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Ethical Calendar

Jone Johnson Lewis - 2 hours 6 min ago
The following is a calendar which combines major US, Canadian and Mexican holidays, with holidays of some traditional major religions (I could not find a good public calendar for Hindu or Buddhist or several other religions’ holidays, sorry), and adds some possible special “Ethical Holidays” to consider. Click on “Agenda” to see names that [...]
Categories: Leader Blogs

Ethical Culture Is a Platypus

Jone Johnson Lewis - 2 hours 6 min ago
When Europeans first encountered the platypus in Australia, the first assumption was that it was a hoax.  A duck’s beak and webbed feat on the body of a beaver-like mammal?  An aquatic mammal that gives birth by laying eggs? Instead of trying to pigeon-hole it into existing categories, science finally realized that it is, well, itself. [...]
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Umpires and judges: can they be fair?

Arthur Dobrin - Thu, 07/10/2014 - 19:58

Chosen as “essential reading” by Psychology Today:

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Same question, different answers: what we learn from rescuers

Arthur Dobrin - Sat, 05/31/2014 - 10:40

Some see a problem and set up. Others see the same problem and watch.
Many factors go into making a person a rescuer or a by-stander. Political scientist Kristen Renwick Monroe sums up the difference this way: Rescuers say, “What else could I do?” The by-standers says, “I was just one person? What could I do?”

Tagged: by-standers, Kristen Renwick Monroe, rescuers
Categories: Leader Blogs

Helping at the time of death

Arthur Dobrin - Fri, 05/30/2014 - 21:31

Here are some thoughts on grieving and what helps. It comes from my many years as a humanist minister in the Ethical Humanist Society. It is from my Psychology Today blog:

Tagged: grief, mourning
Categories: Leader Blogs

Leader’s Message – “Occupy Wall Street – Vindicated!” – June 2014

Anne Klaeysen - Fri, 05/23/2014 - 17:10

It has been a long time since the heady days of Occupy Wall Street in the fall of 2011, when winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Economics Joseph Stiglitz traveled downtown from Columbia University to teach activists in a corner of Zuccotti Park. The following year, he published The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future, in which he wrote: “It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent.” And while these privileged few enjoy the best health care, education and other benefits of wealth, they fail to realize that “their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live.”


The New York Society participated in Occupy Wall Street (OWS) in several ways: The Board of Trustees endorsed its mission; I was a chaplain on site, and our teens accompanied me to an interfaith service; members rallied both in the park and on the street; and we hosted speakers, working groups and programs. How well I recall telling a member of Ethical Culture Fieldston School’s board that our 2012 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Remembrance Platform would feature an OWS panel and hearing her response – “What could they possibly have to say? I imagined founder Felix Adler, who proposed a maximum wage, spinning in his modest grave in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.


As it turns out, they had a great deal to say, and many more people have been talking and writing since then. The “1 percent versus the 99 percent” meme caught on and spread around the world. In 2012, there were 25 percent more academic articles about inequality than in 2011 – and 237 percent more than in 2004. It has become today’s defining human rights issue. Even the school Adler originally named The Workingman’s School, “especially intended to serve the needs of the children of the poor” (The New York Times, November 23, 1890), was featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine dedicated to inequality (5/4/14). “The Tale of Two Schools” with its photographs of, and quotations by, students from Fieldston and neighboring University Heights High School in the South Bronx refers to exercises in “radical empathy,” not to ways of remedying the gross disparity described by Lisa Greenbaum, English teacher at University Heights: “They walked into Fieldston, and they were just overwhelmed. They couldn’t imagine that this was just minutes from where they lived, and they never even knew about it. One kid ran crying off campus. It made them so disheartened about their own circumstances.”


