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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Thursday diversion: Fictional Unitarian Universalists.

Purely for fun, folks, let's name fictional characters — from novels, films, plays, TV shows, etc. — who are (or should be!) Unitarians, Universalists, or UUs. Now, we could rile ourselves up arguing about the ethics of claiming famous real people who never claimed to belong to our religious tradition — Emily Dickinson and Albert Schweitzer spring to mind — but we can avoid that unpleasantness by nominating famous fake people!

I confess that this topic shamelessly revives a Chalicechick-led discussion thread from years ago over at Beliefnet.

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 11 May 2006 at 7:23 AM

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May 11, 2006 08:59 AM | Permalink for this comment

Detectives of all kinds seem well-suited to UUism. (That we UUs are always trying to figure things out is one of the reasons our religion so appeals to me.)

Sherlock Holmes (In Laurie King's Mary Russell books, where Sherlock has started to consider these things.)

Gil Grissom from CSI

Velma from Scooby Doo (And Fred, and Shaggy, depending on your church. In fact, one could make a whole theory of UUism based around Fred vs. Shaggy churches, me being solidly on the Fred side.)*

CC (Feeling parenthetical today.)

*Non-Scooby Doo viewers, deprived children they, may need a reminder that Shaggy was somewhat selfish but loyal hippie and Fred was the clueless but well-meaning preppy. (Ok, we don't know where he went to school. But he wears an ascot.)


May 11, 2006 09:55 AM | Permalink for this comment

You know, Grissom is actually an interesting candidate, because we do know through some of the episodes that he used to be Catholic and now, although he belives in God, he doesn't believe in "organized religion".

I'll have to think on this some more. I'm sure I'll come up with other characters.

Kevin M:

May 11, 2006 11:07 AM | Permalink for this comment

He met her in a van, in the rain, on his way to the Girl Scout camp by Lake Chincoteague. An afternoon in mid-October. Gray rainy light leaked through the windows. Kenny sat in the last seat of the van, without a thought, without a plan. Wentworth slept on the seat beside him.

Rainwater snaked its way down the window glass: a little shoot or finger, top left to bottom right, dashing along and then stopping, trembling; then leaping forward, darting from drop to drop, safe harbors, running until they were too heavy to stop, off the window and down onto the road. Kenny gave them names, like racehorses. He felt a pleasant sadness when they died on the pavement.

The girls two seats in front of him were talking softly with their heads together. The others read or dozed, stared out the window. They were LRYers, Liberal Religious Youth, and Kenny didn't know any of them but Wentworth....

From Into The Great Wide Open, a novel by Kevin Canty. The main characters, Kenny and Junie, meet at an LRY conference back in the good ol' days when LRY was all sex and pot and alienation. The book isn't about UU youth, particularly; it's about growing up in a hard and confusing era, and the fact that LRY is one of the settings is both unfortunate and true to the times. It's quite good.


May 11, 2006 11:23 AM | Permalink for this comment

Well, if Grissom does not believe in organized religion, then he is obviously NOT a Unitarian, because Unitarians have raised organization (congregational polity, covenants, P&Ps, etc.) to the range of Theology.


May 11, 2006 11:26 AM | Permalink for this comment

Jesus of Nazareth.
Possibly Fictional, Definately UU!


May 11, 2006 12:55 PM | Permalink for this comment

Speaking of detectives, don't forget Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Jim Rockford.

All the interns on "Grey's Anatomy" except Izzie. Also both Drs. Shepherd.

Denny Crain, Shirley Schmidt, and Paul Lewiston.

Dr. Robert Langdon.

Lisa Simpson.


May 11, 2006 01:00 PM | Permalink for this comment

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.


May 11, 2006 02:30 PM | Permalink for this comment

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn? How do ya figure that? Fictional characters that would be UU...
Stoner Dude from Dazed and Confused
Brandon Lee's character and the little girl from The Crow
The Lawyer from A Time to Kill could be...
The white family from Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
I'm pretty sure Harry Potter would be a UU. Definately Hermoine though!
Romeo and Juliet from the modern version
There are more, specifically from the works of Vonnegut and Boyle but I can't remember any of the characters names. And I don't have my whole movie collection with me here at college, or else I could go on and on.

