Plurality in Proximity:
The Gospel of Unitarian Universalism for Contemporary Culture

being a dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of
the requirements for the Degree of

Master of Arts

in the University of Hull


Adrian John Worsfold, Ph.D Sociology and Social Anthropology,
BA (Hons.) Economics, Politics, Sociology

September 1998



Plurality in Proximity:
The Gospel of Unitarian Universalism
for Contemporary Culture

Dedicated to the late Reverend Francis Simons: Roman Catholic, Buddhist, and Anglo-Catholic priest, who caught his broad vision of Unitarian Universalism when visiting California, a little while before resigning his Anglican Orders and becoming the Unitarian minister of Essex Church, Kensington, London.


The chairman, I think, of the Unitarian Association, at some of its recent meetings, advised the Unitarians not to trouble too much about their relations with us [Congregationalists]. They could pay too high a price for a fellow­ship which would cut them off from fellowship with Mohammedans, Buddhists, and the rest of mankind. Precisely: those who do not share the positive, evangelical, catholic faith of the Reformation, however far they may go in its negations, however much they may be divided among themselves, have more in common with one another than any of them has with us. They recognise it. In this at least we should copy them.

Bernard Manning (1939), Essays in Orthodox Dissent, London: Independent Press, 60.

Of course all members of a Unitarian congregation have equal rights and should be equally valued, but valuable as most of their viewpoints may be, they cannot be of equal value. Today, one of the favourite Unitarian words is 'pluralism' and it seems often to have such an assumption underlying its use. It will shock, therefore, some Unitarians to read that I believe in the truth of Christianity. I do not deny the truth of anybody else's faith, but it would be absurd for me to pretend that I did not supremely value my own. I am impressed and helped by insights from other religious cultures, but I gravely doubt often whether I have truly grasped their meaning. I see no reason why I cannot be respectful, sympathetic to other faiths and be firm in my own. Being a Unitarian does not imply for me a mind and heart forever open to every wind of doctrine and emotion.

Tony Cross (1987), A Personal View of Unitarianism, Unitarian Information, 6.

And our Unitarian message is a positive and clearly defined one in my view. One which has clarity and great relevance to the world around. It is that diversity of theological views and religious practices can exist with acceptance and support within a larger body. As members of my older generation used to say, “Ours is a lovely religion. They don't worry you about theology at our church!’

Margaret Phelen, letter in The Inquirer, 7436, 31 January 1998, The Inquirer Publishing Company.

Plurality in Proximity:
The Gospel of Unitarian Universalism
for Contemporary Culture

by Adrian Worsfold


When Ernst Troeltsch created the typology of Mysticism he was then thinking of individualism and voluntarism as a Christian category incorporating the Reformation, the Renaissance and modernity. A form of faith and organisation that meets this typology well is creedless Unitarian Universalism. Its highly diverse plurality in proximity suggests a social gospel for how the world might incorporate difference.

This study observes how four broad belief types or general narratives have formed in contemporary Unitarian Universalism on both sides of the Atlantic. These are liberal Christianity, religious Humanism, neo-Paganism and Eastern faith. There is also pluralism. Each divides on the basis of loyalty to the narrative or the denomination. One debate is whether they can give rise to a “metatheology’ or if this is excluded. Another question is how successfully Unitarian Universalism promotes plurality.

Much theology applies itself to plurality but assumes Christian content. The nature of Unitarian Universalism demands that Christianity cannot be so privileged. This requires the methodology of both drawing on relevant approaches to theology and then applying them in an extended and perhaps unusual manner. Sociology of religion helps. A sub-theme throughout is whether, in a post-Christian culture, Christian theology is for the seminary alone and whether a broader basis of theology is possible.

Plurality in Proximity:
The Gospel of Unitarian Universalism
for Contemporary Culture

CONTENTS [Page numbers removed]

Front pages
Appendices 1 to 4
Books, Journals and Internet




1 a The Anglo-American model of creedless plurality - reality and ideal.
1 b No privilege for Christianity and not a committed insider's stance
1 c The primacy of language, and individualism plus congregations, leads to free forming narratives of believing.



2 a With no creeds or doctrines laid down, only the history of changing narratives gives the character of Unitarian Universalism. A plural model is obtained.
2 b In the twentieth century sociological conditions account for the greater vigour for pluralism in America with its greater supply of 'deconverts'.
2 c Unitarian Universalism is defined into a single general belief narrative only in areas of cultural conservatism and ethnic tension.
2 d When there is no ethnic tension, Unitarian Universalism cannot be limited to one Christian based narrative and becomes quite diverse in appearance.



3 a Unitarian Universalism is the best example of Troeltsch's category of mysticism, giving now four broad narrative beliefs and open pluralism each divided on the same Church (ecumenical/ interfaith) - sect (definition) tensions as during the general Christianity period.
3 b Liberal Christianity is the most conservative of belief types with a frustrated ecumenical tendency and simplistic denominationalism
3 c Humanism has recently mellowed but retains its stance against superstition and dogma.
3 d Paganism takes from neo-Paganism, American Indian spirituality and home grown Transcendentalism. It is divided between primary loyalties to Paganism or Unitarian Universalism.
3 e A rebuilt spirituality which needs little God or no God at all involves looking East.
3 f Pluralism is pure individual subjectivity of changing views and stances which defies the general narrative labels.



4 a Evolutionary process theology is the suggestion that a creative spirit stands behind and within the evolution of the universe.
4 b Unitarian Universalism has been based on progressive revelation, but revelation clashes with a mysticism type grouping.
4 c The highest possible purity of theism has been a Unitarian Universalist tradition but it just becomes its own package deal.
4 d Polytheism or its roots as social anthropological comparative religion suggests a way forward regarding difference.
4 e Radical relativity is the poststructuralism that claims to reject metanarratives whilst promoting plurality.



5 a Structural liberalism is not necessarily liberal in outcome because collective power centres do not contain checks and balances.
5 b Plurality in proximity, where it happens, is actually between the too like-minded and weakens a social gospel.
5 c Unitarian Universalism loses its plurality by hiding what there is, and therefore loses its witness
5 d The Ministry system restrains plurality in proximity.
5 e If UU plurality is constrained, then plurality in proximity can be better offered by more defined faith groups.
5 f The Anglo-American evolutionary model is too easily absorbed by the "New Age" consumerist culture and at best offers a distorted model of civic freedom.
5 g Unitarian Universalism as a form of inherited middle class bourgeois ideology might be regarded as ineffective against power structures that constrain and oppress.



6 a In continuity with Channing and Martineau, a conversational, pragmatic postmodernism is suggested offering plurality in proximity. It is a social gospel to the world, so that they, still being they, are counted as we.
6 b Theology has a broader vision too.




1 a

The Anglo-American model of creedless plurality - reality and ideal.

How is a Church that has become both semi-Christian and not Christian at all to be understood? Unitarian Universalist faith (see Appendix 1) is fully liberal in its constitution with no formal test of faith for members or ministers, and a structure that at every level refuses formal coercive powers. What can this offer to society?

Traditionally liberalism has encouraged liberal theology, of course, but now this has entered its own difficulties. Kenneth Surin makes a more general point beyond simply criticising process theology:

…exponents of 'liberal' or 'revisionist' theologies tend to accept at face value those structures of intelligibility and plausibility constitutive of 'modernity'. Such individuals may view process theology in a favourable light. But those not disposed to make an accommodation of 'modernity' - and this precisely in the name of 'postmodernity' - will almost certainly be less inclined to form too positive an estimation of the achievement of process theology. Or any 'liberal' theology for that matter. (Surin, 1989, 111, my italics)

This clearly makes the study of Unitarian Universalism interesting while it stays open to the wider culture which some identify as "postmodern".

Unitarian Universalism may respond with increasing diversity or not but the theoretical cum theological question is also asked, "What if there is open diversity?" as well as how much there is. Suppose there is a creedless completely open-to-change institution. What theology would understand it in today's context? Heuristic ideal type (Weber, 1947) and realities should overlap, of course.

1 b

No privilege for Christianity and not a committed insider's stance

There is no intention to impose a Christian theological overview. There are to be no questions like how does Unitarian Universalism meet the requirements of the "gospel of Christ" (whatever that might be). Certainly the question will be asked what gospel Unitarian Universalism might have.

All this raises a question of stance. When Maurice Wiles introduces the question "What is Theology" he is aware that it can be seen as something exclusively for Christian believers. He (just about) thinks not and states:

So theology can very properly ask of its critics a readiness to put themselves in the kind of experiences with which it purports to deal. But it must take seriously the reaction of those who do so and find themselves unconvinced thereby of any reality of God. (Wiles, 1976, 4)

The relevance of the stance here is within the subject matter. For in Unitarian Universalism, theism is only one option and so is liberal Christianity among other diverse religious narratives.

Whilst much academic writing purports to be objective and adopts a writing style to match, it rarely is and certainly is not so in theology. Theology begins with belief. Indeed the issue remains active whether theology is properly a subject for university or the seminary (e.g., see Frei, 1992) given the partiality and Christian interest groups' basis of so much theology. Some theologians point out the humanistic bias of most academic writing. Theology does force one to declare biases, even of a humanistic form, and it can be said that every stance carries a theology (Milbank, 1990). It is also one useful aspect of postmodernity that the pretence of objectivity is deconstructed. We are all novelists now (or some are, see Ford, 1989, 292) and carry our autobiographies with us, and this comes through in what we write. Whilst I want to escape "the seminary", including Unitarian Universalist (UU), no claim is made here to objectivity.

For the record I give a brief biography in order to reveal my institutional and personal biases. From 1980 I had social contact with Methodists and from 1982 an interested but increasingly critical contact with Bahais whilst forming liberal Christian views. In 1985 I was confirmed into the Church of England at a time of doing my sociology of religion Ph.D. research. Via Bahais I had come into the orbit of Unitarians, and with the unravelling of my liberal Christian Tillichian style beliefs I eventually defected across and transferred pursuing professional ministry to them. I went to Unitarian College in 1989 but my then religious humanist stance did not function within the requirements of surrounding traditional churches. I left the denomination entirely in 1990 and only retained contact with the Sea of Faith Network (UK) for one and a half years. I had been a founding committee member, joining while it was still very informal. In 1993 a Network Conference speaker introduced Western Buddhism. I also became interested in the thoughts of a theist yet humanist orientated Church of England clergyman and his church. I resumed some contact with Sheffield Unitarianism for a time but regarded it as timid and stopped. However, on returning to the Hull area in 1994, and beyond the reach of Western Buddhism, I resumed regular contact with the then more vibrant Hull Unitarians. Taking on a publicity role was a mistake and I revoked a resumed membership, although I continued to take some services. The church itself had Trust Deed and other difficulties, losing its plural edge. Like some others, if two years later, I stopped participating in April 1998 but how completely and for how long was unclear.

I am not a theist of any kind. In Sea of Faith terms I am a soft non-realist: a semi-realist in science (culturally shaped but it still seeks knowledge) and very non-realist in religion.

There is the suggestion that theology should be written from within a community of faith. Michael Nazir-Ali reflects on this when reviewing Alistair McGrath's The Renewal of Anglicanism (1993) and its sympathy towards George Lindbeck's cultural-linguistic view, as applied to Anglicanism:

The author's view that theology should be rooted in the community of faith, in some sense 'represent' such a community and, in turn, be owned by it, is also very attractive. But in a highly plural world, religions also have to be accountable to each other and wider society. How is this to be ensured in the post-liberal 'communitarian' framework? It may be that theology, in the sense understood by the author, needs to be done within communities of faith, albeit with sensitivity to the outside world. Surely, however, a more detached view of religious traditions, their claims, policies and politics, is also desirable? (Nazir-Ali, 1994, 373)

Inner description can be compared with outer description. Description from the inside is often judged by how well it reinforces the identity of those on the inside. For Christians, telling the story successfully has to do with weaving together biblical narrative with the narrative of the community (Schreiter, 1985, 58). Hawkins writes internally for plural transformation and communication in British Unitarianism (Hawkins, 1998).

My own view is that detachment is necessary, although an interactionist research insight (empathy) is required. Outer description uses narrative, but for a case study. Thus an outer description may be phenomenological in its approach, but the concern is always explanation. This is not to increase a sense of identity for those in the situation, but translation into another mode of discourse or sign system (Schreiter, 1985, 58). However, internal improvement (as understood by the author) can be a by-product even of outer description.

As a Unitarian seminary student I wrote and spoke using inner description, pursuing a UU line and developing arguments. I was a religious sociologist rather than a sociologist of religion (Appendix 1). Now I am a sociologist of religion again and this is how I want theology to be, from me and generally - if possible.

1 c

The primacy of language, and individualism plus congregations, leads to free forming narratives of believing.

Although constitutionally there is only individualism within Unitarian Universalism, there are significant collective influences. Unitarian Universalism is nothing except that which is expressed week after week predominantly in congregations through the use of words and symbols.

Briefly, the sources of collective influence in a formally creedless body are preachers, trustees, committees, informal majorities and the felt consensus. For example, some Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) churches have become predominantly Humanist and object to the inclusion of God in services. In Britain it is more common that Christian forms predominate. Rigidity also happens in Britain with decline and a poor circulation of personnel.

Nothing else competes like congregations for collective influence because of the liberal structure of Anglo-American Unitarian Universalism. The General Assembly only has the power to persuade. So although individuals have no test of faith to be members, nor should ministers and preachers be challenged according to the content of their faith, effective informal selection does happen and dissenting congregants can find themselves marginalised.

Meaning is poured out in language within congregations. This can be understood from Being outpouring into language to structuralism and on to poststructuralism (although much common understanding is arguably pre-linguistic, seeking the theistic ghost beyond: either idealism or phenomenology). It is, in this sense, the very opposite of the Society of Friends with its almost mystical form of worship. Individualism likes silence; sound suits groups! So narratives of some kind or other predominate, and there are only so many variations on a theme around which narratives form, and these facilitate group dynamics and identity.

