Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Principles as Spiritual Practice – Why Inherent? (1.4)

“I take up the way of affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

I mentioned in an earlier article in this series that, for years I added my own little caveat to the first principle… that I believed everyone was born with the same inherent worth and dignity, but not everyone kept it. I believed that some people, through the choices they made in their lives, gave up at least some (if not all) of that inherent worth and dignity. From this “caveat” I supported a continued belief in the death penalty for war criminals, and serial killers.

What changed my mind about my little caveat was the question of exactly where did the dividing line lay between what actions or choices lessened one’s inherent worth and dignity, and who was to say that there was any validity to where I chose to place that line? If I drew the line at war criminals and serial killers, then why not rapists and child molesters? Why not murderers? Why not terrorists? Why not radicals? Why not heretics? All have been condemned to death at one time or another… who was I to say where the dividing line now lay? And if it got to heretics, then that would certainly include me.

Although this principle is stated as an absolute, we know that there are no real absolutes in life. If I have an equal inherent worth to the person who is about to shoot me, what does the principle say about self-defense? Where is my inherent dignity when due to age or infirmity I can no longer care for myself?

Through the entirety of this series, there are three suppositions about the Seven Principles as a whole that I am putting forward. The first is that the principles begin with a primarily inward focused principle, and expand outward until they end with a primarily outward focused principle. The second supposition is that, in practicing these principles in our daily lives, we begin with a principle that we should attempt to take as literally as possibly, and move more and more into myth until we end with one that we seek to take as metaphorically as possible. The third supposition is that the principles begin with one we believe without any proof at all (on faith), to one at the end that is easily demonstrable in the physical as well as spiritual world.

The word “inherent” is a part of this principle because we humans are incapable of setting any other dividing line with any kind of equality. No matter where we seek to place the dividing line between “inherent worth and dignity” and “no worth or dignity” that dividing line will not be placed by our hopes and principles but rather by our fears, hatreds, and prejudices.

And so, as much as we can, the spiritual practice of the first principle of Unitarian Universalism is something we accept on faith. We cannot prove it, we cannot demonstrate it, we can only say that equality and justice demand it be either all or nothing, and we have chosen all.

Now, like all practices that seek towards a literal interpretation, we are doomed to fail in that literal interpretation in practice. There are times in which you have to choose between inherent worth and dignity… and there are times you just cannot fathom someone as having that same inherent worth and dignity.

This practice calls us to assume the inherent worth and dignity of ourselves, no matter what evidence might be to the contrary.

This practice calls us to assume the inherent worth and dignity of others, no matter what evidence might be to the contrary.

This practice calls us to, in situations where our belief in inherent worth and dignity is challenged, to suspend disbelief and just accept the principle on faith.

I know how hard an idea this is for many Unitarian Universalists, that in our faith based in reason and experience that there is anything that we accept without proof, without demonstration. But, this belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person is the faith-foundation upon which the rest of this spiritual practice sits.

It is inherent, because all the other options are worse. So, in the beginning, we Unitarian Universalists are indeed people of faith.

“Faith is an oasis in the heart which will never be reached by the caravan of thinking.” – Kahlil Gibran

“I take up the way of affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

Next in Series: Affirming Justice (2.1)

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