Relaunching the Temple of the Future – From Ingersoll’s Voice to Adler’s Vision

I launched this blog as an experiment - an opportunity to explore a new style of Humanism: activism-oriented, political, artistic, informed by culture. Since the launch, my thinking regarding Humanism has developed. As I have worked with the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard to launch the Humanist Community Project and traveled around the country to different Humanist, atheist, skeptics and freethinking groups – to Bowling Green Ohio, Wichita Kansas, Madison Wisconsin, Concord Massachusetts, San Diego and LA California, and New York, New York –  I have come to believe that the future of Humanism lies in moral communities – close, morally intense social networks dedicated to the secular values of reason, compassion and hope for the future. These communities – these Temples of the Future – will perform the vital social function that religious communities perform – the generation of social capital in the service of values – and therefore will provide the base from which a new social movement can grow, dedicated to making the world a more Humanist place.

This shift in my thinking can be summarized as a shift from Ingersoll to Adler. While this blog was sparked by my fascination with both figures – the title, Temple of the Future, is a reference to speeches in which they used the phrase – I began by thinking that Ingersoll was the model our movement needed. I thought that Humanism, more than anything, needed passionate advocates who can speak the language of values and convey our message to the public in a positive light. And we do need such people – modern-day Ingersolls are hard to find, and it is essential to find ways to convey the freethikning spirit to a public which often seems to scorn it. But I have since realized that the form of Humanism I espouse is in fact better represented by Felix Adler, and that his ideas are the more significant for our movement at this time.

Adler, as well as a powerful orator and gifted philosopher, was also a social visionary who actually built moral communities dedicated to broadly Humanist principles. And these communities, though small in size and few in number, had a very significant social impact at the time. I believe the time has come to revive Adler’s vision – his idea that a more Ethical Culture can be built only through communities dedicated to moral betterment. From now on, this idea will be the primary focus of this blog. As a more personal adjunct to my writing at the Humanist Community Project, I will use this space to explore the idea of Humanist community building, including discussions of community practices, organizational structure, cultural resources, ritual and other aspects of communal experience. And I will use it a s a forum to host my work as I speak, talk and teach on this subject around the world. Ingersoll’s voice will still be heard – he is not banished from this blog! – but Adler’s vision will predominate.

Adler’s dream was to build a more ethical culture through the development of ethical societies. It was a quixotic dream then (who starts a “new religion” in their 20s?) and is quixotic now. But it is too powerful an idea to be allowed to die. This blog will try to ensure that the guttering flame of secular moral community does not perish.

Together, let’s build the Temples of the Future.

About James Croft

James Croft is the Leader in Training at the Ethical Culture Society of St. Louis - one of the largest Humanist congregations in the world. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently writing his Doctoral dissertation as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is an in-demand public speaker, an engaging teacher, and a passionate activist for human rights. James was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist. His upcoming book "The Godless Congregation", co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Greg Epstein, is being published by Simon & Schuster.

  • http://myatheistlife.wordpress.com myatheistlife

    Is it the desire to build anew, or to renovate the old? In a manner of speaking, I feel that if you clean up, take out the trash, repaint the walls etc. where we live now is, underneath it all, a moral society.

    The recent wind of new atheists has blown away some of the rubbish and we can see that moral society sort of peeking through.

    • TempleoftheFuture

      The difficulty I have here is that I don’t believe that you simply get a more moral society by clearing away religion. The resultant society could be much worse if we don’t do something proactive to promote the values we care about. That’s why I think the creation of proactive freethinking communities is so important – progress is not a given.


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