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<p><strong>Spiritism</strong> is a philosophical doctrine, established in France in the mid-nineteenth century.</p>
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<p><strong>Unitarianism</strong> as a theology is the belief in the single personality of God, in contrast to the doctrine of the Trinity (three persons in one God). Unitarianism as a movement is based on this belief, and, according to its proponents, is the original God-concept of Christianity.</p>
  
<p>Spiritism, or French spiritualism, is based on books written by French educator Hypolite Léon Denizard Rivail under the pseudonym Allan Kardec reporting séances in which he observed a series of phenomena that he attributed to incorporeal intelligence (spirits). His assumption of spirit communication was validated by many contemporaries, among them many scientists and philosophers who attended séances and studied the phenomena. His work was later extended by writers like Leon Denis, Arthur Conan Doyle, Camille Flammarion, Ernesto Bozzano, Chico Xavier, Divaldo Pereira Franco, Waldo Vieira, Johannes Greber and others.</p>
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<h2>Beliefs</h2>
  
<p>Spiritism has adherents in many countries throughout the world, including Spain, United States, Japan, Germany, France, England, Argentina, Portugal and especially Brazil, which has the largest proportion and the greatest number of followers.</p>
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<p>The unitarians believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ as found in the New Testament and other early Christian writings. Adhering to strict monotheism, they maintain that Jesus was a great man and a prophet of God, perhaps even a supernatural being, but not God himself. They believe Jesus did not claim to be God, nor did his teachings hint at the existence of a triune God. These unitarians believe in the moral authority, but not necessarily the divinity, of Jesus. Their theology is thus distinguishable from the theology of Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, mainline Protestant, Pentecostal and other Christian denominations which hold the Trinity doctrine as a core belief.</p>
  
<h2>Character of Spiritism</h2>
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<p>The term &quot;Unitarian&quot; (with an upper case &quot;U&quot;) usually refers to the liberal branch of this theology, but the term &quot;unitarian&quot; (lower case &quot;u&quot;) is sometimes used descriptively to refer to anyone adhering to the teaching of the single personhood of God.</p>
  
<p>Many spiritists see themselves as not adhering to a religion, but to a philosophy with scientific inspirations and moral consequences. Allan Kardec refers to Spiritism in What is Spiritism? as a science dedicated to the relationship between incorporeal beings (spirits) and human beings. In the other hand, many spiritists don't see any problem about calling it a religion as well.</p>
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<p>Conservative (Biblical or Evangelical) unitarians strictly adhere to the principle of <em>sola scriptura</em> and their belief that the Bible is both inspired and inerrant and uphold &quot;fundamentals&quot; of belief. They generally hold similar beliefs to most other evangelical Christians, apart from their rejection of the Trinity doctrine. This version of unitarianism is more commonly called Nontrinitarianism, rather than Unitarianism. There are some nontrinitarians who, while holding God to be a single person, perceive Jesus to be God himself, and therefore they do not fall into the &quot;unitarian&quot; category at all, which rejects the idea of Jesus as God. Instead see: Sabellianism, Oneness theology, Oneness Pentecostalism, Monarchianism, Binitarianism, The New Church.</p>
  
<p>Spiritists pray to God, who is seen as the ultimate cause, or source, of all things and beings. Spiritist doctrine argues that if God is perceived as a natural and somewhat necessary hypothesis within the Spiritist paradigm, that does not constitute religious reasoning.</p>
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<p>With regard to Unitarianism proper (the liberal variety), there are common traits to be found, apart from the rejection of the Trinity doctrine. Although there is no specific authority on these convictions, the following represent the most generally accepted:</p>
  
<p>The Spiritist moral principles are in agreement with the ones taught by Jesus (according to Kardec), Francis of Assisi, Paul the Apostle, Buddha and Gandhi. Spiritist philosophical inquiry is concerned with the study of moral aspects in the context of an eternal life in spiritual evolution through reincarnation, a process believers hold as revealed by Spirits. Sympathetic research on Spiritism by scientists can be found in the works of Sir William Crookes, Ernesto Bozzano, the Society for Psychical Research, William James, the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine winner Charles Richet, Prof. Ian Stevenson's group at University of Virginia , and Prof. G. Schwartz at University of Arizona.</p>
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<ul>
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<li>the belief in One God and the oneness or unity of God.</li>
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<li>the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as the exemplar model for living one's own life.</li>
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<li>that reason, rational thought, science, and philosophy coexist with faith in God.</li>
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<li>that man has the ability to exercise free will in a responsible, constructive and ethical manner with the assistance of religion.</li>
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<li>the belief that human nature in its present condition is neither inherently corrupt nor depraved (see Original Sin), but capable of both good and evil, as God intended.</li>
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<li>the conviction that no religion can claim an absolute monopoly on the Holy Spirit or theological truth.</li>
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<li>the belief that, though the authors of the Bible were inspired by God, they were humans and therefore subject to human error.</li>
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<li>the rejection of traditional doctrines that they believe malign God's character or veil the true nature and mission of Jesus Christ, such as the doctrines of predestination, eternal damnation, and the vicarious sacrifice or satisfaction theory of the Atonement.</li>
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</ul>
  
