My name is Paul Santos. I joined this congregation in the 1970s. This is the story of how I came to be among you.
I grew up as an “other” in the purest sense of the term. I did not belong to any religious tradition, and was not part of any cultural, national, or social group. I was born in Brazil, grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, attended a boarding high school in New England and then went to college in Boston and California. My father came from a old Spanish Catholic family in Cuba and my mother came from newly arrived Russian Jews in Brooklyn NY. Most of what I can remember of their spiritual inputs into my early development were good ethical concepts of how you treat other people and a strong dislike of organized religion. In Caracas, I went to a Venezuelan school and learned Spanish, spoke English at home, and was friends with other ex-pat kids who spoke our own version of Spanglish. In school I was “el Norteamericano” who was always suspect of harboring colonializing thoughts. Later at boarding school in the U.S., I was “that little kid from South America” and asked if the people there really did live in grass huts. The Catholic state religion in Venezuela did not give me any reason to take spirituality seriously. However, during my time at boarding school, which introduced me to liberal Protestant worship, I began to think that there might be something to spiritual thought. Finally, as a heavy reader of science fiction during my late teens, I began to understand the importance of spirituality in the human character, that there was something more to life than just existence.
I really did not know about Unitarian Universalists until I married one in 1970, and then realized that there was a spiritual community of people that were accepting of theological diversity while sharing a common ethical outlook. I had finally found a spiritual home outside of my own mind! I have always been amused by our UU insistence that we are a “religion” despite the fact that it flies in the face of what that word means to most people. That is why I often use the term “spiritual community” instead of “religion”, the semantics of which are usually associated with dogma, hierarchy, absolutism, and tribalism. I’m always working on an “elevator speech” about Unitarian Universalism that can cope with this reality.
I will leave you with my latest thinking about how I can justify us being called a “religion”, simply by coming up with a new definition that should be still acceptable to many adherents of other religious traditions. I define “religion” as the means we use to cope with the unknowable, or likely unknowable elements presented to our consciousness. In this definition, I exclude from religion anything having to do with likely knowable things such as science, laws, and other verifiable aspects of existence. I reject “Science vs. Religion” as a false dichotomy. And so, I have beliefs about unknowable elements such as a deity or non-deity, the afterlife, and the meaning of life. And I belong to a religion where my co-religionists may have radically different beliefs about the same things, accept mine, agree on the same principles of human behavior, and act accordingly .