Why I Am (Still) a Unitarian Universalist

Denton UU Fellowship

The header of this blog lists my primary religious identities:  Pagan, Druid, and Unitarian Universalist.  I told my story of why I am a Pagan, a Druid, and a UU when I moved to Patheos early last year.

Despite having three identities, the vast majority of my writing here is Pagan.  Some of it is Druidic, but for me Druidry is a mostly subset of Paganism.  Although I frequently write about CUUPS (the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans) I write very little specifically as a Unitarian Universalist.

But I’m still a Unitarian Universalist.

Like most of Paganism, Unitarian Universalism is a non-creedal religion – the focus is on what you do, not what you believe.  By that standard I am definitely a UU:  I attend Sunday services, I serve on the Worship Committee (a natural fit with my love of ritual), and I contribute financially.

I do this because Denton UU has become my spiritual home.  When I was looking for a safe place to explore group practice, Denton CUUPS was there.  Whenever we’ve wanted to do something – circles, classes, workshops, concerts – the answer has always been yes.  We have Pagan circles every six or seven weeks, but there are Sunday service every week.  These services nourish my soul in ways that are different from honoring the Gods and working magic, but they’re beneficial just the same.  I’ve made friends here who follow different Gods or no Gods at all – we don’t just tolerate each other’s beliefs and practices, we honor them and learn what we can from them.

I do this because Unitarian Universalism keeps me connected to this world.  It reminds me there are immediate needs that religion and religious people need to address.  Standing on the Side of Love pushes for marriage equality.  My local congregation is working to stop fracking and the environmental damage it brings.  We contribute to local needs and to major relief efforts.  Like most religious organizations, we talk more than we do, but we do more than any other religious organization I’ve been involved with.

There are Pagan organizations that do this kind of work and do it well.  Circle Sanctuary and Solar Cross Temple come quickly to mind.  But none of them has a presence in North Texas – Unitarian Universalism does.

I do this because Unitarian Universalism supports my values in the wider world:  respect for the Earth and the interdependent web of all existence.  The inherent worth and dignity – and sovereignty – of every person.  Peace, justice, and freedom.  And perhaps most importantly, religious diversity and differing views of the Divine.

Neither my local congregation nor UUism as a whole consistently and perfectly embody these values – no human institution does.  But we keep doing the work anyway.

Unitarian Universalism’s strength – its diversity and its this-world focus – is also a weakness for those of us who are called to deeper spiritual practice.  We either try to assemble a group of like-minded folks within UUism (such as CUUPS) or we have to go elsewhere – UU minister and Patheos blogger James Ishmael Ford is also a Buddhist priest in the Soto Zen tradition.  This is why most of my blogging is focused on Paganism and not UUism.

in the pulpit at First Jefferson UU, Fort Worth

But I’m still a UU.

A couple weeks ago I walked into the fitness center at work and stepped into a treadmill debate between an Evangelical Christian and an agnostic Jew on the existence of Satan.  I made many of the same points I made in this Polytheistic Look at the Devil I wrote last year:  yes, I believe Satan is real.  No, I don’t believe the stories told about him by conservative Christians and Muslims are correct.  Much of what is credited to Satan  is more properly credited to the capacity for evil that lies in all of us – a capacity many of us prefer to ignore and blame on an Other.

As I tried to make positive contributions to the conversation, I found myself relying on the language of Unitarian Universalism.  I even quoted 19th century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Unitarian Universalism gives me a language to talk to religious conservatives and to people with a limited understanding of religious diversity.  I still run into people whose idea of “interfaith” means Baptists and Catholics and maybe one Jew – it simply doesn’t occur to them to include Pagans and Buddhists and atheists and others.  The liberal Christian roots of Unitarian Universalism provide a framework to bridge the gap between these folks and religions they don’t comprehend.

Would I still be a UU if there was a Druid grove or a pan-Pagan temple nearby?  Yes.  If the grove or temple had the size and stability to insure it would outlive me?  Probably.  If it was connected to similar groves and temples around the country?  Now we’re moving into speculation that – as things stand today – is rather hypothetical.

I’d love to belong to a Pagan organization that does (almost) everything Unitarian Universalists do but also teaches deep Pagan practice.  I expect some day we’ll have that – it may even be a future generation of one of the organizations I belong to today.  But here in North Texas in 2014, we don’t.

And so I remain a Pagan, a Druid, and a Unitarian Universalist.

About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.

  • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

    Much of what is credited to Satan is more properly credited to the capacity for evil that lies in all of us

    Indeed. Satan is just a metaphor for evil, or more pointedly, slanderers.

    The term “devil” is a development into English of the Greek word diabolos…Diablos was used to translate the Hebrew word satan…Diablos and its related words denoted something or someone “slanderous.” Socrates declared that the reason he had been condemned at trial was the “slanderers” (diabolai)….

    ~Gregory Riley (2001) The River of God: A New History of Christian Origins. (Chapter 4: The Devil, the Demons, and the End of the World.) HarperCollins. pp. 95-96.

  • http://endlesserring.wordpress.com/ Treeshrew

    You’re very fortunate to have such a vibrant community in the UU. Where I am, at least, Unitarianism is still *very* Christian in its theology and doesn’t seem to have much in the way of community. Heck, I’d love to have a Druid grove in my area too!

  • relleven

    Enjoyed your post John!

  • Lorraine Ellis

    Substitute the name of my UU church, and the specific social just stuff we are working on, and your essay would say exactly what mine would say if I had written it. : )

  • Y. A. Warren

    My understanding is that UU is a branch of “Christianity.” “Christianity” has a creed.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      Both Unitarianism and Universalism grew out of the Christian tradition, but UUism is intentionally and explicitly non-credal… as the active presence and participation of Pagans, Buddhists, atheists and others will attest.

      • Y. A. Warren

        Is the UU church “in communion” with the Roman Catholic church?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

          No, and it never was. Its Christian origins are Protestant and Congregationalist.

          • Y. A. Warren

            The Protestants have protested long enough; it’s time for a grown-up divorce, in order to start a new faith-family (or revert back to the roots).

            Isn’t it time that the “Christian” churches that arose as shoots off the vine of Roman Catholicism declare the Roman Catholic Church to be anathema to the true followers of Jesus, refusing to attend their conclaves and, in any manner, honor the “Holy” See as a member of the “body of Jesus” as a christ?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

            That’s pretty much what the Southern Baptists I grew up with did – many of them didn’t consider Catholics to be Christians.

            But this is getting out of scope for a Pagan blog.


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