Unitarian Universalism has no set beliefs, and that is its defining characteristic. According to a UUA pamphlet:
With its historical roots in the Jewish and Christian traditions, Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion -- that is, a religion that keeps an open mind to the religious questions people have struggled with in all times and places.
We believe that personal experience, conscience and reason should be the final authorities in religion, and that in the end religious authority lies not in a book or person or institution, but in ourselves. We are a "non-creedal" religion: we do not ask anyone to subscribe to a creed. 1
Unitarian Universalists may therefore identify with Christianity, Buddhism, humanism, atheism, or any tradition that is meaningful to them. Unitarian Universalists commonly draw their beliefs from more than one religious or philosophical tradition.
Several recent surveys of Unitarian Universalists have illustrated the diversity among members as well as some general trends. In 1997, the UUA conducted a nationwide survey of 8,100 of its members. One question asked members to choose only one label that best described their beliefs; the answers were as follows:
- humanist (46%)
- earth/nature centered (19%)
- theist (13%)
- other (13%)
- Christian (9.5%)
- mystic, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim in ever-smaller percentages 2
In 2001, a regional survey of UU members in the Midwest was conducted by Ohio University. This survey allowed respondents to choose more than one label for themselves. The researcher noted that "the typical respondent felt the need to circle three or four terms to describe his or her theological views." The results of this survey were:
- humanist (54%)
- agnostic (33%)
- earth-centered (31%)
- atheist (18%)
- Buddhist (16.5%)
- pagan (13.1%)
- Christian (13.1%) 3
This great diversity within one congregation is perhaps eased by the fact that Unitarian Universalism tends to emphasize the importance of action over belief:
Whatever our theological persuasion, Unitarian Universalists generally agree that the fruits of religious belief matter more than beliefs about religion-even about God. So we usually speak more of the fruits: gratitude for blessings, worthy aspirations, the renewal of hope, and service on behalf of justice. 4
Although Unitarian Universalism has no formal creed or standards of belief, the Unitarian Universalist Association has adopted a set of "Principles, Purposes and Sources" that express values shared by most Unitarian Universalists.
These were originally adopted in 1984 and have been amended once: to add a seventh "principle" relating to environmentalism and a sixth "source" including earth-based traditions. The current statement reads as follows:
"We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote [the following principles]:
The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:
- 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.
- 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. 5
The Seven Principles are especially central to Unitarian Universalist self-understanding and are frequently mentioned.
References & Sources
- "About Unitarian Universalism" - Unitarian Universalism Association
- "Surveys: 'UUism' unique" - Christian Century, December 5, 2001
- "Frequently Asked Questions: God" - Unitarian Universalist Association
- "Unitarian Universalist Association Principles and Purposes" - Unitarian Universalist Assocation