Through its uneven history, religion, while holding a central position in every culture as the institution that articulates society’s official world-view, has resisted change.  While through the centuries other aspects of human culture evolved, religion persisted in offering traditional, increasingly untenable answers to humanity’s big questions. Since the Enlightenment, some religious groups have attempted to save the sense of yonder ultimacy while accepting the legitimacy of human reason and science as windows on truth.  For many people that has meant sidelining religion to the artistic periphery, leaving us Westerners the religious options of Eastern Religion, New Age, and Nature religion. While millions of people have found their own way to meaningful living without the help of organized religion, traditional religious institutions continue to dominate the meaning or purpose territory of our culture while in actuality contemporary culture as a whole offers consumption as the meaning of life. 

Our present consumer culture is the actual religious base of our culture and such consumerism is the primary enemy of a genuinely ethical culture.  So many of the social problems that concern us have their source not so much in policy as in our culture’s individualistic understanding of human life and what constitutes a good lifestyle.  The result is that people don’t take responsibility for the life they create. The world needs a religion that explicitly offers the relational, communal experience as its foundation, a religion that says life is not about being good, but about making the good appear in the world. The good is what we do.

Humankind needs a religion that frames the meaning of life not in individualistic spiritual terms but in the communal relational experience, religion that has made a full break with the supernatural and in the cold light of the human condition offers meaning in involvement, creating life together, and respecting the diversity in living.

I believe Ethical Culture can be a religious perspective that helps transform humankind’s understanding of the meaning of life.  Starting from Adler’s idealism and evolving through pragmatic humanism, our perspective is a religious challenge to transcend religion and consumer culture or “populist conformity”.  While the essential message of the Ethical Culture movement can be found in the value systems and behavior of many individuals and groups beyond our orbit – the uniqueness of every person, respect for that individuality, commitment to equality, even the understanding of life as a relational experience – there is value and power in presenting our view of life as a full package, a context within which to live, one that speaks to a relationship with nature and a place in the human journey.

That is my case for this project.  Now, I will describe step-by-step the pieces of Ethical Culture’s religious approach.

Continue to Section II: Human Experience