The meaning of "narratives" here is not as meant by Hans Frei (1974) and George Lindbeck (1984) (Appendix 1). In a free to evolve community one would have to decide the date from which evolving doctrines and beliefs would be made normative and this is not possible. Narratives are a two way process, not one way, continually being remade by individuals and communities as well as defining their meaning. Of course this is why Lindbeck needs frozen "canonical documents" to avoid the fate of:

purely customary religions and cultures [which] readily dissolve under the pressure of historical, social and linguistic change (Lindbeck, 1984, 116)

Interestingly, this approach does not commend itself to others of conservationist approaches, as in the "countermodernity" (Lakeland, 1997, 68) of John Milbank.

…since doctrine arises out of interpretative undecidability, doctrinal issues cannot be settled simply by recourse to a more exact reading of preceding practices and narratives. Were this the case, then the answer to 'heresies' would be but to repeat the narratives in a louder tone, in the vain hope that the setting they assumed would become transparent. (Milbank, 1990, 383)

An open narrative links textual religious story telling to personal biographies. This is how David Tracy understands religious classics - texts which disclose a "compelling truth about our lives" (Tracy, 1981, 108). Which narratives form and re-form from religions and philosophies depend upon perceived relevance.

History stands with its shadow, of course, and traditions are followed or even selectively [re]"invented" (Hobsbawm, Ranger, 1983) to suit current purposes.

None of this is unique to religion, nor the impression that narratives work by appeal to boundaries and difference whilst a great deal is in fact subtle variation. Economists have monetarists to Keynesians, macro to micro, market to cost-benefit, and cost-push to demand pull on inflation, and so on. Sociologists may be Marxists to Weberians, consensus towards conflict, macro to micro, or neo-Frankfurt School or postmodern, and more. Politics is Conservative, One Nation, Social Market, Christian Democrat, Social Democratic, mainstream, Liberal democrat, socialist, and so on. Writers can be idealists, phenomenologists, structuralists, poststructuralists and more. Christian theologians have their schools from doctrinal Catholic to neo-Calvinist, radical and liberal to evangelical, modern to postmodern and postliberal, praxis to theoretical and so on. No one imposes these narrative streams, which cross over disciplines, but they give identity and continuity and collective importance in binding people together and also separating one tendency from another. Who we are and what we are is decided by the boundaries thrown up from streams of words.



2 a

With no creeds or doctrines laid down, only the history of changing narratives (beliefs) gives the character of Unitarian Universalism. A plural model is obtained.

The closeness of events in theological development through many decades on both sides of the Atlantic is often remarkable and reveals Unitarian Universalism.

The story begins in Britain with Anglican Presbyterian Puritans ejected into religious exile in 1662 when they did not accept the entire Book of Common Prayer. There was a difference between seeking liberty of worship, which these Calvinists did, and being liberal, which they were not, even when refusing subscription in 1719, which reflected their confidence in the sufficiency of the Bible. Presbyterians did once support the death penalty for Socinians (see Holt, 1952, 282). Yet these fully trinitarian congregations were to become Socinian themselves.

The very basis of becoming liberal was economically, socially and culturally rooted. The congregations which at first could not set up Presbyteries and later did not bother were led by mercantilists. They set up independent trustee styles of management which reflected the gilds' own governing system. Very often the architecture of the chapel suggested their occupations and status. These were not people who were going to keep a fatalistic Calvinist salvation system for long. They grew rich and they liberalised, slowly welcoming ministers' new ideas of Arminianism. They controlled the buildings and the endowments but let the minister they appointed do his job, and did not bother with memberships and professions of faith at church meetings but created congregations of seat subscribers (see Manning, 1939, 183).

In Britain this laxity was because they retained the ideal of parish churches. In America those who sought religious liberty were both congregationalist and parish churches, but democracy in America led to many splits and disputes about who owned what (far more than in Britain) and a privatising of the churches.

The English Presbyterians' confidence in the Bible alone regarding orthodoxy was misplaced. Nothing stopped their liberal drift and eventually they were ripe for the boost of new dedicated liberals. The same ideological input came into receptive American churches. They were unitarian in theology and Unitarian in a denominationalist sense. One sees the great difference between the attitudinal base of Channing and Priestley.

Channing defined Unitarianism as mainly anti-trinitarian (Cooke, 1902, 104) and was opposed to sectarianism, materialism and indeed making Christ only a man (Cooke, 1902, 103-104). Joseph Priestley rejuvenated the movement on both sides of the Atlantic with ideas that were defended as a form of doctrine. He emerged with his new broom after attending the first named Unitarian church opened in London in 1776 led by Theophilus Lindsey.

Theophilus Lindsey was an Arian cum unitarian (Wilbur, 1977, 281) who resigned his Anglican living after a petition against subscribing to the Thirty Nine Articles failed in 1771. When seeing John Disney near Lincoln he was shown Samuel Clarke's Arian style Prayer Book. He adapted it for his chapel named Unitarian in London which opened in 1774. It kept the Apostles Creed until 1793 when Lindsey became fully unitarian. Anglican liberals did not follow him out as was hoped and after Disney's ministry the chapel passed into the Presbyterian line. Kings Chapel in Boston also moved from an Anglican to a Unitarian position in 1785, also by revising its Prayer Book.

Hayek's discussion on liberalism (1960, 54-62) is a guide. The older Presbyterian/ congregational side represented an "empirical [practical] and unsystematic" liberalism on a Scottish model, whilst the new and soon dominant unitarians were "speculative and rationalistic" (54) on a French model. The latter were resisted in Britain, especially when Priestley was in Birmingham.

The ostensible occasion for the riots was a dinner held by middle class reformers (many of them Dissenters) on 14 July 1791, to celebrate the fall of the Bastille. (Thompson, 1963, 73)

The magistrates, representing Tory and monarchy interests, were rather lenient on the mob. Priestley himself fled to America, to do what he had inspired in England. His legacy in England was helped by the later inclusion of Unitarian Baptists and Methodist Unitarians.

With some artisan contact, the mercantilists' ethos was replaced by the spirit of individualist enterprise market industrialism (a variant on Weber, 1985!). Incidentally, Priestley had married the sister of an ironmaster (Holt, 1952, 63) and many industrialists built or supported Unitarian chapels. At that time belief in the literalness of primitive Christianity was compatible with general rationality and the emerging scientific-literate age. Priestley suggested the utilitarian principle to Bentham (Holt, 1928, 27).

The agitation of Unitarians was for nothing less than a new society in Britain and they were part of its making in America. Here, Catholic, Jewish and anti-slavery freedoms they fought for would undermine the old gentry based regime. So this was a middle class Church for sure, and its religion a vehicle for political growth (e.g., the 1832 Reform Act) to follow on from economic wealth.

At the same time the less ideological Church party were reinventing themselves as being in continuity with Presbyterian origins but conveniently without the harshness of its motivating Puritanism (see Hobsbawm, Ranger, 1983, on inventing traditions). Coleridge still became a broad Church Anglican. Social climbing was another route back to the Church of England.

A further liberal influence was Universalism, which emerged as a distinct movement in America. George DeBenneville preached Universalism to settlers and Indians after arriving in America from 1741, but the main figure was John Murray, an excommunicated London Wesleyan Methodist, whose Independent church in Massachusetts became the first Universalist Church in 1779. The movement spread and voiced progressive social as well as religious opinions. Hosea Ballou gave the movement ideological coherence by rejecting the eternity of hell, the Trinity, miracles and creeds. He promoted an all loving and saving God and mutual good faith and goodwill in church gatherings. Universalists were more liberal than Unitarians. Ballou approved of their unity of God, theological advance and rejection of election and reprobation, but regarded their view on universal salvation as insufficiently developed for a belief (expressed by Channing) that God was all loving (Cassara, 1982, 143-144). Compared with Universalists, Unitarians did attempt to pacify the orthodox and they were social snobs. Channing himself liked Church establishment, for the benefits of society in religion and religion in society, as well as tax reasons (Cassara, 1982, 144-145).

Although Lindsey stimulated the denominational side in Britain, liberal Anglican theology interacted with the Broad Church side. Written Free Christian liturgies became more significant.

When English denominationalists in the nineteenth century annoyed the orthodox by their robust unitarian preaching from the Bible, the orthodox started legal suits to get the once trinitarian trust funds back. The denomination was saved by the Dissenters Chapels Act (1844) partly on the (doubtful) parliamentary argument that there had been an imperceptible transition of beliefs at any one time (Gow, 1928, 108-9). In fact, change happened at times of economic and social uncertainty rather like paradigm shifts of thought. The doctrinal denominationalists were blamed for bringing the Church to near ruin, and the Church side grew in confidence. The Free Christians argued for the principle of future change in beliefs into the legislation (the twenty five years rule of continuous occupation of a chapel, which might change its beliefs in the meantime) which was a definite plus point for them.

In America, pressure from other denominations had a conservative effect on identity and respectability. In England in 1865 Samuel Bache attempted to fix a biblically based doctrine for Unitarians. He failed but in the same year American denominationalists succeeded. The new transcendentalists including Emerson (although he denied a named philosophy) and Parker found themselves marginalised and excluded. A few days after Lee's surrender a convention led to the establishment of the National Conference of Unitarian Churches.

However, its start was far from auspicious because of the struggle between what Persons calls "Unitarian orthodoxy" and free religion (Marshall, 1980, 94-5).

The phrase "disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ", included in a preamble by the new National Conference of Unitarian and Independent Churches, was arguably credal and too restrictive for many (Lyttle, 1952, 120-123). The Free Religious Association was a response. The loose and regional organisation of Universalism helped it stay more open and liberal than Unitarianism but within Unitarianism a rift opened with the Western Unitarian Conference which adopted an inclusive position. This itself annoyed Christians in its own area and some resigned.

The division was mainly between a freer Unitarianism into the expanding frontier and an older Unitarianism in the former colonies. To some extent this geographical division has continued to this day. The split was closed formally but not without difficulty in 1894 (Lyttle, 1952, 211-214).

In America Unitarianism was identified with the liberties of the Constitution. In Britain, the respectability of the denomination grew with social status of the new class. From the 1830's, Unitarians had entered local government on the Whig (and later Liberal) side.

As the British class system became more sophisticated and organised, the middle class nature of Unitarianism developed some conflict with its emerging theological radicalism. For example, Philip Henry Wicksteed, important for influencing George Bernard Shaw and Fabianism away from Marxism (Holt, 1952, 211), failed to bring the socialist John Trevor into the Unitarian Church. The Labour Church ditched Christianity for ethical secular religion to attract the working class, but even it failed.

In Britain, after the 1905 Liberal landslide the sect side shifted position with the ex-Congregationalist anti-supernaturalist social gospel New Theology. This side again failed to get denominational control (Bolam et al., 1968, 279) but its personnel later offered merger proposals with institutions of the broad theology Church side. The merger of the two sides happened in 1928. Co-operation between a liberalised Unitarianism and Universalism developed in America but merger happened as late as 1961.

American Unitarianism had already influenced the origin of the monotheistic Hindu Brahmo Samaj, but the placing of the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago was significant in developing interfaith stances. The logic of this development, which the leading English Unitarian James Martineau had recognised but feared, continued in Britain. In England there was also a last gasp non-credal Free Catholicism, where heavy symbolism made up for doubt about words (late for gothic revival) but it lost direction in its many inconsistencies.

The overarching Christian identity was being lost. This was becoming an option among others. The meaning of God, if God was important, was becoming ever more unclear. In America a serious humanist faith was developed by John H. Dietrich who, on taking his pulpit in Minneapolis in 1916, declared his intention to shift emphasis of discourse, "from the traditional to scientific, from the theological to the historical, from the supernatural to the natural" (quoted in Lyttle, 1952, 244). He annoyed a great many Christians and theologians. The humanists were clear and confident by the 1960's in America and Britain but this mellowed into the gathering pluralism of many faiths and philosophies.

However, there is still the conservative side, the side that wishes to retain an appearance as a Church and fears otherwise looking peculiar. The peculiarity they fear is the mellowing of humanism into Eastern approaches to spirituality and the rise of neo-Paganism as methods of rebuilding spirituality on non-Christian grounds.

Until rather recently British Unitarian authors have felt obliged to discuss God and Jesus and use these terms for the nature of revelation and truth. At the same time they had to recognise the wider constituency of "religion" beyond Christianity (e.g., Lee, 1968a, 1968b). No doubt one motivation was to maintain some connection or kudos with academic theology which remained established and sponsored as a Christian expression. The greater British Unitarian experience has been a diminishing of such theological writing as the predominant assumptions of Christianity have gone.

The conclusion of this historical survey is that division (a split in America) was a means to change - the Church side leading the way as the denominationalists lost the argument. The generalised Christianity eventually gave way to something more plural and interfaith. Yet being completely marginalised to ordinary society has since affected the British Church very seriously.

2 b

In the twentieth century sociological conditions account for the greater vigour of pluralism in America.

In America denominational liberty, democracy and transcendentalism (leading to ecological concerns) (Appendix 1) still gives the denomination a broad cultural place. The churches retain identifiable social, community-identity and educational roles.

In Britain there has been a slipping away. There was the loosening of the Liberals-dissenters link, the State absorbed educational and welfare roles, and the leisure industry broadened. The Sunday School movement shrank leaving little social memory of confessional religious forms. The Unitarian Church has experienced the same free fall as other denominations in Britain but from a lower base sees obliteration coming all the sooner.

Like other denominations, the UUA benefits from relatively helpful sociological conditions in that a church still provides a principal means of identity and association. The UUA also has a unique and vigorous selling point in that if children (or adults) want religious practice and education the UUA can attract families by offering open and plural religious education. In Britain, plural religious education and practice is already found (admittedly with an enforced semi-Christian bias) in state schools. Plural religious education is essentially nationalised. In any case the Sunday school movement's diminishment means the family model of a church no longer works in Britain. This is why now, more than ever, most churches are attended by older people, largely female, generally still lower middle class and above, mostly in the suburbs, and they remain havens for traditional values including those of gender roles. In America, the family model does work, buttressed by religious education.

