Unitarian Universalism-Part 4

By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©2006
Unitarian Universalism [UU] is primarily a humanist faith, with 46 % considering themselves humanists, and less than 30 % considering themselves theists generally, Christian or mystics. What does that mean for UU theology?


The Fallacy of Humanism

Unitarian Universalism [UU] is primarily a humanist faith. As we saw earlier, 46 % consider themselves humanists with less than 30 % considering themselves theists generally, Christian or mystics. “The organized humanist movement in America emerged largely within Unitarianism and Universalism…. It is no mere chance that there are proportionately more humanists among Unitarians and Universalists than anywhere else.”[1] Secular humanism of course is committed to complete faith in the power of man and his reason and logically denies all power to God. Religious humanism adds a vague concept of God but is often New Age, pantheistic or deis­tic. While many UU people may claim belief in God, for many of them, practically speaking, God is non-existent.

The adoption of secular humanism means God can bring no meaning into their lives. In pointing out that people cannot have emotional health without purpose and meaning in life, Dr. Rollo May discusses one weakness of the humanist position: “for one cannot live on an island of meaning surrounded by an ocean of meaningless­ness. If the universe is crazy, the parts of it must be crazy too.”[2] Indeed, the relativism of humanism means there are no answers, nor will there ever be answers: “I have no set creed, no anthropomorphic God, no sure salvation, no ultimate answer, but I have plenty of hunches about the reality of things and am betting my life upon those hunches.”[3] This is quite a gamble when one man’s hunch is no better than another’s. Basing one’s view of reality on mere hunches that are inherently void of authority is hardly wise in the face of Jesus’ warnings about hell. If “there is a way that seems right to man, but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 14:12), we need more than hunches. We need that certainty that only the Bible can logically offer.

The truth is that humanism, the religion of faith in mankind, is a destructive andeven dangerous faith. In the midst of a world culture saturated with humanism, some perceptive scholars have attacked it. In The Arrogance of Humanism, Rutgers University Professor David Ehrenfeld, points out that it is high time the evils inherent to humanism were recognized, as well as the serious daily damage it does. While he acknowledges that there is a benevolent aspect of humanism (humanitarianism, belief in the value and dignity of man and so on), he maintains that humanism today places far too much faith in man. In the name of humanity, he argues that humanism is destroying “everything upon which human survival and happiness depend” — including the family and small communities, our best agriculture, control over energy, the meaning of language and much more, all because of a misguided faith in the supremacy of human reason and power. In fact, “some of humanism’s religious assumptions are among the most destructive ideas in common currency, a main source of peril in this most perilous of epochs.”[4]

In what must be considered a naïve statement at best, we are told that UU mem­bers are “without fear that human error can do any irreparable damage to anyone.”[5] But who can logically deny that human error is responsible for tens of millions of deaths every year — from famines in socialist economies, to abortion on demand, to prescription drug and surgical errors, just to name a few.

UU people fail to recognize the accuracy of the biblical portrayal of man as morally and spiritually fallen. For anyone with eyes to see, the events of history — particularly of the last century — clearly endorse the biblical view as far more cred­ible than the humanistic view. Even noted agnostic T. H. Huxley once agreed: “The doctrines of… original sin, of the innate depravity of man… of the primacy of Satan in the world… faulty as they are, appear to me to be vastly nearer the truth than the liberal popular illusions that babies are all born good… and other optimistic fig­ments.”[6]

For the UU, “Humanism is essentially and above all a religion of hope.”[7] By contrast, even J. J. Blackham, a director of the British Humanist Association, once stated that “the most drastic objection to humanism is that it is too bad to be true.”[8] One reason for this is that faith in man is unjustified and this has been proven histori­cally. When humanists place the totality of their faith in humanity they are placing complete faith in a race of people who are morally and spiritually fallen; that is, fundamentally self-serving and evil. The teachings of the Bible in general and of Jesus Christ in particular supply ample testimony to the fallenness of humanity. As Jesus Himself said, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).

Trusting selfish people to do what is good and right, rather than trusting in an infinitely good and wise God, can never be logically defended. Scores of topics could be mentioned, but one will suffice. War is clearly one of the most destructive forces in history, yet humans seem to relish it. An analysis from the Stockton Herald (California) tells of a survey utilizing a computer. It found that since 3,600 B.C. the world has known only 292 years of peace. In that period, stretching more than 55 centuries, there have been an incredible 14,531 wars in which over 3.6 billion people have been killed.[9] Indeed, we have read from at least two sources that on any given day in the world there are an estimated 30 to 100 conflicts somewhere.

