Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Atlanta Unitarian vs UUA Commission on Social Witness

I include below my statement on "Moral Values for a Pluralistic Society" to be compared to UUA's which can be found here. I admit that I have an unfair advantage of writing as an individual versus UUA which is forced to write as a committee through a political process. However I found UUA's statement so lacking in support for the concept of moral values (we are Unitarian Universalists, not Nihilists!) I felt it would be better to start from scratch than to comment on it. Tell me which statement you prefer!

AU's Statement on Moral Values for a Pluralistic Society:

-Freedom, Moral Values, and Civil Society

We live in a country and a world defined by diversity, a diversity of peoples, races, religions, creeds, ages, and cultures. In our country, the US, we have a history of respect for different religious and political beliefs. Freedom of expression of belief and freedom to worship the faith of our choosing are core values enshrined in our Constitution and our culture.

The laws and norms of any civil society, including ours, are based on moral values. However in a society such as ours where there is a great diversity of belief, laws must be based only upon those values on which there is unanimity or at least near-universal consensus. History has taught us that when the majority is able to enforce its moral values on the minority it results in oppression, abuse, and strife, and that it suppresses the continuing moral evolution of society as a whole. For that reason, moral values which are contentious in nature should not become law but rather we as a society must always veer on the side of liberty when clear moral consensus has not been established.

We as a society have established freedom itself as a moral value because we have found that individuals are generally the best at making decisions with regard to their own well-being, fulfillment, and happiness. In our history we have seen the yoke of oppression thrown off of various outdated hierarchies and power structures, and we as a society agree that individuals’ autonomy ought to be zealously protected from oppressive systems. Freedom of belief and autonomy in life choices are values to be celebrated and cherished both in our civil society and within our Unitarian Universalist theology.

-The Necessity of Human Dignity

One of the fundamental moral agreements that stretches across all faith traditions is the need to treat all human beings as ends of themselves. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and should be able to live free from the fear of violence or coercion. This belief is soundly grounded in both our religious and political systems - in our religious system as a respect for the sacred in each person, and in our political system as a belief in the inherent equality of each person. There is some controversy over how broad the moral value of human dignity is defined. There is consensus in our society that human dignity includes basic rights to freedom, freedom of belief, and freedom from violence or coercion. Unitarian Universalists generally subscribe to a broader definition of human dignity, one that includes that basic needs of every human being are met, including the right to adequate food and water, education, health care, and social and personal development opportunities.

-Moral Values and Personal Freedom

Although we subscribe to freedom as a political value, this should not be confused with the moral right for individuals to act or think however they please. It is certainly possible to stay within the bounds of the law and the freedoms provided by civil society and to act badly and destructively within these bounds.

Instead, we believe the purpose of freedom is to enable individuals to live lives of meaning, purpose, and value. Every individual will have a different path to living a life of meaning, but we maintain that individuals have a positive obligation to assiduously define and engage in a meaningful life. In particular, Unitarian Universalists believe that we have a positive responsibility to consider the impact of our actions on other people and the natural environment, and that we also have a responsibility to act compassionately towards people in situations of need and distress.

In short, individual freedom is necessary in order to for a person to develop a fully mature moral understanding of their lives and their place in the world. Freedom is to be sought not in order to live a life of indulgence, but because it allows for a life of meaning as lived in accordance with an assiduously attained system of autonomously developed moral values.

-Moral Values and Secular Society

We as Unitarian Universalists are distressed at the secular values of greed, insensitivity, and cheap sexuality that are coming to dominate secular society, and we join with people of other religious communities in calling for a deepening and reawakening of our shared spiritual values in combating these trends. The public sphere is increasingly dominated by a mass media that holds dear no values other than profit taking, and has increasingly pandered to the lowest instincts in people in order to succeed in that goal. In response, we make a call to what we believe are widely held moral values shared with other religious communities in our society. We call on the media to:

1 – To treat the subject of human sexuality with discretion and respect for privacy, in consideration of the sacred element that surrounds human sexuality
2 – To promote the public good, by providing timely, accurate, and thorough information regarding the important issues of the day
3 – To elevate the level of public discourse, by discouraging the use of insults, derogatory terms, and other debasing tactics of debate, and to increase the appeals to people’s reason and desire for mutual understanding

We encourage communities and individuals to “unplug” from the ongoing buzz of mass media, and to look to other sources for information, entertainment, and renewal. In particular, we encourage individuals to engage in relationship and community building activities, to take advantage and support of non-profit sources of information, and to engage in the slower and more thoughtful forms of media such as printed media and books.


kim said...

i copied this and sent it to my minister (attributed, of course.) Thank you for it.

Nona said...

Good for people to know.