The Unitarian Universalist (UU) church began in 1961 when the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) formed from a consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America. Both of these groups had roots in liberal Christianity.
Basically, the Unitarian movement stemmed from people who were anti-Trinitarian, meaning they did not ascribe to the belief that God was a triune being. They had a scriptural basis for this belief and were thus willing to suffer persecution. One famous example was that of Michael Servetus. He was a 16th century Spanish theologian and polymath who developed a non-Trinitarian Christology. Upon traveling to Geneva, he was denounced by John Calvin, tried for heresy, and burned at the stake by the city council. It is hard to understand how any human can come to believe that an all-loving longsuffering God wants a person to be executed for simply having a different understanding of what the Scriptures teach.
The Universalist movement stemmed from people who believed that a loving God would not condemn anyone to eternal torment. Rather, they believed that after some type of punishment for their sins, everyone would eventually be reconciled to God.
The defining principle behind the UU church is that no one has a corner on the truth market. It is the responsibility of each individual to pursue and find truth. Knowing that different people will reach different conclusions means that tolerance of differing beliefs is necessary. This is a principle I can personally live by since that is what freedom is all about.
Thus the UU church is really an umbrella under which many differing ideas reside. Even so, it seems that the predominant group in the church is the Humanists. My personal take on Humanism is that it is for spiritually minded non-religious people. Humanists tend to deny all religions while seeking a connection to the Universe and their fellow man; social justice being important to the latter.
I first heard of the UU church many years ago, but I never really had contact with it until after my deconversion. One day I noticed in our local newspaper that the one UU church in our area, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Shoals, regularly announced who was going to be speaking that week and the topic he or she would be speaking about. One week the speaker was from our local university and the topic sounded interesting, so I attended. The building was rather small, but nice. It turned out that I knew a few people who were members. While interesting, I did not find the service intriguing enough to attend on a regular basis.
About four years ago, I heard that a retired friend from work, Bill Parkhurst, was going to speak. Bill is a longtime member of the UU church. At work, he was known for wearing mostly short pants and a Hawaiian shirt. I was curious to see if he would be dressed this way while “preaching” at his church. He did not disappoint.
Bill’s speech was interesting, especially the part when he introduced me to the audience as being a recent fellow retiree. Ha! But seriously, the part I remembered most was when he discussed a book entitled “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson. A few weeks after Bill’s talk I had an unexpected extended visit to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Fortunately, I had my iPad with me. I decided I needed something to read. Remembering Bill’s recommendation of Bill’s book, I downloaded the Kindle version and began reading it right there on the toilet. Isn’t modern technology wonderful?
My son Andrew has attended the UU church a bit himself. A few weeks ago, he heard that Dr. Carl Gebhardt, the retired pastor from our local Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and adjunct professor of religion at our local university, was going to be speaking. So he went. As you may recall, I mentioned Carl in my last First Contact post about the Disciples of Christ. Anyway, Andrew informed me that Carl was also going to be speaking the next two Sundays. I decided to attend both weeks with him. I found the messages Carl presented at these services to be both interesting and entertaining.
If I had to identify myself with any particular church, I guess it would be with the UU church. I firmly believe that each person in this world must seek out truth and determine the meaning of life on his or her own. Of course, we can help each other out with open discussions. But ultimately our conclusions must be our own, not dictated to us by others. Fortunately, in the United States, most religious people have this UU mentality. They believe in the freedom of religion where no one group dominates the beliefs of the country. I believe most understand that if one religious group came to dominate our nation, it just might NOT be theirs. Unfortunately, there are still parts of the world where this is not true. There are still some that believe that the world should be converted to their way of thinking or suffer death.
Even though I mostly identify with the UU church, I have a difficult time identifying with its Humanist members. They tend to be more liberal politically than I am. My friend Bill is quite a bit more liberal than me, which makes for some interesting discussions on Facebook. I consider myself more of an Individualist. I will discuss this more in a future post.