Friday, November 27, 2015


Today's  Guest Author Rev. M. Lara Hoke

Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover, Massachusetts
Unitarian Universalist Animal Ministry Board Member


“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” ― Paul Farmer

This Thanksgiving, I don’t know what will bother my friends around the table more—that I’m a democratic socialist or that I’m a vegan.
Some of my democratic socialist friends tell me that the problem with vegans is that we don’t care enough about people and the oppressions they face. I’ve had progressive friends who support the Black Lives Matter movement say that standing up for animal rights is alienating because it suggests that we care more about animals than about people of color. To me, this makes no more sense than my right-wing friends telling me that if I support Black Lives Matter it means that I am anti-police. I support the Black Lives Matter movement and I am grateful that the police – the good ones, who outnumber the bad – would risk their lives to keep me safe if it ever came to that.

Some of my vegan friends tell me that the problem with democratic socialists is that we don’t care enough about non-human animals. They point out that although democratic socialists and other political “lefties” think of ourselves as cutting edge and historically marginalized by the establishment, it is animal-rights activists and radical environmental activists who are targeted by the establishment. Just read Green Is the New Red by Will Potter, they say.
Both groups talk about intersectionality of justice issues, yet sometimes fail to see the connections between democratic socialism and veganism.

Article II of the DSA Constitution and Bylaws states, “We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on… non-oppressive relationships” (see: The vast majority of meat and other animal products comes from factory farms, which create enormous suffering for animals and those who work there. Animals live in filth, packed together too tightly to move, with no access to the outdoors. When it comes time to kill them – which could be considered a mercy killing, given their living conditions – they are not killed mercifully. Although bludgeoned or crushed, some are still alive as they are skinned.

And factory farming involves human suffering, as well.  According to the Food Empowerment Project (see, “Factory farm workers are consistently exposed to a variety of harmful gases and particulate matter and also suffer from repetitive stress injuries. [They suffer from] chronic aches and pains, respiratory disorders, cardiovascular complications and premature death.” Many of the workers are undocumented and thus afraid to protest unsafe and unhealthy conditions. I would like to help my vegan friends make these connections between animal and human suffering and consider that unfettered capitalism is the common culprit.

Full disclosure: I have been a vegan for about one-and-a-half years. For 15 years before that, I was a vegetarian (with occasional lapses into pescatarianism). I did not become a vegetarian because of animals at all. I became a vegetarian because I read that four pounds of grain led to just one pound of meat. Thus, more humans would have food to eat if we grew more grain for human consumption. I became a vegetarian because I learned that factory farms create an enormous amount of pollution. As Jonathan Safran Foer points out in Eating Animals, factory farming is “the number one cause of global warming, it’s responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than everything else put together and the UN has said it's one of the top two or three causes of every single environmental problem on the planet.” My vegetarianism grew out of humanitarian concerns and a desire to care for the planet. I would like to help my democratic socialist comrades make the connections between not eating animals or animal products and ecology and humanitarian concerns.

Some omnivores will claim that a vegan diet is more expensive, adding another layer of elitism. For those of us who are middle class or wealthy and living in western industrial countries, being a vegan is not necessarily more expensive than eating animal products. For low-income people in the United States, the situation is both constrained and complex. We need to fight for low-income Americans to have increasing access to healthful food options; it should be a high priority for vegans. The situation is very different in other parts of the world, where some humans need to hunt and fish and use animal products to have enough to eat. Even in places with largely vegetarian diets, there is a need for access to more and better food.

A. Breeze Harper points out that “dietary habits and food production connect to … the dismantling or maintenance of environmental racism, speciesism, ecological devastation, health disparities, institutional racism, overconsumption, and other social injustices” (read more in Harper’s book, Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society). This, in a nutshell, is why I believe veganism and democratic socialism go hand in hand. As a person of faith, I feel called to be both a religious democratic socialist and a religious vegan.

Back to the first question: Which is more bothersome to my tablemates this holiday, my democratic socialism or my veganism?  I’m not sure, but I do know that it will be easier to get through Thanksgiving without mentioning that I’m a democratic socialist. (However, I wouldn’t bet against my mentioning both.)

Rev. M. Lara Hoke is the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover, Massachusetts. She believes, as Mahatma Gandhi said, "Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is." Lara discovered DSA when she was a student at Harvard Divinity School, taking a course with Cornel West. This Thanksgiving, she is grateful that her family,including her in-laws, have been so gracious about her veganism. Lara wants all the turkeys out there to know that although she became a vegetarian for humans and the environment, she became a vegan primarily because of her love for animals.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A New Congregation Has Passed the Resolution to Change the First Principle!

We are happy to announce that the Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church (Charlotte, NC), has passed a resolution to change the UUA bylaws so that the First Principle reads, "The inherent worth and dignity of all beings."  Thanks to them and all those that helped passed this resolution.

 We now have 9 sponsoring congregations, and 4 sponsoring organizations.

Yours could be the next one - may it be so!

Rev. LoraKim Joyner, DVM
First Principle Project Facilitator

Friday, September 25, 2015

Changing the Principles in Canada

Can Eco-SpiritUality Grow Eco-JUUstice?”

