Friday, February 05, 2010

"The religion of the future"

As I sit at home this morning, waiting for a delivery of a new power cord for my laptop (the old one is frayed and crackling vaguley when I move it - not good) I thought I'd offer some reflections.

I'm thinking about the silliness of liberalism, liberals can be very silly sometimes. Despite trying to be rational and sensible liberals can convince themselves of their own stories through the momentum of their own myths as much as anyone. But when we examine these things we can find their foundations very shaky.

One of the myths that religious liberals tell themselves is that we are "the religion of the future." We tell ourselves that society is changing dramatically and that we are so much more in tune with society, and the way things are going that we are bound to become the dominant religion very soon. The trouble is, when you examine this you find that people have been saying this for at least 200 years. Thomas Jefferson was sure that all of America would become Unitarian within 50 years. Despite the fact this prediction never came to pass, we keep saying something very similar. Marcus Borg writes about an "emerging vision" of Christianity. And Peter Morales, in his US UUA Presidential election campaign spoke about UUism becoming "the religion for our times."

Yet it doesn't happen. And perhaps its only because of our poor sense of history that we aren't terribly disappointed about this. Perhaps because Unitarianism is dominanted by converts, and it is a new and emerging thing for us, we are convinced that it will be a new and emerging thing for the culture in general.

What to learn from this? Perhaps that "conservative" religion has some things to teach us. Perhaps that we should be paying attention to why so few of our children hang around, which gives us so little continuity as a religious community.

But mainly I think it's a theological point about being at the margins. We should get used to being a minority, we always will be, but this is no bad thing. The margins, in a Jesus-shaped ministry, is where we are called to be.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unitarianism will, unfortunately, always be a minority religion because it demands so much of its follows.It's relatively easy to become a Christian, all you need to do is to accept Jesus as your lord and savior. People join with religions because they want something stable and sure in their lives. They are looking for an unshakable foundation upon which to build their house of faith.

But Unitarians are able to live with and embrace uncertainty and ambiguity. Not too many poeople can do that; it's too scare for most people.

3:38 pm  
Blogger Jaume de Marcos Andreu said...

While we keep gathering in buildings that have an amazing similarity with churches (and even many of them have this name) and listening to people in religious uniform, we will not be "a religion of the future", but the same old thing. But this change, if too sudden, would be painful, so people prefer to simply keep going and wait for the unexpected to happen.

4:53 pm  
Blogger Unitalian said...

"Perhaps because Unitarianism is dominanted by converts, and it is a new and emerging thing for us, we are convinced that it will be a new and emerging thing for the culture in general."

Good point, but change is possible - see my post after this (it's a retrospective thing).

As you and commenters say - conservatism offers certainty. Unitarianism is a community gathered in uncertainty. But there is a way to bind, if we are dynamic enough to do so...

9:16 am  
Blogger Yewtree said...

I would like this to be our motto...

"A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge." - Carl Sagan

4:52 pm  
Blogger JohnHet60 said...

Hi - I'm John Hetherington - a URC Non stipendiary Minister in Cumbria, an associate minister at Kendal URC, but also an increasingly regular attender at the Unitarian Chapel in Kendal, where Celia Cartwright is minister. I preached there last Sunday, and enjoy the open minded fellowship.
I have a blog called "Progressive Spirituality" on Blogspot. I am also Secretary of the Progressive Christianity Network Britain and on the Committee of the Free to Believe network. After this bio - some thoughts on the "Religion of the Future".

I do think that we need a realignment to incorporate Progressive Christianity, the historic liberal positions, and the "new spiritualities". I have written about this in my Blog, but also covered it in a booklet I penned called "Reshaping Christianity" - its available from Free to Believe:
I am increasingly post liberal and post "non-realist" awakening to the reality of "spirit" without pinning that down to a definition of God. For me Jesus is one of a chain of spirit aware human beings that have illuminated the human story. My theology finds that we have a spark of the divine at the core of our Being - and so need to live that out, more and more aware that all life and nature is infused with that of God. It is consistent with the scientific story of evolution and I think need to underpin a whole new way of being not 'church', but community, not "religion" but spiritually engaged.
I hope this way of looking at theology and stuff can bring a much wider common grouping of 'open' 'progressive' 'spirituality' to a wider "public". Good to hook up with your site - which I will now follow. John

9:28 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

John, you're name seems familar. Did we meet at a conference at Scargill House?

8:29 am  
Blogger Ian said...


Amen sister.

2:03 am  

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