Northern Virginia Ethical Society (NoVES)

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  • Wednesday, November 07, 2018 5:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Yesterday’s election results lifted my spirits.  There were important races across the country where candidates ran on healthcare, and economic and social justice issues.

    I am encouraged.  I get to continue resisting and protesting policies from an administration that supports white nationalism, racism, sexism, and trans-phobia.  I refuse to normalize the words and actions of the national political theater in the white house.

    I am encouraged.  I now have more allies in the U.S. House of Representatives, many of them women and people of color.

    I am encouraged.  The process of change takes time.  There are the beginnings of a swell toward increased concern for the welfare of others.

    Where will the country be after two more years when the presidential election rolls around?

    I hold on to a naïve notion of human progress, despite the setbacks that I can see wherever I look.  For, after all. I am encouraged.

    Randy Best

    NoVES Leader

  • Saturday, October 06, 2018 8:16 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    During the presidential election many voters chose to ignore Donald Trump’s many shortcomings (which I will refrain from enumerating) because he was seen as the means to their end of changing the composition of the Supreme Court.  The goal was to transform the Supreme Court and thereby remove constitutional protection for abortion and reverse decisions on numerous other social issues such as same sex marriage. 

    With the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, these changes may come to pass.

    I think that a Republican President could have done better than Brett Kavanaugh.

    In his typical style, Donald Trump has left chaos in his wake.

    DAHLIA LITHWICK wrote in Slate on Brett Kavanaugh’s Nomination:

    Donald Trump is running the table. He has managed, with his Brett Kavanaugh nomination circus, to undermine the FBI, the judicial branch, the media, and the legal academy. He’s done all that while being openly malevolent and revanchist about the dignity of sexual assault survivors in America. Everything the man touches turns to garbage and it’s surely just a happy accident that the institutions—like courts and federal law enforcement—that have been arrayed against him will all come out of this Supreme Court nightmare both tarnished and diminished.

    This is the “bad news” that has been ongoing since Trump assumed office.

    Yet Brett Kavanaugh makes it all seem worse.

    Kavanaugh’s bellicose, entitled, and nakedly partisan response to the charges of sexual assault against, him have not only revealed a judicial temperament ill-suited for the nation’s highest court, but exposed a partisan outlook that seems immune from deliberation.

    Kavanaugh’s appointment is a testament to the craven nature of Senate Republicans.  It is an affront to victims of sexual violence.   It cracks the veneer on a broken political system.

    I do not apologize for my anger and disgust about this most recent affront to my values. I struggle to find any kind of silver lining.

    I am uncertain if Brett Kavanaugh’s conformation will have a positive impact on the upcoming mid-term elections.  Partisan rancor remains at a fever pitch.  Both sides are energized.

    Kavanaugh’s confirmation has caused me to question my faith in democracy and my belief that increased voter participation, on whatever side, is a good thing.

    Despite my misgivings and frustrations, I remain engaged in the political process.

    There are candidates who share my commitment to supporting human worth and dignity and who believe that the government is there to promote basic human equality.

    The recent setbacks in progress toward a more egalitarian society do not belie the over-reaching arc toward justice.

    These are indeed tough times.  I am going to go out and find friends to be with in silent solidarity as a balm to my wounded spirit.  It is through others that I will restore my hope in the potential for human goodness.


  • Friday, July 13, 2018 3:43 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I spent Independence Day flying back from a five-day visit to St. Louis.  I grew up in St. Louis and my mother and sister still live there. At 89, mom still lives in the house that I grew up in.  My older sister lives nearby. In addition to visiting them, a memorial service for my old friend, Nancy, drew me back to town.

    It is interesting that I consider Nancy to be a good friend.  She is the mother of high school friends of mine. Her oldest daughter Mary is a good friend of my sister.  I was closer to James and Bridget. Nancy’s house was a place to hang out when we were in high school. It was a big old house and James’ lair was in the large attic space.  Nancy was always welcoming to us kids and we would stop to chat with her before going about our business.

