The original post on Adam Gonnerman’s blog was published on August 10, 2014. Adam Gonnerman is a US expatriate in Brazil who works in project management. He is a former Christian missionary and minister, but now a proud Humanist.
“We cannot adopt the way of living that was satisfactory a hundred years ago. The world in which we live has changed, and we must change with it.” – Felix Adler
With all the press about Sunday Assembly, someone could be forgiven for thinking that “atheist church” began with them. There are, in fact, groups far older. Perhaps the most notable of these is Ethical Culture, also known as Ethical Humanism. Embodied in the American Ethical Union (AEU), this movement has been in existence in the United States since the late 19th Century. The first Ethical Society (as the local gatherings are often called) was founded in 1876 (officially incorporated the following year) by Felix Adler. That group, the New York Society for Ethical Culture, continues on until this day, along with about 24 other such Societies in the United States.
The AEU was a founding organizational member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union and has been a flag-bearer for humanism as a lifestance throughout over a century.
Rejecting theology as the necessary foundation for morality, a common slogan of Ethical Culture is some variation on “Deed Above Creed.” As for specific principles, all Ethical Societies affirm and promote the following principles:
- 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.
The video below by the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago was produced as an introduction to their specific group, though I believe it could serve as a general introduction to the AEU as well. It must of course be understood that there are likely local differences between Societies in terms of practice and outreach, even as all Ethical Societies share a common outlook
Ethical Culture has a longer history than other, more recent non-theistic gatherings (see the link list at the bottom of this post), but it does not appear to be a growing movement in terms of new Societies and added membership. Perhaps this will change with the rising interest in this type of community. Ethical culture is most certainly a viable option for humanists looking for a sense of belonging. Click here to see if there’s a Society near you.