Can Atheists feel comfortable in a Unitarian Universalist setting?

Have considered checking out a Unitarian Universalist "church", but since it's over an hour from where I live, I thought I'd send out some feelers and wondered if any atheists have felt comfortable in such a setting.  Seems to me they do a lot of talking about "spiritualism", and I get visions of wiccans or people who think that humans have a soul of some kind.  I'm definitely not interested in being further exposed to that sort of stuff. 


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That rather secular UU church sounds like a good place for fellowship and focusing on goodness!

"They often joked that they worshiped the coffee shrine" reminds me of this repurposed hymn tune... (to the tune of "Holy, Holy, Holy"; words by Christopher Raible in Hymns for the Cerebration of Strife)

Coffee, Coffee, Coffee,
Praise the strength of coffee.
Early in the morn we rise with thoughts of only thee.
Served fresh or reheated,
Dark by thee defeated,
Brewed black by perk or drip or instantly.

Though all else we scoff, we
Come to church for coffee.
If we're late to congregate, we come in time for thee.
Coffee our one ritual,
Drinking it habitual,
Brewed black by perk or drip or instantly.

Coffee the communion
Of our Uni-Union,
Symbol of our sacred ground, our one necessity.
Feel the holy power
At our coffee hour,
Brewed black by perk or drip or instantly.

I'm wondering, Daniel, if the UU church you attended in Indiana isn't the same one I belonged to (and was involved deeply with) in Lafayette (?).  I was there over 10 years, leaving due to my divorce. (She got the church, I got my house.)

I found the church to be totally non-religious although, perhaps, a bit "spiritual", whatever that means. Their creed is "Love is the spirit of this church, and service is it's motto...(etc.)". Anyway, I enjoyed the fellowship of mostly atheistic members. No wiccans or anything. I missed going at first, but now I'm glad not to "waste" my Sunday mornings.

I've attended services at several UU fellowships - Lafayette, Indiana, Chicago, Corvallis Oregon, Portland Oregon, and Vancouver Washington.

They were as different from one another as they could be.  The one in Lafayette was the most atheist friendly, and least formal, of the bunch.  Atheists were outspoken members of that one.  The one in Chicago was OK, a bit on the aging-hippy side of things, too much marijuana for my taste.  The one in Portland was like going to a megachurch.  Way too formal, to many hymns, too much ritual for my taste.

I think you have to go and sample a service, to find out.  There is no single way to be a UU. 

In the end, most were too religion-friendly, and imitated other religions too much for me.

Thanks so much.  That's exactly the type of insight I was hoping for.

The UU church I was considering visiting is in Columbia, SC.  I understand that the "minister" started out as a Southern Baptist, then went through a UCC phase (United Church of Christ), and finally settled in as a UU.  His sermons are available online, so I was able to get a feel for his perspective.  I liked some of what I found, but his Easter sermon was a bit disturbing since he did not, apparently, in any way debunk the idea that "Jesus" came back to life after death.  Huh???  How can his "congregation" sit there with straight faces?  Shouldn't an "Easter sermon" approprite for a congregation with a healthy contingent of free thinkers and secular humanists leave the fantasies aside and address the issue of how we come to terms with mortality and still find meaning in our blip of consciousness? 

On the other hand, I think there is a discussion group prior to the Sunday "services" that might be worth attending, and I definitely do get the feeling that this "church" has participants who would call themselves atheists and agnostics.

If anyone has listened to the TED talk by Alain deBotton (not sure of spelling) called Atheism 2.0, you'll have an idea of why I think it may be reasonable for atheists to continue to want to borrow something from traditional church settings.  However, as I said, I'm still on the fence about making the effort to drive an hour to check out this church.

It's possible there is a difference in tone between a UU that refers to itself as a fellowship, vs. one that refers to itself as a church.  It seemed to me the people who took the word "fellowship" were more church averse.  That might be my imagination.

Also, one of the issues that bothered me was that some UUs honor all religions, more or less. 

This is the common covenant I remember, that some (many?) UUs use:

Love is the Spirit of this church,
And service its law.
This is our great covenant:
To dwell together in peace;
To seek the truth in love;
And to help one another.

This is the posted statement from one UU, "Spirit of Life" in Odessa FL:

The  mission of Spirit of Life UU is to provide an oasis of spiritual growth, intellectual sharing and commitment to social action

As a Welcoming Congregation, we welcome all seekers from all spiritual, theological and philosophical backgrounds interested in joining a  free, rational and responsible search for truth and meaning in their lives. We provide a safe, loving environment free of creed and dogma, and offer support for each individual’s spiritual journey through the nurturing of deep personal relationships and thoughtful consideration of the words of  great thinkers, philosophers and theologians, both contemporary and historical.

They don't say anything about particular gods, but they don't exclude them, either. 

Each fellowship or church makes it's own decisions about what and who and how they believe and interact.  From an entirely different UU, in Worcester, Massachusetts:

The Covenant of the First Unitarian Church
In the love of truth
And in the spirit of Jesus
We unite for the worship of God
And the service of all.

Which is not a place I would consider going to.

Here is the website for the UU in Columbia South Carolina.

" A typical service at the UUCC would include hymns, readings, choir, children's stories, communal sharing of joys and concerns, and a sermon. Adults interested in discussing current issues or on a wider range of other topics are invited to join our Forum at 9:30 am in the library."

Potentially, you could skip the sermon and think about going to their forum.  I would not like the choir and hymns.  I might put up with them, for the sharing of joys and concerns, the readings, and depending on the topic and speaker, the sermon.


