Becoming Animal, Being Human

I am late to the party as usual, but have just begun season 2 of Being Human (thanks Netflix), the U.K. television show about a vampire, werewolf and ghost sharing a house in Bristol.

At the same time, I am just beginning to read David Abram‘s Becoming Animal, a philosophical exploration of humans as two legged animals living in animate world, if only we open our senses.

Both explore the current western cultural transition towards understanding humans as creatures, although from very different directions. Abram embraces our creaturely nature, seeing it as font of wonder and wisdom, a way of knowing that is actively engaged

in the creativity of the living earth. Being Human reflects the more traditional shadow side, the sense that our animal natures turn people into monsters. The metaphoric meanings of vampires, werewolves, and ghosts abound, but many imply that carnal appetites are dark and dangerous, cruel and full of rage. Although older European stories idenitfy these “creatures of the night” as evils to be destroyed, in Being Human, the “monsters” are sympathetic heros, struggling to reconcile their base natures with their humanity. They try to do the right thing, only to find out just how morally complex “right” can be.

I find it fascinating that western popular culture is exploring what it means to be human, what it means to be of the earth. While I agree with Abram’s arguement that our bodies have an innate intelligence that we, in our comfy, technology saturated society, are missing out on, I also appreciate the recognition that there is a dark side to our creatureness that we don’t always know how to handle. So many of us have felt like monsters, at one time or another. Overwhelmed by emotion, beset with desire, we don’t know how to handle the murkier aspects of our humanity.

Learning how to be fully human, though, means we need to honour the light and dark aspects of our natures. And to see that our creature side is NOT the dark aspect of our nature. Our creature side also includes creative, engaging, relational ways of being in the world. The conversation needs to shift, to stop equating beast with evil and humanity with good.

I think Unitarian Universalism has a role to play in this much needed transition. Unlike the Abrahamic faiths, we don’t focus on a God above. Our seventh principle, “respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part”, is a game changer, placing humanity firmly as part of the earth. If we take living our principles seriously, what does “respect for interdependence” really mean?  How do we express the knowledge that we are part of the web of life?  How then do we understand being human? I suspect developing the story of how we can be human while also being animal will take some time.  I hope UUs are some of the storytellers.

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