1996

Solstice

January 1996

Imagine our ancestors sometime between 30,000 and 200,000 years ago gazing at the sky considering the solstice. Then, as now, there must have been two basic approaches to nature: fear and wonder. Unfortunately fear is the stronger emotion. Its legacies include myth, superstition, religion, and authoritarian governments and rulers.

Those who stood in wonder were able, through empirical observations, to explain the natural phenomenon of the solstice. The progeny of wonder are the arts, the sciences, and the humanities.

It is unlikely that most people approach the unknown exclusively with either fear or wonder. We all have a different mixtures of these two basic emotions. Our challenge is to try to suppress the fears, and then experience and explain the wonders.

–Wayne Wilson

Discussion Group Report

Why Are Americans Frustrated With Politics?

June 1996

By Richard Layton

With the approach of a new presidential election, Americans remain frustrated with politics and unhappy with the alternatives the parties have to offer. “Our public life is rife with discontent,” says Michael J. Sandel, author of “America’s Search for a New Public Philosophy,” in the March Atlantic Monthly. Democrats say this situation is due to the insecurity of jobs in the global economy, and Republicans respond that it is a result of unhappiness with big government. But the debate does not speak to the two concerns at the heart of our discontent. One is the fear that, individually and collectively, we are losing control of the forces that govern our lives; and the other is the sense that, from family to neighborhood to nation, the moral fabric of community is unraveling all around us.

The central idea of the public philosophy by which we live is that freedom consists in our capacity to choose our ends for ourselves. Government should not affirm any particular conception of the good life; instead it should provide a neutral framework of rights within which people can choose their own values and ends. This liberal vision of freedom, having arrived on the scene only during the past half-century, has replaced the previously prevalent one, the republican political theory, the idea that liberty depends on sharing self-government. The republican theory involves deliberating with fellow citizens about the common good and helping shape the destiny of the political community. But such deliberation requires more than the capacity to choose one’s ends and to respect others’ rights to do the same; it requires that citizens possess certain civic virtues such as a knowledge of public affairs, a sense of belonging, a concern for the whole, a moral bond with the community. It means that politics cannot be neutral towards the values and ends its citizens espouse. It requires a formative politics that cultivates the qualities of character that self-government requires.

Both these understandings of freedom have been present throughout American political life, but in changing measure and relative importance. The decline in interest in cultivating civic virtues sheds light on our present discontent. Despite its appeal, the liberal vision lacks the civic resources to sustain self-government. Our present public philosophy “cannot secure the liberty it promises because it cannot inspire the sense of community and civic engagement that liberty requires.”

Where political discourse lacks moral resonance, the yearning for a public life of larger meaning finds undesirable expression. The Christian Coalition and similar groups seek to clothe the naked public square with narrow, intolerant moralisms. Fundamentalists rush in where liberals fear to tread. Despite the expansion of rights in recent decades, Americans find to their frustration that they are losing control of the forces that govern their lives. Even as we think and act as freely choosing, independent selves, we confront a world governed by impersonal structures of power that defy our understanding and control.

Self-government today requires a multiplicity of settings, from neighborhoods, to nations, to the world as a whole. It requires citizens who can abide the ambiguity associated with divided sovereignty, who can think and act as multiple situated selves. The civic resources we need to master these forces are still to be found in the places and stories, memories and meanings, incidents, and identities, that situate us in the world and give our lives their moral particularity. The task now is to cultivate these resources, to repair the civic life on which democracy depends.

It is impossible to do justice in a brief summary to the insightful comments I hear in our study group discussions. Some conclusions of the group at this month’s session follow: Humanists don’t feel as much difficulty relative to the current political dissatisfaction as some others because in their world view they relate to all human beings. Perhaps some common goals and values such as honesty, justice, and compassion would be helpful if they are viewed in a framework of situational ethics. If people are to have enough muscle to fight back against the vast power structures that threaten self-governance, they will need to do more reading and thinking to get informed and then vote. Also, we are asking the wrong questions.

The main problems in the controversy in the Utah legislature this year over support groups for homosexuals in the public schools were ignorance and too much focus on getting to the Celestial Kingdom. Nevertheless, it did help build awareness of the need to show understanding towards groups that are different from the majority. The newly organized Seagull Forum can help counteract the intolerance promoted by the Eagle Forum.

Discussion Group Report

What Has Happened to Our Freedom?

February 1996
August 2002

By Richard Layton

Summary of Jerry Spence’s From Freedom to Slavery.

Spence says: “As for solutions, there are only two kinds–those from outside of the self and those from within. The first suggests that we destroy our enemies, that we manipulate or neutralize them, that we discover detours around them, that we suffer their impositions against us, or, at last, that we even love them. In any event, the solution acknowledges the existence of outside forces that deter our progress and impede our happiness. On the other hand, there persists the idea–one with which I am in agreement–that solutions are mainly matters of the self, that power vested in others is often irrelevant to our freedom, that the only change essential for the human condition is to change within, that we are the fountainhead of power, and that, therefore, we need not free the world–we need only free ourselves…

“The danger, of course, is that we have become only the purchasers of the fable of freedom. When we vigorously argue to our neighbors that Americans are free, our neighbors will likely assert that they “buy” that. Having thought the fable, it belongs to us, and we fight to keep it like howling apes protecting their trinkets and their tinfoil…

“Today there are, as indeed, there have always been, insidious, enslaving forces at work in America. Today’s tyranny emanates from a New King, from a nonliving power center composed at its core of monolithic corporate entities encased and protected by endless layers of governmental bureaucracies. The primary strategy of the New King is to convert all rights, all human energy, all goals, and at last, all humans into fungible commodities, for the New King exists solely for commerce and its life’s blood, its green blood, its money-and its singular mission is profit. The new King’s principal means of control is the media that sells us the myths of freedom, that, when we doubt, reassures us we are free, and that programs us and our children to accept the notion that all human function, all human desires, indeed even immortality itself can, at last, be satisfied at the marketplace…

“If the churches have anything to do with it, those who offer solutions outside the scriptures will be condemned to eternal hell. If government has anything to do with them, any sound idea will be condemned in the bureaucracy, and if the idea should somehow escape the grinding teeth of its machinery, the author will be labeled an enemy of the state and disemboweled in one fashion or another. If corporate America has anything to do with it, any ideas that threaten its power will be branded as leftist, or commie, or un-American, and the author of such reform banished as a heretic against the most sacred of all religions in America, Free Enterprise…

“I would rather visit with the corpse than exist with the breathing dead, with those who have never considered a new idea, who worship the same God and vote the same party of their fathers, whose friends believe the same, look the same, and say the same things that they say. I would find a conversation with a corpse more engaging than one with the breathing dead, whose next words are as predictable as the liturgy of the priest and who, on pain of death, cannot recall the last book they read. All creativity is dead. Feeling is dead. Yet, as we observe, they breathe…

“Every large corporation should be required to seat on its board an equal number of ordinary people, people who have no pecuniary interest in the corporation’s activities, who will act as the corporation’s conscience and who are selected at random from the tax rolls of the community in which the corporation carries on its principal business. These ‘conscience members’ of the corporate board will see that the rights of the corporation’s employees are preserved, that their pension funds are not raided, that the workers receive fair wages, that their benefits are equitable, and that the corporation acts in accordance with every standard of good citizenship.”

Theodicy? The Idiocy!

May 1996

An airplane faltered, then fell from the sky;
Eighty-nine died. A collective sigh,
“It’s God’s will.”
A terrible flood, but all were saved
by rescuers strong, fearless and brave.
“It’s God’s will.”
A child was starved, beaten, then died.
They buried her deep, and adults cried,
“It’s God’s will.”
A little one found-he wasn’t quite dead.
The people thanked heaven, and then of course said,
“It’s God’s will.”
Millions can suffer in earth’s darkest holes,
Yet millions keep saying that god’s in control.
The greatest good or the greatest ill,
“Why don’t you know? It’s all god’s will.”
“God’s will” is the phrase they mindlessly use,
So no matter what happens, god can’t lose!
Absurd contradictions their intellects kill.
We humanists work with a human will.
Sifted through reason, the finest of screens,
This is what god-talk really means:
All of us born to a world cold and stark;
Most remain “children crying in the dark.”

–Adrienne Morris

Tess is a Happy Humanist, and an Advanced Placement English teacher with a flair for writing and stimulating her students to THINK.

THEODICY: The defense of god’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.

Discussion Group Report

Satan: How Christians Demonize Their Enemies

November 1996

By Richard Layton

“In the Ancient Western World,” says historian Elaine Pagels, “many – perhaps most – people assumed that the universe was inhabited by invisible beings whose presence impinged upon the visible world, and its human inhabitants.”

Conversion from paganism to Judaism or Christianity meant, above all, transforming one’s perception of the invisible world. The pagan convert was baptized only after confessing that all spirit beings previously revered as divine were actually only “demons:” Hostile spirits contending against the One God of goodness and justice, and against his armies of angels. Becoming either a Christian or a Jew polarized a pagan’s view of the universe, and moralized it. However, the Jews and Christians were less concerned with the natural world as a whole, than with the particular world of human relationships.

While angels often appear in the Hebrew bible, Satan, along with other fallen angels or demonic beings, is virtually absent. But among certain first-century Jewish groups, prominently including the Essenes and the followers of Jesus, Satan began to assume central importance. Mark, in the New Testament, characterizes Jesus’ ministry as involving continual struggle between God’s spirit and the demons who belong to Satan’s kingdom. Such visions have been incorporated into Christian tradition, and have served to confirm for Christians their own identification with God, and to demonize their opponents: first other Jews, then pagans, and later dissident Christians called heretics.

Satan is also a reflection of how we perceive ourselves, and those we call “others”; he defines negatively what we think of as human. In Western Christian tradition, “we” are God’s people, and “they” are God’s enemies, and ours as well. “Such moral interpretation,” says Pagels, “has proven extraordinarily effective throughout Western history in consolidating the identity of Christian groups; the same history also shows that it can justify hatred, even mass slaughter.” The Christian vision of supernatural struggle both expresses conflict, and raises it to cosmic dimensions. As SØren Kierkegaard pointed out, “An unconscious relationship is more powerful than a conscious one.”

Christian tradition derives much of its power from the conviction that, although the believer may be besieged by evil forces, Christ has already won the decisive victory. The apocalyptic faith that He has triumphed assures Christians that in their own struggles, the stakes are eternal and victory is certain. So compelling is this vision of cosmic war that it has pervaded the imaginations of people for two thousand years. It has taught even secular-minded people to interpret the history of Western culture as a moral history in which the forces of good contend against the forces of evil in the world. Millions of Muslims invoke similar apocalyptic visions, and switch the sides so that to them Christians are the allies of “the great Satan.” This vision derives its power not only from the conviction that one stands on God’s side, but also from the belief that one’s opponents are doomed to failure.

Still, from the first century, some Christians, including Matthew, have taught a profoundly different perception of opponents: that, whatever harm their enemies have done, they are capable of being reconciled. For the most part, however, Christians have taught that their enemies are evil, and beyond redemption.

Journey to Humanism

Sandy Usry

July 1996

Although I am not afraid of death, I am terrified of public speaking! Now you are in store for more information than you ever wanted to know about me! I guess I will start at the beginning. I was born October 2nd, 1950, in Los Angeles, California. I have one sibling, a brother, who is 18 months older than I. My mother is a religious woman with a Presbyterian background. My father was nonreligious. Both of my parents were, in their own way, good role models. Both were liberal democrats, full of compassion and humanity.

I have both good and bad memories of my childhood. Life is not easy and my family was not spared its fair share of trials and tribulations. I was a good student, but after graduation from high school, eager to get on with life, I chose to get married. We had one daughter and the marriage lasted five years.

During the five-year period of my marriage, my brother had joined the Air Force and had been stationed at Hill Air Force Base. My parents had also retired and moved to Utah.

Following my divorce, I moved to Utah to be near my family. I lived with my parents while I found employment and got settled. They were a great source of love and support and took care of my daughter while I worked.

I grew to love Utah but never adjusted to the predominant religion and culture. I tend to think I was a good LDS person’s worst nightmare: a liberal, divorced, nonreligious female from California.

It was at this point in my life that I began to ask myself all the customary questions: Is the Bible true? Should it be taken as the word of God? Does God exist? Must morality be derived from religion? I came to the conclusion that the answer to all of these questions, for me, was “No”! I began to formulate my own belief system. About two years ago I ran across the book Unitarianism in Utah, written by Stan Larsen and Lorille Miller. I identified myself as a Unitarian. That discovery led me to South Valley Unitarian Church. At South Valley I picked up a brochure entitled “The Faith of a Humanist.” I identified myself more specifically as a humanist.

Contrary to popular opinion, my life has been enhanced through this shift in reality. My relationships have a greater depth and meaning. Life in general is sweeter. No belief system can lessen the pain of the loss of a loved one, but I have grown to accept the reality that loss is an indispensable part of life and growth.

My life has been enriched through my association with this Humanist community. I hope that our community will grow and eventually we will be able to develop a humanist center that will have a positive influence on Utah culture.

Finally, to bring you up to date on my current life, 17 years ago I met and married my second husband. We have two daughters: Jenny (15) and Jamie (14). So far so good!

The Secular Humanist Pantheon

October 1996

From the August 1996 issue of the Humanist Monthly, newsletter of the Capital District Humanist Society.

The following are among people from the past who have contributed enormously to the development and history of secular humanism as a philosophical world view based on rational thought and human self-reliance. [See our Historical Humanists index for more information on some of the people listed below, as well as others.]

Confuscius–c. 551-479 BCE
Chinese philosopher

Marie Curie–1867-1934
French physical chemist

Socrates–c. 470-399 BCE
Greek philosopher

George Sand–1804-1876
French novelist

Epicurus–341-270 BCE
Greek philosopher

Charles Darwin–1809-1882
English naturalist and evolutionist

Hypatia–c. 370-415 BCE
Greek philosopher

George Eliot–1819-1880
English novelist

Aristotle–384-322 BCE
Greek philosopher

Robert Green Ingersoll–1833-1899
American lawyer and orator

Lucretius–c. 100-53 BCE
Roman poet.

Friedrich Nietzsche–1844-1900
German philosopher and poet.

Marcus Aurelius–121-180
Roman emperor

George Bernard Shaw–1858-1950
British playwright and critic

Glordano Bruno–1548-1600
Italian philosopher.

John Dewey1859-1952
American philosopher, psychologist, writer

Galileo–1564-1642
Italian mathematician, astronomer, physicist

George Santayana–1883-1952
Spanish-American poet and philosopher

Spinoza–1632-1677
German philosopher

Bertrand Russell–1872-1970
English mathematician and philosopher.

Voltaire–1694-1778
French writer and satirist

Albert Einstein–1879-1955
American physicist

David Hume–1711-1776
Scottish philosopher and historian

Margaret Louise Sanger–1879-1966
American founder of birth control movement

Thomas Paine–1737-1809
American political philosopher

James Langston Hughes–1902-1967
American writer

Thomas Jefferson–1743-1826
Third President of the United States

Sidney Hook–1902-1989
American social and political philosopher

Mary Wollstoncraft–1759-1797
English author, advocate of women’s rights

B.F. Skinner–1904-1990
American behavioral psychologist

Rammohan Ray–1772-1833
Indian religious and social reformer

Jean-Paul Sartre-1905-1980
French writer and philosopher

Auguste Comte–1798-1857
French philosopher

Joseph Fletcher–1905-1991
American biomedical and situational ethicist

Elizabeth Cady Stanton–1815-1902
American woman suffrage leader

Jacob Bronowski–1908-1974
American mathematician, humanist author

Mark Twain–1835-1910
American writer

Albert Camus–1913-1960
French novelist, essayist and playwright

Thomas Alda Edison–1847-1931
American inventor

Andrei Sakharov–1921-1981
Russian muclear physicist and political dissident

Sigmund Freud–1856-1939
Austrian founder of psychoanalysis

Isaac Asimov–1920-1992
American biochemist and author

 

Discussion Group Report

Nature’s Most Awesome and Complex Creation: The Human Mind

January 1996

By Richard Layton

Richard Leakey, in The Origin of Humankind , defines consciousness as self-awareness. Each of us experiences life through the medium of consciousness. It is so powerful that it is impossible to imagine our existence without it.

Mind is:

The source of sense of self, private or shared with others.

A channel for reaching worlds beyond material objects, through imagination.

What can a conscious entity do for itself that an unconscious simulation of it can’t? Organisms need to predict the future, but computers also have this ability. Oxford University zoologist Richard Dawkins says, “perhaps consciousness arises when the brain’s simulation of the world becomes so complete that it must include a model of itself.” Leakey takes the evolutionary point-of-view that consciousness conferred survival benefits and was the product of natural selection. Language is a tool of communication, but it is also a further means by which mental reality is honed.

Not only the size, but also the organization, of the hominid brain changed through evolution. Both the brains of apes and of humans are organized on the same basic pattern with one important difference: in apes the occipital lobe in the back of the brain is larger than the frontal lobes while in humans this pattern is reversed.

Our gradually unfolding consciousness changed us into a new kind of animal, one that sets arbitrary standards of behavior based upon what one considers to be right or wrong.

The harsh reality is that the questions archaeologists face about our ancestors’ level of consciousness during the past 2.5 million years may be unanswerable because of the difficulties of obtaining evidence. However, one human activity from the prehistoric record, deliberate burial of the dead, is redolent of human consciousness. It shows an awareness of death, and thus an awareness of self. The first evidence of deliberate burial is of a Neanderthal a little more than 100,000 years ago.

Before 100,000 years ago there is no evidence of any kind of ritual that might betray consciousness, nor is there evidence of any art. The absence of such evidence does not definitively prove the absence of consciousness, nor can it be adduced in support of its existence. Modern humans became like us with respect to consciousness when they spoke like us and experienced the self as we do. The first sure evidence of this is in the art of Europe and Africa along with elaborate burial from about 35,000 years ago.

Every human society has an origin myth, the most fundamental story of all. Ever since reflective consciousness burned brightly in the human mind, mythology and religion have been a part of human history. Consciousness is a social tool for understanding the behavior of others by modeling it on one’s own feelings. It is natural that in our myths we attribute these same motives to important non-human aspects of the world. Human minds are connected across millennia by an awareness of self and an awe at the miracle of life.

Establishing Boundaries

The Lion, the Mouse, and the Fox

September 1995

A lion, fatigued by the heat of a summer’s day, fell fast asleep in his den until a mouse ran right over his mane and ears, and rudely woke him from his slumbers. He rose up and shook himself in great wrath and searched in every corner of his den to find the mouse. A fox, seeing him in this state said, “A fine lion you are, to be frightened of a mouse.”

“Tis not the mouse I fear,” replied the lion, “I resent his familiarity and ill-breeding.”

–Aesop’s Fables

Sometimes, the so-called “little liberties” we take with others have a negative impact. We learn this through our testy experiences in life. The following are a few of my favorites:

  1. Grandma Beatrice secretly takes her baby grandson to her priest and has him baptized because her daughter-in-law is not of her faith.
  2. Mother Clara admonishes her married son for not taking his wife and children to church anymore. She tells him, “You know it’s what the Lord wants you to do.”
  3. Son, Scott, asks his parents to keep the wine out of the refrigerator when he brings his family for a visit, so his children won’t be exposed to “evil.”
  4. A public high school choir director chooses a steady repertoire of Christian music to be sung by students, and arranges the choir to sing in Mormon places of worship where students must listen to prayers, sermons, and testimonies. When some students write a letter of complaint, the director rebukes them and ignores their request to consider other options.

