Contents: UU World Back Issue

The human infinite

by R. Lester Mondale

The first humanists protested they couldn’t “fathom the Infinite.” For them it was enough to “love and serve humanity,” but by the early 1930s there began to appear what has been called “The Second Generation Humanist.” Some of us of this second generation, whose background was not orthodox Christianity, had found that, although we couldn’t fathom the Infinite, the Infinite was nevertheless vividly real and very much with us.


Everything to which our skeptical minds turned seemed to be under the aspect of infinitude—mystery in every stick and stone and growing thing in the natural world, mystery in man and in the evolution of his institutions, mystery in our own inner selves. The mood expressed itself in different guises, but typical was the loneliness Bertrand Russell suggested in his description of human life as a brief voyage on a raft:

We see, surrounding the narrow raft, illumined by the flickering light of human comradeship, the dark ocean on whose rolling waves we toss for a brief hour; from the great night without a chill blast breaks in upon our refuge; all the loneliness of humanity amid the hostile forces is concentrated upon the individual soul which must struggle alone with what courage it can command against the whole weight of a universe that cares nothing for its hopes and fears.

. . . [B]ut some of us also came to know how glowingly enchanting and uplifting the universe about us can become, how inexpressibly and wonderfully at home one can feel when one throws oneself without regard for consequences into loving and serving humanity. We discovered, or at least we thought we had discovered, the truth or law that underlies the emphasis of Jesus upon first getting into right relations with one’s fellow men—forgiving them, loving them, helping them—before one can feel right with the world, or with what he called the Father in Heaven. Our humanist experience was valid; it was the experience at the core of all religion—at least on the social plane—however much the interpretations might differ.

The Rev. R. Lester Mondale (1904–2003) was the youngest signer of the first Humanist Manifesto in 1933, and the only one of the original signers who lived long enough to endorse “Humanism and Its Aspirations,” the third Humanist Manifesto released earlier this year. He died in August. From Three Unitarian Philosophies of Religion (Beacon Press, 1946), written when Mondale was minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Kansas City, Missouri.

 Contents: UU World Back Issue
: 23-24

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