Unitarian Universalism-Part 2
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©2006|
|It must be remembered that there is no “official doctrine” among modern Unitarian Universalists [UU], since each member believes whatever he or she wishes. Therefore, we cannot properly speak of a UU doctrine of God, Jesus, salvation and so on. But the authors present quotes from recognized UU authors regarding Christianity, the Bible and God which are representative of UU views.|
Introduction and History
Theology – Part 1
It must be remembered that there is no “official doctrine” among modern Unitarian Universalists [UU], since each member believes whatever he or she wishes. Therefore, we cannot properly speak of a UU doctrine of God, Jesus, salvation and so on. However, it does appear there is one nearly universal characteristic of UU members: dislike of biblical orthodoxy. In this sense, there is perhaps at least one “official doctrine” among UU believers. Nevertheless, the following material is representative only—not every member can be categorized according to these beliefs. All quotes do, however, come from authoritative Unitarian Universalist literature.
While UU believers do proclaim the validity of all religions and spiritual paths, they are peculiarly hostile to the Christian religion. This is ironic in that Christianity is the very religion without which they would not exist, the religion whose Scriptures they may, even today, appeal to in support of their beliefs. Not surprisingly, UU arrives at its view of Christianity from liberal theological scholarship, especially the foolhardy Jesus Seminar:
- The Rev. Katie Lee Crane spoke for many UUs when she delivered her sermon to the congregation at Winchester Unitarian Society, Winchester, Mass., last March: “I was reared a Roman Catholic then abandoned my Christian heritage for a long time…. Peeling away all the doctrine and the fluffy stories, I rediscovered a Jesus that I can relate to…. No individual has been more important in this re-evaluation of Jesus than Dr. Robert Funk and his controversial Jesus Seminar.” Crane had just finished a course on the methods of the Jesus Seminar when she decided to develop what she learned into her worship service of March 9. “There is a real, shared purpose in what the Jesus Seminar does and what Unitarian Universalists have been doing throughout our history,” Crane said in a recent interview…. The Jesus Seminar on the Road has received warm receptions and universal praise in the UU churches where it has appeared….
However, faith in the Jesus Seminar, rather than in Jesus, exacts its own price. As we read on:
- Dr. Davidson Loehr is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the only UU in the Jesus Seminar…. Loehr remembers something that Funk once told him about learning the truth of Jesus: “Something died in all of us,” Funk said of that experience. “It’s tormenting us and it’s lying there like a lump.” Loehr has no remedy for the pain except truth. Jesus, he said, was just a man—a courageous and ethical man, but a man without divine mandate or mission.
A sampling of descriptive phrases which UU writers have applied to the Bible and Christianity leaves little room for acceptance of the UU claim to universal “religious tolerance.” It also tends to undermine validity to the stated fundamental UU principle of having “a generous and tolerant understanding of differing views and practices.” Although they decry religious bigotry, their attitude toward Christianity is hardly so open and tolerant. They label biblical teachings as: “primitive,” “celestial nonsense,” “myth,” “rubbish,” “legends,” “impossible history,” “excess baggage,” “a sham” and “a ghost of superstition in its faded features.”
UUs admit that “many of us … have … strong antipathy to traditional religious language” (that is, Christ as Savior, sin, judgment). The Reverend Ralph N. Helverson of the First Parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts, declares that tolerance means “you tolerate those who differ from you.” To illustrate, he mentions a UU’s minister friend whose “only theology was Janov’s Primal Scream” (“scream” therapy), and he can, it seems, accept this. Yet he goes on to declare that “orthodox clergymen speaking about truth voice more nonsense per minute than almost any other group that I hear.”
Being tolerant of things like “scream therapy” while being intolerant of basic Bible teaching kind of sums up UU theology. UU is confessedly not Christian. In an official UU report under Section Eleven: Marginalized Groups, “A Non-Christian Religion?”, we read “Between 1930 and 1960, the primary theological identity of Unitarianism shifted from Christianity to various understandings of humanism and existentialism.” “It is true that collectively we are a nonChristian religion … [however] one of this century’s most controversial theological issues in Unitarian Universalism has been whether one can be genuinely Unitarian Universalist and Christian at the same time.” The report implies yes. But as Duke Grey pointed out, in “A Letter to Christians,” in the Unitarian Universalist Christian, Fall/Winter 1992, p. 42, “The vast majority of congregations now belonging to the UUA consider themselves nonChristians.” Indeed, only between 10 to 20 percent consider themselves even “liberal Christians.”
