The religious meaning of the universe is open. It does not command one and only one way of being experienced, or rationally interpreted. It does not compel like the force of gravity compels. It does not culminate, like “4” culminates from “2+2.” The universe does not command like this when it comes to the fact of God’s existence, or what experience of the sacred is like, or the way to spiritual fulfillment. The Spirit of Life is one light, yes, but the appearance it takes depends a great deal upon the particular stained glass window that the light streams through. Come to it as a God-believer, and there are enough evidences to make belief in God rational. Come to it as an atheist, and there are enough evidences to make disbelief in God rational as well.

The spiritual meaning of the universe is open. Unitarian Universalists must assume this, else it is hard to explain to ourselves or to others that aspect of our religious diversity which is, perhaps, the most surprising of all to Americans: that we welcome theists of all kinds, as well as atheists and agnostics. For we assume that the universe is a Mystery; and we know that, because it is a Mystery, the spiritual journey each person takes and the conclusions they will arrive at will naturally be diverse and various.

The spiritual meaning of the universe is open, and so is human nature. Human nature is not hardwired for destructiveness and evil, and neither is it hardwired for virtue and good. Life is thus a process of learning to love and do what is good. Life is a process of carefully developing the positive potentials we are born with, so that they are not tragically left unrealized. Character is key.

As for how this helps make sense of Unitarian Universalist diversity: if we truly believed we were hardwired to do destructive things—if we truly believed that the internal compass of conscience and intuition was fatally flawed—then we would be fools indeed to espouse religious diversity, since the free choice that our diversity presupposes would often if not always get us into trouble, take us into falsehood and error. A broken or flawed internal compass, one that is unreliable, can’t be expected to do anything else. And so we would be far better off unquestioningly obeying the commandments that some God or other, some tradition nor other, imposes upon us. Free choice would simply be disastrous.

One the other hand, if we truly believed we were hardwired for the good, again, our practice of religious diversity wouldn’t make any sense. For us, diversity is a spiritual discipline that helps us uncover blind spots in our thinking and our being; it can get us out of ruts and back into the fullness and flow of life. It can also be this: a positive opportunity to discover other forms of thought and spirit that speak to us in ways that ones nearer-to-hand might not. But consider how all such things would be irrelevant if we were hardwired for the good. If that were so, we would not ever have to worry about such things as blind spots, or ruts, or boredom. Such problems would never even arise.

What I am saying is that our practice of diversity holds important clues for us. If we look beneath it, we can find the common ground that is distinctively and essentially Unitarian Universalist. The rhyme and reason justifying who we are and why we are as we are. The religious meaning of the universe is open. Human nature is open. These and other ideas as well: that the test of spiritual value is in practice; that community is essential to the healthy spiritual life; that the search for meaning is not hopeless, or absurd: ideas like this.

Upon this common ground, we find the way to our spiritual openness. This common ground is (to switch metaphors) like the boat we sail, into the openness of the vast seas of life. One boat, many possible directions.