Our Statement of Purpose
Ethical Culture’s 1980 Statement of Purpose: Its Antecedents and How To Describe What We Are Today
At first it may seem odd to devote a platform discussion to Ethical Culture’s Statement of Purpose. Every week we find the four, pithy paragraphs on the back of our Sunday Meeting brochure. In addition, the Presider often reads them. I suspect that most of us accept these succinct statements and would find that they capture the essence of Ethical Culture.
Nonetheless, after reviewing the Statement of Purpose closely one week, I saw that there were several key terms that could be interpreted in a variety of ways. I thought that the Statement could be fodder for a Socrates Café discussion at some point. This stimulated me to some research and to ascertain if all Ethical Societies and the American Ethical Union all used this same Statement of Purpose. After reviewing the web pages of twenty-four Societies and our national organization, I found that some referred to the Statement on their websites, but the majority did not. I also asked Marc Bernstein, our national archivist, to provide some nineteenth and early twentieth century formulations of Ethical Culture’s essential features. Between the web search and Marc’s findings, I was impressed by the variety of lucid descriptions.
In fact, I amassed over seventy pages of material. This embarrassment of riches raised some questions: How can we easily convey what Ethical Culture means to newcomers, to friends or to our children, given such abundance? We could also question if the four-part statement we have used for the past twenty-five years does justice to all the facets of Ethical Culture contained in those seventy odd pages.
A need to balance a complete picture of Ethical Culture with a reasonable summary is not a new challenge. The various websites have documented many attempts. For example, in addition to the four-part Statement of Purpose that we use, I found:
The Top Ten Reasons Ethical Culture May be Right for You
Nine Principles of Union (1912)
Eight Commitments of Ethical Culture (2001)
A Seven-Part Vision of Ethical Culture (2003)
Seven Basic Ethical Concepts (1991)
Four Principles of Ethical Culture and
Three Reverences (by Felix Adler)
(See Appendix at the end for the text of each of the above)
The breadth and thoughtfulness of these distillations are wonderful, but interestingly, they did not necessarily overlap. Some important elements were in some but not all. Some were excellent conceptual outlines, but even these did not include all of the important elements of Ethical Culture that my web search uncovered.
This morning my goals are modest because I cannot claim the eloquence expressed within the numerous descriptions of Ethical Culture. As a result, other than editing here and there, I will be adding very little to the material I collected on my Internet journey.
However, in the next 30 minutes I will try to accomplish the following:
First, I’ll present as clear a statement about Ethical Culture as I can convey in 3 sentences (or approximately 20 seconds). It will be, in effect, a so-called “elevator speech” that may be useful to the casual inquirer or a child wanting to know, at least superficially, what Ethical Culture is.
Second, I’ll present a general framework consisting of four key areas, each containing three different and essential aspects of Ethical Culture. I will basically try to characterize Ethical Culture by 12 non-overlapping concepts, phrases or individual terms.
Last, I’ll review some of the best descriptions I found by organizing them under one of these 12 concept areas.
While I do not expect anyone here to discover anything terribly surprising about such a familiar subject as Ethical Culture, I think it is always helpful to re-conceptualize what we are doing from time to time. Besides, since few of us have the opportunity to meet with members from other Ethical Societies throughout the country, I hope hearing what their leaders and others have written will prove a useful way of benefiting from their creativity and intelligence. In addition, I hope this review may stimulate us to consider new areas for program development at our Bergen Society.
The Elevator Speech
As I said, let’s first turn to an Ethical Culture elevator speech:
Ethical Culture is a religion centered on ethics, not theology, whose mission is to create a better world for all and to respect the sacredness of humanity and Nature. Its members are committed to personal ethical development in their relationships with others and in activities involving social action and environmental stewardship. Ethical Societies provide a supportive community to help its members fulfill these ethical commitments.
While this isn’t all there is, it conveys in three sentences the most basic aspects. I actually used this statement in a recent discussion with a woman whose son is at the Fieldston School. She is not a member of Ethical Culture but she said, after hearing my brief description, that she could better understand the spectrum of activities his ethics classes were engaged in. She indicated that she could also see how the design of his curriculum related to the broader context of Ethical Culture’s mission. I took her insight as a reasonable confirmation that I was on to something.
