5 History

Is Unitarianism Universalism an American religion?

Its origins are in Europe and the Protestant Reformation. However, contemporary Unitarian Universalism is an American religion which took root and flourished in New England in 1750-1800 as a liberal spinoff from the Congregational Church.

What is the history of Unitarian Universalism?

While both Unitarianism and Universalism grew out of the left wing of the Protestant Reformation in Europe during the 16th century, both took on an American flavor when they were introduced in the United States. Both religions originated in part as a protest against two Calvinist doctrines: total depravity (Original Sin) and Predestination (the doctrine of the elect--the belief that God has determined whether you will go to Heaven even before you were born).

The Unitarians, while recognizing the reality of evil, did not believe that any person was born in a state of total corruption from which they could be rescued solely at the whim of an arbitrary God. They believed that all people had the potential for good or evil depending upon both the life they chose to live and upon the social environment in which they were born and raised.

The Unitarians were Christians who believed that people should interpret the Bible in the light of human reason. Although Jesus and the Bible were central to their faith, they regarded Jesus as more of a moral and ethical teacher than a supernatural being. They did believe in the divinity of Jesus, that he was the son of God but not the same as God. The term "Unitarian" originally meant "non-trinitarian" a belief in one unified God rather than a three-part entity.

The term Universalism originally meant that every person could be saved (universal salvation) as opposed to the salvation of a few whom God would select to save. Although Christian, the Universalists did not believe a loving God would condemn people to an eternity of hell. They believed that the souls of all dead people would eventually be reconciled to this loving God, although it would take a longer time for some to get to heaven than others.

Both groups had their American origins in the late 18th century. Unitarian and Universalist churches were established mostly in New England but during the 19th century, Unitarianism spread west and many churches were organized in California.

Throughout the 19th and into the early 20th centuries, Unitarianism and Universalism were liberal Christian alternatives to the more harsh and dogmatic forms of Christianity of that time. During the 20th century, both religions began to move away from their Christian origin toward a religion based on individual freedom of belief. The Universalists retained their Christian identity longer than the Unitarians.

In today's congregation, it's common to find a variety of beliefs: humanist, agnostic, theist, atheist, liberal Christian, etc. Over the past decade, feminist theology has made an impact: our hymn books are gender inclusive, half our settled ministers are women and a feminist-inspired earth spirituality has emerged.

The term Unitarian affirms that we believe there is a unity of all life, what the UUA Principles and Purposes calls "the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part." The term Universalism indicates universality of religion itself. In the UUA Principles and Purposes, we affirm that you can find wisdom in all the world's religions.

When did the merger of Unitarianism and Universalism take place?

The difference between the two movements ran much more along class and cultural lines than theological ones. The Unitarians originally attracted white collar people: professionals, educators, cultural leaders, etc. The Universalist congregations were comprised mostly of blue collar working class people such as farmers and fishermen.

By the middle of the 20th century, these distinctions had blurred, making a merger both possible and financially necessary for the survival of the two religions. After several years of discussion and negotiation during the 1950s, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) was formed in 1961.

How is Unitarian Universalism distinctive from other religions?

We have no religious creed nor do we require members to adhere to any doctrines. A religion based on individual freedom of belief, we encourage all members to pursue their own religious and spiritual journeys.

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