Pan-compassionist Freethinker

So what is a pan-compassionist freethinker?!!

It’s what I seem to be at the moment, and it’s been holding for a few months….   It’s a miracle!  No telling where I’ll end up, but it’s a good feeling to be able to maybe put a foot down somewhere —  for the time being!

Pan-compassionist:  means I would like to be compassionate toward everything.   Tall order, guaranteeing falling short, but good to have an aim!!!

Freethinker:  means I stay open to revising my views.   My allegiances are to compassion and to fact, insofar as we can know them.   I respect the traditions I come out of —  Christianity, social democracy, etc —  and I evaluate them by compassion and fact, to the best of my understanding.

This blog is for thinking about what this means in my life & thinking (besides making me — and probably everybody! — a category of one!), and for collecting and celebrating my heroes and heroines (continually added to here),  It’s for conversation, if anyone wants to converse  :  )  !!!   Enjoy!!

~~ Web links here ~~


What is a Pan-compassionist Freethinker? 7/15/17

Surprise! 6/19/21 

Update. 6/14/21

concept  10/30/19

Fresh Round  7/11/19

Agnostic  7/1/19

Thinking  6/29/19

speedbump  2/24/19

clarifying  2/21/19

restless  2/4/19

new group  2/1/19

becoming daisies  1/7/19

Construction 1/4/19

Grayling’s 10 Commandments 10/10/18 

Wisdom for the Journey 7/11/18 

“Atheists for Jesus” 6/15/18 

Jesus  — March 2013 

a step 6/10/18 

Social Righteousness 3/24/18 

Heroes and Heroines 7/17/17


I discover that I really like this batch of descriptions of UUs. My first impulse was to say Yay! I’ve finally found where I fit! But as I read different descriptions on the web I realized that as in every group, it all depends on which person or subgroup is doing the describing : ) So…. I guess for now I stay where I am and just count this as one of the writeups that I pretty thoroughly endorse!!

What Do We Believe About God?
Unitarian Universalists have many ways of naming what is sacred. Some believe in a God; some don’t believe in a God. Some believe in a sacred force at work in the world, and call it “love,” “mystery,” “source of all” or “spirit of life.” We are thousands of individuals of all ages, each influenced by our cultures and life experiences to understand “the ground of our being” in our own way. Unitarian Universalists are agnostic, theist, atheist, and everything in between.

We join together not because we have a shared concept of the divine. Rather we gather knowing that life is richer in community than when we go it alone. We gather to know and be known, to comfort and be comforted, to celebrate the mystery that binds us, each to all.

We welcome you in the fullness of your beliefs. Join us in exploring life’s deepest questions in a spiritually diverse, supportive, and challenging community. We are excited to meet you where you are, and see how we can all learn and grow together.

The Seven Principles
Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote seven Principles, which we hold as strong values and moral guides. We live out these Principles within a “living tradition” of wisdom and spirituality, drawn from sources as diverse as science, poetry, scripture, and personal experience.

As Rev. Barbara Wells ten Hove explains, “The Principles are not dogma or doctrine, but rather a guide for those of us who choose to join and participate in Unitarian Universalist religious communities.”

1st Principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
2nd Principle: Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
3rd Principle: Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
4th Principle: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

5th Principle: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
6th Principle: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
7th Principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

The seven Principles and six Sources of the Unitarian Universalist Association grew out of the grassroots of our communities, were affirmed democratically, and are part of who we are. Read them as they are written in our UUA Bylaws.

Sacred Texts
One might say that life is our scripture. While Unitarianism and Universalism both have roots in the Protestant Christian tradition, where the Bible is the sacred text, we now look to additional sources for religious and moral inspiration. Over two centuries, our religious tradition, a “living tradition,” has branched out from its roots. We celebrate the spiritual insights of the world’s religions, recognizing wisdom in many scriptures.

When we read scripture in worship, whether it is the Bible, the Dhammapada, or the Tao Te-Ching, we interpret it as a product of its time and its place. There is wisdom there, and there are inspiring stories, but scripture is not to be interpreted narrowly or oppressively. It can be beautiful, inspirational and wise. But in our tradition, scripture is never the only word, or the final word.

From the beginning we have trusted in the human capacity to use reason and draw conclusions about religion. Influenced by experience, culture, and community, each of us ultimately chooses what is sacred to us.

I have told stories and read poetry from the Bible throughout the twenty-one years of my Unitarian Universalist ministry. Yet the Bible remains for me but one rich source among many human records that speak to us of the joys and challenges of being alive.

