Why I Am a UU Humanist

Rev. Don Beaudreault
First Parish Brewster Unitarian Universalist

My humanism tells me of the incredible panoply of human possibilities. The intricacies of being human move me beyond generalizations, creeds, and pronouncements. My humanism is broad-based, beyond pat classifications. Wholeness, rather than partiality is what I seek, where mind and heart, the rational and the intuitive, the prosaic and the poetic merge. My humanism goes back to the etymology of the word “religion” and embraces it fully: “to bind together” in the sense of weaving the various strands of a tapestry.  –Beaudreault

It’s okay to be ambiguous; to be uncertain.
It’s okay not to know and to say so.
It’s okay to know, then not to know.
It’s okay, you are human… 

You are human, like the wind is the wind;
The sea, the sea.
You are part of the natural process:
Sometimes perfect, sometimes flawed…

Seek not a box to hide within!
Embrace the gifts of joy and sorrow;
Experience the fullness of a life
Not limited by anyone’s commandments, including your own…

It’s okay to be human – so, be the best one you can be.
It’s okay to be incomplete, but carry on, anyhow.
It’s okay to be weak, and to know that strength comes in different ways;
It’s okay to fail, so accept this as part of your triumph.

It’s okay…you and I are human.


  1. Humanism Defined: Narrow and Wide

Little Billy and his teacher were having a conversation. Teacher: “What are you drawing, Billy?” Billy: “I’m drawing me a picture of God, teacher. Teacher: “But Billy, you mustn’t do that! Nobody knows what God looks like!” Billy: “They will when I get done!”

Indeed, the word “humanism” like the word “god” has multiple dimensions. It depends on the person drawing the picture. And this morning, I am the artist.

So first, let us look at the nuances of that word “humanist” within a restricted framework.

The American Humanist Association is very specific in its definition:

Humanists believe that our destiny is in our hands and that even those who claim to be guided by a supernatural power must interpret purported divine commandments into human concepts of a good life…Free of supernaturalism, (humanism) recognizes human beings as a part of nature and holds that values have their source in human experience and culture. Humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions.

As I said, this is a restricted definition. In a broad sense, the word “humanist” is a noun in front of which a plethora of adjectives are placed.

For instance, in this post-modern age of mix and match, we recognize that there are humanists who describe themselves as: Christian, Buddhist, Secular, Religious, Existentialist, Jewish, Islamic, New Thought, Earth Centered. You fill in the blank.

In other words, in the larger meaning of the word, humanism is a universally applicable one.

The American Humanist Association (whose description I have read to you), displays a decidedly Secular Humanist bent.

As Unitarian Universalists who might choose to describe ourselves as “humanists,” we have much more latitude than the AHA.

I myself am a mystical humanist agnostic Taoist Quaker. At least at this moment.

And in other sermons in this sermon series about “Why I Am a UU This or That” I will explore this diversity of belief and practice within our liberating religious inclusive circle. All this as part of this year’s visioning our congregational future.

So, the word humanist applicable to a UU belief and practice can be defined narrowly or broadly. The joy is that as a UU we can define it anyone we want. And embrace it or not.

  1. Humanism: A Way of Viewing the World with Love

Truly, humanism is not limited by philosophical or religious construct, but becomes a way of viewing the world – with differently focused glasses.

In common, the various interpretations of the word in question, are each trumpeting the essential goodness of humanity despite the ills that plague us. “Faith” in this context becomes, therefore, the hope that human malice and evil-doing will evolve into loving acts. In other words, within the center of these various forms of humanism, lies the core belief that human beings are lovable.

Certainly within both the Unitarian and the Universalist histories lies this core belief. In 1929 the Universalist minister, Charles Francis Potter, one of the leaders within the humanist movement states that we humans are “inherently good and of infinite possibilities.”

Now that’s a good affirmation that you can recite to yourself throughout the day – beginning in the morning when you look at yourself in the bathroom mirror: I am inherently good and of infinite possibilities.

We can see a similar testimony in both the Humanist Manifesto of 1933, 1973, and 2003.

Today in our Unitarian Universalist Association’s very principles we say that we covenant to affirm and promote: the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

This is crucial to being a UU Humanist or a UU of a different descriptive type or of just being a loving person.

Pope Francis made a comment or two about gay people in this regard. And as you listen to me quote him, suspend your disbelief about Catholic theology or Catholicism as an institution; also go beyond the Pope’s God-centered language, where God is male. In other words, hear the Pope’s intent – which is to speak of love.

So saith Pope Francis:

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.

So, I guess the Pope is a Catholic humanist – for certainly he speaks of love for all humanity.

  1. Humanism: As a Quest for Knowledge

A humanist is in process. Not static. Not stuck. Wanting to know more and more. It is that “search for truth” that we Unitarian Universalists talk about.

As a humanist, I prefer “search for truths” – because for me truth is often relative, malleable, with the possibility if not the probability of changing depending upon circumstance, so-called “fate,” effort, and attitude.

