How I Became a Unitarian Universalist

I Can Relate to Most of this Song

How I Became a Unitarian Universalist

I was raised in the Catholic Church, and like many people who are brought up in a particular religious tradition, I more or less accepted without much questioning the basic tenets of my faith. The only problem was that I did not know very much about the faith that I was supposed to believe. I knew the basics: there is one true God; Jesus was the Son of God (whatever that meant); Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead; and there was an afterlife in which all people would be judged. I knew that I was supposed to do my best to be a decent human being, go to church every week, fulfill the sacraments, and pray regularly for forgiveness and guidance. But I never read much of the Bible on my own or spent any significant time studying Catholic theology, and this was fine with me.

Then I went to college, and for both social and spiritual reasons, I began going to meetings and Bible studies that were put on by different Christian student groups on campus. Now, before I knew it, I was studying in depth this faith that I believed but did not know much about. Over time, I became convinced that certain Catholic Church doctrines and practices conflicted with some of the things found in the Bible. I was then forced to consider the possibility that my childhood faith was actually flawed. This was an extremely difficult process to go through, and I can understand why so many people do their best to avoid doubt. First of all, you have to deal with the “fear of God.” Was God mad at me for questioning him, and would I be punished in some way for my unbelief? When the idea of a just God – and of his enemy, Satan, who was always trying to drag people down – is thoroughly ingrained into your consciousness, it can be very hard to even allow yourself to experience certain thoughts. In addition, there is the sense of disappointment that you might create in family and friends who are watching you being “led astray.” Still, there were certain “truths” that I was confronted with in the Bible that I could not deny, so I overcame these fears somewhat and was baptized as an evangelical Christian during my freshman year. Over the next five or six years, I would attend and lead numerous Bible studies, go on retreats, read and outline the Bible from cover to cover (along with other books on theology), and even spend a summer on a missions trip in Africa.

But there was a problem. Once I allowed myself to question my basic worldview, it was difficult to avoid going even further. I had already rejected one version of Christianity for another, but what if Christianity itself was untrue? I knew very well that I had been conditioned to believe in a single God who had a son named Jesus, and I also knew that the majority of the people on earth did not accept the basic tenets of Christianity. What if they were right and I was wrong? Had I ever seriously considered that possibility? It seemed silly to settle on a worldview as a twenty-year-old, one that I had been largely conditioned to believe, without ever seriously considering other possibilities. And when I switched from Computer Science to Social Science after my first year of college, I was exposed to a mass of information that fed into these doubts and questions. Of course, this may have been information generated by liberal, godless scholars who were trying to drag me down with them. Fear, once again, could be a powerful force working to keep my beliefs intact. But did it make sense to continue believing something out of fear?  In addition, if the Christian belief system had any merit, it should have held up in the face of doubts and questions.

So even as I wholeheartedly devoted myself to various Christian activities during my college years, the doubts were always there. I tried to fight them off in various ways - reading books, talking to Christian friends, prayer – but they never went away fully. I did not want to reject Christianity. It seemed more plausible than the other apparent alternatives. I was also having a great time with many of the fun, thoroughly devoted Christian friends that I had made. But when I graduated from college and switched to a new school in order to get my teaching credential, that social tie was basically gone. I was then freed up to stare these doubts in the face. I managed to hang on as a Christian for a few more years, but eventually, I concluded that the Bible was probably not literally true. But I now had a new problem: what did I actually believe?

For the next several years, my wife, who went through a similar experience, and I were not involved in any kind of organized religion. Then something happened that caused us to revisit spiritual questions that we had been brushing aside: we had our first child. Now we had to think about the beliefs and values that we would try to instill into our kids. And we both agreed – my wife in particular – that children should be exposed to some form of spirituality. But what the heck did we actually believe? After a couple of years of pondering this question without taking any real action, our second daughter was born, and now it was time to get serious. We then turned to the resource that is the source of all wisdom in our culture – the internet – in order to discover our religion. There are a few web sites – I can’t remember which one we chose – where you can take a multiple choice quiz which will determine your spiritual beliefs. For both of us, the test told us that the religion we were closest to was called “Unitarian.” The only problem was that we did not know what the heck that was.

So we turned back to the internet, and we eventually found a web site for the “Unitarian Universalist Church in Fullerton.” My wife listened to a few sermons that they had posted, and she told me that they sounded interesting. (She was still more “gung ho” than I was.) So, after many years of hardly setting foot in any kind of church, we went off for the good of the kids. There, to my pleasant surprise, I finally found a place with people who reminded me of me. This church was filled with other doubters and questioners, and instead of discouraging this type of behavior in the name of adhering to the proper creed, this church celebrated doubt. What a strange concept: a church without a creed.

