Balancing Contradictions

Every June, we have a “Question Box” service, where I answer submitted questions in lieu of a sermon. The questions are great, and I never have time to answer all of them. For the next year, I will occasionally be answering some of these questions.

Today’s question: “UU seems to value the inherent truth and validity of all faiths. How does it balance multiple faiths that seem to contradict each other?”

While I do think we are called to consider the tenets of all faiths with respectful curiosity, I believe that to assume their truth and validity goes against our fourth principle, which is to affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

A productive search for truth and meaning requires us to be open to new ideas. We encounter new ideas, and examine them. What was the original context in which these ideas arose? Who did they benefit? We set them beside our own personal guiding principles: does this align with the ethical guidelines I have chosen for my life? And sometimes, the answer is a resounding no. Rejection is a necessary and important part of what we do.

I got a little taste of this today. A schoolteacher friend of mine shared on Facebook her recommendation of a children’s book for dealing with bullies. I picked up the book and read through it. Huh. It seemed to me that the story was encouraging children to become bullies themselves.

I shared it with Carrie, our faith development director, and asked for her thoughts. She read it, and considered it, and said the she was concerned with the central premise of the book. And we had a great conversation about the book, and the ideas it stirred up.

This is one of the primary reasons why we do what we do, here at church. We engage with new ideas, test them, and then talk with others to hear their views. Sometimes, we reject the original idea, but it leads us to more productive philosophies that fit our own ethical framework. And sometimes we disagree with each other – and that’s okay! The goal is not to come to consensus in our beliefs, but to have a community where we respect that each of us is on our own journey for truth and meaning.

So yes, multiple faiths often contradict each other. Not only that, but one singular faith can often contradict itself. (Lots of contradictions in the Hebrew Bible and Christian scriptures!) And we may even find contradictions among ourselves. As Unitarian Walt Whitman wrote,

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then I contradict myself,
I am large,
I contain multitudes.”

The beauty of Unitarian Universalism is that we can examine the faiths, the contradictions, and the values we hold within ourselves – and we don’t have to do it alone.