1997

 

 

Campaign Reform Proposal: The Tanner Plan

September 1997

Barbara and Norman Tanner have suggested a plan the Salt Lake City Council might adopt to reform campaign financing for City Council and mayoral candidates (Forum, July 7): Before the primary and general elections, the city would mail to each resident a “candidate-approved information flyer” that would show side-by-side the candidates’ positions on important issues. Candidates who refused to limit their campaign expenditures would get only one line in the flyer, naming them and noting that they refused to limit their expenditures.

Campaign finance reform is imperative, and the Tanner plan would seem to have a lot of merit, not only on the city level, but on the county, state and even federal levels as well. It could open the door to meritorious candidates who would not otherwise have the resources to run. It could largely free politicians from attending to the next election rather than to governmental business. It could provide authoritative information on the candidates’ positions, which would be superior to political labels, sound bites and negative campaigning. It could even weed out the politicians who resist campaign finance reform because the present system so favors the rich and incumbents.

I hope the Salt Lake City Council will seriously consider the Tanner plan. If it worked, other governments might follow the City Council’s lead.

–Earl Wunderli
Letter to the Editor
Published in The Salt Lake Tribune
July 22, 1997

 

 

Discussion Group Report

Who Was Jesus Really?

March 1997

By Richard Layton

“It should bring to an end the myth, the history, the mentality, of the Gospels. But nobody’s going to want to read it!” says Burton L. Mack, retired professor of New Testament at the School of Theology at Claremont and the author of a best-selling book about the origins of Christianity. He is talking about a scholarly document, a reconstructed Greek text of “Q,” a hypothetical first-century work composed mostly of sayings of Jesus.

Charlotte Allen discusses the work done on Q in “The Search for a No-Frills Jesus,” in the December 1966 Atlantic Monthly. Many scholars believe that Q served as a literary source for the Gospels of Mathew and Luke, which contain numerous parallel passages. Other scholars believe it never existed, since there are no manuscripts of it or references to it in ancient literature. Contained in the parallel passages are many of the teachings of Jesus that Christians place near the heart of their faith: the Lord’s Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes, the Golden Rule, and the admonition, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

Although some scholars who are Christian believers endorse the Q hypothesis, a cadre of biblical scholars including Mack argue that the teachings of Jesus in Q hold the key to an understanding of Jesus that is fundamentally non-Christian. They maintain that the authors of Q did not view Jesus as “the Christ” (the promised Messiah) or as the redeemer who had atoned for their sins by his crucifixion or as the son of God who rose from the dead. Rather they esteemed him simply as a roving sage who preached a life of possessionless wandering and full acceptance of one’s fellow human beings, no matter how disreputable or marginal. He was a Jesus for third-millennium America, with little supernatural baggage but much respect for cultural diversity.

Some Q scholars saw Jesus as a leader in a Q community in Galilee consisting essentially of Cynics. Mack describes Galilee “as a kind of beachhead where the surge of political crosscurrents constantly kept the people on their toes.” It had, he says, a multiethnic population that felt little loyalty to Jerusalem. Jesus was a countercultural guru who encouraged his Galilean followers to “experiment with novel social notions and life-styles,” to question “taboos on intercourse with people of different ethnic roots,” and to “free themselves from traditional social constraints and think of themselves as belonging to a larger human family.” “It’s over,” Mack said. “We’ve had enough apocalypses. We’ve had enough martyrs. Christianity has had a two-thousand-year run, and it’s over.”

Mack’s explanation has its critics. James Robinson contends that Mack has gone a bit over the top, having tilted his translation to make it more in keeping with a Cynical image.

The Search for a No-Frills Jesus

“It’s all faux history,” says Luke Timothy Johnson. “…we know so little about Christianity in Galilee.” Richard Horsley’s book, Galilee: History, Politics, People, says, “My book pulls the rug out from under the Cynic sage…The sapiential figure–that’s our modern typology, something we’ve made up. Q is prophetic–it’s traditional Bible prophecy…it was functioning in a dynamic way in the oral tradition…Jesus played out the role the script called for.”

Q is speculative scholarship, which is more tolerated in the American university than in the European academy. There is also an understandable lack of willingness to accept that there are limits to what historical research can provide by way of hard information about Jesus and his early followers. The only first-century texts dealing with first-century Christianity are specifically Christian documents.

Robinson comments, “I think that Jesus was an important person, one of the most important people who ever lived. In modern times many enlightened types have become skeptical, and we look down on the uneducated types who believe. It’s a sort of a pity that all that most of us know about Jesus is from the creeds, which we can’t believe in. This focus on the sayings is a way to make Jesus comprehensible in this age. Jesus was giving people the kingdom–a kind of selfless society where everybody is supposed to have a trusting attitude toward one another.”

Educated Europeans and Americans have come to see the purpose of religion is its social utility as an enforcer of morality among the poor. The Gospels, or Q, give a more radical commandment, which requires one to make a gift of everything, of one’s very self. Allen feels that it may be worthwhile that scholars in Claremont and elsewhere have pulled out the texts as a distilled reminder. I agree, but I ask, is it healthy-minded for us to give everything, even our very selves, thus possibly denying ourselves the fulfillment of our own personal needs? Wouldn’t it be better for us simply to love others as ourselves and to give thoughtful consideration to their needs while expecting them to give us the same consideration?

 

Varieties in Humanist Points-of-View

February 1997

The following article is from the November newsletter published by the Humanists of North Jersey.
In a recent statement, Khoren Arisian comments “I have long felt that the most needlessly corrosive debate that goes on in our own ranks is the pointless polemic between alleged secular and religious humanists.” I disagree with him. There is a basic and significant difference between the two points of view, though they, like all other human outlooks on life, overlap. The distinction has been with us for thousands of years. Plato, as a contemporary, with his pie-in-the-sky “reality,” would now be a religious humanist; Aristotle, a secular humanist. Kant, with his near-divine Categorical Imperatives, would be a religious humanist; Hume, the ultimate skeptic, a secular humanist. William James who accepted that which works as true, would be a religious humanist. Bertrand Russell coldly analyzed the world as it is would be a secular humanist.

True, concerned thinkers hedge their positions. John Dewy, for example, in his awe for Democracy and his aspirations for humanity, leaned toward religious humanism, but in his Quest for Certainty, underneath his typical redundancies and obtuseness, he makes it clear that certainty is an illusion. Dewey was a secularist, but was uncomfortable about it.

It is unfortunate that the composers of The Manifesto (1933) chose the term humanism for their point of view, which was basically an atheistic-agnostic stance, though surrounded with all manner of embroidery to make it less blunt to their Unitarian flocks. The term humanism gets confused with literary and Renaissance humanism, with humanitarianism, and among others, with being humane. Well over twenty years ago, Bette Chambers thought it important to have a New York City phone number for the American Humanist Association; accordingly we listed the AHA in the Manhattan directory, with my personal telephone number. During the two years in which I maintained the line, I received many calls wanting to know how to take care of cats and dogs, and one student called me for a bibliography on the Renaissance; but not one call did I receive about what we know as humanism. The title the “founding fathers” gave us for the proclamation of nontheism was unfortunate, but it has become so thoroughly implanted in our minds that I doubt it can be undone. I am afraid we will have to live with the vagueness and multiple use of the term humanism as a polite designation for a nontheist interpretation of the cosmos.

Khoren Arisian is clearly a religious humanist. He was recently elected president of the Fellowship of Religious Humanists which publishes a quarterly Religious Humanist, He changed the name of the organization to Friends of Religious Humanism, but note that he retained the word “religious.” The Friends of Religious Humanism is the only humanist organization that makes the differentiation between religious and secular in its title. Why retain the title if it is so pointless and corrosive? In the statement quoted above, he writes “the secularization of society doesn’t necessarily entail disappearance of desire or search for that which is holy, of ultimate worth.” No secular humanist would write that.

A secular humanist insists that humanism is not a religion, and does not believe or invent a belief or give allegiance to anything that cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt. A religious humanist, as Arisian puts it, will “invent as well as discover meaning,” and “deliberately structure, craft and focus life so that it makes sense to us.”

