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Beacon Press: UU Discussion Guides: A Chosen Faith

Discussion Guide: A Chosen Faith


Author: John Buehrens
Binding Information: Paperback 
Price: $15.00 In stock. 

Guide written by Joan Goodwin.

A six-session program for individuals and groups.
© 1991 by the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Handout 5 is from the Humanist Manifesto I and II, edited by Paul Kurtz (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books). Copyright © 1973 Prometheus Books. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Contents

Introduction

This Study Guide was originally developed for members of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, which includes Unitarian Universalists unaffiliated with any settled congregation and which serves small groups of Unitarian Universalists meeting regularly for worship and discussion.

If you are reading A Chosen Faith on your own, the Study Guide can help you to deepen your experience with the thoughts of Forrest Church and John A. Buehrens. Sharing the book and your responses to it with someone else can add the stimulation of dialogue to personal reflection. However, you may find the simple discipline of reading and writing suggested by the Study Guide to be an enriching experience in itself.

If you are a member of a congregation, you’ll find guidelines here for a series of six sessions of 1½-2 hours, exploring the material through a combination of individual response and group interaction. As a rule, the Study Guide suggests more than enough activities to fill the time allowed for each session. Leaders may choose among the suggestions in planning sessions appropriate for their group. (If you think some of the "by yourself" suggestions would interest members of your group, you should feel free to share them as options for individual work between sessions.)

A workable group may number as few as four or as many as a dozen participants. For groups of ten or more, co-leaders are recommended. Co-leaders should plan each session together, deciding how best to share the leadership tasks. If more than 12 people are interested in joining, it would be wise to start a second group to allow each participant adequate time for self-expression.

Whether you are working by yourself or with a group, you will need a copy of the book, A Chosen Faith, and a personal notebook for your responses to the suggestions in this guide. For group meetings, only the leader(s) need a copy of the Study Guide; copies for participants are optional. Groups will also need a chalkboard or newsprint for some sessions.

For each session in the Study Guide, you are invited to read the corresponding pages in A Chosen Faith. After an initial session focusing on the Foreword and Preface, each session considers the two complementary essays addressing each of the five sources of our faith. Group leaders are invited to close any session with a brief reading from A Chosen Faith, one of the books listed in "Suggestions for Further Reading" (pp. 219-221 in A Chosen Faith), or something of their own choosing. Participants might take turns providing brief opening and/or closing words for each session.

You may be inspired to continue your study with some of the "Suggestions for Further Reading." Finally, the Study Guide offers options for using A Chosen Faith for further exploration and spiritual growth beyond this program.

UUA Moderator Denise Davidoff writes in the Preface: "If you are a Unitarian Universalist, this book can help you speak your faith. I promise that you will find it an exhilarating experience." May the experience awaken you to the sources of your own faith and enlighten your understanding of Unitarian Universalism.

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Session 1: Getting Started

"For most of us, our faith did not choose us, we chose it."
—Forrest Church

For group leaders: The first session does not require participants to do any background reading. However, participants could prepare by reading the Foreword, Preface, and Introduction of A Chosen Faith (pp. ix-xvii). Photocopy Handouts 1 and 2 for each participant.

  1. Forrest Church begins his preface by stating, "All theology is autobiography," and tells about leaving the Presbyterian Church because he did not believe what he was being taught. Begin this session with a review of your own experiences in finding your way to Unitarian Universalism or choosing to remain an active UU.

By yourself:
Open your notebook and list as many of your own experiences with religion as you can remember, including both positives and negatives. Make note of the time when you experienced the most dramatic change in your religious beliefs. Then write a brief statement about why you chose Unitarian Universalism.

With a group:
Take a few minutes to go around the circle introducing yourselves and sharing a bit about your various religious journeys and how you found Unitarian Universalism, or why you have stayed an active UU.

  1. Compare the seven principles from the UUA Bylaws (Handout 1, pp. xxiv-xxv in text) with David Rankin’s list of ten beliefs (Handout 2, pp. xxii-xxiii in text).

By yourself:
Note the ideas which appear on both lists. In your notebook, write any personal belief statements which do not appear on either list.

