“Radical” and “liberal” in tension

I keep going back to British Unitarian minister and blogger Stephen Lingwood’s latest blog post where he — following a threat on yet another blog — distinguishes between liberals, radicals and conservatives. Be sure to read it.

I keep wondering if the collapse of liberal religion has more to do with our sense of comfort in a damaged and damaging world — a sense most people cannot afford — than our collective inability to raise money or leaders. And then there’s the middle-aged skeptic in me that has seen the alternating self-congratulating, self-destructive and bitter modes of real-life radicals, whether they are religious, political or social.

I even wonder if these are the distinctions we ought make: is visiting the radical-conservative-liberal continuum vital and challenging, or hopelessly lost to another generation?

Your thoughts?

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Embodied Fragments discusses this thread and includes Pragmatism. Maybe it’s just the Dewey legacy here in Chicago that I feel but my bet is most UUs fall into the Pragmatist camp even if they never read Dewey or James. It’s why UUs so comfortable no knowing much about UU history. We look forward to the future to test what works and what won’t. We pay a price for that which is seeming awfully arbitrary at times. We have to think hard about the common thread that links UU preaching over the centuries, and the search compounded by the indifference to what happened because it’s only tomorrow that counts for much.

    Just off the top of my head here.

  2. I’m suprised nobody is interested in this. But I will take my stab at it, because I think it needs to be paid attention to.

    There was a time in my young adult life when I found the label “Liberal” very important to myself. It was mostly an issue of defining my own identity. As life moved on, I found myself challenged by a number of things.

    * Liberal or conservative is always in comparison to something else. In rural Ohio I’m considered liberal. In San Francisco, I’m viewed as more conservative (possibly right of center).

    * By taking on a label, I may also be taking on a public image that contains things I may not lay claim to. For example, being a religious liberal has not always meant that my politics are considered liberal.

    * Parts of my perspective have become post-Liberal. I’ve become skeptical of religious Liberalism’s common view of the inherent goodness of all people; skpetical about our activist tendencies; and skeptical about our aversion to repentance.

    So do I find the liberal-conservative spectrum useful? Not as much as I once did. It doesn’t seem to define as much of a stance or identity, as it does function as a mere tool of comparison.

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