Also, the UUA fosters an oppositional identity resisting the rightward drift in civic society. It is the antidote to right wing fundamentalism. However, the social and ethnic reach for this radicalism is fairly uniform, as with most liberal churches (see Warner, 1988, 284).

If the UUA has a 'market niche' for recruitment, it follows that recruitment in Britain is extremely difficult. The result is that British congregations become havens of "We like what we know", often still offering a quaint semi-Christianity, which hardly assists recruitment from a general changing culture (especially considering the changing role of younger women).

This God therefore retains much of the subliminal and not so subliminal meanings of society, economy, civic life, science and religion of the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Faith ceases to be actively informed by the economy, society and politics now as it once was.

Unitarians read (The Inquirer) and hear of little intervention and assistance for struggling congregations from outside, and whilst change and recovery is known efforts can be too late and uncoordinated. Often, a handful of loyal pensioners, who continue with what they know and like, regretfully close a place down.

Yet most congregations survive year after year with incredibly low numbers (say half a dozen to twenty attending) and sometimes with a minister using help from property rents, other income and external subsidies. It cannot go on like this forever! On the Information Department's own figures there has been a catastrophic decline of almost 8% in membership in two years up to 1996! Of course UUA congregations are also small compared with other American churches (even if in Britain they seem very large) but at least the American denomination grows slowly (see Appendix 4).

Warner claims that it may be easy for liberal churches to find recruits but difficulty occurs in hanging on to them (Warner, 1988, 296). This does not matter; the freshness of plurality depends upon its adaptability to cultural change and therefore the flow of "deconverts" inwards, not long term retention.

A deconvert is someone who left a church some time ago and the general culture of pluralism and living life relativises once held beliefs. When interest grows in attending perhaps a similar religious body the old Humpty Dumpty of beliefs cannot be put back together again. These people should be core recruits to Unitarian Universalism. They can be accepted as they have become and build their own theology within its church life. They refresh the church as well as use it to gain an additional sense of identity and purpose through the UU stream of history and contemporary breadth of beliefs.

New people go through certain symbolic interactionist (Blumer, 1937, 1969; Goffman 1970) phases. For six months or so they think they have found a church that meets their sense of credibility in religion. The group welcomes them in, but after a time works on the individual's sense of meaning, identity and involvement. It is the UU alternative to conversion!

However, a lack of recruiting, conservatism, one dominant faith narrative and subcultural strangeness work against keeping deconverts, especially if their expectations respond to national publicity and national/ regional experiences. In other words, in a liberal structure there can be varied significant others (Goffman, 1969, Mead, 1934) at different levels. As in any group-individual dynamic, stresses and disappointments are often absorbed and can even receive the individual's active support (see Becker, 1953); however, just as people even leave once highly persuasive cults, so people do leave UU churches. They then either regard the whole experience as contradictory, or leave and yet retain broader UU contacts.

Similar problems happen when an established UU person changes congregation. Either the new experience grows on them or they move out to the fringes of local inactivity.

Some new people who see a very small church (and do not leave quickly) realise that they can exert a big influence. Swift changes can happen, or with other existing big fishes in the little pond they can "go native" quickly too. This is why churches, which should collapse, continue to bob along the bottom.

As the British movement physically crumbles, especially with the expense of a paid ministry, then what is left becomes more lay led, based on informal fellowships and with less of the managerial fabric of a denomination.

In America, the fabric of organisation has been maintained by high income earning and well educated congregations (see Tapp, 1973, 10). These invest so that salaried staff and professionalism allows for planning and growth. In Britain salaried staff outside the London headquarters and the ministry is a rarity.

These different sociological causes between the United States and Great Britain (the British realities noted from my observations, participation and The Inquirer) have divergent theological consequences. More generally, when people secularise and pluralise in Britain, they stop going to churches, whereas in America the secularised still identify with church membership. So the American situation is happier for churchgoing and receiving deconverts in the first place. With liberal Christians more visibly in other American denominations a further pluralism and daring in the UUA is encouraged in order to keep a distinct niche in the market. Warner discovered this in his study of how a small town Presbyterian Church went from liberal Christian to evangelical. The UUA church, however, had Pagan elements:

One student observation team recently came back with news of a witches coven meeting in a local Unitarian Church (Warner, 1988, 296)

Unitarian Universalist faith suffers in Britain because churches are just unsure about their identity, despite sharing the ideological background and constitutional features of the American denomination. It is mainly the headquarters, some London churches, a few churches in other large cities, and at regional and national gatherings (away from local constraints) where the greatest sense of purpose, pluralism and radicalism is demonstrated.

An example of an actively thinking national group is Foy (originally Fellowship of Youth - there aren't enough youth now). It dedicated its annual Conference in 1997 on the future of British Unitarianism. Miles Howarth (also a Sea of Faith Network UK Steering Committee member) was the keynote speaker, trying to find a purpose for the denomination.

Today an increasing amount of baloney is talked by established religions. On the other hand, despite the aggressive secularists, an increasing number of non-religious people are conscious of the existence of, or the need for, some form of spiritual dimension in their tough, materialistic, scientific world; it isn't giving them all the answers. Look at what people want for their funerals, or the willingness to read astrology, or the populist response to the death of Princess Di. The greater the gap between religion and materialism, the more opportunities it presents for religious liberals to move into it. We should be offering something positive to people who don't want anything like traditional religion as much as to those who've apparently 'got religion' already. (Howarth, Foy Keynote Address, 1997, 2)

Perhaps the expense of churches and paid ministry might in time be replaced by low cost national and regional gatherings of a core of historically informed but progressive people, as in the pattern of the Sea of Faith Network. Business style schemes for transformation and growth to rescue the British Unitarian structure (Hawkins, 1998) are too late now and take insufficient account of present day grinding sociological realities.

So the model for theoretical and theological purposes must be American and based on the principle of continually remaking faith, with active wider cultural contact and a reduced attachment to tradition in accord with its evolutionary basis.

Is there an alternative? It might be possible to develop a theology of agnosticism, of the indifference that allows a passive tolerance. So what. Or there could be a theology of very liberal Christianity, except it gives privilege to one faith strand. There is no doubt that remaking religious meaning is difficult and it is easier to regenerate a holy past and holy distance. Anglicans do it when demanding the Book of Common Prayer; some Buddhists need the Eastern monastery imported lock, stock and barrel and some Unitarians use the flowery language of Edwardian times and earlier.

This strategy appeals to some radicals (e.g. Sea of Faith credal Christians) who combine traditional symbols with somersaulting reinterpretations. Ernest Gellner supports this strategy, despite praise for religious rationalists in the past and anti-relativisers in general:

The [present day] fundamentalists deserve our respect, both as fellow recognisers of the uniqueness of truth, who avoid the facile self-deception of universal relativism, and as our intellectual ancestors. Without indulging in excessive ancestor-worship, we do owe them a measure of reverence. Without serious, not to say obsessional monotheism and unitarianism, the rationalist naturalism of the Enlightenment might well never have seen the light of day (Gellner, 1992, 95).

However, like traditionalist radicals, he suggests that religion now should be based on the lines of a constitutional monarchy, where the pomp and circumstance is left intact for the positive functions of religion while the real work of rational thinking goes on elsewhere (like in a Parliament). Religion becomes a form of art-display, with plenty of artefacts dragged out of the museum.

This strategy would be a change as large as the switch into unitarianism originally. It may well be the only strategy UU Christians can now follow, in order to keep their theological appearances. But it means "doing a Lindbeck" and creating boundaries up front. Maybe this is more honest than the informal methods seen in some chapels now. Nevertheless, this level of conservation has only gained general approval in places of ethnic conflict.

2 c

Unitarian Universalism is defined into a single general belief narrative only in areas of cultural conservatism and ethnic tension.

Traditionalism has areas where it is well maintained. There is a general belief narrative of ideas and forms inherited from the left wing of the Protestant Reformation that get support from wider conservative ethnic cultures and sub-cultures. To evolve further towards open pluralism would be culturally strange - yet it can be argued that an opportunity for reaching out beyond ethnicity is being lost.

The best case for this is in Transylvania. Doctrinal changes had taken some Transylvanian religious elites and their churches through Catholicism, Lutheranism and Calvinism to Unitarianism (originating in 1557), made practical by Turkish balance of power politics in the region. The arrived at antitrinitarian stance of Bishop Francis David and Georgio Biandrata had the active interest of King John Sigismund, who gave the four churches legal protection in 1571. Then came state-imposed restrictions on innovation, and Biandrata used Faustus Sozzini in Poland to this end because David was seen to be becoming too "Jewish" in terms of the absence of the divinity of Jesus. He was imprisoned and died. Repression and toleration followed with a wipe out in Catholic Hungary.

Continued existence at home depended at the very minimum upon maintaining the faith at the position close to that of Sozzini. This has marked the denomination ever since. It also moved down the social scale from the elites to rural communities alone. With a Catechism, Unitarianism is still conservative and has superintendents called bishops. It maintains a biblical stance formed originally as "ordinary comprehension". All this provides now an identity for ethnic Hungarians opposing dominant Rumanians, although the worst persecution in history in fact came from Catholic Austria-Hungary.

Sozzini effectively liberalised the Minor Reformed Church in Poland with what might be called Arianism. Its villages and institutions were restricted from 1638 and ethnically cleansed in 1660 by the Catholic restoration of power. Some left for the Netherlands but some went to Transylvania where they formed their own anti-trinitarian church until decline and merger with Unitarians there.

Another area with a defined narrative is Ireland with about 30 churches, or rather Northern Ireland except for two remaining congregations in the south (having suffered the decline of Protestantism in general). Split from other non-subscribers in 1725, the Arianism of the Presbytery of Antrim was untouched by Priestley's ideas (Channing was more important). With subscription enforced by the main Presbyterians against creeping Unitarian views in 1830, a Remonstrant synod broke away and in 1910 joined Antrim's to form the Non Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland (NSPCI).

Again this unity is ethnic and cultural and the NSPCI remains identifiably Protestant Christian, even if comparatively liberal and able to meet with Catholics for community projects from time to time. The surrounding culture and internal opposition means that they are not going to incorporate humanists, pagans, Eastern approaches or other faiths. The NSPCI is reviewing its connections with the Unitarian GA because of the latter's pluralism.

Northern Ireland appeals to Christian Unitarian ministers in Great Britain. Its congregations do not have the ambiguities of the British mainland churches, and they are larger. Of course Christians in Great Britain use that ethnic situation for their own benefit, in a place where religion is part of the problem in the island as much as any solution. Non-Christians are excluded. When at Unitarian College I was approached by an NSPCI minister but as soon as I told him of my sympathy for the Anglican Don Cupitt's stance he walked away (as I expected and hoped).

A peculiar local case exists in India. It has Unitarian churches effectively self-defined as simply theist but not Christian, because of a history of opposing Welsh Calvinism. Over 30 are in Meghalaya, North East India. High caste Ram Mohan Roy saw England and Unitarianism in 1833 and back home formed the Hindu Brahmo Samaj. When in the 1850's an ex-Welsh Calvinist Hassom Kissom Singh met an American Unitarian minister working in Calcutta with the Brahmo Samaj, a new Unitarian movement was formed in Meghalaya. The people there define themselves in some tension to the rest of India as indeed India treats them. Madras is separate, being the first Unitarian church in India (1795) formed by an Indian who was a domestic servant in England. It is somewhat quaint, like the Boston ex-Anglican church was, with a revised liturgy. As in Meghalaya, belief in God is second nature.

2 d

When there is no ethnic tension, Unitarian Universalism cannot be limited to one Christian based narrative and becomes quite diverse in appearance.

Outsiders often think that Unitarianism is alternative doctrine. Lloyd Geering suggests this when he states that secularisation and incarnation go together in a post-enlightenment arrangement.

…it is essential to move wholly to the new religious situation and not stop half way. For example, one cannot appreciate the significance of the incarnation if one tries to combine a post-Enlightenment of the humanity of Jesus with a pre-Enlightenment view of God. This is perhaps the weakness of the Unitarian position, as it is also of the humanist who is strongly attracted to Jesus as an authoritative teacher. (Geering, 1980, 295-296).

The new situation for him, incidentally, becomes one of non-realist trinitarianism (in 1980 Geering did not quite elucidate this). It intends to keep the historical Christian illusion and a trinitarian Incarnation going when its objectivity is gone, although this is surely like watching a magician when we know how the trick is done. The idea of Unitarianism having a position is worth pursuing for a moment to see why he is wrong about it being an alternative doctrine.

In one traditional misunderstanding of Unitarian Universalism, Jesus would be regarded as purely human and not divine. Yet divinity in some shape or form is optional, just as once denominationalist and open Unitarians believed in it. A resurrection involving Jesus would imply some kind of divinity. Or "resurrection" follows speculation on the fate of the body and any experiences of Paul and the disciples (etc.) in the atmosphere of bereavement, expectation, Jewish resurrection beliefs and the fluid emerging early tradition. In this case divinity is not necessarily implied and his ethical and teaching life replaces the incarnation to resurrection narrative. If the ethics are more important they can stand alone and this leads to religious humanism. The Buddha or Gandhi can be more important too, emphasising different matters and incorporating other faiths. Or resurrection can acquire more natural and Pagan overtones.

If in the 1960's and 1970's there was a UU tendency to downgrade Jesus further while retaining the worship of God, mainstream liberals demythologised God in order to humanise but retain the importance of Jesus as their Christ.

In fact Unitarian Universalism does not exclude the Trinity (see Chryssides, 1998, 106). It includes trinitarianism and Arianism when combined with non-subscription. Social or mythological concepts of the Trinity can be quite acceptable (for example Moltmann, Bultmann, etc., if rather selectively). For many Unitarian Universalists the Trinity has useful parallels in Hinduism.

Unitarian Universalism includes other non-unitarian and non-universalist views of God. There is the duality of the male and female God and Goddess, and then there is open agnosticism, non-realism and atheism (Chryssides, 1998, 104-105).

