Sunday, 20 November 2011

Twelve Reference Points for Religious Pluralists

A Liberal Pluralist View...


This is a focus or summary of what matters most, as a direction for life (even if not taken). It has to embrace more, not less. For some it might be polytheistic, others a high and dry theism. For me there are many signals of transcendence but a transcendence is probably not real, so somewhere from real absence to non-realism, the latter being my own preference (as a soft postmodernist or high modernist otherwise).

Prophetic Figures

No one is unique and yet we are, each of us, unique. There simply isn't the information about people we do know and those we don't know to create an ethical top ten prohetic figures never mind top one. A prophetic figure will be shaped by a fast or slow moving tradition to being a tradition's understood as top prophetic figure! Treating someone as divine (alone) is, though, and can only be, simply dogma and indeed tradition. All sorts of people have given of themselves for a greater good, and it's not clear that Jesus ever did this. It seems odd to rely on a cruel regime to achieve a death on to which to build a theology, plus Jesus is too much focused in one tribal culture (he needed to be universalised afterwards); but it is perhaps typically tragic that it was a Hindu that shot Gandhi dead for apparently being too generous to Muslims - and that generosity is necessary. Buddha is important for spiritual technique and practicality; I find Muhammad too compromised; and Baha'u'llah is compromised by similar literalism and is full of nineteenth century assumptions in a shift from one closed culture to another more open. Many minor figures are often all the greater and some given prominence are dubious at best.


It is important to be world affirming. Buddhists who attune themselves into being compassionate are world affirming, and there is nothing incompatible with individualism and being for the world. Research is important into how the world functions: so social anthropology and sociology are examining tools which a more universal theology can use. The Barthian route to non-realism is too world denying; it has to be a Martineau-like universal incarnation route that affirms the collective and individual in such a way that the two break down into a form of postmodernism.

Cultural Change

Religion is not unchanging, and nor is there some protected unchanged core. Cultural shifts with periods of rapid charismatic change are the essence of religion, and a challenge now is to rediscover a religion for a secular and scientific age and one consistent with social research. All religion is within culture, and all uses language and the arts.


No text should be privileged so that some is scripture and some are not: the only difference is that some are more focussed on God things than others and those communities that were developing God ideas. But all sorts of texts can be used religiously.


These are means to ends, routes that others discovered useful for developing spirituality. They are not fixed and every tradition should be allowed its history of change. The unethical should be dropped and replaced. A lot of tradition is actually invented tradition, with a claim to the past that does not stand up (e.g. some forms of ritualism, and the neo-Pagan) but if these 'work' in providing understanding then they can be used - it's just that we should know what they are and their limitations.

Unitarianism and Other Bodies

Unitarianism should be a vehicle for such pluralistic, possibly universalistic faith. I take an Anglo-American evolutionary view of Unitarian, meaning a community of change over time. For me, Unitarian is the adjective of a broader pluralism, whereas others will be more denominational. Presumably being more denominational has standards of role performance, and as such is postliberal and even conserving when set in a more postmodern religious context. The Quakers solve the problem of many voices by being quiet, at least in worship tradition. They may well be more cohesive but the answers religiously and socially may not be the right ones. People of liberal outlook should support it wherever it is found, but also to see institutional arguments for what they are. Many Church of England and similar bodies make arguments for ethical outcomes that are solved simply by leaving. It looks ever more unlikely (from the bottom up) but if the top down imposes an Anglican Communion Covenant then Anglican liberals ought to be told that their options are very limited - so let's hope they are not. I also would like to see a less egotistical Liberal Catholicism, that it is also a means to a greater end of spirituality and tolerance.

Inclusive Ministry

There should be no blockages to ministry on grounds of agenda or consenting relationships that do no harm. Ministry as trained and educational is important, but ordination probably is optional. Rituals should be extended to assist the stability of society across its diversity: it is one of the roles of religion to see the deeper in relationships. I would have friendship ceremonies as well as marriages and partnerships. We should also consider reflective ceremonies of letting go, as with divorces. Places to gather might vary, though many a church is potentially an open space and starts with an open space, and such may be a genuinely bottom-up movement.

Other Belief Traditions

Pluralists should always attempt the widest possible interaction with people of different faith, starting with other pluralists and then universalists, and then moving on to those liberal about particular traditions, and then those who discuss their traditions, up to the point where the door is held shut by others. Pluralists though ought to pay attention to their own critical theology, and not just be a form of 'easty-listening' religion to any old material.

New Patterns of Worship

Whilst inherited forms are a resource, pluralists should be experimental and find new expressions of means to reflect and contemplate and go on to act in the world. Worship is about finding worth. This means new liturgy, new songs, and new patterns of worship.

Holistic Mission

The purpose of mission is simply to make more available the space by which others may use the resources available by which people can reflect, contemplate and ask themselves about their own lives' directions, supported by other people, including the natural place of death. It's not about signing on the dotted line. Part of this should have charitable and social impact, where possible.


The purpose of religious structures is to further human and wider animal well being, even if such is subject to continual debate. It must mean freedom, toleration and mutual support, and the realisation of a spiritual appreciation. The planet and universe will go through its own cycles and human kind will probably evolve out (even if it doesn't self-destruct) so its ultimate purpose is to accept its own place just as the individual uses religion to accept their own life and death.


Louise said...

I guess that it's implied but I think that my Unitarianism includes a belief that our religion is not just about a personal relationship with the divine (or whatever we choose to call that which you have called God) but about the relationships with the others in our communities. So community and relationships are both pivotal and a focus for much of what we do.

Anonymous said...

Although I do not know enough about Unitarianism, yes, I could happily sign the bottom of this sheet if presented. Nothing I would wish to remove though a few things I would add; an ethic for 'Solar Living' or philosophy on the 'transience of life' (Cupitt, The Fountain - Solar Ethics) but I'm just being a tad pedantic for I think these 12 steps would make for a good discussion at one of our SOF gatherings. Incidentally this morning I re-read 'The Agenda for Faith' by Stephen Mitchell and prefer what you say on 'God'.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yes, fellowship and mutual support is implied, though I won't go as far and say community and relationships are a primary purpose. Sometimes you come to a religious gathering despite the people there, and building a community with them is not something I'd want to do primarily but as a consequence of the purpose of being there.

Soal ethic could be placed in the living and thinking again area. But the point is no signature is wanted, there is nothing here to sign. Signing on the dotted line is to be avoided.

Jim stearn said...

Glad you mention animals. Anthropocentric religion is old, bad religion. For me compassion extends beyond humanity, generating a religious imperative to find sustainable ways to share this planet with wild animals and more humane ways to keep domesticated ones.