What do Unitarian Universalists Believe?

I liked having a writing prompt last week. It was a hard schedule, but it was possible because I knew what my topic was, having a Principle a day, and vaguely that I was going to talk about how and why we celebrate it. I know I still need to finish “Guiding Principles for a Free Faith”, but it is a deep well to draw from, and I want to get that right.

I was trying, last week, not to get caught up to much in my problems with the 7 Principles. I do think the Unitarian Universalist Association could describe its self better, and thereby define its mission in the world today. I understand that it would require a lot of discussion and debate about refining the wording, but we shouldn’t be afraid to do that.

So, today I would like to discuss my understanding of what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist, and what it means to me to be a member of a UUA- affiliated congregation. I take my info from the UUA.org website, the very handy “100 Questions That Non-Members Ask About Unitarian Universalism” published by the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Nashua, New Hampshire, and personal experience along with my communication with hundreds of UUs and my reading of dozens of UU blogs. I think that we need to establish a few common beliefs, and that we need to use those as a broad outline for faith exploration within our liberal religion.

Unitarian Universalist believe that we are part of something bigger. We are part of a greater whole. Each person has their place; each has their talents and perspectives. No one is inherently better than anyone else, because none of us can do it all. We rely on each other to allow us to focus on the things we contribute. Some of us are good with our hands. Some enjoy manual labor. Some are good with words, and some with numbers. The thing is that the person who runs the organization has different skill from the people doing the accounting or the physical effort, but the organization needs them all. Not everyone has the same capacity to do brain surgery, but the surgeon isn’t likely to grow food or sew clothing. It is how you use your talents and how you relate to the rest of the world that determines your worth to the greater whole; whether you develop your skills and relationships in positive and productive ways.

This is an essential “belief” of the Unitarian Universalist: The inherent worth and dignity of every person. I spent the last week explaining how most of the other Principles of the UUA flow out from this one. The other belief, which is easier to establish as factual, is that we are part of, not just something but everything: an interdependent web of all existence. These are the two beliefs that form the whole essential foundation of the Unitarian Universalist movement. They can be oversimplified as being a dogma of love and respect.

Our love is a love of self, but it comes with the understanding that “self” is bigger than our bodies. The Unitarian Universalist strives to remember that our “self” includes the community and indeed, all of creation in many ways. We have to think about how our actions will ripple through our families, our congregations, and our work-places and from there out into the rest of the world.

We love Humanity, as each person is a part of  the whole of human experience and is a reflection of our own desires, possibilities, and our own limitations. Everyone you meet can teach you something, if you are willing to listen and learn. Every person is in a constant state of growth, and we can be a positive influence on everyone we meet. Each of us is incomplete, right up to the moment of death, and constantly adding new experiences to our sense of self. We are never done becoming who we are, and we have choices each day that determine part of how we will be remembered.

We love creation. We love the stars that formed our elements eons ago and the plants that created a habitable Earth for us, and the crops and animals that make our lives easier, and that, through their deaths, feed us each day. We understand that humanity has thrived as part of the Earth and the myriad ecosystems it supports. We have a seemingly unique capacity to use resources and alter the environment, and we have a responsibility to be cautious about how we use it. We have to learn to take only what we need, and to give back as much as we take, lest we continue to unbalance the system and pass the tipping point of sustainability.

All other beliefs flow form this. Neither of these is a particularly mystical philosophy, but they can be transformational when you really work to embrace them. To know that you are not alone, and that you are always standing on the shoulders of history, both its luminaries and its unremembered multitude. Few of your experiences are genuinely unique, and yet the composite of those experience, the perspective that makes you who you are, is singular and a vital part of the human experience. We are humanist, with a mystical streak to be sure, but our essential belief is in humanity and in our ability to be kind, generous, and helpful, and to extend those qualities beyond just humanity. It doesn’t require the hand of God or battles over points of faith. Ours is a belief that relies, primarily, on the ability to love. If you have that, then you might be a Unitarian Universalist and not even know it.

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8 Responses

  1. ” Ours is a belief that relies, primarily, on the ability to love. If you have that, then you might be a Unitarian Universalist and not even know it.”

    Do you have *any* idea how condescending that sounds Thomas?

    • No, but I am sure you would be happy to elaborate. How is it condescending to tell people that, since all we really require is love, many people already believe what we believe, even if they don’t know enough about us to know that?

      • Although it does not come right out and say so, it suggests that Unitarian Universalists are somehow more loving than “others”. The members of ALL other religious faiths most certainly have “the ability to love” but I expect that many Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus etc. etc. etc. might be taken aback somewhat by being told that they are actually Unitarian Universalists but “just don’t know it”.

        (Edited by the moderator to remove the pointless references to Robin’s personal hatred for everything attached to the national UUA. He’s got his own blog for that. http://emersonavenger.blogspot.com/)

  2. [...] Drawing on the UUA’s First and Seventh Principles, Thomas Earthman answers the question, “What do Unitarian Universalist believe?” [...]

    • I mean, let’s face it Thomas, pretty much every single person in the world has “the ability to love” yet, out of six billion or so persons of inherent worth and dignity, only a few hundred thousand choose the fate of joining the Unitarian Universalist religious community world-wide. Unitarian Universalists might want to ask themselves just what that is so. It *might* have something to do with Unitarian Universalist not being nearly as loving as they pretend to be. . .

      • You just go on thinking that. All I am saying is that our membership requirements are pretty low, and that a lot of people do believe what we do, and we would welcome them.
        The reason they don’t worship with us? Generally it is because they believe other things /as well/ rather than instead. We believe in Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors, which is very much Christian, but no in his singular divine nature, which keeps many Christians from welcoming us. We are not keeping them out of our club, though.
        I understand your crusade against the UUA has consumed your life, but it is not going to consume my blog. Please keep you comments on topic, or they will be edited or removed.

  3. Very well written post. Kudos!

  4. [...] We are different from other American religious movements, though. It is important to an understanding of who we are. Notice how little fuss we make about our belief in gravity? There is no page on the UUA website that talks about our acceptance of the heliocentric model of the solar system. Those aren’t crucial declarations for us; people who deny those facts are not going to be swayed by our reason and compassion. Instead, we write proudly of our Universalist belief that no one should be denied equal rights under the law or subjected to public ridicule and derision. We devote pages to our embrace of multiple sources of revelation and the right of conscience in creating a personal theology. We tell people why we are different, because it matters that we are different from the Catholics, the Hindus, and even other liberal faiths. We embrace a broader scope of human experience than most Western Philosophies, and many originating in Asia. We acknowledge an on-going revelation, which is a crucial part of our theological heritage, though not unique among faiths rooted in the teachings of Jesus. These differences matter. They are why Unitarian Universalism matters. We offer the world a rare combination of love, acceptance, reason, and honest searching for meaning. [...]

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