Just like Aesop’s mouse, the one commonality the main characters share in the above vignettes is that someone has overstepped a boundary and invaded another’s territory. Lions and other such animals set their boundaries by urinating in certain places, warning other animals to tread lightly, or not at all. Hopefully, we humans can set our boundaries by exercising our language skills.

Setting boundaries is important in distinguishing our individuality and protecting ourselves from pain and anguish. Like sturdy fences between neighbors, they mark the place where one reality ends and another begins. Boundaries also provide a foundation for respectful and mature relationships so we can live in peace and autonomy.

In our dealings with others, whether they be bosses, friends, casual acquaintances, or intimate relationships, we sometimes find ourselves in uncomfortable circumstances. Rather than feel stymied, and later resentful for not saying anything, it would be better for us to respond in an assertive, yet sensitive way that would affirm our personal convictions without distancing ourselves emotionally.

Dr. Charles Whitfield, in his book, Boundaries and Relationships, believes that recognizing our comfort level is a determining factor in setting limits. He asserts, “A boundary or limit is how far we can go with comfort in a relationship. It delineates where I and my physical and psychological space ends, and where you and yours begins. Boundary is a concept that provokes a real experience within us. Therefore, the boundary is real.”

So, the easiest way to recognize an overstepped boundary is to “go with your gut,” so to speak. The above mentioned stories are examples that provoke real emotion within us. We somehow know a line has been crossed because we feel hurt, anger, pain, and/or resentment. Our feelings give us a clue that “something is amiss.” We feel offended and sense that our personal space has been invaded, or worse, violated by another person’s words or deeds.

What is the best way to react when our feelings tell us our boundaries have been stepped on? First, we need to become acquainted, or re-acquainted, with our personal belief system, and feel confident with it, in spite of the beliefs of the majority. Then we need to recognize those times when our boundaries are being invaded, by tuning into our feelings and identifying an emotion, such as anger. Finally, we need to learn productive ways to speak for ourselves and our principles. This, of course, is a life-long process, but at particular times in our lives we need to declare our individual boundaries firmly so others won’t invade our space and stay there. For instance, in story #2, when Mother Clara admonishes her grown son for not taking his family to church, he could say to her:

“You know mother, you raised me well, and one of the important things you taught me was to think for myself, and I’m doing it. It is my choice not to attend church, and I feel comfortable with it.

“There are many subjects we can talk about when I come to visit you, mother, but religion is not one of them. So I’m setting down a guideline. If you want to continue our relationship, let’s not talk about religion. It gets too personal, and it’s disturbing because we see life differently. In the heat of emotion I don’t want either of us to say things we don’t mean, or end our visits on a negative note. Can we agree to that?”

Now, if Clara starts to cry and carry on, or threatens to disinherit him, her son can politely state:

“Mother, I can see you’re upset, so I’m going to leave now, and hopefully you can come to terms with this issue, because I really care about you and want to have a friendly relationship. I respect you and your belief system, and I hope you can do the same for me.”

This type of firm, yet friendly stand sets a personal boundary in a way that preserves the dignity of both parties. The trick is to mean what we say and stick to it, even if it means having a strained relationship for awhile.

In our day-to-day encounters, we have many opportunities for growth by declaring ourselves. But, as you can see, setting boundaries doesn’t “just happen.” It takes thoughtful preparation, and “script-writing.” It also takes a fair amount of courage, and an ability to tolerate the anxiety and guilt associated with setting limits. Sharing our struggles with an understanding friend or therapist can be most helpful.

Confrontation is a challenging road to walk because there is risk–risk at being misunderstood, dismissed, ostracized, and even retaliated against. The following statements reflect the powerful counter forces that can sometimes develop:

  • What’s wrong with you?
  • Why on earth are you doing this?
  • If you loved your family, you wouldn’t do this.
  • You’re not a team player when you defy the system.
  • We’re supposed to respect authority. Listen to it!

It takes perseverance and strength to become oneself. Sometimes we backslide into old behavior patterns. As we regain our ego-strength, then we can begin to restate our convictions repeatedly, if necessary. It takes time for some people to finally get our message. Once they do, life flows a little easier, and we become more authentic and respected.

–Nancy Moore

 

Living Mindfully in the Present

January 1996

Recently, a friend gave me a meaningful little book called, Peace is every Step. This small book is an invitation to live and encounter life in the present moment and find peace and joy. Following is one of my favorite stories expressed by the author, Thich Nhat Hanh, a world renowned Zen Master.

Flower Insights

There is a story about a flower which is well known in the Zen circles. One day the Buddha held up a flower in front of an audience of 1,250 monks and nuns. He did not say anything for quite a long time. The audience was perfectly silent. Everyone seemed to be thinking hard, trying to see the meaning behind the Buddha’s gesture. Then suddenly the Buddha smiled. He smiled because a monk in the audience smiled at him and at the flower. The name of that Monk was Mahakashyapa. He was the only person who smiled, and the Buddha smiled back and said, “I have a treasure of insight, and I have transmitted it to Mahakashyapa.” That story has been discussed by many generations of Zen students, and people continue to look for its meaning. To me the meaning is quite simple. When someone holds up a flower and shows it to you, he wants you to see it. If you keep thinking, you miss the flower. The person who was not thinking, who was just himself, was able to encounter the flower in depth, and he smiled.

That is the problem of life. If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything. When a child presents himself to you with his smile, if you are not really there–thinking about the future or the past, or preoccupied with other problems–then the child is not really there for you. The technique of being alive is to go back to yourself in order for the child to appear like a marvelous reality. Then you can see him smile and you can embrace him in your arms.

I would like to share a poem with you, written by a friend of mine who died at the age of twenty-eight in Saigon, about thirty years ago. It has just a few short lines, but it is very beautiful:

Standing quietly by the fence,
you smile your wondrous smile.
I am speechless, and my senses are filled
by the sounds of your beautiful song,
beginningless and endless.
I bow deeply to you.

“You” refers to a flower, a dahlia. That morning as he passed by a fence, he saw that little flower very deeply and, struck by the sight of it, he stopped and wrote that poem.

I enjoyed this poem very much. You might think that the poet was a mystic, because his way of looking and seeing things is very deep. But he was just an ordinary person like any one of us. I don’t know how or why he was able to look and see like that, but it is exactly the way we practice mindfulness. We try to be in touch with life and look deeply as we drink our tea, walk, sit down, or arrange flowers. The secret of the success is that you are really yourself, and when you are really yourself, you can encounter life in the present moment.

I thank the author and my friend for this jewel of a book. Hopefully, I will become more mindful of each act of daily life.

–Nancy Moore

 

My Funny Valentine

February 1996

Mrs. Prowell was short and stout. She arranged her wiry gray hair in a makeshift bun at the nape of her neck, and wore the same dress for days on end. She seldom smiled, and openly chastised any student who got out of line, which was often, especially for fourth graders.

During our Palmer Method penmanship lessons, Mrs. Prowell would stridently walk up and down the aisle with ruler in hand and rap anyone’s knuckles if their writing became less than perfect. And when it came to minor infractions, we were never innocent until proven guilty, but always guilty, and sent to the cloakroom with nary a chance to explain.

At the beginning of the school year, Mrs. Prowell warned us she had eyes in the back of her head, and we believed her because we hardly ever got away with anything. Once I passed a love note to my boyfriend, Peter, while her back was turned. She spun around, briskly marched down the aisle with a mean look on her face, grabbed the note from Peter’s hand, read it, then snapped at me, “Don’t be too forward with the boys, it’ll get you into trouble every time!” I was so scared and mortified that I stopped writing love notes for two whole weeks. And although I tried to take her advice, I just couldn’t change my behavior without taking a vow of silence in a nunnery, so I decided the trouble she warned me about was worth it.

She was a strict one, old “Pruddy Prowell” as we called her, but I learned good penmanship, memorized my times tables, and developed a love for singing patriotic songs.

By all appearances I didn’t believe Mrs. Prowell had a heart or a home. I thought perhaps she descended into the school basement at night and created her sinister lesson plans for the next day. That was, until Otillie transferred into our class. She was a girl that looked as funny as her name. She had mousy brown hair, a narrow pointed nose, sad eyes, and well-worn clothes. I didn’t think much about Otillie, and kind of ignored her, until one week before Valentine’s Day when Mrs. Prowell announced to the class that each one of us had to give every student in the room a Valentine. What a corny rule, I thought to myself. Besides, it was inconvenient for me because I had already made (from scratch in those days) just enough Valentines for the friends I liked. (I made three for Peter.) This new rule meant I had to make some more for the kids I didn’t even know, or didn’t like. It just didn’t seem fair, but of course I managed to smile and keep my mouth shut.

When I went home and told my mom of Mrs. Prowell’s corny rule, she thought it would be a nice gesture and encouraged me to do it, so I did–grudgingly. Sure, it was an empty gesture, but somehow having to write Otillie’s name on a Valentine forced me to be a little more compassionate, and a little more aware of those less fortunate (and selfish) than myself. When I saw Otillie’s face light up when she took her first look at her small decorated box overflowing with Valentines, that was a lesson for me in how pleasing others can please ourselves.

Otillie and I became friends after that, and ever since I’ve learned to expand my world to include people so diverse that my parents wondered if I didn’t go too far sometimes, especially when I began to hang out with humanists and other “fringe” groups.

Well, I can thank Mrs. Prowell for my first venture into inclusive behavior. Her Valentine scheme still works for me and has brought me many lasting friendships. Happy Valentine’s everyone!

–Nancy Moore

 

Challenging The “Release Time” Program In Utah’s Public Schools

December 1996

If you were to visit most secondary schools in the state of Utah you would find adjacent to each school a smaller building with a well-defined pathway linking the two edifices. Everyone calls the smaller building simply, Seminary – Mormon seminary – that is. By all outward appearances the seminary buildings are physically separated from the public schools, as the 1952 federal law requires, but internally the relationship between church and state is so entangled it should be a major cause of concern among minorities and civil libertarians.

First of all, LDS seminary is considered a “class” within the school day, and in most schools is listed in both the school Course Description Booklet and Class Schedule. Second, seminary classes have been programmed into each individual school and district computer system by school employees. In addition, the seminary class is pre-printed on each student’s registration computer sheet, and is programmed as a class option during phone-in registration. Third, seminary classes are listed as Release-Time (RT), but only Mormon tenets are taught under this supposedly generic title. Fourth, the schools regularly provide a prepared list of all Release-Time students to the LDS seminary staff for their registration and scheduling purposes. Fifth, because RT is considered a class, school counselors are required to inform all students in general registration meetings, and also individually, of the availability of the Mormon seminary program; and along with registrars and secretaries, are also responsible to register students for seminary. (Approximately 70% of Utah public school children are LDS, but in some counties, the figure runs as high as 95%.) Counselors are also required to officially drop a student from a Release-Time class if a seminary principal or teacher makes a request. Sixth, classrooms in the seminary building are sometimes used for academic classes such as Algebra, when there’s a shortage of classrooms in the public schools. Many seminary classes are also used by the public schools as homerooms to disseminate school information to students.

It seems worthwhile to examine the Utah State Constitution regarding the Released-Time Classes for Religious Instruction, if a challenge to the program is to ensue. In Article X Sec. 3. Utah Code 53A, Standards and Procedures R277-610-3, the rules state: (Italics have been added for emphasis)

A. Religious classes shall not be held in school buildings or on school property in any way that permits public money or property to be applied to, or that requires public employees to become entangled with, any religious worship, exercise, or instruction.

G. Schedules of classes for public schools shall not include released-time classes. . . . Scheduling shall be done on forms and supplies furnished by the religious institution and by personnel employed or engaged by the institution, and shall occur off the premises of the public school.

J. Public school equipment or personnel shall not be used in any manner to assist in the conduct of released-time classes.

K. Institutions offering religious instruction shall be regarded as private schools completely separate and apart from the public schools. Those relationships that are legitimately exercised between the public school and any private school is considered an appropriate relationship with institutions offering released-time classes, so long as public property, public funds, or other public resources are not used to aid such institutions.

It’s obvious the Release-Time (Mormon Seminary) program as it is presently practiced in the schools is not in compliance with the law, and is being misinterpreted and misused by the state and local school districts. Some counselors have expressed their discontent to the ACLU, but none has been willing to formally file a complaint because of the repercussions they would suffer as a result. One counselor said,

“I feel like I’m a sponsor for the Mormon church when I have to tell the kids about seminary. The Release-Time class represents solely the philosophy of the LDS church. We shouldn’t have to register students for any kind of religious instruction. Period! And if I were to challenge the school sponsorship of the seminary program, the community would consider me an antagonist toward the church, and I’d be treated as such. Also, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to get a promotion or obtain another position within the school district because I’d be considered a non-team player. I’m not against religion when its operation is contained within a private setting; I just don’t believe that public schools should cross over the ‘wall of separation’ by requiring counselors to register students for classes in religious instruction. I feel I’m being forced to betray my conscience when I am used as a recruiter for religion.”

Sandra Day O’Connor, Supreme Court Justice, spoke on the University of Utah campus on February 12, 1993, and when asked about the proper relationship between church and state, said: “Our Constitution has ruled out government sponsorship of religion. Endorsement sends a message that those who don’t believe in a particular way are outsiders, and adherents are insiders. Government endorsement of religion also weakens the political community and degrades religion.”

James is a good example of a student who experienced the feelings that come from being treated as an “outsider”. A counselor relates his story:

“James, a student body officer, came to my office during his senior year in high school and was quite upset because the seminary principal had recently cornered him in the hallway near the outside door of the high school leading to the seminary building. James had not registered for Mormon Release-Time that year and the seminary principal was admonishing him for his decision. As James put it, I felt humiliated because the bell had just rung and the other kids were passing us in the hallway hearing our conversation. I didn’t know what to say, so I just listened until he let up. I don’t think this should ever happen to anyone. But if I were to complain, it might get out, then I’d be treated differently.

Elizabeth is another example of a student who suffered the pangs of feeling excluded. Her mother writes: “During a conversation with Elizabeth, I asked her if she thought having the seminary building next door made a difference in the atmosphere of the high school. She replied with an astounding, Yes! Seminary creates a cliquish social environment. The most circulated question during the school day is, What did you do in seminary today? Everyone talks about seminary. It was a common bond that I couldn’t feel part of.” Elizabeth left high school after her junior year and attended the University of Utah her senior year because she couldn’t endure the isolation she felt in her high school.

Joan, a Catholic and an honor student, remembers the day when her boyfriend told her he couldn’t date her because his seminary teacher had recently cautioned the class not to date non-Mormons because they weren’t worthy of entering the highest degree of heaven. Joan was hurt by the “unworthy” implication directed at her and people of other religions, and saddened by the intolerant position of the LDS church. She remarked, “At my young age, I wasn’t thinking of marriage; I just wanted to feel part of a social group and have some fun.” Joan was never asked on a date in high school, even though she was popular and pretty.

The public school’s excessive entanglement with so-called Release-Time must cease, not only because it creates an environment of group favoritism, which causes human suffering, resentment, and divisiveness, but it coerces state employees to work on behalf of religion, a fact which some feel, treads on their freedom of conscience.

It is difficult to even think about challenging the Release-Time Program because of the personal anguish and professional roadblocks it would cause. If any brave soul were to challenge the Release-Time Mormon Seminary Program in the Utah public schools he/she would undoubtedly be fighting an uphill

battle because of the LDS church’s dominant influence within the school system. Justice Harry Blackmun in a 1992 Supreme Court decision warned against this inducement:

“When the government arrogates to itself a role in religious affairs, it abandons its obligation as guarantor of democracy. Democracy requires the nourishment of dialogue and dissent, while religious faith puts its trust in an ultimate divine authority above all human deliberation. When the government appropriates religious truth, it transforms rational debate into theological decree. Those who disagree no longer are questioning the policy judgment of the elected, but the rules of a higher authority who is beyond reproach.”

It’s a sad state of affairs when American citizens live in fear of punishment and ostracism if they dare to question the status quo. It’s a reflection of just how tyrannous the majority has become.

Justice Kennedy spoke of the subtle pressures when religion is established in the public schools. In the 1992 Supreme Court decision, Lee v. Weisman, the Justice wrote:

“As we have observed before, there are heightened concerns with protecting freedom of conscience from subtle coercive pressure in the elementary and secondary public schools . . . What to most believers may seem nothing more than a reasonable request that the non-believer respect their religious practices in a school context, may appear to the non-believer, or dissenter, to be an attempt to employ the machinery of the state to enforce a religious orthodoxy.”

Challenging the system can be emotionally wrenching, time-consuming and expensive, especially when a long established practice such as seminary has become institutionalized in the schools. However, it needn’t be if the state school system would pay attention to well-intended suggestions and have periodic “reality checks” to see if they’re protecting our freedom of conscience – a right guaranteed by the First Amendment, because regardless of religious convictions, the law is boss, even in Utah.

It would be refreshing to believe that the Mormon church and the Utah State School System would be able to see the inequity and illegality of the LDS Seminary Program as it is now being practiced, and thus be able to disengage from using the public schools to help operate its religious instruction. It seems wise and prudent to be able to correct one’s own institutional shortcomings without being forced to do so by the civil courts.

–Nancy Moore

 

Religion’s Contribution to Homophobia

April 1996

Homophobia: A behavioral syndrome involving intense fear, hostility, hatred and intolerance of homosexual behavior.

The most recent and divisive issue in Utah is the proposed organization of gay and lesbian clubs in public high schools. Last December, an East High student in Salt Lake City petitioned the school to form a gay and lesbian club, justifying its need because she believes “many gay students feel like they’re alone.” Studies verify the fact that gay teens are ridiculed and rejected more often than others, and as a consequence, lose self-esteem, frequently fail classes, drop out of school, or even commit suicide.

State Senator Charles Stewart, Provo, (over)reacted to the student proposal by labeling homosexuality as “bad” and “bestial.” The church-owned Deseret News followed with an editorial urging the Salt Lake City School Board to “draw a clear line” against such clubs because homosexual activities are “an abomination.” The article even suggested that homosexuals should get help to change their orientation. This admonition was congruent with the 1991 Mormon First Presidency’s statement which reads, “such thoughts and feelings, regardless of their causes, can and should be overcome, and sinful behavior should be eliminated.”

On February 20, the Salt Lake School Board decided by a 4-3 vote to eliminate all student clubs in order to keep the gay/straight club out of the schools. Three days later, hundreds of students from both East and West high schools protested the Board’s decision by walking out of school, some marching to the Capitol where Utah legislators were meeting. There appeared to be two reasons for the student walkout. One side supported the gay alliance, and the other side was angry about the banning of all clubs in school.

On the same day of the protest, the Utah Senate passed Bill 246, which “prohibits school employees from supporting immoral or illegal conduct.” As an educator, I am offended with the implications in the Bill because of its effect on our First Amendment right to express a private opinion. I am also disturbed with the hasty, and allegedly illegal manner in which our senators passed the Bill, which brings me to my premise: Religious belief can contribute to the irrational fear called homophobia.

John Boswell, a historian, asserts in his book, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, that “for many centuries Catholic Europe showed no hostility to homosexuality. The primary ammunition for the Church’s position against homosexuality came from the writings of Saints Augustine (b. 354 AD), and Thomas Aquinas (b. 1224) who both suggested that any sexual acts that could not lead to conception were unnatural and therefore sinful. Using this line of reasoning, the Church became a potent force in the regulation (and punishment) of sexual behavior. While some homosexuals were mildly rebuked and given prayer as penitence, others were tortured or burned at the stake.”