There is much overlap in belief between Catholics, Protestants and Jews. All are believers in a personal God and personal immortality. Yet there are also profound differences among them. Therefore, we rarely lump them together as Theists. The difference between religious and secular humanists is also significant and will become increasingly so in the future. It demands further discussion. There is an important place in humanist media for both the Religious Humanist of which Arisian is the current editor, and for Free Inquiry, published by Paul Kurtz and his associates at the Council for Secular Humanism.

 

The Life and Times of Vardis Fisher

December 1997

Richard Andrews, founder of the Utah Chapter of American Atheists, addressed the November general meeting of Humanists of Utah. Andrews was a long time personal friend and correspondent of Opal Fisher, the widow of Vardis Fisher.

Vardis Alvero Fisher was born in Annis, Idaho, in 1895. His parents were sent by Brigham Young to settle the Upper Snake River Valley. Since there were no schools nearby, Vardis was taught by his mother in his early years. When he was 12 years old, he and his brother were sent to town attend school. They lived with an aunt for one year and then moved into a house of their own.

It was in Annis that Fisher met his first wife, Leona, whom he married in 1917. After graduating from High School, he attended the University of Utah. He attended graduate school at the University of Chicago. Here he first experienced how the non-Mormon world lived. After several trips back and forth between Salt Lake City and Chicago involving various teaching positions, Fisher received a Ph.D.(magna cum laude) from the University of Chicago.

Fisher wrote numerous books and articles during his lifetime. Among them is a series of 12 books known collectively as the Testament. These volumes chronicle the history of life, beginning with Darkness and the Deep (evolution of the ancestors of humans) through Orphans in Gethsemane (describing the human condition in the 20th century–with our male-dominated, Judeo-Christian Western society, its families, its values, and its wars). The other 10 volumes in the series are: The Golden Rooms (life in caves and use of fire), Intimations of Eve (matriarchy and moon worship), Adam and the Serpent (patriarchy replacing matriarchy), The Divine Passion (worship of the sun and women’s lot in a male-dominated world), Valley of Vision (King Solomon–a “different” view), Island of the Innocent (contrasts Greek culture with Judaism), Jesus Came Again (the most controversial of the series because it treats Jesus as a human), A Goat for Azazel(delineates the pagan origins of Christianity), Peace Like a River (treats female subjugation), and My Holy Satan (describes the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition).

Fisher was a most prolific author. Other titles of interest include: Children of God, which demystifies the Mormon story of Joseph Smith; The Mothers, chronicling the Donner Party; and Tale of Valor, which describes the Lewis and Clark expedition. He also wrote Mountain Man, which was the primary source for the Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford film, Jeremiah Johnson. Besides his novels and historical chronologies, Fisher wrote regular, and sometimes controversial, columns for the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Statewide.

By any standard, Vardis Fisher led an extraordinary and exemplary life.

–Richard Andrews
Founder, Utah Chapter of American Atheists

 

Two Humanist Cultures

April 1997

The Fall 1996 issue of Free Inquiry has as its chief topic the issue of “Defining Humanism,” a perennial topic among humanists, represented in this case by eleven authors, including one fundamentalist. These articles taken together paint a picture of how humanism is interpreted by various people within and outside, and they also suggest that the diversity of humanism is such that there will probably never be a definition or set of propositions that will please all humanists as a definition of humanism.

Considered as a “big tent,” humanism today includes religious humanists (most obviously, Ethical Culturists, and many members of Unitarian and liberal churches) and secular humanists. Historically, religious and secular humanism share a number of common features, among them distrust of divine revelation, a concern for critical thinking, and a conviction that morality is best understood as a human need that does not require the apparatus of divine blessing or unchanging moral codes. The differences, however, are significant, and while I believe they should not prevent cooperation between humanists on matters of common interest, they should not be brushed under the table either in a search for a dubious show of unity.

What I would like to suggest is that the differences between religious and secular humanism are best understood as reflections of differing cultural and individual temperaments. Culturally and historically, religious humanists operate and have their origins in institutions which are basically “churchly.” Institutions like Ethical Culture and the Unitarian churches follow closely the models of liberal Protestant churches: regular services (usually on Sunday), quasi-liturgical trappings (hymnody, vestments, candles), an “ordained” ministry, and built-in provision for ceremonies like weddings and funerals. While many leaders of secular humanism came from or spent time in such institutions, many others found and continue to find the culture of religious humanism vibrant and satisfying. For such persons, “religious” and even “spiritual” are positive words that humanists should not hesitate to claim as their own. The heritage of this culture is with such figures as Kant (who wanted philosophy to make room for religion), early Unitarians like Channing, and the New England Transcendentalists (Thoreau, Emerson, and Parker).

The culture of secular humanists has in many ways a different origin. While religious humanists sought to save religion from the onslaught of scientific ways of understanding the world (a process that began with the Deists in the seventeenth century), their secular counterparts abandoned the whole project and opted instead for varieties of atheism, agnosticism, and what came to be called “free thinking.” The heroes of this culture include the French philosophes (with Voltaire as chief), Thomas Paine (a Deist remembered far more for his attacks on religion than for his failed attempts to rationalize it), Robert Ingersoll, Nietzsche, and Mark Twain.

In some ways, the temperamental differences between religious and secular humanists resemble those between Catholics and Protestants. The “Catholic” (religious) humanists appeal to an ancient tradition that stresses the cultivation of social consciousness and emphasis on improving the human community by “selfless” service to others and to lofty moral ideals. The “Protestant” (secular) humanists focus instead on science, a rugged individualism, and a commitment to admit in their belief systems only those views that pass the iron tests of reason and evidence. Of course, one should not make too much of these differences, but I do believe they reflect a very fundamental difference in the way individuals understand humanism.

Ultimately, temperamental differences are individual. William James spoke of two kinds of philosophical temperaments: the tender-minded and the tough-minded. The tender-minded are those of an idealistic, optimistic, and religious bent who try to understand the world through a set of grand principles, always on the lookout for “deeper” meanings, however vaguely understood. The tough-minded are the skeptics by nature, congenital doubting Thomas’s, comfortable with disorder and plurality, delighting in irreverence and individuality. My suspicion is that most of us have our feet planted firmly in one of these camps or the other by the time we reach early adulthood, and that we are not likely to change, although we can go a long way towards understanding each other and towards cooperation and mutual goals.

The fundamental cultural and temperamental differences between religious and secular humanism convince me that the two wil1 never be fully reconciled, nor should they be. I believe the tent of humanism should include room for both cultures. While my own temperament is firmly in the secular camp and I cringe at the religious language of “salvation” which, as the fundamentalist critic David Noebel aptly observed in his Free Inquiry article, still crops up from time to time in allegedly secular pronouncements, I do not see secularism as a kind of crusade against softer headed ways of thinking. Our best hope for maintaining a viable humanism is to keep the dialog open between both parties, each neither afraid to criticize nor reluctant to identify common ground. An understanding of the two cultures of humanism is at any rate a prerequisite for dealing with the issues of defining humanism in a way that goes beyond the tired rehearsal of doctrine from either camp.

–Don Evans
WASHline, December 1996
Newsletter of the Washington Area Secular Humanists

 

 

Historic Humanist Series

Tripoli Treaty

June 10, 1797

June 1997

June 10, 1997, marks the bicentennial anniversary of an important event in the concept of the separation of church and state. On June 10, 1797, President John Adams signed a treaty with Tripoli assuring its Muslim population it had no reason to anticipate religious problems in its relationships with the United States of America. Article 11 of that treaty, unanimously ratified by the U.S. Senate, stated “…the government of the United States of America is in no sense founded on the Christian Religion.”

This article emphatically reaffirmed what the framers of the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment clearly intended: the government of the U.S. is neither Christian nor anti-Christian, it is instead religiously neutral, so that every citizen can make religious decisions based on their own conscience.