With a group:
Display the two lists side by side on newsprint or on a chalkboard and draw lines connecting similar items. Are all ten of Rankin’s beliefs included in the seven principles, or are there items unique to each list? Suggest additional beliefs or principles that are important to you, and list them on the newsprint or chalkboard.

  1. Do the lists from Rankin and the UUA Principles express your own beliefs? Which beliefs are most important to you?

By yourself:
In your notebook, make your own list of beliefs, drawing from both lists in the book and from your own additions. List them in the order of their importance to you.

With a group:
Individually, use your notebooks to list your own beliefs, drawing from the items on newsprint or chalkboard, in the order of their importance to you. Go around the circle again, each sharing the belief at the top of your list and saying a few words about why it is important to you.

  1. Closing (with a group): Share an appropriate reading with participants.
  2. For next session, read Part I, Chapters 1 and 2 (pp. 3-38). If you’re leading a group, remind participants of the reading.

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Session 2: Awakening & Experience

"Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life."
—UUA Bylaws

Reading: Part I, Chapters 1 and 2 (pp. 3-38)

  1. What did you find most interesting in Part I of A Chosen Faith?

By yourself:
Make an entry in your notebook of anything that particularly interested you about your reading in Part I.

With a group:
Share comments on a voluntary basis.

  1. In Chapter 1, Forrest Church describes his experience with the Jefferson Bible. Has there been a comparable experience in your life when you "saw the light" in a new way? Would you call this a religious experience?

By yourself:
Use your notebook to describe an experience of "awakening" that you remember. If "religious experience" is a term you use, make a note of what constitutes such an experience for you.

With a group:
Take turns saying what you mean by "religious experience," if that is a term with meaning for you. Share any such experiences or times of "awakening" with one another. If yours is a large group, you may choose to break into smaller groups so that everyone has a chance to share.

  1. In Chapter 2, John Buehrens comments that people sometimes say, "I’m not religious," when they really mean they are not religious in the conventional sense. Even though we may not be religious in other people’s terms, each of us grows a personal religion out of our own life experience. What experiences have shaped your personal religion? Does Jesus play a part in your personal religion? Do you consider yourself a Christian?

By yourself:
Imagine that a religious fundamentalist has asked you one or both of the last two questions in Step 3 above. Write in your notebook what you would say in response, calling upon the experiences which have shaped your answer.

With a group:
After a show of hands on the last two questions in step 3 above, find someone whose answers are different from your own. Sit down together and share the experiences which have shaped your answers.

  1. John Buehrens writes about the experiences that shaped the beliefs of Margaret Fuller, William Ellery Channing, and John and Judith Sargent Murray. Each has made a contribution to the UU faith we share today. Can you find in their experiences the seeds of some of the seven principles discussed in the last session?

By yourself:
Choose one of the people above and conduct your own interview, dialogue-style, in your notebook.

With a group:
Participants might enjoy role-playing one or more of these famous people as others in the group interview them about their religious experiences of "awakening."

  1. Turn to the questions raised in the last paragraph of Chapter 1 (p. 17):
    • Where do we come from?
    • Who are we?
    • Where are we going?
    • How do we attain salvation, that is, spiritual health or wholeness?
    • How can we live a life befitting our promise?
    • How should we face death?
    • And how, when our lives reach their close, can we be sure they will have been worth dying for?

Choose one question and respond to it out of your personal religious experience. Write your response in your notebook.

By yourself:
You may be interested in writing responses to all the questions over a period of time.

With a group:
Close the session by reading your responses aloud. Remember that it’s always okay to pass.

  1. For the next session, read Part II, Chapters 3 and 4 (pp. 41-77). If you’re leading a group, remind participants of the reading.

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Session 3: Deeds Not Creeds & The Known and the Unknown

"Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love."
—UUA Bylaws

Reading: Part II, Chapters 3 and 4 (pp. 41-77)

  1. Which ideas in Part II were most provocative for you? Did you strongly agree or disagree with any of the points of view expressed by Forrest Church or John Buehrens?

By yourself:
Make an entry in your notebook in response to Step 1 above.

With a group:
Share comments on a voluntary basis.

