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Unitarian Universalist (UU) Paganism in Liberal Religious Thought

General Assembly 2007 Event 3043
Speaker: Rev. Dr. Rudra Vilius Dundzila

Rev. Dr. Rudra Vilius Dundzila is a professor of humanities and comparative religion at Harry S Truman College (City Colleges of Chicago). As a young man of Lithuanian descent, he first became interested in paganism when he learned his Lithuanian ancestors had worshipped nature gods during the pre-Christian era. Subsequently, his spiritual journey has taken him along a winding path and he now describes himself as a Pagan-Hindu-Buddhist UU and an earth-based theistic meditator.

In a scholarly lecture, "How do UU and Pagan Thea/ologies Fit Together?" he guided a diverse audience through the various thea/ologies of neo-paganism. He noted the growth of earth-based spiritualities within Unitarian Universalism, and asked how these religious notions fit into the UU tradition as a whole.

He identified three main types of earth-centered spiritualities: religious naturalism; feminist Goddess spirituality; and Paganism. These three share significant thea/ological understandings, and all lead to an ethic that protects the natural world.

Religious naturalism asserts that this world provides whatever explanations and meaning are possible in this life. The world is a self contained system and humans find their meaning and purpose from within nature. Religious naturalism expresses a reverence for the natural world, though generally without supernatural connotations.

Feminist Goddess spirituality focuses on the inspirational symbolism of the Goddess, the holiness of the body, and the validity of all human emotions. The Goddess is manifest in all life forms and is accessible to all. Each person needs to find the truth of the Goddess within themselves.

The third emergent UU religious tradition is Paganism. Definitions of Paganism vary widely. Dundzila suggests it might more correctly be called earth-based spirituality. UU Pagans explain that deities represent energy forms, symbols, powers, archetypes, human depth, inspiration, creativity, and much more. Their understanding of deity is poetic, metaphorical, or symbolic.

The divine is seen as immanent. There is no dichotomy between spirit and matter. Humans are a part of nature and not separate from it. We are all a part of the interdependent web of all existence.

Dundzila sees considerable overlap of Paganism with Goddess spirituality. The Goddess is not merely a female God; she is not a female version of the hierarchical creator God. The Goddess is understood as plural. Pagans delight in the multiplicity and complexity of the world, and so accept a plurality of gods and goddesses. In Paganism, there is no drive for unity. The mystery of life is so vast and great that a unifying principle would simply be an artificial human construct.

Dundzila sees common themes in the theistic branches of earth-centered spiritualities: theistic religious naturalism, Goddess spirituality, and Paganism. For the most part, deity represents creativity and cosmic totality. Deity and the universe form an inseparable unity. All perspectives Dundzila reviewed mention a variant of the phrase that derives from physics: "We are made of stardust." All believe in a human-nature connection and the necessity for human community. Experience of the divine comes through nature and human senses, not from outside sources. People transcend their limited individuality, and that experience of something greater than themselves is deemed the divine.

Reported by Mike McNaughton; edited by Pat Emery.