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Unitarian Universalism: The Relative Religion

A Good Place for the Irreligious

     My wife and I, true to our spiritually apathetic generation, have decided to approach our spiritual lives similarly to the way we approached finding a primary care physician. I found, and for some reason this surprised me, that various centers of worship in our community even came with “customer reviews” (how very 21st century of us). We shopped online, talked with friends, and developed a list of faiths, denominations, and places of worship we’re going to visit. One week at a time we’re going to take our little girl, who initiated this whole process, to a different service and then gauge our collective reaction.

     Our first stop was a Unitarian Universalist Church. Both of us have a very internalized revulsion for PDFs (Public Displays of Faith) and so a UU Church seemed like a good way to ease into religion. The church itself was an austere, white chapel with very little ornamentation. It’s actually very beautiful, maybe because of its austerity. The service itself was very traditional (hymns, benedictions, the standard format) except for the content. The opening prayer was a unison reading of an Alan Alda quote (no kidding), the hymns were borrowed from Protestant hymnals but the words were changed. The sermon was a collection of poems reflecting on motherhood from an award-winning local poet. The overall effect was a church without a God, but very broad definitions of human creativity, enlightenment, and transcendance.

     The UUAC website describes Unitarian Universalism as a broadly interpreted vision of religious fulfillment and salvation. Unitarianism was a Christian denomination that believed in a single aspect of God (no Holy Trinity here) and in the humanity of Jesus Christ. It also emphasized rational thought, which they believed to be a direct connection to God since it seems to be the fundamental distinction between man and beast. Universalism was a separate Christian denomination that believed in the salvation of all people, whether they believed or not. This definition expanded to mean that God was large enough to encompass all belief systems. The Unitarian Church was founded in the U.S. in 1793, and Universalist Church came later, in 1825. The belief systems merged into the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations in 1961.

What interested me in the Unitarian and Universalist creeds is two-parts:

1)             No other organized religion has so broad and inclusive a definition of “God”. In fact, it’s precisely because the denomination believes in the importance of reason and rational thinking that it is such a broad-minded approach. Rather than being skeptical of all faiths, it includes all faiths because one of them is no more definitive or “reasonable” than another. It’s simply an understanding that people have a spiritual self, and there are many explanations for it.

2)             The history of our nation is very closely tied with the Unitarian Church. In fact, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and many other individuals hailed as folk heroes in our culture were Unitarians or had ties to Unitarian congregations. The separation of church and state is a direct outgrowth of their Unitarian beliefs, and many of the humanistic, populist beliefs grew out of social and political commentary of Unitarians of the day. Washington even commented that the values and principles of the founding of the country were human values, not religious values. However, for the masses, religion was necessary to instill a working practice of them. In this sense, Humanism and Unitarianism are closely related. It might also surprise you the other individuals from our history that have been Unitarians or Universalists.

     As it turns out, the First Unitarian Church of Omaha is a great congregation. They’re very social conscious, volunteer on a number of issues and even sponsor lecture series promoting Unitarian Universalist values through a local concert hall. The traditional atmosphere seemed peripheral, needless, but it also seemed to be a fit for the congregation, which was a primarily older group of people. Our search will continue, but I valued the ideas and the people and would encourage anyone shopping for a good religious experience to look up a local UUAC church.


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