I really wanted to get this to you by last week, but my computer went on the blink. Only now that I have it back, I realize that I could have just sat down, and written all this in longhand. Now why didn’t I think of that earlier?That’s the kind of thing that this chapter can do for its members: Make a group that can take a fresh look at what you are concerned with, and say, “Hey, why don’t you just do it this way?” And, “Have you thought about that?” So, the reason why this newsletter is later than planned is because I didn’t ask your advice. More fool me.
The ripples from the Gulf spread here, too: Ken Phifer, who was going to speak at the February 12 chapter meeting, got a call a couple of days before. His son was about to be shipped to Saudi Arabia, and the only way they could see one another before the departure was if Ken left early. That is not a circumstance any of us could look sour about.
Besides, the irrepressible Ed Wilson was found willing on short notice to fill Ken’s time slot. He did that with a speech on “Humanism as a Global Movement” which he gave in Budapest last summer. That worked out okay, because most of us weren’t there to hear it the first time.
By the way, a home video of that speech is available; it is not as good as the real thing, but a reasonable facsimile thereof. If you express enough interest, it would also be possible to print the text in this newsletter.
After the speech and a question period, there was an organizational meeting, the minutes of which you will find below.
About the minutes: the chapter doesn’t have a secretary yet. Those present at the meeting agreed to have Anne Zeilstra report on it, even though that might introduce personal bias.
The instructions he received from the national AHA office include a fill-in-the-blanks form for minutes. Unless a more law-abiding secretary is found, this is the first and the last time that you’ll see that form: future minutes may reflect the informal atmosphere, and will relegate the formal jargon to a footnote.
Minutes: February 12, 1991
Minutes of the meeting of the membership of the Humanists of Utah, an unincorporated association in the State of Utah, duly held in Salt Lake City, Utah, on the twelfth day of February, 1991 at about 8.30 p.m.
There were present [name of each person present? Forget it: just like everyone else, I was too busy having a good time to make a list of who was there for Ed’s speech, and who left afterward. There were a good many people – AZ], being a quorum of the membership of this association.
Upon motion duly made, seconded and carried out, it was resolved that,
- The chapter bylaws (printed in the last newsletter and available on request) are acceptable as is.
- There was one blank in the bylaws (under VI Elections): how many members are needed to nominate someone as an officer? The meeting said: one.
- Anna Hoagland is confirmed in her post as treasurer, and Greg Hansen in his as external relations focus. Larry Christensen offered to help with organizing future meetings, and Florien Wineriter with organizing the fledgling chapter library; both offers were gratefully accepted. Kent Griffiths will help with mailing list maintenance.
- The meeting will be a brunch on the third Saturday of March, at a place that has neither religious nor commercial ties. As far as meeting days are concerned, about equal numbers of those present favored a week night, as did the weekend, which only goes to show that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
- What members want from speakers is a whole series of things: their subject should be educational and in the local news, their approach scientific and stimulating. Next to having a speaker, the meetings should also give members an opportunity to get to know each other.
- A chapter Who’s Who could be another way to get acquainted. But, said the meeting, those who don’t want to be mentioned in there should have their privacy respected.
- The newsletter has the potential of becoming the analog of a live discussion, a telephone conference, or a computer billboard. Whether it will fulfill that potential depends on how many members actually contribute concise remarks about their interests and ideas.
- A fund-raiser, even one that peddled recycled paper without excessive member involvement, is not a very popular idea. Members would rather pay up what money was needed than hassle someone else to give it. Looking into financial support from foundations might be a more effective strategy.
- The First Unitarian Church, our host for the meeting, will be thanked for its hospitality.
There being no further business to come before the meeting, upon motion duly made, seconded and carried, the meeting thereupon adjourned at [about 9.15 p.m. by estimate].
Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future
Househubbies. Tree huggers. Peacenicks. Death penalty protesters. Working women. Are these deviations of a decadent society? Should we look back to the good old ways, when men were real men, women were real women, justice was as swift as a whack to the side of the head, and the world view as clean as a picked bone?
No way, argues Riane Eisler in The Chalice and the Blade. It is the violent, male-dominated social orders that deviated, and they are neither good nor old. Long ago and far away, in prehistoric Europe and the Middle East, there were peaceful and balanced cultures where women worked together with men, and not just for them. Artifacts from that time–the little “Venus” statuettes–show the worship of a goddess of creation.
At some point in time, nomadic horsemen who venerated the sword, the power to take away life, descended on these peaceful societies like prehistoric Huns, and took them over. The moral justification of the violent, authoritarian patriarchy followed: the goddesses where transformed to mates and servants of gods, women were pronounced vile vessels of inequity, the source of original sin, and things to be had and traded.
Now that violence and exploitation have brought us to the brink of extinction, it is time to pick up the original threads, and try to recreate a partnership society.
This book can change the way you look at things.
The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future, by Riane Eisler; Harper & Row, 1987.
Economies of Scale
I haven’t seen that many of them lately: those bumper stickers that proudly proclaim, “I don’t believe the liberal media.” That sounds blundered, but there is a point here.
Who are you going to believe? You can’t, as the classics did, examine all things and retain what is good. To examine the thousands of pounds of printed matter that are produced every year would take more than one lifetime (and probably more than one salary, because you have to buy before you can examine). You’ll have to select who you are going to pay attention to.
Here is a candidate. Leter Brown is on our list of good guys: he is one of the two 1991 Humanists of the Year. Brown is the president of the World Watch Institute, a think-tank of specialists on the environment and the global economy. For the last seven years, he has been producing the annual State of the World, which is widely considered to be the final word on the earth, and which is published in more languages than Reader’s Digest.
The Social Engineering of Vice
There are a number of things some people do to themselves and to consenting adults, that other people find absolutely disgusting. Smoking, chewing, dressing like the opposite sex, getting drunk, burning flags, getting high, terminating pregnancies, getting stoned, drooling over centerfolds, eating live cockles, eating dog, having affairs, buying sex: some people do it, other people would rather die first. We could call those habits vices. (Mind you, I am talking about things people do to themselves, or with grownups. Disgusting things people do to others, or with children, are crimes.)
Disgust is an unpleasurable sensation, and some people will want to remove the cause of it.
That can happen in a number of ways. Some will say that, free country or not, some things are just plain wrong, and they will point to an authority who says so, in some book that they themselves hold true.
Others will take a defensive approach, and will point out that nothing that anyone does in a society is an isolated incident, without consequences for the rest of us. So, they’re just looking out for their own best interest, and sorry pal, that means that you can’t practice your vice anymore.
And then there are people who see victims in the practitioners of vices. These people don’t really want to do these disgusting things, they’ll say, something makes them do it. We need to help them stop, because they can’t do it.
Who is a socially responsible person, and who is a moralistic busybody? I am not going to make that call now. What I can say is that some strategies to stop disgusting habits work better than others.
Simply declaring something illegal will not do the trick. That does not diminish the demand for the goods or services involved, and it substitutes legal suppliers with ones that do not abide by a law. That means that the disgusting habit will still be practiced, but now without government quality control.
We in this country should know that from experience, because at one time we did a daring and radical social experiment called the Prohibition: we made marketing of alcohol illegal. That did not stop many people from wanting a drink. It did create organized crime. There is an out of print book called “Theft of the Nation” (by D.R. Cressey, I think), the result of years of government investigation. In it, it is documented how the mafia was a piece of Sicilian folklore until the Prohibition provided the economies of scale that made it a big business. And what Prohibition did for the mafia, heroin has done for the Chinese tongs, and cocaine has done for the Colombians: it has made them rich and powerful.
Simply declaring something legal is not going to do the trick, either. We could say: liberty is the freedom to do anything you want, anything which does not limit another person’s liberty. It’s a free country. You can indulge in any vice you want, until it kills you for all we care; and if you don’t want to do it, nobody will force you. But that would not satisfy the disgusted part of the population.
This country also has seen a successful (although unplanned) strategy that has remarkably limited the use of one certain drug, and much more effectively than heavily enforced prohibition has done for cocaine and heroin.
Tobacco has never been prohibited. It’s distribution has been heavily supervised. Its consumption has been taxed to the limit, that is, to the point where it is felt financially, but not so far that the demand for cheap tobacco invites illegal distribution. Distributors have been prohibited from using the mass media to convince people of the merit of their product. And individuals have been stimulated to personally convince potential users that tobacco hurts, and actual users that life without tobacco is possible.
The combination of public policy and personal interaction will not totally eradicate tobacco use, and it will not eradicate any disgusting habit.
Eradication is not a real option in living systems. Control is.
Dreaming: Peace With Justice
This is an excerpt from a talk at the March 1991 meeting of the Humanists of Utah.
These remarks are mind, are not original, are a result of much reading, listening, asking questions of friends, even tiny bits of thinking. I have concentrated on goals rather than means of reaching these goals. Since there is little unanimity, and many alternatives, I am calling this path my “Dream for a Peace with Justice,” as peace alone is not enough.
Back in 1945, the United Nations grew from a dream into a reality. I was present at that historic San Francisco gathering. In my dream of a peace with justice, I envision a greatly strengthened United Nations truly functioning as a world government, as was that dream of a half century ago.
My emphasis is on peace with justice. Mere non-shooting is not enough; peace in my vision is positive.
Justice will require change–major change–in the way we think, in our life styles, in the way we interact with other people and societies, and our planet.
Peace with Justice means that there shall be no more billionaires in the Middle East–or the world–when so many millions have little or no material comfort of their own. The bounty of the region must be shared among all peoples of the region. The gap between rich and poor must be substantially narrowed.
- The United Nations (or its successor) must be the dominant controlling force in international politics, much stronger than any nation. The UN must control all international military forces, including raising, training and deployment of all troops, and the manufacture and possession of all military munitions. In the transition process, all countries including the United States, the Soviet Union, and others, shall transfer control of their weapons and munitions factories to control of the U.N. Each nation would be authorized to maintain a national emergency relief force capable of assistance during natural disasters, such as floods, earthquakes, fires, hurricanes. The U.N. would supervise the removal and disposition of all military type weapons, and demobilization of excess military troops and material.
- Five nations, including the United States, will have to give up their veto power in the Security Council.
- The United States should pay up promptly all of its arrears to the U.N.
- The United States should reaffirm its adherence to the decisions of the World Court. In the process, it should accept the decision against it in the case of mining Nicaraguan harbors, and pay the fine levied against us by that Court
- An international Court for individual international criminals needs to be established.
- An international code of conduct must be established for multinational corporations.
Far reaching as these changes may be, there is even a more far reaching change that everyone of us must consider making, that from the unrestrained growth concept of society, to a sustainable society. This may be a new concept to many; yet, it is as old as human society. In my opinion, it is an integral part of a world peace with justice. You say it’s too Utopian? That’s why I have called my comments a dream, a dream of what could be when peach with justice would be achieved in this global village of ours.
The issue of abortion is a religious controversy, and the powers of government should not be used to settle it. The anti-abortion campaign is the work of several religions seeking to give their religious doctrine the force of secular law.
