Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: What Moves Us: A Unitarian Universalist Theology Program for Adults

Handout 2: Adams Definitions

Part of What Moves Us


Adams claims that religion is a universal experience. To be human, Adams argues, is to be religious because the purpose of religion is to identify what gives fundamental meaning and fulfillment to human life. Religion, he says, is "concerned with the inescapable issues regarding the meaning and fulfillment of life." This means that for Adams, "there is no such thing as a completely irreligious person."


There is one kind of faith, Adams insists, that no one can live without: confidence. According to Adams, "We do not need to use the word "faith" to refer to it. The word 'confidence' will serve just as well. No one and no culture can long maintain a dynamic and creative attitude toward life without the confidence that human life has some important meaning either actual or potential, and that this meaning may in some tolerable fashion be maintained or achieved, in other words, that resources are available for the fulfillment of meaning. This concern with the meaning of life and with the resources available for the fulfillment of this meaning is not merely optional luxury. It is a universal concern. It is the essential concern of religion."


The term "God," for Adams, refers to that which a person not only cherishes above all else, but also gives oneself to, and identifies with as a "sovereign object of devotion." According to Adams, this object of devotion is sparked by love. And so he says, "When the temperature of a person's mind or spirit rises to defend something to the very last ditch, then generally that person's sacred devotion is at stake. The test is as revealing when applied to the believer in God as when applied to the unbeliever. It may show that the God avowed by the believer is not really sacred to him or her. It can show also that a serious rejection of belief in God may be a form of the love of God in the sense that it is a giving of oneself to, an identification with, something cherished above all else." And so Adams concludes: "Whether people call themselves theists or atheists, the issue comes down to this: What is sacred? What is truly sovereign? What is ultimately reliable? These are the questions that are involved in every discussion of the love of God. And even if we do not like to use the words 'the love of God,' we will nevertheless deal with these questions in any discussion of the meaning of human existence."