<h2>Precursors</h2>
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<p>Unitarians sum up their faith as &quot;<em>the</em> religion <em>of</em> Jesus, not <em>a</em> religion <em>about</em> Jesus.&quot; Historically, they have encouraged unorthodox views of God, Jesus, the world and purpose of life as revealed through reason, scholarship, science, philosophy, scripture and other prophets and religions. They believe that reason and belief are complementary and that religion and science can co-exist and guide them in their understanding of nature and God. They also do not enforce belief in creeds or dogmatic formulas. Although there is flexibility in the nuances of belief or basic truths for the individual Unitarian Christian, general principles of faith have been recognized as a way to bind the group in some commonality. Adherents generally accept religious pluralism and find value in all teachings, but remain committed to their core belief in Christ's teachings. Liberal Unitarians value a secular society in which government stays out of religious affairs. Most contemporary Unitarian Christians believe that one's personal moral convictions guide one's political activities, and that a secular society is the most viable, just, and fair society.</p>
  
<p>Developments leading directly to Kardec's research were the famous Fox sisters and the phenomenon of the Talking boards. Interest in Mesmerism also contributed to the early Spiritist practice.</p>
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<p>Unitarian Christians generally do not believe that Jesus was conceived in the womb of a virgin, or that he performed miracles to the extent reported in the Gospels. In theological Unitarianism, the most weight regarding the accounts of Jesus, his character, and his life is found in the four canonical Gospels (Mark, Mathew, Luke, and John). Other sources of information about Jesus, including newly discovered Gospels that were not included in the original canon of the Bible (e.g. Nag Hammadi Library), are also generally accepted.</p>
  
<img src="/images/swedenborg.jpg" alt="Emanuel Swedenborg" width="181" height="240" class="imgLeft" />
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<p>Unitarian Christians reject the doctrine of some Christian denominations that God chooses to redeem or save only those certain individuals that accept the creeds of, or affiliate with, a specific Church or religion, from a common ruin or corruption of the mass of humanity. They believe that righteous acts are necessary for redemption, not faith alone.</p>
<h3>Swedenborg</h3>
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<p><strong>Emanuel Swedenborg</strong> (January 29, 1688 – March 29, 1772) was a Swedish scientist, philosopher, seer, and theologian. Swedenborg had a prolific career as an inventor and scientist. Then at age fifty-six he entered into a spiritual phase of his life, where he experienced visions of the spiritual world and claimed to have talked with angels, devils, and spirits by visiting heaven and hell. He claimed of being directed by God, the Lord Jesus Christ to reveal the doctrines of His second coming.</p>
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<p>Unitarians are not to be confused with coherents of the United Church of Christ, the Unity Church, the Universal Life Church, the Unification Church, the United Church of Canada, or the Uniting Church in Australia. In the United States, &quot;Unitarian&quot; is sometimes used as a shortened way of referring to present-day believers in Unitarian Universalism. However, not all members of the Unitarian Universalist Association are actually theological Unitarians.</p>
  
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<h2>Distinction Between Theological and Denominational Unitarians</h2>
  
<p>From 1747 until his death in 1772 he lived in Stockholm, Holland and London. During these 25 years he wrote 14 works of a spiritual nature of which most were published during his lifetime. Throughout this period he was befriended by many people who regarded him as a kind and warm-hearted man. Many people disbelieved in his visions; based on what they had heard, they drew the conclusions that he had lost his mind or had a vivid imagination. But they refrained from ridiculing him in his presence. Those who talked with him understood that he was devoted to his beliefs. He never argued matters of religion, and if obliged to defend himself he usually did it with gentleness and in a few words.</p>
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<p>The term &quot;Unitarian&quot; has been applied both to those who belong to a Unitarian church and to those who hold a Unitarian theological belief. A century ago, this would not have made much of a difference, but today it is a distinction that needs to be made. Here, Unitarianism as a theology is referred to as simply Unitarianism, while those who belong to a Unitarian Church (and most specificially, a church that is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association) are referred to as Unitarian Universalists.</p>
  
