Readers respond to the Spring 2009 issue.
William Murry’s otherwise fine article on Darwinian evolution and religion (“Natural Faith,” Spring 2009) seemed to suggest some kind of privileged human lock on worth and dignity. Since we are “as much a part of nature” as any other living thing, and since living creatures have at least worth and often dignity, we need to get into right relationship with our animal cousins. This does not necessarily mean vegetarianism. It does mean that we must strive to kill our food with the awe, respect, reverence, and gratitude that our ancestors seemed to show, and that we have lost. It also means that we take only what we truly need.
First Parish Church UU of Stow and Acton
William Murry does a very credible job of discussing the effect of the emerging science of biological evolution on the evolution of liberal religion. However, Darwin’s contribution was not the concept of evolution; instead it was the process of survival of the fittest. By pretending that Darwin single-handedly invented evolution, Murry provides support to the opponents of evolution who are attached to the false notion that evolution is the idle speculations of one man.
Ronald A. Stanley
UU Fellowship of Greater Cumberland
Speaking as a Unitarian whose personal beliefs are based in scientific understanding, I long for the day when religious liberals stop distorting scientific theories in an attempt to show that science always supports their religious faith. William Murry claims that humans “are simply the most highly evolved animal.” The theory of natural selection does not include value judgments of higher and lower evolution; it only describes adaptation to changing environments. From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, human capacities for lying, cheating, and fighting have been as important to our survival as “our ability to love, to do justice, and to live ethically.” Biologists understand that “the kinship of all living organisms” is based on shared DNA, not “love and caring.”
We can make choices about how we live. These choices are more likely to be successful when we base them on a true understanding of nature and human nature rather than idealization. Faith is personal and individual. Science is an attempt to transcend personal faith. Misrepresenting scientific theory because it contradicts personal faith is a deeply unethical act.
Dalmeny, Saskatchewan, Canada
Unitarian Congregation of Saskatoon
William Murry’s statement, “We have a moral responsibility to care for the natural world,” cannot be overstressed. Thousands of years ago humankind gave responsibility for all things to their “omnipotent creator.” Today, along with our scientific knowledge and achievements, we are approaching the supposed power of this supernatural force. We believe global warming, over-fishing, lumbering, overpopulation, and the endangering of species are things we can and must control.
Our instinct to survive, however, involves improving our own status without concern for others. Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations, that the most efficient economy is one where each person acts in their own self interest.
When faced with personal goals versus what’s best for Mother Earth, our planet loses. Can our leaders become statesmen and stateswomen enough to sway the masses to re-orient their priorities? Our grandchildren will find out.
David F. Baker
Albion, New York
UU Church of Buffalo
On his deathbed in 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published his hypothesis that the earth revolves around the sun. Nearly seventy years later, in 1610, Galileo Galilei provided the physical evidence that Copernicus was correct. Enter Charles Darwin, who 150 years ago provided convincing evidence for evolution by means of natural selection. Then the structure and function of DNA was discovered. This discovery, plus other overwhelming evidence, reveals that humans exist as part of natural processes, and were not created separately. So, we are not the center of the biological universe, as some would like to believe. This new paradigm could have profound spiritual significance, unifying all human cultures and strengthening our relationships within the web of life.
Jefferson Unitarian Church
In “Our Inner Ape” (Spring 2009), Anthony David describes the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey in which an ape flings an equine femur into the air as a joyful celebration of triumph. If one looks closely and studies the scene in its entirety you will decide that it is not about the joy of triumph but about the joy of insight. It is preman joyfully celebrating “I see! Eureka!” He realizes that he has a tool. This makes the bone’s transformation into a spaceship quite logical. The tool’s use as a weapon is only incidental to the scene.
Tarrytown, New York
Community Unitarian Church
I thoroughly enjoyed the articles on Darwin’s religious legacy in the Spring 2009 issue. A theological response to Darwin’s Origin of the Species was developed in twelve lectures in 1900 by the Rev. Marion D. Shutter, minister of the First Universalist Church of the Redeemer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and published in the book Applied Evolution. The book is a valuable resource for Unitarian Universalists who seek a theological interpretation of Darwin’s work. The Rev. Dr. Orello Cone, professor of biblical literature at St. Lawrence Theological School in the late 1800s till his death in 1905, also responded to Darwin’s work with a grounding in Universalist theology.
