American Unitarian Conference™
Promoting the American Unitarian Tradition
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President's Letter 3/2005
Dear American Unitarian:
in all extremes there are dangers. The modern equivalent for ‘the
glory of God’ would be Truth, Goodness, Humanity, Universal Progress,
or some such generalization. But the same danger of egotism emerges here
also. Men whose lives are devoted to these large abstractions, patriots,
philanthropists, and reformers of all sorts, are often forgetful of
daily duties, neglectful of home ties. This, at least, is their risk,
—if they fall, they fall in that direction.”
So wrote James Freeman Clarke in “Man’s Duty to Grow,” in Self-Culture:
Physical, Intellectual, Moral and Spiritual in 1892.
sentiments draw heavily on the Aristotelian idea of wisdom and virtue as
being the path of moderation between two extremes. Perhaps the most
Unitarian of prominent 20th Century philosophers of
religion, Charles Hartshorne, even penned a book, Wisdom As Moderation: A Philosophy of the Middle Way.
any virtue, taken to extremes, becomes a vice. Industriousness and a
good work ethic are virtuous. Greed and avarice, on the one hand, or
sloth, on the other, are not. Courage is laudable. Rashness or cowardice
is not. Zeal in support of an honorable cause is good. Fanaticism or
apathy is not.
we seek to find our way in this life and to make our mark, we can
profitably draw on two great ethical traditions. The first finds
expression in Jesus’ two great commandments to love God and love our
neighbors as ourselves. This wisdom, of course, is not unique to Jesus
but is found in the Torah. The second is a tradition flowing from
Aristotle through the synthesis of Aristotelian thought and Christian
teaching fashioned by St. Thomas Aquinas and then modernized by the
early American Unitarians (notably Channing and Clarke).
is not a “feel good,” “do your own thing” or “anything goes”
religious tradition. It is a tradition that honors the virtues,
recognizes vice, and provides a set of analytical tools for thinking
about how best to lead our lives. It is a tradition that is demanding;
it is a tradition of substance and worth.
this time, where political and religious extremes or vacuous
post-modernist nihilism challenges the core of all that we hold dear, it
is important that we fight for a rational moral center that is motivated
by love, honors the virtues, censures vice, seeks truth, and cherishes
moderation, freedom, tolerance, and reason. We should all rededicate
ourselves to this task.
David R. Burton
American Unitarian Conference
© 2005 American Unitarian Conference™