Confluence Lecture 
May 17, 2008 
Delivered at The Canadian Unitarian Council 
Presented by Rev. Meg Roberts and Rev. Brian Kiely 
Annual Meeting and Conference    

    The lecture here was presented by members of the task force and lays out the thinking to change the Principles so that the 7th Principle comes first, and is followed by an altered First Principle, and an altered Second Principle.

New First Principle:  Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a 

New Second Principle:  The inherent worth and dignity of every being 

New Third Principle:  Justice equity and compassion in all relations

    In 2008 the Canadian Unitarian Council a task force gathered to investigate changing the Principles to these, such as the First Principle Project is doing now.  Their work is very similar to what we of the Unitarian Universalist Association have discussed. The Canadian Unitarian Council decided to table this worthwhile discussion for another time. Though it was not successful, it influenced preaching and conversation, again, much like the goals of the First Principle Project.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

All Religions, Every Being

Here is a video that you can use in your First Principle Project discussions and faith development activities. 

Here are some discussion questions:

How does your wisdom, experiences, and understanding resonate with what is shown here?  

How might Unitarian Universalists depict our views on all beings if we were to have a video such as this?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Nurture Your Nature with the First Principle Project

A new television show just began, Nurture Nature, hosted by Rev. LoraKim Joyner DVM.  In the first two episodes she speaks of the First Principle Project. Following each show are reflection questions and action steps that address the intent of the First Principle Project - living compassionately, healthy, deeply, and joyfully in a multispecies world so that we can nurture all of life, and care for the many individuals.  

These videos can be used in Lifespan Development activities and as a Worship Service.

As this is a new project, if you have any suggestions for producing the show or for future shows, please contact Dr. Joyner.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Multispecies Ministry and First Principle Project Podcast

Recently Rev. LoraKim Joyner, DVM was interviewed regarding her multispecies ministry, with particular attention to the First Principle Project.  This is a podcast that you can listen to on this site, or can download.   

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A New Congregation Has Passed the Resolution to Change the First Principle!

We are happy to announce that the Second Congregational Society/Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, (Nantucket, Massachusetts) has passed a resolution to change the UUA bylaws so that the First Principle reads, "The inherent worth and dignity of all beings."  Thanks to them and those that helped passed this resolution, including Susan Richards who made it happen. 

 We now have 8 sponsoring congregations, and 4 sponsoring organizations.

Yours could be the next one - may it be so!

Rev. LoraKim Joyner, DVM
First Principle Project Facilitator

Monday, June 22, 2015

A New Congregation Has Passed the Resolution to Change the First Principle!

We are happy to announce that  the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tullahoma, Tennessee has passed a resolution to change the UUA bylaws so that the First Principle reads, "The inherent worth and dignity of all beings."  Thanks to them and those that helped passed this resolution, including Doug Traversa who preached on the subject and brought it to the attention of that congregation.

Here is a video of that sermon.  You can use it to bring the conversation, and hopefully the resolution, to your congregation.

 We now have 7 sponsoring congregations, and 4 sponsoring organizations.

Yours could be the next one - may it be so!

Rev. LoraKim Joyner, DVM
First Principle Project Facilitator

Friday, June 19, 2015

A New Congregation Passed the First Principle Amendment!

We are happy to announce that  the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Murfreesboro, Tennessee has passed a resolution to change the UUA bylaws so that the First Principle reads, "The inherent worth and dignity of all beings."  Thanks to them and those that helped passed this resolution, including Doug Traversa who preached on the subject and brought it to the attention of that congregation.

 We now have 6 sponsoring congregations, and 4 sponsoring organizations.

Yours could be the next one - may it be so!

Rev. LoraKim Joyner, DVM
First Principle Project Facilitator

Friday, May 1, 2015

A New Congregation Passed the First Principle Amendment!

We are happy to announce that  the Unitarian Congregation of West Chester has passed a resolution to change the UUA bylaws so that the First Principle reads, "The inherent worth and dignity of all beings."  Special thanks to 
John Gribbin, who as the President of the UU Animal Ministry chapter in the congregation led this effort.

 We now have 5 sponsoring congregations, and 4 sponsoring organizations.

Yours could be the next one - may it be so!

Rev. LoraKim Joyner, DVM
First Principle Project Facilitator

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Being an Advocate For the Earth by Changing the First Principle

Guest Author:  Rev. Sam Trumbore

Past President St. Lawrence Chapter of the Unitarian Universalist Minister's Association
Past President Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship
Minister First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany

On Being an Advocate For the Earth

Since the dawn of civilization, humanity has been looking backward to the good old days. In Genesis, we see the prototype for this human sentiment in the Garden of Eden. Everything was wonderful and perfect until human beings follow their curiosity, enabled by the serpent who puts doubt in their minds, and eat from the forbidden tree. It all starts unraveling from there and we've been trying to get back to that garden ever since.

