Does Unitarian-Universalism Have Principles?

One of the proposed Congregational Study/Action Issues that will be discussed at General Assembly later this month is “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice.”  In the official proposal is a section that describes the issue’s significance to UUism.  Here is what it says:

“Unitarian Universalists have a vision of environmental justice. One of our principles acknowledges “the interdependent web.” Others affirm the importance of human rights. Together our principles form one holistic statement that helps to define liberal religion.”

Leaving aside the actual issues of economic justice and environmental degradation that the CSAI is concerned with, let’s just take a look at the language of this proposal.  Simply put: does Unitarian Universalism have principles, as this statement claims?  The principles being cited here are those of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, which in its bylaws includes a set of principles that acknowledges “the interdependent web” and affirms the importance of human rights.  But are these the principles of UUism, or of the UUAoC, a specific organization within UUism?  And do these principles enunciated by the UUAoC indeed create a statement that helps define liberal religion?

This is intended as an open question.  What do you think?  Are the UUAoC principles also the principles of UUism?  Why or why not?  How do you go about determining the principles of UUism?  In what way are UUs responsible for holding to this “holistic statement” and the principles that underlie it?

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7 Comments

Filed under Defining Liberal Religion, Unitarian-Universalism

7 responses to “Does Unitarian-Universalism Have Principles?

  1. Hmmm…I have always just assumed that those 7 principles are OUR principles. They just seem to unite us. We had a service recently in my congregation called “Living our UU Principles”, and it was very inspiring where people spoke of examples from their own lives–times they have lived certain principles, as well as times they have struggled with living some of them. I think most of us hold these principles to heart, and did so even before we were UU’s….being in UU community just gives many of us the support and challenge we need to live them more fully and authentically…. As for the principles forming “one holistic statement that helps to define liberal religion”…I’m not sure. I don’t think we’ve quite arrived at one definition of liberal religion… but I do think they serve as articulations of what we value together.

  2. serenityhome

    Robin’s comments are interesting, especially the last one where we are spared the google search that shows us that UU’s do the exact opposite of the principles we covenant to uphold. To me this only proves that we are as human as the Christians or Muslims or Buddhists who also have been found to do the exact opposite of their principles / creeds. It’s really called diversity. We are not all on the same page nor at the same stage of moral and ethical development. We are going to fail in living these principles a percentage of the time. In fact, we are bound to disappoint others even if we think we are doing a great job in living / adhering to these principles because others are bound to have a different standard by which to measure us. There are those among us who strive to live these principles by being a vegetarian or a vegan. For them this is as crucial to their living Unitarian Universalism as anything else. For others, it may be in striving to be environmentally green in all things as the cornerstone to their living these principles. These things may or may not be consistent with each other but it does not mean that either are not living their values to the best of their abilities as Unitarian Universalists. For those who are vegetarian or vegan or those who are as environmentally green, it may seem that others who have not embraced these actions are not upholding the covenant of these principles. Not necessarily. We seek to uphold a principle of freedom of conscience and therefore we allow others to come to their conclusions about such concerns. I think it is important for us to not so quickly point the finger at others for issues that may have come easier for us to wrap our lives around. I bet anything, there are areas that others are doing far better in upholding than I. I look to them not to point the finger at me and shout hypocrite but rather to be the example for me to learn from their stories of excelling in an area that I do not.

    To get back to the question asked. The principles could be a manner in which we define liberal religion. I know that I refer to the principles when I am confronted with an issue that makes me uncomfortable. For example, today I preached on torture. I needed to wrestle with the principle of inherent worth and dignity when the torturers of Abu Ghraib and Gitmo are displaying themselves as monsters of intense evil rather than as humans with inherent worth let alone dignity. I don’t know how successful I am with this question. But if the principle is true regardless of what I see expressed, then how do I reach that essence that reveals it to be true when everything shouts the opposite? I could not gloss over the principle as some rote phrase of rhetoric. If my faith has any hutzpah, any substance to it, then it has to be able to answer this question. Does/Can a person steeped in providing torture have inherent worth and dignity? Does/Can our principles help us in answering these more critical questions of our 21st century reality? I believe they can but on the way, it means that we are going to fumble and sometimes err in our living out the question, but if we are able to maintain our openness to the question, then we can have a fairly exciting journey along the way. Blessings,

