Yes/And: Can Someone Be a Theistic Humanist?

It seems that one of the debates we have in our denomination is between the theists and the humanists: theists long to express their various perspectives on God through worship, prayer, and praise – and stop with all the shrieking; while humanists want moral and ethical arguments without all the “God talk” that we came to UUism to get away from.

You would think that the theists and the humanists would have long parted ways; in fact, there are some who (if geography allows) choose one UU congregation over another because of its general theological mood. We know congregations that are ‘very humanist’ or ‘rather Christian’ or somewhere in-between. And this can cause some real struggle among parishioners, and even among ministers and seminarians. It seems that either your image of the divine is external, something bigger and greater than yourself, or it is internal, something exactly like yourself.

But what if it’s both? What if we recognize an external Divine that is not only bigger and greater than ourselves but is also made up of ourselves? What if God is, even in part, the collective unconscious, the best of ourselves, greater than the sum of us, intimately involved in our humanity and the entire interconnected web of all existence?

I think the “yes/and” answer is more common among us than we realize. Partly because humanism does not, as John Dietrich points out in “Unitarianism and Humanism,” exclude belief in God. Rather, one can believe in God and still “place faith in man, a knowledge of man, and our duties toward one another.” Yes, Dietrich suggests that humanism shifts religious emphasis from God to humans, but it doesn’t exclude God. Rather, it focuses our attention not just on God but onto the condition of human life “in order that by human effort human life may be improved.” He continues: “[Humanism] is really the same thing as faith in God; for, whatever God may be, it is quite clear that he can manifest himself only through man’s consciousness, and that we shall get more and more knowledge of him only by believing that our highest impulses are his manifestations, tempered by our capacity to receive them.”

Yes, we can be humanists AND theists. In fact, as Unitarian Universalists, even the most theistic among us are humanists.




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