The Rise of Global Authoritarianism

February 3, 2022
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St. Louis Author Sarah Kendzior to discuss autocracy and the American future

Sarah Kendzior

ST. LOUIS – Join the Ethical Society of St. Louis for “The Rise of Global Authoritarianism” with local author Sarah Kendzior in person or online, Feb. 20, at 10 a.m. Kendzior, the author of “Hiding in Plain Sight” and “The View from Flyover Country,” will explore the rise of autocracy, paying particular attention to Missouri as the bellwether of American decline.

Her talk will examine the causes of rising autocracy – decades-long institutional rot, entrenched corruption, elite criminal impunity, digital media silos full of propaganda, and the embrace of groupthink and cults that tends to thrive in unstable times – and offer potential solutions to our ongoing crises.

“Sarah Kendzior is a modern-day prophet,” said Ethical Society of St. Louis Leader James Croft. “Her writing on American politics and culture is searingly honest, deeply thoughtful, and profoundly wise. At a time when truly dangerous forces are twisting American politics, we need voices like Kendzior’s to wake us up and get us to act.”

Kendzior will illustrate how Missouri has served as a petri dish for the end of the American experiment, a place where dirty dark money operatives test out their worst ideas on an innocent populace. But because Missouri has borne the brunt of these tactics early, she believes it may be better prepared to fight for the American future.

“While some might be put off by her diagnoses, we need to be honest about the challenges we face as a nation if we are to overcome them,” Croft said. “That honesty is what Sarah Kendzior offers, and that is why we are so delighted to have her join us for the Ethical Society of St. Louis’ annual Pacino Lecture. The Pacino Lecture is offered in memory of Nick Pacino, a member of the Ethical Society who was passionate about thought-provoking and timely ideas, and Kendzior is a perfect speaker to honor his memory.”

The hybrid event is free and open to the public. It will take place in the Ethical Society’s Auditorium at 9001 Clayton Road in St. Louis, and at  

The Ethical Society of St. Louis is a Humanist congregation where people come together to explore the biggest questions of life without reference to scripture, religion or God. To learn more, visit

Speaker Bio

Sarah Kendzior is the author of the bestselling books “Hiding in Plain Sight” and “The View from Flyover Country,” and of the upcoming book “They Knew,” which will be published in September 2022. She is the cohost of the Gaslit Nation podcast, which covers corruption in the US and the rise of authoritarianism worldwide. Kendzior has a PhD in Anthropology from Washington University in St Louis. She has written for a wide variety of publications, including the Globe and Mail, NBC News, and the Guardian. She lives in St. Louis.

Opening Words from Sun. January 30 by Lance Finney

January 30, 2022

Good morning.

When I wrote this talk, just a week ago, we didn’t know if this Sunday’s Platform would be all-virtual or hybrid. I had to write this speech with flexibility in mind, not having the type of consistency available that we used to be able to take for granted. This was a small unprecedented challenge for me, but I figured out a way to make it work.

That’s a tiny microcosm of how working in the pandemic has been for James and the staff over the last two years.


Opening Words from Sun. January 16 by Krystal White

January 16, 2022

Good morning, everyone. I’m really glad that we’re all here together virtually and I’m hoping that you are geared up for a really fantastic platform today. This platform is one of my favorites, where we get to hear an update from the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust, an organization the Ethical Society has been affiliated with for a number of years. Knowing that we can learn from everyone and that every person is deserving of worth and dignity, we’re putting our values into action and spreading that humanist message outside of Saint Louis and into Uganda so that schools can exist that educate based on science and compassion, that students can attend those schools regardless of their families’ ability to pay, and that women and girls have a chance for a different life than they would have without this intervention of education. Now I know that every single person has differing reasons about why they choose to be here as a member of the Ethical Society and also differing organizations that they choose to support with their philanthropy dollars. I’m going to tell you a little bit about my story and why my family chooses to support the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust.


COVID update

January 5, 2022
Category: , ,

Platforms will take place in the Auditorium and online ( If you are joining us in our building proof of vaccination or negative test will be required. Since we’ll be checking for proof of vaccination at the door, please arrive 10-15 minutes early. Masks are encouraged.

  • The Ethical Society will be open on Sundays beginning February 20.
  • Sunday Ethical Education for Kids (SEEK) will be in person at the Society.
  • Discussion will be held after platform and on Altar.

Please note, if you are joining us in our building proof of vaccination will be required. Masks are optional.

