Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hi Everyone:
If you have been reading some or all of the articles I have posted on my blog, then you should have a fair idea where I come from. My thinking is both liberal and independent. This is probably because I have been an Ethical Humanist almost all my life.
Some personal background.
My father and mother were of different religions - Roman Catholic and Dutch Reformed respectively - and this caused them to decide that I, their first born, should be raised free from religion. As I grew, I became naturally curious about other people, and it wasn’t long that I became aware of the differences among them. This led me to investigate a variety of religions, including: a Jewish synagogue, but I could not appreciate the goings on there; some Roman Catholic churches during services, and while impressed by the souring interiors, I could not appreciate their rituals either; and finally, a few Protestant churches, but again I could not swallow their rhetoric and so I joined a youth group of the Humanistic Association in The Hague, the Netherlands – the country I am from – in 1949, at the age of 16.
Arriving in the USA in 1957, it took me five years to connect with the Ethical Culture Society of Chicago. It was a long time before I started to appreciate this group and their views on life. Perhaps that was because I did not have the luxury to sit back and contemplate the world as some of the other members. Most were academics, scientists or other learned professionals and staying alive was not a major concern for them. Still, I felt good in their company and enjoyed their thoughtful Sunday lectures (although some went over my head).
So now I have been involved with Ethical Humanism for nearly 50 years. Still, I am ill prepared to organize a fellowship at Lakeside, yet I sense that there is a need for one. Therefore I thought I should use my blog to explain and introduce this movement, borrowing from the writings of Richard Carney of the Chicago Ethical Humanist Society and others.
Ethical Humanism is a view of the world in which reason, compassion, and commitment to ethical values are central and is what it takes to live meaningful and fulfilling lives, while creating a world that is good for all. It is the one thing that is at the heart of all religions. We focus on supporting one another in becoming better people, and on doing good in the world.
Ethical Humanists celebrate diversity, are inspired by the arts, work on being responsible stewards of the environment and to improve the quality of life for all. Ours is a lifelong philosophical and educational guide for a good, happy, informed, and useful life, that focused on the here and now and the values that different kinds of people have in common. We have no doctrine, but we share the ethical values of many traditional religions.
Ethical Humanists come from diverse religious backgrounds, but welcome all persons of good-will. Belief, or lack of belief, in a Supreme Being or personal deity is a personal matter, and we do not engage in, or foster debate on, such unknowable matters.
Ethical Humanists typically meet once a week at a mutually convenient time and place to listen to a speaker on ethical philosophy, science, the humanities, current issues, or a musical or dramatic performance in the fine arts. We also may host public discussions and debates about current issues and explore ethical dilemmas to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of complex human issues.
We differ from Unitarian-Universalism or other Liberal religions in that our consistent emphasis is on the promotion of humanism. Ethical Humanist Societies often maintain trained and certified volunteers to officiate in weddings, naming ceremonies, or memorial services.
A bit of history.
Humanism can be traced back to ancient India and Greece, but it is the Renaissance that foreshadowed a new view of humanity upon which the “architects” of the Enlightenment forged their revolutionary ideas of reason and equality. A strong humanist expression began to emerge and nurture a monumental societal revolution in thought where individuals actually mattered and were worthy of respect and dignity by reason of their very existence. This process of liberation has proved unstoppable and continues today.
The Ethical Culture Movement in the US began in 1876 by Felix Adler, a transcendentalist and son of the principal rabbi of Manhattan’s Temple Emmanuel, in New York, when he spoke of openness, inclusion, and the need for all persons of good will to join together and work for the benefit of humankind. His vision was a religion for the modern world to bring diverse people together in a unified spirit to accomplish good things.
Ethical Culturists generally share common beliefs about what constitutes ethical behavior and what is good, but individuals are encouraged to develop their own personal understanding of these ideas. Ethical principles are related to deep truths about the way the world works and not arbitrary, but their complexities render the understanding of ethical nuances subject to continued dialogue, exploration, and learning.
Not surprisingly, the movement reflects many of the non-dogmatic, democratic and humanistic ideas of our founding Fathers and early nation-builders and was embraced by Albert Einstein, Isaac Asimov, Jane Addams, Carl Sagan, Kurt Vonnegut, Clarence Darrow, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Tom Dewey, Jane Addams, Judge Henry Booth and Robert Hutchins, among many others.
The Chicago Ethical Society specifically played a leading role in the formation of the Chicago Urban League, the Legal Aid Society, Visiting Nurse’s Association, and the NAACP. They are still very active, building upon their powerful legacy.
Many of us living here at Lakeside are retired and have time to reflect on life in all its nuances. I suspect that some of us may find ourselves on a spiritual journey as we have outgrown the religion of our birth. It is to those that I would like to offer a comfortable, thoughtful home to not only stimulates the mind, but also to speak to our inner philosophical and emotional needs. Open Circle does that from time to time, but not consistently. As life is complex and uncertain, we believe that we must live with the challenges. On the surface, our approach does not offer the security and instant comfort that religions claim to provide, but we can give each other authentic solace and profound feelings of connection to the mysteries of life and the cosmos. While our approach to life may seem a bit on the heavy side, we also believe in joy, humor, and happiness as we celebrate our shared great journey of life.
If you agree with many of the ideas expressed above, please call me at 765-3076 and let’s talk about organizing an Ethical Humanists Society of Lakeside.

