A "principle" is a formalized abstraction. "The inherent worth and dignity of every person." The moral reasoning that follows the promotion of a principle is discerning what they principle means and how to apply it to real life situations. Because we have seven principles, we have to also reason through how this principle relates to others. (Should the first principle be first, or should the last be first.?) And finally, because principles are generalizations, they can be tested by trying to find the boundaries and the exceptions, which leads to a lot of discussions about Hitler. Did Hitler still have worth and dignity?
"Virtues", in contrast, are character traits, habitual behaviors, and a mixtures of emotions and rational thought. A virtue is a way of being human. I have my list of the virtues of liberal religion: self-possession, honesty, humility, generosity, reverence, openness and solidarity. They are not impersonal beliefs but inclinations. You may have your own list; the words are not that important.
The moral reasoning that follows when I commit to these virtues is how do I best exercise these aspects of my character in the situations I find myself.
I think that our 7 principles are useful ways to summarize #uupublictheology.
But our ministry with persons made impersonal and stunted by our focus on principles. It reduces our challenge into invitation to join us in a conversation about what our principles mean and how should they be worded and then applied.
Better that our invitation and challenge to persons should be to grow in the virtues that we seek to embody in the world.
We have the fear that Unitarian Universalism suffers from being too abstract and impersonal. That it lacks a profound personal dimension and does not inspire, but only educates, stimulates and convinces.
I would really like it if we stopped trying to explain ourselves and struggling the words that will cover all that we believe. I would like it if we stopped saying that our communities are somehow super special, and that our way to being a religious institution is so much better than every other kind.
What I would like for us to say: we are trying to grow into the virtues we need for the lives we now live in. We are trying to be better people, because it will bring us more health and happiness and it will make a better world.