Pet Peeve: The claim Unitarian Universalists can believe whatever

I have a pet peeve. As a Unitarian Universalist minister  I get annoyed when Unitarian Universalists spread false messages about our faith.  A  false message that I hear often and from seasoned Unitarian Universalists is that we can believe whatever we want.   This simply is not true.  I want to ban this false statement from our message for ever. It does not serve us well.

I understand that when we state we have a creedless faith and when we do not have a statement of belief that people must agree to in order to be Unitarian Universalists that this is a difficult concept.  But just because we do not require people to give assent to a specific doctrine or belief does not mean the inverse is true that we can believe anything we want. This is false.

We have very specific beliefs. These beliefs are as foundational to who we are as any other faith.  Our beliefs come in the form of values found in liberal religious thought.  We have as our values the five smooth stones of liberal religion that were defined for us by James Luther Adams.  These five stones have been given five names:  Possibilities, Love, Courage, Responsibility, and Joy. We are aware that new possibilities are ever before us and so we declare that revelation is open and continuous.  We value the power of love and therefore declare that relationships are to be consensual and never coerced. We value courage and recognize that it is our responsibility to build the just and loving community even in the face of dangerous events.  We value responsibility and deny the immaculate conception of virtue.   Goodness is only brought about by actions that people  create and pursue.   We value Joy because we know that resources are always available, both human and divine, to bring about the changes we seek to make.  These resources are a cause for ultimate optimism.

These values of a free religious faith cancel out some beliefs as not helpful to us as Unitarian Universalists. We would not be able to be Unitarian Universalists if we believe that the whole of revelation was found in one set of scriptures because we believe that revelation is not sealed but ongoing. Therefore we look to the wisdom of all of the world’s religions and the words and deeds of prophetic women and men to discover what revelations they may reveal.

We would not be able to be a Unitarian Universalist if we believe that all people must make a choice for Jesus as Lord and Savior or be damned for all eternity because we believe that relationships are to be consensual and not coerced.  Such a belief lends itself  to coercion.

We would not be able to be a Unitarian Universalist if we believe that the just and loving community is only in the hereafter in some form of heaven because such a belief would remove our responsibility  towards creating a just and loving community in the here and now.

We would not be able to be a Unitarian Universalist if we believe that people are born good or bad.  This removes the responsibility that people have to choose to do good things. People may come from families that have historically chosen to do good things for their community, but it does not mean that a person born to this family is automatically good.  That person born to the family that has historically done good things must take the responsibility to also choose to do good things. They cannot be declared  good simply by virtue of birth.

We would not be able to be a Unitarian Universalist if we had an attitude of despair over the state of affairs of the world.  “Ours is no caravan of despair. ” We value joy and rejoice over the resources that are available to us to create the just and loving community.  We affirm that the arc of history is bent towards justice.

Unitarian Universalists have a set of principles and living sources in which we are asked to measure our beliefs against.    We choose to covenant together to uphold these principles as currently stated as we journey through this life.

Our principles are:  The inherent worth and dignity of every person;  Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations; Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations; A free and responsible search for truth and meaning; The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;  The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

As we search to find out which beliefs we hold are true, we measure them against these principles.  We ask ourselves questions about our beliefs.  Does our belief honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person?  Does our belief foster justice, equity, and compassion in human relations?  Does our belief promote acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations?  Does our belief lend itself to a free and responsible search for truth and meaning?

These principles become a standard in which we can investigate and delve into universal truths.  And while individually we might come to believe different things, we have come to see that different beliefs might lead us towards the same destination. Therefore we do not require a test of right belief in order for a person to join the Unitarian Universalist faith. So while we may have variance in the beliefs held by Unitarian Universalists, we do not believe that all beliefs  lead us the city on the hill.

A person who believes in White Supremacy would not be able to be a Unitarian Universalist because their belief does not measure up to the principles we have covenanted to uphold.  White Supremacy does not honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  White Supremacy does not foster justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.  White Supremacy does not promote acceptance of  one another.

So let us put aside this myth that Unitarian Universalists can believe whatever they wish.  It simply is not true.  We have strong beliefs in values that lead us to seek to create a better world, a world filled with justice for all.

Blessings,

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12 Comments

  1. Two responses – one flippant& one more serious.
    When I hear that tired old line about UU’s being able to believe whatever they want, my response is to say that I’ve never seen an animal sacrificed in any UU Church or Fellowship I’ve belonged to. My immediate and extended family are lifelong UU’s (on my Mom’s side, that is). They’ve never seen any animals slaughtered at the altar during a UU service.
    OK, to be serious: the closest I can get to an elevator speech is to say that we belive in a free and responsible search for the truth. One has to say both free AND responsible. This allows for a diversity of opinions about faith, ethics,etc., but also suggests that these journies cannot take us on paths of destruction, or paths that endanger our community.

  2. Amen, and amen to this posting.
    I teach Coming of Age in my church, and my first lesson to them is this very idea, that you can’t “believe anything you want.” I offer, instead, the idea that we believe that each person is the authority with respect to his/her own experience of the divine.
    Thank you for this. I especially like the James Luther Adams enumeration of the five smooth stones of liberal religion.


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