Thursday, 4 November 2010

unity and diversity

One of the many things I value about being Unitarian is the freedom to think about religion, and explore many different spiritual traditions: Unitarianism, Universalism, humanism, Buddhism, atheism, liberal Christianity, pantheism, Paganism, Judaism, Hinduism, and so on.

Occasionally someone says, but how can you be a Unitarian and an atheist (or one of the other traditions listed above? It's simple - you love and cherish your own tradition, but you respect and value the insights of others as a corrective to any blind-spots in your own tradition. When writing sermons / addresses, my approach is to use the insights of different religious traditions to illuminate my theme; so for instance if my address was about compassion, I would draw mainly on Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity; if it was about hospitality, I would draw mainly on Heathenry and Religio Romana; if it was about the concept of a Messiah, I would draw mainly on Judaism, Christianity and Gnosticism. If my address was about religion and science, I would draw on atheist spirituality, among other things.

I count myself as a non-theist, in that I do not think the Divine is an entity with a personality; rather it is an experience or an all-pervading quality, and we can experience it through many images and archetypes. But I wholeheartedly embrace the Unitarian ethos and tradition, and many other Unitarians before me have held this view; so I do not think it makes me any less of a Unitarian.


Stephen Lingwood said...

I don't think serious theologians have ever said that the Divine is "an entity," indeed I think such statements would be considered heresy from the point of view of Christian orthodoxy. Your views are much more orthodox than you think!

Andrew James Brown said...

Thanks Yewtree - I've just ordered Comte-Sponville's book on Atheist Spirituality. I enjoyed his "Little Book of Philosophy" very much and your post prompted me to check this one out.

What I'd like to add here is connected with your links to my posts under the headings of 'liberal Christianity' and 'pantheism'. These links are entirely appropriate at one level (and thank-you for making them) but I think I want to add a simple caveat. I remain intimately connected with these 'traditions' because they are my inherited language - it is how I speak. But I try to be careful to use them in post-metaphysical way. This raises the question of whether I am really using the language of liberal Christianity and pantheism in a way that would be acceptable to followers of these 'paths' who do still hold them in metaphysical ways?

What I think this means is that it brings me close to what you (and perhaps Comte-Sponville) are "Atheist Spirituality". So, I look forward to reading the book and thanks also for this post which has prompted in me some helpful reflections.

Warmest wishes as always,


Yewtree said...

Dear Andrew, apparently Hans Kung said that anyone for whom Jesus is central to their spirituality may call themselves a Christian, and if Richard Holloway is a Christian, then you can be too, if you want to.

Dear Stephen, I am certainly an "orthodox" Unitarian (as far as I am concerned) but I doubt that I am an "orthodox" Christian (with either a large or a small O) and I do not identify as a Christian, because although I think Jesus was a great guy, he is not central to my spirituality (and there are lots of other reasons which I have rehearsed elsewhere).

And thank you both for your comments :)