Sean of Ministrare is right. Something is happening in UU circles. I don’t want to overplay it, but the UU blogosphere abounds in discussions of what our "unity amid diversity" might be. (See Chalice Chick’s review for links.) The new UU Theology listserv is aimed directly at the issue. And Sean reports movements along the same in the UU bureaucracy.
The natural starting points for this discussion are UUism’s "Purposes & Principles." Chalice Chick points out that I’m arguing that—contrary to the usual quips—the P&P don’t suck. Sean points out that that I’m only "timidly defending" the P&P. So what exactly am I saying?
1) Let’s start with what I’m not saying. I’m not saying the P&P are "pie in the sky by and by." Their lack of poetry reveals their bureaucratic origin, and I am naturally predisposed to dismiss anything that comes from a bureaucracy. (Trying to put that as politely as I can.) They can be improved, and they should be periodically.
I’m also not saying they should function as a creed (more on that below). Not even that they are good enough to do so if we wished. So set your panic buttons to off.
2) Now to what I am saying.
In spite of their bureaucratic origins, the P&P still contain some genuine theological poetry. Not a lot, but enough to warrant some respect. I attribute this happy coincidence (of poetry with bureaucracy) to grace. Why?
At UUCA we have a growing group for twenty- and thirtysomethings. Almost everyone in this loose knit group of 100+ folks is new to UUism. Most are single, although there is a sizable minority of married/partnered folks, some with young children.
I have been amazed that a good number (eight or twelve) of the forty or fifty folks in the group who I’ve met have said that reading the P&P (online, usually) was central to their decision to come and get involved. The proportion was similar in my new member class five years ago. Don’t look that gift horse in the mouth.
This was my experience too. The P&P told me that UUs weren’t the "knock on the door with nothing to say," nor were UUs putting on a circle jerk to worn photos of Carl Sagan, Carl Rogers, and Bertrand Russell. I saw enough of that in high school, thanks. I saw something in the P&P that spoke to a larger vision.
Why then are the P&P so maligned? First, because of an irrational fear of creeds (almost to that below). Second, because familiarity breeds contempt.
Third, because so many UUs seem to think that every [good American, rational person, etc.] already agrees with the P&P. If you think that, I challenge you to ask the next ten nonUUs you meet outside of Harvard Square if the P&P describe what they believe. More will say no than yes. Otherwise, things like this wouldn’t be happening at such an increasing frequency.
3) Finally, some things I haven’t said before/yet. Our "creed phobia" has to stop. I fully realize and appreciate that there are good historical reasons we do not have a creed. I don’t want a "creed" myself.
But as Paul Wilczynski points out, the P&P practically function as a creed. Yet many of us (myself, sometimes) exhibit what looks to me like terror at the thought. That can’t be healthy, and it can’t help but send a crazy message to others. Especially to would-be UUs, or at least the ones who don’t share that terror. (And my experience teaches me that pre-terrified proto-UUs are the vast minority.") "Creed terror" does’t have anything to do with those good historical reasons for not having a creed, because if it did it wouldn’t exhibit as terror. I won’t venture to say what’s causing this creed terror, but I’ll suggest the cure lies in spending some time in what my Pentecostal neighbor would call your "personal prayer closet."
Those folks at UUCA who came because of the P&P weren’t looking for a "creed," by the way. They weren’t looking for someone to tell them what they should believe, so you can put that insulting diatribe aside now. They wondered what we stood for, and the P&P gave them a good idea.
Is that wrong? Is that harmful in any way? Is there any justification for chastising them as "ye of little faith" because they found the P&P helpful, or even comforting?
I challenge anyone who feels otherwise to answer me with a non-elitist argument that honors the experience of our fellow UUs who have experienced some small measure of grace throught the P&P. I’m all for calling them the "Seven Dwarves," and I too wonder "where’s the beef?" But they are still a gift of grace to UUism, and that’s nothing to balk at.