A visitor to a Unitarian Universalist church sat through the sermon
with growing incredulity at the heretical ideas the minister
expressed. After the sermon, a member of the congregation asked the
visitor: ?so how did you like it??
?I can?t believe half the things the minister said? sputtered the visitor.
?Oh good, then you fit right in!?
Then, of course, there?s the classic-?Why does the Unitarian
Universalist cross the road?? ?To support the chicken in its
search for its own path.?
Trying to describe Unitarian Universalism is not an easy task, and
humor often helps, especially if we can use stereotypes that contain a
grain of truth about ourselves. It?s difficult for many people to
understand a way of thinking about religion that is not couched in
either/or terms or that does not require just one way of thinking.
It?s not easy to talk about a church where the sermon title implies
that the minister may believe in Evolution, but not in God! I do
describe myself, after all, as a Religious Mystical Humanist, but more
on that later.
Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religious denomination that
draws from two traditions: the Universalists, who organized in 1793,
and the Unitarians, who organized in 1825. They merged into the the
Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in 1961. Both groups trace
their roots to the early Pilgrims and Puritans in Massachusetts and
o overseas, their heritages go back centuries to England, Poland, and
Transylvania. The Unitarians were so named because they did not
believe in the trinity or the trinitarians, and saw Jesus as human,
not the divine. The Universalists were so named because they believe
in universal salvation rather than predestination- that loving God
would save all humankind. Both these terms were heresies actually from
the beginning of Christianity, but especially after the Protestant
Reformation, then in colonial New England as religious evolution began
to taker place.
Indeed, the oldest continuous church in America, the Pilgrim church
in Plymouth, MA became a UU church in 1805! But, we?ve been sitting on
the franchise, brothers and sisters, because we don?t proselytize.
Oh, no not us! We don?t believe in converting people because most of
after all, don?t believe in original sin, hell, even heaven or any
kind of afterlife, so there?s no real REASON to convert people since
we don?t have to SAVE THEM FROM ANYTHING! Well I know a lot of folks
who need saving – from themselves! From despair? From loneliness! from
meaninglessness? from lack of community! Maybe we should rethink
We say we want to grow, though. That seems to be OK. It?s as if the
word, ? growth,?doesn?t have any religious connotation. The difficulty
is that we?re really not sure why we want to grow unlike the mega
churches of the traditional Christina movement.
OK. So why are we proud Darwin was a Unitarian and why do we believe
in him when some of us aren?t so sure about God? I?ll have to admit
that part of the title was in response to a big sign that the
conservative church up the street had out for the last couple of
weeks, which I noticed they?ve recently taken in, that said ?The Bible
Vs. Darwin,? and I?ve no doubt that Darwin came in second. Their Bible
verses on the sign are usually the more conservative type that seem to
me negative and condemning, but that?s what some religious folk want,
of course. Not us. They take the Bible literally, or at least, they
think they do. Actually, they take some parts literally, since the
Bible also contradicts itself. Believe me, EVERYONE interprets the
Bible and there are a variety of interprestions even in conservative
This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin,
and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the
Species. His grandfather was an outright atheist ,and Darwin
considered himself more of an agnostic, but he attended a Unitarian
church with his mother. in England. Jesus was not part of the Trinity,
not divine, not part of a need for salvation. But he would have been
taught the teachings of Jesus about love and justice, about community
and compassion. ?I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free, ?
wrote Darwin,? so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved
(and I cannot resist forming one on every subject), as soon as the
facts are shown to be opposed to it. ?
In an August 15, 2006 NY Times article on evolution and Creationism,
astounding stats- ?Did Humans Evolve? Not Us, Say Americans?
?In surveys conducted in 2005, people in the United States and 32
European countries were asked whether to respond ”true,” ”false”
or ”not sure” to this statement: ”Human beings, as we know them,
developed from earlier species of animals. ”The United States had the
second-highest percentage of adults who said the statement was false
and the second-lowest percentage who said the statement was true,
researchers reported in the current issue of Science. Only only 39.7%
in US accept evolution! Only adults in Turkey expressed more doubts on
evolution. In Iceland,
85% agreed with the statement.?
