Monday, June 20, 2011

Emerson, Transcendentalism and Unitarian Beliefs

Unitarianism - the faith of Emerson and Thoreau, Dickens and Coleridge, Jefferson and Adams - was the essential faith of the American Transcendentalists, and its legacy can be traced through the New Thought movement to elements of the New Age movement today.

"Religion," writes James Freeman Clarke in 'The Manual of Unitarian Belief', "may be defined as the worship and service of God. It is necessary," he observes, "because man is feeble, and needs Divine power to give him strength; he is ignorant, and needs Divine light to guide him; he is sinful, and needs Divine mercy to give him peace; he is mortal, and needs faith in things unseen and eternal to give him the hope of continued existence."

"That religion is natural to man," Clarke observes, "appears from the fact that in a higher or lower form it has been found among all races and nations, among civilized and savage people, on ancient and modern times."

"Natural religion," he points out, "is that which is awakened by the sight of the order and beauty of nature, of its adaptations to the use of living beings, of its variety and unity; leading the mind up to the conception of a Supreme Being, perfect in power, wisdom and goodness."

"Revealed religion," he notes, "consists of the revelations of Divine truth made to the souls of inspired men, thus producing lawgivers, prophets, and spiritual leaders of the human race.
 "Saint Augustine," Emerson writes, "described the nature of God as a circle whose centre was everywhere and its circumference nowhere, We are all our lifetime reading the copious sense of this first of forms."

"Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on midnoon, and under every deep a lower deep opens."

The following are the "Religious Principles" of the American Unitarian Conference:
1. God's presence is made known in a myriad of ways. Religion should promote a free and responsible search for truth, meaning, communion and love.

2. Reason is a gift from God. Religion should embrace reason and its progeny, including the scientific enterprise which explores God's creation.

3. Free will is a gift from God. Religion should assist in the effort to find a path that exercises that gift in a responsible, constructive and ethical manner.

4. Conscious of the complexity of creation, of the limits of human understanding and of humanity's capacity for evil in the name of religion, we hold that humility, religious tolerance and freedom of conscience should be a central part of any religious experience.

5. Religious experience is most fulfilling in the context of a tradition. Our religious tradition is the Unitarian tradition, which emphasizes the importance of reason in religion, tolerance and the unity of God.

6. Revelation is ongoing. Religion should draw inspiration not only from its own tradition but from other religious traditions, philosophy and the arts. Although paying due regard for the hard lessons learned in the past and to the importance of religious tradition, religion should not be stagnant but should employ reason and religious experience to evolve in a constructive, enlightened and fulfilling way.

7. Conscious of the spiritual and material needs of our fellow men and women, the evil they may be subjected to and the tragedies they may endure, works of mercy and compassion should be a part of any religious experience.

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