As I prepare to speak at the Baltimore Ethical Society on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I struggle to make sense of the tragedy. I offer these thoughts to ESWoW visitors in the hope that they may allow more meaning and ethical commitment to grow from this wound in America’s psyche. The image of a wound came to me again this past July when staying in my cousin’s Battery Park apartment before speaking at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. As I headed uptown toward the Society that Sunday morning, I passed “ground zero” - the site where once stood the twin towers. Although most of the refuse and jagged metal had been removed or buried, the site struck me as a giant aching wound in the cityscape. Today, September 11, a public memorial site opens there with two huge sunken reflection pools marking the footprint of the disappeared buildings in which so many died. The pools are cut into the ground, and water pours like the tears of family members and friends of the deceased.
As I drove by, I was reminded of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., which knifes into a soft grassy knoll next to the Lincoln Memorial. I recall her saying that she wanted to cut the earth, revealing a wound that slowly heals but never fully disappears. Like Vietnam, the 9/11 horror of ten years ago will never go away. Like ground zero in lower Manhattan, it will always ache with deep and powerful suffering. Read more »
This is an article originally published in the newsletter of the Baltimore Ethical Society. It is based on a Platform address given by Hugh as Leader of the Baltimore Ethical Society on May 1, 2011. (SR)
The theme of my May 1 Platform on "leadership" was that we all have the potential - in our own unique way - to be leaders. I then asked, "How does a community where everyone is a leader keep chaos at bay?" I mean if a parade was made up of nothing more than drum majors, wouldn't it just degenerate into a crowd of people each marching in different directions to the beat of their own drummer?
Well, in part, what holds us together are our wonderful shared collection of beliefs, ways of living, ethical relationships, and caring communities. We are also held together by our common history from Felix Adler to today. For me, however, what really holds us together are the values we share. While they have evolved through our history, they maintain a consistency and heart.
I concluded my talk by sharing the three values I tend to promote in my "elevator speech" - that two-minute explanation of Ethical Culture you offer to an inquirer in the time that you are riding in an elevator together. A member of the Baltimore Society suggested I share these values again in this newsletter, and so I do. I ask you to consider them over the summer.
The three values I find that best reflect what Ethical Culture means to me are as follows:
1) respect and celebration of the inherent worth of every person;
2) the importance of creating flourishing ethical relationships; and Read more »
I offer a yin-and-yang of topics on this ESWoW blog: love and dictators Over the past couple of weeks much of my attention has been split between following the remarkable events unfolding in the Middle East and working to advance marriage equality here in Maryland. Both issues have induced in me a sense of rising idealism. I find myself framing them in terms of inevitable and joyous movement toward a better world. And yet, there is so much ugliness and pragmatic reality to sort through.
First, let's start with dictators. Now on the surface they are not generally the sort of individuals moderate Americans like myself support I respect freedom and democracy, condemn authoritarian rule, and cheer on the common people marching through Cairo. It is, however, disconcerting to discover how ignorant I am about Egypt. I did not realize how oppressive Mubarak’s rule – made possible in small part to my tax dollars - had been over the past 30 years I did not know, for example, that he had extended Egypt’s "state of emergency" which had been in effect virtually continuously since the 1950’s. This status allowed for the suspension of constitutional rights and gave the government the legal right to censor and to detain political prisoners without trial. In recent years estimates placed the number of such prisoners as high as 30,000. How convenient it was for me to be blithely unaware of my complicity in such oppression until the masses began marching allowing me to cheer them on. Read more »
It’s all too much! It is enough to make me want to scream. But I won’t. I will count to ten. (1…,2…,3…,4…,5…,6…,7…,8…9,…10. There, that’s better.)
I am talking about all the spin coming out of the tragedy in Tuscon. The networks are offering too much coverage of this dramatic event, clearly appealing to our ghoulish predilection to participate vicariously in violent tragedy. I have seen way too much of Jared Lee Loughner’s smiling face anytime I go to a news source, only multiplying the crazed motives of psychopaths around the country seeking fame and significance, albeit of a notorious nature.
