Derby Unitarians

The great mystery

Jim Corrigall explains how Unitarians view God.

Jim Corrigall
Jim Corrigall
Jim Corrigall is communications consultant to the Unitarians in Britain, a post he took up in June 2007, after 17 years as a journalist at BBC World Service. He was born and educated in South Africa, coming to Britain in 1974. He was an anti-apartheid campaigner for many years. Jim became a Unitarian four years ago, and is chair of the congregation at Golders Green Unitarians.

Unitarians recognise that 'God' is a very subjective word, and we do not seek to define God for others. We believe that everyone should be free to encounter the 'Great Mystery' for themselves.

Most Unitarians would use the word 'God' to signify whatever they believe to be of supreme worth. God is that which commands ultimate reverence and allegiance. God is the inspiration and the object of those who seek truth in a spirit of humility and openness.

For some, Christian language about God as a loving, personal power - father-like, as Jesus experienced - comes closest to their belief. Many experience God as a unifying and life-giving spirit: the source of all being, the universal process that comes to consciousness as love.

Others would use the word 'God' to signify the human ideal, the noblest visions and aspirations of humanity against which we measure ourselves. God as an inward presence - the 'still, small voice' within - means more to many than any external power.

Such understandings are of course not mutually exclusive. There are Unitarians who avoid using the word 'God' altogether. For them it has become debased or corrupted by abuse, or it simply does not mean anything. Does all this sound confusing?

Only if you think that God - that which is ultimate in the universe and in our lives - can be reduced to a neat formula. Human experience suggests otherwise, and Unitarians accept this.

Unitarians hold Jesus in high regard, but we see him as fully and unequivocally human -- as a teacher in the rabbinic and prophetic tradition of Judaism, whose central message was the call to love. We recognise Jesus as divine only in the sense that he 'came so close to the sacred, as to be at one with it'.

From what is known of Jesus' teachings, life and death, Unitarians regard him as a major (some would say the major figure) in humanity's spiritual journey. While honouring Jesus, we do not worship him, something we believe he would not have wanted.

As far the Bible goes, most Unitarians value it as the human record of a people's long struggle to understand their origins, their destiny and their God. We can learn much about our own quest for faith and meaning from its insights, stories and experiences.

But Unitarians do not approach the Bible uncritically; it must be read in the light of reason, informed by biblical criticism and scholarship. When Unitarians accept something in the Bible as true, they do so because it rings true in their own humble reflections upon it - not simply because it is in the Bible. And we approach the sacred books of other religious traditions in a similar vein.

This article is reprinted here with permission from Jim Corrigall, and it was first published on the New Statesman website, in the Blog section: "The Faith Column". Jim also asked that we acknowlege his use of material from Rev Cliff Reed's book: "Unitarian? What's That?".