Last update: 23-Mar-2022

Jan. 9, 2022, Program

January 1, 2022

Platform Chair Gena Gardiner

Music: Caroline Hixson, piano

Open Words by Liz Zelman

Music: Caroline Hixson, piano

Awe, Wonder, Personal Transformation and Hope for the Future

Many of us feel despair right now. Despair at climate change and ecological collapse, and all its ill effects ranging from pandemics to loss of natural habitat and destructive wildfires. But despair is not an option. We want to live in a world that is safe and nurturing for everyone to fully experience awe and wonder. We want to preserve such a world for future generations.

Helen De Cruz will argue that we can cultivate the sense of awe and wonder at nature as an antidote against despair. Not as a form of self-soothing or individualized “self-help” but as a genuine catalyst for collective change.

Helen De Cruz holds the Danforth Chair in the Humanities and is Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University, St Louis, Missouri, US. She is currently working on the book “Wonderstruk: How wonder and awe shape the way we think” (under contract with Princeton University Press, and she has recently edited and illustrated Philosophy IIlustrated: 42 thought experiments to broaden your mind with Oxford University Press (2022).

Music: Caroline Hixson, piano

Closing Remarks

Yard signs supporting Ethical Society

December 9, 2021
Ethical Society of St. Louis yard sign 2021

Show your pride in the Ethical Society of St. Louis. Come by and get one of our new yard signs at our Sunday Platforms, at the office on Tuesdays, or call the office for more information. Signs are available for a recommended $10 donation.

You too can have a well dressed lawn!

Art Show – Michael Aaron McAllister

December 7, 2021

The embroidery art of Michael Aaron McAllister is featured in our gallery from December 30 through February 13 .


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness,
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate,
only love can do that.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

All of us have the right to live as we are, without pretense, without persecution, and with passion.

Here are portraits of some of my idols who have “swam against the tide” at some time or another, emerging from the water, dry, and strong and true.

I taught myself embroidery back in 1999, having pawed through my great-grandmother’s floss as a young boy. Each portrait is one-of-a-kind and 100% hand done. This is the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do at night. I live in Frenchtown (Downtown) St. Louis with my husband Bill, and our two Pugs.

See more of Aaron’s work at

100% of all proceeds go to: ArchCity Defenders, Legal Counsel shouldn’t be a privilege

This show will run from December 30 through March 27, with a reception on Sunday, February 27th, 11:15.

Opening Words from Sun. December 5 by Jim Rhodes

December 5, 2021

Good morning, everyone!

I would like to talk a little this morning about my interest in nature and the environment, and how that has grown over the years.

I grew up in Pittsburgh and I really wasn’t exposed to a lot of nature. Once, I recall chasing and collecting some fireflies on a summer night when we were visiting some relatives. And I had an aunt who had a canary named Elvis. So other than mowing the grass at our house and maybe helping with a small garden we had, this was the extent of my experience with nature growing up.


Ethical Society Blood Drive

November 30, 2021

Want to take an ethical action? Give blood through the American Red Cross at the Ethical Society on Friday, January 7, 2022, between 9am and 1pm.

There is currently a higher than usual need for blood. Please consider donating blood to help people who have surgeries and other medical conditions. Only volunteer donors can fulfill that need for patients in our community.

To schedule an appointment please call 1-800-Red-Cross (1-800-733-2767) or visit and enter “EthicalSociety” to schedule an appointment. (Direct link to our drive.)

Art Show – Greg Kluempers

November 12, 2021

The photographer Greg Kluempers has his lovely photos in our gallery. It is great to have such a wonderful new exhibit up. Those of you who have not returned to the Society in person now have a good reason to do so.

“My work explores the relationship of forms, textures and color in the everyday world. Many of my images are extractions from an old building, a distorted reflection, an architectural detail and the juxtaposition of adjoining buildings. I use these to create abstract geometrical images.”

This show will run from November 21 through December 30, with a reception on Sunday, December 5, 11:15.

Opening Words from Sun. November 6 by Rebecca Karlen

November 7, 2021

Good morning. I am Rebecca Karlen, our family have been members at The Ethical Society for about 10 years. My husband is Carl, and we have two kids, Oscar and Milo. Milo is in 7th grade and Oscar is a senior in High School.

From experience, I have learned to predict, were we talking one-on-one, your next question, one I have come to dread. You might know that the question is something like “So, what is Oscar planning for next year?”


Opening Words from Sun. October 24 by Donna Kniest

October 24, 2021

Good Morning.

