Monday, March 25, 2013

A Great Awakening of the Liberal Spirit

New England's UU leaders (if that is what the District boards of the Region are) are getting excited about a vision: a Great Awakening of the Liberal Spirit here in New England.

It is an eye-rollingly audacious vision.  Absolutely ridiculous. Embarrassingly naive.

But, why not?

After all, the region has been becoming more liberal politically and socially and culturally for a while.   40 years of national conservative cultural dominance have left the least scars on this region.  For a while, it was the only region with marriage equality.

Religiously, Roman Catholics are the plurality of the religiously affiliated.  But the Roman Catholic hierarchy have forfeited much of their authority on social or cultural matters.  A mostly-male, celibate, priesthood, mired in a scandal about the sexual abuse of children and youth throws its weight behind the lost cause of "traditional" marriage:  what are they thinking?

Religious unaffiliation in non-Massachusetts New England is at West Coast levels.  There is a widespread consensus on the core of the liberal approach to religion: (1) religions are human creations, (2) none is more true than the others, and (3) what matters, in the end, is the moral and ethical lives they encourage.

A lot of people think that a liberal approach to religion is the same thing as no religion at all, so they say that they aspire to be "spiritual but not religious."  A distinction without a difference, if you ask me.   I think that they want spiritual inspiration and guidance based on the liberal premises about religion, above.

UU's Congregations raised the rainbow flag over
the symbolic space of the Town Commons in
many a New England town, long before it was
mainstream.  It made a difference. 
The affirmation of GLBTQ people went from the unthinkable to the mainstream in a few short decades.  It started with small, courageous, even quixotic but very deliberate actions, but it has become an awakening, a self-generating, self-sustaining, movement of a new truth.

People are waking up.  They are waking up to the possibility of living a spiritual life of reverence, openness, justice and love, and such a life is worth leaving "religion" behind, if religion stands in the way -- especially if it stands in the way of a spirit of openness.  There is a great awakening of a liberal spirit already going on.

But it will sputter out if liberal religions institutions, like UU congregations, for example, do not provide fresh inspiration for the liberal spirit, in the form communities of challenge and consolation for the seekers.

A great awakening of the liberal spirit, particularly here in New England, is a bold vision.  If it is to happen, liberal religions must reclaim the boldness of its past.  Like bulbs, that boldness has been buried in the cold earth, but is now re-emerging to bloom again.

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