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Tell me about unitarianism

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“Tell me about Unitarianism. What is it, exactly?”

Unitarian Universalists (UU) get this a lot. Most people asking have preconceived notions of a fringe cult or some undefined vague belief system, or some old-fashioned ideas that died out years ago. So what does one say?

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Unitarian Universalists agree on certain principles for living — the seven big ones. They are the signposts that govern behaviors, attitudes, and values held in common in benefit to human relations. In these principles, we affirm: 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; and respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Unlike some religions, UU is non-creedal. Rather, what we share as a religious community is a common approach to how we seek truth and relate to other people and the world around us. The omission of a statement on God allows for broad definitions of belief for members, from traditional Christian and other major religions, to spirituality and non-believers. Each person comes from a different place, a different set of life experiences, and so each of us brings to UU our own understanding of the spiritual dimension of our lives. As a community, we accept and support each other’s journeys in spiritual growth. A rational extension of this is that we respect individuals’ right of conscience, both in our congregations and in our society.

What about our relations with others? Historically, the “social gospel” was central to Unitarianism, and modern UU churches continue in that tradition by asking, how do we conduct our lives in accordance with our beliefs? These principles are more than simply words on paper. We strive to live out these principles in our daily lives by working for justice in the world around us. For that reason, our congregations place a heavy emphasis on changing our corners of the world to be more just places. Love and respect are at the center of our faith, embodied in the seven principles.

One way that these principles are taught by some UU parents is through the celebration of Chalica, a winter holiday in which a day is dedicated to each principle. For example, on the second day — celebrating justice, equity and compassion in human relations — families might offer time volunteering at a soup kitchen or another activity in service to others.

As Michelle Richards suggests in her blog on uuworld.org, “Unlike other winter holidays, celebrating Chalica or some variation of it ... highlights and celebrates our living tradition. ... an emphasis upon handmade presents and acts of service can provide comfort to those parents who are uneasy about the materialism inherent in many of the modern holiday celebrations. This can only serve to further emphasize our deeply held personal values of generosity, gratitude, and moderation.”

On our human journey toward understanding of life and developing value systems, we share concerns with many others in their religious realms. Unitarian Universalism stops short of defining a supreme being, leaving that understanding to the individual conscience. In the great tapestry of human society we do share the dream of love, justice, and peace for all fellow travelers on our beautiful earth.

— The lay members of the Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

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