Saturday, February 04, 2006

Vocabulary of reverence and solidarity?

I do and I must reverence human nature. Neither the sneers of a worldly skepticism, nor the gorans of a gloomy theology, disturb my faith in its godlike powers and tendencies. I know how it is despised, how it has been oppressed, how civil and religious establishments have for ages conspired to crush it. I know its history. I shut my eyes on one of its weaknesses and crimes. I understand the proffs, by which despotism demonstrates, that man is a wild beast, in want of a master, and only safe in chains. But, injured, trampled on, and scorned as our nature is, I still turn to it with intesnse sympathy and strong hope. The signatures of its origin and its end are impressed too deeply to be ever wholly effaced. I bless it for itskind affections, for its strong and tender love. I honor it for its struggles against oppression, for its growth and progress under the weight of so many chains and prejudices, for its achievements in science and art, and still more for its examples of heroic and saintly virtue. These are marks of a divine origin and the pledges of a celestial inheritance; and I thank God that my own lot is bound up with that of the human race.

William Ellery Channing, "Likeness to God: Discourse at the ordination of the Rev. F.A. Farley," Providence, Rhode Island, 1828.

Beneath the surface glitter of American culture there is a deep inner core, which, I have argued, is ultimately religious: the sacredness of the conscience of every single individual. Nothing I have said tonight takes away from the enormous power for good of that idea. It is responsible for the best in our culture. But, by the very weakness of any idea of human solidarity associated with it in a culture dominated by the dissenting Protestant tradition, it opens the door to the worst in our culture. It easily leads to the idea that humans are nothing but self-interest maximizers, and devil take the hindmost. It is that version that we see all around us. I don't think we can challenge that version until we come to see that the sacredness of the individual depends ultimately on our solidarity with all being, not on the vicissitudes of our private selves. You face in your very denomination the most basic conundrum of American life. If you can solve it you may help lead the larger society out of the wilderness into wich it has wandered.

Robert Bellah, UUA General Assembly, Rochester, New York, 1998. (as quoted in Rev. Dr. Gordon B. McKeeman's 2004 Starr King President's Lecture at UUA GA 2004 in Long Beach, California.)


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