From October 16, 1910
NEW MEETING HOUSE FOR SOCIETY OF ETHICAL CULTURE: Unusual and Interesting Features About the Edifice That Will Be Dedicated Next Sunday. Simplicity the Keynote — The Seats are Arranged Radially Around Slightly Elevated Platform. (PDF)
Over the previous two weeks, the Sunday Magazine had published several articles about religion. First, they had a front-page story in which Thomas Edison declares there is no soul or afterlife. The following week, they published articles in which experts claim that there surely is an afterlife. This week, they approach the topic from a different vantage, announcing the opening of a new meeting house for the Society of Ethical Culture, a non-theistic congregation led by Felix Adler.
For the unfamiliar, here is some of what Felix Adler has to say about ethical culture:
“Moral training is necessary for every one; religious training is another matter. Not every one is born with a religious nature; there can be unreligious persons just as there are unmusical persons.
“It is a gift, given to many and omitted almost entirely in the case of others.
“Very great harm is done by trying to force religion on people who are not by nature religious. They are not attuned to it, they do not grasp the real significance of it, and they inevitably degrade it. Much of the tragedy of history has arisen from no other cause than insistence in forcing religion on persons irreligious by temperament, and their consequent misconception of it.
“Therefore, in my own training of children I assume with regard to religion the attitude of ‘You may take it or leave it.’ A child of religious temperament may be trained in religious thought, but others may need only moral training, and would be better for not having the religious side forced on them.”
Today, the Society of Ethical Culture continues to have regular Sunday services for the unreligious community, and houses the Fieldston School, a notable private school whose alumni include Diane Arbus, Sofia Coppola, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Walter Koenig.
The article describes the building’s architecture, including its auditorium, which is used today not just for the Society’s services, but for other community events, too. I attended a Lydia Kavina theremin concert there in 2000, and a panel discussion on civil liberties after 9/11 moderated by Phil Donahue in 2002. You can find a calendar of events at the Society’s website
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