–Flo Winewriter

 

Humanist and Other Freethought Groups Exist on Many Campuses Nationwide
But Not at Any Utah Schools

Humanists of Utah, a local group advocating joyful living based upon rational thinking and responsible behavior, is interested in helping a local university group get started.

Some famous humanists include Carl Sagan, Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, Susan Jacoby, Jim Hightower, Julia Sweeney, and many others.

What is humanism you ask? There are many definitions, but this quote from Erich Fromm provides a solid basis for the philosophy promoted by most humanists:

There is only one solution to [the human condition]: for one to face the truth, to acknowledge his fundamental aloneness and solitude in a universe indifferent to his fate, to recognize that there is no power transcending him which can solve his problem for him. Man must accept the responsibility for himself and the fact that only by using his powers can he give meaning to his life. If he faces the truth without panic he will recognize that: there is no meaning to life except the meaning man gives his life by the unfolding of his powers, by living productively; and that only constant vigilance, activity, and effort can keep us from failing in the one task that matters-the full development of our powers within the limitations set by the laws of our existence. Only if he recognizes the human situation, the dichotomies inherent in his existence and his capacity to unfold his powers, will he be able to succeed in his task: to be himself and for himself and to achieve happiness by the full realization of those faculties which are peculiarly his-of reason, love, and productive work.

If you are interested in more material, please take a look at our list of suggested readings.

There are national Student Freethought Organizations that could serve as models for a local group. Consider the Secular Student Alliance or the Center for Inquiry on Campus. Humanists of Utah is looking for students interested in participating in, and perhaps more importantly, organizing a local organization. We can supply support and resources but, at the end of the day, believe that a student group should be just that; a student group. Of course everyone is welcome and invited to our public meetings.

If you are interested please take a moment to fill out the following form and we will contact you to arrange the next steps.


 

Campus Freethought Group Interest Submission Form

 


I am interested in participating in a Student Freethought Group. Please help me network with other interested students.

* Required Fields

PERSONAL INFORMATION
Title Mr.
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First and Last Names*
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Discussion Group Report

Saint Elvis: An Icon for our Time

February 1997

By Richard Layton

The notion of “saint” Elvis has been explicitly sanctioned not only by the tabloids but also by the Washington Post, says author Gary Vican.

Saints, as charismatic mediating agents between our everyday world and remote, powerful spiritual forces, have existed in all religions, as well as outside conventional religion. In early Christian and present Orthodox religion canonization, a saint has been informally elected by the collective belief and action of his followers. Saints of vastly varying backgrounds and life styles, including those despised by their contemporaries, have been allowed. Furthermore, there has been a profound difference between the image of the saint held dear by his followers, and the historical reality of the individual, who may not even have existed.

Even within the conventional topology of western saints–martyrs, confessors, ascetics, etc., Elvis, in the eyes of his ardent fans, has his place as a martyr. In his vita literature of adoration, we learn that the King’s last thoughts as he lay dying on the floor of his bathroom were, “This must be like what Jesus suffered.” Purged from the King’s factual life history are any evidences of drug abuse, obesity, or paranoiac violence. It speaks instead of a dirt-poor southern boy who rose to fame and glory; of the love of a son for his mother; humility; generosity; superhuman achievement in the face of adversity; profound spiritualism; and painful premature death at the hands of his own fans, whose merciless demands for his entertainment exhausted and ultimately killed him.

Max Weber pointed out that the charismatic person (“saint”) is not identifiable by any specific behavioral or physical characteristics, but rather by how he or she is “treated or endowed” by followers. The charismatic’s behavior may strike non-followers as inappropriate; nevertheless, what counts is not saint-like performance, but audience reception and reaction. Among the ranks of charismatics there exist the likes of Jesus Malverde, a mustachioed brigand who was hanged as a bandit in Culiacan, Mexico in 1909.

Consistent with the “charisma package” of early Christian saints, gradually Elvis began to cultivate latent spiritual and miraculous potentialities; he became an acknowledged healer and a self-proclaimed messenger from God.

The saint has his holy place; this is how we know him and where to find him. A holy place can be the home of an important relic; the site of miraculous waters; his home, where he may still be living; or the place of his bodily remains. The soul of the saint is believed to dwell there. The tourist goes there mostly to see, but the pilgrim has a distinctly tactile notion of travel. The latter wants to see and touch the place where the saint was present in the body. The holy is concentrated there, and its power is susceptible to retransfer through contagion; the pilgrim takes away a package of the holy earth around it. Saints go to the holy place on special annual holy days. A close spiritual bonding occurs among the pilgrims. Shared worship and veneration, encompassing a belief in the resurrection of the saint, take place. The travelers leave something behind to acknowledge publicly their encounter with their spiritual “friend”; this may be an elaborate custom-made image set up in a prominent place, a bracelet, a ring, a tiara, a plaited girdle and belt, a simple greeting or prayer drawn on an available surface, or graffiti. All of the above elements of saint adoration are present in the pilgrimages to Graceland, the holy place of Elvis veneration. Yet Elvis’ “sainthood” is strikingly different from the conventional Christian sort in one respect. His role is not seen as being an advocate before God.

Vikan concludes, “As the early Christian saint was a product of and a window upon his world, so also is Elvis Presley,” In the words of his friend, Anna Norman, “Elvis, you’ve become such an icon for our time.”

 

Shame, Shame

March 1997

Shame on state Rep. Brad Johnson for telling Robert Redford to donate some of his land (private property) to wilderness just to get even with the feds for putting public land into the Escalante Monument. Redford’s Sundance is a wonderful example of how to develop a canyon without ruining it. Compare it to the development of Emigration Canyon, for instance.

Shame, also, on Representatives Chris Cannon and Merrill Cook. As custodians of Utah’s well-advertised devotion to values, they never should have voted to sustain Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House of Representatives.

–Barbara Kleiner
Letter to the Editor published in
The Salt Lake Tribune
February 2, 1997

 

 

Shakespeare Explained

September 1997

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy,
–Hamlet, Act I, v, 166-7

“Your philosophy” (where “your” does not refer to Horatio personally, but is used as an impersonal pronoun) is, in this case, what we would now call “science.” (The word “science” did not come to be used in its modern sense till the nineteenth century.)

These two lines have been used for three and a half centuries to beat down what has been conceived to be scientific dogmatism and have usually been so used by mystics of one sort or another.

Nevertheless, scientists are perfectly aware of the truth of these lines–without it there would, in fact, be no need for scientific research–and search humbly for just those things that might as yet be undreamed of. It is the mystics who, for their part, do not search but think they “know”–by revelation, intuition, or other non-rational fashion–and it is they who are usually the arrogant ones.

Guide to Shakespeare
Isaac Asimov

 

Response to Nancy Moore: Seminary Released Time

May 1997

The December 1996 and January 1997 issues of The Utah Humanist carried an article written by Nancy Moore challenging current release time practices in Utah public schools. Nancy is a career High School Counselor who has retired due to terminal cancer.

At Nancy’s request I sent copies of her article to the State Board of Education, the State Attorney General’s Office, the Utah Education Association, and Ed Doerr, President of the American Humanist Association and long time Church State Separation activist. Recently I received a reply from Douglas F. Bates, Coordinator School Law and Legislation at the State School Board. Here is his response:

“Shortly before Christmas last year, you sent a letter to the Utah Attorney General’s Office with copy to the Curriculum Division of the State Office of Education expressing concern about release time seminary.

“Released time religious instruction has been permitted in public schools in Utah and other states for many years. The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the practice in 1952 in Zorach vs. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 72 S.Ct. 679, 96 L.Ed. 954 (1952). Mr. Justice Douglas, writing for the Court in a case involving released time religious instruction in New York City, stated:

When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe Government may not finance religious groups nor undertake religious instruction nor blend secular and sectarian education nor use secular institutions to force one or some religion on any person. But we find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence.

