We human beings are often categorized according to what
religions we embrace.
This assumes that all of us have some religious affiliation.
And most of us do.
Only a minority of people anywhere on Earth claim no religion.
Why is religion such a wide-spread phenomenon?
Why do human beings so uniformly hold some religious beliefs?
And what happens to people who abandon the religion in which they were
Many of them become Unitarian Universalists,
perhaps because of the religious impulse
coupled with the intellectual honesty that prevents them
from embracing any of the traditional religions on Earth.
THE DESIRE TO KNOW AS ONE ROOT OF THE RELIGIOUS IMPULSE.
SOCIAL STRUCTURE AS A ROOT OF RELIGION.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE RELIGIOUS IMPULSE
WHEN THE OLD CONTENTS OF RELIGIONS ARE ABANDONED?
James Leonard Park
1. THE DESIRE TO KNOW AS
ONE ROOT OF THE RELIGIOUS IMPULSE.
All children want to know "WHY?"
When they see or hear about something around them,
they want to know what it is and why it works the way it does.
Why is the world the way we find it?
Where did human beings come from?
What will happen to us after we die?
Why should we behave one way rather than another?
Some of these questions are now what we would call
The natural sciences have attempted to answer many of the questions we
about the origin and operation of the universe.
Questions concerning how to organize our time on
have been answered in many practical ways.
These have arisen from the necessity of surviving
before we can even have enough leisure time to ask other questions.
How much of each day of a human life
has been devoted to the sheer necessities of survival?
Probably our ancestors of millions of years ago
could do little else except strive
They needed to get some food each day or they would starve to death.
They needed to find shelter from whatever climate they found around
But once they were able to obtain the necessities of
they found their minds turning to questions about deeper matters.
And some of these mysteries might be called religious questions.
2. SOCIAL STRUCTURE
AS A ROOT OF RELIGION.
Human beings have always existed in organized groups.
We were born into small family groups,
which were held together by their survival-needs.
And somewhat larger tribal groups were needed
for protection from other tribes,
which were not always friendly and helpful.
Often the social structures of tribal life had
which we might easily
classify as religious elements
when we look at them today.
Many of the major transitions of human life
mating, sickness, & death—
have been included in the practices of the developing religions.
When something important is happening in any human life,
those events are brought to the fore in religious contexts.
Even as developed a religion as Unitarian Universalism
has its ritual of joys and concerns,
where members share the major changes of their lives
and their major worries.
Sometimes the religious organizations of any
form the basic social structure:
themselves as parts of one religious group or another.
Some places on the Earth are dominated by only one religion.
And sometimes these religions are incorporated into the government.
The ultimate authority might reside in the religious leaders.
In countries built on immigration from other places
on the Earth,
often several religions exist side-by-side.
Such countries usually tolerate all forms of religious belief and
And the ethnic origins of each segment of the population
might be tied to a certain religious identity.
For example, Irish people are expected to be connected to the Roman
In fact, some of them were so identified with Irish Catholicism
that they would not attend a Roman Catholic Church that had different
Unitarian Universalism is special among the American
in that it does not have any specific ethnic base.
People of all religious backgrounds and ethnic identities
have migrated to this relatively new religion on the Earth.
3. WHAT HAPPENS TO
THE RELIGIOUS IMPULSE
WHEN THE OLD CONTENTS OF
RELIGIONS ARE ABANDONED?
Because Unitarian Universalism has no established
it has changed its content and emphases over the years.
It used to be a religion focused around God and salvation,
but such beliefs have largely faded away by the beginning of the 21st
However, we might still be dealing with the
even tho we have given up most of the religious beliefs of former
When we are asked about our religious affiliation,
we can say that we are Unitarian Universalists.
But for people who know nothing about our movement,
this provides no new information.
Sometimes social or political commitments
have become the center of our religious movement.
When this happens, practical achievements can be cataloged.
And the next political or social change becomes the focus of the
For example, abolishing slavery was a social commitment
of some earlier generations of Unitarians and
But now that slavery no longer exists in the USA,
that same social justice impulse has moved on
to other issues related to discrimination and oppression.
In part because the issues of social justice are so
much more obvious and
than typically religious or spiritual concerns,
sometimes Unitarian Universalism seems to be exclusively devoted to
But even when justice is the overt focus,
there might be some spiritual impetus behind that commitment.
We can certainly join with all others who are committed to the same
even if these others have a different religious orientation
or are completely secular in their outlook.
Many people join the Unitarian Universalist movement
because they were deeply dissatisfied with their religion of origin.
They found that they still want to have a religion of some sort
even tho they can no longer affirm most of their beliefs from
Is this the religious impulse at work?
And should Unitarian Universalism address more deeply the ultimate
May 7, 2010
; Revised 4-29-2011; 7-7-2011; 10-23-2011; 12-2-2011; 5-11-2012;
James Park has been a religious person most of his
And his beliefs continue to evolve.
His most recent book related to religion is called:
Spirituality without Gods:
Developing Our Capacities of
He has written five other books on spiritual matters,
all of which are reviewed in the Existential
which also includes other books in the same school of thought.
Here are three other cyber-sermons closely related:
THE NEXT ONE
OF SPIRITUAL PROGRESS:
The future of Unitarian Universalism
Why I Am a
Go to other
cyber-sermons by James Park,
organized into 10 subject-areas.
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