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by Alan G. Hefner
Universism is a philosophy of The Universist Movement. Universism, though not a definitive philosophy, is a progressive, naturalistic worldview in which all meaning and purpose is understood through personal reason and experience; thus, being a religion of reason. This allows the Universist (pronounced universe-ist) to be an Atheist, Agnostic, Deist, Pantheist, Transcendentalist, or anyone holding similar beliefs. Universism may further be defined as a philosophy of the universe; a metaphysical philosophy, yet propose the possibility that there may be nothing metaphysical. Further exploration will show such uncertainty lies at the heart of Universism.
On March 6, 2005 United Universists changed its name to The Universist Movement due to rising cultural awareness that was resulting in inappropriate name confusion with the Unitarian Universalist Church.
Universism may be thought of as a new religious philosophy originating from the Deus Project founded in 1999. This new religious philosophy was conceived by examining the perspectives that unite most people when applying reason to metaphysical questions; the end result was Universism which gained importance after September 11, 2001. The Deus Project won the support of the thousands of people who contacted it and in 2002 gained the support of two scientific luminaries Steven Pinker and Edward O. Wilson. In 2003 the Project closed and changed it name to The Universist Movement, with the purpose of promoting Universism.
Universism evolved from the conclusion of the Deus Project. The purpose of the Project was to address Deism with the mission of making it the "religion of the future." The consensus was that something was wrong with Deism, whatever it was had to be fixed in order to make a satisfying replacement for faith. The conclusion of this effort was uncertainty, the opposite of faith, was the necessary antidote. It was felt that uncertainty needed to be embraced and celebrated as it contributes to daily living and human progress as a whole.
Through a process of embracing and celebration of uncertainty emerged a religious philosophy called Universism; in essence, this philosophy can be thought of as a rational religion, employing the term religion from the Latin religare, which means "to bind." This rational religion, however, is faithless and differs from other religions in that the members of The Universist Movement are not bound to one or more metaphysical truths, but are bound by the commitment to their ongoing search, as described in their five principles.
Although Universists hold no set metaphysical beliefs they believe in freedom of religion and respect the rights of others to hold such beliefs and to be members of such faith-based religions as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and others. However, Universism is very subjective in nature because its adherents hold diverse views, which makes it very open-minded toward religious matters. Therefore Universists respect religious tolerance, per se, but are concerned with the destructive effect that religious intolerant language and action, such as discrimination, hatred, ignorance, and violence, as exhibited by some adherents of faith-based religions have on this nation and planet. Universists acknowledge that many people believe that a personal faith is required of them and others for salvation. Also, acknowledged and believed by Universists is the concept that the promotion of personal faith is socially dangerous. Such danger is readily seen in the past by the impact of faith systems on almost every life through the detrimental alterations in the course of history and the changing of social mores. Universists do not value, respect or honor any faith except for the individual's right to hold it. The goal of Universists is to end the power of faith in the Twenty-First century. Religious views, faithful or faithless, should be a matter of personal selection without societal and community imposition to sustain social justice and species survival.
According to Universism this survival depends on the turning away from faith, a deliberate choice. This concept is produced from the work of evolutionary scientists Edward O. Wilson and Steven Pinker who write about the biology of belief, which resembles religion (aka faith) in some ways, but fails to give the human species a choice en masse; and, also, from the material produced by neuroscientists and neurologists concerning the variety of ways in which the brain can encourage and enforce the misconception of reality. Universism contends that faith promotes the continuation of such misconceptions; people of faith do not choose but often follow blindly. It is possible that significant changes in behavior could occur if it was not for the dictates of long-established religious faith. Steadfastness in faith (a belief) dulls if not destroys curiosity; the faithful fearing to view the world, or anything, except within the prescribed, authoritarian way develops a tunnel-vision worldview; those holding such a view lack understanding and compassion for new and different ideas and for those seeking them. This type of view causes rapid stagnation because status-quo of almost everything is the principle goal. Whereas the seeker of new information, the questioner, is amicable toward his fellow seekers, ideas are explored and exchanged, new technology and scientific discoveries are rapidly explored, not disregarded because some high authority declares them immoral. This is a choice of remaining in the bounds of certainty or venturing into the unknown.