From the natural selection perspective of evolutionary theory, humanity has been a supremely successful species. Big brains are a very powerful adaptive resource to increase our ability to survive. Our ability to remember opportunities and threats and then anticipate them has helped us, reproduce and not get killed or eaten. And we've also evolved ways to communicate that learning through language and retain that learning beyond our own deaths. We're still talking about scientific, religious and philosophic learning that happened thousands of years ago.

Sadly our success hasn't been very good for most other life forms on this planet, except for rats, ticks, deer and cockroaches. At the rate things are going, our dominance of the biosphere will likely drive 90% of species to extinction. Chickens, turkeys, goats, sheep, cows and pigs along with wheat, corn and rice, however, have had their genes do very well. (A version of humanities love of the 1%)

The threat we pose to the planet by driving extinction rates through the roof is the way we disturb ecosystems. Human intervention in a particular place hunting a species till it disappears or selecting one species we'd like to encourage to multiply can create an imbalance with the other species of plants and animals. Remove predators and the deer population explodes. Introduce a new species like fast growing Brazilian Pepper to Florida and it takes over, soaking up all the light and creating barren ground under it. Understory plants can't survive with this bush that has no enemies to contain it.

Systems theory has helped us understand and appreciate the delicate balance that supports a wide diversity of species to survive. Removing just one species or introducing one new one can completely unbalance that system. Scientists think it takes a long time for that balance to reestablish itself since evolutionary change requires many generations of offspring to incorporate genetic changes to adapt. This could take hundreds or thousands of years.

Human activity happens much, much faster than that.

This imbalance between the rapid speed of human activity and the slow rate that nature can adapt to our changes has created significant discouragement by those interested in preserving the biodiversity that currently exists. And that has led to an anti-humanism that can be sensed in the new philosophy of Deep Ecology. This philosophy puts a higher value on planetary welfare than on human welfare.

And there is logic to this. If we destroy the planet's ability to support life, it will be rather negative for humanity as we'll face mass extinction too. The dilemma of our age is figuring out how to balance human wants and needs verses the needs of planetary diversity of species to survive and flourish.

Or, in other words, to survive, humanity must learn self-regulation.

Humanity does have this capacity to self-regulate ... but to make a commitment to this capacity
 as a planetary organism will require an evolution of consciousness. Every species puts its needs before all other species in the struggle to survive. It is eat or be eaten and grab as much territory as you can. The balance is created by the diversity of species not by any one species self-regulating. Humanity so far has operated outside this mechanism - to our peril.

Humanity is the first species that can consciously value diversity and actually take an active hand in helping it along. We are able to restore ecosystems after disrupting them. We have the power to stop polluting the air, land and water. We can recognize that increasing carbon dioxide will be a threat.

Commitment to interdependence is one of the highest priorities of our species and potentially one of the greatest gifts we can give our planet. We have the capacity to recreate the Garden of Eden through a commitment to the planet before our self-interest.

One way to make that commitment is to change our first principle from "The inherent worth and dignity of all people" to "every being."

Rev. Sam

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A New World Needs a New Paradigm

I recommend this article by Unitarian Univesralist minister, the Rev. Peggy Clarke, that appeared in the Huffington Post on March 18, 2015.  Those working on any justice issue, as she points out, need not compete with one another about which justice issue merits more attention - "These issues are all the same."  This issue is the paradigm that is killing us, the planet, and the beings that share their biotic communities with one another.  She describes this paradigm of hierarchy as one that tells us "that the dominant class is on top and everything else is in service to it."

She asks us to instill a new paradigm of a Beloved Community "that topples the hierarchy and recognizes our radical interconnectedness, a paradigm that doesn't advantage any one group but life as a whole. In the new paradigm, all life is precious,"  and the needs and bodies of all individuals matter.

This is no easy paradigm to grapple with, for all humans experience both the benefit and harm of dominance.  We don't know how to "give up" all forms of dominance, now, and can't collectively imagine how to structure social institutions that do not enforce power and privilege of some over others.  How do we live, as individuals and as a society, in a way to maximizes benefit and minimizes harm?  

This question and others similar to it are the foundations of the First Principle Project. What would our lives look like if we did not draw a line between those of worth, and those without?  Would we break down rampant dualistic thinking that gives rise to oppression in both insidious and overt forms?  Could we live better, flourishing in beauty and belonging, and so save the earth and the beings that live in our shared biotic community?  

Would we more powerful together knowing, as Rev. Clarke says, that "the fight for justice is the fight for life in every form?"

In the shared quest and questioning,


Rev. LoraKim Joyner, DVM
First Principle Project Facilitator

Friday, March 20, 2015

Reading Mark

Guest Author: Meredith Garmon
Minister, Community Unitarian Church at White Plains

As the conversation has unfolded for more than a year since Mark Causey’s important “Inherent Worth” post (2014 Feb 20 – CLICK HERE), there are points I particularly want to re-emphasize. Here’s my interpretation and summary of the excellent points I understand Mark to have made.

“Inherent worth” contrasts with instrumental worth: something with only instrumental worth is valuable only as a means to an end; an entity with inherent worth is an end in itself. On what grounds, then, can we say any being lacks inherent worth?

