1. Religion is more than belief
If you ask what Unitarian Universalists believe, you might just be asking the wrong question. We care less about what someone believes, than what they do with their life. So if you say that you believe that all human beings are equally worthy, but you act as though some humans are lesser beings, I’m going to pay less attention to what you say you believe, and more attention to what you actually do. Beliefs matter, but what you actually do matters more.
Unitarian Universalists want our religion to help us live our lives. We want our religion to help us make meaning out of life, but we feel that meaning grows out of our actions in the world. And to make sense out of our actions in the world, we join together in religious communities. Being a part of a religious community helps us decide how we may act morally and with justice. Religious communities help us make sense out of the ups and downs of life: births and deaths, triumphs and tragedies. Religious communities can help us find inner peace, even in the midst of tumult and strife.
So as a Unitarian Universalist, I’m not especially worried about whether you believe in a deity or not. I’ve had experience both with God-believers who are amoral and unjust, and with God-believers who live the kind of moral and just life that I aspire to. I’ve also had experience both with atheists who are amoral and unjust, and with atheists who live the kind of moral and just life that I aspire to. Instead of asking, What do you believe? my questions are: What are you doing with your life? Are you making the world a better place? Can I learn from you how I might lead a better life, a life that’s moral and that bends the arc of the universe towards justice?
— Dan Harper CC-BY-ND 4.0
Even though religion is more than belief, Unitarian Universalists live in a society where most people think religion is nothing more than belief. That being the case, here are two classic statements that purport to tell us what Unitarian Universalists believe (though if you read carefully, there’s a great deal in both of these statements about what Unitarian Universalists do):
2. What do 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 1930s.
3. What Do Unitarian Universalists Believe?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.