Suspicion of Dualism

In the last post, The Liberal Pulpit was explaining that liberal religion has no creed but does have principles, and how this is indeed a significant difference.

Another feature of liberal religion is suspicion of dualism.

In some religions there is a sharp division between the sacred and the profane. God, and goodness, and holiness, and the divine are at one end: eternal, changeless, pure. At the other end is that which is earthy, mud, lowly, base, corrupt, changing, inconstant. It’s a dualism in which only the heavenly realms are really real. This world upon which we live is only "half there -- heaven’s second-rate hand-me-down" (as Peter Mayer sings).

But liberal religion asks: suppose there were no distinction between sacred and profane? Suppose there were a basic unity of all things. Suppose everything were holy, everything a miracle, every moment a sacrament shining with transcendent light.

(The attentive reader will have noticed that we have replaced a first-order and ontological dualism between sacred and profane with a second-order and epistemological dualism between believing in ontological dualisms vs. being suspicious of them and seeing that "everything is holy now." To this, The Liberal Pulpit replies: first, this move from first-order to second-order constitutes progress; second, the path does lead ultimately to transcending all dualisms.)

Any overview of liberal religion must include an important negative point about what liberal religion is not. Liberal religion does not say you can believe anything you want to. Believe what you have to? Yes. What you want to? That’s very different. Liberal Religion affirms that you are free to believe as your heart, mind, and conscience dictates, but that’s not saying anything goes.

I’m a Unitarian Universalist today because shortly before I was born my parents, driving through Richmond, Virginia where they lived, on the way home one day happened to drive by the Unitarian Church. The sign out front said, “Here we believe that all have the right to believe as their heart, mind, and conscience dictate.” That’s the sign that got them in the door. That sign was the proximate cause of this denomination being a part of the way I was raised.

(What sign was I born under? I was born under a sign that says, “Here we believe that all have the right to believe as their heart, mind, and conscience, dictates.”)

Believing as your heart mind and conscience dictate is very different from believing whatever you want. What you want to believe might be what is easy – a theology that is superficially attractive, doesn’t require much thought or creative work. You might want some belief that you can hold and gaze upon like a pretty crystal: beautiful and static. But hearing and heeding what your heart, mind, and conscience dictate requires effort, focus, and attentiveness. It is an ongoing labor to discover what your own self dictates you believe – and thereby discover who you are. It’s a journey on an open road with no final destination.

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This is part 4 of 5 of "What Is Liberal Religion?"
Next: Part 5: "Neecie"
Previous: Part 3: "Creeds vs. Principles"
Beginning: Part 1: "An Open Road Song"

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