Unitarian Universalism and Paganism

I first learned about Unitarian Universalism and Paganism at roughly the same time in my life. I was 16. And I knew, at that point, exactly two Pagan families: one, the family of the woman who mentored me in the Goddess religion; the other, the family of a girl I danced with in a ballet company. The women in both families encouraged me and supported me in my interest in Paganism. They were both strong women with big personalities and full, earthy bodies. And they were both convinced that their religion—our religion—was dangerous and must be kept secret. Or, rather, that bigots and fundamentalists were dangerous, and so we must keep our religion secret in order to stay safe.

One of the women, J., explained to me that in order to keep her family’s religion secret and to protect her children she joined the local Unitarian Universalist church. She said that the UU people welcomed the Pagans into their congregation. And this way, if anyone asked, her kids could say that they were UU church members, rather than Pagans.

And so I got it in my head that Paganism and Unitarian Universalism went together. But that was all I knew about Unitarian Universalism for a long time. It wasn’t until my husband and I were getting married that I even thought about Unitarian Universalism again. We both come from very different religious backgrounds. His mother raised him in a fundamentalist Christian church. My first spiritual experiences were with my mentor, B., practicing Paganism in her home, or under the moon outside, or in a stone circle in a large field. Our backgrounds were so different that we had a difficult time finding someone we would both be comfortable with marrying us.

And so we started attending the UU society in Santa Barbara to see if it could work for both of us. I loved it almost instantly. I suppose that I was predisposed to love it, since it was so closely associated with Paganism in my mind. And at the time, I was just beginning to sense that Pagan part of myself reawakening and reemerging. Whatever the reason, I felt like I had found my home in Santa Barbara. I read books about UUism. I attended the services. I joined the congregation and worked as a volunteer mentor for the Religious Education program for teens.

What I love about Unitarian Universalism is its progressiveness, its emphasis on social justice, its religious pluralism, and its strong humanist and Pagan tradition. I love that it’s a religion with no dogma, where people care more about what you do in the world than your source of truth. I love that the sermons are diverse in their topics. I love that the laity also have the opportunity to give sermons. I love its democratic and radical egalitarian spirit.

But it’s not enough for me.

Unitarian Universalism appeals to the intellectual parts of me. As an academic who completed a dissertation in political philosophy, I have a deep-seated need for logical argument and defensible principles. The rational quality of UUism therefore appeals to me. UUism’s progressive activism also appeals to me as a political theorist. So, Unitarian Universalism fits well into my spiritual life because of its compatibility with my professional life.

But I often worry that my philosophical training causes me to unduly privilege the rational over other ways of knowing. To privilege the universal over particular, local knowledges. And UU alone doesn’t discourage those tendencies in me. The humanist tradition is so strong in Unitarian Universalism. And for the most part, that’s what appeals to me about the tradition.

And yet…

I feel like I need more than just rationalism and logically, morally defensible principles. I need wonder. I need mysticism. I need to experience my interconnection and oneness with all things in a deep and personal way. And UUism just can’t give me that. It’s simply not built into the experience of attending a UU society. The UU society can give me intelligent lectures and opportunities for social justice work in my community. But it cannot give me the feeling of transcendence. Or, at least is hasn’t yet.

And that’s fine…

Because I can experience those things through Pagan worship. Paganism expresses my deepest values and commitments in a different way. Through myth and ritual and meditation and symbols, Paganism allows me to connect to the Earth, the Universe, and life in a deep and meaningful way. It links me to other people, to plants and animals, to all of creation. It opens up the space for me for creative, emotional, intuitive thinking. It’s a balance for all the rational analysis I engage in daily. It is the tradition through which I can have profoundly moving experiences of the interconnectedness of all things (instead of intellectual agreement with the interconnectedness of all things).

Paganism grounds me in the natural world. Unitarian Universalism grounds me in the human, social world. And I am grateful for each.

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7 Responses to Unitarian Universalism and Paganism

  1. I loved this! It captures so well what I myself have felt, and what I have heard others — Pagan and non — say about the UU. It’s great, but it’s not enough.

  2. I can relate to this! Thank you for posting it.

  3. talkbirth says:

    ITA with John here! I also identify with the notion of my UU-affiliation as “safer” than my Goddess-orientation, in terms of public religious identity. I’m just starting to begin to be able to address the role that fear has played in my religious identification or expression.

    • I think it’s so interesting how that fear can be both stifling and also such a great pleasure and at exactly the same time. In most of my life (and esp. in my professional life as an academic), I don’t publicly express myself as a Pagan and that can feel isolating; but I can also derive a sort of internal, personal pleasure from having this whole part of myself that is reserved only for me (that’s occasionally shared with others like me). Moving to a new place and not having people to talk with and practice with can feel isolating; but at the same time, seeking out others like me (who may also be hiding) can feel like a mysterious quest, a kind of delicate process of revealing and questioning that’s made more exciting because the stakes are so high.

      Sometimes I think I’d like to be more open about my beliefs. And some times I think that a secret tribe is esp. well suited to living the mystery (if that makes sense).

  4. Love it! One of the problems with being very clear about ones belief, it can put others on the defensive or offensive if they do not agree, or it bumps up against their own beliefs. When something is so deep and personal, joyful and challenging for a person, why air it for all? I believe living the mystery is a very precious experience, and not one that the greater culture at large often endorses.

    It also allows there to be a deepening with people who are walking in this sort of world. You make complete sense, and I very much agree!

    To not allow others to dismiss what is a very Sacred Way of living and experiencing life, is very appropriate. :)

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