A Chosen Faith?

Probably the most widely available introductory text on Unitarian-Univeralism is A Chosen Faith, by Revs. John Buehrens and Forrest Church.  As such, it serves as the primary face that UUism presents to outcomers before they actually visit a church–and there’s little doubt that the book was designed with this purpose in mind.  Likewise, one often hears from the pulpit that Unitarian-Universalism is a religion of “heretics,” with heretic etymologically defined as meaning “a person who is able to choose.”  Many ministers and lay preachers are proud to assert that UUism is a chosen faith–not chosen in the sense of selected by God (i.e the chosen people) but chosen by its practitioners in the pews.

This is apparently meant to distinguish Unitarian-Universalism from other religions, which are thereby represented as being unchosen faiths.  UUs choose what faith they adhere to and what religion they belong to, while others (the other in UU discourse always meaning “Christian,” whether or not it is explicitly referenced, but also often including additional religions such as Islam, Judaism, etc) do not choose their tradition or their beliefs.  The implication is that choosing your faith is the superior mode, of course.

Because this rhetoric is so widespread, it is worth meditating on a little further.  For one thing, it seems likely that a great many other people also choose their faith.  40% of Americans switch to denominations other than those they were raised in.  Even when this means changing from one form of Christianity to another form of Christianity, surely these people have chosen their faith in a meaningful sense.  Some people would argue that all religious faith is chosen to a certain degree, since no matter how you are raised, if you decide to stick with your childhood training then that is a choice–you might just as easily decide not to remain active with your tradition once you reach adulthood.

On the other hand, there is the matter of people born into Unitarian-Universalism.  If you grow up UU, and continue to be UU, without any particular interest in leaving the fold, do you practice a chosen faith?  If not, are there two different Unitarian-Universalisms, one of which is not a chosen faith?  And if so, are such people disenfranchised by triumphant language from ministers that proclaims the desirability of choosing over mere inheriting?  Or perhaps there are degrees of choosing that all UUs share, cradle or convert; but this again raises the question of how then UUs differ in this respect from any other religious body, especially Christianity and Islam, the two religions that put greatest stress on conscious choice to profess membership in a religion and have the largest bodies of converts among the world’s religions.

The first edition of A Chosen Faith was actually titled Our Chosen Faith–and here much may hang on the matter of a single small word.  When Buehrens and Church talked about the faith that they as individuals had chosen (neither was raised UU), there was less implication for defining an entire, diverse religious movement.  But when it shifted to representing itself as describing the type of religion they were talking about (the chosen type), the meaning shifted from autobiographical to broadly representational and definitional.  It becomes now a statement about what UUism, rather than what sort of UUs the author are.

Is Unitarian-Universalism indeed a chosen faith?  If so, is this true for all Unitarian-Universalists?  And how does it differ from other religions in this way, such that it can be significantly labeled as a chosen faith?  Despite the confidence with which it’s chosenness is proclaimed, these questions still seem very much to be open ones.

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4 Comments

Filed under Defining Liberal Religion, Unitarian-Universalism

4 responses to “A Chosen Faith?

  1. Whatever moorings we have to our chosen faith, there are times when the center just does not seem to hold.

    Personally my connection to the UU faith has been somewhat traumatized by the shootings in Knoxville a year ago this weekend.

    Would it be possible for a conservative to choose the UU faith and if not why not? Certainly we cannot be all things to all people and somehow we have to live with the fact that many are against everything we stand for.

    My sister is cradle independent Baptist. I am puzzled by her faith to some degree since it is a faith I left when I was in my early adult years. Yet I remain somewhat tenuously tethered to my childhood faith for many reasons.

  2. I think most main line protestants think of their faith as chosen. That’s why joining the Church is offered at the mid teen years when a person is supposed to be able to make an informed choice. At 16 I opted out of Congregationalism. It was supposed to be an informed choice and no one wanted me making it if I didn’t want too. At home or church.

    So I don’t think UUism out of line with much of the rest of Protestantism on this.

  3. Devin Murphy

    I think too often the majority of UUs, I mean the adult converts to UUism pridefully proclaim to one another and those they met that they are glad to have ridden themselves of the shackles of their childhood religion and come to UUism. I also often get the feeling that the reason that there is not that much support for young adult programming within UUism (this is slowly changing) is they expect us who were raised in UU community to want to leave the religion off our parents (UUism). Well I can see why they think this way. As must of them had their unique selves repressed by their childhood religious communities. Yes they think this is just a natural thing children do to separate themselves from their parents and to form a unique and independent identity, one not reliant one their parents or their parent’s community. But for many like me who were raised in UU community, the struggle is not how to brake free from a religion that we perceive to be repressing us, but who to stay conceded to one that to us has always felt like a loving home.

  4. Bart

    Going off of what Devin said, I’d have to say there are many different forms of Unitarian Universalism because our congregations differ in the way they practice the faith.
    But in the larger sense, there are two forms. I’d lump the youth and young adult converts in with born’n’raised UUs as experiencing a different side of Unitarian Universalism. Growing up a UU I’ve experienced a different side of worship, held a different place in the church, and taken part in a community that operates in a different fashion than the adult expat/”refugee” UUism. The Youth and Young Adult movements contain and have contained (since LRY) something distinctly Unitarian Universalist that isn’t readily grasped by adult converts.

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