  1. Given the Unitarian and Universalist traditions of emphasizing the goodness and minimizing the sinfulness of humanity, we are often accused of sidestepping the problem of evil. What is your view of sin or evil? What is the source of evil in today’s world? What is your view of human nature? Are we born basically good or basically sinful?

By yourself:
Open your notebook and draw a line across the page to represent a continuum between two positions on human nature. One end of the line represents the idea that human nature is basically good unless warped by circumstances, and the other end, the idea that human nature is basically bad unless corrected or controlled. Place an X somewhere on the line to represent your own position. Write a paragraph about experiences you have had which led you to that position.

With a group:
You might line up across the room to represent your positions on the question of human nature. Have one side of the room represent the belief that human nature is basically good unless warped by circumstances, and the other side of the room represent the belief that human nature is basically bad unless corrected and controlled. The imaginary line between forms a continuum of positions from those who feel strongly on one side of the question through those who feel that there is something to be said for both positions and on to those who feel strongly on the opposite side of the question. Share the personal experiences which led you to take your positions.

With a group or By yourself:

Consider the following questions:

  • How does your belief about the underlying cause of human behavior influence your response to dealing with society’s problems?
  • In what ways are you guilty of what Forrest Church calls "the sin of sophisticated resignation"?
  1. Chapters 3 and 4 include the stories of several activist Unitarians and Universalists of the past and present. Names like Bellows, Livermore, Parker, Barton, Davies, Young, and Reeb are mentioned, along with Dix, Mann, Anthony, and Stowe. Do their examples of living out their highest values have an influence on you? Perhaps another famous person is an inspirational hero or heroine for you, as John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., were for John Buehrens. Identify one such person and, using your notebook, write that person a letter telling him or her what his or her example has meant to you.

With a group:
Take turns reading your letters aloud if you like.

  1. James Luther Adams is quoted in Chapter 4 as having said, "By their groups shall ye know them." In your notebook, list the activist and/or advocacy groups to which you belong or contribute financially.

By yourself:
Add to your list of activist/advocacy groups the number of hours or dollars you give each one in the course of a year. Can you tie each of the groups you support to one or more of the beliefs which you identified as important to you in Session 1? Are there changes you might make in your pattern of giving and participation to act more fully on your beliefs? In your notebook, record any changes you decide to make.

With a group:
Share your lists on the chalkboard or a sheet of newsprint. Note those organizations supported by more than one person in the group. How many of you listed your Unitarian Universalist congregation?

  1. In Chapter 4, John Buehrens discusses four ways in which a congregation may respond to social justice issues: through social service, moral reflection and education, support of individual witness, and corporate action (pp. 69-71).

With a group:
Discuss how you feel about the kind and amount of social activism in your congregation. Allowing for differences of opinion, what changes might be made in the social witness role of UUs in your community?

  1. Closing (with a group): Share, or have a participant share, a reading.
  2. For next session, read Part III, Chapters 5 and 6 (pp. 81-116). If you’re leading a group, remind participants of the reading and bring enough colored pencils or markers for everyone.

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Session 4: The Cathedral of the World & Dialogue

"Wisdom from the world’s great religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life."
—UUA Bylaws

Reading: Part III, Chapters 5 and 6 (pp. 81-116)

For group leaders: Have colored pencils or markers available.

  1. Did your reading of Part III lead you to any new insights about Unitarian Universalism?

By yourself:
Use your notebook to respond to this question.

With a group:
Share comments on a voluntary basis.

  1. Forrest Church creates a metaphor of Universalism as the many windows of a cathedral, each coloring the same light in different patterns. If you were to create a cathedral representing your personal religion, what kinds of windows would it have? Which religious traditions or other sources of wisdom particularly inspire you in your ethical and spiritual life?

Imagine yourself designing a rose window expressing all the facets of your faith. Use colored pencils or markers to sketch your design in your notebook.

By yourself:
Write in your notebook any explanatory comments you want to make about your rose window design.

With a group:
Take time to share and explain your rose window designs. Then consider the following questions as a group, or in small groups if you prefer: Does your congregation draw on a variety of faith traditions, or primarily from Judaism and Christianity? In what ways would you like to see your congregation become more inclusive of other traditions? What do you think blocks Unitarian Universalists from really appreciating and learning from other traditions?

