Theology: How Do We Frame the World?

Do UU commonalities and interconnections find support in common theological ground? Some who have attended Commission on Appraisal hearings and completed questionnaires have doubted this, or even its desirability. Others have offered diverse reflections on how UU values come together into a worldview supported by implicit if not always explicit theological assumptions about the nature of reality.

As we ponder the question of the unifying characteristics of Unitarian Universalism amid its ever-increasing theological diversity, we now explore the religious ideas that continue to define Unitarian Universalism. Areas of understanding historically considered theological include the nature of the cosmos and of human beings, how we know what we know, where we find our religious authority, how we practice our values and strengthen our spirits, what we see as the goal of the religious journey and the nature of religious community, and how we define our mission in the world.

A common fallacy about Unitarian Universalism is that one can be UU and believe anything. In point of fact, the religion UUs understand and practice today emerges from a particular history of ideas. Those ideas, reflecting the tradition’s roots, were once clearly expressed in the terms of Western Christian theology. Those earlier explicit expressions of theology have given way to an implicit theology, one that is buried within the seven ethical Principles that the UU movement has officially adopted. Nonetheless, the Principles emerge out of a theological tradition that can be traced back to the most radical, free-thinking branch of the Protestant Reformation. UUs are the product of a particular theology, and our core beliefs continue to implicitly express that theology even as we have shied away from explicitly articulating it.

In this light, it is not accurate to say that UUs can believe anything, particularly in terms of theology. To put forward such a notion cuts the tradition off from its historical and theological roots. Present-day Unitarian Universalists have a tendency to underemphasize the common theological elements of our faith as rooted in our history. A clearer and more consistent articulation of the theology UUs hold in common, and the origin of these liberal theological beliefs, could be one source of greater denominational cohesion. Religious narrative is a part of every major world religion, and the common theological aspects of the Unitarian Universalist narrative should be named and celebrated.

Read the rest of the chapter:
Theology: How Do We Frame the World (excerpt from Engaging Our Theological Diversity)

Optional Reading:

Engaging Our Theological Diversity A Report by the Commission on Appraisal of  the Unitarian Universalist Association (May 2005) (free pdf)

God Revised: How Religion Must Evolve in a Scientific Age by Galen Guengerich

A House for Hope: The Promise of Progressive Religion for the 21st Century by John Buehrens and Rebecca Parker


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