When I tell people that I go to a Unitarian church, there are a couple of typical responses. First, there is the standard question: “So what do they believe?” Second, there is the response of people who think that they know something about Unitarianism: “Aren’t they the people who believe that all religions are true?” Both of these responses indicate a lack of knowledge about Unitarians. So what do we believe? The simple answer is that Unitarians do not share any single theology. Instead, Unitarians share a belief in certain core principles. We think that people should treat others the way that they would like to be treated, that you should be tolerant of all beliefs and behaviors that do not infringe on the rights of others, and that people should be encouraged to seek truth from as many sources as possible. In other words, Unitarians share beliefs about how people should behave, not beliefs about theological ideas that no one can be sure of anyway. Theological ideas, after all, are only significant if they impact a person’s behavior. So if a person’s spiritual beliefs lead them toward positive behavior, then Unitarians would argue that those beliefs are a positive thing. If their beliefs do not lead to positive behavior, then they are a bunch of words, and if their beliefs lead to negative behavior, they may need to be altered. The key is the behavior, not the theology.

Here is a simple way to find out if you are a fellow Unitarian. Imagine that you knew a Muslim and a Christian who clearly believed and lived by certain core beliefs and ethical principles that led them to live out the golden rule. Then, imagine that you knew two Christians (or two Buddhists, Hindus, or Muslims) who would recite the same creed if asked but lived completely different lives. One clearly lived out his or her faith, and the other was a complete jerk. Who has more in common? Is it the Muslim and the Christian who share a lifestyle but not a theology, or would it be the two people who claimed the same faith even though only one actually lived it out.  I don’t think that I have to tell you what the Unitarian answer would be.

So do Unitarians believe that all religions are true? If you are still asking yourself that question, then you have not read very carefully. As I said earlier, there is no single Unitarian answer to that question. Unitarians believe different things. I think that most, however, myself included, would argue that none of the major religions are completely true. They all have valuable insights, but they also, inevitably, have a “dark side” as well. Unitarians by and large would argue that different religions should be studied in order to learn as much as possible from people of various cultures who have grappled with the same great spiritual questions. It would be foolish to not tap into as many resources as you can. But are any of them – or all of them – literally true? Our minister has used a great line a few times that grows in meaning for me as time goes on: “It’s not the facts that matter; it’s the truths.”  All religions, like great literature, express great truths through stories and metaphor. Asking if the Bible, Koran, Bhagavad Gita, or Tao Te Ching is true is similar to asking if the works of Shakespeare or Homer are true. They all contain valuable insights, some semi-historical fact, and, of course, some occasional pure garbage. There is no question, however, that they are worth reading.

All that you can do when trying to explain the unexplainable is use various metaphors that might capture some aspect of the truth. The problem is that most human beings want straightforward answers described in literal terms. For years, I was one of those people. I did everything I could to try and achieve some degree of certainty, but I never came close. Eventually, I learned to embrace the inevitable uncertainty that is part of the human condition. Personally, if I were the creator of the universe, I would have made things easier. I would have identified myself in some clear way and told people what to do. For years, part of the reason that I stuck with Christianity was the idea that God clearly revealed himself through scripture and by coming to earth as a human being. Of course, if I were the creator of the universe, there are a lot of things that I would have done differently. I would have created a world in which there was no possibility of hurricanes, earthquakes, tapeworms, smallpox, rape, torture, child abuse, starvation, dysentery, and all sorts of other horrific things. I cannot base my beliefs on how I think the world should be. I have to face the world as it is. And if religious metaphors are the best that we can do, and if uncertainty is an unavoidable fact of life, then I must learn to embrace both diversity and doubt. And if more of us human beings truly came to this realization, there would be a lot more humility in the world, and we might listen to each other a little more.

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Comments 13 comments

Medkh9 6 years ago

well your article is really great i have enjoyed reading it you have approached the subject from an academic point of view though i dont agree with what has come in it and i hope you would do more researches into theological studies to unveil the truth , you have just started in the right path but study islamic teachings a bit and see , study other relegions we cant not judge if we dont know all about religions .


Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 6 years ago Author

It has not been a purely academic process for me. In addition to not seeming logical, no major religion has ever felt entirely right either.

What is your background? Have you studied all other religions? Whatever your conclusions, if your beliefs lead to positive behavior, they are cool with me.


aguasilver profile image

aguasilver 6 years ago from Malaga, Spain

Interesting hub FF....

"Of course, if I were the creator of the universe, there are a lot of things that I would have done differently. I would have created a world in which there was no possibility of hurricanes, earthquakes, tapeworms, smallpox, rape, torture, child abuse, starvation, dysentery, and all sorts of other horrific things. I cannot base my beliefs on how I think the world should be. I have to face the world as it is."