Nevertheless, within UU there is an allegedly Christian subset that seeks to stress Christianity. Despite the Christian label, however, their theology is little different from religious liberalism and humanism in general. Richard E. Myers, editor of the Unitarian Universalist Christian, the organ of the UU Christian Fellowship (UUCF), declares: “Today, many UU’s find traditional Christianity intellectually untenable. It is not just the historical objections to the Trinity and predestination that are the basis of their rejection, but the whole body of theological ideas associated with Christianity, including even belief in God. Most of the trappings of traditional religion they view as so much excess baggage.” This statement comes from a pamphlet titled, “Can I Be a Unitarian Universalist and Still Be a Christian?” Surprisingly, even in light of this, the author says, “My own answer to that question is: for the present, certainly.”
But a UU can be considered a Christian only if Unitarian Universalism itself is Christian. If UU rejects the dictionary definition and historic meaning of the term Christian, then even a groundhog could be declared a Christian. The Oxford American Dictionary defines “Christian” as “of the doctrines of Christianity, believing in or based on these,” and it defines “Christianity” as “the religion based on the belief that Christ was the incarnate Son of God and on his teachings.” Any examination of numerous issues of the Unitarian Universalist Christian will clearly show repeated denial of central Christian doctrines.
The term Christian, like the term UU, is exclusive, not inclusive; it does not, for example, incorporate humanism, atheism or Marxism. A committed Marxist cannot be a Christian, for the entire worldview of one system logically undermines the other. Just so, a committed humanist who rejects all biblical teachings (even though he may uphold Jesus as a good example) would be incorrect in calling his personal worldview “Christian.” The Reverend John E. Towbridge argues, “All of us in the liberal church are basically Christians,” and he maintains we can “help Christianity be more Christian.” But to call UU humanism “Christian” is neither a rational choice of words nor even a credible option. Since UU members pride themselves on reason, credibility and following the dictates of one’s moral conscience, a re-evaluation of their use of the term Christian would seem to be in order.
An older poll of 12,151 respondents in 80 UU societies revealed: “Unitarian Universalists no longer regard their faith as distinctly Christian, and an overwhelming majority hope the denomination will move toward a universal or distinctively humanistic religion in contrast to liberal Protestantism or ecumenical Christianity.” Clearly, their hopes have been realized. For UU members today to call themselves Christian in any sense is a distortion of language.
There are some UU ministers who are refreshingly more discerning. The Reverend Ralph Bailey argues correctly that UU and Christianity are fundamentally irreconcilable:
- Christianity is a religion whose adherents subscribe to an essential core of doctrine which no Unitarian Universalist of my acquaintance would accept…. Early Unitarians and Universalists called themselves liberal Christians, though at no time were they ever accepted as any kind of Christians by the great majority of orthodox followers of Christ. In recent years growing numbers of us have felt that, whatever our liberal religious movement might be called, the name of Christianity in no way seemed to fit it. Some of us have tried to explain our variety of religion by defining it in broad Christian terms. This attempt has proved unconvincing to other Unitarian Universalists, unacceptable to orthodox Christians and confusing to anyone attempting to describe or to understand… our movement.
One writer, emphasizing this “broad Christian” definition of UU, states, “If Unitarian Universalism is the wave of the future, the demise of Christianity is our greatest threat.” But the truth remains evident, for, as Brainard F. Gibbons, the president of the Universalist Church of America in 1951, argued, “Indeed, Universalism has disavowed many essential Christian doctrines. What remains that is uniquely Christian?” Many UU writers almost seem to glory in the destruction of biblical faith. “The old temples of faith are being burned down in the fire of testing. From the ashes a new Phoenix shall rise. Unitarian Universalists are eager to share in the birth.”
For many UUs the false prophecy of Theodore Parker, a prominent name in UU history, has actually come true, at least personally. For Parker, Christianity was merely “ephemeral—a transitory fly. It will pass off and be forgotten.”
