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A Letter From Susan B. Anthony

Just ran into this lovely note, in researching something else, from Susan B. Anthony to thanking the Women’s Branch of the Society for Ethical Culture in New York — it’s from about 1900, not dated:

“I remember that during the amendment campaign of 1894 Mrs. Stanton and myself spoke before your society. Then not all of your members felt sure they wanted women to exercise their citizen’s right to vote. I trust by this time every one of you has come to feel the necessity of placing the ballot in the hands of women, if not because of the abstract right of every citizen to hold it, then because the possession of it would enable those employed in the labor market of the world to be paid equally with men for equal work. The very foundation of ethics is justice, therefore the highest ethical culture for women must lie in the direction of securing justice for their own sex.”

Ethical Calendar

The following is a calendar which combines major US, Canadian and Mexican holidays, with holidays of some traditional major religions (I could not find a good public calendar for Hindu or Buddhist or several other religions’ holidays, sorry), and adds some possible special “Ethical Holidays” to consider. Click on “Agenda” to see names that might be cut off in the monthly calendar version.

Ethical Culture Is a Platypus

Platypus sketch. Courtesy Wikimedia.

Platypus sketch. Courtesy Wikimedia.

When Europeans first encountered the platypus in Australia, the first assumption was that it was a hoax.  A duck’s beak and webbed feat on the body of a beaver-like mammal?  An aquatic mammal that gives birth by laying eggs?

Instead of trying to pigeon-hole it into existing categories, science finally realized that it is, well, itself.  One of only five species in the order called monotremes, it’s the sole living representative of its family and genus.

Ethical Culture (and to a lesser extent, Unitarian Universalism also fits this description) is a platypus.  That is, it’s a religion [mammal], even though it has features that make it look not like a religion.

As with the platypus — that it’s a [religion] is important for some purposes but ultimately, what’s important is that it fills a niche successfully, and thrives in that niche.

It’s easy to quickly assume that Ethical Culture [or a platypus] is a mishmash or contradiction, rather than something that evolved organically to serve a specific niche quite well.  The fact that it exists serves to remind everyone that religion [mammaldom] is broader than the many other examples of religion [mammals] that are out there.

The platypus doesn’t give birth to live young, has what looks like a beak, but it’s still a mammal.  Ethical Culture is creedless, doesn’t necessarily have anything to say about the supernatural — but it’s still about finding meaning and purpose, and figuring out how to live, and doing so in community with fellow seekers.

Basic Ethical Culture Identity

In saying that we are founded on “deed beyond creed,” we acknowledge that there are a number of belief systems which may effectively ground the sorts of “deed” that Ethical Culture makes central.

Although we need not have one creedal philosophy or metaphysics, I also believe that some belief systems and philosophies are more friendly to Ethical Culture and some are less friendly.

The following concepts, I would content, are ones that any philosophy (or belief system or metaphysics) compatible with Ethical Culture must be able to ground, or at least not contradict:

  1. The individual – a human person — has worth
  2. ALL individuals,  not just each “me” – have worth – and are as real as the “I” or “me”
  3. Individuals are both discrete from and interconnected with each other – human existence is social
  4. Human individuals are discrete parts of the universe, interconnected with the rest of the universe – all existence is social
  5. Our choices and actions in the world make a difference – thus, there must be limited determinism and not complete (unlimited) free will nor complete (fatalistic) determinism
  6. Learning, development, evolution must be possible, including in a human’s lifetime and in the long view of humanity’s existence and the existence of the universe of which humans are a part
  7. Some actions are better and some are worse than others, in their impact on the development of the human personality
  8. The universe’s effects and acts on human persons must be predictable (miracles that neutralize ethical consequences are difficult to integrate with ethical responsibility

Have I got them all?  Is it possible to have an Ethical Culture continuous in an evolutionary sense that gives up any of these?

Transforming Culture

So, the UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association) as an organization seems to be proposing that it is more a movement for transforming the culture, rather than defining itself as an association of congregations.  And of course that’s got a lot of people nervous and has engendered some conversations, some of them somewhat angry or bitter.

I find something quite visionary and exciting in that idea of becoming a movement for transforming culture. A lot more exciting than “being an association of congregations” — if that means simply counting the number of congregations there are, and how many members they have, and doing whatever can be done to keep those numbers from falling or even growing them.  Or if it means “doing whatever congregations think they want and have the energy to ask for or do right now, without changing much.”

I guess I’m still an unapologetic humanist, because I believe that “transforming culture” requires people to do the transformation.  “Transforming culture” also requires that people be transformed. Reification of the concepts of culture or movement can lose track of the fact that both are made up of people.  The people, and the systems their relationships form, are ultimately what we have to work with, and to work on.
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Ben Franklin’s Daily Routine

Something interesting I found recently: Benjamin Franklin’s daily routine outline.  (This is the same Ben Franklin involved in the founding of the United States, and the same Ben Franklin who said, according to a recent biography, that he expected churches would be replaced by something he called “ethical societies.”)

