Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas everyone

View of stream by my home taken today. You wouldn't believe I live just outside Bolton town centre would you?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


So I'm musing more about the theology of creedlessness in Unitarianism. Sorry if this kind of thing bores you.

Here's a realisation I came to during my dissertation last year, that I think is worth sharing, if not preaching evangelically. I may begin to bang this drum more in the future.

Unitarianism is creedless: there is no written creed that members or minister are asked to sign up to.

But what does it mean to be creedless?

This is often the way we speak about being creedless, we use words and phrases such as:
"theologically diverse"
"supported in your individual search for truth and meaning"
"each individual is encouraged to find their own beliefs"
"many beliefs, one faith"
"free to discern our beliefs"
"celebrate diverse beliefs"

Here's my insight. This is not non-creedalism. This is what I would call credo-ism. (credo = I believe).

Creedalism is the belief that all individuals within a community should sign up to a particular set of beliefs.

Credoism is the belief that each individual should be primarily concerned with finding their own individual beliefs.

My theory is this: credoism is not the opposite of creedalism. In fact credoism is simply creedalism that has been made deeply individualistic. It's the child of creedalism, and it isn't that far removed.

Both creedalism and credoism emphasis that faith is really about beliefs, whether communal beliefs or diverse individual beliefs.

Non-creedalism, rather than simply indivdualising beliefs should rather point away from beliefs as the foundation of faith.

But point towards what? "Values" is often the answer but I find that unsatisfactory. I want my political party to be rooted in its values, but I want my religion to be rooted in something, well, religious. "Values" does not make a religion.

So how about this? A spiritual practice and a comprehensive way of life that emerges out of that practice.

That sounds like a faith to me: something emboddied in actions.

My elevator speech/lift pitch used to be something like this, "We're at the very liberal end of Christianity, but each person is encouraged to come to their own beliefs."

But now I'm thinking of something like this, "we're rooted in Christianity but what is really important to us is not beliefs, but a way of life based on a spiritual life, and what we do in the world."

This is an invitation not to come to your own beliefs, nor to understand a historical story/argument, but an invitation to a way of life. I think this is both more appealing to an enquirer and also more true to an authentic faith tradition.

The only trouble with the statement is that we have to live out the truth of it. It's only if we witness in our lives a joyfulness of spirit and a loving concern for the world that our words will be true. Otherwise our words will ring hollow. In some ways this is the most difficult "growth strategy", yet the only one really worth pursuing.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Make me a Christian? Or something else entirely?

This isn't very contemporary, because this TV programme was on a number of months ago, but I'm just watching on 4 OD. It's annoying the hell out of me, so I can't resist blogging as I'm watching it.

The programme is called Make Me a Christian and features George Hargreaves and three other Christian ministers trying to convert about a dozen non-Christians in Leeds. Charlie Brooker is right in saying "in the true oversimplified TV-conflict tradition, it's a clash of absurd extremities." It's conservative Christians vs a number of Leeds folks including a bisexual woman, a lap-dancer club manager who practices witchcraft, a big tatooed man, and other people made out to be cartoonish stereotypes.

They start at York Minister (where of course there's a statue of Constantine) with George saying "this is a Christian country" which straight away turns me off. The first introduction to Christianity is communion in York Minister, which doesn't seem a great place to start to me.

The group are supposed to "live like Christians" for three weeks. And what living like Christians means is based entirely on personal ethics, largely on sexual ethics.

If anything is likely to put people off Christianity, it's this programme. The Christians are judgmental, conservative and incredibly annoying.

Unlike programmes such as The Monastery and The Convent which gave people a chance to experience an entire lifestyle lived by religious orders, this programme is entirely based on not answering back, replacing pagan trinkets with Catholic trinkets and keeping it in your trousers.

After the first episode no one's mentioned peace, justice, good news for the poor, freedom for the oppressed or freely giving away your money. No one's being made a Christian.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

New Advertising Banner

Just wanted to share our new sign outside of chapel. I'm dead happy with it. We're just steadily working to get ourselves noticed...

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Why go to church?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Thoughts on liberalism, radicalism and evangelism

I'm reading Bryan Stone's Evangelism After Christendom. It's bloody good. Reading it really makes me regret that I didn't take his course (based on the book when he was writting it) when I was studying at Boston University. I easily could have done.

Anyway, as I say, it's really good, and really readable, which I can't say about most things I read, when I'm usually skipping ahead to think, "only six more pages till the end of the chapter, come on, you can do it." But this one I'm gobbling up with joy, so much sane and good stuff, as well as some stuff that challenges me. Here's one quote that I'm thinking about at the moment.

"[It] is highly doubtful that any religious faith, Christian or otherwise, can bracket or relativize the cognitive dimensions of belief and commitment as easily as [James] Adams [in his book So You Can't Stand Evangelism?] does. While faith is certainly a matter of loyalty rather than mere belief (in the sense of assent to propositions), the comprehensive way of life to which evangelism stands as an invitation necessarily implies claims about the nature of God, human beings, and the cosmos, about who Jesus is and the nature of the salvation that is discovered in and through the church.... For Adams... the permission to doubt requires that the church alter its story to conform to what doubters find it possible to believe. "
Page 156

The implication being this type of liberalism is rather too easy, and lacks integrity. In what seems a rather desperate attempt to attract members, liberals say, "Don't worry, if you don't believe doctrine A, B or C, we'll get rid of it for you."

When I read stuff like this I find myself caught between my liberal side and my radical side. My liberalism says, "Belief doesn't matter that much, it's OK to have doubts, let's not worry too much." My radical side says, "Don't be such a wet liberal, you need to stand for something, a transformative truth. Have some integrity!"

Sitting in the tension between liberalism and radicalism isn't a bad place to be. In many ways early Unitarianism was a love-child between liberal Renaissance humanism and radical Anabaptist Protestantism.

But it makes me think when someone as intelligent and responsible as Bryan Stone criticises my tradition. We Unitarians often pay very little attention to such criticisms, dismissing them as conservative fundamentalist, which is highly disingenuous. There are legitimate criticisms that we need to engage with.

Unitarianism tries to do exactly what Bryan Stone suggests, as a non-creedal tradition we deliberately and explicitly " bracket or relativize the cognitive dimensions of belief." The tradition of non-subscription believes that a Christianity is possible that does not ask anyone to sign up to any particular set of beliefs.

I think it's right to point out that what we say and what we do as a religion can never be non-theological. Everything we say and do implies a theology. To say that everyone can work out their own beliefs presupposes a huge amount of theology. It presupposes people have the ability to work out their own beliefs, which means that humans have an ability to find religious truth and that religious truth is available in such a way that humans can grasp it on their own initiative. This definitely excludes, for example, orthodox Islam, which insists that the Qur'an is the literal word of God, and is the only place where God has spoken directly to the world (though God has spoken indirectly through prophets).

But even though the Unitarian faith has a definite implicit theology, it seems to me the details are non-essential, which is why we're non-creedal. It doesn't worry me at all if someone believes in the resurrection or not, what words people use for the Holy, what people believe about the afterlife. I don't see it as important.

Nevertheless I do want Unitarian faith (evangelism) to be about calling people to a "comprehensive way of life." Perhaps its just a disagreement about what is really essential, and maybe the difference is one of degree. But I do want to say that doubters can reject parts of Christianity that they cannot believe, and still work out their own salvation, and work towards the salvation of the world. Mainly because I am one of those doubters.

But ultimately I can't accept a set of beliefs as essential because nothing is infallible. Language (and all human endeavors) is not capable of expressing absolute truth. This is the essential insight in the heart of Unitarianism, that's why we're non-creedal, that's why we're a self-critical tradition: a tradition that is always prepared to examine its foundations.

I'm trying to think of a concluding paragraph, but not sure I've got one. These are just my half-formed thoughts. That's what you get on this blog. I'll continue to think about all these things as I continue to read this book.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Advent: How long shall we keep God waiting?