<img src="/images/fox-sisters.jpeg" alt="The Fox Sisters" width="181" height="273" class="imgRight" />
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<p>Unitarian theology is distinguishable from the belief system of modern Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist churches and fellowships in multiple countries. This is because over time, some Unitarians and many Unitarian Universalists have moved away from the traditional Christian roots of Unitarianism. For example, in the 1890s the American Unitarian Association began to allow non-Christian and non-theistic churches and individuals to join their fellowship.</p>
<h3>The Fox Sisters</h3>
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<p>Sisters Catherine (1838–92), Leah (1814–90) and Margaret (1836–93) Fox played an important role in the creation of Spiritualism. The daughters of David and Margaret Fox, they were residents of Hydesville, New York. In 1848, the family began to hear unexplained rapping sounds. Kate and Margaret conducted channeling sessions in an attempt to contact the presumed spiritual entity creating the sounds, and claimed contact with the spirit of a peddler who was allegedly murdered and buried beneath the house. A skeleton later found in the basement seemed to confirm this. The Fox girls became instant celebrities. They demonstrated their communication with the spirit by using taps and knocks, automatic writing, and later even voice communication, as the spirit took control of one of the girls.</p>
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<p>As a result, people who held no Unitarian belief began to be called &quot;Unitarians,&quot; simply because they were members of churches that were a part of the American Unitarian Association. Soon, the non-theistic members outnumbered the theological Unitarians. A similar, though proportionally much smaller, phenomenon has taken place in the Unitarian churches in Canada, the United Kingdom, and other countries, which remain more theistically based.</p>
  
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<h2>Forms</h2>
  
<p>Skeptics suspected this was nothing but clever deception and fraud. Indeed, sister Margaret eventually confessed to using her toe-joints to produce the sound. And although she later recanted this confession, both she and her sister Catherine were widely considered discredited, and died in poverty. Nonetheless, belief in the ability to communicate with the dead grew rapidly, becoming a religious movement called Spiritualism, and contributing greatly to Kardec's ideas.</p>
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<p>Unitarianism can very loosely be grouped into two categories. Both teach that God is one being and one &quot;person&quot;—the one Jesus called &quot;Our Father&quot;, and that Jesus is the (or a) Son of God, but generally not God himself. However, they differ in their details.</p>
  
<h3>Talking boards</h3>
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<h3>Form 1: Jesus Existed as a Person Before His Human Life</h3>
  
<p>Just after the news of the Fox affair came to France, people became even more interested in what was sometimes termed the &quot;Spiritual Telegraph&quot;. In the beginning, a table spun with the &quot;energy&quot; from the spirits present by means of human channeling (hence the term &quot;medium&quot;. But, as the process was too slow and cumbersome, a new one was devised, supposedly from a suggestion by the spirits themselves: the talking board.</p>
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<p>The Son of God is a pre-existent being, the Logos who dwelt with God in the beginning and then was born as the man Jesus. However, he is not eternal, and therefore had a beginning of existence. This theology is commonly called Arianism, but there are many varieties of this form of Unitarianism, ranging from the belief that the Son, before he came to earth, was a holy spirit of the same nature as God to the belief that he was an angel or other lesser spirit creature of a wholly different nature from God, and Arius' views represent only one variation of this theology. Whatever the case, in this belief system, Jesus is below to God, but above humans (and has always been so). This concept is sometimes referred to as &quot;elevated subordinationism.&quot; Since the 19th century, several Evangelical or Revivalist movements adopted an elevated subordinationist belief (best described as Nontrinitarianism, rather than Unitarianism).</p>
  
<p>Early examples of talking boards were baskets attached to a pointy object that spun under the hands of the mediums, to point at letters printed on cards scattered around, or engraved on, the table. Such devices were called <em>corbeille à bec</em> (&quot;basket with a beak&quot;). The pointy object was usually a pencil.</p>
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<h3>Form 2: Jesus Did Not Exist as a Person Before His Human Life</h3>
  
<p>Talking boards were tricky to set up and to operate. A typical séance using a talking board saw people sitting at a round table, feet resting on the chairs' supports and hands on the table top or, later, on the talking board itself. The energy channeled from the spirits through their hands made the board spin around and find letters which, once written down by a scribe, would form intelligible words, phrases, and sentences. The system was an early, and less effective, precursor of the Ouija boards that later became so popular.</p>
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<p>This theology ranges from the belief that Jesus was only a great man filled with the Holy Spirit (sometimes called Psilanthropism or, more commonly, Socinianism) to the belief that he is the embodiment of God's <em>impersonal</em> Logos. In modern day, we see the psilanthropist view manifested in Rationalist Unitarianism, which emerged from the German Rationalism and the liberal theology of the 19th century. Its proponents took a highly scientific and humanistic approach to religion, rejecting most of the miraculous events in the Bible (including the virgin birth.) They embraced evolutionary concepts, asserted the &quot;inherent goodness of man&quot;, and abandoned the doctrine of biblical infallibility. Rationalist Unitarianism is distinguished from Deism&mdash;with which it nevertheless shares many features&mdash;by its belief in a personal deity who directly acts on creation, while Deists see God as holding aloof from creation.</p>
  