Other animals are subjects of their own lives (Tom Regan). They have a biography, not just a biology. Nonhuman animals care about their own lives, have the capacity to experience pain and suffering, and can be harmed. Their lives can go better or worse for them. If human pain and suffering counts morally, then so does theirs, and we should never cause them harm without a sufficient reason.

“The question is not Can they reason?, nor Can they talk?, but Can they suffer?” (Jeremy Bentham)

Because they can suffer, and are subjects of their own lives, we cannot legitimately use then solely as instruments for our own purposes. The world is not a stockpile of resources for human exploitation.

The medieval hierarchy that Arthur Lovejoy dubbed “the Great Chain of Being” placed God at the top, followed by angels, then humans, other animals, plants, and finally inanimate things like rocks and dirt. Proffered bases for separating the human species into its own – and higher – plane have included: intelligence (rationality), the possession of a soul, being moral, having language, and so on. We now understand that all animals, including humans, share a common biological ancestor, and recent advances in our scientific understanding have largely discredited all of the above reasons given for human uniqueness. Scientific findings continue to further blur the distinction between human and nonhuman animals. The work of biologists and ethologists (Marc Bekoff, Jonathan Balcombe, Frans De Waal, and Jane Goodall, among many others), challenges us to expand our understanding of nonhuman animals’ amazing cognitive, emotional, and even moral capacities.

What differences remain between humans and other animals – such as humans’ advanced cognitive, linguistic, social, and moral capacities – are differences of degree not of kind. Moreover, every species has its uniqueness. Human uniqueness also includes limitations: we cannot echo-locate like dolphins or bats nor photosynthesize like plants. These differences are not morally relevant. Different beings aren’t better beings any more than different humans are better humans.

“All beings have inherent worth and dignity” does not mean all beings have the same value or have equal worth. It simply says that even tapeworms, cockroaches, and dustmites have some worth that is inherent and not instrumental.

Indeed, even plants and fungi warrant moral concern, for they, too, are integral parts of the interdependent web of life affirmed in the Unitarian Universalist seventh principle, as well as in Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic:

“A land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.”

The world into which we are born is much older, complex, and complete than we are. We are just beginning to understand the complex balance and intricacies of our planet’s ecosystems. We are increasingly realizing that the web of life as a whole has intrinsic, inherent value far beyond merely instrumental worth.

At the same time, we are sometimes justified in using some beings for our own vital needs. We are within our moral rights to eat carrots, cut down trees to build a house, or use antibiotics to cure an infection. Even Arne Naess’ Deep Ecology Movement, allows that

“any realistic praxis necessitates some killing, exploitation, and suppression.”

The First Principle Project is not asking for an unrealistic praxis. It asks to recognize that, along with our needs for instrumental use of other beings, we also recognize that they have inherent worth. It is a call to expand our circle of moral concern and compassion and to acknowledge the truth of our membership in the larger life community that has value in its own right. The beings of that community had value before Homo sapiens arrived on the scene, and they still do now.

We have always had to make difficult decisions when our legitimate interests conflict with the interests of other beings. The First Principle Project asks us to recognize that we face such difficult choices not merely when human interests conflict with other human interests, but also when human interests conflict with nonhuman interests.

When human interests conflict with interests of other beings, factors to be considered include:

1. Sentience (the ability to feel pains and pleasures.) Cows? Yes. Carrots. Probably not.

2. Consciousness (self-awareness). Conscious beings have a sense of self that persists over time and interests in how their lives go.

3. Sociality. Social beings have more complex capacities for relationships and experiences. It means that a harm to a member of the society causes pain to other members. The death of a social being is occasioned by mourning among survivors.

4. The importance of the interest to the being who has it. Vital interests trump non-vital interests. The interests of beings with sentience, consciousness, and sociality count for a lot – but not all their interests are vital. The human interest in eating a cow, when alternatives are readily available, is a preferential taste. That interest would normally be outweighed by the cow’s interest as a sentient and somewhat conscious being.

Recognizing the inherent worth of all beings entails recognizing that the rest of nature has value which does not depend on what use humans can put it to. Spiritually, affirming that principle expands our circles of compassion by opening our hearts and our arms to embrace the more-than-human world in which we live.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Engaging Jennifer

Guest Author: Meredith Garmon
Minister, Community Unitarian Church at White Plains

Editor's Note:
Thank you Jennifer and Meredith for engaging in this important and life saving conversation, and helping the rest of us think about this, and then act upon it.
Rev. LoraKim Joyner - First Principle Project Facilitator

My claims: Every being has inherent worth and dignity. Not every being has equal claim to our resources of care.

The principle of the inherent worth and dignity of every person does not mean that I am obligated to expend as much of my time and resources of care on my neighbors as on my family. (I do, in fact, take seriously our fourth source’s call “to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves,” but this doesn’t mean I generally spend as much time with them as I do with my family.)

Likewise, the worth and dignity of every being does not require equal distribution of my resources of care to each individual being. Dustmites have inherent worth and dignity, but I am not obligated to expend as much of my resources of care protecting individual dustmites as on pigs, cows, dogs, cats, chimps, dolphins, and blue and gold macaws.

In her post, “A Way Forward for Animal Advocates Who Would Campaign for a New UU Principle” (2014 Oct 28 - CLICK HERE), Jennifer Greene expresses doubts about the inherent worth and dignity of every being.

“As Wrong”

Part of Jennifer's position presents in terms of a dispute about “as wrong.”
“Do I believe it's as wrong to kill an ant, as a human? No, I believe it's far more wrong to kill a human than an ant.”
And she mentions, by way of contrast, Norm Phelps, who, “maintains that it's as wrong to kill an insect as a human.”

But disagreements about what is “as wrong” as what shed no light on the issue. “As wrong” is unnecessary – it doesn’t help the case for the principle of worth/dignity of every being. And “as wrong” is hopelessly ambiguous. When someone says "A is as wrong as B," they might mean
"The punishment for A should be the same as the punishment for B."
Or they might mean,
"A and B call for similar voicings of denunciation -- in the same way that we denounce stealing a candy bar as firmly as we denounce stealing a car -- though of course the punishments should differ, and the resources of law enforcement to prevent them should differ."
Or they might mean,
"It is true that A is wrong, and it is just as much true that B is wrong -- in the way that "$1 is money" is just as much true as "$10 is money.' Though $10 is certainly not equal to $1, the truth of the two statements is equal."
In the end, this "as wrong" talk should be regarded as merely a rhetorical flourish. We can affirm that all beings have worth and dignity without needing to advance any claims about equality of wrongness.


Jennifer helpfully mentions Mylan Engel’s distinction between “equal” and “mere” (or “nonzero”) considerability. “Equal considerability,” (EC) defended by Peter Singer and Tom Regan, says “we owe humans and sentient nonhumans exactly the same degree of moral consideration.” “Mere considerability” says “animals deserve some moral consideration, although not as much consideration as that owed to humans.” Mylan Engel, Jennifer, and I all agree that, as Jennifer puts it,
“it's not necessary to hold EC, in order to make an argument from consistency for the wrongness of even the most entrenched form of animal exploitation (i.e., the use of animals for food).”
While “inherent worth and dignity of every being” does not imply EC, notions of equality have sometimes entered the conversation. Jennifer references Mark Causey’s “Inherent Worth” (2014 Feb 20 -- CLICK HERE). Here’s Mark’s relevant paragraph:
“One of the most common objections I hear when presenting or talking about the First Principle Project is the objection that replacing the word ‘person’ with the word ‘being’ now means that we are all the same. ‘Does that mean that a tapeworm or a cockroach has exactly the same inherent value as a human being?!’ What I believe has happened here is that the objector has subconsciously inserted the word ‘equal’ into the formulation of the revised principle. What we are saying is that we are ‘called to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all beings.’ What the objector is hearing is that we are ‘called to affirm and promote the equal inherent worth and dignity of all beings.’ If every being has equal inherent worth, does that mean I can no longer swat a mosquito? But the First Principle project is not proposing to insert the word ‘equal’ into the principle. It is quite natural for us to hear the word ‘equal’ here because it is implied (although not explicitly stated) in the current wording of the principle. What we hear in the current first principle is that all persons, regardless of race, sex, ability, identification, etc., have equal worth and dignity. We are so used to fighting for the principle of equality amongst humans, as we should, that we automatically transfer this notion to the proposed changed wording including all beings.”
It’s true that the progress of morality among humans has been tied up with conceptions of “equality.” The language that emerged in Europe’s feudal period asserted that the landed classes were “betters” and “superiors.” Dismantling the lingering assumptions of that time were helped by insisting, “we’re all equal.” The work of ending discrimination continues to have a great need to invoke “equal protection of the law.” Whatever equality has meant – as a value and an ideal for human-human relations and for human institutions -- it has never meant that we expected anyone to devote the resources of their care just the same to everyone. We have always understood that people will be more devoted to their friends and family than to others. Equality has never meant the complete obliteration of loyalty.

So if people are, as Mark suggests, “subconsciously insert[ing] the word ‘equal’ into the formulation of the revised principle,” the problem isn’t that they are assuming the same kind of equality among animals that the current first principle now indicates among humans. Rather, the problem is that people may be – bizarrely -- inserting into the formulation of the revised principle a much stronger notion of equality than any kind of equality we affirm among humans.

Jennifer then says,
“But not everyone shares Mark's view. To others, ‘inherent worth and dignity of every being’ does imply equality.”
If there are, indeed, “others” who think this way, then let us endeavor to disabuse of them of their obvious mistake. I have already indicated the basic strategy: Almost certainly these “others” do not imagine that the inherent worth and dignity of every person requires equal energy of care to every person. So they cannot reasonably imagine that total equality of energy of care suddenly appears when we expand the circle of some care from “every person” to “every being.”

