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Reading from William Salter: The Higher Life of Humanity

From William Salter, an early Ethical Culture leader who had also been a Unitarian minister; adapted by Jone Johnson Lewis:

“The higher life of humanity is made of our higher impulses, our higher thoughts, our higher strivings. We all must live and we must work (or some one must work) for us to have the means of living. But this physical life is not its own end. It is not enough to eat and drink and sleep, to labor and amuse ourselves. In this way we may keep the body fresh, but the body is the servant of the soul. When we think, when we search after truth, when we aspire to bring our lives into harmony with the best that we know, when we wish to put ourselves in alliance with all the better and nobler forces in the world, then we are most truly ourselves, then we become aware how great are the heights and how rich are the rewards of living. May we enter into this higher life of the spirit today, may we in the brief time of our being together here give a welcome to all good thoughts, to all generous impulses, and may they stay with us and more and more make their home with us, so that gradually, little by little, our lives shall be transformed and transfigured by them.”

A. Eustace Haydon on Humanist Spirituality

A. Eustace Haydon, a signer of the 1933 Humanist Manifesto, Dean of the Department of Comparative Religion at the University of Chicago, a Baptist then Unitarian minister, and for some years a Leader in the Ethical Culture Movement (AEU) had this to say on the spirituality of humanism:

© Clipart.com - used with permission

© Clipart.com

“The Humanist rarely loses the feeling of at-homeness in the universe. The Humanist is conscious of being an earth-child. There is a mystic glow in this sense of belonging. Memories of one’s long ancestry still linger in muscle and nerve, in brain and germ cell. On moonlit nights, in the renewal of life in the springtime, before the glory of a sunset, in moments of swift insight, people feel the community of their own physical being with the body of mother earth. Rooted in millions of years of planetary history, the earthling has a secure feeling of being at home, and a consciousness of pride and dignity as a bearer of the heritage of the ages.”


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Reason

NeuronCompassion without reason is ineffective; reason without compassion is destructive.

“Man has been endowed with reason, with the power to create, so that he can add to what he’s been given. But up to now he hasn’t been a creator, only a destroyer. Forests keep disappearing, rivers dry up, wild life’s become extinct, the climate’s ruined and the land grows poorer and uglier every day.” – Anton Chekhov, Uncle Vanya, 1897

What Did Felix Really Say?

Recently, someone asked me about the “correct” version of the quote from Felix Adler about “eliciting the best” or “bringing out the best.” Here is an edited version of my response, based on quick research:

He said it several different ways. Here are two I can document as actually being from him:

The title of a chapter in An Ethical Philosophy of Life is his most common way of wording it, and might be considered canonical: Act So As To Elicit the Best In Others and Thereby In Thy Self. In that essay, you’ll also find his attempts to explain what “the best” meant to him.

From a 1926 article on moral education, “Personality: How to Develop It In the Family, The School, and Society,” he worded it this way: “Seek to elicit the best in others, and you will thereby challenge and bring to light the hidden best in yourself.”

We have tended to paraphrase. “Yourself” instead of “Thy Self” is quite common, or “bring out” instead of “elicit” or “work to” instead of “act so as to.” Mostly that’s an impulse to bring it up to date and keep it from sounding so Victorian or stilted. (I think of my grandfather’s phrase about not using “ten dollar words.”) Personally, I like “elicit.” “Thy self,” not so much.

We don’t use the “Seek” version much and it’s longer but I actually like it better — and he wrote that one for a wider audience (moral educators) and much later in his life, when, like
stones in water, the rough edges may have been worn smooth through experience of what communicated best the idea that he wanted to be understood.

A. Eustace Haydon on Humanist Spirituality

A. Eustace Haydon, a signer of the 1933 Humanist Manifesto, Dean of the Department of Comparative Religion at the University of Chicago, a Baptist then Unitarian minister, and for some years a Leader in the Ethical Culture Movement (AEU) had this to say on the spirituality of humanism:

“The Humanist rarely loses the feeling of at-homeness in the universe. The Humanist is conscious of being an earth-child. There is a mystic glow in this sense of belonging. Memories of one’s long ancestry still linger in muscle and nerve, in brain and germ cell. On moonlit nights, in the renewal of life in the springtime, before the glory of a sunset, in moments of swift insight, people feel the community of their own physical being with the body of mother earth. Rooted in millions of years of planetary history, the earthling has a secure feeling of being at home, and a consciousness of pride and dignity as a bearer of the heritage of the ages.”

To sense our human at-homeness in the universe that sustains us and gives us life: this is the sense of spirituality which many of us who identify as humanists find in nature.

Reason and Compassion

Compassion without reason is ineffective; reason without compassion is destructive.

“Man has been endowed with reason, with the power to create, so that he can add to what he’s been given. But up to now he hasn’t been a creator, only a destroyer. Forests keep disappearing, rivers dry up, wild life’s become extinct, the climate’s ruined and the land grows poorer and uglier every day.” – Anton Chekhov, Uncle Vanya, 1897

Wisdom

Originally posted online on December 26, 2002 – reposted because the original site is no longer current

In August, 2002, members of the graduating class at the Humanist Institute asked their class mentors, Harvey Sarles and me, to speak for three to five minutes on the topic of “wisdom.” Here is what I shared that evening:

In 1993 or 1994, I wanted to learn how to design web sites. So I took a few quotations from my long-developing collection of quotes, put them up on a free web site, and called the page “Wisdom Quotes.”

Three months later, I learned about a new style of page counters (which measure how many people look at a web page), so I practiced by putting one up on the Wisdom Quotes site. A few months later, I remembered that I’d put the counter there and looked to see what the count was. I was shocked: 500 people a week were reading that page!

The page has since grown and evolved into its own web site, and the number of readers has grown quite significantly — but I still remember and treasure that early surprise at its popularity.

There is a hunger in the world for wisdom — and I don’t think it is found, really, on a web site, or a bumper sticker, or in any book.

These ten students, whose passion and dedication have moved me for three years, are wise and I commend them to you as humanist leaders.

But being wise is not a destination. It is a journey. Wisdom which is not continually developed becomes mere dogma.

So, to you who are now graduating, I charge you: develop your wisdom continually.

A few more words on wisdom:


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Ralph Waldo Emerson Quote

“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great person is one who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

Felix Adler Quote on Diversity

“People may be said to resemble the pieces of a puzzle, each unique, yet each essential to bring out a complete picture.”