The UU view of the Bible is that it is an entirely human product, a result of the thinking of fallible and sometimes ignorant men. UU may thus seek to “correct the corruptions that have obscured the moral emphasis presented by Jesus.” While most UUs give the Bible at least a small amount of credit for containing some great teachings, many have also expressed animosity toward it. One such person was radical Universalist Abner Kneeland, a good friend of the prominent early Universalist Hosea Ballou. Reminiscent of the late “People’s Temple” cult leader, Jim Jones, he would on occasion quote some “objectionable” passage such as sanitary advice about women’s menstruation, “and then hurl the book across the auditorium as unfit for reading. ”
To a significant degree, it has been the discredited results of liberal higher criticism that has provided the rationale for the modern UU rejection of the divine inspiration of the Bible. Disregarding the data refuting such critical conclusions, UU believers continue to endorse these findings as the “reliable conclusions of modern scholarship.” For example, we have already noted their hearty acceptance of the false conclusions of the Jesus Seminar, and they support the “documentary hypothesis” of the Pentateuch, even though it has been discredited for over fifty years.
The pamphlet, “Unitarian Universalist Views of the Bible” (n.d., Gilbert A. Phillips, editor), comprises a number of UU ministers’ views, which provides an overall picture of their attitude toward Scripture. At best the Bible is held to be a guide to truth, but not final truth. Other descriptions are not so flattering, for it is “ignorant,” “fetters reason,” “hinders progress,” has cruel morals and presents primitive views of God. Further, it “ought to be buried,” is “very human and therefore very imperfect” and is without “much originality, still less ethical superiority.” And, incredibly, we are told that in all the Bible, “no one single unified message or purpose or ethical level is to be found here.”
Such an approach does not reflect much concern for reason or careful learning, still less for the true content of Scripture. Yet one of these authors declared, “We must take the Bible for what its authors intended”! As we will show, what the authors intended was neither UU “theology” nor distinct UU ideals and philosophy.
As far as belief in God is concerned, UU adherents believe anything or nothing: one is free to be atheist, pantheist, polytheist, agnostic, deist, theist or even Satanist. UUs are free to make God into their own image, or any other image. “God” is ultimately whatever a man might wish God to be. “Unitarian Universalists are free to believe about God whatever seems to them to be truest and most meaningful….”
As noted, theologically, most UUs are noncommittal; however, if there is one object in which UU faith is placed and could be said to be universally “worshipped,” it is man and his reason. Mendelsohn points out that “for us a chief resource is human reason. Reason holds the place that is ordinarily accorded to revelation in orthodox religions.” In essence, human reason, flawed human reason, becomes the judge of divine revelation. Thus Mendelsohn has the cheek to refer blasphemously to the biblical God as a “brutal deity,” “a monstrous being” and “demented.”
Indeed, UU adherents are willing to believe in almost any concept of God as long as it is not the biblical God. For example, William Ellery Channing gives us an example of the early Unitarian reasoning in his May 5, 1819, address, “Unitarian Christianity”:
- We … protest against the irrational and unscriptural doctrine of the Trinity…. We are astonished that any man can read the New Testament, and avoid the conviction that the Father alone is God…. We complain of the doctrine of the Trinity, that, not satisfied with making God three beings, it makes Jesus Christ two beings, and thus introduces infinite confusion into our conceptions of his character.
Others are astonished that someone as bright as Channing could fail to miss the doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament.
Briefly noting a number of Unitarian Universalist ministers’ views on God will provide us with a flavor of their “theology.” Some are “process” theologians. For Reverend Donald Harrington: “I see God as the great evolutionary process, the upthrust of life—whatever it is that has brought life into being in the universe. This evolving life, going into ever-higher forms, it is to me the life of God—and God is a process.” Considering the philosopher Spinoza as a prototype of many modern UU believers he states that “God is not a capricious personality, absorbed in the private affairs of his devotees, but the invariable sustaining order of the universe… a magnificently credible and impersonal God.”
For UU theologian and minister Dr. J. L. Adams, God is human interests— “that which ultimately concerns humanity.” For many UU members there is clearly a sense of the reality of God or something divine; however, most UUs refuse to acknowledge a personally transcendent God. A consistent UU theme is to view God in an immanent sense, a natural force rather than a supernatural Person, part of the work of Nature as seen in the evolving creation. We will present five views of God by Unitarian Universalist ministers. The recurring theme is of God as process but not Person:
- God is not a person who knows us and loves us. He is the power within usand within all life by virtue of which it is possible for man to love. (Harry Meserve)
- The term “God” for me, therefore, does not mean a Supreme Being, a Divine Person; it is rather my affirmation that the universe and life have some principle of coherence and rationality. … [A hunger] for truth, the benediction of love and beauty and the moral imperative within. “God” is the term most generally used to name all this. Its meaning changes and grows. (Arthur Foote)
- I cannot accept the personhood of God for in the ultimate nature of things I detect no personal agency…. I must reject the idea of God as manager…. I reject the idea of God as creator…. I prefer to use the term God as a symbol of goodness…. I believe in a God which is an impersonal process; which is that part of the total process that has operated and continues to operate so as to result in goodness (including ourselves)…. My God is not all powerful or all wise, my God is only good. (John MacRinnon)
- It is the eternal stillness beneath change and the creative energy of the cosmic process. It is the potentiality within all. (Richard Kellaway)
- God, for me, is not some hypothetical being, but rather that which enables us to face faithfully those occasions of every day when and where we ought to be faithful, and to face freely every object less than worthy of our unremitting trust, loyalty, devotion—our faith. (George Beach)
These five views of God may be summarized as follows. Respectively, God is defined as:
- the power within life leading to the capacity for love
- meaning in life
- impersonal process operating for good
- impersonal creative energy
- inner hope and confidence.
