I have just arrived in Spain to participate in a conference in honor of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Michael Servetus (or, as the Spaniards name him, Miguel Servet). Organized by the Michael Servetus Institute, the conference is taking place in Zaragosa and in Villanueva de Sigena, the birthplace of Servetus.
When I was first asked if I would be a presenter, I replied that I am not a scholar of Servetus. I have done some reading and, like most UU ministers, I have preached about him, but that is hardly background for speaking at a conference like this.
I was assured that I was not expected to be a scholar. Rather, they wanted me to speak about Unitarianism (and Unitarian Universalism) today, with emphasis on the theme of liberalism and dogmatism. So tomorrow I will present a paper on that topic in Spanish to the assembled Servetus scholars.
This anniversary conference is an appropriate place to highlight the lasting influence of Servetus in liberal religion. Four years ago I passed through the small village of Villanueva where Servetus was born. The Servetus home is now a museum with archives for scholars. School children from the region often visit on field trips. Ironically, a statue of Servetus is now outside the entrance of the Catholic church. I couldn’t resist having my photo taken next to a heretical forebear. The Catholic church had condemned Servetus as a heretic and would have killed him if John Calvin had not done it first. Now he has a place of honor outside the church. The ways of history can sometimes be very strange.
When I was preparing my presentation, I went from wondering if I had enough to fill the time to realizing that I had to leave out many things. There are so many possibilities for my topic: describing our movement in the U.S. and in other countries; highlighting the role of science, of a critical stance toward scripture, of antiauthoritarianism; briefly describing the state of liberal religion in Europe and in America (a very mixed bag, indeed); and noting the challenges that liberal religion faces now and in the future.
There is so much!
I’ll tell you more about the conference in my next post.