Med student starts new religion claiming no absolute truths

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Ford Vox started a religion in his spare time.

He calls it Universism and is recruiting atheists, deists, freethinkers and others who can rally around the notion that no universal religious truth exists and that the meaning of existence must be determined by each individual.

Vox, a University of Alabama at Birmingham medical student, says Christianity, Islam and to a lesser extent other world religions, are harmful because they attempt to impose their own version of moral certainty on others.

“Religious faith is very powerful,” Vox said. “It is so powerful that it is dangerous. It’s very difficult to find an alternative to that.”

Vox said he started Universism in 2003 and has drawn about 7,500 sympathetic souls who have signed on through his Web site, It also drew the attention of the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family, which has studied it as part of a course on different world views.

Chris Leland, director of Christian worldview studies for the Focus on the Family Institute, said Vox has become a voice for the latest wave of skeptical deist philosophy.

“This group seems to be a neo-deistic group in the vein of Thomas Paine,” Leland said. “The interesting thing about this group is it has cast a much broader net.”

Leland has had hundreds of students at the Colorado Springs, Colo., institute analyze Vox’s Web site as part of their Christian studies of other philosophies.

“Every worldview, every ideology, every perspective has absolutes,” Leland said. “There are still some absolutes for even most of the members who log on, whether they admit it or not.”

But Universism has “brought an amazing diversity of people together in terms of numbers,” he said. “The fact they’ve had Focus on the Family and (scientist) Richard Dawkins as online guests says something.”

In Birmingham, the Universists are showing a documentary called The God Who Wasn’t There, which questions traditional beliefs about Jesus. A Universist group in New York plans to show the documentary in June.

Universist activities have involved meetings once or twice a month at bars and coffeehouses, along with e-mail and online discussions on how to define their relativist philosophy.

“We absolutely reject absolute truth,” said Vox, who envisions organized Universist communities like churches.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, well-meaning non-religious people can no longer stand by and do nothing, he said. They need their own religion, he said, one that opposes absolute truth claims.

The Sept. 11 hijackers derived their political motivations from their faith, Vox said.

Vox, who expects to earn his medical degree next year, grew up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., as a Presbyterian. He said he sees aspects of religion he likes, such as the sense of community.

“They have such great social infrastructure,” he said. “Secular people are missing out on that. We’d kind of like to take part.”

But Vox knocks even open-minded liberal churchgoers.

“Unitarian Universalism is belief in anything for the sake of belief,” he said. “There are many people in liberal Protestant churches who share this attitude. They continue to prop up the legitimacy of religion, making it seem an OK precept because you have rational people who continue to call themselves Christian.”

The Bible should be treated as literature, not history or revelation, Vox said. “We would treat it like Shakespeare; people can learn from it like any great story,” he said. “We want people to continue exploring in a religious realm, but do that safely — an individual sitting down, thinking about his own view of the world.”

Universists are safe seekers, he said.

“They are not the result of reference to a theology, to a prophet, to an outside revelation,” Vox said. “You can’t share a revelation in Universism. It’s your own personal experience.”

Leland said Universists are attacking a problem that happens with every philosophy.

“There have been a lot of abuses of religion throughout history,” Leland said. “What man does with who God is doesn’t deter who God is. That’s not controlled by us at all. I believe God is intimately involved in who I am and how I control my life.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Religion News Service, via Star-Telegram, USA
May 28, 2005
Greg Garrison

Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday May 29, 2005.
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