Some Assumptions Underlying the Seven Principles
By Lex Crane
NITARIAN Universalists have tended to view the seven principles one by one, as a list of the things we can agree on. But when we view them as an integrated whole (as we might view a poem), a remarkable thematic symmetry and resonance emerge.
"The principle behind the principles" is what the Rev. Frances Manly, minister of the First UU Church of Niagara Falls, New York, calls this phenomenon. The Rev. Walter Royal Jones, who headed the committee that formulated the principles 15 years ago, agrees that beneath them lies a set of what he calls "reality assumptions" or "hidden commitments." The three of us, in an exchange of e-mails on the topic, found several underlying philosophical assumptions.
Before getting into those, it's worth pointing out that the principles embrace the entire range of human experience: the individual person, relations between societies in a world community of nations, and relations of both within the interdependent web of all existence. The lifelong search for truth and meaning lies at the midpoint of the seven principles, between the individual person and interdependence, suggesting that the search is a central value in our lives and that it must take place in the tension between our affirmation of the worth of the individual person and our recognition of the high importance of the interdependent web of which each of us is a part.
Here now are some underpinnings of the seven principles, as identified in our online discussion:
A tacit assumption that the principles, tentative though they are, provide a working hypothesis for promoting the creative cultural evolution of humanity; indeed, for ensuring the survival of the species.
A philosophical assumption, which we share with science, that there is a vast entity, a unified reality outside us and within us in which we live and move, a reality that has an intelligible nature. "The interdependent web of all existence" is the metaphor we use for this reality.
An additional assumption that we know some of this reality and that the remainder is still beyond our grasp.
A faith in the power and potential of humanity and, along with it, a trust that if, in community, we open ourselves to the nature of things and pool our inherently limited individual perspectives, awareness will emerge within each of us -- also in community. In short, we need each other to find our way.
A commitment to the search for truth and meaning, and underlying this a tacit commitment, throughout our lives, to enlarging our understanding of reality, of the interdependent web. The truth that matters above all, transformative truth, we find not in ancient revelation but in each living person's search for truth and meaning.
A comprehensive love: caring about the quality of life of all human beings and of the interdependent web. In other words, the principles carry the essential spirit of the Judeo-Christian tradition -- not the letter, not the doctrines, but the spirit.
Religion for us is the search for truth, for reality, and we hold, deep in ourselves, that getting as close as we can to awareness of reality and governing ourselves in accord with its nature are primary life goals. People all over the world who share this faith with us are our kin, whatever their church or their tradition.
The Rev. Lex Crane, who lives in Santa Barbara, California, is minister emeritus of the UU Church of Yakima, Washington.
UU World XIV:6 (November/December 2000): 39.
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