Universists may be described seekers of the unknown. It is their sense that they are part of something bigger than what is already known that causes them to forsake the certain for the uncertain. This uncertainty, the challenge of the unknown--the continual questioning, is the heart of Universism making its adherents eagerly form grassroots networks and groups to facilitate questioning and exploration of members' thoughts and experiences. Through such cooperative and explorative efforts the Universists seek to provide a sense of hope for the future. Universism affirms the incredible power of every individual, free him from blind faith, rigid dogma, and the irrational belief that supernatural powers interfere in the world. Thus the Universists are free to work for a better day for themselves and humanity.
This valuing of the incredible power within each individual forms the basis of the Universists' ethics. Although individual morality is considered to be relative, it certainly affects ethical behavior; ethics constituting such behavior are derived from reason and not from supernatural revelation or church dogma. Humans are believed to be innately noble and do not have to suffer the indignity of supernatural coercion and threats of eternal damnation to behave "morally." However, the development of personal ethics is tricky because, for good or bad, it can become culturally and personally subjective. From a societal standpoint, many Universists believe the basics of John Stuart Mill's "Harm Principle" provide an ample reason-based ethical framework:
"...the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right...The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign." --John Stuart Mills
To value the human being for his noble nature is a major reason why Universists do not believe or participate in any religion or philosophy based on faith and dogma such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and many others including Baha'i Faith and Unification Church of Scientology. The main reason for the aversion toward these faith-based religions is their demeaning of humankind. Again, the Universist philosophy regards humans through the use of reason capable of exerting correct behavior. It is thought that through reason and searching, and not by the commands of some mythological deity written in stone, that humans come to display ethical behavior. Humans acquire behavior; it's within them; they do not need to look to an imaginary figure or stone tablets to know what to do. They learn from experience. If a person does not want others to takes what he has then he will reasonably conclude that it is best not to take what others have; this person needs no commandment, "Thou shall not steal," the commandment, if you will, has became part of this person's nature. Likewise, through reason and experience, those feeling the compassion of others will be compassionate not because they are commanded "to love thy neighbor," but because it is a good experience to care for humanity.
The Universists exhibit internal-motivated behavior, and not external. This is the core of The Universist Movement. The Movement is built on a sociological concept which states there can be no freedom without structure. The Universists express this as personal freedom requires mutual respect for the freedom of everyone. The concept that freedom requires structure may seem contradictory, but it is not. Think of it this way, referring to the old saying, a man's home is his/her castle, which is true as long as that person has control, the ability to do as he pleases, in the home. However, if someone, say a thief, enters the home knocks the occupant out or ties him up then it is no long his castle during the time the thief has control. The man has freedom as long as he has control of the structured setting, the home, but once he loses control his freedom is gone. The home was just mentioned as an example of a structured setting; it can be anything. Imagine a four-way intersection where there are no traffic lights of signs and the rule of right-of way that the car on the right goes first is not obeyed; you have a great setting for a demolition derby. Simply stated, if an Universist wants to be truly free then he must desire freedom for all people; his motto is to harm no one and do what he wants.
The desire for freedom for everyone is one of the two generally applied statements which Universism makes lending itself to the statement that an overall morality doesn't exist. Only relative morality exits for Universists, that is, the behavior which feels appropriate to the individual, but such behavior cannot be deemed for another individual; that is the choice for the other person to make. This is true if the Universist recognizes the rights of each individual; the Universist may think people should act a certain way, but still recognizes his thoughts are not moral authority.
This leads to Universists taking a relative stand, decided on case basis, on various issues. The question of slavery may be given as an example. First, the wrongness of slavery is that it forces one individual's will upon another, thus depriving him of his ability to search for his personal answers. This also applies to persons murdering and injuring each other; there is a violation of another's rights. Universism, however, maintains that each case must be decided on its own basis as there is no transcendent right or wrong. This does not mean that Universism infers the abandonment of societal and legal laws; but what is inferred is that such laws, as a whole, do not automatically apply justly in every case, and should be separately applied. In the view of Universism the legal system, judges and juries, are only useful when a crime has been determined to have been committed by one person against another to determine a corrective action, but they have no duty to determine the ultimate, cosmic rightness or wrongness of the action; that is the responsibility of the persons affected.
Universism judges governmental institutions by their "usefulness," that is, to the degree to which they facilitate eudaimonia, Greek term for flourishing; the term is used instead of "good" because Universism does not recognize the existence of good; therefore, to say the institutions were good when increasing in magnitude as the help more people to achieve eudaimonia would be the same as saying the institutions could reach could reach some ideal plane of existence, which would be nonsense because the institutions are just tools by which people eudaimonia. Since Universism is a more personal, religious philosophy it espouses no specific political philosophy, although most adherents tend to lean toward liberalism and libertinism. This is mainly because of their free and subjective thinking. If there is a political philosophy at all, it seems to be a mixture of the two, a libertine might advocate pure capitalism, people do better left on their own, while a liberal would advocate more of a social welfare form of government; the desired result would be a government that helps people to flourish.