It is high time we recognize that homophobia is a maladaptive fear-a vestige from the ancient, superstitious past which needs to be eradicated because it results in hostility, hatred, and intolerance of others. Those civic leaders who use scriptures or ecclesiastical edicts to justify their legislative decisions need to realize they are favoring the majority and ignoring many citizens who do not believe in their prejudicial premise. We should be wary of politicians and religious leaders who imply they know what god wants for all of us. Carol Tavris, social psychologist, writes, “There’s a difference between what God wants and what fallible humansbelieve God wants to suit their own purposes.

What we’re contending with is a State Legislature whose composition is 90% patriarchal, the majority of whom believe have they have a direct line to the Almighty. However, Supreme Court Justice Blackmun reminds us of the dangers when religion attempts to supersede the democratic process. “Democracy requires the nourishment of dialogue and dissent, while religious faith puts its trust in an ultimate divine authority above all human deliberation. When the government appropriates religious truth, it transforms rational debate into theological decree. Those who disagree no longer are questioning the judgment of the elected, but the rules of a higher authority who is beyond reproach.” (1992) In the long run, it will be interesting to see if “theological decree” will overrule the democratic principle of “equal treatment under the law.”

This volatile issue also raises the question, “Shouldn’t lawmakers, school boards, and other civil leaders make decisions based on the most recent scientific data available, rather than rely on the medieval, and harmful opinion that homosexuality is sinful, bestial, and abominable?” Scientific studies now indicate that sexual orientation is mostly determined by the time of birth, through hormonal factors and/or genetic coding; and that trying to change one’s nature through a zapping behavior modification program is almost impossible.

We have an obligation as human beings to behave in a rational and civilized manner by providing equal treatment and equal access, especially in our schools. It’s contradictory and discriminatory to provide one group an incredible amount of State support (such as the LDS seminary program, where use of public school personnel is an everyday occurrence) and not provide the gay/straight alliance any recognition at all. Our school boards and legislators need to be reminded that the purpose of the First Amendment and the function of the Supreme Court is to protect the rights of unpopular minorities.

We should be comforting the lonely and confused by practicing the democratic and humanistic principles which help people function better. Bette Chambers, editor of Free Mind, put it well when she wrote, “All human life must seek a reason for existence…and it is love coupled with empathy, democracy, and a commitment to selfless service, which under gird the faith of a humanist.” We can only have faith that reason will prevail as the powers in Utah wrestle with the realities of this important Civil Rights issue.

–Nancy Moore

 

Journey to Humanism

Marie Springer

October 1996

Marie’s pampered childhood made it easy for her to become a Humanist! She explained that she had a fortunate childhood, being much loved, her every wish granted by adults who adored her and respected her. As a result, said Marie, she developed a high degree of self-assurance that enabled her to make healthy changes and positive decisions as an adult.

One of her earliest religious experiences established a positive memory. Marie revealed that her father was angry when he learned that she had been baptized a Mormon, without his permission, when she was 12 years old. He told the family member responsible for arranging the baptism that Marie, even as a child, had the right to make religious decisions for herself. His support impressed on her young mind her personal dignity, and respect for her right to make decisions.

As a young adult in the 1940’s, Marie moved to New York City, and began her career in journalism with Look Magazine. While living in Manhattan, she met the man who eventually became her husband. He was a well-read man with a wide circle of literary friends, and exposed Marie to the philosophy of atheism. She was at first shocked to learn that there are people who don’t believe in God, but then getting to know fine people who professed atheism led her to be tolerant, and to appreciate more fully the religious freedom this nation encourages. Her religious curiosity led her to a variety of liberal religions. Back in Salt Lake City in 1963 she visited the Unitarian Society where Hugh Gillilan was then the minister. His stimulating intellectual approach to religious questions was satisfying to her curious mind and, as she said, “resulted in her conversion to humanism.” Marie said that when she told her Mormon sister she had joined the Unitarian Church, her sister replied: “Thank God you belong to something!”

For Marie, Unitarian Humanism is the sensible place to be. It’s a way of living that encourages people to think seriously, and live fully.

Letters to the Editor: Responses to Humanism Bashing

October 1996

Two Letters to the Editor from Humanists of Utah members were published in The Salt Lake Tribune during September. Earl Wunderli (September 10, 1996) and Flo Wineriter (September 9, 1996) each had a response to the letter condemning humanism written by Dale Hawkins.

Earl Wunderli:

Professor Dale R. Hawkin’s seeming defense of BYU President Merrill J. Bateman, and his assertion that “the deplorable conditions in society today are the result of the teachings of atheistic doctrines” (Forum, August 29) both require comment.

First, Bateman was not accused of “stealing unique ideas” from Professor Gertrude Himmelfarb’s mode of expression. More precisely, Bateman was accused of using “a sequential summary of (Himmelfarb’s) ideas and writing” without attribution (Sunstone, September 1996), which is plagiarism. In other words, plagiarism consists not of stealing unique ideas, but of using, without attribution, someone else’s mode of expressing ideas, even ideas that, in Hawkins’ words, are “well-known facts” rather than “‘unique’ ideas of original authorship.” Bateman understood this distinction when he admitted that his attribution to Himmelfarb “could and should have been clearer” (Salt Lake Tribune, August 27).

Second, Hawkins has found what seems to be an ideological scapegoat for the “deplorable conditions of society.” But deplorable conditions have always existed. War, poverty, in humaneness, crime, hatred and ignorance have been with us from the beginning of time, and today, in addition to these, environmental degradation and overpopulation threaten our very survival. Naming any scapegoat does little to solve problems; using our intelligence and compassion, and sharing ideas with civility and open minds, do much more.

In the big picture, some progress is being made. Experimental science, just a few centuries old, has discovered and is discovering vast amounts of reliable knowledge about us, our world and our universe which we can use to make life better for everyone. The increasing number of democratic governments is protecting human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for more people than ever before. In spite of the shortcomings in our own society, I rather suspect that Hawkins would, like me, rather live in this country at this time than at any other place or time in history.

Florien Wineriter:

As president of the Humanists of Utah, I would like to respond to Dale R. Hawkins (Froum, August 29), who impugned the effects of secular humanism.

Professor Hawkins is objectively correct in stating the basic ideology of secular humanism, but his subjective conclusions are unsubstantiated. As he stated, secular humanism does promote “atheist doctrines of moral relativism”; John Dewey and William James are the 20th century philosophers who defined current interpretations and applications of godless humanism.

We do not dispute Hawkins’ description of secular humanism, but we strongly disagree with his conclusions that humanism is the cause of the decline of moral values, the destruction of families, and the deplorable conditions of our society.

Contrary to Hawkins’ conclusions, humanism puts the emphasis on humans solving problems without the imposed authority of religious or secular dogma. Humanism is committed to rational thinking and responsible behavior.

We encourage moral excellence, ethical relationships and human dignity; compassion, cooperation and community. Humanists have faith in the human capacity for goodness without the fear of supernatural intervention or post-life punishment.

Assign School Board a Report

May 1996

Rational dialog in our community would be greatly improved if decision-making bodies like the Salt Lake City school board would prepare written explanations of controversial decisions, analogous to the written opinions of judges and the written committee reports of legislators.

Among their benefit, written explanations would require the decision-maker to articulate its assumptions, evidence and reasoning, thereby clarifying its own thinking. Written explanations would also better enable the public to understand decisions. In the case of the school board’s recent decision on gay/lesbian clubs, for example, there have been several reported grounds for it, including the desire to send a signal to Washington and concern about teachers’ extracurricular workloads. That the decision was anti-gay, however, which is the most obvious basis for it, has been denied by some board members. Obviously, the board’s decision needs to be clarified.

At least one board member has asked for public understanding. In an effort to be understood, some members met with students from East, West and Highland high schools to explain their decision. But the board could increase everyone’s understanding by preparing a written explanation now, even though it would be after the fact.

–Earl Wunderli
Letter to the Editor
Published in The Salt Lake Tribune
March 12, 1996

 

Boogie Man

June 1996

I am writing in response to Jay Liechty, 3rd Congressional district candidate for the US House of Representatives (article–Metro–April 1, 1996.)

I would simply like to remind Mr. Liechty that atheism and secular humanism, being in the extreme minority of belief systems in the US, could not possibly be responsible for the current down trend in American morals, rising crime, and society’s demands on Government.

Looking for a boogie man will not solve the very real human problems that society faces.

In a world where diverse ethnic, religious, class, and national groups are interdependent yet conflicting, we must strive to work together to create a world that allows for productive and meaningful lives and remains open to change and growth.

–Sandy Usry
Letter to the Editor
Published in the Deseret News
April 15, 1996

 

Gays Need Our Understanding

April 1996

Science seems near to establishing that most if not all homosexuality is the result of nature and not nurture. There has been evidence of the genetic basis for homosexuality tendencies. If homosexuality is genetic, as the evidence seems to indicate, then our sexual orientation is what it is, like the color of our eyes, hair and skin. Homosexuals do not choose their sexual orientation. If they did, I would not understand why they would choose to be gay in a society that is so intolerant of them, especially when heterosexual relations are presumably just as gratifying.

If homosexuality is indeed genetic, it is not a question of choice and therefore not a question of morality. The problem, then, is not with them but with us. The problem is our treatment of homosexuality as a moral problem. We will solve our problem by dealing with homosexuals as fellow human beings who just happen to born that way. We will know we have solved our problem when gays and lesbians no longer need their clubs because we treat them with understanding and compassion

–Earl Wunderli
Letter to the Editor
Published in the Deseret News
February 21, 1996

 

Evils of Humanism?

May 1996

I feel it is important to respond to comments regarding atheists and secular humanists made by Jay Liechty, congressional candidate in the third congressional district of Utah, in the Deseret News April 1, 1996. The story quoted Liechty as blaming all the ills of this nation and the world on atheists and secular humanists.

As president of the Humanists of Utah I would like to point out that it was not the humanist philosophy that imposed the censorship on the public distribution of knowledge resulting in the one-thousand years of intellectual ignorance known as The Dark Ages. It was not humanism that conducted 300 years of crusades resulting in the torture and death of millions of people for their religious beliefs. It was not atheists who imprisoned Galileo and refused to recognize the truth of his theories of the universe for 350 years. It was not secular humanism that ridiculed and condemned the scientific experiments of Isaac Newton. Atheists and humanists did not burn witches at Salem, shoot Joseph Smith at Carthage nor slaughter travelers passing through Mountain Meadows.

The return to “Traditional Family Values” promoted by Mr. Liechty is really a code phrase for a return to Authoritarian Imposed Religious Values. Humanism supports critical thinking about values that will hopefully result in rational values that will help all humans to accept diversity and ethically live in peace and tolerance. Secular Humanism is committed to rational thinking and responsible behavior; it believes humans have the intellectual ability to solve problems without the imposed authority of either secular or religious institutions. Humanism encourages moral excellence, ethical relationships and human dignity; compassion, cooperation and community. Humanism believes in the innate goodness of every human being. Humanism also believes individuals must take responsibility for their actions and will suffer the natural consequences of immoral, unethical and criminal behavior.

–Flo Wineriter
Letter to the Editor
Published in the Deseret News
April 13, 1996

 

Discussion Group Report

Is the American Government Too Powerful?

March 1996

By Richard Layton

“Humanism and the Paradox of Politics,” written by Michael C. Milam, published in the November-December, 1995, issue of The Humanist was the subject of our February meeting. The group made the following observations:

Thomas Jefferson favored a weak central government, power in the hands of individuals, and strong states’ rights. Alexander Hamilton, on the other hand, did not have much faith in the people; he favored a strong central government. The Greek Way by George Hamilton sheds light on the question posed by the conflicting views of Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. This book concerns Athens, democracy, and freedom for the individual. Humanists who are thoughtful and serious about this question face the dilemma of wanting the downtrodden, the disenfranchised, and the minorities to have equal opportunities, but they see it happening only through a strong government. There is a conflict in our minds as to what we really favor, a rugged individualism or a central government that forces equality.

Must this question boil down to an either/or solution, or can there be a combination of both alternatives? Actually an admixture of the alternatives seems to be what the American philosophy of government really boils down to. This blending has made our country strong. However, it is discouraging to see the massive debt the government has incurred. It is important to note that other advanced industrial governments have also incurred large debts, some in even greater proportion to their populations.

Milam indicates humanists ought to be the Socratic voice; we ought to be asking questions rather than answering them. While we can agree with that approach, we should also recognize that this proposition might be the easy way out. Instead of getting involved in the nitty-gritty and making things happen, we just sit back and ask questions. There needs to be a balance.

There seems to be a prevalent tendency to want rights, freedoms, and choices but not to accept the responsibility and the consequences. People do not want to pay taxes, but they expect government services. Because of the national debt, a large portion of our taxes go towards interest on the debt. The problem is complicated by the fact that the government juggles some of the money around, using funds earmarked for one service to pay for another.

We might ask ourselves, “What would the situation be like if the country were run just according to the prevailing conservative political philosophy in Utah?” The answer is frightening: theocracy might be the modus operandi. The dominant belief system does not deal with reality; there is a lack of understanding or even awareness of the larger problems of society. One of the most logical, reasonable, and practical things the Utah culture could do would be to establish day care centers in LDS ward houses, where the children in families in which both parents work could be safe, warm and in their own neighborhoods. The downside of this proposal is placing all of these children so directly under Mormon influence for so much time.

Discussion Group Report

If You Meet The Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!

April 1996

By Richard Layton

“I prefer the madness of Don Quixote de la Mancha to the sanity of most other men,” says Sheldon B. Kopp, author of the book discussed at our March meeting.

Cervantes’ Knight of the Rueful Countenance was alleged to have become deluded by the brain-addling effects of his continued immersion in the reading of chivalric tales. Ignoring the dissuasions of family and friends, this country-village gentleman sallied forth as a knight-errant on an adventurous quest to set right whatever wrongs he might encounter; all in the name of social justice and for the attainment of personal glory. The world which he was to encounter was really, like our own, unjust. Perhaps it demands such a holy fool as he was to take the evil of the world seriously enough and to imagine himself as willing to dedicate his life to improving the suffering of others.

Don Quixote’s family and community were upset to learn that he had chosen to believe in himself. His madness and loss of contact with reality are played off against the down-to-earth sanity of his squire Sancho Panza. Sancho goes along with Quixote’s mad sallies into the illusion of adventure because he is driven by greed. He wants worldly power, to become governor of an island that Quixote promises as a reward for Sancho’s service. Time after time Sancho is unnerved by Quixote’s impulsive challenging and attacking of swineherds, mule drivers, innkeepers, and windmills, whom he mistakes for enchanters, evil knights, lords of the manor, and lawless giants.

“…in a world in which true madness masquerades as sanity, creative struggles against the ongoing myths seem eccentric and will be labeled as ‘crazy’ by the challenged establishment in power.”

After his zany misadventures, Don Quixote also achieved sanity. On his death-bed, he endured the admonishments of his deadly sane housekeeper: “Stay at home, attend to your affairs, go often to confession, be charitable to the poor.”

And so, safe from further threat of madness, he died “having gained his reason and lost his reasons for living.”

In many cases psychotherapy patients are seeking some hidden order to be discovered that will provide the key to happiness, to perfection, to a problem-free life. If we are to live our own lives, we must trade the illusion of certainty for the holy insecurity of never knowing for sure what it is all about. As we gain a deeper sense of our own identity, a sense of self based upon knowing our own wishes and trusting our own feelings, we may develop a framework of situational ethics. Rules will come to serve as tentative guidelines.

The Zen Master warns: “If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him!” This admonition points up that no meaning that comes from outside ourselves is real. The Buddhahood of each of us has already been obtained. We need only recognize it. Killing the Buddha on the road means destroying the hope that anything outside of ourselves can be our master. We must each give up the master without giving up the search. The importance of things lies in the way we have learned to think about them. How often we make circumstances our prison and other people our jailers! At our best we take full responsibility for what we do and what we choose not to do. The most important struggles take place within the self.

“Once, in the Orient, I talked of suicide with a sage whose clear and gentle eyes seemed forever to be gazing at a never-ending sunset. ‘Dying is no solution,’ he affirmed. ‘And living?’ I asked. ‘Nor living either,’ he conceded. ‘But who tells you there is a solution?'”

Some of the 927 Eternal Truths:

1. This is it!

10. The world is not necessarily just. Being good often does not pay off and there is no compensation for misfortune.

11. You have a responsibility to do your best none-the-less.

18. If you have a hero, look again: you have diminished yourself in some way.

28. The most important things each man must do for himself.

29. Love is not enough, but it sure helps.

31. How strange, that so often, it all seems worth it.

In Memoriam

Beverly Hyde

1916 – 1996

September 1996

Beverly Hyde, a member of our chapter, died July 10, 1996. Beverly, 80 years of age, made her valuable contributions to humanity helping people to sove their individual problems and frustrations with life. She graduated from the Universtiy of Utah with a Masters Degree in Social Work, then put her knowledge and talents to use at the Veteran’s Hospital and the State Division of Family Services. She was a resident of the Friendship Manor at the time of her death.

Humanist Magazine

January 1996

The Nov/Dec 1995 issue of The Humanist is an outstanding AHA publication. For our chapter members who are also AHA members I urge you to particularly read the articles by Barbara Dority, Michael C. Milam, Arthur Falk and Kendrick Frazier. These four articles concern various aspects of Humanism that help to define our philosophy and our reason for being, both as individuals and as an organization. This issue represents the content, editorial and artistic changes that our editor Fred Edwords is in the process of making to give our national publication more relevancy and definition. I am so impressed with the issue that I requested AHA to send complimentary copies to the 35 Utah Chapter members who are not members of our national organization. It is my hope that they will find the improved magazine so interesting that they will become members of the American Humanist Association. I have a dream that our chapter will gain recognition for having the highest percentage of its members as also being members of our national organization.

–Flo Wineriter

 

In Memoriam

Bonnie Bullough

June 1996

Bonnie Bullough, a native of Delta, Utah, and nationally recognized humanist, died in Los Angeles, April 12, 1996. She was the author, co-author or editor of more than 30 books on nursing, sexuality and feminism. She was a professor of Nursing at USC at the time of her death. She has been active in the CODESH for many years and a Laureate in the International Academy of Humanism. She was a leader in the September 24, 1993, Mormon/Humanist Dialogue in Salt Lake City. Bonnie is survived by her husband Vern L. Bullough, three sons and a daughter. A memorial service will be held in Los Angeles May 21.

Journey to Humanism

Hugh Gillilan

September 1996

Hugh came to humanism from a rather orthodox Christian background. As a child he attended a variety of Christian churches and says his fondest memories of his early religious experiences was the robust hymn singing. During his college years he was actively involved in the Wesley Foundation, a Methodist religious organization. His involvement in the Wesley Foundation led to his decision to become a Methodist minister.

Hugh says his liberal arts education did what a liberal education is supposed to do: it opened his eyes to a wider vista, a wider perspective on the cosmology of our universe and particularly life on this planet of owl solar system. Classes on the history of religion increased his awareness of the many religious points of view, and philosophy classes revealed to him the various ways generations have thought about the important issues of life. All of these things were affecting his personal belief system even though he was seriously studying for a career in the ministry. “My heart was very much in what I was trying to do but my head was raising other kinds of issues and questions,” Hugh told the audience at the May meeting.

Hugh says his biggest problems were caused by the theology classes, particularly a professor who frequently quoted the famous Tertullian phrase concerning religious faith: “I believe because it is absurd.” Hugh said giving faith a higher value than reason made no sense to him then and it makes no sense to him now.

Hugh began his ministerial career as an assistant minister in a large Methodist Church in Cleveland, Ohio. After two years, he decided his religious convictions were more in tune with the liberal theology of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, an outreach program at that time of the American Unitarian Association. Having a deep-felt need to be honest with himself and with his Methodist congregation, he resigned

his position. As he put it, “I gave up Methodism for Lent.”

