These questions are the topic for next Wednesday's meeting for my congregation's Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship Bible Study Group (this group is one of our congregation's "covenant groups"). Our local UUCF group is hosting a multi-week forum on "Questions and Concerns About Christianity" and these two questions will be discussed next week.
I'm surprised to know that these questions are current concerns for modern-day Unitarian Universalist Christians because I thought they were discussed in-depth during the 1800s and we have moved on to other aspects of Christianity in the Unitarian Universalist tradition.
Our Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist heritage is rooted in the Protestant Chirstian tradition and our tradition has looked at these questions in depth.
The early 1800s Unitarian view was one of "salvation by character." Rev. Jane Rzepka (Senior Minister, Church of the Larger Fellowship) describes "salvation by character" using the following words in her 2003 General Assembly CLF Worship Service:
"We are Unitarian Universalists, and our salvation comes not in the rapture but, historically at least, in 'salvation by character.' We believe there is something wonderful inside us -- you could call it inherent dignity and worth -- that allows us to work toward good character, wholeness, healing, and all that is good. We have within us a little core of natural hope -- Thoreau's bug in the sixty year old table metaphor could work here [refers to reading] -- some little bit of hopeful life that lies waiting to spring into action. And even better, most UUs don't just sit for sixty years waiting, we act to realize that hope, that life, that wholeness. In spite of the difficulties in our own experience and of life in the larger world, we do what we can. Therein lies our Unitarian Universalist salvation."The early 1800s Universalist view was one of "salvation irrespective of character." That is best described using the words of Hosea Ballou in the address he gave to the 1851 Universalist General Convention in Boston (as recorded in his online biography page):
"In homely language, he summed up his belief in a God who, as a Father, loves all his children: 'Your child has fallen into the mire, and its body and its garments are defiled. You cleanse it, and array it in clean robes. The query is, Do you love your child because you have washed it? Or, Did you wash it because you loved it?"A recent summary of the origins of modern-day Unitarian Universalist soteriology (theology of salvation) can be found in "Unitarian Universalist Identity" curriculum for young adults by Katie Tweedie Erslev:
UU Soteriology: Raising the RoofSo ... I guess that many Unitarian Universalists would view Jesus, his teachings, and the example he set during his pre-Easter life on Earth as one example of creative love saving others.
"Once again, in contrast to the predominant foundation of the theology of Calvinism, our roof was raised by the 19th century Universalists. Universalism gave us a roof that saved us all. They said that what saves us is the power of creative love made viable to us in the person of Jesus.
Do we need to be saved from Hell? The Universalists said that we create heaven and hell on earth. We need to be saved from the Hells that we create."
But I don't think that we would say that Jesus is the only example of creative love saving others.
These questions may be important for Christian newcomers to our congregation who are dealing with concerns about competing claims over Christian exclusiveness and religious pluralism.
But while this theology is an important part of our heritage that we should celebrate, it's not an urgent theological concern for most Unitarian Universalists today.
If one doesn't believe in Hell other than the hells we create in the here-and-now, is there any point in talking about it or wondering if those who have not heard about Christ are possibly condemned to hellfire and damnation?
And that's why I would find the discussion questions for this group's next meeting to be odd from my Unitarian Universalist perspective.