Members’ theology


Here are statements from some of our members about their own theology. Do any of these resonate with your beliefs? Even if not, you are still very welcome!

John

I believe all human societies use a religious structure to make sense of the world, to justify and order their hierarchies, to enrich their culture and to evolve / impose a system of morality.

The concept of God is one of perfection. Human perfection does not exist, we are all flawed. Just as I don’t believe anyone is 100% evil (although some have come close to it) I don’t expect to find anyone so perfect that their life becomes eternal. I realise some religions do express this possibility.

I have difficulty believing in God as an external entity, separate from human kind, and the natural world as we know it. Rather I see an abstract concept of perfection – of something we can all aspire to, and try to reach. To put it simply – we are flawed, God is perfect. The principal components of this perfection are truth (integrity), compassion, love and joy.

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As humans we appear to occupy, currently at least, the dominant position on this planet. This great privilege comes with responsibilities: to each other, to the natural world and to the planet and the known universe.

I can envisage an almost total void for others and myself after death, although there may be some continuing unrest, the energy of troubled spirits. Therefore death is perfect peace.

I believe it is quite possible to arrive at an abstract code of morality without recourse to religion, but as we have the benefit of thousands of years of religious experience and wisdom, why not use that. In the sixties it was said that anything we do is OK as long as we don’t hurt anyone else. I have found that very few of our actions are in isolation, and do not have consequences for others. If we have morality, knowledge of good and evil, it follows that we can choose between them. Therefore we have free will.

One of our choices is between indulgence and restraint. Having lived amongst poor communities and in the rich west, I find that wealth and indulgence do not bring happiness, and that peace of mind and true joy are achievable with only the minimum of material comforts. Furthermore our indulgence, such as you might see and hear outside this evening, not only do not bring true happiness but are linked to the misery of others. We should strive for enough for or need, but not for our greed.

In spite of misery, want, conflict and disease I believe that our overall progress is still upwards, just about, and that we should continue to strive towards perfection – God. On the way we can celebrate with joy and hope.

Paul

I have a problem with the word God. I was raised an Irish-influenced Roman Catholic, and the G-word for me conjures up images of an all-seeing, all-powerful, all-judging entity, who, having created humanity, set up some rules, told us if we didn’t obey we’d be sinners and go to this place called Hell, then decided the only way out of this bind was to incarnate Himself as His own Son and offer Himself up to Himself as a sacrifice to atone for us sinners (and me in particular), thus letting us in to Heaven, as long as we ourselves (and again me in particular) were really, genuinely sorry for our sins whilst alive.

In recent years, I’ve discovered the work of Joseph Campbell, author of “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”, and his idea of the monomyth, the apparent pattern underlying all heroic stories, from the humblest fairytale up to and including the life-stories of Jesus and the Buddha. I’ve also discovered the work of the psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, who thinks that the reason for this underlying pattern, is that it is an example of some form of imprinted memory of the process of being born. However, despite all of this, the image that still instinctively pops in to my head when I hear the word God is the one I just outlined.

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Whilst preparing this piece, I tried to remember any other images of “God” I may have got as a child: I remembered a reading about the prophet Elijah I heard whilst serving on the altar one Sunday: Elijah, seemingly failed in his mission, has taken refuge in a cave. God talks to him and asks him “Why are you here?”. God rejects Elijah’s answer and says for Elijah to come out and face him: in turn, a rock-shattering wind, a dreadful earthquake and a sudden fire all follow but Elijah stays in the cave: Elijah then hears a gentle blowing, a faint whisper, a quiet voice hushed and low, knows it to be God, binds his eyes and goes out of the cave. I remember thinking at the time that this was an entirely different notion of God to the one I was usually given, and was possibly a notion I could get along with, however, I started thinking about it, and thought that well, why wouldn’t God also be the fire, the wind, the dreadful earthquake, so its impact on me was somewhat lessened.

Fast-forwarding a bit, what attracted me to Cross Street in the first place was Jane’s message on the website: “Unitarians are non-credal, and there is a wide diversity of belief at Cross Street. Some believe in God, some don’t. Some believe in life after death, some don’t. It doesn’t matter. We are bound together by love and respect, not a shared creed. We draw on the teachings of Jesus the man, as well as the other major world faiths. For us, divine revelation and human learning are a never-ending process.”

Well, I thought to myself, this is something I’d like to experience. I found the community here to be incredibly welcoming, and it was so satisfying to find a safe place in which to explore the spiritual aspects of my life which I had let to whither on the vine. I still have my issues with the G-word, for instance I usually check the hymns before each service starts: if it seems to me the message or intent isn’t something I agree with then I’ll stand when it’s being sung but remain silent: sometimes I’ll sing most of the hymn but omit the G-word, or substitute something like Life or Being or whatever I think is appropriate, but very quietly, so as not to disturb anyone who’s fine with the hymn as is.

Once, I did sing the G-word, just to see what happened: nothing much I could tell but I’ve still kept up with my omission/substitution approach.

Now for someone who doesn’t believe in the word God, as defined above, it might raise a wry smile to learn I spent all of Thursday this week in Durham Cathedral and Friday morning and early afternoon on Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, if you will. I’m not sure why I went, but I know I needed to go to these places for myself, and come to my own conclusions about them. As much as I am certain of, whether about my trip to the North-East or in general, is that I am part of something I call life, and, to repeat the quote I read at my membership service, the mystery of life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced.

Rich

It may sound like a contradiction in terms, but I found atheism at church.

I’d always been uncomfortable with Christianity, and I went through a long phase of being “unaffiliated” before finding myself at Cross Street Chapel. It was this environment that allowed me to open up and explore my true perception of the world which, as with many scientists, leads me to believe primarily in the rational and the provable.

These days, I’m very comfortable wearing the labels atheist and humanist alongside Unitarian, especially in scientific circles, where belief in God and having a religion is seen as a sign of weakness by many. I definitely do not believe in a personal God – a God who can hear and speak – and I’m even happy to join in with rants against irrational theology such as creationism.

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But my real theology is closer to something called pantheism, a belief that God and the observable universe are one and the same (Dawkins – in dismissing it – calls this the God of Einstein, referring to that God who “does not play dice”). This universe we live in is really amazing, and it is just as worthy of veneration as any deity. Relativity, evolution, matter/energy equivalence, quantum entanglement, even life itself are fantastic and beautiful and as mysterious and crazy as anything in the Bible. No proof is needed to believe in my God – it’s all around us, and science is discovering more all the time. Respect for the universe, the world and all the people who live on it is my version of God-worship.

I do have some discomfort around people defending beliefs based on irrational evidence. I find intercessory prayer hard to deal with, because it seems to be passing one’s own responsibility onto someone else. I also find it hard to stomach using an ancient book to defend homophobia, misogynism, and all manner of other atrocities in the name of a being who cannot (or does not) speak for Himself.

I think the teachings of Jesus, on the whole, are quite compatible with atheism, and I’m fascinated by the beliefs of other world religions, many of which are also compatible to a greater or lesser extent. I love this quote from Gautama Buddha: “Conjecture about the origin of the world is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.”

I don’t believe the afterlife is something people themselves experience after they die. In fact, the concept of living forever sounds horrific to me (a thousand years might be nice, though!) I think the afterlife is what you leave behind for the people who are still here after you die. As Frightened Rabbit said: “When my head rolls off, someone else’s will turn. So while I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to Earth.”