12 June 2010

Universalism in Our History and Where We Are Today

Recently on the "The UU Salon" blog, the topic of Universalism was introduced for discussion during the month of June 2010:
Universalism, the "other U." What does it mean to you? Do you resonate with Universalism, or not? What about the Universalist perspective challenges or comforts you? This is what I've been thinking about lately, and I'll post on it over at Earthbound Spirit in a day or two.
First, classic "No Hell" Universalism was important prerequisite for the development of freethought within Unitarian Universalism and our society.

Universalism has spread beyond the earlier Universalist Church of America and the present-day Unitarian Universalist Association to moderate and liberal Christianity. And this is more important than we realize.

As long as the threat of eternal torment in Hell was a possibility, it would be hard for those who concerned for the well-being of others to let them have freedom of belief.

Sam Harris talks about the problem that Hell in religion poses for freedom of belief in his book The End of Faith:
Many religious moderates have taken the apparent high road of pluralism, asserting the equal validity of all faiths, but in doing so they neglect the irredeemably sectarian truth claims of each. As long as a Christian believes that only his baptized brethen will be saved on the Day of Judgment, he cannot possibly "respect" the beliefs of others, for he knows that the flames of hell have been stoked by these various ideas and await their adherents even now.
So ... moving away from the traditional religious idea that there is only one (traditional Christian) way to avoid Hell allows us to have the religious diversity we have today within Unitarian Universalism and beyond.

Both UU Christians and UU Humanists owe a debt of gratitude to this weakening of the Hell concept. And so do many, many more within Unitarian Universalism.

Second, the movement away from atonement in Universalist theologies of salvation to other ways of gaining salvation was an important part of our current-day Unitarian Universalist theological development.

The UU religious educator and curriculum author Kate Erslev provided a descriptive summary of current-day Unitarian Universalist theology of salvation in her UU Identity curriculum for young adults:
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.
The portion of Kate's curriculum that talks about UU theology and how we view salvation was based on Rebecca Ann Parker's talk that she presented at the 2002 LREDA Fall Conference on theology of religious education. Rebecca talked about how our current-day implicit theology of savalation or soteriology comes from our Universalist heritage.

One short and pithy statement describing current-day UU theology of salvation that I heard at this conference from Rebecca Parker was that we offer salvation from those things that deny life or make it less whole.

As an Our Whole Lives educator and curriculum trainer, this simple statement about salvation explains why we offer sexuality education in our congregations. We provide sexuality education because it offers salvation in a very real sense.

No comments: