I attend a Unitarian Universalist (UU) church. I am hesitant to call myself a UU, because I’m not firmly convinced that I am one (as, perhaps, will be clear below), but I find the congregation provides what I need in the way of a spiritual home, and I am comfortable there. The UU’s don’t seem to mind what I call myself, and that’s probably all for the good.
Unitarian Universalism is a non-creedal religion. It has historic links to Christianity, but it isn’t really a Christian denomination. It is an open and welcoming religion, allowing a safe worship space for people of all creeds and backgrounds (and those with no creeds, and muddled backgrounds) to worship with like-minded individuals.
In the late spring, the congregation that I am currently attending holds a ritual for their young adults as they transfer out of Religious Education (Sunday School, for those of you in a Christian church setting, or with that background) and into the Youth Group. (I assume this is fairly common among UU congregations, but the only other congregation we have attended didn’t really have a community of youth – I think we had a youth for the majority of the time we attended, maybe two.) Actually, the ritual is preceded by about a month of mentoring and group consideration, culminating in the creation of an individual credo – a personal statement of belief that is true for that young adult at that point in their personal life. At the Young Adult Service in the spring, the participants are invited to share their credos with the congregation. This can be both a deeply moving and deeply frustrating experience for the congregation. Our youth are often passionate about their beliefs, but, equally, they are often un-tutored. Two years ago, for instance, the whole group of youth decided that they would include a reference to evolution in their credos – so all seven or eight youth asserted that they “believed” in evolution. Evolution, as far as I’m aware, does not require “belief”, any more than gravity or Newton’s Third Law. It just is. “Belief” was the wrong word in the context; perhaps evolution was the wrong concept for a credo.
At any rate, early this summer, the teen children of our minister (one at college, one preparing to head off) decided to revisit their credos and present a service on how their beliefs have changed and grown since they were youth. This highlighted for me the fact that there's a good chance you won't have prepared a credo. And, since much of the congregation have come into UUism from elsewhere (it’s that sort of religion), many of us have never considered, in a formal way, what we actually believe. So, that was the first seed.
Over the summer, it is often difficult for me to attend services. And yet, every service this summer (at least, so it seems to me) that I DID attend focused on the idea of belief, and personal faith, and personal faith journeys, and the creation of, or realization of, a sense of personal belief and personal theology. Repeated seedings of the idea, with extra watering. So, I sat down to write my own credo.
Now, it seems to me that a credo serves a couple of purposes. One is private – it is valuable to establish for yourself a firm idea of what you, personally, believe. Establishing for yourself what your core beliefs are enables you to decide how you will live your life. Even if you are a participant in a creedal religion, this process has some value – you should look at your collective creed and decide what, specifically, it means for you – else what’s the point? You’re just mouthing words, otherwise, without thinking about the significance of the words.
The other purpose of a credo is public. In Islam, a public statement of faith – the Shahada - is one of the pillars of the faith, one of the five things Muslims are required to do in order to be considered Muslims. In most creedal Christian denominations, there is a public sharing of a statement of faith – a communal recognition that these words, this passage, defines what it means to be part of who we are. Creeds are about creating a group, forming connections, strengthening bonds. So, a credo, a personal statement of faith, should perhaps also be a public statement. It should provide an opportunity for others to say “yes, I see where this comes from,” or “thank [insert deity], I’m not the only one who feels that way,” or even “this is nonsense, how can you possibly believe that?” A credo, unspoken, is only half of what it could be. With that in mind, here’s what I came up with as a credo:
I believe that Jesus was the Son of God, sent to Earth to present the good news; fully man and fully divine (or else what’s the point?). (mostly, I am not a Unitarian…) But I don’t insist that you believe that, nor do I believe that those outside of that belief tradition are going to hell. Increasingly, I find that I don’t believe in hell at all – I believe in a God of infinite love, and a heaven which is broad enough to contain everyone without diminishing the experience for anyone. (…mostly, I am a Universalist. That is why I’m not entirely comfortable describing myself as a UU.)
I believe in the Kingdom of Heaven, and I believe that, to the extent that we can create a just, equitable society on Earth (with liberty and justice for all, freedom of conscience, some form of democracy, etc etc), we are building that Kingdom here and now. I believe that the construction of that Kingdom is our purpose. I believe that there are many paths along which we might travel in the construction of the Kingdom.
This is my path to the Kingdom. There may be other paths, but this is the one that feels right to me. I’ve always been told that, in Heaven, we will know all – that all the mysteries will be revealed and all the questions will be answered. Thus, I believe that Heaven is a great library, where all needs are and can be met, adhering to the five laws of the library (as proposed by S. R. Ranganathan. I have to thank hapax for introducing me to these):
1) Books are for use.
2) Every reader his [or her] book.
3) Every book its reader.
4) Save the time of the reader.
5) The library is a growing organism.
(That all sounds nice, but it’s a little difficult to apply. So I came up with some action statements)
Denying access to information or knowledge on the basis of its content is wrong.
Withholding needed information and knowledge is wrong.
Presenting false or misleading information, knowingly or unknowingly, is wrong.
Failing to seek needed knowledge or information is wrong.
Willfully reveling in ignorance is wrong.
Being content with what you know is wrong.
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