“The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead” (Proverbs 21:16, KJV).
Both Unitarianism and Universalism were offshoots from early Christianity. Universalism made an early appearance on the scene even in the 1st century. They believed that no person would ever be condemned by God and that there would be no hell; though hell was taught by Jesus more than almost any other subject. The first Unitarians appeared around the 2nd or 3rd century. They believed that Jesus was an “entity sent by God on a divine mission” but they did not believe Jesus was God or that God was triune as we see fully revealed in the New Testament. Both belief systems seemed to take root in America by the late 1700s.
“Avoid the profane chatter and absurdities of so-called ‘knowledge.’ By professing it, some have strayed from the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20-21).
In 1819 William Emery Channing preached a sermon entitled “Unitarian Christianity” which became a platform of sorts for the Unitarians. He rejected the triunity of God as well as the doctrine of human depravity while espousing belief in the goodness of humanity and the possibility of men to become godlike. Channing inspired “Transcendentalists” who were looking to create almost an Americanized religion or Philosophy not based upon anything previous. They believed that reason, within each person, was godlike; this allows people to judge the right and wrong based on intuition which transcends the physical. These ideas led others, including Universalists, to begin importing and absorbing teachings from other world religions.
“They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us, because if they had belonged to us, they would have remained” (1 John 2:19).
In 1961 the American Unitarian Association merged with the Universalist Church of America. Today this organization is estimated to be approximately the 20th largest religious group in America. Top Twenty? Wow. Sounds big at first, until one tries to name as many religions as possible. It’s easy to get stumped by the time one reaches number ten. Finally, the best estimate is that there are approximately 800,000 Unitarian Universalists in America. That means they would make up approximately .003 percent of the nation’s population.
I was still in Philosophy 151, World Religions Class, and this time the assignment was for each student to attend the service of a religion that was not one’s own. After much apprehension and thought, I decided upon attending a Unitarian Universalist congregation. I asked my analytical Christian friend Chris to go with me so I wouldn’t feel alone or completely surrounded by evil. (The picture I had in my mind was from the novel “This Present Darkness”:
“He floated down a long burrow of a hallway… and passed through the door into a cauldron of living evil. The room was dark, but the darkness seemed more of a presence that a physical condition; it was a force, an atmosphere that drifted and crept about the room. Out of that darkness glared many pairs of dull yellow cat-eyes belonging to a horrible gallery…”
So I approached this visit very prayerfully.) And so, once upon a time, one Sunday morning, we undertook the assignment. The preceding history lesson and what follows is an edited and slightly updated version of my class Power Point presentation:
Following the history lesson I asked the question as to what they believed. The answer is that Unitarian Universalism is certainly an eclectic recipe:
· Begin with a residual crust (or frame) of Christianity, as reflected in its building style, service format and structure, Sunday morning meeting times, and hymnals with readings in the back. Unitarian Universalism, however, it is diametrically opposed to Christianity because Christians believe Jesus Christ is the only path to heaven (Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6) and that there is a hell for those who do not believe (Jesus also said, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” – Luke 12:5). [I made sure I wrote those verses out so the class could read them on the screen.]
· Add four cups of Humanism: What exactly is Humanism? It is “a variety of ethical theory and practice that emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world and often rejects the importance of belief in God” a “system of thought that rejects religious beliefs and centers on humans and their values, capacities, and worth”. As some within the U.U. church have said, “Let me give you some examples of what I think the vast majority of Unitarian Universalists would affirm… (2) We believe that human beings are responsible for the future; that history is in our hands, not those of an angry God or inexorable fate…”
· Mix in a hefty dose of RELATIVISM: Relativism is defined as “the philosophical doctrine that all criteria of judgment are relative to the individuals and situations involved”. The relativists catchphrase is, “What’s true for you is true for you and what’s true for me is true for me.” (I encourage you to read the book “Relativism, Feet Planted firmly in Mid Air” by Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl.) Relativism is self defeating. And it would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad that Unitarian Universalism embraces such ridiculous contradictions: Belief in God as well as atheism. Belief in the afterlife as well as belief in no afterlife. Belief in each person finding their own truth and belief that certain people’s truths are wrong (usually Christians and conservatives, of course). Belief that tolerance is a key virtue as well as the belief that certain ideas and behaviors should not be tolerated.
· Add five heaping tablespoons of Zen Buddhism: In Zen, it seems, things don’t have to make sense. Huston Smith, the author of our class textbook, on Zen: “Entering Zen is like stepping through Alice’s looking glass. One finds… a topsy-turvy wonderland where everything seems quite mad…. It is a world of… obscure conundrums… flagrant contradictions, abrupt non sequiturs, all carried off in the most urbane, cheerful… style imaginable. Here are some examples: Whenever a certain master was asked the meaning of Zen, he lifted his index finger. That was all. Another kicked a ball. Still another slapped the inquirer.”
