A free & responsible search for truth & meaning

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.

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4 Responses

  1. Does it seem to you that many UUs stress the “free” over the “responsible”? Do we really challenge each other to seek the truth?

    I am taking it on assumption that most of us believe that there are hard “facts” about the Universe, that we don’t make most things true by believing them, but rather we discover what’s true by testing it, in as much as we have the ability to do so.

    Yet, when it comes to discussing what those truths might be, we tend to look at sacred texts non-critically, and to merely nod and listen when someone declares beliefs we might not agree with… we don’t question each other much.

    I believe we are capable of questioning each other’s beliefs respectfully, and have found that when my own beliefs are questioned, I benefit, either by giving me the opportunity to support them with whatever evidence has brought me to them, or by helping me see through some false data I might have received or ignorance I failed to perceive.

    But do we do this much?

    • I think that we ABSOLUTELY take Free over Responsible in my experience, at least out-loud.

      That is not to say that I know a lot of UUs who are treading dangerous spiritual ground, but hat we are not as likely to speak to someone who’s ideas bother us, at least not in a reasonable and constructive way. We may debate or confront, but when we aren’t willing to fight, we also are not usually willing to try and guide each other, either.

  2. […] “Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth” as well as “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning“. What I saw was one Unitarian Universalist trying to meaningfully engage another in an […]

  3. […] about the meaning I draw from them and how I apply it to my world view. It feel apart after “a free and responsible search“, but I feel that I have covered “right of conscience and democratic process” and […]

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