Monday, July 10, 2006

Unitarian Sales Pitch

I was recently talking with another new Unitarian on how we "sell" our religion to others. My original sales pitch was: “You don’t have to believe in anything in particular to join our group.” Her sales pitch was: “We take the best of every religion, with out taking the bad stuff.”

Well I don’t think it takes a genius to see which sales pitch is better. Hers is both better and more accurate than mine. In fact, my sales pitch is so weak I’m shocked I would even say it aloud – that the best we have to offer is a lack of constraints, total personal freedom? Is this what we offer? Why join a group whose main offering is to leave you just the way you were before you joined?

I think what I was trying to say is that we encourage people to think for themselves, and to create a theology based on their understanding of the universe. In other words, we create a community for seekers that can help provide guidance, dialogue, and rigor to the search for the great truths of existence. A community of seekers – sort of like the Quakers. This is a bit better of a sales pitch, but I think it still lacks something. I think there is a core stance to Unitarianism, or if there isn’t one I think there is something I would like to place at its center, to give it a core stance in my mind.

Taking the best of religion while leaving behind the worst sounds good, but also sounds very ambiguous. What is the best part of religion? And what is the worst part? In a simple way, perhaps the best part is the part of religion that connects us to each other and helps us see our fates as linked. The best part of religion exhorts us to be kind and considerate and to act ethically. The worst parts of the religion are those parts used to enforce outdated social hierarchies or social norms – like elevating men above women, or one class of people above another. So this definition makes some sense, assuming that the other person is coming from a similar value system to those of most Unitarians.

But what is that missing item at the center? I think it would be accurate to call that thing God. But whatever you decide to call it, the thing that I am indicating is a belief I have – a belief that I think is widely shared among Unitarians – that there is a force greater than ourselves that we can connect to through worship. And that by connecting to this force greater than ourselves, our ability to understand our role in the universe is enhanced and our ability to do good in this world is strengthened. Without this sacred offering, would Unitarianism be anything more than a social club?

7 comments:

Braidwood said...

Your original sales pitch worked for me. I think it is a profound difference that we can believe what we want to believe and think what we want to think and still be in community with others. That is huge and that is why I go to a UU church.

I wrote such a long comment that I decided to put the rest on my blog. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

Paul Wilczynski said...

Don't forget "Deeds, not creeds".

kim said...

I am not an atheist, but I am sensitive to the fact that a lot of UUs (though no longer the majority) are. Are you including them in this? What if they don't think there is anything greater than themselves except blind nature?
I've seen a bunch of arguing going on in blogs about this issue, and it seems to be a major problem for us. We had a commission study the problem of figuring out what we all have in common, and I'm not sure what they came up with. Maybe whatever it is would be a good place to start.
I think one of the things we all believe is that the world can improve if we all work on making it better, and that that is sacred work. Perhaps we believe the same about ourselves.

Merlin-Works said...

Part of the challenge of a sales pitch is it needs to be short, so it can be memorable and punchy. It's hard to paint an accurate and appealing truth about a religion in 30 words or less.

But then again, a sales pitch is intended to get you interested in the product, so you will investigate it more. A pitch is not a contract. So I think it's okay to say something that generates interest, encourages people to come on down and check it out, even if the sales pitch is not 100% accurate.

As long as it's not a bald faced lie-- "Unitarianism helps you lose weight without giving up the foods you love." That would be a problem.

Kinsi said...

Christianity without the Christ and Protestantism with more protests!

Louis Merlin said...

Kim,

I am also concerned about being sensitive to athiests, or more specifically, positivists. I certainly don't want to exclude anyone from the meaningful dialogue I think Unitarian-Universalists have on meaning. I want everyone to be welcome in our communities and in our discussions.

But I do not think that being welcoming means that we need to have a creed that everyone can agree on. I think it's better for us to articulate a faith that has some content, and if people are uncomfortable with that so be it.

kim said...

I agree that we need some content -- but we are having trouble with having content without creed.
I have no solution, except, as I said, we seem to me to have a common belief in improvability. I think that is the central concept of liberalism -- that we can improve, we are not hopeless. The opposite is the belief that whatever we try to do, we will only make it worse. That is the outlook of many conservative churches, so we are definitely different from that.
My favorite t-shirt slogan is "The meaning of life is to give life meaning". I like that, but, better, the mission statement of the Unitarian church of my childhood was "We unite in the free quest of the high values of religion and life." I think that would be a good start for an elevator speech.