He became a candidate for a ministerial opening at the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City in 1961. He found the congregation was humanistically oriented and felt his religious philosophy was very much in sync with the membership of the Salt Lake Unitarian Society. He was unanimously approved by a congregational vote and served with distinction for eight years. He enjoyed his years as a minister in Salt Lake City because he could be a thoroughgoing humanist without any reservations ‘whatsoever.

Hugh Gillilan’s humanistic philosophy may be summarized in the following words he used during a memorial sermon for President John F. Kennedy on November 24, 1963: “It is for us to reaffirm that friendliness and sympathy for our fellow man, which now as always remains the foundation stone of the good society; to resolve anew to bend our minds and energies toward the pursuit of truth, the creation of beauty, and the freedom and welfare of all persons…”

Hugh left the ministry in 1969 and today is in private practice as a family therapist and active member of Humanists of Utah.

Discussion Group Report

Heaven, A Key to Our Western Culture

December 1996

By Richard Layton

“The ways in which people imagine heaven tell us how they understand themselves, their families, their societies, and their God. They give us insight into both the private and public dimensions of Western culture. Changing ideas about love friendship, work, God and spiritual growth in the other life can serve as guidlines for understanding cultural ideas and ideals of this life … Heaven is the key to the deepest mysteries of religion and can be used as a key to our Western culture,” say Colleen McDannell (University of Utah) and Bernhard Lang in Heaven, A History.

In the ancient world, say the authors, belief in life after death was widespread, considered normal, and not generally weakened by skepticism. The Christian concept of heaven grew out of the speculations on the afterlife by the ancient jews. The Semites – Assyrians, Babylonians, Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Hebrews – pictured the world in tiers: an upper realm of the gods (heaven), a middle human world given to us by those gods (earth), and a lower part (Sheol), a greak dark and silent cave below the surface of the earth, which housed the dead and the infernal deities. Human communication with the upper, divine world, through community rituals celebrated the agricultural cycle and brought rain to water the crops. Ancestor worship, which was private and familial, brought personal protection and numerous offspring. If living relatives neglected their veneration, the fate of the dead worsened.

In the eighth century BCE, the Assyrian oppression of Israel became intolerable, and Israel’s response was a prophetic movement to the exclusive worship of the only god with real power: Yahweh. He would eventually intervene, and alter the political scene in favor of his people. The Israelites now belonged to a national God rather than to a family deity or divinized ancestors. Ancestor worship was forbidden. Israelite theology focused on the practices of a this-worldly religion rather than on futile speculations about the life of the dead.

After the Babylonian destruction of the Jewish state in 586 BCE, the dream of an independent Israel restored by divine intervention continued. However, many Jews, recognizing the difficulty of achieving independence, made their peace with thier overlords and accepted foreign rule. They became aware of the relationship between certain beliefs of the Zoroastrian religion of Iran and their own hopes of liberation. Jewish theologians adapted new doctrines, such as a concept of resurrection, to their speculations on the fate of the dead. The idea of a glorious communal future with a restored Israelite nation faded into the background, giving way to speculation about the post-mortem future of individuals. Whenever Diaspora Jews met Greek intellectuals, the idea of an immortal soul surfaced. It was up to the gods either to punish or reward the death. The rewards could quite enticing.

Two major images have emerged which dominate Christian theology, pious literature, art, and popular ideas. The theocentric centers in God and the anthropocentric focuses on the human. Some Christians expect to spend heavenly life in eternal solitude with God alone, while others cannot conceive of blessedness without being reunited with friends, spouse, children or relatives. Throughout history these models emerge, become prominent and weaken.

In the New Testament, heaven was not the place or time when an elect group who lacked something would find fulfillment, but rather the promise that Christians would be permitted to experience the divine fully with a clear, uncompromising, charismatic fixation with on God. In the early Augustine period, in a different cultural climate, the original charismatic inspiration gave way to more intellectual philosophical concerns that focus on “God and the soul.” Medieval scholastics speculated on heaven as a locality, the empyrean: a transcendent, light-filled place outside of but enveloping the universe. The fruition of the divine light provides the highest bliss human creatures can attain. Medieval mystics envisioned a more intimate, blessed union with Christ, who meets the soul as freind, companion and lover. Protestant reformers, along with their Catholic reform counterparts, rejected scholasticism as unbiblical, and mysticism as visionary fancy. As elected and transformed people, true Christians enjoy praising the Lord more than anything else – in this world, and the next.

Much of the contemporary theology reiterates the theocentric heaven. “Eternal life will concern God; this is all we know.” Theologians of diverse background present a heaven of minimal description. At times the human presence in heaven becomes so weak that it almost disappears, and nothing of ourselves continues after death.

McDannel and Lang ask, “Are we witnessing the emergence of a post-Christian theology, one whose relationship with classical afterlife affirmations is vague and ultimately irrelevant? Or have the social developments and scientific discoveries of the past century robbed heaven of any believable images for even the most devoted Christian?”

Good Listening

January 1996

I recently checked out an audio tape Natural Science and The Planet Earth narrated by Edwin Newman from the Whitmore Library. I listened to it while driving back from St. George. It took nearly the entire trip to listen to both tapes. I found it to be an excellent “testimony of humanism” and made the drive much more enjoyable as well as educational.

–Flo Wineriter

 

Personal Journeys

HoU Members Share Their Personal Life Experiences
On the Road to Humanism

Over the years several of our chapter members have shared their commitment to humanism. In some cases the stories include “discovery” of rationalism, in others it was nurtured from childhood. Either way, these chronicles will provide some interesting reading and remarkable insights into some of our members.

Women’s Rights in Utah

November 1996

“Women in Utah have made significant contributions to our nation’s struggle for sexual political equality.” That was Dr. Carol Madsen’s core message when she spoke to our October 10th public meeting. Dr. Madsen, professor in the BYU Department of History, highlighted the political battles pioneer women fought to gain suffrage in 1870, the right to their political voice in shaping the Territory of Deseret, and why they lost that right 17 years later, and then regained it when the Territory gained statehood. Her fascinating presentation stimulated a thoughtful discussion period.

Dr. Madsen said that until the 1996 centennial observation of statehood, Utah history books generally ignored the role of women in the state’s political development. Consequently, one of the important aspects of the centennial celebration has been bringing to public awareness the important role of the women’s suffrage movement in Utah. It’s an interesting question asked by many historians, said Madsen, why women in Utah won the right to vote 50 years before women in the rest of the nation. The women’s suffrage movement actually began along the eastern seaboard early in the 1880’s. One of the reasons was congressional control of territorial governments, and the thought that experimenting with women’s suffrage in the territories might help to decide if it was the correct thing to do nationwide. Another facet of the discussion was the assumption that Utah women would oppose polygamy, and be a deciding factor in bringing an end to the practice of plural marriage in the Utah territory.

In 1869, the territorial government of Wyoming granted women the right to vote. Shortly thereafter, 5000 Utah women held the first women’s rights conference in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, demanding political recognition. In February of 1870, the Utah Territorial legislature approved women’s suffrage. Even though Wyoming was the first to grant women the right to vote, Utah women were the first in the nation to exercise that right. Within a few days of receiving the franchise, Utah women voted in 1870 municipal elections. Seventeen years later, the national congress passed the stringent anti-polygamy law, the Edmunds-Tucker act, which included language eliminating women’s suffrage. Nationally, suffragettes lambasted linking women’s rights with the polygamy debate. Utah women met again, and vowed that female political equality would be included in any and all proposed statehood constitutions. Susan B. Anthony made a visit to Utah to encourage women to continue their fight for recognition. The constitution approved for Utah’s recognition as a state of the United States of America in 1896 included the right of women to political equality.

In the first State election, Martha Hughes Cannon was elected to the Utah State Senate, becoming the first woman in the nation to be elected to a state senate. Professor Madsen noted that Utah still has only one woman in the state senate! In that same election, two other women were elected to the Utah House of Representatives.

It would be another 24 years before the nation gave all women the right to vote by approving the 19th amendment, August 18, 1920.

–Flo Wineriter

 

Feminist Economics

March 1996

Nilufer Cagatay, assistant professor of economics at the University of Utah, discussed the feminist movement at the February meeting of the Humanists of Utah. Professor Cagatay has participated in several international women’s and population conferences, including last year’s conference in Beijing.

She summarized the development of the global feminist movement since the 1985 meeting in Copenhagen to the 1990 meeting in Nairobi and now, last year, to the conference in Beijing. A decade ago, conference participants divided into two camps: feminists from northern, industrialized countries and feminists from southern, third-world, developing countries. The former tended to build “lists” of what needed to be done to improve the lot of women world wide. The latter objected, noting that their more affluent sisters did not really know what life is like in the third world.

Examining the feminist movement from a purely economic point of view tends to bring the two sides closer together. For example, domestic labor, unless contracted out, is not considered “work” in figuring a country’s GNP or other economic indicators. This makes it harder for women to get credit because they have no collateral, even though it has been shown that they are generally more likely to repay loans than men.

Since the 1980’s a new philosophy has come to dominate economics. Market forces are allowed to determine what is best for all of us. This concept, championed by President Reagan, has further disenfranchised women world wide. The markets have no concept of what people need, only what they will consume. When one product has reached saturation, a new need is invented so that a product can be developed and marketed to fill the new, artificial need. Professor Cagatay was not willing to tell us what needed to be done politically, only that we all need to work together and strive to improve the lot of not only women, but of all humanity.

–Wayne Wilson

 

Music and the Art of Panhandling

Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune

January 1996

This is a short summary of a lecture presented by Ardean Watts at the December meeting of Humanists of Utah.

“…As I left Abravanel Hall following a recent concert, I was forced to run a gauntlet of street musicians playing violin, accordion and flute, respectively, with hats in hands outstretched. I felt some guilt as I walked by them without contributing, thinking of the card I carry in my wallet listing names and addresses of the agencies offering help to vagrants, homeless and the down-and-out. The appeals printed in the symphony program or delivered to my doorstep daily in the mail are only thinly veiled variations on a similar theme…those who choose music as a vocation indirectly choose begging as an avocation. I learned the art of panhandling from Maurice Abravanel, my mentor from the day I met him in 1956 until the present moment. His death a little over two years ago scarcely diminished our relationship; the memory of his example and personality continue to be a source of strength and delight to me to this day.

“During my 32 years as a professor at the University of Utah, I often cautioned starry-eyed young music students that while music is one of the most transcendent activities of the human race, it offers few rewards when bought and sold in the marketplace. Like music, love, with all its beauties, is not expected to pay its own way…

“America’s enormous World War II effort gave us an inkling of our nation’s capabilities when we dedicate our full resources to something. For instance, a national road system was considered necessary for future defense and development of our industry. Within a few years, we had a highway system that is a wonder of the world. The billions of dollars put into our highways should also be seen as a subsidy to the automobile and oil industries… America’s priorities seem to be of a material order…I hope it will never be forgotten that American contributions to rebuilding war-ravished Western Europe included aid for the reconstruction of cathedrals, opera houses, and concert halls, as well as industry…

“Artists were not always beggars; before they were beggars, they were slaves. Popular musicians, then and now, were the exception, going from place to place selling their wares to whoever would pay a few pence for some moments of levity and delight. They were numbered with traveling salesmen, jugglers, and town criers. At the same time there was a substantial academic artistic establishment supported by large churches and monasteries. They decorated the places of worship and beautified the literature. Their pay was bread and water and promises of paradise. The secular establishment developed its own form of patronage. Each court maintained musicians and artists along with housekeepers and field workers. Their duties were to fulfill the whims of their patrons. In rare cases they were allowed sufficient freedom to function as creative artists. Bach, Mozart and Haydn are examples of people of genius whose patrons allowed them sufficient breathing room to nurture the growth and natural expression of their abilities.”

Mr. Watts then presented a brief history of music and musicians with particular attention to the effects that Beethoven had. Beethoven moved music from a pastime of a special class and made it broadly human and available.

“…In 1826 President John Quincy Adams proposed a ‘Plan for the Permanent Encouragement of the Fine Arts by the National Government’ that failed to get the support of Congress. Theodore Roosevelt appointed a Fine Arts Council that collapsed for lack of funds. Adam’s dream finally became reality in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy established a President’s Advisory Council on the Arts, followed two years later by the National Endowment for the Arts established by Congress and signed into law by Lyndon Johnson…

“…Jane Alexander, National Director of the NEA, told the Utah Town Meeting…that ‘not-for-profit arts in this country are responsible for over one million jobs and $3.4 billion back to the Federal government in income tax revenue from an economy that can be described conservatively as $36.8 billion in direct expenditures alone. It is estimated that every dollar the endowment gives generates about $11-$26 in any given community.'”

Mr. Watts traced arts in Utah from the commitment of early Mormon pioneers to the more pragmatic current leadership. In the ’60’s our schools were an example to the rest of the nation. Today Utah ranks 50th in the ratio of professional arts teachers to the total state student enrollment.

Mr. Watts’ closing thoughts were two bumper stickers: Fear No Art and Practice Random Kindness And Senseless Acts Of Beauty. “After all, the best art may be how we live our lives, the kindness we promote, the beauty we share.”

–Wayne Wilson

 

Utah Centennial

February 1996

A record crowd turned out for the January 11th Humanists of Utah meeting. The enthusiastic response to Ken Verdoia’s presentation regarding the Utah Struggle for Statehood indicated no one was disappointed. The senior director of KUED-TV said the short-hand version of the first 50-years of colonizing the Territory of Deseret ignores the rich diversity of peoples, voices and experiences that shaped the future of this unique geography. Verdoia said the Centennial should be more than just a big birthday party. The award winning journalist touched interesting highlights of the information he accumulated during his three years of researching the events that took place between 1847 and 1896.

The story of Utah is a history of conflicts, the competition of voices, the resolution of injustices. Its more than a one dimensional spiritual story. Rather, the real story of Utah is a choir of voices, Native Americans, miners, railroad workers, publishers, merchants; a chorus of extraordinary diversity and languages, Swedish, Danish, German, French, and various English dialects like Welsh, Irish, and Liverpool. The conflicts were economic, social, political and religious. Those conflicts, said Verdoia, are recorded in historical copies of the various newspapers that competed for readership as they recorded Utah’s struggle for statehood.

Reading those journals, Verdoia concludes that contrary to popular myth, polygamy was not the major obstacle to statehood for Utah. The wall that kept the U.S. Congress from accepting the territory’s many applications for statehood was the absolute political control of the Mormon church. While the church reluctantly permitted limited social and economic relations with nonmembers, it maintained a tight-fisted political control. When political adversaries attempted to form opposition parties, church members infiltrated organizational meetings and thwarted any effective activity. Polygamy was used as the sloganeering reason for opposing statehood because it was an easy issue to popularize, but the religious domination of Utah politics was the real reason Congress defeated the first six petitions from Utah for statehood. Only when the Mormon church was willing to relax its political control did the United States Congress give serious consideration to its seventh application for statehood. That’s why Utah’s constitution has one of the nation’s strongest clauses separating church and state. Article 4, section 4 “… no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office of public trust or for any vote at any election; nor shall any person be incompetent as a witness or juror on account of religious belief or absence thereof.”

Verdoia concluded his presentation saying: “Our history is neither Mormon nor non-Mormon, it cannot be defined with one set of parameters. It cannot be just the spiritual story, or the political story, or the economic story or the social story. 1896 was a coming of age, a slow maturation that took a lot of give and take. If you think in those terms and can say ‘I am a Utahn’ then you will be celebrating the centennial in a way that will inform and grace succeeding generations.”

Ken’s five-hour television documentary: Utah, the Struggle for Statehood aired on KUED January 3rd and 4th. It’s available, along with a colorful pictorial narrative publication, from Eccles Broadcast Center, University of Utah.

–Wayne Wilson

 

Courage to Live

December 1996

“Our society would rather lock people up than help them,” said Glen Lambert, director of Odyssey House, when he spoke to the November meeting of the Humanists of Utah. Director Lambert said treatment programs for substance abusers is under vicious attack, make it more and more difficult to convince public and private agencies to allot sufficient funds to provide effective treatment. Lambert said he gets his incentives to continue fighting for funds from the positive attitudes of the abusers enrolled in the Odyssey House program. “They teach me every day that it takes great courage to live,” continued Lambert, “and for them to face the kind of issues they face and overcome every day is an inspiration to me.”

According to Lambert, substance abuse is a serious problem in our society, because so many of us seek relief from every tension with a pill, nicotine or caffeine. Our many social problems – poverty, homelessness, mental illness, child abuse and crime – have substance abuse as the number one contributing factor. And the number one problem of substance abusers is low self-esteem.

The Odyssey House program is designed to restore self-esteem, realistic values and healthy coping skills.

Two Odyssey House residents, Pat and Paul, joined Lambert at the podium to briefly summarize their stories of substance abuse, and express their appreciation for the program that restore their self-confidence and their abilities to face the daily challenges of life without the artificial help of mood altering substances.

–Flo Wineriter

 

Scientific Thinking

August 1996

The following is a summary of Dr. Sherman Dickman’s lecture to the Humanists of Utah at our July meeting. His subject was, “The Scientific Perspective: A New Way of Thinking for the non-Scientist.”

Science has been able to achieve its goals due to a specific way of thinking. Science has changed the world in the past 200 years more than the world changed in the previous 2000 years. Scientific thought:

  • Assumes regularity in nature.
  • Requires honesty in reporting of results. Science would have gotten nowhere if cheating were as prevalent in business as reported in the Wall Street Journal.
  • Has increased knowledge as its only objective. It is non-materialist in nature.
  • Is non-dogmatic and is always open to change.
  • Relies on human curiosity to ask questions to which answers can be obtained by experiment or observation.
  • Utilizes mathematics whenever possible.

Scientific thought and discussion must be distinguished from “common sense.” Scientific thinking also avoids metaphors common to psychology and religion. Metaphors can be defined as calling something what it isn’t. Logic uses well defined terms. For example a diagram of the brain cannot be accurately labeled as a piece for consciousness, unconsciousness, id, ego, etc. However, physical regions of the brain have been well known and described for many centuries.

Science is a second language. It uses many terms in a different way than the usual common sense definition as contained in the dictionary. “Observation” is a good example. People tend to believe what they observe and will defend their observations with pride. Scientists, with their constant questioning, will not take personal ownership of an egocentric concept. Common sense definitions tend to be qualitative in nature, where the scientific counterpart is quantitative. Observations to a scientist are quantifiable data collected and documented during experiments. These observations must always be able to be reproduced independently to be accepted by the scientific community. The word “truth” is rarely if ever used in scientific journals.

This type of scientific thinking needs to be taught in the public schools from the earliest grades. This is necessary because many people over 30 years of age are unwilling to change their minds about anything.

There are different kinds of knowledge: subjective, personal based upon experiences, thoughts, emotions, perceptions, etc. This subjective knowledge is used to screen objective knowledge. This can cause varying interpretations of the same data by different people. Subjective knowledge is valid only to the individual until confirmed by others. We must realize that our innermost thoughts and beliefs may not be true for anyone except ourselves.

Common sense is based on long-term experience, or so called old-wives’, (old-men’s? old people’s?) tales. Generalizations have been in place for hundreds of years. Some are valid and some have been shown to be invalid by scientific investigation. Often these traditional tales do not control for variables. For example, if an earthquake occurs, it might be attributed to the people being evil or some other non-related concept.

Scientific knowledge is based on experiments and confirmed observations with carefully controlled variables. The “facts” are always subject to change. Newtonian physics is a subset of Einstein’s concepts. Science not only accepts uncertainty, but views it as necessary. Scientific descriptions are highly predictive and explanatory.