    James and I were close friends doing international folk dancing and later modern dance together.  I became estranged from James after he found Jesus in college. He gave up a promising professional dance performance career to become the youth dance minister at an evangelical mega Church.  My lack of belief made it hard for me to accept James’ choice.

    After her children left for college, Nancy took up folk dancing herself.  I saw her regularly when I visited folk dancing during my return trips over the years.

    Nancy’s memorial service was in an Episcopal Church.  The service was heavy with ritual. It began with a parade of priests and other officiants led by a man carrying a cross (no incense though).  The program included call and response, the Lord’s Prayer, Hymns, and communion – as well as words about Nancy by a priest and a few family members.  Although I have attended Catholic, Jewish, Methodist, Evangelical, Unity, AME, UCC, and Unitarian memorials, because of my beliefs this was still unfamiliar territory for me.

    At the reception afterwards, I had a chance to re-connect with many old friends, some who I have not seen in decades, including Peter who came in from Japan.  I had many good conversations, including some with James.

    Later that evening there was folk dancing – and another chance to re-connect and dance.

    At the reception there was a large table piled deep with multiple copies of photos that Nancy had shot – there for the taking.

    Included in this pile were many of my children at various ages and this one of Sarah and me that I particularly liked. 

    What are my take-aways from this trip?  I continue to try to wrap my head around the power of symbolic rituals.  They have never affected me but I recognize that many others find deep significance in them.  I felt good re-connecting with old friends who I have lost touch with over the years. I am self-aware enough not to resolve to continue to stay in touch – because I know that I won’t.  I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just in my nature. A poor excuse but a real one.

    This trip made me think about who I was when the photo was taken and who I am now along with the good and bad that has happened in between.  This trip helped me look back on my life. Something that I find to be beneficial now and then.

    Thank you Nancy for who you were and the gifts that you and old friends have given me.

    Randy Best

    NoVES Leader



  • Thursday, June 28, 2018 1:47 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By now I am sure that you are familiar with the kerfuffle surrounding the manager of the Red Hen Restaurant (a farm-to-table restaurant in Lexington, VA) recently denying service to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, President Trump’s White House Press spokesperson, and asking her to leave.

    Sanders brought this to the Nation’s attention by tweeting about it on her official U.S. Government Twitter account.  This caused Trump to use his official Twitter account to try to ruin the Red Hen’s business.  What fun.

    The Red Hen’s refusal prompted Editorialists, Pundits, and Facebook posters to opine about the line between civility to all and the personal choice to deny service.

    These opinions often included specious comparisons to bakers refusing to make cakes for gay weddings, abortion protests, and screening party affiliation before letting people in the door.  Let me clarify my disagreement with these points.

    Gay marriage does no harm to anyone else in society.  If you think that gay marriage contributes to society’s moral decline and corrupts the institution of marriage, you are much too late for that train.  Instead, I suggest that you focus on things that produce real harm in marriages such as spousal abuse.

    Abortion clinics and abortion providers have been subjected to picketing, customer harassment, and violent, sometimes fatal, assault.  This level of confrontation does not equate to quietly asking someone to leave your restaurant.

    No one has started denying service based on party affiliation.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders was singled out as an individual who has a prominent public role in the Trump Administration.  She was singled out because of her active support in actions that cause harm to others.  Adam Gopnik wrote in newyorker.com:

    many have sided with the Red Hen on the grounds that, on this week in particular, a week which featured the Trumpites’ cruellest organized exclusion of others to date, to not exclude one of the organizers, or at least the mouthpiece, of that exclusion would amount to a moral failure.

    So where do I draw the line between being open and inclusive and deciding not to include someone at my table?

