Reflections on the 4th UU Principle

By Karen Marcus

” A free and responsible search for truth and meaning…”

This November, Foothills Unitarian Church is exploring the theme, “In Process,” which implies that our work toward becoming — or contributing to — our best selves, our best congregation, our best community, and our best world is never really done. The fourth Unitarian Universalist principle, “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning,” also reflects this theme, in particular with that little word right in the middle: “search.” As someone new to Foothills, and to UU, I appreciate that this faith community encourages us to always be seeking, questioning, and communicating our discoveries to each other. In that spirit, I asked several people within our congregation to share their thoughts on the fourth principle and how it plays out in their lives.

Michelle Venus, who has been a part of the Foothills community since 2002, shared an especially relevant story: “My kids grew up within the UU church, but now, as young adults, identify as Christians. While I’m disappointed that we’re no longer sharing a spiritual experience, the fourth principle guides me to support their path.” She added, “As challenging as it may be to see them go in a different direction, I wouldn’t be living my own faith if I didn’t encourage them to follow their hearts and find what’s meaningful to them.” Michelle is grateful that her children were exposed to UU and hopes they can bring that spirit of openness and acceptance to their new congregations.

Gale Whitman discovered the importance of the fourth principle even before she started attending Foothills in 1994. She explained, “Following my high school graduation I spent a year in Turkey as an exchange student. I lived with a Muslim family, in a country that was 99 percent Muslim. I was a steadfast Christian and resisted my host family’s efforts to convert me to Islam, even though they believed that was what I needed to do to go to heaven. That year, I learned a lot about Christianity and Islam, and grew to love many of the people I met. The conclusion I drew by the end of my time there was, ‘There’s no way all the Christians are right and all the Muslims are wrong, or vice versa.’ Ever since then, I’ve felt that each person’s spirituality must be an independent journey, not coerced by others.” Gale continues to strive for open-mindedness about wisdom from many sources and about others’ choices.

Like Gale, Terri Thorburn, who has been involved with Foothills since 1995, contrasted the fourth principle with what she’s learned about other faiths. She said, “I had a niece graduate from Colorado Christian College, and I saw a brochure with their mission statement on it. One of the points was a commitment to ‘no longer revisit questions from the past.’ It surprised me to learn there are groups that say, ‘you don’t need to think about that.’ I would think the god they believe in would want them to use their brains. When we don’t do so, the implication is that we can do whatever we please because we’re not accountable; we can do anything because we’ll ultimately be saved.” Terri added, “I enjoy being curious. Life would be boring if I thought I had all the answers.”

For Dick Cullor, who has been attending Foothills since 1997, the fourth principle is what drew him to the UU faith. He noted that, while it’s so important, it’s also something many people don’t understand about UU. He said, “The absence of a dogma is key to what we’re all about. Often people expect singular truth from a church, but they won’t get that at Foothills or any other UU church.” He noted that the fourth principle encourages him to explore diverse points of view, faith traditions, and perspectives. For the wider world, he said, “My fear is that when people rush to adopt a belief system, it becomes cemented into their identity and exploration ceases. Or, folks accept whatever tradition they grew up with, but have an incomplete understanding of their faith tradition. Our sign on Drake states that ours is a faith for our times, which I strongly agree with.”

Lynn Young, who has been on a UU journey since 1960, believes the fourth principle should be thought of within the context of all seven principles. She explained, “I cannot appreciate my experiences for ‘a free and responsible search for truth’ without also considering being responsible to others, respecting the worth and dignity of others, and remembering how interwoven we all are with our thoughts and actions.” As for the fourth principle itself, Lynn remarked, “For me, the fourth principle reflects my own rewarding, challenging, and life-sustaining experience with UU. As my life experiences unfold, I’m challenged to ask, ‘Is that really true?’ and, ‘What did that experience mean for me?’” Lynn appreciates that her continuous search is happening within a supportive community of individuals on a similar path.


What fascinating food for thought on the fourth principle! Thanks to all contributors for sharing your valuable insights.

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