Return to Krista's Korner

"Each of us must come to care about everyone else's children. We must recognize that the well being of our own children is intimately linked to the well being of all other people's children. After all, when one of our children needs life-saving surgery, someone else's child will perform it. When one of our children is harmed by violence, someone else's child will commit it. The good life for our own children can be secured only if it is also secured for all other people's children. But to work for the well being of all children is not just a practical matter-- it is also right!" - Lilian G. Katz, Phd.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Why I am a Unitarian Universalist

Long Post Warning (I wish blogger had cuts)

My faith or non-faith as the case may be.

I am going to cheat a bit, and post a paper I wrote for my Muslim Reality Class, but go through and hyper link a bit. OK- got tired, and stopped. I may or may not finish the links.

Meanwhile, if you don't feel like reading this and want to know what UU is, either watch one of the videos, or read this:

Our denomination is unique because every Unitarian Universalist has the right to develop a personal philosophy of life, without being told what to believe. We can learn from all philosophies and religions, and also from science and the arts. We explore important life issues in a caring community, united by shared values rather than by shared theological opinions. And no matter what we do believe about theology or philosophy, we try to live a good life and leave the world better than we found it.


Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation Fremont, California

Elevator Speech from UU World Magazine.

Spiritual Self Reflection

I am and have been conflicted about my spirituality for a long time. I find myself with deep respect and envy of people with faith, because I have not found that for myself. Instead of faith, I have come up with questions. These questions often remain unanswered, and I am left to structure a strong set of moral and ethical codes for myself in the place of faith. I am no longer a Christian and have not identified as a Christian since the early 1990’s. I identify as a humanist, an agnostic, and as a Unitarian-Universalist. I included the visual symbolism of humanism and Unitarian Universalism at the top, because they are identifiers to other adherents, and yet are not easily recognized by those not familiar with the traditions.

According to Wikipedia, humanism is “a broad category of ethical philosophies that affirm the dignity and worth of all people, based on the ability to determine right and wrong by appeal to universal human qualities—particularly rationality.” I am not a Humanist with a capital “H”. That refers to a personal philosophy that rejects spirituality, referring to it as supernaturalism and superstition. The fact that I engage in open exploration of spirituality and do not reject it is the reason I identify as an agnostic.

Agnosticism is a Greek philosophical view that theology, deities and an afterlife are unknown and unknowable. It is an acknowledgement that religion is possible, but personally unknown. An agnostic is someone who doubts, but remains open. Humanism also has Greek philosophical roots, although it gained popularity during the Renaissance.

While humanism and agnosticism are philosophies, Unitarian Universalism is a religious tradition, and thus is often my quick answer when someone asks what my religion in. The movement has a long history and is based in Christianity. It was originally two separate movements- Universalism and Unitarianism, which also had ties to the Society of Friends and the Enlightenment. Unitarianism was a rejection of the concept of God as a Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) and goes back to the First Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. Universalism goes back just as far, denying eternal damnation and embracing a loving god. The United States movement grew up in the Congregational churches of New England and split from congregationalism in the 18th century. Congregational churched later became the United Church of Christ, which still works cooperatively with the Unitarian-Universalist Association on social justice projects.

It was the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalists that began the transformation into the current movement. As with any specific organization, there is a lot more history of how it came to be, but the short version of what it has become is this: “Most Unitarian Universalists believe that nobody has a monopoly on all truth, or ultimate proof of the truth of everything in any one belief. Therefore, one's own truth is unprovable, as is that of others. Consequently, we should respect the beliefs of others, as well as their right to hold those beliefs. Conversely, we expect that others should respect our right to our own beliefs. Several UU's then would likely hold as many different beliefs. Other beliefs they may hold in common are a respect for others, for nature, and for common decency, leading to a particular caring for the poor, the weak and the downtrodden. As a result, issues of justice, including social justice are held in common among most. — Gene Douglas, Harrah, OK” (as submitted to the UU World Magazine)

My Personal Story

I come from a non-religious household. My parents were Christian, but not religious. My dad is a lapsed Roman Catholic, who apparently had a crisis of faith in his late teens and had dropped out of the seminary- I am unaware of the details. My mother apparently had an Episcopalian background, which is a tradition that has its roots in the Church of England. Religion is not something they spoke much about.

When I was seven, I was invited by a school friend to join her at the Sunday school service of the American Baptist Church of my hometown. I stayed through high school, often transporting myself. I attended church camp and enjoyed the support of a church family during difficult family times. I think this is what gave me the comfort in the religious service of the UU Fellowship I attend. It has the familiarity of what I grew up with. My childhood church was mainline Protestant, and very tolerant of diverse families and somewhat of diverse beliefs.

As I entered my adolescent years, though, I found I had a need for more. In this quest, I read the bible completely through twice. I read scholarly works on the bible and other religious traditions. Feeling a lack of faith, I joined an evangelical, fundamentalist, charismatic church. I left when I realized just how intolerant they were, and that many of the people I had admired as “true” to their faith used the church to justify hate.

