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In response to Candice...

In response to Candice, a Southern Baptist on a journey of religious exploration...

Candice, first, thank you thank you thank you for including me in this discussion. Religious studies was my minor in college, and I am truly fascinated by all the faiths (organized and disorganized) of this world.

Now, to your questions. Truth be told, I can't even answer these from the perspective of my religion. They seem grounded in Christian ideas, like heaven, accountability to a God who will judge you, the end times and most specifically, the Bible as THE [only] word of God. And I don't believe in any of that.

So here's some background. I was raised Catholic, in Catholic school all my life. In the 8th grade, we began preparations for Confirmation, a ritual in which kids, thought to be mature enough, are given the opportunity to choose Catholicism as their faith. (Think of it as a re-baptism, minus the water.) At 13yo, I took this decision very VERY seriously (enough to make myself ill and land myself in the hospital with a mysterious fever). I spent months at the public library, reading up on different faiths; I wanted to know my options. Then I realized, I didn't want to be told what to believe by anyone else. Only *I* could determine what was real for *me*. So I started journaling instead of reading. And let me tell you, going back to read those now, I was a pretty insightful kid. Once I felt that I had a good handle on what I thought was true, I returned to the library to find a religion that fit those truths. (Catholicism wasn't it, but my mother and grandmother forced me to be confirmed anyway.) This process took many many years of "trying on" religions, exploring religious practices and communities of faith, and even taking that same quiz you did on belief.net.

As I've shared with you, am a Unitarian Universalist. I'm not surprised that your quiz said that you are too. I [not so] secretly suspect that many people have beliefs in line with UUism and don't know it. So let me tell you a little about what we believe.

UU is based on Seven Principles:
    1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
    2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
    3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
    4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
    5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
    6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
    7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

UU is not at all like most world religions. We don't have dogma. We don't have a holy book or scripture. We don't even all believe the same thing. It also does not require that you renounce any other faith; it is entirely possible to be a UU Christian, a UU Buddhist, a UU Pagan...  It really is a religion based on the ideas that we must all find our own truth, that we are all equals, and that we must treat each other and this earth with dignity and respect.

Our incredibly multi-faceted beliefs come from many different sources:

    * Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
    * Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
    * Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
    * Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
    * Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
    * Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

As a result, religious education in UU is really an education in world religions, social justice, meditation, psychology, science, environmentalism and so many other aspects of our existence.

All that said, here is what I believe. *Please note, as stated above, this does not reflect, in any way, the beliefs of all UUs or the UU Association of Congregations.*

  *I believe that we are a part of something much greater than ourselves. I also believe that the microcosm reflects the macrocosm; "as above, so below"; we are created in his image; however you wanna put it. We are a reflection of whomever or whatever we came from.

  *As such, I believe that, just like everything else (the moon's phases, the revolution of the Earth, the life cycle of trees, the menstrual cycle, etc.), life is cyclic. That is life, followed by death and a rebirth. What that rebirth is (heaven, Summerland, reincarnation, whatever), is largely irrelevant, though I am inclined to believe in reincarnation. However, if we needed the details of our future existence, I believe that information would be revealed to us in the natural world. And it's not (or at least I haven't found it), so I let it go, and try to stay in the present where more answers may be revealed.

  *Science bears out that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. There is obviously energy in our bodies (our souls, spirits, chi, again whatever), that keeps us going. When our bodies can no longer sustain us, that energy goes elsewhere. Again, where and to do what... irrelevant or, as yet, unknown.

  *After all that, the only important question for me is: why are we here; what is our purpose? For me, the answer feels obvious. I feel I am uniquely built to love, learn, serve and experience joy. I try not to assume that everyone's purpose is the same (that only gets us in trouble).

*As for my religious practices, they are all over the world religion map. I have a Pagan altar set up at home that prominently features my favorite Hindu deities. I read the Bible, as well as the Torah and the Bhagavad Gita. I am intensely drawn to the Kabbalah and other forms of mysticism.  I use Buddhist prayer beads, but count chants based on Vedic wisdom. I celebrate the 8 Pagan holidays based on agricultural cycles, the sun and the moon. I'm very curious about Native shamanism, and I am considering keeping the Jewish Sabbath, as a time of family bonding and community building.    

Anyway, I think it's pretty amazing that you are allowing yourself to explore all of this, and I congratulate you! I want to recommend some reading you might find helpful in your journey for your own truths.

  *The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine by Sue Monk Kidd
This book spoke deeply to my need for a feminine side of God and validated many of my feelings about womanhood in Christianity. I think this will really resonate with some of the conflict you described here.

  *A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism by John A. Buehrens and Forrest Church
This was the first book I ever picked up on UUism. It's as basic as it gets, but will give you a more solid understanding of what UU is about.

  *The UU Association of Congregations website is www.uua.org. You can read much more about the beliefs and practices of UUs, as well as find a local congregation to check out, if you're so inclined. 

I'm excited to be part of this conversation, and I hope we can keep learning from each other.

With love and light,