– Rev. Donna Morrison-Reed

Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote seven Principles, which we hold as strong values and moral guides. We live out these Principles within a “living tradition” of wisdom and spirituality, drawn from sources as diverse as science, poetry, scripture, and personal experience.

These are the six sources our congregations affirm and promote:

•Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;

•Words and deeds of prophetic people which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;

•Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;

•Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;

•Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;

•Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Rev. Kathleen Rolenz said, “Throughout history, we have moved to the rhythms of mystery and wonder, prophecy, wisdom, teachings from ancient and modern sources, and nature herself.”

Who Are We?
We are brave, curious, and compassionate thinkers and doers. We are diverse in faith, ethnicity, history and spirituality, but aligned in our desire to make a difference for the good. We have a track record of standing on the side of love, justice, and peace.

We have radical roots and a history as self-motivated spiritual people: we think for ourselves and recognize that life experience influences our beliefs more than anything.

We need not think alike to love alike. We are people of many beliefs and backgrounds: people with a religious background, people with none, people who believe in a God, people who don’t, and people who let the mystery be.

We are Unitarian Universalist and BuddhistChristianHinduHumanistJewishMuslimPaganatheist and agnosticbelievers in God, and more.

On the forefront of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer inclusion for more than 40 years, we are people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

We seek to welcome you: your whole self, with all your truths and your doubts, your worries and your hopes. Join us on this extraordinary adventure of faith. Get involved!


Influenced by tradition grew up in. Ratify some of it, reject other parts.

Am in one of the Jesus traditions.

Don’t know which of the reports of Jesus’ teaching are historical. I select my own selection, and honor him as possible source:

speak truth to power, secular and religious

help the poor

love your enemies

welcome the stranger

I choose to give credence to Ehrman’s view that a Jesus existed & was crucified under Pontius Pilate.

I choose to prefer Crossan’s construction of events about Jesus’ death.

I assume the historical Jesus believed in a personal God who intervenes in the universe. [Dawkins says given Jesus’ independent approach, today he would likely be an atheist.] I am agnostic but lean heavily toward No because of all the evil in the world and all the people that god has evidently not spoken to. At most I think there may be something unimaginable, like another dimension, that we somehow connect with mentally and are comforted by. But because of all the evil, I lean toward either no god or that that “dimension” has limited power to counteract evil [Oord’s God Can’t]. Since I am in a Jesus tradition and do not know about a god for a fact, then if leading worship probably can justify praying as Jesus did.


Vague intimations of a concept…   want to catch what I can in case future development can happen…

About the idea of mental “companionship” in/with the Universe

If my sense of thinking is neurons firing, etc, then maybe a relationship with my thinking is like something in & affected by a magnetic field…  there’s a sympatico there that feels like/essentially is what I think of as personal

Fresh Round

Have been in a fresh round of wondering whether I really should demit —  especially after talking with our young pastor about the kind of Christian theology I have —  & don’t have.   In past years I haven’t wanted to be frank because I didn’t want to be part of any undermining of his own theology, but after a memorial service for a member’s mother, I felt somehow compelled to talk, in case he should ever be asked to preside at services for me.   He was of course his customary open, accepting, thoughtful self; said “any time!” for talking….   But as days passed, I started wondering whether he might think, rightly, that I really ought to demit.

I’m settling in thinking that it would not be necessary in good conscience —  that the denomination includes many clergy and professors who think as I do —  and that even though this mostly conservative congregation did not call me —  got stuck with me by chance when we moved back so Mom could look after us  :  )  —  I can be a horrible example for them of the liberalism in the denomination   :  )

As such, I can figure out how to pray that comes as close as I can to the way they’re accustomed.  I can address, “God of love” —  thinking how for many Process theologians, “God” seems to be a symbol for the good, the beautiful, and the true, or the energy of the good, the beautiful, the true  —  and the Johannine epistles say flat out a couple times —  God is love.

For petitions —  I can think how I do think that it may be possible for thoughts to somehow have an effect —  not by changing or influencing the mind of a discrete Being, but by setting molecules in motion, setting up “waves” in the entanglement of energy, whatever.

For blessing —  I can think how that means all good things —  not necessarily bestowed by a beneficent Being (which would be fine!), but just entreating the Universe on behalf of these people or things.


