Monthly Archives: September 2010

An authentic Unitarian theology

Shaft of light from the heavens

Talking about God

The theme of this year’s Summer School was talking about God. Which is a nice, plain English way of saying that it was all about theology.

Now, I’ve mentioned before (and I seem to mention it too often) that I’m an atheist. I’d like to state for the record that I was persuaded to go to summer school by a friend, who assured me that I would enjoy it, even if I’m not keen on talking about God (because I don’t think he/she/it exists).

Each day at summer school there is a talk on the theme. This year, five different speakers talked about aspects of God, as they saw it – David Darling, Yvonne Aburrow, Michael Dadson, Nancy Crumbine and Maud Robinson. (You can download MP3 files of the talks from the summer school website.)

Before I arrived, my expectations were that:

  • the talks would mostly be interesting
  • I would disagree with most of the ideas put forward
  • little would speak directly to my understanding
  • tolerance and acceptance of diversity in theology would be stated
  • atheist Unitarians would have at least a token mention
  • I would enjoy the talks because they would expose me to ideas I disagree with

Generally speaking, I was about right in my expectations. All the talks were interesting, there was much talk about diversity in Unitarian theology and a variety of different views on God were expressed, atheist Unitarians had a token mention in a couple of talks. I also disagreed with much of the content put forward with by three of the speakers (even though, I’d previously established that my views on God are actually fairly similar to one of these, Yvonne Aburrow).

On the other hand, Nancy Crumbine spoke about a God that calls us to act in the world. Whilst I essentially disagreed with the premise and argument, I found myself in complete agreement with her conclusion. I think it is our responsibility to act for justice in the world (because there is no God to act for us).

But, what surprised my expectations the most, was Michael Dadson’s talk. In it, he described God (or the Ultimate, or whatever you want to call it) as the spark that exists when two people connect with each other. It’s a metaphor that I’ve heard before and can live with, although I’m of the opinion that there’s just a spark of connection, and that’s enough.

What was much more interesting to me, was that in contrast to the other speakers, Michael suggested that God/Spirit/Ultimate/whatever was not everlasting and always present, but maybe only existed for us when we connected (with ourselves, with others, with nature).

I probably only agree with the theology Michael presented as much as I agree with Yvonne’s theology. (I’m not sure of Michael’s actual personal theology.) But I found his talk liberating. It proposed a constructive alternative to Unitarians’ current majority theology. Having someone else (a minister, no less) step outside that particular status quo encourages me to feel that my theology could also be considered an authentic Unitarian theology – even though it does lack God(s).

Image by Caio Basilio @ flickr

Recycling as a religious imperative

Recycle can

Recycling in the forest

As I mentioned before, this summer I travelled to the States to attend Opus 2010 – the continental Unitarian Universalist young adult conference.

Unsurprisingly, I had a great time. I made several (attractive) new friends and took part in a variety of workshops and activities. I wouldn’t say that I was likely to be one of the more memorable characters at the conference, but hey, I contributed and I got lots of ideas.

One thing that struck me particularly was the general underlying commitment to the environment.

The camp took place in Kankakee, Illinois; a town which does not recycle. This doesn’t mean that UU young adults will then not recycle at their conference. No, we still sorted our trash and collected our recycling. It just had to be hauled out at the end of the event.

People had t-shirts espousing environmental causes and sometimes talked a good talk, but it (probably) wasn’t just window-dressing, and nor was it necessarily a deep ideological commitment. It was a bunch of regular people integrating some simple stuff into their lives – even when it caus logistical issues.

Unitarian Universalists respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Seven principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association

One corollary of this principle is that Unitarian Universalists should recycle, as a religious imperative. And we don’t need to have adopted specific principles to think that perhaps we should too.

Image by Finding Josephine @ flickr