Anti-abortionists base their opposition on the premise that aborting a fetus is ending a life, but the question of when life begins is an unresolved religious question. Some religions believe life begins at birth, some believe life begins at conception; others believe the individual life began even before physical conception. Prohibiting abortion, then, is government endorsement of a particular religious belief.
I hope the courts continue to uphold the principle of separation of church and government as put forth in the U.S. Constitution, and the Utah Constitution, by declaring Utah’s new abortion law an unconstitutional enactment of a religious doctrine. Both constitutions guarantee the rights of religions to advocate and governments to legislate. If the courts permit religions to legislate, our democracy will become a theocracy.
Readiness for Life?
When does a fetus become a person, and entitled to protection? Some people have the religious belief that they don’t even after birth.
In northeast Brazil, where life is tough, people are poor, and contraception and abortion are prohibited by the dominant religion, 200 out of 1,000 babies die within the first year of life (for all of Brazil, that number is 67, for the U.S. it is 10).
Nancy Scheper-Hughes reports that mothers there habitually judge each child on a rough scale of readiness for life. Alert, active children get food and medical attention; lethargic, passive, “ghostlike” children don’t, and are likely to die in infancy.
When that happens, the mothers do not show grief. Some say that the death was “Gods will,” and others that their baby has been called to heaven to become a “little angel.”
Thursday, May 9th, 1991 is an important day for Humanists of Utah. It is our chapter’s official zeroth birthday, the day the chapter charter will be approved by the national board of the American Humanist Association.
At its official birth, the chapter weighs in at 134 people on the mailing list; 72 of those have sent in a donation of $5 or more to help get the chapter started. At the moment, most of that money goes into newsletter production costs. It is time to start thinking of ways to share the financial burdens more equitably. The way I see it, the chapter can go three ways: it can become:
- more exclusive,
- more inclusive,
- or more expensive.
And those ways don’t exclude one another.
- Those people whom we have been sending the newsletter for some time, and whom we haven’t heard from yet, will get a letter asking them to give us some feedback. If we can stop sending mail to people who have long since moved, that should cut our cost.
- The postal service and the printers offer economies of scale. If we can get 200 or more readers on our mailing list, the production cost would actually be lower than it is now. That is why the people who already expressed a financial interest in the newletter will also get a letter with this issue. It will ask them if any of their friends might be interested, as well. That’s not an invitation to do a proselytizing hard sell, although we may include a promotional brochure. We can send those friends a couple newsletter issues so they can make up their own minds.
- Either way, by making the mailing list leaner or fatter, there will be enough money in the kitty to produce another six newsletter issues this year. (That gives everybody one month off. What month would a newsletter be missed least? Please let us know!) But there are other things the chapter could be doing. Things like inviting speakers from out of state, acquiring books and videos for our lending library, sponsoring a Rational Recovery group (for people who want to stop their addiction, but without getting religion), you name it. The idea has been floating around to have chapter dues in tiers: $10 for ‘regular” people, $5 for those who live on a fixed income, $0 for those who are financially challenged. We don’t want anybody to be unable to link up with us just because they are smart, but not rich.
How does that plan strike you? Please let us know.
Last month, we asked how we could adapt the Humanist HappyMan to our local environment. Two ideas were bounced back to us.
One is to have Happy riding on top of the statue of the angel that decorates the religious building on Temple Square. Um…no.
Another is to have him frolicking on a mountain ridge. That sounds like fun, but my artistic development stopped at stickfigures. Is there a graphically gifted person out there who can make the Happy Man go over the mountains?
Bob Goff’s article in last months Utah Humanist, “Dreaming: Peace with Justice” got us this rather unusual response.
The Loyal Opposition
After reading Bob Goff’s article “peace with Justice,” I realized that there are still people stuck in the 60s!. People who are still espousing their same old dogma in the same old way, offering no new concepts or original ideas. These people have to wake up, see what is really happening in the world, and make the peace movement mean something to people other than each other.
Most people who desire peace in the world see it as a global issue. A problem for humanity. The problem faced by Mr. Goff, and those who believe as he does, is that it gives most people the impression that the United States is the only impediment to world peace. True or not, this is the impression that most people have. It is probably the single greatest obstacle that most peace advocates face. Until this impression is overcome, there will be no mass support for a solid peace movement among Americans. At the present moment in history, the peace activists are talking to each other, and nobody else.
It is certainly proper for Mr. Goff to have dreams of peace. But Mr. Goff and many others are going to have to be far more pragmatic in their efforts. This is the only way to gain any meaningful support from the American public. After all, America just won a major campaign in Iraq, one that Americans believe was for “good.” Americans see Secretary of State Baker continuously flying from country to country to attempt to build a real peace process in the Middle East. He is talking to countries who, for their own political reasons, simply do not appear to be listening. When Americans see this, why should they pay any attention to Mr. Goff?
Americans currently see the United States working for a peace process for the 21st century. They also have the perception that peace activists are people who are still stuck in the 60s.
Some conversations are very quick, you say your piece, you listen to the other guy, you reach a conclusion, and that’s it. Some conversations take a lifetime. A bonsai gardner talks to his tree with light and water and rope, telling it: “I would like you to grow in this direction, please.” The plant talks back by growing, or not.
Legislation is a very slow conversation, too. Those who make the laws tell those who have to obey them: “I would like you to behave in this way, please, or else I am going to make you hurt.” People talk back by behaving as they see fit.
In a democracy, where the rulers are no different from the ruled, the conversation is a bit like schizophrenic talking to himself: we the people as individuals talk with we the people as a community. For this conversation to work, it is vital that legislators take themselves and their conversation partners seriously. That means that they should not tell people: “Do this, or else.” Unless they are actually willing and able to “or else them” each and every time.
There are formidable means to enforce a law: people can get held up, robbed, kidnapped, kept in a little room against their will, and killed, if they don’t behave. If legislators don’t take their own legislation seriously, if they don’t insist on enforcement, they garble the conversation. Lately, there has been a lot of that going on.
- The majority of Utah lawmakers have said that people are people from the moment of conception. They earlier said that ending a human life is bad, so bad that someone who does that should get shot with a gun until they are dead themselves. The ACLU ran a page ad in the New York Times saying the same thing. The makers of the law said that was outrageous, they don’t mean for a woman who had an abortion to be prosecuted for murder.
- A Utah state court has ruled that bigamists can not be excluded from adopting children. Lawmakers earlier said that being married to two people at the same time is bad, so bad that you can get punished as long as you do that.
- Federal lawmakers said driving fast is dangerous. They said that people who do drive faster than the speed limit will have money taken from them, and their license to drive. But they didn’t say that there would be money available to check and see how fast people drive.
- Federal lawmakers said that someone who sells cocaine should be kept in a little room for a long time. But they did not tell the makers and keepers of little rooms to make enough little rooms to hold all the salesmen.
I am not saying that we should not make laws. I am not saying that we should have a police state, where everything that is not allowed is forbidden. But an unenforced or unenforcable law is a badly made one.
People may break it, becuase they think the lawmakers are only kidding. And enforcers, if not pushed to enforce everytime, will have the leeway to only punish those lawbreakers they personally dislike.
Hope and Despair
The following items were side by side on the front page of the Salt Lake Tribune of April 22, 1991.
A national committee of Presbyterians has shaken the church to its core by recommending the denomination rid itself of sexual taboos and viewing sexual relations as enjoyable by everyone including single men and women, gays and lesbians, and responsible adolescents. The majority report attacks the sexual attitudes of the church and this country as patriarchal, homophobic and biased toward heterosexuality. (Washington Post)
A flurry of recent research has found that Americans believe in God and identify themselves as strongly religious. Seven of eight Americans identify with a Christian denomination. 96% of the population believe in God and 60% believe in eternal damnation in Hell.” (Boston Globe)
Memo to Myself
One of the funniest traits most humans have in common is that they forget pain and hardship very quickly. I imagine that it must be a defense mechanism of the brain: if we were able to recall in vivid and excruciating detail every painful or disappointing event that had ever happened to us, we might get very depressed indeed.
On the other hand, if you forget the pain, you may also forget to make sure it will not come back. So let me write this down while it is still with me:
February is a very blah month around here. February is to the year what Monday is to the week, a bleak period without many prospects for fun, and you just have to rely on your sense of duty to work yourself through it. It’s not just that it’s winter. It’s winter in December, too, but then there’s all the parties and cards and goodwill. And in January you still have your new Christmas toys to play with. But in February there’s nothing much to look forward to. Your tan is definitely gone, you get the flu again, and things have been cold and snowy for so long that you might get the idea that maybe, maybe this time, there is not going to be any spring.
There’s a children’s book that tells about that time of the year. It’s called Frederick, and it’s written by Leon Lionni. The philosophical depth of books for kids is easy to underestimate; this one has certainly got something important to say. Frederick is a mouse, and while all the other mice are working their tails off to store supplies for winter, he just sits around and watches things. “What are you doing Frederick?” they ask him, and he tells them that he is storing sunshine and harvesting colors. The other mice don’t try to correct his anti-social behavior, and they even share their pantry with him. But when food and the warmth and the gossip run out – it must be February by then – they turn to Frederick. He makes them close their eyes, and he tells them of summer, and flowers and sunshine, and he does it so well that they can feel the heat and smell the roses. “But, Frederick, you are a poet!” they tell him. “I know it,” he answers, and blushes.
That’s what we need in February, a poet to celebrate that life is bound to continue. Maybe not a poet in the flesh, there is not necessarily one Frederick in every crowd, and not every poet is an optimist. But we collect pick-me-ups all year long, poems, cartoons, songs, stories, the kind that make the blood run hot, that make the eyes twinkle and the smile twitch. And then, at the February membership meeting, and in the February newsletter, we can share them and remind one another that there really is going to be another summer. Just jot it down on your calendar.
C.S. Lewis was a man of moral courage. He started out as a gung-ho atheist, but in time dared to examine new ideas, and to think the unthinkable. He ended up a staunch defender of the Angelican church. He also ended up estranged from his former friends.
Many of us have walked that road the other way around. They had the guts to examine the faith of their fathers and friends, and found that they could no longer share it. At that point, though, the roads split.
Some people decide to keep their conclusions to themselves, and go through the motions of their former religion.
Some break with their church, and with all the friends they had in there, and with their families.
And some manage to keep their friends even after they have lost their faith.
There must be something more involved here than raw courage alone. What works, and what doesn’t? In this state, religion is an all-embracing part of social life. That means that if you lose all your friends who go to church, you may end up with very few friends indeed. And that means that the search for a successful communication strategy is of vital importance to a lot of independent thinkers. In fact, it is such a vital issue that we would like to devote the next newsletter to it, and the June membership meeting as well.
By pooling our experiences, we may be able to make a map for those who still are on the road.
So please write the Utah Humanist and tell: how did you deal with your doubts? How did you tell others about them? And did it hurt you or those around you? Would you have done things differently if you had known the outcome?
We are waiting to hear from you.
I would not want to be a teenager in this day and age. The average age at which contemporary Americans have their first sexual encounter is at 16 years and two months. (At 16, you can get your driver’s license. Is this a coincidence?) But the number differs by sex, by region, and by individual.
