What’s UUp?

The two U’s in the headline stand for Unitarian Universalism, a religion few are familiar with. Although my spiritual home is Buddhism, my religious community is Unitarian Universalism.

UUism is a religion without a creed. It requires no affirmation of a fixed set of beliefs in order to join a UU congregation. Instead, UUism encourages its members to do the hard work of building their own belief systems. Over the last 30-some years, wherever I have lived, I have found in my local UU church the people (including my wife) whom I choose to share my life with. This is my community.

I have studied Buddhism off and on for about 50 years. In may ways my UU communities gave me the support to explore further and practice Buddhism. Increasingly, though, it has seemed to me that UUism is stagnating while Buddhism is growing rapidly in the West.

ChaliceThe number of Buddhists in the United States has grown fifteen-fold since the 1960s and now stands at about 3 million, or 1% of the population. Meanwhile, UUism is stagnating, with 229,103 members in 1961 and 208,177 in 2014. Outside North America, UUism hardly exists while in 2010 there were 488 million Buddhists worldwide.

Neither UUism nor Buddhism are atheistic, but both are non-theistic. Neither tells you what sort of god to believe in, or whether to believe in one at all. You’d probably not be comfortable in either religion, though, if you believe in a creator god who is separate from us and determines our fate. Although some Buddhist sects seem to have turned the Buddha into an external god to be worshiped, they are the exception.

Many of us who are of European ancestry have turned away from the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths we grew up with, at least in their fundamental forms. We seek either a more progressive approach to our traditional religion — an interpretation that makes room for science and conforms to our common sense — or perhaps a different religion, one less rigid. Unitarian Universalism and modern approaches to Buddhism meet that need, but one is flourishing and one is stagnating.

When I started daily-ish blogging, my aim was to figure out where UUism is failing and become a voice for needed change, but the more I researched and wrote, the deeper I went into Buddhism. I have not written much about UUism, even though in late September my Book of Mel post explained, in (I hope) a humorous way, where I think UUism is going wrong.

Simply put, we focus too much on social action instead of belief systems. Potential members come to us seeking to escape disapproval because of their beliefs and we greet them with disapproval because they use plastic forks and are too busy working to attend the Black Lives Matter rally.

We’ve become social(-action) clubs instead of churches, and I fear that we don’t have the will to change. While generalizations are always faulty and dangerous, too many of our leaders are Baby Boomers (like me) who haven’t moved on from the 1960s, and UUism has not had strong, vibrant, charismatic leadership at the national level in a long time.

The Unitarian Universalist Association, the UU nationwide body, holds its next presidential election in June 2017, and two nominees were recently announced. Judging from their bios and the videos I found on line, I’m hoping that Alison Miller has the personality and leadership qualities that the UUA needs to recover from its malaise.

The world needs more opportunities for spiritual healing.

— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)

Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine

8 Comments Add yours

  1. I hadn’t read your whole blog, just the headline, and from the headline, complemented by my experience of an ongoing search for a new UU church community in CA, I came to much the same conclusion. I think the current UU church is too political.

    Social action is fine, but I think it works better as local, community-based social action, and as action that is really action and not just “having conversations.” Working at a local homeless shelter, food pantry, habitat for humanity, or literacy volunteer organization, for example. Maybe sponsoring a refugee family in the community (my old church did that).

    But right now I see too much emphasis on national political movements and on social “action” that isn’t even really action but just talk.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. melhpine says:

      I’ve walked in plenty of protest marches, but I don’t believe that’s how change happens. Like you, Karen, I think social action is fine, especially when it’s the kind of direct act of compassion that everyone can relate to, like sponsoring a refugee family or keeping a homeless shelter going. I’d like to see people act from their compassion, not their party affiliation.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Peace Paul says:

    Another nice blog. There is a very strong secular Buddhist movement in the West. I worry that these non-religious Buddhist may find themselves, in the not too distant future, in the situation as the UUs. It is very hard to have a non-religious religion. Peace, Paul

    Liked by 2 people

  3. melhpine says:

    I hope the people who take mindfulness classes at the office to be more productive don’t check off Buddhism on surveys as their religion.


    1. Peace Paul says:

      The secular Buddhist movement is much bigger than that. It has a very large following at the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

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