“It is clear from the above that released time religious instruction may not be provided in school-owned facilities; the instruction must take place in privately owned facilities apart from the school. Because of the numbers of students that typically participate in LDS and non-LDS released time instruction in Utah, it is also clear that reasonable accommodations are essential to avoid unnecessary burdens upon both the school and the seminary program. As noted by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in a case which challenged extension of a school intercom system to the seminary building and the provision of boxes in the school building where seminary personnel could obtain copies of school notices and other information:

The primary effect of these aspects of the program is simply to make the school’s administration of the released-time system convenient and to avoid unnecessary conflicts with school classes and activities. The seminaries pay for the installation and maintenance of the intercom system, and the cost of the boxes is presumably negligible. These aspects of the program neither advance nor inhibit religion. Neither do these aspects of the program foster an excessive government entanglement with religion. Lanner vs. Wimmer, 662 F.2d 1349, 1359 (1981).

“I have enclosed a copy of the Lanner case for your information. Nancy Moore may be sincere in her beliefs about released time seminary, law, and the Constitution, but neither the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals nor the U.S. Supreme Court fully shares those views. The Supreme Court has not charted a clear course between the separationist and accommodationist extremes, and if anything appears at the present time to be leaning towards the latter–the Court, for example, invited a challenge to an earlier decision prohibiting public school teachers from teaching special needs children in parochial schools; the case was recently accepted by the Court, will be decided this year, and a majority of the justices are apparently prepared to overturn the previous decision. Their opinion could well have major impacts upon a number of current policies and practices in the schools.”

–Wayne Wilson

 

 

Welcome to The Religion Store!

June 1997

First let me say a word about our vast selection. We have Western and Eastern Religions galore, not to mention nearly rubbed out religions like Wicca as well as many Native American religions. But our vast storehouse of superstitions doesn’t end there. We have, for the exotically inclined, the aboriginal dream time and its associated beliefs, as well as various hybrids such as voodoo. If it says it is Christian, we have it. Branch Davidianism isn’t dead yet! For you fashion plates, New Age and similar religions (like Anthroposophism and Scientology) are hip and happening, word up! And for those of you who really want to express yourself, we will customize to suit your superstition!

Our quality is second to none, too. Whether you want to work for your own salvation with Buddhist monks, or have it done for you by having blind faith in some divine claimant like Jesus, we can accommodate your heavenly aspirations! Each religion is carefully selected so as to be internally inconsistent, and all of them are the One True Way!!! This guarantees ego gratification and righteousness, while not sacrificing the happy anticipation of future reward!

Our prices are truly competitive, but such quality, selection, and service doesn’t come free! For all of our religions, the base price is your critical faculties. Further, many Western Religions require a further deposit of free will, with ongoing payments of obedience to various outdated and petty rules. Eastern religions also require adherence to many rules. They need a lot of care and attention to maintain proper functioning, and are the most time-consuming. Small price for the grace and splendor of Eastern rituals and the beautiful tolerance! As always, any religion that punishes non-believers eternally comes with a compassion surcharge. Most of our polytheistic (not including Christian Trinitarians) religions and older, so-called primitive religions are basically live-in religions, and so aren’t recommended unless you want to spend most of your time and really immerse yourself in culture!

So, tired of being atheist/agnostic? Tired of always being asked what your religion is? Are you looking for community and an end to all this strife over secularism? Come to The Religion Store! Now open at a convenient location near you.

–Brian Hayward

 

 

Timequake

Book Review

November 1997

I graduated from Pleasant Grove High School in 1968. Pleasant Grove was then a sleepy little town that was about 98% Mormon. Early in the school year a most unusual young man from somewhere on the east coast transferred to PGHS. He took the pseudonym “Nimrod Ragnarok,” lived by himself in an apartment which he decorated with psychedelic posters, lava lamps, and other sundry items from the sixties. To say he was different from most of us was an understatement.

One of the major events for any senior class at PGHS is the annual whitewashing of the “G” on the mountain. It was also a time for all the macho males to get drunk. This event occurred at the time that I was beginning to “see the light,” that is, I was actively questioning the canon of Mormon doctrine. I was also fulfilling the requirements for graduating from Seminary. I was in transition. I sat on the mountain all night with Nimrod while he got plastered and argued morality. Our conversation mostly concerned alcohol and profanity. To my credit, I argued not from a religious point-of-view, but that alcohol is not healthy and that profanity is a poor substitute for education.

Nimrod later wrote in my yearbook, “Some day you’ll learn that livers can’t live forever and that profundity is no substitute for profanity.” I haven’t seen this person since graduation, though whenever I think of him I wish I could. His personal note to me has stuck with me for nearly 30 years now.

So what does this have to do with Kurt Vonnegut’s new novel Timequake? Anyone familiar with Vonnegut’s work will know that he went through a profane period (probably best exemplified by Breakfast of Champions) at about the middle of his work. He took a lot of criticism and had his works variously banned and burned. He not only complained publicly, he “cleaned up his act” for his last several novels. With Timequake he considers himself a “harmless old fart” that can pretty much do as he pleases. This attitude, combined with an apparent distaste for writing (maybe if he would give up his typewriter for a word processor) combine to produce a series of profane images and language that may offend some.

Timequake, dedicated to “All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental,” is reminiscent in several ways with Breakfast of Champions, not only in tone and language, but in following the exploits and preaching of Kilgore Trout. The basic premise of the book is that the expanding universe has a little hiccup in February of 2001. Time, instead of progressing, goes back exactly 10 years. Everyone is compelled to relive the last decade, knowing in advance what will happen and is powerless to change it. Free will is suspended.

When time finally catches up and free will is re-instituted, nearly everyone is so used to the lack of volition that it is a total shock. Anyone who is not sitting or laying down, falls down. Those in moving vehicles are the most unlucky–there is a huge crash all around the world. Nearly everyone everywhere is stuck in PTA (Post Timequake Apathy). Kilgore Trout comes to the rescue. First he tries to tell people that they have free will. Nobody understands so he modifies his message to, “You were sick, but now you’re well again, and there’s work to do.”

Chapter 21 begins with the sentence, “I am Honorary President of the American Humanist Association.” Vonnegut has a unique view of our philosophy of life. He states that humanism isn’t for most people–religion is a better option. “Humanists, by and large educated, comfortably middle-class persons with rewarding lives like mine, find rapture enough in secular knowledge and hope. Most people can’t.”

Devotees of Vonnegut, like me, will treasure Timequake. If you haven’t yet read any of his other books, I’d recommend that you start with something a bit more conventional. If Mr. Vonnegut, through some quirk of fate should read this, I’d like to say to him, “Consider Kilgore Trout and James Michener, they both continued writing no matter what. I know you are tired, but whether you think so or not, you still have plenty to say. I, for one, am interested in reading what flows from your pen, or typewriter, or whatever.”

–Wayne Wilson

 

 

Promise Keepers

November 1997

I monitored C-Span television coverage of “The Promise Keepers” rally a few weeks ago in our nation’s capitol. I heard several speakers trying to convince the thousands of men attending the rally that they are powerless weaklings who must give up their individuality and meekly submit their lives to a mythical personage. Speaker after speaker told them they were sinners, unworthy of life unless they accepted a superstition as reality and sought on bended knee, an uplifted arm and tearful eyes the forgiveness offered by a mythical character.

As I tried to understand why millions of people the world over let themselves be denigrated to a meaningless mass by such trash-talk, I thought about the much more realistic message to males exemplified by Rudyard Kipling in his poem If:

 

If

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream-and not make dreams your master;
If you can think-and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings-nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run-
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And-which is more-you’ll be a Man my son!

 

–Flo Wineriter

 

 

Discussion Group Report

A New Kind of World Conflict

June 1997

By Richard Layton

“The last decade of the twentieth century reminds me of the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…'” says Tamara Nasrin in her article, “On Islamic Fundamentalism,” published in the July/August ’96 issue of The Humanist. She is in exile to escape government prosecution for blasphemy and a sentence of death by Muslin leaders.