  1. In Chapter 6, John Buehrens writes: "The secret to dialogue is passing over and then returning. We pass over into an appreciative attempt to understand the experience and insight of another person or tradition. When we return to ourselves…, we are no longer precisely the same person we were before. We are changed by the experience, in some way transformed and enlarged."

As you think back along the path you have come in your religious growth, who are the people with whom you have engaged in dialogue regarding matters of faith, people with whom you spoke face to face–members of your family, schoolteachers, religious leaders, friends?

In your notebook, list as many of these dialogue partners as you can remember. Choose one of these people and write a paragraph in your notebook describing the interaction with that person and how it has affected your thoughts and feelings about religion.

By yourself:
Imagine what kind of dialogue you might have with the person you chose if you could speak together today. Close your eyes for a few moments until you are able to visualize the person and enter into his or her presence in your own mind. How would you explain your present religious viewpoint? What do you suppose he or she would say in response? And how would you respond to that? Try writing this dialogue in your notebook, letting it continue as long as it stays alive in your mind.

With a group:
Seek out another person with whom you can share the paragraph you have just written. Listen carefully as your partner reads and try to enter into each other’s experiences. After both of you have read your paragraphs, talk about the similarities and differences in the experiences you have shared. At the end of your dialogue, write a sentence in your notebook about how the interchange may have transformed or enlarged your feelings and thoughts about religion.

  1. Closing (with a group): Regather, and share an appropriate reading.
  2. For next session, read Part IV, Chapters 7 and 8 (pp. 119-151). If you’re leading a group, remind participants of the reading and photocopy Handouts 3 and 4 for each participant. Arrange to have one or more translations of the Bible on hand.

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Session 5: Neighborhood & Expectations

"Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves."
—UUA Bylaws

Reading: Part IV, Chapters 7 and 8 (pp. 119-151)

For group leaders: Have copies of Handouts 3 and 4 available.

  1. Just for fun, try the brief Bible quiz (Handout 3).
  2. Reflect on your own experience with the Bible. Are your associations positive or negative? Do you have a favorite Bible passage or story or character? Make note of any biblical favorites in your notebook. Are there aspects of the Bible which repel or anger you? Also make a note of these negatives about the Bible.

By yourself:
Write a paragraph about why you believe you like or dislike certain passages or aspects of the Bible. Draw on your personal experiences which may have influenced your reactions positively or negatively, citing your own memories and associations.

With a group:
With two or three others, share your reactions to the Bible. After each person in the small group has shared his or her notes, discuss the positive and negative memories you associate with the Bible. With what personal experiences do you associate your favorite Biblical passages? Are there different kinds of memories associated with the negatives you noted?

  1. The phrase "loving our neighbors as ourselves" brings to mind the recently noted "not in my backyard" response to possible sitings of waste-treatment plants, prisons, shelters for the homeless, halfway houses for recovering mental patients, or other necessities of the larger community. What does the word "neighbor" mean to you? Do you think of neighborhood as an island of retreat from the rest of the world, or an open, diversified community? In your notebook, make a list of persons or facilities you honestly would not welcome "in your backyard."

By yourself:
Assuming that most people would make an "unwelcome neighbors" list similar to yours, how would you suggest meeting these needs? Add a paragraph describing what you think would be a fair and responsible way to deal with the problem of maintaining sufficient personal space and security while at the same time meeting community needs.

With a group:
On a chalkboard or a large sheet of paper, create a group "unwelcome neighbors" list by sharing sample items from your individual lists. As a group, select from the shared list one which conceivably might seek a location next door to your congregation’s meeting place sometime in the near future. How might your congregation respond? Discuss this hypothetical situation as a group and decide how you might live out your Unitarian Universalist values as a congregation in such an eventuality.

  1. In Chapter 8, John Buehrens tells the story of having his expectations of a particular church experience changed completely by the actuality. He also speaks of unrealistic expectations on the part of people coming to Unitarian Universalism for the first time. Do you remember what expectations you had of Unitarian Universalism on first acquaintance? Has subsequent experience surprised you, or have your expectations been largely confirmed?