Again, given mankind’s track record, on what basis should faith be placed in people instead of God? Human history and daily experience are all the disproof of humanism needed, and this is consistent with the testimony of Scripture:

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. (Psa. 118:8)
Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. (Psa. 146:3)
Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he? (Isa. 2:22)
This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord.” (Jer. 17:5)

Speaking of mortal men, when it comes to deciding spiritual issues, one of the most naïve placements for faith is in the vagaries of human reason. Unaided human reason can never ascertain what only divine revelation can supply, because only divine revelation is sufficient for discerning absolute truth concerning the most important issues in life: who we are, where we came from, what the purpose of life is, what God is like and what happens when we die. Only God can meet the needs of people because He is their Creator, who designed them to be in a personal relationship to Him. While we would be the last to deny that reason is a precious God-given gift, daily experience tells us it has its limits, humanist beliefs notwith­standing.

Even among UUs, reason typically becomes perverted from its proper function in support of irrational and false UU ideals. UU followers themselves will sometimes admit this. “Our reason makes many mistakes; it is frequently taken captive by our desires, so that we believe things not because they are true but because we want to believe them.”[10] This is true not only among UUs but also in all people’s lives gener­ally. So how can reason deserve the apex of anyone’s faith? As we have seen, God’s views on humanism are explicit. An absolutely key element in humanism is pride in self. But God hates pride (Prov. 6:17). “The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished. … Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:5, 18). “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Prov. 26:12).

No form of humanism, including religious humanism, can ever meet the genuine needs of human beings. This is why so many humanists are unhappy or miserable. Humanism proves useless because it neglects the one true God in whom alone human satisfaction, happiness and contentment can be found. Perhaps this is one reason why the Universalists’ membership declined radically from 800,000 in 1840 to 50,000 in 1961, precipitating the 1961 merger with the Unitarians. People weren’t satisfied. Besides, everything it offered could be found elsewhere—mostly in political causes, entertainment and social clubs. The merger helped, of course, and the recent push for proselytization will undoubtedly bring in new members. But like all false religion, UU can never deliver on its promises in the long run.

False religion will fail people on every level because it denies reality. And to livein denial of reality is rarely inconsequential (see Romans 1:18-31). When humanism dethrones God and deifies man, it is a denial of reality. Augustine was right, only the true God can satisfy the God shaped void in every person’s life. False gods are formless; their religions empty.

So is it surprising that the uncertainly and indefiniteness of UU beliefs generally fosters a corresponding indifference in attitude to religious concerns, or that this could cause problems in people’s lives? As if to confirm their lack of interest in religion, the average UU gives only a few cents a week in support of his or her church.[11] This “is the root of our problem; you have noticed how inarticulate many of us are in a social gathering when asked, ‘What do Unitarians believe?’ Many of us cannot speak for ourselves, much less invite our thoughtful inquiring friends to share our experience in a UU society.”[12]

Indeed, the growth of conservative Christian churches has even been noted by UU members to result from unique elements UUs could not offer or logically justify: biblical salvation, absolute moral guidance and meaning in life.[13] Unfortunately, UUs don’t get it because they prefer not to, which leads us to our next section. (To be continued)


  1. E. H. Wilson, in David Miller (ed.), “Unitarian Universalist Views of Humanism,” p. 4.
  2. Rollo May, The Art of Counseling, p. 216 (1967 ed.).
  3. Thomas Owen-Towle, “What’s Religious About Us?” Sermon transcript, First Unitarian Church of San Diego, p. 7.
  4. David Ehrenfeld, The Arrogance of Humanism, p. 4.
  5. A. Perry, in Brandock Lovely, op cit., p. 9.
  6. David Lack, Evolutionary Theory and Christian Belief (London: Metheun, 1957), p. 108.
  7. R. E. Green in David Miller (ed.), op cit., p. 7.
  8. Clark Pinnock, Set Forth Your Case (Moody, 1971), p. 31.
  9. The Stockton Herald, Stockton, CA, March 13-18, 1960, or March 3-8, 1963.
  10. Jack Mendelsohn, “Meet the Unitarian Universalists,” (UU pamphlet), p. 7.
  11. The UU World, October 15, 1979, p. 9, reported 11 cents per week.
  12. J. R. Clark, “What’s Religious in Unitarian Universalism?” in Highroad to Advance—Charting the Unitarian Universalist Future, pp. 4-5 (cf. 1-5).
  13. E.g., Ibid., pp. 103.

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