Joined: 17 Nov 2006
|Posted: Mon Jun 08, 2015 2:19 pm Post subject: Evolution of religion towards spirituality
|Address 7th June 2015
God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. John 4, 24
They used to say the Unitarians were a safety net for falling Christians. Very often people used to make their way to our Chapels if they had fallen out of love with their own churches.
Theosophus Lindsey who founded the first Unitarian church in Essex Street off the Strand in London - (it was where our headquarters building now is) resigned from a rich living in Yorkshire because he said he could no longer preach what he didn’t believe - this was particularly the doctrine of the Trinity contained in the creed which he had to lead every week in worship. He was honest to his conscience.
People used to come to the Unitarians because they couldn’t get married in any other Christian church, or their own church or the local church might have refused to christen their children. There were many reasons why people felt let down by their own church and ended up with the Unitarians.
The Unitarians were no less Christian than any other church. It was just the way they interpreted the teaching. They saw God as a kind and loving God and they believed Jesus was a holy man - but he was his own man. He might have been the son of God but then everyone, man and woman were children of God.
But over the years, within a generation really, that has changed too. At the recent annual meetings of the Unitarians, the emphasis of the worship was not towards God.
The emphasis was on the interconnectedness of people and the value of service towards humanity. You show your faith through your good works, you practice your faith through doing good works.
The National Unitarian Fellowship at their slot within the annual meeting invited Ben Whitney to talk to them. His talk is now on YouTube under UK UnitarianTV.
He said that he is a spiritual humanist. In his time he has been a Baptist minister but he resigned when he felt he was being hypocritical preaching what he no longer believed.
He said that he could not believe that supernatural things happened in the world through the intervention of a divine force. Religion he said is the product of humanity’s own imaginative feelings. Religions were created by people out of the circumstances and cultures of the time.
Religion was used to explain what was happening in the world or it was created as a means of controlling the tribe - or the nation - and beyond.
The oldest civilisations were subject to the vagaries of nature. It meant more to them than it does to us today. - so they imagined there were Gods within nature. A God in Egypt who controlled the flood of the river Nile and brought them good or bad harvests.
Gods of storm and God of drought, Gods of conquest. They explained the unpredictable and chaotic side of nature as being caused by the whim of the Gods.
When they suffered they assumed they had offended their Gods. Gods had to be appeased by sacrifice.
It is the same the world over, said Ben Whitney, whether you look in Mesopotamia, Israel or South America.
Heaven and hell ? No, he said. Life is what there is. If the world is a bad place it is we who have made it bad. If it is to be made better, it is we who have to make it better. No good praying to a God who has been made up. He is not there.
Someone did ask him why he called himself a spiritual humanist and not just a humanist. He said that the human spirit within each of us is an important key to making the world better.
Someone else asked him how all this squared with ‘enlightenment’ and mysticism. He said that his daughter was into Buddhism and she talked about enlightenment - that was her department.
I found that bit interesting. I can follow the argument that religions have their origins in humanity. We see how interwoven religions are with the culture that they sprang from. Do Muslims really have to wear Middle Eastern or Arab dress to practice their faith when they live here. Do Jewish Zionists have to have hats and long hair? Is it faith or culture that compels a woman to cover her hair and often her face as well. Why do priests wear mediaeval costumes?
Were these cultural conditions passed to earth by a supernatural messenger ?
Religion is the result of human experience - except there is another piece in the jigsaw. And that is what is spiritual and what is enlightenment.
You can reject all of religion, you can accept scriptures as just wise teachings but it doesn’t take everything away.
There are moments when there is a connection to something, and sometimes someone, that really is outside human experience. As if there really is something ‘other’.
Could that be the work of God? But then we ask which God? Is it the God of the Muslims, or the Hindus, or the Aztecs or the Hopi Native Americans?
To many Unitarians God has become a difficult word because they have been brought up in a Christian tradition of the God of the Old Testament.
The word God tends to be avoided in many Unitarian services.
Many Unitarians reject that Old Testament God, unless they can find another way of understanding the stories of this God who expects people to fear him and who will punish transgressors.
The mystic traditions try to do this. What you first read is not the truth say the mystics, the truth about God is hidden within the stories, read them again and again. The scriptures are an esoteric or secret teaching for those who would discover their real truth.
They say the same about the NewTestament, read them differently. They are not histories, read them again.
At the Annual Meetings, I bought a book that has been published by the Unitarian Christian Association.
For a long time the Unitarian Christians have felt marginalised within the Movement. There was talk of a break away or a split because opposite to their appeals for a revival was the reaction that Christianity should move forward and develop, not go backwards.
Their book is called, “Our Christian Faith”. Some of the main points are that what Christianity became is not what Jesus preached or practiced.
Most say that it is the teachings that are timeless and who the man Jesus was is not as important. He was a human Rabbi who set out to reform his religion.
One says that Unitarianism is a reformed Christianity. It has developed where the other churches have not changed. Another is happy that most Christians now do not really believe the old Church doctrines, they just don’t say so, because they like the music and the liturgy and sort of secretly cross their fingers when the ritual words are said.
And one quotes that text - that God is the spirit in everything. And in each of us too.
And it also includes an essay about the secret message of Christianity.
It is a book well worth reading.
We Unitarians are good at reason. Everything has an explanation. If you can’t find the answer, dig a little deeper.
One of our famous Unitarian forbears was Alister Hardy. He was famous first as a marine biologist and spent most of his working life as an academic at Oxford.
He started his studies there just before the outbreak of the first world war and eventually had to go to the trenches and fight. He was one of the lucky few and he came back to resume his studies and become a world authority on plankton and its role in the life of the oceans.
Alistair Hardy was a keen follower of the theory of evolution. But that war and the horrors he witnessed of death and the trenches deeply affected him - and his faith.
If everything in nature is in a state of change, is always developing to become better and more efficient, why shouldn’t we humans also be subject to this law of evolution - and it wasn’t just social evolution, the survival of the fittest and the richest, but spiritual and religious evolution.
He said there was a connection between evolution and the spiritual nature of humankind.
He gathered evidence on a massive scale - over 6,000 testimonies that used to be houses at the Unitarian College in Oxford, Manchester College. The collection is now housed at the Lampeter University.
He had examples of telepathy and thought transference, and he also recorded testimony of psychic experiences.
The question he asked - and is still being asked.
‘Have you ever been aware of a presence or a power that is different from your everyday experience?’
It is a good question and many have written of their experiences. Not only in those psychic moments, but also in near death experiences and those déjà vu moments - and those times of synchronicity - the amazing coincidence.
Maybe we should ask ourselves if religion as we knew it is dying off because of evolution - that something is quietly and unobtrusively changing and replacing it.
Is the idea of God - that deity we call God also evolving and changing?
Is the spiritual connection becoming stronger than any doctrine?. Is our sense of spirituality becoming stronger than our sense of religion?
And maybe that message in the wisdom of ancient scriptures has been there all along. We have to look. One of my favourite sayings,
‘Turn the stone and you will find me, cleave the wood and I am there.’ Is an old Testament saying
God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. Is the New Testament message.
Is that the message for today?