<img src="/images/mesmer.jpg" alt="Franz Anton Mesmer" width="181" height="241" class="imgLeft" />
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<h2>History</h2>
<h3>Franz Mesmer</h3>
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<p><strong>Franz Anton Mesmer</strong> (May 23, 1734 – March 5, 1815) discovered what he called <em>magnétism animal</em> (animal magnetism) and others often called <em>mesmerism</em>. The evolution of Mesmer's ideas and practices led James Braid (1795-1860) to develop hypnosis in 1842.</p>
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<p>Unitarianism, both as a theology and as a denominational family of churches, was first defined and developed within the Protestant Reformation, although theological ancestors may be found as far back as the early days of Christianity.</p>
  
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<h2>Unitarian Christian Groups and Publications</h2>
  
<p>Spiritism incorporated and kept some practices inspired or directly taken from Mesmerism. Among them, the healing touch, still in Europe, and the &quot;energization&quot; of water to be used as a medicine for spirit and body.</p>
 
  
<h2>Doctrine</h2>
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<h3>Development in the 21st Century</h3>
  
<h3>Basic books</h3>
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<p>In recent years there has been a relatively small, though significant, growth in groups with a specifically Unitarian Christian outlook and ethos. Two examples of this trend are the Congregazione Italiana Cristiana Unitariana (Italy) and Bét D&aacute;vid Unitarian Association (Norway). There are also reports of succesful development of Unitarian Christian groups in African countries such as Burundi. A number of these groups are joining the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists, either as Emerging Groups or as Associates, as they gain a solid organizational structure.</p>
  
<p>The basic doctrine of Spiritism (&quot;the Codification&quot;) is defined in five books written and published by Allan Kardec during his life:</p>
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<h3>Interfaith Dialogue and Relations</h3>
  
<ol>
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<p>The adoption of Unitarian belief almost always leads to severance of identification with &quot;Christianity&quot; as it is formulated in the creeds of the Nicene and pre-Chalcedonian churches (Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and most Protestants). Unitarianism is not included in the fellowship of these traditions. Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant creeds of various varieties insist on trinitarian belief as an essential of Christianity and basic to a group's continuity of identity with the historical Christian faith.</p>
<li><em>The Spirits' Book</em> — Defines the guidelines of the doctrine, covering points like God, Spirit, Universe, Man, Society, Culture, Morals and Religion.</li>
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<li><em>The Book on Mediums</em> — Details the &quot;mechanics&quot; of the spiritual world, the processes involved in channeling spirits, techniques to be developed by would-be mediums, etc.</li>
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<li><em>The Gospel According to Spiritism</em> — Comments on the Gospels, highlighting passages that, according to Kardec, would show the ethical fundamentals shared by all religious and philosophical systems. This may be the first religious book to acknowledge the existence of life elsewhere in the Universe, based on Jesus' saying &quot;The houses in the realm of my father are many&quot; (John, 14, 1-3).</li>
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<li><em>Heaven and Hell</em> — A didactic series of interviews with spirits of deceased people intending to establish a correlation between the lives they lead and their conditions in the beyond.</li>
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<li><em>The Genesis According to Spiritism</em> — Tries to reconcile religion and science, dealing with the three major points of friction between the two: the origin of the universe (and of life, as a consequence) and the concepts of miracle and premonition.</li>
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</ol>
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<p>Kardec also wrote a brief introductory pamphlet (<em>What is Spiritism?</em>) and was the most frequent contributor to the Spiritist Review. His essays and articles would be posthumously collected into the aptly-named tome <em><u>Posthumous Works</u></em>.</p>
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<p>However, occasionally, particularly in Protestant history, traditionally trinitarian groups grow friendly to, or incorporate, unitarianism. Friendliness toward unitarianism has sometimes been considered synonymous with anti-Catholicism. In some cases nontrinitarian or unitarian belief has been adopted by some, and tolerated in Christian churches as a &quot;non-essential&quot;. This was the case in the English Presbyterian Church, and in the Congregational Church in New England in the late 18th century. The Restoration Movement also attempted to forge a compatible relationship between Trinitarians and Unitarians, as did the Seventh Day Baptists and various Adventists. The Seventh Day Baptists held Unitarian Doctrines in their International Conference but became Trinitarians in the US. The Adventists were Unitarians on a worldwide basis until the death of Uriah Smith in 1931. From that date they were overtaken slowly by Trinitarians. They formally became Trinitarians as late as 1978. The Unitarian tendency in these last-mentioned groups came from their original theology and a complete rejection of the Catholic explanation and acceptance of Trinitarianism and the Trinitarian Christian tradition of interpretation.</p>
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<img src="/images/unitarian.jpg" alt="Unitarian Church" width="400" height="266" class="imgLeft"/>
  
