Ask The Unitarian Universalist

Well, we all like asking questions, and I certainly like answering them, so, in the grand tradition of other “Ask the…” type threads. I hearby initiate the “Ask the Unitarian Universalist” thread for immediate posting.

Wanna know what the heck a Unitarian Universalist is anyways?

Wanna know if we all dance around naked smoking pot and worshiping the Earth-Mother?

Wanna know if we’re all religion-hating, liberal, athiest, commie bastards?

These questions and more will be answered, so ask away!

Uh…whats a unitarian universalist?

So, what is it with UUs and Dilbert? or Charlie Brown?

Ok, I’ll ask?

What is a UU anyways?

What are the main tenents of your faith?

Ok, the basics…

What is a UU?

Well Unitarian Universalism has its roots in the Unitarian and the Universalist churches, formed in the early 1800s and late 1700s respectively. Basically, they were both liberally-minded (religiously, not necessarily politically) denominations who believed that folks should worship God in whatever fashion He wanted. This could be different for each person, and is really the foundation of what Unitarian Universalism is today (the churches joined in the early '60s).

The basic “doctrine” of UUism is declared in our 7 “principles,” which are as follows:

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

Belief in these principles are really all one needs if he/she wishes to be a UU. As an organization we are creedless, although many of us have faiths and other religious affiliations asside from UUism. The minister at the church I used to attend was a very seriously practicing Buddhist. A large number of the UUs I know believe in a “Christian” god to some extent. A lot of them came to the UU church to explore their spirituality on a more individual and personal level than they felt they could in their previous church.

There are UU Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Agnostics, Athiests, Pagans, or whatever.

Well, gotta get back to work, hope this answers at least a little bit the “what are you” question.

As for Dilbert and Peanuts… what are you talking about? :confused:

On repeated occasions recently, the newly elected president of UUA expressed thoughts such as the following offered before All Souls Church Sanctuary, Washington D.C.:

*At a foundational level we need to know that it is not all right, that it is never all right for this to happen. Where is God today? Is God with my daughter who fears for my safety? Is God for my son who would reassure me? Is
God for you who are concerned about those you love? Is God with me as I deal with my own fears and anxieties? Where is God today?

We are passing through the valley of the shadow, and as people of faith we must trust that God will be with us. Where is God today? I know at least one place where God is, and that is in the presence of this company. We embody a
hope and a promise for relationships which can help us not only live through this time, but triumph. May this coming together tonight be a time which supports you all. And may you know deep in your souls that there is a spirit
of life, there is a God, which has never forsaken you and never will. *

Are we to interpret this as reflecting official institutional policy to marginalize nontheists?

So what is a typical service like? Is there a typical service?

There seems to be an almost cosmic connection between UUs and Dilbert. There was an ongoing joke that the day Dilbert’s tie was straight, that was the signal that he had lost his virginity. So after a lengthy series of strips having him date his newest girlfriend Liz, one day his tie is straight. Dogbert questions him mercilessly about how calm and happy he seems. Finally it hits him. Click here for the last frame.

Also, in one of the Dilbert newsletters, there is a purity test of sorts, where one of the items is “20 points if you’ve ever become aroused by reading the strip. (10 bonus points if you’re a Unitarian.)”

Then we have this “You may be a Unitarian Universalist if…” quiz, where one of the items is “You may be a Unitarian Universalist if you consider Charlie Brown & Dilbert to be spiritual leaders.”

It also seems that almost every UU member home page I visit has a link to either the Dilbert Zone or some Peanuts archive.

Nothing mean was meant by my post. It was just a random observation. There was actually a point where I considered becoming a UU myself.

Good question, and the answer I think, is yes or no, depending on who you ask. My congregation does not associate all that strongly with the UUA (unitarian universalist association), but others do. It has been interesting to read in the UU World (magazine published by the UUA) letters to the editor over the years. One theme that is constant is the struggle between theism and nontheism. Someone will write an article, and people will write letters to the editor complaining that the author was too exclusionary or Christ-centric. People will respond to that with, “well, just personalise it, when someone says “god” they just mean whatever you believe in” or some such obscurity.

I am an athiest, and I would not say that there is “institutional policy” to marginalize nontheists, but I would say that often we are forgotten about or told to “use our imaginations” by the UUA. I’d like to see the president give a speach devoid of all mention of god and if people complain, say “well, the meaning is the same, you can add god in there in your head if it makes you feel better.”

But, the UUA is really by no means representative of any specific congreagation. In my personal experience in a number of UU churches, I have never felt marginalized because of my atheism (but for political views, watch out!), but I won’t deny that there are Judeo-Christian undertones that tend to creep up.

And yeah, that speach by the UU pres did irk me a bit.

Well, not really. It seems to vary a lot from church to church. The church I used to go to had a minister, and we’d sing a hymn, the minister would give his sermon, readings, whatever, some more music interspersed, and that’s that. Really a basic, typical church-type experience.

My current church is a bit difference. We are relatively small, and lay-lead. In other words, we don’t have a minister, and members of our fellowship sign up to “do a service.” We generally try to have a theme for each year, but people are not restricted to that theme. One year our theme was “this I believe,” and people did a lot of services just talking about what is important to them and their belief systems. Last year our theme was “holidays and holy days,” and people did services relating to different holidays that they celebrated. We have guest ministers and such as well, so there is occasionally some more “professional” influence, and we’ve actually got a few ex-ministers from various christian denominations who lead services occasionally. Some people like to just give a sermon the whole time, others have more interactive things planned, others use a lot of music, it varies as much as the members of our fellowship vary. I did a service a few years ago about community and change, as I had just moved away from home to go to college (a 30 mile move, but a move none the less). I had a few friends from school help me, and we shared what community meant to us in a time when we were leaving the communities of our childhood and moving to something different. We had a lot of music (the only song I really remember from it was Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son”).

As for other parts of our service, we also tend to have a 10-20 minute time at the end of the service for people to share and ask questions of whoever lead the service. At the beginning we have a portion called “candles of joy and concern” during which people can come up and light a candle in recognition of a joy/concern they may have regarding anything, and they can share (or not) with the fellowship what that is.


No offense taken at all. The question-mark-face was just a look of confusion. The frown associated with it was unintentional. I do remember that dilbert strip, now that I see it again.

I think that actually one of the qualifiers for being a Unitarian is being able to laugh a lot at Unitarian jokes, 'cause face it, they’re funny!:slight_smile:

I’m a UU who reads Dilbert every day and gives thanks that I don’t work in business.

Hey! I thought I was the UU Poster Boy around here? :frowning: <kicks dirt> Aw, shucks!

If you need help and/or another perspective (and, really, what UU doesn’t crave another perspective?), I’m here.

Esprix, the original Ask the… :wink:

Okay, I’ve been trying to find a faith to suit me for some time now, and I’ve strongly considered UU. There seems to be room for my Christian-leaning beliefs, but I wonder:

Do a lot of UU’s believe in an afterlife? I read most didn’t, and I think that’s a pretty fundamental difference of opinion, significant enough to make me look elsewhere.

What kind of hymns do you sing? One of my main problems with traditional Christian services is the songs and other parts of the service put way, WAY too much emphasis on how bad of a sinner I am and how I don’t deserve to be alive but for the grace of God. I want a faith that celebrates God AND humanity. Does UU do this?

Hey, stop stealing my thunder! Although I suppose you could give the “West Coast” perspective on UUism. Just make sure you keep it west of the Big Muddy. :wink:

As far as your questions about belief in an afterlife, I’d say it really does depend on your congregation. The statement that “most” UUs don’t is, IMHO, pretty false. Probably about 60% or more of the UUs in my church have Christian backgrounds and beliefs… I haven’t talked with all of them about their specific beliefs regarding the afterlife, but I would assume that a significant amount of those people, who believe in the god of the bible, do believe in an afterlife. There are also plenty of folks who don’t believe in an afterlife. That, in my mind, is part of the beauty of UUism. I, an athiest, can be president of my church (just think about that for a second) and explore spirituality with people of all sorts of other beliefs.