· Add a dash of Hinduism: Hinduism being a culture of multiple gods, an “all paths lead to the same place” philosophy, a subtle “the answer lies within” undercurrent, and it also often runs counter to logical thinking. Within Hinduism we find such things as Jnana Yoga, for instance, which as per our class textbook, “[is] intended for spiritual aspirants who have a strong reflective bent, is the path to oneness with God through knowledge. Such knowledge has nothing to do with factual information. It is… intuitive…”
· A dash of American or Democratic influence: Do what you want. You get to vote for or against or abstain (or all three, as in some voting districts). Who was it who said, “To be(lieve) or not to be(lieve)”? Thus we read: “if believing in God helps you be a better person – or at least doesn't make you a worse person – then fine, believe in it. We encourage your belief. If being an atheist helps you take more responsibility for creating a better world – or at least doesn't prevent you – then fine, don't believe in God. We encourage your atheism.” In a tract from the U.U. church we read, “The ultimate arbiter of religion is not a church, nor a document, nor an official but the personal choice and decision of the individual.”
We were asked by the professor to make note of their symbols, if any. What did I observe? Not too much. Behind the stage was a tapestry or quilt made of squares consisting mostly of colors, handprints, some hearts, and words like “love”, “hope”, “joy”, “truth”, “meaning”, etc. (But what does “truth” or “meaning” or even “love” mean to a relativist?) The most noticeable symbol of U.U., however, is the flamed chalice. (See here.) Funny enough, the symbol (by definition, a symbol is “something used for or regarded as representing something else; a material object representing something…”) really doesn’t represent anything.
What of the service itself? Well, it was certainly ordered like a Christian church service: Bulletins with announcements and order of service were handed out as we entered. Someone played the piano as a prelude to the service, the bulletin introduced the song as Ashford and Simpson’s “Reach Out and Touch”, a secular song from the 1970s. (“Reach out and touch somebody's hand, make this world a better place if you can…”) There was a “welcome” from the pulpit. There were announcements. They lit the chalice. There was an opening “hymn” from their “hymnal”:
“Spirit of Life, come unto me. Sing in my heart all the stirring of compassion. Blow in the wind, rise in the sea; Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice. Roots hold me close; wings set me free; Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.”
Their song lyrics often seemed completely ambiguous, but that would “make sense” in a relativist, “to each his own” setting. However, I did notice something else, something that flew in the face of the “to each his own” ideal. It was glaringly obvious for anyone who had eyes to see or ears to hear (Jeremiah 5:21, etc.). I found an addition to the recipe:
· Add shredded traditional Christian hymns: The hymnal itself included songs from Japan and Africa, Hindu songs like “Daya Kar Daan Bhakti Ka” (one of my personal favorites), “Earth-Centered Tradition” songs, Hebrew songs like “Shabbat Shalom”, and Christian songs that never specifically mention Jesus like “Amazing Grace”. It is very important to note that they did offer versions of what are usually traditional solid doctrinal Christian songs that were either doctored, reworded, or chopped into pieces. Such an action begs the question: If all faiths are welcome and invited to worship at their church, if they seek to accept everyone and not offend anyone, then why would they offend Christians by editing Jesus and the Bible from their songs? What happened to “We encourage your belief”? Apparently they did not want to encourage my belief in Jesus, Son of God, Savior of the world, as they chopped up our hymns. So much for tolerance, as usual. We all dislike hypocrites, don’t we?
I continued to peruse their hymnal during the service and found moving and worshipful gems such as these:
“If I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning. I'd hammer in the evening, All over this land. I'd hammer out danger. I'd hammer out a warning. I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters, All over this land.”
“We come from the fire/water/mountain, Living in the fire/water/mountain, Go back to the fire/water/mountain, Turn the world around…”
The hymnal also had numerous readings. Just as with the songs they came from numerous traditions including Native American and Humanist. And just as with their songs, they seemed to make it a point to vandalize the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. The 23rd Psalm for instance:
“The lord is my shepherd, I have all I need. She makes me lie down in green meadows…. She restores my soul….”
(This brings me back to “This Present Darkness”: “The cloud formed a complete enclosure…. The spiritual darkness became deep and oppressive. It was difficult to breathe.”) Here I must reiterate my objection and question: If all faiths are welcome and invited to worship, if they seek to accept everyone and not offend, then why would they offend Jews and Christians changing the gender of God in one of our most beloved Psalms? But what does it matter if I am offended, when their offense is against God?
“A son naturally honors his father…. If I am your father, where is my honor? If I am your master, where is my respect? The Lord who rules over all asks you this” (Malachi 1:6).
“[These people] men, like irrational animals – creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed – do not understand whom they are insulting, and consequently… they will be destroyed” (2 Peter 2:12).
But even though God was blasphemed and I was offended for Him, the service continued: There was a sharing of joys and sorrows. It was announced that someone’s husband was out of work. “So I’d appreciate it if you’d send some positive energy out to help him.” It was announced that someone was very sick. “They ask for your good wishes and good thoughts.”
· Fold in a generous helping of New Age. Season to taste.
