The radical center of Universalism comes down to this: Trust. Trust yourself; you’re okay. Trust nature; it’s basically benevolent. Trust each other; human nature, when left to unfold naturally, will do so with love and creativity.
This attitude of respectful trust toward nature and human nature is also central to the ancient Chinese faith of Taoism. Despite wars, disease, revolutions, and all manner of human suffering, there is nothing in Chinese philosophy like orthodox Christianity’s doctrine of original sin, along with its pejorative appraisal of life as a veil of tears. And despite the many genuine horrors of life, the Taoist/Universalist point of view, it seems to me, makes sense. For unless and until we’re willing to gamble on trusting others and ourselves, we tend toward emotional paralysis. As my favorite college teacher once pointed out, until you trust somebody, you’ll never find out if they can be trusted. Besides, if you can’t trust people, or nature, then how can you trust yourself? For you yourself are a person too, and you also are a part of nature. And—worst of all—if you cannot trust yourself, then you cannot even trust your mistrust of yourself. So it is that without an underlying trust in the whole interconnected web of nature, one becomes totally stuck. Or (paradoxically) unglued.
Ultimately it isn’t really a matter of trusting oneself on the one hand, and trusting nature on the other. Rather, it’s a matter of realizing that oneself and nature are one and the same process. A process called by the Chinese, Tao; by the Universalist Hosea Ballou, Love; by C.G. Jung, the Unconscious. The name is unimportant. Whatever it’s called, it’s the matrix out of which we have our identity and cause for great optimism and release.
True, this is an oversimplification. There are some people, we know, who cannot and should not be trusted. There are some people in positions of great authority who cannot and should not be trusted. And, too, the unpredictable world in which we find ourselves rarely follows our preconceived plan. Hence basic faith and living out that faith involves taking risks. But without risk there can be no freedom.
Universalism—like Taoism—is about freedom. The freedom to risk; to risk failure, to risk growth, and maybe, if we’re lucky, to risk learning how to love. It’s one of the pleasures of Unitarian Universalist ministry, helping members learn the principles of our radical faith, with special attention to its radical self-trust and its significance in light of feminism, social injustice, modern physics, and the cry of human hearts everywhere.
Yours in faith, Steve
by Rev. Dr. Stephen H. Furrer