Unity/Universalizing

Sociologists have identified a common belief in a “religious convergence” during the twentieth century, which posits America as a nation of diverse religious views that nonetheless yield consensus on basic values — what researchers have termed the “common creed.”  Under this theory, people express hostility toward atheists because they disrupt this emerging narrative. (Leong, “Negative Identity,” 1379; bolding mine)

I really love this quote.  I want to eat it and digest it over and over.

I’ve been having some really interesting conversations with friends about unity vs diversity, generalizations vs connectedness…

One friend has a very cool belief system regarding symbiotic unity, in which pieces retain individual identity and diversity, yet all form a part of a whole, and benefit each other.  This is a beautiful vision of unity.

Yet in so many of the books I’ve been reading (especially Finding Your Religion), there is this…prescriptive unity, this “we are all the same!” and “we all connect to the same Truth, just in different ways!” which is very, very…alienating to me.

It feels reductive, and simplistic, and insulting to me to say that no matter what, no matter how I feel or interpret or relate to my experiences, they will always lead me to the same Entity, which is differently called God or Science or Nature or Truth or the Universe or the Ultimate Reality or the Way or some other [definite article Capitalized Transcendent Sacred].

As if no matter what I do, no matter how I deconstruct and reconstruct and shift perspective and am critical of any Platonic Essence or Universal Truth — no matter what, anything in which I find meaning, is merely another facet of Your God.

As if I will always and forever be tied to this inescapable association, even if my most basic premise is “NOT that.”  As if I can never actually reject all of Christianity, specifically, because it is too damn big and I’m only allowed to reject the pieces that hurt me directly, but that’s a fundamental misapplication and mistranslation and Not the REAL Christianity / Understanding of God.

ffjfgnjfsdkbg.  I seriously need some distance from Christianity, and it is extremely hard to find (at least, in the UU and atheist and New Age books I’ve been reading).  And I’m not sure if that bleedover is what’s affecting my sense of “holy shit, why is everything about The Way and how This Solves Everything and how Universally Relevant it is and how every other thing is Actually The Same” (here I think about what I’ve read of Taoism and Buddhism — maybe Confucianism too).

My, like, actual philosophy, is so centered around Not Assuming Experience and around Infinite Diversity, and around deconstructing “same”ness as a reason for Worth (and instead calling on innate worth even and especially in difference)…that I just.  Am having a really hard time hearing about Unity.

And it’s weird, because I’ve very much had experiences that I would describe as connecting to The Universe and to The Timeline.  …except now that language feels kinda tainted.  (And also the way I conceptualize this is changing…multiverses, and deconstructing Alpha timelines versus how they can be simply different, etc.)

In some ways it’s like “prayer.”  The word is too fraught with connotations I don’t want; I really doubt I could ever reclaim it for my purposes, and I don’t really want to.  It still, however, is closer than any other single word somehow, in capturing something about focusing willpower and sending wishes out into existence and letting them go, and hoping they bring goodness.  It’s a kind of magic, but not a spell (not that I really do spells actually), a kind of energy work maybe, but…I dunno. Damn.  I don’t mean to simplify prayer, or magic, I just.  Liminal things, in different frameworks.

I guess I’m just so so wary of how Unity gets wielded in a universalizing, homogenizing way and becomes this Default that assimilates without being change.  And that quote up there, about how atheists (and secularists and nonbelievers) are a sticky thorn to the we-all-really-believe-the-same-thing narrative, means a lot to me in that context.  Like, not in a moral, we-agree-killing-is-bad way, but in a…a, Believing in Ultimately the Same thing, isn’t necessary or an important goal, and is kind of a messed up priority.

Iiiii feel like I’m talking in circles now.  It’s hard for me to get at what I mean here.  And I see “atheist” being too easily twisted into “Sciencist” and being appropriated into the narrative of ultimate-truth(-and-its-facets).  Which is why “secularist” is becoming important to me.  And “nonbeliever,” too.

