So what's the deal with atheists and the UUA ad campaign

There’s some talk among Unitarian Universalist Christians if the current UUA ad slogan — Is God Keeping You From Going to Church? — caters to atheists. I don’t see that; I just think it isn’t particularly effective. But I knew I was coming from a particular minority opinion and as an insider.

So I asked someone I know and respect — pretty savvy about organizing and media — about her thoughts of the new UUA ad campaign. She’s quite unlike me: a non-Unitarian Universalist, a non-theist, non-white, a non-Southerner and in her mid-twenties: much closer to being an ideal recruit than I. So an ideal person to test the ad on. She thought it was awful. Her reply: “When is this from? 1982?” When I asked if I could blog that, she offered her own assessment of the campaign print ad and slogan, which I present unedited. Read it all the way to the end.

I was born the second child of a Methodist Minister. I don’t want to say that my family is one that just happened to have a minister in it actually its down right genetic. My older brother when he completes seminary this winter will be fourth generation minister. For those of you who think this is some duty to legacy it is not. My father begged my brother to be a businessman or a scientist or anything that makes more than minimum wage but no my brother was called by God so he continues the “tradition”. On top of that I have two uncles that are ministers and three cousins who are studying to be ministers. My heritage is Indian and you have to go back quite a bit to find a complete Hindu set.

Under that premise I would be the first atheist to ever be born to this pious clan. Genetic mutation would be the only logical explanation so it might just be a bad batch of genes that caused this horrible atrocity and maybe too much TV that caused me to be so vocal about it. I went to church every weekend, plus holidays, church events, and anytime I was needed from babysitting to piano playing. I can’t say I had a bad time at church the people were warm and the community was strong. I never had a bad experience at church that would cause me to quit God.

When I saw the ad asking if “God was the reason I don’t go to church” I thought it was odd. When you’re an atheist God really doesn’t have anything to do with your actions because God does not exist. I can’t speak for all atheists just for myself. There are many reasons to turn away from deity worship some negative some positive. For me the reason I stopped going was simply because it wasn’t working. I was not becoming a better person by sitting in a pew for an hour, I wasn’t comforted by reading passages of the Bible, and most of all being in “God’s” presence didn’t inspire me to do good. It was a weight of expectation I couldn’t deal with it caused rebellion for no purpose.

After reading Richard Dawkins’ books for school assignments the idea of evolution clicked in my head in a way “I am the way and the Light” never could; giving up a deity and the idea of a “larger purpose in life “was freeing. I was a blank slate now and able to create my own philosophy and find out who I was and what I believed. During this journey of self discovery God never showed up.

I still go to church when I’m home for holidays. Church is a tradition and I’m happy to oblige. I enjoy seeing the community and to be with my family in a place that makes them the happiest. I have spent a lot of time in churches. My father has been a leader of many in my time has a dependent. I can say with no doubt in my mind that God is rarely the reason people go to church. People go to church to be around others in a safe place where they don’t have to defend themselves, argue, and be hostile. People go for community and for sharing and to find someone to care about and to care for them. They go because humans are social beasts that need others to be strong. What the ad should have asked is “Do you not go to church because of church?”

If they asked that question I would be there first thing Sunday morning.

The comments, as usual, are open.

14 Replies to “So what's the deal with atheists and the UUA ad campaign”

  1. I didn’t pick up the atheist connection. Maybe I should view again.

    I thought the slogan Is God Keeping You From Going to Church? targeted folks burdened with an authoritarian God that made them feel blocked from Church and would instead find a more liberating God (or a lite one e.g. just as spiritually fufilling with half the commandments).

    I think the obstacle to Church for most people these days is nice weather. There are plenty of alternatives for spending your time on Sunday instead of going to Church. I don’t think the outreach effective in that sense.

    I think UU Churches offer something; and we ask for something. It shouldn’t be easy to be a UU. We ask a commitment, and return return a sense of community and support as one seeks Truth & Goodness.

    Whether that’s 1982ish I don’t know.

  2. I find so interesting that a common American response to “why people go to church” is, as this woman says, “to be around others”, which in UU jargon translates as “community”. That is why I increasingly see that Americans and Europeans live in different worlds, even when we believe that we say that we are a part of a common culture that Hutchinson calls “the West”. There is no such thing, at least religiously (and probably in other areas as well). Europeans rarely go to church to be with other people. Actually people usually to sit in isolation or in small family groups, as far from others as they physically can. The call to “give peace to your neighbour” usually means to quickly shake hands with the guy or lady next to you while you mumble something and avoid eye contact, just in case you find out that there is a real person next to you. Here those few who still go to church do it out of habit, to have some quiet time (so the more impossible to understand the homily is because of bad loudspeakers and echo, the better), and a few, because they actually believe in something that you may call God, universal energy, or “there must be something somewhere”. Community is not included in the religious lot. And if you don’t think that God exists, then definitely you do not waste your time going to church.