Clyde Grubbs:

May 11, 2006 02:32 PM | Permalink for this comment

Oh we would do well if we could be inclusive to Huck Finn. Classism is still one of our "growing edges." A self sufficient motherless child! That would get our liberals talking.

Detectives would be high on my list. (Because I am more likely to watch a fiction than read one.) I can imagine telling Columbo that he would have to take that cigar out to our smoking porch.

The docs on ER would be like those "members" of our congregations that we never see, except at memorial services and weddings.

Kevin M:

May 11, 2006 04:46 PM | Permalink for this comment

Riiight... anyone who uses reason to investigate something, like a crime, is a UU by default. Because we're the only reasonable ones! Don't forget Brother Cadfael, and William of Baskerville from Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. They use reason to investigate things, too! They must be UU! (Oh, wait... they're monks.)

Goodness, nothing like a "which fan favorites can we claim as UU" thread to show the world how pleased we are with ourselves. Harry Potter? Please. Jim Rockford? Colombo? (I do buy Lisa Simpson, though. Not because of her views, but because of her self-righteousness. Oh, my fellow religious liberals, when will you ever learn? You can't make friends with salad.)

Well, mystery fans, if you want a thrilling whodoneit solved by real Unitarians, I highly recommend The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl, a work of historical fiction in which Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and James Russell Lowell, Boston Brahmin all, team up to solve a series of grisly murders inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy. It's a ripping yarn, and the characters make believable 19th-century Unitarians not despite their prejudices but because of them.

Surely the rest of you gentle, bookish people can dredge up some actual UU fiction. C'mon! This is embarassing!

Kevin M:

May 11, 2006 04:48 PM | Permalink for this comment

Science fiction fans, the work has been done for you:

Jamie Goodwin:

May 11, 2006 05:57 PM | Permalink for this comment

He did say..

"Purely for fun"


May 11, 2006 06:09 PM | Permalink for this comment

OK, Kevin, gentle bookish person responding:

Nannie Rawley in Barbara Kingsolver's "Prodigal Summer" is definitely identified as a UU. Wonderful character. Requisite interdependent web quote: "Everything alive is connected to every other by fine, invisible threads. Things you don't see can help you plenty, and things you try to control will often rear back and bite you, and that's the moral of the story." (Kingsolver doesn't identify as a UU but she clearly knows some and is clearly sympathetic--although I find her, too, to take the self-righteous tone exhibited and abhorred by many UUs--especially in her last essay collection.)

Michelle Huneven's books have UU characters--one with just a peripheral appearance at the end of "Round Rock," and one who is a major character in "Jamesland." I loved this character, Rev. Helen Harland.

Another Unitarian minister makes a less-than-flattering appearance in Rick Moody's "The Ice Storm."

Most recent Pulitzer winner: Geraldine Brooks's "March," which includes the Unitarian character "Reverend Daniel Day"--otherwise known as Reverend Samuel May, the uncle of Louisa May Alcott. "March," for those not in the know, is a revisionist version of "Little Women," mostly from the point of view of the absent father. The whole (wonderful) book reeks of UU-ism.

There's a mystery writer named Katherine Hall Page, who writes the Faith Fairchild series, "The Body in the [Insert Location]." Page is an identified UU, and the husband of her main character is a minister; however, she NEVER identifies his denomination (quite on purpose, I believe)! Some of the things that pop up in his sermons, when we get a glimpse of them, do sound UU, but he's also more theistic than I generally believe UUs to be.

Unitarian and Universalist characters both in Sena Jeter Naslund's "Ahab's Wife." Naslund is a UU. I haven't checked out her next book, "Four Souls," but given the subject material (1960s civil rights) I'd be disappointed if at least one UU didn't show up.

