IS UNITARIANISM A CULT?                                  By The Rev. Dr Ian Ellis-Jones       Unitarian Ministries Interna...
peoples, and it has always had a broad and liberal spiritual focus ... a "free church"based on the principles of reason, f...
Communion) ... a cult which wishes to continue calling itself Anglican, thereby retainingits valuable real estate and prop...
"The World Teacher, the Lord Maitreya, brought the Church into being and approved its       Liturgy." (In the case of the ...
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  1. 1. IS UNITARIANISM A CULT? By The Rev. Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Unitarian Ministries International Clergy, Columbia, South Carolina, United States of America Former Senior Minister, Sydney Unitarian Church, Sydney, New South Wales, AustraliaDefinitely not, but all of the mainstream Christian churches are cults, as are many otherreligious bodies and associated belief systems. Here’s why.A cult, in the belief that it alone possesses the complete truth, almost always claimssome new, special or unique revelation or asserts that it has or holds the "keys" to theinner mysteries of life or to salvation, and it is usually the case that the cults leadersand/or founders make similar claims, often going so far as to consider all other religioussystems to be apostate or simply wrong, and almost always making hostile remarksabout those other religious systems (even where they are mainstream). Unitarianismdoes not, nor do any of its clergy.A cult invariably pays unhealthy and disproportionate homage to its founders andleaders, and often invests or envisages those persons with special powers not ordinarilypossessed by the bulk of humanity (eg supposed powers of prophecy, clairvoyance,etc), whilst also investing the teachings and writings of its founders or leaders with theimpress of great authority, even finality, if not infallibility. Unitarianism does none ofthose things.A cult is a system of religious beliefs and/or religious movement that does one or otheror both of the following things: • it directly or indirectly, and often subliminally, replaces one’s own beliefs with its own (whether by means of outright indoctrination or, more usually, by more subtle but no less insidious means such as submission, express or implied agreement, and acquiescence) • it gives legitimacy only to its own teachings (often making claims for and about its sacred scriptures that the scriptures dont make themselves), such that, if a person cannot or does not conform, they are excluded whether by formal excommunication or other means (eg disconnection, censure, ostracism, etc).Unitarianism is and does none of the above, and is totally inclusive, leaving nobody out.(Ethnic and culturally based churches are inherently vulnerable to becoming cultish innature, worshipping a "tribal God" largely of their own respective making. As theAmerican Baptist minister Harry Emerson Fosdick once wrote, "Better believe in no Godthan to believe in ... a tribal God, a sectarian God.")Unitarianism is altogether different, being both a denominational and atransdenominational vehicle for all spiritual seekers ... irrespective of their religiousaffiliation (if any), ethno-cultural background, sexual orientation, and so forth.Unitarianism freely shares its teachings with all churches and organizations and with all 1
  2. 2. peoples, and it has always had a broad and liberal spiritual focus ... a "free church"based on the principles of reason, freedom and tolerance.Unitarianism came out of the Protestant Reformation when many people claimed theright to privately read and interpret the Bible for themselves and to set their ownconscience, as well as reason, as a test of the teachings of religion.The theological roots of Unitarianism can be found in early Judaism as well as in 16thcentury Europe (in particular, Hungary, Poland and Romania) when some prominentBiblical scholars affirmed the notion that the Divine was One and Indivisible, andchallenged the idea that Jesus of Nazareth was uniquely and exclusively God.The philosophical roots of Unitarianism can be found in such people as the Stoics, theEpicureans, and the Skeptics, all of whom affirmed natural morality, freedom fromsuperstition, and salvation by character.Unitarian churches impose no particular creed, article or profession of faith upon ourmembers and adherents. Unitarians are therefore free to explore and develop their owndistinctive spirituality and are encouraged to do so in a responsible way ... that is, withreason and freedom from superstition. Unitarianism is often described as religion withreason, and spirituality without superstition.Unitarianism has expanded beyond its Christian roots with many modern day Unitariansembracing Humanism, agnosticism, various forms of theism and post-theism, non-theistic belief systems such as Buddhism, progressive Christianity and earth-basedspirituality. In short, Unitarianism affirms the underlying truth of all open and tolerantreligion, sensibly interpreted.Unitarians believe that the sacred or holy is ordinarily made manifest in theenchantment of everyday life, and embraces all persons and things as part of