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Ethical Culture Is a Platypus

Jone Johnson Lewis - 59 min 6 sec 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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Basic Ethical Culture Identity

Jone Johnson Lewis - 59 min 6 sec ago
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 [...]
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Transforming Culture

Jone Johnson Lewis - Sun, 04/06/2014 - 13:28
So, the UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association) as an organization seems to be proposing that it is more a movement for transforming the culture, rather than defining itself as an association of congregations.  And of course that’s got a lot of people nervous and has engendered some conversations, some of them somewhat angry or bitter. I find [...]
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Ben Franklin’s Daily Routine

Jone Johnson Lewis - Sun, 04/06/2014 - 13:28
Something interesting I found recently: Benjamin Franklin’s daily routine outline.  (This is the same Ben Franklin involved in the founding of the United States, and the same Ben Franklin who said, according to a recent biography, that he expected churches would be replaced by something he called “ethical societies.”) He framed each day with two questions: “The [...]
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“Ethical Religion” by William Salter

Jone Johnson Lewis - Sun, 04/06/2014 - 13:28
Mohandas Gandhi acknowledged that reading William Salter’s Ethical Religion was an influence on his own developing thought.*  The book was created from a collection of addresses Salter gave in his early years as Leader (equivalent of a minister) at the Chicago Ethical Society, and was published in 1889. The following excerpt is my slight update of [...]
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Secularism Today

Jone Johnson Lewis - Sun, 04/06/2014 - 13:28
At its core, “secular” is the opposite of or in contrast to “sacred” and by extension “religion.” (”Religion” is a relatively new concept in human culture, as we use it today. “Sacred” and “secular” are older.) Coming from the Latin, its derivation is from “worldly” or “temporal” as contrasted to “eternal” or, I [...]
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Clarence Darrow and the Ethical Society

Jone Johnson Lewis - Sun, 04/06/2014 - 13:28
Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center credited Clarence Darrow as an inspiration for practicing law in a way that helped the powerless. Clarence Darrow is remembered as someone whose motivations came from outside traditional religion. I feel as I always have, that the earth is the home and the only home of man, [...]
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Still More Violence: How Do We Respond?

Jone Johnson Lewis - Sun, 04/06/2014 - 13:28
For all of us — but particularly for the children in our lives: in the aftermath of yesterday’s bombing. It’s difficult, if not impossible, not to feel this as close to home, with all the news coverage, with all the videos, with all the photos. We can remember how rare such incidents are, at least in [...]
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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

In the Face of Violence

Jone Johnson Lewis - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 12:28
When I woke up this morning, the first thing I read in the news was the horrible news from Colorado.  An audience full of excited mostly-young people had gathered for a midnight showing of a much-anticipated movie — and a gunman took advantage of that full theatre to … do what?  Get noticed, I imagine. What [...]
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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.


Categories: Leader Blogs

Teaching ethics, from a former student

Arthur Dobrin - Sun, 03/02/2014 - 21:39

It’s wonderful to hear from former students, especially when they validate what you’ve been trying to do in the classroom. Here is an excerpt from an email from one of my students who now works in the Attorney General’s office in Washington, D.C. (with his permission):

“The Business Ethics class and my Legal Ethics class at Hofstra Law with former dean Monroe Freedman – between the two of you – were such wonderful training for spotting issues and analyzing them, and reflecting upon them, in real life applications. I think being forced to only “learn the rules” is the least effective way to learn ethics — especially the more I see how the “recognize an ethics issue when it is before you” approach actually is the more essential tool in the quote “real world”. The only way you can do that is to be forced to think through difficult questions and weigh the tough values associated with them – which may or may not have easy answers.”

Tagged: ethical education, ethics, law
Categories: Leader Blogs

Reading from William Salter: The Higher Life of Humanity

Jone Johnson Lewis - Sun, 03/02/2014 - 04:28
From William Salter, an early Ethical Culture leader who had also been a Unitarian minister; adapted by Jone Johnson Lewis: “The higher life of humanity is made of our higher impulses, our higher thoughts, our higher strivings. We all must live and we must work (or some one must work) for us to have the means [...]
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Ethical Words of Wisdom

Love is the expansion of two natures in such fashion that each include the other, each is enriched by the other.