Speaking of Expanding the Circle…

Jennifer cites Rev. Karen Brammer’s post (2014 Oct 11 -- CLICK HERE). Karen says:
"I have difficulty increasing the reach of the first principle to non-human individuals when we have so much more intentional human bridge-building to do."
When we expand the circle of our care – expand the circle of those to whom we extend some care – it never damages those who were already in the circle. I don’t spend as much of my resources of care on my neighbors as on my family, but I nevertheless care about my neighbor. Doing so doesn’t harm my care of my family – in fact, I am better able to be present and loving to my family when I’m a generally kind person to my neighbors. Caring about, and building bridges of connection to people of a different human culture don’t harm my own culture, but strengthen it. In similar manner, caring about animals doesn’t detract from caring about people. Just the opposite. Whenever we expand the circle of care, the total “regime of care” is strengthened.

LoraKim Joyner’s post (2014 Dec 4 -- CLICK HERE) explained in some detail how helping nonhuman animals helps humans. Empathy and concern for nonhumans expands our capacity for empathy and concern for humans too. Karen’s concern for human bridge-building would rationally lead her toward, rather than away from, care for nonhuman animals.

The Prescriptive/Descriptive Thing

I made some of the above points to Jennifer in comments on Facebook. She said,
It is certainly a fact that we spend our time and resources of care more on certain individuals than on others. But when it comes to humans, we don't accept that as an argument against the idea of our "equal worth." "Equal worth" and "equality" are usually understood to be prescriptive, as opposed to descriptive. We say that humans are equal under the law—and the current first principle is widely understood to be a declaration of this egalitarian view. So I am worried that you are citing the descriptive fact of unequal allocation of time and resources of care (i.e., how things are), as if to disprove that which is prescriptive—i.e., how we think things should be, or the legal protections we agree should be applied to kin and strangers alike.
I replied by asking how she navigates the prescriptive/descriptive thing when it comes to humans -- while at the same time spending more resources of care on her own family. Whatever it is that is prescriptive about our notions of equality of all humans, it does not interfere with our sense that it is perfectly right and just to devote more of one's resources of care on one's own family than on one's neighbors. Jennifer replied,
"Well, I think we try to do that by building fairness and equality into our laws (in recognition of our instincts for things like preferential treatment and revenge)."
At issue here is, what difference does affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every being really make? What does it ask us to do differently? The answer is: we don't know. And it's just fine that we don't know. In the mid-1980s, when UUs adopted our principles, including the first one, we didn't know where affirming the inherent worth and dignity would take us -- but it was worthwhile to make that affirmation and see.

It's important that we start with description. The human rights community has broad consensus that the thing to say is the descriptive assertion, "people have rights" -- not "people should have rights." We assert a description of the moral landscape as the first move. Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, affirmed that all are created equal, endowed with inalienable rights. That was a moral description. Thirteen years later came the Constitution, where we sketched one of the many possible ways we might have understood ourselves as accommodating the moral reality. The Declaration inspired the Constitution, but didn't dictate any of it.

And that's the function of a descriptive moral principle -- to inspire. Out of that inspiration we may eventually come to agreement on some prescriptions. If, as Jennifer suggests, our present first principle leads us to try to build fairness and equality into our laws, that is just one of many directions we might have gone to accommodate the reality that all persons have inherent worth and dignity. That moral truth itself stipulates nothing about fairness or equality. (That's the 2nd principle -- and there's a reason these are two different principles rather than one.)

"All beings have inherent worth and dignity," is a moral truth, not a moral rule. The new, revised first principle would tell us to simply notice. In and of itself, all it prescribes is: notice that all beings have worth and dignity. The question will arise (at least, we hope it will), "OK, what do I do about this truth once I've noticed it?" The fact calls for some response, but in itself dictates no particular response. I think it will probably tend to encourage a greater conscientiousness and mindfulness in all our relations -- but different people will go different ways with it. When a community of people commits to observe (notice) a moral reality, as time goes by, particular action ideas begin to gain popular support. Animal cruelty laws might be strengthened -- and slowly expanded to more species. Or more efforts to preserve habitats may emerge. Consumer choices might gradually shift -- not because the revised first principle will tell people to shift them, but as a natural (and naturally highly variable) result of noticing, of having in mind the moral truth that all beings have worth and dignity. Some people might merely say a little prayer for the dustmites before turning on the air purifier that will kill many of them -- even that is at least a start. Some kind of start is better than none. And where that start might lead is anybody's guess.

However we respond, collectively recognizing the truth that all beings have inherent worth and dignity helps shift us toward life, connection, and greater joy in all we do -- whatever we do.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Living Beings

Living Beings
A song by  singer songwriter John Beltzer

     I enjoyed this music video for many reasons, one of which was its link to the First Principle Project. The song's  chorus  asks us to treat all beings with dignity and love:

Humanity should rise above
to treat all living beings
with dignity and love

      The songwriter's compassion does indeed include all living beings, as John Beltzer is also the President of Songs of Love. The Songs of Love Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing personalized uplifting songs, free of charge, for children and teens currently facing tough medical, physic, or emotional challenges.  