As far as hymns, we have a UU hymnal, which, as far as I know, does not have any guilt-type songs. It is very celebratory. There are a lot of “traditional” Christian hymns, some with slightly different text, and many UU hymns written by UUs (there’s actually one in there by my old minister!). If you were really interested in what’s in there specifically I could get you a partial list of some UU hymns or something like that when I get home from work today.

But also, we do (at least my congregation, remember, a lot of this stuf is very congregation specific) most of our music from outside of the hymnal. On a typical service we may do one hymn, and two other songs, a lot of the time from a great book, Rise Up Singing, a collection of folk/popular/spiritual songs which is just an awesome anthology of folk music. For example, our last service, we did one hymn, “Ripple” by the Greatful Dead, and another folky tune called “Song of the Soul.”

The hymnal though, in my opinion, is pretty good.

Another UUer checking in.

As you may have guessed from a few of the answers, congregations vary greatly in nearly every aspect. My congregation has a service that goes like this (from Sept. to June - the summer service is usually a little more informal and is more of a presentation by congregation members on how they practice their “UUism” - a very good one last year was given by a member who had bicycled across the US and how that reaffirmed his beliefs):

Meet and greet-gab in the social area
Small bell rings (I usually go into chapel and light a commerative candle for my brother). Take seats (I sit with a group of little old ladies in the back).
Lighting of unity candle
Welcome, announcements from various committees. Newcomers are asked to stand and introduce themselves if they choose.
First song (anything from Christian hymn to traditional folk song to Bob Dylan to whatever).
Introduction of topic
Reading and discussion by minister
Moment of meditation
Collection of donations
Extinguishing of unity candle
Social hour

I enjoy it because of the completely non-judgemental approach taken - believe what you want, just be good to each other. How simple, but effective, a message is that?

As to the afterlife - I happen to believe in one. I believe that the afterlife is whatever you want it to be. You want pearly gates, Cloud-o-matic recliners, halos, harps, etc.? You’ve got it. College football and beer for eternity? You get an infinite number of channels and Keith Jackson on every one telling you that “Whoa, Nelly, that boy can run with the football!”

That’s my approach to UUism.

UU Coffee hour…newcomer walks in and announces:

“I worship the rock in my pocket.”

UU Greeter “Do you find that fullfilling? I believe the other rock worshippers meet on Tuesday nights, if you are interested…can I fill your coffee cup?”

If you are lucky enough to live in an area with several UU congregations, there will be a lot of diversity between congregations. Some are much more Christian leaning, some more lay based, some functionally pagan covens looking for a respectible cover story, some more theistically based, others go out of their way to be humanist.

I try to avoid, and prevent, inter-message-board rivalries to the greatest extent possible.
The forum I used to moderate over on the Pizza Parlor ( ) had a “Ask the Unitarian/Universalist” thread months ago, conducted by NYCNative (better known to long-time SDMB habitues as Satan).

(And Esprix was invited to cohost it but declined.)

So nyah nyah… :stuck_out_tongue:


OK, my turn. :slight_smile: Just so ya’s know, been a UU since thomasm introduced it to me back in, oh, 1986 or so, involved in both local churches and regional affairs, involved in the UU Musician’s Network, the UU Gay & Lesbian Affairs Committee, and was a choir director for seven years.

Originally posted by Eonwe

Well Unitarian Universalism has its roots in the Unitarian and the Universalist churches, formed in the early 1800s and late 1700s respectively. Basically, they were both liberally-minded (religiously, not necessarily politically) denominations who believed that folks should worship God in whatever fashion He wanted. This could be different for each person, and is really the foundation of what Unitarian Universalism is today (the churches joined in the early '60s).