It is important to become aware of assumptions: for example, we assume that our next breath will include oxygen. Carefully conducted scientific investigations describe, recognize and control all assumptions. Turnbull, a Scottish anthropologist, described a situation where he spent several months among Pygmies in Africa. He went into great detail describing how these diminutive people could move easily through the thick underbrush of the forest they lived in. When it came time for Turnbull to return home, he invited one of the natives to accompany him. When they broke out of the forest into a large clearing, there was a herd of cows grazing in the distance. Turnbull queried his friend as to what he thought the animals in the distance were. The native replied that they were so small that they must be ants. Turnbull tried to explain that they were large animals to no avail. As they traveled on, the “ants” became “dogs” and then “horses” and finally cows. The Pygmy became very perplexed; he had never been out of the jungle and had no concept on how distance affects the size of objects. Our assumptions grow directly from our personal experience.

Freedom

January 1996

When I became convinced that the universe is natural–that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light, and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the world–not even in infinite space. I was free–free to think, to express my thoughts–free to live to my own ideal–free to live for myself and those I loved–free to use all my facilities, all my senses–free to spread imagination’s wings–free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope–free to judge and determine for myself–free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past–free from popes and priests–free from all the “called” and “set apart”–free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies–free from the fear of eternal pain–free from the winged monsters of the night–free from devils, ghosts and gods. For the first time I was free. There was no prohibited places in all the realms of thought–no air, no space, where fancy could spread her painted wings–no chains for my limbs–no lashes for my back–no fires for my flesh–no master’s frown or threat–no following another’s steps–no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds. And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain–for the freedom of labor and thought–to those who fell on the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound in chains–to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still.

–Robert Ingersoll

Journey to Humanism

Florien Wineriter

July 1996

I believe my first conscious awareness of my need to find an acceptable philosophy was triggered by the events of the second world war. During a furlough home I was asked to speak at the sacrament meeting of my ward. The focus of my talk was my concern about the ethics and the morality of a Mormon from Salt Lake City being required to kill a Mormon from Berlin, Rome or Tokyo. I was deeply bothered by the conflict of loyalty to God and loyalty to country. To this day I continue to believe that members of all religions must wrestle with that conflict.

Another ingredient of my journey was my awareness of the powerful influence religions have on political affairs. One example occurred when I was a member of the House of Representatives in 1957. A bill that required an appropriation of for a project supported by the LDS church failed to pass. The Speaker of the House said he wasn’t posing as a prophet but predicted that the bill would eventually pass. The next day several legislators announced that they had received calls during the night “explaining the bill in more detail” and they moved for reconsideration of the defeated measure. As you might have guessed, those “explanatory phone calls” came from LDS church lobbyists and, just as the Speaker had prophesied, the bill passed with votes to spare!

The political power of the LDS religion is clearly evident in this state’s history, from 1847 to the latest session of the state legislature. State liquor laws, the Equal Rights Amendment, gay and lesbian legislation, and abortion laws are just a few of the issues that illustrate how effectively the church influences politics in Utah.

Religion is rooted in authoritarianism. All religions accept the concept of an infallible God, the word of God being final authority. Anything attributed to God is absolute truth. To question anyone recognized as a spokesperson for God is considered blasphemous. This “authoritarian mindset,” encouraged by religions, makes religious involvement in politics a dangerous problem. Religious leaders speaking on political matters pose the danger of theocracy usurping democracy.

I am also upset with the tendency in our political system to equate being religious with being patriotic. This nation is politically and economically secular. In 1833, US Representative Rufus Choate of Massachusetts said, “We have built no temple but the capitol, we consult no common oracle but the constitution.” That quotation is engraved over a doorway in the US House of Representatives. Maintaining the independence of religion and politics and the separation of church and state is a major principle of humanism.

It has been many years since I spoke in that LDS meeting and posed my deep concerns about Utah Mormons being forced to kill our Mormon brothers and sisters in Berlin, Rome and Tokyo. Everything I’ve read, studied and contemplated about the human condition during these many years has convinced me that humanism’s concern for every person, desire to find peaceful resolution of conflicts, and dedication to the complete separation of religion and government holds the most promise for a desirable future. That’s why I am a humanist and have dedicated my retirement years to promoting public awareness of the philosophy of humanism.

Authority

September 1996

I became aware of why religious authority is a threat to human reasoning while reading the newspaper reports of LDS President Gordon Hinckley blaming the secularizing of public attitudes for the rampant social illness in America. The articles quoted Hinckley with saying of secularizing, “Its consequences are deterioration of family life, a weakening of self-discipline…single-parent households…people on welfare, abortions…and an increase of the prison population…” My immediate reaction was to begin composing a letter to the editor responding to his denunciation of secularization. Then my years of LDS indoctrination of never questioning a church authority made me pause to consider the public consequences of criticizing Hinckley. I became acutely aware of how powerful is the religious teaching of respect for authority and how that religious indoctrination carries over into political and secular affairs. I realized that if I am intimidated against responding to Hinckley’s remarks, then it is certainly doubtful any active Mormon would dare to question his accusations. I gained a new appreciation for the fact that it was a major turning point in human history when leaders of the Enlightenment dared to question both religious and secular authority.

If there is any validity to Hinckley’s conclusion that shutting our doors to the god of the universe is a cause of the moral decay of America, then humanism has a real challenge to stress our principles of human decency, responsibility and concern for ethical and moral values based upon reality. The authority of human reason, not the authority of supernatural mysticism, is the source of improving life on this earth. We humanists can probably agree with part of President Hinckley’s presentation, the part where he said: “There must be a change in attitude, the taking on of a sense of accountability for one’s actions.”

Amen Brother!

–Flo Wineriter

 

Flag Day

June 1996

The flag, like a computer icon, is a powerful symbol that can generate a lot of action but it is not an idol that demands religious reverence. The flag deserves respect for what it represents, not for its construction; for its essence, not its being. As the U.S. observes the annual Flag Day, June 14, I think it is appropriate to share the thoughts of Edward L. Ericson, a leader of the Ethical Culture Society. In his book, The American Dream Renewed, Ericson wrote: “In recent months the American public has been agitated by a few isolated incidents of flag burning. What needs to be understood is that an American who deprecates or despises another American by reason of race, or who deprives another of opportunity or dignity on grounds of color or ethnicity, sets the torch of social conflagration to the flesh of our liberties. The racist violates our flag and all that it represents more than if he had soaked a thousand banners in gasoline and set them ablaze.”

As humanists observe Flag Day we honor the ideals of the Enlightenment: the equality and dignity of every human being, freedom from the dictates of religious and secular authoritarianism, and the human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

–Flo Wineriter

 

Discussion Group Report

Economics Help Explain Religious Belief

October 1996

By Richard Layton

A “new paradigm” in the sociology of religion is a great source of excitement among a growing number of economists and sociologists. Viewing religious behavior through the lens of economics suggests answers to questions about religion that previous theories could not explain.

In this view, religious denominations are seen as companies that deal in various commodities — everything from eternal salvation to coffee and doughnuts after mass. “Picture believers as investors, trying to decide if the price of goods is right,” asks Ellen K. Coughlin, in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The key assumption underlying this approach is that religion is not significantly different from other spheres of human activity. This rational-choice theory postulates that religious behavior springs from the same kind of basic impulses that other behavior springs from. People choose to join a church or convert to another religion by weighing the anticipated costs (financial contributions, time spent at weekly services) against expected services (moral guidance, a supportive community, life everlasting). Denominations compete for members by lowering the costs or increasing the payoff, or both.

The theory helps explain the vitality of religion in the United States. Over the centuries, religious participation in Europe has dwindled, while in America it has flourished. From the beginning, America has been the home to a wide variety of mainline denominations and upstart sects. Competition among America’s many sects explains the country’s religious vitality, and the changing fortunes of its denominations. Some churches have declined while others have struggled to replace them.

Laurence R. Iannaccone of Santa Clara University attempts to demonstrate why strict churches are strong. “Why would anyone,” he says, “join the Mormons, who are required to abstain from caffeine and alcohol, or the Moonies, who must submit to arranged marriages, when he or she could obtain spiritual sustenance at less cost from the Presbyterians or the Methodists?” He argues that strictness alleviates the free-rider problem that churches often face by weeding out less-committed believers. Stringent rules help to increase church member’s commitment and level of participation, thereby enhancing the net benefits of belonging.

Critics of rational choice theory say: The market metaphor may help explain some things about religion, but that culture and identity are so intimately involved that a strict cost-benefit accounting is not the most compelling explanation of behavior. There is a problem with the theory’s argument that religion is not only not irrational, but particularly rational. Also, rational-choice scholars, in characterizing their work on religious pluralism as a refutation of the old secularization theory, which held that, as science and technology advanced, religious tradition would inevitably decline, and possibly die off, have misrepresented that process. The consumer model of religion suggests the old religious patterns have broken down, and that itself is a mark of secularization.

Rational-choice scholars are not dissuaded. They believe rationality and market considerations will go a long way toward explaining religious behavior.

Discussion Group Report

Economics Help Explain Religious Belief

October 1996

By Richard Layton

A “new paradigm” in the sociology of religion is a great source of excitement among a growing number of economists and sociologists. Viewing religious behavior through the lens of economics suggests answers to questions about religion that previous theories could not explain.

In this view, religious denominations are seen as companies that deal in various commodities — everything from eternal salvation to coffee and doughnuts after mass. “Picture believers as investors, trying to decide if the price of goods is right,” asks Ellen K. Coughlin, in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The key assumption underlying this approach is that religion is not significantly different from other spheres of human activity. This rational-choice theory postulates that religious behavior springs from the same kind of basic impulses that other behavior springs from. People choose to join a church or convert to another religion by weighing the anticipated costs (financial contributions, time spent at weekly services) against expected services (moral guidance, a supportive community, life everlasting). Denominations compete for members by lowering the costs or increasing the payoff, or both.

The theory helps explain the vitality of religion in the United States. Over the centuries, religious participation in Europe has dwindled, while in America it has flourished. From the beginning, America has been the home to a wide variety of mainline denominations and upstart sects. Competition among America’s many sects explains the country’s religious vitality, and the changing fortunes of its denominations. Some churches have declined while others have struggled to replace them.

Laurence R. Iannaccone of Santa Clara University attempts to demonstrate why strict churches are strong. “Why would anyone,” he says, “join the Mormons, who are required to abstain from caffeine and alcohol, or the Moonies, who must submit to arranged marriages, when he or she could obtain spiritual sustenance at less cost from the Presbyterians or the Methodists?” He argues that strictness alleviates the free-rider problem that churches often face by weeding out less-committed believers. Stringent rules help to increase church member’s commitment and level of participation, thereby enhancing the net benefits of belonging.

Critics of rational choice theory say: The market metaphor may help explain some things about religion, but that culture and identity are so intimately involved that a strict cost-benefit accounting is not the most compelling explanation of behavior. There is a problem with the theory’s argument that religion is not only not irrational, but particularly rational. Also, rational-choice scholars, in characterizing their work on religious pluralism as a refutation of the old secularization theory, which held that, as science and technology advanced, religious tradition would inevitably decline, and possibly die off, have misrepresented that process. The consumer model of religion suggests the old religious patterns have broken down, and that itself is a mark of secularization.

Rational-choice scholars are not dissuaded. They believe rationality and market considerations will go a long way toward explaining religious behavior.

Journey to Humanism

Earl Wunderli

June 1996

I frankly don’t know why I became a humanist. By this I mean that I have three younger brothers, and of the four boys, the middle two are active in the LDS church, while the youngest one and I have left it. I don’t know whether skepticism is genetic and only two of us inherited the gene, or something happened to two of us that did not happen to the other two. There are some particulars that are unique to me later in my life, but they are not essential for the journey to humanism. These particulars have confirmed to me that I took the right fork in the road, but from all outward appearances in my youth, I should have grown up to be a faithful Mormon.

I was born in Salt Lake and grew up on the avenues. I had a stable home and a happy childhood. My two older sisters and three younger brothers and I all went to Longfellow Elementary School and the 21st ward, to Bryant Junior High School, and to East High School. Perhaps my earliest memory of anything bearing on my journey to humanism was learning in church that science was not to be trusted, which created a bias in me against science that I was years in overcoming.

Together with most kids in my high school graduating class, I went to the U. I worked stuffing the Sunday Tribune to pay my tuition of $25.00 per quarter and my fraternity dues. As a freshman I dated a girl whose father was up there somewhere in the church hierarchy. I must have been asking impious questions at that time because he talked to me at length one evening and lent me a book entitled After Its Kind, which argued against biological evolution. I was willing to go on a mission after my sophomore year except that my parents sent me to a hotel school in Switzerland instead. I thought I aspired to follow in my father’s footsteps as a hotel manager. My father had emigrated from Switzerland to Salt Lake after the first world war to join the rest of his family in Zion. Here he met my mother, whose grandmother was a polygamous wife and whose father served on three missions, including the presidency of the British and Eastern States missions. I had helped my father at the Beau Brummel Cafe during the second world war when help was hard to get. And so my parents scraped together enough money to send me to Lausanne, Switzerland, where, because of their sacrifice, I finally became a dedicated student.

I spent over a year in Lausanne where I was active in the LDS branch, knew the missionaries, and participated in a chain letter with a number of fraternity brothers on missions. The hotel school required that students serve apprenticeships, and so a friend from school got me a job as a cook at a hotel in Bermuda. While in Bermuda I didn’t look for a branch of the church but I did buy a Bible. I also remember consciously trying to think through some problems for the first time. After two years in college and more than a year away from home, I was just learning to think.

After Bermuda, I spent two years in the navy during the Korean war, where I was active in the LDS ward or branch in Norfolk, Virginia. It was then that I read the Book of Mormon for the first time.

I returned to the U, being four years older but uncertain about what I believed so I majored in philosophy to find out. Sterling McMurrin, O.C. Tanner, and Waldemer P. Read were among my great professors.

I went on to Law School at the U for want of anything better to do with a philosophy degree, during which time I managed to qualify for marriage in the temple. After our marriage, we lived in Apostle Mark E. Peterson’s basement apartment and had Sunday dinner upstairs every week. Apostle Peterson’s wife, Emma Marr, would leave a roast in the oven during church for our dinner together. I taught Sunday School to some 12-year-olds. They were particularly unruly because I taught the class on the Book of Mormon like a law professor.

I practiced law with Fabian and Clendenin in the old Continental Bank Building for three years, during which time we bought our first house and I became almost inactive in our new ward. I was then in my late twenties.

It is still unclear to me why I had wavered for ten years and my LDS friends had not, or, if they had, why they kept on the straight and narrow and I wandered away into uncharted territory. It is true that although I was raised LDS, I did not go to primary or seminary or on a mission, but so far as I know, neither did my younger brothers who are active in the church, although one of them did go on a mission.

In any case, after three years of private practice, I joined IBM’s law department and moved east, where we spent 31 years until I retired nearly three years ago and returned to Salt Lake. When we moved to Connecticut, we stayed with an aunt and uncle for a few days until we found a place to rent, which I mention only to explain why I attended church. I was not prepared to confront our kind hosts on the issue. I even substituted as the gospel doctrine teacher for a friend two or three times. My aunt had shown me a study by a member in which the doctrine of salvation had been constructed from something like 69 different passages from the four standard works. As the substitute teacher, I remember upsetting the class by asking whether it disturbed anyone that the doctrine of salvation had to be pieced together like that, my point being that God should be able to communicate more clearly. The last time I ever attended church, except for funerals, farewells, weddings, and such, was when the class discussed the creation. The class had little use for Darwin or evolution, and I’d had enough.

Still, I did not want to be just another apostate. I wanted solid reasons for my position. Shortly after moving east, my wife and I spent a number of evenings comparing the first and current editions of the Book of Mormon, since we had heard there were changes but didn’t know what they were or what to make of them. We did the same with the Doctrine and Covenants. It was so satisfying to have solid facts that I began an internal analysis of the Book of Mormon to find out whether there was any objective evidence of different ancient writers. Thus began the particulars unique to me.

My job gave me enough free time to do what I wished someone else had done and saved me the trouble. The internal analysis of the Book of Mormon took me 14 years. If I were beginning today, I would be able to use a computer and save many years in time. In any case, my conclusion was that not only could Joseph Smith have written the Book of Mormon but much of the internal evidence indicates that he did.

In 1976, I sent three large loose-leaf volumes containing my research to Sterling McMurrin for his review. He was, I proudly report, “absolutely overwhelmed by the extent and thoroughness” of the work. He suggested drastically reducing the size of the work for publication, and thought that for publication I would have to “show [my] hand more clearly” than I did in my chapter summaries. He thought I was “a little too cautious.” He told me about a manuscript on the Book of Mormon by B.H. Roberts that confirmed my findings.

During the last twenty years since 1976, I have written many papers and have given four of them at Sunstone Symposia in Salt Lake and Washington, DC. I also completely rewrote the book but decided it was not right. I later rewrote the first four chapters but could generate no interest among publishers. I have now just about completed rewriting the book in my fourth attempt and this time I think I’ve got it right. I was recently encouraged by something I read in the last issue of Dialogue. In an article by Karl Sandberg (not the poet) entitled “Thinking about the Word of God in the Twenty-first Century,” Sandberg wrote that “for the first time serious efforts of wide-scale textual criticism of Mormon scriptures have begun among Mormon scholars.” I’m encouraged that there may be some interest in my work out there.

For much of the time that I was researching, I felt negative even though the evidence kept mounting against the Book of Mormon and I consciously withheld judgment until my work was finished. I had to overcome the feeling that skepticism was somehow destructive. I felt the need to articulate what I was for in contrast to what I was against. This was easy, since I was for truth and against falsehood. But there was another issue: even if the book was not true, wasn’t the church nevertheless good? I eventually concluded that religion, which preaches faith over reason, does more harm than good. On this point there is too much to say to say just a little. I will only note two local examples of what disturbs me that many in our community would take no exception to: a Bountiful woman was quoted in last Sunday’s Tribune that if she counted the cost, she might not have children, but she “just figured the Lord would provide,” and in the name of God we prohibit high school clubs where gay students can find mutual support against our intolerance of them.

I concluded that we needed better options. I heard the best option yet at, ironically, a Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City some ten years ago or so. A humanist spoke at a plenary session. I don’t remember who it was or what he said, but I went back to my office in New York, got a directory of organizations, found the American Humanist Association, and joined.

Humanism is the rational, ethical, positive philosophy that I discovered little by little. My faith is that, unless we destroy ourselves first, it will prevail in the future because it is rational, science-based, and open-minded. My faith may be misplaced, given the slow pace at which rationality progresses among humankind. But reason ultimately seems to prevail. Virtually everyone now accepts that the earth is round and revolves around the sun. Although many still do not accept biblical higher criticism or the theory of evolution, in time they may make today’s religious superstitions seem as untenable as the Gods on Mt. Olympus. Meanwhile, the American Humanist Association and Humanists of Utah serve important purposes. They would have helped me earlier in my life and I believe may help many others who just have to learn of them. And as human beings gradually let go of mythology, the humanist philosophy the AHA and Humanists of Utah espouse will be there to catch them.

Discussion Group Report

Do We Need a New Mythology Founded on Religion and Science

September 1996

By Richard Layton

“Religion has been present at every level of human society from the earliest times,” points out Geoffrey Parrinder, author of World Religions, a useful encyclopedia of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices from Paleolithic times down to the present day. The Oxford English Dictionary defines religion as “the recognition of superhuman controlling power, and especially of a personal god, entitled to obedience.” Belief in god(s) is found in most religions, but different superhuman powers are often revered, particularly those connected with the dead. There are many other elements of religious life which cannot be included in a short definition.

