What is Ethical Culture?

Ethical Culture is a fellowship of people who seek clarification of the values of life. We cherish freedom of the mind and freedom of conscience. We affirm the worth and dignity of every person. We strive to emphasize ethics in our interactions with others. The Ethical Society of Austin is our local Ethical Culture congregation.

How do Ethical Societies differ from churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions?

Ethical Societies have no creed of theology or metaphysics, and no set doctrines concerning the unknown mysteries of life. We make no claim to a belief in a supernatural universe or a Supreme Being. Neither do we require belief in any scriptural source of absolute truth, nor do we require belief in an afterlife.

The basic idea is to let each individual develop his or her own response to the mysteries of life, ultimate reality and death.

What is the relationship of Ethical Culture to the traditional religions?

Ethical Culture is part of the long history of the effort of human beings to find meaning and purpose in life. Just as the great world religions grew out of the beliefs and practices of early tribal life and primitive cultures; just as Judaism grew out of the religions that came before it in Egypt, Babylonia and Assyria; just as Christianity developed out of Judaism; Protestantism out of Catholicism; and the Muslim faith out of both Judaism and Christianity; so the concept of an ethical path has developed from these predecessors. Our path is an effort to transcend the dogmas of supernaturalism and the limitations of sectarianism.

Ethical Culture shares a proud heritage with the great world religions: our deep concern for ethical behavior in all human interaction. We respect the fact that for many human beings an ethical faith without theology may be inadequate. The members and Leaders of Ethical Culture find a common ground for cooperative action on ethical problems with members of all faiths.

What is the attitude of Ethical Culture toward religious freedom?

Religious freedom is humanity’s most precious freedom. Members of Ethical Culture treasure religious freedom for all, and above all freedom of individual conscience. Religious freedom requires religious tolerance. Ethical Culture believes that everyone has the right to worship according to conscience and the right not to worship at all. By refusing to formulate or require acceptance of a fixed and final doctrine, Ethical Culture strives to keep open-ended the quest for truth. Human beings will always differ in our interpretations of life and our need for intellectual and aesthetic formulations and ceremonial expressions of the meaning of life. It is doubtful whether all people will ever agree upon one world religion. This would mean an end to religious freedom, and would rob humankind of one of its most valuable assets, the pluralism of the many religions and philosophies which contribute to the interplay of human differences and of human development.

Does Ethical Culture accept the idea of a God?

Ethical Culture neither affirms nor denies a belief in God. Members are not committed to any theology or set metaphysics. The Ethical Society of Austin is non-theistic, neutral and humanist in emphasis. The affirmation or denial of theistic definition and faith is for each individual to make for himself or herself.

Is it possible for human beings to live a good life without belief in God?

A respect for the dignity and worth of every human being and a capacity to enter into decent, just and loving relations with other human beings is not dependent upon a faith in God. No reliable evidence or scientific study exists indicating that those who hold to supernaturalism necessarily lead better lives than those who would call themselves agnostics or atheists. Goodness is not dependent upon theology. Crime and delinquency, dishonesty and cruelty in human relations, destructive behavior in the family and in the community are found among human beings in all groups. So also justice, compassion and love are found among the traditional believers and nonbelievers, the religious and the nonreligious. The essential element which may make the difference in the life and relations of an individual may be a faith in humanity rather than a faith in God.

Some people may accept moral teachings only if they come with a belief that these are God’s laws and that there is a Supreme Being who gave these laws, who watches over human beings and gives reward and punishment according to their obedience to Him. But more and more people recognize that moral teachings originate in the experience of life as people learn how to live together. Thus, for those who hold to an ethical humanist philosophy, the authority and the motivation for a good life is within ourselves.

Excerpted from a work written by Algernon Black.
© American Ethical Union 1994. All rights reserved.


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