Countdown to 30 – 1 Day to Go! – Felix Adler Calling

The seventh and last post in my “Countdown to 30″ series, looking forward to my 30th birthday (tomorrow!) and back to how I got here.

Felix Adler Calling

Throughout my time researching Humanism and working as a Humanist activist, Ethical Culture (a movement of Humanist congregations dedicated to ethical living and the improvement of society) had been a meteor in my intellectual solar system – every now and then I would catch a fleeting glimpse of some writing by founder Felix Adler or former Ethical Culture leader Algernon Black, but Ethical Culture had never been at the center of my attention. I respected Adler as a philosopher, and knew something of his vision, but had never taken the time to investigate his work fully, or that of other leaders in the Ethical Culture movement.

This changed when I was accepted to the Humanist Institute training program (supported by a full scholarship from the American Humanist Association) and read The Humanist Way by Edward L. Ericson. I chose to read the book (an entry on the optional reading list for the Institute) because of a growing interest in Religious Humanism as a concept and as a way of life, and a slight feeling that there was something that the secular humanism represented by the Center for Inquiry, for instance, was missing. And in The Humanist Way I found what I had been looking for – an energetic, activist, morally intense form of Humanism dedicated to social action within the framework of a moral community, a politically engaged congregational Humanism.

I began to devour Adler’s writing in a more consistent way, reading his speeches and poring over his books (The Religion of Duty is a favorite), and I was consistently astonished by two things: first, the extraordinary prescience of Adler, as he repeatedly espoused a vision of social change which matched the studies I had been reading while researching the intellectual underpinnings of the Humanist Community Project; second, how similar some of the ideas were to ideas I had myself been speaking about as I traveled explaining the Project – in some cases even the words and phrases were the same!

Perhaps you have had the sensation, sometimes, when reading someone else’s words, that they were expressing thoughts you yourself have had but could not express so clearly? That is what it felt like to me to read Felix Adler. And I set out to read as much of his writing as I could. What I discovered was more than a great mind and a prescient scholar of social organization – more, even, than a visionary: I discovered a calling. Adler, in his address on the 55th anniversary of the founding of Ethical Culture, said the following words:

At the beginning of my address, I spoke of those who had trusted us in the belief that something great was to come of it all. And now, in closing, I turn to the future, to those to whom we commit our trust, to our unknown successors in the generations and generations. Across the gulf of years I send them my greeting, in the hope that long after my voice shall have been stilled, an echo of what has here been said on this anniversary day will reach them, urging them to carry on so as to bring nearer the day when the sublime vision which hitherto has been seen but faintly and intermittently shall shed its full radiance on a transfigured humanity.

Though it seems dramatic to say it, I felt that with those words Adler was speaking to me. He was calling me. Calling me to help ensure that the echoes of the tradition he began do not fade to nothing. Calling me to dedicate my life to the ethical ideal he espoused. Calling me to leadership in the movement he began.

Right away I made my application to begin training as a leader in the Ethical Culture movement, and was accepted. I started the training process in October, and will continue my training for the next couple of years. When I’m done I hope to be in a position to help establish congregational Humanist communities like the ones I describe in my Skepticon 5 talk (below), bringing together Humanists who share a common vision to deepen their commitment to Humanist values and help them make an impact in the world.

But that’s not the end of the story – in a sense it’s only the beginning! All the work I’ve done as a Humanist activist – as well as all my educational work, which has happened in parallel – has been dedicated, I now see, to one overriding commitment: the belief that we human beings have extraordinary potential within us waiting to be unleashed, and that we can be a force for good in the world if we are encouraged to be so. Tomorrow I’ll start the next chapter in my story by releasing a new website dedicated to this ideal and commitment, and to my work as a speaker, teacher, and activist. Just one day to go now!

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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://themerelyreal.wordpress.com Chana Messinger

    Amazing! I’m so looking forward to all the things you’re going to do.

  • http://www.ethicalsociety.org/ John Kester

    Often feels to me like we (Washington Ethical Society =WES http://www.ethicalsociety.org/, and Ethical Culture =EC http://aeu.org/) are inadvertently a well-kept secret, mostly due to lack of publicity or feeling free to come ‘out of the closet’. AEU has had difficulty growing new congregations. Member congregations, including WES, have had difficulty growing. WES spun-off a Northern Virginia EC many years back. WES recently co-joined with Unitarian Universalist Association = UUA, in a coalition building process. UUA has a lot more humanist religious congregations and a lot more cross-beneficial resources.
    I am now almost 63, but I remember my college years as an open time to explore various religious communities on campus, never found AEU or WES there. Seems to me, and I have tried to suggest, that outreach to local colleges would be source of many new members, even if not big $ contributors initially. It took me till almost age 40 to ‘discover’ that such a congregation as WES existed. And that was through their ‘relationship building’ class offerings by the then leadership. I am ever so grateful that more non-theists are realizing the value of community, and finding that they too can find religious communities of like minded individuals.
    /John Kester Silver Spring, MD


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