Religion has been universal at all stages of history and human geography, but not all individuals have been religious. Likely this was so to a lesser degree in the past, though atheists and agnostics probably appeared more among literate and individualistic peoples than in closely-knit societies, Socrates was condemned to death for teaching atheism to young men, but in fact he had only criticized the myths about the Greek gods for being immoral. He believed in the immortality of the soul and in a divine genius which he thought guided him.

“The study of religion reveals that an important feature of it is a longing for value in

life, a belief that life is not accidental and meaningless. The search for meaning leads to faith in a power greater than the human, and finally to a universal or superhuman mind which has the intention and will to maintain the highest values for human life.”

Whether morals can exist without religion or some supernatural belief has been debated, but at least all religions have moral commandments.

In recent, times the errors in speculations about the origins of religion, says Parrinder, have made scholars cautious. If religion is as old as thinking human beings, as seems likely, then its origins are so remote that it is improbable much evidence will appear to explain its beginnings. The important task is to study the different phases and aspects of religious life, and to discover from these the role of religion for human life.

He says that in studying religion, the believer may have a better chance of understanding other faiths than the skeptic, for the unbeliever often seeks to explain religion away as psychological or social illusion. He quotes E. Evans-Pritchard, “The believer seeks rather to understand the s manner in which a people conceives of a reality and their relations to it.”

The suggestion he makes here is questionable because he assumes that the unbeliever does not seek “to understand the manner in which a people conceives of a reality and their relations to it.” This assumption is itself debatable. The doubter asks whether the people’s conception of a reality is valid, and when there is no evidence that it is, he may ask what the psychological and sociological reasons are why the people conceive of reality as they do. Actually, many doubters themselves have previously been believers and have experienced the manner in which believers conceive of a “reality,” and may very well understand it.

Parrinder also briefly discusses “anti-religion,” which he says can be traced from the cynics and skeptics of ancient Greece and the charvakas of India down to modern secularists. Originally it referring to that which lasts for an age or century, it has undergone changes in meaning so that it has now come to be applied to that which opposes religious belief or, more narrowly, is against religious education. He says humanism, formerly concerned only with human interests, now is taken to exclude the divine, and declares that men and women are on their own in the universe, without a god or life after death,

He says, “Belief in a universe of law, and trust that truth can be found, are basic to both religion and science and can form the ground for a modern mythology.” This statement does not run against humanist thought if the religion he has in mind is religion “in the best sense,” which Humanist Manifesto II points out “may inspire dedication to the highest ethical ideals.” It was cautioned, however, in the study group discussion, that the warning in the Manifesto “that traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species,” appropriately points out a serious problem in the development of a modern mythology. If science is to help form the basis of such a mythology, then, as the Manifesto states well, ^Any account of nature should pass the tests of scientific evidence; in our judgment, the dogmas and myths of traditional religions do not do so.”

Discussion Group Report

Co-housing: Fulfillment, Privacy, and Community

July 1996

By Richard Layton

Co-housing is an emerging housing option for disaffected suburbanites who are trading in big homes on large lots in bedrock neighborhoods for a way of living that emphasizes friendship, cooperation and belonging. “The goal is…to create a fulfilling balance between privacy and community,” says the February 16, 1996,Wall Street Journal.

The tenets of co-housing are resident participation in development, extensive common facilities, a design reinforcing community, and significant self-management by residents. Most, though not all, feature smaller, more affordable homes.

The social mix in co-housing is broad–from traditional two-parent families to single mothers to older singles to lesbian couples. Children are developing fast friendships and their parents a sense of security that is reminiscent of their own childhood. Most of the people in co-housing units feel that it is more fun to live in a community than to live in a big house by themselves.

Co-housing attracts a very well-educated market. The participants have a lot of choices. They are very picky about what they get and they are reaching for more.

The residents act as the developers, contributing to a fund for the land; fees for lawyers, architects, and appraisers; and site preparation. Half of cost overruns may be divided equally among residents and half according to each home’s appraised value. The community may be a condo association; residents own their homes and undivided shares of all common property, and pay a monthly homeowner’s association fee. Homeowners can sell to whomever they choose, but buyers must agree to the community’s rules.

Homes are clustered in “neighborhood centers” typically of four to seven units landscaped with a pedestrian trail and benches to stimulate contact. There may be a common house in the center, walkways, a neighborhood center, a private front yard, a porch, a kitchen facing common areas, and finally, private living space.

Choice

February 1996

Approximately half of all pregnancies terminate in spontaneous abortion (miscarriage). A women’s physical body rejects the fetus for a variety of reasons.

Humans’ prodigious cognitive abilities separate us from other animals. Our ability to make choices based upon reason have made possible our species’ current domination of the planet.

Laws that deny women access to safe and legal therapeutic abortion prevent her from making a decision that her body routinely makes. Restricting reproductive choice has the effect of reducing women’s status to that of domestic animals.

–Wayne Wilson
Letter to the Editor
Refused Publication in The Salt Lake Tribune

Humanists of Florida

September 1996

The following article is condensed from the homepage of the Humanists of Florida.

Goals and Concerns

  1. To promote the philosophy of Humanism, as elaborated below, to the problems of Florida’s developing society.
  2. To encourage attitudes of kindness, compassion, tolerance, and a loving generosity in human relationships, and in our treatment of all life. These attitudes help us to see ourselves in the lives of others, and encourage appreciation for the remarkable diversity of human culture and experience.
  3. To develop and popularize the skills of creative and critical thinking that empower people to challenge prejudice, superstition, and irrationality in every area of life and enable the individual to reach the highest levels of achievement.
  4. To survey those artistic and imaginative expressions of life which have been the source of the greatest pleasure and enlightenment, and which reflect compelling human truths.
  5. To explore the grounds of ethics and morality within the unfolding complexities of our evolving culture. Such knowledge will enable us to become effective protagonists for the happiness of the individual person.

Approaches

In practical terms, our Humanist goals are realized through continuous education, extensive debate, and testing of ideas. Acting in the belief that the true wealth of mankind is found in the sharing of knowledge and experience, we learn from each other and from the vast number of people with whom we share this common perspective.

Humanists are committed to improving prospects for our species in many ways. We are leaders in our communities, and participate in alliances with others on vital matters of common concern.

Humanism…an incomplete definition

Humanism is a movement with roots deep in the history of human civilization. In ancient times, and through to the present, courageous Humanists have challenged the power of entrenched autocracies and the debilitating myths of established institutions. From the times of the early Creek philosophers, Zeno and Democritus, whose thoughts outlined the beginning of the scientific method, to the heroic martyrs of the renaissance who questioned the rule of theocracy, Humanists have traced the true source of happiness and prosperity to human imagination, intelligence, and creativity. Human life, like all life, is a consequence of over four billion years of natural evolution by a universe which is as indifferent to our fate as it was to the dinosaurs. Our success as a species will be determined by our capacity to overcome the temptations of magical thinking, and to create meaning and purpose that truly satisfies the ever expanding world of human competence. Humanism is an instrument for the conscious control of human destiny by the only intelligence known to exist in the universe: our own.

Join with those who believe that:

  • The methods of reason and science provide the soundest means of understanding ourselves and the universe.
  • Creative ability, happiness, personal responsibility, and fulfillment are best realized in political cultures that nourish freedom and genuine democracy.
  • Human beings and their societies are the product of naturalistic, evolutionary processes that form our universe.
  • The values, ideas, myths, and social systems of every human culture arise from experience, and are modified by present and future knowledge.

Increase Theory

October 1996

Duncan Wallace, M.D., an Identity Psychotherapist, addressed Humanists of Utah on September 12, 1996. His subject was “Increase Theory,” a subject he was responsible for developing, and one that he has used in both his private and professional lives.

Dr. Wallace discussed how our lives constantly move from uncertainty to certainty. It is important to be clear on what you know, and on what you don’t know. This allows gaining of confidence from past experience.

People in their late teens tend to be more certain about things in their lives than 24-25 year olds. It is about this time of life that uncertainty is born. You may be both certain and uncertain about the same thing at the same time. Focus on yourself; your mind will seek certainty at all times. Your mind seeks clarity, accomplishment, and well being. Your mind will also seek uncertainty in the form of new things, challenges, and excitement; excitement exists at the edge of the unknown.

Uncertainty is around you all the time, in your awareness and consciousness. Certainty and uncertainty are somewhat analogous to air: 20% oxygen (certainty), 79% nitrogen (uncertainty). Things a long way away don’t have much effect on you, closer things have profound effects. A lot of what we do is with an eye to the future; life is linear. Uncertainty is a component of anxiety.

Uncertainty is a component of worry, of discovery, and of exploration. People are lured by positive uncertainty as in, “there’s gold in them tar hills,” or in a desire to see a grandchild.

Frightening uncertainty can be a barrier to improvement and lead to despair. Despair is a state of being where the old-self and confidence are insufficient to handle a current life crisis. You have to build new capabilities when you are least able. When you being to move out of depression, you are scared and uncertain, and don’t think you have the capacity. The road out is best taken one step at a time.

Increase Theory: We grow and increase whether we like it or not. If you consciously seek growth, you are more likely to learn more and be happy. The pains and pleasures of the mind are signals related to increase.

Good, in terms of Increase Theory, is that which allows increase without impinging on others. Evil is that which restricts or controls, or slows the increase without agreement.

Anxiety or fear is a gap signal that you are at the edge of where you are, and where you want to be. Survival requires you to “get safe” and sometimes you don’t use the right tools to deal with fear.

Stress of the mind is pressure in the mind. If you do something that relieves it, your mind becomes momentarily clear, but the stress returns. Stress is related to a goal from motivational statements you make to yourself. There is something in the future that you want or don’t want. That is not the problem; the illogical is that you say, “I must have this solution.” There are always other possibilities. The problem is being illogical about the goal.

Emotions are signals that you are born with that are based on who you are, and what you believe. As you understand your emotions you will be happier and grow. Life continues to be a progress from certainty to uncertainty. Anyone who thinks they have achieved ultimate certainty needs to take up golf to rediscover what uncertainty really is!

–Wayne Wilson

 

What Does It All Mean?

November 1996

During a recent conversation with one of our members, the challenge of defining terms was discussed. Thinking about that conversation later, I thought the subject was worth further consideration, because clarity of terms is important to meaningful communication. These words have significance in the formulation of our individual attitudes and behaviors. Whether we realize it or not, each one of us has developed a core value system based upon our understanding of the following terms:

  • Theism: A belief system based on the assumption that the supreme power of the universe is a Being, God, who is concerned about human affairs, and can intervene in any operations of the universe.
  • Monotheism: The belief that there is only one God.
  • Polytheism: The belief that there is more than one god.
  • Deism: A belief system based on the assumption that the supreme power of the uiverse created the laws governing the universe, but is not concerned about its development, and does not intervene in the process.
  • Atheism: A belief based on the assumption that there is no supreme being.
  • Gnosticism: A belief system based on God giving information to selected humans.
  • Agnosticism: A belief system rejecting gnosticism.
  • Theology: The study of the nature of a supreme, universal power.
  • Religion: A system often teaching the relationship between a supreme universal power, and humanity.
  • Humanism: A belief system based on the ability of human beings to reason.
  • Religious Humanism: The human ability to reason has a relationship with the Cosmos.
  • Secular Humanism: The human ability to reason is an aspect of evolution, and rejects the notion of a supreme universal power that interferes with evolution.

Volumes of thoughts have been discussed, and written by philosophers concerning these words. Consequently, my definitions are very basic, simplistic, and only intended for casual conversation. However, I believe it important for us to have at least a vague idea of these terms, because how we each live our lives is to some extent determined by how we understand these terms. Our individual ethical systems, and moral behaviors are developed by how we view our relationships to each other, and to the universe. We consciously or unconsciously are affected, moment to moment, by our basic core values that we have incorporated into our mental process through our education, and our experience. We welcome your response for publication in future issues of The Utah Humanist.

–Flo Wineriter

 

Who Discovered Evolution?

March 1996

It may seem unusual to include Leonardo da Vinci in a list of paleontologists and evolutionary biologists. Leonardo was and is best known as an artist, the creator of such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa, Madonna of the Rocks, and The Last Supper. Yet Leonardo was far more than a great artist: he had one of the best scientific minds of his time. He made painstaking observations and carried out research in fields ranging from architecture and civil engineering to astronomy, and from anatomy and zoology to geography, geology and paleontology. In the words of his biographer Giorgio Vasari: “The most heavenly gifts seem to be showered on certain human beings. Sometimes supernaturally, marvelously, they all congregate in one individual.” This was seen and acknowledged by all men in the case of Leonardo da Vinci, who had an indescribable grace in every effortless act and deed. His talent was so rare that he mastered any subject to which he turned his attention. He might have been a scientist if he had not been so versatile.

Leonardo knew well the rocks and fossils (mostly Cenozoic mollusks) found in his native north Italy. No doubt he had ample opportunity to observe them during his service as an engineer and artist at the court of Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, from 1482 to 1499: Vasari wrote that “Leonardo was frequently occupied in the preparation of plans to remove mountains or to pierce them with tunnels from plain to plain.” He made many observations on mountains and rivers, and he grasped the principle that rocks can be formed by deposition of sediments by water, while at the same time the rivers erode rocks and carry their sediments to the sea, in a continuous grand cycle. He wrote: “The stratified stones of the mountains are all layers of clay, deposited one above the other by the various floods of the rivers. In every concavity at the summit of the mountains we shall always find the divisions of strata in the rocks.”

In Leonardo’s day there were several hypotheses of how it was that shells and other living creatures were found in rocks on the tops of mountains. Some believed the shells to have been carried there by the Biblical Flood; others thought that these shells had grown in the rocks. Leonardo had no patience with either hypothesis, and refuted both using his careful observations. Concerning the second hypothesis, he wrote that “such an opinion cannot exist in a brain of much reason; because here are the years of their growth, numbered on their shells, and there are large and small ones to be seen which could not have grown without food, and could not have fed without motion–and here they could not move.” There was every sign that these shells had once been living organisms. What about the Great Flood mentioned in the Bible? Leonardo doubted the existence of a single worldwide flood, noting that there would have been no place for the water to go when it receded. He also noted that “if the shells had been carried by the muddy deluge they would have been mixed up, and separated from each other amidst the mud, and not in regular steps and layers–as we see them now in our time.” He noted that rain falling on mountains rushed downhill, not uphill, and suggested that any Great Flood would have carried fossils away from the land, not towards it. He described sessile fossils such as oysters and corals, and considered it impossible that one flood could have carried them 300 miles inland, or that they could have crawled 300 miles in the forty days and nights of the Biblical flood.

How did those shells come to lie at the tops of mountains? Leonardo’s answer was remarkably close to the modern one: fossils were once-living organisms that had been buried at a time before the mountains were raised: “it must be presumed that in those places there were sea coasts, where all the shells were thrown up, broken, and divided. Where there is now land, there was once ocean.” It was possible, Leonardo thought, that some fossils were buried by floods–this idea probably came from his observations of the floods of the Arno River and other rivers of north Italy–but these floods had been repeated, local catastrophes, not a single Great Flood. To Leonardo da Vinci, as to modern paleontologists, fossils indicated the history of the Earth, which extends far beyond human records. As Leonardo himself wrote:

“Since things are much more ancient than letters, it is no marvel if, in our day, no records exist of these seas having covered so many countries…But sufficient for us is the testimony of things created in the salt waters, and found again in high mountains far from the seas.”

–Found on the Internet searching for “evolution”

 

Its Time to Get Back to Work

January 1996

The following is part of an essay written by Garrison Keillor reflecting on the fact that “In Autumn We All Get Older Again.”

A sense of mortality should make us smarter. Life is short, so you do your work. You spend more time attending to music and art and literature, less time arguing politics. You plant trees. You cook spaghetti sauce. You talk to children. You don’t let your life be eaten by salesmen and evangelists and the circuses of the media. The Trial of the Century was a pure waste of time. It was a tar pit, and nobody who went into it came our smarter or kinder or happier or more enlightened. It had no redeeming aspects; it taught nothing. Midwestern farm boys can get 18 years in prison for raising marijuana; rich people can walk away from murder: everyone knew that. Time to get back to work.

Origins of the Happy Human Symbol

February 1996

I found this article while surfing on the world wide web one night. It is from a home page maintained by the Victorian Humanist Association in Melbourne, Australia.

Members have often asked: “Where did the Humanist icon–The Happy Human–come from?”

The story began thirty years ago in the London office of the British Humanist Association, (BHA). In 1965 Tom Vernon, then the Press and Public Relations officer of the BHA, proposed that a competition be held to find a symbol, logo or icon for the Humanist Movement.

During the following months entries flowed in and opinions were canvassed. “What do you think of that?” The uniform reply was, “Not much.” More than 150 drawings were submitted from around the world including Australia, Mexico and one from a Canadian firm of undertakers! They varied in size from one square inch to one 20 by 15 inches. The file of rejects continued to grow. Until one morning arrived what became to be known as the Happy Human symbol.

The effect was electric, the common reaction of most who saw it for the first time. The artist was Dennis Barington of North London. News of the competition results was reported in the June 1965 issue of Humanist News.

Today, wherever humanism is to be found in the world, the Happy Human is to be found. It has become the link that identifies the Internationalism of the Humanist Movement and highlights the humanist teaching: “There is but one life that we know of and we should influence that life by being happy, and the best way to do that is by making others so!”

–Wayne Wilson

Happy Human in UtahHappy Human in Utah

Declaration of Necessity

December 1996

We as representatives of various student skeptical, secular humanist, atheist, agnostic, and freethought campus organizations have assembled out of concern. As members of a small but significant minority, we often have been forced to reside in a social environment caustic to our needs, interests, and convictions. Instead of diminishing, opposition to free thought is now increasing with ominous rapidity.

  • We have witnessed a resurgence of religious fundamentalism, hand-in-hand with growing belief in mysticism, the paranormal, and the occult.
  • We have witnessed a growing disdain for science and a flight from reason and the principles of the Enlightenment, both in popular media and in the halls of academe.
  • We have witnessed a deplorable onslaught by religious factions upon personal liberties.
  • We have witnessed their concomitant effort to undermine secularist ideals in government, law, and education–striving to replace science with pseudo-science, knowledge with ignorance, tolerance and pluralism with prejudice and oppression.

The very core of our rational, secular, free, and democratic society has been brought under attack in our communities, on our campuses, even in our classrooms. We cannot afford to endure this development with indifference. A resolute defense of the principles of reason is necessary as never before. Organized student opposition is necessary as never before. Though the tide of unreason is rising, we have taken it upon ourselves to stand in union against it. We have resolved to confront our difficulties directly, whenever and wherever they might arise. Our task is to actively defend and fight for the rational principles and ideals we hold so dear and to demonstrate, by argument and practice, that it is possible to lead a good and meaningful life without religion. Ethics and morality can be based on rational and humanistic ideals and values.

Thus, it is with great pride and enthusiasm that we convene to establish the Campus Freethought Alliance, dedicated to the promotion and enhancement of freethought, skepticism, secularism, non-theism and humanism, and to the national consolidation of campus resources for that end. It is our hope that by pressing to create campus environments more friendly toward the rational viewpoint, we might aid in ameliorating the negative condition of society at large.

Given the fact that student religious organizations exist on virtually all college and university campuses (Campus Crusade, Newman Centers, Hillel, Muslim organizations and the like)–and that corresponding freethought, secular humanist, and unbeliever groups generally do not–we think it vitally important that freethought organizations be formed on every campus. Too many secular humanists, atheists, and skeptics face the demands of college life alone. A campus freethought organization can provide much-needed support, and when necessary, help to defend unbelievers’ rights.