I don’t think this is a pedantic semantics thing.  It feels meaningful and important and significant.

(Also…unity/universalizing and “we are all human” and.  Heh.  Being nonhuman.  And just generally being outside of “we all” statements, to some extent intentionally.  But also things like “we all have inherent worth and dignity” are good!  But not “we all experience X” because when is that ever 100% true, actually — not for various definitions of attraction, love, “empathy,” probably even things like happiness.)

waves hands inarticulately.  D E C O N S T R U C T I O N

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7 thoughts on “Unity/Universalizing

  1. queenieofaces says:

    Heh, I was just talking to my kouhai the other day about generalized statements about religion and how they’re really, really annoying. He was raised in a Japanese NRM and is currently in a program that’s supposed to be interfaith but is actually Christianity with Islam and Tibetan Buddhism thrown in occasionally for diversity, which he’s finding understandably frustrating, given that many of the assumptions people enter the conversation with just…don’t apply.

    You might do better looking not at stuff in religious studies but instead at area studies? Area studies can be frustratingly narrow at times, but at least it tends not to wildly generalize experiences in the same way (Christian) religious studies can.

    Liked by 1 person

    • True true true. I went in looking for ex-fundamentalist perspectives, breaking down hurt from dogma — and I found one really good autobio by an ex-Jehovah’s Witness, but every single other thing has been Pretty Awful, including stuff about “the Nones”/non-believers. Christian lensessss *shakes fist* Yeah, hopefully area studies is actually about difference and Learning, not interpreting and Revealing.

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  2. Hm. I… It’s odd, I’ve usually seen the “all religions are basically the same” thing in a very different context. I hate it regardless, absolutely, even when it’s in that smileyface way that you talk about here, but my encounters with it have more often been in the form of… angry atheist makes generalization about “religious people” in order to solidify us into a monolith for easy attack, because apparently the differences and variation between us doesn’t matter as much as the fact that we’re all “religious,” whatever that means. So basically just a difference of “religious folk are all the same… and that’s great!” vs. “religious folk are all the same… and I hate them.” In any case it involves acting like similarity matters more than difference and that’s OBNOXIOUS.

    Anyway, my first reaction to the quote at the top was… do they, though? Are atheists less likely to share those “basic values,” whatever they are, than various theists? I would assume that could only be the case if that “basic value” were just theism, but maybe I need more context.

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  3. well, the christian right seems to think so. you know, “godless heathens,” “where do they get their morals,” the spectre of Utter Moral Relativity. i remember being taught atheists were the Worst and horribly Unsafe and liars who manipulate false science and cannot be talked with. so,

    as for Leong’s premise, i think it also works in the sense of “common creed” including “religion(/spirituality) is important” and “there is a divine aspect to life”

    and while things further than that become exclusionary of other religions it doesn’t stop the christian right at least from focusing the Fight Against Atheists around creation/afterlife(/morality). i think mainstream atheism is more visibly (aaaaantagonistically) no-creation no-afterlife, whereas it’s not emphasized (or addressed?) in other, also-less-US-mainstream-visible religions.

    like, my understanding is the christian right sees other religions as mistaken, but atheists as Agents Of Satan who are practically not worth saving. (islamaphobia complicates this to be sure…)

    so idk; it rang true for me, at least as a yeah, Perception of atheism’s compatibility with religion

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    • Man I keep forgetting that your background is not just different from mine but Really different from mine. I’m used to everyone around me viewing Fundamentalist Christians as like… a weird fringe group, rather than culturally central. Like, idk, PETA, or something.

      Hm. Okay. I just wasn’t sure what those “basic values” were and whether non-Christian religions would share them either.

      I wooouuuuld say there’s something to the idea that American nationalism is heavily intertwined with a certain take on God & associates atheism with being unpatriotic/threatening, but that’s definitely a belief set that’s not interested in “positing America as a nation of diverse religious views.”

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