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