Each of the 20 chapters of Becoming a Unitarian Universalist examines a different topic in our spiritual and personal lives. From “Is Unitarian Universalism a real religion?” to “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning” to “Being a liberal in the Bible Belt”, Linda searches out clear and practical solutions to our most pressing questions. Below are summaries of six of these investigations:
Chapter 1: Who do we think we are?
We don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do. In fact, our brains are designed to hide the truth. We like our certainties: the self-protective narratives about ourselves and the world around us that we have built up over the years. The primitive part of our brains suppresses any knowledge threatening that positive self-image. As painful as it is, we need to open ourselves up to the discomfort of discovering the truth: who we really are and how we behave. Only then can we become better.
Chapter 7: Being a Liberal in the Bible Belt
In 2003, my husband and I retired to one of the most conservative counties in Florida. I quickly transformed from a cheerful person to one who was perpetually enraged. It took years to understand how destructive my anger was, and how it was within my power to resist. When faced with ignorance and injustice, we may have little control over our initial outrage. But sustaining our anger is a choice. It’s easy to view the people who disagree with us as enemies. It’s much harder to overcome our dislike and address them as fellow human beings. In the long run, it’s the only approach that works.
Chapter 10: Our place in the cosmos
Why do so many of us seem to suffer from a kind of spiritual emptiness? One answer is the modern realization that our universe is unimaginably vast and indifferent to us. That sense of insignificance and meaninglessness can lead to despair. Or it can draw us to fundamentalist beliefs that provide a false sense of security. But we Unitarian Universalists understand that living authentically requires the courage to boldly face uncertainty and fear. We gain that strength by creating meaning in our daily lives.
Chapter 12: Can we designate some People as evil?
Many years ago, I almost killed myself and a carpool of children. If I had carried out the act, would I deserve the “evil” title? Most Unitarian Universalists are reluctant to call those who act under the influence of medication, as I did, “evil”. But what about those who act under unimaginable fear or stress, or those whose brains are structurally impaired, like psychopaths?
The truth is that none of us knows what we are capable of, given the right circumstances. If we separate ourselves into a good “us” and a bad “them”, we are dismissing the cornerstone of our faith: compassion for others.
Chapter 14: First Principle - Inherent worth and dignity
This chapter explains why Unitarian Universalism applies our first principle to all people, even murderers and torturers. A religion based on compassion cannot separate humanity into the worthy and the unworthy. That false duality drains us of empathy and denies the truth that we are all capable of harmful acts. Treating everyone with respect begins with children. Growing up with the feeling that they are good enough is as necessary to a child is the air they breathe. Many of us are broken adults because we don’t feel worthy. As Unitarian Universalists, we accord everyone, child and adult, membership into the community of humans.
Chapter 19: Sixth Principle - World community with peace, liberty, and justice
By pursuing social justice, Unitarian Universalists are working to fulfill an ancient dream: paradise on earth. But that aim is continually assailed, in our countries, our communities, and even our churches, by tribalism. The ugliness of extreme nationalism and economic self-interest is sometimes mirrored by divisions in our congregations. I am ashamed to admit my part in exacerbating such tribalism in my own church. The trick to overcoming that kind of disunion is to change our perception of our “enemies”: to look at them, instead, as fellow human beings.