Rev. James Forbes talked about another Great Awakening to come (at his sermon at the UUMA Center Institute last month). He even said that UU's might have been anointed to play a special leadership role in it. Is that too woo-woo for us to hear?
I do believe that the nation is on the eve of a Great Awakening of the Liberal Spirit. It would be a movement of the Spirit: a widespread, self-replicating spontaneous spiritual development.
We know that a new progressive majority has been forming in the political world. We know that the young are creating a culture more comfortable with diversity and more liberal culturally than ever before.
A great awakening of the liberal spirit will come when liberals are hopeful, and confident that we can build a better world. It would be clear that the great work we have to do, reversing climate change, sharing the earth's wealth fairly, unleashing the potential in every person is work that we could do. We would hear a great Spirit calling us to institutionalize love as the foundation of social life. And so many people would be willing to make that call be the mainspring of their life's unwinding.
Are there words yet to describe what is possible if the Spirit moved us to live according to our hopes, and not our despairs?
Right now, a big chunk of the US population shares the basic presumptions of Liberal Religion. Those presumptions are Enlightenment understandings of human religion. Specifically, religions are made by humanity, not by divinity. No one religion is more true than others. Religions are worthy to the extent that encourage goodness in and among people.
Many, many people take these attitudes toward religion. Some of those take religion seriously; however, many don't.
Those who take this sort of stuff seriously shape their lives by certain values. Those virtues are the marks of a socially progressive and spiritually driven person, even one with no religious affiliation. Everybody can make their own list, but I include self-possession, reverence, honesty, humility, gratitude/generosity, openness, fairness. Some people are very acute about one or more of these virtues; others only hold them as vague preferences.
The Great Awakening will happen as people identify themselves as religiously liberal and consciously shape their lives around the virtues and values of liberal religion. It is a Great Awakening, because it what was semi-conscious becomes fully conscious. It is also a Great Awakening, because people wake up to their present time and place.
Let's talk about UU strategy in encouraging a Great Awakening of the Liberal Spirit.
The first thing is to teach Liberal Religion. It's not just a live-and-let-live attitude toward religious differences. It is a religion, a diffuse, unformed religion, without a structure, existing within other organized religions and organizations. It is a movement of the Spirit.
We need to encourage people to name what they think about religion is liberal, and to identify themselves as religious liberals. This is the first step: identification and affiliation. In a sense, it is a conversion process.
Secondly, we then need to help people think for themselves -- to develop self-possession.
People's thinking is too often externally determined. It may be by inexperience and the human tendency to conformity. It may be by the pressure of a family system. It may internalized racism, sexism or homophobia. It may be addiction, or some other compulsion. It may be political oppression. It can be as simple as the limited horizons of poverty or the illusions of privilege. Almost everyone sees the world through a socially imposed veil. A Great Awakening happens when people lift that veil and see the world for themselves.
Thirdly, we need to build communities that respect self-possessed people. Just as it is a step in our personal spiritual development to claim the authority to think for ourselves, it is the next and necessary step to realize that everyone else is doing the same. We advance a Great Awakening by inviting developing religious liberals into religious community by joining Unitarian Universalist congregation.
But the goal is not simply to grow our congregations, but to inspire a broad social movement of committed religious liberals. It is to grow persons who carry a devotion to the most holy at the foundations of their life -- who live their values with authenticity and consistency, who are at peace with the ultimate processes of life.