Twelve Key Concepts
As I mentioned, in paring down the many pages of material, all of the statements could be placed into four broad but distinct categories, each of which has three key terms or phrases. I would express the four overall areas of Ethical Culture’s mission as follows:
(1) Ethical Culture is a religion centered on ethics. It holds all humans and Nature to be sacred. Ethical Culture supports a scientific view of reality and does not require nor does it exclude those with faith in the supernatural or in an afterlife.
(2) Ethical Culture expects members to make a continual commitment to ethical self-development, a commitment to treating others as ends and not just as means and a commitment to bringing out the best in others.
(3) Ethical Culture holds that moral growth must involve life-long learning, working with others in social action projects to create a more just world and taking responsibility for environmental stewardship to make the planet better for future generations.
(4) Ethical Societies are democratic and participatory. They enable Ethical Culture to create welcoming and caring communities and help its members fulfill the Society’s mission.
What I’ll do now is review these four in more depth by organizing a sampling of descriptive passages about Ethical Culture under the three key words or phrases within each these four statements.
Turning to the first phrase in the first category:
1A. Ethical Culture is a religion centered on ethics
The following statements expanded upon the key ideas:
While the germ of ethical religion is at least as old as civilization, it nevertheless remained for the founders of Ethical Culture to make explicit the idea of ethics as the supreme principle and to build a movement on that sole foundation.
The Ethical Movement shares the ethical heritage and ethical concern for people with other great religions, but we were the “first movement of national and international scope to develop an ethical, social and religious philosophy on a non-creedal, non-theistic basis.” (STATEMENT ON ETHICAL HUMANISM, 1965)
Our shared FAITH is in the centrality of ethics. By placing deed before creed, we mean Ethical Humanism’s starting point is ethics, not speculative theology.
We do not find the source of ethics in a divine authority but in the human condition. What is right or wrong, good or bad is so because it fosters the development of what is best in life. Human intelligence and compassion are the sources and human experience is the sanction of ethics. We believe that morality is independent of theology.
ETHICS is at the heart of all worldwide faiths. This common ground exists because ethics are more than social conventions, manners, or customs. The ethical teachings of the world’s great religions, discovered through centuries of pain and progress, define the conditions necessary for human beings to thrive individually and collectively.
We define ETHICS not simply and solely in terms of what is right or wrong, but in the larger sense of what is good and what is true.
Ethical Culture is a “Religion” because it refers to:
1. The reverence, wonder, and thankfulness with which we take our place in the universe.
2. The sense of a larger whole of which we are a part.
3. The organization of communities that generate values and meaning and seek fellowship in pursuit of ideals.
4. The passionate devotion to the cause of serving the good of humanity and the world.
5. A way of life that integrates our values and gives ethical direction and resources for ethical living.
Some members of the Ethical Movement to whom the word “religion” is association with creeds, rituals, supernaturalism and sectarianism prefer not to use the word “religious” as descriptive of the Movement. Since increasing numbers no longer believe and worship in traditional ways, the Ethical Movement performs an important function in offering a free platform and a free fellowship for the unchurched.
The second idea within the first overall category was:
1B. Ethical Culture holds Humans and Nature to be Sacred
By sacred, we mean all humans are inviolable, unique, irreplaceable, intrinsically valued and that the dignity and moral worth of human personality should always be respected as the supreme end in view, the summum bonum, the supreme good to be sought. This is independent of a person’s contribution or potential contribution to our lives. Similarly, Nature should be respected, cherished and revered and not abused when used for human needs. This leads us to commitments to engage in conservation and regeneration of natural resources.
We speak not of worship but of reverence both for the finest expressions of human dignity, spirit and creativity and for the nurturing and inspiring natural world.
The final notion needing expansion was
1C. Ethical Culture does not require nor does it exclude those with faith in the supernatural or a belief in afterlife
As humanists we face the same awesome questions of existence as everyone else, but we look for answers to our own experiences and those of other people, both present and past, rather than to the supernatural. We do not ask whether you believe in a supreme being or believe in any one scripture as the source of absolute truth or believe in an afterlife or another world. There is no set ritual or form of worship. Our concern is with ethical actions for their own value, not because of a belief in a deity. The affirmation or denial of theistic definition and faith is for each individual to make for himself or herself.
By refusing to formulate or require acceptance of a fixed and final doctrine, the Ethical Movement strives to keep open-ended the quest for truth. Human beings will always differ in their interpretations of life and their need for intellectual and aesthetic formulations and ceremonial expressions of the meaning of life. It is doubtful whether all people will ever agree on one world religion. It would mean an end to religious freedom. It would rob humankind of one of its most valuable assets, the pluralism of the many religions and philosophies which contribute to the interplay of human differences and of human development.
