[This was one of four mini-sermons delivered on 7 March 1999 at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House in Provincetown. The service that Sunday was led by members of the class, “A Chosen Faith”, which had been conducted by the Rev. William Leggett, Interim Senior Minister.]

A Place at the Table for Humanists

by John Lauritsen

Good morning. I'm John Lauritsen: a recent member, a writer, and a humanist. It seems unreal speaking in a house of worship, since I've been polemicizing against religion for a good quarter of a century. But anyway, here I am.

During the class I was especially impressed by the inclusiveness of Unitarian-Universalism, which now has humanists as well as many kinds of religionists.

The Humanist movement began in 14th century Italy, as part of the Renaissance. But the philosophy of humanism goes back to Ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy and Western Civilization — the country where, 25 centuries ago, a way of life arose based on the freedom of the individual.

As good a definition as any is the statement of Protagoras, “Man is the measure of all things”. The concern here is with human standards, the cultivation of excellence in body and mind. The Greeks regarded physical fitness as a sacred obligation. The men exercised under the aegis of Zeus and other gods, and the women, under the aegis of Hera and other goddesses.

The Greeks valued Reason and Moderation. On Apollo's temple at Delphi were the sayings: “Know thyself” and “Nothing in excess”.

Tolerance is a primary humanist virtue, as expressed by the credo of Terrence: I am a man, and hold nothing human alien to me. (ca. 160 BC)

As a gay man I owe special allegiance to humanism. When I came out, a long time ago, the circumstances were not ideal, but the experience to me was beautiful. I knew then that male love is good. If the world condemned it, then the world was wrong. But I did my homework and found that, in historical perspective, condemnation was far from universal. The Greeks had accepted male love as a part of life and granted it a place of honor. The Greek gods themselves had male lovers.

The condemnation of male love stems from the Holiness Code of Leviticus, formulated 2500 years ago. Because of a sexual taboo, contained in the prohibitionist gobbledygook of Leviticus, gay men over the centuries have suffered dishonor, imprisonment, torture, and death.

Since the Jewish and Christian religions had declared war on me, I declared war on them, and joined the Gay Liberation Movement in 1969. In 1974 I produced a pamphlet, Religious Roots of the Taboo on Homosexuality, and began writing for the British monthly, The Freethinker. I'm still at it. My most recent book, published last year, celebrates male love and anathematizes the Judeo-Christian moral code.

Sometimes the UU paradigm seems to be a theological smorgasbord, where we pick and choose, taking a few good things from each of the religions. That's nice, but humanists also have to look at the bad things. Believing that the human mind and body are good, we reject religious traditions which regard the human intellect as dangerous and the human body as shameful. Believing that ethics should be based on Reason, we reject ethics based on
primitive taboos.

A moral code, which condemns men to death for loving each other, is a vicious and evil moral code. It should be fought tooth and nail.

But those are battles to be fought outside the Meeting House. Here I am grateful that it's possible for people with different outlooks to find fellowship. I'm grateful there's a place at the table for humanists.

In pondering the apparent contradictions of the UU experience, I'm reminded of the Shakespeare couplet:

And do as adversaries do in law,

Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.

(The Taming of the Shrew, Act II Scene 1)

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