Monday, February 11, 2008

Free and Inquiring Religion?

This afternoon I got delivered a bunched-up package from Essex Hall, the headquarters of British Unitarianism. Along with other stuff from the mailing came an advert for a new Unitarian car sticker.

I'm not going to get one. The main reason for this is that I don't have a car. But in addition to that I really don't like the stap-line. It's the same standard one Essex Hall have been using for a long time (anyone know how long?), 'for free and inquiring religion.'

Is that really the message we want to give to people? What does it even mean? 'Free' to most people means you don't have to pay for it. 'We're a free church,' 'Great! No collection!' The concept of free religion needs explaining, you can't get it across in one line, so let's not try. 'Liberal' would be better, most people would have some idea what that means.

'Inquiring'? When I hear this word I think of an old man with half-moon spectacles reading a book, or gently and politely going to an information point and inquiring where the toilets are.

Even 'religion' isn't great if we really want to be missionary and get into the mindset of the culture, especially for those born after 1970.

I myself always go for 'progressive spirituality.' It may not be perfect, but I do think it's better. Maybe 'inclusive' as well. 'Unitarians: a progressive and inclusive spiritual commumnity.'

Feel free to leave a comment and offer your own strapline. Can we have a debate about this? Two years ago the Outreach and Communications Commission held a competition for people to suggest good phrases to be used on posters etc. Where have they gone now? We need to have a think about the most missionally appropriate language to use to speak about ourselves.


Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Well U*Us don't want to be *too* "inclusive". ;-)

6:32 pm  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

More seriously, I really do not think that anyone would believe that "free" was meant in any other sense than religious freedom. As far as inquiring goes I really see little evidence of U*Us doing much genuine inquiring these days. So, besides being rather lame, the current slogan is open to some question about its level of "truth in advertising". Of course the same might be said about a variety of other U*U slogans and mission statements etc. I certainly agree that U*Us world-wide should devote some serious thought to what is the most missionally appropriate language to use to speak about U*Us. Indeed CUC Executive Director Mary Bennett would have done well to do just that back in 2003 when she proposed inserting an asterisk between the two Us of UUism in order to symbolize the much vaunted, but little realized, "inclusiveness" of what is now know as the U*U religious community in Canada, Europe and possibly elsewhere in the U*U World.

9:02 pm  
Blogger Rich said...

This problem with the word free is the same one that is famously experienced by the free software movement. But they have stuck with the name free since their inception in the 80s and I'm inclined to agree - it has the right connotations for something progressive.

In software's case, Eric Raymond proposed "open source" for a similar (though not entirely the same) concept and that is the one that the media have latched onto. And I think that's a shame, because free carries so much more political weight.

9:10 am  
Anonymous plonkee @ the religious atheist said...

I think Rich might be on to something with "open" as an idea.

I agree that most people aren't into religion, but I'm not convinced that they're into progressive spirituality either. And there is a place for liberal religious communities.

8:44 pm  

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