But mostly I am talking about how there is too much political hay being made out of the shooting. Even before Representative Giffords has had a chance to survive the critical three-day peak of brain swelling, the pundits were out in force explaining how this awful event proves that the other side is evil.
First, many people rushed to judgment that the seemingly disturbed Mr. Loughner was motivated by the cross-hair targets on Sarah Palin’s website or by Giffords’ Republican opponent last fall, Jesse Kelly. His campaign placed an advertisement saying, "Get on target for victory in November/ Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office/ Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.” We don’t know Mr. Loughner’s state of mind, but I am sure we will find out much too much more over the coming weeks. But, that obscures the larger point: both Palin and Kelly’s use of violent images is deplorable, that is certain. Read more »
The Spirit of Giving – A Platform by Hugh Taft-Morales, December 2010
Backed by excellent research and writing of Bergen Ethical Culture Leader Joe Chuman, a resolution passed by the American Ethical Union Annual Assembly in April of 2008 declared that, “the use of torture is the most heinous violation of human dignity.” Prior to its passage, the National Leader’s Council discussed whether torture is really the “most” heinous violation of ethical culture values. After all, what about mass murder and genocide and terrorism? Besides, wasn’t torture supposed to help stop mass murder in the “war on terror?”
While this conversation may seem overly academic to some, it did help me clarify a particular horror of torture. My commitment to Ethical Culture includes an emphasis on the sacredness of relationships. As terrible as the killing of one person by another is, in most cases it occurs in a flash without establishment of any real relationship between killer and killed. Modern warfare is particularly good at creating a distance between them. Much killing is orchestrated with buttons and video screens, a dehumanization that is a topic for another blog.
Torture, however, relies particularly on the establishment of a personal relationship between torturer and tortured. The manipulation of psychology and power creates a perverse relationship twisted by humiliation and suffering. Given my reverence for relationships, I concluded that, yes, torture is the most heinous violation of human dignity and a particularly horrible aspect of U. S. foreign policy. Read more »
My last blog about Ethical Culture and Social Justice reminded me of my college quest for finding solutions to injustice. Like many other young Americans feeling guilty about their comfortable life and the expensive colleges their parents could afford, I was attracted to the intellectual left. I took courses in Russian History and the History of International Communism. The idealism motivating radicals and revolutionaries intrigued me. It annoyed my father who was paying for my education.
At the dinner table during breaks from my studies I ranted about capitalism, poverty, and the need for radical economic redistribution. "What are you, a socialist?," my father would ask, eyeing me suspiciously. "Maybe," I'd respond somewhat pleased with his discomfort at the idea. "What better solution is there?" He'd start talking about stimulating general economic growth, but I would interrupt, "Tell that to a starving child Dad!" And so it would go…
Probably to my father's relief, and greatly accelerated by my growing dread of learning the Russian language, I switched from Soviet Studies to U. S. History. My interest in social justice remained strong, however, as I studied progressive leaders like Bob LaFollette, Teddy Roosevelt, and Jane Adams. At least, I imagine my father saying, they were easier to stomach than "socialism."
My youthful intellectual attraction to radicalism and an interest in social justice is what attracted me to Ethical Culture fifteen years ago. A number of Ethical Culture Society mission statements include the term "social justice," and the American Ethical Union proclaims itself "a religious, educational, cultural and social justice organization." Read more »
I gave a platform at the Baltimore Ethical Society this past Sunday on social justice. I was intrigued how it brought up childhood memories of injustice. Despite my relatively comfortable childhood, most of my memories were about injustice done to me! (Maybe this is not so unusual given adolescent tendencies towards solipsism – Q: How many teenagers does it take to screw in a light bulb. A: One. They hold the bulb and the world revolves around them.)
