If you want to treat others with dignity and respect while getting involved with a community of like-minded individuals and leaving traditional religion out of it, check out the Ethical Society of St. Louis in Clayton. This congregation of ethical humanists attends Sunday morning meetings in a format similar to church, but with a lot less ritual and stuffiness.

The group encourages freethinking: Essentially, no one cares whether you’re religious, atheist, agnostic or somewhere in between. The services are more interactive and light-hearted than a typical church, while still focusing on spreading the message to contribute to society. 

Nick Cowan, an 11-year member who’s heavily involved in the Sunday Ethical Educational for Kids (SEEK) program, says the Ethical Society has come a long way toward being different than what people think of as traditional religion.

“We’re not big on ceremonial rituals … but the support we get from our community is fantastic,” he says. “We tend to keep things pretty light, but if there’s a heavier topic, we do address it as such.”

A popular motto at the Society is “Deed Before Creed,” Cowan explains: The congregation is focused on how its members treat each other and interact with the world. “If you put that in the context of religion, great — if not, great. If you’re being mean to people, it doesn’t make a difference if you’re religious or not.”

Cowan says humanists feel a responsibility to be part of making the world a better place and work to instill these values in their children.

“The kids spend two hours together on Sunday mornings,” Cowan says. “Most of that, they’re talking about why they believe what they do. Organized religion does not usually encourage people to think about why they believe what they do. Here, we try to get them to think a little deeper about why. We use comparative religion as a loose basis.”

Most humanists are “born with activism,” according to Cowan, so they try to help the community when they can. “Our [youth] class does a charity project every year, and we let them decide what it will be,” Cowan says. “One year, we did the Ronald McDonald house. Another year we made dog toys for Stray Rescue [of St. Louis].”

Although humanists often avoid ritualistic ceremonies, the Ethical Society of St. Louis celebrates their children’s “Coming of Age” each year for 13- and 14-year-olds because “some things need to be marked,” Cowan explains.

“This started about 20 years ago because most religions have some sort of transition from cartoons on Saturday to being aware of the news,” he says. “This is a humanist way to have that sense of ceremony.”

Cowan’s son Porter, who enjoyed his Coming of Age ceremony at the end of April, says he’s learned a lot about himself through the group.

“I learned that I’m free to question the core values,” Porter says. “And lots of political stuff like how Trump [isn’t the best]. I definitely enjoy coming here. Church seemed to be a lot more of them asking you for money.”

The Ethical Society, located at 9001 Clayton Road, is great place to feel a sense of community with others working to make the world a better place without involving any deities. For more information, visit ethicalstl.orgM

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