You Can’t Build Something Positive Out of the Lowest Common Denominator…or, Can’t We Chuck the Principles Now? pt.2

Tim Bartik, in a comment on my last post, writes (not picking on you Tim, but the comment has made me think):

Second, I think it would be better to start with what we have as principles, and try to modify them to be more inspirational and a clearer focus for UUism as a positive religion.

I have no doubt that the Principles could be prettified and made more inspirational. Yet if any of you were at the GA where the Commission on Appraisal presented a revision of the Principles, you know there would be a significant pushback. Which I think brings up the more important issue with the Principles.

Can you build something positive when you’re stuck with the least common denominator? Because, let’s be real about it, that’s what the Prinicples are; the lowest common denominator for a culturally liberal religious group that doesn’t want to use religious words.

Sound harsh? That’s because it is. But again, let’s be real. If we just went by the Principles, what would distinguish a Unitarian Universalist congregation from the local Rotary Club or Optimist Club or the Junior League (or for that matter any of the historically African American sororities and fraternities)? Why would anybody want to join a religious group that, for all intents and purposes, is no different than those organizations?

No matter how much you try, it is very hard to build something positive when you stuck with the lowest common denominator.

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4 thoughts on “You Can’t Build Something Positive Out of the Lowest Common Denominator…or, Can’t We Chuck the Principles Now? pt.2

  1. You are right that many Americans may give lip service to some of the ideas in the principles. This reflects the U.S.’s Enlightenment heritage. But do we really live by these principles in our daily lives? Do we really respect the inherent worth and dignity of each and every individual? Do we really recognize how interdependent we all are? So, moving these principles from lip service to thinking and feeling how this affects our lives is an important task that might justify spending considerable time, not only on Sundays but in other activities, in trying to develop our capabilities with respect to these principles.

    You could equally well say that the Golden Rule is something that the Rotary Club or the other groups you mention might agree on. And yet Hillel famously said that the Torah could be summarized as being the Golden Rule, with the rest simply being explanation. It can take a whole life, and much help from a community, to truly understand how to live the Golden Rule, even if supposedly everyone acknowledges it as truth.

    • I’m going to push back on your argument because I think it circles the real issue.

      Why should anybody choose a UU congregation if they can get the same principles if they join the Rotary Club, the Optimist Club, the Junior League and many other organizations.

      What are UU congregations offering that distinguishes them from the organizations list above or any others that agree with the Principles?

      I’m arguing for getting rid of the Principles because, once they are gone, congregations will actually have to make a name for themselves wherever they are.

      • I hardly think that these other organizations have as their central purpose helping their members develop in community so they can live better personal lives in accordance with compelling moral principles and guides to right living. I’ve been to Rotary Club meetings, and they do some nice work sometimes, but with all due respect, it has little overlap with the hard work of a church community.

  2. “You are right that many Americans may give lip service to some of the ideas in the principles.”

    Funny you should say that Tim because, from where I stand. . . many Unitarian Universalists only give empty and insincere “lip service” to most if not all of the Seven Principles. In fact, Unitarian Universalists, including U*U clergy and top level UUA leaders, have repeatedly and indeed quite continuously made a total mockery of pretty much every single one of the Seven Principles in their rather inhuman “human relations” with me and other people of “inherent worth and dignity”.

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