17th April 1774. Prejudice and Religion.
Unitarians don’t believe in soteriology from Greek Soteria (Salvation). This is a doctrine which most religions abide by which requires worship and sacraments to acquire God’s favour to ensure forgiveness from sins, thus ensuring salvation and immortal life. Significantly they don’t believe in the Trinity.(1)
The founding father of Unitarianism was John Biddle and over the years has attracted people from many backgrounds, such as the scientist, Joseph Priestley, the Nettlefolds (engineers) and the Chamberlains (politicians.
It was Today in 1774 that saw the inaugural service of the Unitarians at Essex Hall, London by Theophilus Lindsey, who had converted from the Church of England. It was the first time that a church had formed round an explicit Unitarian belief.
However in that they denied the Christian concept of the Doctrine of the Trinity, they weren’t included in the English Toleration Act of 1689.
Also in 1697 the English and Wales, Blasphemy Act was concerned, amongst other issues, concerning the Trinity, at a time when Deism was prevalent, after the publication of John Tolland’s book.(2)
The Unitarians were also regarded later as a national threat, as they opposed state religion and supported in principle the French Revolution, and so unsurprisingly were persecuted in the 1790s.
Unitarianism was against English Law until the Doctrine of Trinity Act passed on 21st July 1813, when all penalties were removed.
Later English Blasphemy Law, (abolished in 2008), was based on 1838 legislation, which was peculiarly restricted to the Church of England.
Penalties were more extreme in Scotland resulting from the 1661 and 1695 repressive Blasphemy Laws, when the country was in the grip of theocratic magistrates, whose religious zealotry was rewarded by the Scottish Privy Council as they were allowed to keep fines collected against those found guilty, in return for co-operation, or be replaced.
Two Scots who suffered from these laws were John Fraser and Thomas Aikenhead. Fraser was a merchant’s apprentice book-keeper, who was locked up in the Edinburgh Tolbooth and still there when Aikenhead a medical student was incarcerated there.
Aikenhead was to be executed on January 8th 1697, after the Chief of the Scottish General Assembly in Edinburgh aimed: ‘with vigorous execution’ to curb ‘ abounding of impiety and profanity in this land’. He was the last to be executed under British Blasphemy Law when he was hanged at Leith.
Today’s concern, in Britain, with Muslim Sharia Law brings home to us the fact that we have been there before.
(1a) Their belief is founded on a supposed mistranslation of Matthew 28:19, where the ‘call to baptize all men in the name of father, son and holy spirit’, rather than in the name of ‘Me’.
(1b) The King James Bible was later seen as in need of revision after new manuscripts were discovered and more refined exegesis (interpretation), came into being.
(1c) This resulted in the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and other versions of the Bible, which omitted a reference to the Trinity in the first Epistle to John. See I John 5:7-8.
(2a) Deism looks to the natural world rather than religion as a final authority
(2b) Entitled: Christianity not Mysterious.
(3) It disappeared in the 1967 Act, amending blasphemy,
Ref: educationscotland.gov.uk. Before the Enlightenment.
Ref: Blasphemy in Scotland from John Frazer to Thomas Aikenhead to Raif badawi. Garry Olton.
Ref Rowe, Mortimer (1879-64) History of Essex Hall London Lindsey Press 1959.
Ref:bible.researcher.com (critique of RSV).