A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism

1. We believe in the freedom of religious expression. All individuals should be encouraged to develop a personal theology, and to openly present their religious opinions without fear of censure or reprisal. 2. We believe in tolerance of religious ideas. The religions of every age and culture have something to teach those who listen. 3. We believe in the authority of reason and conscience. The ultimate arbiter in religion is not a church, a document, or an official, but the personal choice and decision of the individual. 4. We believe in the search for truth. With an open mind and heart, there is no end to the fruitful and exciting revelations that the human spirit can find. 5. We believe in the unity of experience. There is no fundamental conflict between faith and knowledge; religion and the world; the sacred and the secular. 6. We believe in the worth and dignity of each human being. All people on earth have an equal claim to life, liberty, and justice; no idea, ideal, or philosophy is superior to a single human life. 7. We believe in the ethical application of religion. Inner grace and faith finds completion in social and community involvement. 8. We believe in the force of love, that the governing principle in human relationships is the principle of love, which seeks to help and heal, never to hurt or destroy. 9. We believe in the necessity of the democratic process. Records are open to scrutiny, elections are open to members, and ideas are open to criticism, so that people might govern themselves. 10. We believe in the importance of a religious community. Peers confirm and validate experience, and provide a critical platform, as well as a network of mutual support.

A religion is not contained in a single book; there's something religious in almost any book.

But authentic worship also has depth.

Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life.

Good worship will strive for height.

Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.

I believe that we are here to some purpose, that the purpose has something to do with the future, and that it transcends altogether the limits of our present knowledge and understanding. If you like, you can call the transcendent purpose God. If it is God, it is a Socinian God, inherent in the universe and growing in power and knowledge as the universe unfolds. Our minds are not only expressions of its purpose but are also contributions to its growth. —Freeman Dyson, Infinite in All Directions

I can believe a miracle because I can raise my own arm. I can believe a miracle because I can remember. I can believe it because I can speak and be understood by you. —Ralph Waldo Emerson, Unitarian minister and essayist

In the horizontal dimension, worship needs to have breadth to be inclusive.

Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.

None of us is fully able to perceive the truth that shines through another person’s window, nor the falsehood that we may perceive as truth. Thus, we can easily mistake another’s good for evil, and our own evil for good.

Occasionally, we may even use something special, like the Gustav Holst Hymns from the Rig Veda.

Of course, I am a heretic. The word hairesis in Greek means choice; a heretic is one who is able to choose. Its root stems from the Greek word hairein, to take. Faced with the mystery of life and death, each act of faith is a gamble. We all risk choices before the unknown. -Forrest Church

Once upon a time there was a king who asked his servant to bring to him all the people in the town who were born blind, and also an elephant. “This is an elephant,” he said to them. “Each one of you may touch this elephant, and when you have done so I want you to tell me what an elephant is like.” He let one touch the elephant’s head, another its ears, and others its tusks, trunk, legs, back, and tail. “Your Majesty, an elephant is like a large waterpot,” said the one who had only touched the elephant’s head. “Your Majesty, he is wrong,” rejoined the one who had touched the ears. “An elephant is like a flat basket.” The others insisted as adamantly upon the insights drawn from their own limited experience, respectively comparing the elephant to the sharp end of a plow, a thin rope, a big crib full of wheat, four pillars and, finally, a fan. Upon finishing this parable, Buddha said to the seekers who had been quarreling over the nature of God and the afterlife, “How can you be so sure of what you cannot see? We all are like unsighted people in this world. We cannot see God. Nor can we know what is going to happen after we die. Each one of you may be partly right in your answers. Yet none of you is fully right. Let us not quarrel over what we cannot be sure of.

Over the years, I have been disappointed at times, but more often it has been my low expectations of people that have been upset.

Parts of the first chapter are adapted from my 1980 lectures, Born Again Unitarian Universalism, which happily this introduction to our faith will now supplant.

Religion is dangerous, of course, because its power is independent of the universal validity of its claims. Every generation has its terrorists for Truth and God, hard-bitten zealots for whom the world is large enough for only one true faith. They have been taught to worship at one window, and then to prove their faith by throwing rocks through other peoples’ windows. Tightly drawn, their logic makes a demonic kind of sense: (1) religious answers respond to life and death questions, which happen to be the most important questions of all; (2) you and I may come up with different answers; (3) if you are right, I must be wrong; (4) but I can’t be wrong, because my salvation hinges upon being right; therefore (5), short of abandoning my own faith and embracing yours, in order to secure my salvation I am driven to ignore, convert, or destroy you.

The living tradition we share draws from many sources …

The lure of the various isms, though hardly unknown to religious people, may be even more intense for those who avoid religion.

The second certainty is associated with spirit, as in Pasternak’s novel, Dr. Zhivago, when the physician says to a young woman dying of cancer, “Your spirit will live on, you know. Your spirit is you in others, others in you.

This realization is the first of many awakenings that have shaped my understanding of what religion means: Religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die.

We have arrived where we are because of all that lies behind us. Finally, effective worship asks us to stretch forward. It has a dimension of aspiration.

WE ONLY KNOW two things for certain: “I am,” and “I will die.

Where's your church?"
"We're standing in it."
"But this is a bookstore and it's a Friday."
"Yes, but you might also choose to see it as a cathedral of the human spirit-a storehouse consecrated to the full spectrum of human experience. Just about every idea we've ever had is in here somewhere. A place containing great thinking is a sacred space.