One of the things I enjoy about the UU church is that it can be distilled into a set of principles. No unnecessarily complex theology and layers of religious history and meaning, no convoluted mental gymnastics required to reconcile logically bizarre, but theologically required beliefs and practices, but instead some clear, basic, direct, assertive statements to which, I think, ANY reasonable person should agree with and support—and, indeed, if everyone did, the world would probably be a much better place. I also think many, many people are actually UU without knowing it—particularly those who describe themselves as, “spiritual, but not religious,” as “liberal,” as “humanist” (whether spiritual or secular) and even as, “progressive Christians.” I certainly was UU for approximately 7 years before knowing that I could be “labeled.” There is a broad understanding of the UU umbrella as welcoming everyone and accepting everything, but I don’t think that is really true (or desirable). Indeed, within the principles are strong statements for a certain way of being in the world and in viewing the world. Many, many people can find a spiritual home under the UU umbrella, but they are unlikely to be those who identify strongly and in a fundamentalist manner with the Abrahamic religions (though, the UU religion does draw upon the teachings and stories of all major world religions), or, quite frankly, Republicans.
I just had a discussion with a friend online in which I explained it like this: we do have a set of “principles” and people disagreeing with those principles wouldn’t actually be welcome. My favorite description is that we believe the light shines through many different windows in different ways and the only people who aren’t welcome are those who think the light only shines in their window and that we should throw rocks through the windows of everyone else who disagrees with us…. 😉
The discussion with the friend was prompted by my mention of using readings from the UU hymnal Singing the Living Tradition in the ceremony I held after the miscarriage-birth of my third baby. I explained that I sometimes describe my miscarriage as a “religious experience” of sorts and that’s because it wasn’t until then that I realized I do have a religious language, symbols, and resources I draw upon in times of need. I spent years describing myself as “areligious” (funny, since now I’m working on my D.Min degree). Her response was: “What’s the best way to label yours then, Molly? Unitarian? or something else? Unitarians kinda fit with everybody and nobody at once…”
The statement in bold is an issue the UU movement has struggled with for years. I responded that UU is fine (or Unitarian Universalist). They’re a good umbrella religion, but definitely don’t fit with everybody—I don’t think most “traditionally” Christian people, for example, who would recognize anything familiar in most UU resources/services.
She clarified that, “My (admittedly minimal) experience with UU is that they welcome pretty much anybody believing whatever works for them… but that there are many who don’t accept UU’s.” And that is when I used my light and windows example.
It seems funny to argue for exclusion, but I can think of many who would not be welcomed by UU’s! That guy telling rape jokes, that woman picketing Planned Parenthood, those people leaving hateful comments on YouTube videos, that company blasting the mountaintops off, and those people who protest marriage equality, to name a few. Within the UU world, the personal is political and political beliefs are entwined inextricably with our “religious” values. Standing on the side of love and all that. Indeed, as UU’s, “We seek to act as a moral force in the world, believing that ethical living is the supreme witness of religion. The here and now and the effects our actions will have on future generations deeply concern us. We know that our relationships with one another, with diverse peoples, races, and nations, should be governed by justice, equity, and compassion.” (http://www.uucfm.org/information-for-newcomers/what-is-unitarian-universalism)
In my own tiny church, to which I have not actually been for many months now, at the closing circle we hold hands and read the following from a cross stitched picture on the wall:
As Unitarian Universalists we cherish
The importance of individual thinking
Respect for the convictions of others
The warmth of caring
The perspective of humor
The dreams of the mystic
And the methods of the scientist
A way of life that avoids harm and scorn
A quest for justice through peaceful methods
A religion that is broad and encompassing
Personal, yet universal.
This is simple, direct, and clear and it is something I can stand behind for the rest of my life, regardless of how many times I actually attend a church service.
Apparently not every church uses this same reading, I couldn’t readily find it online, but I did find another short explanation I enjoy: “We encourage individuals to garner insights from all the world’s great faiths, as well as from Shakespeare and from science, from feminism and from feelings. We invite people to explore their spirituality in a responsible way. We ask Unitarian Universalists to cherish the earth, to free the oppressed, and to be grateful for life’s blessings. Out of this combination of reflection and experience, each one of us shapes a personal faith. For Unitarian Universalists the individual is the ultimate source of reality.” (http://www.uucfm.org/information-for-newcomers/what-is-unitarian-universalism)
There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:
- 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.
Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:
- 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 which create and uphold life;
- Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
- Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
- Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
- 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;
- Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
These principles and sources of faith are the backbone of our religious community.
Wait a second, what does all of this have to do with my post title and about paganism? Well, I just read an article, surprisingly in Brain, Child magazine, called Beltane Flowers by Brit St. Clair, in which the author describes attending her first pagan ceremony. What I appreciate particularly about the article is how tidily St. Clair describes the core beliefs of Wicca, specifying that these concepts were beliefs she already held firmly, long before she realized they were also embraced by Wicca:
find divinity in self and nature; practice meditation for strength and balance; spirituality is individual, personal; don’t proselytize, but help others less fortunate anyway; examine your intentions; harm none; feel free to view a symbol like ‘God’ or ‘Goddess’ as just that: a representation of a creative life force energy we can possibly understand…
I appreciated this essence of paganism description, much as I appreciate the essence of UUism as described in the principles. And, I’m curious if there are other succinct, yet fully descriptive (i.e. not just, “harm none! Now, let’s party!”) explanations out there that my readers connect with in particular?
It’s not quite as succinct as the passage from Brain, Child (now I have to go read that – I’ve only managed to read a few pages of the issue), but this PDF, intended to be a trifold brochure when printed, from Cherry HIll Seminary covers a lot of what Paganism is with relatively few words. http://www.cherryhillseminary.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/WhatIsTrifold.pdf