Tag Archives: Thomas Starr King

Early Unitarians in Nevada

Virginia City, Nevada, was a Far Western mining town that came into being c. 1859, soon after silver began being mined from the famous Comstock Lode. After the Comstock Lode ceased producing profitable ore in 1898, Virginia City’s population declined precipitously. During the 1870s, there was a small Unitarian organization in Virginia City.

Mary McNair Mathews, in her memoir Ten Years in Nevada: or, Life on the Pacific Coast (1880; reprint 1985, University of Nebraska Press, p. 194), wrote: “There are churches here [in Virginia City] of every denomination, except the Universalist. All have their own churches except the Unitarians or Liberalists, as they term themselves. They hold their services at the National Guard Hall….” Mathews lived in Virginia City from 1869 to 1878.

This Virgnia City Unitarian congregation predates the organization of the Reno Unitarian Church under Revs. Mila and Rezin Maynard in 1893 by some twenty years.

How did Unitarianism come to Virginia City? Continue reading

Universalism for a new era

UU World magazine just put a good article by Paul Rasor on their Web site. Titled “Can Unitarian Universalism Change?” the article is an excerpt from the Berry Street lecture Paul gave last June.

Using demographic and other solid evidence, Paul makes the case that in an increasingly multiracial society, Unitarian Universalist congregations are predominantly white. In other words, we are increasingly out of step with the surrounding culture. In other words, we are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Paul goes on to say that our Universalist heritage offers a solid theological foundation on which we could build a truly multiracial, egalitarian religion:

Early Universalism was a communal faith. ‘Communal’ here means more than a group of individuals who share a common belief and come together for mutual support and worship, the way we might understand it today. Instead, in this form of communal theology, the individual was removed from the religious equation. Universalists insisted that our personal salvation was no more important than anyone else’s salvation. As Ann Lee Bressler, author of The Universalist Movement in America, 1770–1880, puts it, Universalism ‘encouraged the believer to think of his own interests as inseparably linked with the eternal welfare of the whole body of humanity.’

This theological core led to a radical egalitarianism. The American emphasis, shared by most Protestant denominations, including Unitarians, had always been on equality of opportunity, at least in principle, while in practice tolerating vast inequalities of outcome. But Universalism’s egalitarian theological doctrine became the basis for a truly egalitarian social doctrine — ‘an egalitarianism not of opportunity, but of desert,’ or outcome. In other words, Universalism was not simply pluralistic; it was radically inclusive.

However, a radical Universalist inclusivity is going to ruffle lots of feathers of current Unitarian Universalists who place an extremely high value on personal and individual freedom. In my reading of the Treatise on Atonement, Hosea Ballou’s foundational theological statement of Universalism, Ballou places great restrictions on free will: you don’t get to choose whether or not you wish to be saved, you will be saved no matter what. Unitarians placed much more emphasis on free will:– Continue reading