Thursday, September 22, 2011

The First Principle is the Hardest. . .

Most of the members of our household are Unitarian Universalists. Now, there are a whole lot of people out there who don't know what those are - which is a little stunning to me, given UU history, but not so odd when I think back and realize that at one time I myself didn't know a whole lot about UUism. What I have always known, however, is that Unitarian Universalism is a mainstream religion, so it does absolutely confound me when people insist on believing otherwise.

So, I'd like to take a moment to discuss UU history and values.

Unitarian Universalism was created by the merger of Unitarians and Universalists in 1961.

Unitarianism had been in Europe since the mid-1500s, and in America since the early 1800s. There have been many famous American Unitarians, among them Paul Revere, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Quincy Adams, and Louisa May Alcott.

Universalism became popular in the late 1700s; English Universalists fled to America to escape religious persecution, and the movement took off. A few Universalist names you might recognize include Clara Barton, John Murray, and P.T. Barnum.

The Unitarian and Universalist denominations were both Christian. Because both organizations eschewed dogmatism, however, the consolidation led to a more inclusive approach to religion. Now, you may meet Unitarian Universalists who are Christian, Jewish, atheist, Muslim, or of any other belief system. Unitarian Universalism is a popular choice with families whose members come from more than one religious background, because it does not require that anyone relinquish long-held beliefs or customs. In fact, it honors the religious traditions of its members. Anyone who wants to can attend Passover, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or other religious holiday services, and no one is pressured to attend any of them.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the lack of a creed means that Unitarian Universalists as a whole have no value system. Unitarian Universalism congregations "affirm and promote" seven principles. Those 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.

The first principle is the hardest for me to internalize. Then again, as a Christian I've always believed that I should love my enemies, and I've always struggled with that one, too. I think that most people who are honest will admit to some difficulty recognizing the inherent worth of others sometimes; furthermore, how much inherent worth a person has, or what it means to love, isn't always clear - and sometimes it's easier to plead ignorance or argue minimums than it is to work at recognizing and loving.

I do admit to bristling a bit when people hurl ridiculous comments out about Unitarian Universalism. For instance, when I hear that my beliefs are dangerous or unhealthy or wrong or one of the other ways the insult is often worded, I would love to respond with, "Um, so you don't believe that every person has worth and dignity? Or maybe the problem is that we shouldn't be compassionate? Or do you take issue with peace and freedom?"

But I don't. Instead, I blog.

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