Friday, November 29, 2013

What does it mean that Unitarianism does not start with an experience of revelation?

Last week on the way back from a few days in the Lakes I stopped by in Kendal to visit the Quaker Tapestry.

I found some inspiration in the history of George Fox and the early Quakers, as depicted in the various panels. I was struck by George Fox seeking answers to his questions until his inward revelation that "there is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition."

As I pondered this I reflected on the differences between Quakers and Unitarians. Quakerism has a more definite and clear story of its beginnings - and I think significantly, Quakerism started with an experience of revelation.

In fact most religious paths start with an experience of revelation, major religious traditions, like Islam, and often divisions of religious traditions like Methodism or Zen/Chan Buddhism, begin with some formative, experiential experience of revelation/truth.

What does it mean that Unitarianism does not start with an experience of revelation? How does it affect the way we tell our stories or understand who we are? What would it mean if we could point to an experience of revelation at the beginning of our story?

Universalist history does include some instances of revelation of the truth of the universal love of God, but Unitarianism seems not to. (Am I wrong?)

I wonder if this is something we're missing? 


Anonymous Nick H. said...

Steve, I’ve just caught up with your blog again and as ever here is another thought provoking one. This subject has occurred to me too recently - Unitarianism evolved as a movement within the existing churches rather than having a single charismatic and prophetic leader and so you could say that historically it relied on the indigenous Christian revelation although looked at in a new and more questioning way. Unitarians didn’t necessarily intend to create a new church but were sometimes ejected from the mainstream churches. Fast forward to today and if we want to allow ourselves the degree of freedom which we appear to, it means that we are all called to be co-creators of the tradition. Otherwise a historical revelation can become a limitation (ie they are usually rooted in the time, place & culture of the prophet, creating a likely tension further down the line between traditionalists and modernisers).

Can there ever be a universal revelation for all time, or can we have a Unitarian prophet (or buddha if you will) who can give a message for their own day with the warning that it is not carved in stone and needs to be adapted or replaced when the time is right by a future generation or those from another culture? Would that then make it more relevant to our society, or reduce the impact? For myself, the big appeal of being religious is the prospect of having one’s own revelation / enlightenment / awakening experiences, the revelation of others is a pointer for the way but if we rely too much on someone else’s revelation it can all become a bit abstract, theoretical, intellectual, even second-hand. What’s needed is for us to use the revelations of the past to build a spiritual practice for today which can help us to encounter our religious ideal first-hand.

Best wishes, Nick.

2:50 pm  

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