  3. I can say with no doubt in my mind that God is rarely the reason people go to church. People go to church to be around others in a safe place where they don’t have to defend themselves, argue, and be hostile. People go for community and for sharing and to find someone to care about and to care for them. They go because humans are social beasts that need others to be strong.

    I think there is a lot of truth in that. I’ve noticed that for a lot of people, church is a kind of social activity as much as anything else. Even in mainline Christian churches, not everyone who attends is necessarily on the same theological page. People might not buy all the dogmas they are taught, but they go to church for various reasons anyway.

    When the ad says that “maybe you’re uncomfortable with the idea of God”, that wouldn’t appeal to atheists since they aren’t just “uncomfortable” with the idea–they reject the idea out of hand.

  4. I’m pretty much an atheist, and I go to church for various reasons … community, friends, sense of continuity, classes, learning. The more I think about it, the more I think the ad should have played up the strength of UUism – its eclecticism and opportunity for experimentation.

  5. I cant recall if we have one or two ads out there –
    – if this is the ad I’m thinking of, this would explain the complaints I have seen from UU atheists that the ad was too theist oriented. (and my bewilderment at their complaint)

  6. I agree with your friend Scott. What statistics are out there tend to agree with us too. I’ve written about this at my blog.

    One of St. Paul’s admonishments is to not forsake the assembly. There is a reason for this; while many things about any religion can be done in private, one gains so much more when in communion with others.

    The UUA’s campaign would have been so much better if it had talked about the alienation many feel in this society that is in technological overdrive and offered a really simple alternative. But alas, that’s asking too much.

  7. I like it.

    A characteristic of an effective slogan is its ability to evoke multiple interpretations that may lead to the same desired outcome. In this case, the desired outcome is to attract interest in Unitarian Universalism.

    Bill Baar’s interpretation may do that for people who want a church community but who are repelled by the idea of an authoritarian God. Or any God.

    “Is God Keeping You From Going to Church?” may also appeal to theists who find church creeds and dogmas incomplete and limiting to their understanding of God’s full nature.

  8. Jaume,

    It’s why UUism is a most American sort of Relgion; as old Europe noted of us long ago,

    Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite. Not only do they have commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but they also have a thousand other kinds: religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small; Americans use associations to give fêtes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools. Finally, if it is a question of bringing to light a truth or developing a sentiment with the support of a great example, they associate. Everywhere that, at the head of a new undertaking, you see the government in France and a great lord in England, count on it that you will perceive an association in the United States.

  9. Bill, this is because you live far apart from each other. Therefore you look for places to find the friendship that we Europeans find in our streets and neighbourhoods, in our bars and sport clubs and cultural societies. You have to go to churches. It’s the difference between a suburban vs. urban culture.

  10. We were talking about this ad last night at a Circle Supper. My folks were definitely unimpressed. I love your friend’s comment that maybe the ad copy should have said, “Is church keeping you from going to church.”

    I agree wholeheartedly that the ad is very 1982. In fact, I think that’s the exact year I guessed myself!

  11. This ad campaign is vague and may spark some curiosity but I doubt quite seriously that it will swell the UU ranks. Only time will tell I guess.

    The Unitarian tradition-and a Unitarian tradition does indeed exist-has something useful to say about gathering together in spiritual communion:

    “To foster a noble religion in solitude is almost an impossibility. Men [sic] attain a deeper consciousness of God through associating with one another in their best moments.”

    Alfred Hall, “Public Worship,” The Beliefs of a Unitarian (1932)

    Hall was English, for what it’s worth, for those of you discussing the (in my opinion somewhat exaggerated) differences between North American life and European life. Personally I have never gone to church or any other activity in order to make friends or compensate for my “isolated” existence.

  12. The most amazing thing about the comments and critiques about the ad are that they agree on the specific year, 1982.

    When the Board of the UU congregation I serve met, the week after the ad appeared, it was the consensus of the meeting that the ad was a throwback to 1982. Not 1981. Not 1983. 1982.

    The historian in me keeps asking the question, “Why specifically 1982?” What happened before and after that year that changed our religious movement? Was it the Principles and Purposes with the many Sources were approved a few years later? Was 1982 the last year that we were a movement entirely connected with American Humanism? It is strange that everyone agrees on that specific year.

  13. I don’t know if the 1982 phenomenon is about the UUA. For my commentator, it is a year or two or a few before her birth, and so 1982 might be an emblem for “back then.”

    I thought 1982, too, but from a design and advertizing copy POV. You get the same assessment for woefully out of date websites, which are always “That’s so 1996.”

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