The Impossibility of Believing Whatever You Want

Another refreshed post from the original Transient and Permanent:

There’s a mighty big myth about Unitarian-Universalism that has been circulating for years. It’s the idea that in UUism “you can believe whatever you want.” That’s not at all accurate.

Truthfully, in UUism it’s more like: “you have to believe what you really do believe, whether you want to or not.” Followed authentically, this is potentially a far harder, more spiritually refining course than creedal religion. UUism isn’t for slackers.

Wanting has nothing to do with belief. Who can believe what they want? In UUism people are called to believe what they believe: to test their beliefs and those of others, to replace fantasy with truth, even when fantasy seems infinitely preferable to truth.  With no creedal litmus test, UUs can’t hide behind dogmas they barely understand or even disagree with.

When discussing what a Christian is, one doesn’t say “A Christian is someone who claims to believe in God, whether he really does or not.” Likewise, one shouldn’t say “A UU is someone who can believe whatever they want to.” The UU who believes what he wants to believe is not a model UU, just as the Christian who fakes allegiance to the Nicene creed is not a model Christian (no comments here about the stereotyping of what it takes to be a Christian please–this is just being used to illustrate a point).

When a mature UU encounters theist UUs, she never thinks “Oh, he just wants to believe that there is a God.” Rather, she assumes that he has struggled with his beliefs and found that he can’t deny the existence of God. When she encounters Wiccan UUs, she never think “Oh, he just wants to believe in magic.” She assumes that he has wrestled with how the world works, and can’t discount that our intentions impact the world and what we put out into the universe comes back to us many times over. She assumes these UUs believe different things as UUs because they can’t escape the fact that they believe them, not because they merely wish them to be true or find such beliefs fun. And that’s why even though she may not agree with either perspective, she gives both UUs genuine respect.

Believing what you really do believe can be a very harrowing path. It also means that you must allow a certain level of criticism. To be a UU is to be vulnerable in your conviction and to accept that vulnerability as part of the price of acknowledging your true beliefs.

If UUs must make elevator speeches, let them be the opposite of the ones that have been made before.

“You are a UU? What do UUs believe?”

“UUs believe in being fully authentic with our beliefs and actions, even if there are consequences. That seems puzzling? Well then, let me tell you how I live that belief. . .”



Filed under Unitarian-Universalism

6 responses to “The Impossibility of Believing Whatever You Want

  1. Charlie Talbert

    Other good (and recent) commentary on the topic of Unitarian Universalists believing what they want is at .

    This is Doug Muder’s sermon, Some Assembly Required.

  2. Patrick McLaughlin

    Yep. Looks very similar to stuff I’ve preached and written.

    It’s not what you want to believe–and certainly not just anything you choose to believe. It’s what you find that you must believe, having done the hard work of figuring that out.

    “Worse,” you have to keep at it.

    Having done so, we expect that you live by it.

    Easy, anything you want to religion? Quite the opposite; it’s as hard as it gets. It demands an on-going, open examination and re-examination of what you believe and why–and then it demands that you live up to your beliefs and our common values, too.

    What do I believe? Well, I believe that. And I believe–although I don’t think I mean the same thing he meant by it–what Paul wrote; “Work out your own salvation, in fear and trembling.” No one else can do it for you.

    No one.

  3. This sermon is the main reason I walked into a UU church for the first time.


  4. My believing something doesn’t make it True.

  5. Patrick McLaughlin

    True, Will. But the flip’s also true. Not believing it doesn’t make it not true.

    (cue: Don Quixote — “They might be giants.”)

  6. And whatarewegonnado unless they are…

    having an early 90’s moment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s