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m u s i n g

Everywhere Incarnate

by David Bumbaugh

    Humanism believes that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as a result of a continuous process.
    Humanist Manifesto I (1933), Second Affirmation
When the Humanist Manifesto declared that we are part of nature and have emerged as the result of a continuous process, it not only denied the creation stories of the western religious traditions: It gave us an immensely richer, more complex history-one rooted in a system which invites not blind faith but challenge, correction and amendment, one which embraces "truth, known or to be known." It also gave us a language of reverence because it provided us a story rooted not in the history of a single tribe or a particular people, but a history rooted in the sum of our knowledge of the universe itself.

It gave us a doctrine of incarnation which suggests not that the holy became human in one place at one time to convey a special message to a single chosen people, but that the universe itself is continually incarnating itself in microbes and maples, in hummingbirds and human beings, constantly inviting us to tease out the revelation contained in stars and atoms and every living thing. A language of reverence for Humanists begins with understanding this story as a religious story-a vision of reality that contains within it the sources of a moral, ethical, transcendent self-understanding.

We are driven to recognize a paradox: our sense of separateness is ultimately an illusion, yet our individual separateness is a consequence of the drive of the universe for differentiation and complexity. We are driven by our story to seek an ethic that respects the individual and the ground out of which the individual emerges. This implies a deep concern for ecological justice that reaches across class, racial, ethnic, even species distinctions and embraces a vision that responds to the largest sense of self we are capable of entertaining.

If the Manifesto was right to insist that we are part of nature, not separate from it, that we represent a continuing natural process, then it becomes clear that the challenges, the hopes, the dreams, the aspirations which find expression in our lives are not separate from the context in which we have evolved, in which we are rooted. We are not encapsulated, separated, isolated beings. Whatever we are, the universe is. The reality inside of us and the reality outside of us are ultimately one reality.

In us the universe dreams its dreams. In us the universe struggles for a moral vision. In us the universe hopes for new possibilities. In us the universe strives for self-understanding. In us the universe seeks the meaning of existence.

The Rev. David E. Bumbaugh is associate professor of ministry at Meadville/Lombard Theological School in Chicago. His new book, Unitarian Universalism: A Narrative History , was published by Meadville Lombard Press in June. This piece is an excerpt from his essay, "Toward a Humanist Vocabulary of Reverence," which appeared in First Days Record, April 2001.

UU World XV:5 (November/December 2001): 15.

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