Mary O'Connell's book of short stories "Living with Saints" begins with a story that includes a UU chaplain who is mistaken for a Moonie; the mistaker had to remember that "Unitarian meant tambourines and Birkenstocks, not the Reverend Moon marrying a thousand brides to a thousand grooms."

Read Walter Kirn's "Mission to America," not long ago, and the Aboriginal Fulfilled Apostles bear some resemblance to UUs, although they're supposed to be more of a rip on Mormons and Seventh-Day Adventists. Little bit of all of the above, I guess.

Steve Caldwell:

May 11, 2006 06:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

How about Star Trek's Captain Kirk?

When hearing that a powerful being claiming to be God needed to use the Enterprise in fifth Star Trek movie, he asked "What does God need with a starship?"

Sounds like a very skeptical Humanist UU ...

jay lavelle:

May 11, 2006 06:54 PM | Permalink for this comment

Holden Caulfield
Daisy Buchanan
Richard Cory


May 11, 2006 07:59 PM | Permalink for this comment

Fox Mulder and Dana Sculley from the X-Files

Possibly Anne of Green Gables - she doesn't follow the rules, questions authority, cherishes friendship, and follows what she thinks is right

The main character (boy) from Ordinary People?

Almost all characters from Richard Bach novels - If you have read ILLUSIONS, then you know what I'm talking about. . .

How about Shrek? LOL


May 11, 2006 08:32 PM | Permalink for this comment

Last Sunday our minister commented on her youthful reaction to the UU habit of claiming various famous people as really UUs. She said she thought that it must be a pretty easy religion if you can follow it by accident.

People like Mark Twain present a problem. Clearly his thinking was similar to that of many UUs. He knew all about Unitarianism and Universalism and had many Unitarian friends. Yet he definitely decided not to affiliate. The same decision is made by the vast majority of liberals today. They have a vague idea who we are. They know they agree with us. Yet they want to have nothing to do with us.

I am afraid some these people we would like to claim might find us a little too sanctimonious for their taste.


May 11, 2006 08:39 PM | Permalink for this comment

For the record, I find us too sanctimonious for my taste. Which reminds me: Mrs Jellyby from Dickens's Bleak House is most definitely one of us — and probably a General Assembly delegate to boot.

Scott McNeill:

May 11, 2006 09:33 PM | Permalink for this comment

Julie -

I definitely agree with the Richard Bach thing (he's one of my favorite writers).

And Lisa Simpson is as well. Maybe Homer, too ("Jesus, Allah, Buddha - I love you all")?

Kevin M:

May 11, 2006 10:48 PM | Permalink for this comment

Mary O'Connell's book of short stories "Living with Saints" begins with a story that includes a UU chaplain who is mistaken for a Moonie; the mistaker had to remember that "Unitarian meant tambourines and Birkenstocks, not the Reverend Moon marrying a thousand brides to a thousand grooms."

Ha! Love it! Thanks for the wealth of leads, Martinet.

Yes, Jamie, he did say just for fun. Sorry to be a sourpuss. But you've gotta admit, there's an interesting pattern emerging: the folks we'd like to claim as UU are mostly heroes whose membership in our ranks would flatter us, while the pictures of actual UUs in literature, especially literature by non-UUs, are somewhat less appealing. Take this passage from Arthur Miller's memoir of the Chelsea Hotel in the 1960s, published a few years back in Granta:

In the early Sixties truckers still took rooms without baths on the second floor and parked their immense rigs out front overnight, and the Automat was still on the corner of 7th. There I often had breakfast with Arthur C. Clarke, who in his dry Unitarian-minister manner tried to explain to me why whole new populations would soon be living in space. Feigning interest in this absurdity I wondered what the point of living in space would be. 'What was the point of Columbus wanting to cross the ocean?' I supposed he was right, but not really.

I found this hilarious when I first read it. I loved the picture of these two famous men of letters talking in this way, and "dry Unitarian-minister manner" was the perfect image to evoke a kind of speculative, over-intellectual pointlessness that I know well.

