Can you have religion without God? : Lifestyles
(also see AEU.org)
The Ethical Society of St. Louis was founded in 1886. (Our original home was Sheldon Memorial Hall, named for the first Leader, Walter Sheldon.)It’s one of a couple dozen Ethical Societies around the country. Ethical Societies were dreamed up by 19th-century freethinkers who noticed that most religions seemed to share basic ethical ideals such as kindness, justice, and charity. Where religions seemed to differ and often caused conflicts was in their conceptions of God (or gods) andtheir beliefs about the afterlife.
Ethical Societies were created as communities that practiced religious humanism. “Religious
humanism” may sound like an oxymoron to people who consider religions only as systems of supernatural beliefs. But we believe that religions were created by people to serve human needs — including meaningfulness, ethical guidelines, and motivation to live ethically.
Religious communities also fulfill social needs for people of all ages, help organize social-justice activity, and provide ways to celebrate and mourn and mark important times together. Ethical Societies do all these things, while leaving supernatural questions about the existence or nature of gods or an afterlife to the conscience of individual members. Many of our members don’t believe in a god or an afterlife, but some do,and some others “don’t know and don’t worry about it.”
The name for the worldview shared at the Ethical Society is Ethical Humanism. You will likely get as many definitions of Ethical Humanism as there are Ethical Humanists, but our basic shared beliefs are that every person has a potential for goodness, that every person deserves to be treated with fairness and kindness, and that human beings are responsible for caring for each other and for solving our problems.
Ethical Humanism asserts that suffering and cruelty are the result not of supernatural devils or sin or bad luck, but rather natural events or human errors and bad choices. Therefore, it is up to human beings to reduce suffering and cruelty by increasing our understanding of nature and of ourselves and by learning how to motivate people to do more kind acts and less harmful acts.
We meet on Sundays because that tends to be the most convenient day for most people. Our Sunday meetings (called “platforms” for historical reasons) usually consist of children and adults speaking about their ethical values, a wide variety of music, a central address by the Leader or a visiting speaker on a topic related to ethical living and social justice, and the kind of pass-the-basket-and-announcement-period familiar to most churchgoers. Our platforms look and sound a lot like many religious meetings, exceptthat they don’t include prayer or worship.
So what kinds of people become members of the Ethical Society, and why?
All sorts of reasons, of course, but the most common are young families looking to instill positive ethical values in their children, people who have left their traditional religion behind but still want to be part of a community of shared values, and people of all ages looking to find peers and friends who share their concerns and hopes for humanity.
Lately, polls have found that a large and growing number of people say that they have no religion — some polls find that this group is as large as 20 percent of all Americans.
Yet a lot of these people have values and beliefs that traditionally have been called religious — high
ethical principles, a conviction that there is more to life than merely getting by economically, a feeling of connection with the human family as a whole and the natural world that we’re a part of. These are the folks we’re trying to reach out to at the Ethical Society, to let them know that there’s a place for them.