I was shocked and horrified by the book. In its total and reflexive
antagonism toward nearly every element of my (thoroughly ordinary)
atheist worldview, A Chosen Faith taught me that Unitarian Universalists
detested me and everything I stood for. Five years later, I
understand that this message is surely not the one that Unitarian
Universalists, including the many
wonderful UU theists know, want to deliver. I can only conclude
that A Chosen Faith presents a badly distorted picture of Unitarian
concern I have with the book is that both authors continuously
rely on traditional religious language (chiefly God, faith and
religion) without ever mentioning that many Unitarian Universalists
see these words differently than the authors do. A reader of
A Chosen Faith can only conclude that Unitarian Universalists
unanimously accept Church and Buehrens's ideas about what these
terms mean and the values they carry. This is, at the very least,
a troubling omission.
Making things far worse, though, is A Chosen Faith 's uniformly
negative and insulting take on skeptics, atheists, and other
nonbelievers. The book is overflowing with personal attacks
directed at us: we are depicted throughout as "obstinate,"
"threatened," "deluded," vain, dismissive,
fearful, ignorant and isolated "spiritual vacuums"
who live a "mere secular existence." Buehrens airily
hypothesizes that children raised in secular homes are more
likely to join fundamentalist cults or follow various other
"isms." Church declares that "having traded God
for 'truth,"' we skeptics "are left with neither."
Chapter after chapter demeans and vilifies anyone whose piety
does not meet the authors' standards.
It gets worse. In the space of a single horrendous paragraph
that would warm the hearts of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson,
Buehrens accuses those of us who vainly "try" to find
meaning and truth outside of what we consider to be "religion"
of "practicing a form of self- delusion." He derisively
informs us that "Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the
human spirit." Buehrens approvingly quotes conservative
Christian proselytizer C.S. Lewis at us: "the opposite
of a belief in God is not a belief in nothing; it is a belief
in anything." Finally, citing two Gospel passages, Buehrens
declares that our belief system, "zealous atheism,"
is a "demonic pseudo religion." (I submit that no
Unitarian Universalist should ever call anyone else's belief
system a "demonic pseudo religion"!)
There is not a single nice word about nonbelievers in this entire
book to balance the avalanche of ill will it hurls at us. Not
one word. The meaning and integrity that so many Unitarian Universalists
have found in leaving supernaturalism behind? Ignored. The wonder
and power that we find in the natural world, so far as our reason
and science can reveal it? Trashed.
The authors of A Chosen Faith barely concede that nonbelievers
are human beings, as opposed to self-delusional, demonically
pseudo religious spiritual vacuums; clearly they do not see
us as legitimate Unitarian Universalists.
Both authors' chapters on the "humanist teachings"
Source are incredible. Rather than depict the deep meaning that
a large proportion of Unitarian Universalists find in a non-theistic,
rationalist philosophy we call "humanism," they instead
write about idolatry--and make it clear that they consider the
aforementioned philosophy to be an idolatry. Science and reason
are present in the section only to be attacked; the authors
say not a thing about the deep meaning so many of us find in
those pursuits but instead describe in great detail the horrors
we suffer when we ignore their limits. Both authors call for
a "new humanism" refashioned by "new, transformational
Insights" (such as Church's "sovereignty lies in the
corporate body, not in the individual member"), and they
warn that they will fight "the forces of Retrenchment"
tooth and nail if we complain. This is scary stuff.
I am now a Unitarian Universalist, very much despite having
read this book. My journey into our religion has consisted in
large part of understanding (because I've been convinced by
terrific Unitarian Universalists, many of them Christians, pagans,
theists and deists) that Buehrens and Church are entirely wrong
about the place of atheism, humanism and skepticism within Unitarian
Universalism. More generally, I have learned that hateful diatribes
by adherents to any UU theology against any other one do terrible
damage to our chosen faith. We cannot afford to do to one another
what A Chosen Faith does to nonbelievers.
We covenant to affirm and promote the free and responsible search
for truth and meaning. I believe A Chosen Faith repeatedly violates
this covenant. As such, I believe it is an extremely poor choice
to serve as an introduction to our religion. Please do not inflict
this book on a nonbeliever you care about.