NEW NAME FOR UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM?
Unitarianism and Universalism were originally named
after two Christian heresies.
But such denials have faded into the mists of history.
These controversies from the 19th century are almost never mentioned in
So, if we rename our movement, we should choose something more
TO CREATE A NEW NAME
POSSIBLE CONCRETE STEPS TOWARD CREATING A NEW NAME
SEVEN PRINCIPLES OF UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM
THESE PRINCIPLES SUGGEST ANY NEW NAME
THAT MIGHT BE SUITABLE FOR OUR RELIGIOUS
OUR NEW NAME MIGHT FIRST BE USED FOR OUTREACH
NEW NAME FOR UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM?
James Leonard Park
Anyone who has tried to explain Unitarian
to someone who has absolutely no
prior knowledge of us
knows how much difficulty is created by our long name.
Whatever we end up saying, usually has nothing to do with our two names.
And there are UUs who have been members of our
congregations for years
without ever encountering the original meanings of these words.
Unitarian Universalism is named for two heresies of
the Christian religion:
Our founders did not
believe in the trinity—father,
son, & holy
So they were called unitarians, in contrast to trinitarians.
Our founders did not
believe in hell—a
place of punishment after
So they were called the no-hell church or universalists.
Our Universalist forebears believed that everyone goes to heaven.
However, our creed-free movement
has now moved
beyond these original controversies.
Now many UUs do not
believe in even one god.
And universal salvation has fallen into even greater obscurity.
When did you last hear a UU sermon saying that everyone goes to heaven?
Thus, perhaps it is time for a new name,
which will describe for potential UUs more exactly what we stand for.
We cannot remain known as what might be called the all-embracing oneness cult,
which is one easy misunderstanding of our current name:
The English word "unitarian" points to some kind of oneness.
Or does it point to some kind of unification
drawing together of many elements into one?
The English word "universalism" might refer to taking everything into
Or does "universalism" somehow refer to the universe?
1. HOW TO CREATE A NEW NAME
This essay will not suggest a new name.
That is one of the easiest ways to have radical change rejected.
When someone hears the new proposed name,
and if that suggestion does not have instant appeal,
the whole enterprise of developing a new name will be rejected.
Many new names could be suggested and discussed.
But as a democratic organization,
we must collectively
decide to rename ourselves,
which will necessarily take several years.
And even when we do select a new name,
there will be a long
transition period during which we will use both of our names
Universalism and our new name: Whatever We Call Ourselves.
When we consider re-naming our liberal religious movement,
we will have occasion to
re-examine our fundamental purposes and
It will require us to ask what lasting principles we stand for.
It would not be wise to name ourselves after another religious belief
as there is only one god
or there is no hell—
which in turn will have to be revised when that doctrine falls out of
2. SOME POSSIBLE CONCRETE
STEPS TOWARD CREATING A NEW NAME
It makes very good sense to name ourselves
according to the basic principles we all embrace.
But it would be a mistake to name ourselves "The Faith of 7 Principles".
That would just require us to explain what the 7 Principles are
every time we introduce strangers to our religious movement.
Like the 10 Commandments among Jews and Christians,
most UU cannot name the 7 Principles anyway.
will be listed in a moment.)
Even tho we will probably continue to have 7 stated
in the process of re-naming ourselves,
we might have to decide which of our Principles
are so important or so accessible to the general public
that it could be the basis of a new
And, of course, we could add new basic principles.
Eventually we might have 10 Principles.
If we were forced to choose the Utmost Principle of
what would it be?
This might mean a deeper exploration and explication
of exactly what we mean by each of our 7 Principles.
Our Principles have been criticized as the 7
because they were made so general and so non-offensive
that no one would disagree
But this is not an inevitable way to understand our Principles.
It might be possible to revive our Principles
by making more clear what their opposites might be.
Any claim that has no
opposite, is meaningless and empty.
Likewise if the opposite is a claim
no one ever denies,
then we have affirmed something so universal
that there is no point in saying it again.
We are conscious human
persons. Now what?
If we can agree democratically what is our central Principle,
then we could move toward selecting a new name,
which would embody that foremost Principle in some way.
3. THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES OF
We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association,
covenant to affirm and promote:
1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person
2. Justice, equality, and compassion in human relations
3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in
4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning
5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process
within our congregations and in society at large
6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are
4. DO THESE PRINCIPLES
SUGGEST ANY NEW NAME
THAT MIGHT BE SUITABLE FOR OUR
First, we will note that these Principles make no
concerning the number of gods
there might be.
In fact, there are no
religious references at all,
except encouraging spiritual growth in our congregations.
(And what does "spiritual growth" mean?)
There is nothing in our Principles that explains what "Unitarian"
A stranger to our movement might guess
that it refers to some concept of oneness or unity.
Likewise, our 7 Principles do not mention heaven or
hell in any ways.
We seem no longer concerned about the proportion of people
destined for either 'place' after death.
Early Universalism was popular in part
because, in contrast to many forms of Christianity,
the Universalist Church had
Now most Unitarian Universalists do not believe in heaven either.
A stranger to our movement might guess that "Universalism"
refers to embracing
everything that exists in some sense.
Perhaps it is correct to say that we are united in
what we reject and deny
rather than in what we
accept and affirm.
We reject most traditional religious beliefs.
But we could never agree on any religious beliefs
that might serve to replace
Can we construct a religious movement
around the mere fact of NOT believing what others believe?
5. OUR NEW NAME MIGHT FIRST BE
USED FOR OUTREACH
Because people who have been UUs for many years
might resist changing our name,
we could develop a new name mainly for reaching out to new potential
This would actually allow us to test a series of new names
just to see how strangers to our movement might respond to whatever we
And even before trying any new name,
we could do some scientific research among the general public
to see how they respond to any new names proposed.
This is one way that new
brand names are selected for products:
Create a focus-group of people who know nothing about the product
to see which name might encourage them to give it a try.
Unitarian Universalism has very little presence
outside of the United States and Canada.
Could this be due in part to the fact that our names mean nothing to
How do "Unitarian" and "Universalism" translate into other languages?
When considering possible new names,
into other languages besides English.
There are intelligent religious seekers who speak every language on
How can we name what
so that strangers will try our religious movement?
James Leonard Park is an independent existential
He does not suggest
including "existential" anywhere in our name.
But both UUism and existentialism are open-minded efforts
to find or create deeper meanings for human life.
He has been officially a Unitarian Universalist since 1980.
And he first became involved in UU adult education in 1977.
Much more about his UU connections will be found here:
Here are two other secular sermons by James Park on
1,000 Years of Spiritual Progress:
The Future of Unitarian Universalism
; Revised 10-2-2008; 10-5-2008; 5-28-2009; 3-21-2010; 4-1-2010;
6-24-2011; 4-15-2012; 1-19-2013; 1-2-2015;