<h3>Doctrine</h3>
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<p>In some cases, this openness to unitarianism within traditionally trinitarian churches has been inspired by a very broad motive. Modern liberal Protestant denominations are often accused by trinitarians within their ranks, and critics outside, of being indifferent to the doctrine, and therefore self-isolated from their respective trinitarian histories and heritage. In some cases, it is held that these trinitarian denominations are no longer Christian, because of their toleration of unitarian belief among their teachers, and in their seminaries.</p>
  
<p>The five chief points of the doctrine are:</p>
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<p>At a local level, many Unitarian Christian groups&mdash;and individual Unitarian Christians&mdash;have links with tolerant congregations affiliated with the United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and Unity Church. Indeed, some argue that they feel more at home within these denominations than Unitarian-Universalism. A small fraction of Unitarian Christians also have links with Progressive Christianity.</p>
  
<ol>
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<p>Despite the close friendship and shared heritage that exists between adherents to Unitarian Universalism and Unitarian Christianity, there is an element within Unitarian Universalism that opposes specifically Unitarian Christian groups, believing them to be exclusive and intolerant of non-Christian belief. Likewise, some Unitarian Christians also believe that Unitarian Universalists are intolerant of Christian belief and tend to marginalize Christians.</p>
<li>There is a God, defined as &quot;The Supreme Intelligence and Primary Cause of everything&quot;;</li>
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<li>There are Spirits, all of whom are created simple and ignorant, but owning the power to gradually perfect themselves;</li>
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<li>The natural method of this perfection process is reincarnation, through which the Spirit faces countless different situations, problems and obstacles, and needs to learn how to deal with them;</li>
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<li>As part of Nature, Spirits can naturally communicate with living people, as well as interfere in their lives;</li>
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<li>Many planets in the universe are inhabited.</li>
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</ol>
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<p>The central tenet of Spiritist doctrine is the belief in <em>spiritual life</em>. The spirit is eternal, and evolves through a series of incarnations in the material world. The true life is the spiritual one; life in the material world is just a short-termed stage, where the spirit has the opportunity to learn and develop its potentials. Reincarnation is the process where the spirit, once free in the spiritual world, comes back to the world for further learning.</p>
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<p>The American Unitarian Conference is open to non-Christian Unitarians&mdash;being particularly popular with non-Christian theists and deists. In addition, the Bét D&aacute;vid Unitarian Association (Norway) has created positive and mutual friendships with Jewish groups.</p>
 