A “pastoral prayer” followed, which was not actually prayed, but simply read from something prewritten: “Source of Life, God of Love, Holy Unnamed…. There are times we need a sense of community…. [because of tragedies and hardships, etc.] So may it be, Amen.” When those first two titles were spoken, for the briefest moment one might have thought they actually wanted to get in touch with the true God; though He, of course, has given us His name (Exodus 3:13-14) and the name of His Son (Hebrews 1-2). This was, however, the only time during the service that we noticed the term “God” being used. (More on this soon enough.)
The service continued with an all-male choir singing a song called, “Another Train” with the repeating refrain of “There’s another train, there always is…” (I will return to this momentarily).
There was a sermon, of course. The phrase I most noticed within the sermon was “we shall overcome.” (Odd for what I recall was an all-white or predominantly white congregation.) I figured that line was the title of the sermon until I checked the bulletin where I saw the title was actually, “Free and Responsible.” It was mostly about the U.U. members responsibility to the U.U. community and the greater community at large.
· Serve chilled on a bed of Left-Leaning Liberalism. Thinking about the sermon, and later reading through some website sermons, it seems the sermon topic of the day is a common one within U.U. Many U.U. topics and meeting agendas would fit squarely within a Democrat Political Action Committee or the Democratic National Convention: Community activism, freedom of choice, gay and lesbian issues, women’s issues, “no one is right or wrong only those who are hurtful or hateful”.
Not to be painted a cold-hearted right-wing Christian extremist, I absolutely agree that serving our fellow man in love, is how we reflect the image of God in this world. Just as the U.U. church we attended has a food pantry, so also our church has one. Just as I expect that many U.U. members serve in their community to help and support others, so do we. We are all called to this. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is reflected not only in Jesus’ words (Matthew 7:12), but in many other religious and ethical systems. But living by that credo alone is only half the story, live that to the fullest and you’ve only scored a 50 on your test; it is still a failing grade. No, when asked what the greatest command was, Jesus first said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38) then we see Him tell us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). We cannot neglect loving the God who created us, gives us life and breath and every good gift (James 1:17); we cannot reject Him by serving idols (even mankind), by making up our own gods or having no god at all, or by making ourselves the final arbiter of truth. God does not smile and wink at such things (Deuteronomy 4:24, Matthew 7:21, Hebrews 10:28-31, etc.).
“Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to me, and have neither remembered me nor pondered this in your hearts? Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear me?” (Isaiah 57:11, NIV).
Finally, there was a closing song, some closing words, and the service ended. Coffee hour meet and greet afterwards in which Chris and I were able to interact with the regulars to try and clarify and understand some things better. (This the subject of my next column.) But in order to end this column, I return to the lyrics of the song their choir sang entitled, “Another Train”:
“The beginning is now, it will always be. You say you lost your chance, Then fate brought you defeat.But that means nothing…. There’s another train, there always is…. You may feel your done, But there's no such thing. Although you’re standing on your own, Your own breath is king. The beginning is now, Don't turn around…. There’s another train, there always is….”
How strange the ambiguity in their words and terms and lyrics. The beginning is now? That is acceptable if they heed the words of Scripture:
“Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
But that means nothing?
As Chris later said to me, essentially, “It seems they work hard at finding songs that have absolutely nothing to say.”
There’s another train, there always is?
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded back from you” (Luke 12:20).
Your own breath is king?
“Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22, NASB).
The beginning is now?
“[People] are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
What if there isn’t another train?
“[But] the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (2 Peter 3:10).
“For just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37-39).
Feel free to read columns I have written elsewhere here:
 See my columns elsewhere: “Should believers fear Hell—and God? A response.”, “Would God Actually Sentence People to Eternal Hell?”, “The Old and New Testaments on Hell”, and “The Gospel 101: Hell is the prescribed punishment”
 “This Present Darkness” by Frank E. Peretti, copyright 1986, published by Crossway Books, page 48.
 Dictionary.com, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/humanism (accessed: August 16, 2008).
 “The Illustrated World Religions, A guide to Our Wisdom Traditions” by Huston Smith, text copyright 1991, 1994 by Huston Smith, published by HarperCollins, pages 87-88. Emphasis added.
 Ibid, page 27. Emphasis added.
 From “What do Unitarian Universalists Believe?” byDavid O.Rankin.
 “A flame within a chalice… is a symbol of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) faith…. There is no single interpretation of today's flaming chalice symbol ” (UUA.org). “[The] symbol has no official interpretation” (Wikipedia).
 Carolyn McDade (1981), http://www.hymnary.org/tune/spirit_of_life_mcdade
 Apparently this is taken from a Bobby McFerrin song, the artist best known for his song, “Don’t Worry Be Happy”, which he won’t sing in hell if he continues in his course of blaspheming God (2 Peter 2:12, etc.).
 “This Present Darkness” by Frank E. Peretti, copyright 1986, published by Crossway Books, page 352.
 In my saying this, no one should think I am saying that God is grading us on our good works, no. The Bible tells us, “We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight”(Isaiah 64:6). Our salvation comes from God’s gracious provision, through Jesus Christ’s perfect life, His death on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead (Ephesians 2:5, Philippians 3:9, etc.); being found in Christ is the only way to ever be found acceptable before God (Galatians 2:16, etc.).