Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Five of Five

The final question (which was really the first) from Slouching Mom.

1. You belong to a UU church. One criticism often levelled at Unitarianism is that it is so inclusive (a good thing, IMO) that it loses what defines one religion versus another. In other words, if you believe in everything, isn't that really the same thing as believing in nothing? How would you respond to this criticism? Unabridged (v 1.1)
creed /krid/
1. any system, doctrine, or formula of religious belief, as of a denomination.
2. any system or codification of belief or of opinion.
3. an authoritative, formulated statement of the chief articles of Christian belief, as the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, or the Athanasian Creed.
4. the creed. Apostles' Creed.
[Origin: bef. 1000; ME crede, OE créda, crédō I believe; see credo] —Related forms
creedal, credal, adjective
creeded, adjective
creedless, adjective
creed·less·ness, noun
—Synonyms 1, 2. faith, conviction, credo, dogma. Unabridged (v 1.1)Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

A topic near and dear to my heart, this one. Just last night I was at a church board meeting where we viewed a video that is part of the new marketing campaign launched by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).

I think there's a misconception about UU that sometimes even exists within our churches. That idea that you can believe in anything you want and be a UU.

I'd like to shoot that one down right now.

When asked about our faith, many UUs frequently point out that our denomination does not have a creed. To quote the Rev. Marta Flanagan, "We uphold the free search for truth. We will not be bound by a statement of belief. We do not ask anyone to subscribe to a creed. We say ours is a non-creedal religion. Ours is a free faith." Now, according to the third and fourth definitions above, that is true. But according to the first two definitions, I'm not convinced that we're explaining ourselves very well when we wave the non-creedal flag.

Although our faith is inclusive, it is not all-inclusive. Some denominations (here I'm really thinking mostly of evangelical Christianity, but I could also include fundamentalist or orthodox sects within Judaism and Islam, and perhaps even Hindu) draw a very small circle around their beliefs. The small circle represents what they do believe, and everything outside the circle represents what they reject. Each denomination's circle is a little different; some are so similar that the differences can only be detected by those within the group. Liberal Christian (and Jewish, and Muslim, and Hindu, and Buddhist, etc.) denominations have larger circles of belief.

Unitarian Universalism, however, is perceived as having a circle so large that, in fact, there is no circle at all. There is nothing rejected. All is accepted.

That's simply not true.

In establishing our seven principles, our denomination has drawn a circle.

Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

  • 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.

Our circle, in its affirmation of the inherent worth and dignity of every person, rejects beliefs that create artificial hierarchies. We reject beliefs that tell wives to "graciously submit" to their husbands. We reject beliefs that form social castes. We reject beliefs that tell believers that killing others is justified and right. We reject ritual abuse and sacrifice. We reject a lot. But, even in that rejection, we must have compassion, or we're not respecting the worth and dignity of the believers in those fundamentalist, unjust religions. (Love the sinner, hate the sin, as my Baptist friends would say.)

And the other six principles uphold that first principle, which is the Unitarian Universalist "Golden Rule," the standard by which all actions and attitudes can be judged. Do my actions affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of this other person, this group of people?

Our faith's emphasis on inclusiveness is demonstrated well in our children's religious education programs, which incorporates study of world religions as well as Unitarian and Universalist history, the Bible, and social justice curricula. By teaching our children about these other faith traditions, we show them that the core beliefs of each of the major world religions are basically the same. But when we're teaching children about Buddhism, that doesn't mean we're teaching our children how to be Buddhists. We're not suggesting that they should. They already have a religion. When we visit other churches to learn about Neighboring Faiths, we never suggest to the children that they should start attending those churches regularly. Instead, we emphasize how similar many churches really are, in liturgy, in beliefs. That curriculum gives our children a more sophisticated understanding of our church's place in the surrounding faith community. They learn that, while our church is small and our denomination is really smaller, our heritage is deeply intertwined with most Protestant denominations.

We teach our children to respect other people's beliefs, even if they are different from their own. Those seven principles? Are at the core of the children's religious education program. And they form a system, a doctrine. Dare I say it? It looks like a creed to me.


Robin Edgar said...

Now if only the UUA could teach its ministers to respect other people's perfectly respectable beliefs, even if they are different from their own. . .

And yes, IMNSHO the Seven Principles of the U*U religious communitry, and some other similar statements of beliefs, principles and ideals, look a lot like creeds to me too. Unfortunately however, in the practice of rather too many U*Us, including U*U clergy, they do not walk like a creed. . .

slouching mom said...

Fantastic post/response! Not only incredibly well-reasoned but thought-provoking too!

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