Book Notes

Calling all UUCL readers!

We have so many books — and your faithful Borrower Bee doesn’t know what’s in most of them. Can you help? Pick a book, read it, and write just a brief note to share with the rest of us what you find between the covers.

Here are a few Book Notes contributed by members of your Behrens Library Committee.

Life and Destiny, or Thoughts from the Ethical Lectures of Felix Adler

This little gem of a book, published in 1903, collects and arranges many brief observations and comments on spiritual life. The author, Felix Adler, was the founder of the Ethical Culture Movement, which has made a major contribution to Liberal Religion.  Life and Destiny looks at life passages and values through a humanist lens,  focusing less on science and rational thought  than on the human element and on what Adler sees as the light from within and beyond; in his striking image, “[t]he light of the world is a light that is saturated with the darkness which it has overcome and transfigured”, and what is known of the divine is defined by the light that shines from human souls.

In Adler’s thought, the conservation of moral energy is as valid a law as the conservation of mechanical energy. Immortality is an achievement of love: “The dead are not dead if we have loved them truly. In our own lives we can give them a kind of immortality. Let us arise and take up the work they have left unfinished, and preserve intact the treasures they have won”.  What is not promised is happiness, although it may come as an accessory as we achieve our true purpose in life, which is not happiness (“which we dare never make … the end”), but rather worthiness. Adler praises those who lack great opportunities or abilities but always “promote the good”, who “nourish, under the ashes of disappointed hopes, the feeblest remaining spark of the spiritual life, because they believe it to be a spark from an imperishable fire, even from that undying flame which burns at the heart of things, and which is destined to grow brighter and brighter [with time]”. Whatever benefits we receive in life, we need to use well, as an expression of our gratitude.

Life and Destiny offers a succinct introduction to the spiritual principles that inspired the Ethical Culture Movement; reading it has reaffirmed my own decision to raise my children in Ethical Culture.

–Lauren Loewenstein

Essays on Ethics. A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible. By Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Foreword by Senator Joseph I. Lieberman.

Essays on Ethics presents a comprehensive view of the Torah – the first five books of the Bible – as stories that can be used by every reader, regardless of their experience and familiarity with the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Old Testament.  The word Torah means “instruction” or “teaching”, and Rabbi Sacks stresses that the Torah teaches its readers ethics by pointing out the fragilities and failings of its many characters.  Even Moses is forbidden to enter the Promised Land. Rabbi Sacks and the writers of the Torah know that we do not learn ethics and proper behavior by hearing abstract platitudes and concepts removed from real world struggles. Rather the Torah shows the patriarchs, their families and their descendants, learning to follow God’s will by personally confronting the situations they encountered. Like the stories themselves, the interpretations in Essays on Ethics can be fruitfully revisited again and again.

–John Loewenstein