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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?

What Is Ethical Culture?

Leaders in the Ethical Culture movement have been creating a new statement of identity — another of a series of attempts in our history to describe the core of Ethical Culture — and the statement is now finished, and online.  Our Leader Intern, Hugh Taft-Morales, was one of the people who helped create the statement and bring it through the process.

Here are the first paragraphs, plus a link (below) to the full statement:

Dedicated to cultivating moral development in personal life and moral reform in society, Ethical Culture seeks to nurture relationships in which we act so as to elicit the best in others and thereby in ourselves, to provide inspiration and guidance for moral living, and to transform the way humanity views the meaning of life.

Our faith is inspired and animated by the deliberate and reasoned choice of attributing worth and dignity to all. Imbued with a profound sense of interrelatedness, we recognize that we are both dependent and independent—each a unique end unto ourselves. We understand that if any one of us were different life itself would be different. It is through this sense of ourselves as members of an organic whole that we reinforce the attribution of moral worth to every individual.

Ethical Culture is a religion of ethical relationships, a Humanist movement in which ethics is central. We organize congregationally in order to live out our values in community with others, inspired by the ideal of perfected living that always lies beyond our reach. Together we direct our efforts toward assuring a just and abundant life for all.

continuedEthical Culture Statement, National Leaders Council, November 2008