UUA General Assembly is coming up. Some supposedly committed people with that religious label will attend because they always do. But they are committed to no congregation. They just like the grand event of important people in a major location. At first I was dazzled as well. Then I liked the always just preceding UUMA (ministers')
convocation better, and then it came down to one specific moment: the entry hymn when we all sang "Rank by rank again we stand." It can still bring me to tears, but only if it is dominated by male voices. But it's not accurate.
In terms of the facts, I left the ministry and the congregational service in 1988 after serving Saskatoon. (Paul Seesequasis would understand this. Where were you in 1988, Paul?) But more deeply, I left institutions. ALL institutions. I didn't leave people and become an anchorite.
I left all institutions, which is why I ambivalently sat in the back of the hall when the Valier town council met. I was only observing and the resulting book is slowly shaping up, but I don't attend anymore because it conflicts with Rachel Maddow's show. I watch, not because she is left-wing or lesbian, but because she is a historian. Her news is always in the context of history. So far it's the only way to make sense of what's happening.
Institutions through history have determined what happens. They almost always have a bell curve of success over time: first crucially important, next seeming like the natural order of things, then curdling, then crashing. I think we're at the curdle stage. But probably also the beginnings of the next wave are forming. (In Manhattan there are atheist congregations -- they just like being together but don't believe in God. Hopefully there are other groups that aren't shaped by Xianity, one way or another.)
Institutions are attached to history -- they are a time phenomenon. Often they are just consensus, though they may imitate the Rule of Law by creating books to certify themselves. (Even the Bible is a document created by editing pre-existing print, excluding anything that didn't suit authorities.) What we call "religion" is also very much institutional/historical -- time bound. No religion is eternal.
For me, the best substitute, meaning the deepest and least changing cluster-point for meaning, was the natural world, but it is also very much time-bound with the surface constantly changing and life-forms coming and going. There is no special care for hominins -- there is only one version left? On the other hand, a new version has always popped up -- so far. This was not because of religion.
There is a philosophical error called "misplaced concreteness," which refers to thinking of things we can perceive with our senses and the metaphors we draw from them. For instance, we think of bodies as being composed of organs, though we are willing to accept that things like blood are real components even if they aren't "objects" like a liver or bladder. The deeper reality is that bodies are created and governed by molecules and their control or production is by those organs. They are containers that are active.
"A team of researchers at IBM has produced the first Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) with a carbon monoxide tip. Using this new device, they’ve produced the first real images of a molecule." (From "Singularity University") So now molecules are "concrete", a new metaphor. Meshing atoms into active patterns of structure called "molecules" is all about relationship, process.
So I join no institution that doesn't respect my molecule of thought, though it changes constantly, which is why institutions don't like it. Institutions are about maintaining the status quo, which is why they are resisted by leaders who like where they are and why they proliferate so uselessly among the 9.9%, who persist because of institutions that resist change.
It takes time and money to go to a General Assembly, even if you live close by and just go in to sit down and listen. It's so much bigger than a congregation that you are likely to be overlooked, taken for granted, unless you try to participate. The same is probably true of scientific institutions. The determination of their nature is not by content, though they think it is.
Anyway, science is the equivalent of religion now. Science is a coherent, focused, sustained source of meaning and guides the best behavior. In fact, what is now "religion" is often just out-dated science: creation, heaven, sin, souls, all that. For UU's it is the Enlightenment that has emptied. Once we thought monogamy was ordained by "God." Now we find out that in voles it's dictated by hormones. Is that science or is it a new religion? If you're a vole. But why value faithfulness between people?
I propose that these questions/answers are located in the prefrontal lobe of the brain, behind the forehead where the morality and judgement of humans are located. (Voles have no prefrontal lobes.) But the "reality" we see is in the rest of the brain as it forms in First Life, which can be defined various ways -- when the heart beats? The deepest convictions of the limbic brain -- how to be held, fed, warmed and sheltered, made safe and happy, held in the arms of others -- are the anchor of individual human meaning and survival. They can be held for a time in the "holed" (not whole, but holy) principles kept alive by practices and gathering. With gaps.
Once I kept myself busy by writing sci-fi stories for the fun of making the daily and ordinary seem surprising. There was a famous story probably inspired by the example of Duchamp entering a urinal in an art show where art had gone from something like poetry or religion to being a clichéd obscenity. In this sci-fi tale a team of archeologists are trying to understand beautiful mostly white ceramic objects that were found in every old ruined house from the 20th century. They are determined to see them as religious, so claimed they were altars where fires could be built. They weren't trying to avoid ickiness but they were blind to poop.
What I see in much science writing now is a sense of surprise, reframing that makes us see in new ways. Even more interesting, I see things like gender presentation becoming more various, more edgy, more . . . well, physical. But I don't see the difference between an ancient tribe circumcising girls, sewing their vaginas shut, and a modern swinger having her labia surgically removed from her vulva in order to make her "more attractive." Both acts -- which are NOT gender reassignment -- perform that superstitious practice of thinking that altering the body will alter the life. Religion accepts that. Science does not.
I did not leave the active practice of ministry because I'm no longer a believer. Still, my ideas exclude me from every congregation or denomination I know about. Maybe in the future this won't be true. Now my role as an anchorite, private and in poverty, is both a limit and an economic privilege made possible by Social Security, a tiny pension, and my mother's bequest -- nothing to do with the content. But the Internet keeps it from being silent.