Ethical Culture Society of Asheville by malj


									Jennifer Saylor
Ethical Culture Society
70 lines

Asheville is home to many nontraditional religions, but the Ethical Culture Society is one
of the few so nontraditional it eliminates god completely.

"I don't know if there is a god or not. But more importantly, I don't think it matters. What
matters is that we live ethical lives," Ethical Culture Society member Jackie Simms said.

Not only does the group dispense with deity, it also dispenses with church as well, gathering
once a month in a public meeting room near the UNC Asheville campus. And the purpose
of its meetings is not to worship, but to listen, discuss and plan social action locally.

Simms, one of the local chapter's founding members, grew up Methodist, considered
converting to Catholicism and was married in the Methodist church. But as her young
daughter entered preschool, Simms began shopping around for a religion that better suited
her changing beliefs.

"I could not pretend, especially with my daughter, that I believed the doctrines and creeds
of the Christian denominations we visited. By the time my daughter was in first grade I
determined that I needed a community for her that was based on values and ethics," Simms

Ethical Culture, the community Simms decided to raise her child in, is an organized
religion with 3000 members nationwide. And while the group is composed of people who
share a desire to cultivate ethical behavior, Simms says that within that one commonality,
members are varied. She describes them not only as atheists, agnostics and freethinkers,
but as Catholics and even a Baptist Sunday school teacher as well.

Simms believes the group appeals to people of many faiths with an interest in the sciences
or a questioning mind.

"Ethical Culture has a kinship with science in that it accepts what is observable and
repeatable," she said. "Intellectual curiosity is encouraged."

Simms challenges the assumption that all atheists are morally suspect.

"There is no reliable evidence or scientific study which reveals that those who hold
supernatural beliefs necessarily lead better lives than those who call themselves agnostics or
atheists. Goodness is not dependent upon theology," she said.

Despite a difference of belief, the Rev. James Martin, Roman Catholic priest and acting
publisher of the Jesuit magazine America, welcomes the efforts of non-theist groups.

"Though I approach social justice from a wholly Christian perspective, I have long worked
with humanist groups that are not motivated by belief and who do extraordinary work in
the public sphere," he said. "Anyone motivated to help the poor, care for the sick, alleviate
injustice and confront the unjust structure that keeps people marginalized is of
course doing the most critical work of our time, no matter what their belief or disbelief.
And when it comes to doing good, sometimes the nonbelievers give the rest of us a run for
our money."

The society's ethical commitments locally have included sponsorship of the Peace on
Earth, Peace with Earth celebration of the 101st anniversary of Gandhi’s non-violent
resistance movement. It has also made donations toward the purchase of fans for elderly
Buncombe county residents, and was involved in a campaign to make building
improvements in a local community center.

Katharine Archibald, Executive Director of the American Ethical Union (the national
federation of Ethical Culture societies across the United States) points out that the group's
history of social activism also extends to the national level.

"We were instrumental in founding the ACLU, the Visiting Nurse Service and the
NAACP," she said.

The speaker at the next meeting of the Ethical Culture Society of Asheville is Howard Box,
Minister Emeritus of Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Box will present a lecture entitled "The New Atheist and the American Ethical Crisis."

The Ethical Culture Society of Asheville meets at 2 p.m. on the third Sunday of each
month. Meetings are held in the Visitor Center meeting room of the Botanical Gardens at
Asheville at 155 W T Weaver Blvd., near the corner of Broadway St. and WT Weaver
Blvd. and adjacent to the UNC Asheville campus.

For further information on Ethical Culture, local meetings or upcoming speakers, send
email to, call 828-687-7759 or the visit the AEU Web site at

To top