Imagine being 16, and your hormones running riot on your system. Imagine looking deep in the eyes of your first Meaningful Other. And imagine having to say: “Uh, sweetheart, before we go any further, can I ask you something? Are you a virgin? Certifiably so? And if not, when was your last test for AIDS, gonorrhea, herpes, genital warts, and other nasties? Can I see the results, please? Do you like me enough to not fool around with others? What kind of birth control do you prefer? What are the odds on that method?”
Forget it. To ask sensible, potentially life-saving questions like that, not only do you have to know what to ask, you also have to have the guts to ask them. Mere factual education is not enough; if I were a teenager today, and learned just the scary facts, chances are I would still be single and lonely by the year 2005. Next to facts, you also need the attitude that will let you act on them. You need indoctrination. And not just you, everybody else around you needs to be well informed and just as well adjusted. Are they?
Utah has a yes-but-no policy on sex education in public schools. The way it was explained to me by the State Education Office, yes sex ed is a part of the core curriculum, which means that every student has a right to be taught all the facts of life. But no, that right is not unconditional, because the parents have to give their consent for the student to attend the sex ed lessons. But yes, if a student has a question about sex, that question needs to be answered fully, honestly, and right there, consent or no. But no, such questions can not be engineered, they must be spontaneous. Can each teacher answer those questions? Yes, there is a curriculum available. But no, teachers can not be required to teach sex ed. But yes, outside instructors can be allowed. But no, that is at the principle’s discretion. And yes, he can decide not to have sex ed taught at his school.
For the majority of young persons in Utah, the resulting lack of full knowledge is not going to have any effect. They are going to do what they have been told is right, and abstain, and marry young. It is the young who don’t belong to the majority social grouping, or who rebel against its dictates, for whom a little bit of knowledge may be a deadly, dangerous thing.
Prayer In School
Nancy Moore is one of the plaintiffs in the ACLU’s court case to end prayer at high school graduation ceremonies. In this article, she outlines her reasons why.
The right to freedom of speech is a treasured liberty to most Americans, but it is not without its limitations. Healthy and lasting freedom of expression is possible only if people understand it, respect the freedom of others, and restrain some of their own wishes. This requires maturity, sensitivity to others, and an understanding of the law.
The adage, “The right of a person to swing his fist ends where his neighbor’s nose begins” is a good metaphor. But knowing where our neighbor’s nose begins is the problem. This is when we must rely on receiving input from two sources:
- the people in general, including diverse minorities, and;
- the law, so we can understand people’s basic rights. Input is now being received regarding the prayer issue from both sources, and it is essential and valuable because it should help determine the best direction to go.
Prayer as an Act of Worship
In understanding our liberties we must make a distinction between Freedom of Speech, and an Act of Religious Worship. Prayer, according to definition, falls into the latter category, and in conformity with our civil laws, the practice should not have government endorsement in public schools. The Utah State Constitution, Article 1, Section 4 is very explicit regarding the separation of church and state:
There shall be no union of Church and State, nor shall any church dominate the Stare or interfere with its functions. No public money or property shall be approprated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or for the support of any ecclesiastical establishment.
Even from the Mormon theological point of view this separation is clear, for it states in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 134, Verse 9:
We do not believe it is just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.
So we see that from both perspectives, civil and church laws are in agreement regarding the mingling of church and state. Therefore, state sanctioned denominational prayers given in a public setting are not a basic right because prayers are an act of worship and delivering them in a public school setting crosses over a delicate line into the personal space of others. It becomes an invasion of another’s spiritual privacy because prayer imposes a particular viewpoint or religious belief on others, especially when the same religion delivers the prayers over extended periods of time.
We should be particularly careful with our children and youth when it comes to sectarian practices in the schools, because their vulnerable minds are so susceptible to inducement from those in authority over them, and they lack the maturity and savvy to understand when they are being imposed upon.
Why A State Chapter?
The definite trend among humanist organizations has been to form state-wide chapters, cooperating with local groups. Florida and Colorado are examples. Subscribers to The Humanist and A.H.A. members are widely scattered and often miss the fellowship of free minds. Florida has for years had a state-wide annual meeting, programmed its best speakers and named a Florida Humanist of the Year.
After 5 months of operation, the value of a Utah state chapter is beginning to assert itself. The first four meetings, held in Salt Lake City where humanists are principally located, brought our members from American Fork, Bountiful, Centerville, Kaysville, Layton, Midvale, Ogden, Park City, Provo, Pleasant Grove, Springville, South Salt Lake, West Jordan, and West Valley City. Our lone member in Vernal even drove the 187 miles to attend the May meeting.
Examination of the computer print-out sent us by Humanist headquarters in Amherst, N.Y., shows that there are also either A.H.A. members or subscribers to The Humanist in Cedar City, Hooper, Logan, Spanish Fork, Sunset, and St, George. We hope that many or most of these will join and support Humanists of Utah. The Humanist movement is principally an educational organization, but its position on many issues can be learned from its periodicals, and our Humanist objectives can achieve outreach and clout with a growing network of participants. The humanist thinker needs not feel alone. Hence we seek a growing membership for Humanists of Utah, both in Salt Lake City and the rest of the State. Please help us grow.
Eight persons already have joined Humanists of Utah. Most desirable is that all ultimately should also join A.H.A., the national organization, and read its periodicals. But for those who want time, an initial donation (start-up money) of not less than $5.00 will make one a member of the state chapter. If each who is now a member were to recruit a new member we would be within reach of the 200 goal.
Unfair to Atheists
President Bush’s speech on intolerance in America, as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune May 5, 1991 certainly qualifies him to add “hypocrite” to the dark side of his credentials. The president, in an address at the University of Michigan, said Americans should be “alarmed at the rise of intolerance in our land.” Taken at face value, and without the benefit of perspective, the president’s remarks seem noble indeed. However, an incident on August 27, 1987, will add perspective.
George Bush, who was then vice president, made a campaign stop in Chicago, where he held a news conference. Reporter Rob Serman inquired of Vice President Bush, “Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists.” Mr. Bush replied, “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”
If Vice President Bush had aimed these remarks toward any other ethnic, religious or social group, he would almost certainly not be president today.
Intolerance of atheists is the last vestige of bigotry in America and our president is leading the way. Polls show that about 6 percent of Americans, or about 15 million, are atheists. By way of President Bush’s logic, 15 million U.S. citizens are not really U.S. citizens at all.
Furthermore, America is not one nation under God, despite what Mr. Bush says. America is one nation under the U.S. Constitution. Belief in a deity is not a prerequisite for U.S. citizenship.
The Hospice movement is active all over Utah, but there still are medical professionals who will not inform patients or care-givers about the availability of help for the terminally ill. Flo Wineriter told the May meeting of Humanists of Utah why and how that help can be given. Part of his speech is reproduced here.
First let me ask you to think about this question: If you had less than six months to live, would you want your doctor to tell you the truth? Secondly, if you were given such information, what would you do with the time you had left to live?
With those thoughts in mind, let me tell you something about the Hospice movement.
Hospice has a philosophy rather than a place. The goal of the Hospice program is to provide comfort, purpose, and understanding to patients with terminal illness and their families.
Our culture has difficulty dealing with the dying process. We seem to be able to accept death when it occurs, but we have a lot of trouble handling the process of getting there. The reluctance to recognize and accept the reality of a condition that is terminal seems to be as common to professionals in the medical field as it is with lay people. Doctors are trained to cure disease and to maintain life. Because of their training doctors generally regard the death of a patient as a failure on their part.
To some degree this is understandable. Life is precious, it is short and we all want to remain as conscious part of the life experience just as long as possible. We are willing to accept a certain amount of deprivation, pain and suffering to stay with the known. There is ample evidence of this when you consider the number of people living in various stages of restricted lives such as hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, detention camps and poverty. Few of us “give up” life without a struggle, as you can see from appealing death row inmates, and World War II death camp survivors. The “will to live” seems to be instinctual. All levels of life display survival instincts when confronted with life-threatening situations.
Hospice is designed to step in and begin working with patients and their families when the patient’s life expectancy is six months or less. The sooner we can be called in the better an opportunity we have to help patients and their families come to terms with death and, even more important, to get the most quality of living into the remaining time they have left.
Our major challenge is to convince medical doctors to recognize and accept the reality that death is highly probable within six months. Doctors are trained to extend life and, like the rest of us, they are inclined to maintain an overly optimistic attitude. They want to try every tool available to cure a cancer or at least put it into remission.
Doctors tend to be more concerned about the “quantity of life” than they are about the “quality of life.” They urge cancer patients to try chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments to prolong life as long as possible. Frequently treatments are suggested and recommended even when death is likely within a few weeks. Doctors appear to be “hoping for a miracle” as much as possible. We in the Hospice movement feel such an attitude is unfair because it simply delays death rather than prolonging life.
Active treatment of death-causing disease is in conflict with Hospice Care. When a patient is found to be terminal, and willingly accepts Hospice care, all active treatment of the disease stops. Hospice care, in contrast to medical care, is intended to improve the quality of life. We do this by removing pain as much as possible, helping patients to clarify what will make the rest of their lives meaningful, and helping them to find ways of implementing those goals and desires. Those goals can be as adventurous as riding a hot air balloon, or as tame as finishing a hobby project.
We encourage patients to resolve outstanding conflicts with family members, to clarify distribution of assets and responsibilities. Our goal is to help patients and families have a peaceful and conflict-free death. Family members are taught how to care for the patient; how to bathe them, how to give pain medication, how to help them out of bed and into bed, how to communicate openly, in general, how to make the patient comfortable.
The Origin of a Religion
Not long ago, I identified myself as a humanist, and recently joined the A.H.A. and the local chapter. There was an important question I wanted to answer before I left Mormonism: “How Did It Happen?”
The biography of Joseph Smith by Brodie is the most famous book on the beginnings of Mormonism, and is widely read by most people wanting to know about the church. Mormons do not read it, and I hadn’t until now; but I knew about it, which Mormons don’t. The book does answer the question about how Mormonism happened as well as it can be answered. No one will ever know absolutely, and books, articles and studies continue.
The other book, by B.H. Roberts, is more interesting because it chronicles the efforts by Roberts, known as the Defender of the Faith, to prove the validity of the Book of Mormon, which is central to the claims of the LDS Church. He made an exhaustive research of all available information of the time, and although his studies were completed in 1927, they were only recently published.
Roberts begins his study with just a few questions, and as he piles one piece of evidence upon another he becomes a skeptic, then a doubter, then he pokes fun, and in the end he becomes a disbeliever, but he does not renounce his faith.
The book speaks for itself, it did answer my questions, and I now know how it happened.
James Madison – A Strict Separationist
According to a recent Salt Lake Tribune Poll, 79% of Utahns want to maintain the tradition of graduation prayer in school. And most people are under the impression that the majority opinion should rule. But should the majority rule? James Madison, author of our Constitution, was considered a strict separationist who respected both religious liberty and civil government equally. He had the following thoughts on majority rule and the appropriate relationship between church and state.