Salvation can be read in many ways, and not just in terms of "God's love saves all" or "good conduct saves". Rebirth can be believed in and a better karma is a goal of the present. Or the practice of spirituality involves coming to terms with death in order to live life to the full - given the fact that with death we either get burnt or decompose.

The Bible has had a special place but there are no canons of scripture in Unitarian Universalism. Traditionally services included one bible reading and one other source. This is not so rigidly maintained now. Much in the Bible is never heard and the same pieces get read again and again.

The response to all this may be that this involves religious anarchy. Samuel Bache and the American National Congress might have had a point when they tried to fix an identity. They felt the sense of religious anarchy then, as the concern moved from dealing in truth to maintaining a "proper" church with identifiable limits.

However, this is the very point. In places of a generalised Christian culture, as once was the case in America and Britain, and in places of ethnic tension and cultural identity, a Christian narrative continues on. Culture and confidence allows diversity to break out because there are no imposed boundaries.

Confidence is important here. Why try, Lindbeck style, to maintain an artificial community speaking one grammar or narrative via some frozen, yet once broadly culturally receptive, canonical text? The real challenge, I suggest, is building a community that can live with difference at close proximity. If we live in a post-Christian community, then artificial devices to maintain one narrative are not only pointless, they miss an opportunity. They do this the most in areas of ethnic tension and, of course, this is a criticism of the passivity of Unitarian Universalism as it actually develops: where plurality is needed most it offers it the least. However, where it does develop it should.

So the theological model recommended here in all situations is one of plurality and diversity. Religion and theology should be fully related to thoughtful activity elsewhere in life - debating, weighing up, testing against current experience and thought forms and changing them. The past revisits, of course, but spontaneously, ironically and to be lost again. Everything arises and falls: always making meaning for life directions.



3 a

Unitarian Universalism is the best example of Troeltsch's category of mysticism, giving now four broad narrative beliefs and open pluralism each divided on the same Church (ecumenical/ interfaith) - sect (definition) tensions as during the general Christianity period.

If it is said that the Anglican model regarding Christianity is scripture, tradition and reason, then Unitarian Universalism might be reason alone. This would be too rash but only suits an Age of Reason anyway. Today's might be called the Age of Plural Uncertainty. Yet both reason and uncertainty are catered for by the theoretical category of "mysticism".

When Troeltsch (1931) considered types of Protestant organisation he added mysticism (a free coming together of individuals) to Church (a conservative inclusive religious order) and sect (an exclusive religious order). It is unclear whether Troeltsch really saw mysticism with origins in the New Testament or whether dissent, the Enlightenment and humanism makes it discontinuous with the New Testament (Troeltsch, 1931, vol. 1, 377). This is because mysticism ceases to be supernatural and is simply a…

…voluntary association with like minded people, which is equally remote from both Church and sect (Troeltsch, 1931, vol. 1, 381)

There are consequences from this form of organising. Rudge (1968) saw Elton Mayo's very similar human relations authority (a sociological category with application in business organisation) when ascribed to the Church as being a denial of the supernatural. It is indeed just:

…freedom for interchange of ideas, a pure fellowship of thought... (Troeltsch, 1931, vol. 1, 377)

This does seem to suit Unitarian Universalism quite well, and better for the Protestant and humanistic inheritance than, say, Steve Bruce's application of the concept of mysticism specifically to New Age cults (Bruce, 1992, 18-19).

This point is emphasised another way by Benjamin Reist, in what he calls "the collapse of Troeltsch's theology:

To seek a ground for Christianity in the discussion of religion - and the attempt at a theology in the light of the history of religions is the logical result of all such efforts - is to move inexorably toward a Christianity of radical religious individualism. (Reist, 1966, 201)

Bruce himself points out the meaninglessness of heresy in a mysticism group or cult (even as he understands it) because of its individualism, although in his scheme Unitarian Universalism would count as a denomination because of its historical respectability. It is, of course, debatable whether the Unitarian Church in Britain is respectable, given its exclusion from the CCBI and the comparative inclusion of the Society of Friends.

Throughout its varied stages Unitarian Universalism has believed that it was possible to remove the husk of religion and find its essential truth within. This is arguably the basis of Idealism and Phenomenology. One can think of the approach of Hirsch Jr. (1967) who believes that meaning is fixed while the significance of things may change over time. It is not a linguistic theory:

Why Hirsch is able to maintain this position is essentially because his theory of meaning, like Husserl's, is prelinguistic. Meaning is something which the author wills; it is a ghostly, wordless mental act which is then 'fixed' for all time in a particular set of material signs. It is an affair of consciousness, rather than of words. Quite what such a consciousness exists in is not made plain. (Eagleton, 1983, 67)

Mysticism in a modernist era, searching for that pot of gold at the rainbow's end, led to reductionism. Religious humanism is cut down liberal Christianity, which is cut down Christianity. However, religious humanism does not feel very religious. It also retains the inheritance of stark Puritanism with liberal Christianity.

So religion undergoes rebuilding to escape modernist reductionism. One way that preserves the insights of humanism and underlines the break with Christianity is to import Eastern, particularly Buddhist, forms. Another UU development has been Paganism, first in America and then in Britain. This is a rebuilding of art and feeling in religion, with rituals and worshipping using a diversity of forms. Other faith insights get incorporated. In general, then, liberal Christianity and religious humanism are reductionist, whilst Paganism and Easternism are newly remythologising. This is the basis of four current general Unitarian Universalist belief types, to which pluralism, as a variable form, should be added (although "pluralist" is a name often given to those who are not liberal Christians and where "humanist" seems too limiting).

This all happens within the category of mysticism - human relations authority religion - as it has become. Yet within mysticism is still a division into the dyad (Simmel, 1950) of Church and sect (or generality and particularity respectively) just as these polarities form freely in other areas of ideological life. The contrast is made today between being a Unitarian Universalist something or a something Unitarian Universalist. It is more "loyal" to be the latter no matter whether Christian, humanist, Pagan, Eastern or Pluralist. To be the first is to be mainly ecumenical and interfaith and open to the world's philosophies, and the denomination is just where this happens.

This polarity is continuous with Unitarian Universalism's historical self-understanding. James Martineau, a leading Unitarian in Britain (1805-1900) acknowledged in Church-life? or Sect-life? (Martineau, 1891, 382-420, written in 1859) that British Unitarianism was both Church and sect (this fifty years before Troeltsch, 1931, first published 1912). One side, Church, accepted the uncertainty which came from new revelation, new ideas or changing culture. It made a distinction between ideas of the present and things of higher spirit (thus quite Hegelian - seeking the essence of religion). The sect side wrongly froze these ideas and linked them to the denomination. And now this polarity is in the full range of belief types.

3 b

Liberal Christianity is the most conservative of belief types with a frustrated ecumenical tendency and simplistic denominationalism.

Arthur Long points out the dilemma faced by Unitarians identifying with Christianity, sometimes called Christian Agnosticism (quoting Leslie Weatherhead in Long, 1982, 5-8).

…mainstream Christians, for the most part, have always been quite convinced that Unitarianism cannot possibly claim to be Christian. It is precisely for this reason that Unitarians have had to endure centuries of persecution and ostracism. In matters of this kind, much depends on definition. If one defines Christianity, for example, in terms of the basis of the World Council of Churches, as the faith of those "who confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures and who seek to fulfil their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," then no Unitarian can possib­ly claim to be a Christian - nor, if this is really what it means to be a Christian, would we wish to be reckoned as such. But, as an increasing number of intelligent Christians now recognise, it is precisely this kind of traditional definition (which is not even technically orthodox and which, if applied logically, would exclude others besides Unitarians) which has brought Christianity into disrepute. (Long, 1982, 4).

That this is a nit-picking position of aspired attachment but separation is then demonstrated by the claim that the intellectuals of credal Christianity are moving in a unitarian direction. Individuals quoted by Long (1982) include Maurice Wiles, Don Cupitt, the Hanson brothers, the late Geoffrey Lampe and Hans Kung (Long, 1982). Whilst certain Anglicans are among soft targets (see 5 e below), Hans Kung is "sufficiently doctrinal" (Caffarena, 1978, 119). Separation then has to be justified by exposing all these theologians' duplicity.

What, then, is distinctive about Unitarianism? Has it perhaps outlived its usefulness as an independent organised movement? Most certainly not. Even at the risk of appearing somewhat arrogant, cannot we claim that we still remain the only Church honestly committed to radical Christian Agnosticism? So long as other Churches adhere to their creeds and articles - not to mention their obscure and archaic liturgies - it can surely be legitimately argued that the proclamation by some of their adherents of Christian Agnosticism inevitably suggests a lack of intellectual integrity. (Long, 1982, 6)

Until, of course, individuals sat within Unitarian congregations say words and mouth beliefs that they do not believe because of the clash between individual belief and congregational expression and the "consensus" that replaces formal creeds.

Although Tony Cross admits "57 varieties of Unitarian and Free Christians" (Cross, 1987, 6), he offers a good a description of someone who puts Christianity first and Unitarian Universalism second.

The God whom I worship, uniquely revealed in and through Jesus Christ, is best described as one whose self-sacrificial love seeks the lost, heals the diseased and reconciles the alienated. I do not worship a God who is not really and truly involved in the 'groaning and travailing' of this world… I believe that God is in some sense 'personal' and I follow the tradition of Christianity in praying to him as 'Abba', 'Father'. The God I worship is revealed uniquely but not exclusively in and through Jesus. Wherever and in whomsoever the quality of love is revealed, God is revealed…. (Cross, 1987, 7)

He goes on to affirm the order and beauty of the natural world illustrating God and the resurrection of Jesus in triumph doing the same. Tony Cross belongs to the "catholic church"…

…recognised within the free and religious community of the Unitarians (Cross, 1987, 7)

This is about as ecumenical as one can go without being on the boat out. One wonders why the formal creeds that actually define their tradition are such a problem. They are surely only a problem if one wants to move beyond Christianity. Christianity, after all, includes its own defence from change - which is the creeds' purpose.

…the severest judgements of Jesus were on those who failed to recognise the hand of God at work. This spirit is no private possession of any one church at all. It can be found amongst those whom official religious circles would unchurch altogether. Unitarians - even Moslems, Buddhists and Hindus - are certainly not strangers to this spirit, nor ignorant of its author and its message…

Yet it is only a beginning. To many it will sound painfully inadequate. There is no intellectual foundation, the way is thrown open to all the most eccentric heresies and the wildest theologies - from which the Church has been saved by its creeds. (Heawood, 1967, 142-143)

Indeed. The point of Unitarian Universalism is to deny this label of "heresies" and warped basis of intellectualism and be open to every variation of belief consistent with openness. Liberal Christianity is on the edge of openness and private possession.

One interesting development has been how the private possession of Christianity by the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland (CCBI), by excluding the British Unitarian Church, has comparatively strengthened the other faith strands and emphasised interfaith links over ecumenical ones. The CCBI could have been crafty and offered even full membership to British Unitarians and caused the problems the Universalist Quakers are having!

The internal approach was once theologically rich but since it lost its dedicated supernaturalism it has been left with a slogan: the Fatherhood of God, the Leadership of Jesus and brotherhood of Man (in those male hierarchical terms). Others try renewal by drawing on parts of the Christian tradition, such as stressing the Holy Spirit (Knight, 1985).

Most important of all, however, has been the attempt to retain recognisable service forms without particular theological justification but for the sake of internal familiarity and external appearance. Church services should contain a Bible reading, at least two prayers, the Lord's Prayer and Judaeo-Christian hymns. Only then can one really be plural about meanings. Then there is no risk of looking like some weird modern day New Age cult.

The problem is that post Darwin, ordinary and efficient Western discourse is basically run on humanist not Christian lines (for example, see the theological somersaults of the non-UU Sallie McFague, 1993, preferring the "common creation story" to Christianity's). This is essentially why what was once a progressive force in Unitarian Universalism now behaves more like a preservation society. It does this while lacking the credal protection (racket?) that Heawood (above) finds so necessary, and one result is that duplicity is not the exclusive possession of the Christians' credal cousins.

The alternative strategy is the Unitarian Universalist one of moving on, to recognise essentially that one religious tradition in both Church and sect forms has run out of steam at least in terms of evolution and progressive theological development.

3 c

Humanism has recently mellowed but retains its stance against superstition and dogma.

The religious humanist position often links rationality with religion but concludes that Christianity is inevitably coupled with the supernatural, irrationality, idolatry and permanent superstition. It may as well be magic.

…we might be led to question whether the way Christian Unitarians accept the leadership of Jesus is desirable. For one thing, statements about Jesus on newsletters, noticeboards and notepaper are often expressed rather like creeds; for another, it is not certain that Jesus himself wanted to become a paragon of virtue for all time, and we might be suspicious of a leader who did. No idolatry is one of my personal mottoes. No one has a monopoly of humanity or morality ­- neither Jesus, nor Marx, nor anyone else. We are all imperfect, just as we are all human. (Midgley, 1982, 4)

At the time Celia Midgley was writing from Unitarian College, associated with a Federation of other mainstream colleges (set up before the CCBI exclusion) and she attended the University at Manchester. She wrote:

My Christ-centred lectures at the university, where I sit with Baptists, Methodists, URCs and others, push me back into the old arguments about the Person of Christ and the Trinity and I am puzzled that the acquaintance of these students with biblical exegesis and the politics of religious history does not seem to impinge on their extraordinary beliefs. (Midgley, 1982, 2)

Sometime later, in 1989-1990, I found myself mixing with liberal and radical ordinands from other denominations. A Baptist man did not believe in the existence of God at all. Another Baptist man believed in the centrality of the chakras in the body and other Pagan insights. A URC woman just about believed in God but not in any particularity of Christ and was sympathetic to Pagan views. There were others of many variations. Lecturers could be quite liberal. For me, it was local Unitarians, insisting on Christian content in their nearby churches, who puzzled me. If you did not conform they did not want you back. This was creeds by the back door. Incidentally, a number of Christians refuse to include Celia Midgley's Personal View on their church bookshelves.

Religious humanism is not materialist. It can even be quite theist.

