What do UUs believe?

My friends Peter Bowden and Amy Friedman made this video introduction to Unitarian Universalism. Watch it, or scroll down to read some statements of Unitarian Universalist beliefs.

So, what is it that Unitarian Universalists believe?

In the first place, we reject all doctrines and creeds and theologies if they pretend to any finality. We think the fabrication of such systems valuable, but we do not believe one or another of them.

But a Unitarian Universalist is not an unbeliever. In fact, a Unitarian Universalist believes a great deal. Our beliefs are of a different order, but they are nonetheless real.

  • We believe in humanity, that human beings are endowed with the power to move toward truth.
  • We believe that human beings are endowed with the discrimination by which to tell the difference between truth and falsehood and error. Yet we know human beings are fallible. We know that individuals make mistakes.
  • We believe humanity is to be trusted — not each human being, but humankind taken together, with the testimony of each checked against each.
  • We believe that humankind can find truth, know the right, and do good — again, not each individual, but taken together, with each checked against all the rest.
  • We believe human life has meaning, that the high purposes of humanity may be achieved and the spiritual nature of humanity indicates something about humankind and the cosmos as well.
  • We believe in the freedom we need if we are to find a sense of selfhood and if we are to find what is the truth for us. We believe in the faculties we possess and in those possessed by others also, for we must believe in our own fallibility, too.
  • We believe in the power of love to conquer hate and strife and in its power to sufuse our lives with the glory and the sense of reality that love alone can give.

In this faith we live, by it we labor, and through it we find the courage to carry on amidst all the tragedy, misery, and stupidity of life.

— adapted from the pamphlet “What Do YOU Believe?” by Duncan Howlett (1967). Howlett was minister of First Unitarian in New Bedford in the 1930’s. I prefer this statement of “belief” to the more commonly cited “seven principles.”

What Do Unitarian Universalists Believe?

  1. We believe in the freedom of religious expression. All individuals should be encouraged to develop their own personal theology, and to present openly their religious opinions without fear of censure or reprisal.
  2. We believe in the toleration of religious ideas. All religions, in every age and culture, possess not only an intrinsic merit, but also a potential value for those who have learned the art of listening.
  3. We believe in the authority of reason and conscience. The ultimate arbiter in religion is not a church, or a document, or an official, but the personal choice and decision of the individual.
  4. We believe in the never-ending search for Truth. If the mind and heart are truly free and open, the revelations which appear to the human spirit are infinitely numerous, eternally fruitful, and wondrously exciting.
  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, since they all have their source in the same reality.
  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 — and no idea, ideal or philosophy is superior to a single human life.
  7. We believe in the ethical application of religion. Good works are the natural products of a good faith, the evidence of an inner grace that finds completion in social and community involvement.
  8. We believe in the motive force of love. The governing principle in human relationships is the principle of love, which always seeks the welfare of others and never seeks 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. The validation of experience requires the confirmation of peers, who provide a critical platform along with a network of mutual support.

From a statement by David O. Rankin. Rankin was minister of First Unitarian in New Bedford from 1968-1970. This summary of Unitarian Universalism is available printed on a wallet-sized card. I have a stash of these and if you want one, just send me a self-addressed, stamped envelope, and I’ll send you the wallet card.

Contrary to popular belief…

Contrary to popular belief, when you join a Unitarian Universalist congregation, you cannot “believe anything you want.” You must believe, with all your heart and soul and mind, that love can transform the world.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not easy to be a Unitarian Universalist. If you are a Unitarian Universalist, you will care deeply about making this world a better place for all persons, to the point where you devote your whole life to that end.

Contrary to popular belief, Unitarian Universalism is not a comfortable religion that asks very little of you. Unitarian Universalism requires you to give substantial amounts of your time, like fifteen to twenty hours a week:— spent in spiritual practice, doing sabbath with your family, participating in worship and small group ministries, reading and study and reflection and prayer, using your gifts to help your congregation thrive, and spreading love and transformation in your community. Unitarian Universalism requires you to give significant amounts of your money:— like twice the amount of money you now spend each year on movies, electronics gadgets, and Starbucks coffee, combined, to your congregation — and that amount again to direct charity. Unitarian Universalism calls you to give your time and your money as a means towards the end of transforming the world with love.

