2013-08-21

Love Is the Doctrine of This Church

We declare, as one of our most popular readings says:
“Love is the doctrine of this church.
The quest for truth is it sacrament
And service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace
To seek knowledge in freedom
To serve humankind in fellowship
Thus do we covenant.”
Liberal religion says love is its doctrine. What kind of statement is that? What does that mean? Love isn’t doctrine. Doctrine is a list of beliefs, the approved interpretation, the creed, the dogma. Unitarian Universalism is creedless. We don’t have doctrine.

You want to know what we believe? We believe that religion isn’t about what you believe. Religion is about how you live: the ethics and values that guide your life. Religion is about community: the people you come together with, and the rituals you share that affirm your connectedness. Number three, it’s about – this is the one that is hardest to choose words for, because it’s about what cannot be put in words. Call it the sense of transcendence. Or maybe don’t. Call it awareness of interconnection. Call it awe, wonder, beauty. And a deep sense of the abundance of life at a level beyond what the intellect alone can grasp. In other words, it’s about experience – those certain kinds of experiences we call “religious experience.”

Religion brings all those things together and integrates them. Those are three very different things: how you live, community, transcendent experience. Yet somehow a religion brings those three different things together – or tries to -- in such a way that each one supports and reinforces the other two.

Liberal religion says that’s what religion is about. Not beliefs, doctrine, creed, dogma. When we say love is our doctrine, we mean that love takes the place of doctrine. We mean that love fills the hole that people and their institutions have sometimes attempted to fill with dogma.

Religious doctrine wouldn’t have had the long-lasting career it has had if it didn’t meet some psychological need – and the need it meets is to generate a sense of human connectedness. People who all pledge their allegiance to some doctrine know they’re all on the same side, all together in upholding a way of life that puts that doctrine at its center. That can be a very powerful glue holding people together – perhaps even rigidly together. But it’s not the only glue available. The doctrinal approach to religion is only one option. For love to take the place of doctrine means that shared doctrine is not the way we know we’re on the same side. Instead, we know we’re on the same side through our affection and compassion for one another – simply as sentient beings. We’re on the same side with all who uphold a way of life that puts life at its center.

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This is part 2 of 5 of "What Is Liberal Religion?"
Next: Part 3: "Creeds vs. Principles"
Previous: Part 1: "An Open Road Song"

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