By yourself:
In your notebook, write whatever you recall as being your earliest expectations of Unitarian Universalism. Then add any surprises or confirmations you have experienced as you learned more about your chosen faith. In the light of your own experience, describe how you might introduce Unitarian Universalism to a newcomer.

With a group:
Take a few minutes to share the expectations each of you had when you first came to your congregation. Chances are that, in a number of cases, the actuality exceeded your expectations. However, some of you may have been disappointed with your experience in one way or another. As a group, discuss what might be done to meet those expectations which are as yet unrealized.

  1. Re-read the Beatitudes in the New Testament book of Matthew, Chapter 5, verses 3 to 12. Look again at the versions written by authors Church and Buehrens. Using your notebook, try a version of your own, based on the blessings you have experienced as a result of your struggle to do the right thing according to your own definition.

With a group:
Close this session by asking each participant to read aloud at least one of his/her personal "beatitudes."

  1. For next session read Part V, Chapters 9 and 10 (pp. 155-182). If you’re leading a group, remind participants of the reading and photocopy Handouts 5 and 6.

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Session 6: Beyond Idolatry & Mind and Spirit

"Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit."
—UUA Bylaws

Reading: Part V, Chapters 9 and 10 (pp. 155-186)

For group leaders: Have copies of the Handouts 5 and 6 available.

  1. Forrest Church refers to The Humanist Manifesto II in Chapter 9. Handout 5 includes excerpts from the 17 points of the 1973 revision of this document. Consider these statements carefully, and ask yourself whether you would be willing to sign The Humanist Manifesto II.

By yourself:
Read the excerpts from the Manifesto. In your notebook, comment on your reaction to the document. To what extent does it express your value system? To what extent could it serve as a personal religious statement for you?

With a group:
Distribute copies of Handout 5 and allow time for group members to read and consider it. Ask how many would be willing to be signers of the document, based on these excerpts. How many would want to make some changes before they could sign it? How many would not be comfortable signing it? For how many could the Manifesto stand as a statement of personal religious belief? Discuss the various reactions in your group.

  1. In Chapter 9, Forrest Church points out that "it is our virtues, the very things of which we are most proud, that are most likely to betray us" into idolatry. He cites the traditional liberal values of reason, freedom, and tolerance. Perhaps you can think of other "virtues" of UUs which can easily be carried to extremes or twisted into negative forms. John Buehrens says that idolatry is worshipping a part for the whole. You may think of such an example of idolatry in your own life. Using either Church’s or Buehrens’ definition, identify at least one potential "idolatry" of which you see yourself in danger. In your notebook, describe in a few sentences this potential idolatry and the dangers inherent in it.

By yourself:
Add to what you have written at least three things you can do to protect yourself from having your "virtue" develop into idolatry.

With a group:
Take a few minutes to share the "virtues" you each have identified as potential idolatries. Identify similarities and form small groups with others who chose the same or a similar idolatry. Share the dangers you identified, and think of what you can do to steer clear of them.

  1. As you consider recent scientific breakthroughs, does it seem to you that science and religion are growing closer together in an understanding of life and the universe? It has been said that science and religion are two ways of knowing or understanding the same truth. Would you agree? Are there recent discoveries or hypotheses in the world of science which affect your personal religious beliefs?

By yourself:
Write a paragraph in your notebook about the scientific grounding of, or a scientific parallel to, one or more of your articles of faith. If you have time, do the same for other religious beliefs you hold.

With a group:
Talk for a few minutes with two or three others, each sharing what you understand to be the scientific grounding of one article of your personal faith, or a scientific parallel to one of your religious beliefs.

  1. In considering mind, or the rational, and spirit, or the metaphysical, John Buehrens wisely counsels a balance between the two. In recent years, some have noted a swing in UU circles away from the "mind" and toward the "spirit." Is this true of your congregation, or of yourself? What evidences do you see of such a shift? Would you like to see more or less emphasis on the "spirit"?

By yourself:
Reflect on your own religious growth over the past few years. Would you say that you are moving more in the direction of mind or of spirit? Write a paragraph in your notebook about the direction in which you feel yourself moving and the experiences or aspects of your life which may be influencing your growth in this direction. Do you feel that you have found a satisfactory personal balance between mind and spirit?

