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Definition of the Ethical Culture Movement



The movement of Ethical Culture Societies was started by Professor Felix Adler (1851-1933) in New York City on May 15, 1876. Membership Ethical Culture Societies is open to anyone who accepts the basic doctrine that the principle aim in life is to lead an ethical life. Opinions regarding the existence of gods, where one should stand on particular moral questions (like abortion), etc. are not important among members of Ethical Culture groups.

Some argue that, with Ethical Culture, Adler was taking Reform Judaism one step further. Adler had studied to become a rabbi, but his research into biblical criticism had lead him to the conclusion that most of what was contained in traditional religion simply wasn't true - thus leading him to reject the life of a religious leader. In his autobiography Adler wrote:

Was I to lie in order to teach the truth? ...Was I to repeat these words? It was impossible. It was certain they would stick in my throat. On these grounds the separation was decided by me.

Ethical Culture groups exist in many large cities still today, although their membership has never been huge - a problem which has afflicted most such secular movements. You can learn more at their national website: American Ethical Union.

Alternate Spellings: Reform Judaism, Humanism
Stanton Coit, a pillar of Ethical Culture, said wistfully in the Freethinker of March 22, 1891, "He [Charles Bradlaugh] never stopped to speak words of sympathy for the destitute--he was always rushing to remedies."
- S. T. Joshi, Icons of Unbelief: Atheists, Agnostics, and Secularists

Today some aspects of Deism are continued in the United States in the Masonic order, in the Unitarian-Universalist denomination, in the Ethical Culture movement, in the tradition of free thought, in the historical-critical approach to the Bible that emerged in the late nineteenth century (and that is foreshadowed on some pages of the Age of Reason), and to some extent in the Religious Society of Friends (or Quakers). The spirit of rational inquiry, of skepticism about dogma, and of religious toleration that animated Deism continues to influence the religious views of many persons who occupy pews in churches and synagogues.
- David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers

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