Frequently Asked Questions About the Freethinker Friendly Program

Why did you call it Freethinker Friendly? Isn't that insulting to theists and other religious believers?

We chose the name because of the alliteration, because it is a positive word, and because of the historical association of the word with organized non-theism.* In fact "Freethinker" was introduced in the seventeenth century and, in the nineteenth century especially, became to non-theists analogous to the word "Gay" in the homosexual community -- a self-chosen, positive word that has no stigma. The dictionary definition of the word is, "a person who rejects accepted opinions, especially those concerning religious belief." But we certainly do see that this definition can describe many, if not most, Unitarian Universalists, theist and non-theist, and we definitely did not mean to imply that only some of us are "thinking freely". Given that "gay" is defined as "cheerful and happy", I do not think that those of us who are gay mean to imply that heterosexuals are dour and gloomy.

There is a fair amount of investment in the phrase at this point and it would take some effort to change it. Instead, we ask people to hear the phrase with generous ears and the assumption of good intention, as many of our congregational Covenants of Right Relations would ask of us. Much of the misunderstanding that happens in UU spaces is over too rigid use of language and the heart of the Freethinker Friendly program is the effort to get past those sorts of conflicts. If you find the name is a major sumbling block for considering the program in your congregation, please let us know. We welcome suggestions for a better name.

* See the book Freethinkers, by Susan Jacoby, for an excellent history of the freethought movement and its role in American history and culture.

Is this an effort to make the Humanist perspective predominate in more congregations?

No. First, that assumes there is a single "Humanist perspective", which is certainly not the case. The Freethinker Friendly program is about growing Unitarian Universalism by making it known to and more welcoming of people with naturalistic worldviews. It is about enlarging our current appreciation for spiritual pluralism to include those who consider themselves non-religious in the traditional sense of that word (meaning believing in God or some higher power). This is one of those "both/and", not "either/or" situations. We would not be Unitarian Universalists, given the growing number of alternatives that are available, if we didn't value engaging with and learning from other religious perspectives -- that is the truly unique feature of our Association. We believe all people grow and learn by respectfully engaging with difference and that difference shouldn't divide, it should enrich a community. The fact is that atheism, in particular, is unfairly demonized in American culture (and worldwide). Some humanists, but not all, object to being required to use religious language to be welcome in UU spaces because they see it as being required to pretend to be something they're not, and that it is a "don't ask, don't tell" policy that implies there is something shameful about not believing in God. The Freethinker Friendly program is an attempt to start conversations and find inclusive compromises that draw a wider circle around all of us. We want Unitarian Universalists congregations to model the kind of welcome and understanding that is needed in our wider, fractured world.

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