I’d like to start out by saying that, although we were members of a Unitarian congregation for a number of years, I was never comfortable calling myself a “Unitarian”. Since Unitarianism is a “creed-less” faith, the term is too non-specific for my tastes. Terms like “atheist” and “humanist” are much more descriptive of my beliefs. In fact, probably a majority of Unitarians in Canada identify as atheist or humanist. At least, that was probably true in the past at our local Unitarian fellowship.
Unitarians may not have a specific requirement for what they must believe, but they have a set of Seven Principles. I’ll repeat them here:
We, the member congregations of the Canadian Unitarian Council, covenant to affirm and promote:
1) The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
2) Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations;
3) Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
4) A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
5) The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
6) The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
7) Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
These principles are fine, but they are not exclusive to Unitarianism. They are lofty enough that anyone can accept them, even those who wouldn’t even consider themselves as Unitarian.
The Seven Principles begin with an important statement, that every person has value, and is worthy and deserving of being treated with respect and dignity.
Compare the First Principle with the second sentence of the US Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The inherent worth and dignity of everyone is one of those principles that should be considered self-evident by any thinking and caring human being.
In comparison, read the Eight Points of the (now defunct) Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity (CCPC):
1) Centre our faith on values that affirm the sacredness and interconnectedness of all life, the inherent and equal worth of all persons, and the supremacy of love expressed actively in our lives as compassion and social justice;
2) Engage in a search that has roots in our Christian heritage and traditions;
3) Embrace the freedom and responsibility to examine traditionally held Christian beliefs and practices, acknowledging the human construction of religion, and in the light of conscience and contemporary learning, adjust our views and practices accordingly;
4) Draw from diverse sources of wisdom, regarding all as fallible human expressions open to our evaluation of their potential contribution to our individual and communal lives;
5) Find more meaning in the search for understanding than in the arrival at certainty; in the questions than the answers;
6) Encourage inclusive, non-discriminatory, non-hierarchical community where our common humanity is honoured in a trusting atmosphere of mutual respect and support;
7) Promote forms of individual and community celebration, study, and prayer that use understandable, inclusive, non-dogmatic, value-based language by which people of religious, skeptical, or secular backgrounds may be nurtured and challenged;
8) Commit to journeying together, our ongoing growth characterized by honesty, integrity, openness, respect, intellectual rigour, courage, creativity, and balance.
I list the Eight Points of the CCPC in full here since they don’t seem to be available else on the internet. Clearly, there is a great deal of overlap between the Seven Principles and the Eight Points. Just as most atheists and humanists would probably agree with the Seven Principles, most would probably also agree with most of the Eight Points (expect, of course, for point 2).
As I mentioned before, the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity closed down a few years ago. They claimed that they accomplished their goals. I suspect the truth is that they were simply too progressive for most Canadian Christians.
To see a side-by-side comparison of the Seven Principles and Eight Points, US and Canadian versions, click here.
As a contrast, let’s consider another set of principles, the five points of Calvinism. These points are identified by the acronym TULIP:
Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)
Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)
I won’t go into great detail about these points other than to contrast the first point, “T”, with the first principle of Unitarianism. While Unitarians believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, Calvinists believe in the total depravity of mankind. You can’t get a wider difference than that. You have to wonder how a Calvinist can treat any of their fellow humans with any degree of respect if they believe that everyone, and I mean everyone, is intrinsically evil.
Of course, most Calvinists can’t see the inherent contradictions in the Five Points. For example, they also believe that humans have no free will. That is, mankind is inherently evil not of their own choosing, but rather, because their god wills it.
It is interesting that if you debate a Calvinist and press them on the points, some will admit that they don’t actually believe in all of the Five Points. Even though they learned and accepted the catechism of their church, many Calvinists believe, for example, that man does have free will. These are the so-called “Three Point Calvinists“. (There are also “Four Point Calvinists” and even “One Point Calvinists“.) In the past, people have gotten themselves killed because they didn’t believe in the full Calvinist catechism.
I’ve always considered the fact that Christians can’t agree on basic principles one of the biggest arguments against Christianity. If there were a God, it should be considered a heresy that such a supreme being was incapable or unwilling to get its message out in a clear and unambiguous manner. Instead, we have thousands of different prophets each claiming to know what God wants of us, and few of them agreeing on all their claims. I must conclude that they’re all wrong.
I’ll conclude this missive with a quote from Thomas Jefferson in a letter written to John Adams in 1823:
I can never join Calvin in addressing his god… his religion was Dæmonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did. The being described in his 5 points is not the God whom you and I acknowledge and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world; but a dæmon of malignant spirit. It would be more pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin.