Humanists often see their beliefs in opposition to religion. Religion is the foil. It is superstitious, irrational, given to authoritarianism, and politically too often a purveyor of misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia. It often at times serves as a justification for violence. All these things are too often true. But I contend that religion is far more than that. After all, Ethical Culture was founded as a religious movement, though on the far-left end of religion.
There is also a side to religion, the more philosophical side, that speaks to the sublime. It asks questions about life’s deepest meaning and points to values that lie beneath the superficial manifestations of our consumer-driven lives.
We live in fraught times, filled with polarizing ideologies, political tribes, and “political correctness.” These dynamics suffuse our political world and are spoken in a secular idiom. Yet, I would argue that that religions at their best provide values and a vocabulary that are much needed but seldom employed in our political and secular world. Among the values I am thinking of are forgiveness, repentance, atonement, and even versions of the sacred.
I contend that we humanists would be better off if we adopted such values that people look for in religion but not often in the secular realm. We will explore these values and how our lives would be enriched if we were to embrace them.
Dr. Joe Chuman recently retired as the Leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County, a community he served beginning in 1974. Since 2008, he has been a part-time Leader of the New York Society for Ethical Culture. As an activist, Dr. Chuman has worked on behalf of human rights and civil liberties and in opposition to the death penalty, as well as on many other progressive causes. He founded the Northern New Jersey group of Amnesty International in 1974, and currently serves as president of the Bergen County Sanctuary for Asylum Seekers, founded by the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County. This coalition of religious and human rights organizations provides services for asylum seekers released from federal detention.
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.