Religious authority has to do with how you know WHAT you know to be true and just; what source informs your actions.
Depending upon the religious context in which you find yourself, the answer could be as simple as “tradition is my guide – I do this because this is what we have always done.”
Religious contexts built upon the tradition of “hierarchical authority” would have you navigate the world according to the dictates of its current governing body – in which case you might point to your Priest, Guru, Rabbi or Council as the ultimate source of truth and meaning in your life.
Those contexts built upon “sacred texts” would have you find the answers to all of life’s quandries within words (including related commentaries) passed down through the generations.
Generally one source of religious authority is stressed over the others, proclaimed universally applicable and infallible – yet these three sources are often interwoven, reinforcing one another.
Unitarian Universalist history was and continues to be shaped by the insistence that human beings should be free ALSO to draw upon:
1. their own life experiences (including their ability to apply reason to what is experienced or learned), and
2. to question authority (its source, its ability to withstand rational scrutiny, as well as its use or abuse of power).
Another critical source for Unitarian Universalists, one that should not be underestimated, is that of the covenanted beloved community: committed to encouraging the spiritual growth of its members through shared exploration of life’s mysteries and truths, and governed via democratic principles.
How often, after reading sacred texts and commentaries, after exploring tradition and perspectives on truth passed down by “authorities”, after having my own mystical experiences and insights, have I found myself pivot toward an entirely different perspective by virtue of conversation with a fellow UU (colleague or congregant).
We have much to learn from one another and to offer one another, as we seek to know what is true and just, and to live accordingly!