aninterdependent cosmic web.Unitarians seek to live together in peace and promote the highest good for all, relyingupon the authority of reason, conscience and experience in order to arrive at solutionsto problems in a spirit of rational humaneness.Yes, most if not all of the mainstream Christian churches regard Unitarianism as a cult.As proof of this Unitarian churches have consistently been denied membership to theWorld Council of Churches and their affiliated bodies around the world. However, keepin mind the above mentioned definition of a cult, namely, a system of religious beliefsthat replaces one’s own beliefs with its own, and a religious movement that giveslegitimacy only to its own teachings, such that, if a person cannot or does not conform,they are excluded whether by formal excommunication or other means.By this definition all of the mainstream Christian churches are cults, with the RomanCatholic Church being the largest and most successful of them all. Each member has toconform and fit the denominational bed ... or else! Ditto with Sydney Anglicanism, whichhas become a cult within a much larger cult (the latter being the worldwide Anglican 2
  3. 3. Communion) ... a cult which wishes to continue calling itself Anglican, thereby retainingits valuable real estate and properties, but rejecting the primacy of the Archbishop ofCanterbury by, for example, boycotting the most recent decennial Lambeth Conferenceconvened by the worldwide head of the Anglican Communion.In my relatively short lifetime (55 years) I have witnessed a religious body such as theSeventh-day Adventist Church go from being a cult to a church, and the SydneyDiocese of the Anglican Church of Australia go from being a church (or group ofchurches) to a cult. (Bishop John Shelby Spong is banned by the Anglican Archbishopof Sydney from speaking in Anglican [Episcopalian] churches in the Diocese of Sydney.)Amazing!A cult says things like: • "God has spoken His final word in His one and only Divine Son Jesus Christ.” • "Unless you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour and Lord, you will go to Hell." • "God has spoken His final word in His final prophet Muhammad." • "Muhammad was the last person in history with whom God communicated directly." • "Jesus is the only way to God, and the only name by which one may be saved." • "Outside the [Roman Catholic] Church there is no salvation (extra ecclesiam nulla salus).” • "The Roman Catholic Church is the one, true Church - all other churches are man- made." • "When the Pope speaks ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals, he is infallible - he cannot err on any such matters." • "If Christianity is right, all other world religions are wrong." • "In the case of all other religions their founder has died and is still in the grave. Christianity is the only faith where their leader is alive." • "The Book of Mormon is divine scripture, equal in authority to the Bible, having been taken from the earth with the death of the original apostles, but restored to Joseph Smith Jr by those who held them anciently, thereby resulting in a full restoration of primitive Christianity." • "Emanuel Swedenborg [the Swedish occultist and purported medium who believed his own writings were the Second Coming of Christ] received a new revelation from continuous heavenly visions which he experienced over a period of at least 25 years." • "The Liberal Catholic Church exists to recover the lost Gnosis, and to establish it in its rightful place as true teaching and, therefore, essential to the Catholic religion”; "Each word of the [Liberal Catholic] Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist was clairvoyantly inspired"; 3
  4. 4. "The World Teacher, the Lord Maitreya, brought the Church into being and approved its Liturgy." (In the case of the last mentioned church, the stated intent of one of its founding bishops, C W Leadbeater, of and on the occasion of his consecration to the episcopacy, was that of self-empowerment, namely to increase his supposed psychic powers, which is not true sacramental "intention", the latter being one of the necessary Catholic requirements for the reception of valid holy orders and the dispensing of valid sacraments.)Unitarianism, although by no means perfect, makes no such claims or assertions. Webelieve that no one religion is right to the exclusion of all others. We believe that no onechurch or religion or person has a monopoly on the Truth ... and we do not believe insupposedly infallible sacred scriptures or infallible leaders. Everything must besubjected to the light of reason. Unitarianisms tolerance toward other religions,philosophies and ideologies does not mean we tolerate what is wrong, harmful or justplain stupid.True it is that the word “cult” is inherently pejorative, and in the eyes of the law allreligions are equal and are “cults”, but that does not render nugatory what I have writtenabove.Unitarians are proud to be different. We don’t mind being called heretics. The word“heretic” comes from a Greek word meaning “one who chooses”. Unitarians choose tobe different. They choose to believe in what, in good conscience, they are each capableof believing. -oo0oo- 4