On July 17th, 2017 (5 years ago), I was walking through the main branch of the downtown library. I looked up and noticed words inscribed high above me. I was overwhelmed by what they said. I kept staring at the ceiling-reading them over and over. So, I took a photo with my iPhone (that’s how I recall the exact date as I know some of you have been wondering how I knew that).


“Even Better Than the Golden Rule” Opening Words from Sun. October 17 by Matthew Hile

October 17, 2021

Good morning. Even though I am an old white guy, I share my pronouns, he and his. Over the years I have served the Society on a variety of committees and taskforces. Until recently, I was our web master. However, I became concerned that the word “master” has both gendered and racial connotations that seemed out of keeping with our beliefs. So, I am announcing today that I have become our “webadmin.”

As webadmin, I try to make information about our Society’s current activities, history, and philosophy, easily available. As part of this effort, I am converting a document that Jeff Hornback intended to offer as his dissertation into an online friendly format.


Opening Words from Sun. October 3 by Steve Harris

October 3, 2021

There is a new theory, popularized by the New York Times, that America was founded in order to preserve slavery. The first slaves were brought to the colony of Virginia in 1619, but slavery as an institution has existed for most of human history and presumably since the beginnings of civilization, before there were written records. The survivors of losing battles often became slaves of the victors. The Aztecs, along with many other native Americans, including some Iroquois, practiced slavery. There were even a number of black American slave owners, notably in New Orleans. The Bible, not frequently mentioned at Ethical, but still studied and highly regarded among many, has numerous references to slaves and how they should act, but doesn’t call for them all to be freed. Slavery was abolished in France in 1794, the UK in 1833, the US in 1865, the Spanish colony of Cuba in 1886 and Turkey circa 1920, which means it has been widely accepted for about 96% of recorded history. And it is still with us. The 2018 Global Slavery Index found 40 million slaves in the world, 70% female, with Africa having the most. One could make a good case that most of the population of North Korea and Cuba, among other places, are de facto living in slavery. But even though Joe Biden in 2012 told voters that the Republicans, if elected, would “put y’all back in chains”, I am confident there is no significant support in this country or any of our close allies for a return of slavery.


Opening Words from Sun. September 19 by Dara Strickland

September 19, 2021

Good morning, everyone! I’m Dara Strickland, my pronouns are she/her, and it is so good to be her with all of you today.

As a part of our Platform, Opening Words has been important to me since before I even joined the Ethical Society. When I was still just a visitor, I was amazed that members sharing their personal joys and struggles with ethical life was an integral part of weekly meetings. For me, it was the first sign that the Ethical Society was a true community, not just a lot of nice people who liked to listen to lectures on Sunday mornings.

Early in my membership, I joined the Platform Committee, which researches and coordinates our guest speakers for Platforms but also arranges Opening Words. Surely I was an asset to the team because of my network of diverse personal connections? Maybe because of my extensive knowledge of local history and culture?



Learning to Use Altar

September 8, 2021
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We Are Moving to Altar

Starting Sunday 12th the Ethical Society will be gathering digitally on a new program called Altar. We will no longer be using Zoom for our Sunday morning programs! That means you have a little setup to do to ensure you can join Platform. This guide will help you find our Altar webpage; create your personal account; navigate upcoming events; join an event; interact with other participants; and find a meeting room.

Watch an Intro to Altar

Altar have created a useful informational video to help you get started with Altar – you can view it here:

Finding the Ethical Society of St. Louis Altar Webpage

Our personal Altar webpage is: Here you will find a calendar of all of the scheduled Ethical Society events on Altar. Platform will always be a Featured Event, and will appear under the “Upcoming Featured Events” heading. Other events will under the “Upcoming Events” heading below. (You can also view Past Events by clicking that heading.) We recommend you bookmark this webpage in your browser now, so you can always find it when you need to.

Joining an Event on Altar

To join an event on Altar, all you have to do is go to, find the event you want to join on the calendar, and click it. You’ll be taken to the event immediately. If it is not yet time for the event to start, you may see a countdown or a series of slides showing, but you’re in the right place. If you visit the site now, and want to try out the program’s features, join the event for any upcoming Platform and look around!

Learning to Use Altar

If you would like a guided tour of everything Altar can do, once you’ve joined an event you can click the Start button in the box called “Show me around Altar”. It will give you a guided tour of the program, and we recommend everyone comes to their first event a little early and uses this feature.

Show me around Altar button

Creating your Altar Account

Unlike Zoom, Altar does not require you to download a program to your computer: you can join right through your internet browser! However, for security purposes you will be asked to created an Altar account if you want to interact with other participants in a meeting. You can join anonymously, without creating an account, but if you do so you will be unable to chat or show your video.

