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Without a creed,
This review is from: Being Liberal in an Illiberal Age Why I Am a Unitarian Universalist (Paperback)
I only became a member of a Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregation four months ago. This is the best book I've read to date to help me learn more about what being a UU means.
It's not that easy because UU's don't have a creed. There's nothing formulaic. No easy catechism. We do have a convenant of what we affirm and promote: it's quite accepting. It reminds me of what one of our ministers says at the beginning of each Sunday service: "We welcome you". It's an inclusive you: Among other affirmations, UU's affirm "the inherent worth and dignity of every person". It's no wonder that Mendelsohn in this book alludes to the 19th century Unitarian teaching of salvation by character. It's also no wonder that he notes the positive value of all spiritual paths, not just Christian but Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, the openness goes on and can be overwhelming.
The biggest stumbling block for UU's seem to be those who believe they have the only truth. Mendelsohn writes that "heretic" originally meant simply "able to choose": heretics are people who, by nature, question and test teachings and values for themselves, choosing what helps them and not denying the right of exploration of others. So one can be proud to be a heretic. One should be.
In that spirit, Mendelsohn presents Hebrew ethical religion, Classical philosophy and such open-minded Christian thinkers as Origen (whose followers accepted universal salvation) and Pelagius (who denied the doctrine of original sin) as a "bridge over orthodox Christianity" to contemporary liberal religions.
It's the value of the liberal spirit that is at the heart of this entire book. That's the liberal spirit of Judith Sargent Murray, a Universalist who in 1790 published in an essay in a Massachusetts magazine entitles "On the Equality of the Sexes" from which Mendelsohn briefly quotes. It's the liberalism that in 1803 led U.S. Universalists to issue the Winchester Proclamation emphasizing God's love for all and the example of the life and leadership of Jesus. It is the liberalism of William Henry Channing, the Unitarian minister who refused to accept that God would govern as a tyrant, and the liberalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who asked Christians to move outside Christianity to recognize the value in other religions.
A concern of UU's is that religious belief not become a weapon to justify bad behavior. Mendelsohn thinks of himself as both a humanist and a theist, noting as a theist he does not want to abandon imaginary conversations between himself and that ultimate other in nature he refers to as God, or he adds now, as God/ess.
He closes by acknowledging that his ministry is primarily with those who cannot accept a Christian faith in an afterlife but instead seek something more suited to their present situation ... with others.
It's a book I have already found worth returning to. Mendelsohn's long service within UU makes him special in being able to affirm religious liberalism.
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Initial post: 22 Jul 2008 22:59:05 BDT
The foreword by Scotty McLennan is also excellent.
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