Guiding Principles for a Free Faith: The Five Smooth Stones of Liberal Religion

Although we may have different beliefs, there are some commonalities to our approach to the spiritual life.  Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams called these ideas “Principles for a Free Faith” and we commonly refer to them as the five smooth stones of liberal religion:

  • “Religious liberalism depends on the principle that ‘revelation’ is continuous.” Our religious tradition is a living tradition because we are always learning new truths.
  • “All relations between persons ought ideally to rest on mutual, free consent and not on coercion.” We freely choose to enter into relationship with one another.
  • “Religious liberalism affirms the moral obligation to direct one’s effort toward the establishment of a just and loving community. It is this which makes the role of the prophet central and indispensable in liberalism.” Justice.
  • “… [W]e deny the immaculate conception of virtue and affirm the necessity of social incarnation.” Agency: Good things don’t just happen, people make them happen.
  • “[L]iberalism holds that the resources (divine and human) that are available for the achievement of meaningful change justify an attitude of ultimate optimism.”

Adams’ five smooth stones are explained in the essay “Guiding Principles for a Free Faith” in On Being Human Religiously: Selected Essays in Religion and Society, Max Stackhouse, ed. Beacon Press, 1976, pp. 12—20. You can download a PDF of the entire essay by clicking here:  Guiding Principles for a Free Faith: The 5 Smooth Stones of Liberalism