To create your account, simply click “Log In” at the top right corner of the screen:

Log In button

You can use an existing Google account (for instance a Gmail account – this is the first option offered); you can use a Facebook account (this is the second option); or you can create an account just for using Altar by typing in an email address. If you choose this last option, you will be prompted to input your name, phone number, a photo, and to create a password. You may also be sent a “magic link” to the email you provide to verify your account: you can find these in your email inbox. These accounts are securely stored by Altar and enable the Ethical Society to stay in touch with you about upcoming events.

If you want to change any information in your profile – such as the photo you use, or your name, click on your profile icon in the top right corner of the screen and select “Edit Profile”. That will take you to a page where you can change your photo (by clicking the edit icon by the current photo), the name which is displayed, your password, etc.

Edit Profile option

Taking a Seat

Once you’ve created an account and are logged in, you are ready to take your seat! You’ll notice that the window is set up like a movie theatre, with a screen at the top and rows of chairs underneath. Just click on a chair to sit down! If there are other people sitting in that row, you will be automatically added to a video chat with them, so you can choose to sit with your friends and say hello! You can move around whenever you want to visit with different people, and your conversation will not be heard by anyone except the people sitting in your row.

Using your Camera and Microphone

Just like Zoom, Altar will require your permission to use your computer’s microphone and camera. To that end, when you take your seat you may be prompted to allow the program access. If so, just click the “Allow Camera And Mic” button which pops up, then “Allow” on the further popup which results. You should then see yourself, and others in your row will be able to hear you!

If you wish to mute your camera or turn off your microphone, all those settings are found beneath the video window, just as in Zoom. Click “Mic” to mute and unmute your microphone; click “Camera” to turn your camera on and off, and “Settings” opens further options you may wish to explore, such as which of your computer’s microphones and cameras Altar is using (if something doesn’t work, check there!). You can also use the “Leave Row” button to go back to being a passive spectator.

Mic and Camera Settings

Watching the Program

The program will play in the movie screen and you can watch it just like a live video on any other site. You can safely chat and discuss with your friends during the program: the live room won’t be able to hear you.

Using Chat and the Participants List

Just as in Zoom, you can use text chat to communicate with other participants, and see who else is in the meeting using a participants list. On Altar, these functions are accessed using icons to the right of the screen:

Chat and Members Online buttons

Hovering over these icons will bring up a description of what they are. In order, they are: chat; members online; announcements; polls; welcome & navigation. The most important are the first two: chat and members online. Clicking the Chat icon will bring up the chat window, which will allow you to see both chat messages sent to everyone (under the General tab) and chat messages sent only to you (under the My Chats tab). Clicking the Members Online icon will bring up a list of participants in the meeting, which you can search using the search bar. One neat feature of the Members Online list is that you can find where a friend is sitting in the virtual auditorium by searching for their name and clicking on it!

Using the Lobby

After Platform is over, we may switch everyone into the Lobby, a different sort of online space for hanging out and discussion. The Lobby works just like the main event space does, except that there is no movie screen, and the participants are organized around little tables. Just click a seat at the table you like, and you can talk with and see your friends sitting at the same table!

Using Altar on Mobile

If you prefer to join our programs using a mobile device such as a phone or a tablet, you can download the Altar app from your device’s app store. You will be prompted to create an account (see above), then will be taken to a page where you can search for a community. Type “Ethical Society of St. Louis” into the search bar and select us in the results which come up. You’ll be added to our community and taken to the events page. From there, just tap an event to join!

Gathering Donations for Afghan Refugees: Tuesdays and Sundays in September

September 2, 2021

St. Louis is resettling 1,000 Afghan refugees, and the Ethical Society will be coordinating a collection of necessary resources for them during the month of September. You will be able to donate needed resources on Tuesdays from 10am-4pm and Sundays 9am-12pm – at all other times the Society is not fully open, so please restrict your donations to those times. They will then be taken to the International Institute for distribution to the families in need. If you prefer to donate money, you can do so by clicking here.

CLICK HERE to view a list of needed items.

Switching from Zoom to Altar

August 29, 2021

At the beginning of September, the Ethical Society of St. Louis will be switching its Sunday programming from Zoom to a new Online program, Altar Live. We will also be starting Platform at 10 a.m.

In order to join all our Online programming members are asked to register by clicking here. You can sign up for a free account that will enable you to join all our Sunday programs in the future – you should sign up for an account right away to make sure you don’t miss anything!

How to use Altar.