With a group:
Ask for a show of hands. How many feel that your congregation is becoming more spiritual and less rational? Compare notes on what evidence seems to support one position or the other. Then ask for a show of hands as to how many welcome such a shift. Does your congregation seem to be moving toward a balance between mind and spirit? What would it take to reach a balance between the two?

Close with a reading that expresses both the rational and the spiritual aspects of Unitarian Universalism.

  1. For next session, read Part 6, Chapters 11 and 12 (pp. 185-212). For the last meeting, your group may want to plan a celebration of their experiences together. Consider sharing food and drink or creating a special ritual. In Session 6, plan to discuss the follow-up suggestions from Handout 6 that your group wishes to implement.

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Session 7: For the Beauty of the Earth & Returning to the Springs

Spiritual teaching of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Reading: Part VI, Chapters 11 and 12 (pp. 185-212)

  1. For Forrest Church, a white-water rafting trip in the Idaho wilderness was the experience that awakened him to the sacred in nature. What experience of your own called you to "celebrate the sacred circle of life" and to "live in harmony with the rhythms of nature"?

By yourself:
Describe such an experience in your notebook. In what way has this experience changed or enriched your religious beliefs?

With a group:
Ask how many have had an experience similar to the one Church describes. If only a few raise their hands, ask them to describe their experiences for the group. If many hands go up, suggest that they share their experiences in pairs or threesomes.

  1. Does the celebration of the changing seasons or other Earth-based observance play a part in your life or the life of your congregation?

By yourself:
Think of ways in which you could introduce a deeper appreciation of nature into your life. Make a list in your notebook, or design a nature celebration for yourself alone or with others.

With a group:
Discuss participants’ personal reactions to the presence or absence of nature celebrations in your congregation. Suggest the possibility of creating a Sunday service or program on the theme of this sixth source of Unitarian Universalist faith. If some would like to do this, encourage them to find a time to work together.

  1. When John Buehrens asked his grandmother why she went to church, she answered that it helped to fill her soul with hope and love. When Forrest Church asked Margot Adler why she chose Unitarian Universalism, she answered that it was "because I need to live in balance" between earth-centered spirituality and being "a worldly, down-to-earth person in a complicated world." Which answer resonates most strongly with you?

By yourself:
Do you believe that an earth-centered spirituality can fill one’s soul with hope and love? Why or why not? Use your notebook to explore these questions.

With a group:
Ask for a show of hands in sympathy with each of the responses above, Buehrens’s grandmother or Margot Adler. Form groups of those resonating more with one or the other. Ask each group to discuss how the two responses can be seen as overlapping. In other words, can an earth-centered spirituality fill one’s soul with hope and love? After a few minutes, ask each group to report on the outcome of its discussion.

  1. Our seventh principle, corresponding to this sixth source, calls for "respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part." How can we as Unitarian Universalists actively practice this respect?

By yourself:
In your notebook, list the ways in which you now practice "respect for the interdependent web." Are there other things you might do to carry your practice further? List these ideas as well, and plan ways in which you can begin to live them out.

With a group:
Ask how many in the group describe themselves as active environmentalists. What practical things do they do as a result? Are there ways that the congregation as a whole might practice "respect for the interdependent web"? After discussing these questions, suggest that those who are interested bring their ideas for better environmental practices to the attention of congregation leaders.

  1. Read Handout 6, which suggests a variety of activities for further exploration and growth.

By yourself:
Decide on your plan of action and describe it in your notebook.

With a group:
Discuss the actions listed in Handout 6 and any suggested by the group. Decide on a group plan if appropriate. Participants can also decide on individual plans of action and record them in their notebooks.

  1. Closing (with a group): Invite individuals who have made commitments for further exploration to share them with the group. Close with a reading or other shared ritual or celebration you have planned.

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UUA Principles and Purposes

We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

The living tradition we share draws from many sources:

• Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life;

• Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;

• Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;

• Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;

• Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.

Adopted as a Bylaw by the 1984 and 1985 General Assemblies.

