Institution and Autonomy

People have been studying trends in religion for about as long as religions have been organized. “None” is a marketing term for the growing population of people who have no immediate religious affiliation. These folks make up under 20% of the US population but are 32% of people under 30. A lot of attention is paid to their lack of involvement in a church. But, only about 33% of them describe themselves as atheists or agnostics; most of them simply don’t apply the label of a specific religion to themselves.  In fact, according to Pew Research:

A majority of the religiously unaffiliated clearly think that religion can be a force for good in society, with three-quarters saying religious organizations bring people together and help strengthen community bonds (78%) and a similar number saying religious organizations play an important role in helping the poor and needy (77%).

Even those who feel that there is no religion to which they can belong still believe that there is power in religious institutions. Moreover, they believe that this power can be used to do good. What they don’t have is a comfortable place to explore their religious questions. They don’t know that they can have community while having their beliefs and their doubts respected.

Unitarian Universalism provides just that sort of community.

Liberal religion allows us to create communities based on moral principles and shared values while each maintaining our own spiritual life and practices. Children grow up exposed to new ideas, but always knowing that there are things which are ethical and things which are harmful to our community and relationships. From there, they are encouraged to explore ideas and spiritual practices to craft their own lives.

There are people who want community and the feeling of being connected to something larger. They are often preyed upon by people seeking money or influence. Liberal religion vaccinates people already inclined to religion against fundamentalism. It encourages them to be a healthy part of a community that cares about them as individuals.

Liberal religion also allows us to pool our resources; to build programs and projects to make the world more just and compassionate. It allows those with money to give money; those with time to invest time; those with skills use them to direct the efforts and resources effectively. It helps us build education, well-being, stability and support, and makes it possible to carry those things beyond any one generation.

In short, liberal religion allows us all the best things about the institution of religion while respecting the individual and the unique experiences we all bring with us. It allows us to be ourselves in a community that values our individuality. It allows us to be in relationship with people who value team work and the exchange of ideas. We can be ourselves, our whole selves, and still be part of something bigger and more effective than any of us could be alone.

That is the power of Institution coupled with the joy of autonomy. This is the promised “free and responsible search for truth and meaning” enshrined in the Principles of Unitarian Universalism. That is the appeal of liberal religion.


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