The missing tradition

More of a musing than a blog post — but I cannot help think that the real missing tradition within Unitarian Universalism today is not Universalist Christianity, but “classic” Unitarian theism. The kind that uses the Bible, knows Jesus (if not vitally or even immediately) as inspiration or friend and tries to cultivate a religion based on comprehension: in the sense of cultivating the best of current research, public participation and internationalist interests. Where people could make some religious sense, say, of the new collider in Geneva without resorting to gratuitous God-bashing. I know it was around 25 years ago, when I started with “the Unitarians.”

Perhaps it’s hiding out somewhere, but I’ve seen no vital signs in the UU press or blogosphere. Is it a victim of Postmodernism, or perhaps just of changing tastes?

11 Replies to “The missing tradition”

  1. It is difficult to go back – I know for my parents being Unitarian was the same as being Humanist. In fact, their church is still a Unitarian church – none of that touch feely Universalist stuff. So, going back would be interesting but difficult.

  2. @jacqueline. Oh, and that’s the other thing. I’ve written before how the “touchy-feely” Universalism is an invention, and not by Universalists, but rather imposed by — dare I say it? — Unitarians. Tough-minded and argumentative are two adjectives — for better or worse — that better describe historic Universalism.

  3. Well… in the sense of classical (say… pre-1940?) Unitarianism, I don’t think so. But I have this sense from my classes at ML that there’s a new appreciation for Jesus that might be a new Unitarian Christianity. More egalitarian, less lord. Definitely free range. Not back, but forward…ish. Even perhaps at times open to non-theists. There’s a range of folk from atheist to pagan to burnt-over traditional Christians who are finding new appreciation….

    Touchy-feely washed in with the era of the mergerconsolidation. It was mistaken by some/many as ours because we were in the midst of trying to figure out what the new thing with two Us was. Argumentative belongs to both sides, and goes way back.

  4. There are vestiges of the authentic tradition that never quite died out and are still hanging on by the fingernails in a number of parishes in New England (mine’s one), but regrettably, even in most of them it lingers more out of entrenched habit than as an expression of a living, shared faith. Where it does endure it’s unusual to find it preached regularly, much less systematically taught or evangelized. I can count on one hand the churches I know of that intentionally maintain a primarily Unitarian Christian identity and focus (mine doesn’t).

    I am disappointed that the UUA doesn’t put more effort into more teaching and worship resources devoted to “authentic” Unitarianism and Universalism for those churches that want them. Such resources can’t be found anywhere else, and without that kind of support, it’s difficult for individual churches to maintain their traditions.

  5. i confess that I dont know much about classic Unitarians (of the pre-1920s) – never met any and havent read that much about them – guess I need to read more of Edward E. Hale?
    I’m sure the “touchy feely Universalists” is the only way that some folks can make sense out of the “God Is Love” part of the later Universalism.

  6. fausto, it’s got to be bottoms up or it’s not going to survive long (much less thrive). Why are there all the BUUdhists practicing in sanghas in our churches, and none (well, few–damned few) of the (many, many) UU Christians are organizing Bible studies?


    There are MORE people who assert that they are Christians in my fellowship (theological Xtian, in some cases, ethical Xtian in more cases) than there are who assert that they’re Buddhist. Significantly more. And with that… we have two Buddhist study/sitting groups and not any sort of Christian activity–and that’s with a statement from a (then) board president that the board is supportive of essentially any theological interest group that wants time and space–with “Bible study group” being a specific example offered.

    Is it that over a quarter of the congregants feel that they’d be looked at funny? Heck, the bridge players get looked at funny by some–but they organize and play.

    The UUA can’t make this happen.

    Someone COULD write up and make available one (or more) programs for UU Bible Study. It’s not like there aren’t any UU Christian clergy who could help make it happen.

  7. Scott

    “Where people could make some religious sense, say, of the new collider in Geneva without resorting to gratuitous God-bashing.”

    UUs certainly do lots of God-bashing, but I am at this point unable to see a connection between that and the LHC link. No doubt I am missing something – please enlighten me on this subject. The LHC is an exciting item, but I do not see the connection to theology.

    Thanks and best wishes for your excellent blog

    ps: speaking of UU view of the Deity, check out the latest Doug Muder article in the UU World, “Assembly of a Lesser God”.

  8. I’ve been reading the book _The Age Of Unreason_ this week and wondering the *exact same thing.* :::cue “Twilight Zone” theme:::::
    I call it intellectually-engaged Theism, but thanks to Dawkins and the like, religious liberals don’t even believe such a creature can exist anymore. Have you read the book? I love that the author (name escapes me) makes it clear that Unitarians AND Universalists were among the intellectually-engaged religious movements in post-1820’s New England.

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