One definition

This is from Alfred North Whitehead’s The Aims of Education:

“A religious education is an education which inculcates duty and reverence. Duty arises from our potential control over the course of events. Where attainable knowledge could have changed the issue, ignorance has the guilt of vice. And the foundation of reverence is this perception, that the present holds within itself the complete sum of existence, backwards and forwards, that whole amplitude of time, which is eternity.”

This strikes me as a pretty good definition of at least part of religious education.

We Unitarian Universalists are most likely to speak about duty in connection with our social justice work. However, we are also concerned about duty in terms of personal morality: whenever possible we aim to recognize that other beings are not mere means to our ends, but are ends in and of themselves. This means that we try to get beyond exploitation in our personal relationships; and beyond sexism, racism, and other destructive “isms”; and we try to honor and respect those who can’t stick up for themselves because they’re weaker than we are (e.g., children).

Many of us Unitarian Universalists have a hard time with the word “reverence.” But read over Whitehead’s definition carefully: the present moment holds within in itself eternity, and once we perceive this, we have the foundation of reverence. Notice that Whitehead is not making any claims about divinity, nor is he defining what existence he; he is talking about a kind of knowing. That’s the foundation of reverence: that you can know in the present moment in ways that open up all of time and space to you. Mathematicians and theologians would likely agree.