“So, there’s going to be a thing in your life that you love… The way you love that, and the way that you find other people who love it the way you do, is what makes being a nerd awesome… The defining characteristic that ties all together is that we love things.”
~ Wil Wheaton, in an impromptu address to a newborn.
Is Unitarian Universalism a religion of nerds? I think, by Wil’s definition, we are. We are people who love the world and the plants and animals on it. We love the expanse of the universe and the subatomic forces that hold it together. We love the mystery of creation, and the ever-growing understanding of what is. And we choose to come together to explore and share the things we love.
Beyond Mr. Wheaton’s vision of community, a nerd is also someone who spends time and energy into a hobby; someone who invests in something with little to no tangible reward other than the satisfaction of loving something. Isn’t that how we are with religion? We admit that we cannot know, with certainty, what the pay-off is. We admit that we can’t know whether the answers we come up with are the best answers possible. We don’t know any practical reason to study liberal religion and build communities around it, other than the love of the communities themselves and the emotional satisfaction of feeling like we stand for something beautiful. Liberal religion doesn’t build farms or dig wells, but it gives us hope and vision for the kind of future we’d like to live in. Those are vital things to have when you are building farms and digging wells. I am sure that the people who champion the way of the Jedi or the mission of Starfleet feel much the same way.
So, we are, in a sense, nerds in that the term nerd has come to mean something like “amateur”; one who does something for the love of it rather than tangible gain. Just as an amateur musician might join a band or choir to create music and meet like-minded people, we join congregations to serve the world around us and to be part of loving, encouraging communities.
Also, like nerds, Unitarian Universalists have an image problem. We are seen by the religious as spending our earthly lives not preparing for eternity, and by many of the non-religious as dabbling in traditions that we are unwilling to grasp fully. Of course, we know that neither of these is true, though they both touch on some important things. We don’t worry about eternity, it is true, because we all accept that whatever lies at the end of the universe, we’ll all be there together. Once we know that, there isn’t any need to fight about the details, and we can focus on living well. And, as we’ve shared before, agnosticism as practiced by most Unitarian Universalists is a conscious choice to stay open to new information and discernment. We do not simply fail to commit, but instead choose to stay open-minded and even to actively seek out new facts, stories, and experiences. We ought to be proud of these facts, rather than letting people mock us for them. In that, we are also like the more traditional nerd stereotype.
So, I say that we are a religion of nerds, some more nerdy than others, and that we should be proud of what we stand for. We love. We love different things, and we love them differently, but a commitment to keep loving and to increase the amount of love and wonder in the human race and the universe is an important part of what being a Unitarian Universalist is about.
Live long and prosper, and may the Force be with you.