Felix Adler

Felix
Adler
1851
1933

German-born American Educator, Founder of Ethical Culture Movement, Professor of Political and Social Ethics, Rationalist, Lecturer, Social Reformer

Author Quotes

By what sort of experience are we led to the conviction that spirit exists ? On the whole, by searching, painful experience. The rose Religion grows on a thorn-bush, and we must not be afraid to have our fingers lacerated by the thorns if we would pluck the rose.

It is the business of the preacher, not only to state moral truths, but to inspire his hearers with a realizing sense of their value, and to awaken in them the desire to act accordingly. He can do this only by putting his own purpose as a yeast into their hearts. The influence of the right sort of preachers cannot be spared. The human race is not yet so far advanced that it can dispense with the impulses that come from men of more than average intensity of moral energy. Let us produce, through the efficacy of a better moral life and of a deeper moral experience, a surer faith in the ultimate victory of the good.

Statesmen and Philanthropists are busy suggesting remedies for the cure of these great evils. But the renovation of our Civil Service, the reform of our Primaries, and whatever other measures may be devised, they all depend in the last instance upon the fidelity of those to whom their execution must be entrusted. They will all fail unless the root of the evil be attacked, unless the conscience of men be aroused, the confusion of right and wrong checked, and the loftier purposes of our being again brought powerfully home to the hearts of the people.

The moral improvement of the nations and their individual components has not kept pace with the march of intellect and the advance of industry. Before the assaults of criticism many ancient strongholds of faith have given way, and doubt is fast spreading even into circles where its expression is forbidden. Morality, long accustomed to the watchful tutelage of faith, finds this connection loosened or severed, while no new protector has arisen to champion her rights, no new instruments been created to enforce her lessons among the people. As a consequence we behold a general laxness in regard to obligations the most sacred and dear. An anxious unrest, a fierce craving desire for gain has taken possession of the commercial world, and in instances no longer rare the most precious and permanent goods of human life have been madly sacrificed in the interests of momentary enrichment.

Theologians often say that faith must come first, and that morality must be deduced from faith. We say that morality must come first, and faith, to those whose nature fits them to entertain it, will come out of the experience of a deepened moral life as its richest, choicest fruit. Precisely because moral culture is the aim, we cannot be content merely to lift the mass of mankind above the grosser forms of evil. We must try to advance the cause of humanity by developing in ourselves, as well as in others, a higher type of manhood and womanhood than the past has known. To aid in the evolution of a new conscience, to inject living streams of moral force into the dry veins of materialistic communities is our aim. We seek to come into touch with the ultimate power in things, the ultimate peace in things, which yet, in any literal sense, we know well that we cannot know. We seek to become morally certain — that is, certain for moral purposes — of what is beyond the reach of demonstration. But our moral optimism must include the darkest facts that pessimism can point to, include them and transcend them.

What I state as certain is certain for me. It has approved itself as such in my experience. Let others consult their experience, and see how far it tallies with that which is here set forth.

Dogma is the convictions of one man imposed authoritatively upon others.

It is the moral element contained in it that alone gives value and dignity to a religion, and only in so far as its teachings serve to stimulate and purify our moral aspirations does it deserve to retain its ascendency over mankind.

The bitter, yet merciful, lesson which death teaches us is to distinguish the gold from the tinsel, the true values from the worthless chaff.

The moral order never is, but is ever becoming. It grows with our growth.

Theories of what is true have their day. They come and go, leave their deposit in the common stock of knowledge, and are supplanted by other more convincing theories. The thinkers and investigators of the world are pledged to no special theory, but feel themselves free to search for the greater truth beyond the utmost limits of present knowledge. So likewise in the field of moral truth, it is our hope, that men in proportion as they grow more enlightened, will learn to hold their theories and their creeds more loosely, and will none the less, nay, rather all the more be devoted to the supreme end of practical righteousness to which all theories and creeds must be kept subservient. There are two purposes then which we have in view: To secure in the moral and religious life perfect intellectual liberty, and at the same time to secure concert in action. There shall be no shackles upon the mind, no fetters imposed in early youth which the growing man or woman may feel prevented from shaking off, no barrier set up which daring thought may not transcend. And on the other hand there shall be unity of effort, the unity that comes of an end supremely prized and loved, the unity of earnest, morally aspiring persons, engaged in the conflict with moral evil.

