COLUMN: Unitarian Universalist church welcomes many religious beliefs
I often jokingly tell people that every one of my mother’s marriages and divorces resulted in my getting a new religion. The truth is more complicated than that, but not by much.
When I was 8 years old, I was baptized in the Mormon Church. At 9, I joined a Baptist church. At 10, I joined a Full-Gospel church. At 13, I was baptized in a Methodist church. By 14, I was an atheist. At 24, I converted to agnosticism. At 33, I joined a Unitarian Universalist church.
My becoming an atheist was less due to any particular life-shattering event than it was to a paradigm-shifting one, and this shift was brought on by the churches that had been a part of my life.
During my early teenage years, I came to the realization that every church I had been to promoted a very similar message: Only members of its denomination were going to heaven. This meant that every person, at every church I had gone to, was in danger of going to hell. And the mortal sin every one of these people committed was that they went to the wrong church.
As they couldn’t all be right, I felt the need to explore the issue further and started exploring other religions. My research included everything from Shamanism to Shintoism and from Japanese mythology to Russian mythology. By no means did I become an expert in any of these religions, but I made a conscious effort to learn what I could about them.
By the age of 14, I concluded that God did not exist and that religion was simply the product of our primitive ancestors’ attempts at explaining the world. For this reason, I became an atheist.
As time went on, I came to the realization that I could no sooner definitively declare that God did not exist than I could declare that he does. Thus, I converted to agnosticism, and while I’m 99 percent sure that God doesn’t exist, I do allow for a 1 percent margin of error.
For many years, the totality of my religious experiences had taught me one thing: I wanted nothing to do with organized religions. This is because they were a frequent source of pain and harassment for me and others like me.
I guess that is why it is surprising to many that I eventually joined a church after spending 19 years rejecting the existence of God. All it took was the discovery that there are churches in this world that welcome people like me with open arms.
I attend the First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City, and it is part of the Unitarian Universalism religion. Unitarian Universalism has a thriving community of Christians, Buddhists, Pagans, atheists, agnostics, spiritualists, members of nearly every other religion and people who still are discovering what they believe. It also extremely is inclusive toward members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.
While it may sound like some new-age hippie religion, it is far from this — the first Unitarian church was established in the 16th century, and the first Universalist church was established in the 18th century. The two religions merged in 1961.
Rather than focus on preparing for an eternal afterlife, members of the church focus on making the world a better place. Instead of telling people what to believe, the church helps others decide for themselves what they believe.
For the past year and a half, I have served the church as a Sunday school teacher for the junior high and high school classes. Currently, I facilitate as my students explore and discover their personal religious beliefs. This soon will culminate in a beautiful Sunday service where my students will stand before the congregation and explain what their personal religious beliefs currently are. In return, the congregation will endeavor to help them as they continue on the search for truth.
My students are on the same journey I was on when I was their age. The difference is they have a community to help them, and I had to do it on my own. It comforts me to know that my daughters and my son will not have to make their searches for truth alone.
I don’t care if my students decide they are Christian, atheist or anything else. What is important to me is the fact that they are granted the freedom to decide for themselves.
I am an agnostic, secular humanist and Unitarian Universalist, and I have finally found a religious community where I belong. Have you?
Tom Taylor is a political science graduate student.