There is no maxim, in my opinion, which is more liable to be misapplied, and which therefore needs more education than the current one, that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong…it only reestablishes force as the measure of right
The civil government possesses the requisite stability and performs its functions with complete success by total separation of the church and state.
It is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation.
In some parts of our country there remains a strong bias toward an old error — that without some sort of alliance or coalition between government and religion, neither can be duly supported … Where there is a tendency to such a coalition, corruption influences both government and religion, and the danger cannot be too guarded against.
We are teaching the world the great truth, that governments do better without Kings and Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson–that religion flourishes in greater purity without rather than with the aid of government.
Or religious sentiments are based on depositions and inclinations of the human mind and spirit. To apply state power and sanction in support of these kinds experiences is absurd.
Madison also spoke of “the tyranny of the majority” and felt they were to be feared. He also objected to those people who were enslaved by religious dogma.
Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unites it for every noble enterprise and every expanded prospect.
Religion is not infallible. It may become a motive to oppression as well as a restraint from injustice.
Even in its coolest state, religion has been more often a motive to oppression than a restraint from it. A majority, when united by interest or passion cannot be restrained from oppressing the minority.
Madison believed that in a democracy religious views should not be forced upon any citizen by the minority. And his remedy to prevent the majority from dominating was to make government responsible for protecting all groups.
How do you cure the “mischiefs of factions” in society? First you openly recognize and accept the existence of human diversity. Second, you control conflict by making government protect each interest or faction. Government can best do so by preventing any one group or party from invading the rights of any other. Government itself must remain neutral.
It is essential that government be derived from the great body of society, not from a favored class of it. The only remedy is to enlarge the sphere of varieties of people so the majority will not be likely to impose their common interest on the minority, and unite in pursuit of it.
The author of our Constitution saw a need for a large number of divided and balancing interests which would result in just decision-making. Madison was endowed with an innate and acquired sense of justice and he continually sought balance and harmony in his quest for good government. The Constitution reflects his sense of equilibrium for it gives the Federal government most of the power, but at the same time protects minority interests and individual freedoms in the Bill of Rights.
An honorary member of the American Humanist Association, I participated in the 50th annual meeting at the Bismark Hotel in Chicago, in May. As a lonely survivor of the organizers in 1941, I was used symbolically in the celebration. At the Chicago meetings Lloyd and Mary Morain presented the deed to our headquarters building in Amherst, New York, appraised at over $200,000, as a gift to AHA.
For me, the most gratifying event was ceremoniously receiving the charter for Humanists of Utah. Among other things, the charter brings us under the tax exemption umbrella of the A.H.A. so that whatever you donate to Humanists of Utah in fiscal 1991 and after will be federally tax deductible. Our chapter is now an integral part of the national organization, and through it we are related to the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).
We have done very well on the start-up donations of our members. Those who newly joined A.H.A. have made their start-up donation by a $10.00 rebate on each member we recruit. We have been sending the Utah Humanist to all AHA members in the state and to all Utah subscribers of AHA’s magazine, the Humanist. Any who send a start-up donation of $5.00 or more will still be enrolled as chapter members. To all who have not yet made a start-up donation as generous as possible we say “We need your membership and support.”
Sometime soon we will have to decide our minimum annual dues. We are not suggesting anything like tithing, but we hope that most will give as generously as their wallet and conscience require.
There is much initial work to do. We need to establish our fiscal year, and also define our goals, or “mission” if we may use that word. We need to establish a program that will make it worthwhile for distant members to make the trip to Salt Lake City for the monthly meetings. A two day annual meeting is a suggested goal. We all can help us grow. The initial goal of 200 members seems reasonable, with the 77 names on our charter application almost reaching the half-way mark. We need to know whether our members want their names mentioned in the Utah Humanist. Names can be a sensitive issue in some cases.
What Is Missing In This Picture?
It can be hard to see what is not there. Here is a small-print puzzle.
The following is a quote from the “New Standards and Objectives for Junior High School and High School” for consumer and personal health, as revised by the Utah State Board of Education. I didn’t change anything in it. Honest.
7150-02: The students will demonstrate an understanding of human sexuality, its pychological, social, emotional and physical implications of developing and maintaining a Responsible Healthy Lifestyle.
7150-0201: Discuss the physical and emotional aspects of relationships and the impact they have on dating, the family, marriage, love and infatuation.
7150-0202: Discuss the anatomy and physiology of the male and female reproductive systems.
7150-0203: Discuss maturation and the stages of sexual development throughout the cycle.
7150-0204: Discuss responsible sexual behavior, stressing the short- and long-term benefits of strong families, abstinence, and fidelity.
7150-0205: Develop skills that promote responsible principle-centered, decision making when responding to peer, media, societal and negative family influences that encourage high risk behaviors.
7150-0206: Recognize the impact of sexual behavior on one’s goals, and self-esteem.
7150-0207: Discuss contraception, fetal development, birth defects, the risk factors involved in pregnancy, and the birth process.
7150-0208: Recognize the impact teen pregnancies have on quality of life, incidence of child abuse, and changes in lifestyle.
7150-0209: Discuss the legal, social, and emotional implications associated with pornography, prostitution, sexual abuse, incest, and rape.
There’s no one solution to this puzzle, of course. Words I missed myself were: family planning, condoms, abortion, safe sex, AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, homosexuality, and pleasure.
Another growth phase!
Humanists of Utah is going through another growth phase.
For one thing, the newsletter has a new format. The old magazine-style legal pages had their charm, but this letter size is easier and cheaper to print. Besides, it is available in recycled paper, and the more we use of that, the better. We hope you approve.
For another thing, two months ago, we thought we’d have to pad our mailing list to get up to the 200 pieces required for bulk mail status. By now, we have over 200 genuine people’s addresses in our database.
It is essential that we make sure our financial base and our organizational structure keeps pace with this thunderous growth in numbers. That takes more insight than I can provide by myself.
That is why I have invited a group of people to participate in the decision-making. That group calls itself the Organizational Committee, and consists of:
- Larry Christensen (Programs)
- Stanley Ford (Publisher)
- Bob Green
- Kent Griffiths
- Greg Hansen (Publicity)
- Anna Hoagland (Treasurer)
- Dick Layton
- Nancy Moore
- Ed Wilson
- Flo Wineriter
This is not a Board yet, because a Board gets elected. At this point, the Humanists of Utah don’t know one another very well yet, and elections would consist of strangers voting for people they’ve never seen before. It is not a closed group, either: you are invited to join them.
–Anne Zeilstra, President
Advice for Beginning Doubters
At the June meeting of Humanists of Utah, a group of seasoned rebels against religious authority got together to pool their experiences. This article is a result of that gab session. However, it contains a fair sprinkling of my own additives, preservatives, flavors and colors. It may not square with the problems and solutions that you have encountered; your corrections and improvements will be appreciated. We’ll want this to be as concise and helpful as possible: when it is honed down to its final form, it could be our way to reach out to could-be-humanists.
So, you don’t feel comfortable with the religion that you have been involved with? You have come to the point where you want to talk with someone about what you have been thinking. But what if they think you are a creep?
It may not feel like it, but a lot of eople have been where you are now. Some of them got together some time ago to pool their experiences, and this is what they came up with.
In the first place, you are entirely correct in feeling apprehensive, because no matter how you slice it, it’s going to be tough. Nobody said challenging authorities was easy. If you want things easy, the easiest thing is to forget about your doubts, to stop thinking independently, and to rejoin the flock you have felt cut off from. Trouble is, your mind is not a computer. It is hard to turn it off once it gets started.
The second easiest thing is to keep your thoughts in your mind, and to just go through the motions in church. Someone who can keep his internal motiviations separate from his external actions is usually called a hypocrite, (but only if he is found out). This is not so despicable an alternative: those who avert conflicts with the authorities are in the good company of Socrates (“I an atheist? I do what I do because the gods command me!”), Jesus (“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s …”), and Galilei (“And yet she turns”). But again, not everyone can do that. And hypocrisy exacts its own price, a kind of mentally cross-eyed outlook that can give you spiritual headaches.
Even if you decide that you are going to think and act independently, you may want to examine the extent of your rebellion. Do you doubt the existence of the god of your religion, or just the integrity of is ground personnel? If it’s the practicies of your fellow believers that you are questioning, then you may want to consider whether you can best improve things from within, or from outside of your church. If your doubts center on the religious dogmas themselves, then there is a lot of work to be done.
One part of the work goes on within yourself. It would be too bad if you stopped believing what you used to, without developing an alternative world view, some working hypotheses aobut what makes you and the world tick.
The other part of the work is to express that world view to others. Actually, the two parts reinforce one another: often we don’t really know what we think until we try to tell someone else.
So who are you going to talk to? It may seem hard to find someone who is willing to listen without prejudging you, and without passing your confidential information to others. But they do exist. If you cannot find them, try talking to the wall. And try to get to a point where you can talk about your thoughts and feelings sensibly, and calmly. You’ll need to be able to do that to get to the next point: talking to those who are close to you.
The tragedy is that the people you love most may be the hardest ones to open up to. That is because to them, that is no just a subject of intellectual discourse, but also a matter of trust and sharing. And in a religion, like the LDS church, where man and wife are a team who together work towards their salvation, it is tantamount to spiritual desertion. How you talk to people is very important.
A “let-me-tell-you-how-it-really-is” attitude will be counter productive: no one likes a preaching smart-aleck who makes fun of other people’s convictions. It is more honest to admit your doubts and questions, and in all modesty bring forward your alternative explanations.
Things that you need to across:
I still love you
The people you love need to know that the new ideas you have been entertaining are not a way you have chosen to hurt them, but rather things that have been growing on you despite your affections.
I am rational, and in pursuit of happiness
My doubts are not a sickness that plagues me, or that I want cured, but a way to better understand reality.
I am still a moral person
Some people think that without scriptural commandments, people will start behaving like beasts. However, the fact is that non-religious reasoning arrives at a lot of rules of appropriate behavior that are similar to religious tenets. The difference is that here, you don’t follow the rules because you are told to, but because you can see they make sense.
Here are some things I am in favor of
Church-bashing only puts down the people you love. Rather than telling them why the church is no good, try and focus on more satisfying alternative explanations of reality.
Having people accept your intellectual evolution is not going to be easy. The more so because you are walking a thin line between dangers. On the one hand, it would be cruel to push too hard, to rob the people you love of their ability to believe what they have been happy with. On the other hand, there will be a lot of social and professional pressure on you to swallow your words. “Do it for the children,” “Do it for me,” “Don’t rock the boat.”
The basic conflict is not going to go away. In the end, either you accept divine authority, or you assert your individual intellectual independence. But before you reach that end, there’s a long travel ahead of you.
The Hospice Team
Last month, Flo Wineriter described what the clients of the Hospice movement see. This time he focuses on the inner workings.
Hospice care in Utah and in most areas takes place at home. There are Hospice Care facilities (in a few states and in other countries) where several terminal patients live, but generally, Hospice services are given in the home of the patient, and is provided by a team of people, professionals and lay care givers.
