I mentioned in an earlier post that our recent UUMA chapter retreat was outstanding and included a presentation by the Rev. Dr. Paul Rasor entitled "Unitarian Universalism and the Challenges of Religious Identity".
To begin with, Paul identified the basic commitments and characteristics of liberal religion (LR):
• Liberal Religion must live in the present, using modern knowledge and experience.
• LR must be openminded, prizing free intellectual inquiry.
• LR must be credible and relevant, i.e., religion has to matter and to make sense.
• LR occupies the middle ground between fundamentalism and the secular world, in the real world of contemporary culture.
• LR operates on the belief that reality involves movement and change, interdependence, fluid understandings of truth, no sharp dualisms.
• LR promotes autonomy, thinking for oneself, mistrusting external authority.
• LR bases ethics on humaneness, downplaying doctrinal aspects.
As a minister who is engaged with many other clergy and laity of varying faiths, both Christian and non-Christian, I was struck by what we have in common as liberal religionists. There is not a lot of difference between liberal faiths and their work in the world, if you set aside theological differences. I notice and appreciate this every time I meet with my lectionary group here on the island or with the other members of the Religious Coalition for Equality.
My former minister Robert Latham once described religion as the human expression of a relationship with self, with others, and with the universe or God, in an effort to make life meaningful. I've always liked that definition. I have gone a little further and see religion as a public expression of those relationships and spirituality as the private expression of those relationships. At least, that's how it feels to me.
But I struggle sometimes to express what is my core religious identity as a Unitarian Universalist. I can avow that one piece of that identity for me is our striving for diversity; I know we don't have large numbers of people of color nor uneducated people nor other "Others". But we actively strive for that; we recognize our need for diversity and reach for it, even though we miss the mark a lot and can be very clumsy about it all.
I see us as doing religion in a new way, not focusing on doctrine, but on human behavior. If we have a credo, it is to treat each other and the earth with kindness and respect. We have let go of the supernatural doctrines of Christianity, for the most part, and have focused on what we see as the implicit messages of such prophets as Jesus, Moses, Gandhi, Mohammed, Buddha, and others: love, integrity, nonviolence, beauty, compassion, inclusion.
Out of this credo springs our commitment to social justice work, our concern for the environment, our belief in the democratic process, our abhorrence of war, our passion for spiritual freedom. This I believe is the core of Unitarian Universalist religous identity, not how different we are from other religions or what we don't believe that others do.
Within our congregations we are diverse in many ways----------theology, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, education, political affiliation. But we all pretty much support the universal Truths of reverence for life, compassion for others, respect for each other, care for the earth, and order in community life.