The following is provided by the Ethical Society in New York.
Individual Ethical Society members may or may not believe in a deity or regard Ethical Culture as their religion. In this regard, Ethical Culture is similar to traditional religions such as Buddhism and Taoism, about whose practitioner’s similar statements could be made. Felix Adler said “Ethical Culture is religious to those who are religiously minded, and merely ethical to those who are not so minded.” The movement does consider itself a religion in the sense that
Religion is that set of beliefs and/or institutions, behaviors and emotions which bind human beings to something beyond their individual selves and foster in its adherents a sense of humility and gratitude that, in turn, sets the tone of one's world-view and requires certain behavioral dispositions relative to that which transcends personal interests.
The Ethical Culture 2003 ethical identity statement states:
It is a chief belief of Ethical religion that if we relate to others in a way that brings out their best, we will at the same time elicit the best in ourselves. By the "best" in each person, we refer to his or her unique talents and abilities that affirm and nurture life. We use the term "spirit" to refer to a person's unique personality and to the love, hope, and empathy that exists in human beings. When we act to elicit the best in others, we encourage the growing edge of their ethical development, their perhaps as-yet untapped but inexhaustible worth.
Since around 1950 the Ethical Culture movement has been increasingly identified as part of the modern Humanist movement. Specifically, in 1952, the American Ethical Union, the national umbrella organization for Ethical Culture societies in the United States, became one of the founding member organizations of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Ethical Culture can be described as a form of non-theistic religious humanism.
While Ethical Culture does not regard its founder's views as necessarily the final word, Adler identified focal ideas that remain important within Ethical Culture. These ideas include:
• Human Worth and Uniqueness - All people are taken to have inherent worth, not dependent on the value of what they do. They are deserving of respect and dignity, and their unique gifts are to be encouraged and celebrated.
• Eliciting the Best - "Always act so as to Elicit the best in others, and thereby yourself" is as close as Ethical Culture comes to having a Golden Rule.
• Interrelatedness - Adler used the term The Ethical Manifold to refer to his conception of the universe as made up of myriad unique and indispensable moral agents (individual human beings), each of whom has an inestimable influence on all the others. In other words, we are all interrelated, with each person playing a role in the whole and the whole affecting each person. Our interrelatedness is at the heart of ethics.
Many Ethical Societies prominently display a sign that says:
"The Place Where People Meet to Seek the Highest is Holy Ground"
Albert Einstein was a supporter of Ethical Culture. On the seventy-fifth anniversary of the New York Society for Ethical Culture he noted that the idea of Ethical Culture embodied his personal conception of what is most valuable and enduring in religious idealism. Humanity requires such a belief to survive, Einstein argued. He observed, "Without 'ethical culture' there is no salvation for humanity."
The impulse that led originally to the formation of Ethical Societies sprang from Adler's profound belief that human life must be treated as sacred and never violated. Adler believed that the emerging influence of secular society and the rise of scientific thinking in the public mind would make traditional religious metaphors less believable and compelling. Adler held that religion needed to evolve to keep pace with the evolution of politics, economics, and science. He was concerned because he believed religious communities to be essential. They are the one institution with the exclusive mission to sanctify life, teach ethical values, and provide a personal experience of living in a caring community. An Ethical Society would fulfill these roles, but in a way that was more in keeping with modernity.
The movement was initiated in 1876 by Dr. Felix Adler in New York City with the founding of the New York Society for Ethical Culture. The society adopted as the condition of membership a positive desire to uphold by example and precept the highest ideals of living and to aid the weaker to attain those ideals. The aims of the society were stated as follows:
• "To teach the supremacy of the moral ends above all human ends and interests;
• "To teach that the moral law has an immediate authority not contingent on the truth of religious beliefs or of philosophical theories;
• "To advance the science and art of right living."
