Thursday, March 29, 2018

What is Unitarian Christianity? Some distinctive features (video)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

"If I was going to go to a church, I would go to your church."

This is an anecdote I heard recently. It wasn't from a Unitarian, but from a progressive Christian:

"I was talking to my neighbour who's an atheist. And she said to me, 'I'm not religious, but you know what? If I was going to go to a church, I would go to your church.'"

This is the kind of thing that is said by Unitarians, and other religious progressives as a satisfying kind of story that enables us to say to ourselves, "see, we are on the right path, lot's of rational people really agree with us!" I've probably said something like that myself in the past.

The problem is that pesky "if".

That "if" has become louder and louder in my mind. Because if we really hear that "if" we would hear what the sentence really says, "If I was going to go to a church, I would go to your church... but I'm not. I never will and it's not something that interests me in the slightest. I vaguely approve of what you're doing, but it will always remain entirely irrelevant to my life."

I no longer see this as something that comforts me as a religious liberal. It will really be no use to be vaguely approved off by the majority of people as our communities die out because they attract no commitment or real interest. Meanwhile a minority of religious conservatives will be vaguely disapproved of my the majority, while remaining a dynamic force which a minority of people give their heart, soul, and lives to.

Which is better?

The need for liberals is not to get people to agree with us. They already do. The need for liberals is to give anyone a coherent reason to come to church. The need for liberals is to offer a genuine spiritual healing for the ills of the world. To be able to say what spiritual solutions we actually offer to the world's problems.

This requires us to shift from constantly talking about what makes us different from conservative religion to be able to say what makes us different from not being religious.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

What is Unitarian Christianity? (Video)

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

What if there are different Unitarianisms?

I keep coming back to the idea that there might be two or more mutually incompatible visions of Unitarianism in Britain.

I'm very aware, for example, that there are several different strands of Quakerism in the United States - Liberal Friends, Pastoral Friends, Conservative Friends, and Evangelical Friends. They share the same roots but are today quite radically different from one another in worship, organisation, and theology.

I'm wondering if something like that exists, under the surface, in British Unitarianism. If there are, perhaps, two Unitarianisms.

Unitarianism A defines Unitarianism as an individualistic, liberal movement that is defined by values but tries to remain neutral in matters of belief.

Unitarianism B defines Unitarianism as a basically heretical form of Christianity that has taken on Anabaptist radicalism, Enlightenment liberalism, and Emersonian individualism, but is still basically Christian.

It is interesting to note that the General Assembly, on paper, is defined as Unitarianism B - the object of the GA says the purpose of the denomination includes "the worship of God" and "upholding the liberal Christian tradition".

However, the General Assembly in fact operates as if it is promoting Unitarianism A. If you look at the website, or at leaflets or videos produced by the GA, they very much promote a vision of Unitarianism that is about liberalism and individualism without religious language.

What frustrates me as someone who is situated in Unitarianism B is I find all the publicity material produced by the GA unusable. I read all the leaflets produced by the GA, and nowadays I think "this is not the kind of stuff that I want to promote." I don't want to give those leaflets to anyone.

What solves this problem? One solution is schism, to admit there really are different things going on here, and that they are mutually exclusive and so we should recognise this reality.

There is no reason that there can't be two, three, or more different Unitarian denominations in the UK. Would that really be so bad? They could still share some resources, some institutions, but admit that they are not of one mind on all matters.

In a way that is already the case. The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland is essentially a definitely Christian liberal/Unitarian church. It shares much with the Unitarians, but it is definitely a Christian denomination. It could, conceivably, operate in England, Scotland and Wales. Or something like it could.

But if we don't schism, and there are good reason not to, perhaps it's worth admitting that we are different theological projects sheltering under the same administrative roof.

That would mean that the GA would either give up producing any publicity material OR that it would produce a more deliberately diverse range of materials.

Because here's the kind of thing that set me off on this kind of thought process: I really really dislike this video. It simply does not describe my faith, or the religious project I am in anyway interested in. It describes Unitarianism A, but it does not describe Unitarianism B. And if the GA is going to produce a video promoting Unitarianism A then it needs to produce a video describing Unitarianism B. It needs to produce a video that says "Unitarianism is a radical way of following Jesus and connecting with God".

If the GA says, "we don't want to produce such a video, we don't think we should" then my conclusion is that you're not serving some of your constituents and they would be better off forming a different denomination that does. 

I say this not to be argumentative, or because I'm particularly hacked off with the denomination. I'm not in the slightest. Rather I sort of think we all might get on better if we were just honest and admitted that we don't share the same faith. I wonder if we would all be happier if we stopped trying to fit two things together that, perhaps, are simply not compatible any more.