We call upon our fellow students to establish skeptical, secular and freethinking organizations on college and university campuses across this land.

We invite our fellow students to loft high the banner of rationality and to join us in this most necessary endeavor.

Signed this day, 9 August 1996
Amherst, New York

Derek Carl Araujo of Harvard University
Chad Stephen Docterman of Marshall University
Etienne Rios of State University of New York at Buffalo
Alireza Aliabadi of University of Maryland at College Park
Keith Justin Augustine of University of Maryland at College Park
Brianna Kathleen Waters of University of Maryland at College Park
John Muhrer of Webster University
Selena Brewington of University of Oregon
Jason Erickson of University of Minnesota
Nicholas J. Rezmerski of University of Minnesota
John Simons of Western Washington University
Adam Butler of University of Alabama at Birmingham
Chris McDougal of University of Alabama at Birmingham
Jason Roylee Tippitt of University of Tennessee at Martin
Vincent Bruzzese of Stony Brook University
Michael S. Valle of University of Illinois at Chicago
Diana Carter of University of Guelph
Jason Pittman of Kalamazoo College
John F. Kennedy of New Mexico State University
Deidre Conn of Marshall University
Jascha Jabes of Queen’s University
Alex Clark of Auckland University
Eric Shook of University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee
Peter Braun of University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee
Carrie Fowler of State University of New York at Albany
Miriam Black of University of Colorado at Boulder
Michael Kraft of University of British Columbia
Scott Oser of University of Chicago
Ben Domingue of Lafayette High School
David Beckman of Amherst College
Nathan Hartshorn of Amherst College
Vagan Karayan of University of California at Los Angeles
Sara E. Moodie of Brock University
D. J. Anderson of Newark High School
Doug Semler of University of California at Irvine
Daniel Smith of Pennsylvania State University
Joe Lynch of University of Houston
Michael Lowry of University of Texas at Austin
Joel Finkelstein of Columbia University
Christopher Green of Christopher Newport University
Amnon Eden of Tel Aviv University
Nancy Richardson of University of Puget Sound
Gautam Srikanth of Carnegie Mellon University
Bradley Davis of Birmingham-Southern College
Stephen Ban of McGill University
Anthony Walsh of University of Missouri at Kansas City
David Bendana of Florida International University
Sarah Carlson of Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyInstitutions are shown for identification purposes only.

The Foundation Series
by Isaac Asimov

Book Review

August 1996

AHA past honorary President Isaac Asimov has been called America’s most prolific author, with more than 440 published books. His subject matter covers a wide spectrum ranging from the Bible, to Shakespeare, to science fiction. One of his most widely read chronicles is known as the “Foundation Series.” It consists of six books (in story order): Prelude to Foundation, Forward the Foundation, Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation, Foundation’s Edge, and Foundation and Earth.

Each of the books can stand on its own merit; however together they chronicle a tale of nearly a thousand years sometime in the distant future. The central character in all the books (although he only actually appears in the first two) is Harry Seldon, a mathematician who has discovered a way to predict the future. It is a new science that he calls “psychohistory.”

Seldon lives at a time when the Empire which has ruled millions of planets containing billions of people for more than 10 thousand years is in decline. He discovers that nothing can save the Empire from breaking totally apart. His mathematical formulae also predict 30 thousand years of chaos and war before a new Empire arises to power unless…

Seldon discovers that certain things happen in a very specific order, that the period of chaos can be reduced to a mere 1000 years. With this goal in mind, a contingent of a few hundred people is sent to a previously unpopulated planet at the edge of the galaxy. Ostensibly, their purpose is to catalogue all of the knowledge of the galaxy into a giant reference encyclopedia.

The Seldon Plan, as it becomes known, has a series of built-in crises where a particular decision is critical if order is to be restored within the short 10-century period. The first “Seldon Crisis” occurs when the library workers are confronted by war-like enemies from nearby planets. Seldon has recorded holographic messages for these turning points. He appears and informs the librarians that they really are not librarians at all. Actually, they represent the last of scientifically creative minds left in the galaxy. The reason for the fall of the Empire was ignorance of science and a resultant decline of the infrastructure. Seldon’s hologram reminds the scientists that they understand nucleics and can easily defeat the intruders. The Foundation is born!

One of the most interesting twists of the story is that very few people understand the archaic concept of “religion.” Death of science caused the collapse of the empire.

There is a “Second” Foundation “at the other end of the galaxy” that continues the development of psychohistory. Its existence is kept secret from the (first) Foundation for fear that the egos of the Foundation leaders would be jealous of any rivals. These people develop a form of mind control where they can mentally control people and bend anyone to their will. Several different encounters between the two Foundations take place.

Throughout the work there is mention of the fact that humans throughout the galaxy are all the same species. It seems impossible that a single species could evolve on so many planets. Does this mean there was in pre-history a single planet where humans arose as a species? Are the stories of Earth or Gaia accurate or only fantasy?

Here is a couple of thousand pages from one of the most famous humanists of the 20th century. This series of books is well worth reading.

–Wayne Wilson

Religious Humanism

April 1996

What is Religious Humanism? I can offer here only the sketchiest outline of the most salient features of this distinctive approach to religion, which originated in the U.S. among Unitarians at about the time of the First World War. The movement eventually embraced two groups: one consisted of some Unitarians, Universalists, and Ethical Culturalists; the other was a group of academics. Notable among them were Roy Wood Sellars, a member of the philosophy department at the University of Michigan, A. Eustace Hayden, professor of comparative religion at the University of Chicago, and John Dewey, a member of the philosophy department at Columbia University. All three signed a very controversial document in 1933 entitled A Humanist Manifesto and all three wrote books contributing to the literary canon of religious humanism.

The development, of course, was far more complex and less progressive than I have suggested, but the early religious humanists were historicists and nominalists. Sellars, for instance, said, “Once we have cut the supposed bonds with the supernatural world, we see that religion is, and always has been a social product.” They also thought that the metaphors of past religions were dead, and that the new metaphors created by the religious humanists provided an appropriate direction for religion in their time.

The religious humanists were convinced that religion was created by humans, not gods, who always speak the words of humans. These humanists provided a functional interpretation of religion: it was created by humans to serve certain purposes. Hayden spoke of religion as “the mother of dreams.” The task is to impose human purpose upon the cosmic process, to shape the course of the flowing stream of life with its millions of conflicting drives, so that it will converge toward the practical expression of creative idealism. Sellars maintained the function of religion was to preserve and further human values. Generally, humanists thought of religion as intelligent participation in the human quest for the good life in a shared world.

Theirs was a religion without God. True, Dewey employed the word God to designate the process whereby the actual is transformed into the ideal, but his friend and colleague Corliss Lamont maintained that Dewey used the term to avoid offending the sensitivities of friends who were theists. However, the word caused such controversy that he repented of having used it. Several statements in A Common Faith about religion require no concept of God, for instance, “Any activity pursued in behalf of an ideal end against obstacles and in spite of threats of personal loss because of conviction of its general and enduring values is religious in quality.” Hayden used the pragmatic test to judge claims about the helpfulness of the gods: What the gods have been expected to do, and have failed to do through the ages, man must find the courage and intelligence to do for himself. More needful than faith in God is faith that man can give love, justice, peace and all his beloved moral values embodiment in human relations. Denial of this faith is the only real atheism. According to the religious humanists, people can be moral without belief in God. Sellars said, “Morality is primarily a group affair. It is a term for the customs which have grown up through the generations and which are absorbed by each new born individual in his term, much as he takes in the air he breaths.” Conscience, rather than being the voice of God in the soul of the believer, was viewed by the religious humanists as a reproduction of tribal morality. To be moral, people do not need the supernatural sanction of a heavenly policeman. Morality must justify itself by its actual working in human life. It is primarily a social product, a historical achievement.

By repudiating the notion of a brain/mind dualism, the religious humanists also repudiated belief in personal immortality. According to Sellars, the new naturalism has realized that personality is in large measure a social product rooted in the social history of the group. The humanists were convinced that consciousness was totally dependent upon the brain; if the brain is dead, so are the mind and consciousness. Sellars maintained, “True religion and the spiritual are within you. They are the only Kingdom of Heaven.” But beyond these considerations, the concept of personal immortality had become a dead metaphor. The goal of religion is to promote the spiritual in humans, understanding that spiritual has relevance only between birth and death. In this broad and general sense, the spiritual emerges when there is intelligence of a fairly high order, a sense of right and wrong, an ability to set standards, a drive for creation in art and in social relations, a wealth of imagination. In summary, religious humanists viewed religion as a human creation to contribute to both personal and social well-being. Unlike the traditional understandings of religion, even the more liberal ones, it repudiated belief in God, the belief that humans could not be moral without the concept of God to support morality, and the belief that humans were immortal in any personal sense.

–Mason Olds
Religious Humanism, Autumn 1995

Editor’s Note: The AHA issued a statement against “hyphenated humanism” in The Humanist magazine Novenmber/December 2002. President Ed Dorr concluded the announcement with the words, “The American Humanist Association therefore stands for Humanism without modification and without reservation.” The entire text of this proclamation can be read here on the AHA website.

Alone With Problems

March 1996

Is there a way to live our lives without having all the problems that go along with it? If there is a way, most of us would like to know what it is. Believers talk of rewards in the hereafter, but we humanists must struggle with everyday life and accept the here and now for our reward. Such is the way of reality in the real world.

A factor in life is that superstitions stand directly in the way of understanding our problems, just as they did centuries ago. Belief in mystics must result in a distorted view. One cannot see clearly with a distorted view.

I don’t believe we are civilized, in spite of our advances in science. We are still savages at heart and have not moved any closer to solving our real problems any more than our distant relatives did. We’ll get nowhere walking around singing angelic tunes, bowing our heads in submission, and praying to a non-existing god. Humanists hold up their heads, look at their problems, and try to find a way to solve them. It’s not the easiest way, it’s the only way.

Only as ignorance has given way to fact have problems been overcome. Many otherwise intelligent people still treat misfortune as punishment meted out by an angry god upon a throne, to his sinful subjects. A god that they have been told to fear. If we could redirect that fear to solve our problems (without divine help), the world would be a lot better off. Can we supplement fear with mutual aid and understanding of others’ problems and eliminate the fears that have heretofore shaped our destinies? Do we really want to solve other people’s problems?

These are the questions that challenge you and me in a troubled world. We need each other to have any success at all. Alone we are nothing.

–Russ Roehm
From the Torch
Newsletter of the Arizona Secular Humanists

 

Absurdities of the Bible

December 1996

Why am I an agnostic? Because I don’t believe some of the things that other people say they believe. Where do you get your religion, anyway? I won’t bother to discuss just what religion is, but I think a fair definition of religion could take account of two things, at least, immortality and God, and that both of them are based on some book, so practically all of it is a book.

As I have neither the time nor the learning to discuss every religious book on earth, and as I live in Chicago, I am interested in the Christian religion. So I will discuss the book that deals with the Christian religion. Is the Bible the work of anything but man? Of course, there is no such book as the Bible. The Bible to made up of 66 books, some of them written by various authors at various times, covering a period of about 1,000 years–all the literature that they could find over a period longer than the time that has elapsed since the discovery of America down to the present time.

Is the Bible anything but a human book? Of course those who are believers take both sides of it. If there is anything that troubles them, “We don’t believe this.” Anything that doesn’t trouble them they do believe.

What about its accounts of the origin of the world? What about its account of the first man and the first woman? Adam was the first, made about less than 6,000 years ago. Well, of course, every scientist knows that human beings have been on the earth at least a half-million years, probably more. Adam got lonesome and they made a companion for him. That was a good day’s work–or a day’s work, anyhow.

From Rib to Woman

They took a simple way to take one of Adam’s ribs and cut it out and make it into a woman, Now, is that story a fact or a myth? How many preachers would say it was a myth? None! There are some people who still occupy Christian pulpits who say it is, but they used to send them to the stake for that.

If it isn’t true then, what is? How much did they know about science in those days, how much did they know about the heavens and the earth? The earth was flat, or did God write that down, or did the old Hebrew write it down because he didn’t know any better and nobody else then knew any better?

What was the heavens? The sun was made to light the day and the moon to light the night. The sun was pulled out in the day time and taken in at night and the moon was pulled across after the sun was taken out. I don’t know what they did in the dark of the moon. They must have done something.

The stars, all there is about the stars, “the stars he made also.” They were just “also.” Did the person who wrote that know anything whatever about astronomy? Not a thing. They believed they were just little things up in the heavens, in the firmament, just a little way above the earth, about the size of a diamond in an alderman’s shirt stud. They always believed it until astronomers came along and told them something different.

Adam and Eve were put in a garden where everything was lovely and there were no weeds to hoe down. They were allowed to stay there on one condition, and that is that they didn’t eat of the tree of knowledge. That has been the condition of the Christian church from then until now. They haven’t eaten as yet, as a rule they do not.

They were expelled from the garden, Eve was tempted by the snake who presumably spoke to her in Hebrew. And she fell for it and of course Adam fell for it, and then they were driven out. How many believe that story today?

If the Christian church doesn’t believe it why doesn’t it say so? You do not find them saying that. If they do not believe it here and there, someone says it. That is, he says it at great danger to his immortal soul, to say nothing of his good standing in his church.

The snake was cursed to go on his belly after that. How he went before, the story doesn’t say. And Adam was cursed to work. That is why we have to work. That is, some of us–not I.

And Eve and all of her daughters to the end of time were condemned to bring forth children in pain and agony. Lovely God, isn’t it? Lovely?

Can’t Believe Story

If that story was necessary to keep me out of hell and put me in heaven–necessary for my life–I wouldn’t believe it because I couldn’t believe it.

I do not think any God could have done it and I wouldn’t worship a God who would. It is contrary to every sense of justice that we know anything about.

God had a great deal of trouble with the earth after he made it. People were building a tower–the Tower of Babylon–so that they could go up and peek over.

God didn’t want them to do that and so confounded their tongues. A man would call up for a pall of mortar and they would send him up a tub of suds, or something like that. They couldn’t understand each other.

Is that true? How did they happen to right it? They found there were various languages; and that is the origin of the languages. Everybody knows better today.

Is that story true? Did God write it? He must have known; he must have been all-knowing then as he is all-knowing now.

I do not need to mention them. You remember that joyride that Balaam was taking on the ass. That was the only means of locomotion they had besides walking. It is the only one pretty near that they have now. Balaam wanted to get along too fast and he was beating the ass and the ass turned around and asked him what he was doing it for. In Hebrew, of course. It must have been in Hebrew for Balaam was a Jew.

And Joshua Said to the Sun, “Stand Still.”

Is that true or is it a story?

And Joshua; you remember about Joshua.

He was a great general. Very righteous and he was killing a lot of people and he hadn’t quite finished the job and so he turned to the mountain top and said to the sun, “Stand still till I finish this job,” and it stood still.

Is that one of the true ones or one of the foolish ones?

There are several things that that does. It shows how little they knew about the earth and day and night. Of course, they thought that if the sun stood still it wouldn’t be pulled along any further and the night wouldn’t come on. We know that if it had stood still from that day to this it wouldn’t have affected the day or night; that is affected by the revolution of the earth on its axis.

Is it true? Am I wicked because I know it cannot possibly be true? Have you got to get rid of all your knowledge and all your common sense to save your soul?

Wait until I am a little older; maybe I can then. But my friend says that he doesn’t believe those stories. They are figurative.

Are they figurative? Then what about the New Testament? Why does he believe these stories?

Here was a child born of a virgin. What evidence is there?

‘Twas the Fashion

What evidence? Do you suppose you could get any positive evidence that would make anyone believe that story today or anybody, no matter who it was?

Child, born of a virgin! There were at least four miraculous births recorded in the Testament. There was Sarah’s child, there was Samson, there was John the Baptist, and there was Jesus. Miraculous births were rather a fashionable thing in those days, especially in Rome, where most of the theology was laid out.

Caesar had a miraculous birth, Cicero, Alexander from Macedonia–nobody was in style or great unless he had a miraculous birth. It was a land of miracles.

What evidence is there of it? How much evidence would it require for intelligent people to believe such a story? It wouldn’t be possible to bring evidence anywhere in this civilized land today, right under your own noses. Nobody would believe it anyway, and yet some people say that you must believe that without a scintilla of evidence of any sort.

Jesus had brothers and sisters older than Himself. His genealogy by Matthew is traced to his father, Joseph, in the first chapter of Matthew. Read that. What did he do?

Well, now, probably some of his teachings were good. We have heard about the Sermon on the Mount. There isn’t a single word contained in the Sermon on the Mount that isn’t contained in what is called the Sacred Book of the Jews, long before He lived–not one single thing.

Jesus was an excellent student of Jewish theology, as anybody can tell by reading the Gospels; every bit of it was taken from their books of authority, and He simply said what He had heard of for years and years.

But let’s look at some things charged to Him. He walked on the water. Now how does that sound? Do you suppose Jesus walked on the water? Joe Smith tried it when he established the Mormon religion. What evidence have you of that?

He found some of His disciples fishing and they hadn’t gotten a bite all day. Jesus said, “Cast your nets down there,” and they drew them in full of fish. The East Indians couldn’t do better than that. What evidence is there of it?

He was at a performance where there were 5,000 people and they were out of food, and He asked them how much they had; five loaves and three fishes, or three fishes and five loaves, or something like that, and He made the five loaves and three fishes feed all the multitude and they picked up I don’t know how many barrels afterward. Think of that.

How does that commend itself to intelligent people, coming from a land of myth and fable as all Asia was, a land of myth and fable and ignorance in the main, and before anybody knew anything about science? And yet that must be believed–and is–to save us from our sins.

What are these sins? What has the human race done that was so bad, except to eat of the tree of knowledge? Does anybody need to save man from his sins in a miraculous way? It is an absurd piece of theology which they themselves say that you must accept on faith because your reason won’t lead you to it. You can’t do it that way.

We Must Develop Reason

I know the weakness of human reason, other people’s reason. I know the weakness of it, but it is all we have, and the only safety of man is to cultivate it and extend his knowledge so that he will be sure to understand life and as many of the mysteries of the universe as he can possibly solve.

Jesus practiced medicine without medicine. Now think of this one. He was traveling along the road and somebody came and told Him there was a sick man in the house and he wanted Him to cure him. How did He do it? Well, there were a lot of hogs out in the front yard and He drove the devils out of a man and cured him, but He drove them into the hogs and they jumped into the sea. Is that a myth or is it true?

If that is true, if you have got to believe that story in order to have your soul saved, you are bound to get rid of your intelligence to save the soul that perhaps doesn’t exist at all. You can’t believe a thing just because you want to believe it and you can’t believe it on very poor evidence, You may believe it because your grandfather told you it was true, but you have got to have some such details.

Did He raise a dead man to life? Why, tens of thousands of dead men and women have been raised to life according to all the stories and all the traditions. Was this the only case? All Europe is filled with miracles of that sort, the Catholic church performing miracles almost to the present time. Does anybody believe it if they use their senses? I say, No. It is impossible to believe it if you use your senses.

Now take the soul. People in this world instinctively like to keep on living. They want to meet their friends again, and all of that. They cling to life. Schopenhauer called it the will to live. I call it the momentum of a going machine. Anything that is going keeps on going for a certain length of time. It is all momentum. What evidence is there that we are alive after we are dead?

But that wasn’t the theory of theology. The theory of theology–and it is a part of a creed of practically every Christian church today–is that you die and go down into the earth and you are dead, and when Gabriel comes back to blow his horn, the dust is gathered together and, lo and behold, you appear the same old fellow again and live here on earth!

