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Introduction, Workshop 1: The Locus of Moral Authority

In "What We Choose: Ethics for Unitarian Universalists," a Tapestry of Faith program

Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth. — Albert Einstein

We are regularly faced with the need to choose a course of action in response to a given situation. We must weigh a variety of factors, including competing interests, expediency, and moral or ethical values. This workshop explores the moral and ethical considerations we weigh in our decision-making. We will ask: What ethical framework guides us when we make our choices? From where have we derived it? To whom or what does our ethical framework hold us accountable? Is our framework clear enough to guide us through a complex decision or choice?

Some of our ethical beliefs and values come from philosophical, ethical, and cultural traditions, while others may be grounded in a long theological tradition. Some derive from our life experiences, combined with what we have been taught by our family, community, or culture. "Religious" ethics are ethical frameworks that derive from theological understandings and offer a way to live in the world and make behavioral choices that are consonant with particular religious beliefs, traditions, and sources of authority. Some religions draw on sacred texts as the sources of moral authority. Some religious traditions draw on the authority of a religious figure or understandings transmitted from one generation to the next. Different religious traditions have different ways of valuing individual conscience and community wisdom and traditions.

Because Unitarian Universalists have many different theologies and draw spiritual inspiration from a broad range of sources, what is the basis for Unitarian Universalist religious ethics? Many Unitarian Universalists would point to our Principles as a statement of values we uphold and to our Sources as some of our sources of moral authority. But do our Principles and Sources give clear, comprehensive guidance for ethical decision making? How do we work with a religious tradition that has multiple sources of moral authority, including the individual conscience and experience, wisdom from the world's religions, the teachings of science, and the Western Jewish and Christian philosophical and religious traditions? How do we bring the wisdom of so many disparate sources of authority to bear on moral and ethical choices in our day-to-day lives? How do we discern a moral path?

This workshop invites participants to reflect on the moral and ethical decision-making process they apply to complex choices. Participants discover and name both Unitarian Universalist values shared with others and guiding personal values which have been developed through life experience, received wisdom from family or community, and personal reflection and study. The workshop asks: To what authority or authorities do you turn for guidance when faced with a moral dilemma or decision?

Before leading this workshop, review Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters in the program Introduction.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, January 19, 2012.

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