While my own views would put me more on the humanist wing of Unitarian thinking, I am far from being a materialist. Indeed I am coming round to the view that there are levels of reality and areas of experience of which, as yet, we know little. The human psyche probably has more secrets to reveal than we can imagine. I even have a more open mind these days about what happens after death - not life, certainly, but perhaps some fusion of personality with the great stream of being, and if the dimensions occasionally interact, so be it. Again, Unitarianism for me provides a helpful framework within which new ideas can be pursued in a spirit of free enquiry. The framework, of course, is not the theology. (Hague, 1987, 6)

The question that follows for Howard Hague is the future of the (British) denomination.

It seems clear to me that we are no longer the radical movement we were once seen to be, though to some extent I think this is because other Churches have caught up with us, rather than that we have retreated. Indeed, as Arthur Long pointed out in his 1978 Essex Hall Lecture, recent theological history is in many ways the vindication of liberalism. But where does that leave us today? As a denomination I fear we are now too cosy, that somehow we have lost the challenging edge we once had. Have we nothing left to contribute theologically? Must we leave liberal pronouncements now to Anglican academics and bishops? As an organisation I fear we may have been too timid - we have built churches, when perhaps we should have provided coffee-bars, day centres and fellowship rooms. (Hague, 1987, 7)

Such is the difficulty of a denomination so unsure about its identity when facing diversity. In America, where humanism and transcendentalism returned to the denomination in some strength, there has been a more confident growth in new ways to forge human spirituality. Religion gets renewed and rebuilt either by looking East or through Western reinvented Paganism.

3 d

Paganism takes from neo-Paganism, American Indian spirituality and home grown Transcendentalism. It is divided between primary loyalties to Paganism or Unitarian Universalism.

Generally speaking, virtually all of Paganism has lost its continuous link with the Old Religion and what has grown recently is an invented tradition (Hobsbawm, Ranger, 1983). Pagans sympathise with the persecuted practitioners of the past and rebuild Druidry, Shamanism, Northern Religion and Wicca (but not the shadow-Christian reflection of Satanism). They wish to regenerate their magical worlds, but knowingly in a contemporary setting of ecological concern and religious loss.

Unitarian Universalists have drawn from Wicca, which is largely Gardnerian in origin, boosted by the writings and activities of Janet and Stuart Farrar. In America Zsuzsanna Budapest (so self-named because she came from Hungary) set up a Diana tradition feminist coven. Miriam Simos met her and then, known as Starhawk, boosted the cause far and wide, including directly to Unitarian Universalists at the 1989 General Assembly Keynote Address on Power, Authority and Mystery. She also worked with Matthew Fox, a Roman Catholic who became an Episcopalian. His creation spirituality influenced the new (mainly Anglican) liberal-charismatic secular dance culture spirituality that incorporates Pagan and other faith elements (which completely bypasses British Unitarianism).

Some point to a distinction between Pagan and New Age (Chryssides, 1998, 100), the first being more rooted in tradition and the second a fad. The lines are too blurred, but one issue is including or excluding magic within UU Paganism.

If Unitarian Universalism is borrowing (or stealing) again, it does have its reincorporated transcendentalist past. It is all blurred anyway. The American feminist Pagans took their material from English and Irish developments, just as Wordsworth, Coleridge and Swedenborg inspired Emerson. The British copy this Paganism from America.

Paganism is also formed by the American guilt over what was done to the native population by the descendants of European settlers. Liberals now admire the self-sufficiency and nature-wisdom of the Indians. British Unitarians replay this contemporary mythic history (just as Westerns are popular!). It gets forgotten that American Indian tribes only united in the face of the common enemy and that previously they showed viciousness to other tribes and wrongdoing individuals.

Paganism appeals not just to romantics about nature and self-sufficiency. It also appeals to Unitarian Universalists opposing the materialist culture. It offers mythic persecution and counter-culture. A history of being thrown out of the UU orbit gives "street cred":

[We Pagans] hold a distinct and familiar place in Unitarian Universalist history - the position once held by Alcott, Thoreau, Emerson and all the gang of disreputable Pagans that found divinity within us; who felt at one with the natural world, and who were willing to say, with Walt Whitman: "I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself." Their religion was one of direct experience not something derived from rules. As Whitman said: "Logic and sermons never convince. The chill of the night drives deeper into my soul."

This kind of disreputable Paganism has been with the UU movement from the beginning, a little like a Jungian shadow, or better still, like a skeleton in one of Clarissa Pincola Estes' stories who is dragged, bump-bump-bumping along when anyone tries to escape from it.

Our church schools were Pagan for decades under the influence of Sophia Lyon Fahs who taught that this is a living Universe "in which, Thoreau-like, we could find meaningful patterns". Fahs was borrowing her theology from Charles Hartshorne, who borrowed it from Whitehead, who borrowed it from Leibniz. But no matter, it was our church schools' theology in any case. Children were to be taught by direct contact with this living Universe, not second-hand out of a book. Today thousands of those Pagan-taught children are members of UU churches, looking for religious meaning in the things they can see and feel and touch.

We Pagans have always been part of the UU movement and our contribution is as much needed now as it was in the days of Emerson.

(John Morris, Ann Arbor, Michigan from PAGAN NUUS, in Roberts, 1996, 12)

There is a greater sense of building up within Britain:

The Unitarian Pagan Network is intended for Unitarians and religious liberals who are sympathetic to the insights of New Age and Neo-Pagan thought and practice. Its aims are:

The Unitarian Pagan Network/ New Age Unitarians are in association with the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (affiliated to the UUA).

(Roberts, 1996, 10)

Interestingly, this has been renamed to The New Age Unitarian Network ("Unitarian" coming after "New Age"). "Covenant" is a Unitarian Universalist version of coven, with resonance still to biblical use. There is an intention of breadth and inclusivity.

Some really do believe in the power that is detected in magic and astrology. For others the supernatural elements are happy myths to create a language for spiritual feeling and a link to the environment. Current developments in America involve dialogue between realism and non-realism in the development of Pagan liturgy. The non-UU Starhawk believes in the magic and sees liturgy as a form of ritual play that links into postmodernism.

As with other strands an issue for Pagans is how much it and they should be distinctively Unitarian Universalist or connect with the broader movements in Paganism/ New Age religion. Reverend Peter Roberts (who was a tutor of mine at the Unitarian College), who believes in powers from the Gods as they get invoked, is a Pagan Unitarian rather than a Unitarian Pagan (unlike Cynthia Dickenson, a lay Unitarian) and puts Pagan ideas into a Unitarian Universalist stance. He states:

My own involvement with Paganism in different forms over many years has been enhanced by my contact with the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans of North America. Over there they are a duly respected and affiliated society within the Unitarian Universalist Association and have several thousand members. Incidentally there is said to be about 200,000 Pagans in the USA today (1993).

The Programme of CUUPS is:

(Roberts, in 1996, 13; an address given at Great Hucklow in 1993)

So his programme from 1990 with the Unitarian Pagan Network, also described as New Age Unitarians, displays compatibility with Unitarian Universalism as follows:

  1. to evolve and promote nature-centred spiritual philosophies, drawing upon universal experience
  2. to create appropriate forms of worship involving body, mind and spirit
  3. to foster and promote a comprehensive spiritual outlook affirming religion, philosophy and cruelty-free science, as being fully compatible aspects of the human quest for self-knowledge and truth
  4. to promote greater involvement with planetary social concerns that are directly related to such beliefs and feelings

(Roberts, in 1996, 13; an address given at Great Hucklow in 1993)

In the British Unitarian denomination, Paganism is still in a process of "coming out" and is still largely found in additional meetings and beyond congregational gatherings, although elements increasingly enter into standard services.

3 e

A rebuilt spirituality which needs little God or no God at all involves looking East.

Looking East is a strategy that follows on from pantheism and atheism. The Brahmo Samaj, a rationalised Hinduism, was itself UU influenced. Hinduism offers the breadth and variety of the impersonal Brahman, its linkage with the soul and a great resource of scriptures. Buddhism may be the more influential, however, because it is not so linked to one culture (or a people or dogma) and transcendentalism already parallels Hinduism.

Buddhism is for hardy souls who have passed into humanism but seek spirituality and a pathway. For atheists and postmodernists it offers religion in the moment and not in linear history.

Many people no longer believe that a God is actually listening or acting upon prayers. A joke is that Unitarian Universalists pray "to whom it may concern". Prayers are often introduced now with the added comment, "and meditation" and meditation is getting more popular within UU circles. Anyone who has been to a Buddhist group knows that twenty minutes of disciplined meditation is quite difficult with all the clutter going on in one's head. The detachment needed within the mind echoes the detachment of Nirvana. In Unitarian Universalist circles, within the general service, a meditation lasts a minute or two. It does not compare, but it is at least an admission that such a method of spirituality is important, and breaks the wordiness of Unitarian Universalist services.

It follows that Buddhism gets combined in a lax manner with the remnants of God talk in a way that committed Buddhists find almost offensive:

…the Christian God is the idealisation of all that is best and noblest in Man. He is omnipresent Love as well as being omnipresent Power. A deadly concoction has been brewed. For even when the Christian raises his vision to the highest pinnacle of Love, he is still entangled with the Cosmic King. Even in its most rarefied dogmatic formulations, its most mystical idealisations, there is still that element of Power beyond and outside man that he can never realise himself. (Subhuti, 1983, 178-179)

So God should be abolished from the mind, which hardly happens within most UU services.

There is also the belief in reincarnation. Whilst most Churches have collective beliefs in resurrection and revelation piercing into history, and so popular beliefs in the cyclical nature of reincarnation and karma are shunned, Unitarian Universalists can be quite open in this belief.

Buddhism within Unitarian Universalism is also about discussion if not necessarily persistent practice (Chryssides, 1998, 103). The claim that Buddha discovered what can be found by anyone, and that there is no need to offer divinity to him or anything else, appeals to Unitarian Universalists. So does the notion that doctrines only exist for as long as they are needed. The individualism of Buddhism also appeals.

So Easternism is fragmentary and rewritten within Unitarian Universalism, although one would expect a UU Buddhist to be more thorough and externally consistent than a Buddhist UU. Unitarian Universalists follow in the footsteps of Western societies' interpretations of Buddhism (e.g., Humphreys, 1962). Dedicated Western Buddhist Order members see this heritage as useful but it can cater for "…little more than a mild and amateurish interest…" (Subhuti, 1983, 25). Of course Buddhists themselves often treat Buddhism in an ad hoc way, especially lay people in Buddhist cultures. For example, magical religion adds divinity to the Buddha and Bodhisattvas.

Furthermore, Buddhism in the West is subject to the flow of ideas and trends like everything else. Whilst the Western Buddhist Order (established by Sangharakshita in the 1960's) designs Buddhism for the West, its approach is not the only possible outcome. It is interesting that Buddhism seems to overlap with postmodernism (Akizuki, 1990), especially with the transience of all things and in the philosophical conundrums of the Heart and Diamond Sutras (for example). In UU circles there is the potential of a Buddhist/ humanist amalgam (not unlike from the post-1979 Don Cupitt). However, Buddhism tackled the basis of godless meaning centuries ago with its own reference points. Therefore the overlap with Western non-realism is currently awkward and suggests that postmodernism, like secularisation, and other "modernist heresies" (Kumar, 1995, 81) is a specifically post-Christian derivative. Still, Buddhism is adaptable and inclusive (Weber, 1958) so that a Christian in heritage but forward moving Buddhism is possible.

3 f

Pluralism is pure individual subjectivity of changing views and stances which defies the general narrative labels.

The fifth type has no narrative force, and this Do It Yourself religion can either have internal personal consistency or inconsistency. But then everyone is to some extent Pluralist, either with extras tagged on to general belief narratives or in transition between them. And we should expect narratives to dedifferentiate (Lash, 1990, 11) as part of the DIY trade.

UU pluralists are concerned to reach out and Unitarian Universalism offers a venue for working out religious ideas and spirituality. This statement is in direct continuity with Martineau's broad stance:

I confess I don't actually like the term 'Unitarian' which, by referring to an eighteenth century controversy, can restrict development and understanding thereafter. I prefer 'liberal religion' as we are on the liberal end of a vast religious spectrum, in common with other liberals within and outside the Christian religious tradition. The boundaries of Unitarianism are very unclear and we have many friends - like-minded, liberal, DIY people. In the UK the Sea of Faith movement is beginning to provide a useful forum for them. (Howarth, Foy Keynote Address, 1997, 2)

Some Pluralist UUs have been known to wear T shirts at General Assemblies and elsewhere declaring their pluralism. This is a denominationalist act, perhaps done to irritate the odd Christian.

Of course it can be argued that the list of only four narratives is restrictive. There could be a longer list. A 1997 survey for The Inquirer (sent selectively to British readers and therefore compromised) asked respondents (including me) to choose whether they are, "using Unitarian terms", Christian Unitarian, Theist Unitarian, Humanist Unitarian, Agnostic Unitarian, New Age Unitarian or Pagan Unitarian. When 500 people designed an internet survey for American UUs, the choices of affiliation were: Theist, Earth/ Nature centred, Humanist, Mystic, Christian, Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Other. (See Appendix 2)

My argument is that Christianity, Humanism, Paganism and Easternism covers the field as generalised narratives. It is hard to believe that any Muslim would be a Unitarian Universalist, although there are revisionists within Islam such as Abdul Karim Saroush, who writes that interpretation of revelation can be:

…conjectural, fallible, changeable, partial, fallacious, one sided, misguided, prejudiced, culture-bound, incomplete, but this is what the revelator himself has ordained it to be. We are fallible human beings and that is our lot from truth. (Lecture by Saroush, reproduced in 'Postscripts' in Boulton, 1997, 23-24)

A UU Islam would surely be relativised in the way Saroush has described. Opposite to this, Liberal Judaism simply co-operates with UUA congregations, with some overlap in membership, in a similar manner as between Friends and Unitarians in Britain. A UU Christmas usually includes reference to Hanukkah.

