A Chosen Faith : An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism

A Chosen Faith : An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism
by John A. Buehrens & Forrest Church

The Foreword by Robert Fulghum is fantastic. Check it out if you want a quick and dirty look at the "religion" frequently called UUism.

I was disappointed with parts of the remaining text however. The two main authors' beliefs and writing styles are too similar for a book written as an introduction to a very diverse religion. Even though they alternate in writing the chapters, I couldn't tell which one was writing unless I flipped back to the first page of the chapter. For a book like this, one of the authors should have been a "West Coast Unitarian Universalist"--someone less interested in God, the Bible, etc. and more interested in "a free and responsible search for truth and meaning". I'm not trying to indicate that the authors are Bible literalists--they certainly aren't. But they seem to think that UUism is in many ways "liberal Christianity" and I haven't found that to be the case in my local fellowship.

Probably more than any other group of "religious people", Unitarian Universalists differ in beliefs both at the individual and congregational level. While the authors summed up their own beliefs (and perhaps those of their congregations) well, they barely touched on those of many UUs. In fact, they criticized UUs who would fall in the atheist/agnostic/skeptical group. Atheism is "demonic pseudoreligion"? (p. 103) I was quite shocked to hear this from a UU--no matter how much of a theist he may be. Generally, UU Atheists are very tolerant of UU Theists and vice versa. Skeptics are also criticized which is very surprising since only the skeptical portions of ourselves can perform a truly responsible search for truth. Perhaps the authors don't really understand the word or the position of skeptics. Ironically, a quote from Emerson is used on page 173 which basically says the opposite of what the authors previously indicated:

The religion that is afraid of science dishonors God and commits suicide. It acknowledges that it is not equal to the whole of truth, that it legislates and tyrannizes over a village of God's empire, but it is not the universal immutable law. Every influx of atheism, of skepticism, is thus made useful as a mercury pill assaulting and removing a diseased religion, and making way for truth.
Likewise, on page 191, skepticism is championed as the guard against "irrational delusion". However, on the prior page, science is unjustly critiqued. Church claims that "with each gain in scientific understanding, we must risk losing something even more important: an intimate experience of the power and mystery of the creation". I hold the complete opposite view. With each gain in scientific understanding, we are not only allowed to begin to experience the power and mystery of the universe, but our interest is also aroused to continue (or begin) our search, more questions and 'mysteries' are raised, and our faculties are equipped with better tools for the decision making processes we face.

The authors (and sometimes UUs in general) like to make famous people of the past few centuries into UUs--even if those people only had a passing interest in the religion, left the religion for good at some point in their lives, or merely seemed to have some UU-type beliefs. Emerson is perhaps the most classic example. Although Emerson may have made for a pretty good 20th Century West Coast UU, he left 19th Century Unitarianism at a very young age and never returned. The authors never mention this fact, but they quote him throughout the book as if he was a very active, life-long Unitarian.

I've unjustly focused on the portions of the book I disagree with. My reason is that those reading the book and knowing nothing else about UUism may be turned off to it for the examples critiqued above. I'm hoping that those reading this page will at least test their local UU waters a bit before writing it off as 'just another nonsensical religion'. I certainly don't agree with everything the authors (or other UUs) believe, but the true beauty of UUism is that one need not completely agree with others in the movement to still contribute to and gain from the association.

Before ending this review, I should mention a couple of things that may sound confusing to people being introduced to UUism for the first time. The words "religion" and "faith" are not used in typical ways. As the title suggests, one is not born into or converted to this "faith". It is a chosen faith. Buehrens states on page 201 that this faith is not about "believing some proposition in spite of the evidence; it is more like living with courage, gratitude, and integrity in spite of life's inevitable losses". Likewise, the "religion" (when compared to other groups considered religions) views the world more as a school rather than as a corrections facility and life more as something to be joyously lived rather than as something to be endured in hopes of some sort of post-life paradise. This kind of religion can be something as simple as hearing the cosmos sing or watching nature dance.

from the publisher:
For searchers, newcomers, and lifelong learners, a thoughtful and entertaining handbook

Affirming diversity, dialogue, and personal choice in religious living, providing common ground and community for people from a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs, and encouraging the work for social justice that religion inspires, Unitarian Universalism has become an increasingly appealing religious alternative. A Chosen Faith is a clear, helpful introduction to this growing religious movement. Two long-time ministers and denominational leaders, John A. Buehrens and Forrest Church, describe the sources and history of Unitarian Universalism, how those traditions are adapted in congregations today, and how they each came to choose Unitarian Universalism as a career and a way of life.

This revised edition includes two new chapters as well as a new foreword by best-selling writer and Unitarian Universalist Robert Fulghum.

"An excellent introduction for anyone interested in the nature of Unitarian Universalist religious beliefs, the history of those movements, and the emphasis on openness, tolerance, and social concerns." -- Michael J. McBride, Religious Studies Review

"Simply superb. I know of nothing comparable to it. The old-timer as well as the 'come-outer' will find A Chosen Faith irresistible. It will be a gift for everyone, for the minister, for the laity, for theological students. Engaging, seductive, infectious." -- James Luther Adams

John A. Buehrens is president of the Unitarian Universalist Association; he lives in Boston. Forrest Church, senior minister of the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City, is author of Life Lines: Holding On (and Letting Go).