Monday, June 7, 2010

What's universal about Universalism?

UUSalon's June Big Question is about one of those pesky words.

Universalism, the "other U." What does it mean to you? Do you resonate with Universalism, or not? What about the Universalist perspective challenges or comforts you?

It looks like it was so much simpler back in the old days. We took for granted that there was a - The - God, and that Jesus was the pathway. That didn't leave anything to argue over but details. So you were a Unitarian (and heretic) if you didn't believe in the Trinity, and you were a Universalist (maybe heretic, maybe not, it depended on who you asked) if you didn't believe in the Doctrine of the Elect.

What do the words mean when the very assumptions that underlie being able to ask the questions no longer work for so many of us? The questions that we grapple with now are more basic. Is there a god of any sort at all? Is there, in fact, anything at all beyond what we are aware of within this physical reality? Does the concept of transcendence have any meaning? Currently, the old questions look like pretty small potatoes.

I've been a Universalist in spirit, if not in name, ever since I realized that there were a whole lot of people on earth that weren't Christian, and it occurred to me to ask "do they go to heaven too?" The stock answer has always been that they had their own heaven, but that wasn't really very satisfying for someone being raised in an environment that led me to internalize that "separate but equal" really meant "not equal at all."

Ultimately, Universalism, if it is to have any meaning at all, must mean that whatever "is" applies to everybody. Even further, if we really believe in the interdependent web of all reality, it applies to everyTHING. Living and non-living, secular and sacred, local and remote, empirical and transcendent, Unitarians, Universalists and members of the UUA, all are subject to the same ultimate truth, whatever that may be. More, we are also equally able to partake of the blessings of being in congruence with that ultimate truth, to the extent each of us is open to understanding it. The forces which act on us and in us are universal. So are the gifts we receive. We cannot escape it, but we also know that we have tools and ability to embrace it.

Universalism is not, ultimately, a statement about truth. Instead, it's an assertion that we all, whether we realize it or not, whether we admit it or not, are on a collective journey toward understanding truth/mystery/spirit/God. Likewise knowing that our understanding will necessarily be incomplete and frequently wrong, nevertheless we strive ceasely to understand how that truth -The truth - can "set us free."

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