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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Unitarian Universalist college students are different.

I had only seen the news stories about the in-depth UCLA study of religion and spirituality among American college students and still haven't read the full report. So I hadn't yet come across this passage — which says some very interesting things about college students who identify as Unitarian Universalists — until I read it in a news item about the study:

Of particular note was the study's findings regarding Unitarian Universalist students. According to the study, "students choosing Unitarian [Universalist] as their religious preference produced what is probably the most distinctive pattern of scores, differing significantly from students in general on 11 of the 12 measures." Specifically, of the 19 religious groups broken out in the survey, UU students had the highest response scores on measures of spiritual searching, volunteer service, social justice work, caring for others, and interest in/respect for different religious viewpoints.

Religious liberalism: Good for you, good for the world around you.

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 19 April 2005 at 8:45 PM

Previous: 'Boston Review' on religion and liberalism.
Next: Oh, no! Now there's activist legislatures, too.





April 20, 2005 09:29 AM | Permalink for this comment

Interesting comments about students' beliefs, but are they all liberal? Some Unitarians are not absolute liberals and I am one of them.


April 20, 2005 10:15 AM | Permalink for this comment

For me, it's axiomatic that a Unitarian Universalist is a religious liberal — but not all religious liberals are liberal Democrats. Are some UUs more conservative than others? Sure, but it's pretty relative: a conservative UU is a liberal who appreciates tradition, not some exotic breed of conservative. If Unitarian Universalism is a species of something, I think a person would be hard pressed to find our genus anywhere other than in religious liberalism (or "liberal religion").


April 20, 2005 04:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

Well put, Philo, though I might have a bone to pick with religious taxonomy. Wouldn't our genus be "Protestantism"?

I find it ironic that UUs of a conservative political persuasion appeal to a quality of liberalism in advocating for their own inclusion within the movement's ranks.


April 20, 2005 05:17 PM | Permalink for this comment

RevThom, maybe religious liberalism is the genus — but Protestantism is the family!


April 20, 2005 06:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

((I find it ironic that UUs of a conservative political persuasion appeal to a quality of liberalism in advocating for their own inclusion within the movement's ranks.)))

I find more ironic that they have to.



April 21, 2005 12:00 AM | Permalink for this comment

Hey, have you all been over to MyIrony this week? Because they're talking about this VERY ISSUE in connection to the post on Davidson Loehr's critique of the contemporary UU "salvation history" that equates political liberalism with religious liberalism. Hope you'll comment there.


April 21, 2005 08:32 AM | Permalink for this comment

How about a link to that discussion.?
My view- If you are very conservative, you most likely won't be comfortable with our principles, particulary being open to humanist and naturalistic ideas. Can't we liberals have this part of our life, (UU) without being harped at by close minded wing-nuts?


April 21, 2005 08:47 AM | Permalink for this comment

Peacebang connects the dots and points us to Chutney's discussion of Davidson Loehr over at My Irony. Thanks for the heads-up!


April 21, 2005 12:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

Right wing nuts, huh.


My take is that if political conservatives aren't comfortable in your church, you're not doing UUism right.

I mean, geez, have you people not heard of Channing?



April 21, 2005 03:41 PM | Permalink for this comment

I am not a right wing nut as you call it, but I feel a chill in the air - like adhering to a party line of old !


April 21, 2005 05:43 PM | Permalink for this comment

How I sometimes hate the words "conservative" and "liberal." But I use them anyway because they do, in fact, mean something — or several somethings, not all of them well coordinated. Here we go:

I have to appeal to an a-ha moment I had way back in high school, when for some God-only-knows reason I read Clinton Rossiter's 1962 book "Conservatism in America: The Thankless Persuasion." (Yes, those were strange, lonely years for young Philocrites.) What stood out for me about that book was Rossiter's contention that almost all major American political movements could be classified as varieties of liberalism, and that conservatism as such had never really flourished in America.

This may strike many UUs as so deeply counterintuitive as to be simply false, but I've never quite shaken off Rossiter’s basic premise. The U.S. is a liberal constitutional democracy; ours is a liberal society; and yet "liberal" is now, thanks to the calculated work of a band of people who ought to be ashamed of themselves, a bad word. (Today's "conservatives" often prefer the word "freedom" instead. Which is a liberal idea. Oops.) My contention is that even those UUs who claim to be conservatives are, in fact, liberals who disagree with the narrowed definition of liberalism embraced by so-called "liberal Democrats." I dare you to find a genuine conservative in Unitarian Universalism; I'd love to know exactly how their individualist, post-traditional religious beliefs line up with conservatism.

A bit of historical review: The early Unitarians — who tended to be Federalists and Whigs — were conservative liberals; they embraced what you might call a pessimistic liberalism. They rejected the idea that an aristocratic or ecclesiastical hierarchy simply deserved to rule. They embraced a constitutional democracy that derived its authority from the consent of the governed. These things made them liberal in their political philosophy. But it's significant that they also embraced a limited franchise, representative democracy, a system of checks and balances, and inalienable individual liberties that neither the state nor the will of the people could take away. They were wary of popular democracy, in other words, and in many other respects were cautious and tradition-minded. But the only way to describe their political orientation as "conservative" would be to take their liberalism for granted, and to say that they were relatively conservative given their liberalism.