    My first thought was that the Red Hen went too far and everyone should be able to be served, even though they are involved in a reprehensible regime.  After all, Ethical Humanism attributes worth and dignity to everyone without exception.  Then I read some opinions that challenged my stance.  I found another part of Adam Gropnik’s newyorker.com post particularly persuasive:

    As a moral duty, we should share the pleasures and conversation of the table with as many people of as many views as we can—and, even when we can’t, we shouldn’t grumble too nastily under our breath at our kids when someone at a nearby table takes up the case for the Donald. (A self-directed moral rule, this.)

    On the other hand, the Trump Administration is not a normal Presidential Administration. This is the essential and easily fudged fact of our historical moment. The Trump Administration is—in ways that are specific to incipient tyrannies—all about an assault on civility. To the degree that Trump  has any ideology at all, it’s a hatred of civility—a belief that the normal decencies painfully evolved over centuries are signs of weakness which occlude the natural order of domination and submission. It’s why Trump admires dictators. Theirs are his values; that’s his feast. And, to end the normal discourse of democracy, the Trump Administration must make lies respectable—lying not tactically but all the time about everything, in a way that does not just degrade but destroys exactly the common table of democratic debate.

    That’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s chosen role in life—to further those lies, treat lies as truth, and make lies acceptable. This is not just a question of protesting a particular policy; in the end there are no policies, only the infantile impulses of a man veering from one urge to another. The great threat to American democracy isn’t “policy” but the pretense of normalcy. That’s the danger, for with the lies come the appeasement of tyranny, the admiration of tyranny, and, as now seems increasingly likely, the secret alliance with tyranny. That’s what makes the Trump Administration intolerable, and, inasmuch as it is intolerable, public shaming and shunning of those who take part in it seems just. Never before in American politics has there been so plausible a reason for exclusion from the common meal as the act of working for Donald Trump.

    And what about civility? Well, fundamental to, and governing the practice of, civility is the principle of reciprocity: your place at my table implies my place at yours. Conservatives and liberals, right-wingers and left-wingers, Jews and Muslims and Christians and Socialists and round- and flat-Earthers—all should have a place at any table and be welcome to sit where they like. On the other hand, someone who has decided to make it her public role to extend, with a blizzard of falsehoods, the words of a pathological liar, and to support, with pretended piety, the acts of a public person of unparalleled personal cruelty—well, that person has asked us in advance to exclude her from our common meal. You cannot spit in the plates and then demand your dinner. The best way to receive civility at night is to not assault it all day long. It’s the simple wisdom of the table.

    My view shifted.  I have not lost my ideal that everyone has worth; however, in this case, I came to see how someone’s active participation in a corrupt administration that purposely causes real harm to real people is sufficient grounds to allow a restaurant owner to not serve them and ask them to leave.  The real incivility comes from supporting actions that cause great harm to others.  Public officials who support heinous actions must face consequences.

    Charles P. Pierce in esquire.com summed it up nicely:

    This debate is stupid. It’s also dangerously beside the point. SarahHuck is the lying mouthpiece of a lying regime that is one step away from simply hauling people off in trucks. That she was politely told to take her business elsewhere is a small step towards assigning public responsibility to public officials that enable a perilous brand of politics. There are bigger steps to be taken, but everyone in official Washington is too damn timid to do what really needs to be done about this band of pirates.

    The Red Hen incident is a distraction from the real work toward change that remains to be done.


  • Monday, May 28, 2018 12:42 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I experience mixed emotions on Memorial Day.  Although I am morally opposed to violence and war, it does not trouble me to respect and honor those who gave their lives for what they deemed to be a worthy cause.  Death is an inescapable finality.  When it comes too soon it is tragic.

    I find it difficult to extend respect and honor to the American Military as an institution.  More and more, it seems that American military force is used to replace honest diplomacy, further America’s geo-political interests, and serve corporate interests.  Human rights, if they enter the picture at all, serve as a pretext for economic and political interests.  The hypocrisy shown in where and when American military force is used is staggering.

    I realize that the world today is far from renouncing the use of violence as a legitimate means of settling differences.  I also realize that while I decry America’s use of violence abroad, I benefit greatly from it.  I enjoy America’s high standard of living that consumes resources at a greater level than most of the other inhabitants of our planet.  American economic and military might preserves my lifestyle.

