Monday, February 23, 2009

Salvation is Freedom

One of my theological interests in the last few years has been developing an understanding of salvation that is useful for thinking about the purpose and mission of a Unitarian congregation.

It has occured to me recently that one good way for us to think about salvation is to return to that age-old Unitarian word "freedom."

I think Unitarians have always been striving for freedom. Firstly (for the first Unitarian pioneers) freedom to think for oneself and question inherited orthodoxy; secondly (after an established Unitarian community exists) political freedom for minority religions to live in the state free from oppression, persecution and discrimination; thirdly (within the mature Unitarian community) freedom for the individual to come to their own beliefs within a creedless community.

All fine so far. However I think we often replace one set of chains with another. We become free from one thing and in the process bind ourselves in slavery to something else. Unitarians have worked very hard to free themselves from the chains of orthodoxy and creed, from narrow binding beliefs, and yet in the process what have we become chained to? The chains of the fashions of spiritual fads, the chains of a left-liberal political agenda, the chains of individualism, the chains of our own egos, the chains of all the constructions we have built in our minds about how the world is, and what the purpose of life is.

Not that these things are all bad, but they are new orthodoxies we fall in to, unthinkly.

To be free from these orthodoxies is much harder, which is why most of us don't manage it, leaving most Unitarian communities unable to grow and evolve, stuck in a kind of immaturity.

To be free from these chains involves spiritual practice. It involves getting rid of the words, the constructions, the creeds, the orthodoxies and confronting Reality as it really is. It means we don't replace the old words with new words, or our own individually constructed words (as if that is the height of spiritual attainment to be able to articulate a credo) rather we move into the silence beyond words. The revelation beyond words. The God beyond God. The Really Real experienced raw beyond our constructions.

That's what I'd call salvation, though liberation might be a better word. Lots of traditions tell us how to get there. I would like to see our communities functioning with this as their aim.

"Where the Spirit of God is, there is freedom."


Anonymous Tim (S Manc) said...

We should always be challenging norms and orthodoxy, especially when they exist only for their own sake. But because I'm a wannabe Unitarian, I'm going to throw a spanner in the works and suggest whether some need to rid themselves of the chains of dissatisfaction with everything, talking onesself down, rejecting anything that is not "new", or seeing any construct or orthodoxy as being restrictive.

We constantly need to evaluate where we are and where we want to go in life (spiritually or otherwise) in order to stay on track, yet having a long-term framework or set of rules for living and working can be liberating. They are not "chains", but allow us to channel our energies, put things into perspective, and keep moving on. The key is to also allow that essential framework to change sometimes. I do not believe in complete objectivity, so one of the most liberating things in my life is being able to accept that I see the world subjectively and in a biased way: knowing that at least helps me to empathise with, value, and seek common threads in others' opinions and outlook on life.

As for the Unitarians: developing orthodoxies and norms is organic to the development of any group; without a framework or any established norms, there is no perspective, no common identity, nothing clearly distinct, and no raison d'ĂȘtre- a kind of Unitarian anarchy, maybe. Unitarians are (supposed to be) united in a search for truth: sometimes that means accepting, or at least tolerating, orthodoxies. One example of orthodoxy showing difference: how would Unitarian services be able to differentiate themselves from other religious worship without the rituals of Chalice Lighting or Joys and Concerns Candles?

Apart from that, I really need to be more concise!

6:50 pm  
Anonymous Ade said...

For me 'freedom' is not something to be aimed for, but rather a state in which we can each find what we are aiming for. I'm comfortable with the freedom I'm now enjoying as a Unitarian, but it's not the freedom that fulfils me. As you say, it is something far more profound.

Perhaps, for me, salvation is harmony. (well, that'll have to do for now anyway - my lunch break is over...)

12:57 pm  

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