     Thank you John for our art and your compassion.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Beings Together

Here is a video that is an advertisement for Android.  It is also about the joy of transspecies relationships, and reminds us how our UU Principles ask us to not draw lines that seperate us, but to draw circles of compassion that interconnect us.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Instead of Guilt

Guest Author:  Rev. Dr. Meredith Garmon
Minister, Community Unitarian Church at White Plains
Sermon delivered:  February 15, 2015

Editor's Comments:  I lift up this sermon for us to read as part of the First Principle Project because in speaks clearly of the harm we all do, every day, in our choices and actions.  This brings humility to our endeavors to bring about social change, and can inspire each of us, no matter where we are on the curve of multispecies justice, to move just a little bit further along. We do this not because of guilt, but because we wish to bring our principles to life. (Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner)


"....steps toward reducing harm will feel joyful insofar as we understand them connecting us with life. Connected to life and this Earth, small acts of care for ecological systems and the sentient beings with whom we share our planet develop our love, expand how loving we are."


Instead of guilt, my hope, for myself and for all of us, is to be drawn by love, toward love, into acts of care for all of life.

The second source of the living tradition we share is:

"Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love."

The prophetic tradition is all about speaking truth to power. What if the power to which you need to speak some truth is yourself? What does it look like to confront yourself with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love?

Because we are all doing harm. Feeling guilty about that may not be the most helpful move, but I do think it’s good to recognize that fact. We harm other sentient beings and we harm the earth.

Strict adherents of the Indian religion Jainism carefully sweep the walkway wherever they go to avoid stepping on a bug, and wear a cloth over their mouth and nose lest they breathe in some organism. They’re trying really hard not to do any harm to any animal, but agriculture is not forbidden in Jainism. If you’re going to plough the ground, you’re going to cut through some worms and kill various microbes. There’s just no way around it.

The Pythagoreans of ancient Greece, besides being really into geometry, also had a very strict moral-religious code. They said, eat only fruits, berries, and nuts that have fallen by themselves from the tree. Don’t even hurt the tree by plucking it. I don’t know if that ever really worked, and I don’t think we could keep 7 billion humans fed that way. We’re going to need agriculture, and agriculture is going to do some killing. We do harm – and we have to.

We also harm our environment, and maybe, in this case, we don’t have to, but we will – unless and until catastrophe stops us.

The Earth does regenerate continuously, but we’re using it up faster than earth can replenish.

“Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what humans use up in a year. Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. And of course, we only have one.” (Global Footprint Network)

If everyone lived the way the average American does, it would take four Earths to sustain the 7 billion people. We’re doing harm, and it’s pretty clear we’re going to go on doing harm. In this country a significant chunk of the populace still has doubts about whether climate change is the result of human activity, so, I don’t see the US substantially reducing the rate at which it uses up the earth any time soon.

As for you and me, are we ready to really live sustainably? Apparently not. Maybe, though, we could move a little more in that direction.

Sometimes it seems silly to try.

Some years ago my mother clipped out a comic strip from the Sunday paper and mailed it to me without comment. It was from the strip “Zits.”

Jeremy [to his friend, Pierce]: “Why aren’t you wearing your boots today, Pierce?”
Pierce: “Can’t. I’m boycotting leather in support of animal rights.”
Jeremy: “Then couldn’t you just wear your sneakers?”
Pierce: “Nope. The rubber soles are made with petroleum-based plasticizers, and I’m against arctic drilling.”
Jeremy: “What about your wooden sandals?”
Pierce: “And support deforestation? Not likely. I’m an activist, Jeremy. I have to set an example to show others that there is a better way to live.”
[Last panel, we finally see Pierce’s footwear]
Jeremy: “Hence, the tofu shoes.”
Pierce: “Teriyaki flavor. Want some?”

Sometimes the quest to do the right thing with our purchasing decisions might seem silly. Yet our purchases and what we consume really does have consequences. I wrote back to Mom:

"It’s worse than that. Tofu is made from soybeans, and if the soybeans aren’t organic, there’s the harm of nitrogen-based fertilizers, and there’s pesticides. Even if it’s all organic, there may have been monoculture growing, without proper crop rotation and variation. Finally, even if you fix all that, there’s almost certainly some oppressed labor somewhere along the way. So, Mom, where do you draw the line? Do you so thoroughly trust your government as to figure that anything they haven’t outlawed has got to be morally and environmentally OK to participate in?”

She never answered. When I saw her some months later at Christmas, I asked her about it. "I assumed the question was rhetorical," she said.

I can imagine my children writing to me with that question: “Well, OK, Dad, where do you draw the line?” I don’t know if I’d answer either.

* * *
This is part 1 of 4 of "Instead of Guilt"
Click for other parts: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Study Action Item: Multispecies Justice

One way to put forth the process of engaging Unitarian Universalists in the First Principle Project is to work towards a Study Action Item on multispecies justice (while we continue all the other goals of our project).  Below is a sample draft on a Study Action Item that your congregation could vote to put forward for a 4 year process for a topic with which all UU congregations could engage.  Congregations must vote and submit their Study Action Item by October 1, 2015.  It only takes one congregation to vote on it to move the process forward.  Please consider having your congregation be this one (and the more there are, the better).  If you'd like to know more, or would like to edit or change this draft, please comment below or contact Rev. LoraKim Joyner. Thanks for your efforts!