On the other hand, the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian Democrats were much more populist and much more radical. They were what you might call optimistic liberals. The Jacksonian revolution introduced a very different variety of liberalism and shocked the staid gentility of the Whigs by significantly expanding the ranks of voters and empowering "rude" people to political prominence. They trusted common people to shape policy directly and generally distrusted intellectuals and elites. But this, too, is a variety of liberalism.

In the last century, the old school Jefferson-revering Southern Democrats — their racism and anti-modernism notwithstanding — were still drawing on liberal themes. We find some of these themes alive and well in contemporary Libertarianism and conservative Republicanism: self-reliance, small government, deference to the legislative branch rather than the judicial branch, etc. I happen to disagree on the substance of a lot of the particular claims, but I can recognize the liberal pedigree of many contemporary “conservative” ideas.

At the same time, the Northern liberal Democrats — the Adlai Stevensons, for example — were elitists, proceduralists, and internationalists — themes that also have liberal roots. For historical reasons, these Democrats embraced the “liberal” label, while Libertarians embraced a variation on the theme, and Republicans over time staked their political fortunes on becoming anti-liberal. It’s an open question whether the Republican Party is also becoming fundamentally illiberal.

Until you make it all the way over to the theocratic (James Dobson) or aristocratic (William F. Buckley) wings of the post-Barry Goldwater Republican Party, you almost could not find a philosophically conservative major political movement in the U.S. Unfortunately, now we have one with a vengeance. But I bet almost none of our "conservative" UUs identify with these wings of the Republican Party; I'd bet instead that they identify with the socially moderate, fiscally conservative, essentially secular wing of the Party.

If you embrace the idea that individuals can legitimately question and challenge the authority of inherited privilege or inherited submission; if you believe that in political and religious matters people have the moral right and should have the political freedom to reject established doctrines and organize around new ones; if you root the legitimacy of institutions not in their God-given, timeless, eternal Truths but in their responsiveness to evolving human needs; well, if you tend in those directions, you're a liberal whether you want the label or not. Own it, people, even if you're a proud Republican. The Republican Party, after all, is rooted historically in liberal ideals, Barry Goldwater be damned.

I fully endorse your right to be a conservative liberal. (One could make the case that I'm one, although I'd rather not make that case myself right now.) If you're a conservative conservative trying to make your home among Unitarian Universalists, however, I wonder what you're thinking.


April 18, 2006 03:39 PM | Permalink for this comment

I believe that I am liberal religiously (though appreciate tradition and am christian by heritage and culture) and on the conservative side politically. My concern is with folks who believe that if you are politically more conservative (actually really a moderate) then you don't belong in a UU church. There are many things that bring folks to a UU church; not all got there from the same path, or are ON the same path. In my case, it was looking for a religious home for a mixed faith family. If it had been up to me, I'd have chosen a liberal UCC, Methodist, or Presbyterian church. I even visited Unity, but couldn't stomach the "new age/prosperity through right religion/positive thinking" aspect I found. One key criteria was a church home where both parents would be involved and the children would be taught their heritage and to respect all religions and peoples. Husband voted UU, not liberal Christian, so here we are. I feel like it is very bigoted to only say that a UU church is available for those who are liberal politically, or to put down those who believe differently. I like that some in our church can engage passionately in social concerns that help them express their concern for the world; and that I can support and volunteer where I feel like I can make the most difference- and it doesn't have to necessarily be the same cause. For example, the Heifer project is a good project, even though many christians are involved. It is the derogatory putdown statements which don't seem consistent with our values, especially if we want to share our own "good news". We don't like fundamentalists and their narrowness; we need to call out the same poor behavior if we see it in our midst.

At one time, our church had "talk back" after sermons. This got very rancorous, and eventually we cancelled it. Also talked directly with folks who were fostering a negative "one-upmanship" environment. Join a debating society if you want to debate politics. In a church we should respect each other and model how to live peacefully together even if we vote differently, hold different political/religious beliefs.

What I most don't like is when some folks put other folks down for what they believe- either religiously or politically. We can agree to disagree. When the church becomes a group with a political code, it is no longer a church, imho.


June 5, 2006 11:34 AM | Permalink for this comment

I am struggling with my religious identity right now, partly because I am getting ready to have children.

I believe the government can be a force for good in society, so I guess I could be called fiscally liberal. I always thought of myself as socially liberal, but the direction the country and the UU church have taken are now alienating me.

I have heard too many single women complain that all the men they meet are either "married or gay" to buy the argument that homosexuality does not hurt anyone. Additionally, the science is increasingly ruling out the idea that folks are born gay. I do not believe that homosexuality is just as desireable as heterosexuality, and I will resist anyone who tries to teach my children that message.

I also disagree with the Church on the war in Iraq. Hussein's regime was the antithesis of human dignity and human rights. Although change is difficult and bloody, it is better than perpetual tyranny.

Does anyone out there feel for me?

Scott Wells:

June 5, 2006 03:43 PM | Permalink for this comment

Feel for you, Anonymous? No. I do have feelings about anyone who can seriously associate gay men being a cause of spinsterhood. What is this, a Rock Hudson-Doris Day film?

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