A Registered Nurse is the “captain” of the Hospice team. The RN consults with the patient and the family to determine goals and objectives: the physical needs of the patient and how those needs can be met. He or she keeps the family doctor informed of changes in the patient’s condition, and recommends the type and amount of pain control medications.
The RN also teaches the family “care giving techniques” and familiarizes them with signs of imminent death. Families are urged not to panic and call 911 when those signs of death appear. The reason for this caution is that emergency medical technicians are required by training and by law to do everything possible to restore and maintain life, and to get a patient to the hospital. Phoning 911 for a terminal patient is simply delaying death and subjecting the patient to unnecessary pain and agony, and is contrary to the goal of Hospice care.
For example: recently, a family panicked, and called 911. The patient was resuscitated, and rushed to the hospital. A tracheotomy was installed, and the patient was kept alive in a vegetative state for a few days until the patient’s personal physician could convince the hospital to remove the emergency life support system and let the patient die. The Hospice RN felt guilty because she had failed to sufficiently impress upon the family not to call the paramedics, and the family felt guilty for causing the patient to suffer unnecessarily.
Another member of the Hospice team is the social worker. He meets with the family to discuss insurance coverage, community resources, and family conflict resolutions. He also helps resolve psychological problems concerning the patient and family members.
A physical therapist is a member of the Hospice team, and helps the patient and family establish exercises that will enhance muscular condition.
Home Health Aids are available to come into the home and assist with bathing, bandage changes, feeding, toileting and any other health related activites.
Trained volunteers are members of the Hospice Team. They receive about 16 hours of training in human relations, learning how to listen to people and how to respond to expressed needs as well as unexpressed needs. Volunteers help patients accomplish their “wish list” of things they want to do during the final days of their life. Volunteers also provide respite time for the primary care giver: they take care of the patient for a few hours while the primary care giver goes shopping, visiting, to a show, out to dinner or just for a walk. They give the primary care giver some “time off” from the intensity of taking care of the patient. The final member of the Hospice Team is the oncologist, a medical doctor who specializes in the care of cancer patients. The Hospice Team oncologist may never see the patient, but acts in an advisory position when other team members have questions, and also acts as an intermediary between the Hospice Team and the patient’s personal doctor.
The entire Hospice Team meets every week to discuss the progress of each patient, to exchange information about patients and, most importantly, to give support to each other.
Caring for patients who are in the process of dying is uniquely intense. Hospice Team members get very involved and attached to their patients. Watching a patient deteriorate and die is a very emotional experience. One never gets hardened to it or crass. Consequently, team members need to express those feelings and concerns in a safe environment, and that is what takes place during the weekly team meetings.
Believe me, it is a moving experience to sit with a nurse, a social worker, a doctor, and another volunteer and watch tears flow as they discuss one patient after another. A Hospice Team meeting is different from any other meeting in the medical profession.
Hospice care continues after the death of a patient. Often the RN is the first person called by the family when a patient dies. My wife is a Hospice RN, and she is called and leaves home at all hours of the night to go to the home of the deceased, and help with contacting the mortuary and preparing the body for the arrival of the mortuary people.
Hospice Team members often attend viewings and funerals to give solace and support to family members.
Bereavement volunteers contact the family members by mail within a few days of the death and provide them with a pamphlet explaining the grieving process. At the end of 30 days the bereavement volunteer contacts the family to determine if they are having unusual grief problems, and to offer help in contacting community resources.
Hospice provides an eight week bereavement counseling group that helps mourners understand their grief and come to terms with the changes in their lives. The bereavement volunteer then contacts the family again at 90 days after the patient’s death, with follow-up calls at six and twelve months after death.
All this work centers on the Hospice mission:
To provide terminally ill persons thoughtful, considerate care that helps them find comfort and meaning during the final days of their lives.
The Bill of Rights: A Protection for the Minority
The story so far: the letter of the laws of both of churches and states forbids the intrusion of one in the other’s domain. Also, the spirit of the Constitution is aimed at the same end. How about the amendments to the Constitution?
The Bill of Rights was written to protect the minority from encroachment by the majority. The First Amendment states that the government cannot establish, promote, or prohibit the free exercise of religion. In a civil rights issue, the principle of majority rule does not apply. The issue must be decided by the courts, because the tendency of the majority is to oppress. The Supreme Court will decide whether prayer is a form of free speech, and therefore acceptable at graduation, or is an act of worship and therefore unconstitutional because it entangles church with state.
A Change of Tradition
Those who favor prayer at graduation stand by the fact that prayers have been part of the traditional ceremony for years. Traditions can be satisfying and stabilizing practices for people if they are meaningful, inoffensive, and egalitarian for all concerned. But even traditions need to be examined and changed when they no longer meet those criteria. Slavery was once a tradition as well as the unequal treatment of women. But because these traditional laws resulted in the unjust treatment of its citizens, they were changed.
Religion, periodically, also changes its traditions. Just last year, revision in the Mormon temple ceremonies were made by LDS church officials because some of the old traditional rites were found to be offensive to women and other religions. This change from tradition reflects insight and a greater sensitivity to people and therefore is more liberating and meaningful for its church members as a whole.
Prayer is a profound and private form of religious worship involving a person or a particular community of like people who have the same belief system. Therefore such prayers ought to take place where they are accepted and understood by all members of the group or audience.
Schools should be a place where students all live together as a solid group of Americans leaving religious differences outside. Denominational prayers, especially offered by the same religion, tends to nullify the equality of the students which the Consitution seeks to establish, because they reveal one viewpoint, and they have the effect of state sanction.
When prayer creates community dissension, or is felt as a coercive practice, then it is time we change our tradition and keep prayers exclusively in our hearts, our homes, and our places of worship.
Escape From Freedom
Escape From Freedom by Eric Fromm is an oldie but a goodie classic philosophical book about modern man freeing himself from the bonds of society–any society. Man, in breaking away from his social structure, encounters isolation, and he is confronted with a decision to either escape from the burden of his freedom into new dependencies and submission, or to advance to the full realization of positive freedom which is based on the uniqueness and individuality of man.
In Chapter 7, Fromm speaks of “Spontaneous Activity” as being the one way in which man can overcome the feeling of aloneness without sacrificing the integrity of his self.
In the spontaneous realization of the self, man unites himself anew with the world – with man, nature and himself. Love is the foremost component of such spontaneity; not love as the dissolution of the self in another person, not love as the possession of another person, but love as spontaneous affirmation of others, as the union of the individual with others on the basis of the preservation of the individual self.
(Now, we liberated girls know that when Eric Fromm speaks of “Man” he means us also. After all, he wrote the book in 1941!)
Humanism in Utah: A Cost Benefit Analysis
Humanists of Utah has been organizing since February of this year. Over the last six months we’ve gathered the nuts and bolts that make an organization, things like a charger, a mailbox, a newsletter layout, a speakers program. Now we a re ready to get real.
We are starting a new financial year this month. That is a good time to draw up a balance and ifnd out: what is humanism going to cost you? And what good will it do you?
The Cost Side:
When Humanists of Utah got underway, we asked for initial start-up contributions. Now, the dues for the year beginning in September have been set at:
- $35 – annual dues
- $15 – for those on fixed income
For those in financial difficulties, we welcome your membership with a voluntary annual contribution.
Why so? Because we are still building and reaching out, and that takes more than effort and good intentions. It takes money.
Isolation, Conflict, and Loss of Tradition
In a society dominated by religion, being a humanist will make you stand out in the crowd. Some people will shun you for it, and you will not be a part of the social life of the church. There are ways of dealing with that, and Humanists of Utah have described their coping strategies in a recent issue of the newsletter.
This cost can also be turned into a benefit: It is good to stand out in a crowd, and to realize that you are a unique human being. Conflict is a part of life, and it is good to fight a good fight.
This is the ultimate cost: you can spend it only once, and you can’t make more of it. It would be preposterous to demand time as a requirement for membership of this organization. We hope we can make it so attractive that you will freely want to spend time with and for Humanists of Utah.
The Utah Humanist appears monthly. It gives you the opportunity to find out what other people are concerned about. It also gives you the opportunity to test out your ideas on a forum of critical readers.
There are regular monthly meetings in Salt Lake City, which always feature a thought-provoking speaker on a timely subject. Out-of-towners who’d like to attend are invited to get in touch to arrange an overnight stay in somebody’s guest room.
The library is still in its infancy. Book donations are welcome. We’d like to make it available to members all over Utah.
Ed Wilson is a veteran Humanist Counselor. Flo Wineriter was recently certified to be one. Humanist Counselors provide a non-religious alternative to traditional rites of passage: namings, marriages, memorials etc. Get in touch if you want to arrange one.
Humanists of Utah will cost you time, money and trouble. It will give you contact with like-minded people, stimulation, and input in a growing concern. Whether the two equal out depends on you.
–Mr. Anne Zeilstra, President
Journey to Humanism
For me, a fifth generation Mormon, my religion answered life’s big questions: Who and why am I? What is the purpose of life? What happens after death? However, as a life-long student who keeps on asking “why?” there were other answers. I continued to study: the sciences, history, anthropology and more.
It was not enough. I wanted more than my religion gave me, and my knowledge provided. The last April, I met Ed Wilson, one of the founders of the Humanist Movement, and he gave me some reading material. I select the Humanist Manifesto I to read first.
I read it again, and again. The conclusion was clear: I had become a Humanist. The answers to those early questions were contained in that document, and there was finally a unity of belief and knowledge.
I feel as though I have come to the end of a long, hard journey. I have now begun another, except that this one is far more exciting and satisfying.
I commend the Humanist Manifesto I to you the reader: may you find your answers.
The Thesis of Humanist Manifesto I
[Editor’s note: Don’t be put off by the term “religious humanism.” From what I understand, the writers stripped religion of all its supernatural trappings of gods, heavens and afterlife. What they were left with was a reverent attitude to life, which they called “the religious.” If you reason without religion as a starting point, you may end up with the same attitude, without calling it the same name.]
FIRST: Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.SECOND: Humanism believes that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as a result of a continuous process.
THIRD: Holding an organic view of life, humanists find that the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected.
FOURTH: Humanism recognizes that man’s religious culture and civilization, as clearly depicted by anthropology and history, are the product of a gradual development due to his interaction with his natural environment and with his social heritage. The individual born into a particular culture is largely molded by that culture.
FIFTH: Humanism asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values. Obviously humanism does not deny the possibility of realities as yet undiscovered, but it does insist that the way to determine the existence and value of any and all realities is by means of intelligent inquiry and by the assess- ment of their relations to human needs. Religion must formulate its hopes and plans in the light of the scientific spirit and method.
SIXTH: We are convinced that the time has passed for theism, deism, modernism, and the several varieties of “new thought”.
SEVENTH: Religion consists of those actions, purposes, and experiences which are humanly significant. Nothing human is alien to the religious. It includes labor, art, science, philosophy, love, friendship, recreation — all that is in its degree expressive of intelligently satisfying human living. The distinction between the sacred and the secular can no longer be maintained.
