A UU joke is the prayer, “Dear God, if there is a God, if you can, save my soul, if I have a soul.”
The joke above is funny because of its underlying truth. To some outsiders, the UUs seem to subscribe to a dizzying array of contradictory beliefs. Unitarian Universalists do not have a creed to which everyone must assent. Doubt is honored and is the basis of ongoing conversations in the church. In other words, people are free to believe what their hearts tell them about god, including those who doubt there is a god at all.
Many UUs come to this faith from other traditions. Some bring part of those traditions with them. For instance, I subscribe to many Buddhist teachings such as the interconnectedness of life. This notion aligns itself with the UU Seventh Principle, which is “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” Other UUs have jettisoned all of the beliefs they may have held before. Fashioning a new set of beliefs is a daunting task, but one that most UUs insist on for their own spiritual authenticity. For many, it’s part of reaching spiritual adulthood.
The UU faith rejects authority from outside oneself in matters of faith. Instead, what a person believes is based on inner experience, on one’s rational understanding of the world and universe, and one’s capacity to know intuitively when something is true. One way I conceptualize it is that knowledge is communal and truth, individual. We have tests for knowledge, such as the scientific method and logic, that everyone accepts, and thus we have common facts, concepts, and principles held by everyone. Truth, on the other hand, differs from one individual to the next, having been formed from experience and by the light of each individual’s deepest self. So there are many truths represented by the people who sit beside you in church. UUs respect this diversity, and indeed, revel in it as part of their strength as a faith community. It makes for a rich tapestry against which UU actions for social justice, mother earth, and the easing of others’ suffering take place.
I can remember reading a brief book called Universalism 101 that stated the purpose of the Unitarian Universalists was to establish the kingdom of god on earth. “Whoa!” I thought. What a mission! As I reflected on this, it occurred to me that’s exactly what I see UUs doing: If people in the community are hungry, they try to feed them. If New Americans have arrived, UUs help with learning English and satisfying other needs. If prisoners in jail need to hear of a faith tradition that accepts their worth and dignity just as they are, UUs minister to them. If the GLBT community needs visible support, UUs march in their parade. If a corporation wants to build on and thus destroy a section of virgin prairie land, UUs sign the petition against it and demonstrate with others to save this piece of mother earth. UUs aren’t waiting for perfection in heaven. In fact, who knows if there is a heaven? What we’re about is making the world better now, here. That is one certainty we all hold in common. So the church is like a crucible holding different beliefs in a humble container. What unites UUs is social action in the world consistent with the seven principles.
And if your beliefs feel stale and in need of being refreshed or reinvigorated, if you too want to lend a hand in making the world a better place in large and small ways, why not join us one Sunday to see what we’re all about?