So one could suggest all kinds of possible belief labels. The question is whether any are higher or purer than others. Are some "metatheologies"? Is, for example, pure "Theism" higher than them all? After all, Unitarian Universalism was once concerned with the difficult task of describing that theological centre beyond all the particular descriptions: finding the theological pot of gold at the end of the theological rainbow.



4 a

Evolutionary process theology is the suggestion that a creative spirit stands behind and within the evolution of the universe.

One popular possibility of an overarching theology in UU circles is process theology (or similar) where God is within evolutionary change. Specific beliefs are therefore transitory while the big picture is a process. Building upon A. N. Whitehead's ideas (1978; also see Cobb, Gamwell, 1984), it is a kind of science referencing natural and philosophical theology. The key to understanding is God as dynamic creative spirit. The process contains an intelligent will for life within it (God) that led to the intelligent human, other life forms (potentially throughout the universe) and interconnected developing life. God is love through purpose and experience, especially suffering but for UUs suggests an optimistic evolved view of humanity.

Such a God can stand above particular religious representations and so has universal application. It is not quite pantheism. It is panentheism. Using science, mathematics, nature and culture it suggests ultimate purpose and ultimate good. It is no doubt popular because it is a half way house between theism and atheism, and gets away from difficult metaphors and childish pictures of God.

It does seem optimistic and purely speculative, however, and the alternative view is no purpose in natural activity at all. It is we who join the dots of meaning to make this emerging pattern ultimately purposeful. Instead, complexity and entropy is just how matter and energy work. There is enough speculation in science and mathematical modelling without piling on more about apparent purposes.

Such theology is not actually consistent with evolution. Evolution must be localised at its own level, have random elements, and so, as, with fractal like situations, have unpredictable new details absorbed into patterns or upsetting equilibria. So if God plays dice it is the dice that are in control, not the God.

Then, if we take the highest level equilibrium of matter-energy, which is the expansion of the universe itself, it must eventually reverse and crash to zilch or go on expanding into a cold unsupporting nothing. Which it is to be might itself be a dice throw but the result is equally depressing. There is no ultimate purpose or creative end in this at all.

Everything, at every level, is transitory and involves the Buddhist warning of attachment, especially to an ultimate optimism. Samsara might be more relevant, delivering frustration if one becomes attached to this deceptive hope. An alternative is Shiva, that destruction goes with creation in cycles.

Process theology is a Western excuse for still leaning on that big God out there but, metaphorically speaking, it's now hiding in the bushes.

4 b

Unitarian Universalism has been based on progressive revelation, but revelation clashes with a mysticism type grouping.

Connected to the process view but more specialised within religion itself has been progressive revelation. It is descriptively the flip side to evolutionary change: continuing revelation from God. God has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word.

In trinitarian circles, further revelation is usually considered to be part of the eternal Christian revelation. In the UU circles it means new. An initial parallel might be with the Bahais' meaning, for whom progressive revelation is central. The Bahai Faith builds on Shi'ite Islamic to Babi insights, made less militant and parochial by early Bahai development, and it sees revelation as forming historical advancements through key manifestations of God. So Jewish prophets were followed by Christ and Mohammed, but then came the Bab as forerunner of the central figure Baha'u'llah. This form of serial progressive revelation is too precise and literalist for Unitarian Universalism, but God revealing new truths for new times is not.

One objection to progressive revelation has often been in the moral sphere. We may have grown technologically, etc., but are we really any better as people? We might be able to improve ourselves as individuals, and we might develop socially, but presumably a God deals in fundamentals. Otherwise progressive revelation is not real epoch making fundamental change. The evidence against is the recurring wars and periods of ethnic hatred. Bahais expect war to end!

Progressive revelation may be no more than a religious gloss over movement towards humanism and pluralism from the viewpoint of the present day (and, in the Bahai case, moving into the Western orbit). In the end, unless revelation is eternal and continuous, it breaks down into human effort, subjectivity and even human relativism in culture. It becomes impossible to separate one valid revelation from, say, a heresy (the Bahais had this problem!) and if no one will declare what is heresy (as in Unitarian Universalism) then there can be no progressive revelation with any meaning.

Revelation was weakened even in the earliest days Arminianism. It was a denial of fatalistic Calvinism in favour of humankind's own capacity and democracy (Cooke, 1902, 8, 38). The next shift was away from top-down biblical miracles. Martineau's authority of the individual then undermined any vertical relationship of revelation (his view followed Schleiermacher's). Which is why Karl Barth returned to it - not theism, not culture, not anything of the world (on his definitions) but a once for all revelation as is necessary.

4 c

The highest possible purity of theism has been a Unitarian Universalist tradition but it just becomes its own package deal.

This brings along another possible metatheology: high theism, meaning pure and distant from specific sectional content. Before Karl Barth's emergence, Martineau was another half a Feuerbach (but the other half): if Barth was opposed to the projection of religion in theism, Martineau was opposed to making the crucifixion-resurrection events the projected central dynamic. The eternal theistic mystery of God lies beyond all such narratives, or incorporates them all into a higher level.

…whilst the Jews looked for a Messiah and this was their projection of Jesus, ours would be different. We are not looking for a Messiah.

Till we are prepared to discharge from the Christian scriptures, as the mere temporary vehicle of their higher significance, their whole inherited system of Messianic doctrine, ...the divine essence of Christianity will not be reached and its eternal truth will remain hid. (Martineau, 1891, vol. 3, 279)

This divine essence, the mirror opposite of Barth's later scheme, was to be glimpsed not by, say, rationalistic preaching but through the resonance of poetry in liturgy.

Martineau did not incorporate all faiths equally in this, but now a popular Unitarian Universalist view is that all faiths point to this same one ineffable God. John Hick (1989), a Presbyterian, proposes that the variety of faiths and ways point to a transcendent Real (which needs a little describing - and so the problems begin).

This approach only works, however, by denying the validity of the Buddhist view of no God. Inevitably it results with an undenominational unitarianism, rather as Martineau desired. A theology of pluralism denies a distinctive Christian revelation, certitude and trinitarian discourse and worship (Merrigan, 1997, 706-707). So it also contradicts those who believe in a specific God too.

However, Hick's description of his Real is only another package. A unitarian God, such a syncretistic God, must have some descriptive characteristics, and if so it competes with the Bahai God (another synthesis moulded into another package), the Christian God, the Muslim God, and Buddhism's denial of God, and so on and on.

The only solution to this would seem to be silence (but the Quakers adopted that symbol system!). John Daniels (1997) considers interfaith worship where representatives seem to make statements from their own faith, one after another, in the service "between members whose only common intention is not to intend" (Daniels, 1997, 258). But he does think a point of profundity can be reached when concerning the validity of non-volitional prayer:

…an even deeper level of sharing may also be possible… when they join friends from other religious traditions in stillness: a genuine intimacy and a profound sense of - in Christian terms - God's presence, which powerfully testifies the participants really are gathered together 'with one accord' (Daniels, 1997, 258-259)

Of course this is not the UU approach where people keep on talking, singing and using lots of words. Quite opposite to the Quakers, UU services are noisy. They cannot avoid making impure descriptions, and neither can anyone else.

4 d

Polytheism or its roots as social anthropological comparative religion suggests a way forward regarding difference.

Hick is suggesting that all religions point to one common Real. But it is just as likely that they all point to a polytheistic reality, for it is a social anthropological observation that all great cosmopolitan religions, theistic or not, and indeed localised magic, have polytheistic elements (Redfield, 1955, 1956; Weber, 1951, 1958). Paganism best draws on fundamentals, and theology should focus upon pluralism and difference and not on hierarchies and contrived points of unity or purity.

It can be argued that Protestantism has long been a male gender rationalisation process towards the certainties of words and away from magical religion and superstition. Islam was the same. God is one Word. Yet is not religion derived from magic and superstition? Both current Pagan revivals and postmodernism suggest a return to variation and difference, where the outcome of actions and the precise meaning of words cannot be guaranteed. Feminism is part of this process. Hick, in comparison, is like a Brahman, extracting higher philosophy when precisely the opposite is nearer the mark.

Of course Unitarian Universalism (which influenced the Brahmo Samaj) was once part of the Victorian self-belief in a hierarchy of religions. Starting with tribal magic, the next stage up was religious magic, and then came the cosmopolitan faiths themselves (see Redfield, 1955, 1956). Then add the order of faiths, from the superstition of Hinduism via a misdirected Buddhism, through monotheistic Judaism and Islam up to Christianity. Within Christianity Protestantism was higher than Catholicism and within Protestantism the rational (liberal) variant was higher than the fundamentalist. This was all a kind of Darwinian evolution of the religions, based on progressive revelations and the Ascent of Man. UU style religion was therefore the highest of all, and didn't they know it.

If it is thought this idea has gone, one only needs to listen to a few sermons (particularly from denominationalists). Whilst others kept the clutter of creeds, Unitarian Universalism took the rational progressive path. Unfortunately, of course, secularism is higher still, and some went that way (in America and Britain many left Unitarianism, while others made humanism religious). Now, however, religion has no future in this direction: it either reverts to superstition, magic, revelation or becomes something to do with difference, variation, and humans being creative.

4 e

Radical relativity is the poststructuralism that claims to reject metanarratives whilst promoting plurality.

Theological hierarchy is rejected. Certainly New Age/ Wicca Unitarian Universalism has adopted something of a differential bipolar and multipolar expression of religion. Humanism has become more self-doubting and less human centred, and liberal Christianity struggles to preserve worship practices without quite knowing why. The Eastern approach rebuilds meaning on a practice and see basis. And in Unitarian Universalism these approaches relativise each other through proximity. So the suggestion here is that these narratives, these languages, are poststructural. They are "writable" - and the symbolisms exist like texts on pages.

The 'writable' text, usually a modernist one, has no determinate meaning, no settled signifieds, but is plural and diffuse, an inexhaustible tissue or galaxy of signifiers, a seamless weave of codes and fragments of codes, through which the critic may cut his own er­rant path. There are no beginnings and no ends, no sequences which cannot be reversed, no hierarchy of textual 'levels' to tell you what is more or less significant. (Eagleton, 1983, 138)

Creativity leaves behind the modernist heritage of reductionism and all the bogus claims to metatheologies, and takes up the postmodern loss of objectivity with the rebuilding of symbolisms and drawing from and reconstructing narrative streams.

All literary texts are woven out of other literary texts, not in the conventional sense that they bear the traces of 'influence' but in the more radical sense that every word, phrase or segment is a reworking of other writings which precede or surround the individual work. There is no such thing as literary 'originality', no such thing as the 'first' literary work: all literature is 'intertextual'. A specific piece of writing thus has no clearly defined boundaries: it spills over con­stantly into the works clustered around it, generating a hundred different perspectives which dwindle to vanishing point. The work cannot be sprung shut, rendered determinate, by an appeal to the author, for the 'death of the author' is a slogan that modern criticism is now confidently able to proclaim. (Eagleton, 1983, 138)

The death of the Author into writing is Mark C. Taylor's view. He promotes irreconcilable oscillating difference and diversity (Taylor, 1984, 1987), and this is exactly the model for UU faith.

In his Essex Hall Lecture to British Unitarians in 1998, Peter Hawkins wants Rationalism (later Reason), Individualism and Protest to go (Hawkins, 1998, 7) in order for there to be transformation afterwards. He suggests dropping what he regards as the central Unitarian foundation of modernist epistemology (1998, 7). He wants to reaffirm community instead of Unitarianism's "tolerant collections of individual oddballs" (1998, 8). The Protest that can no longer hold Unitarianism together is the one against the orthodoxy that is itself now quite plural.

He states that he is not himself a postmodernist. His business style solution is better vertical organisational dialogue with its district level resources and ministry, interest groups cutting across structures, and doing better in what churches already do with their diverse membership.

While he rejects modernism and is no postmodernist (leaving too much unclear) his proposal of dialogue is of interest. The atheist Jurgen Habermas and religious translators (like David Tracy) propose that communicative and argumentative reason or dialogue and conversation can be beneficial or even rational in outcome.

This is so in society where the lifeworld (the cultural sphere of norms, identity forming and forms of socialisation as expressed in meanings, everyday ideas, more discerning ideas and interactive behaviour) exists in an interrelationship with the systematic elements of the structural economy. In contemporary times, however, the system, with its concentrations of power and money, imposes irrational and material distortions on the lifeworld. The Habermas solution is disinterested argument leading to rationality: no longer by the actions of a consumerist working class but that by marginal intellectuals. Religion is excluded from this rational possibility because it is based upon traditional forms of authority: It relies on its own private accessibility of experience (Habermas, 1992, 238) and untranslatable irreducible symbols. In so far as Christianity has shifted towards rationality, it threatens the (supernatural) status of Christianity itself (231).

For Habermas postmodernism must encourage religion as it also allows a retreat to irrational conservatism (see Lakeland, 1997, 63). Thus he is religion unfriendly: it distorts argument.

Whilst Habermas sees a need for scientific, social and aesthetic discourse ethics of a good society, Tracy wants religion included (1987; 1992, 35-37). It introduces ultimate reality (understood in a diverse manner as in Tracy, 1987, 108). For Habermas this would involve a conservative re-enchantment of society (1992, 245) whereas only rationality liberates.

According to Francis Fiorenza (1992, 75-77), intellectual religion has changed so much that it can participate in public discourse. Theology has moved towards a universalised anthropology, uncoupled from traditional authorities, and so can debate more widely. This, in effect, accepts Habermas's methodological atheism!

It could be argued that the marginality of religion makes theologians more "disinterested". Comfortable clerics and theologians without business funding prospects are left as the social critics! Except, of course, that most theologians still remain too attached to one belief system, namely Christianity, which is Habermas's point. These days Churches are too sectarian socially and culturally speaking. Theology has to be fully plural to be useful all round.

However, a religious variant of Habermas, when applied to narratives in dialogue, hardly moves anything on from the age of ideology. In UU terms the old project would remain of finding the irreducible truth behind the distorted clutter. But this is defunct. In any case an atheist methodology implies that the truth behind the clutter is secular not religious.

