Spring AEU Dialogue

March 18, 2008

The Spring ’08 issue of the American Ethical Union’s Dialogue newsletter is available online at Check it out for information about Ethical Culture’s national assembly in Austin in April, the college-age F.E.S. [Future of Ethical Societies] group meeting here in St. Louis in June, and words of wisdom from around the country on science, the environment, humanism, human rights, and, of course, ethics!


March 12, 2008

My partner, Bill, donated his old bike and bought a really nice refurbished one last night, from a really great place: St. Louis Bicycle Works. This unique non-profit bike shop recycles bikes in a program called Earn-a-Bike, in which local kids are taught bicycle mechanics and safety, and a whole lot more, and build themselves a bike to take home for free at the end. The folks at the shop also do a lot of service projects and seem like neighborhood ethical heroes. Kudos to them. If you have a bike to donate; would like to buy a bike and know your money is going to a great cause; know a kid who could benefit from gaining some skills, self-esteem, responsibility, and a bike they fixed up themselves; or can volunteer yourself as a mechanic and mentor (you don’t have to be a bike mechanic; they’ll teach you) check out BikeWorks!

They may be Baptists but don't want rising waters

March 10, 2008

Cheers for the Southern Baptist leaders who are urging positive action to fight global warming, as described in today’s article. And cheers for the Evangelical leaders who also seem to understand that if you believe nature is God’s creation, you ought to take really good care of it.

Boos to the backward-looking religious leaders (see the last paragraph of the cnn article) who are afraid that all this eco-evangelism will distract true believers from fighting against abortion rights and gay marriage. Come on, guys, let’s get together and save the planet. Then you can go back to trying to take away our human and civil rights.

Children and advertising

March 6, 2008

One of my favorite personal-finance blogs just reprinted an article by a woman who details how she “inoculated” her children against advertising. Check it out at Have you noticed your kids affected by the power of advertising? How have you handled it?


March 4, 2008

The word “spirituality” and its meaning came up again yesterday, and I was reminded of these two quotes by Felix Adler:

“The word spiritual becomes a synonym of muddy thought and misty emotionalism. If there were another word in the language to take its place, it would be well to use it. But there is not. We must use the word spiritual despite its associations and its abuse. . . .”

“Spirituality is the consciousness of infinite interconnectedness.”

One could argue that “infinite interconnectedness” is an example of muddy thought and misty emotionalism. But to me the important thing is that the emotional experience of wide and deep connection with others, whether a pointer to some other reality or “merely” an act of the imagination, motivates our ethical values and actions. So although I also dislike the word “spirituality,” I also use it on occasion.

Do you use the words “spirituality” or “spiritual”? And if so, what do you mean when you do? Or do you know? How do you feel when other people use them?

Evolution, purpose, and ethical atheism

March 1, 2008

They’re up! The podcasts of the two recent popular Sunday platform addresses by Ursula Goodenough and, well, me, are now up at Many have asked for written versions as well; Dr. Goodenough was kind enough to provide us with one, and I’m working on mine, so we should have those up on the podcasts page soon too. Thanks for your patience, everyone.

Since these platforms sparked so much discussion, I hope some of you will take advantage of our site to share your responses. Take a moment to check out the site; I know you all have a lot of opinions and some wonderful conversations could take place there.

Dark Sky

February 28, 2008

The comments in my last blog entry on the freethought billboards brought up the issue of billboards as visual pollution, which I hadn’t considered before, and it reminded me of a current discussion over whether the Ethical Society should light up our building at night. On the one hand, it’s a beautiful building, and it’s hard to find and see at night since it’s down a hill, and lighted buildings seem safer. And “everyone else is doing it”–all the surrounding congregations have their buildings lit at night. On the other hand, it would increase our carbon footprint and add light pollution to the night sky.

A group called Dark Sky promotes downward-pointing, minimal safety lighting to decrease light pollution and increase our connection to the night sky and our knowledge of the stars. For more information, see Apparently there’s even a National Dark Sky Week, this year March 29 to April 4–so if you’ve been thinking of adding or modifying outside lighting at your home or business, keep this in mind. I grew up in Manhattan and although I was able to leave the city fairly often, I had friends who never saw more than 5 stars for their entire childhoods. That seems sad, and it must effect how people think about our relationship with nature.

Don't believe in god? Then get off your cell phone and drive.