In addition to Stiglitz’s work, economist Robert Reich released a documentary called “Inequality for All” in 2013; Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi just published The Divide: American Justice in the Age of the Wealth Gap; and Fast Food Forward, started last year in NYC, took its worker strikes on the road and across the country. The latest notable is French economist Thomas Piketty, whose 700-page tome, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has become an international bestseller. His thesis is that inequality is the inevitable collateral effect of capitalism and that, if governments don’t act to contain it, it will grow until it seriously threatens democracy and economic stability. The “Piketty effect” is well known to academic economists and is finally becoming familiar to the rest of us. Here is the solid evidence and scholarly underpinning for the phenomenon we have been experiencing since the depression of 2008: radical social injustice.


Yes, there is a great deal to say, but now is the time to act. Long gone are the days when Dr. Adler called captains of industry and labor leaders who were members of his congregation and parents in his school into his office and convinced them to join him in building institutions and transforming society to meet the needs of public welfare. Although today we lack his powerful connections, we are nonetheless called upon to act in solidarity with the 99%. In addition to maintaining a homeless shelter and fighting for a living wage, we can also support quality public education by again housing free pre-kindergarten and after-school programs. Let’s do it! We can and we must take a stand for equality.




Categories: Leader Blogs

Leader’s Message – “Why Founder’s Day Is Important” – May 2014

Anne Klaeysen - Fri, 05/23/2014 - 17:08

There is a story I often tell about Felix Adler at our monthly receptions for newcomers. Because the architecture of our meeting house can seem austere and our vision a little unclear (religion or not religion?), I introduce Ethical Culture through its founder, a young man who wondered what life would be like if we put ethics first – and then did it.


Felix was expected to inherit his father Samuel’s position as head rabbi at Temple Emanu-El, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Manhattan. His family came from Germany in the mid-19th century to join this congregation and help it grow. By all accounts, Felix learned his lessons well from his scholarly father who guided his reading in the family’s enviable library and his compassionate mother whom he accompanied on visits to poor families with baskets of food and clothing. If his school teachers thought that he should study as hard as his brother, who was destined to become a doctor, they also appreciated his help with the younger children. Everyone recognized him as a serious and deep thinker who also enjoyed word play, especially puns.


When it came time to study for the rabbinate, Felix left for Heidelberg and Berlin. Imagine him far from the love and security of his home. Yes, he was fluent in German and well prepared academically, but he had grown up in a privileged American setting. Student life in Germany was wild: no dorms with empathetic RAs and “helicopter” (hovering) parents Skyping every day; students lived on their own and attended lectures, wholly responsible for their education. Felix was exposed to both intellectual heights and social depravity. He was shocked that his esteemed teachers didn’t incorporate literary criticism into biblical study and that his fellow students frequented prostitutes. When it became clear to him that the Torah was ancient mythology, he turned to philosophy for a moral foundation. He attended political rallies and observed labor upheavals, which drew him to sociological studies. Young Adler was engaged in an independent study far from what his parents and congregation had envisioned for him. Legend has it that when his mother received a letter expressing Felix’s enthusiasm for philosopher Emmanuel Kant, she replied that “no good can ever come of studying philosophy” and insisted he return home.


Return he did and, at the age of 23 years, delivered a sermon at Temple Emanu-El called “The Judaism of the Future.” Now it was his turn to shock: Adler didn’t mention God and introduced his concept of Judaism as a universal religion of morality for all humanity. It was his first and last sermon at his father’s synagogue. Soon it became clear that he would not become a rabbi, and members of the congregation helped him gain a teaching position at Cornell University where he became popular with students for his radical religious ideas that included an understanding of labor struggles and power politics. Others, however, attacked him as an atheist, and Cornell declined to accept the grant that paid Adler’s salary, so he returned to New York City. And that is where, in Standard Hall on May 15, 1876, Ethical Culture was founded.


Today Ethical Societies and the Ethical Culture Fieldston School celebrate Founder’s Day in early May. We hark back to young Adler’s founding address and continue to find inspiration there, not least because the conditions about which he spoke still persist and demand our action. “There is a great and crying evil in modern society. It is want of purpose. It is that narrowness of vision which shuts out the wider vistas of the soul. It is the absence of those sublime emotions which, wherever they arise, do not fall to exalt and consecrate existence.”


