On Saturday, November 9, 2020, the emerging Leaders of the Ethical Culture Movement led an experiential workshop called “Uproot and Reseed: Decolonizing Ethical Humanism” at the Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture. Thirty-five passionate participants gathered to discuss how we could develop practices that are inclusive, egalitarian, and healing in our communities. In his Philadelphia Ethical Society Leader’s Message, Hugh Taft-Morales shared his experience:
…When Felix Adler gave the talk titled “The Judaism of the Future,” he saw a world running headlong into oblivion. In 1876, the United States had not healed from a brutal Civil War, and yet brutality continued in the form of oppressive working conditions, urban poverty, and the emergence of Jim Crow. The young Adler was alarmed that the golden rule was being eclipsed by an intoxicating materialism that numbed half of our populace to the suffering of the other half.
Things don’t feel so different today. While many people suffer from drought, war, and incarceration in jails and cages, others enjoy unprecedented wealth. Add to that the specter of devastating climate change, and no wonder young people are encouraging revolutionary change. Of course, “young” is relative. The Decolonizing workshop leaders—Sarah Tielemans, Christian Hayden, Jé Hooper,storäe michele, and Anthony Cruz (pictured below)—for example, are almost a decade older than Adler was when he boldly launched Ethical Culture. They bless our Movement with a wealth of academic training, life experience, and embodied compassion. Now it’s up to us to use their gifts wisely.
From the workshop I took away that first, it became clearer to me that we need to approach Ethical Culture in a more embodied fashion. When we gather, let’s sing more, move more, and feel more in our chest and in our gut. These elements evident in ancient spiritual practices need to find a home in Ethical Culture. As more and more folks drift away from theism, many still want the emotional and deeply interpersonal experiences they got in traditional religion. We can offer more holistic experiences without sacrificing our commitment to reason.
Second, let’s continue to acknowledge that the land on which Ethical Societies stand is stolen land. This should not be done merely as a form of penance that abstractly processes guilt without demanding a real transferring of sovereignty, land, and power back to indigenous people. There is real work we need to do to heal the wounds of colonialization.
Third, we must continually reexamine our vocabulary, choosing words that invite more than repel, that embrace more than exclude, that open up more than close off. I know I am guilty of over-reliance of the vocabulary of traditional western philosophy, a vocabulary that claims for itself universal application but excludes many other forms of wisdom.