Isn?t that incredible? People in other advanced countries believe in
evolution, but not in the US. That in this day and age, people in
this country still don?t believe in Darwin, but do believe in the
book of Genesis which was never meant to be science?
Sir Robert May, President of the Royal Society in England, perhaps
talking about evolution and those people who don?t believe in it, said
– “We share half our genome with the banana. This is more evident in
some of my acquaintances than others.”
Or British Biologist, JBS Haldane, after a lifetime studying
creation was asked what he had been able to conclude about the nature
of the Creator. ?God,? he said dryly,?Seems inordinately fond of
Darwin held off publishing his famous book for many years because he
feared what the outcome would be; indeed he feared it might destroy
religion! He certainly knew it would cause controversy, yet he
couldn?t have imagined that it would till be going in in the he 21st
century! When he died his friends wanted to put a quote on his
headstone from Emerson??Beware when God lets loose a thinker on this
planet.? Emerson, a Unitarian minister before he became a famous
author and lecturer became a strong supporter of Darwin and was
himself a lover of shall we say worshiper of nature seeing the divine
within as a naturalist theism. As in Transcendentalism there was what
we now call earth-centered spirituality in nature that some might call
God, others, evolution .
Traditionally we have been open to science, so when one looks at
famous Unitarians one sees a long list in the sciences including
Isaac Newton, Jospeh Priestly (discoverer of Oxygen) and Tim
Berners-Lee , the creator of the world wide web.
We have been turned off by traditional religion for the most part
and when we take our surveys we fins that 90% of us were raised in
other religious traditions, though more and more people are coming
with no religious tradition!
In an article on the UUA website titled, ?The Relationship Between
Religion and Science,? Reverend Gary Kowalski, writes, ?Faith comes to
us in the form of questions and quandaries. In the book of Job, for
example, God speaks in the interrogative mood rather than imperative.
?Brace yourself,”?the Almighty warns Job. ?I will ask questions and
you will answer.? From the whirlwind, God queries, ?Where were you
when I created the heavens and the earth? Have you comprehended the
vast expanse of the world?” A lengthy list of inquiries ensues…. And
as a result of this relentless quizzing, Job is finally reconciled?not
because he has been given any answers or rationalizations that could
account for his fate, but because he has been forced to encounter the
enigma of existence at deeper, more daunting levels.
Einstein was one who cultivated a taste for mystery. In the last
decades of his life, he was regarded as a bit of a crank by other
physicists, bent upon a seemingly quixotic quest for a unified field
theory when scientific fashion was headed elsewhere. Now, fifty years,
later, researchers have rejoined Einstein’s pursuit, understanding
that while he never did obtain his elusive quarry, he was at least
asking the right questions, drawn on by an almost romantic attraction.
…?To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting
itself as the highest wisdom and most radiant beauty which our dull
faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms?this
knowledge, this feeling,” proclaimed Einstein, “is at the center of
The lens of science and the lens of faith can complement each other
if we realize that neither one offers a complete picture of universe
we inhabit. Both are needed if we are to see clearly and walk steadily
through this world. For as Einstein said, ?religion without science is
blind; science without religion is lame.??
Rev. Gary Kowalski is the author of best-selling books that explore
spirit and nature, including The Souls of Animals , Goodbye Friend:
Healing Wisdom For Anyone Who Has Ever Lost A Pet , The Bible
According To Noah: Theology As If Animals Mattered , and Science & the
Search for God .
That?s why we believe in Darwin and science, and yes, why we?re not
so sure about God! That is, the ?old? God, indeed, what I might call
the ?church? God, the one that seems to be outdated or the one we
often hear contrasted between let?s say the ?Old Testament God? and
the ?New TEstament God,? that?s no God at all then, of course! We
don?t say that about science, do we? Most of us believe in modern
science and don?t believe in traditional religion, but have not
religion behind, We are still searching for new meanings and
understandings. We are still religiously evolving.
