“There are about 7,000 Unitarians in Great Britain and Ireland, and about 150 Unitarian ministers. There are about 800,000 Unitarians worldwide.
Unitarianism is an open-minded and individualistic approach to religion that gives scope for a very wide range of beliefs and doubts.
Religious freedom for each individual is at the heart of Unitarianism. Everyone is free to search for meaning in life in a responsible way and to reach their own conclusions.
In line with their approach to religious truth, Unitarians see diversity and pluralism as valuable rather than threatening. They want religion to be broad, inclusive, and tolerant. Unitarianism can therefore include people who are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Pagan and Atheist.
Unitarianism has no standard set of beliefs.
Unitarians believe that religious truth is not necessarily or primarily laid down either in scriptures, by a holy person or by a religious institution.
No individual or group in Unitarianism makes an exclusive claim to the truth
within certain core values each.
Unitarian can believe what they feel is right.
Unitarians are so called because they insist on the oneness of God and because they affirm the essential unity of humankind and of creation.
Unitarians believe religion should make a difference to the world, so they are often active in social justice and community work.
Unitarianism grew out of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century CE and started in Poland and Transylvania in the 1560s.
Unitarians have adopted the Flaming Chalice as the symbol of their faith.
The Unitarians were the first church in Britain to accept women as ministers, in 1904.
Unitarians welcome gays and lesbians in their ministry and support equal rights for gay people within the Church and in society at large.
A heretical religion?
Early Unitarians felt that the language of the Bible spoke clearly of “one God”. Because of this they felt that the traditional Christian idea of God being a Trinity was wrong.
From the viewpoint of mainstream Christianity, therefore, Unitarianism is a heretical belief, and for many centuries those who believed in the unity of God were persecuted by the churches.”
“Santeria (The way of the Saints) is an Afro-Caribbean religion based on Yoruba beliefs and traditions, with some Roman Catholic elements added. The religion is also known as La Regla Lucumi and the Rule of Osha.
Santeria incorporates elements of several faiths and so is what’s called a ‘syncretic’ religion. It has grown beyond its Yoruba and Catholic origins to become a religion in its own right, and a powerful symbol of the religious creativity of Afro-Cuban culture.
The centre of the religion is Cuba, but it has spread to the USA and other nearby countries, particularly after the Cuban revolution in 1959.
For a long time Santeria was a secretive underground religion, but it’s becoming increasingly visible in the Americas:
Once dismissed as a ghetto religion practiced only by the Caribbean poor and uneducated, Santeria has a growing following among middle-class professionals, including white, black and Asian Americans.
There are police officers in New York who pray to Obatala, the father of all deities, or orishas, before they slip on their gun belts.
There are lawyers and professors, civil servants and musicians whose homes are filled with altars laden with flowers, rum, cake and cigars to keep the gods happy and helpful. Many dress in white to symbolize purity.
Revolutionary Cuba clamped-down on Santeria at first, but over the last 15 years or so the government tolerated it more and more and now allows it to flourish. Cynics say that this is because Santeria brings considerable hard currency to the island.
It’s difficult to know how many people follow Santeria, as there’s no central organisation, and the religion is often practised in private. Some estimates go as high as a hundred million Santeria believers worldwide.”
“Atheism is the absence of belief in any Gods or spiritual beings. The word Atheism comes from a, meaning without, and theism meaning belief in god or gods.
Atheists don’t use God to explain the existence of the universe.
Atheists say that human beings can devise suitable moral codes to live by without the aid of Gods or scriptures.
Reasons for non-belief
People are atheist for many reasons, among them:
-They find insufficient evidence to support any religion.
-They think that religion is nonsensical.
-They once had a religion and have lost faith in it.
-They live in a non-religious culture.
-Religion doesn’t interest them.
-Religion doesn’t seem relevant to their lives.
-Religions seem to have done a lot of harm in the world.
-The world is such a bad place that there can’t be a God.
-Many atheists are also secularist, and are hostile to any special treatment given to organised religion.
It is possible to be both atheist and religious. Virtually all Buddhists manage it, as do some adherents of other religions,such as Judaism and Christianity.
Atheists and morality
Atheists are as moral (or immoral) as religious people.
