-This is just an individual view, and only a tentative one-
For the past few years, I have belonged to a Unitarian Universalist congregation here in the DC suburbs of Maryland. My level of participation has been quite low, almost non-existent, for the past year. If anyone were to ask me my religion, I’d probably answer ‘running!’
First off, let me say that Unitarian Universalism in its current form is a great thing: non-dogmatic, a place to build and serve community, and a place to find fellowship and higher purpose regardless of background religion.
So here’s my argument for renaming the movement: the name contains nothing but dogma and archaic religious background.
The word Unitarian means belief in one God rather than the Christian belief in the Holy Trinity. On this issue, I say: I don’t know! But perhaps we can at least extend to most Christians a form of Pascal’s wager and give them the benefit of the doubt (which is how UUs treat most religious traditions).
In fact, I’m quite fond of many aspects of the Christian tradition. That’s why the name kind of rankles me.
Univeralism refers to the notion of universal salvation (or, put negatively, the non-existence of damnation). Again, I say, I don’t know! Yet there are certain US public figures today who add merit to the idea of damnation.
Philosopher James Park has written a clear and thoughtful outline of why and how the name might be changed. Perhaps it makes sense that an existentialist philosopher (who happens to also be a UU) wrote this outline. Words are meaningful. When the words are entirely besides the point, or even counterproductive, clearer and more meaningful words should be used.
Why hold on to old heresies? Well, I understand the argument that its important to honor your ancestors. The original Unitarian heresy of not believing in the Trinity is an off-shoot of the larger Protestant revolution. It’s similar to Martin Luther’s heresy against the church in which he was a priest. Universalism is a similar iteration of an evolving faith. Thus the name is a compact history lesson that refers to the UU movement’s original basis.
To a degree, most religions face similar issues when it comes to issues of dogma. But the thing that is good about UU is that it isn’t very dogmatic. It revolves around seven principles with which I think most thoughtful people (including religious people) can agree.
Thus I think that simpler, clearer words make more sense. My suggestion is to call it “liberal religion.” I realize this name has its own historical baggage (in some places liberal means left-winger and in others it means capitalist) and opens itself to cultural mockery, but I am just learning that mockery is a great test of whether something is true. The English philosopher Shaftesbury argued for the positive aspects of ridicule/comedy as a means of discovering what’s true since what is true stands up quite well to mockery. What do contemporary UUs stand for? To me liberal region is closer to the mark.
To me the name “Unitarian Universalist” just doesn’t ring true, but that’s just one man’s perspective. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop going to my UU congregation. I rather think this piece is in the spirit of the place. If anything, the name still means a capacity for creative skepticism and freedom of belief, so I can live with it even if I would change the name were I king.