Which is why I found a reading by Gary Kowalski, which I found on the UUA Worship Web, so fascinating. For him, and I think for most Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists, the important thing is not what you believe, but how you hold those beliefs – your attitude to them, and to the beliefs of others.This is part of what it said:
“What makes us different is the way that we Unitarians carry our beliefs—because there are different ways of holding your belief bag.
For example, some people …clutch [their bag] close and make sure the top is tightly sealed, because they don’t want their beliefs exposed to any new ideas that could threaten what’s inside. They’ve got their world wrapped up in a nice, tidy package. And because their bag is all closed up, we call these people closed-minded.
On the other hand, some people … don’t pay much attention at all to what goes into their bag. One idea is a good as another, and if other folks believe it, or if they read it on the internet, or heard it on talk radio, then it must be true. Because they carry their bag in such a sloppy manner, we call these people sloppy thinkers.
And then there are people who carry their bags … like a club they use to hit other people. … they use their bag like a weapon, and attack other people’s beliefs with it.
But none of those is the Unitarian way. Instead, we carry our bags like this: we carry them with the top open, so that new ideas and experiences can get inside, and old beliefs can be tossed aside if needed.
We carry our bags in front of us, so that we can see and examine what goes in, to be sure it makes sense and fits with other things we know. And also so that we can see what our neighbours think, and share our thoughts with others. Above all, we never use our beliefs to beat up or bully other people.”
I would guess that few Unitarians could be accused of being closed-minded. But sometimes, just sometimes, we may be guilty of carrying our belief bags carelessly, taking on beliefs without examining them carefully, without submitting them to our reason or conscience. Or sometimes, just sometimes, we may be guilty of using our beliefs as weapons to attack others, forgetting to respect the beliefs of others, and hold their beliefs in a spirit of freedom and tolerance.
The important thing is to hold our belief bags open, as Gary Kowalski suggests, so that we remain open to new ideas and experiences, and discard old ones, which no longer speak to us. I have often said that Unitarian belief is a process of continuous and continuing revelation. We don’t just have a one-off conversion experience, sign up to a particular set of beliefs, and then rest on those for the rest of our lives. Being a Unitarian is like being a Quaker – we have to be “open to new Light, from whatever source it may come.”
We also need to carry our bags in front of us, as he suggests, so that we examine any new beliefs critically, before taking them on, and adding them to our bags. Finally, I love the idea that we carry our bags open, and in front of us, “so that we can see what our neighbours think, and share our thoughts with others.” That is surely the essence of being Unitarian – sharing the wisdom we have found on our faith journeys, and being open to being influenced by the beliefs and wisdom of others.
This has certainly been true in my case. When I came to Unitarianism at the age of 18, it was in reaction to certain tenets of Christianity, which I could not believe – such as Jesus being the unique Son of God, born to a virgin; the idea of original sin, that we are all born with fatal flaws; and also the doctrine of the atonement – that Jesus’s death on the cross two thousand years ago was the only thing that could put me back into right relationship with God the Father. I reacted strongly against these beliefs, which meant that for many years, I was what might be called an ‘ABC Unitarian’ – anything but Christianity. My mind was closed to the wisdom of that religion.
But in the last decade or so, I have let go of my death-hold on my beliefs bag, and started to hold it wide open. I have met, and read books by, many Christians, and have found that Christianity is far more diverse than I had believed, and that many Christians hold beliefs that are important to me, that I have now added to my own beliefs bag. That God is Love, and that Love is at the centre of everything. That Jesus’s teaching centred on love and compassion for others. That the Spirit of the divine is active in our lives, if only we are wide awake enough to sense it.
So let us be sure to hold our belief bags open, so that new beliefs may be added if they speak to our condition, to use the Quaker phrase. Let us hold them in front of us, so that unexamined beliefs don’t slip in un-noticed. And may we share our beliefs with others – who knows which word you speak about your beliefs could be the one word of truth for someone else, with the possibility of transforming their lives?