Unitarians Face A New Age – The Report of the Commission of Appraisal to the American Unitarian Association was published in 1936 at 25 Beacon Street, Boston, MA. I purchased this eighty-three-year-old book and am reading it because I am planning to go to the UU conference in Spokane, Washington, next month. I have been a member of the Unitarian church since 1954, although at that time I was only a member of the Channing Club, which was the college-age discussion group that was associated with the official church. When I entered the US Air Force in 1958, soon after graduating from WSC in Pullman, Washington, I encountered a man issuing my official dog tags. A pair of those dog tags are worn around the neck, on a chain, by all US military personnel for bodily identification when they are living and when they die. They have one’s name, their official identification number, and a word of religious preference. The choice was Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or blank. I insisted that I was none of the above, that I was a Unitarian. He insisted that those were my choices, and I insisted that many of the founding fathers of our country, including Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, were Unitarians.
Our conversation went back and forth that way for a while and then he reluctantly pulled out a case of punch letters and letter by letter punched in UNITARIAN on both of my dog tags. A few years later when I departed the Air Force and went to Berkeley, California, I immediately fell in with the Unitarians there and even though I moved to Bend, Oregon, eight years ago, I still consider those friends of fifty-one years my primary social foundation.
I write this background essay because although I participate actively in UU events I have chosen never to take on official responsibilities. I hover around the edges of those kinds of commitments and frequently find things to do that need doing. Those things may be slightly outside of official sanctions, but if something needs to be done, I do it. I do it instantly. No authorization or committee needed. If it needs doing, I do it.
On page 15, “It would be impossible for anyone today to say more severe or drastic things about Unitarians than they have repeatedly said about themselves in the past: and, conversely, it would be impossible for anyone to set up a series of ideals and aims for the denomination today that would be more lofty or more inspiring than those which Unitarian pioneers and prophets have from time to time set forth.”
On page 33-4 of Unitarians Face A New Age, there is a challenge to every Unitarian; “Nobody, reading such a statement, will find himself satisfied with it; but every Unitarian will find himself challenged by it to change the general consensus of opinion in the direction he desires. Nobody will feel the slightest sense of constraint on reading it, for it binds nobody; but every Unitarian will feel a sense of determination to alter the picture so far as lies within his power so as to make it more nearly represent his own convictions.”
I accept that challenge, and have rewritten their eighty-three-year-old document of suggestions printed on page 33. My rendering is:
- —in affirming the primacy of the free exercise of intelligence, believing that in the long run, the safest guide into a more secure future is human intelligence.
- —in affirming the paramount importance for the individual of his own moral convictions and purposes.
- —in affirming that the social implications of religion are crucial to its vitality and validity, as expressed in terms of concern for social conditions and the struggle to create and maintain a just social order.
- —in affirming the importance of the UU church as the organized expression of a profound religion.
- —in affirming the necessity for a deliberate effort to strengthen the individual’s grasp of the highest values of which he can become aware.
- —in affirming the orderly nature of the universe.
Jefferson stated our UU goal well, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I think for him and I know for me that finding new ideas to pursue is the essence of happiness.