Nasrin points out that at the end of the twentieth century, human creativity has opened up incredible new possibilities, while at the same time large areas of the globe are ruled by bigotry, hatred, and fanaticism in the name of race, religion, and political creed. Humankind is facing an uncertain future. New kinds of rivalry and conflict threaten us–in particular, conflict between two different ideas: secularism and fundamentalism. This is not a conflict between Christianity and Islam or between East and West. It is basically a conflict between irrational blind faith and the modern rational, logical mind; the past and the future; innovation and tradition; those who do not value freedom and those who do.

The basic argument of the fundamentalists is this: the idea of secularism is Western in origin. The imperialist West sold secularism to the leaders of the newly independent states so that the West could dominate the indigenous culture and religion by proxy. A belief grew among western Asians and sub-Saharan Africans that Islam should go back to its roots to find an alternative to Western life, culture, values, and institutions.

In many parts of the world, the secular state has not lived up to its promise of political freedom, economic prosperity, and social justice. Disenchantment and a feeling of having been betrayed has grown, especially among educated middle class people who have had high expectations of secularism. There is also a feeling that the Western societies have betrayed themselves with their government scandals, persistent social inequities, and devastating economic difficulties, especially in the United States and the former Soviet Union. The exaggerated reports by the global mass media have sent the message that there is a deep malaise in the United States caused by the social failures of unwed mothers, divorce, racism, and drug addiction.

Nasrin finds it difficult to accept fundamentalism as an alternative to secular ideas because of the insistence of fundamentalists on divine justification for human laws, the superior authority of faith as opposed to reason, and the idea that the individual does not count. “Group loyalty over individual rights and personal achievements is a peculiar feature of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists believe in a particular way of life; they want to put everybody in their particular straitjacket and dictate what an individual should eat, what an individual should wear, how an individual should live everyday life…” They believe in propagating only their own ideas, do not encourage or entertain free debate, deny others the right to express their own views freely, and cannot tolerate anything they perceive as going against their own faith. They want to replace democracy with theocracy.

Nasrin believes the situation would be different in the areas where fundamentalism is strong if only there were faster economic growth, less unemployment, and better access to education. With globalization of the economy, the advanced nations should not allow just greed and profit-making to become the guiding forces in the drive against fundamentalism with no consideration of ethics and moral values. Otherwise fundamentalists will name globalization as exploitation and will compare market leaders to past colonial powers. The promotion of the idea that Western culture is “superior” would also be counterproductive.

Bertrand Russell’s thoughts are instructive: “Gradually men will come to realize that a world whose institutions are based upon hatred and injustice is not one most likely to produce happiness. We need a morality based upon love of life, upon pleasure in growth and positive achievement, not upon repression and prohibition.”

“The power of reason is thought small in these days, but I remain an unrepentant rationalist.”

“Reason may be a small force, but it is constant and works always in one direction, while the forces of unreason destroy one another in futile strife. Therefore every orgy of unreason in the end strengthens the friends of reason, and shows afresh that they are the only true friends of humanity.”

 

Nancy Moore Praised

September 1997

Nancy Moore, longtime Humanists of Utah chapter member, is featured on the front page of the summer issue of the Utah ACLU Reporter. Adrienne Morris, the author and also a member of Humanists of Utah, writes, “I knew her as a hard worker who was concerned with many social issues, and I grew to love her as a true sister who has the courage and convictions of a lover of justice.”

Morris, an English Teacher at Orem High School where Nancy was a counselor, praised Nancy for her humanist ideals, “As a loving humanist, the highest priority for her was her fellow humans and her relationships…I was amazed at her perspective, her courage, and her lack of anger or bitterness.”

The ACLU magazine article recalled Nancy’s leadership in the 1990 Orem High School civil rights battle to respect the religious dignity of non-LDS students, an experience that put Nancy in a difficult public spotlight. “Through it all,” says Adrienne, “Nancy maintained her dignity and poise. She was clear, logical and passionate…Nancy deserves to be honored for all her efforts for a better world. Feminist, humanist, warm and wonderful friend.” The Humanists of Utah agree!

–Flo Wineriter

 

 

Discussion Group Report

The Mormon Missionary System:
Thought Control and Exploitation

September 1997

By Richard Layton

“As you can see, everything is structured as to what you do. I had several leaders, when I was having trouble getting someone to tell me to commit to pray, that the reason I had failed was that I failed to ‘follow up properly,’ or other reasons. The teaching helps are not required, and are left up to the missionary, when he is teaching (the right column). The left column was always to be given, and nothing was to be left out. It was often a lack of faith, or slip-shoddiness if something was left out while teaching. Sometimes it was even considered a sin (depending on who your leader was).”

Thus David Egan Evans, a member of Humanists of Utah, described in a paper he presented to the study group as an example of how LDS leaders put missionaries on a guilt trip to get them to conform. The missionary was to blame for the fact that the person he was proselytizing didn’t want to pray; it couldn’t be that the person simply didn’t want to pray and would have made the decision not to regardless of what the missionary had said or done. It had to be the missionary’s fault. And the missionary’s leaving out something from the left column wasn’t a simple error of omission of the kind all of us make from time to time; it happened because of his undesirable motivation.

If you are a Mormon boy, you are taught from the time you are a toddler that all good Mormon boys go on missions. The social pressure put on you to comply by your family, your friends, and especially the bishop of your local church is intense. It is socially undesirable to choose not to go. Some of those who opt not to go feel either guilt or rage at what they consider unreasonable pressure. For Mormon girls, however, the proportion who go on missions, for one reason or another, including marriage, is much smaller than for boys.

If you go as a young missionary, for 1 1/2 years if you are a woman, and two years if you are a man, you put your life under the complete control of the Lord, or more correctly, of the church authorities, at an age when you are very impressionable and inexperienced. You are never at any time free from the austere rules set by your leaders.

You attend the missionary training center for two or three weeks, or for 2 1/2 months if a language is to be learned. Your work day begins there at 6:00 a.m. and ends at 10:30 p.m. After completing training there, you go to a distant place, where you carry out your mission. You have a companion of the same sex with whom you are expected to be together at all times. The only exception is when you are transferred to another locality, in which case every effort is made to make sure you have a companion to travel with you. You are given a moral and ethical guidebook, which you are expected to keep on your person at all times and to read cover-to-cover at least once a week. Behavioral deviation from the rules in this book is not permitted. Your day begins at 6:30 a.m. with a half-hour for you and your companion to shower, followed by an hour’s study with your companion to prepare your lessons, and then a half-hour’s individual study. You must leave your apartment for proselytizing work by 9:30.

Scientific studies show that a young man’s sex drive is the strongest it will ever be at about the age of nineteen, the age at which you begin your missionary service if you are a male; but you are expected to suppress this natural, normal and very powerful impulse completely. In the periodic interview with your leader, you may be asked whether you masturbate. You are not to associate with women at any time during your mission except in the performance of church duties. Many missionaries have sweethearts at home. A good number of them get “Dear John” letters while on their mission. If you are one of these, you are stuck far away from home and unable to get back to defend yourself. No matter, the needs of the church institution take precedence over your emotional needs, even some of the most powerful ones in your life.

The adverse effect that the tight thought and behavior control regimen imposed upon you can have upon your emotional health is obvious. The idea is to make you blindly obedient, rather than capable of doing your own thinking and discerning truth by looking at the evidence logically and critically, by using reason. The leaders also resort to the copious use of love and fear to obtain the desired behavior. You are a wonderful person if you comply, but you will incur the displeasure of the Lord of all the universe if you don’t.

However, this discipline pays off handsomely for the church. At the end of your mission, if you are typical, you return home, bear your testimony, as expected, that the church is true, that Joseph Smith, the church founder, was a prophet of God and that the present church president is a prophet, etc. You have become an unquestioning and true believer and remain so throughout your life. And you will probably receive greater love and honor from more people than those who doubt because each culture gives these gifts in more abundance to those who subscribe unquestioningly to its myths. If you excel in conforming you will receive even greater love and honor than more ordinary conformists.

