Thomas Jefferson, who described himself as a Unitarian to his friends, once sent some spiritual advice to his nephew in the form of a letter. “Question with boldness even the existence of a God,” he wrote, “because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.”
Unitarian Universalists feel our beliefs must be open to questioning including a belief in God. I once met a man of another faith who thought this attitude was too risky in his own congregation. He said, “Asking questions in church is my idea of an a extreme sport.” In the UU church we feel that asking questions about religion should be safer than bunji jumping, hang-gliding or roller derby.
We believe that each one of us should be free to state our beliefs without fear of being rejected or ostracized from the community. “The only way a person can be excommunicated from this church,” opined William Ellery Channing, “is through the death of goodness in in his/her own heart.”
In 1966 there was actually a survey to ask people in our denomination what they believed about God.
2.9 percent defined God as a supernatural being, 23.1 percent see God as the ground of all being, while 44.2 percent find God to be a name defining some natural processes within the universe, such as love or creative evolution. On the other hand, 28 percent found God to be an irrelevant concept while 1.8 percent found God to be a harmful concept. (Source: The Challenge of a Liberal Faith by George N. Marshall.
In 1987 there was another survey in which UUs were asked to describe the divine by filling in the statement, “The way I would describe the divine for myself…
Creative force (29%) Highest potential (18%) Harmony with nature (11%) Unknowable power (11%) Uncertain (11%) Superior being (3%) Meaningless (3%) Harmful concept (14%) (Source: Build Your Own Theology by Richard Gilbert)
What would survey results look like in 2017? Good question! No doubt results would vary from year to year, as UUs are free to change their minds about their theological beliefs as they grow in knowledge and experience.
The rocker Tina Turner sings the song, “What’s love got to do with it?” and the Universalist side of our faith replies, “Everything!” If you visit one of the old Universalist church constructed in the 19th century it is common to see the words, “God is love” inscribed above the church entrance or on the altar or on the mantle piece or some other visible location.
What do Unitarian Universalists believe about God? How you answer the question is a part of our answer. The humor in my cartoon aside, you should feel free to express your own ideas on this fundamental question. There is no reason for any of us to feel excluded.
(The Tao of Tennessee is written by Chris Buice, minister of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church)