Why are we switching programs? Because Zoom was never designed to host community gatherings like ours, and is particularly poorly-suited to enable us to host in person gatherings which people also attend Online in real time. Altar Live is designed specifically for congregations who wish to integrate Online and in-person participants and enables us to do many new things which Zoom cannot do. For instance, with Altar you will be able to choose a row of the virtual auditorium to sit in and speak with friends during Platform, without interrupting the program. You will be able to chat with a virtual host who is designated the task of greeting visitors and making sure everyone feels welcome. And, you will be able to meet with groups of friends after Platform by choosing a table to sit at.

We will giving Altar a trial run September-December to see how it goes – if it doesn’t work well, we can always switch back to Zoom. Email Leader James Croft with questions.

Climate Action Now! Year in review 2020-21

August 28, 2021
Coordinating group: Cathy and Bob Pickard, Matthew Hile, Rachel Jones, Brian Vandenberg
Coordinating group: Cathy and Bob Pickard, Matthew Hile, Rachel Jones, Brian Vandenberg

Climate Action Now! (CAN!) Team Report to the Membership 2020-2021

Team Organizers: Brian Vandenberg, Matthew Hile, Rachel Jones, Bob Pickard, Cathy Pickard

Mission: To inform members and friends about problems and solutions relating to climate change and to inspire and support each other to take meaningful, concrete actions to address the climate crisis.

In 2020, the Society’s One Book selection was “Falter”, by Bill McKibben, which largely focused on the threats to humanity and earth’s other inhabitants from climate change. In response to the question, “So what do we do now?”, that arose at every discussion and Platform address on the subject, the CAN! Team was formed. (This team, of course, follows the good work of the Earth Ethics team and earlier environmentally-focused groups.) We have met, via ZOOM, since November 2020, on one Sunday morning each month at 9:30 AM. Our format features a presentation by an expert, followed by a Q & A session and, most importantly, concrete recommendations for follow-up action. A record of our 6 meetings thus far is posted on the Ethical Society website blog ( and includes all recommended action items plus resources for further investigation and research. This record is a valuable library that members can easily access and share with others who might be inspired to take action.

Our program topics and speakers:

So far, our members and friends have changed individual aspects of their personal behavior to lessen their environmental impact, donated money to selected environmental organizations, and communicated concerns to political representatives. We’ve even learned that two separate homeowners decided to install solar panels on their homes after attending a CAN! program on the subject. We are hopeful that many of these actions will have a ripple effect, promoting conversations with neighbors, co-workers, family and friends, growing awareness of the climate crisis, and encouraging more commitment to solution-oriented behavior.

CAN! materials

These materials have been prepared by the Society’s CAN! (Climate Action Now!) team. This post and its links do not express or imply an endorsement by the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.

Climate Action Now! Native Garden Tour

August 28, 2021
Bob describes the Pickard’s native garden projects.

Native garden tour at the home of Bob and Cathy Pickard closed the CAN! team’s inaugural season. Bob and Cathy have been planting native flowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees since 2015, cutting new beds and adding plant diversity every year since. The benefits of gardening with native plants, that is plants that are naturally occurring in the region in which they evolved, include:

  • Provide food, shelter, and a space to raise the young of animals (birds, insects, amphibians, mammals, …) with which they co-evolved.
  • Require less water, fertilizer and pesticides to grow and maintain.
  • Provide aesthetic value.
  • Can store CO2 and help in storm water management.
  • Gardening (native or otherwise) is good exercise.

Interested in learning more? Ready to dig in? Don’t know where to begin? Looking for a bit of guidance for your current efforts? Check out these resources.

  • Wild Ones St. Louis Chapter, a community of native gardeners who meet monthly to educate and support homeowners who wish to learn and develop their own native landscapes.
  • Grow Native! program from the Missouri Prairie Foundation includes a native plant database, sample garden designs, online learning opportunities, and more.
  • Shaw Nature Reserve, part of the Missouri Botanical Garden, located in Gray Summit, MO, where you can visit the Whitmire Wildflower Garden, hike on trails through prairie, woodlands, and wetlands, or engage in a multitude of learning opportunities.
  • Bring Conservation Home, a consultation service and certification program of the St. Louis Audubon Society.
  • Homegrown National Park, a grassroots call to action.

Where can I to purchase native plants, trees, and shrubs? These are sources Bob and Cathy used:

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Start small, then grow your habit as you create more habitat. 

CAN! materials

These materials have been prepared by the Society’s CAN! (Climate Action Now!) team. This post and its links do not express or imply an endorsement by the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.