They Came From Other Churches

A new survey gives a picture of Unitarian Universalism as a growing movement of (mostly) humanist seekers.

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Whereas "human reason and knowledge" was called very important by 96 percent of UU congregational leaders who took part in the multidenominational Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey released early this year, the Bible was termed only "somewhat important" by 50 percent and had little or no importance to 48 percent as a source for worship and teaching. God's presence, at best, was sensed significantly by only 25 percent in church and somewhat by another 36 percent.

As for a preferred theological label, among respondents in the FACT survey and in two other polls previously cited, "humanist" always got the most votes. The UUA's in-house survey four years ago asked church members to chose only one label (though some chose more). The top choices were humanist (46 percent), earth/nature centered (19 percent), theist (13 percent), Christian (9.5 percent), with mystic, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim in ever-smaller percentages. Another 13 percent picked "other."

The FACT survey and Casebolt's Ohio-based survey asked respondents to pick as many self-descriptions as they wanted. In the FACT survey, which had seven categories, humanist (91 percent), earth-centered, theist and Christian were the top four in the same order as the 1997 survey, but Buddhist and Jewish were also picked by a quarter of the respondents.

Casebolt offered 20 labels, including pagan, atheist and agnostic in his Midwestern survey. Humanist was again a clear choice (54 percent), but agnostic (33 percent) beat out earth-centered (31 percent). Atheist was picked by 18 percent and Buddhist by 16.5 percent. Pagan and Christian tied at 13.1 percent. "That the typical respondent felt the need to circle three or four terms to describe his or her theological views" demonstrated the complexity of many UUs' outlook, Casebolt said.

Unitarian Universalists are not oblivious to the ironic humor of their association. One question posed in the internal UUA survey in 1997 was: "What tickles your spiritual funny bone?" Writers of the questionnaire offered several possibilities gleaned from their experience. The top choice (31 percent) was: "That UUs claim to be seekers at the same time we act like we have the answers."

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