Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Religious literacy - American ignorance - Six sources of UU living tradition.

A few years ago I was standing around the photocopier in Boston University’s Department of Religion when a visiting professor from Austria offered a passing observation about American undergraduates. They are very religious, he told me, but they know next to nothing about religion. Thanks to compulsory religious education (which in Austria begins in elementary schools), European students can name the twelve apostles and the Seven Deadly Sins, but they wouldn’t be caught dead going to church or synagogue themselves. American students are just the opposite. Here faith without understanding is the standard; here religious ignorance is bliss.

Prothero, Stephen. Religious Literacy (p. 1). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Stephen Prothero is his book Relgious Literacy observes how ignorant Americans are of religion. I have found this to be true especially of Christians in the U.S. and every more true of Unitarian Univeralists.

UUs state that they draw their "living tradtion" from many sources and commonly name six. If most UUs were asked what those six sources are they couldn't tell you and if they could name a few they couldn't tell you much about any of them.

That there is a clear weakness in religious literacy among UUs in general seems clear. Today, a new feature is being initiated on UU A Way Of Life which will deal with the religious literacy problem in Unitarian Univeralism and in the country. A good place to begin our study is to name the six sources of the living tradtion of Unitarian Univeralism. How many can you name?

Find the answer in the first comment.


  1. These are the six sources our congregations affirm and promote:

    Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;

    Words and deeds of prophetic people which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;

    Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;

    Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;

    Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;

    Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

  2. I got four of the six. I wondered about your statement that most UUs don't know the basics about their faith and as I reviewed by experience with my fellow UUs, I concluded that you are correct. I wonder if a study has ever been done? I also wonder why more time and effort isn't spent in educating people? No wonder the denomination is slowly dying. People don't enough about it to appreciate it.


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