How many believe it? And yet that is the only idea of immortality that there is, and it is in every creed today, I believe.

Matter Indestructible

And everything that is in the body and in the man goes into something else, turns into the crucible of nature, goes to make trees and grass and weeds and fruit, and is eaten by all kinds of life, and in that way goes on and on.

Of course, in a sense, nobody dies. The matter that is in me will exist in another form when I am dead. The force that is in me will live in some other kind of force when I am dead. But I will be gone.

That isn’t the kind of immortality people want. They want to know that they can recognize Mary Jane in heaven. Don’t they? They want to see their brothers and their sisters and their friends in heaven. It isn’t possible. We know where our life began; we know where it ends.

We know where every individual life on earth began. It began in a single cell, in the body of our mother, who had some 10,000 of those cells. It was fertilized by a spermatozoon from the body of our father, who had a million of them, any one of which, under certain circumstances, would fertilize a cell.

They multiplied and divided until a child was born. And in old age or accident or disease, they fall apart and the man is done.

Agnostic Because I Must Reason

Can you imagine an eternity with one end cut off? Something that began but never ended? We began our immortality at a certain time, when the cell and the spermatozoon conspired to form a human being. We began then. If I am not the product of a spermatozoon and a cell, and if those cells which are unfertilized produce life, and those spermatozoa that fertilized no life were still alive, then I must have 10,000 brothers and sisters on my mother’s side and a million on my father’s. It is utterly absurd.

Now I am not a revivalist. In fact, I am not interested. I am asked to say why I am an agnostic. I am an agnostic because I trust my reason. It may not be the greatest that ever existed. I am inclined to admit that it isn’t. But it is the best I have. That is a mighty sight better than some other people’s at that. I am an agnostic because no man living can form any picture of any God, and you can’t believe in an object unless you can form a picture of it. You way believe in the force, but not in the object.

If there is any God in the universe I don’t know it. Some people say they know it instinctively. Well, the errors and foolish things that men have known instinctively are so many we can’t talk about them.

As a rule, the less a person knows, the surer he is, and he gets it by instinct, and it can’t be disputed, for I don’t know what is going on in another man’s mind. I have no such instinct.

Let me give you just one more idea of a miracle of this Jesus story which has run down through the ages and is not at all the sole property of the Christian.

You remember, when Jesus was born in a manger according to the story, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. And they were led by a star.

Now the closest star to the earth is more than a billion miles away. Think of the star leading three moth-eaten camels to a manger! Can you imagine a star standing over any house?

Can you imagine a star standing over the earth even? What will they say, if they had time? That was a miracle. It came down to the earth.

Well, if any star came that near the earth or anywhere near the earth, it would immediately disarrange the whole solar system. Anybody who can believe those old myths and tables isn’t governed by reason.

–Clarence Darrow
Little Blue Book Number 1637

 

The Religiousness of Science

August 1996

The following short essay by Albert Einstein is taken from the abridged edition of his book The World As I See It.

You will hardly find one among the profounder sort of scientific minds without a peculiar religious feeling of his own. But it is different from the religion of the naive man. For the latter God is a being from whose care one hopes to benefit and whose punishment one fears; a sublimation of a feeling similar to that of a child for its father, a being to whom one stands to some extent in a personal relation, however deeply it may be tinged with awe.

But the scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. The future, to him, is every whit as necessary and determined as the past. There is nothing divine about morality; it is a purely human affair. His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. This feeling is the guiding principle of his life and work, in so far as he succeeds in keeping himself from the shackles of selfish desire. It is beyond question closely akin to that which has possessed the religious geniuses of all ages.

Scholarship: Humor

December 1996

These are from test papers and essays submitted to science and health teachers by junior high, high school, and college students around the world. It is truly astonishing what weird science our young scholars can create under the pressures of time and grades.

  • When you breath, you inspire. When you do not breath, you expire.
  • H2O is hot water, and CO2 is cold water.
  • When you smell an odorless gas, it is probably carbon monoxide
  • Water is composed of two gins, Oxygin and Hydrogin. Oxygin is pure gin. Hydrogin is gin and water.
  • The moon is a planet just like the earth, only it is even deader
  • Artificial insemination is when the farmer does it to the cow instead of the bull
  • Mushrooms always grow in damp places, and so they look like umbrellas
  • A fossil is an extinct animal. The older it is, the more extinct it is.

Notes From an American Humanist at the Atheist Conference in India

March 1996

[We should not] let religion have a monopoly on artistic fantasy, spirituality, ceremonies and celebrations (including music and dance), moral instruction of the young, or congregational life. We post-religious folks have a lot to celebrate. For instance, solstices and equinoxes are the hallmarks of the sources of the sustenance of life and ecologically relevant.

And atheists should make an effort not to over-intellectualize our post-religious outlook. It’s a simple fact of life that some people are inclined by nature to be rational, while others-including many who are ready to be post-religious in their beliefs and actions-are more inclined to be spiritual. In our organization and in our way of life, let us make room for all the good atheists who are temperamentally more poetic than scientific.

Another fact of life we ought to acknowledge is that religious fundamentalism and fanaticism are now waxing strong and, indeed, surging forward like a dangerous wave in several parts of the world. I have in mind not only Islamic countries like Algeria, Egypt and Turkey, and not only the political uses in India of Hindu fundamentalism, but also in my homeland (the USA) the onslaught of Christian fundamentalist intrusions into libraries, schools, medical clinics, and electoral politics.

This is just one example of the several ways in which we atheists need, I think, to emphasize responsibility as the handmaiden of freedom. Perhaps atheists all around the world, and especially in affluent countries such as my own, can take a lesson in this regard from the Atheist Center here in Vijayanwada, which has by its stream of constructive activities made so clear its ethical approach to life. The object of many of the Atheist Center’s projects is not to “dispense charity” but rather inculcate the self-empowerment of the downtrodden.

I would like to say, most emphatically, that many explicitly atheist organizations urgently need a far better balance (than they now have) between work and talk. Rather than envisaging grandiose objectives, however worthy, let each atheist individual or small group put into effect a constructive project that seems to be within its means to address. Just do it!

At the same time, I think that atheist ethics should be explicit and constructive. In the USA, for instance, where so many children are being raised nowadays in fatherless families, it is very important to advocate strongly the rearing and educating of children in a family structure as a fundamental aspect of our ethos.

Finally, I would like to recommend an ever greater degree of cooperation among atheists and humanist organizations, building constructive coalitions through our positive efforts.

–Joe Gerstein
Humanist Association of Massachusetts

 

Freethought Across the Centuries

July 1996

In his book, Freethought Across the Centuries, Gerald A. Larue provides an overview of the historical ways in which inquiring human minds have challenged beliefs. He urges today’s students, educators, parents and society in general to become involved in critical thinking and to keep open the doors of free inquiry to provide the basis for a New Age of Enlightenment. His basic concern is with the recognition of those who have not only rejected standard faith and belief systems, but have also excluded any form of supernaturalism. He addresses the questions of their place in human history and in American life, their contributions to a free society, and the maintenance of the wall of separation between church and state.

As public school boards develop curricula to teach students the history of religion, Larue’s book should be an important item on the required reading list. The author is an Emeritus Professor of Biblical History at UCLA, a member of the prestigious International Academy of Humanism, and was honored as the Humanist of the Year in 1989 by AHA.

–Flo Wineriter

 

In Memoriam

James Ellis Brown

1907 – 1996

December 1996

James Ellis Brown, active member of the Humanists of Utah, Utah Atheists, and the First Unitarian Church, died Thursday, 21 November 1996. James was 89 years old, and a frequent participator in our Thursday night discussion group, and our monthly public meetings. He retired from the civilian work force at Hill Air Force Base, and was a volunteer teacher of the English language to immigrants at the Guadalupe Center. He was an active member of the Utah Democratic party, and a delegate to Democratice Party State Conventions. Flo Wineriter conducted a memorial service for James, Monday, November 25th, at the Unitarian Church.

–Flo Wineriter

 

Einstein on Religion and Science

August 1996

This is a response by Albert Einstein to a greeting sent by the Liberal Ministers’ Club of New York City. Published in The Christian Register, June, 1948. Published in Ideas and Opinions, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1954.

Does there truly exist an insuperable contradiction between religion and science? Can religion be superseded by science? The answers to these questions have, for centuries, given rise to considerable dispute and, indeed, bitter fighting. Yet, in my own mind there can be no doubt that in both cases a dispassionate consideration can only lead to a negative answer. What complicates the solution, however, is the fact that while most people readily agree on what is meant by “science,” they are likely to differ on the meaning of “religion.”

As to science, we may well define it for our purpose as “methodical thinking directed toward finding regulative connections between our sensual experiences.” Science, in the immediate, produces knowledge and, indirectly, means of action. It leads to methodical action if definite goals are set up in advance. For the function of setting up goals and passing statements of value transcends its domain. While it is true that science, to the extent of its grasp of causative connections, may reach important conclusions as to the compatibility and incompatibility of goals and evaluations, the independent and fundamental definitions regarding goals and values remain beyond science’s reach.

As regards religion, on the other hand, one is generally agreed that it deals with goals and evaluations and, in general, with the emotional foundation of human thinking and acting, as far as these are not predetermined by the inalterable hereditary disposition of the human species. Religion is concerned with man’s attitude toward nature at large, with the establishing of ideals for the individual and communal life, and with mutual human relationship. These ideals religion attempts to attain by exerting an educational influence on tradition and through the development and promulgation of certain easily accessible thoughts and narratives (epics and myths) which are apt to influence evaluation and action along the lines of the accepted ideals.

It is this mythical, or rather this symbolic, content of the religious traditions which is likely to come into conflict with science. This occurs whenever this religious stock of ideas contains dogmatically fixed statements on subjects which belong in the domain of science. Thus, it is of vital importance for the preservation of true religion that such conflicts be avoided when they arise from subjects which, in fact, are not really essential for the pursuance of the religious aims.

When we consider the various existing religions as to their essential substance, that is, divested of their myths, they do not seem to me to differ as basically from each other as the proponents of the “relativistic” or conventional theory wish us to believe. And this is by no means surprising. For the moral attitudes of a people that is supported by religion need always aim at preserving and promoting the sanity and vitality of the community and its individuals, since otherwise this community is bound to perish. A people that were to honor falsehood, defamation, fraud, and murder would be unable, indeed, to subsist for very long.

When confronted with a specific case, however, it is no easy task to determine clearly what is desirable and what should be eschewed, just as we find it difficult to decide what exactly it is that makes good painting or good music. It is something that may be felt intuitively more easily than rationally comprehended. Likewise, the great moral teachers of humanity were, in a way, artistic geniuses in the art of living. In addition to the most elementary precepts directly motivated by the preservation of life and the sparing of unnecessary suffering, there are others to which, although they are apparently not quite commensurable to the basic precepts, we nevertheless attach considerable importance. Should truth, for instance, be sought unconditionally even where its attainment and its accessibility to all would entail heavy sacrifices in toil and happiness?

There are many such questions which, from a rational vantage point, cannot easily be answered or cannot be answered at all. Yet, I do not think that the so called “relativistic” viewpoint is correct, not even when dealing with the more subtle moral decisions.

When considering the actual living conditions of present day civilized humanity from the standpoint of even the most elementary religious commands, one is bound to experience a feeling of deep and painful disappointment at what one sees. For while religion prescribes brotherly love in the relations among the individuals and groups, the actual spectacle more resembles a battlefield than an orchestra. Everywhere, in economic as well as in political life, the guiding principle is one of ruthless striving for success at the expense of one’s fellow men. This competitive spirit prevails even in school and, destroying all feelings of human fraternity and cooperation, conceives of achievement not as derived from the love for productive and thoughtful work, but as springing from personal ambition and fear of rejection.

There are pessimists who hold that such a state of affairs is necessarily inherent in human nature; it is those who propound such views that are the enemies of true religion, for they imply thereby that religious teachings are utopian ideals and unsuited to afford guidance in human affairs. The study of the social patterns in certain so-called primitive cultures, however, seems to have made it sufficiently evident that such a defeatist view is wholly unwarranted. Whoever is concerned with this problem, a crucial one in the study of religion as such, is advised to read the description of the Pueblo Indians in Ruth Benedict’s book, Patterns of Culture. Under the hardest living conditions, this tribe has apparently accomplished the difficult task of delivering its people from the scourge of competitive spirit and of fostering in it a temperate, cooperative conduct of life, free of external pressure and without any curtailment of happiness.

The interpretation of religion, as here advanced, implies a dependence of science on the religious attitude, a relation which, in our predominantly materialistic age, is only too easily overlooked. While it is true that scientific results are entirely independent from religious or moral considerations, those individuals to whom we owe the great creative achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to the rational striving for knowledge. If this conviction had not been a strongly emotional one and if those searching for knowledge had not been inspired by Spinoza’s Amor Dei Intellectualis, they would hardly have been capable of that untiring devotion which alone enables man to attain his greatest achievements.

What is the Future of Science?

July 1996

Humanists and humanist organizations frequently invoke “Science” or the “Scientific Method” in an almost religious sense. We believe that the universe can be explained both macroscopically and microscopically through application of scientific principles. Carl Sagan subtitled The Demon–Haunted World, which is almost certainly his farewell to humanity, Science As A Candle in The Dark. Last month I included a short quotation indicating that Mr. Sagan believes that Americans are scientifically illiterate. We have a hunger, indeed a need for science. The problem is that we are fulfilling this vacancy with “pseudo-science.”

The book shows that today’s UFO and alien encounter crazes are modern day manifestations of the demons and witches that plagued the earlier centuries in this era.

Combine Sagan’s ideas with other items and there is, I believe, real cause for concern. Cora B. Marrett, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, notes that two decades’ worth of surveys reveal that people know less and less about technology. In spite of the publicity of the infamous O.J. Simpson trial, only one in five Americans can provide a minimally acceptable definition of DNA. Less than half of Americans know that the Earth rotates around the sun once each year.

Furthermore, the USA spends less proportionally of non-defense research and development dollars than either Japan or Germany. Japan spends one-third more; Germany one-fifth. In addition, American Research and Development spending is not keeping pace with inflation. In real dollars, US public and private spending on R&D declined an estimated 2 percent between 1990 and 1995.

Ms. Marrett finds a silver lining to this dark cloud: increased cooperation between industry and university scientists and programs is replacing government funds. Anyone who read Michael Crichton’s introduction to Jurassic Park will not take comfort in this point. In the book (though not necessarily in the movie), Crichton points out that pure research must be free from the influences of naked capitalism. When big money from big corporations is involved, the direction of Research and Development programs is influenced by what the source of funds wants instead of a pure quest for knowledge.

Late in May, the House of Representatives voted to back wide cuts in government science programs that critics say would destroy US energy policy and rob the nation of its lead in research and development (Reuters News). According to Vice President Al Gore, the measure “would abandon a 50-year partnership among American industry, universities and the federal government to support science, research and technology.”

Republican supporters said the bill provided more for basic research but said the government should not be funding research that should be supported by the private sector.

The good news is that the Senate is unlikely to even consider the bill and if they do it would face a likely veto from President Clinton.

We humanists need to take a lead role in promoting and supporting programs that are based upon logic and reason. Our airwaves are filled with nonsense about aliens, demons and parapsychological tomfoolery. Ignore them when you can, counter them in public discussions. Become educated in the basic principles of the Scientific Method and encourage your children and families to do the same. The only way to defeat ignorance is with knowledge.

–Wayne Wilson

 

Loss of Empathy

January 1996

The increasing boorishness, anger and violence in our society is causing growing concern for our individual safety and our community future. Religious leaders claim it’s the result of taking prayer out of public schools and theology out of government. To me it is more likely the result of culture changes described by author Jeff Greenfield in his current novel, The Peoples Choice.

There was a time not so long ago when a major event had the power to pull us together, to share history side by side. Our grandparents flocked to the telegraph office and listened to the telegrapher shout out the latest news clattering in, one letter at a time. They stood, shivering outside the newspaper office, watching the numbers chalked up on a black board, to learn who had won the presidency. They crowded together on a downtown street, craning their necks up at the skyscraper around which electronic bulletins flashed. Our parents surrounded parked cars, leaning in to catch every muffled, tinny word blaring from the car radio, or they huddled outside an appliance store to watch the flickering images of a baseball game.

Today we lack most of that communal sense of drama; we sit at home, alone, to watch spaceships explode and wars begin and earthquakes shred a city. Gathered in our separate shelter, it is not always easy to connect with the common grief or joy or lust or fear.

–Flo Wineriter

 

Discussion Group Report

Are We Programmed to be Moral?

May 1996

By Richard Layton

Are men and women really built for monogamy? What is the evolutionary logic behind office politics–or for that matter politics in general? Why did natural selection give us the vast guilt repository known as the conscience? Why do we so easily exclude large groups of people from the reach of our sympathy? Considering that we have an unconscious mind, is intellectual honesty possible? Whose interests do parents who inflict psychological damage on their children have at heart?

In recent years new light has been shed on such important questions–and on just about everything that matters–through the work of evolutionary psychologists. A new view has emerged, called “the new Darwinian paradigm,” which has radically deepened the insight of social scientists into the social behavior of animals–including us. The dominant view of psychologists during most of this century has been that environmental factors were the predominant influences on human behavior, but now discoveries relative to the new paradigm show compelling evidence that there is a deeper evolutionary basis for much that has been considered environmentally caused. B. F. Skinner’s behaviorism, the sense that a human being can become any sort of animal with proper conditioning, is not faring well.

Robert Wright, in his book The Moral Animal, which was reviewed by our study group this month, says that today’s Darwinian anthropologists “focus less on surface difficulties among cultures than on deep unities. Beneath the global crazy quilt of rituals and customs, they see recurring patterns or themes in culture after culture in the structure of family, friendship, politics, courtships, morality…a thirst for social approval, a capacity for guilt.” Differences between groups of people or among people within groups appear as products of a single human nature responding to widely varying circumstances.

Can a Darwinian understanding of human nature help people reach their goals in life? Can it help them choose their goals? Can it help distinguish between practical and impractical goals–or which goals are worthy? Does knowing how evolution has shaped our basic moral impulses help us decide which impulses we should consider legitimate? To all these questions Wright answers, “Yes.”

John Stuart Mill, in his concept of utilitarianism, wanted to maximize overall happiness. This is accomplished by everyone being thoroughly self-sacrificing, that is, to consider the welfare of everyone else exactly as important as one’s own welfare. Darwin embraced Mill’s principle but he encountered an important problem in doing so. He saw how deeply his ethics were at odds with the values that natural selection implies. To ponder it, says Wright, is to realize that the purpose of a single, slight “advance” in organic design, “–longer, sharper teeth in male chimpanzees, say–is often to make the other animals suffer or die more surely. Organic design thrives on pain, and pain thrives on organic design.”

Darwin did not agonize much over this conflict between natural selection’s morality and his own. He rejected nature’s values as a basis for morality. Wright observes, “It is remarkable that a creative process [natural selection] devoted to selfishness could produce organisms [human beings] which, having finally discerned this creator, reflect on this central value and reject it.”

The new Darwinian paradigm, nevertheless, points out what seems to be a genetic propensity for humans to deceive themselves. We like to think of ourselves or of the group we belong to as moral, even when we are not. We are prone to grow indignant about the behavior of distinct groups of people (nations, say) whose interests conflict with a group to which we belong. We tend to be inconsiderate of low-status people and very tolerant of high status people, when there is little evidence that the latter have any particular proclivity towards conscience or sacrifice.

Wright says, we have the technical capacity for leading an examined life, but we are only potentially moral animals, not naturally moral ones. “To be moral animals, we must realize how thoroughly we aren’t.”