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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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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

Purpose and Aims

I found this on the way to looking for something else: a paragraph from an early constitution of the “Ethical Union” of the first Ethical Societies in the United States, referred to in a book published in 1896 as being from “a few years ago.”

The general aim of the Ethical Movement as represented by this Union is to elevate the moral life of its members and that of the community; and it cordially welcomes to its fellowship all persons who sympathize with this aim, whatever may be their theological or philosophical opinions.

The word “moral” is not one we tend to use today — perhaps the Moral Majority (which some of us believe was neither) ruined the term for a generation or two.  But in the context of the Ethical Movement, “moral” meant then, and means now, living in relationship in ways that respect and draw out the worth of every human being.

Apart from the slightly stilted Victorian language of the paragraph, it’s not a bad summary of what we aim to be today as well, here at the Northern Virginia Ethical Society.

As we move towards our Opening Sunday of the season on September 12th after our summer break from Sunday meetings, I think that this aim bears repeating.  In our 21st century way, we can implement what was there said in 19th century language: help our members and the community to live more ethically, bringing out the best in ourselves and others, and cordially welcome into full participation in our community, anyone who feels themselves also drawn to that aim — recognizing that this common purpose is more important than whether we agree or disagree, believe or disbelieve, on some philosophical or theological matter.

Turning of the Year

adapted from Kenneth L. Patton, 1951, revised by Jone Lewis

The days of the year have stiffened in ice, and darkness has grown upon the land.

The season of cold and early dusk is upon us.

The sun has retreated down the sky, the living green has forsaken the earth, and the leaves have fallen.

The flowers no longer bloom, and the birds have fled to the south.

We approach the shortened days with peace, for the ancient fear is no longer on our faces.

The heavy death upon the earth is no lasting peril, and the roots in the soil are only sleeping a long sleep.

We hold the turning of the year as a promise; and the renewing of life is our solid hope. The time of returning light is known, and we ready our homes for the celebration. The sun will climb the heavens again, and the darkness will be pushed back each day.

The months of snow will give way to the months of leaves, and petals will fall upon the earth.

The young will be brought from the womb, and the shoot will burst from the seed.

We will walk upon the greening grass, and our plowshares will divide the warming soil.

In the midst of winter the promise is given of the summer season, and in the midst of darkness there comes the assurance of light.

In the time of cold comes a messenger of warmth, and in the days of death there is heard the good news of life.

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

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.”