spiritual to the physical (in my mind, the two are often one and the same, which probably goes back to my humanist beliefs). Without this simple act, I would have far less physical contact with other people, and I would likely not feel as happy as I do.

Church helps improve my connection with Sara

I believe that humans are biologically predisposed to be spiritual. Even atheists engage in spiritual practices (though they may not recognize them as such). It appears to be a part of human nature.

If spirituality is built into our DNA, then is an important and basic part of who we are.

If spirituality is at the core of who a person is, then is only makes sense that I have begun to feel even closer and more connected to Sara (my girlfriend) since we started attending UCE together. While our spiritual beliefs are not the same, the Unitarian church provides us with a place where we can have a shared faith experience.

It’s also got us talking about faith and spiritual matters more than we used to. As we talk about our personal ideas of faith, religion, and spirituality, we get to know one another even more than we already do.

Sharing this important aspect of our lives has, I feel, improved our connection. I feel that I know Sara more intimately than I did before. I feel that I am closer to her than I was before. And I feel even more certain that she is the right woman for me.

Do you attend a church of some kind? What does church mean to you? Why do you go to your place of worship?

Should I explore Quakerism?

In Religion on January 13, 2009 at 11:15 pm

Quakerism is the religion practiced by the Religious Society of Friends (also known as Quakers). In my readings about Unitarian Universalism (UU), I’ve noticed that there seems to be some overlap between the two faiths, especially in more recent times.

Several prominent Unitarians (and probably many more non-prominent ones) were Quakers, at one point in their lives. Of course, many members of the UU faith belonged to a different religion at one point in their lives, so perhaps this doesn’t mean much.

But, the point I’m trying to make is that Quakerism shares many similarities with UU.

Both faiths believe in finding your own path to god (or whatever is meaningful to you). In fact, although Quakers are generally considered Christian, many Meetings (a congregation of Quakers) have become more liberal and welcoming of non-Christians. It is now possible to be an atheist Quaker, or a Muslim Quaker, or a Humanist Quaker.

This sort of liberalism is, as I’ve said before, one of the things that I’m looking for in my spiritual life. The freedom to explore my own path to the truth is something that is vital to my spiritual growth and personal happiness.

After reading about Quakers and what they believe, I wonder if they might not be the faith community that I’m looking for. To be honest, I don’t think that they are, but I’m definitely curious about how they do what they do.

There is a Quaker community in Edmonton, and I think it would be interesting to check them out. I’ve read a bunch of the info on their website, and they seem like a welcoming group.

I plan to go to a Quaker Meeting for Worship at some point in the future. From what I’ve read, it sounds like quite a unique experience.

For now, I’m still very interested in exploring Unitarian Universalism, but I definitely think that checking out the Quakers will help me to better understand both my own spirituality and that of others.

I’m interested in hearing from you, though. What, dear reader, are your experiences with Quakers (if any)? What notions—either preconceived or learned through experience—do you have about the Religious Society of Friends? Does it interest you? Does it appall you? Please, share your thoughts in the comments.