On the flyleaf of "Unitarianism in Utah" - a new book by Utah authors Stan Larson and Lorille Miller - a quote from Earl Morse Wilbur sums up the credo of most Unitarians:
First, complete mental freedom in religion; second, the unrestricted use of reason in religion; third, generous tolerance of differing religious views and usages rather than the insistence upon uniformity.
This wide-open approach to theology, this "unstructured structure," has made it hard for many people - in Utah and elsewhere - to get a fix on Unitarianism. Word-of-mouth impressions arise: "Aren't Unitarians chilly people, heartless intellectuals?" "Don't they think Jesus is in `bad taste?' " "Isn't the Unitarian Church in Utah just a haven for disaffected Mormons?"
Although Larson and Miller didn't write a "Unitarian Primer" meant to clarify such notions (they wrote a history to celebrate 100 years of Unitarianism in Utah), many such questions are put to rest in the reading. The book is in two parts. The first is a history of the movement in the state - including some of the power struggles and scandals that undermined the Utah Unitarians at the turn of the century. The second section is a collection of sermons from Utah ministers. It's there that a lot of cloudiness is cleared away.
This business of Unitarians being cold, offish and intellectual, for instance. How do the authors respond?
"Well," says Miller, "I think the perception of Unitarians being `cold' may come from our not having the religious vocabulary traditional churches have. We don't always have the `appropriate replies' that people are taught when they have a set doctrine. Leo Bech, a famous Jewish writer, has called Christianity an `ecstasy religion.' My interpretation of that is the ecstasy comes from a sense of immortality. Day to day life, on the other hand, is very seldom ecstatic."
Miller, who has been very active in the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, Amnesty International and other organizations for the disadvantaged, has indeed been a Unitarian with a heart.
As for Larson, the interesting thing is he's not a Unitarian at all. He's a practicing Mormon, an archives specialist at the University of Utah.
"I'm from the Mormon tradition, and still in the Mormon tradition," he explains, "but I think of myself as liberal. And I see that quality in a lot of Unitarians. That interests me."
As for the book, it's doing rather well, thank you. It's printed on acid-free paper and very handsomely done, as one might expect.
The first edition is limited, but the book can be found in many bookstores around town. It was published by the Freethinker Press, a local publisher. Information on the book can be had by writing 548 N. Columbus St., Salt Lake City, UT 84103-2113.