Again, this is why Universists do not favor or agree with faith-based, dogmatic religions or institutions. People coming in contact with them, including their adherents, simply are not completely free; the organizational dogmatic rule is imposed on the people by the nature of the organizations; people could be thought of as slaves to religion. This is the reason for separation of church and state in the United States. Religions of faith seek to control people. This is why Universists are for religious symbols being kept out of and remove from government building; they are not against the symbols themselves but the religious domination which they represent.
To say that Universists are against faith-based religions is not to say Universists do not hold personal religious views. Persons attracted to other philosophies such as Deism, Atheism, Agnosticism, Humanism, Transcendentalism, Scientific Materialism, Pantheism, and many others are also attracted to Universism and welcomed as well. They may identify themselves just as Universists, or as a Deist Universist, or whatever designation they choose. However, once becoming a Universist the person consciously makes a decision to constantly continue to question his decisions and choices. This is so because this constant questioning, using reason as in the scientific method along with experience to examine reality, the constant exploring of uncertainty, is the central activity of Universism. Specifically to the Deist Universist this means asking himself why he is a deist, or the agnostic, why he is an agnostic. Statements such as there is a God or there is no God, which the deist or the agnostic would make, are unacceptable in Universism because they are declarations of a belief, a statement believed to be true but which cannot be supported by fact; also such statements indicate a belief or non-belief in a spirit which cannot be substantiated by reason. However, if the deist or agnostic states that he feels that there is a God, or that there is no God, such statement is different from the first. The difference is that the first statement attempts to proclaim a truth not supported by reason while the second statement declares a feeling or emotion which does not necessitate a reason; although because of his continuing path of uncertainty the Universist would certainly try to discover the reason or reasons for his feeling.
Other examples are if the Universist was a Pantheist with Gnostic leanings. The Universist would then question his feelings toward Pantheism and Gnosticism. He would certainly have to admit his attachment for the Goddess and other mythological deities was purely emotional since these deities are spiritual whose existence cannot be proven by reason. Similar circumstances can be ascribed to Gnosticism, except there is one similarity between Universism and Gnosticism; both urge their adherent to question or search. However, in Gnosticism the search is believed to end; adherents believe Jesus told them to search until they find, and then search no more. An Universist, therefore, would most likely surrender his Gnostic leanings because his belief in Jesus could not be reasonably substantiated, and he could never stop his search with anything found, such an abortion of the search would indicate the object found was the true goal, not likely proven by reason, so the search would have to continue.
This constant questioning uncertainty does principally two things for the Universist: it clarifies his own thinking by helping him know through reason whether he is dealing with facts, things known through reasoning and experience, or emotions; and how to interpret the statements of others. With this in mind, free will can be discussed, rather do Universists believe in free will? Universism takes no position on whether the individual has free will or not. Through reason it is determined that the universe is made up of energy and matter forming reality; some Universists believe a spiritual element is involved too; and in this reality are multiple of variables which the individual freely interacts with. In this sense the term free will becomes meaningless, for it is practically impossible to determine how and why each reaction occurs. Therefore the only restraint on individual reaction is the laws of nature. And, to question the existence of free will is to postulate the existence of a spirit which Universism does not do. Thus the belief that a mythological deity gave each human being is categorically denied.
It has been asked if Universist is postmodernist. It is postmodernist as far as religion is concerned; but not as related to the natural world. Universalism is a relative reality, and science is the tool for which it is deciphered. Metaphysics play no part in this deciphering, as science cannot decipher them, only personal reason, intuition, experiences, and perceived environment are perceived as valid sources composing personal religious views, and considered more valid than claims from revealed sources. Modernism has come and gone, and in the academic community postmodernism has come and gone as well. We have learned from both movements. Universism attempts to take what is best from both and apply it to religion. There is the modernist passion for the search, the eternal optimism, and yet there is a recognition of uncertainty and a desire to appreciate that as part of the human experience, as a motivation, and as a force for good in promoting respect among all fellow seekers.
The habitual questioning uncertainty is destined to lead the Universist to the culmination of life, death. Universism says that what occurs after death, an afterlife, cannot be known; it cannot be discovered through science or be known by reason. To proclaim there is an afterlife is just as unacceptable and declaring that there is no afterlife; both statements are based on unproven beliefs. The only certainty in respect to the collective fear of death is that we all must wait and see. But, perhaps the fear will be more therapeutic than cognitive dissonance and motivate us to improve earthly life in unanticipated ways.