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<h3>Relation to Jesus</h3>
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<p>Jesus, according to Spiritism, is the the greatest moral example for humankind, is deemed to have incarnated here to show us, through his example, the path that we have to take to achieve our own spiritual perfection. The Gospels are reinterpreted in Spiritism; some of the words of Christ or his actions are clarified in the light of the spiritual phenomena (presented as law of nature, and not as something &quot;miraculous&quot;). It's only because of our own imperfection that we can't achieve similar things; as we evolve, we will not only understand better, but we will be able to do similar things, for all spirits are created equal, and are destined for the same end.</p>
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<h3>Evolution and Karma</h3>
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<p>Spiritist Doctrine stresses the importance of <em>spiritual evolution</em>. According to this view, we are destined for perfection; there are other planets hosting more advanced life forms, and happier societies, where the spirit has the chance to keep evolving both in the moral and intellectual sense. Although not clear from Kardec's works, later spiritist writers elaborated on this point further: it seems to them that we cannot detect more advanced life forms on other planets, as they are living in a slightly different &quot;plane&quot; from ours, in the same way the spiritual plane is superimposed over our own plane. There is STILL no scientific evidence to back this claim.</p>
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<h3>Mediumship</h3>
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<p>The communication between the spiritual world and the material world happen all the time, but to various degrees. Some people barely sense what the spirits tell them, in an entirely instinctive way, while others have greater cognizance of their guidance. The so-called mediums have these natural abilities highly developed, and are able to communicate with the spirits and interact with them by several means: listening, seeing, or writing through spiritual command (also known by Kardecists as automatic writing). Direct manipulation of physical objects by spirits is not possible; for it to happen the spirits need the help (voluntary or not) of mediums with particular abilities for physical effects.</p>
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<h2>Spiritist Practice</h2>
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<p>Kardec's works do not establish any rituals or formal practices. Instead, the doctrine suggests that followers adhere to some principles regarded as common to all religions. The religious experience within spiritism is, therefore, largely informal. The exception to this is The National Spiritist Church of Alberta. This Church (which is fully recognized by the government as a religious denomination) has a Holy Communion Worship Service and a Marriage Ceremony in addition to the more standard Kardecist study groups.</p>
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<h3>Meetings</h3>
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<p>The most important types of practices within Spiritism are:</p>
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<ul>
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<li>Regular Meetings &ndash; with a regular schedule, usually on evenings, two or three times a week. They involve a short lecture on some subject followed by some interactive participation of the attendants. These meetings are open to anyone.</li>
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<li>Medium Meetings &ndash; usually held after a regular meeting, only those deemed prepared or &quot;in need&quot; of it are expected to attend.</li>
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<li>Youth and Children's Meetings &ndash; once a week, usually on Saturday afternoons or Sunday mornings, are the Spiritist equivalent to Christian Sunday schools.</li>
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<li>Healing</li>
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<li>Lectures &ndash; longer, in-depth lectures on subjects thought to be &quot;of general interest&quot; which are held on larger rooms, sometimes at theatres or ballrooms, so that more people can    attend. Lecturers are often invited from far away centers.</li>
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<li>Special Meetings &ndash; special séances held in relative discretion which try to conduct some worthy work on behalf of those in need</li>
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<li>Spiritist Week and Book fairs.</li>
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<li>Church Services (in the case of The National Spiritist Church of Alberta &ndash; in Canada)</li>
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</ul>
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<div id="disclaimer">This page has been produced by <a href="http://www.religionresourcesonline.org/">Religion Resources Online</a> using modified information gathered from <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritism">Wikipedia</a>. It complies with Wikipedia’s Terms of Use and international Copyright law.</div>
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<p>An important point to note is the shared belief that exists between Unitarian Christians and their Muslim, Jewish and Sikh counterparts, who all adhere to strict monotheism. This common ground may form the basis of future friendship.</p>
  
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<div id="disclaimer">This page has been produced by <a href="http://www.religionresourcesonline.org/">Religion Resources Online</a> using modified information gathered from <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unitarianism">Wikipedia</a>. It complies with Wikipedia’s Terms of Use and international Copyright law.</div>
 
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Revision as of 12:57, 8 July 2013

Unitarianism as a theology is the belief in the single personality of God, in contrast to the doctrine of the Trinity (three persons in one God). Unitarianism as a movement is based on this belief, and, according to its proponents, is the original God-concept of Christianity.

Beliefs

The unitarians believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ as found in the New Testament and other early Christian writings. Adhering to strict monotheism, they maintain that Jesus was a great man and a prophet of God, perhaps even a supernatural being, but not God himself. They believe Jesus did not claim to be God, nor did his teachings hint at the existence of a triune God. These unitarians believe in the moral authority, but not necessarily the divinity, of Jesus. Their theology is thus distinguishable from the theology of Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, mainline Protestant, Pentecostal and other Christian denominations which hold the Trinity doctrine as a core belief.

The term "Unitarian" (with an upper case "U") usually refers to the liberal branch of this theology, but the term "unitarian" (lower case "u") is sometimes used descriptively to refer to anyone adhering to the teaching of the single personhood of God.

Conservative (Biblical or Evangelical) unitarians strictly adhere to the principle of sola scriptura and their belief that the Bible is both inspired and inerrant and uphold "fundamentals" of belief. They generally hold similar beliefs to most other evangelical Christians, apart from their rejection of the Trinity doctrine. This version of unitarianism is more commonly called Nontrinitarianism, rather than Unitarianism. There are some nontrinitarians who, while holding God to be a single person, perceive Jesus to be God himself, and therefore they do not fall into the "unitarian" category at all, which rejects the idea of Jesus as God. Instead see: Sabellianism, Oneness theology, Oneness Pentecostalism, Monarchianism, Binitarianism, The New Church.

