History and Philosophy - Who we are podcasts
James has spent eight years at the Ethical Society of St. Louis: one year as an Ethical Culture leader-in-training; four years as the Society’s outreach director and second leader; and three years as senior leader. In this, his final Platform address, he will offer his reflections on eight years of service, thank the Society’s members and friends for the welcome they extended, and think about the future of Humanism.
This special Platform celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Ethical Society of St. Louis’s original home, Sheldon Memorial Hall. Named for Walter Sheldon, the founding Leader of the Ethical Society, the building is famous for its acoustics. Hear the wit and wisdom of Leaders present (Kate Lovelady, playing herself), and past (member Ron Williams, playing the part of Walter Sheldon). Find out what we today have in common with Ethical Humanists of a century and more ago, as well as how our views and language have changed over the years.
Faces of humanism: Robert Ingersoll and Felix Adler
Hell has been a powerful image for thousands of years, although in more recent times many religious traditions have been moving away from the concept of hell. This platform address will look at hell’s history, how it’s been used, and what it means to abandon it. Ethical Humanism has never promoted the notion of hell, and while there are obvious good points to not believing in hell for oneself, there are also ethical and psychological issues with not having a “final jail” to which to consign people who have committed cruel acts. What does it mean to live in a world with no hell below us, as John Lennon sang?
I like periodically to update and present some of the great wisdom from our past. We need to know history in order not to repeat it, or not to have to re-invent it; there is a lot of historical thought that is surprisingly relevant to today. Unfortunately, that thinking can lose its power over the years due to changes in language and communication styles.
This Sunday we will explore the central ideas in “A Common Faith,” a seminal work on religious humanism by famous American philosopher John Dewey, who while not a member of an Ethical Society had close ties with our movement. His ideas were radical in his day, and remain radical in ours, and I will do my best to translate them into modern language so that they may re-inspire a new generation.
“The religious is any activity pursued in behalf of an ideal end against obstacles and in spite of threats of personal loss because of its general and enduring value.” – John Dewey
The U.S. Constitution explicitly prohibits any religious test for public office, yet polls reveal that Americans are less likely to vote for an atheist than a member of any other minority, and the presidential candidates as usual are vying to be named “Most Religious.” Americans also tell pollsters in over-whelming numbers that they believe in a god, yet more Americans are living outwardly-secular lives than ever before, and “angry atheist” books top the best-seller lists. What are the roots of anti-atheist prejudice and what is it really like being an atheist today? What is the duty of Ethical Culture, a “non-thiestic” religion that seeks to unite people on the common ground of ethics, to stand up for non-believers?
Felix Adler defined spirituality as awareness of our “infinite interrelatedness.” A few weeks ago, we explored our emotional and imaginative awareness of our interdependence with each other and the natural world. This Sunday, we’ll look at philosophical theories and beliefs. Ethical Culture’s assertion of universal human worth grew out of a long discussion in philosophy about human nature: How are we different from other animals? Are we more than material beings? On what can we ground our beliefs in worth and dignity and human rights? Adler’s struggle with these issues will lead us to perhaps the hardest question in ethics: What is our ethical responsibility to others? How do we live with that sense of responsibility and use it to inspire us?
“If men talked about only what they understood, the silence would become unbearable.” – Max Lerner ”
“Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A very free and idiosyncratic re-wording by Kate Lovelady, Leader of the Ethical Society of St. Louis, of the Founding Address by Felix Adler, May 15, 1876, New York Society for Ethical Culture.
On May 15, 1876, in New York City, twenty-five-year-old Felix Adler delivered the founding address for Ethical Culture, laying out his argument and design for a new movement that would modernize religion, ethicize philosophy, and commit its members to affirming the infinite worth of every man, woman, and child.
“Diversity in the creed, unanimity in the deed!” Felix Adler, Founding Address
For the 130th anniversary, we will revisit the Founding Address, translating it where necessary into modern understanding, and see how well it has held up and what inspiration and direction it offers our still-moving movement. This will be the inauguration of an annual Founders Day, a day on which Ethical Societies across the country recall our roots, celebrate our individual Society’s history and people, and consider our legacy as the founders of the future.
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