What questions do we need to ask of the Principles and Purposes?

A response to something Philocrites wrote:

Unitarian Universalists by-and-large treat creeds like they were a form of mind-control. Not a little hint of paranoia and defensiveness either. Yes: you can use a creed to exclude and by it exalt one’s exclusivity, but it isn’t its strength. (After all, you can also use a car to kill a person, but it doesn’t make a car a weapon.)

I see creeds (like a part of the tradition) as a means of praise and a guide to identity. They are also a tonic against false teaching, and this last is terribly important for the first time since the third century. Since we cannot rely (and shouldn’t have relied) on the general culture to propagate our faith, we need to be taught and have this teaching reinforced.

What about freedom? I hear you say. Taking a page from Universalist theologian Hosea Ballou, if we were perfectly self-integrated, with access to all knowledge, and eternal, then such a teaching would imposition, but in our finitude, we need help. Why rely solely on our own abiliites when (people being very much the same over the millenia) others have labored and suffered so much to know and live with God?

A free person knows when to accept and when to question. A person who only questions is no more free than one who only accepts, leading me to cringe every time I see one of those “The question is the answer” t-shirts.

So what does this have to to with the UUA Principles and Purposes? They function as a creed insofar as they inform the identity of many of those who become Unitarian Universalist. They teach persons who want to learn. They steer the wayward back on the path. Unlike some of the “Free Church Conference Unitarians” I get it and don’t mind the idea of a creedal statement.

The problem is that they’re not designed to be used that way: to reprise the earlier metaphor, it would be like using rollers skates as a lethal weapon. (Yes, it can be done, but . . . .) Also, we never accepted them to be used that way, at least not formally or with forethought. One of the reasons I can stay in this fellowship in good conscience is because I know I can have my own creed, and stuff the P&Ps when they try to take on that role. God knows it might be impossible to be a Christian in the UUA if they were ever codified as such. Indeed, I think a great deal of ink and sweat was spilled in the mid-1980s from Christians over this very matter.

All this I say in case anyone has tried to understand why I have a creed on the blog, oppose the creedalism of the Principles and Purposes, and remain in this odd-but-wonderful little family.

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