But if you choose, as a few returned missionaries do, to the dismay of the church leaders and many lay members, to lay aside the intense indoctrination you have received, to live an individual life, and to dare to think for yourself, using your critical thinking abilities, unlike the conformist, you will know the thrill of the adventure of making the search for truth with an untrammeled mind. You will become, as Joseph Campbell says, a person of heart. Your ways may lead, as one of the greatest poets of the Middle Ages tells us, to “all those things that go to make heaven and earth.”

 

Discussion Group Report

Love Thy Neighbor

August 1997

By Richard Layton

What makes Christians so bloodthirsty? Kurt Vonnegut, Honorary President of the American Humanist Association and author, says it is the doctrine, Love Thy Neighbor. Here is his statement excerpted from a speech he gave to the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in Rochester, New York, in 1986:

“I listen to the ethical pronouncements of the leaders of the so-called religious revival going on in this country, including those of our President (Ronald Reagan,) and am able to distill only two firm commandments from them: Stop thinking, and obey. Only a person who has given up on the power of reason to improve life here on Earth, or a soldier in Basic Training could accept either commandment gladly.

“I was an infantry Private during World War II and fought against the Germans in Europe. They had crosses on their flags and uniforms and all over their killing machines, just like the soldiers of the first Christian Emperor Constantine. And they lost, of course, which has to be acknowledged as quite a setback for Christianity.

“I will tell you what my theory is: The Christian preachers exhort their listeners to love one another and to love their neighbors, and so on. Love is simply too strong a word to be of much use in ordinary day-to-day relationships. Love is for Romeo and Juliet.

“I’m to love my neighbor? How can I do that when I’m not even speaking to my wife and kids today? My wife said to me the other day, after a knock-down-drag-out fight about interior decoration, “I don’t love you any more.” And I said to her, “So what else is new?” She really didn’t love me then, which was perfectly normal. She will love me some other time–I think, I hope. It’s possible.

“If she had wanted to terminate the marriage, she would have had to say, “I don’t respect you anymore.” Now that would be terminal.

“One of the many unnecessary catastrophes going on right now, along with the religious revival and plutonium, is all the people who are getting divorced because they don’t love each other any more. That is like trading in a car when the ashtrays are full. When you don’t respect your mate any more–that’s when the transmission is shot and there’s a crack in the engine block.

“I like to think that Jesus said in Aramaic, “Ye shall respect one another.” That would be a sign to me that he really wanted to help us here on Earth, and not just in the afterlife. Then again, he had no way of knowing what ludicrously high standards Hollywood was going to set for love. How many people resemble Paul Newman or Meryl Streep?

“And look at the spectrum of emotions we think of automatically when we hear the word love. If you can’t love your neighbor, then you can at least like him. If you can’t like him, you can at least not give a damn about him. If you can’t ignore him, then you have to hate him, right? You’ve exhausted all the other possibilities. That’s a quick trip to hate, isn’t it? And it starts with love.

There are all these people who have been told to do their best at loving. They fail, most of them. And when they fail to love, day after day, year in and year out, come one, come all, the logic of the language leads them to the seemingly inevitable conclusion that they must hate instead. The step beyond hating, of course, is killing in imaginary self-defense.

Respect does not imply a spectrum of alternatives, some of them very dangerous. Respect is like a light switch. It is either on or off. And if we are no longer able to respect someone, we don’t feel like killing that person. Our response is restrained. We simply want to make him feel like something the cat drug in.

“So there you have my scheme for making Christianity, which has killed so many people so horribly, a little less homicidal: substituting the word `respect’‘ for the word `love.’

“I have little hope that my simple reform will attract any appreciable support during my lifetime, anyway, or in the lifetimes of my children. The Christian quick trip from love to hate and murder is our principal entertainment.

“In America it takes the form of the cowboy story. A goodhearted, innocent young man rides into town, with friendly intentions toward one and all. Never mind that he happens to be wearing a Colt .44 on either hip. The last thing he wants is trouble. But before he knows it, this loving man is face to face with another man, who is so unlovable that he has absolutely no choice but to shoot him. Christianity fails again

“Very early British versions are tales of the quests of the Christian knights of King Arthur’s Camelot. Like Hermann Goering, they have crosses all over them. They ride out into the countryside to help the weak, an admirably Christian activity. They are certainly not looking for trouble. Never mind that they are iron Christmas trees decorated with the latest in weaponry. And before they know it, they are face to face with other knights so unlovable that they have absolutely no choice but to chop them up as though they were sides of beef in a butcher shop. Christianity fails again.”

 

Triumph Of Labeling

March 1997

Doug Stevens believes that in the 2nd Congressional District race, Ross Anderson lost “because he is pro-abortion, pro-gay, pro-criminal rights and an ACLU militant,” and not because Merrill Cook could buy the office with his own money because “the voters are so uninformed that the issues do not matter” (Forum, December 16, 1996). Let’s assume Stevens is right and look at the issues that he identified.

“Pro-abortion” is a red herring. No one favors abortions over births. What most Americans favor is the individual woman over the government in making the wrenching decision of whether to abort her pregnancy under her particular circumstances. No one should mount a moral high horse on this vexing issue. Even the Supreme Court was divided in Roe vs. Wade but did lay down some reasonable rules as the law of the land, which Ross Anderson and most Americans support.

“Pro-gay” is nothing more than pro-human being, pro-fellow citizen. Our best scientific information, I believe, indicates that gays are born that way. They don’t choose their sexual orientation, nor do they recruit heterosexuals into their ranks. They are as decent, law-abiding and productive as the heterosexual population, and entitled to the same rights and privileges as all citizens.

“Pro-criminal rights” means protecting such constitutional rights as due process and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. “ACLU militant” means protecting such constitutional freedoms as speech, religion (separation of church and state) and assembly.

It is unfortunate that issues too rarely get aired in a political campaign. Labels substitute for thought, and sound bites for understanding. Stevens, for example, calls Anderson a “zealous liberal extremist,” apparently because he supports the law on freedom of choice, treats all human beings with equal respect and seeks to protect our constitutional freedoms.

Since Stevens apparently disagrees with Anderson, would it be fair to label him “anti-freedom,” “anti-equality” and “anti-civil liberties”? If I spent $1 million branding Stevens as such, the voters would think Saddam Hussein’s clone was on the ballot.

–Earl Wunderli
Letter to the Editor published in
The Salt Lake Tribune
January 14, 1997

 

 

Discussion Group Report

Is Euthanasia Ethical?

June 1997

By Richard Layton

“The distinction between active and passive euthanasia is widely thought to be of great moral importance,” says the January 9, 1975, edition of The New England Journal of Medicine in introducing two articles advocating opposing points of view on this subject. “For instance most doctors believe that, although it may sometimes be permissible to withhold treatment and let a patient die, it can never be permissible to directly kill the patient.”

James Rachels challenges this doctrine while Thomas 0. Sullivan upholds it.

Rachels argues that active euthanasia may be more humane than passive euthanasia, that the conventional doctrine leads one to make life-or-death decisions on morally irrelevant grounds, and that the distinction between killing and letting die makes no moral difference. Take the familiar case of the patient who is dying of incurable cancer of the throat and is in terrible pain, which can no longer be satisfactorily eliminated. He is certain to die within a few days, even if present treatment is continued, but he does not want to go on living for those days, since the pain is unbearable. Under the present doctrine the doctor may simply withhold treatment, since it would be wrong to prolong his suffering needlessly. But simply withholding treatment may mean it will take the patient longer to die, and so he may suffer more than he would if a lethal injection were given.

Or there is the case of the baby with Downs syndrome who, as happens with some such babies, is born with a congenital defect such as an intestinal obstruction that requires an operation to save the baby’s life. Sometimes the parents and the doctor decide not to operate and let the infant die. It is a terrible emotional ordeal for a doctor and the hospital staff to stand by and watch as dehydration and infection wither a tiny being over hours and days. Moreover, the decision about whether to save such a baby’s life is being decided on irrelevant grounds. It is the Down’s syndrome, and not the intestines, that is the issue.

