by Rev. Mike Thompson
Any time we're called on to respond to the question of what Unitarian Universalism is, we're open to the peril of being misunderstood. If we use theological language, we'll probably be misunderstood. If we don't use theological language, we'll probably be misunderstood. And if we don't respond at all, we're certain to be misunderstood. The challenge is to think of something more than an offhand response, something that will pique the questioner's interest and perhaps invite further dialogue. So I want to offer for your consideration three brief statements which I believe provide an intriguing (though somewhat oversimplified) introduction to our faith.
FIRST: "We believe that revelation is not sealed." In other words, no individual, book or institution has the final word in matters of religious belief. We believe that the whole truth has not yet been revealed. Instead, it's gradually being discovered. No human being, or group of human beings, knows everything there is to know. The discovery of truth is an ongoing process which requires us to examine, compare and evaluate our experiences. Over the millennia, much knowledge and wisdom has been accumulated. We find this accumulated wisdom in various places. We find it, for example, in the sacred books of the world's great religions (and in the writings of the more obscure religions as well). We find it in the lessons of history. We find it in the arts; in music, poetry, drama, literature, painting and architecture. We find truth in the discoveries of science, the social sciences as well as the physical sciences. And we find truth in the myths and legends and folklore of people everywhere. But we recognize that the facts are not all in, and probably never will be. The truth is not limited to, nor can it be fully contained by, one book, one theology, one institution or one of anything! So we place no limits on the sources from which truth may be obtained. Sometimes people ask us, "Do you believe in the Bible?" Well, of course we believe in the Bible. After all, it's full of interesting and important information, and it's been around for a long, long time. But when they ask, "Do you believe ONLY in the Bible?" then the answer is "No, by no means." We believe in ALL of the truth that's in ALL of the bibles. We also believe in all of the truth that's in NONE of the bibles.
SECOND: "We believe in building our own theology." That is, each Unitarian Universalist is responsible for creating his or her own unique, individual, religious philosophy. This follows naturally from our emphasis on a wide-ranging search for truth. From our point of view, a religion worth having can never be the product of coercion or fear, of guilt or even acquiescence. That's because conformity in doctrine is not the core of our faith. What does lie at the center of our tradition is a willingness to accept each individual, wherever that person may be on the spiritual path, regardless of his or her present state of belief or non-belief. In our churches we have Christians, Buddhists, people of Jewish ancestry, Humanists, Pagans and Atheists--and all are welcome. We're united by the conviction that each of us is engaged in a common religious quest, not because we've arrived at a particular inn or oasis along the way. On the basis of our uniquely personal religious experiences, we are all responsible for building our own theology.
THIRD: "We share a reverence for life." This phrase was first proposed as a universal moral principle in the early years of the twentieth century by Albert Schweitzer, one of the great humanitarians. Schweitzer made a distinction between two kinds of religion. He spoke of life-affirming religions and life-negating religions. It's pretty clear that we fall into the life-affirming category. For though we're not all in agreement when it comes to doctrine, there are certain values which are widely shared among Unitarian Universalists. And one of the most widespread is our respect for all living things. The proof of our reverence for life is to be found in the many political, social and environmental activities in which we're involved. If you look around in almost any community where there are Unitarian Universalists, you'll find them active in all sorts of projects for the improvement of our fellow human beings' quality of life. And you'll find them involved with animal rights groups and organizations that promote protection of the natural environment as well. We see the human race as a single species with common needs and shared interests that transcend our differences -- our differences of creed and color, gender and age and all the rest. We see all people as members of one human family, sharing a common ancestry and a common home--the Earth. But of course, three short statements can't possibly explain everything there is to know about Unitarian Universalism (or any other religion, for that matter). So the best way to help people learn more about us is to invite them to come to our church and experience it for themselves. There's no to get a real "feel" for a church without checking it out in person. We should let our friends know that ours is a "come-as-you-are" church. This doesn't just mean that it's O.K. to dress casually. It means that it's all right for them to come as they are theologically, too. We don't try to "convert" newcomers. We simply invite them to share in the freedom and sense of community we have found.