Deed Before Creed
Deed Before Creed
Calvin Dame's posting at the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island's web site.
I've been thinking about the phrase Deed Before Creed which hangs above my head every time I speak at Ethical Humanist Society,and above the head of every speaker we welcome, and above the head of every speaker in every Ethical Culture Society, either literally or historically. And, it is prominently displayed in our Society's brochure and is a shorthand we share with visitors. While it predates the popularity of mission statements in this modern era, it has the attributes of a good mission statement: short, clear, to the point. These are Ethical Culture founder, Felix Adler's words, of course, and clearly have endured. But, I think sometimes wonder if we overlook an important part of Adler's formulation.
It is interesting to note his successive iterations of this phrase:
In a 1873 address to the congregation at the temple where his father was rabbi, he said: "A religion such as Judiasm ever claimed to be, not of the creed but of the deed" Then, at the May 15th address at Standard Hall, which is generally considered the founding moment for Ethical Culture, he ended with the words: "Diversity in the creed, unanimity in the deed,,,, this is the common ground where we may all grasp hands" united in mankind's common cause. For the next period you often read, Deed Not Creed, a motto Adler lived with in a flurry of social and reform activity. But on his return from a sabbatical year in Europe in 1893, Adler let go the formulation, Deed not Creed, and began to use the words, Deed Before Creed. Just one word different, but a significant reorientation, I think.
What interests me here is what I read as an acknowledgment of the necessity of personal reflection and growth, when you take the shorthand of Creed to mean our own reflection and personal growth. And that reflects what has been my own experience and the experience of so many who have worked and struggled for a better world. Creed without deed is empty, we know, but action without the foundation and wellspring of philosophy and reflection is not sustainable, either.
So, I am comfortable where this comes out, not Deed Not Creed, but Deed Before Creed.