Unitarian Universalist Information

UU History

If you ask Unitarian Universalists just what they believe, you may find them stumped for a short answer. If you were to conclude from this, and from our diversity and our freedom, that we dont know what we think, or that one can believe anything one likes and be a Unitarian Universalist, you would be mistaken. In spite of appearances, we are remarkably united in our basic values and beliefs.

Some of these basic values and beliefs are expressed in the Brisbane Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Mission Statement.

One aspect that distinguishes Unitarian Universalist from other religious or spiritual groups is that ours is not a church that prescribes what we should believe. Rather, we focus on how we should behave, with freedom, reason, compassion and tolerance.

We believe that every person should be encouraged to develop their own personal theology and take responsibility for their own spiritual journey. Everyone should be able to present openly their religious opinions without fear of censure or reprisal. We believe in the toleration of religious ideas. All religions, in every age and culture, possess an intrinsic merit and potential value for those who have learned the art of listening.

Unitarians trace their roots back to Transylvania in the 1500s as well as to Poland, Hungary and Italy. Universalists begin in the early settlement days of America in the late 1700s, although Universalist thought can be seen much earlier in England. In 1961, the Unitarians and the Universalists in the United States of America merged to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). Across the world, the majority of this religious group remains Unitarian and includes groups in Australia, Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Romania (Transylvania), Russia and South Africa. Groups who, like the UUA, claim both the Unitarian and Universalist traditions can be found in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Chile, Finland, France, Mexico, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Spain, Sri Lanka and The Netherlands.

Many of these countries have organisations which are members of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists which is a network of Unitarian and Universalist organisations.

In Australia, the first Unitarian church was established in Sydney in 1850. The Melbourne Unitarian Church was founded in 1852 and the church in Adelaide was founded in 1855 by English settlers. In New Zealand, the first Unitarian congregation was formed in Auckland in 1863.

The Brisbane Unitarian Universalist Fellowship came together in 1995 but it is not the first time Unitarians gathered in this city. In the early 1980s a group of Unitarians met for several years before disbanding. However, they left the remainder of their financial offerings in a bank account with the instructions that should another Unitarian group be formed in future, this money should be turned over to the new group, which is what happened. Apparently, there was also a Unitarian group meeting in Brisbane in the 1950s. If anyone has any information about this even earlier group, we would be keen to know and would appreciate you contacting our secretary.

Theologically and philosophically, Unitarian Universalism springs from the Christian religion as practiced in Europe and then it spread from there to the rest of the world. However, throughout their history, Unitarians and Universalists are characterized differently from other Christian groups in that they persisted in being the most liberal thinkers of their day, whatever the age. Often, this saw them persecuted as heretics for believing such things as people should be allowed to interpret the bible for themselves, Jesus was not the literal son of god, Jesus did not bodily ascend into heaven, or everyone would be saved not just the chosen ones.

A major shift in theology and philosophy occurred in the 1930s-1950s throughout the UU world and especially in America, Australia and the UK, due to the rise of Humanism as a response to the Second World War. As many Unitarians began to consider or embrace Humanism, significant questions about Unitarian and Universalist ties to Christianity arose. Since that time, the Unitarian Universalist movement has continued to challenge and expand its circle of religious and philosophical knowledge and acceptance. Today, Unitarian Universalism can perhaps best be described as a pluralistic spiritual tradition with roots in liberal Christianity and branches in global religion.

In Australia and New Zealand, the majority of Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists identify most strongly with Humanist philosophy. While many people in our congregations originally come from Christian backgrounds, most (although certainly not all) of them have moved from a theistic understanding of the divine to a non-theistic one. Other members identify most strongly with Atheism, Buddhism, Paganism or Taoism.

Many people identify with several traditions simultaneously. Unitarian Universalism can be home to all of these traditions because it is not a religion based on creeds, rather on values. In other words, UUs are not required to believe in a particular god or doctrine and rather agree on how we should live together with freedom, reason, compassion and tolerance.

Links to Useful Information

If you are interested in learning more about Unitarian Universalists, or other Unitarian gatherings in Australia or overseas, or want more information about liberal religious movements we recommend these sites. This list also includes some sites with streaming video – they are identified as videos in the description.

Australia New Zealand Unitarian Universalist Association (ANZUUA)

ANZUUA is an organization made up of Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist churches and fellowships throughout Australia and New Zealand. This site links to other congregations in Australian and New Zealand.

General Assembly of Unitarians and Free Christian Churches (UK)

If you want to know more about Unitarianism in the UK, this is the place to start. Abbreviated as the GA, for General Assembly, this organization is the British version of the American UUA and the Australian-New Zealand ANZUUA. Historically, ANZUUA congregations sprang from the UK tradition.

Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)

The UUA is an organization primarily made up of Unitarian Universalist churches and fellowships in the United States. This site is the most comprehensive UU information site on the Internet today. Keeping in mind that the UUA site records the American perspective, it is a good place to start as most things you want to know and more can be found here! Of particular use are their sections on history, spiritual resources, education, social action and world events.

Belief Net – Assessment of your beliefs and corresponding best fit religion

Even if YOU don’t know what faith you are, Belief-O-Matic™ knows. On this web site you can answer 20 questions about your concept of God, the afterlife, human nature, and more, and the Belief-O-Matic™ software will assess what religion (if any) you practice…or ought to consider practicing.

100 Questions that non-members ask about Unitarian Universalism

A collection of common questions and answers put together by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua.

“What in Gods name am I doing” – streaming video of a presentation by Robert Fulghum (author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and other books).

Watch a video about Unitarian Universalism

Members and ministers share their thoughts on worship and fellowship, explain the goals of religious education, explore the historic roots of our religion, and celebrate the spirit of social justice that inspires our faith. A perspective from a large Unitarian congregation in the USA.

Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF)

The Church of the Larger Fellowship is a congregation of religious liberals and other individuals who live throughout the world. The CLF functions as a virtual church or fellowship providing congregational services and resources primarily to religious liberals who live in isolated parts of the world or in communities where no established religious liberal group exists. In addition to coordinating a world community of religious liberals, this site offers a wealth of UU resources for services, spiritual education and study, children’s programming and social action.

Council of Secular Humanism

Many Unitarians in Australia and New Zealand identify philosophically with the principles of Humanism. This American website gives a solid introduction to Secular Humanism including definitions, publications and history as well as a rich library of links to Humanist information sites and groups throughout the world including the Council of Australian Humanist Societies, with a representative branch in each state.

Testimonials ….

We Unitarian Universalists are encouraged to use our own minds, hearts, and experiences to arrive at answers to the major questions that arise from being human. Naturally, this leads to a wide variety of viewpoints. Here are some from people in Australia:

“Many people in atheist and humanist organisations are always talking about people’s rights, but never their responsibilities. I cannot accept the existence of a power greater than humans, therefore I am an atheist, but I am not comfortable with the “angry” atheists’ self centred approach. I share the values affirmed by Unitarians, am accepted by them, and am comfortable with their approach to life. I am a Unitarian who is a “religious” atheist.

“We are not concerned about salvation. We regard this life as the most important and should live it to the full; it is the only one we are sure of having. We should behave well because of the effects of our behaviour in THIS world. ”

“Unitarians affirm that deeds are more important than creeds. Our religion is an attitude of mind which affects the way we relate to other people and the world; it is not just a formality.”

We do not take a single authoritative view of the role of humans here on Earth. We can accept that we are here as the result of a long evolutionary process and that we are not the ultimate end of that process. That does not mean we have no purpose, because we can give ourselves a purpose; to make this world a little better while we are here. ”

“Unitarianism is an inclusive religion. Therefore we can draw on many sources of wisdom and insight. Change of belief is not merely permitted, it is expected. New information and experiences make our own lives paths of spiritual evolution and growth. Our faith is a part of us which develops as we journey through life rather than being something which is imposed on us by an outside authority. ”

“We can choose to believe that there is some kind of creative force that is greater than humans, but do not have to regard it as being supernatural. This non-physical force would be part of the universe rather than external to it, hence would not override the physical laws. ”

“Unitarians have a positive view of humanity. We believe that no one is born bad, and that the inherent goodness in us will flower if it is nurtured in a caring environment in which we learn to take responsibility for our actions. We can aim to become better people without having to regard ourselves as bad now. ”

“I did not feel comfortable in my previous congregation because I could no longer believe the things we were supposed to believe. I wish I had discovered Unitarians existed earlier in my life.”

“When I first came to the Unitarian Church as a visitor I was surprised to learn that it is not necessary to believe all those difficult dogmas such as the Doctrine of Transubstantiation, Virgin Birth, etc. Bit by bit I discarded all the clutter of Christian belief and felt a great sense of relief. Then I was able to begin to think for myself. ”

“Why belong to any church at all? Can’t I be a “Unitarian” without belonging? Not really. Most of us aren’t resolute or gifted enough to achieve our full potential living as hermits. Good company helps. ”

“For me, a major aversion is the mind set of people who are certain that they have the right and only, and often fixed, answer to life’s complicated questions. The authority for their certainty may stem from the written word, revelation, their own or someone else’s belief, etc. I cannot accept answers based on such underpinnings, which after all, actually only derive ultimately from some other human beings’ assertions. It is a blessing to be able to move amongst Unitarians who share my outlook on this, and generally hold that our answers must be worked out by ourselves, and be constantly tempered and consistent with the advancing state of knowledge.”