What about the possibility of abuse of patients through euthanasia? In the first of two possible cases, Smith stands to gain a large inheritance if anything should happen to his six-year-old cousin. Smith enters the bathroom while the child is bathing, drowns the child, and then arranges things to make it look like an accident. In the second, Jones also stands to gain from the child’s death. He sneaks into the bathroom planning to drown the child. Hut as he approaches him, the boy slips, hits his head, and falls face down in the water. Jones stand by and lets him drown “accidentally.” “Smith killed the child, whereas Jones merely let him die,” says Rachels. Did either man behave better from a moral point of view? Sullivan argues that Rachels has misinterpreted the traditional doctrine on euthanasia, which he says does not depend on the distinction between killing and letting die. Rather it forbids the intentional termination of life, whether by killing or letting die. “The withdrawal of extraordinary means of life support need not involve the intention to terminate life, even if death is foreseen.”

“We are hardly obliged to assume the Jones-like role Rachels assigns the defender of the traditional view. We have the option of operating on the Downs’ baby and saving its life…that is precisely the course of action most defenders of the traditional position would choose.” Rachels’ distinction between active and passive euthanasia is mere jargon; the AMA resolution on euthanasia does not state or imply the distinction Rachel attacks. That it does not seems clear from the fact that the resolution speaks approvingly of ceasing to use extraordinary means of saving the patient in certain cases. The contrast is between ordinary and extraordinary means. Paul Ramsey in The Patient As a Person defines the former as “all medicines, treatments, and operations which offer a reasonable hope of benefit for the patient and which can be obtained and used without excessive expense, pain, and other inconveniences.” Extraordinary means are those which do not meet this definition.

The traditional view is that the intentional termination of human life is impermissible. Is the intention deadly? If so the act or omission is wrong. A physician’s unwillingness to use extraordinary means may be prompted, not by a determination to bring about death, but by other motives, for instance, his realization that further treatment may offer little hope of reversing the dying process and/or be excruciating, as in the case when a massively necrotic bowel condition in a neonate is out of control.” The doctor who does what he can to comfort the infant but does not submit it to further treatment or surgery may foresee that the decision will hasten death, but it certainly doesn’t follow from that fact that he intends to bring about death.

“I fully realize that there are times when those who have the noble duty to tend the sick and the dying are deeply moved by the sufferings of their patients, especially of the very young and the very old, and desperately wish they could do more than comfort and companion them. Then, perhaps, it seems that universal moral principles are mere abstractions having little to do with the agony of the dying. But of course we do not see best when our eyes are filled with tears.”

 

The Influence of Humanism in Education

By Richard Layton

August 1997

In considering the influence of humanism on education I thought it might be useful to go through the Humanist Manifesto II and check all the ideas expressed there which I felt had been taught to me when I attended the public schools in my youth. The exercise turned out to be a very pleasant surprise to me. I had expected to check only six, eight, or perhaps 12 at the most; but when I had finished, I found that I had checked no less than 58 ideas. I had not fully appreciated just how much humanism had influenced modern education until I did this exercise.

I would like to mention to you just nine of the ideas I checked–every sixth one in the list. They are:

  1. that clear-minded men and women are able to marshal the will, intelligence, and cooperative skills for shaping a desirable future
  2. that people should work for self-actualization and the rectification of social injustices
  3. that, even as science pushes back the boundary of the known, man’s sense of wonder is continually renewed, and art, poetry, and music find their places, along with religion and ethics
  4. that it is desirable to safeguard, extend, and implement principles of human freedom
  5. that the conditions of work, education, devotion, and play should be humanized
  6. that equality of opportunity and recognition of talent and merit are desirable
  7. that the schools should foster satisfying and productive living
  8. that ecological damage and resource depletion must be checked
  9. that we must work together for a humane world by means commensurate with humane ends.

Those of you who attended private schools while growing up may find that a good many humanist principles are being taught there, too, although the number of them may vary according to the prevailing philosophy of education of the school. The same could be said of public schools.

How did it come about that the humanistic approach is so prominent in today’s schools in contrast to the situation that existed in education throughout most of civilized human history. To find the answer we must look at history.

Actually some elements of humanism were present even in the schools of early civilization, but the emphasis in those schools was not humanistic. The oldest known systems of education in history had two characteristics in common: they taught religion, and they promoted the traditions of the people. That is to say, they taught students to think and act the same as their ancestors had thought and acted. This contrasted with the humanistic orientation, which teaches people to engage in the search for truth and for solutions to problems open-mindedly with a sense of human caring by employing critical intelligence and the controlled use of scientific methods. However, some humanistic elements that were present in the schools of ancient civilizations were the teachings in Egypt of the sciences, mathematics, and architecture; in China the philosophies of Confucius, Lao-tzu and others; and in Greece gymnastics, mathematics, music, philosophy, and the aesthetic ideal.

The educational systems in Western countries came to be based on the religious tradition of the Jews, both in the religious form and in the version modified by Christianity. A second tradition was derived from education in ancient Greece, where Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, were the influential thinkers on education. Jewish-Christian influence was a very unfortunate occurrence for the Western world, leading to that great period of institutionalized ignorance known as the Middle Ages, the first part of which is often referred to as the Dark Ages. Humanism fared badly during the Middle Ages, as superstition, faith in authoritarian, dogmatic religion, and subservience to religious and feudal authority took over. Superstition imposingly invaded the teaching and the practice of medicine, sometimes to the harm of people. “Mules fared better than men,” according to historian Will Durant. As this era ended, the poet and scholar Petrarch was probably the first to conceive of the thousand years from late Roman antiquity down to and including his own day as an age of darkness, marked by the extinction of excellence in both literary culture and public virtue.

Then in the fourteenth century a revival of culture took place which was aroused by the rediscovery of the ancient Greek and Roman cultures. Latin and Greek classics were found lying neglected in monastic or cathedral libraries, rotting in dust, or mutilated to make Psalters or amulets, in foul dark dungeons, old chests, and even tombs. The rediscoverers came to be called the humanists because they occupied themselves with the humanities, that is, with writings that were more human.

“The humanists captivated the mind of Italy,” and later Europe, “turned it from religion to philosophy, from heaven to earth, and revealed to an astonished generation the riches of pagan thought and art,” says historian Will Durant. “The proper study of mankind was now to be man, in all the potential strength and beauty of his body, in all the joy and pain of his senses and feelings, in all the frail majesty of his reason; and in these as most abundantly and perfectly revealed in the literature and art of ancient Greece and Rome. This was humanism.” The humanist-inspired revival, known as the Renaissance, following the example of ancient Greece, also led to a renewal of interest in science. Witness the wondrous changes that have taken place in human society in the 600 years since then that have been made possible by scientific research. The masses of the people in large areas of the earth now enjoy a standard of living far higher than in any previous centuries in all human history. This has come about by the development of an advanced technology that would not have been possible without the discoveries of scientific research. Although many people still live in poverty, progress has been made against it among hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions, of people. The masses of Asia have been saved from starvation by the scientific development of a new strain of rice, which produces four times as great a yield per acre as strains being raised a few decades ago. The huge populations of China and India have experienced improvements in their economies and in the standards of living for many of their people in recent decades. And the idea of education for the masses has taken hold all over the world.

The humanists had the important and original conception that education was neither completed at school nor limited to the years of one’s youth, but that it was a continuous process making use of varied instruments. Companionship, games, and pleasure were part of education. They sought a new historical consciousness. They reconstructed the past in order better to understand themselves and their own time. Their movement was going to have a profound influence on education in later centuries. And yet, despite their emphasis on the human, they had no interest in extending education to the masses, but turned their attention to the sons of princes and rich burghers. The masses were to remain steeped in poverty and superstition, untouched by the beauty and excitement of the humanist world view for another century.