Forum Topic:
9/1/13: "Domestic surveillance, detention, torture: The new America or America out of the closet?"
9/8/13: "Is there a Dog? Dyslexic Agnostic Theology."

Paging through the Columbia SC UU  website, their covenant does not mention any gods or religions.  You might want to  browse their site.  That would be more informative for you than anything we say here.

Thanks.  I'll look more closely at the Columbia, SC UU site.  "Prayer" as part of a service would rule it out for me.  Specific mention of "God" would do the same.  I would also be leery of the mention of "souls" and frequent use of the word "spiritual".   

I'm not happy with hymn singing and wonder where they would find appropriate "hymns".  As for a sermon, that probably wouldn't bother me.  I think the reason one would go to a UU Fellowship (I need to look up the definition of "church") would be to be among people who are seeking to live moral lives, to be courageous in the face of mortality, to raise responsible, kind children, and who are interested in being "good without god."  While one can find kindred spirit and have fun "at the bowling alley" as someone mentioned (and in many other activities), the focus of those gatherings and those connections is not specifically dealing with ethical and moral and "existential" issues.

Let's say someone is raising a teenager and would like to encourage involvement with a peer group and with adult role models who don't abuse drugs or alcohol, who are law abiding, generous, and so on.  I'm not naive enough to think that your standard church youth fellowship is made up of kids on the straight and narrow, but people who plug into a traditional mainstream church (not talking about weird fundamentalists here but more like UCC or United Methodists and so on)... those environments are likely to have role models of decent, moderate (although unthinking, unquestioning) individuals.  I think there is something to be learned from the structure of religious organizations that could benefit even atheists and agnostics.  I refer you again to Alain deBotton's TED talk on Atheism 2.0.

I was elected president of a singles club that met at the wonderful facilities of the UU church in Phoenix...and then a board member told me the club president must be a church member.

A flashback. My older sister was the first of five kids to quit Catholicism and she joined a UU church in St. Pete, FL. She and her husband liked it. I was in college and became the second to quit RC. I chose agnosticism. I graduated and married woman I'd met in college, who also avoided churches. She taught school and I did computers. One day while living in Austin, TX, we visited the UU church and heard about a nearby nudist club. We visited and joined it. My work took us to Phoenix, where after six years of marriage we split. We both joined that Phoenix UU church singles club. End of flashback.

I had a choice; resign as club president, ignore the requirement and await club action or inaction, or learn about UU and decide. Liking the people I'd been meeting and enjoying the power of office; I chose the third. I learned that there was no required dogma but I would have to agree that I was looking for answers. I was okay with that and so, after fifteen years of avoiding churches I joined. I don't recall going to any services but other singles club members were church members and I liked them. I also became active in the environmental activities of the Sierra Club and the political activities of the ACLU.

After several years I decided on a mid-life career change and moved to San Francisco with the idea of going to law school. Wanting to meet people but not in the clouds of cigarette smoke at bars, I visited the UU church and found a similar singles club there. I found too an Explorations group that met before the UU services. Its members invited college professors in the social sciences, which I had not studied in college. I joined the singles club, this group, and became active in SF electoral politics. Yeah, I learned about wiccans. I liked their environmentalism and enjoyed a couple of skyclad gatherings before I decided that they were further into religion than I wanted to go.

I rarely went to UU services but the minister had an point of view I liked; he said UU-ism is for people who haven't kicked the church habit.

The singles club invited speakers and I learned about SF. I learned of and became active in two organizations in the city. One of them was SF Sex Information ( and described my activity there as a wonderful remedy for twelve years in RC schools. In a few of the people at that UU Explorations group I gradually saw a submissiveness I hadn't noticed. I spoke about it with two people and they confirmed it. They also said they liked it. I withdrew from the church but remained active with the singles club.

Instead of going to law school I wrote a book about politics which was also a memoir. After 20 years in SF I moved to one of California's war veterans retirement homes.

If that UU church an hour away from your home is in a medium-to-large city, you will find people with a variety of interesting beliefs, and probably a few agnostics or atheists. If you are a working school teacher you will also find people with whom you can do things you don't want people in your town to know.

Enjoyed reading about your experience with various UU churches through the years.  I have mixed feelings about this tendency of those churches to fill a niche for people who "haven't kicked the church habit".  I do get a creepy feeling when I think about hymn singing, for instance.  On the other hand, I'm kind of wishing I had exposed my kids to that sort of a liberal fellowship instead of basically no church at all after early childhood.  I think being "sort of" like other families they knew growing up with something called "church" as a reference point would have been a nice compromise.  They certainly would NOT have gotten the garbage about the devil and non believers going to hell that caused me to stop going to church all together.  Maybe what I'm saying is a cop out... and as I said, with my children now in their early twenties this is no longer an issue.

I've never attended, but I have an atheist friend who goes to UU services most Sundays and her sister and brother-in-law and children as well -- all atheist. She nags me about going and claims there are lots of atheists that just like to hang out and hear progressive political "sermons" in kindred company. 

Sounds like too much religious pushing for my temperament also.

I have a conservative friend in Washington State who has done extensive research into the origins of the Unitarian Universalist Church who tells me that a good percentage of members are freethinkers, agnostics, and atheists who do not feel comfortable in any other church, thought they miss the social networking and group cohesiveness that are organized religion's primary virtue.  It is a place to go once a week and see friends and experience communal commonality.




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