Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Vive la Revolution

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

After hearing the news of the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, the Unitarian William Hazlitt was:

…staggering under the Blow of Waterloo. The reappearance of our Imperial Idol on the coast of France, and his triumphal march on Paris is like a fairy-vision, excited our admiration and sympathy to their utmost pitch...Waterloo... the greatest and most fatal in its consequence that was ever fought in the world...the Sun that illuminated the Day of Austerlitz has finally set; the Lamp of Liberty is extinguished.’
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. The motto of the French Revolution, a Revolution which terrified the crowned heads of Europe who, for twenty years, desperately tried put the Genie of Liberty back into the bottle.  Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, are not just words uttered by dead politicians; the motto of a system of government once (still?) reviled in Britain. And contrary to the assertion of Hazlitt, the Lamp of Liberty is not extinguished. It cannot be extinguished, dimmed and guttering it may be: the Lamp of Liberty burns in all our hearts as the Divine Spark of Wesley; the Inner Light of George Fox, the still small voice of calm of Longfellow; the conscience of Emerson.
Unitarians supported the French Revolution because it’s values chimed with their own: Freedom, Reason and Tolerance. Freedom of thought, of belief, of action, the freedom to live an authentic life; the importance of Reason in understanding and interpreting the world; and Tolerance to accept the ideas, opinions and beliefs of those with whom we may not agree. Values many Unitarians still value.
These values are values of inclusion, of welcome, of radical hospitality.
Liberty to think for yourself, to make up your own mind, to be authentic and live and authentic life.
Equality – that all people are worth of the same dignity and respect; to treat others as we would have them treat us.
Fraternity – the recognition that we are all part of the same human family. That we are all “one”, one before each other and one before God.
The ‘Lamp of Liberty’ is rekindled every time freedom prevails over injustice; the Lamp of Liberty is rekindled every time equality triumphs over oppression; the Lamp of Liberty is rekindled every time the essential one-ness of our human condition is recognised.
And this is not just a political statement, but a religious one as well. Jesus of Nazareth no less urged his followers to ‘Love God, Love another and love your neighbour as yourself’; to ‘do unto others as you would them to do unto you’ to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us; that blessed are the peace makers and those who suffer for the sake of righteousness.  Jesus never told his followers what to believe, but more importantly – and one attended with far more difficulty – how to behave. This is a vision of radical inclusion where no one is cast out and all are welcome in the name of love.  No one is left outside ‘in my father’s  house there are many rooms.’ To paraphrase St Paul, if we do not have love we are nothing but a noisy gong or crashing cymbal – lots of noise but nothing else. ‘These three shall abide: Faith, Hope and Love, but the greatest of these is Love.’ This is a radical vision and message of a world set free, set free by love: love of the self, love of neighbour and love all that we find holy.  As the hymn-writer says
“We would be one in building for tomorrow, a greater world than we have known today; We would be one in searching for that meaning which binds our hearts and points us on the way. We would be one in living for each other, With love and justice strive to make all free. As one, we pledge ourselves to greater service, To show the world a new community.”
May we forever strive to encourage the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in our own lives and in the world at large.

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