As works in progress, we humans (as viewed from a humanist’s perspective), sing forth with conviction that hymn “A Fierce Unrest” (#304) in our hymnbook. Here is illustrated that urgent need – that human necessity – to discover ultimate meaning and purpose; to live authentic lives – even if we sometimes have to go through Hades to get there.

Says the poet Don Marquis in the lyrics to this hymn:

Sing we no governed firmament, cold, ordered, regular; we sing the stinging discontent that leaps from star to star.

Now, that is quite a task for anyone to take on, isn’t it? Our challenging of preconceived notions about the very heavens – but we humanists take up the gauntlet, knowing that we are often in the minority and might just be thought of as reprobates, disestablishmentarians, the faithless, the curmudgeons!

Anyone of you resemble those remarks?

I very much like Karl Menninger’s helpful words on the subject:

Unrest of spirit is a mark of life; one problem after another presents itself and in the solving of them we can find our greatest pleasure. The continuous encounter with continually changing conditions is the very substance of living.

I think what Menninger is saying is that we must live life with awareness, with engagement – not to close off from it, to shun it. And in this zest for involvement, including the necessity of facing what problems we have, comes a fulfilling existence.

Consider this story about a new minister serving on the coast of Maine. Among his parishioners were seasoned ship captains – or what some would label “old sea dogs.” Sailing in all kinds of weather and conditions, they could be called the wise men of the sea.

On the other hand, our young minister was a hugger of the shore. So, he assumed all kinds of incorrect things about the ocean – for example that in a storm you should head to shore as a place of safety.

His oceanic betters all disagreed, affirming that such a measure would destroy the ship on the rocks and reefs. The way to save the ship and yourself, they affirmed, is to head into deep water and open sea and thereby ride out the storm.

Of course this is not just a story about sailing in bad weather. It is a metaphor – as that new minister and every minister and others learn about life. That when times are tough, you are given the opportunity for a big adventure! Whether or not you like it!

For then it is time to go out into deep water – if not out on a limb – and face what lies before you, not merely to be buffeted by life’s winds and to be dashed on to the rocks.

You see, humanism is like that. And so is Unitarian Universalism. We face what is there. We all are on a ship being buffeted by storms on occasion – and we have to figure out how to survive. But then we are not a quietist, non-involved people of faith, are we? We proactively encounter the challenges and move our ships on from there!

  1. Humanism: A Positive and Active Message for the World

There are two other things that I want to say about Why I Am a Unitarian Universalist Humanist.

The first is that it can be, if we let it, a gospel – the good news – for an oft-times disenfranchised world that so sorely needs brightness and light.

Oh, it would be so easy to go in the other direction – and some who call themselves “humanists” do that. They go for the negative. They use their critical intelligence to be naysayers. Somehow they got the message that to be knowledgeable they had to be the ones to be negatively critical of the world – in its multiple dimensions.

So they complain that the sky is falling. Unfortunately, every lot of human beings has its Chicken Littles – including religious congregations.

Such negativists, who usually just complain about the failings of others, and of situations, do just that: complain! From their rocking chairs, they point out how inadequate the world is and tell others what others should do – while they, themselves, do little or nothing but complain! And rock!

The logo on their t-shirts comes from that Existentialist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche and reads:

The Everlasting No

True in congregations as in other places.

Consider this story about that funny man and movie director Mel Brooks who, when asked what he thought of critics replied: “They’re very noisy at night. You can’t sleep in the country because of them.”

To which his interviewer politely corrected him: “I said critics, not crickets.”

“Oh, critics!” replied Brooks. “What good are they? They can’t make music with their hind legs.”

So the essence of humanism’s message is not about a negative critique of the universe – rather, it is an affirmation that believes in the progressive nature of humanity; that if we but put our intellectual, heart-felt, and activist selves to the task, we can create a better world – one beyond injustice; one that inspires each person to achieve her/his potential.

And in attempting this, and in achieving this, we stand in constant mystery and awe at this incredible place we find ourselves on called Earth.

  1. Humanism: Conclusion

So this morning we have discussed one way of stating beliefs and practices through the Unitarian Universalist lens. And in doing so, we have concluded that:

  1. There are many ways to define humanism. That it need not stay within the strictures of secularism.
  1. That humanism is based on the premise that humanity is lovable, despite our blights.
  1. Humanism supports our search for truths, and trumpets adaptations toward ever-closer perfection of self and world.

Humanists are not naysayers but promote a positive, holistic approach to life. We act on this, not debate it.

Let us close with these inspiring and uber practical words from that raucous comedian, George Carlin:

Men are from Earth, women are from Earth. Deal with it. 

(Humanism) centers in the faith that (we) can live a good life this side of the grave. It expresses the belief that (we have) potentially the intelligence, good will and cooperative skills to survive on this planet…to provide security and an opportunity for growth, adventure, meaning and fulfillment for all…It is the faith that, however short may be (our) days, beauty and joy may fill them.  –Edwin Wilson