Saturday, 29 January 2011

Why am I a Unitarian?

Post by Ian.

I was brought up as a Methodist and attended regular Sunday school classes as a child. Christianity, as taught, never resounded in my heart though; and the older I got, the more questions and inconsistencies I found. The biggest questions in my youth were about the Trinity and why Christians didn't seem to do what Jesus was teaching. The most vocal of Christians seemed to be those who paid the least attention to Jesus' teachings. I never got satisfactory responses to questions, no matter who I asked. The Trinity especially was something I could not believe in. How could God be three persons in one essence. How could God be a "person" at all. God was everywhere - no person or being could be everywhere at once. Hence, at the age of 13, before confirmation, I left the church.

In my journey toward faith, I read the Bible, the Qur'an, the Noble Eightfold Path. I explored Wicca and other pagan faiths. In the end I just considered what I believed in my heart, looked around at what I'd seen and started referring to myself as an animist, I considered myself not quite an atheist, though I have certainly had atheistic tendencies. I retained an interest in Christianity, especially early Christianity and have read extensively in to early Christian history and biblical textual criticism.

Why do I now consider myself a Unitarian? Well, even though I'd looked in to other branches of Christianity, I never came across the term. Strange isn't it? I came across terms such as animist, theist, deist, pantheism and panentheism - but not Unitarian. As far as I was concerned, if you couldn't believe in the Nicene Creed you weren't a Christian. Having now explored the terms a little more, and having been convinced that one can be called Christian without subscribing to the Nicene Creed, I now class myself as a Unitarian Adoptionist Christian.

So what does that mean? I believe that all living things around us have a soul (anima, life force, whatever you want to call it), and that all living things are connected. We all have a divine spark within us, that links us as mortal creatures to the divine. As humans, we have been gifted with rational thought. I think that this puts a responsibility on us to listen to our conscience. Our success as a species has threatened the existence of others in the world. We recognise there is a problem, and it's up to us to do something about it. As Stan Lee put it, with great power comes great responsibility. I think we tend to devolve the responsibility on to God more often than not, when we should be asking ourselves: "What can we do?"

In theology, I believe that God exists (if at all) not as a person, or even an entity. The closest I have come to a belief in God is that of panentheism or deism. My understanding of the Trinity would be that God is God (Unity). The holy spirit is a manifestation of God's power. I see God everywhere, in everything. God is within us, and surrounding us. But God is greater than the sum of the parts.

Jesus is not God, but chosen by God in order to teach and endowed with the holy spirit at his baptism. A prophet and potential messiah. I believe Jesus is the first-born in terms of having undergone the resurrection that some will attain in the final judgement. Son of God is also not a singular title in the bible. It refers to angels and their mortal descendants (Nephilim) in Genesis (6:4). It can refer to the people of Israel (Exodus 4:22). It also refers to King David and his line (II Samuel 7:10-16). I believe that we are all the children of God, with the potential to follow where Jesus led.

In terms of an afterlife, my beliefs are vague. I don't believe in the traditional version of Christian heaven. This, I believe, has come from Greco-Roman imagery of Elysium. If anything, I believe in the soul going through a cycle of physical death and rebirth. When I die, I believe my soul will be reborn in to another human body. This will continue until the final judgement.

I have found a place where I can express my beliefs, and enjoy a community where my beliefs are not derided but listened to and challenged. I enjoy the debate that goes on in the Unitarian faith. Unitarians are not satisfied with accepting established thought, but will look for those answers I sought so long ago. Different members will come to different conclusions, but that is okay. We are all children of God, using the gift that God has presented to us. That of rational thought.

Thank you for reading and, as Dave Allen often ended with, may your God go with you.


  1. Not quite sure about the rebirth of the soul Ian. I know this is very much part of the Hindu Faith, but what about animals and plants ?
    Does Fido have a soul ? if so, is that soul condemned to be always given the body of a dog? - or could it be reborn as a human ?. Could you Ian have had a previous life as an Oak tree ?
    How does the concept of an eternal soul square with Darwin's theory of evolution?
    Also,if souls are eternal, where were they during the 'Big Bang'?
    Another thing - is the number of 'eternal souls' finite ? - or can new ones be created by God ?
    Answers please - on as many postcards as it takes !!!!!

  2. Great blog, Ian- a very honest appraisal of how you came to Unitarianism. I too was brought up in a traditional non-conformist way. I belonged to a Baptist church, where I was fully immersed at 17. I became became a Sunday School teacher and officer in the Boys' Brigade and loved every minute of it. Clearly, I failed to ask the questions you did at an early age, and it's only in recent years that much of what I believed in I realise was nonsense. I too am delighted with the company I now keep, even though many of our views are different.I subscribe to many of the ideas of yours, but personally I reject the idea of a final resurrection of some of us and I cannot go along with the idea of the reborn soul. I suppose these days I would call myself a pantheist and deist, as I believe God, who or whatever he is, does not interfere in human affairs, but, if I lived in the USA, I would be delighted to call myself a Unitarian Universalist. Until such time I shall content myself here in the UK with the simple term 'Unitarian'- Graham

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Ian. I too identify myself as a Unitarian Adoptionist Christian and have recently begun a blog sharing my views. Faith is an intensely personal journey and it takes courage to share our thoughts in cyberspace where it is open to intense scrutiny. Well done.

  4. @Puzzled & Graham
    I believe in the soul, what happens to it after death is unknown. I only have vague beliefs in any sort of afterlife (as stated above), possibly more wishful thinking than anything else. Out of the afterlife scenarios out there, I think reincarnation is the most plausible. It appears in more religions than any other afterlife scenario. Not only Hinduism. Buddhism, Judaism, Islam (Sufi sect), Shinto, Native American, Norse, Celtic and animistic traditions all include reincarnation as a cycle of life and death. The concept of a soul-debt (karma, wyrd, fate) is also widespread.

    I believe that souls, rather than being eternal, are born and can die - just over several lifetimes. In many traditions, the soul moves toward an eternal reward or toward oblivion. I tend to think this way, that the soul is working toward something - an expression of the divine. I could be wrong and the soul just dissipates after death.

    I believe that my body could once have been an Oak (as Puzzled puts it), due to distribution of its constituent parts, but my soul is human. To go beyond that: it's what makes me human, past just the mechanics of my body. I don't see other species as lesser to us, just different. This is the great sin of humanity, I feel. Our ego in putting ourselves beyond the others we share our world with. We all have a place in the world, some as prey at times - but that is also a part of life. Hence, being a dog isn't condemning Fido. Fido will have to learn dog-like things and not human things.

  5. Thanks for your interesting explanations/theories Ian.
    I would like to believe that the individual 'soul' survives and re-incarnates, but I feel it is more likely that we return to the great reservoir of 'life-force' - much like a raindrop does when it hits the ground. Of course a rain drop having reached the ocean and been drawn back up as water vapour,will eventually reform and return to earth as another raindrop !!