Unitarian Universalism

22 Jun
I have mixed feelings about Unitarian Universalism (UUs). On the face of it, I think they do a lot of good. Any place where people of all faiths can come together and “commune” (for lack of a better word) for no other reason than to come together and listen to uplifting speeches is a good thing in my opinion. I think they represent the paragon of the so-called interfaith dialogue. I know a lot of atheist/agnostics on message boards who go to UU churches because of the social aspect of it; and the numbers show that it's going to church that contains many of the benefits usually associated with religion (improved health, a reduction in suicides, and increased marital fidelity), and not what the person believes.
Unfortunately, not many people know about the UU church. Today I read this article by a UU minister. It's an interesting article, and there are parts of it that subtly remind me of the “chaos” of early Christian Gnosticism; a Christianity that focused on personal revelations and not so much on dogmas or creeds. The writer stresses, like my previous paragraph, the goal of the UU church is being as liberal and open minded as possible, accepting people from all walks of “faith”.
But what about those on the outside of the UU church? This following quote hit kinda close to home for me:
I remember a tragic incident that occurred during my ministry. One evening I was called to the hospital to be with the mother of a two-year-old child who was brain-dead after choking on a piece of chewing gum. The mother, a Unitarian Universalist, was estranged from the child's father, who was of another faith. Leaving the hospital, I found myself in the elevator with the father's minister, and I said to him, “Well, we can do the memorial service together.” And he responded, “No, we can't. We don't worship the same God.” His comment made my sadness deeper still, and the estrangement of these families seemed ever greater.
I have a close friend from college that wasn't religious who a couple of years ago was dating a (not known to him) religious girl. Apparently, one of her friends convinced her that their relationship wouldn't work out for religious reasons. So they broke up. The question I consistently have asked myself since then is whether that sort of interfaith relationship – and its failure – was really a microcosm of a greater fundamental incompatibility between religions. Quite apropos to this post, he tried to salvage their perceived differences by suggesting that they go to a UU church together. She flat out rejected it.
It was really sad to see, since they obviously liked each other. They would sort of “revert” back to boyfriend-girlfriend mode for a couple of months after he graduated. He would go back to their alma mater to visit on certain weekends when mutual friends were having parties.
Anyway, I'm still not sure where I place myself along the lines of the accomodationalist/confrontationalist atheism infighting. If the two stories above really are endemic to religion, then it would seem that the accomodationalists – those who think that religious and non-religious people can get along – are fighting a losing battle. And the confrontationalists – those who argue that religion doesn't deserve respect and should be wiped out (one of the reasons due to its “inherently” divisive nature) – are right. I would like to be an accomodationalist; I would like to live in a world where we can all get along… but what I would like human/religious nature to be might not necessarily be what it actually is. So my mixed feeling about UU is that it might be a fool's errand; blind to the nature of the type of religion people want.
So I am sort of split between a MLK/Professor X approach towards religion and a Magneto/Malcolm X approach:
Professor X: “Killing… won't bring you peace”
Magneto: “Peace was never an option”
Hopefully, though, things like Unitarian Universalism will win out in the end. And maybe, like 100 years from now or something, people like my friend and his ex-girlfriend could stay together without perceived religious differences dividing them.

Posted by on June 22, 2011 in interfaith


2 responses to “Unitarian Universalism

  1. A Garner

    July 8, 2011 at 3:40 am

    This might be right out of the blue, but I stumbled across your blog and am rather intrigued to say the least. As someone who studies epistemology and philosophy of religion, I've been having a good time sifting through your posts.

    This one in particular, though, struck me as relavent to my interests. I am an atheist that is extremely involved in the interfaith cooperation movement. Because of this I would like to quickly comment on the last part of your post as someone who has had experiences working with the religious and non-religious within the context of interfaith: not only is it possible for the religious and the non-religious to get along, I see it happen everyday. The best thing about it is that the interfaith groups that I am a part of move past simple tolerance. There is an acknowledgement that even though I think that the evangelical christian and muslims that I work with everyday are wrong about many, if not all, of their theological views, I can still respect them and work with them around universally held values (like feeding the hungry, promoting social justice, etc) in spite of our philosophical differences (just like your average Deontologist and Utilitarian can get along and actually learn from one another).

    …but that's just my two cents. I'm just extremely passionate about the the idea that King (and Professor X!) are right and that we can all not only get along but actually learn from each other.

    There's an atheist blogger who does a lot of good work around this particular issue if you're interested. His name is Chris Stedman and here's a link to one of his articles that I think sums up his view rather well as to why interfaith work is important and in particular why atheists should be involved: and

  2. Being Andrea's Mom

    August 9, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    Hi Jermaine. I really liked what you wrote and I am usually saddened how sometimes people are different faiths divide others. I think some times is not their faith per say that divide individuals but the lack of the person wanting to learn from others.

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