The members of the society were free to follow and profess whatever system of religion they choose, the society confining its attention to the moral problems of life. Adler did himself have an ethical philosophy that deeply influenced how this was approached. A central precept was "Always act so as to elicit the best in others, and thereby in oneself."
In adhering to its social and moral imperatives, the Society quickly initiated two major projects in 1877. First was the establishment of the District Nursing Service, a precursor of the Visiting Nurse Service, which is still active today.
The second project was the founding of a free kindergarten for the children of working people (the first free kindergarten in America), and in 1880 the Workingman's School was chartered, a model institution for general and technical education in which the use of the kindergarten method in the higher branches of study was a distinctive feature. Each of its teachers was a specialist as well as an enthusiast in his subject; the Socratic Method was followed. Pupils over seven were instructed in the use of tools. In 1895, the School was reorganized, becoming The Ethical Culture Schools. An upper school, The Fieldston School, was added in 1928 but is no longer affiliated with the Ethical Culture Society.
Under Dr. Adler's direction, the Society worked to improve conditions in tenement houses, created the Mothers' Society to Study Child Nature (later the Child Study Association), and helped to found the Visiting and Teaching Guild for Crippled Children in 1889. The Society was also instrumental in the formation of the National Child Labor Committee and in calling for the formation of the NAACP. The Chicago Society organized The Bureau of Justice, the organization that preceded the Legal Aid Society. According to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor the pro bono tradition among lawyers started with a speech by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis at an Ethical Society in 1905.
According to a 1906 encyclopedia article, while originally agnostic in feeling, the Society gradually developed into a simple, human brotherhood, united by ethical purpose and a humanistic outlook, and to some degree acquired an influence in distinctively Christian circles in some parts of Europe. But the only approach to a religious service was a Sunday address on topics of the day, preceded and followed by music. Its chief supporters in New York and Philadelphia were Jews, as was its founder and leader, though the society did not in any degree bear the stamp of Judaism.
A similar movement was started in Berlin and today a society exists at Frankfurt am Main.
Societies were established in Cambridge and London, United Kingdom but the only remaining society in that country is the South Place Ethical Society, based at Conway Hall, London.
The largest concentration of Ethical Societies is in the New York metropolitan area, including a dozen or so Societies in New York and New Jersey such as Bergen and Essex Counties, New Jersey, Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Ethical Societies exist in a score or so U.S. cities and counties, including Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Boston; Chapel Hill and Asheville, North Carolina; Chicago; Los Angeles; Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia; St. Louis and St. Peters, Missouri; Washington, D.C., and Vienna, Virginia. There is a new Ethical Society located in cyberspace, the Ethical Society Without Walls.
Legal challenges
The tax status of Ethical Societies as religious organizations has been upheld in court cases in Washington, D.C. (1957), and in Austin, Texas (2003). The Texas State Appeals Court said of the challenge by the state comptroller, "the Comptroller's test [requiring a group to demonstrate its belief in a Supreme Being] fails to include the whole range of belief systems that may, in our diverse and pluralistic society, merit the First Amendment's protection."
• Ericson, Edward L. The Humanist Way: An Introduction to Ethical Humanist Religion. A Frederick Ungar book, The Continuum Publishing Company. 205 pages, 1988.
• Radest, Howard. Toward Common Ground: The Story of the Ethical Societies in the United States. Ungar, 1969
• Muzzey, David Saville. Ethics as a Religion, 273 pages, 1951, 1967, 1986.

1 comment:

Bill said...


Ethical humanism sounds very appealing to me. I think this philosophy is clearly what we need to help the world survive at this point. As a member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship here at Lakeside, I was struck by the similarity of ethical humanism to our seven principles:
* The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
* Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
* Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
* A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
* The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
* The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
* Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

They do have a slightly more spiritual focus, but many of us are atheists.

I enjoy reading your posts!

Bill Frayer