When the light of the sun shines through a prism it is broken into beautiful colours, and when the prism is shattered, still the light remains. So does the life of life shine resplendent in the forms of our friends, and so, when their forms are broken, still their life remains; and in that life we are united with them; for the life of their life is also our life, and we are one with them by ties indissoluble.

Ethical religion affirms the continuity of progress toward moral perfection. It affirms that the spiritual development of the human race cannot be prematurely cut off, either gradually or suddenly; that every stone of offence against which we stumble is a stepping-stone to some greater good ; that, at the end of days, if we choose to put it so, or, rather, in some sphere beyond the world of space and time, all the rays of progress will be summed and centred in a transcendent focus.

It is the nature of the noble and the good and the wise that they impart to us of their nobility and their goodness and their wisdom while they live, making it natural for us to breathe the air they breathe and giving us confidence in our own untested powers. And the same influence in more ethereal fashion they continue to exert after they are gone.

The condition of all progress is experience. We go wrong a thousand times before we find the right path. We struggle, and grope, and hurt ourselves until we learn the use of things, and this is true of things spiritual as well as of material things. Pain is unavoidable, but it acquires a new and higher meaning when we perceive that it is the price humanity must pay for an invaluable good.

The office of the public teacher is an unenviable and thankless one.

There is a city to be built, the plan of which we carry in our heads, in our hearts. Countless generations have already toiled at the building of it. The effort to aid in completing it, with us, takes the place of prayer. In this sense we say, "Laborare est orare."

When we are about to set forth on a path hitherto untried and likely to lead our lives in a new direction, it appears eminently desirable and proper that we should, in the first place, briefly review the public and private life of the day, in order to determine whether the essential elements that make up the happiness of states and individuals are all duly provided, and if not, where the need lies and how it can best be supplied.

Few are there that will leave the secure seclusion of the scholar's life, the peaceful walks of literature and learning, to stand out a target for the criticism of unkind and hostile minds.

It is the prerogative of man that he need not blindly follow the law of his natural being, but is himself the author of a higher moral law, and creates it even in acting it out.

The consolations of the moral ideal are vigorous. They do not encourage idle sentiment. They recommend to the sufferer action. Our loss, indeed, will always remain loss, and no preaching or teaching can ever make it otherwise. But the question is whether it shall weaken and embitter, or strengthen and purify us, and lead us to raise to the dead we mourn a monument in our lives that shall be better than any pillared chapel or storied marble tomb. The criterion of all right relations whatsoever is that we are helped by them. And so, too, the criterion of right relations to the dead is that we are helped, not weakened and disabled, by them.

The office of the religious teacher is to be a seer, and to make others see, and thus to win them into the upward way.

There is a difficulty in the way of teaching the higher life, due to the fact that only those who have begun to lead it can understand the meaning of it. Nevertheless, all men can be induced to begin to lead it. Though they seem blind, their eyes can be opened so as to see. Deep down in every human heart is the seed of a diviner life, which only needs the quickening influence of right conditions to germinate.

Why in this world of ours there should be so much suffering no one knows. But this we know; that, evil existing, the world being such as it is, we can win from evil, if we choose, an inestimable good, namely — the conviction that there is in us a power not of the senses, the conviction that spirit exists, and exists in us. A skeptic may say that in a world ideally conceivable we might have secured this precious conviction without the necessity of undergoing the ordeal of pain. To which the reply is: that in a world ideally conceivable what he says may be true; but in the world as it is, with which alone we are concerned, we have ample cause for gratitude that we can turn suffering to such far-reaching account, that we can distil from the bitter root this divine elixir; that by manfully bearing the pains of the senses, inexplicable though they be, we are able to gain the certainty that a power not born of the senses exists in us, operates in us. It is this effect of pain that accounts for the serenity and peace of many patient sufferers, a peace and a serenity which surround their bed of misery with a kind of halo.

For a long time the conviction has been dimly felt in the community that, without prejudice to existing institutions, the legal day of weekly rest might be employed to advantage for purposes affecting the general good.

Author Picture
First Name
Felix
Last Name
Adler
Birth Date
1851
Death Date
1933
Bio

German-born American Educator, Founder of Ethical Culture Movement, Professor of Political and Social Ethics, Rationalist, Lecturer, Social Reformer