Special Sub-Topic: Notable Unitarians and Universalists
|Many United States Presidents were Unitarians for the majority of their lives. Which of these is NOT one of them?|
Herbert Hoover. Some lists of famous Unitarians also include Thomas Jefferson in this number. While Jefferson agreed with many Unitarian principles and did identify himself occasionally as a Unitarian, he was never a member of any Unitarian congregation, making his identification as a Unitarian (as opposed to a nominally Episcopalian freethinker) problematic. The Adams presidents, on the other hand, were fully identified with Unitarian congregations in Boston. Neither believed in the divinity of Christ and neither believed that G-d intervened in human affairs, though both professed great faith in Christian virtue and philosophy, and the younger Adams' Unitarian faith would be much in evidence in his post-Presidential opposition to slavery. Herbert Hoover was a lifelong Quaker. Though he did not adhere to all Quaker tenets, such as pacifism and abstinence from tobacco and alcohol, Hoover would often cite Quaker principles as guiding forces in his life.
|This Unitarian U.S. President was a problematic historical figure who was talked into running for high office by his close friend, the outgoing President, only to fall into bitter conflict with that former President in the next election four years later. Who was this Unitarian who would become the only former President to serve as Chief Justice?|
William Howard Taft. Taft's religion became an issue in the 1908 campaign against the devoutly Presbyterian William Jennings Bryan. Assisted by the personal appeal of good friend Teddy Roosevelt, Taft remained true to his principles and won the election handily. In 1912, Roosevelt challenged Taft for the Republican Presidential nomination, then ran on his own ticket when this challenge failed. This tactic split the Republican vote, giving the victory to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Taft, who won great accolades for intrepid leadership, lacked the personal charisma of the more gregarious Roosevelt. More suited to contemplative work than the Presidency, Taft was appointed Chief Justice in 1921, a position he would hold until 1930. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
|What major politician of the 1950s who was twice nominated as Democratic candidate for President was a Unitarian? (Hint: he did serve his country as Governor of Illinois and Ambassador to the United Nations.)|
Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson caught some flak at various times for appearing to court more mainstream religious voters by attending Presbyterian services. Most of those who knew Stevenson well, however - including some of his most vociferous political opponents - defended Stevenson's sincerity, pointing out that he only attended these services when in a city that lacked a Unitarian congregation.
Not unlike Taft, Stevenson may have lacked the practical "people skills" to be a national leader. This was crystalized by an offhand comment he made to a journalist who exclaimed that Stevenson had the vote of "every thinking American". Adlai rather snarkily replied that "unfortunately, it still takes a majority to win".
|This longtime fighter for Women's Suffrage, who practiced an early form of nonviolent resistance by submitting to arrest after attempting to vote in 1872, is probably the best-known American activist for her cause of the nineteenth century. Who was this Unitarian pioneer for women's rights?|
Susan B. Anthony. Though raised a Quaker, Susan B. Anthony attended Unitarian services throughout her life and became a member of the Rochester congregation in 1893. She remained a member of that church until her death in 1906.
|One of the most quoted authors in Unitarian Universalist services today, this tremendous figure in American Transcendentalism was one of the first Unitarian figures to eloquently state (in an address to the graduating class of Harvard Divinity School, no less) that morality ought be based on common sense rather than supernatural authority. Who is this great American essayist who sparked a revolution in liberal religious thought?|
Ralph Waldo Emerson. Though Unitarian services have been known to draw from practically any source of wisdom literature (I have personally heard a sermon based on a document from IBM), Emerson's work remains a pervasive influence in the faith, and he is still the dominant voice in some congregations.
|Another Transcendentalist thinker, whom many Unitarians have adopted as one of their "saints", was this essayist and activist who preached a "purposeful" way of living, as exemplified by his book "Walden" and his essay "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience". Who was this seminal American author and activist?|
Henry David Thoreau. Among Thoreau's more celebrated protest actions was his refusal to pay the Concord, Massachusetts poll tax because it was earmarked to support the Mexican War, which Thoreau saw as a campaign to extend slavery. Though this tax protest only cost Thoreau one night in jail (terminated the next morning when his aunt paid the taxes against his will), this incident provided the impetus for the landmark "Civil Disobedience" essay, which would prove to be a founding text for twentieth-century social activism.
|While volunteering to teach a Sunday class at a local prison, this nurse and activist was shocked to find that many of the jail's inmates were not criminals at all, and that the unheated prisons in Boston were largely occupied by mentally ill and mentally handicapped people. This revelation would lead to a career in advocacy and research that fundamentally changed how institutions for the mentally ill were administered and organized. Who was this founding mother in the ethics of mental health institutions?|
Dorothea Dix. Dix was later named Superintendent of Nurses for the Union during the US Civil War, but did not generally count her role in the conflict with her successes.
