Every Sunday, as we welcome the congregation and visitors to our service, we speak on the fourth principle, as a sort of warning, that our church respects a “Free Pulpit”, where the minister is welcome to tell us things we may disagree with or not like. At the mention of this, a cry of “Hooray” often comes from the seat occupied by Reverend Hamilton. We then counter that with the idea of the “Free Pew”, meaning that the congregation isn’t expected to to agree with everything they hear, as long as they listen politely and with the other principles in mind. This is certainly the most visible example of the fourth principle: “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”
This is the major reason that Unitarian Universalism is considered such an open and accepting religion: we don’t tell you how the world works. We admit that we don’t really know. We may have very strongly held beliefs or be completely agnostic about religion, but we all admit that none of us has scientific proof that we have all the right answers. Is there a God? Most of us think so, and think we’ve got good reason for it. Could there be more than one? We’ll have to discuss the definitions involved, but I can’t say, definitively, “No.”
We UUs admit that any philosophy that allows you to adhere to the principles of the UUA is worthy of some exploration. If the values of the religion still promote dignity and peace, then we accept that some people may benefit from following it. As long as you are being responsible, we respect your freedom.
The tricky part of this, like the word “encouragement” in the 3rd Principle, is in “responsible” and “Truth”. We aren’t committed to accepting every idea brought through our doors. We have to engage our fellow UUs in an effort to encourage them to explore ideas in the light of reason, science and conscience. Promoting this principle means helping people realize when they are deluding themselves, missing important information, or being naïve in their search. We discuss ideas, and we look for ways in which we can continue to grow, if a philosophy offers something we haven’t explored that we can learn from or incorporate. We should engage others in discussion about their belief system and how it serves their needs and the 7 Principles, allowing us to further our own search for truth in the process.