We should like to have some towering geniuses, to reveal us to ourselves in color and fire, but of course they would have to fit into the pattern of our society and be able to take orders from sound administrative types…Joseph Priestley

According to their website there are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

  •     The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  •     Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  •     Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  •     A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  •     The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  •     The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  •     Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:

  •     Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  •     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;
  •     Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  •     Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  •     Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
  •     Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

These principles and sources of faith are the backbone of their religious community.

While these are all noble ideas and more than worthy of contemplation in their proper contexts they are not Christianity which requires a specific set of affirmations that lead to a well defined practical moral theology. The reason Priestley could be both a scientist and a unitarian minister in an age that was busy dismissing God for its new found scientific truths is that so much of the scientific thought of the age revolved around inductive reasoning with theoretical “demonstrations” being very little more than parlor tricks.

Incorporating pantheism, animism and naturism is a much shorter route to narcissism than Calvary but it is also the easiest route which may explain why more religions are trending in that direction and falling into oblivion as they fail.

The invention of air : a story of science, faith, revolution, and the birth of America New York : Riverhead Books, 2008 Steven Johnson Priestley, Joseph, 1733-1804 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xvi, 254 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [231]-239) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Steven Johnson recounts – in dazzling, multidisciplinary fashion – the story of the brilliant man who embodied the relationship between science, religion, and politics for America’s Founding Fathers.

The Invention of Air is a book of world-changing ideas wrapped around a compelling narrative, a story of genius and violence and friendship in the midst of sweeping historical change that provokes us to recast our understanding of the Founding Fathers.

It is the story of Joseph Priestley – scientist and theologian, protégé of Benjamin Franklin, friend of Thomas Jefferson – an eighteenth-century radical thinker who played pivotal roles in the invention of ecosystem science, the discovery of oxygen, the founding of the Unitarian Church, and the intellectual development of the United States.

In the 1780’s, Priestley had established himself in his native England as a brilliant scientist, a prominent minister, and an outspoken advocate of the American Revolution, who had sustained long correspondences with Franklin, Jefferson, and John Adams. Ultimately, his radicalism made his life politically uncomfortable, and he fled to the nascent United States. Here, he was able to build conceptual bridges linking the scientific, political, and religious impulses that governed his life. And through his close relationships with the Founding Fathers – Jefferson credited Priestley as the man who prevented him from abandoning Christianity – he exerted profound if little-known influence on the shape and course of our history.

Steven Johnson here uses a dramatic historical story to explore themes that have long engaged him: innovation and the way new ideas emerge and spread, and the environments that foster these breakthroughs. And he  upsets some fundamental assumptions about the world we live in – namely, what it means when we invoke the Founding Fathers – and replaces them with a clear-eyed, eloquent assessment of where we stand today.


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