Why Unitarianism?

I am proud to be a Unitarian minister. That means I am also a heretic, and I am proud to be that too. By the way, the word 'heretic' means one who chooses to think differently. We need more heretics in the world---more people who are prepared to think differently. Bring it on.

There are lots of Unitarian jokes. For example, ‘Unitarians believe in one God … at the most!’ Also, ‘Unitarians can believe in any number of gods, except three.’ Of course, you can be a Unitarian without believing in a god at all.

That reminds me of another joke. There’s a really bad motor vehicle accident. A woman is lying in the street, covered in blood. A guy in the crown shouts, ‘Call a priest!’ The woman opens her eyes and says, ‘I’m a Unitarian.’ The guy in the crowd then exclaims, ‘Then call a math teacher!’ Unitarians seldom speculate about whether there is a heaven after death. They are too busy trying to build heaven here on earth by means of social and political activism.

Why Unitarianism? I can only speak for myself. Unitarianism, as a movement and a position, offers me seemingly unlimited opportunities and possibilities for spiritual growth:

• within the orbit of an open-ended, dynamic (non-static) interfaith, interdenominational and even non-denominational metareligion which goes beyond belief, and

• by means of a praxis (an approach to matters both spiritual and secular) which is based on reason, freedom and tolerance.

Unitarianism (also known in some places as Unitarian Universalism):

• can hardly be called a religious denomination any longer or even a religion in the sense of its being one single, cohesive religion (which clearly it's not, assuming that it ever was);

• is much more than a religion, philosophy or way of life, for it is a movement, a ‘position’, an adventure in ‘continuing spiritual education’, and spiritually grounded social and political activism; and

• is not so much a religion per se as an approach to religion and a praxis, that is, a particular and quite distinctive way in which certain spiritual principles (such as the inherent worth and dignity of every person, a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and the interdependent web of all existence) are engaged, applied and put into practice.

Unitarianism has been called a metareligion. To the extent that it has something to say about religion, it is not a single religion among other world religions but rather a way of looking at religion and spirituality, and at the many varieties of religious and spiritual experiences of the whole of humanity. Unitarianism is also a way of looking at life---with curiosity, openness, non-discrimination and choiceless awareness.

As a metareligion Unitarianism---although not exactly a philosophy per se---performs very a similar function to philosophy at its best in that it provides a fundamental and overall coherent ‘apparatus’ for understanding and criticism, illuminating all fields of human inquiry including politics, economics, sociology, psychology, philosophy, theology, ethics, and the arts. Unitarianism is a ‘key’ to understanding those and other disciplines.

Unitarian praxis refers to those activities and ways of understanding both religion and the world, using and applying the traditional Unitarian principles of reason, freedom, tolerance, as well as love in action - all in a spirit of rational humaneness combined with a sensible amount of healthy skepticism and reverent agnosticism - and then living out those principles in our daily lives ... irrespective of whatever be our own individual spiritual path or particular religion.

Unitarianism:

• is not a matter of belief---nor is any true religion for that matter ---but a matter of trust, conviction, and acceptance of certain basic, fundamental principles;

• is a ‘position’, but it is a position and a ‘movement’ in which its members and adherents ‘do not stand at all, [but] move’ (in the words of the Universalist minister L B Fisher);

• is one of the few faiths which enable people of all kinds to come together on a regular basis in order to develop and explore, in the company of others, their own distinctive spirituality without the dogma of conventional, institutionalized religion; and

• offers a spiritual philosophy beyond belief, that transcends national, cultural, racial and even religious and faith boundaries, for it affirms and celebrates the oneness, essential unity and sacredness of all life and the innate worth of all beings.

Unitarianism, being interfaith, interdenominational, and even non-denominational, affirms the underlying truth of open and tolerant religion, sensibly interpreted. Unitarians must always be prepared to move, move on, and journey, for they are denied the comfort of fixed and absolute truth. The search for truth is endless because life is fluid and dynamic and never static. Life is ceaseless movement, so we must constantly move as well. As Unitarian minister George N Marshall, author of the book Challenge of a Liberal Faith, has written, ‘[T]he Bible of tomorrow has not been written, is not completed.’ Of course, Unitarians are very wary of so-called 'holy' books. They are the source of so much strife in our world. No book or person is infallible or inerrant.

Unitarians are certainly not perfect but they do seek to live together in peace and promote the highest good for all, relying upon the authority of reason, conscience and experience in order to arrive at solutions to problems in a spirit of rational humaneness.

Unitarianism is essentially a ‘post-Christian’ faith, with the word ‘faith’ being understood to mean not belief in doctrine and dogma but facing life with courage and confidence. ‘Post-Christian’ is not the same thing as ‘non-Christian’. As the late Interfaith pioneer Rabbi Joseph H. Gelberman used to say about his spiritual philosophy, it is a case of ‘never instead of, [but] always in addition to’. Having said that, many Unitarians these days seek to dissociate themselves entirely from Christianity and traditional theism.

President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the Rev. Peter Morales, the Association’s first Latino president, has stated: 'Religion is not about what you or I or Baptists or Catholics or Jews or Muslims or Hindus believe. I would even go a giant step further: Belief is the enemy of religion. Let me repeat that: Belief is the enemy of religion.'

Morales goes on to say that any religion that is focused on belief is ‘a dangerous corruption of true religion’. True religion, according to Morales, is ‘about what we love, not about what we think’. It’s ‘about what you and I hold sacred’. The Unitarian movement, says Morales, offers religion beyond belief, ‘religion that transcends culture, race and class ... religion where we can grow spiritually, a religion where we can forge deep and lasting relationships, a religion where we can join hands to help heal a broken world’. UUs in America have a slogan, ‘standing on the side of love’. As one of our founders, Francis David of Transylvania, said, ‘We need not think alike to love alike.’

Yes, Unitarians---Christian or otherwise---believe that there is one Light which shines through many beautiful windows. As I often say, ‘The One becomes the many, that the many may know themselves to be one.’ The late great Unitarian Universalist minister Dr Forrest Church, who was for many years the senior minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City, spoke these beautiful words:

'The acknowledgement of essential unity is a central pillar, the central pillar, of Unitarian Universalism. In contrast, fundamentalists, perceiving the Light shining through their own window, conclude that theirs is the only window through which it shines. They may even incite their followers to throw stones through other people’s windows. Secular materialists make precisely the opposite mistake. Perceiving the bewildering variety of windows and worshippers, they conclude there is no Light. But the windows are not the Light; the windows are where the Light shines through.'