These allegedly modern and scientific views have replaced the “inadequate,” “primitive” and “superstitious” God of Christianity. According to Reverend Robert Storer, the God of the Bible “has been declared inadequate by the universalist churches. For these liberal churchmen, this God has been dead a long time.”
- Will Moredock, “Who Do Men (People?) Say That I Am? UUs Take a New Look at Jesus,”
- Jack Mendelsohn, Why I am a Unitarian Universalist (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1966), p. 47.
- Conrad Wright, Three Prophets of Religious Liberalism: Channing, Emerson, Parke (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1978), pp. 144, 117; Mendelsohn, pp. 45, 102; Ernest Cassar, Universalism in America (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1971), pp. 269, 74; Irving Murray (ed.), Highroad to Advance: Charting the Unitarian Universalist Future (Pacific Grove, CA: The Boxwood Press, 1976), p. 25; plus from various UUA pamphlets listed in the bibliography.
- Arthur Foote, “Can I Be a Mystic and Unitarian Universalist?” UUA pamphlet.
- R. N. Halverson, “A Unitarian Universalist Paradigm,” in Irving Murray, op. cit., pp. 16, 21, 25.
- Interdependence: Renewing Congregational Policy: A Report by the Commission on Appraisal, June 1977 (UUA: Boston, MA: 1977).
- Alan W. Gomes, “Tolerate This! Answering Unitarian Universalist Pluralism,” Journal of Christian Apologetics, Vol. 1, no. 2, p. 41.
- R. E. Meyers, “Can I Be a Unitarian Universalist and Still Be a Christian?” UUA pamphlet, p. 1, emphasis added.
- Richard A. Kellaway (ed.), “Unitarian Universalist Views of Christianity,” UUA pamphlet, p. 5.
- From “The Report of the Committee on Goals,” pp. 15-16, published by the UUA in 1967, cf. Highroad to Advance, p. 11.
- Kellaway (ed.), “Unitarian Universalist Views of Christianity,” p. 9, UUA pamphlet.
- W. L. Kitchell in Kellaway (ed.), “Unitarian Universalist Views of Christianity,” p. 9, UUA pamphlet.
- Rev. R. F. Boeke in Kellaway (ed.), “Unitarian Universalist Views of Christianity,” p. 7, UUA pamphlet.
- Wright, op cit., p. 144.
- Marshall, “Unitarian Universalists Believe,” p. 4, UUA pamphlet.
- Cassar, op cit., p. 165.
- Cf. Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis; Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction; K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and the Old Testament.
- W. Argow, “Unitarian Universalism—Some Questions Answered,” pp. 5-6, UUA pamphlet.
- J. Mendelsohn, “Meet the Unitarian Universalists,” p. 6, UUA pamphlet.
- Mendelson, Why I Am a Unitarian Universalist, p. 100.
- From Wright, op cit., pp. 58, 62-64.
- Various issues (e.g., Vol. 30, no. 4) of the UU Christian have discussed Whitehead’s process theology. For brief but excellent critiques, see Gundry and Johnson (eds.), Tensions in Contemporary Theology, ch. 6; and Lewis and Demarest (eds.), Challenges to Inerrancy, ch. 9; or the longer critique by former process theologian, R. G. Gruenler, The Inexhaustible God (Baker, 1985).
- Harrington, “I Believe,” pp. 6-7, UUA pamphlet.
- Mendelsohn, Why I Am a Unitarian Universalist, p. 112.
- “Unitarian Universalist Views of God,” pamphlet published by the UUA, n.d.
- Ibid., p. 2.4APStaff0506 Unitarian Universalism Part 2