Your December 2001 issue contains a number of articles attacking Unitarianism.  Frankly, as a Unitarian, upon reading Aaron D. Wolf’s piece decrying the unitarianization of Christmas, I was able to enjoy the holiday as seldom before.  But I am astonished and offended by Thomas Fleming’s line, “Better a foolish Turk . . . than a Unitarian with a Ph.D.”

While most Unitarians in the United States have been linked to the left, it is noteworthy that the founder of the Unitarian Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was John C. Calhoun.  He also established the Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C.  Admittedly, by the onset of the Civil War, Unitarianism had become so associated with abolitionism that the religion almost disappeared in the South during the conflict.  Indeed, only the Charleston and New Orleans churches survived.

While numerous reformers of the 19th century were either Unitarians or Quakers, the former religion was too individualistic to be restricted to the left.  Both John and John Quincy Adams were Unitarian, as was William Howard Taft.  In office, none were deemed radical Jacobins.

What makes Unitarians so contentious?  Their faith in reason.  Thomas Jefferson, whom Unitarians often claim, delved into the New Testament and deleted passages of miracles and other portions contradictory to human experience.  What was left in “The Jefferson Bible” was the man Jesus.  To some, Jefferson had indulged in arrogance and blasphemy.  To Unitarians, he did the proper thing—he judged the “Holy Scriptures” by his own reason and experience.

Consider the story of Adam and Eve, the couple created for eternal life.  When they indulge in curiosity and eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, God condemns them to death.  To orthodox Christians, God judges man.  To Unitarians, man must judge such a God—and often, we must condemn him.

To orthodox Christians, God becomes man.  To many Unitarians, man strives to become God, or at least god-like.  If there is a problem with Unitarians, it is our optimistic belief in the perfectibility of man.  Too often, we forget that man can be perfectly devilish.  To create room for man’s perfectibility, Unitarians sometimes flirted with the utopian New Harmony-type communities of the 19th century and expressed a zeal for peace and world federation in the 20th.  Yet, reason could also expose some of the gruesome costs of 20th-century “utopias”: Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the People’ Republic of China, Castro’s Cuba, etc.

In Dr. Fleming’s dichotomous world, orthodox Christians (Trinitarians) fight to save Christian civilization from the onslaught of Muslims and Unitarians—one enemy without, the other within the gates.  I reject that dichotomy.  I view Unitarianism as the natural heir of the best of Western civilization—its core, its Greek origins.  That civilization has been distorted, and sometimes smothered, by Middle-Eastern imported religions and fanaticisms, based on their “Holy Scriptures”: the Bible, the Torah, and the Koran.  We should strive to retain the core,  shorn of the Middle Eastern accretions of two millennia.  We should use our reason to judge and reject the imports.  Not all Muslims are Taliban, nor are all religious people fanatics.  However, we clearly reject the Taliban Muslim; and we must also reject the Taliban Christians and Jews.

It is because I strive to be rational that I am now a conservative.  And for the same reason, I remain a Unitarian.

        —Hugh Murray
Milwaukee, WI

Dr. Fleming Replies:

Mr. Murray is a perfect example of what has always been wrong with the conservative movement.  Rather than take up the challenge to defend the possibility that Unitarians are Christian, he prefers to take refuge in categories like “rational” and “conservative” and to argue that many Unitarians have been “conservative.”  This is a pointless and meaningless exercise.

Strange that he should bring up the Unitarian church on Archdale Street in Charleston.  As a teenaged atheist looking to meet girls, I attended that church for several years and took part in their far-left political activities.  I admired some of these people and still do, particularly the “pastor” who announced one Sunday that he was resigning because, as an atheist, he would be better off going to law school.  I concluded then that, even for atheists, the Unitarian Church offered nothing but Emersonian platitudes and potted Oriental philosophy.

Of course it is possible for good people, even “conservative” people, to have been Unitarians.  Adams and Jefferson were both Unitarian in theology.  Wheth-
er they (especially Jefferson) were Christians or not is another matter.  There have been phrenologists and Scientologists who were doubtless good in their own way, and I have heard it argued that there were good men among the communists and Nazis.  Most Nazis and communists were not, and even Mr. Murray concedes that “most Unitarians in the United States have been linked to the left.”  There is a reason for that linkage: Unitarianism is a movement aimed at destroying the traditional cultural and religious order.  One hundred and fifty years ago, a sound man might be deceived, but today, who but leftists would swallow such an elixir of decrepitude without gagging?

I have no objection to people being Unitarians or Vegetarians or No-Café-terians.  What I do object to is their dishonest pretense at being Christian.  Like feminists and other leftists, Unitarians are not content to form their own version of Islam without tears, but they must prowl about the world under false colors seeking, if not the ruin of souls, then at least the destruction of that zest for life which characterizes real Christianity.  I have read passionate pagans and met passionate Muslims, but among the Unitarians I have found nothing more impassioned than a self-righteous determination to be smarter than  other people.  As William Wordsworth wrote:

Great God! I’d rather be
A pagan suckled on a creed outworn.