Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two reasons why the Seven Principles aren't a creed

1. They were written by a committee and are formally reviewed and revised by a committee every fifteen years.

2. The disclaimer that was adopted with the Seven Principles:

Nothing herein shall be deemed to infringe upon the individual freedom of belief which is inherent in the Universalist and Unitarian heritages or to conflict with any statement of purpose, covenant, or bond of union used by any congregation unless such is used as a creedal test.

I wish people included this disclaimer, which to my understanding they are supposed to*, whenever they used the Seven Princuiples.

Also, I was talking with a beloved UU friend last night who said that someone she knew got into the discussion of the principles at GA that many people were turned away from and some people in the discussion said they needed to be shorter so they would be easier to memorize.

CC smites her forehead, not even wanting to count the number of annoying things in that sentence alone.


* I invite the input of somebody who knows a lot about UUA policies, such as Philo, or who has a freakish gift for rule memorization, such as Steve.


Alex Winnett said...

I agree with you CC. The P&P are not a creed. We are a liberal faith--a free faith--free to decide for ourselves what we choose to believe.

And the principles, purposes and sources of inspiration are healthy and helpful guidelines to help our discernment of actions and beliefs.

But in the same way that a lot of faiths have creeds to help guide beliefs.

I am just not sure why UU's have such an aversion to the word "Creed" (rockband withstanding).

Oh and historically speaking, many creeds were written by committee. The Nicaean was definitely written by committee. As was Islamic Sharia.

Committee assessment does not negate the authority of a creed.

Chalicechick said...

But revision was not assumed in the writing of the historical creeds.

I should have been clearer on that, sorry.


Boy in the Bands (Scott Wells) said...

Creeds are tweaked from time to time, as in the Filioque controversy.

But I think the real problem with the P&Ps is the way they're used to crowd out all other religious language, per that wretched promotional video of late.

Chalicechick said...

Creeds are tweaked every once in awhile, but surely not on a schedule.

I'm thinking this distiction is more significant to other people than it is to me.

Ah well...


Chalicechick said...

err.. Reverse that.




Anonymous said...

They also aren't a creed because they are agreed to by the member CONGREGATIONS, not individual UUs. They are like a mission statement for the Association and its member bodies, not a litmus test for who as an individual is qualified or unqualified to call themselves a Unitarian-Universalist.

Alex: The UU aversion to creeds is inherited mainly from the Unitarian branch of our ancestry. Unitarians largely rejected the idea of creeds because they seemed to interfere with the value of the free mind to make its own decisions about religion. Universalists weren't nearly as creedophobic. Here is a 20th century Universalist creed, for instance; notice the differences between this actual creed and the non-creed of the UUA principles:

"I believe in God, the Father Almighty and Universal; and in Jesus Christ his Son, the true teacher, example, and Savior of the world. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the quickener and comforter of men. I believe in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as a revelation of righteousness, truth and love. I believe in the Holy Church Universal; in the communion of saints; in the certainty of punishment for transgression; in the forgiveness of sins; in the life immortal; in the final triumph of goodness and mercy; and in the union and harmony, at last, of all souls with God."

Anonymous said...

I am being goaded into bureaucratic commentary! Ack!

UUs have a strange relationship with the so-called Principles and Purposes, starting with the fact that most UUs say "Principles and Purposes" to refer to Section C-2.1 of the UUA's bylaws. What's odd about that is that C-2.1 is called "Principles" (and includes seven affirmations, six sources, and a statement of covenant).

But there are three other sections in the Principles and Purposes: C-2.2 ("Purposes," which Bill Sinkford wants to revise), C-2.3 ("Non-discrimination"), and the section Chalicechick mentions, C-2.4 ("Freedom of Belief"). The freedom of belief clause applies to the whole statement of the Association's principles and purposes, not just to its ethical and social affirmations.

Individuals and many congregations attach even more religious significance to the P&Ps than the bylaws do, of course, but the bylaws can't really constrain that. Many have developed theologies built on or expressed in the language of the seven principles and the six sources; some congregations have adopted at least some of C-2.1 as liturgical language or as a statement of belief. So long as they don't use them as a "creedal test," they're within their rights as congregations, even if it's not the deepest statement of ultimate reality that one could offer.

Chalicechick said...

Philo, people ask because you're good at it.

Also, good point, Jeff.


Bill Baar said...

I'm guessing there is a growing aversion to creeds among many US Christains.

I think the P&P have just been found useful as a response to questions about what UU's believe.

Asked that at coffee hour and you reach for that pamphlet.

It would be helpful to have a few sermons to the faithful on how to answer that question. I heard one once but find myself still reaching for that pamphlet.

I agree with Scot Wells here,

But I think the real problem with the P&Ps is the way they're used to crowd out all other religious language...

Maybe we need a UU council to figure that out... too avoid the crowding.

Comrade Kevin said...

Chalice Chick,

Returning briefly to yesterday's thread--you are quite right. Every UU church has its own flavor and its own individual orientation. This is why it's so difficult to make any kind of uniform statement that applies to all UUs as a whole.

Even the seven principles by themselves are insufficient.

When I was UU, I found that mere words alone were simply not adequate by themselves to explain the faith. Every individual UU has his/her own unique conception of the faith that hinges upon a very broad, very abstract framework of commonality.

To me, defining what is or what is not a creed is like trying to define words like "justice", "democracy", "truth", "faith". A person's unique personal experience influences their own interpretation. This goes for UUism itself also.

