Currently, and in the just offered draft revision, of the UU Principles is the statement that we (the member congregations) affirm and promote... or (new language) covenant to honor and uphold (I like that new language):
the inherent worth and dignity of every person
I criticized "inherent" last night over at the Chaliceblog.
Chalicechick asked what the problem is with "inherent."
Lots. Rather than dump it all there in a reply that would get skimmed, I decided to post here (in a post that will get skimmed).
One criticism, pointed out in a conversation between services, is that "inherent" means that you have it, it's yours by your very nature... so... there's nothing anyone can do about it. You have inherent worth and dignity, and that is that. The most abused, oppressed, neglected individual has all their worth and dignity inherently and nothing anyone can do will affect that. So... why act?
Bill Schulz pointed out that there are only three philosophical bases on which we seem to find a foundation to rest human worth;
One is God; all God's children have worth and because it's god-given... but that one's been so shredded that we can put it aside (as a movement). We don't agree on the existence of god, much less divine nature, much less the details, and so we as a movement can't claim that (the culture is in the same boat) bedrock, and must look for another.
Another is Natural Law. Essentially, this is an argument that something in our nature is of inherent worth. It's not far from the argument made about god-granted worth--and no one has managed to weave together much of an argument for it. Assert it? Sure. But argue it and explain why? Nah.
(I'll grant here that I tend to feel that it is... but I grew up UU, and American, and liberal, and my feeling otherwise would be a shock. But having grown up with and integrated the belief doesn't make it true. It merely makes it what I believe--and want to believe. That's fine, but just asserting it is like asserting the divine right of kings; who says so?)
So, bereft of god-given and nature-granted, what do we have?
If worth doesn't come to us from some greater power, what and where is left?
Schulz points to the slow, steady struggle by humanity to assert that we have worth, and to assert it in larger and larger numbers and in finer detail. From The Rights of Man (well, from even before that) to the UN Declaration of Human Rights. And, he says, so far that has been a progression; we haven't (yet?) stepped backwards. We have worth and dignity because we, humanity, assert it and affirm it--not because it's inherent, but because we see truly having worth and dignity as being part of what makes being human possible, and that to deny that to someone is thus a crime against that person and a crime against humanity.
So having the Principles assert, affirm and honor the worth and dignity of every person would have meaning. It would put us firmly in the camp that we're actually in, and by removing "inherent" would actually create a greater call to doing social justice work, because what's so very important to us, to all of us, is delicate, precious and no one but humanity is or can.
For those who personally feel it's inherent, removing it doesn't deny that. It sets that theological assertion aside--and in doing so affirms to a larger group that they have the obligation to act.
In short? "Inherent" is a cop-out. And the phrase "inherent worth" is semantically slippery, too. Worth? Worth what, and to whom? Gold and jewels have no inherent value--but people value them enough to in some cases kill for them. We give them worth. "Worth" is an abstraction, a perception, like "tastes good." Does something inherently taste good? That's silly; we've all met people who dislike things we think taste wonderful.
Worth is an assertion of value--to some human being. Thus the errancy of inherency is demonstrated.
But I bet we have to have a great, freaking floor fight over it. There's a member of the CoA I need to talk with, because I'm really quite surprised at this whole draft.