Dear Ones- HAPPY NEW YEAR!
This month we will be exploring our 4th Unitarian Universalist Principle, “The free and responsible search for truth and meaning”.
Honestly, I find this Principle to be one of the more challenging (although, I admit MOST of them are and should be challenging!).
We trace its history back to the same 18th Century Enlightenment views which, according to Wikipedia, “emphasized reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy and came to advance ideals like liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government and separation of church and state”. Both our Unitarian and Universalist ancestors held this as a cornerstone of their religious experience from the very earliest days.
This Principle tells us that we are free to find inspiration and revelation anywhere it is to be found. It is, in effect, our passport to explore the entire world of ideas, from nature or our own souls, or drawing on the thoughts of the greatest thinkers, theologians, scientists and philosophers with no restrictions. We have no theological “authority” other than our own hearts and souls. We have no bishops who tell us what we must believe. Not even I, as your Minister, have any authority over what you must or must not believe. In the end, we alone are the sole arbiters of our personal theology. Rather, as Rev Barbara Wells put it, “We are charged with finding out for ourselves those things which we MUST believe”.
It is a statement of religious freedom and tolerance almost beyond imagining.
Unfortunately, it also gives rise to some grave misunderstandings.
There is the old “UU’s can believe anything they want” This statement shows a lack of understanding of who we are as a people. While it is true that we are not constrained by dogma, and would (hopefully) be gracious toward anyone who held an opposing view, most of us probably do not believe that one group of humans is “better” than another, nor should one group of humans have dominance over another. Most of us, I hope, do not feel that our personal theology is the only “correct” one and all others are heretical. Most of us would never say that one religious text is the only Truth, and if science seems to contradict it, then it is the science that is wrong. Those who hold these beliefs probably would not feel comfortable describing themselves as Unitarian Universalists.
I’ve also heard it said that, “Unitarian Universalism is not really a religion, because it doesn’t have a single, unique theology”. This statement, while an accurate assessment of our theological diversity, stems from a rather narrow and provincial judgment of that diversity. We certainly do not have a creed to which all of us must commit – for example, we do not require a belief in God, nor do we require a belief in re-incarnation, though some of us do. But the charge of not being a religion, based merely on our theological diversity, is simply not accurate (and, it should be noted, there is at least some theologically diversity in MOST faith traditions).
I will admit, though, that often the second qualifier of that Principle- the responsible part- is often overlooked. Not only must our search be “free”, it must also be “responsible”. Not every idea that pops into my head is reasonable, logical or worthwhile. In the end, we must be honest in assessing our theological views, and recognize that they are exclusively and uniquely ours. Our conclusions should be weighed against the best and brightest, most enlightened minds we can find. Without the “responsible” part, I believe we can rather easily go “down the rabbit hole”.
Another pitfall of this Principle, I believe, is perhaps an over-emphasis on the individual. We must stand vigilantly against sacrificing the group at the altar of individualism. Being a UU alone is certainly OK- many people are, either by choice or circumstance. But without being in community with like-minded people we are powerless to affect any change in this broken world. Without “bumping into” other views, there is no impetus to challenge our own views. Without challenging one another’s views, while listening with a loving ear, we have ONLY our own council on which to rely. There is wisdom in the group which cannot be achieved in isolation.
So my wish for you in this new year, is two-fold: May each of us, individually, find joy, wonder, challenge and delight in the never-ending search for truth and meaning. And may we, together in community, continue to discover new pathways to the divine within and without.
Wishing you peace and blessings,