Monday, 2 February 2009

Wiccan and Unitarian

But how can you be Wiccan and Unitarian?

It all depends whether you think religion is about beliefs, practices, or values.  It is often stated that Wicca is an orthopraxy, not an orthodoxy.  Nevertheless, if you think it is about beliefs, I still believe the same as many (if not most) Wiccans.  I believe that the Divine has one substance (the mind of the Universe) and many forms (individual deities).  I believe that the Divine is immanent in the Universe, and includes feminine forms, masculine forms, and forms without gender.

If you think it's about practice, I am still practising Wicca, and haven't modified that practice.
If you think it's about values, I still share the values of Wiccans (though it's less clear to me that Wiccans actually do have a set of unanimously shared values - some covens are hierarchical, others more democratic, some are consensus-based).  But my values are pretty much the same as they always have been.

Then there's the shared history of Pagans and Unitarians.  One early Unitarian was Iolo Morganwg, who is better known in the Pagan community for being one of the founders of the Druid revival.  He was also one of the founders of the South Wales Unitarian Association, and wrote hundreds of Unitarian hymns in Welsh.
Another Unitarian writer who influenced the Pagan revival was Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Although he fell out with the mainstream of nineteenth-century Unitarianism, he had a profound influence on 20th-century Unitarianism.  He also wrote about the concept of polarity, an idea which is very important in Wicca.

POLARITY, or action and reaction, we meet in every part of nature; in darkness and light, in heat and cold; in the ebb and flow of waters; in male and female; in the inspiration and expiration of plants and animals; in the systole and diastole of the heart; in the undulations of fluids and of sound; in the centrifugal and centripetal gravity; in electricity, galvanism, and chemical affinity.
Emerson had been influenced by Rammohun Roy, the Indian liberal who campaigned against sati (widow-burning).  Emerson in turn influenced Edward Carpenter, one of the founders of the Pagan revival, the poet Walt Whitman and the writer Henry David Thoreau.

Unitarianism has a thriving Pagan element, represented in the UK by the Unitarian Earth Spirit Network (founded in 1990), and in the US by the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (founded in 1987).  The first known Pagan UU ritual was in 1980.  Unitarian Paganism and Unitarians' positive attitude to the Goddess is also mentioned in Margot Adler's book Drawing Down the Moon.  Several Unitarian ministers are also Pagans; and many of the hymns are about nature.  I am by no means the only Wiccan to join the Unitarians; I have heard of several others.

Unitarians were also the first denomination to have a woman minister, Gertrude Petzold, and the first to include LGBT people; Dudley Cave, a Unitarian, was a founder of the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard.
Last but not least, Unitarianism includes material from other religions (and has done so since at least 1850).  The UUA includes these in its principles and sources.

If after all that, you're still wondering what attracted me to Unitarianism... well, I rather like Yeshua (even if he didn't actually exist), in spite of the terrible things done in his name, and I like the liberal values of the Unitarians.

Compassion is a human virtue

It has sometimes been claimed that faith, hope and charity (and possibly also forgiveness) are specifically Christian virtues. For example, G K Chesterton claimed this. They are certainly held in high esteem by Christians, but that does not mean that Christians invented them.

But ancient pagans certainly included compassion among their values.

The Religio Romana website lists a number of Roman virtues, including:
  • Aequitas: Equity; fairness and justice within society and government
  • Caritas: Affection; To love, cherish and hold dear, especially within family
  • Clementia: Clemency; Mildness, gentleness, mercy, compassion in private and public matters
  • Concordia: Concord; Harmony, agreement between peoples and nations
  • Fides: Good Faith; Trust, fidelity, fulfilment of promises made
  • Humanitas: Humanity; Kindness, being refined, cultured and educated, embracing the best aspects of civilization
  • Indulgentia: Indulgence; Permissiveness, leniency, tolerance
  • Justitia: Justice; Equitable, fair treatment, guided by principles, also defined by implementation and enforcement of reasonable laws within a sound government
  • Liberalitas: Liberality; Generosity; to give abundantly
  • Munificentia: Munificence; Benevolent, bountiful service, charitable
  • Spes: Hope; A belief in favorable outcome particularly in times of struggle
(note that the above list includes faith, hope and charity!)

Ancient heathens also extolled the virtues of generosity to others less fortunate than oneself; the Hávamál contains many stanzas about hospitality (still widely considered a virtue in Germanic culture).

Compassion is also extolled in the Wiccan core text, The Charge of the Goddess; and hospitality is one of the Nine Noble Virtues of modern Heathenry.

And of course there are many compassionate atheists, who give money to secular charities. Compassion is a human virtue; it doesn't belong to any specific religion.

The widow's mite

Pagans who do charitable work and make charitable donations are rather like the poor widow of the parable, making their donations anonymously and quietly; whereas certain other religions with big charities mentioning the name of the religion in their titles are rather like the ostentatious rich men in the story.

Since there are those who claim that Pagans are not charitable, here, just as an example, is a list of all the charities I support.

Charities and causes to which I contribute money every month:
Charities and causes to which I occasionally contribute, or have contributed in the past:
  • Hurricane Katrina appeal (one-off donation)
  • Tsunami appeal (I did a bring-and-buy sale for this, and helped to organise an online auction)
  • Shelter, homeless charity (financial contribution)
  • Stop Violence Against Women (helped with their website)
  • Big Issue (homeless street paper - I frequently buy one)
  • Cancer research (several one-off donations)
  • Pakistan earthquake appeal (one-off donation)
  • Victims of war in Iraq (one-off donation)
  • Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (occasional donations)
  • Lancaster University Alumni Fund (had a direct debit for ages)
  • Soulforce: Freedom for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People (can't remember if this is a monthly payment or a one-off donation)
  • University and Colleges Union (Branch Secretary)
  • Poppy Appeal
  • Online donations for various wars and famines