The perspective of a religious Unitarian Universalist by Joyce Dowling
It might not seem unusual to you, especially if you’re not familiar with Unitarian Universalism, but many people think that the words “religious” and “Unitarian Universalist” don’t go together. It’s probably because we don’t have a creed or dogma.
Many Unitarian Universalists (UUs) will say they’re not really religious even though they belong to a church or congregation, which is a religious community. Some will even say, “I’m not religious” which could be the reason why some people say it’s not really a religion. It might not be cool to be religious in some circles, but it would still be cool to be a UU to people who understand it.
However, I would have to say I am religious, as I am a firm adherent to the principles and practices of Unitarian Universalism.
I was dedicated as a Unitarian as an infant – one of only 12% of UUs who are “homegrown”. Since one of our principles is the search for truth and meaning, it is typical to leave as we explore life in search for what is right for us.
So you might be wondering what would bring us back. For me, as many, I didn’t feel that I needed a congregation when I was a young adult and the only thing I knew it offered was a religious education program for children and youth that empowers and sets them free. Children and youth are encouraged to question and to find their own answers, though we do offer guidance.
Children start learning as soon as they’re born and we want them to know they are cared about, feel loved, and safe. Then we let them explore using their senses. You may feel that this is only natural and that is what most parents do. It is true. A lot about UUism seems to just be following nature. We want to nurture it so they don’t lose that feeling of wonder about the world and the desire to question and explore.
We also want our children to be able to speak with others about religion when they’re exposed to it. Often our children know more about the Bible and other holy books than children of those faith traditions. We don’t teach that one way is right and another is wrong. There are seven principles in UUism and we explore how those principles are seen in other religions. What is good in other religions? How can their stories inform us? How can we learn to understand people who are different than us? Maybe we have more in common than different.
Another of our principles is the democratic process and we support separation of church and state. It was very rewarding to learn that my daughter stood up in a full auditorium at her school and asked the preacher who was reading from the Bible in the public school if he had ever heard of separation of church and state. Sometimes I lack the courage to do things like that, but knowing that I have a congregation behind me, even if they’re not there physically, helps me do what I feel is right. I think that helps others, too. It was unbelievable that the teachers in that same auditorium did not say a thing.
I don’t believe that our way is the one-and-only right way. That is one thing that is not accepted in UUism. Hate is another. How we use our principles is debatable. Many UUs love debate. Others like to learn how to find peace within or how to use the UU principles and build on their values to help them make decisions that lead to a happier life.
I do believe that the world would be a better place if more people embraced our principles. This is happening. One example is the rights of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Unitarian Universalists were in the forefront of the gay rights movement and now it is becoming more mainstream. We were the first to have gay, lesbian, or transgender ministers, but now other religions allow that as well. If it was more wide-spread, the ideals of anti-oppression would help to alleviate hate acts and we’d have a more peaceful society.
The focus on people and making the world a better place to live is a different focus than religions that concentrate on the afterlife. We don’t know what will happen when this life is over. We may believe what we like, but many UUs are atheists. For many, the afterlife is being remembered for our good works or how we shared something special with someone else. Our atoms may just go back to being part of the stardust which we came from. So why not make the best of the life we have now?
I share a story about an experience I had with death in an upcoming book, The Enneagram of Death – Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear and Death by Elizabeth Wagele. My Enneagram is number 10, the Peace Seeker. I do embrace that concept. I think it would be wonderful if everyone could make peace with their own mortality and that of their loved ones. All things come to an end.
Though I’ve experienced adversity, being a religious Unitarian Universalist helps me embrace the best of life and continue to learn throughout it. I still question and wonder and see the magnificence of life – my own, others, all living things, and our connections to each other.
The Enneagram of Death – Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear and Death by Elizabeth Wagele is due to come out on July 25. Her site is http://www.wagele.com/
You can learn more about Unitarian Universalism at http://www.uua.org/
Joyce’s blog UU Mom can be read here: http://uu-mom.livejournal.com/
Started life in rural America. Landed in suburbia just in time for puberty. Tried beach life, more suburbia, then small city, and large city. Then suburb of moderate city and suburb of large city and now small town almost rural. I’ve been poor and I’ve been almost “rich” – what is rich any way? I’m rich with friends – nothing better than that!
- Welcome to Our Religion – (amyfreedman.net)
- Occupy Your Faith – A Boston Unitarian Universalist Revival – (uugrowth.com)
- FROM READERS: Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia calls new settled minister – (columbiamissourian.com)
- In Seach of a New Church Home: Unitarian Universalism – (elephantjournal.com)