The second conceptual area included three ideas, the first of which was:
2A. A commitment to ethical self-development
There is no clearly delineated path toward ethical maturation but joining an Ethical Society is one step to making a commitment. It must be regarded as a tacit avowal of the desire to develop one’s ethical personality.
The second concept was:
2B. A commitment to treating others as ends and not just as means
In Ethical Culture, we emphasize the common humanity that joins people, rather than the divisions of creed or class or nationality. Our boundaries of concern go well beyond our immediate families to our communities, our country and the whole world.
Ethical Culture encourages a more ethically engaged life, which accepts the inherent worth and uniqueness of each individual, independent of past history or future potential to contribute to society. This means treating everyone as ends and not just as means.
The latter involves:
1. Listening to others with acceptance and trust
2. Appreciating the unique qualities of those whom we know well
3. Recognizing the growth potential of everyone
4. Being truthful with each other
5. Treat others with fairness and kindness
6. Honoring commitments and promises
7. Honoring personal confidentiality
8. Behaving in a constructive, non-inflammatory way toward others
9. Not judging each other harshly
10. Refraining from lying, verbally abusing, constantly blaming, and cruelly criticizing
11. Refraining from criminal actions or engaging in hurtful activities such as intimidation or coercion.
12. Having faith in the ability of people to do wonderful things
13. Supporting others even when we disagree with them
14. Respecting cultural differences
The last idea was
2C. A commitment to bringing out the best in others
By the “best in each person,” we refer to the unique talents and abilities that affirm and nurture life and to the love, hope, and empathy that exists in humanity.
The commitment entails bringing out the best in one’s family, friends and others and to work on activities to create a more humane world and thereby developing one’s own ethical potential.
As Bertrand Russell would quip about the Golden Rule, do not do unto others what you would have them do unto you, because their tastes may be different! Adler believed we can avoid the problem of projecting our personal moral egocentricity upon others by recognizing the unique personal difference of each and to conduct ourselves as to encourage the fullest development of the special gifts and distinctive, positive attributes of other, that is, the as-yet untapped but inexhaustible worth in each of us.
The first idea in the third area referenced
3A. Life-long learning
We are a learning community where children and adults are engaged in the examination of their own lives and those of their community. Ethical societies are life-long learning laboratories in which knowledge from fields such as art, psychology, sociology, education, philosophy and other cultures are explored through reflection, dialogue and practice.
Members are constantly learning and teaching each other how their ethical commitments can be actualized in their daily life.
We study science and the humanities to understand and enrich our understanding of what it means to be human in this world. Similarly we learn through speakers, theater, film, travel and art-related projects.
The Ethical Society may offer some or all of the following ways of cultivating ethical personality through lectures, courses, support groups and other ethical explorations:
1. Meditating and self-reflection: these are critical activities for moral development. They require time and openness to our imperfections and our continual search for ethical self-improvement.
2. Living mindfully about how we impact on others and the world.
3. Improving our ability to communicate with others constructively, listening empathically and sharing from the heart. This includes conflict resolution skill development.
4. Fostering emotional intelligence and expanded ways of feeling and nurturing others through adult and child and adolescent educational programs.
5. Learning to forgive and seek forgiveness to recognize our frailties as humans.
6. Improving our ability to engage in effective social action.
The second concept was:
3B. Social Action
The principal spiritual practice for engaging life and the principle of inherent worth is through action. Our focus is not to profess ideals as beliefs but to embody these ideals by our actions to promote freedom, dignity, justice, mercy and compassion. Ethical Culture is about social transformation in the light of ethical values.
When individuals are denied the possibility of claiming their own identity, lack the means for self-determination, are barred access to the means for self-fulfillment, or are discriminated against because they are outside the mainstream of community, we should be there working with them. It is our belief that by working closely with others, we gain an awareness of life that goes beyond our own boundaries. We find new pools of strength, hope, courage and understanding.
The final idea involved:
3C. Environmental Stewardship
Affirmation of the worth of all people cannot be separated from protection of the environment and biodiversity on which the quality of life depends. The nature world gives us life and inspires our profoundest recognition and respect for the interrelated destiny of all people and our planet.
The 4th major area noted that
4A. Ethical Societies are democratic and participatory
We deeply believe in democratic process and foster it everywhere: in society at large, in our personal and business lives and in our Ethical Culture societies and fellowships.