And I am saying what I absolutely do hope and believe.   I’ve been thinking too how different, even in this congregation, are the mental pictures of “God” each of us may have.   Mine just may be one of the more different  :  )

We’ll see how this goes  :  )


Probably I should get back to my decades-long description of myself as “agnostic” —  on the ideas about Jesus.  I still like claiming overall “pan-compassionate freethinker” —  but I’ve been looking at “the Q gospel” and Crossan’s “The Birth of Christianity:  Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus” with an idea of getting an idea of what Jesus might actually have been like, what he actually may have said, what actually happened to him —  and I’m thinking that really the best I can hope for —  given that I’ve been wrestling with this the better part of a century! —  is to just say “I don’t know” and am probably 100% unlikely ever to know and 99.99999% unlikely even to have a hypothesis about the reality.

So —  main thing:  I don’t know what happened or didn’t happen in Israel around 33 CE.   I grew up in one of the traditions that included much that I’m sure did not happen —  walking on water, substitutionary atonement —  but I’m not sure about traditions like Quakerism that lift up the idea of nonviolence, love, the inner light.   Maybe there was a person whose influence in that direction stretches even to today.   My tradition said that that person’s actual reality continues to this day, and “he walks with me and he talks with me” —  but I think rather than keep trying to question myself whether what I feel is actually that or my imagination, I need to just say, “I’m agnostic about all that.”   Because I really am.

I can say, “I align myself with any tradition that moves toward nonviolence and love,” consider some expressions of the Christian tradition as doing that, and think of myself as being that sort of Christian.

My problem in RL (real life) is, as an ordained minister of word and sacrament, what to do about prayer in this conservative congregation.   I can pray as part of leading a worship service, but just as myself, I don’t volunteer to do it in Sunday School or as moderator of our PW Circle.   [I would not be a member except that when we moved here I escorted Mom &, after she died, it didn’t seem kosher to stop attending.   I think of Presbyterian Women as vestigial —  left over from the days when women could not be part of church leadership so formed their own organization.   Now I think it’s sort of a shadow organization to the local church leadership, though PW has taken a liberal bent that I think is a good thing  :  )   ]

As agnostic, what would prayer be to me?   what would be authentic?   During my pre-ordination conferences with my supervisory committee, I would say that prayer for me was just everything (don’t remember how I phrased it).   How would I turn that in to saying something at Sunday School or Circle?   Or — more to the core —  does the idea of prayer relate to me now?

I think it might be for me now a turning of my attention to the question of an ultimate reality that is something like personal, and just letting it be.   Maybe it would be good to just do that periodically.

The kinds of things I want to keep learning about, in this regard, include

Dali Lama studies on physics & meditation practices —  & “The Great Liberation by Hearing in the Intermediate States” [The Tibetan Book of the Dead]

Western science, including astrophysics, quantum mechanics, cell biology, etc, including the scientists who don’t rule out a person-friendly character to reality (Rabbi Artson, Kenneth Miller, etc)

Historical Jesus studies —  Crossan, Jesus Seminar, etc

Process Philosophy/Theology

In the meantime, what is the most nearly authentic that I can pray at SS & Circle?   I will mull.


It’s beginning to dawn on me, as I spend so much time trying to learn the takeaways from astrophysics, microbiology, theology, historical Jesus studies, etc —  that even if I learned and understood it perfectly, still, a thousand years from now this will have been a primitive step along the way.   arrgh!   So why invest so much in it??

Maybe it’s like Everest —  it’s just what people do.   Maybe I need to adjust my ideas about what I’m doing —  not searching in order to know ultimate truth or reality, but searching in order to help the effort along, toward such understanding in some distant future.

That’s less satisfying… but likely more realistic.  ….Unless there’s a way to intuit all the way to “enlightenment”  :  )   Can’t rule that out  :  )








“For those who insist on cherry picking a few favorable ‘quotes’ from the mythical Jesus, I think it is an insult to the listener who is ignorant about the Jesus character. Would they do the same with Mao, Hitler, Trump?”

Question from our Rational Doubt curmudgeon … that catches me this time, gives me pause, makes me think.   Maybe it’s not ethical to just overlook or bracket the bad stuff in the stories of Jesus…  maybe along with lifting up the good, one is responsible to explicitly counter the bad.

Also, the sudden jolt makes me want to go back again to my take on historicity.  It’s not necessary insofar as teaching values is concerned —  as Borg or Crossan said, Jesus told parables, and the bible tells parables about Jesus.   But I need to think again about a possible historical figure, and what my relation to it might be.

At Presbytery today, communion was celebrated.  What was up?