On the other hand, if the rational illusion is ended, religion still has its place in making meaning in a symbolically rich world. In fact a postmodern and poststructural approach can be combined with dialogue and diverse speech.

Is legitimacy to be found in consensus obtained through discussion, as Jurgen Habermas thinks? Such consensus does violence to the heterogeneity of language games. (Lyotard, 1984, xxv in May, 1996, 200)

Richard Rorty (also unfriendly with religion) does this as a pragmatic postmodernist. German style philosophy is not needed to prove every theoretical stance to allow (French style) revolutionary praxis, and thus lead to socially conservative despair as with many other postmodernists. His position is a contingent "we" ethnocentrism of liberality extendable to those previously regarded as "they" (1989, 192). Although there is no special ground for rationality, he still thinks that we are entitled to our relative liberal democratic culture within which change can be pursued for a perceived good through conversation and debate.

Krishnan Kumar (1995, 181) sees Rorty's position as being half way between Habermas and Lyotard. There has been a loss of transhistorical or universalistic ideology, neither the socialist or democratic utopia is preordained, and the Hegelian idea of the history of freedom no longer has widespread consent. However:

Liberal democracy, and no doubt certain varieties of socialism, can be defended in other terms than "metanarratives". This then can suggest forms of contemporary identification and action that, with appropriate modesty, seek to realize some of the goals of Enlightenment modernity. We need not give up on the emancipatory promise or programme of modernity. We must simply acknowledge its pragmatic, culturally-limited, time-bound character; and in attempting to carry it out we must proceed by persuasion, constant argument and constant experimentation. (Kumar, 1995, 181)

Equally, Unitarian Universalism must reject metatheologies.

A recognition of heterogeneity is not the monopoly of postmodernist perspectives (McLennan, 1995). That noted, what seems to have changed in socio-theoretical discourse is that those who are the bearers of the dream of universalism now have to defend themselves against the relativists (Bauman, 1992). (May, 1996, 200)

Neither Unitarian nor Universalist can mean what they used to imply! So there is no superior language; there is no 'Real' (or, indeed, comparative 'unReal'); there is no universalism. There is just glory in difference.

Plurality in proximity is offered as the basis and purpose of Unitarian Universalism. It is a liberal social gospel (as is Richard Rorty's scheme). It rejects reason and rationality but preserves the notion of reasonableness. This is a loose concept: it looks like rationality but has none of its claims. It wants to check passion (most of the time) in favour of working things out around the table.

How else can it be within a fully plural Unitarian Universalism? Otherwise, someone will claim superior status over someone else. That way lies the road to power and domination, precisely what is not a liberal social gospel.

In Unitarian Universalism, active open liberalism demands postmodernism! Full of speech and expression, it yet has no creeds, no limits, many narratives, lots of individual reinterpretations and rejects compulsive power to reinstall a superior metanarrative. It settles for "swapping stories" (Lakeland, 1997, 33). Although there is stability through identifying with narratives (stories), some narratives outlined may dedifferentiate into others at short notice! That few Unitarian Universalists are self-confessed postmodernists (especially in Britain) or reject the label, hardly matters. If they follow the rule book that referees against a Rule Book, they are now postmodern.

At the same time plurality in proximity - active tolerance at the point of variation - is a social gospel, suggesting that the congregation is a micro-society model for wider society. This religious base suggests freedom, reasonableness and toleration in civic society where difference can co-exist and live together.



5 a

Structural liberalism is not necessarily liberal in outcome because collective power centres do not contain checks and balances.

Power finds its expression at the easiest and most effective point. It has been an essential prerequisite of UU understanding that liberality and plurality of thought needs liberal structures. However, these may not in themselves facilitate free forming and competing/ co-operating plural ideas.

Power is supposed to lie with the individual, whose membership or ministry is untested by beliefs. However, the effective control of expression, to a lesser or greater extent, lies with collectivities not individuals.

Throughout history, trustees of chapels have been people of money and influence, handing the next trustee vacancy down to known colleagues and reliable friends. They have determined the ethos of a chapel. They often still have the supreme power to overrule committees, but then committees themselves are another collective point of deciding matters.

Finally there is a general consensus within a chapel which can go so far as producing a line with which most people feel happy. Thus it becomes possible to say either "This is a Christian Unitarian church" or "We don't like to say God here". Preachers get selected on belief and approach!

Definitions of liberal can be so varied that individual churches can claim to still be liberal (e.g., about Christianity) whilst not being pluralist, and no one anywhere else within the denomination can do anything about it. It would be more liberal if there were checks and balances by which individuals' rights were constitutionally secured within the whole Church structure.

There is another form of denominationalist exclusion when it says, "It doesn't matter if you're a Pagan or a Christian so long as you're a Unitarian Universalist." This has the logic of the football team supporter and it undermines the point of plurality in proximity, which is to embrace beyond existing boundaries of loyalty.

5 b

Plurality in proximity, where it happens, is actually between the too like-minded and weakens a social gospel.

The charge is that Unitarian Universalists are like minded liberals, despite the variation in narratives and beliefs. This is too similar and weak a base from which to represent plurality in proximity.

It is relatively easy to be a liberal religious humanist in conversation and dialogue with a liberal pagan, for example, or a liberal Eastern in conversation and dialogue with a liberal Christian. As a social gospel it would be far more interesting to be a liberal humanist in conversation and dialogue with an evangelical Christian or with a Muslim filled with certainty. It is like interfaith dialogue. It is always the same liberal Christians as well as open Unitarian Universalists who talk mainly with Bahais, Buddhists and liberal Jews.

Liberals together resist censorship even if they might call for restraint, respect and sensitivity, such as with Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. Principles of liberalism and the promotion of ideas, imagination, revision and criticism, must win out against opponents. This is, though, never a clear matter when offence is caused.

Plurality in proximity is easy when there is no real cost to the disagreement. Vegetarianism is an example. All that happens is that at a church buffet some sandwiches contain meat and others do not. However, when there is a conflict between animal rights and the requirements of halal meat or orthodox Jewish dietary law, what do liberals say or do then? Do they support multicultural religious pluralism or protest against the knifing of a sentient animal through its throat? The answer is that probably the meat eaters place their emphasis on multicultural tolerance, and the vegetarians come down on the side of the animals (and avoid all meat anyway).

Liberalism as individualism is also a good excuse for expressing thinly veiled racism, promoting economic authoritarianism, demanding forms of social discipline, killing murderers, holding private weapons, removing welfare rights and a myriad of prejudices one way and another. These are not inclusive!

Liberalism has all these risks, just as socialism became authoritarian planning. The answer is that liberalism should be self-critical, able to deconstruct its own prejudices and realise who is being excluded. Finding consensus is not as important as strategies for handling difference. Sometimes there do have to be losers on the principle of plurality. Books have to be published and then we talk about them.

5 c

Unitarian Universalism loses its plurality by hiding what there is, and therefore loses its witness.

Unitarian Universalist ministers are often described as being "honest" compared with liberal Christians. Christian ministers and others may pick and choose what they actually believe but they are required to "follow the gospel" and the creeds in worship and fellowship and put on a show of certainty for the faithful. They preach with fingers crossed or use complicated language that deceives a congregation (e.g. Pusey's observations in Cupitt, 1984, 91). This is while laypeople doubt the matters themselves in silence. So a dishonest pantomime of miscommunication takes place.

However, mismatched Unitarian Universalist ministers do much the same. When I told one member of a humanist minister's traditional congregation that I was "rather humanist", she said, "I've always wanted to meet one of those." The minister justified his personal misrepresentation on meeting the needs of his congregation. Yet he refused in advance to read a trinitarian burial service when a vicar momentarily seemed unavailable. My own reflection, pastorally and theoretically, for myself, was that if one remythologises a unitarian God one may as well do a trinitarian God.

Equally, a new minister described his real frustration to me that he could not preach his conviction regarding the Trinity to even his traditional congregation.

It is often safest to go for internally traditional language, especially in Britain. Exploration and pluralism happens in discussion, but because it is so hard to represent diversity and easy to offend traditionalists the language of the church service veers to the familiar. This can only undermine a witness of plurality in proximity.

The plurality model is also undermined by the fact that the denominations in Britain and America are not much ethnically and class mixed. In America, excepting sexual orientation, social radicalism is mainly by idea and resolution (Appendix 3). Middle class ties have weakened in Britain, but the Sunday School movement's collapse ended the outreach to the working class.

So there needs to be preaching on the Trinity, atheism and all in between, on Paganism and Buddhism, Humanism and Christianity. Toleration should be active, not just tolerating doubt. The alternative is the falling back to symbolic laziness.

5 d

The ministry system restrains plurality in proximity.

Ministry is still based on the (congregational) Christian model of someone who preaches the Word. It is inappropriate to plurality and fosters dependency, whether this is called the priesthood of all believers (in what?) or not.

Plurality works best in mysticism (human relations authority) when as many people as possible in one location develop and preach ideas together. Ministers would best be facilitators on a Paulo Freire (1972) community liberating approach, trained to train others in preaching and pastoral duties (see Tiller, 1983). If centrally paid and locally subsidised (a reversal of now) they would be as accountable bishops, together in small groups, unifying yet overseeing the faith of diversity in churches in their care.

5 e

If UU plurality is constrained, then plurality in proximity can be better offered by more defined faith groups.

Many religious groups can offer plurality in proximity. Buddhism's orthopraxy may not imply orthodoxy, and it has a history of tolerance. Hinduism and Paganism are both highly absorbent. Christian Churches balance between definition and plurality.

Many Churches now have a span from heterodox liberalism through orthodox liberalism to conversionism and traditionalisms. All but traditionalisms cut across denominations (Worsfold, 1989). This means that old denominations have plurality. The best example is the Anglican Churches with an internal structure of checks and balances. In England the established Church gives consideration to other faiths. There is the effect of theological work. Anglican liberalism once co-operated with Unitarian liberalism (Wigmore-Beddoes, 1971). Other Churches have their internal sources of diversity and toleration (Worsfold, 1989).

Of course they are all obliged to be Christians only, seeking a sense of unity, whereas UU faith seeks diversity with inclusivity. It is when diversity is compromised that UU churches lose the cutting edge of their Gospel. Then one may as well be working from another denomination where boundaries are officially noted but flexibility happens.

However, being plural opens up other problems for the UU Gospel.

5 f

The Anglo-American evolutionary model is too easily absorbed by the "New Age" consumerist culture and at best offers a distorted model of civic freedom.

In postmodern culture consumerism reigns and commodifies freedom.

Post modernism... refers to a tendency towards pastiches of incongruent cultural codes, without any single articulating principle or theoretical foundation. It is very much a question of indiscriminate populism: "anything goes" or "whatever turns you on". Of course, there are limits to this apparent free for all - not least the fact that things are seldom free; indeed, culture is increasingly commodified. In that respect there are definite ties the between culture and economic developments. However, capitalism as an economic system is now so firmly established, despite its cycles of booms and slumps, that it can afford to allow a high level of social and cultural pluralism. (Thompson, 1992, 252-253).

Mysticism relates to Steve Bruce's (1995) notion of a "cult" and "New Age" consumerist cultural conditions apply. Bruce also connects consumerist culture and relativism (117-122). Whilst very few people are involved with the New Age in terms of its many "unrespectable" movements, and that these institutions have little impact upon state or civic culture, he states that there is an atmosphere generated of the "almost complete acceptance of alternative views." (122)

The denominational forms of Christianity have a degree of cohesion by their shared histories, traditional liturgies and common language. In the cultic New Age there is no binding tradition - only an individualistic gutting of a rich variety of traditions. Each individual chooses which claims to recognise, and the fact that the revelation is often paid for strengthens the hand of the consumer. (Bruce, 1995, 119)

Knowledge is distorted. Bruce points out that although relativism handles the global nature of argument, it can decide nothing in detail (119). It becomes difficult to develop shared values, and New Agers live their lives as badly as any kind (119-120). Everyone has the right to live as they want so long as they harm no one else (122).

The question raised is whether Unitarian Universalism as a "cult" (forgetting respectability) is itself consumed by the consumerist hegemony. It offers no cohesive knowledge, its views carry no authority and participants may well attend activities because they give pleasure, not as witnesses. If attendance is tedious: stop. There are no moralising teachings, of course, only a groping along.

Against this all that can be hoped is that people enter into discussion about why they attend and what is their witness. Actually, this happens quite a lot in a Church where it is not immediately clear why people do attend and do what they do.

However, consumer culture is not the only cause of relativity. Christianity is a cause. It was written in the language now used for science and material causality. This language has lost explanatory credibility in religion. Drinking wine and eating bread and believing in the real presence of Christ are equivalent to New Agers thinking that crystals or colours heal. Whilst New Age "alternatives" add nothing new to working knowledge, Christianity loses knowledge. As Bruce states:

We can never be sure of what went on in the minds of other times and cultures, but we can be pretty confident that, until the middle of the last century, almost everyone who recited the Creed took it as something like face value; if they meant something else they would have written something else! (Bruce, 1995, 16)

Many religious practitioners do write something else now. This is also the point about contemporary Unitarian Universalism, that it facilitates writing something else. Religious narratives have to combine a motivating belief with reflections on life direction, on being conscious about our self-consciousness and on moral discussion. The belief narratives may be highly exotic, historical or from experience!

So it is that Unitarian Universalism's linear reductionist project is over but it needs to be wary of the consumerist culture, almost by act of will. Otherwise its narratives are no more than pleasure seeking. There is nothing wrong in pleasure, so long as there is a sense of purpose that stretches out into the wider community, because behind consumerism is a lot of power, manipulation and a shadow of liberal and democratic accountability. Toleration should be the oil for discussion, pragmatic progress and protest, not a palliative which lets the powers that be carry on untrammelled.

5 g

Unitarian Universalism as a form of inherited middle class bourgeois ideology might be regarded as ineffective against power structures that constrain and oppress.

Consumerism is a threat because of the historical link between Unitarian Universalism and middle class political and economic concerns. It comes under this criticism made of liberal humanism.