In practical terms atheists often follow the same moral code as religious people, but they arrive at the decision of what is good or bad without any help from the idea of God.
What does it mean to be human?
Atheists find their own answers to the question of what it means to be human. This discussion looks at the question from both theological and ethical viewpoints.”
“Spiritualists communicate with the spirits of people who have physically died. Such communication is thought to be beneficial to the dead and the living.
Spiritualists are those who believe in a continued future existence, and that people who have passed on into the spirit-world can and do communicate with us.
Spiritualists’ National Union
Spirits are said to communicate through people with special skills, called mediums. In the 19th Century communication was said to have occured at an event called a séance but in the 21st Century most communication is said to take place either in a public demonstration of mediumship at a Spiritualist church service or in a private sitting with a medium. Communication can be verbal, such as messages; or physical manifestations, such as tapping.
The validity of Spiritualism has always been controversial, partly because of the negative image that fraudulent people have given of communications from the ‘other side’.
Is Spiritualism a religion?
Spiritualism is different from the the world’s major and minor religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc) because it’s recent, it doesn’t have a global presence, it doesn’t have a body of theology. However it is a new religious movement with rituals, doctrinal components, a belief in a transcendent realm, and it has an experiential dimension, elements that many other religions also have.
Modern Spiritualism sees itself as entirely rational, with no element of the supernatural. For Spiritualists, this is what distinguishes their beliefs from the concept of life after death found in many other faiths.
The movement began in the USA in the middle of the 19th Century.
It is said to be the eighth largest religion in Britain and has a network of groups across the country. The total of SNU-affiliated and associated bodies in the UK is 360, broken down into 348 affiliated bodies and 12 associated bodies.
Those who follow it are united in believing that communication with spirits is possible; but beyond this central idea Modern Spiritualism can include a very wide range of beliefs and world-views.
Spiritualism doesn’t tell you what you should believe or how you should interpret religious philosophy. We have no books that must be followed, we have no preachers whose word must be obeyed.
Key ideas of Spiritualism
Spiritualists generally believe the following:
-Souls survive bodily death and live in a spirit world – Spiritualists say that every human soul survives the death of the body and enters a spirit-world that surrounds and interpenetrates the material world.
-These souls can communicate with the material world – Spiritualists say that communication is possible between the material world and the spirit-world under the right conditions – usually through a medium.
-Spirit beings are little changed from their earlier selves – Spiritualists say that those in the spirit-world are much the same as they were in the material world, although without any physical deficiencies.
-Spirit beings are interested in people in the material world – Spiritualists say that those in the spirit world are aware of and interested in the lives of those they have temporarily left behind in the material.
“Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. It was founded by the Prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) in ancient Iran approximately 3500 years ago.
For 1000 years Zoroastrianism was one of the most powerful religions in the world. It was the official religion of Persia (Iran) from 600 BCE to 650 CE.
It is now one of the world’s smallest religions. In 2006 the New York Times reported that there were probably less than 190,000 followers worldwide at that time.
Zoroastrians believe there is one God called Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord) and He created the world.
Zoroastrians are not fire-worshippers, as some Westerners wrongly believe.
Zoroastrians believe that the elements are pure and that fire represents God’s light or wisdom.
Ahura Mazda revealed the truth through the Prophet, Zoroaster.
Zoroastrians traditionally pray several times a day.
Zoroastrians worship communally in a Fire Temple or Agiary.
The Zoroastrian book of Holy Scriptures is called The Avesta.
The Avesta can be roughly split into two main sections:
The Avesta is the oldest and core part of the scriptures, which contains the Gathas. The Gathas are seventeen hymns thought to be composed by Zoroaster himself.
The Younger Avesta – commentaries to the older Avestan written in later years. It also contains myths, stories and details of ritual observances.
Zoroastrians are roughly split into two groups:
“Paganism describes a group of contemporary religions based on a reverence for nature. These faiths draw on the traditional religions of indigenous peoples throughout the world.
Paganism encompasses a diverse community.
Wiccans, Druids, Shamans, Sacred Ecologists, Odinists and Heathens all make up parts of the Pagan community.
Some groups concentrate on specific traditions or practices such as ecology, witchcraft, Celtic traditions or certain gods.
Most Pagans share an ecological vision that comes from the Pagan belief in the organic vitality and spirituality of the natural world.
Due to persecution and misrepresentation it is necessary to define what Pagans are not as well as what they are. Pagans are not sexual deviants, do not worship the devil, are not evil, do not practice ‘black magic’ and their practices do not involve harming people or animals.
The Pagan Federation of Great Britain have no precise figures but estimate that the number of Pagans in the British Isles is between 50,000 and 200,000 (2002).”
“Rastafari is a young, Africa-centred religion which developed in Jamaica in the 1930s, following the coronation of Haile Selassie I as King of Ethiopia in 1930.
Rastafarians believe Haile Selassie is God and that he will return to Africa members of the black community who are living in exile as the result of colonisation and the slave trade.
Rastafari theology developed from the ideas of Marcus Garvey, a political activist who wanted to improve the status of fellow blacks.
There are approximately one million world wide adherents of Rastafari as a faith. The 2001 census found 5,000 Rastafarians living in England and Wales.
Followers of Rastafari are known by a variety of names: Rastafarians, Rastas, Sufferers, Locksmen, Dreads or Dreadlocks.
It spread globally following the success of Bob Marley and his music in the 1970s.
Rastafarians believe that blacks are the chosen people of God, but that through colonisation and the slave trade their role has been suppressed.
The movement’s greatest concerns are the repatriation of blacks to their homeland, Africa, and the reinstatement of blacks’ position in society.
It is an exocentric religion – as Haile Selassie, whom adherents consider as God, is outside the religion.
Rastafari religious ceremonies consist of chanting, drumming and meditating in order to reach a state of heightened spirituality.
Rastafarian religious practice includes the ritual inhalation of marijuana, to increase their spiritual awareness.
Rastafarians follow strict dietary laws and abstain from alcohol.
Rastafarians follow a number of Old Testament Laws.
There is a separate code of religious practice for women in Rastafari.
Rastafarians believe reincarnation follows death and that life is eternal.
Rastafarians are forbidden to cut their hair; instead, they grow it and twist it into dreadlocks.
Rastafarians eat clean and natural produce, such as fruit and vegetables.
Rastafarians try to refrain from the consumption of meat, especially pork.
Rastafarians are opposed to abortion and contraception.
The Rastafarian colours are red, green and gold. Sometimes black is added. These colours are chosen because:
-Red signifies the blood of those killed for the cause of the black community, throughout Jamaican history.
-Green represents Jamaica’s vegetation and hope for the eradication of suppression.
-Gold symbolises the wealth of Ethiopia.
-Black signifies the colour of the Africans who initiated Rastafari.
The Rastafarian symbol
The lion is the symbol of Rastafari.
This lion represents Haile Selassie I, who is referred to as the ‘Conquering Lion of Judah’. Rastafarians’ dreadlocks represent the lion’s mane.”
“The essence of Shinto is the Japanese devotion to invisible spiritual beings and powers called kami, to shrines, and to various rituals.
Shinto is not a way of explaining the world. What matters are rituals that enable human beings to communicate with kami.
Kami are not God or gods. They are spirits that are concerned with human beings – they appreciate our interest in them and want us to be happy – and if they are treated properly they will intervene in our lives to bring benefits like health, business success, and good exam results.
Shinto is a very local religion, in which devotees are likely to be concerned with their local shrine rather than the religion as a whole. Many Japanese will have a tiny shrine-altar in their homes.
However, it is also an unofficial national religion with shrines that draw visitors from across the country. Because ritual rather than belief is at the heart of Shinto, Japanese people don’t usually think of Shinto specifically as a religion – it’s simply an aspect of Japanese life. This has enabled Shinto to coexist happily with Buddhism for centuries.
The name Shinto comes from Chinese characters for Shen (‘divine being’), and Tao (‘way’) and means ‘Way of the Spirits’.
Shrine visiting and taking part in festivals play a great part in binding local communities together.
Shrine visiting at New Year is the most popular shared national event in Japan.
Because Shinto is focussed on the land of Japan it is clearly an ethnic religion. Therefore Shinto is little interested in missionary work, and rarely practised outside its country of origin.
Shinto sees human beings as basically good and has no concept of original sin, or of humanity as ‘fallen’.
Everything, including the spiritual, is experienced as part of this world.
Shinto has no place for any transcendental other world.
Shinto has no canonical scriptures.
Shinto teaches important ethical principles but has no commandments.
Shinto has no founder.
Shinto has no God.
Shinto does not require adherents to follow it as their only religion.”
“Taoism is an ancient tradition of philosophy and religious belief that is deeply rooted in Chinese customs and worldview.
Taoism is also referred to as Daoism, which is a more accurate way of representing in English the sound of the Chinese word.
Taoism is about the Tao. This is usually translated as the Way. But it’s hard to say exactly what this means. The Tao is the ultimate creative principle of the universe. All things are unified and connected in the Tao.
Taoism originated in China 2000 years ago.
It is a religion of unity and opposites; Yin and Yang. The principle of Yin Yang sees the world as filled with complementary forces – action and non-action, light and dark, hot and cold, and so on.
The Tao is not God and is not worshipped. Taoism includes many deities, that are worshipped in Taoist temples, they are part of the universe and depend, like everything, on the Tao.
-achieving harmony or union with nature
-the pursuit of spiritual immortality
-being ‘virtuous’ (but not ostentatiously so)
Taoist practices include:
-reading and chanting of scriptures
Before the Communist revolution fifty years ago, Taoism was one of the strongest religions in China. After a campaign to destroy non-Communist religion, however, the numbers significantly reduced, and it has become difficult to assess the statistical popularity of Taoism in the world.
The 2001 census recorded 3,500 Taoists in England and Wales.”
“God is transcendent and can’t be known directly. God is known through the lives and teachings of his great prophets, the most recent of whom was Bahá’u’lláh.
All human beings have a soul that lives for ever. All human beings are members of a single race, which should soon be united in a single global community. All human beings are different, but equal; there should be no inequality between races or sexes. All religions have the same spiritual foundation, despite their apparent differences.
Bahá’í religion may be unique in the way that it accepts all other faiths as true and valid. Bahá’ís accept the divine nature of the missions of Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, the Buddha, Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad. They believe each one was a further stage in the revelation of God. Other prophets and Manifestations are also accepted.
Bahá’í beliefs about God
-Bahá’ís believe there is one God and that all the universe and creation belong to him
-God is omnipotent, perfect and has complete knowledge of life
-Bahá’ís believe that there has only ever been one God, who is called by different names in different religions
-God is too great to be ever understood by the finite human mind
-Knowledge of God means knowledge of the attributes of God
-The only thing we can actually know about God is that God exists
-So when we attribute properties to God we are actually making a false analogy based on human ideas – but it’s the best that we can do.
Knowing about God
Since we can’t comprehend God directly, the best way to get an idea of God is by looking at the lives and teachings of his messengers (the Manifestations of God) and at the world God created.
God and other religions
Any description of God is bound to be coloured and limited by the views and cultural background of the person making the description. Bahá’u’lláh thought that this was why different religions had different ideas of God.
It was not that each religion was looking at a different reality called God (whatever that was) – they were all trying to describe the same reality, but their descriptions were built out of their own experiences and cultures, and so were different.
Abdu’l-Bahá put it like this:
“The differences among the religions of the world are due to the varying types of minds.”
Thus for a Bahá’í the different views of God held by different religions are the closest that that particular culture and time can come to an idea of the absolute reality of God, and are helpful to the people of that culture.
But these ideas of God are nothing like the true reality of God, because humans don’t have the mental ability to understand that reality.
Bahá’ís believe that God cannot become incarnate in a human being.
Bahá’ís do not regard God as having a gender. Although the Bahá’í writings use a masculine pronoun to refer to God, this is to suit the language in which they were originally written.”
There are an estimated 10,000 distinct religions worldwide. About 84% of the world’s population is affiliated with Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or some form of folk religion.
“Christianity is the name of the religion, and its followers are known as Christians.
Christianity is focused on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, who Christians believe to be the Son of God. Jesus was born in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago.
Today, there are over 2.2 billion Christians around the world, making Christianity the most followed religion.
“Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak around 500 years ago in a place called the Punjab. This is an area which spans part of India and Pakistan in South Asia today.
What do Sikhs believe?
Sikhs believe in one God who guides and protects them. They believe everyone is equal before God. Sikhs believe that your actions are important and you should lead a good life. They believe the way to do this is:
-Keep God in your heart and mind at all times
-Live honestly and work hard
-Treat everyone equally
-Be generous to those less fortunate than you
Guru Nanak is the founder of Sikhism. Guru means ‘Teacher’.
Sikhism is still based on his teachings and those of the nine Sikh Gurus who followed him.
The Five Ks
The Sikh community of men and women is known as the Khalsa which means the ‘Community of the Pure’.
In order to become a Sikh and join the Khalsa, people need to follow the Five Ks.
“Hinduism is the religion of the majority of people in India and Nepal. It also exists among significant populations outside of the sub continent and has over 900 million adherents worldwide.
In some ways Hinduism is the oldest living religion in the world, or at least elements within it stretch back many thousands of years. Yet Hinduism resists easy definition partly because of the vast array of practices and beliefs found within it. It is also closely associated conceptually and historically with the other Indian religions Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
Unlike most other religions, Hinduism has no single founder, no single scripture, and no commonly agreed set of teachings. Throughout its extensive history, there have been many key figures teaching different philosophies and writing numerous holy books. For these reasons, writers often refer to Hinduism as ‘a way of life’ or ‘a family of religions’ rather than a single religion.
The term ‘Hindu’ was derived from the river or river complex of the northwest, the Sindhu. Sindhu is a Sanskrit word used by the inhabitants of the region, the Aryans in the second millennium BCE. Later migrants and invaders, the Persians in the sixth century BCE, the Greeks from the 4th century BCE, and the Muslims from the 8th century CE, used the name of this river in their own languages for the land and its people.
The term ‘Hindu’ itself probably does not go back before the 15th and 16th centuries when it was used by people to differentiate themselves from followers of other traditions, especially the Muslims (Yavannas), in Kashmir and Bengal. At that time the term may have simply indicated groups united by certain cultural practices such as cremation of the dead and styles of cuisine. The ‘ism’ was added to ‘Hindu’ only in the 19th century in the context of British colonialism and missionary activity.
The origins of the term ‘hindu’ are thus cultural, political and geographical. Now the term is widely accepted although any definition is subject to much debate. In some ways it is true to say that Hinduism is a religion of recent origin yet its roots and formation go back thousands of years.
Some claim that one is ‘born a Hindu’, but there are now many Hindus of non-Indian descent. Others claim that its core feature is belief in an impersonal Supreme, but important strands have long described and worshipped a personal God. Outsiders often criticise Hindus as being polytheistic, but many adherents claim to be monotheists.
Some Hindus define orthodoxy as compliance with the teachings of the Vedic texts (the four Vedas and their supplements). However, still others identify their tradition with ‘Sanatana Dharma’, the eternal order of conduct that transcends any specific body of sacred literature. Scholars sometimes draw attention to the caste system as a defining feature, but many Hindus view such practices as merely a social phenomenon or an aberration of their original teachings. Nor can we define Hinduism according to belief in concepts such as karma and samsara (reincarnation) because Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists (in a qualified form) accept this teaching too.
Although it is not easy to define Hinduism, we can say that it is rooted in India, most Hindus revere a body of texts as sacred scripture known as the Veda, and most Hindus draw on a common system of values known as dharma.
-Hinduism originated around the Indus Valley near the River Indus in modern day Pakistan.
-About 80% of the Indian population regard themselves as Hindu.
-Most Hindus believe in a Supreme God, whose qualities and forms are represented by the multitude of deities which emanate from him.
-Hindus believe that existence is a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, governed by Karma.
-Hindus believe that the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives and its next incarnation is always dependent on how the previous life was lived.
-The main Hindu texts are the Vedas and their supplements (books based on the Vedas). Veda is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘knowledge’. These scriptures do not mention the word ‘Hindu’ but many scriptures discuss dharma, which can be rendered as ‘code of conduct’, ‘law’, or ‘duty’
-Hindus celebrate many holy days, but the Festival of Lights, Diwali is the best known.
-The 2001 census recorded 559,000 Hindus in Britain, around 1% of the population.”