    On Memorial Day, I willingly partake in sad reflection on the loss of life and devastation of war.  I will try to avoid the military triumphalism that I often see displayed.  Memorial Day is a time to mourn.

    I will silence these conflicting thoughts that bounce around in my head.  Instead, I will focus solemnly on those who died in the service of their country – for that is one of the tragedies of war.  Those who died deserve to be remembered.

    I will contemplate this poem by Thomas Hardy about a death in the Boer War far, a death so far from home.

    Drummer Hodge

    Thomas Hardy, 1840 - 1928

    I

    They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
         Uncoffined—just as found:
    His landmark is a kopje-crest
         That breaks the veldt around;
    And foreign constellations west
         Each night above his mound.
     

    II

    Young Hodge the Drummer never knew—
         Fresh from his Wessex home—
    The meaning of the broad Karoo,
         The Bush, the dusty loam,
    And why uprose to nightly view
         Strange stars amid the gloam.
     

    III

    Yet portion of that unknown plain
         Will Hodge for ever be;
    His homely Northern breast and brain
         Grow up a Southern tree,
    And strange-eyed constellations reign
         His stars eternally.


  • Thursday, May 24, 2018 8:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear NoVES Members – 

    I struggle at times to hold the worth of others at the forefront of my consciousness. To recognize human worth in times of conflict and disagreement. To fully recognize our common humanity and our common struggle to do what each of us believes is right.

    Acting ethically would be easy if there was never any disagreement or conflict.

    Resolving disagreement is an opportunity to take my ethics beyond the theoretical and put it into practice.

    I will do my best to rise to this opportunity, respectfully, creatively, with concern for others.

    Conflict leaves disappointment and hurt feelings in its wake.

    After conflict, healing and the repair of relationships are necessary.

    How we act in the wake of conflict, how we reach across divisions to begin healing are the true indicators of ethical inclusion.

    Everyone acted for what they believed to be the best interests of NoVES at the recent members meeting. 

    As the NoVES community emerges from conflict, the challenge is to re-affirm commitment to our community and strengthen connections with others.  To recognize the integrity and worth of all of our members.

    There is no right side or wrong side. 

    In some cases, there is deep hurt that needs healing.

    There is an opportunity to truly listen to others, to move forward with greater understanding.

    Felix Adler, the founder of Ethical Culture wrote:
    Life is worth living if I live to support the worth in others. And if I find and enlarge the worth in myself. We add to our moral lives in two ways: by living rightly according to the light we have. Secondly by constantly seeking for new light. In the moral world if we do not find new understandings, and if we do not advance and grow, then instead we shrink.
    It is my hope that as NoVES moves beyond conflict, I am able to support the worth of others, to move forward with deeper understanding and renewed commitment to the NoVES community.

    Yours in Ethical Struggle,

    Randy Best
    NoVES Leader






  • Saturday, May 19, 2018 8:47 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I spent today observing a Red/Blue workshop conducted by Better Angels (https://www.better-angels.org/).  This organization’s slogan is “Let’s Depolarize America”, and they aim to do just that.

    I observed four self-identified conservatives (Reds) and five self-identified liberals (Blues).  Over the course of a day, this group engaged in facilitated exercises to identify stereotypes, find common values, and ask questions of each other.

    I was privileged to spend a day observing how the power of listening to each other opens us up to recognizing an other’s inherent humanity.   This realization leads to greater understanding and respect for people holding some views that are very different from my own.

    The purpose was not to change anyone’s mind.  The Better Angels’ goal to dial down the polarization was achieved in this small group today.  This organization is in the process of growing so that more and more people can have this experience.  What a worthy enterprise!