It was at Martin Luther King Jr. School in Berkeley, California, that I most poignantly remember feeling that I was the victim of injustice. My father’s 1969 academic sabbatical pulled me away from my comfortable East Coast private school and threw me into a labyrinth of corridors of this tough, large public junior high. I must have looked like a victim, as I attracted bullies like a porch light attracts moths. The typical shakedown began, “Got any money?” Answering, I thought sensibly, “No,” I fell into the trap. The bully would counter, “If I find any on you can I keep it?” Things went downhill from there.
Embarrassed by my own inability to avoid such confrontations, I put up with taunts and punches. One day, I dropped some quarters on the locker room floor. Like a fool, I tried to pick them up – I should have listened to the voice in my head: “just walk away from the money.” I was pushed against a locker, pummeled, and robbed.
Afterwards, sitting on the floor half in tears, what stood out most in the rage that swelled inside me was not the lost quarters or physical pain. It was the sense of violation that made my ears burn and breath quiver. The violation whipped up a swirl of emotions: embarrassment, humiliation, fear, anger, indignation, and even a yearning for revenge. Read more »
Back from some quality family time in Canada, I feel the familiar pattern: starting over again in the fall. Summer vacation is over. Twenty-five years as an academic leaves me sensing rebirth as September nears. Fall, not spring, is when things start anew in the school calendar -- new students, new courses, new opportunities! Despite all the writing about spring being the time of rebirth -- as I did in my ESWoW blog of 3/12/2010 -- right now I am excited about the newness of the fall.
A big part of the newness is that now as a staff member of ESWoW (no longer "just" an intern), I will be creating and offering a new course on-line: "An Introduction to Ethical Culture", or Ethical Culture 101! While I have taught courses on the founder of Ethical Culture, Felix Adler, I have not yet taught a general introduction to Ethical Culture. Rather than starting with the 1876 speech marking the founding of Ethical Culture, I hope to start with what Ethical Culture means today.
In preparation for this course, I took the opportunity to read a great deal of essays written by Ethical Culture Leaders, most of whom are still active. Over the last week I have read all or part of essays by Algernon Black, Ed Ericson, Howard Radest, Dale Drews, Kenneth J. Smith, Joe Chuman, Bob Berson, Randy Best, Bob Greenwell, Richard Kiniry, Anne Klaeysen, Kate Lovelady, Don Montagna, and Bart Worden. (To those who I did not mention, give me time…I am getting to you!) Most of what I read came from two collections: A Lively Connection, Cable Neuhaus editor (1978), and a 2003 anthology of recent platform addresses still available from the American Ethical Union. The anthology can be purchased through the AEU. Read more »
Guest Platform by Hugh Taft-Morales
Originally for the St. Louis Ethical Society, October, 2008
(audio MP3 courtesy of St. Louis Ethical Society)
When I was young, I wanted to grow up to be a hero. A super hero! We had a club. The Kryptonite Club. Kevin, Silas, Michael, and me. We collected comic books, dressed as Superman and Batman for Halloween, and debated endlessly about the superiority of various super powers.
As a teenager, molded by the currents of civil rights and the peace movement, a new heroism called me. I was eleven when Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. In processing this, King became my hero. And soon I had many new heroes, such as study Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. I admired them in my head and heart – I wanted to be like them.
So why have I not more like them? Why am I not such a hero?
Am I not confident enough? Not brave enough? Maybe.
But there are also cultural currents that pull us away from heroism. Society tends to criticize heroes. Some say that they're not perfect – that they can act improperly and unethically. Some say that moral heroes are too perfect – that they can be so stridently ethical that they verge on intolerant and inhuman. Other times we accuse moral heroes of being driven by a desire to be moral heroes, and their self-interest demeans their ethical pretensions.
These are damning allegations to make against paragons of virtue such as King, Gandhi and Mother Teresa. My project today is to examine moral heroism more closely from an Ethical Culture perspective so that we might bring out our best, so that we might be heroes. Read more »