Forecast for the Future

"Every individual without exception bears a potential writer within himself. The reason is that everyone has trouble accepting the fact that he will disappear unheard of and unnoticed in an indifferent universe, and everyone wants to make himself into a universe of words before it's too late. 

Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not that far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding."

- Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Week 5, Religion: Unitarianism Pt. 1, or Maia M****, Where The Fuck Are You?

The old joke:

"What do you get when you cross a Mormon with a Unitarian Universalist? Someone who rings your doorbell for no good reason."
Three children were talking about their religions.
"I'm a Catholic," said one, "And our symbol is the cross."
"I'm Jewish," said the second, "And our symbol is the Star of David."
The third child said, "I'm a Unitarian Universalist and our symbol is a candle in a cocktail glass!"
And finally:
A Unitarian Universalist dies, and on the way to the afterlife encounters a fork in the road with two options: "to heaven" and "to a discussion of heaven." Without pausing, the UU heads right to the discussion of heaven.
Diminishing returns, yes.

"If you're searching for a religious home that is guided by a quest for truth and meaning, not by a set creed or dogma, we invite you to discover Unitarian Universalism."

Love is the doctrine of this church,
The quest of truth is its sacrament,
And service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve human need,
To the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the Divine -
Thus do we covenant with each other and with our God.

This is all detritus of my childhood

Unitarian Universalist Sanctuary of Oneonta, NY

As I child, I was brought each Sunday to a Unitarian Universalist sanctuary by parents who were raised Catholic and Baptist (the one in the picture above). I was the only one of my friends who attended this "church"--the rest attended local Catholic, Episcopalian, Baptist or other Protestant sect churches. Most of us shared an antipathy for our weekly Sunday requirements, and for a while I never thought that my experience was necessarily any different than theirs.

The first time I remember realizing that being Unitarian U wasn't like anything else was when I went to a Catholic Church one Sunday with a friend. I believe I was about 8 or 9. The first thing I noticed was how everyone was all dressed up. More than that though, I couldn't believe that they made the kids sit through the sermons--at the UU church, everything is timed so the kids go downstairs to their youth groups when the talky adult stuff starts. BORING. I also noticed how people didn't seem quite as loving or friendly or familiar with each other, but I understand that this was at least partially due to the fact that there were a few hundred people there, as opposed to the 75-100 or so that regularly made up a weekly UU congregation. I didn't really understand what was going on, but I knew that it wasn't at all the same.

As I began to grow and understand the world better, I gradually came to conceive of what it meant to be a UU: "... Erm, what the fuck does it mean to be a UU?" I had stopped coming round when I was about 12 (at which point my dad and sister stopped coming forever), but I started again when I was 14 because the youth group at that point was pretty cool. Our leader was a woman almost exactly ten years older than me named Maia M**** who I thought was just about the most amazing woman I'd ever met. She taught us about meditation, buddhism, reiki, self-expression and how to drink a cup of coffee for two hours. She also sheperded our group on trips to Buffalo and Ottawa for "UU Youth Conferences", which are about some of the most mental, hedonistic experiences a person could possibly classify under the aegis of "religious activity." But two years later, when Maia left to move to New York and become an actress, and my friends in the group left to graduate high school, I moved on as well, thus ending my renewed relationship with the UU community.

How easy was it for me to just pick up and put down? Or maybe a better question (by anyone of "faith") is "why was that ok?" Before I answer, I want to get into some of the discoveries I've made this week in learning about the roots of Unitarianism.

The Unitarian faith is actually very old, taking shape in the 16th Century during the post-Protestant "Radical Reformation". Unitarianism is a type of nontrinitarian faith, with the concept of the term "Unitarian" referring to a belief in a single God figure rather the holy trinity (father, son, holy ghost). As a result many Unitarians thought of their faith as being in fact one of the oldest forms of Christianity, with roots in early Christianity prior to the Council of Constantinople in 381 whereby the Holy Trinity was officially indoctrinated.

Though the ideas of nontrinitarianism subsided as the Dark Ages began, they came out again during the Radical Reformation as part of the a number of waves of antitrinitarianism. Many of these groups each carried their own distinct agendas, but over time came to be grouped together in 1687 under the banner idea of "Unitarianism", for all "who, with whatever differences, held to the unipersonality of the Divine Being."

The faith continued as a distinctly Christian one until the mid to late 19th Century, when factions of the community began to embrace the idea that their beliefs were grounded more in a quest for truth, knowledge and love of mankind an less in a necessarily theistic "love of God." At this point the church began to take on the shape and spirit more akin to the one I grew up with.

[to be continued]

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