With regard to Unitarianism proper (the liberal variety), there are common traits to be found, apart from the rejection of the Trinity doctrine. Although there is no specific authority on these convictions, the following represent the most generally accepted:

  • the belief in One God and the oneness or unity of God.
  • the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as the exemplar model for living one's own life.
  • that reason, rational thought, science, and philosophy coexist with faith in God.
  • that man has the ability to exercise free will in a responsible, constructive and ethical manner with the assistance of religion.
  • the belief that human nature in its present condition is neither inherently corrupt nor depraved (see Original Sin), but capable of both good and evil, as God intended.
  • the conviction that no religion can claim an absolute monopoly on the Holy Spirit or theological truth.
  • the belief that, though the authors of the Bible were inspired by God, they were humans and therefore subject to human error.
  • the rejection of traditional doctrines that they believe malign God's character or veil the true nature and mission of Jesus Christ, such as the doctrines of predestination, eternal damnation, and the vicarious sacrifice or satisfaction theory of the Atonement.

Unitarians sum up their faith as "the religion of Jesus, not a religion about Jesus." Historically, they have encouraged unorthodox views of God, Jesus, the world and purpose of life as revealed through reason, scholarship, science, philosophy, scripture and other prophets and religions. They believe that reason and belief are complementary and that religion and science can co-exist and guide them in their understanding of nature and God. They also do not enforce belief in creeds or dogmatic formulas. Although there is flexibility in the nuances of belief or basic truths for the individual Unitarian Christian, general principles of faith have been recognized as a way to bind the group in some commonality. Adherents generally accept religious pluralism and find value in all teachings, but remain committed to their core belief in Christ's teachings. Liberal Unitarians value a secular society in which government stays out of religious affairs. Most contemporary Unitarian Christians believe that one's personal moral convictions guide one's political activities, and that a secular society is the most viable, just, and fair society.

Unitarian Christians generally do not believe that Jesus was conceived in the womb of a virgin, or that he performed miracles to the extent reported in the Gospels. In theological Unitarianism, the most weight regarding the accounts of Jesus, his character, and his life is found in the four canonical Gospels (Mark, Mathew, Luke, and John). Other sources of information about Jesus, including newly discovered Gospels that were not included in the original canon of the Bible (e.g. Nag Hammadi Library), are also generally accepted.

Unitarian Christians reject the doctrine of some Christian denominations that God chooses to redeem or save only those certain individuals that accept the creeds of, or affiliate with, a specific Church or religion, from a common ruin or corruption of the mass of humanity. They believe that righteous acts are necessary for redemption, not faith alone.

Unitarians are not to be confused with coherents of the United Church of Christ, the Unity Church, the Universal Life Church, the Unification Church, the United Church of Canada, or the Uniting Church in Australia. In the United States, "Unitarian" is sometimes used as a shortened way of referring to present-day believers in Unitarian Universalism. However, not all members of the Unitarian Universalist Association are actually theological Unitarians.

Distinction Between Theological and Denominational Unitarians

The term "Unitarian" has been applied both to those who belong to a Unitarian church and to those who hold a Unitarian theological belief. A century ago, this would not have made much of a difference, but today it is a distinction that needs to be made. Here, Unitarianism as a theology is referred to as simply Unitarianism, while those who belong to a Unitarian Church (and most specificially, a church that is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association) are referred to as Unitarian Universalists.

Unitarian theology is distinguishable from the belief system of modern Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist churches and fellowships in multiple countries. This is because over time, some Unitarians and many Unitarian Universalists have moved away from the traditional Christian roots of Unitarianism. For example, in the 1890s the American Unitarian Association began to allow non-Christian and non-theistic churches and individuals to join their fellowship.

As a result, people who held no Unitarian belief began to be called "Unitarians," simply because they were members of churches that were a part of the American Unitarian Association. Soon, the non-theistic members outnumbered the theological Unitarians. A similar, though proportionally much smaller, phenomenon has taken place in the Unitarian churches in Canada, the United Kingdom, and other countries, which remain more theistically based.

Forms

Unitarianism can very loosely be grouped into two categories. Both teach that God is one being and one "person"—the one Jesus called "Our Father", and that Jesus is the (or a) Son of God, but generally not God himself. However, they differ in their details.

Form 1: Jesus Existed as a Person Before His Human Life

The Son of God is a pre-existent being, the Logos who dwelt with God in the beginning and then was born as the man Jesus. However, he is not eternal, and therefore had a beginning of existence. This theology is commonly called Arianism, but there are many varieties of this form of Unitarianism, ranging from the belief that the Son, before he came to earth, was a holy spirit of the same nature as God to the belief that he was an angel or other lesser spirit creature of a wholly different nature from God, and Arius' views represent only one variation of this theology. Whatever the case, in this belief system, Jesus is below to God, but above humans (and has always been so). This concept is sometimes referred to as "elevated subordinationism." Since the 19th century, several Evangelical or Revivalist movements adopted an elevated subordinationist belief (best described as Nontrinitarianism, rather than Unitarianism).