Fianlly, contrary to popular belief, Unitarian Universalism is not a chore, it’s not something that you endure for an hour on occasional Sundays. Unitarian Universalism is a way to find meaning in your life. It’s a way to transform the world. It’s a way to transform yourself. That’s what we believe.

I wrote this one — just my $.02 worth.

For more about Unitarian Universalism, visit “Frequently Asked Questions for Newcomers,” at the Unitarian Universalist Association site.

8 thoughts on “What do UUs believe?

  1. John Berry

    About 8 years ago I visited a local UU church. I wish I had some of the cards with #1 (above) listed on it. During a conversation prior to the Sunday service I explained to a couple members that I was very unsatisfied with the churches I had bounced among. My former churches branded me too “liberal”.

    After the service a group of about 6 people began asking me about my views on various topics and about my journey. My views were in flux but what I was saying was heard to mean that I disagreed with my questioners. Savaged is a good word to describe how I was treated, just like my previous churches.

    I came back the next week and was treated to more of the same. So much for “toleration” and “worth and dignity”.

    I am only writing this so that people can make sure that their church does not have a similar welcoming committee.

  2. Administrator

    Hi John,

    Sorry you had that experience! No doubt about it, Unitarian Universalist congregations are not perfect. I know I’ve managed to turn off the occasional newcomer, in spite of my best intentions.

    You might want to check out this sermon for the story of one woman’s rocky path into Unitarian Universalism. Let’s not deny it — it can be difficult to find your way into a Unitarian Universalist congregation at times, depending on where you are, and where that congregation is.

  3. Anisah

    I’ve just been reading a bit of your blog. I’m a former Muslim who has been going to a local UU church for a few months. They are so welcoming and have made me a part of their church family. I grew up a strict Christian, and thought all churches were “bible-thumping”. I never heard of UU before I did a “what’s your religion” survey on belief.net, and UU was in the top 3. After investing it, I realized it was just what I was looking for after being in 2 very different religions for most of my life that were very controlling and “bible-” or “Quran-thumping”.


  4. Dlanorrenrag

    Do you ever suppose the mathematical indifference of unfolding Nature is fuzzy, illusory, by-produced artifact of Elohim’s empathetic, synchronous involvement with other perspectives and foci? That we measure and perceive the byproduct of interrelating “Elohim,” but not the Elohim themselves?

    Maybe that is why the only limits we find are precisely those limits that most agree with how we presently exist in synchronicity. Artifactually, we have evolved in respect of our limits; spiritually, we have evolved in respect of our synchronicity.

    Perhaps, indifference could not manifest into existence, except in respect of another side of our coin of existence — being the field of Empathy.

    Perhaps, Empathy perpetually strives to balance meaning, pleasure, and pain in respect of each perspective’s capacity for appreciation; but, artifactual indifference from distraction of focus leads to pockets of distortion.

    Perhaps, Elohim’s interestedness is never lacking; but, interestedness is always accompanied by opportunity cost, which finds artifactual expression in its opposite.

    We intuit and experience, but do not measure, the God within ourselves. Why, then, should we expect to measure the Godliness that exists in anyone else, or anywhere else?

    In our realm, we are the Elohim. But, what accounts for an illusion of indifferent nature that is presented to us? Perhaps, that illusion is artifactual of spiritually elsewhere interests of other Elohim.

  5. Dan

    Dlanorrenrag — You write: “Do you ever suppose the mathematical indifference of unfolding Nature is fuzzy, illusory, by-produced artifact of Elohim’s empathetic, synchronous involvement with other perspectives and foci?”

    It’s an interesting idea, but I have to say it has no emotional resonance for me whatsoever. To be honest with you, I mostly don’t follow what you’re saying. Thanks for commenting, though.

  6. Dan

    Keenan @ 6 — We’re a determinedly non-creedal religion, so some of us do believe in God (theists of various types), some of us don’t (humanists and atheists), and some of us feel that metaphysical speculation about the existence or non-existence of God is not particularly important (pragmatists).

  7. Julie

    Absolutely awesome video. We’re going to use it in our 9th grade UU Coming of Age program to help kids develop their elevator speeches about what Unitarian Universalism is.

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