Basically, but I like the fact that there’s more to it than that. :slight_smile: If I may paraphrase a bit from “Unitarian Universalist Origins: Our Historic Faith” by Mark W. Harris…

Both Universalism Unitarianism, as theologies, can be traced back to the origins of Christianity itself. Unitarianism, believing in the “oneness” of God in Jesus (“follow Jesus, God’s messenger, but worship God”), was a viable option until the Trinity was made dogma (Nicene Creed, 325 CE). Universalism, believing that everyone would be saved by an all-loving God, was another “option” before then. Anyone believing these things afterwards were considered heretics.

Lots of changes happened during the Reformation, including the beginnings of an establishment of Unitarianism in the mid-16th century in Transylvania (followed by oppression and suppression into the 17th century). Unitarian minister Joseph Priestley left England in 1791 and established American Unitarian churches in Philadelphia, coinciding with the flourishing of free thinkers in Puritan New England in the mid-18th century. The American Unitarian Association was formed in Boston in 1825.

Universalism also developed in the United States around the same time. There were Universal Baptists in Philadelphia(1781) and the first Universalist church in Massachusetts. Universalists were also the first denomination to ordain women in 1863. Universalism officially organized in 1793.

Both denominations are rife with social justice causes: abolitionism, suffrage, prison reform, mental hospitals, public schooling, and so on. Their liberal ideals spread to their theology, giving support to religious freedom of choice, humanism, respect for all faiths, and respect for no faith. The two churches, seeing their common liberal religious voice, joined in 1961 and formed the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Loved this quote:

Dinsdale, many UU’s have noticed that the older congregations, notably in the northeastern United States, tend to be more Christian-leaning than the newer congregations spread out around the rest of the country. Since the UUA’s headquarters are in Boston, the presidency has, in the past, often reflected the northeast’s sensibilities. Regardless of the president elected and his or her personal religious views, they cannot be considered the only representative voice; UUism cannot, by its very definitions, be represented by only one voice. What the President gives us is leadership and direction, but, like the U.S. President, is there because we voted him there (we’re a highly democratic bunch). We respect his opinion as much as anyone else’s… :wink: But, as Eonwe pointed out, there is sometimes a theist/non-theist dychotomy in the denomination which is often discussed and debated (it’s what UU’s do best). Fortunately, within larger metropolitan areas, the chances of you finding a UU church that fits you best are high - traditionalists in one, non-conformists in another, and in Texas we even have an all-Pagan congregation now.

pcubed, I think Scott Adams is a closet UU, myself, but he certainly knows us well. And I think the simplicity of “Peanuts,” particularly when they delve into “spiritual” topics, is what UU’s find so amusing. Another good strip I see many UU ministers have on their desks is “Kudzu,” as they often make humorous UU references.

romansperson, I also notice, from having attended many UU services around the country, that each church tends to develop its own special traditions and “feel,” but things like the chalice, the hymnal, and the kinds of topics discussed are pretty much common throughout the church. (My old church also had “joys & concerns,” always my favorite part of the service.)

SNenc, I was around during the refit of the original “Songs for the Celebration of Life,” the UU hymnal, and let me say, I am very proud of the work they did on it. It is quite a collection of varied faiths, styles, and world musics, and I guarantee you’ll find many things in there you can personally relate to. As a choir director I tried to choose a wide variety of music, from classical and traditional Christian pieces (though not very much, as my church was a bunch of ex-hippie liberals) to contemporary stuff to songs from other faiths as the need required. As a musician I found it very well-rounded and fulfilling.

And Polycarp, do you still love me? :wink:


Well, of course – but I wouldn’t upset Matt McL by saying so! :wink:

I was just rereading parts of the infamous “Christianity and Love” thread, in which you spoke of the UU stance on several issues (as against a fundamentalist Christian and my own orthodox-liberal stance). Not to mention the Flaming Chalice… :eek: