I gave up having a Plan A or B or even C a long time ago. The old joke is they just make God laugh anyway. But the real reason is repeatedly in my life I have watched myself travel from point to point without benefit of an itinerary and yet get to some fascinating and unexpected places that seem unrelated on the surface, but which, in retrospect, were all connected. With the advantage of hindsight, they looked like a well-thought out plan or at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. In truth, each place led to a new place I could not have booked in advance. None were foreseen or could have been planned for.
Making sense of the world is not easy. Psychologists explain that to do so it is necessary to organise incoming sensations into information that is meaningful. They think we do this by perceiving individual sensory stimuli as a meaningful whole. The brain creates a whole image from individual stimuli.
The religious atmosphere of the family in which I was nurtured, and of the churches that I attended, now seems to me resonant, in many ways, of English Christianity in the early 1800s, 200 years ago. Religious belief was taken very seriously, doubt was a sin, and those lively minds who did finally reject the old belief systems found the process traumatic. To the trauma of abandoning a way of thinking that had become deeply part of them was often added the trauma of parting ways with a community to which they had been strongly committed. I, from my own experience, feel a strong sense of kinship with those 19th C figures who found the dogmatic Christian belief system in which they had been nurtured too much of a prison of the mind.
Unitarian churches were, in many or most places just as orthodox as the rest, albeit they did reject a few orthodox doctrines. The old is rejected, but the new hardens all too easily into a new orthodoxy. Even without a creed, the freedom of belief that we in Unitarian and UU churches enjoy today was not always a feature of the Unitarian movement. There were, in the 19th C and later, some hard-fought controversies that led up to this point. Ultimately, it came to be accepted that once that process of challenge has started, it is impossible, in advance, to set limits to that process, to say where it might stop.
I want to thank Marion for inviting me to share this time with you. While I have looked forward to being with you, I wish I had reflected longer before offering the topic: The Past, Present and Future of Progressive Religion in Aotearoa New Zealand. You invited me for one 30 to 40 minute talk, not a six-part series of lectures. So I have struggled with how to slice this topic so it is thin enough to permit light to shine through it.