Unitarian Universalism is not heresy

I’ll not hide the lede: Unitarian Universalism is not heresy, even when it’s not right.

It’s hurtful and vexing that it’s a common assertion that Unitarian Universalism is a heresy, and that it is built on heresies. [Here’s a link to a Google search for “unitarian universalist heresy” to underscore my point.] At worst, this claim demonstrates an adolescent rebellion against ghosts of authority. At best, it’s an assertion of choice in religion, with faulty etymology that overlooks the possibility of bad and harmful choices. Somewhere in between, proud heretics radiate the message “doesn’t play well with others” and “is impressed with own self.” Little wonder we’re the butt of jokes: we don’t even know when we’re insulted, or insult ourselves.

And you can see, off to one side, the more shark-like of opponents nodding in agreement. Unitarian Universalism is a heresy, and surely a damnable one, and their own opinions are — of course — true and edifying. That’s some deflective cover for their own shortcomings.

I don’t think it’s too controversial — though I’ve been wrong before — to say that people do make choices, so far as they are capable, and intend to choose the right. Praising heresy isn’t about valuing good choices, but devaluing the possibility of making the right choice, sticking to it and building from it. And I think that’s why so many people who enter Unitarian Universalism by the front door leave by the back. If one choice is as good as another, there’s a better chance the right answer is out there. Because if one choice is as good as another, then Unitarian Universalists — collectively — won’t work to cultivate it among ourselves. And if a spirit of heresy is true, why is there such little high-level discussion about theology, or indeed any serious disagreements?

Harsh words, perhaps, but look around our general fellowship. What do we have to show for ourselves? Are you satisfied with that?

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Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

3 thoughts on “Unitarian Universalism is not heresy”

  1. I think this is right. Heresy is necessarily relational. A heretic is heretical in relation to a truth system, often historically a truth system with coercive powers. To call yourself a heretic is to define yourself in terms of someone else’s truth system – to define yourself as a protestor against that truth system. Sometimes this is necessary and important, but at other times all you end up doing is validating the centrality of the orthodoxy you have rebelled against.

  2. I would also say that the faulty etymology around choice, sets up a dynamic of negative experiences. Our UU community prides itself on being a “chosen faith”, and yet the acceptable choices are far more limited than the community would confess. Consider the experiences of many UU’s I’ve known whose “free and responsible search for truth and meaning” arrived at varying forms of commitment to Christian theology, or involvement in Libertarian politics. Each group eventually gets the subtle message that their choices are the “bad heresies”, and they leave disillusioned out the back door.

    Better then to be done with the cute claims to heresy, and to be more upfront and straight forward about how the community is quietly defining itself in terms of its own orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

  3. I’m puzzled why you’ve omitted the word “Christian” in this post. Christian Unitarian doctrine was an alternative to Christian Trinitarian doctrine. I don’t think either can be understood outside of Christianity, and once UUism became open to non Christian theologies, neither doctrine retained much relevance to the average UU. When I claimed to be a UU, and would speak with a big Box Christian in my community, they’d often ask me to explain Christian Unitarianism to them as an aide to understanding Christian Trinitarianism. The old doctrine of more relevance to them than to me.

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