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What if I’d grown up Unitarian?

I sometimes wonder what might have been different if I had grown up Unitarian.

For one thing, I think I would’ve been more likely to stick with church. I stopped going to my parents’ church (Methodist) when I was in junior high or high school, partly because I never found it to be all that meaningful to me. Maybe it was just my anarchic streak; Christianity tells you what to believe, and it claims to have the final answers, and it claims to be The One True Way And Everyone Else Is Wrong So We Must Bring The Nonbelievers To The Light, and none of those things ever appealed to me. What happened to “love thy neighbor”?

Unitarians are… a bit different.

If you’re Christian, then you believe certain things. That’s what “being Christian” means, by definition. So by definition, it goes both ways: if you believe those certain things, then, well, you’re a Christian. That’s what the Apostle’s Creed is all about: you’re a Christian if, and only if, you believe the things stated in that creed.

Then there’s us. Unitarians are non-creedal — whether you’re Unitarian has nothing to do with your spiritual beliefs. This takes some getting used to! There are atheists who go to my church, along with agnostics, secular humanists, Christians, Jews, Wiccans, Buddhists, and probably at least thirty-one other flavors. Writing sermons for this lot has got to be a challenge!

Q: Why are Unitarians such lousy hymn-singers?
A: Because they’re always busy reading ahead, to see if they agree with the words.

Going back to my reasons for leaving church: Unitarians don’t tell you what you have to believe — we help you figure out what your own beliefs are. We don’t claim to have the final answers; most of us would agree with Andre Gide, “Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.” And we don’t claim that we’re right and everyone else is wrong. (Well, we try not to, anyway. Fundamentalists and their agendas do make it hard sometimes!)

I really think it would’ve been cool to grow up Unitarian, and go to Unitarian Sunday school and youth group. Learning how to question instead of follow (not that I ever learned much about following anyway). Talking about gay rights at church. Going through a year-long Coming of Age program in ninth grade, writing my own personal statement of beliefs, and reading it in front of the congregation. And the sex-education classes.

Yes. Unitarians have a sex-ed program, called “Our Whole Lives” (OWL). It covers not just the biological side of things, but also the emotional and spiritual. I’m told that some of the discussions can get extremely interesting.

Unitarians aren’t the only ones to do this; the OWL program was actually developed jointly with the United Church of Christ. UCC is cool — they’re the ones who got turned down by some of the TV networks recently, when they tried to air a commercial saying that gay people can be religious too.

The idea of church sex ed is a little jarring at first, isn’t it? U.S. culture has some very screwed-up ideas about sex, and most of them seem to stem from religions with some very unhealthy ideas about “sin”. (“Sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love.” — Butch Hancock) But at the same time, church is where people gather to talk about their moral values, and get in touch with the spiritual — it’s about the only place most people do either. So what better place to talk about something that’s so deeply intertwined with both morality and spirituality?

(Okay, I’m getting a little too philosophical here.)

I think back to some of the hang-ups and the teenage neuroses I had back in high school and college, and I wonder if it would’ve been different if I’d had the chance to take those OWL classes. It might be wishful thinking, of course; being a teenager is never easy. But I think that OWL is the number-one reason that I wish I’d known about Unitarians back then.

But all is not lost. I certainly could’ve used this stuff back then, but they call it Our Whole Lives for a reason. The main curriculum is aimed at grade 7-9, but there are also units available for kindergarten/first grade (age-appropriate, but tying into the whole), grade 4-6, and grade 10-12.

And there’s also an adult OWL curriculum. My church is offering the adult class (I think for the first time), and Jennie and I both signed up. It’ll be a twelve-week class, starting later this month.

I really don’t have any idea what to expect, but I’m really looking forward to this. It should be… well, interesting, at any rate. (It remains to be seen how much of it I’ll actually blog about, mind you.)

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