General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

A Lover's Quarrel: Unitarian Universalists Wrestling with God

General Assembly 2000 Event 411
Rev. Dr. Thomas Owen-Towle addressed the larger issue of God and the divine. The Unitarian Universalist (UU) umbrella encompasses a wide range belief in the divine. In this address he discussed the variety of beliefs with their particular attributes, and suggested that the acceptance of other points of view can lead to open dialog and ultimately the building of bridges to help an individual arrive at a more complete belief system. He described his own faith journey as one starting at mindless belief moving to total rejection and finally arriving at a place of questioning faith that he is at peace with…mostly. He is now more comfortable with contradictions and accepts the existence of both a humanist and theist within himself. He described UUs as "theological mongrels." Those who want their beliefs wrapped up in a neat package tend not to be UUs.

Pascal described three groups of people: those who know and love God; those who don't know but seek God; and those who don't know and don't seek God. Owen-Towle calls the first path affirmatism, the second path agnosticism and the third path atheism. Each of these attitudes brings a healthy mix to the discussion table—atheism with its skepticism, agnosticism with its essential gift of measured indecision, and affirmatism with its unflinching demands. The seeker must be cautious as each also has a dark undercurrent—atheism for a hollow heart, agnosticism for its disinterest, and affirmatism for its sanctimoniousness.

Going into more detail, Owen-Towle described the optimistic atheists, who focus on freedom and potential and have no belief rather than disbelief, and pessimistic atheists, who are skeptical, cynical, and forlorn. Agnosticism, a term coined by Thomas Huxley in 1869, describes a belief in partial wisdom. A modern unbelief is central to UUs today. Agnosticism can also be subdivided into, for example, agnostic theists for whom God exists but nature is unknowable and agnostic atheists who believe that knowing the existence of God is unknowable. Humanity has three attributes: humaneness, humor, and humbleness.

With affirmatists the "say it" must be accompanied by the "do it." We can only experience God when we say yes to life. For UUs, the location is emphasized instead of the definition. This is an extension of Thoreau's "lurking places where God may be found in our lives," which can be identified by the following: service, silliness, struggle, silence, and surrender.

Universalists view love as the beginning and end. UUs major in knowledge and minor in devotion and thrive on discussion rather than on experience. UUs love God as wholeheartedly as reasonable. God is not an unknown but a mystical comrade. Viewing God on a more individual and personal level allows a truer relationship to form and as in the case of other human relationships, the following can be stated: Life is one long quarrel with God, but we still make up in the end.

Reported by Norman Wright.