(the entire draft Item can be found here and more on the process here.

Study Action Item: Multispecies Justice:  How do we take care of the many in our biotic community?

Life on earth is under threat, fueled by humankind's false sense of separation from nature.  How can we create a biosphere sustainable for all beings while taking into account the inherent worth, value and well-being of every living individual? Addressing the intersectional of injustices, we improve life for all. 
Grounding In Unitarian Universalism:
Affirming respect for the interdependent web of all existence, we deepen our faith by taking up for the first time the call to multispecies justice. We draw on our anti-racism, animal welfare, animal rights, environment, economic justice, and environmental justice work, analysis of intersectional oppression, Transcendentalism, and earth centered spiritualities.
Topics for Congregational Study:  
·    What legal and moral responsibilities do humans hold toward other organisms -- particularly toward other sentient forms of life?  
·    To what extent do other species have a capacity to suffer, feel pain, love, grieve and endure emotional distress similar to our own?  
·    What economic, social, cultural and religious systems degrade or destroy the quality of life experienced by other inhabitants of our planet?  
·    How has science as well as theology reinforced an unhealthy and unwarranted assumption of human superiority over other living creatures, and how can they help us care for other species?
·    In what ways would our work, play, and lifestyles be altered if informed by an ethic of respect and compassion for all beings?
·    How might our current UU Principles be changed to and resources guide us in addressing multispecies justice?  
·    How can we support one another in this challenging work of multispecies justice given  the complexity of the interweaving of our lives with global systems of oppression.
  • What is multispecies justice and how does it relate to intersectional justice and the theory "no hierarchy of oppression?"
Possible Congregational/District Actions: 
  • Form a Intersectional Justice or Multispecies Justice Committee
  • Become a UUAM chapter (Engage in the First Principle Project or the Reverence for Life Program)
  • Educate congregation on intersectional justice, including presenting a lay service on justice on holding an animal blessing
  • Show films about relationships between humans and other species
  • Learn the behavior, thinking, feeling, ecology, and evolutionary biology of species on your congregational grounds.  What is the impact on other species, both beneficial and harmful in their relationships and proximity to humans?
  • Present an intersection justice working at district meetings
  • Advocate for legislative positions that foster multispecies justice
  • Give money to organizations that help animals – such as shelters and conservation and advocacy groups
  • Create interfaith networks and committees
  • Host a plant based potluck and invite discussion on the challenges and celebrations of being aware of our relationships with other species and humans through food
Related Prior Social Witness Statements
Animals and Biotic Community
Ethical Eating:   Food and Environmental Justice - Statement of Conscience 2011
Creating Peace - Statement of Conscience 2010
Threat of Global Warming/Climate Change - Statement of Conscience 2006
Responsible Consumption is Our Moral Imperative - Statement of Conscience 2001
Solidarity with the San Carlos Apache Regarding Mt. Graham - Action of Immediate Witness 1977
Toxic Substances and Hazardous Waste - General Resolution 1984
Problem of Environmental Policy - General Resolution 1977
Environmental Justice - General Resolution 1994
End Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining - Action of Immediate Witness 2006
Safer Alternatives to the Alaska Pipeline - General Resolution 1973
Protecting the Biosphere - General Resolution 1989
Earth, Air, Water, and Fire - General Resolution 1997
United Nations and Earth Day Celebrations - Business Resolution 1994
The Green Revolution in Religion - Business Resolution 2010
Law of the Sea Treaty - General Resolution - 1982
Environment - General Resolution 1969
Safer Sources of Energy - General Resolution 1992

Endorse the Earth Charter - Action of Immediate Witness 2002

Economic Justice, Class and Racism (mixed with others)
Phoenix General Assembly 2012 - Business Resolution 2010

Self-Determination for Blacks and Other Ethnic Groups - General Resolution 1968

The Civil Rights Act of 1990 - Resolution of Immediate Witness 1990
Congregational Programs on Racism and Classism - Responsive Resolution 2006
World Conference Against Racism - Action of Immediate Witness - 2001
Toward an Anti-Racist Unitarian Universalist Association - Business Resolution 1997
Racism Imperative - Business Resolution 1981
Immigration as a Moral Issue - Statement of Conscience 2013
Economic Globalization - Statement of Conscience 2003
Economic Injustice, Poverty, and Racism: We can make a difference - Statement of Conscience 2000
Economic Conversion for Peace and Human Needs - General Resolution 1989
Working for a Just Economic Community - General Resolution 1997
Deepen Our Commitment to an Anti-oppressive Multicultural Unitarian Universalist Association - Responsive Resolution 2013
Reference (not part of one page - refer to Issue section)
  • UU Food Justice Ministry
  • UU Buddhist Fellowship
  • UU Animal Ministry
  • UU Ministry for Earth (?)
Certifying Congregation
Endorsing Congregations: