Sunday, February 10, 2013

Liberal Religion and Unitarian Universalism

I define "Liberal Religion"as being three premises about religion.

  1. All religions are the product of culture.  They are the cultural productions designed to answer some fundamental and widely shared questions about human existence.  Cultures and civilizations around the world do not share the same understanding of those human questions; as a result, the religions of the world are different and not "the same under the surface."
  2. No one religion contains any special revealed knowledge that is final and authoritative.  No one religion is more true than another.
  3. Religions can be evaluated, to the extent that even need to be compared, by the effect on the life of the adherent.  
Many people share these liberal premises about religion, including many adherents of various religions and many who claim no religious affiliation at all.

Religious Liberalism starts from these propositions about religion in general, but from those premises develops into a particular way of being in the world.  Social, political, cultural liberalism are interrelated ways of being, even though the particulars are always in dispute.

Unitarian Universalism is a particular form of Liberal Religion, with a particular cultural origin and history.  In the US, it started as liberal forms of Protestantism, and while it has opened itself to religous liberals of all persuasions, it retains that liberal Protestant heritage: church on Sunday, hymns and steeples, ministers of ordinary people with special training, etc. 

Unitarian Universalism has, then, two evangelical tasks: 

  1. to persuade people by word and deed to become religious liberals.  The liberal approach to religion describes reality most accurately and makes for a better human community.  It is both true and good.
  2. to persuade religious liberals, by testimony and example, that Unitarian Universalism is a particularly effective way to live a life shaped by liberal religion.  UU's understand the spiritual, social, political, economic, family, romantic implications of liberal religion.  UU institutions, churches and congregation are effective places of transformation on a personal and social level.  UU's create inspirational worship experiences where the slow and steady work of transformation is encouraged and reinforced.  
People want to live a meaningful, value-driven, inspired life.  People want to live a religious life, although for many, the very term 'religious' is a barrier, because it connotes narrowness, exclusion, and a closed system of truth.  Unitarian Universalism is a well-developed and effective ways to live a meaning-laden, value-driven and inspired life.  

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