He framed each day with two questions:

  1. “The morning question, What good shall I do this day?
  2. “Evening question, What good have I done this day?

Imagine what focus we’d have on ethical living if we were that conscious of our intent, and then reviewed what we’d accomplished each day?
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“Ethical Religion” by William Salter

Mohandas Gandhi acknowledged that reading William Salter’s Ethical Religion was an influence on his own developing thought.*  The book was created from a collection of addresses Salter gave in his early years as Leader (equivalent of a minister) at the Chicago Ethical Society, and was published in 1889.

The following excerpt is my slight update of Salter’s words, using more modern language where his dated words might distract from his message for many of today’s readers. The original can be found and downloaded for free at Google Books.


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Secularism Today

At its core, “secular” is the opposite of or in contrast to “sacred” and by extension “religion.” (”Religion” is a relatively new concept in human culture, as we use it today. “Sacred” and “secular” are older.) Coming from the Latin, its derivation is from “worldly” or “temporal” as contrasted to “eternal” or, I suppose, “other-worldly.”

The term “secular” is used today in several different ways — ways that are in tension with each other, with real implications. That’s true for those who use the term for something they support, as well as for those who use the term for something they oppose.

Pope Benedict XVI said, “There is something deeply alien about the absolute secularism that is developing in the West … a world without God has no future.” Mitt Romney, running for President in 2007, equated “secularism” with “radical Jihadism.” Newt Gingrich denounced “secular fanatics,” and wrote about Obama’s “secular-socialist machine.”

In this article, I’ve tried teasing out four different meanings of the word as used especially by those who support secularism. There’s obviously some connections between them; they are, however, somewhat in tension.
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Still More Violence: How Do We Respond?

For all of us — but particularly for the children in our lives: in the aftermath of yesterday’s bombing.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, not to feel this as close to home, with all the news coverage, with all the videos, with all the photos. We can remember how rare such incidents are, at least in the United States. But it still feels real, and close. Our fear systems may be triggered. We can respond with the unthinking natural responses: aggression, withdrawal, denial. Or we can make a choice to shake off our fear and respond differently, including with social engagement.

Not everyone responds the same way. I’m someone who needs information, as much as possible, in order to gain back my rational self in such times. Some need to get away, to more peaceful activities: a walk among tall trees, playing a game with family, just doing a normal day’s work.

Gradually perspective sets in. For me, it’s the knowledge that so many helpers stepped up and stepped in. The immigrant peace activist who lost two sons, one in Iraq and one to suicide, helping to save another man’s son by holding tight his tourniquet. The surgeons, the nurses, at the hospitals. The medical people who rushed to help and save lives, some after having just run 26+ miles themselves. The bystanders who tore down a metal fence to get to the injured. The thousands in Boston who reached out to runners who could not get to their rooms and belongings, to say, “stay with me, I’m here, you’ve got a place to go right now.”

Those are the lessons our children need to hear. Those are the role models we all need to hear. Perhaps one person, perhaps a group brought on the bombings. More than a hundred were injured. Far, far more stepped up to give of themselves, to bring peace and support and understanding. That is a far more important lesson.

And it’s one that gives ourselves and our children something to hang on to. We are not powerless in the face of such tragedies. We are immensely powerful. Every peaceful act we do, every kindness we do, may influence someone, in ripples, every bit as much as harmful acts will do.

We can make the choice to bring more kindness and peace to the world. So what kindness will you be doing today — for yourself? for your children? for strangers?

Clarence Darrow and the Ethical Society

Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center credited Clarence Darrow as an inspiration for practicing law in a way that helped the powerless. Clarence Darrow is remembered as someone whose motivations came from outside traditional religion.

I feel as I always have, that the earth is the home and the only home of man, and I am convinced that whatever he is to get out of his existence he must get while he is here.

Courtesy Library of Congress

Courtesy Library of Congress

Clarence Darrow’s father had studied to become a Unitarian minister at Meadville Theological School (then in Ohio), inspired to leave Methodism over slavery. He had been ordained, but doubts concerning God led him to start his own manufacturing business, instead. His wife also was what at the time was called a freethinker. They did name one son Channing, presumably for the early Unitarian leader, and another Everett for Edward Everett (the same Unitarian whose oration preceded Abraham Lincoln’s at Gettysburg, and was a contrast in its length of 2 hours compared to Lincoln’s very short address). Clarence was named Clarence Seward, remembering the ardent abolitionist and Republican Party founder who served as secretary of war during Lincoln’s presidency. (Darrow became associated with the Democrats in his own adulthood.)
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