EIGHTH: Religious Humanism considers the complete realization of human personality to be the end of man’s life and seeks its development and fulfillment in the here and now. This is the explanation of the humanist’s social passion.
NINTH: In the place of the old attitudes involved in worship and prayer the humanist finds his religious emotions expressed in a heightened sense of personal life and in a cooperative effort to promote social well-being.
TENTH: It follows that there will be no uniquely religious emotions and attitudes of the kind hitherto associated with belief in the supernatural.
ELEVENTH: Man will learn to face the crises of life in terms of his knowledge of their naturalness and probability. Reasonable and manly attitudes will be fostered by education and supported by custom. We assume that humanism will take the path of social and mental hygiene and discourage sentimental and unreal hopes and wishful thinking.
TWELFTH: Believing that religion must work increasingly for joy in living, religious humanists aim to foster the creative in man and to encourage achievements that add to the satisfactions of life.
THIRTEENTH: Religious humanism maintains that all associations and institutions exist for the fulfillment of human life. The intelligent evaluation, transformation, control, and direction of such associations and institutions with a view to the enhancement of human life is the purpose and program of humanism. Certainly religious institutions, their ritualistic forms, ecclesiastical methods, and communal activities must be reconstituted as rapidly as experience allows, in order to function effectively in the modern world.
FOURTEENTH: The humanists are firmly convinced that existing acquisitive and profit-motivated society has shown itself to be inadequate and that a radical change in methods, controls, and motives must be instituted. A socialized and cooperative economic order must be established to the end that the equitable distri- bution of the means of life be possible. The goal of humanism is a free and universal society in which people voluntarily and intelligently cooperate for the common good. Humanists demand a shared life in a shared world.
FIFTEENTH AND LAST: We assert that humanism will: (a) affirm life rather than deny it; (b) seek to elicit the possibilities of life, not flee from them; and (c) endeavor to establish the conditions of a satisfactory life for all, not merely for the few. By this positive morale and intention humanism will be guided, and from this perspective and alignment the techniques and efforts of humanism will flow.
Mission Statement of Humanists of Utah
To keep itself from galloping off in all directions at once, every organization needs to put down as concisely as possible where it stands, and where it wants to go. This the best we could come up with so far. Your corrections and improvements will be appreciated.
- We affirm our association with the American Humanist Association, the North American and the International Humanist movements, and support their goals and policies.
- We accept the Humanist Manifestos I & II as the basic philosophy of the humanist movement, not as a credo or dogma, but as an expression of a living and growing body of knowledge.
- It is our goal to identify all Utahans who accept the humanist philosophy and to gather them into an association of humanists where all can have a sense of belonging to a larger community, and find friendships and support.
- We recognize that humanism is a satisfying and positive philosophy of life which meets the challenges of our times, and we declare our intention to spread the knowledge of humanism throughout the State of Utah.
- It is our goal to learn as much as we can about humanism, and its application to our lives. We will educate and inform our membership about the philosophy of humanism, social issues of current interest, and the activities of the chapter.
The “Other” Half of the Human Race?
I have listed to Mack Gift’s tapes, read your two newsletters and was about to dash a check off to become a member. Then, I reread “The Thesis of Humanist Manifesto I.” The language used is exclusionary. The words “man” and “he” and “his” and “manly attitude” are used. I refuse to continue playing the game that I know when these terms include me as a woman and when they do not. This organization seems too important to fall in the old male supremacist linguistic traps. I can no longer in good conscience bow my head and say that I understand that “man” used in an important document includes me and all of human kind and when “man” is used on a restroom door it excludes me and approximately half of the human race.
This is not a trivial issue to me. If your group is willing to engage in dialogue on this matter, please let me know.
Doris P. Lancaster
Response from the Editor:
Dear Ms. Lancaster,
Thank you for your letter. You are on to something, and yes, I think Humanists of Utah could use some dialogue on the matter of male writing: should we just assume that it is understood that historical documents that only mention “man” include the other half of the human race? Or should we make that explicit?
I’ll also ask Ed Wilson, who is one of the few surviving signers of the 1933 Humanist Manifesto I, if the writers were aware of the exclusive nature of the “man” terms put in there.
A note from Ed Wilson:
A Humanist Manifesto, 1933, was written to be read as a whole, including the introductory statement by Raymond Bragg, its initiator and principal editor. Under pressure to revise the document, the A.H.A. Board very early voted that the statement was a dated document and would not be revised, but reaffirmed the original declaration by Bragg that it is not a dogma or creed.
Point XIV, always controversial, reflects the influence of the Depression. Inequality of wealth, homelessness, unemployment and poverty are still with us and of humanist concern, but with humanism emerging in many nations and a global movement, current wisdom seems to favor the view that humanism should not be inflexibly linked to any one type of economic solution.
Basically, humanism is linked to “the scientific spirit and democratic faith”: Curtis E. Reese after talking to John Dietrich in 1917 changed the name of his first book from The Religion of Democracy to Humanism.
Humanism is a life-stance, a way of looking at the world. If that life-stance does not translate into action, it is no more than a sterile intellectual game,. Someone who wants a better world here and now will see plenty of room for improvement of the way things are; too much room, maybe, because who has the time, money and stamina to pursue every worthwhile issue?
This column provides simple ways to change the world, not because humanists would have nothing better to do than help other groups special interests, but because all these special interests combined help humanism.
Working at an abortion clinic must be a lonely job these days. No one looks forward to having or doing an obrtion in the best of times, and these are not the best of times. In Wichita, Kansas and Aurora, Illinois, militant “life savers” engage in vicious personal attacks on doctors who do abortions. Arendje Visser tells me that the Nazis started out using identical tactics, and she ought to know: she worked in the Dutch resistance during World War II.
In this state, the elected representatives of the people declare that the job these medical people have been doing their best to do well is a crime, a despicable profession. If the voice of the people speaks so harshly to you, that must make you feel rather isolated.
There are only two clinics in Utah where abortions are performed medically. Please send the professionals who work there a note to tell them that there are people who appreciate the value of the work they do, and the courage it must take to do it. Their addresses:
Utah Women’s Clinic
515 S. 400 East
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Wasatch Women’s Center
3450 South Highland Drive
Salt Lake City, UT 84106
Discovering Liberty of Conscience
“Liberty of Conscience” is a phrase used by Roger Williams in 1625
My journey into liberty of conscience began as I was leaving the door of the church behind. My inherent sense of freedom was calling from within, and I finally gave myself permission to heed its promptings. I began to think, to feel, to read, to challenge, and to express my innermost self. It was a both an agonizing and exhilarating time of my life, because I experienced confusion, fear, guilt and at long last triumph and joy!
I have conquered that part of myself which was programmed to believe that I should trust more in authoritarianism than in the wisdom I could acquire myself, or already had.
I have discovered that the kingdom of enlightenment is within me, and that each person has the capacity to discover that personal and sacred place for her or himself.
I am grateful for early Americans such as Roger Williams, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson who had the courage and foresight to separate church and state. I am indebted to psychoanalyst Eric Fromm who taught me to trust in myself, and to the philosopher Joseph Campbell who encouraged me to “follow my bliss.” I am thankful for historians Fawn Brodie and Sam Taylor who jolted me out of my dogmatic reverie; for human sexuality researchers Masters and Johnson who helped me increase my pleasure; for Supreme Court Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall whose decisions expanded social justice; for humorists Steve Allen and Woody Allen who keep me chuckling at our human foibles; for dedicated scientists who gave me a sense of rational order; and for gifted artists who reward me with lasting joy!
I now feel free enough to seek knowledge, beauty and love in whomever and wherever I choose. I see truth in the religious as well as the non-religious, for truth springs from many sources. And, it appears to me that the mystery of life is too awesome and complex for any of us to do any more than simply wonder at it. Anything else, as far as I am concerned, is presumptuous.
Life offers a multitude of opportunities, and I am delighted to have discovered my liberty of conscience to explore and experience that which I choose is best for me.
Humanists and Death
I have pondered how a humanist deals with the death of a loved one since my wife died eight years ago. I was born, raised, and married in the Mormon faith and lived according to its teachings until I was about 25 years old. My studies in philosophy, astronomy and the arts raised serious doubts in my mind about the concepts associated with an anthropomorphic god, and I eventually became an atheist. Around the age of 30 I was introduced to the Unitarian philosophy by a close friend, and had the good fortune to learn about humanism from the Reverend Harold Scott.
During the next several years I survived a divorce, the usual travails of raising three teenagers, career challenges, and a very happy, satisfying new marriage. My atheist-humanism was a fulfilling value-support system until my second wife died following an agonizing 18-month battle with cancer. I found it difficult to accept the finality of our separation, and the religious Mormon doctrines that I had learned in my youth once again seemed feasible, even if unbelievable.
At that critical time, my Unitarian-Humanism support system was very weak. The Unitarian minister was not available to assist with funeral arrangements, nor give me spiritual support. He never once offered me an opportunity to discuss my feelings of loneliness, nor my concerns about the meaning of death.
Humanism has a very real challenge to be supportive during human crises. That is one of the reasons I have become a Humanist Counselor, and a volunteer bereavement counselor in the Hospice movement. I hope that I can be available and sensitive when Utah Humanists need an understanding fellow human being to share their moments of agony and pain.
Domination and Fear vs. Self-Determination and Love
The following is a summary of the presentation given to Humanists of Utah by Jan Tyler September 19, 1991.
We are living in a time where there is a Crisis of Perception, where the most pressing issue of our day are not being addressed by our leaders, because their current mode of thinking consists in looking at the parts of problems, not their whole.
Society is now looking at the whole. We are seeing how one part of our world can influence the rest. A good example is our rain forests. We are realizing that if we do not preserve our natural resources, then they, and eventually we, will cease to exist, because of our interconnectedness.
The problem lies with our “leaders.” Society is ahead of the decisions our “leaders” are making. “Leadership” ideas need to move from a mechanistic mode to an organic way of thinking and behaving. We need to take responsibility for the universal well-being of the earth and its people everywhere. Each one of us is an earth-mate going through an earth-walk.
Becoming aware of our interconnectedness is a personal decision, and as Carl Rogers has said, “That which is most personal is most universal.” If I am feeling something is amiss, then it is usually felt universally.
There is a need to shape society using the premise of the power within, not the power over. Our leaders should have or acquire the interconnected systems orientation.
We are presently in the insanity mode, which in effect means doing the same old thing over and over again, expecting different results. A way out of this mode is to move from looking at the parts to looking at the whole, and seeing things from a different perspective.
The twentieth century will remembered as the egocentric, traditional period of time where the parts, not the whole, were mainly considered; where people were confused by paradox; where society polarized and separated, and people felt alienated. This century will be marked as a “fear-based” time period.
Hopefully, the twenty-first century will have a shift in patterns. It will be “love-based” in nature. A unitive, rather than a dualistic mind will transpire. We will see the whole, contextually. Societies will understand and resolve paradoxes. The world will deal with dichotomies. It will integrate and unify. And as a result, people will feel part of the larger whole.
Many of today’s college students are reflecting the 21st century love-based philosophy because they are challenging the systems that are fear-based.
