What do Unitarian Universalists believe? What do Unitarian Universalists value? What makes Unitarian Universalism similar to and different from other religious traditions?

Here are three common beliefs among Unitarian Universalists that are helpful to understanding us:

1. We believe our own individual experience and conscience are the best authority for our beliefs.

A question all religious traditions try to answer is, “How should one know what to believe?” Many religious traditions answer this question by pointing to some external authority. Some religious traditions look to a single individual or even a group of individuals as the authority for how one should believe. Other religious traditions look to a sacred text, such as the Bible, as the authority for belief. Other religious traditions look to the accumulated beliefs and teachings of the tradition itself as the authority for how one should believe. A common belief among many Unitarian Universalists is our own experience of life and our conscience are the best authority for our beliefs. In fact, a strong preference for internal authority over external authority is what most distinguishes Unitarian Universalism from many other religious traditions.

That doesn’t mean as Unitarian Universalists we look only to our own experience and conscience as sources for our beliefs. We believe that inspiration and wisdom can be found in the world’s religions, literature, the arts, history, philosophy, and the sciences.

During a Sunday morning worship service, you might hear a story from the Christian Bible, a poem by Maya Angelou, a verse from the Tao Te Ching, or an excerpt from The Grapes of Wrath. A difference between Unitarian Universalism and some other religious traditions is we believe we can take sacred scripture seriously, believing it might have something to teach us about life, without taking it literally.

Because of the emphasis we put on individual experience and conscience, we also highly value individual freedom of belief, humility about our own beliefs, tolerance toward those whose beliefs are difference, openness to new experiences, as well as an embrace of mystery regarding questions that can’t be easily answered.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that within Unitarian Universalist congregations, there are people with a diversity of beliefs.

2. We have a focus on this life.

Unitarian Universalists have a variety of beliefs about what may happen after we die, but a common belief among many Unitarian Universalists is that the purpose of religion is to help us live more fully, deeply, and richly within this lifetime and to help make the world a better place.

As Henry David Thoreau once said, “One world at a time.” Or as a 19th-century Unitarian minister once said, the purpose of religion is not to “get us into heaven” but “to get heaven into us.”

Many of us believe we can live most fully within this lifetime by living with more compassion, connection, awe, gratitude, forgiveness, acceptance, trust, hope, commitment, and courage, and within our congregations, we do our best to nurture these virtues within our own lives.

We also believe we live more fully than we might otherwise when we commit ourselves to helping live more fully as well. So we are also committed to particular social values, including:

  • The worth, dignity, and potential of every person
  • An appreciation for the diversity of the human family
  • Liberty and equality
  • Democracy
  • Peace
  • Respect for the natural world of which we are all apart

3. We believe in the importance of religious community.

As Unitarian Universalists, we believe you can have a good life and be a good and ethical person all by yourself. We believe you can be a spiritual person all by yourself. We believe you can even be a religious person all by yourself. But we also believe, like most things in life, these things are easier to do if you don’t try to do them all by yourself.

In religious community, we find loving acceptance for who we are. We find opportunities to stop and be still for a while, to be re-energized, and to reconnect with and recommit ourselves to the ideals by which we want to live our lives after we’ve become too distracted by the busyness of life. We find opportunities to reflect on our lives with others and continue to learn and grow. We find opportunities to care for and be cared for by others. We find opportunities to work with others to create the society we are not powerful enough to create by ourselves alone.