Previously in this article it was mentioned that through Universism is possible that significant changes in behavior could occur. At present this author can readily think of a few. One is the present societal and religious debate over stem cell research. Without going into details, which this author confesses that he is unfamiliar with, the reason for the religious objection to such research is the stem cell which can produce life is destroyed. This objection does not consider the fact that if the stem cell, obtained through an abortion, is not used in the regular birth process dies anyway. Therefore, in this argument only the destruction of the stem cell, the killing of possible life, is considered, and there is complete disregard for societal benefits, curing of certain diseases and physically handicaps, which could be derived from the research. The religious objection as this author sees it is base on the commandment "Thou shall not kill." In this sense, all life, even the potential for life regardless of whether it will eventually be destroyed, is sacred, a belief not based on reason or scientific evidence, and shall not be destroyed. It is not known whether this argument will be solved or not, but what is known, as this author recently heard, is that through research it has been determine that in the future the stem cell will not have to be destroyed. The main point is that if society had stopped all stem cell research on the authority of dogmatic, religious leaders the research would never have proceeded as far as it has, this new result would have never been discovered, and society would have been robbed of enumerable future benefits. The author does not know the stand of Universism on stem cell research but he surmises it would be similarly stated since Universism pledges to provide a global clue to help humanity find better ways of living together, something that no institutionalized religious organization has ever done.
Speaking from a personal point of view this author sees the advantage of Universism in the study of psychic phenomena, particularly clairaudiovoyance and clairvoyance. People experiencing such phenomena are often said to be psychic gifted with the inference that the gift is spiritual in nature. The author has experienced several clairaudiovoyance incidents and has corresponded with people having one or both phenomenon, mostly clairvoyance. In many of these incidences there was a feeling of spiritual influence such as saying the ability eemed to have came from out there, or there's something out there. When using Universism, one knows that the person experiencing the psychic phenomenon recognizes it, especially if he experiences it several times or repeatedly; he also recognizes the sensation surrounding it; these recognitions can be described as valid experiences. However, the belief that the cause of such phenomenon is spiritual or came out there cannot be explained be either reason or science. The belief, becoming invalid, is unacceptable. This does not mean that the sensation that there is a cause for the phenomenon is invalid, but believing it has some mystical origin is invalid since this cannot be proven.
Several years ago this author related some of his clairaudiovoyance experiences to a friend who commented perhaps the author has unconsciously trained his mind to receive them. At the time, still holding the spiritual cause theory, the author did not put much significance in his friend's comments. However, after reading the views of Universism the comments assume more importance. Perhaps the friend was right or perhaps the answer to the cause of such phenomena lies elsewhere. For instance it is known that some aborigines could foretell a change in the weather by feeling the rise or fall of barometric pressure against their skin; with the wearing of clothes man lost this ability. The similarity is could all the revelation doctrine which has been forced upon man made him lose some or most of his psychic ability. This uncertainty shifts the inference; man's psychic ability does not come from somewhere out there, but may lie dominant and forgotten within man. The prospect of invigorating these abilities again would possibly change, if not enhance, our lifestyles.
Perhaps these tentative uses of Universism seem strange, but they seem to indicate a possible new and positive perspective of the world; a world progressing through reason and science instead of deteriorating from faith and rhetoric; a land of plenty where many will flourish. The apparent aim of Universism is to form a global society of freethinkers, respecting the individual opinions of each other, but safeguarding them as well from faith-base religions and institutions. The world is to be hallowed through reason, science and individual experience.
During its short existence The Universist Movement has grown to over 8.000 members; people seeking the goal which the Movement provides. More members are sought and welcomed. New members may sign up at Universist.org/signup.htm. The philosophy of Universism was written by Ford Vox, Founder. Offices of The Universist Movement include Director and President, Todd Strickler, Secretary and Treasurer, E. Frank Smith, and Assistant Director John Armstrong. Among the websites operated by The Universist Movement are the Universist Global Meeting, and the Faithless Community. It also nswers and generates media inquiries, engages faith-based organizations in the culture debate, and communicates with the individuals who make up the Universist Movement, offering them advice, information and inspiration to succeed.
This author wishes to thank The Universist Movement for the opportunity to write this article and to thank them for allowing the use of the Frequently Asked Questions for the article's basis.