A guest post from my friend and colleague Rev. Lewis Rees:
The contemporary Unitarian movement has room for all sorts of theological positions. Theist, Atheist and Agnostic sit (relatively) happily side by side in our pews.
Personally, I have a lot of respect for agnostics in particular. Now, this may seem somewhat strange coming from someone who is an active member of the Unitarian Christian Association. My reasons for this statement are that those who question whether God exists have always, at least in my experience, appeared pretty intelligent.
Agnostics are generally the ones who give faith careful consideration and therefore refuse to just blindly accept long held traditions.
Another reason I have a lot of respect for agnostics is that, much of the time, I would rank amongst their number. Whilst at times I honestly wonder at the concept of the 'Supreme Being' model of the nature of God, I also acknowledge that such a concept is really hard to grasp. And even though I've received a university education in theology I don’t pretend to fully understand what the Judaeo/Christian scriptures say about God.
Whilst, to some, it may sound quite contrary; in my experience agnostics have thought about God more than most theists I know. This is because they have usually taken the time to consider the evidence and to evaluate the arguments and have actually gone on a spiritual search before deciding for themselves, something which I find admirable.
Of course, something similar can be said of atheism. Whilst it is often denied by believers and non-believers alike, atheism and belief have much in common. For a true atheist frequently considers the subject of God, albeit in terms of denial. Therefore, atheism is, in fact, a form of belief.
I totally understand when certain people say that religion is poisonous and deserves to be done away with. I am sure that most of us will be familiar with those arch-anti religionists often titled the 'New Atheists'. The likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have commanded a lot of column inches in newspapers and airtime on radio and television in recent times.
I don't have sufficient space in this post to devote a lot of time to their arguments; however, here is but one quote from Richard Dawkins: 'I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.'
You won't be surprised to learn that in many ways Unitarian beliefs validate the important points some of these atheist thinkers make and, in fact, preceded their thinking them by a century or more.
Unitarians have long believed in evidence and science and encourage a questioning mind. Unitarians value the human intellect and urge its education. Unitarians, having no creeds or dogma have always been keen to eradicate what can be viewed as superstitious and irrational.
For generations, Unitarians have held that the purpose of true religion is to unite all hearts and to bring life and light to each heart, bringing about an end to division and the conflict that comes with it. Therefore, if a religion should become the cause of such division and conflict it would be better to be without it. For a religion that is not a cause of love and unity is no true religion.
Finally, one area where Unitarians and 'New Atheists' can be seen to agree is that religion is meaningless unless it changes ones behaviour towards ones fellow human beings. Unitarians have long believed that 'deeds are more important than creeds'; and that true faith, whether that be theist, atheist or agnostic; means actually bringing ones ideals into practice, both individually and socially.