Voices from Russia

Saturday, 16 November 2013

You Might Be a Religious Liberal If…

a fork in the road


Editor’s Foreword:

It doesn’t matter where a piece comes from, or who wrote it, as long as it makes you think hard about your current stances. The fact that this is an essay by a Unitarian is less interesting than the fact that the author makes one think. Read this in that spirit.



The word “liberal” isn’t often a friendly term in these parts. It’s associated with excess, irresponsibility, and tainted with the aroma of socialism. Any Texas politician labelled a liberal must engage in serious damage control. Social and political liberals do exist here, but they tend to keep a low profile. The common wisdom… conservatism is a virtue, whilst liberalism of any kind is suspect. Frequently, political and social conservatism go hand in glove with religious conservatism. Likewise, one often assumes that religious liberals are always politically and socially progressive.

However, I’ve learned to never assume. Most of us are too complex to compartmentalise our hearts and minds in such neat and tidy ways. At first glace, it might seem downright bizarre for a political moderate or conservative to hold liberal religious views. Nevertheless, such folks do exist, and in greater number than one might imagine. These souls aren’t sadly confused or suffering from social or religious split personalities. They’re perfectly sane and reasonable. I’m fortunate to have politically conservative or moderate friends who consider themselves religiously liberal, and quite faithful at that. Spiritually, they fit a more old-fashioned description of liberalism.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a liberal as one not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition. Some religious liberals are truly eclectic, whilst others simply have the impulse to challenge accepted doctrines. Therefore, it’s no easy task to pin down precisely what any religious liberal believes. Ambiguity might suit them just fine. That can sound like a deplorable lack of conviction. Yet, for a religious liberal, conviction has more to do with the freedom to explore a variety of ideas than adhering to any one creed. Ergo, regardless of your political or social leanings, you might be a religious liberal if you believe:

  • One can find valid truths in many religions.
  • The Bible was inspired, but it’s essentially an anthology, written by humans in their own historical and social context, containing a blend of metaphor and stories explaining the significance of human interaction with the divine. As such, the Bible isn’t inerrant, but that doesn’t diminish its meaning or essential truths.
  • One should respect clergy, but they’re not the final authority; individuals have the right to interpret scripture thoughtfully as their conscience dictates, and to question doctrines that deny reason and free will.
  • Having doubts doesn’t make you less faithful.
  • In particular, within Christianity, the miraculous events in the life of Jesus might hold less meaning than his ethical teachings and personal example.
  • Pious platitudes and simple answers to sticky questions of life, death, and relationships no longer work for you. Wondering about the big stuff is more compelling than accepting absolutes.
  • Faith and science are neither incompatible nor antagonistic, but represent unique realms of understanding how the world works.
  • It’s problematic that a gracious and loving God would condemn untold millions to an afterlife of torment, or tolerate the illness, injury, suffering, or injustice of anyone in this life.
  • The stance of many religious stalwarts toward those who don’t meet a certain definition of faithfulness is judgmental and hypocritical, in condemning everyone from homosexuals to members of other faiths. You don’t see it as religion’s task to divide people, but to unite them in love.
  • Your spiritual focus is less concerned with the promise of a hereafter than striving toward peace and wholeness in the present. Faith is a journey of discovery, not about winning a prize.

Whilst not a comprehensive list by any means, answering “yes” to any of the above might mean that you’re a religious liberal. Sometimes, it’s best to keep this kind of thing quiet, such as at a Thanksgiving dinner with extended family. Those of a more conservative religious perspective might find fault in your outlook, and they could even brand you a heretic. If you’re found out, don’t worry. You’ll survive, and you should know that you’re not alone. There are different religious strokes for different folks, and you should feel free to give voice to your beliefs, to let your liberal faith flag fly. However, if you’d still rather keep your liberal religious status under wraps, your secret is safe with me.

15 November 2013

David Green

Minister, Amarillo (TX) Unitarian Universalist Fellowship


Editor’s Afterword:

I agree with some of the above; I disagree with others. With still others, I find a mixture of both right and wrong… in a very human way. I say, “Orthodoxy isn’t found in a book… it’s in real life, that’s where you should look”. Our Lord Christ didn’t carry a book… he carried the Truth… put that in your crack-pipe and smoke it, “Bible Only” crowd! Be wary of those who’re overly-keen on the clergy… be doubly wary of clergy who swallow such adulation whole. Much mischief has come into the Church from both…




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