UUs are, IMHO, stuck somewhere between not wanting to define themselves rigidly to any degree whatsoever and a desperate desire to find some uniform, concise standard of belief that applies to everyone equally, across the board.

Words, principals, creeds, and covenants by themselves are wholly insufficient to describe personal experience. That's one of the reasons why my favorite UU joke is--

You might be a UU, if when asked to explain what you believe, you have to perform an interpretive dance.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that no one has brought up the idea of the principles as covenant -- "We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote. . . As free congregations we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support."

To my mind, this little word is of utmost importance -- the principles are not talking so much about belief, which is what a creed is all about, as about behavior and the promises we make in how we will act in religious community. In effect, the document states that these are the principles by which we will determine our actions.

It's a fine distinction -- but compared to the Nicene Creed, which requires a recitation of beliefs with no mention of their application in the world, I think there's a profound difference. One could draw the Nicene Creed out into a covenant, perhaps, as one can certainly apply the UU Principles themselves into a creed-like statement, but the language surrounding the listing of the Principles and Sources themselves is unambiguous as to their purpose, I find.

Bill Baar said...

I've mentioned it Jess on the earlier post that started all of this.

fausto said...

Returning to BITB's early comment:

Creeds are tweaked from time to time, as in the Filioque controversy.

Creeds aren't conceived of as being inherently and necessarily subject to change, as the 7P's were when they were originally drafted. The Filioque was at least 600 years in the making (counting from Constantinople, not Nicaea), and precipitated a schism than still hasn't healed after another thousand years.

Anonymous said...

Bill -- you mentioned your church's covenantal statement on Sunday mornings, not the Principles document itself. Big difference.

Chalicechick said...

Yeah, what he said...


Obijuan said...

Creeds are tweaked every once in awhile, but surely not on a schedule.

Technically, this tweaking isn't on schedule at this point.

Joel Monka said...

"1. They were written by a committee and are formally reviewed and revised by a committee every fifteen years."

This does not disqualify a creed- nearly all Christian creeds began in committee, by majority vote, at the Council of Nicea. Some joke, with an element of truth, that Jesus became divine by popular vote.

Bill Baar said...


I said our congregation covenants. We repeat an agreement.

It's much more important thant the principles.

I don't think the principles conflict with our act of reciting our covenant. It's just our act each Sunday, is far more important than the principles.

And none of it really a creed... or confession of belief.

We agree to behave in a certain way each Sunday. We don't say what we believe... other than I suppose expressing a belief that agreeing to act according to our covenant is a belief.

I've tangle things a bit perhapes.

Simply noting I find the covenant far more important than any principles. If people aske me what UU's believe, I point them to our Churches covenant and say we believe in agreeing to act per these words.

Steve Caldwell said...

On 18 October 2007, CC wrote:
"I invite the input of somebody who knows a lot about UUA policies, such as Philo, or who has a freakish gift for rule memorization, such as Steve.

It's not "a freakish gift for rule memorization" -- it's using a tabbed browser like Firefox, keeping the bylaws close by for ready access, and taking the time to look up stuff when discussing UUA bylaws and related policies.

The UUA bylaws are available as HTML document here:

I understand that there are many other professions (e.g. lawyers) where people are required to "freakishly" research existing rules, precedents, etc.

ogre said...

Variations on a theme:

And an attempt to address some of what kevin was pointing towards:

No (good) UU will tell you what to believe. They might well be willing to debate what you believe, but it's not in an attempt to convert you--rather more an effort to test whether you've seriously thought through what you believe. But a UU will expect you to have some well-considered belief, or a well explained agnosticism. Believe what you will--what you must, not what you'd like to believe, but we expect you to believe what you believe... and we expect you to test it and challenge it. Upgrade your beliefs, perhaps, or even change them, that's fine. Laudable, even.

But we damned well expect you to be a heretic--even if you insist on holding firmly orthodox opinions.

Adhering to that and supporting it for others is (I think) the final test of whether someone is a UU.

Chalicechick said...

Smile. I will admit that I'm pretty good with statutes and cases these days myself.

FWIW, I did intend that as a compliment.

Ah well.


Anonymous said...

Today on Best of UU I posted a sermon by Rev. Lisa Ward entitled "From Creed to Covenant," that I think many of you may find interesting.

Anonymous said...

I have been out of town, and apparently a little behind in my reading. But, thanks for picking on me, CC.

First, in my post describing some UUs as hypocrites, I do not say that the seven principles are a creed. I simply state that the seven principles exist. I state specific things that UUs claim to believe (i.e. in free speech and expression, justice, democracy, etc.) and explain how their position that the mandatory uniform policies in the Springfield Public School District violates those claimed beliefs. This, in my humble opinion, makes them hypocrites.

I also state that my position is limited to those UUs that I have spoken with on this issue. It is also limited to the facts of this issue in Springfield, Illinois, as it relates to the two schools that I am familiar with because of how it has occurred at these schools. It is not about all mandatory uniform policies world wide because I am not familiar with those facts. There are some schools here that have mandatory uniform policies, but I do not know the facts surrounding their implementation or enforcement. So, I make no judgment about them, only the ones that I do know about.

I am not attacking anyone because no matter what, I still love them. They are my friends and loved ones. However, when they say they believe in free speech, democracy, etc., yet support a policy when the facts of the matter clearly violated those claimed beliefs, that makes them hypocrites. This is not about believing as I do. This is about being consistent in one's claimed beliefs.