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Edwin Wilson Manifesto Ch12


Responses to the Final Draft

Having taken into consideration both the criticisms and suggestions we received, the final draft was completed and sent to everyone who had agreed to sign, as well as to the principal advance critics. The responses to the draft were diverse. Some authorizations to sign came by wire in order to meetthe deadline. The files show that the earlier versions had been approved by most signers.

Albert Dieffenbach wrote, "The draft is now excellent."

Professor Robert Morss Lovett wrote, "I am proud to be able to sign the Humanist Manifesto, so sound in thought and admirable in expression."

Charles Francis Potter wrote to me on April 28 from New York City and volunteered to handle press releases there.

Llewellyn Jones, a Chicago literary critic who was later to become editor of the Unitarian publication then called the Christian Register, wrote: "I am glad to see that the Manifesto was against profit motivation. That plank seems to indicate that we mean what we say in other planks."

Unofficially representing Universalism, Clinton Lee Scott wrote: "I am glad to sign the Humanist Manifesto. It probably represents as well as any one statement could a cross section of the thought of the number of persons included, but I make the familiar reservation, ‘Neither this nor any other precise form of words etc.’" (Scott refers here to the escape clause customarily used by religious liberals in any effort to present a consensus of their faith.) He continued: "One of the primary virtues of a Humanist is his intellectual modesty. Whether the universe is ‘self-existing’ or ‘created’ and whether or not there is a cosmic end beyond the fulfillment of man’s life here and now are matters about which even a Theist can make but a poor guess. However, I like the positive character of the statement and especially the recognition of the economic factors."

Clearly some who signed "A Humanist Manifesto" did so reluctantly, disagreeing on particular points.

David Rhys Williams took exception to point three, which deals with body-soul dualism. On April 14, Bragg wrote to Williams: "There seems to be a good deal of sentiment similar to your own in regard to the Third Thesis." Williams’ explicit objections do not appear in the files, but a wire came from him the same day as Bragg’s letter was mailed authorizing the use of his signature. Williams later renounced the humanist position, attacking its nontheism.

Lester Mondale signed the manifesto but included a statement questioning the all-out naturalistic metaphysic of the document. A Unitarian minister, Mondale succeeded Raymond Bragg in the Evanston, Illinois, pulpit and was the youngest of all the signers.1

Not everyone signed the final draft. On April 24, 1933, the manifesto editors received another very significant letter this from Rabbi Joseph L. Baron of the Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshuran in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Bragg had sent the draft to Baron at the suggestion of Eustace Haydon. Baron responded:

I appreciate the compliment implied in your communication of April 15th, and I regret that I cannot join with you in signing the Humanist Manifesto. Speaking only with reference to the Jewish group, I consider the issuance of such a statement at the present time as ill-advised..

I might take exception to some of your conclusions. For instance, I find the concept of the self-existence of the universe just as unintelligible as that of its creation. I find your statement with regard to mind as a function of the organism as too simple and terse to do justice to the viewpoint of vitalism. But my criticism is based on the spirit and purport of the manifesto as a whole rather than on any of its details.

I believe that it is a repressive and futile effort to establish a uniformity of opinion in a dynamic religious movement, particularly at such an early stage in its development. The best we may do in this direction is to point out certain tendencies, and not to clinch it with a new dogmatism.

Your manifesto ignores some personal effects of the old forms of piety which are a vital need in the life of many members of the Jewish group, to say nothing of the Christian, whose arrogant, vulgar and selfish reaction to the conditions of our environment makes it necessary that we follow a conservative and not a radical process in changing the meaning of holiness.

Your stress on metaphysical affirmations and denials may inject a theological polemic in liberal synagogues, where the membership is not concerned with the definition of God or of the hereafter but with practical problems such as the application of the ideals of justice and peace, the upbuilding of a Jewish civilization in Palestine, the combat against tyranny and fanaticism, etc. To divert the attention of the Jewish congregation, and to divide its forces, by declarations against "theism, deism, modernism, and new thought," would be an unfortunate obstacle in the path of its humanistic leaders who are endeavoring to mobilize its strength toward the achievement of "a socialized and cooperative" way of life.

By no means should a signature on the manifesto be equated with 100 percent agreement but, rather, it signifies an approximate consensus. Even though some signers did not specify as much, we can take for granted that they had some reservations or took exception to various fine points in the language. But we must assume that the signers of the manifesto found themselves in substantial agreement with the tone, the direction, and the basic assumptions of the document.


1. As of November 1995, Lester Mondale is the only surviving manifesto signer.


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