Form 2: Jesus Did Not Exist as a Person Before His Human Life

This theology ranges from the belief that Jesus was only a great man filled with the Holy Spirit (sometimes called Psilanthropism or, more commonly, Socinianism) to the belief that he is the embodiment of God's impersonal Logos. In modern day, we see the psilanthropist view manifested in Rationalist Unitarianism, which emerged from the German Rationalism and the liberal theology of the 19th century. Its proponents took a highly scientific and humanistic approach to religion, rejecting most of the miraculous events in the Bible (including the virgin birth.) They embraced evolutionary concepts, asserted the "inherent goodness of man", and abandoned the doctrine of biblical infallibility. Rationalist Unitarianism is distinguished from Deism—with which it nevertheless shares many features—by its belief in a personal deity who directly acts on creation, while Deists see God as holding aloof from creation.

History

Unitarianism, both as a theology and as a denominational family of churches, was first defined and developed within the Protestant Reformation, although theological ancestors may be found as far back as the early days of Christianity.

Unitarian Christian Groups and Publications

Development in the 21st Century

In recent years there has been a relatively small, though significant, growth in groups with a specifically Unitarian Christian outlook and ethos. Two examples of this trend are the Congregazione Italiana Cristiana Unitariana (Italy) and Bét Dávid Unitarian Association (Norway). There are also reports of succesful development of Unitarian Christian groups in African countries such as Burundi. A number of these groups are joining the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists, either as Emerging Groups or as Associates, as they gain a solid organizational structure.

Interfaith Dialogue and Relations

The adoption of Unitarian belief almost always leads to severance of identification with "Christianity" as it is formulated in the creeds of the Nicene and pre-Chalcedonian churches (Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and most Protestants). Unitarianism is not included in the fellowship of these traditions. Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant creeds of various varieties insist on trinitarian belief as an essential of Christianity and basic to a group's continuity of identity with the historical Christian faith.

However, occasionally, particularly in Protestant history, traditionally trinitarian groups grow friendly to, or incorporate, unitarianism. Friendliness toward unitarianism has sometimes been considered synonymous with anti-Catholicism. In some cases nontrinitarian or unitarian belief has been adopted by some, and tolerated in Christian churches as a "non-essential". This was the case in the English Presbyterian Church, and in the Congregational Church in New England in the late 18th century. The Restoration Movement also attempted to forge a compatible relationship between Trinitarians and Unitarians, as did the Seventh Day Baptists and various Adventists. The Seventh Day Baptists held Unitarian Doctrines in their International Conference but became Trinitarians in the US. The Adventists were Unitarians on a worldwide basis until the death of Uriah Smith in 1931. From that date they were overtaken slowly by Trinitarians. They formally became Trinitarians as late as 1978. The Unitarian tendency in these last-mentioned groups came from their original theology and a complete rejection of the Catholic explanation and acceptance of Trinitarianism and the Trinitarian Christian tradition of interpretation.

Unitarian Church

In some cases, this openness to unitarianism within traditionally trinitarian churches has been inspired by a very broad motive. Modern liberal Protestant denominations are often accused by trinitarians within their ranks, and critics outside, of being indifferent to the doctrine, and therefore self-isolated from their respective trinitarian histories and heritage. In some cases, it is held that these trinitarian denominations are no longer Christian, because of their toleration of unitarian belief among their teachers, and in their seminaries.

At a local level, many Unitarian Christian groups—and individual Unitarian Christians—have links with tolerant congregations affiliated with the United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and Unity Church. Indeed, some argue that they feel more at home within these denominations than Unitarian-Universalism. A small fraction of Unitarian Christians also have links with Progressive Christianity.

Despite the close friendship and shared heritage that exists between adherents to Unitarian Universalism and Unitarian Christianity, there is an element within Unitarian Universalism that opposes specifically Unitarian Christian groups, believing them to be exclusive and intolerant of non-Christian belief. Likewise, some Unitarian Christians also believe that Unitarian Universalists are intolerant of Christian belief and tend to marginalize Christians.

The American Unitarian Conference is open to non-Christian Unitarians—being particularly popular with non-Christian theists and deists. In addition, the Bét Dávid Unitarian Association (Norway) has created positive and mutual friendships with Jewish groups.

An important point to note is the shared belief that exists between Unitarian Christians and their Muslim, Jewish and Sikh counterparts, who all adhere to strict monotheism. This common ground may form the basis of future friendship.

This page has been produced by Religion Resources Online using modified information gathered from Wikipedia. It complies with Wikipedia’s Terms of Use and international Copyright law.

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