Felix Adler


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

Author Quotes

In a country of such recent civilization as ours, whose almost limitless treasures of material wealth invite the risks of capital and the industry of labor, it is but natural that material interests should absorb the attention of the people to a degree elsewhere unknown.

People may be said to resemble the pieces of a puzzle, each unique, yet each essential to bring out a complete picture.

The frontier of the higher life is everywhere contiguous to the common life, and we can cross the border at any moment. The higher life is as real as the grosser things in which we put our trust. But our eyes must be anointed so that we may see it.

The terrible events of life are great eye-openers. They force us to learn that which it is wholesome for us to know, but which habitually we try to ignore — namely, that really we have no claim on a long life ; that we are each of us liable to be called off at any moment, and that the main point is not how long we live, but with what meaning we fill the short allotted span — for short it is at best.

We have already transgressed the limit of safety, and the present disorders of our time are but precursors of other and imminent dangers. The rudder of our ship has ceased to move obedient to the helm. We are drifting on the seething tide of business, each one absorbed in holding his own in the giddy race of competition, each one engrossed in immediate cares and seldom disturbed by thoughts of larger concerns and ampler interests. Even our domestic life has lost much of its former warmth and geniality.

As the light of morning strikes now one peak and then another, some being illuminated while others are in the shadow, so the light of the essential moral principle shines now upon one duty and then upon another, while others are in the shadow.

In order to join vigorously in the moral work of the world I must believe that somehow the best I can accomplish will endure, will leave its trace on things, will aid the final consummation.

Perhaps a hundred people assembled one evening, May 15, 1876, at the time when the country was celebrating the hundredth anniversary of its political independence.

The Hebrew prophets said of old, to serve Jehovah is to make your hearts pure and your hands clean from corruption, to help the suffering, to raise the oppressed. Jesus of Nazareth said that he came to comfort the weary and heavy laden. The Philosopher affirms that the true service of religion is the unselfish service of the common weal. There is no difference among them all. There is no difference in the law. But so long have they quarreled concerning the origin of law that the law itself has fallen more and more into abeyance. For indeed, as it is easier to say. "I do not believe," and have done with it, so also it is easier to say, "I believe," and thus to bribe one's way into heaven, as it were, than to fulfill nobly our human duties with all the daily struggle and sacrifice which they involve.

The truth which has made us free will in the end make us glad also.

We propose to entirely exclude prayer and every form of ritual. Thus shall we avoid even the appearance of interfering with those to whom prayer and ritual, as a mode of expressing religious sentiment, are dear. And on the other hand we shall be just to those who have ceased to regard them as satisfactory and dispensed with them in their own persons.

But the purified gladness of which I speak is not dependent on these accidents. It is the mark of the ripest wisdom, and is based on the conviction, gained through experience, that life is worth living, that the victory is assured, and that the ends we pursue are of such excellence as to be incapable of ultimate defeat.

It has been said that the modern world is divided between the hot and hasty pursuit of affairs in the hours of labor, and the no less eager chase of pleasure in the hours of leisure. But even our pleasures are calculated and business like. We measure our enjoyments by the sum expended. Our salons are often little better than bazaars of fashion.

Religion is a wizard, a sibyl . . . She faces the wreck of worlds, and prophesies restoration. She faces a sky blood-red with sunset colors that deepen into darkness, and prophesies dawn. She faces death, and prophesies life.

The Infinite, from which comes the impulse that lead us to activity, is not the highest Reason, but higher than reason; not the highest Goodness, but higher than goodness.

The very names that ought to be held up as luminaries of honor have become bywords of villainy, and the foul stench of corruption fills our public offices. See how the Nation, in this the festal epoch of her marriage to Liberty, stands blackened with the crimes of her first dignitaries, and hides her head in shame before the nations!

We should seek to free the moral life from the embarrassments and entanglements in which it has been involved by the quibbles of the schools and the mutual antagonisms of the sects; to introduce into it an element of downrightness and practical earnestness; above all, to secure to the modern world, in its struggle with manifold evil, the boon of moral unity, despite intellectual diversity.

By ceaseless efforts to live the good life we maintain our moral sanity. Not from without, but from within, flow the divine waters that renew the soul.

It is not possible to enter into the nature of the Good by standing aloof from it — by merely speculating upon it. Act the Good, and you will believe in it. Throw yourself into the stream of the world's good tendency and you will feel the force of the current and the direction in which it is setting. The conviction that the world is moving toward great ends of progress will come surely to him who is himself engaged in the work of progress.

Spiritual evolution is the progressive advance of mankind toward a state of things in which the light of ethical perfection shall be reflected from the face of human society; that is, in which all men shall live and move and have their being in mutually promoting the highest life of each and all. It means that the object of social reformation shall not be a mere change in the conditions under which men live, but a change in human nature itself. It means that we shall look forward consciously to the breaking forth of new powers in ourselves, to the release, through our own efforts, of capacities dimly latent in us.

The moral ideal would embrace the whole of life. In its sight nothing is petty or indifferent. It touches the veriest trifles and turns them into shining gold. We are royal by virtue of it, and like the kings in the fairy tale, we may never lay aside our crowns.

The world is dark around us and the prospect seems deepening in gloom. and yet there is light ahead. On the volume of the past in starry characters it is written — the starry legend greets us shining through the misty vistas of the future — that the great and noble shall not perish from among the sons of men, that the truth will triumph in the end, and that even the humblest of her servants may in this become the instrument of unending good. We are aiding in laying the foundations of a mighty edifice, whose completion shall not be seen in our day, no, nor in centuries upon centuries after us. But happy are we, indeed, if we can contribute even the least towards so high a consummation. The time calls for action. Up, then, and let us do our part faithfully and well. And oh, friends, our children's children will hold our memories dearer for the work which we begin this hour.

We should teach our children nothing which they shall ever need to unlearn; we should strive to transmit to them the best possessions, the truest thought, the noblest sentiments of the age in which we live.

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.

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