JLA Occupies Liberal Religion

“In contrast …Giacometti perceives contemporary humanity as having no reliable basis on which to order and delineate the space around us.”

I’ve been working my way through Being Human Religiously by James Luther Adams, slowly slowy, because his prose is like a big mouthful of Tootsie-Rolls. But the quotes in “Art, Psyche, and Society” I’m including in this post jumped out at me.

“The first criterion, then, of freedom for the individual in relation to society is that it requires the creation of a space; it requires it own turf, its own toehold, its own terra firma in face of dominating powers in the surrounding territory. In our day this means economic resources and political and economic rights–a dwelling, a job, freedom to move and to associate–enabling the individual to occupy a space in which he or she can make choices, choices that concern not only the individuals’ privacy but also a concrete relationship to society.”

“The first criterion involves a second. Since a viable space is a shared space, effective freedom must be a collective phenomenon…. Psychological space, if unsupported by social space, is an illusion. Psychological space supported by social space and social space supported by psychological space gives power to freedom–power in the sense of capacity to participate in the making of social decisions regarding public policy.”

With his talk about psychological space and social space, it can get lost that he is also, and essentially, talking about the space-space actually occupied by physical objects. Like people. Giacometti sculptures, those spindly uneven bodies frozen in action, show people pressed in space.

Adams is saying for an individual to be free, she has to have a place to act, a belief that action is possible, and a social agreement that action is meaningful. He is also saying that it takes a lot of freedom in order for there to be any freedom, and that the ability to act on freedom is the ability to help change the way the world operates.

People feel hemmed in, unable to meaningfully act in the world. Their psychological space is compressed. The social space presses in on them–they cannot find a dwelling, a job, a way of connecting that relieves that pressure. But a physical space opens up, and they go to the park. A small community forms, and the pressures of the social space lessen, the psychological spaces open up, and the power of freedom exercised by a relative few changes–maybe only a little bit, and maybe only for several weeks–the way a nation understands its potential.

Quotes from “Art, Psyche, and Society” in On Being Human Religiously, originally published in the Perkins Journal, Fall 1972.

(Note on old UU posts.)

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