Fulfilling Humanism’s Promise in Baltimore

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Build ethical communities that embody Reason, Compassion, and Hope. These communities advance human progress and thereby fulfill the promise of humanism. This is the inspirational message that James Croft delivered to our society in his recent platform address “Building the Temple of the Future: Fulfilling the Promise of Humanism.” During his visit to Baltimore during the first week of this month, our society lived up to his vision of healthy and vibrant humanist communities of the type he works to promote through the Humanist Community Project at Harvard University. I’d like to share some highlights of his address.  You can watch video of his talk here.

Croft began with his own expression of joy “to be in a community that embodies so much of what I am going to be talking about.” He asked why we came to an ethical society on Sunday mornings, when we could be sleeping late? His answer was that we come “to honor … the promise humanism holds for the human future and the promise that we make as humanists to bring that future about.” Humanism is based on reason and compassion, guided by hope for the human prospect. These are the values that Ethical Culture embodies. Reason is the best way we know to understand the world, and science is an expression of our reason. He saluted outstanding scientists and quoted Sagan: “the Cosmos is full beyond measure of elegant truths.” Compassion is the active commitment to other people’s good, exemplified by Felix Adler’s conception of worth, where each person is an end in themself. He credited reason, compassion, and hope as “responsible for every advance in human happiness and well-being that our species has ever accomplished.”

The title of Croft’s address pays respect to Felix Adler and the great agnostic orator Robert Green Ingersoll. Both used the phrase “the temple of the future” in speeches to convey an ideal community that emphasized reason, justice, peace, and goodwill. Croft said: “We’ve not yet built the Temple of the Future, but we could build it, and that’s why we’re here today. This will require us to see Humanism as more than an abstract philosophy. It will require us to get out of the armchair and into the streets. That’s what Ethical Culture is really all about.” He revisited Adler’s founding address from 1876 by quoting Adler’s six principles and then reading passages from the speech, linking it to present circumstances with a slide show of modern images. He concluded with a call for us to reignite our moral vision and to build moral communities in every city and town. “Adler had a vision of it. He showed us we could do it. And now is the time for us to build it.”

That weekend Croft experienced first-hand how our society is active and growing. He loved our potluck dinner and family game night. A father and son visited the society that evening to play games. The next morning, the son came back with his mother, who praised Croft’s talk on her blog, writing “An Ode to Getting Out of Bed.” Croft saw over forty people hear his platform address and afterward had lunch with about a dozen. We know how much our society has grown recently, with twenty-two people joining us in the last two years. But Croft could see in one weekend that our community is fulfilling the promise of humanism in Baltimore.

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