Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Second Draft UUA Purposes and Principles

According to uuworld.org, an agenda item for the January meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association was the second draft of the new UUA Purposes and Principles prepared by the Commission on Appraisal. I am sure that many months of intensive discussion lie ahead of us on this matter.

I have concerns about a number of the proposed changes. I certainly agree with many comments I have read on some discussion lists that the new draft Sources section seems to represent a step backward as an expression of our religious heritage.

But, I will restrict my comments to one word in the current document - the word that most distresses me and addresses all of my other concerns with the current discussion. That word is found in the revised seventh principle, which the current draft has altered from:

"Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part" to
"Reverence for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."
I can well imagine that many people will see little difference in this modest appearing change. But, for the many thousands of Unitarian Universalists whose religious philosophy has moved beyond the construct of god, the new word carries ominous baggage.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of the word "reverence" contains the following as the first meaning: "honor or respect felt or shown : deference; especially: profound adoring awed respect." Following the link to the meaning of the word "deference" provides this amplification: "respect and esteem due a superior or an elder ; also: affected or ingratiating regard for another's wishes."

Anyone whose personal religious philosophy includes atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, humanism, and nontheism, among others, should be concerned about the alteration of this word. What is it exactly that we are considering "superior?" To what or whose wishes exactly are we ingratiating ourselves?

More details are available if one examines the synonyms of the word "revere."
revere, reverence, venerate, worship, adore mean to honor and admire profoundly and respectfully. revere stresses deference and tenderness of feeling. reverence presupposes an intrinsic merit and inviolability in the one honored and a similar depth of feeling in the one honoring. venerate implies a holding as holy or sacrosanct because of character, association, or age. worship implies homage usually expressed in words or ceremony. adore implies love and stresses the notion of an individual and personal attachment [my italics].

Parts of this summary give me little cause for concern. However, taken as a whole, I feel a distinct tone of theism infused in the meaning of this word. As one who has spent many years of his life moving beyond believing in an omniscient, perfect, holy, or even just superior force for "good" in the universe beyond what we as equal beings in all existence are capable of creating and preserving ourselves, I cannot support this proposed word change.

I must admit to finding it ironic that during the "language of reverence" debates of recent years, it never occurred to me to question the word "reverence" itself, until this proposed draft was released. Perhaps those responsible for this draft felt that the word "respect" did not reflect strongly enough our regard for the interdependent web of all existence. If that is the case, then I would propose modifying the existing principle to express our "deep respect," and might even go so far as to consider "ultimate respect," although I imagine others might challenge that modifier. But, "reverence" is not a word I am willing to support in this context.



4 comments:

uumomma said...

I'm a tad troubled by your phrasing: "moved beyond the construct of god." Whether you intend it or not, the use of the word "beyond" has an elitist undertone to it, as in, all us smart kids know there is no god.

That said, and even though I identify as someone who still grapples with her own construct of god, I agree with you that Respect is the better word choice for the P&Ps.

Bill Baar said...

I'm a humanist and I'm not concerned.

Jeff Liebmann said...

uumomma, sadly I have been able to find no language on this issue satisfactory to all. "Atheist" has been stolen away by those who refuse to see the possibility of living religiously without god and given away by those only interested in strident refutations of god's existence. "Religion beyond god" for me is preferable to "religion without god," because it emphasizes a positive rather than a negative belief. But, I have to accept your concern until someone comes up with better language.

Jeff Liebmann said...

Bill, I imagine that many humanists, particularly those of a naturalistic frame of reference, will be similarly unconcerned. I know, however, that much discussion is occuring on humanists discussion boards about the proposed Sources revisions.

I hope, however, that in our zeal to ever improve our texts, we are able to respect the legitimate concerns of those satisfactory with the current language.