I want to be very clear about something. When I write about starting to attend my local Unitarian Universalist congregation, I am not saying that everyone ought to be a Unitarian Universalist. Far from it. This is my blog, and here on my blog I share my journey. That’s all this is. Your journey is yours. Some of you like to listen along and read what I have to say, but I’m not trying to lay out any prescription everyone needs to follow.
Unitarian Universalism is not for everybody. It’s funny that I have to state that, because it seems beyond obvious, but when we live in a country where nearly every religious group (or at least every one of the most vocal ones) has as its goal converting everyone else, I suppose it needs to be stated. Unitarian Universalism is not for those who are not comfortable forming a community with those who hold a variety of beliefs, and it’s not for those who don’t like the idea of a congregational community in the first place. I would never suggest anyone suggest a church or church-like congregation if they have no desire to do so. I grew up in a family with mandatory church attendance, a family where not wanting to go to church was seen as a sign of spiritual disease, and I am so over that.
And to be honest, I’m not even 100% sure Unitarian Universalism is for me. I’ve said before that I don’t see my life as a destination where I stop and stay forever. My life is a journey. All I know is that right now, where I am today, I’m enjoying this little experiment of attending the local UU congregation. I’m not a member at this point (I’ve only been attending since August) and I’m not sure whether or not I’ll stay long term, but for the moment, I like it.
It bears mentioning that every UU congregation is different, and that UUs have many of the normal problems that go along with any congregation, or, really, with any gathering of people together in a group. People have disagreements, there are schisms, there is interpersonal drama. UUs try to make these things less likely by embracing things like acceptance and listening, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect.
Now I don’t simply write about dabbling in Unitarian Universalism because it’s part of my journey. I also think Unitarian Universalism has something to offer atheists and secularists, both through its existence and through its example. There are a lot of interesting questions surrounding the role religious organizations play in people’s lives and whether and with what that role needs to be replaced when people leave religion behind. Some people have pointed to the ways that an array of civic institutions and personal connections can be marshaled to provide individuals with community, belonging, and meaning. On the other hand, some atheists are working to find ways to come together, whether it be in atheist groups that meet at the local pub or by proposing the formation of humanist gatherings.
Do we need to replace religion with something? Does religion fill some sort of universal human need? If so, can we possibly find a way to fill that need better than religion does in the present? I don’t have the answer to these questions, and to be honest, I think the answer will differ from person to person. My point is simply that these are questions worth asking, and questions that will come up more and more as the percentage of Americans with no religious affiliation grows (it’s currently at 20%). And for that reason alone I think it’s worth looking at Unitarian Universalism, asking what it’s gotten right and what it’s gotten wrong and what we can learn from it.
So there you have it.