When I graduated from high school, I also left Christianity behind. I realized that I could not believe in the God of biblical tradition. I still felt the need for a spiritual base, so I experimented. I dabbled in paganistic beliefs for many years, feeling an attraction to the “find your own truth” attitude of neo-paganism. When I lived in Flagstaff, a friend invited me to a circle in the UU (common abbreviation of Unitarian Universalism) Fellowship there.

That is when I found my church home, and also an ethical and spiritual creed that matched the one I had been building myself. Social Work is an extension of this. Doing the work is a religious expression of myself.

As I covenant whenever I attend service, and I subscribe to in my daily life: “Love is the doctrine of this congregation, the quest for truth is our sacrament and service is our prayer. To dwell together in peace, to seek knowledge in freedom, to share our strength in fellowship, thus do we covenant.” Service is my prayer.

Meaning of Major Life Events

Life’s big questions are answered on a personal basis in my spiritual philosophy. Life’s purpose is to live and to help the human condition. There are seven major principles that I live by as a UU:

· The inherent worth and dignity of every person;

· Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

· Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth;

· A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

· The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;

· The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;

· Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

These principles leave me with the responsibility of finding my own answers. This is not a comfortable position, but it is one I am willing to take. A few of the answers I am discovering is that no matter what religious path I take, I do not have the ability to live my life in perfect accord with it. I have a responsibility to live the best life I possibly can, because I do not know if death will be the end or not. Pain, suffering, and death are not ends but can be passageways to more abundant life.

Sources of Power

My religious tradition comes from Christianity, but now draws from many traditions. From the UUA web site comes these statements, which I uphold as a member:

Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion that encompasses many faith traditions. Unitarian Universalists include people who identify as Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, and others. As there is no official Unitarian Universalist creed, Unitarian Universalists are free to search for truth on many paths.

To quote the Rev. Marta Flanagan, "We uphold the free search for truth. We will not be bound by a statement of belief. We do not ask anyone to subscribe to a creed. We say ours is a non-creedal religion. Ours is a free faith."

Although we uphold shared principles, individual Unitarian Universalists have varied beliefs about everything from scripture to rituals to God.

Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:

· Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;

· Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;

· Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;

· Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;

· Humanist teachings, which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.

· Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions, which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

I know that I am copying very liberally from the website, but the statements of principles and faith have been carefully crafted by cooperative action of the various congregations/fellowships over the years. The only part I disagree with is the statement “Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;” to which it has already been proposed to include Islamic as part of the statement.

Humanism as a philosophy has its own set of texts. Religious Humanism, which would be the closest match to my personal beliefs draws from the writings of Felix Adler and Ethical Culture, Charles Francis Potter from the Unitarian tradition, and most recently, Paul Beattie.

Rituals and Practices

The rituals of UU borrow heavily from the protestant traditions. The Sunday Service often includes Sunday School for children, called Religious Education or RE for short. Adults often participate in an RE program as well. A typical order of service at my fellowship goes thus:

· Intonation—A bell is sounded to mark the opening of the celebration

· Welcome and Announcements

· Service Is Our Prayer—Each week, the Social Action Committee highlights a timely service opportunity

· Prelude—Music

· Invitation to Celebration—By the service leader

· Chalice Lighting & Response—Spoken by the congregation:

o "May our chalice burn with the light of truth, the warmth of community, and the fire of commitment."

· Hymn—Sung by the congregation from the songbook

· Covenant—Spoken by the congregation:

o "Love is the doctrine of this congregation, the quest for truth is our sacrament and service is our prayer. To dwell together in peace, to seek knowledge in freedom, to share our strength in fellowship, thus do we covenant."

· Children's Sermon

· Children's Recessional—Children retire to the classrooms for their religious growth & learning classes

· Meditation

· Joys & Sorrows—Shared by members the congregation

· Meaning of our Gifts and Response—Read by the congregation:

o "With gratitude for the abundance in our own lives, we give for the life and mission of this congregation."

· Offertory—Music

· Special Music

· Sermon

· Hymn—Sung by the congregation from the songbook

· Postlude—Music

· "Go In Peace"

Family Life-Cycle Transitions

Family transitions follow personal and societal culture in the UU tradition. Birth, death, marriage, divorce are all personal journeys. My fellowship has supported me through transitions via Joys and Sorrows, which is a public sharing, and the concept of Conscious Community, which has many meanings. I was taught that conscious community is the building block of a religious fellowship- choosing to build something together for the greater good. As a family, we choose to celebrate multiple holidays, either on a secular basis, or acknowledging the pluralistic origin of the holiday, such as Christmas/Yule/Winter Solstice.

Conception of Health

Health is also a personal or cultural concept. I hold to a holistic view of health- mind, body, spirit, but I know I have been influenced greatly by Western views of health as absence of disease.

Implications for Social Work Practice

In my tradition, Social Work is a spiritual practice and part of the “prayer and practice” of my beliefs. The inclusive and non-creedal basis of my traditions dictates greater acceptance of a diverse client base and an encouragement to understand all points of view, even those you directly disagree with. TPublish Posthere is an acknowledgement of personal truth, which makes it easier to work with clients from a spiritual basis.

Footnote: Since this was a personal reflection, it reflects my traditions and draws from many sources. Much of the information comes from religious education courses through my fellowship and throughout my life, so cannot be cited. Direct quotes come from and Wikipedia, as noted.