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David Rankin’s Ten Beliefs

    1. We believe in the freedom of religious expression. All individuals should be encouraged to develop a personal theology, and to openly present their religious opinions without fear of censure or reprisal.
    2. We believe in tolerance of religious ideas. The religions of every age and culture have something to teach those who listen.
    3. We believe in the authority of reason and conscience. The ultimate arbiter in religion is not a church, a document, or an official, but the personal choice and decision of the individual.
    4. We believe in the search for truth. With an open mind and heart, there is no end to the fruitful and exciting revelations that the human spirit can find.
    5. We believe in the unity of experience. There is no fundamental conflict between faith and knowledge; religion and the world; the sacred and the secular.
    6. We believe in the worth and dignity of each human being. All people on earth have an equal claim to life, liberty, and justice; no idea, ideal, or philosophy is superior to a single human life.
    7. We believe in the ethical application of religion. Inner grace and faith find completion in social and community involvement.
    8. We believe in the force of love, that the governing principle in human relationships is the principle of love, which seeks to help and heal, never to hurt or destroy.
    9. We believe in the necessity of the democratic process. Records are open to scrutiny, elections are open to members, and ideas are open to criticism, so that people might govern themselves.
    10. We believe in the importance of a religious community. Peers confirm and validate experience, and provide a critical platform, as well as a network of mutual support.

From A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism, by John A. Buehrens and Forrest Church (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998).

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Bible Quiz

  1. Name the first five books of the Old Testament.
  2. Name the four Gospels.
  3. Name three letters attributed to the Apostle Paul.
  4. What chapter in what book begins with the words, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want"?
  5. Name the giant that David slew.
  6. Which of the Gospels do not include the narratives concerning the birth of Jesus?
  7. In how many Gospels will you find the word "Trinity"?
  8. List as many of the Ten Commandments as you can.
  9. State the Golden Rule and tell where it is found in the Bible.
  10. Name four of Jesus’ disciples.

Answers to Bible Quiz

  1. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
  2. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.
  3. Romans, Thessalonians 1 and 2, Galatians, Corinthians 1 and 2, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, Philippians, Timothy 1 and 2, and Titus have all traditionally been attributed to Paul.
  4. The 23rd Psalm.
  5. Goliath.
  6. The birth story appears in Matthew I: 18 ff and in Luke I: 26 ff, but not in Mark or John.
  7. "Trinity" appears nowhere in the Gospels.
  8. From Deuteronomy V: 7-21:
  9. You shall have no other gods before me.
  10. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
  11. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
  12. Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.
  13. Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
  14. You shall not kill.
  15. Neither shall you commit adultery.
  16. Neither shall you steal.
  17. Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.
  18. Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
  19. Luke VI: 32–"And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them."
  20. Matthew VII: 12–"So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets."
  21. The twelve disciples were Simon Peter, James and John (sons of Zebedee), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alpheus), Thaddeus, Simon the Canaanite, Judas Iscariot.

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Beatitudes

Matthew 5:3-12

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Forrest Church

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they know the unutterable beauty of simple things.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they have dared to risk their hearts by giving of their love.

Blessed are the meek, for the gentle earth shall embrace them and hallow them as its own.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall know the taste of noble deeds.

Blessed are the merciful, for in return theirs is the gift of giving.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall be at one with themselves and the universe.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is a kinship with everything that is holy.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for the truth shall set them free.

Forrest Church’s Beatitudes are taken from A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism, by John A. Buehrens and Forrest Church (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998).

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Excerpts from The Humanist Manifesto II

Religion:

  1. We believe . . . that traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species. . . . [W]e can discover no divine purpose of providence for the human species. While there is much that we do not know, humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.
  2. Promises of immortal salvation or fear of eternal damnation are both illusory and harmful. . . . There is no credible evidence that life survives the death of the body. We continue to exist in our progeny and in the way that our lives have influenced others in our culture.

Ethics:

  1. We affirm that moral values derive their source from human experience. Ethics is autonomous and situational, needing no theological or ideological sanction.
  2. Reason and intelligence are the most effective instruments that humankind possesses. . . . Reason should be balanced with compassion and empathy and the whole person fulfilled.