Number one —  I will never know.   Even if I should have a blinding vision, likely I would be suspicious of it  :  )

I think there was a historical character, probably “Jesus.”  How much of what is reported as his sayings actually originated with him, I don’t speculate.  Recently learned of good books on the Q sayings, so will order at least one of those…  might make me lean one way or ‘tother.

It’s possible the tradition of common meals goes back to Jesus, as people like Crossan and Kaufman think…  that would be a good thing, I think.

There are good traditions (Quakers, UU’s, peace & justice communities) that trace themselves back to Jesus, and terrible ones, like the Inquisition.  The one I grew up in, the Presbyterian one, I think has been too legalistic (and it’s having a hard time coming out of that).  So if, as we celebrate communion, I think about meal-sharing as the possible connection to a historical person, that may be it, and a possibly good thing.

As I listened to the official receptions of members, I realized that if I happened to move from one situation to another, I would have to do some thinking in order to re-affirm “Jesus Christ is my lord and savior.”   Earlier I thought of it as “Jesus is a freedom lord —  he frees/saves me from answering to any authority except God.”   Now, thinking of myself as a freethinker, on first glance that earlier understanding seems not to work, maybe.

So sounds like my ringing affirmation might be — I look back in history to a figure, and affirm some of what is attributed to him —  blessed are the peacemakers, etc.   I strive to shape the tradition I’m in to conform more closely to my version of “the good Jesus” —  peace, justice, and all that  :  )

Because of the what-I-conceive-of-as “bad” traditions of Jesus, I have an obligation to counter those as vigorously as I can, in order to lessen the harm they do.   Two major items for me are substitutionary atonement (what it says about the character of god or goodness), and biblical literalism.

So…  is curmudgeon right, and no one should stay in a “Jesus” tradition of any stripe?  in order to preclude any of the evils that have ensued?

That is what I’m wondering.





A clarifying moment….


It would be interesting to hear a Unitarian Universalist perspective on this. Is the issue that liberal Christians still grant Jesus a ‘most favored person’ status? If one removes that barrier, by making Jesus just one dish in a smorgasbord of opinions on how to live ethically, would the divide lessen? I certainly don’t think Jesus was MORE special than any other leading sage of history. He was certainly a victim of his time–poor, possibly illiterate, prone to be mistaken as we all are. Yet when he sticks his middle finger to the injustices of the Empire, I cheer! What atheist wouldn’t?


      I think there will be a problem as long as Christ is the center of the CHRISTian church, and as long as non-believing or “differently believing” clergy center their message around him – and subtly or overtly mislead their congregations about him.

      I don’t see how Christian churches get around this. Unitarians do it by not focusing on the teachings of Jesus or any other single prophet, wise person or philosophy.



      I’ve been thinking of it as more a historical notation…. and that may be largely due to Thich Nhat Hanh, who counseled people to dig into the depths of their own tradition and add in other strands, rather than try to become Buddhist, or whatever. [“Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers”] So I think of my position as — having grown up in a Christian tradition, I’m part of the transition out of the Constantinian/Theodosian version that Andy describes and into more of a universal community


Tonight I am feeling impatient with being “a transition figure” —  part of the bridge between earlier literalistic and current symbolic versions of Christianity.   In these choirs, I am singing too much of what I do not think —  like today, an anthem celebrating “We believe!” —  and listening to too much of what I disagree with —  like today at Sunday School hearing a Max Lucado book read.    I am feeling like I would like to just not try to attend church — unless I encounter one that “fits.”

At the least, I am feeling like I want to somehow make a statement about what I think and don’t think.   If I did, that might make it not feel fake when I go to church.   I have been receiving a trust established by the Reynolds family for retired clergy in North Carolina, around $1200 twice a year.   That has been greatly appreciated!!!!!!!   and has been so helpful for Christmas and birthdays!   I would miss that!   …but it really does not figure in to whatever I decide to do or not do.

I think it would be upsetting to [spouse].   That is probably the major reason not to be totally frank.   I wonder whether talking with our little preacher would help relieve some of the pressure, release some steam  :  )   I doubt if it would shake him —  would not want to do that.   Wonder if he would not be at all surprised  :  )   Likely I’m not as opaque as I imagine  :  )

new group



These are such interesting videos!  Jane discovered “Inner Worlds Outer Worlds” —  I haven’t watched the whole series yet, but so far really like the way they try to tie everything together.  Don’t know what I’ll think after the whole thing, but think they’re doing a good job and glad they are trying!!

Awaken the World