|Thought by many to be the greatest American poet, this "Leaves of Grass" author expounded on themes of individualism and humanism, as well as the freedom from the rhyme and meter inherited from European poetic forms. Who was this polarizing American author?|
Walt Whitman. In addition to being a continuing inspiration to many Unitarian Universalist thinkers (myself not included), Whitman was also a major influence on Bran Stoker, the author of "Dracula"!
|This upstate New York businessman was one of the preeminent newspaper publishers of his time. Since his death in 1957, the media company that bears his name has grown to include the national daily "USA Today" as well as several regional papers. Who was he?|
Frank Gannett. A very active lay member of the same Rochester, NY congregation that counted Susan B. Anthony as a member, Gannett bucked the trend of politically liberal Unitarians. He campaigned for the 1940 Republican Presidential nomination in 1940 in a crusade against Franklin Roosevelt, losing to Wendell Wilikie. He was not a reactionary conservative in the twenty-first-century sense of the term, however, as was belied by his call for a "Secretary of Peace" in the executive cabinet in the 1930s.
|Though low-key about Unitarian Universalist beliefs, this renowned Science-Fiction author makes good use of Unitarian references in his work, including "Fahrenheit 451", "A Graveyard for Lunatics", and "The Martian Chronicles". Who is this renowned author and humanist?|
Ray Bradbury. Bradbury's cosmology is perhaps best summed up in this excerpt from his 2000 commencement address at Caltech:
"Now, why are you here? I'll tell you why you're here. You've been put here because the universe exists. There's no use the universe existing, if there isn't someone there to see it. Your job is to see it. Your job is to witness. To witness; to understand; to comprehend and to celebrate! To celebrate with your lives. ... you're here one time, you're not coming back. And you owe, don't you? You owe back for the gift of life."
|In a life seen by many as tragic, this poet produced some of the most wrenching confessional verse of her era in a career that was cut short by her suicide in 1963. Who was this writer, perhaps best known for her autobiographical novel "The Bell Jar"?|
Sylvia Plath. Plath's "Collected Poems" won a Pulitzer Prize in 1982, the first posthumous work to do so.
|This actor and activist for stem cell research joined the Unitarian Universalist church after a horse-riding accident resulted in severe spinal injury in 1995. Who was this public figure whose battle against adversity inspired so many?|
Christopher Reeve&Reeve&superman. When asked about why he joined the Unitarian Universalists after a life mostly without religious affiliation, Reeve said:
"It gives me a moral compass. I often refer to Abe Lincoln, who said, "When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. And that is my religion." I think we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us. It may be God, I don't know. But I think that if we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives and listen to that voice, it will tell us the right thing to do. The Unitarian believes that God is good, and believes that God believes that man is good. Inherently. The Unitarian God is not a God of vengeance. And that is something I can appreciate."
|Best known for his design of the geodesic dome (a technique of making strong, lightweight domes and spheres based on basic geometric shapes), this renowned architect held 28 patents and was the author of several provocative books. Who was this master of "doing more with less"?|
Buckminster Fuller. Though his philosophy was often criticized for being overly utopian, Fuller's work has nonetheless become a staple of modern architecture and engineering. His 1980 address from the Unitarian Universalist Church in Harvard Square can be found at: http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/unitarians/fuller.html
|This sentimental yet thought-provoking author is probably best known for the maxim: "All I really needed to know I learned in kindergarten", which served as the title for his best-known book in 1986. Who is this former Unitarian Universalist minister?|
Robert Fulghum. Among the life-affirming quotes proffered by Fulghum is this gem of self-reliance: "The grass is not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence. Fences have nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you may be."
|This person was not a Unitarian Universalist - far from it. He did attend Unitarian services while doing graduate work at Boston University, and gave an amazing address (one of several in his career) at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in 1966. Who was this great American Civil Rights leader and 1964 Nobel laureate?|
Martin Luther King&King&martin luther king, jr.. Since paraphrasing Dr. King's address would be folly personified, I will let the great man's words speak for themselves:
"There are some things in our nation and in our world to which I'm proud to be maladjusted. And I call upon you to be maladjusted and all people of good will to be maladjusted to these things until the good society is realized. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry .I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few, and leave millions of people perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of prosperity."
For the full text of Dr. King's lecture, see http://www.uua.org/news/2005/050115_ware66.html
Please note that, with the exception of Dr. King, I have limited myself here to individuals who were active members of Unitarian congregations as opposed to historical figures who are often categorized as Unitarians because of their associations or convictions. Among those I passed over because of their more tenuous connection to the church were Alexander Graham Bell, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Dickens, Clara Barton, and many others. That being said, I could easily do several quizzes on confirmed Unitarian Universalists as distinguished as those above. As always, I am more than open to any feedback, positive or negative, that you might feel moved to give me.
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