In an earlier post [link], I quoted from an old Unitarian Universalist pamphlet by Duncan Howlett, titled “What Do YOU Believe?” In the portion I quoted, Howlett wrote that Unitarian Universalism is not concerned with traditional belief systems. Indeed, Howlett explicitly rejects traditional belief systems (I’ve silently updated gender-specific language):
What then do we tell our friend who asks us what the Unitarian Universalists believe? We tell our friend in the first place that we reject all doctrines and creeds and theologies if they pretend to any finality. We think the fabrication of such systems valuable, but we do not believe one or another of them.
For me, that statement sums up the core of Unitarian Universalism. If you have the so-called “seven principles” posted in your church building, maybe you should take them down and replace them with a poster bearing the above quote. But you might want to add a positive statement about what we stand for (again, language silently updated):
A Unitarian Universalist is not an unbeliever. In fact, a Unitarian Universalist believes a great deal. Our beliefs are of a different order, but they are nonetheless real. The first of them is belief in humanity…. When we say that we believe in humanity we mean that we believe that human beings are endowed with the power to move toward truth. We believe that human beings are endowed with the discrimination by which to tell the difference between truth and falsehood and error. Yet we know human beings are fallible. We know that individuals make mistakes. Thus when we speak of humankind or humanity we mean the interaction of mind upon mind, experience upon experience….
We believe humanity is to be trusted — not each human being, but humankind taken together, with the testimony of each checked against each. We believe that humankind can find truth, know the right, and do good — again, not each individual, but taken together, with each checked against all the rest. We believe human life has meaning, that the high purposes of humanity may be achieved and the spiritual nature of humanity indicates something about humankind and the cosmos as well. In this faith we live, by it we labor, and through it we find the courage to carry on amidst all the tragedy, misery, and stupidity of life.
You could make all that into a poster — or into an “elevator speech,” a short spiel about our faith you could give to someone with whom you happen to be sharing a ten-second elevator ride. Either way, I find Howlett’s statement to be a far more satisfying (and accurate) summation of Unitarian Universalist “beliefs” than the “seven principles.”