  • Sunday, May 13, 2018 7:57 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    It was my pleasure to present this two-hour overview on May 4 th . Sixteen people attended the class held at the Vienna Community Center, a convenient and well set up venue for classes or discussions that will be used for future events.  I presented a brief bio of Felix Adler, the founder of Ethical Culture, along with his philosophical ideas of non-theism, community engagement, and promoting social justice. Other influences on Ethical Culture such as pragmatism and humanism were also introduced. It was a lively presentation with lots of excellent questions and discussion.  Future classes will delve more deeply into these topics.

  • Wednesday, January 31, 2018 8:17 PM | Deleted user

     This year I had the pleasure of hearing Joe Chuman speak at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on January 14th, the day before the Monday set aside to honor Martin Luther King. Joe’s topic was “The Radical Martin Luther King We Do Not Know”. He talked about Dr. King’s attraction to Democratic Socialism later in his life, his work to unite the white and black working class in common cause, and his staunch opposition to war, particularly the imperialist Vietnam War. Joe talked about the tendency to make those that we venerate with holiday observances acceptable, glossing over their controversial ideas that are not part of mainstream ideology, presenting an image that does not offend or challenge. 

    This reminded me of something that I wrote a few years back that I now share as my reflection on Martin Luther King Day. MLK Day 2005 I had the pleasure of being in St. Louis visiting my family on January 17th, the day set aside this year to celebrate the birthday and honor the vision and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was special to March from downtown to mid-town St. Louis with over one thousand others. It felt good to march next to my son David. I remembered walking next to my father in a march after Dr. King’s assassination in 1968. It felt good to march with two members of the St. Louis Ethical Society in the crisp 9-degree sunshine and to take turns carrying the poles supporting the Ethical Society’s Ethical Action Committee banner. 

    It was appropriate that at the edge of downtown the route turned north to walk on Martin Luther King Boulevard, past half empty blocks of shuttered shops and whole blocks with only one or two row houses remaining. It was appropriate that the march began with a Civic Ceremony inside the historic Old Courthouse, where the Dred Scott case was tried and slaves were once sold on its steps. The Civic Ceremony was complete with speeches by local politicians and community leaders. Although a “Civic Ceremony”, it included Christian scripture lessons and prayers. Many quoted “I have a dream,” and celebrated progress in the African American community. Others highlighted the challenges for civil rights today with particular focus on the problems experienced in the St. Louis school system. These are good and necessary things – but I felt that there was something missing. This was underscored for me when one of the Community Leaders, while calling us to take action in the schools, lamented that in our schools our children cannot pray to God. This struck me as contrary to the legacy of Martin Luther King. Dr. King was not about hollow expressions of public piety. He was about actions motivated by his religious experience. He was about coalitions for change. His vision of civil rights was not confined to those who shared his religious beliefs, or those who shared his race. His vision of civil rights was one of inclusion – encompassing differences in belief. His vision was a global vision that crossed boundaries of religion, race and nationality. 

    Listening to the speeches and reviewing the program, I was struck by something else. In the chronology of events listed in Dr. King’s life, along with the marches and the boycotts, was this entry: Feb. 1959 – Travels to India. I then realized what else was missing – Martin Luther King’s passionate commitment to non-violence and unwavering opposition to war. Dr. King believed that progress toward a just society was not possible while American Militarism pursued war abroad. War corrupted America’s “soul”. As controversial as Dr. King’s advocacy for civil rights was, his advocacy against the Vietnam War was even more controversial. He was a global advocate for peace. On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King spoke on "Beyond Vietnam," at Riverside Church, New York City: ... Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours. The parallels between Vietnam and Iraq are all too obvious. Why were none of the speakers talking about nonviolence and war? I was disappointed that the celebration that I attended seemed to narrow the legacy of Martin Luther King. His views on civil rights are now more mainstream – worthy of accolades from civic leaders and politicians alike. His stands on violence and war remain controversial, too controversial to mention in a public ceremony honoring his life. Despite my disappointment, I was uplifted by singing a few verses of “We Shall Overcome” and left the courthouse to march in the cold in solidarity with others.