Members have an obligation to help the Society achieve its tasks and goals by:
1. Respecting the group’s leadership
2. Starting and ending all meetings on time
3. Contributing time and money to support the Society’s goals
The second key statement was:
4B. Ethical Societies are welcoming communities
We are a nurturing, open fellowship where the unique individuality of each is shaped within the interactions of mature, authentic relationships.
At first glance, Ethical Societies seem bare and lacking adornment. This simplicity is intentional, as it allows all to feel welcomed and to emphasize that the space is less important than the activity that takes place in it. Rather than calling ourselves a church or temple, or using religious language that may suggest that only one kind of belief is permitted, we purposely call our communities “Societies,” our clergy are called “Leaders,” and on Sundays we hold services, often called “Platforms.”
We do not indoctrinate, but study, learn and act
We are a humanistic community of individuals passionately committed to living ethical lives that affirm the worth and dignity of every person (regardless of religious creed, ethnic origin, race, gender, age or sexual orientation)
Ethical Societies celebrate and are strengthened by diversity since these enhances our potential for learning about what it means to be human in this world.
Ethical Societies support activities and traditions that help each member to create a more fully committed and joyful ethical self.
The final key phrase was:
4C. Ethical Societies are caring communities
We are a caring, evolving community where a person’s inner life is cultivated and where his or her joys, sorrows, and dreams are shared and appreciated.
Our primary stance toward human existence is positive, even while we recognize the sorrow and tragedy in life. Our sense of the uniqueness and richness of human life, of how much life has to offer us and we have to offer each other, creates a sense of appreciation and celebration that we express individually and in community.
We celebrate the birth of new life, commitments of love, and the accomplishments of individuals and groups. We commemorate the passing of life by celebrating the contribution of departed members.
We help members balance their personal lives with their other ethical commitments.
My main goal this morning was to organize a large number of eloquent phrases from many leaders and others who have made important contributions to describing the distinct characteristics of Ethical Culture. I hope you heard their voices and wisdom expressed clearly through the particular sampling of a larger corpus of Ethical Culture’s written archive.
I also hope that this four-part framework with its twelve key categories will prove useful to better understand the broad spectrum of ideas and activities that define our heritage as it has evolved over the past century and a quarter.
Top Ten Reasons Ethical Culture May be Right for You
10 We believe that human life is most meaningful when lived ethically.
9 Our religion involves personal growth, not dogma.
8 Our relationships with fellow humans are more important than whether or not we agree about the existence of a supreme being.
7 We help our children develop and internalize their own code of ethics to draw upon when faced with difficult choices.
6 Deed is more important than creed.
5 We celebrate life’s joys and support each other through life’s crises.
4 We work together to improve our world and the world of our children.
3 Reason, compassion, and responsibility are central to our communities.
2 We strive to protect the earth upon which we are dependents.
1 We affirm the worth, the dignity, and the uniqueness of every human being.
Nine Principles of Union (1912)
[I] In all the relations of life the moral factor should be the supreme consideration.
No other movement of thought has ever made ethics central to its philosophy. This is the focal point of vision and stands opposed to biological determinism, individualistic hedonism, and any art or ritual for its own sake.
Supernatural sanctions are unnecessary and supernatural help is explicable in terms of access to psychological energies, not an outside source. “A movement does not become ,distinctively ethical, and therefore does not deserve to be so designated, unless the sanctions to character which are appealed to are purely humanistic and naturalistic”  Knowledge of the right has been evolving. We start with the moral obligations already reached and advocate a progressive ideal.
No other religious group acknowledges that righteousness is earthborn and subject to development as the human will strives for self-fulfillment. This is basic to the Ethical Movement. We build on the past (unlike the anarchist innovator) but move beyond the past (upheld by the traditionalist).  The individual considers the convictions of others but finds final authority on any opinion or action in his or her own conscientious and reasoned judgment.
Authority has its place only in service to freedom and may be opposed in the name of freedom, but freedom of conscience can only be counted on to advance ethical behavior when ethical ignorance has been overcome by ethical education to secure a “reasoned judgment.”  The well-being of society requires economic and other conditions that afford the largest scope for moral development of all its members.
Social conditions may thwart moral growth. Ethical religion is concerned with the whole life of the person and needs to address the social order. We have had “enough of a religion which operates only on Sundays, and has no guidance for the six days of constructive toil by which the world is kept going.” And, further, “ethical religion is on the side of the outcast poor in their claim for conditions in which the moral life can breathe and live.”  The scientific method should be applied in studying the facts of the moral life.
Though still rudimentary, a science of ethics is urged that we may understand moral ideals as “actualities,” as “facts,” that have a universal validity. We cannot yet give a “fully filled-in map of life,” but we are active investigators.  The moral life involves neither acceptance nor rejection of belief in any deity, personal or impersonal, or in a life after death.
The concept of the good life finds its origin in the nature of humans as social and rational beings. The primal, survival instincts and the powers of the human mind, still largely not opened up, are the “resources to which humanistic religion may appeal.” We need neither supernaturalism, spiritualism, or an afterlife to empower us.  The acceptance of any one ultimate criterion of right should not be made a condition of ethical fellowship.
This is the principle of Ethical Catholicity. It recognizes that there are principles of right action, for we are not relativistic, but that no one ethical theory can command our allegiance or require our submission.  Ethical Fellowships are the powerful means of encouraging the knowledge and love of right principles of conduct and of giving the strength of character necessary to realize them in action.
We do not believe that moral sensibility can grow in isolation. Reading books cannot do it. “Ethical fellowship is essential to the full development of moral personality.” Such fellowship introduces us to a wider variety of persons; in it each person deserves respect; the weak are helped by the strong; the spoken word vivifies the soul, and the group-spirit enlarges individual selfhood. “It is the duty of an ethical fellowship to be a powerhouse, generating currents of energy which stimulate the intelligence, the idealism, and the will-to-service of all who belong to it.”
Eight Commitments of Ethical Culture (AEU and Lois Kathleen Kellerman, Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, revised 2001)
1. Ethics is central.
The most central human issue in our lives involves creating a more humane environment.
Ethical Culture is an aspirational movement dedicated to cultivating the ethical life through the building of caring communities. Ethical Societies focus on humanity and are radically ethics-centered. They are intergenerational, and committed to life-span ethical learning. The choice to enter an Ethical Society in many cases is a choice to “swim against the current” of modern social trends. Members of Ethical Societies believe that the most important thing for members to do is to create more caring communities
2. Ethics begins with choice.
Creating a more humane environment begins by affirming the need to make significant choices in our lives.
One may live within the acceptable moral codes of one’s world, and be considered a good person. But until we begin to choose our commitments and be truthful we cannot be said to be fully living an ethical life. The choice to join an Ethical Society comes at a point when reasonable maturity has been achieved. The decision to join should be fully volitional. It affirms the intention to continue how to choose helpful attitudes and behaviors instead of hurtful ones at every level of interaction.
3. We choose to treat each othe as ends, not merely means.
To enable us to be whole in a fragmented world, we choose to treat each other as unique individuals having intrinsic worth.
The essence of Ethical Culture is the belief that every person is uniquely precious and irreplaceable. The first decision we make is how to relate in general to one another. The most helpful attitude needed to create a caring community is an attitude of respect for everyone. This includes listening with trust and acceptance, and behaving in constructive non-inflammatory ways. It means not treating one another as object’s of one’s ambition, and supporting oneself and others in being ends in themselves
4. We seek to act with integrity.
Treating one another as ends requires that we learn to act with integrity. This includes keeping commitments, and being more open, honest, caring, and responsive.
When a person chooses to belong to an Ethical Society, that person is making some very specific commitments that relate to the way he or she acts. While all of us realize we are “not there yet” in any full ethical sense, still, when we are voted in as members of an Ethical Society we have willingly relinquished some of our anarchistic impulses in order to honor the integrity of community life. This includes our right to say whatever we want to say whenever we want to say it. This is done not in the spirit of repression or mindless conformity, but rather to assure that the baseline conditions for productive ethical group interactions are met. These conditions includes: evolving a culture of trust rather than paranoia so that we can safely explore what it means to be ethical, and, modeling the ethical principles we have developed by the way we interact.
We commit to treating one another with fairness and kindness and to keep our promises to one another and be truthful with each other. We agree to not harshly judge each other, and to listen, and give each other space for response. We agree not to let the unethical aspects of the world all around us creep into our midsts. This of course includes refraining from the acts of urban chaos that haunt us, including asault, theft, vandalism, tampering with or altering records, posessing or using weapons, posessing, using, selling, or distributing illegal drugs, and engaging in such hurtful activities as intimidation or coercion. In the rare event any of these things might occur among us, we support a policy of suspension with interventions aimed at setting firm boundaries for the future.
We will also personally refrain from lying, harassing, libeling, profaning, and engaging in continuous verbal abuse such as constant blaming, cruel criticizing, attacking, threatening, labeling, and ridiculing. We will refrain from disrupting groups, since we are a voluntary community committed to developing a deeply ethical ethos.
In group meetings we are committed to supporting one another even when we disagree. We will attend to the process as well as the content of our meeting. Toward this end, we agree to speak from our own experience, to refrain from putdowns and constant advice, to honor personal confidentiality and cultural differences, to accept our responsibility to help get our own needs met, and to help the group stay on the agreed upon tasks. We will honor the designated leadership of any group, and keep our commitments to begin all meetings and end all meetings on time.
5. We are committed to educate ourselves.
Personal progress is possible, both in wisdom and social life. Learning how to build ethical relationships and cultivate a humane community is a life-long endeavor.
The Ethical Society enters into a life-span partnership with its members, helping develop resources for continued ethical growth in the context of a caring community. Members commit to mastering the basic tenets of the Ethical Movement in order to create a common ground for discourse. Members are constantly exploring how their ethical commitments can be actualized in their daily lives. The epistemology favors the value of complexity, and emphasizes a learning style of mutuality.
6. Self-reflection and our social nature require us to shape a more humane world.
Growth of the human spirit is rooted in self-reflection, but can only come to full flower in community. This is because people are social, needing both primary relationships and larger supportive groups to become fully human. Our social nature requires that we reach beyond ourselves to decrease the suffering and increase creativity in the world.
Both active comtemplation and contemplative action enrich the storehouse of response to the human condition. This assures a broad base of continuous perspective-taking, and numerous structures for actualizing commitments.
7. Democratic process is essential to our task.
The democratic process is essential to a humane social order because respect for the worth of persons requires a process which elicits and allows a greater expression of human capacities.
The best way to create a caring community is to behave in groups in a way that encourages everyone to participate. Then the agreements we make will be more binding.
8. Life itself inspires “religious” response.
Although awareness of impending death intensifies the human quest for meaning, the mystery of life itself, and the need to belong, are the primary factors motivating human “religious” response.
Creating a more caring community helps us to experience life as deeply meaningful. Then we can celebrate the fact that we belong to a group that cares, and face life’s joys and sorrows together. We can appreciate one another, and affirm that we are walking the same path.
Seven Part Vision of Ethical Culture: a Statement of Ethical Religion, Leaders’ Council of the AEU, 2003
1. We are a humanistic community of individuals passionately committed to living ethical lives that affirm the worth and dignity of every person and that respect the integrity of the natural world.
2. We strive to understand human experience and to bring out the best in the human spirit. We celebrate the good life—the joy found in creative involvement with the human community and the natural world.
3. We are a nurturing, open fellowship where the unique individuality of each is shaped within the interactions of mature, authentic relationships. We are a caring evolving community where a person’s inner life is cultivated ad where his or her joys, sorrows and dreams are shared and appreciated.
4. We are a community that believes in the Ethical Culture religion and is committed to the Ethical Culture project—spreading the word that a life of ethical commitment is not just sufficient for meaningful living but is quite possibly the best there can be. It is an environment that confronts the commercialism and amorality of contemporary society with an optimistic vision of moral engagement.
5. Ethical Culture calls all people to more decent lives that take into consideration the lives of others and is dedicated to social justice. This group has a public face that promotes values to the larger community.
6. We are a learning community where children and adults are engaged in the examination of their won lives and those of their community.
7. We are a community with accepted practices that reflect our commitment to the worth of each person and the group, practices that create a climate of equality befitting our commitment to the growth and fulfillment of each person.
Seven Basic Ethical Concepts (AEU and Joseph Chuman, 1991)
1. Religion as Ethics
We are philosophically and practically committed to a view of humanity as Homo ethicus. That is, we see all of life primarily through an ethical lens and we live all of life primarily in pursuit of quality of relationship and of social transformation. We define ourselves in terms of a commitment to study, promote, live by, and apply ethical values. We value care and respect for the individual, the pursuit of justice in society, and the creation of community.
2. Ethics as Praxis
All the great religions and philosophies of life require that theory and practice go hand in hand, but again and again history witnesses to the loss of focus on behavior through conflict over creedal elaborations or orthodoxies of ritual or questions of true identity. Ethical Culture not only gives a primacy to ethical action over creed or ritual, but finds in the lived experience of eliciting the best the raw material out of which theory develops.
3. Sources of Ethics
We draw our ethical values from the moral heritage of the great religions, the insights of the moral philosophers, the moral wisdom of our social traditions, the shared insights of our groups, research into human and animal behavior, and the reasoning, experience, and sensibility each of us develops in -confronting ourselves and in engagement with the needs and challenges of the world.
4. A Lived Attitude
We define ethics not simply and solely in terms of what is right or wrong, but in the larger sense of what is good and what is true. Our ethics is not just a debate about morality but a lived attitude of respect for the worth of others and of ourselves. That is why it escapes being defined by any creedal formulation. It is always a “raid on the inarticulate,” (in T.S. Eliot’s phrase), a quest.
5. The Individual and the Community
In our ethical view, each person is an independent center of learning and sharing-an independent center, to be respected and valued as such, so that no one can lord it over another in thought or behavior; and yet a center for learning and sharing, because the goal of the individual is completion in interaction with others. We seek a creative balance between the fulfillment of the individual and the good of the community.
Therefore, essentially and strategically, we seek to operate within the wider community as a society and not only as individuals. Unlike some others of humanist persuasion, we are deliberately and firmly committed to a congregational way of existing and functioning. Each society is a microcosm of and springboard to the wider community.
7. The Whole Person
While laying great stress on the rational mind as the processing agent of reality, our ethics is as large as the human mind, as large as human experience, and as large as human community. Our ethics is understood and expressed emotionally as much as rationally. It finds its lineaments in art as well as science. It is hewn and honed as much in the marketplace of social change as in the cloistered study of philosophical thought. It pursues the Greek ideal of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, as well as the Hebrew ideal of social righteousness and the Christian ideal of inwardly motivated love for the outcast and even for the enemy. It is open to Oriental religious traditions as to modern Western movements. But it embodies what it takes from all these traditions in its own frame of reference. it has a sense of the human being and human community as constituted by a power to choose and, having choice, to be thrust inevitably into making choices in the light of ethical principle and ethical experience. We begin, continue, and end with the human as Homo ethicus.
Four Principles of Ethical Culture
1. Every person has inherent worth; each person is unique.
We affirm the dignity and worth of all human beings, however different their abilities or backgrounds. Worth is independent of the idea of value. Value is dependent upon the contribution a person makes to society while worth exists independent of productivity. From the idea of universal human worth follows the right of every person to food, shelter, clothing, health, safety, education, work, play, respect, and affection. Every person is unique and different, and the development of each person is related to nurturing his/her distinct qualities and talents.
2. It is our responsibility to improve the quality of life for ourselves and others.
We connect personal and social ethics by recognizing the principle of reciprocity in human relations. We affirm that any action which brings out the distinctive worth in others brings out the distinctive worth in one’s self; also, any action which demeans others demeans one’s self.
3. Ethics are derived from human experience.
Many religions locate the source of ethics in God-given commandments; we find its source in the human condition. What is right or wrong, good or bad is so because it fosters the development of what is best in life. Human intelligence and feelings are the sources and human experience is the sanction of ethics. We grow ethically by increasing our capacity for bringing out the best in others and ourselves. This process begins in the family and extends into friendships and local community and reaches out in relationship to the global human community.
4. Life is sacred, interrelated and interdependent.
Life is a great, mysterious gift. We affirm our respect for the interdependent web of existence, of which we are all a part. It is our commitment to the goal of a world community with peace, liberty, justice or all.
Four Part Statement of Purpose of Ethical Culture (AEU 1980)
1 Ethical Culture is a humanistic, religious and educational movement inspired by the ideal that the supreme aim of human life is working to create a more humane society.
2 Our faith is in the capacity and responsibility of human beings to act in their personal relationships and in the larger community to help create a better world.
3 Our commitment is to the worth and dignity of the individual, and to treating each human being so as to bring out the best in him or her.
4 Members join together in ethical societies to assist each other in developing ethical ideas and ideals…to celebrate life’s joys and support each other through life’s crises…to work together to improve our world and the world of our children.
Three Reverences of Felix Adler
1. Respect for those above us in moral development whether the outstanding teachers of the past or the preeminent among us today.
2. Appreciating the differences of others equal to us and contributing our differences and
3. Reverencing and cultivating the potential of those still young or disabled in any way.