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October 7, 1997

A Liberal Religion

by Betty Gartman

Who said, "The Univeralists believe that God is too good to damn them, and the Unitarians believe they are too good to be damned!"? Thomas Starr King, pastor of the San Francisco Unitarian Church at the start of the Civil War.

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Mobile has had a presence in Mobile since 1958. While most people turn to religion for comfort and answers that are beyond challenge, Unitarian Universalism challenges the person to find his or her own answers. Even on those rare occasions when it suggests an answer, our religion often insists that the person challenge, compare and weigh the proposed prescription.

In the United States most religions are authoritative, in contrast to Unitarian Universalism, which is based on reason and the individual's freedom of belief. For most people, our religion presents an excess of freedom; many prefer someone else or some institution to provide the answers to life's mysteries.

Culturally, most Americans do not realize that Unitarian Universalism even exists. Millions pass through high school and college without even hearing or reading about this religion, a situation made possible because most Americans recognize only three major religions: you are either Catholic, Protestant or Jewish. Unitarian Universalism, a very different way of approaching religion, is none of the above. For these reasons, plus our aversion to proselytizing, most new members are forced to "stumble" on our religion; it's a wonder that we have as many members as we do.

We believe in the universality of religion in that we recognize all humans ask questions such as "Why am I here? What is the meaning and purpose of my life? Why do I have to die?" Realizing all religions seek to provide answers to questions like these, we think there is much wisdom in their many answers. Few UUs contend that there is, or ever will be, a single universal religion that is right for everyone.

We do regard humankind's highest values to be integrity, caring, compassion, social justice, truth, personal peace and harmony. Advancing these values is a major purpose of our congregation. It is from this belief system that the Mobile UU Fellowship is again so happy and proud to be apart of another challenging and thought-provoking series titled "Great Religions in a Pluralistic Society." As our faith that directs us to promote justice and equality and compassion in human relations, several years ago we co-sponsored the Harbinger series on Poverty. Our faith directs us to promote the respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, so we co-sponsored with the Harbinger series on Sustainable Development. And it is our faith that directs us to do a free and responsible search for truth and meaning that lead us to co-sponsor the Religion and Science series last Spring.

As part of the "Great Religions in a Pluralistic Society" series, the Harbinger has asked us to submit an article about our religion. Among our great forefathers and foremothers of Unitarian Universalists are some of the greatest Americans, and the list reads like an American history book. Five United States presidents were Unitarians: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Taft. Other well-known UUs are William E. Channing, Olympia Brown, Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Question: What is a UU concept of heaven? Answer: A discussion about heaven.


Betty Gartman is a former president of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship-Mobile and its current director of education.


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