February 25, 2008

I just came back from a retreat with the National Leaders Council and from giving my “Atheism Anonymous” address at the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County, NJ, which is a great group with a thriving Sunday School and excellent ethical action projects, most notably their political-asylum-seekers sanctuary program.

While I was at Bergen, I heard a short presentation by one of the founders of, a group that puts up billboards around the country that say: “Don’t believe in god? You are not alone” and that direct people to their website, which seems to be a networking site for freethinkers/agnostics/atheists/humanists to find local groups, donate to more billboards, etc. I was asked if there would be interest in St. Louis in such a billboard. What do you think? I like the idea of simply reassuring those who don’t believe in God that there are many other people like them and that they should not feel guilty or isolated for their beliefs. And the billboard design is simple and positive (you can see it on the site). However, thought the website tends toward the positive, as well, it could strike many people as more anti-religious due to some wording and the prominent advertising of the recent anti-religion best-sellers.

What do you think? How would freethoughtaction’s billboards be received in your town? How would you feel seeing them on your drive home today? Do you think mass advertising can help the relative invisibility of atheists in American culture?


February 19, 2008

Hi Everyone,

I was fighting off a cold last week and haven’t had many coherent blog-worthy thoughts, but since our last two Sunday platforms were so popular, I just wanted you to know that they will be up on the podcast page soon, and we will also have written versions available on the site.

For those who weren’t there, the addresses were Ursula Goodenough on understanding purpose and meaning in evolution, and yours truly on atheism. (If you haven’t yet heard Dave Mampel on communicating with children, be sure to check him out as well!)

To tide you over, here’s a nice interview with Ursula on beliefnet.

I haven’t been interviewed by beliefnet yet, so here’s a completely irrelevant link to video of the NPR interview with Cookie Monster; just because it helps me forget it’s not spring yet.

"Blood on the postcard"–Kenya

February 12, 2008

Ethical Leader Arthur Dobrin, who has long-time ties to Kenya, has an article in Newsday about the current situation there, the news from his Kenyan friends, and the agony of watching the crisis from afar. You can read his article here.

Ethics on the radio

February 11, 2008

The North Carolina Society for Ethical Culture, which I had a great time visiting a couple weekends ago, sponsors a weekly local radio show on ethics, hosted by member James Coley. James and his guests cover a wide variety of topics in the one-hour discussions, and the shows that I’ve heard are of a high level and applicable to people of many beliefs. You can hear the show podcasts at

(Also, the Ethical Society of St. Louis 2/3 podcast of Dave Mampel has been fixed. Thanks to SS.)

Kirkwood tragedy

February 8, 2008

The shooting death last night of several of our citizens is shocking and hard to comprehend, and especially sad because those who died and were injured were there last night to serve the public good, on the police force and in city government.

When something so tragic happens, there is an impulse to jump to problem-solving and talk of gun access, treatment for the mentally ill, etc. These are conversations we should have. But in the immediate aftermath, we need to concentrate on caring for each other and the families who have lost loved ones, to rebuild our trust in the goodness of life.

I know many feel that the world has gone crazy, because an unfortunate side-effect of our shrinking world is that we hear and see so much more violence than people ever have in history. Yet in reality we are becoming a less violent people, and we can try to take some comfort in that. Still, when violence takes away those we know and love, statistics are irrelevant. So let us reach out to our neighbors with extra kindness this weekend, and make the world a more welcoming place.

Moving our ethical currency around

February 4, 2008

The podcast of my recent talk, “Spending Our Ethical Currency,” is now up on our audio library page.

This morning I heard the Ethical Society Nursery School kids playing downstairs, and an adult voice said, “This isn’t a ‘We got it’ game; this is a ‘Let’s move it’ game.”

I don’t know what they were playing, but it sounded a lot like what I said in my platform about keeping our currencies moving by spending our money, time, and energy on things that will help create the society we want, rather than simply feathering the nests we have now.

So don’t forget, if you’re a member of the Society, to send in your yearly pledge. If you’re not a member, make a pledge to whatever organization makes you most hopeful. Let’s move it.

Knowledge versus habit

February 1, 2008

I had my first minor fall on my scooter this week—I fell over at a stop sign, having forgotten that (1) slight drizzle is actually more dangerous than heavy rain, as it brings oil to the surface of the road without washing it away (or something—don’t quote me on that science); and (2) two-wheeled vehicles should always ride in the right or left tire-tracks of cars, not smack in the middle of the road, where oil tends to collect.

I’m fine—a couple bruises, and I had to get the scooter’s front tire re-aligned. My ego will take the longest to heal. It’s ironic that I had my first accident the day after talking in my Sunday address about scooting in inclement weather, but less ironic in that my accident was an example of the power of habit over knowledge, which I also talked about last Sunday. I “know”—that is, I’ve been told and have read—to be extra careful when it’s drizzling and to stay away from the middle of the road. But apparently safe riding habits hadn’t made it into my muscle memory yet, as Monday I was enjoying the mild day and thinking about what books I would look for at the library, and next thing I knew I was on the ground. Nothing like a few bruises to make a muscle memory and to drive home better habits.

Most life lessons get learned the hard way, I guess. I know that I changed my habits of interacting with others only after hurting a lot of feelings and suffering a lot of painful misunderstandings. I often wonder what it takes to wake people up from their habitual way of living to confront problems—rising sea levels? What about you—had any wake-up calls lately?

20% less meat = a Prius?

January 28, 2008

“Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius.” From “Re-Thinking the Meat Guzzler” in this weekend’s NY Times.

We can’t all afford a hybrid car, but almost all of us can eat 20% less meat–especially since the average American gets more than twice as much protein as necessary.

Isn’t it nice when we can do good so easily?

New Ethics Project podcast project

January 25, 2008

Ethical Culture Leader Arthur Dobrin has started a new project of short recordings by people from all walks of life, describing an ethical dilemma they faced, how they thought about it, what they did, and what happened. There are five stories up so far. Check out the podcasts, and if you would like to contribute to this project with a recording of your own ethical dilemma (no more than 5 minutes), contact Arthur at Arthur.B.Dobrin[at]

Ethical Humanist of the Year deadline this Friday

January 22, 2008

While it’s important to remember and honor Dr. Martin Luther King, we should also remember and honor those living individuals who today are dedicating their time and talent to affirming the worth and dignity of all people. If you know of such a person or group in the St. Louis area, nominate them for the 2008 Ethical Humanist of the Year Award. The deadline is this Friday, and information, past recipients, and nomination forms are on our website, Let’s celebrate good work while the workers are still alive, for once.

Ethical Culture in the News

January 14, 2008

Check out “Where Religious Freedom Has Special Meaning,” an interesting article in the Bergen Record about Joe Chuman, the New Jersey Ethical Leader who gave us such an inspiring Sunday morning address in December. Do you agree with Joe that non-believers are made to feel lesser than other Americans? If you’re a non-believer, or a non-traditional believer, what has been your experience?

Also, the reporter calls Ethical Culture an alternative to religion; others call it an alternative religion. As a member or just someone who’s come across this site, what’s your opinion? Or does the question just split hairs?

A few thoughts on marriage and kids

January 9, 2008

This first-person article in the current Newsweek pretty much sums up my attitudes about marriage. It implies a little more scorn for the married than necessary, but some defensiveness is hard to avoid for those who choose to buck a strong societal trend. This month Billy and I will celebrate our 12th anniversary as a couple. We are not married and have no plans to get married any time soon, pretty much for the reasons outlined in the article. Nor do we have plans to have children any time soon, mostly because we just don’t particularly want to have children, partly because it’s never been a good time in our lives to have children, and partly because if you don’t really want to have children, it seems to me that it’s better for the earth not to have them. I was struck by the article writer’s fostering of a teenager who came into her life–in the back of my mind I think that something similar may happen to me some day, given the number of kids who need parents. Maybe that belief is why I’ve not yet heard any ticking biological clocks (I’m 37).

St. Louis Magazine goes green

January 8, 2008

St Louis Magazine’s current issue is dedicated to Green living, and I’m honored to be included in their list of environmental advocates, alongside some truly impressive folks. You can read the whole issue if you pick it up at the newsstand, and you can read some excepts at their website, Check out in particular the “Web Exclusive” article on activists Kay and Leo Drey. I particularly like the part where Kay says “I don’t give up; except on Mondays. . . .” That seems real. (By the way, the “Luddite’s Delight” article on living sustainably for a month might seem like one of those “Look how impossible it is to live perfectly Green, so forget about it” stories, but keep reading; it’s got a positive conclusion.)