A Unitarian Druid

The Flaming Chalice

Some years ago, when I lived in England, I went to a Unitarian church, a church of “religious liberals”. I even led a couple of services introducing Pagan ritual (one for Imbolc, 1st Feb, and another for Beltane, 1st May) and I remember the time fondly. It was a small congregation, but very welcoming and active. I was a member for a couple of years, attending most Sundays,

There’s not many congregations in Spain (one in Barcelona and another in Madrid) and it can’t be recognised as a religion here because “it lacks creeds”. Individuals may come from a variety of faiths: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Pagan, Buddhist and so on. The lack of any single creed is integral to it. We can’t really talk of “believers” but “seekers”.

I think part of my affinity with Unitarianism is that it has a Christian past, like me, and recognises that as an important part of its history. However, the Church and/or the Bible are not seen as the ultimate authorities on religion, but that we have it within us to work it out for ourselves (conscience, reason, life experience, intuition, etc., “gifts from God” we might say). I grew up visiting Baptist and Anglican churches, and considered myself Christian until my early teens, but later my curiosity just “spilled” over the cup of Christian theology. I had my doubts, I prayed to God about it, and He gave me a very definite answer: this is the way I made you! Or as Jesus said in the Bible “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” – I reckon that includes any religious belief or practice.

I may not participate in a congregation but I still feel “Unitarian” (or Unitarian Universalist as it is in the US). My beliefs aren’t a fixed set of prescribed beliefs, they are subject to change and plenty of updates, so the idea of a church that not only tolerates but encourages this is extremely appealing. As one Odinist friend of mine put it “It’s seems very futuristic”.

Here’s a description of Unitarianism from the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches’s website:

We believe that:

  • Everyone has the right to seek truth and meaning for themselves.
  • The fundamental tools for doing this are your life experiences, your reflection upon it, your intuitive understanding and the promptings of your own conscience.
  • The best setting for this is a community that welcomes you for who you are, complete with your beliefs, doubts and questions.
  • In the spirit of civil and religious liberty, equality of respect and opportunity is for everyone.

We can be called religious ‘liberals’:

  • Religious because we unite to celebrate and affirm values that embrace and reflect a greater reality than self.
  • Liberal because we claim no exclusive revelation or status for ourselves.
  • We afford respect and toleration to those who follow different paths of faith.

We are called ‘Unitarians’:

  • Because of our traditional insistence on divine unity, the oneness of God.
  • Because we affirm the essential unity of humankind and of creation.

Daily Life Democracy

What follows is revolutionary, but it is a revolution that has already happened, is happening and will continue to happen, though it is perhaps realised by too few. It is a bit subversive because it undermines the System, yet it celebrates the very thing that the System (supposedly) stands for.

In ideal terms, democracy is a way for all eligible citizens to make collective decisions. In practice this is rarely the case. We cannot trust that the electorate is making conscious and educated decisions about the direction of a society (being comprised of rational reflection, irrational reaction, knowledge, ignorance, insight, misdirection and prejudice), and also most democracies delegate their decisions to a small class of politicians that, we can safely say, don’t always have the bests interests of everyone, but are influenced by a mixture of personal ambition, party loyalties, ideological convictions and, finally, the interests of the people they represent.

But democracy’s practical effect neutralises the political extremes of a society, thereby allowing a free and safe space for a diverse and democratic society. Partisan politics is a perfect example of this: by embodying a society’s collection of ideologies in parties and including them within the same political system, these “loose ends” are tied up so they don’t interfere with the basic functioning of a society, i.e. the lives of the people (not completely foolproof, but it does work somewhat like that).

Within this “democratic” context, a more grassroots democracy takes place. We are given a safe space within which we can practice a more personally directed democracy, experimenting with and choosing from a wide range of options for our lives, wider than the conventional or political models that we are presented with. The choices we make every day are more powerful than the ones we make in the poll booth.

Democratically elected governments are not what create a democratic society; they are the litmus test for the quality of a democratic society. We cannot rely on our democratic government to change things (no “top down”). The change comes from the space created by the democratic government that, for the most part, protects our rights to think and choose as we see fit. It comes from the choices or non-choices we make in our daily lives.

Put another way, democracy is what happens when our politicians aren’t looking; the life and choices of the People cannot be constrained to the poll booth.

Eco-Thought X

My trip to England was interesting. It outlined the nostalgia I have for a greener, wetter climate. In Spain, I live in the midst of nature, and I love it, but it’s not the one I grew up with. Here, it is dry and covered with pines, a result of heavy deforestation that left only the quick growing trees to recover. I grew up with an abundance of green and deciduous trees.

We visited several parks, and I had the sensation of an inner thirst being quenched, and the song birds seemed to sing a richer song here, too, or perhaps evoked something more familiar in me. The birds there are more trusting because there’s less history of hunting songbirds.

On the other hand I’m aware that England (specifically the South East) is “tamed” nature. I might miss it, but I know that living there can feel oppressive in another sense because, although there is a lot of nature, it lacks a “wild” quality. It’s all contained by human activity; every corner feels civilised and inhabited by humans. SE England feels cared for and nature is given a sympathetic space to grow and express itself, but it can be cloying. Spain feels ruined and abandoned, scarred by centuries of misuse and little care or sympathy, but this also means that there are corners that have escaped the human gaze (the “benefits” of negligence, you might say), and where really wild creatures can flourish. Spain can (just about) boast of wolves, bears, lynxes and wild boar, which have inhabited the British Isles but have since seen extinction there because of human intervention.

I’m reminded by the expression “grass is always greener on the other side.” There are pros and cons to either argument. Living in either, I can find things to be dissatisfied by. But this is outweighed by the benefits. I have nostalgia for my native England, and it’s good to have a “top-up” now and then, but I don’t think I could limit myself to it.