When we appear in non-UU literature we are, as often as not, the butt of the joke. (I love all of the references to UUs on the Simpsons, but you must admit, the barbs can be pretty pointed.) Why do you suppose this is? Perhaps because we believe so earnestly that we're the smartest kids on the playground? No wonder other liberals distance themselves from us -- we're just cruisin' for a wedgie.


May 12, 2006 12:18 AM | Permalink for this comment

Richard Bach = Steven King's pen name, no?

Lynn Gazis-Sax:

May 12, 2006 02:29 AM | Permalink for this comment

I think one of the characters in Graham Greene's The Quiet American was a Unitarian. I forget, though, whether the Unitarian is Thomas Fowler or Alden Pyle. Either way, it wouldn't be a terribly flattering portrait, I'm afraid.


May 12, 2006 06:31 AM | Permalink for this comment

Bart - See

Richard Bachman is Stephen King's penname, not Richard Bach, but close! :)

Oh, I'm going to have to add the main character, Allison Dubois (played by Patricia Arquette), from the t.v. show Medium.


May 12, 2006 07:28 AM | Permalink for this comment

Henry James's "The Bostonians" and Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Blithedale Romance" both parody the Transcendentalists -- Hawthorne the first generation of 'em, James the post-Civil War do-gooders.

Elizabeth Palmer Peabody makes a cameo appearance in "The Bostonians" as Mrs Birdseye (although Peabody never married).

I can't remember whether any Unitarianism is explicit in William Dean Howells's "The Rise of Silas Lapham," but it's another wonderful depiction of late-19th century Boston.

As I've reported before, John Updike has frequently placed a Unitarian minister in his fiction — often based on his father-in-law, the Rev. Leslie Pennington.


May 12, 2006 07:31 AM | Permalink for this comment

Henry James includes several Unitarian characters in his novels. I would mention Rev. Brand in "The Europeans".


May 12, 2006 07:52 AM | Permalink for this comment

A few things.

1. Lisa Simpson is a Buddhist. We probably have Comic Book guy, though.

2. Living in Space would be pretty cool. You don't have to be Arthur C. Clarke to think that.

3. Of course we pick heroes. A large portion of the people on TV and in the movies are heroes. If I asked you to name ten characters from the movies at random, you would likely pick mostly heroes. Unless you were trying not to.) And I think we mostly picked flawed people who are good at heart. Doesn't that describe most of the UUs you know?

4. Ok, more UUs:

Veronica Mars and Mac

Willow and Oz from Buffy, also Giles.

Carl Hiaasen's main character

Dharma and Greg, but they go to different churches

Ra' Al Ghul and Poison Ivy (both Batman Villians. See? There's some villans for you)

Dr. Octopus (Yep, there's a another villan, though he was more UU-like before he went crazy)

The Witches of Eastwick

Captain Picard

God from the "Oh God" movies

God from "Dogma"

Jason Pitzl-Waters:

May 12, 2006 08:57 AM | Permalink for this comment

"Willow...from Buffy"

Not unless she is a member of CUUPs.


May 12, 2006 09:55 AM | Permalink for this comment

I assumed so.



May 12, 2006 10:59 AM | Permalink for this comment

Lisa Simpson is more of a UU Buddhist though. She still goes to the christian church, and Groening is a UU, so I'm pretty sure when he was thinking about Lisa's spiritual beliefs he was thinking of her as a UU.


May 12, 2006 01:29 PM | Permalink for this comment

I tried to look this up a few years ago and could find no actual evidence that Groening is a UU. This appears to be an urban myth.


May 12, 2006 02:19 PM | Permalink for this comment

James Ishmael Ford and Jeff Wilson are Buddhists who are also UUs. If real ones can be, why not fictional ones like Lisa Simpson?

Besides, Lisa's got too much existential angst to be a 24/7 Buddhist.


May 12, 2006 02:52 PM | Permalink for this comment

Oh, forgot one: Esther in Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar" says that she and her family are Unitarians.

Kevin M--thanks for the Kevin Canty reference; I'll have something new to look out for.