  • Monday, January 15, 2018 3:25 PM | Deleted user

    A member requested that I provide an excerpt from my recent talk, “Towards Utopia”. I chose to include the section talking about Ethical Culture History and Felix Adler’s ideas, along with some of my own. You can hear my complete talk at: https://soundcloud.com/novesaudio/randy-best-towards-utopia1232017 

    Towards Utopia (excerpt) Oscar Wilde wrote: "A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not even worth glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias." I need a Utopian vision that reflects my Humanist Values, my Humanist Ideals. Felix Adler, who founded Ethical Humanism as Ethical Culture in 1876, had a philosophy based on Ideals. He envisioned a Utopia where every person was endowed with intrinsic worth and, therefore, needed to be treated with dignity and respect. People should be supported by society so that they are able to achieve their full potential and make their contribution to making the world a better place. Attributing intrinsic worth to people leads to obligations with respect to that worth. These obligations are the basis for ethics and moral action. Adler’s Ethical Humanist Ideals included: 

    • Every person has inherent worth; each person is unique.
    • It is our responsibility to improve the quality of life for ourselves and others.
    • Ethics are derived from human experience.
    • Life is sacred, interrelated and interdependent. To realize the worth of people, Felix Adler set out to improve conditions for human flourishing.

    To achieve this, Adler founded the Ethical Societies as a place for people committed to improving the world, increasing their understanding of themselves, and deepening their relationships with others. Adler, and the members of the Ethical Societies, also founded organizations that would act to improve the world. These organizations addressed the issues of their day including: 

    • The Hudson Guild and Madison Settlement Houses in New York City
    • The Child Study Association that advocated restrictions on Child Labor
    • The Model Tenement Association to improve housing conditions
    • The Visiting Nurses Association to provide access to health care; and 
    • The Ethical Culture Schools Ethical Humanists were also instrumental in founding The American Civil Liberties Union and The NAACP.

    History is inspirational, but what does my Ethical Humanist Philosophy lead me to today? How can I act to promote my Ethical Humanist Ideals? What is my version of an Ethical Humanist Utopian Vision? Bertrand Russell wrote: "It is not a finished Utopia that we ought to desire, but a world where imagination and hope are alive and active." I struggle to find a Utopian Vision of hope in a political environment dominated by corporate interests and tax relief for the wealthy.  I realize that if I want politics to change, I must work to change politics. I must continue to oppose policies that discriminate and deny opportunity to others. My Ethical Humanist Utopian Vision is founded on reason, evidence, facts, and most importantly, promoting the human worth and dignity of everyone. Like Utopias of the past, in my Utopian vision people are free from want, with abundant food, good health, safe in their lives, possessions, and liberty. In my Utopian vision, the earth must also be cared for so that human life may continue to flourish. My vision of Human Dignity recognizes the worth of others by: 

    Recognizing the rights of refugees and immigrants to be part of our nation – because people cannot be illegal. 

    • Working to overcome Systemic Racism because Black Lives Matter too. 
    • Recognizing and dismantling White Privilege, Patriarchy, and Male Privilege. 
    • Creating a world free of sexual harassment where offenders face consequences for their actions. 
    • Promoting a Universal Basic Income so that everyone is free from deprivation 
    • Investing in people by providing Free Education and Health care for all. 
    • Changing America’s Criminal Justice system to promoting community service and education as alternatives to incarceration. 
    • Working toward Peaceful resolutions to conflict and an end to War. 

    My Utopian Vision raises all of us up for a more egalitarian future that everyone can be part of realizing. Eduardo Galeano wrote: "Utopia is on the horizon. I move two steps closer; it moves two steps further away. I walk another ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps further away. As much as I walk, I’ll never reach it. So, what is the point of Utopia? The point is this: to keep walking." My Utopian vision is evolving, changing as I continue to learn and grow. But it remains focused, directed by my Humanist Values and belief that we are all worthy, we are all deserving, and we have the potential to co-create the good and work toward making the world a better place- for everyone.

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