Our former UUA president , Bill Sinkford, had been urging Unitarian
Universalists to develop their ?Elevator Speech? – how we would
explain our faith between the first and 13th floors of an elevator
trip with a stranger who asked about our religion. His version was :
?The Unitarian side of our family tree tells us that there is only
one God, one Spirit of Life, one Power of Love. The Universalist side
tells us that God is a loving God, condemning none of us, and valuing
the spark of divinity that is in every human being. So Unitarian
Universalism stands for: one God, no one left behind.?
And we know that the use of the word, ?God,? may be a stumbling
point, because we need to know further what Bill means who God is,
and of course who or what God is not. I prefer not to use the term,
God, in my elevator speech whether I describe my personal belief or
what I think we could say about UUism in thirty words or less. Other
than maybe saying when we die we go to a discussion about heaven or
whether God exists.
Here?s mine as I?ve told you before : ?UUism is a free and
responsible search for religious meaning and a religious dimension in
beloved community. Most of have come out of other traditions where we
have been turned off by traditional religion, creeds, and religious
language because they no longer feed our souls. As a movement we have
spiritually evolved out of liberal Protestantism into a more universal
unity., but still religiously liberal. Some of us still refer to
ourselves as Christians, others atheist, humanist pagan, theist,
pantheist, or what I like to call religious explorer. What unites us
is religious freedom, tolerance, reason, love, and a universal sense
of morality embodied in the Golden Rule. ?
Or if I havea little longer I?ll add this, which I?ve said before:
?I feel a theological kind of gravity which beckons me toward HE, She
or IT, which encourages all of us to find HE, She or IT. God to me is
neither male nor female but IT, in the words of the children’s game of
Tag, a simple game really. Someone is chosen or volunteers to be IT,
and when they touch us then we are IT. And I swear at times, I cannot
help myself but see God in human form in the beauty and innocence of
children at play, and God reaches down, behind me so I cannot see
his/her/it’s face, and says playfully and lovingly, “Tag, you are IT.”
And so in my turn I run to tag as many friends as I can, and even look
for God, so I can in return, say, “Tag; you and I are IT.” “Tag,” I
say to you the congregation and all the universe which must by
definition include God, “we are IT.”
And since we?re not much on commandments and I performed a wedding
last night, I read THE TEN SUGGESTIONS which I had written many
years ago. At wedding I co-officiated with a Rabbi , I asked him
about it, wanting to make sure he wouldn’t;t think them disrespectful,
but he was fine with them. A During the receiving line, I met his
wife, who really liked them and asked for a copy of them. I wondered
if she put them on the refrigerator and he had to pass by them every
time he went to get something out of the fridge.
THE TEN SUGGESTIONS
1. Find Out who you really are and what you want out of life; then
find out what life wants out of you. Find your own way to be religious.
2. Give up the need to be right( usually you’re not!). When there is
stress in your relationship, find your part of the blame and admit it;
be the first to apologize, and then change that part of your behavior.
3. Cultivate love all around you; develop and nurture a deep and
profound love of life and people.
4. Be slow to anger and quick to forgive. Grudges are much too heavy
to carry around, and they tend to multiply the longer that we hold them.
5. Take care of your heart, mind, and body – practice love,
intellectual stimulation, and physical health.
6. Find a way to make the world a better, happier, more loving place.
7. Beware the “sin” of cynicism; attempt to see the positive instead, and
avoid putting others down.
8. Be kind to animals- yes, but also to each other, your elders,
yourself and to all people, Be kind to Mother Earth.
9. Have lots of fun; don’t work too hard, and don’t take life too
seriously. No one on their death bed wishes they had put in more hours
10. Learn to truly share, working for social justice in the world and
relational justice in your relationships. -Rev. Arthur G. Severance
May we share our journeys together and may we find here what we seek.
May we do more than walk together, may we also love one and help one
Amen, Peace, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum(may Peace be
upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A
Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one
more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to
ministry. ?Vaya con Dios? is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is
?Go with God,? So I adapted it to say ?Vaya Con Su Dios, ?Go with your
idea or interpretation of God.?
Peace,Love, Shalom,Salaam, Blessed Be,Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su DiosEvent type
A visitor to a Unitarian Universalist church sat through the sermon