One View of What We Believe
By Rev. John Nichols, Interim Minister
with appreciation to the Rev. Jane Rzepka, whose format has been adapted.
Our Unitarian Universalist beliefs are deeply rooted in the ages-old struggle for religious freedom and human dignity.
We are inspired by the testimony in Jewish scriptures against any and all attempts to enslave people in body or in spirit. We are equally moved by the affirmations of Jesus and his disciples that all men, women, and children are worthy of respect, justice, and mercy. We stand in the footsteps of sixteenth century reformers Francis David and John Sigismund, who fought for religious freedom in an age of intolerance and bigotry.
Like Origen, in the third century, we believe in the use of reason in religion. Like Arius in the fourth century we believe in the humanity (rather than divinity) of Jesus. Like Michael Servetus, a sixteenth century reformer and martyr, we believe that the trinity is an artificial construction of the later church—hence we earned the name Uni rather than Trinitarians. Like John Murray, founder of the first Universalist church in America, we believe that if there is salvation in another life there is universal salvation—everyone is reconciled. There is no Hell. There never was. For this belief we were called Universalists.
Unitarian minister, poet, and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson has taught us to find inspiration in the natural world as well as in the teachings of Eastern and mystical religious traditions. Unitarian poet Samuel Longfellow reminds us that life is constantly unfolding new hints of beauty and inspiration—“revelation” he wrote in a hymn we sing “is not sealed.”
Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, and Dorothea Dix, an outspoken prison reformer, teach us that high-minded idealism does little good unless related to concerns of suffering people in the world. Olympia Brown and host of others have demanded that we honor the unique contributions of women as well as of men. Because many of our religious forebears were persecuted and some killed for what they believed, we choose not to prescribe what others should believe in our midst. Thus we have no creeds. We do have commitments that we make to one another.
Our humanist movement has helped us to appreciate that non-theistic religious languages address these ideals better for some, and leaders of all walks of religious life continue to shape our thinking. We are not afraid of new ideas and influences because over the years we have learned too much from experiences that seemed difficult at first and then proved to be valuable.
Here is another way to summarize what we believe:
1. Life is essentially good. Bad things happen because people cause them to happen, but madness is never the last word. Hope is. The power of creation binds and heals us if we will work with it.
2. Each person is an expression of life’s power and creativity. Some of us would say with the Quakers, “There is ‘that of God’ within each person.” Others would speak of the dignity of each individual.
3. Therefore good relationships are sacred in our tradition, because in a genuine relationship the holy in me touches the holy in you. Our congregations are knit together by the commitments of individuals to one another rather than to set creeds.
4. We must never lose our sense of urgency about following the ethical demands of our religious beliefs to the real world of difficult decisions and suffering people. We must—as congregations and as individuals—try to bring energy, hope, and courage to the world even in its darker moments. Photo: Chalice – image by Vern Caption: A flaming chalice is a symbol of the Unitarian Universalist faith. This symbol was first used by the Unitarian Service Committee during World War II to suggest sacrifice and love.