It is important for Unitarian Universalists to know that our faith embraced the challenges of Darwinian theory and maintained the integrity of our religion for the twentieth century, and that it can inform our theological response now in the twenty-first century.
The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth M. Strong
First Parish Church of Ashby
I found the Spring issue exceptional in its breadth and depth. Christine Robinson’s essay (“Imagineers of Soul”) was particularly enlightening for me and for everyone in my small group fellowship.
Probably the most involved and protracted discussions in our small group over the last two-plus years have focused on our individual perceptions that something was lacking for us in our church experience. We ultimately agreed that what was lacking was a depth of spirituality. However, it was not until we read and discussed Robinson’s essay that we understood the “why” of our disappointment with our church experience. It is liberating to understand the source of the problem (our shame) so that we can start dealing with it and begin to take spiritual risks.
Understanding our spiritual selves seems so important to the future health and growth of our denomination that I can’t help wonder how our seminaries are dealing with it. Are UU seminarians being taught to recognize and value their spiritual natures and needs? Are they being nurtured in their spiritual growth? Or, are our educators suffering from the same sense of spiritual shame as so many of the rest of us?
Birmingham Unitarian Church
Robinson writes, “Ministerial voices have been saying for two generations that we Unitarian Universalists are missing something important if we take a secular, ‘hands off the spirit’ approach to our life together.” Her view is that shame, scorn, and fear of the holy disallow prayer, God talk, and spirituality-based faith traditions.
It took me years to accidentally and happily discover a UU fellowship, a place free from the spiritual traditions she recommends.
Please don’t seek to reverse this evolution in UU churches. There is enough to tolerate during ecumenical community efforts. I will remain polite when others pray and sway, but I am as thrilled to be free from it as I am free from the annoyance of mosquitoes in the summertime.
Grand Marais, Minnesota
St. Cloud Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
It’s true that most of us have not heard “God” speaking to us; however, this does not mean that we are “unlikely to have had soul-shaking spiritual experiences,” as Robinson claims. It’s just that we have these experiences in the world around us, in the wonders of nature, of human courage and love, and the efforts of so many who act compassionately.
No one should imagine that we come to Unitarian Universalism devoid of deep spiritual experiences and beliefs, or that a secular choice of words is less “spiritual.” We come to Unitarian Universalism to share our spiritual journeys, in whatever terms they may be couched, and, as Robinson rightly urges, to make “a place where it’s safe” to do so.
UU Church of the Palouse
We wish that Donald E. Skinner had been clearer in his reporting about how the WellSprings Congregation came into being (“Pa. Start-up Church Takes New Approach,” UU News, Spring 2009). In particular, we wish that you had told readers that this new start congregation was originally conceived of by a growth committee of the Main Line Unitarian Church and initially championed by the Joseph Priestley District’s growth committee. The UUA’s Office of Congregational Services was invited to partner with a congregational and district initiative that was well underway.
The initial research into a new start was done by local representatives here in Pennsylvania, the geographic location for WellSprings was determined at the local level, and initial fundraising for WellSprings was done within the Main Line Unitarian Church. While the UUA provided a list of candidates from which to choose, the search committee that selected the minister of WellSprings comprised four Main Line representatives, one representative of the district, and one from the UUA.
A more accurate account would not have diminished the efforts of the UUA’s Office of Congregational Services nor detracted from the fine ministry of the Rev. Ken Beldon, but it might have encouraged local congregations and districts to work collaboratively and become leaders in the effort to grow our Unitarian Universalist faith in the world.
The Rev. Dr. Justin Osterman
Senior Minister, Main Line Unitarian Church
The Rev. Dr. Richard Speck
District Executive, Joseph Priestley District
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Jane Greer is a former senior editor of UU World magazine.