I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about a problem that I’m finding difficult to describe.
It started when I attended a discussion group in my congregation fairly recently. Nice group of people, interesting conversation, reasonably well managed (a couple of people – including me – talk too much). The discussion centred on our ideas about God. We were given a list of prompt words and asked rate them on a scale from most useful/correct/relevant to least useful/correct/relevant.
In people’s answers there was a tendency to dislike the idea of a personal or vengeful god, or that god is non-existant and like the idea of god as spirit, or truth or something similar.
This is fine – people believe whatever it is they believe. I’m an atheist, so my ideas were different. I was/am more in favour of the idea of god as a figment of people’s imagination. Again, this is fine, and is hardly likely to cause a problem amongst Unitarians.
No, the issue was that when we were commenting on which words we’d each picked, near the end of the discussion – a little after I’d said what I’d thought – someone stated that they thought the same as everyone else in the room, God is a bit like a spirit, not a vengeful God and not a figment of people’s imagination. If you’ve been reading carefully, you’ll see that’s a direct contradiction of what I think, and I was most definitely in the room. It felt like whatever I thought didn’t count because I wasn’t in the majority.
And I have had similar experiences before and since, that leave me with the impression that some people think that ‘real Unitarians’ share particular beliefs and the rest of us will one day become more enlightened beings and agree with the ‘real Unitarians’.
I don’t know what exactly the problem is.
I don’t know if it’s that people aren’t really exposed to the diversity of Unitarian beliefs. The beliefs in question are close enough to the beliefs held by worship leaders at well over 90% of our Sunday services each year. And it’s not like we present much in the way of alternative religious experiences to broaden the mind by doing (rather than thinking).
Maybe it’s that although people know that Unitarians have diverse beliefs,they haven’t thought through the implications. That it’s likely to mean that people that they actually know, in their own congregation might well believe the exact opposite of them on a subject, and that can be as acceptable a Unitarian belief as their own.
It’s not that I want people to agree that I’m right, I just want people to celebrate our diversity of thought – I think that we should disagree about important things if we want to be a vibrant and radical liberal religious community.