A Unitarian Universalist Creation Myth

“In our creation myths,” says David Leeming, “we tell the world, or at least ourselves, who we are. We describe our ancestry, our conception, our first home, our early relationships with our progenitors, our place in the first world. In the process, we reveal our real priorities, our real fears, our real aspirations, and sometimes our real prejudices and neuroses.”

One Unitarian Universalist creation myth has to do with our place in the “first world,” which I interpret to mean early American society. Unitarians were the established, majoritarian religion in New England–the “Standing Order.” We were at the center of cultural life in Boston, which was “the Athens of America.” Our job was (as Peter Richardson puts it) “to monitor and engage in teaching to lift the moral and spiritual wellbeing of all. […] There was no need for a signboard on the church for everyone knew what it was…. It was a church responsible for the wellbeing of all within the sound of its bell.”

This is one our our creation myths. And it becomes active….

…every time we proudly refer to one of our 19th century UU heroes,

…every time we strive—perhaps at times even overfunction?—to be at the heroic forefront of social change (since nothing less than this can be appropriate and proper for a Standing Order religion),

…every time we feel shock and dismay and almost a kind of disbelief when we acknowledge our current status as a faith community at the margins (how far the mighty have fallen),

…every time we locate our churches in difficult to find places, out of the way places, places that are hidden behind a bunch of trees (for, after all, a Standing Order church has no need of a signboard; everyone already knows what it is and where it is, or ought to).

As David Leeming says, our creation myths “reveal our real priorities, our real fears, our real aspirations, and sometimes our real prejudices and neuroses.” If we become more aware of the power of the Standing Order myth, we can gain greater clarity about the shadow side of our religious tradition and make healthier choices for our future. We can gain some relief from the oppressive power of our UU “superego.”

As for another UU creation myth–see my earlier post, entitled “Blue Boat Home.”



  1. Anthony,

    Given that most UU congregations are not New England “Standing Order” congregations but rather Post-WWII “Fellowship Movement” congregations (only 234 UU congregations are in the New England states – CT, VT, NH, MA, ME).

    This means that the other 807 UU congregations are not New England “Standing Order” congregations.

    Take care,

  2. Reply to Steve Caldwell’s post:

    Steve, I see the “Standing Order” issue as a matter of culture and ethos; it’s a part of the Unitarian pattern and system, and its transmission does not depend on where a particular congregation happens to be or when it happened to be started.



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