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Making Belief

by Earl Holt

Every once in a while someone is struck by the realization that religion and the church are not synonymous. "I believe in religion, but I don't believe in the church," they declare. "I can be just as religious on a mountain top or [much more likely] on the golf course as in church on Sunday morning." My response: Of course you can. But do you? That's the real question.

The great Unitarian religious educator Sophia Fahs once composed a simple but profound meditation on the assertion, "It matters what we believe." It matters because beliefs have consequences. Beliefs give rise to actions and deeds. This means that beliefs you hold inwardly matter less than the beliefs you express outwardly. We believe in education, so we build schools. We believe in medicine, so we build hospitals. This is one of the oldest truths: values are important only as they are embodied, expressed in some concrete action or form. If we really believe in something, our impulse will be to develop and build it.

I am sure there are millions of people who are Unitarian Universalists without knowing it. They concern me less than the people (hundreds? thousands?) who are Unitarian Universalists without showing it: people who believe in the values of liberal religion -- freedom of conscience, tolerance of diversity, reason, democracy, unity of spirit -- but who fail to express their belief by some commitment to a church which attempts, however imperfectly, to embody those values.

I believe in religion, a relatively easy thing to do, or at least to say. I also believe in the church, and sometimes that's much harder. But in an imperfect world it is one of the best things we've got. Religion is immortal, but the church depends on us.

The Rev. Earl K. Holt III served 29 years as minister of the First Unitarian Church of St. Louis, Missouri, before accepting the pulpit of King's Chapel in Boston in May. This passage is excerpted from The St. Louis Unitarian (March 11-24, 2001).

UU World XV:3 (July/August 2001): 15.

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