In these days of increasing dogma and internalisation of religious bureaucracies, it is good to see some sort of alternative on offer. Catherine Robinson's piece in The Guardian's Face to Faith for today (under Comment is Free) does a good summary of Unitarian origins in terms of central Europe.
Quibble quibble... There is good reason to think that early Unitarian origins in England and the USA are separate from central Europe. The Bible only no creeds Presbyterian-Puritan congregations (without Presbyterian structures) and congregationalists in the USA drifted in a liberal direction. They were pumped up by ideological Unitarians, but the link with dispersed Socinians say into the Netherlands is co-incidental. That's why the central European tradition has a Unitarian catechism and the Anglo-Americans do not, though also the catechism protected Unitarians from development as a condition of limited toleration. Another quibble: most of Transylvania where Unitarianism developed and hung on was in, now, Rumania: in Hungary the Austro-Hungarian Empire destroyed it, as did the Jesuits once in power in Poland. Of course it is back into these places, but only in small measures, more in Hungary because of the ethnic association.
You can then get into detail: the place of Universalism in the USA absorbed within Baptists and Unitarian Baptists in England and parts of Wales, and the growth of Arminianism in England and South Wales, and South Wales divided into two distinct histories and geographies. There is the contribution of Exeter liturgical Arianism to the first named Unitarian church in London and yet Arianism was more influential within Anglicanism.
The big influence was the change (under Martineau) towards a broad Christianity that was to lead directly to forms of religious humanism and universal religion. It was the later nineteenth century 'victory' of a broad Presbyterian ethos without the Puritanism (over a denominationalist Unitarian ideological Puritanism without the Presbyterian breadth) that was Free Christianity, that openness associated with the growth of criticism and religious romanticism, a movement to conscience away from the Book.
Get into such detail and you lose the ability to summarise, of course. It gets complicated, and then you start debating.
A nice touch from Catherine Robinson that some named Unitarians were communicators. They were, and so were many denominationalist preachers that annoyed the orthodox nearby. But, yes, it happened that Unitarians were some key inventors of modern day communications for everyone.
Unitarianism cannot be a separate religion, but it might be more or less a unique approach to religion when carried out in full. But is it carried out in full? Also, it is tiny and much diminished, and has a very uncertain future along with other, larger, but falling-by-similar-proportions denominations. Unitaranism, though, can market itself as the liberal alternative and they have only old arguments against Anglicanism which no one understands.
Here is another and realistic encounter from The Guardian and 'Comment is Free' on March 16th, a visit to a Unitarian church.
Let's answer some comments from 28 March!
28 Mar 09, 12:04pm
Could you be a Unitarian, and believe in the Trinity, Original Sin, the Virgin birth, and the real sacrifice of Christ in the Mass?
Yes. Any and all. Wouldn't be very fulfilling though in terms of Unitarian ritual practice.
28 Mar 09, 2:31am
What this boils down to is that Unitarians want the warm fuzzies without the explicit codification of other superstitions. Now you only need to take one more step and become a rationalist.
But then what of religious insight, the function of ritual given a general reflective application and the practice of developing calmness and awareness?