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  • 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: 

    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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