  3. Pingback: Inherent or Bestowed Worth and Dignity? « A Unitarian Universalist Minister in Mississippi

  4. serenityhome

    Robin: Perhaps you didn’t read the end of the paragraph where I wrote:

    “We seek to uphold a principle of freedom of conscience and therefore we allow others to come to their conclusions about such concerns. I think it is important for us to not so quickly point the finger at others for issues that may have come easier for us to wrap our lives around. I bet anything, there are areas that others are doing far better in upholding than I. I look to them not to point the finger at me and shout hypocrite but rather to be the example for me to learn from their stories of excelling in an area that I do not. ”

    It is regretable that Rev. Peter Morales stated the comment you quoted. You are calling him a hypocrite because of this statement. If we are human, then the charge of hypocrisy will stick to each of us at one time or another. No one is so pure in their intentions to not contradict themselves in their actions. My point in the quote of mine you quoted above.

    Based on the quote alone, since I do not have the context of the speech, I am not sure I could make the same leap to conclude that he believes “that U*Us are quite immune from “hatred, injustice, prejudice, ignorance” of their own. . .” In what little I know about Rev. Morales, I have never received the impression that he thinks UU’s are immune from anything that others from time to time display.

    I sense your passion about this issue.

  5. ogre

    We (individual UUs) do not covenant to affirm and promote the principles–the congregations that make up the UUAoC covenant to affirm and support them.

    Reading the language of Article II, it’s pretty clear that they’re held up as ideals, but that explicit room is made for any individual whose conscience finds cause for objection to refuse any or all of them without being labeled “not UU.”

    But there are, I believe, some absolute UU principles.

    What we articulate as the third and fourth principles;
    # Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
    # A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
    –those are the bedrock that I can’t even imagine could change without UUism ceasing to be UUism. The others have either been derived from those, I think, or have been accepted because of them, and UUs finding those other principles appropriate and consonent with our basic values.

    Just like all people who have ideals, we fall short of them.

  6. Chuck B.

    While my heart is jumping up and shouting for the point Robin is making, I’ve got to agree with the others so far.

    Do UU’s fail? Heck yeah, spectacularly so. There are UU’s some would say unintentionally proclaim their hypocracy as they host their UU blogs. That said, I believe grace occurs when UU’s realize their transgressions and rise above them.

    Now here, I am about to commit UU prejudice: I believe we as a faithand a people, have a greater ability to discover our hypocracies than other religions. We love to talk, and we like to guide each other through ideas. Oh that doesn’t mean the stubborn ignorant will not exist, but with good Rev.’s and people like Robin and the others here, a congregant has a greater Opportunity of over coming his hypocracy than in the other religions.

    That said: I think that several things make it difficult for us to call ourselves a Liberal religion.

    (Yes…Robin feel free to point and say “gotcha Chuck”)

    On these Blogs I see a real tension between whether we are a Liberal Religion, i.e. a Progressive empowering faith that suppors the betterment of ourselves, humanity, and all living things on this world VERSUS being a Libertarian Religion, i.e. a faith that let’s people do what they want.

    I guess it comes down to your definition of a Liberal religion. Strictly speaking I believe that all those paths that do not hurt or degrade others, are valid and worhty of my respect; even if I do not agree with them. In my Church I believe both the Atheist and Theist voices are valid.

    (Okay, I have a problem with the Spaghetti Space God, but even I have limits. And he’s never come out with a bible: so its either non existant or lazy)

    If we interpret the phrase through the lens of the United States Socio-political philosophical definition of the term, then we start to lose UU’s and argue.

    Still I would say I support the USSPP definition, or at least I like to delude myself into believing that’s the goal of a majority of us.

    (Robin…do not burst that bubble please)

  7. As you might guess I’m all in favor of Peter Morales’ take, he’s my minister and has my full support for his run for the presidency. Rather than hypocritical I find this quote sober and realistic. The political positions most of us liberal religionists are battling are those ported from bronze age holy books into the 21st century. It should come as no surprise that they don’t fit our modern situation, let alone that they’re arbitrary.

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