Sunday PlatformVideo

Joe Chuman: Felix Adler’s Problem—and Our Own

By May 9, 2021 No Comments

Ethical Culture was born out of the ferment and problems of its time.

The catalyst for its creation were the evils wrought by the Industrial Revolution -workers without rights or protections laboring in factories, growing poverty under the oppression of robber barons, the exploitation of children in factories and devoid of education, and a monstrous wealth gap.

The problem of that age was how to ensure that human beings counted for something. How could the humanity of women, men and children be safeguarded? That remains our problem. Growing awareness of structural racism lays bare the reality that some lives count more than others. The pandemic has unmasked similar realities, bringing to clarity the division between the privileged and unprivileged. “Essential workers” is arguably a euphemism for “expendable workers.”

But Adler, intellectual that he was, was also aware of philosophical challenges the modern age presented. Darwin had brilliantly shown how human beings have evolved from earlier forms of life, devoid of a Creator who has endowed us with a soul. But by placing us in the seamless kingdom of nature, Darwin deprived human beings of any special status that religion had provided; religion that Adler and fellow moderns could no longer believe in.

Adler’s challenge was to rescue the dignity, the worth the humanity of people, from the maws of social oppression and soulless science that deprived men and women of what makes us human. Ethical Culture was the answer.

In his May 9 Sunday Platform, Leader Joe Chuman explored further what lay behind Adler’s problem and how he creatively tried to resolve it.


Sunday Platform is our most important and long-standing community event. These gatherings educate, stimulate personal growth, inspire reflection and action, and strengthen our community. Sunday meetings usually begin with music, followed by greetings and a talk given by a Society Leader, member, or guest.  Platforms cover a variety of topics that reflect current events, pressing social issues, and Ethical Culture philosophy. A collection basket is passed and money is shared between the Society and a charity selected for that day.  While contributions are always appreciated, Sunday meetings are free and open to the public.  Each Sunday meeting is followed by a luncheon and social hour.

To view previous Sunday Platform addresses and interviews, visit the Ethical NYC YouTube channel.

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