The bureaucracy in the state of Utah reflects a substantial amount of religious addiction which manifests in fear-based power addictions. within the government, there is the “King and I” syndrome. This is the practice where no one is allowed to have his/her head higher than the king’s. There is an intellectual and institutional inbreeding where no one dares to cross the “leader,” and an elite remains an elite because of this. This inbreeding over a long period of time creates imbeciles. Our leaders surround themselves with the “incestuousness of imbeciles.” With this overlay of religious power and addiction everyone loses out on the richness of our diversity here in Utah.
The fear-based mind is threatened by differences, for to be different means to be wrong. The fear-based patterns take on judgmental roles which are generally negative in nature. The need to control is the main dynamic, and scarcity is the result.
The unitive mind, on the other hand, is love-based. It is self-determining, enjoys diversity, and celebrates it. The focus is on abundance and freedom – the right to make choices. It is self-defining and self-governing.
Cult behavior is prevalent in our American society, and it runs congruent with the religious and power addiction. A cult offers a feeling of belonging. It attracts those who have experienced a crisis in their life such as the loss of a loved one, or a divorce. Cult leaders capitalize on the vulnerabilities of people. The first major characteristic change that takes place when one joins a cult is the subjugation to group compliance. Second comes the fostering of allegiance to the leader. Third is the devaluing of outsiders. And fourth is the avoidance of dissent. And, if a member decides to leave the cult, s/he pays a dear price in emotional distress. Religious addiction can even become toxic.
The dominant theme in cult behaviors and addictions is the defense mechanism called denial. The “leaders” deny the experience the victim is having, so the control and abuse continue.
One of the ways to change ourselves is to become aware of our own addictions and patterns; to be mindful of the here and now, and conscious of the interactions with others. As we grow in awareness we can change. We can become cognizant of our behavior and language and ask ourselves, “Does it leave people out, and/or put people down?”
We need to empower people at the young age, so they can develop the social tools to defend themselves. We need to give them a type of mental karate. And we need to pay attention to our own responses, and not retaliate like our aggressors have done.
We can change our attitude from power over others to power within ourselves. We can move to a partnership philosophy wherein our community becomes inclusive, and our boundaries are soft and nurturing. We can move beyond democracy with the freedom to speak out and buck the trends we see as being unproductive. We can move from the unconscious to the mindful. And as we become self-determining in our behavior, then others will see this and emulate it.
What is Humanism?
There is no humanist catechism. There are the Humanist Manifestos, but that is no dogma. Humanists as the local level have tried to define what is important to them. Here are some experiments.
“Since the earliest days of philosophic reflection in ancient times in both East and West, thinkers of depth and acumen have advanced the single proposition that the chief end of human life is to work for the happiness of man upon this earth and within the confines of Nature that is his home. This philosophy of enjoying, developing, and making available to everyone the abundant material, cultural, and spiritual goods of this natural world is profound in its implications, yet easy to understand and congenial to common sense. This man centered theory of life has remained relatively unheeded during long periods of history. While it has gone under a variety of names, it is a philosophy that I believe is most accurately described as humanism.”
From Corliss Lamont: The Philosophy of Humanism.
Here’s what they say:
Atheist: There is no god.
Theist: Oh, yes there is.
Polytheist: There are lots of them.
Pantheist: They’re everywhere – in trees, music, people.
Agnostic: You can never really tell if they exist.
Ignostic: Who cares? God and evil are real – and human
Humanist: We’re human, so let assume people matter most
Freethinker: What matters is freedom to keep asking questions
From Contact! the newsletter of the Humanist Fellowship of San Diego.
Dogs, Cars and Guns: An Analogy
Human beings reason by analogy a lot: if a woman is like chattel, then it’s okay to beat her up; if war is like assisted mass suicide, then it bad, but if it like organized sports, then its a good place for a man to show his mettle.
There is a sensational trend among lonely, frustrated males in their thirties to get fast-shooting weapons, create carnage and kill themselves afterwards. Single digit murders don’t make the headlines anymore. In the last five years more Americans died from gun shots than in the Vietnam war. Don’t outlaw the guns, says the National Rifle Association, for they are not to blame, and neither are the responsible gun owners. So let’s see what we do with other annoying and potentially dangerous things.
Are Guns Like Dogs?
In most apartment communities, pets are not allowed. That’s peculiar, because cats can be kept inside full time, and dogs can be trained to do their business in inoffensive places. So why discriminate against animals and their friends?
I used to live in a place that allowed pets. The sand box there smelled like a cat box. The kids could not play on the grass or the side walk, and the poor guy who came to cut the lawn had to wear a full-length rubber coat and goggles. My wife would get very angry at the people who owned dogs the size of calves, and threatened to have our baby play naked on their stoops and leave them an organic deposit there, because what makes pet waste any less filthy than diaper filling?
I don’t want to gross you out. The point is this: in the case of pets, many communities don’t determine what particular pets, and which particular owners, are offensive. They make the responsible people suffer with the irresponsible ones, and deny everybody the pleasure of an animal friend.
Are Guns Like Cars?
Cars are guided missiles that emit toxic fumes and can kill on impact at speeds as low as 20 miles per hour. Lawmakers realize their potential for destruction. Even though our communities are structured in such a way that a full life seems only possible with automotive transportation, we deny access to the steering wheel to the young, the physically unfit, and the mentally unstable. We make everybody show that they are able to drive well and know the rules. We require that everybody show that they are able to drive well and know the rules. We require that everybody who drives is covered by liability insurance, so that those who cause harm to others will be able to pay the damages. We demand that every vehicle is registered and accounted for: if you sell it, you must make sure the new owner is known. And, in this state at least, we insist that the car is inspected once a year, to see if it is fit for use.
Is a gun as dangerous as a car? I think so. I can avoid a car easier than I can avoid a bullet. Is a gun as necessary to a full life as a car? NRA members seems to think so: the right to bear arms is incorporated in the Constitution, they insist; the right to drive is not mentioned there.
At this time, if you want to buy a new handgun, all you have to do is fill out a federal firearms form, and state that you are over 21, a U.S. citizen, a Utah resident for more than 6 months, and not a criminal, a convict, a fugitive, or a drug addict. There is no background check, so if you lie and your form gets spot-checked by the Bureau of alcohol, tobacco and Fire-arms, all you’ll get is more trouble than you had already. If you were born after 1965, you also need to have a “safety card” to show that you did the state’s hunter education course. Of course, if you don’t want to go to all that trouble, you can also read through the classifieds, and buy a second hand gun.
To those who don’t own them, guns are at best annoying and potentially harmful, and at worst a means of violent aggression. As in the case of pets, I don’t think the members of a community are required to distinguish between good and bad owners, if they deem guns as superfluous. In case they regard guns as essential, they should separate the fit from the unfit, and make the conditions for gun use and ownership as rigorous as those for cars.
The Bill of Rights
This year marks the two hundredth anniversary of the Bill of Rights.
It is one of the most important documents in human history, and yet few Americans know what it is, where it is located, or why it was necessary. In fact, a recent survey found many Americans who would willingly change the long-standing Bill of Rights simply to solve current, short term problems.
The Bill of Rights is the popular name for the first ten amendments to the Constitution. It is, in a way, the first major act by a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
The Bill of rights came into being because the people demanded it. Their experience led them to distrust it, even a new kind of democratic government. They wanted some way to guarantee certain rights against encroachment by government or any other power. The first ten amendments list those rights and freedoms. They prohibit government from interfering with those rights under any pretense. And they command government to protect and promote those rights and freedoms.
The Constitution gives power to the majority. The Bill of Rights restricts the power in order to protect the minority, even if that minority is a single citizen.
If you set no other goals this year, KSL urges you to obtain a copy of the Constitution. Read the Bill of Rights. Discuss it with your family. Help them appreciate the rights and freedoms it guarantees.
Humanists of Utah expresses appreciation to KSL Radio and Television for their outstanding editorial on the bill of Rights (7/17/1991). Don Gale, VP News and Public Affairs for KSL, gave us permission to reprint the editorial.
Free Speech Park
Salt Lake City recently became the first city in the nation to dedicate a “First Amendment Park.” Located on the East side of the County complex (at the corner of State and 2100 South), the park features a speech podium and a stone monument with the First Amendment engraved as the background. Salt Lake Commissioner Mike Stewart told about 300 people attending the dedication that the free speech park will serve the same purposes as London’s Hyde Park and The Boston Common: a place where citizens can feely speak their minds. “First Amendment Park” is a project of the Thomas Jefferson Center of Free Expression, Charlottesville, Virginia, which hopes to erect similar parks around the nation
The Epidemiology of Knowledge
All through history, there has been a pervasive idea that knowledge can hurt you. We have treated knowledge of certain facts like a disease, something that can spread like the pox and disfigure for life. Withholding information need not be cynical manipulation. It is often well-intentioned. As a matter of personal hygiene, you keep the ones you love from filth, because you don’t want to see them suffer.
The “bubble boy” is an extreme example in the medical world: born without a working immune system, he spent his life inside a sterile plastic bubble. Siddhartha Gautama, the later Buddha, was kept insulated from knowledge inside a pleasure garden for the first 29 years of his life.
The problem with this is that the bubble is as much a jail as a protective barrier. And if the patient/prisoner breaks out, he’s totally unprepared for dealing with germs of knowledge. Faced with the sudden truth that people grow sick and old and ugly and dead, it is not so strange that Gautama concluded that life is suffering, and that the best thing to strive for is to escape from depressing cycle of rebirth.
Public health officials cannot keep individuals from disease, so their preferred solution is to try and keep germs from reaching the individuals. Censors try to quarantine knowledge as well, not to keep people stupid, but to protect the innocent. The patron saint of all book burners was someone called Solimon. I wish I knew more about his background, but all I can tell you is his verdict of books: “If a book says the same as the Koran, it is superfluous. If it says something else than the Koran, it lies.”
Public health measures only work to the extent of our knowledge of diseases and how they spread. We can only hope that our officials will be able to tell bubonic plague from the common cold. We can only hope that they will not rely on witch burnings and shamanic rituals to keep us from falling ill.
There is reason to doubt our censors know enough about causes and effects of knowing. Should we keep the knowledge of how to make poison gas from spreading? Is it dangerous to show naked people in acts of love? Is it dangerous to show clothed people in acts of aggression? Will sex education lead to more promiscuity, to less venereal disease or both? So should we censor? And who should get to decide about what to censor?
Willfully exposing people to all kinds of diseases at once, “so they get used to it,” would be tantamount to murder.
Reality can be similarly overwhelming. I could sit down with a very young person and tell her some things I know: God and Santa do not exist; known life is but a fly speck on the map of the universe; a hundred years from now we’ll all be dead; there are people like Joseph Mengele, Stalin, Vlad the Impaler, and the Delhi sultans; all around you, and undetectable, are rapists, and molesters and loonies with guns, druggies, dealers, dunces and drunks; few people can resist taking advantage of a sucker; and that’s not all, sweetheart.
