5 UU myths debunked

The following is an adapted excerpt from a sermon I gave entitled “Identity Crisis”.   I thought it would be helpful for those exploring Unitarian Universalism to have a minister’s perspective on these very common myths about us.   

1.  Myth:  Unitarian Universalism is a new religion. 

No.  While the Unitarian and Universalist denominations merged in 1961, Unitarian Universalism is a faith tradition with roots in the Protestant reformation of the late 1500’s and theological thoughts going back to the founding days of Christianity.   Unitarian and Universalism thought were profound shapers of the formation of the United States of America.  Five Presidents have been either Unitarian or Unitarian influenced; Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft.   Thomas Jefferson never officially joined a Unitarian church however,  there is enough documentation to suggest his religious beliefs were very much aligned with Unitarian thought.  John Quincy Adams was raised in his father’s Unitarian church but later joined a Congregational church as an adult.  For fundamentalist Christians to claim that the founding fathers were intending a Christian nation to be developed is a weak argument given the profound influence of Unitarian theology in colonial America which was non-creedally based.   

Judith Sargent Murray, wife of John Murray the founder of Universalism in America had a profound impact on the social development of this country.  Her writings on education,on women’s issues, and on social concerns were ahead of her  time and influenced the development of public education, the suffrage movement, and the development of modern social work. 

2. Myth:  Unitarian Universalists can believe whatever they want. 

Not true.  Yes, we are a creedless faith just as our spiritual ancestors the Puritans did not have a creedal test for membership.  But just as our Puritan ancestors did, we have covenanted together to uphold certain standards.  Today we call those standards our seven principles.   And while our individual theologies may differ from one another, these theologies are to support our striving to live out these seven principles.  If our beliefs counter these principles, then we are challenged to examine our beliefs and explore how to bring them into alignment with these principles. 

3. Myth: Unitarian Universalists do not have a faith.  

No, I have a very strong faith.  My faith is not handed to me from some text book written thousands of years ago by a people who could not even imagine my life and culture.  My faith is an intimate and personal relationship with my here and now.  My faith is concerned with how closely I live my values now, and not on whether some hereafter judgment will allow me to enter a heavenly paradise. My faith is focused here in this life; the hereafter will take care of itself.   Yes, I have a strong faith.     

4.  Myth:  Unitarian Universalists are wishy-washy in their values. 

No. I am very firm in my values.  My values are based on my ability to sift through the lessons of humanity, seeing what is moral and good.  Using my intellect, my faculties of reason and experience; I weigh out the measure of what constitutes liberty, justice, and equality.  My values guide me to act in certain ways to help correct societal ills.  Many of us have come to conclude that one need not think alike in order to embrace others into our family. We have learned that from great diversity comes greater ideas and wisdom that can guide us in living our humanity collectively.  Our values give us the basis from which we are free to explore other religious thoughts without being threatened that those thoughts might reveal a truth that contradicts our presumptions.  My faith is firm in its values. 

5.  Myth: Unitarian Universalism is a cult.  

No.  Just because someone may not understand another’s faith does not mean the other person is in a cult.  There are distinct characteristics of a cult.  Cults tend to be insular.  Cults tend to want to separate from society.  They tend to want to isolate members from those from outside the group, including their friends and family.  Cults insist that their way of being and doing is the only course of action that is correct.  Cults tend to discourage questioning and free thinking about their beliefs.   Cults tend to have a central key figure who is charismatic and whose totalitarian authority is supreme above all others. We Unitarian Universalists want to question.  We want to encourage our young people to have critical thinking skills.  We want our young people to find a spiritual path that exemplifies and strengthens their values and moral convictions.  We want to be engaged in society, to seek improvements for all people, of all classes, races, and sexual orientation.  Our faith has been engaged with American Society since the days of King George III.  We value the democratic method of governance within our congregations.  No, we are not a cult.  In fact, we have our seven principles that we covenant to uphold that would help prevent any of our congregations from becoming cult-like. 

If you would like more information on Unitarian Universalism please check out http://www.uua.org or watch this video on youtube  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wezp1W2HKlU 

Rev. Fred L Hammond


Published in: on April 3, 2008 at 3:44 pm  Comments (1)  
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One Comment

  1. Fred,

    I posted this adaptation on our fellowship’s YahooGroup list.

    Concerning Myth #3

    A former co-worker and I used to talk about religious topics. When he learned that my particular stance under the UU umbrella was humanist/atheist, he got really fundamentalist on me after that by trying to show me the light. We had offices next door to each other. So, we often had impromptu opportunities to discuss things. One day the made the opening gambit, “I don’t see how you can believe in nothing.” My initial answer to my co-worker was not verbatim to your response in #3, but it was very close. (This happened between 15-20 years ago.) His response was, “But you’re an atheist; you don’t believe in God.”

    I said, “Yes, but so are you.”

    He really got his back up, almost yelling, “No, I’m not! I believe in God.”

    “But you don’t believe in Jupiter, Zeus, Zoroaster, Athena, Brahma, Krishna or any other god that sprang from any other culture from the past or present. Do you?”

    He had to admit that he did not believe in any of those other gods.

    I summarized by telling him that it really boiled down to the point that I was an atheist by only one more god than he was.

    On another occasion he called me a heretic. I thanked him. He told me that he wasn’t paying me a compliment. I told him that if he knew the real meaning of the word, he would realize that he really had paid me a supreme compliment. We were in my office that day, so he immediately used the huge Merriam-Webster dictionary there to look up heretic and heresy. He learned that a heresy was a choice and a heretic was the one who made the choice.

    On another day we discussed how a god who is omniscient and infallible so cannot create a being (us) that is truly a free moral agent, since every decision that one of these ‘freewill’ beings makes is already known by an infallibly omniscient god. Ergo, it wasn’t really a freewill choice if the maze was laid out ahead of time.

    We had many of these discussions. All were started by my co-worker. I was content to agree to disagree, but he seemed intent on converting me. After years of these exchanges, he told me one day, “I’m going have to stop having these discussions with you. Every time I get into it with you, I come away having doubts and questions about my faith.”
    I told him, “Craig, it’s never been my intent to change or create doubts or questions in your mind about your faith. You asked me what I thought. I told you. If you have questions about your faith because our discussions, then you may have some more digging to do.”
    He told me that he had started the questioning to prove me wrong at least and at best to convert me.
    I told him, “Look if you dig more into your denomination’s history, Bible study, and the like and your faith emerges unchanged, that’s fine for you. But if you do need to make adjustments, then embrace the new faith and move on.”

    Lee Veal
    Pres. UUF San Miguel de Allende, GTO Mexico

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