Liberal humanism is a suburban moral ideology, limited in practice to largely interpersonal matters. It is stronger on adultery than on armaments, and its valuable concern with freedom, democracy and individual rights are simply not concrete enough… (Eagleton, 1983, 207-208)

It is not even very good at sorting out adultery either. It is often said that it takes strong doctrinal or evangelical stance (like the founding Puritans had) to be sufficiently resistant to social ills and authoritarianism. Unless faith is strong enough to create martyrs, it lacks substance against oppression.

This is fine so long as strong doctrine only protests and never becomes the oppressor again. Yet doctrinal strength is not necessary. The Society of Friends is individualistic but has coherence regarding matters of peace; and in the UUA there is a developing coherence regarding lesbian, gay and transgender inclusiveness.

Weakness itself may well be a virtue (Gandhi etc.) if with resolution. It is when individualism accompanies no wider purpose, no traditions of resistance and no social niche, that "bourgeois indifference" rings true. This is why the American experience within the most consumerist culture stands better than the British experience.



 6 a

In continuity with Channing and Martineau, a conversational, pragmatic postmodernism is suggested offering plurality in proximity. It is a social gospel to the world, so that they, still being they, are counted as we.

If George Lindbeck (1984) writes against the principle of liberalism in religion then this has been the argument for. Culture keeps making faith, and it cannot be frozen; difference comes into a community, and it is good to embrace it, not hide it. Also, contact and openness to the beyond should always temper loyalty to an institution.

British Unitarianism is chronically weak, probably terminally, and world-wide some of the movement functions ethnically with a faith style to match. Much Unitarian Universalism is contradictory, some unavoidably. But the principle of plurality in proximity still stands, realised and idealised.

Other Churches are based nominally on one Lord, one faith and one Church. Most approaches to faith struggle for unity or a principle of unity. This is what Unitarian Universalism should vigorously reject for itself. Its mission is to recommend to other Churches and faiths to enjoy their differences and work with them. Unitarian Universalism must suggest civil liberty and living together in dialogue in the world at large.

6 b

Theology has a broader vision too.

Whilst any theology can be of a belief, a sect or Church, it can transcend to the general principles of plural, tolerant societies. This is what Unitarian Universalism offers because, at best, it is a small-scale plural society. Whilst Christianity may be compromised when its theology alters to engage with the world, alteration is the very basis of UU theology across diverse narratives which may well dedifferentiate and take on new forms.


Glossary of Terms in this study

Unitarian Universalism A general term for a pluralist and creedless approach to faith.
Unitarianism Here the above term is preferred but others may use this.
Unitarian Universalist (UU) A person or church that has a creedless approach to faith and a member of a constituent body. UU includes Unitarian.
Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) The American denomination.
Unitarian Church Usually the British denomination, but others as specified.
unitarian (specifically lower case u) Someone who believes in the unity of God and not the Trinity.
universalist (specifically lower case u) A faith in a God that saves all or a very broad approach to believing, now multi-faith.
General Assembly (GA) The umbrella body and administrative hub of Unitarian Universalism in Britain and America: the GA only has the power to persuade.
Quaker Universalist/ Universalist Quaker Broad pluralist member or active attender of the Society of Friends
Christian Quaker/ Quaker Christian Broadly Christian in the Society of Friends
Church A whole Church or denomination
church (specifically lower case c) A local church
sect Normally inward or outward looking highly doctrinal gathering with a tight membership. Here it is used more in contrast with Church: heavily focussed around a belief, the denomination and its approved people.
cult Normally a transient sect dependent upon its founding charismatic leader. Steve Bruce (1992) gives it a New Age meaning. Bruce's categories do not follow either previous sociological usage or common sense (1992, 20). He sees the need to reclassify the so-called mainstream Churches but I think I did it better! (Worsfold, 1989)
Denominationalist Someone who puts loyalty to the UU denomination above any particular belief.
UU Christian A person whose faith is Christian in culture and loyalty with less stress on the denomination.
Christian UU A person whose faith is Christian in form but who regards the denomination and loyalty to it as crucial in its understanding.
UU (Religious) Humanist A person who is predominantly this worldly (and may or may not be theist) but positive towards developing expressions of religion.
(Religious) Humanist UU A person who thinks the UU denomination is crucial in the development of religious humanism.
UU Pagan (or New Age) A neo-Pagan who happens to attend a UU church.
Pagan (or New Age) UU A UU who has come to the neo-Pagan position.
UU Eastern Generally a Buddhist (or can be Hindu orientated) who attends a UU church.
Eastern UU Someone whose primary loyalty is to their UU church and has developed eastern analyses of faith and some practice.
UU Pluralist Someone who finds a UU church convenient for changing religious views.
Pluralist UU Someone who seeks to stretch the denomination's faith boundaries (in practice it determines the parameters of expression).
Transcendentalist Developed by Emerson, Thoreau and others, where a narrative of nature permeates Christian originated theism.
Narratives Beliefs and stances (ideologies, religion, reflective history, invented tradition and fiction) which work as cultural and biographical stories. They may or may not be objective but as a kind of grammar have the motivating power to shape group and individual identities. Reflection back alters these "stories". Can properly be described as "cultural-linguistic" but with a broader and variant meaning from Lindbeck's (1984).
Modernity Plurality may be increasingly evident but still within the sense that reason prevails at a higher level of understanding and beyond social distortions.
Postmodernity Following Kumar (1995) and Lakeland (1997, especially 88-89) regarding religion, a cultural understanding of environment of disparate plurality beyond reason and subjectivity and the Enlightenment project to a series of different self-understanding narratives at various levels of society.
Religious Sociologist An apologist for a Church (was mainly French Roman Catholic) or belief who uses the tools of sociology for its purposes.
Sociologist of Religion A sociologist studying religion unconcerned whether this promotes a religion or otherwise.


Material from the Unitarian Universalist Web Site.

One credo of Unitarian Universalism…


Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion born of the Jewish and Christian traditions. We keep our minds open to the religious questions people have struggled with in all times and places.
We believe that personal experience, conscience and reason should be the final authorities in religion. In the end religious authority lies not in a book or person or institution, but in ourselves. We put religious insights to the test of our hearts and minds.

We uphold the free search for truth. We will not be bound by a statement of belief. We do not ask anyone to subscribe to a creed. We say ours is a noncreedal religion. Ours is a free faith.

We believe that religious wisdom is everchanging. Human understanding of life and death, the world and its mysteries, is never final. Revelation is continuous. We celebrate unfolding truths known to teachers, prophets and sages throughout the ages.

We affirm the worth of all women and men. We believe people should be encouraged to think for themselves. We know people differ in their opinions and life-styles and believe these differences generally should be honored.

We seek to act as a moral force in the world, believing that ethical living is the supreme witness of religion. The here and now and the effects our actions will have on future generations deeply concern us. We know that our relationships with one another, with other peoples, races and nations, should be governed by justice, equity and compassion.


Each Unitarian Universalist congregation is the fulfilment of a long heritage that goes back hundreds of years to courageous people who struggled for freedom in thought and faith. On this continent we go back to the Massachusetts settlers and the founders of the republic. Outstanding Unitarians and Universalists include John Adams, Clara Barton, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Susan B. Anthony. Not as famous but equally worthy are the thousands of men and women in our congregations leading vital, dedicated and useful lives.

Our congregations are self-governing. Authority and responsibility are vested in the membership of the congregation. Each local congregation called a church, society or fellowship-adopts its own bylaws, elects its own officers and approves its budget. Every member is encouraged to take part in church or fellowship activities.

Each Unitarian Universalist congregation is involved in many kinds of programs. Worship is held regularly, the insights of the past and present are shared with those who will create the future, service to the community is undertaken and friendships are made. A visitor to a UU congregation will very likely find events and activities such as church school, day-care centers, lectures and forums, support groups, poetry festivals, family events, adult education classes and study groups - all depending on the needs and interests of the local members.

© 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
UUA Pamphlet Commission Publication

Extracts from Flanagan, M. (1992) 'We are Unitarian Universalists', in (January 1998), World Wide Web Site: Unitarian Universalist Association)

The Principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association

The Purposes of the Unitarian Universalist Association

The Unitarian Universalist Association shall devote its resources tand exercise its corporate powers for religious, educational and humanitarian purposes. The primary purpose of the Association is tserve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and implement its principles.

The Association declares and affirms its special responsibility, and that of its member societies and organizations, tpromote the full participation of persons in all of its and their activities and in the full range of human endeavor without regard trace, color, sex, disability, affectional or sexual orientation, age, or national origin and without requiring adherence tany particular interpretation of religion or tany particular religious belief or creed.

Nothing herein shall be deemed to infringe upon the individual freedom of belief which is inherent in the Universalist and Unitarian heritages or tconflict with any statement of purpose, covenant, or bond of union used by any society unless such is used as a creedal test.

Extracts from 'The Principles and Purposes of the Unitarian Universalist Association', in http://www.uua.orglprinciples.html, (January 1998), World Wide Web Site: Unitarian Universalist Association.

Material from the British General Assembly Information Department Web Site

The Unitarians are a spiritual community who encourage you to think for yourself.

They believe that:

They can be called religious 'liberals'

They are called 'Unitarians'

From, 02/02/98.


Material from the Unitarian Universalist Association Web Site


A UUA Department for Diversity and Justice

The mission of Faith in Action is to transform Unitarian Universalism into an anti-oppression, multicultural religious community that affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person. The department collaborates with Unitarian Universalists in congregations, districts, seminaries, and associate and affiliate groups tpromote justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. The department works with other appropriate interfaith and secular organizations twork for social transformation.

[These areas of responsibility are listed:]

Beyond Categorical Thinking is a weekend program available for congregations in the ministerial search process. It is designed tpromote inclusive thinking and thelp prevent unfair discrimination in the search process by helping participants examine their own ableism, ageism, heterosexism, racism, and sexism.

The Preliminary Resource Packet for 1997-1998 Study/Action Issue S-9, "Building Tolerance Through Interfaith Cooperation…"

HIV/AIDS Information is available for those congregations seeking to develop guidelines for supporting those affected by or infected with HIV/ AIDS…

JUSTUUs is an unmoderated electronic mailing list for UU dialogue on justice and oppression.

Justice Networks Development and Support is available for UUs organizing around a particular social justice concern…

Social Action Clearing House (SACH) [offers contact and support]

The Social Justice Empowerment Program assists congregations in developing their social justice programs…

The Washington Office for Faith in Action represents the UUA tthe US Congress and Administration on legislative and public policy matters [and supports political advocacy]

The Whitney M. Young Fund honors the Unitarian Universalist who directed the Urban League (1961-1971) by disbursing grants of up to $3,000 to congregations involved in developing a Unitarian Universalist vision within an urban context.


…oversees the work of transforming Unitarian Universalism into an authentically anti-oppressive, anti-racist, and multicultural faith…

Anti-Oppression Resources are available… Materials from a wide variety of sources are being evaluated for inclusion in a diversity resources library and for recommendations to congregations and organizations.

Congregational Reflection and Action Process Guide is designed to help congregations study and give thoughtful consideration tthe Report and Recommendations of the Racial and Cultural Diversity Task Force.

JUBILEE WORLD I is an introductory one day workshop developed by the Black Concerns Working Group to help participants examine personal and institutional racism [and remove it].

JUBILEE WORLD II… is for active racial justice and anti-racism committees ready timplement a comprehensive strategic plan for anti-racism work in their congregations.

Racial Justice Programs provide UUs with resources for action and reflection… The Racial Justice Network is a newly emerging group of UUs determined to become an anti-racist voice in their local communities and in society at large. It will [collaborate, educate and organise UUs] in response tlinguistic, cultural, and institutional racism.

Training and Leadership Development is available and/or being developed to assist UU congregations, individuals, districts, and associate or affiliate organizations as they assess their place on the continuum toward becoming anti-oppression, anti-racist, and multicultural.

…What is the purpose of the Antiracist UU list? To promote the exchange of information, activates, resources and ideas for antiracism, racial justice, diversity and multiculturalism among Unitarian Universalist….

Extracts from, on UUA Web page,, 29/01/98.


Various sources

About 1928 there were 317 churches in Britain, some 250 in the 1960's and 174 to 182 congregations and fellowships in 1995 (depending on sources - some in a very poor state of attendance and occasional opening). Eighty five ministers, many part time. Figures for 1996 suggest 4697 quota paying adults or 5429 adults as full members and gives estimates (at 182 congregations) of 5480 quota members (5953, 1994) and 6334 (6713, 1994) full members. Well over half are retired and one fifth under 45. The denomination has estimated that if all congregations of under 26 members were to close there would be 5500 people left and 87 congregations. With ageing congregations it has been suggested that in 30 years there could be 3000 members and 30 ministers. This could be optimistic, given the age bulge and expensive ministers.

Smith, M. (1993) 'New Unitarians Surveyed', The Inquirer, 7316, The Inquirer Publishing Company, 5; Smith, M. (1998) 'Headline Figures from the 1996 Congregational Survey', 'GA Information Department News', The Inquirer, 7441, The Inquirer Publishing Company, 5.

George Chryssides (1998) paints too rosy a picture on the future of Unitarianism in his confessional book (e.g. 107-108) and doesn't suggest structural collapse (115-116)

The UUA has about 1000 congregations and a membership of some 150000 adult members and 50000 children, growing about 2% a year for some ten years.

The Unitarian Universalist Association was formed in 1961 by consolidation of the American Unitarian Association (1825) and the Universalist Church of America (1793). At continental headquarters in Boston, the association carries on common activities, such as church extension, ministerial settlement, and preparation of education materials, but it does not exercise hierarchical control. Its philosophy is one of religious liberalism, stressing the value of human freedom and rejecting dogmatic formulations. Humanitarian concerns are entrusted to a related organization, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. The denomination is connected with similar groups abroad through the International Association for Religious Freedom. It has 1,010 churches and lay-led fellowships in North America, with 182,211 adult members and 1,252 ordained clergy (1991).

'Unitarian Universalist Association' in Grolier, (1996) The 1996 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, PC Format Magazine edition, May 1998, 1991 figures.



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