If I were to do that, the child would probably become a very scared person, unable to trust anyone, quite willing to hide behind walls, shoot first and ask questions later. In fact, I know there are a lot of scared people like that: we call them “macho.”
Rather than keeping knowledge away form people, I think we should prepare their minds to deal with it, the same way we prepare their bodies against killing diseases: by inoculating them when they are young, with carefully monitored doses of filth. That is no pleasure, neither for the giver nor for the receiver of painful knowledge. But it is more compassionate to rear people with little pock marks on their soul, people who can stand to know the truth, than to keep them untried, unblemished, dumb and happy. And fortunately for us, there is no knowledge so devastating that a mature human being cannot deal with it. Not that I know of, anyway.
You may have heard it already: Congress was unable to override the president’s veto on a bill that would repeal the gag rule. As a result, federal Title X assistance will only go to family planning organizations that agree not to mention abortion as an option in case of unwanted pregnancies. Does the Bill of Rights guarantee free speech to everybody but providers of medical information?
The Utah Planned Parenthood organization has decided that it owes its patients all the facts, not just the federally sanctioned ones. Not all its patients need abortion information: in fiscal year 1991, Planned Parenthood had 16,415 patients, only 1733 of whom came in for pregnancy testing. And only a fraction of those were so distressed by their pregnancy that a discussion of their options (adoption, parenthood, abortion) was called for. Even so, to bar one tenth of its patients from receiving “offensive” information, the government is denying PP one third of its former budget, money that was mainly used to provide reproductive health care to low-income women. In the end, that’s where the buck stops.
You can do something to help Planned Parenthood survive its budget crunch: nothing lofty, just bring your business to the people whose stand you support. If you are a woman, you should have an annual exam anyway; that’s the best way to prevent cervical, uterine and breast cancer. You could have that exam done by Planned Parenthood, rather than by your usual doctor, and pay the full fee of $40.00.
There is no standard exam for men (yet). They’ll just have to find another way to show their support: by bringing in their meaningful other, maybe?
What is Humanism?
There is no humanist catechism. There are the Humanist Manifestos, but those are historical documents, and explicitly posited as theses, not as dogma. Humanists at the local level have tried to define what is important to them. Here are some more experiments.
Humanism is the universally shared quest for a better life in our common world. Humanism is community based upon universal respect and mutual affirmation. Humanism is pluralistic and inclusive, open and creedless, democratic, practical, and tolerant.
From the newsletter of the Humanist Discussion Group in San Diego.
Humanism is an approach to living a fulfilling, ethical and sustainable life on earth without belief in supernatural beings or an afterlife. Humanists find joy and worth in seeking and discovering truth: in better understanding ourselves, our society, and our universe. We enjoy creating and experiencing things of beauty: music, art, literature, and other creative endeavors.
Humanists believe that humans are responsible for their own destinies. It is we who create heaven or hell on earth. We choose not to explain the world in supernatural terms, or to look to a supernatural being for salvation.
Humanist philosophy has evolved from the moral teachings of some of the great religions, and additional contributions from thinkers such as Democritus, Aristotle, Lucretius, Spinoza, Voltaire, John Locke, David Hume, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Ingersoll, John Dewey, and Bertrand Russell. It is still evolving; we are still searching for new insights.
Humanists seek truth rather than myth, understanding in a place of dogma, reason rather than blind faith, hope rather than despair, self acceptance rather than guilt, tolerance in the place of fear, democracy rather than authoritarianism, equal opportunity rather than quotas, love instead of hatred, and kindness toward others instead of selfishness.
Humanists believe in the fundamental goodness of humankind, and we strive for the fullest realization of human potential. We seek the highest ethical standards, not because we believe we must expiate some original sin, not because we live in fear of a supernatural power, not because we are bribed by visions of paradise in afterlife, but because we simply believe that it is the best way to live. Our goal is to construct a civilization in harmony with our environment, in which each human life can be one of variety, challenge, happiness, and fulfillment.
From “Humanism: A Brief Description” prepared by The Humanists of Colorado.
Who is a Humanist?
If you believe:
- That human beings are capable of making responsible decisions for themselves.
- That moral values are formed within the framework of human experience.
- That, as we reach for maturity, we need no supernatural authority to guide us.
Then, though you may not have known it, you are humanist.
From the San Diego Humanist, newsletter of the Humanist Association of San Diego.
What is a Humanist?
A Humanist is one who, in the basic deliberations and decisions for action in life, has set aside faith and revelation and dogmatic authority, and chooses instead human experience and reason as grounds for belief and action, putting human good–the good of self and others–as the ultimate criterion of right and wrong, with due concern for all other living things.
Morris Storer, quoted in Contact!, the newsletter of the Humanist Fellowship of San Diego
Mission Statement Critique
Overall your mission statement looks pretty good, and I agree it’s a good idea to state succinctly what your basic premises and goals are. Since you ask, I do have some criticism that might yield some improvement. I have a problem with the rhetorical style; it’s a bit too preachy and arrogant in spots for my taste. While I sympathize with the feeling behind the assertive stance, I prefer language that is more careful to avoid the flavor of a dogmatic religion.
My perspective is that of an atheist, and a fairly militant one at that. So who am I to complain about being too arrogant, right? Well, I think it’s just a matter of being sensitive to what I don’t like about religion. I don’t like the authoritarian approach to knowledge. I prefer science over religion, and that means seeking objectivity and verifiability as goals. I’m suspicious of anyone and any group that is too smug in their certainty and tells me they are going to “enlighten” me. It’s not that I’m such a know-it-all, I might well be enlightened, but it’s the presumptuousness of stating it as an introduction.
Statement one says you support the “goals and policies” of the AHA. Not a bad idea since you are a part of the AHA, but it sounds a bit like a statement of faith. Statement two defines the philosophy in terms of the Manifestos, calling them “knowledge” rather than a credo or dogma. Unfortunately, the manifestos are written like a creed. They are a statement of beliefs and assertions that we are asked to accept. Isn’t that a doctrine? They may be derived from knowledge, but they are not knowledge themselves. What is really being offered is a world view, an approach or orientation for living, not a law of nature.
Statement three is the goal to “identify” all Utah humanists and “gather” them into AHA. The humanists I know are pretty independent and many of them may not want to be gathered. The statement is too presumptive, too aggressive. Couldn’t we just let humanists know we are available and invite them to join us?
Statement four “recognizes” that humanism is satisfying and positive and “declares” the “intention” to spread “the knowledge” of humanism. That’s too pushy, too presumptive for me. It has too much of the flavor of the manifestos. Perhaps we could “find that” humanism is satisfying rather than “recognize” that it is. After all it isn’t for everyone. Maybe you could work to “increase awareness” of humanism as an alternative and provide information about humanism, rather than spreading the “knowledge.”
Statement five says we will “educate” our membership. It’s just the way its phrased that bothers me. so what, now we’re educated? I’m probably being too picky here, but maybe we could soften that by “offering education information” to our members.
Nuts! One thing I’ve always disliked about AHA is the endless nitpicking over minor details, and here I go just like the rest. It’s basically a good set of statements, and you’re doing a good job. If this helps, good. If not, please don’t worry about it.
Humanists and the Bill of Rights
As a high school counselor I read many essays written by seniors who are applying at various universities, hoping their thoughts will persuade the admissions officers to grant them entrance. I was impressed by a recent composition wherein a young woman wrote:
“I don’t want to go to college just to take classes, graduate and get a job. I want to taste the reality of knowledge as I drink it in. I want to sit in a quiet library and think about the meaning of life. I want to debate with friends about current Constitutional issues. And I want to write poetry in the shade of an old autumn tree.”
This young woman’s desires are a beautiful example of the human need for free expression and why free expression matters. It matters because it encourages mental growth and character development. She will learn who she is because she lives in a country where she is free to take the journey to self-discovery. Her self-discovery is made possible because our American founders had enough faith in human nature to set up a system of government based on liberty of conscience and the freedom to explore new ideas.
Our founders tried a “Great Experiment” by breaking the bonds from religion, believing that it was neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for having and maintaining good government.
They had hope–hope that citizens, left to their own particular ways will behave well toward one another. Their belief in potential human virtue underlies the whole idea in the Bill of Rights. (Life Magazine, Fall 1991)
But because human nature has a dark side, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary” (James Madison), the early Americans also chose to have a Bill of Rights attached to their Constitution. It was the mechanism created for protecting what they believe to be the fundamental human rights – rights to which human beings are entitled simply by having been born human.
Speech, Press, Religion, and Assembly.
These great freedoms encompassed in the First Amendment were conceived to be the most valuable. James Madison believed:
Conscience is the most sacred of all property, being a natural and unalienable right. Government can give no title to invade a man’s conscience which is more sacred than his castle, or withhold from it that debt of protection, for which the public faith is pledged.
The freedoms are the “zones of freedom into which the majority was forbidden entry. The Bill of Rights marks those boundaries and zones. It sets legal limits of government’s power” (Ira Glasser, “Civil Liberties” 1991).
Practicing the principles in the Bill of Rights is a fairly recent happening:
For over 150 years the Bill of Rights was paid lip service in patriotic orations and ignored in the marketplace. It wasn’t until after World War I that the Supreme Court began the process of giving real meaning to the Bill of Rights (Life).
In the 1950s we had the liberal Supreme Court which used its influence to expand the rights of individuals against government.
It was a force that ended to thwart the established power. Today’s Supreme Court gives the government great latitude; it prefers to ratify choices made by those already in power (Newsweek, July 8, 1991).
The court is also reversing precedent. Judge Rehnquist wrote, “Adherence to precedent is the preferred course, but not an inexorable demand.”
It is clear that our attention must now be directed toward state legislative bodies and state supreme courts. This will be difficult in Utah, because the overwhelming majority (90%) of our legislators are of one religion, which is authoritarian and patriarchal in nature.
If we as humanists believe that the Bill of Rights was adopted to protect individual freedoms from the tyranny of the majority, then we must become resolute.
We must remember that the American people’s resolve and resistance are what will determine the course of liberty from now into the next century. The Bill of Rights today is about those people who work to bring our ideals into line, about those who are willing to fight, often at great personal risk and sacrifice, to claim the rights that they have been denied. It is about persistence and stamina, and efforts to transform the principle of liberty in to the practice of liberty (Glasser).
In all our idealism, we Americans must remember that our system of government is fallible. Innocent people have been hurt and punished for crimes they did not commit. But it is the best system thus far. As Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst system devised by the wit of man, except for all the others.” We can only hope to refine its principles through humanistic practices.
As humanists we can celebrate this 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights by:
Rededicating ourselves to the habits of free inquiry, skeptical scrutiny, exposure of government actions to public view and support for the right to express all opinions including, especially, those we find personally distasteful.
In a democracy, opinions that upset everyone are sometimes exactly what we need …. We should also be teaching our children the scientific method and the Bill of Rights (Carl Sagan, Parade Magazine, April 8, 1991)
We as humanists must make sure that our children understand why our civil liberties are essential, not only so they can feel free to “write poetry in the shade of an old Autumn tree,” but to preserve the original ideals an enliven America’s soul.