Thoughts on what (progressive) religion might be doing to matter personally – and to meet the needs of future generations and our ailing planet

Where I am coming from

To be honest, I have become disenchanted with even modern progressive religion, including Unitarian Universlism. I hope the following provides some constructive perspective. These are my honest thoughts on the needed role of religion considering the state of my mind and of the planet. They might be considered radical or revolutionary. They might also be considered essential. Perhaps all three (my view). This is a shot at what it would take for religion to be a meaningful part of my life.

I believe religion should play a major part to improve (or perhaps salvage) the world for future generations for all life forms. I am an atheist/humanist. Atheist says I do not believe in a supreme being. Humanist says that I do believe that if we are to improve the world, it will be done by us humans and only by us humans. I believe that improving the world takes questioning, reason, a long term perspective, people and work -- not faith, dogma, short term remedy, god or prayer. This doesn’t mean that hope and optimism don’t have a place – but it does mean, I feel, that it is rational thought and discussion followed by action that includes external focus to strategic matters that can make a difference. And, I also feel, that doing this will promote honest peace-of-mind rather than just a feel good high.

How I see the problem

I believe that most religion is more about making people feel good than about really doing good in a meaningful way—especially in doing things that will strategically make a difference. Stopping poverty rather than just giving food; improving our institutions to set the stage to meaningful change rather than only cleaning up a river or installing solar panels. Working not just for healthy food or clean water, but for true sustainability. In other words, understanding the difference between cause and symptom and between tactical and strategic – and teaching our youth that same perspective.

I believe most religious organizations spend way too much time looking back and way too little time looking forward. There are so many other, often contemporary, people who have significant words of wisdom besides those biblical people that lived 2000 years ago. And, what these people have to say adds ideas, discussion and often action that is much more relevant to our modern world and its challenges – as well as to our personal yearnings. One can read the Bible and ask what a passage means to modern life. But what is missing related to modern life leaves quite a chasm.

The term “truth” scares me, except perhaps in a scientific context. Truth is individual and always changing; I think the word is diversionary because it feels static and we need flexible dynamic action to change the world. Truth also feels related to “god’s judgments” rather than related to the shades of gray of the real world. I think I’d like to see the term eliminated in religious teachings.

The term “god” also concerns me. We, individually, have a spirit that drives us and perhaps even defines us. For many reasons, I don’t like the term god. I think it often promotes or masks easy answers to hard questions, poor thinking and inaction. I have a similar issue with the term faith; hope implies working, faith can imply waiting around (for a miracle?).

Often, we like to make everyone feel good by making the service feel familiar to their early experience. While that may help to attract some members, I believe it has failed in improving the world. Yes, we should continue to enhance individual and community value, but there is much more. Today, religion needs to work externally rather than just internally; religion that leads looks forward rather than back and challenges people to do so, in ways that are strategic and meaningful. Conservative religion has gone external – we need to stop them or, perhaps, fight fire with fire (but no brimstone) and support a truly improved world.

Oceans, lakes and species are dying; water and energy are become scarce while cars, trash, and sludge are becoming commodities; our food is doctored in order to produce enough to feed way too many of us grown on always less land; our climate is becoming less accommodating. I find that when one looks at the state of the world and what is needed to go forward in a way that will make the needed difference for future generations, progressive religion has failed (as has conservative religion). Is saving the Earth for future generations a meaningful concern for a progressive religion? Are we doing much of that – strategically? After that, what else is there? Might really doing that be the ultimate definition of morality?

Points that I just feel in my gut

1.       Too much Jesus, god, supernatural; I think believing in oneself is what is so important.

2.       Too much looking back, not enough looking forward, to the future, to improving the future

3.       Too much giving seeds or food, not enough working to eliminate poverty and improve conditions

4.       Too much just not buying plastic or changing light bulbs, not enough asking what we can do to help our community, country and planet attain true sustainability.

5.       Too much feel good, not enough really doing good

6.       Too much short term, tactical stuff, not enough long term, strategic thinking and work

7.       Too much internal focus, not enough external activity that can really matter

8.       Truth, searching for truth. Sounds very scary to me outside of a science context – is there really truth or just understanding of the trade-offs, shades of gray and diversity of opinion.

9.       Too much religion, not enough action that can really matter.

10.   Too much emphasis on Jesus, not enough on the many great thinkers – especially those who have wisdom in looking forward to contemporary issues and the future.

11.   Too much emphasis on the Bible, not enough on the many great writings – especially those that have wisdom in looking forward and to contemporary issues and the future.

12.   Science and rational thinking with modern and forward looking perspective is very important. 

13.   Too much providing a common denominator to make all feel good with respect to their past; not enough action to provide for a hopeful future.

14.   We talk so much of peace. Forces for peace must be worked for. Lack of sustainability, population growth and density are all conditions that cause war, often over diverse cultures or scarce resources.

15.   I believe two overarching issues: eternal growth and lack of democracy are major causes of all our problems. Working on overarching issues is working on prevention.

The Opportunity

I realize it is easy and natural, as a progressive religion, to say we are doing much of that – and at a certain level, we are. I think what we are now doing is too little, too tactical, too inward focused and too marginal to much matter. I believe that looking at where the state of humanity, civilization and the planet is now versus 25 years ago illustrates that we need to change our thinking and actions, beyond “safe”, to be seen by history as relevant.

Yes, adopting much of this might change our nature. It might make us much more meaningful to creating a just future. It might also make us a unique attraction and model for the region. It might make us feel better about ourselves. Well, at least I think it would work for me.

The future is not so much to be predicted as to be selected - Donella Meadows (1941-2001, author of Limits to Growth and Beyond the Limits)

Books, authors and writings that may be of value in dealing with current and future issues (as well as traditional issues) (draft list)

Perhaps such writings should be given to religious school students instead of (or in addition to) Bibles – as works that encourage individual thought and are pertinent to modern day problems and life.

  • Charles Dickens
  • Charles Darwin
  • Anthony Shadid
  • Noam Chomsky
  • Eben Fodor
  • Rachel Carson
  • Dennis Meadows
  • Margaret Sanger
  • Isaac Asimov
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Jacques Cousteau
  • Jim Hightower
  • Bill Moyers
  • John Muir
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • David Suzuki
  • Jared Diamond
  • Daniel Quinn
  • Joseph Campbell

"More economic or population growth is not the way to a healthy planet or a healthy community."

    ~Mike

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About Mike

Mike's picture
Mike is a CAH steering committee member and has been a sustainability, climate change and population activist for over twenty-five years. He has served as a climate action coordinator, has been co-chair of the New England Coalition for Sustainable Population and chair of Zero Population Growth of Greater Boston. He has also served as a Director on the National Board of Zero Population Growth (now Population Connection). He currently serves as a Director of GrowthBusters.org. Mike may be best known for his belief that true sustainability should be a major goal of all environment organizations – and that working to obtain organizational endorsements of the CASSE position is a powerful action. He has authored a number of articles on the relationships between population growth, consumption and environment including “OverPopulation and OverConsumption: Where should we focus” published by Negative Population Growth, NPG.org.

1 Comments

Hi, Mike. Thanks for sharing your perspective. Can I ask what specific things UU congregations or AHA chapters like ours could do that would make them more effective in your view?

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