The Individual:

  1. The preciousness and dignity of the individual person are central humanist values. . . . We believe in maximum individual autonomy consonant with social responsibility.
  2. In the area of sexuality, we believe that intolerant attitudes, often cultivated by orthodox religions and puritanical cultures, unduly repress sexual conduct. The right to birth control, abortion, and divorce should be recognized. While we do not approve of exploitive, denigrating forms of sexual expression, neither do we wish to prohibit, by law or social sanction, sexual behavior between consenting adults. . . . We wish to cultivate the development of a responsible attitude toward sexuality, in which humans are not exploited as sexual objects, and in which intimacy, sensitivity, respect, and honesty in interpersonal relations are encouraged.

Democratic Society:

  1. To enhance freedom and dignity, the individual must experience a full range of civil liberties in all societies. This includes freedom of speech and the press, political democracy, the legal right of opposition to governmental policies, fair judicial process, religious liberty, freedom of association, and artistic, scientific, and cultural freedom. It also includes a recognition of an individual’s right to die with dignity, euthanasia, and the right to suicide.
  2. We are committed to an open and democratic society. We must extend participatory democracy in its true sense to the economy, the school, the family, the workplace, and voluntary associations. . . . All persons should have a voice in developing the values and goals that determine their lives.
  3. The separation of church and state and the separation of ideology and state are imperatives. The state should encourage maximum freedom for different moral, political, religious, and social values in society. It should not favor any particular religious bodies through the use of public monies, nor espouse a single ideology and function thereby as an instrument of propaganda or oppression, particularly against dissenters.
  4. Humane societies should evaluate economic systems not by rhetoric or ideology, but by whether or not they increase economic well-being for all individuals and groups, minimize poverty and hardship, increase the sum of human satisfaction, and enhance the quality of life.
  5. The principle of moral equality must be furthered through elimination of all discrimination based upon race, religion, sex, age, or national origin.

World Community:

  1. We deplore the division of humankind on nationalistic grounds. . . . Thus we look to the development of a system of world law and a world order based upon transnational federal government.
  2. This world community must renounce the resort to violence and force as a method of solving international disputes.
  3. The world community must engage in cooperative planning concerning the use of rapidly depleting resources. The planet earth must be considered a single ecosystem. Ecological damage, resource depletion, and excessive population growth must be checked by international concord.
  4. The problems of economic growth and development can no longer be resolved by one nation alone; they are worldwide in scope. World poverty must cease.
  5. Technology is a vital key to human progress and development. . . . Technology must, however, be carefully judged by the consequences of its use; harmful and destructive changes should be avoided.
  6. We must expand communication and transportation across frontiers. Travel restrictions must cease. . .  . We thus call for full international cooperation in culture, science, the arts, and technology across ideological borders.

From The Humanist Manifesto I and II, edited by Paul Kurtz (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books). Copyright © 1973. Prometheus Books. Reprinted by permission.

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Taking the Program Further

Suggestions for Exploration and Growth

  1. Review
    Round out your experience with A Chosen Faith by reviewing what you have written in the course of these six sessions. In your notebook, write a summary statement entitled "My Chosen Faith." Include your current questions as well as the answers you have discovered thus far in your journey. Describe any open areas where you feel your mind and spirit reach for continuing growth.
  2. Action
    Take another step in your religious growth.

    By yourself:
    Develop a plan of action to nurture this new growth through reading and study, dialogue, group affiliation, creative arts, or a spiritual discipline of your choosing.

    With a group:
    • Schedule another A Chosen Faith study series, led by one or two members of the group for the benefit of others in your congregation.
    • Create a collection of excerpts from the notebooks of group members to be duplicated in booklet form for participants or for wider distribution. Excerpts might also appear periodically in your congregation’s newsletter.
    • Plan a congregational worship service or other program based on your group’s experience with A Chosen Faith. As an alternative, have participants present personal credo statements in regular congregational services over a period of time.
    • As individuals, develop personal action plans to continue your religious journeys through reading and study, dialogue, group affiliation, social action, creative arts, or a spiritual discipline of your choosing. Share your plans with one another and form a mutual support group to help each other carry out your plans.

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About the Author

Joan Goodwin has served as Director of Religious Education for the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship. She is also co-editor, with Ann Fields, of the intergenerational curriculum We Believe: Learning and Living Our Unitarian Universalist Principles (UUA, 1997).

 
Beacon pressBeacon Press is a department of the Unitarian Universalist Association