We still need a religion without the trappings of ritual or creed that unites us all – theists, agnostics and atheist – in ethical social action. “Believe or disbelieve as ye list — we shall at all times respect every honest conviction. But be one with us where there is nothing to divide — in action. Diversity in the creed, unanimity in the deed! This is that practical religion from which none dissents. This is that platform broad enough and solid enough to receive the worshipper and the ‘infidel.’ This is that common ground where we may all grasp hands as brothers, united in mankind’s common cause.”


Today we include women and the LGBTQ community on his platform. As Adler well knew, ethics would continue to progress, embracing new groups of people and empowering them to claim their rights. The Ethical Movement he founded is now part of a larger Humanism that extends globally and touches everyone who puts “deed above creed.” We hear his voice echoing from Standard Hall in 1876:


“The time calls for action. Up, then, and let us do our part faithfully and well. And oh, friends, our children’s children will hold our memories dearer for the work which we begin this hour.”



Categories: Leader Blogs

Buying a book I didn’t write (not that I remember)

Arthur Dobrin - Mon, 05/19/2014 - 16:56

I wondered if my first book published, with religion writer Kenneth Briggs, which has long been out of print, was available on the Internet. And sure enough Getting Married the Way You Want shows up. Used copies are for the having.

And here is what is said about the book:”This is a revised edition of a classic that has already helped hundreds of thousands of expectant parents. From conception to bonding with your infant, from choosing the right doctor (or alternative health care provider) to coping with sibling rivalry. Getting Ready for Childbirth will help both first time parents and experienced parents to choose, plan, and participate in a positive birth experience”

The problem is that the book never was revised. It isn’t a classic, either, as far as I know. And it certainly isn’t about helping expectant parents. It is a guide to help people write their own wedding ceremonies.

Making matters more interesting, there is another book listed beneath Getting Married the Way You Want. This one is entitled Getting Ready for Childbirth. And guess who the authors are? Ken Briggs and me. And it too is a revised edition of a classic.

I didn’t know Ken and I were so prolific and so well-known for writing the book about weddings book we co-authored more than forty years ago or for the second book, which neither of us remembers writing at all.

You can have either book for less than $50. I promise Ken and I won’t profit from this sale.

Tagged: authorship, Getting Married the Way You Want, Kenneth Briggs
Categories: Leader Blogs

Basic Ethical Culture Identity

Jone Johnson Lewis - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 06:30
In saying that we are founded on “deed beyond creed,” we acknowledge that there are a number of belief systems which may effectively ground the sorts of “deed” that Ethical Culture makes central. Although we need not have one creedal philosophy or metaphysics, I also believe that some belief systems and philosophies are more friendly to [...]
Categories: Leader Blogs

Are ethics classes worthwhile?

Arthur Dobrin - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 14:25

I teach both graduate and undergraduate courses in applied ethics (business and media), and I often wonder whether the endeavor is worthwhile.

Then I receive an email like this one and I am ready to teach another semester. (Excuse her grammar; the student recently arrived from Turkey).

Dear professor,

I do not know how much I should appreciate taking your Ethics class. I believe that Ethics class is priceless.

Reading case study for Capstone class, Global Business or International Marketing classes; I recognize the ethical issue is stated in the cases (a real company). I would not be able to notice them if I did not take Ethics class.

Example: Dana-Farber Cancer Center is trying to fundraise for its research. A big cigarette company wants to donate big amount of money because a senior member of the company’s top management dies from cancer. However, Development Office Staffer at the Dana-Farber CC does not want to accept the donation because her/his parent died bacause of smoking and lung cancer.


Tagged: teaching, teaching ethics
Categories: Leader Blogs

More q & a regarding beliefs of Ethical Humanism

Arthur Dobrin - Sat, 04/05/2014 - 16:48

Is there anything more to being happy?
Yes, it is living with integrity.

What do you mean by integrity?
When what you believe and what you do are the same or very nearly the same, then you have integrity. But when you are divided — saying one thing but doing another — you don’t have integrity. Abraham Lincoln once said about a nation “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” The same is true with a person. A divided person cannot be a happy person.
Remember, the opposite of integration is disintegration. We say that when something falls apart, it disintegrates. A person without integrity doesn’t do well, as they are like strangers to themselves.