But of course, according to scripture, God DID do just that, He created a paradise where none of those things existed, then we came along (metaphoric Adam & Eve.... you and me) and rebelled against His authority, believed our arch enemy over Gods word, and Hey Presto... here we are.

Now the question is what is the solution?

Will universal tolerance do the trick? - personally I doubt it, but then I also spend 41 years exploring belief and faiths before I concluded that although the bible MAY be fallible, Christ WAS the answer.

So I spat out the bones and ate the meat....

John


Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 6 years ago Author

Looks like we've gone in opposite directions. The original sin argument never quite made sense to me. First of all, I, like everyone else, was born into this mess, and countless people suffer - especially children - for reasons they have nothing to do with. Also, it's difficult to blame sin for natural disasters, disease, and the "kill or be killed" natural world.

I also don't believe in universal tolerance. I am strongly against any ideology that leads people to treat others in a way that they would not like to be treated.

If Christianity works for you, cool. I eventually concluded that it was not working for me. Who knows? Maybe we'll change places again in the future.


Sunshiney31 profile image

Sunshiney31 6 years ago

Right on....I'm still trying to figure my own way. Good for you for finding yours!


Stacie L profile image

Stacie L 6 years ago

well I've always wondered about this..thanks for the into :)


wingedcentaur profile image

wingedcentaur 6 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

Good Day Freeway Flyer

This is an excellent hub! I voted it up for useful. You were quite right when you said that you and I see things in a very similar way. I have in interest in Unitarian Universalism myself and I want to write something about it sometime, perhaps a series of hubs about the history of the Unitarian Universal Church.

I read part of a book that described the coming together of both the formerly independent Unitarian and Universalist organizations. I think the book said that Unitarians basically beleived that "Man is too good to be damned;" and the Universalists believed that "God is too good to damn mankind."

I happen to think that the theist/atheist debate is culturally useless, irrelevant, and poisonous. How wonderful it is that there is an umbrella organization like the Unitarian Universalist Church, which can house both 'belief' and 'non-belief' (I happen to think we all 'beleive' one way or another), as well as all other faiths.

In this book I read, I was given to understand that it is typical for a service to have people in their who are 'believers' and 'non-believers,' Hindus, Sikhs, Catholics, Muslims, etc.

The important thing, which people just don't realize is that one should not brandish his faith like a club to club everyone else into submission. We are supposed to be on this earth, trying to arrive at enlightenment together. Buddhism is another system that does not really have a theology (Gautama Buddha never expressed a clear belief in a God), but it has a code of conduct ("Golden Rule') and so forth.

I think the Unitarian Universalist organization is an undernoticed source of hope in the world for interfaith and cross 'belief' and 'non-belief' reconciliation. Anyway, great hub!

I have still to check out your hub on evolution!

Cheers!


Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 6 years ago Author

I look forward to reading any history of Unitarian Universalism that you may write. It is definitely a refreshing alternative that many people are unaware of.


travel_man1971 profile image

travel_man1971 6 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

The One Universal Church, it really exists! Glad to follow your link. Does this mean that we are nearing to another chapter in human existence---the church unification period--and is written in the Bible, too. There will come a time, amid the abundance of living and technology or science, people around the world will unite and interlink beliefs or major religions around the world.

I'm a Catholic, too, but inactive in such a way that I am questioning all the flaws that I've observed when I initiated a debate on it in our subject in Religion during my Ateneo days here in the Philippines. My instructor, a former priest single me out as a heretic and sent me out of the room and flanked me on that subject. No problem, though, just have to attend the subject with other liberal instructor.

This is a liberating hub, FF. Thanks for sharing.


Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 6 years ago Author

A universal church is a nice vision. Unfortunately, I don't see it becoming the norm any time soon. Most people are still comfortable with the traditional faiths. I have a feeling, however, that there are lot of people who are Unitarians but don't know it yet.


C.Y. Falvey profile image

C.Y. Falvey 6 years ago from Nova Scotia

This was a wonderful description of the difficult process of sorting out your faith, and I plan to memorize your simplified explanation of Unitarianism and use it at dinner parties. Like Freeway Flyer says, there are so many people who come to Unitarianism and realize it's what they've believed all along - they just didn't know the name for it. Like me.


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada

I enjoyed the read. I personally do not preach any religion. I was born as a Greek-Orthodox, baptized and all. That was then, now I pray to Wakan Tanka to guide my path and that is all.

My life is kept in check through reason, logic, compassion and love. It works for me. Cheers!


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 6 years ago from back in the lab again

Interesting hub. I think a position of uncertainty is a good position to have when it comes to religious claims. There are far too many dogmatic individuals in this world, we always need more doubters! I think it sort of ironic that when it comes to most religious claims a position of uncertainty is actually the most logically tenable. I believe I took a similar quiz not too long ago and Unitarian Universalist was the second highest with Secular Humanist being the first.

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