I remember word-for-word the conversation where I first heard of Unitarian Universalism.
"I don't go to church," my lab partner in my high school Oceanography class (a goth chick who has several freshmen believing that she was an actual vampire) said. "But my parents are Unitarians." She spoke the last word like it was the most tremendously uncool thing to ever be.
"What do Unitarians believe?" I asked.
"They believe that you can believe whatever you want."
"That's a stupid religion." I said.
And our conversation moved on to other matters, none of them relating to Oceanography.
As many times as I've corrected UUs of various ages (mercifully skewing towards kids) on the specifics of refining belief through reason, I can totally see why "you can believe whatever you want" is a little kid version of UUism.
Similarly, the little kid version of Christianity I grew up with was along the lines of "Be good and do good stuff and you will go to heaven. Pray and God will give you stuff. Take care of the poor because Jesus said to."*
I took some theology classes and developed a more sophisticated understanding of Christianity before I rejected it as a spiritual path, but I found those little kid tenets to be quite tenacious as far as my own thinking about these matters went and part of me still sees Christianity as a religion very focused on who gets what from God.
This line of thought has me really glad that I'm a YRUU advisor. We didn't have sunday school classes for teenagers when I was a Presbyterian teenager because we didn't have any teenagers who wanted to attend except me. (And this was at a decently-sized church in the middle of DC). As I've mentioned, the multi-church youth group I was in was all about keeping us from having sex with each other and not so much about anything else. I remember two lock-ins, a charades game, a retreat, a trip to the movies ("Groundhog Day") and a stream cleanup. There had to have been more in four years of high school but that's literally all I remember doing.
Also, there was one discussion where we were supposed to talk about our hero and lots of kids said "my mom" and lots of kids said "God" and Teenage CC said "Katharine Hepburn."
So yeah, there wasn't much moving on to becoming a mature Christian adult in there. It's not a big shock that I didn't stay.
Conversely, Jana-who-Creates grew up in Atlanta and tells lots of stories of driving across a state or two to go to a youth con and how YRUU cons were really where she fit in. She grew up getting Unitarian Universalism on a deep level because there were people who wanted to teach it to her. And she met Richard Simmons.
Here's hoping that the youth I know and the youth you know have a better grasp of the faith they are growing up in than I did and that like YRUU did for JwC it truly becomes a place where youth can fit and where they truly get what their religion tries to teach.
*It bears mentioning that not all kids get the little kid version. LittleCSO had so many pointed questions about doctrine that his Sunday School teacher eventually had him meet with the minister, who told him straight out that if he didn't believe X, Y and Z then he wasn't a Lutheran. So theCSO stopped going to church as he was not a Lutheran. The actual truth of this story might be slightly less awesomely precocious, but that's how he tells it.
"You can believe anything you want."
Two ways of looking at that...
1) UUs can believe all sorts of things regarding the supernatural. But, with regard to how we view and treat one another, very different story.
2) More tongue in cheek, if we can believe whatever we want, then we can proudly call ourselves the theological equivalent of a five hundred pound gorilla.
"You can believe anything you want." is how many people view Pagans, too. "Jack Chick" style Christians use this "fact" to prove only their version of Christianity can be true.
Someone should do an essay about how the Free Christian concept of noncreedalism and freedom of conscience, which played a huge role in 19th century Unitarian theology, led to the sort of religious pluralism of todays congregations.
Even if one presents the idea of noncreedalism as "you can believe whatever you want" it still seems to me to be marginally less littlekiddish, (and more grounded in UU theology) than this weird emphasis on the eight principals of UUism that seems to be the
current trendy thing.
This is why I am please to see that the yet-to-be-published Tapestry of Faith curriculum dealing with Interfaith work has a large emphasis on giving youth help in defining what Unitarian Universalism is.
It's funny how we can get such different takaways from the same source. The little kids version of Christianity stuck in my head is one of avoiding punishment. "Obey God because he loves you." might be a good encapsulation.
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