What is the main thing that stands in the way of achieving a good life?
It is mainly being egotistical. It is thinking that you are more important than other people.

Does this mean that pleasure and desire are bad?
Pleasure is good but selfish pleasure takes you away from people and therefore away from your own happiness. Some desires aren’t really good for us. We may want them because they make us feel good right away, but later we realize that it really wasn’t good for us. We know this when we eat too much of something we like.
There are also some desires that hold us back instead of making us free. We are no longer free but are enslaved to the desire itself. This happens to some people with drugs or alcohol. It can also happen with other things. When we are bonded to desire this way, we become distant and even isolated from other people. This leads to loneliness and unhappiness.

Tagged: desire, Happiness, pleasure, selfishness
Categories: Leader Blogs

Leader’s Message – “Yom Hashoah” – April 2014

Anne Klaeysen - Wed, 03/26/2014 - 18:33


“When the Nazis come knocking at our door, our children will be Jewish enough!” My husband was venting about comments he had heard from Orthodox Jews at his office. Behind his back, they were saying that he wasn’t “Jewish enough” because he was married to a non-Jew and was raising his children in Ethical Culture.


Finance and taxes can be arcane subjects, attracting studious minds. Orthodox Jews who grow up engaging in Talmudic discourse are well suited for them, and working for the city means they can leave on time for Sabbath observance. Some who worked in Glenn’s department judged him harshly. Usually he shrugged it off, but on this day it really stung: “Who are they to decide who’s Jewish and who isn’t? Have they learned nothing from the Holocaust?”
I remembered this story from years ago as I thought about Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day – which falls on Sunday, April 27, this year. In Israel, it is a national memorial day, inaugurated in 1953. Although there is no institutionalized ritual, most Jewish communities hold a solemn ceremony, lighting candles and reciting the Kaddish or mourner’s prayer.


There are different lessons for different people. Glenn and I learned that it is our responsibility to make the world safe for everyone, a world where human rights are not only words in a United Nations document (, but a living reality for all. We raised our children to embrace diversity and reach across boundaries, to listen with open hearts and minds, to act with compassion.

Some of the people in Glenn’s office learned that the world will always be dangerous for them and their children. Clear lines must be drawn to identify who belongs and who doesn’t, whom to trust and whom to fear. Theirs is an insular world where harsh lessons protect them.


I understand.


As a woman, I experience discrimination and continue to fight for equal rights and reproductive justice, but my life has never been threatened because of my identity. I live a privileged life: U.S. citizen, white, educated, middle-class, married with two children. Humanists may not be understood or accepted in many circles, but our government does not seek to imprison or exterminate us. Still, we can empathize with those who have suffered and continue to suffer because powerful people and strong cultural forces deem them less than human.
The term “genocide” didn’t exist before 1944. It was formed by Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish jurist born in Poland, exposed to anti-Semitic pogroms and aware of the Ottoman attacks against Armenians, who combined geno-, from the Greek word for race or tribe, and –cide, from the Latin word for killing. On December 9, 1948, due to Lemkin’s tireless efforts, the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and defined this new international crime as:


“any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) killing members of the group;
(b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”


The Holocaust forced the world to recognize the crime that had been committed against humanity: Jews, Romanies, homosexuals, the physically and mentally disabled, communists and socialists, among other groups. Lemkin gave it a name, and the United Nations outlawed it. Yom Hashoah commemorates this history. It calls us to also add to this history the killing of Bosnian men and boys by Serbian forces, of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda, and of Darfuris by Arab militias in western Sudan.


Today we can confront genocide and bear witness to atrocities still being committed against Dalits who are fighting “untouchability” in India, the Muslim Rohingya who are gathered into concentration camps in Burma, and displaced persons in the Central African Republic. Visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum at to learn more. We must learn from the past not only to understand and empathize, but to take action.


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True religion is real living; living with all one's soul, with all one's goodness and righteousness.