“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Thursday, 1 May 2014

The Reverent Balance

Unitarians, like Quakers, have always been in the habit of questioning beliefs and cherishing doubts.  I would guess that many of us came to Unitarianism exactly by that path - by starting to question some of the beliefs that we grew up with. In my case, I realised that I could not accept the divinity of Jesus as the unique Son of God, and also struggled with the idea that his death on the cross somehow put me back into right relationship with God. When my father gave me Alfred Hall's Beliefs of a Unitarian to read, it was such a relief to learn about a denomination that "holds faith and doubt in reverent balance", to quote Jan Carlsson-Bull. 

What does holding faith and doubt in reverent balance mean? I believe that it is a very delicate balancing act, which certainly needs to be undertaken with reverence. It means actively searching for and working out what gives your life meaning, putting your whole heart and mind and soul into it, and yet at the same time totally respecting the right of every other member of your Unitarian community to disagree with you. It can be a very tough call sometimes.

Because it is only human nature to feel passionately about religious and spiritual matters, about things that touch us deeply. And when we feel passionately about something, it can be difficult to remember that our fellow Unitarians are absolutely free to disagree with us. And that it is our job as Unitarians, as folk who are aiming to "live Unitarianly", to use Michael Dadson's wonderful phrase, to not only tolerate their different views but also to wholeheartedly accept and cherish them. And to not feel aggrieved because Reverend X or Mrs. Y has written something on Facebook with which we disagree. 

Holding faith and doubt in reverent balance also means being open to new ideas, from wherever they come. Unitarianism at its best is a wonderfully open way of approaching life and religion, based on an appeal to reason, conscience and your own life experience. And it is an ongoing process - you don't just experience a one-off conversion, and then rest on those fixed beliefs for the rest of your life; every Unitarian has a duty to approach all new ideas and concepts reverently and critically, and take from them what speaks to our own reason and conscience, and what makes sense in the context of our own life experience, in order to live out our lives in the best and truest way we can.

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