May 12, 2006 04:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

I don't know that Matt Groening being a UU is an Urban legend.

First off, he's on some pretty official-looking lists and he's famous. I'm sure he's aware of rumors about himself and if he wanted to be off the UUA's lists, I doubt it would take much more than a phone call from him to do it.

Secondly, a lady on B-net once said she met a member of his church:

Thirdly, he famously named the Simpson family after his own and a one Lisa Groening is organizing an outing for UUs who live in Pasadena, California and go to this church, here:

According to this:

Lisa Groening kept her maiden name and is married to the creator of another TV show, making Pasadena, California a very logical place for her to live.

Groening's sister being a UU doesn't make him a UU himself, but I'd say these three things taken together make it more likely true than an urban legend.



May 12, 2006 04:18 PM | Permalink for this comment

Ps. If everybody who was tut-tutting me about being too literal about Lisa's Buddhism wants to view this as an indication that Lisa Simpson in some sense really is a UU, I don't suppose I can argue with that.



May 12, 2006 06:18 PM | Permalink for this comment

So, I'm watching the Simpsons, and Homer really wouldn't be a UU. "Whaddya have to do to convert? Wail on some Unitarians?" Homer talking to a priest about converting to Catholicism. Marge on the other hand...she could be a UU.


May 12, 2006 06:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

So, I'm watching the Simpsons, and Homer really wouldn't be a UU. "Whaddya have to do to convert? Wail on some Unitarians?" Homer talking to a priest about converting to Catholicism. Marge on the other hand...she could be a UU.

Kevin M:

May 12, 2006 06:47 PM | Permalink for this comment

So we lose Lisa to the Buddhists and as a consolation prize we get the comic book guy? Oh, Chalicechick, say it isn't so!

How about Martin Prince? You know, the teacher's pet in Bart's class? Can I nominate Martin as a compromise candidate? He likes comic books...

Scott Wells:

May 12, 2006 09:17 PM | Permalink for this comment

Click my name for my reply to this thread.


May 13, 2006 12:15 AM | Permalink for this comment

Emillie Richards' books are well populated with Unitarian Universalists, drawing as she does on her experience as a UU minister's wife. (Lover's Knot, Beautiful Lies, etc.) And we must remember Rev. Rick of Doonesbury, based on the artist's college roomie and U.U. minister Scotty McClellan who authored Finding Your Religion.

How about the rabidly humanist Captain Ahab, who with barbed rationalism in hand recklessly pursued that symbol of deep spirituality Moby Dick, all the while keeping his congregation/crew in fear and peril.

Then there is Arnold from the cartoon "Hey Arnold." Inherent worth and dignity are his stock and trade.


May 13, 2006 01:13 PM | Permalink for this comment

The tragic character of Frank Shallard in Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry was based on the Rev. L.M. Birkhead, Unitarian pastor of All Soul's church in Kansas City, agnostic and "lapsed" Methodist.


May 14, 2006 10:14 AM | Permalink for this comment

While, these are pushing it:
you cant get more UU Detective than the two volume series
Father Ballou
(Murder on Beacon Hill, and Murder on Boston Common)
one of them is still in print.

there are also a few Universalist ministers in
"The Mockingbird's Ballad" by Doak M. Mansfield (2005).


May 14, 2006 01:21 PM | Permalink for this comment

And we must remember Rev. Rick of Doonesbury, based on the artist's college roomie and U.U. minister Scotty McClellan who authored Finding Your Religion.

Rick's the investigative reporter. Rev. Scot Sloan is the clergyman, and he's based on a composite of Scotty McLennan and Scotty's mentor William Sloane Coffin Jr., but he's an Episcopal priest and usually wears a clerical collar.

As for Capt. Ahab, how about Queequeg?

Then there's the entire cast of "Little Women".

Peg Duthie:

May 22, 2006 07:10 PM | Permalink for this comment

Waaaay late to the party, but I bring with me my copy of Howard Fast's An Independent Woman, which includes a UU minister as the heroine's romantic interest. And also Lawrence and Lee's The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail...

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