Possibly the educational reform that has most influenced our culture toward the acceptance of humanistic values has been the establishment of universal education for all the people. Interestingly, the first popular movement toward public education for the masses since the days of the early Roman Republic was by a man who was at odds with the humanists, especially with the prominent humanist scholar Erasmus, who wanted to encourage education for a small group of writers and scholars only. The man was Martin Luther, who wanted to open up education to the sons of peasants and miners, for they had contributed to the success of his religious reforms in the Protestant movement. He favored limited democratic reforms which would open up schools for just a few hours a week to all, both boys and girls, regardless of their financial situation. Humanistic schools open to the public were established in Germany soon afterward. Phillip Melanchthon, moving away from Luther’s interest in combining education with religious reform, set up a new educational system, particularly a secondary school system. On the other hand, perhaps the most original contribution of the Reformation was the extension of education at the elementary level.

Elementary education for the middle classes developed in the 17th and 18th centuries, and more and more the state saw as its task the responsibility for establishing and maintaining schools. The 18th century was a special landmark in the development of education. In contrast to the religious and rationalistic orientation of schools in the 17th century, the ideal in the 18th century that prevailed more and more was the development of the secular, pragmatic gentleman.

Sir Francis Bacon advocated the use of inductive and empirical methods in the schools, which he thought would strengthen humans and make possible a reorganization of society. Philosopher Rene Descartes encouraged the development of critical rationality and the teaching of any practical discipline that makes man a master and lord of nature. An important new outlook of this age was the notion that education is guaranteed, not by limitless widening and assimilation of facts, but rather by the mastery of thinking and judgmental categories.

In America, the Puritans established what was probably the first school in the colonies in Boston in 1635. It was a far cry from a humanistic one. Its charges were instructed in reading, religion, and the colony’s principal laws. Puritanism was the established religion. Rejecting democracy and toleration as unscriptural, the Puritans put their trust in a theocracy of the elect that brooked no divergence from Puritan orthodoxy. So close was the relation between state and church that an offense against the one was an offense against the other and, in either case, “treason to the Lord Jesus.” The young, like the old, were sinners doomed by almost insuperable odds to perdition. Not even infants were spared. To God, indeed, they were depraved, unregenerate, and damned. Hence, the sooner the young learned the ground rules of the good society, as revealed in the Bible, the better.

When Thomas Jefferson died in 1826, the nation stood on the threshold of a tremendous transformation. During the ensuing quarter century it expanded enormously in space and population. Old cities grew larger and new ones more numerous. The era saw the coming of the steamboat and the railroad. Commerce flourished, and so did agriculture. The age witnessed the rise of the common man with the right to vote and hold office. It was a time of overflowing optimism, of dreams of perpetual progress, moral uplift, and social betterment.

Such was the climate that engendered the common school. Open freely to every child and upheld by public funds, it was to be a lay institution under the sovereignty of the state, the archfather, in short, of the present-day public school. In 1837, Massachusetts established the first state board of education. Its first secretary, Horace Mann, campaigned tirelessly throughout the state, often against bitter opposition, for more support for public schools and achieved success that was to start a massive movement for publicly financed common schools throughout the United States. The soil that rooted the common school became the seedbed for the high school, which also became prevalent by the next century. Now all states have mandatory attendance for all youngsters up to the age of 16 or 18. Three-fourths of all teenagers graduate from high school. Universal public education has spread throughout many parts of the world, and it has been perhaps the greatest educational development since the beginning of civilization!

The man who has had the most influence on the course of education in America in the 20th century is the educator, philosopher, social critic, and psychologist, John Dewey, who died in 1952. A humanist and an instrumentalist, he was considered the premier philosopher of his time.

Dewey was critical of the excessively rigid and formal approach to education that dominated the practice of most American schools in the latter part of the 19th century. He argued that that approach was based upon a faulty psychology in which the child was thought of as a passive creature upon whom information and knowledge had to be imposed. But Dewey was equally critical of the “new education,” which was based on a sentimental idealization of the child. This child-oriented approach advocated that the child himself should pick and choose what he wanted to study. It also was based on mistaken psychology, which neglected the immaturity of the child’s experience. Education is, or ought to be, said Dewey, a continuous reconstruction of experience in which there is a development of immature experience toward experience funded with the skills and habits of intelligence. The slogan “Learn by Doing” was not intended as a credo for anti-intellectualism but, on the contrary, was meant to call attention to the fact that the child is naturally an active, curious, and exploring creature. A properly designed education must be sensitive to this active dimension of life and must guide the child, so that through his participation in different types of experience his creativity and autonomy will be cultivated rather than stifled.

The child is not completely malleable, nor is his natural endowment completely fixed and determinate. Like Aristotle, Dewey believed that the function of education is to encourage those habits and dispositions that constitute intelligence. Dewey placed great stress on creating the proper type of environmental conditions for eliciting and nurturing these habits. His conception of the educational process is therefore closely tied to the prominent role that he assigned to habit in human life. Education as the continuous reconstruction and growth of experience also develops the moral character of the child. Virtue is taught not by imposing values upon the child but by cultivating fair-mindedness, objectivity, imagination, openness to new experiences, and the courage to change one’s mind in the light of further experience.

Dewey also thought of the school as a miniature society; it should not simply mirror the larger society but should be representative of the essential institutions of this society. The school as an ideal society is the chief means for social reform. In this controlled social environment of the school it is possible to encourage the development of creative individuals, who will be able to work effectively to eliminate existing evils and institute reasonable goods. The school, therefore, is the medium for developing the set of habits required for systematic and open inquiry and for reconstituting experience that is funded with greater harmony and aesthetic quality.

Dewey perceived acutely the threat posed by unplanned technological, economic, and political development to the future of democracy. The natural direction of these forces is to increase human alienation and to undermine the shared experience that is so vital for the democratic community. For this reason, Dewey placed much importance on the function of the school in the democratic community. The school is the most important medium for strengthening and developing a genuine democratic community, and the task of democracy is forever the creation of a freer and more humane experience in which all share and participate.

We have come a long way since the days of early civilizations in creating schools that contribute meaningfully to the self-actualization of the individual and the society. But in spite of this encouraging progress, it is all too obvious that powerful influences are still at work in our society today, as they have been in all societies throughout history, that would thwart education for humanistic self-actualization and superimpose on us an authoritarian, dogmatic, superstitious approach to life. Will Durant has commented, ” The historian acquainted with the pervasive pertinacity of nonsense reconciles himself to a glorious future for superstition; he does not expect perfect states to arise out of imperfect men; he perceives that only a small proportion of any generation can be so freed from economic harassment as to have leisure and energy to think their own thoughts instead of those of their forebears or their environment; and he learns to rejoice if he can find in each period a few men and women who have lifted themselves, by the bootstraps of their brains, or by some boon of birth or circumstance, out of superstition, occultism, and credulity to an informed and friendly intelligence conscious of its infinite ignorance.”

 

Wilderness Preservation

November 1997

The beautiful pristine geology of southeastern Utah was presented in a multi-media program to Humanists of Utah at the October 9th general membership meeting. Dave Pacheco, Outreach Coordinator for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), clarified some of our confusion in understanding the 30-year effort to preserve Utah’s magnificent red rock country from devastation by commercial explorers and developers. The Utah Wilderness Coalition’s proposal to protect 5.7 million acres of Utah’s wild country is detailed in the book Wilderness at the Edge. Several copies of the book sold at our book table after the fascinating presentation.

Pacheo said the fight to preserve and protect Utah’s wilderness is gaining support across the nation as citizens learn that these canyon lands are America’s public lands. “Protecting America’s Redrock Wilderness has become a national effort,” said Pacheo, “exemplified by the incredible outpouring of grassroots pressure and national media coverage.” He concluded saying, “We will continue seeking citizens support to defeat destructive legislation that would open Utah’s wilderness to exploitation.”

Copies of the book Wilderness at the Edge: A Citizen Proposal to Protect Utah’s Canyons and Deserts are available from the Utah Wilderness Coalition, PO Box 520974, SLC UT 84152-0974.

–Flo Wineriter

 

 

Liar, Liar

May 1997

Professor Elaine Englehardt, director for the study of ethics at Utah Valley State College, was the speaker at Humanists of Utah’s March meeting. Englehardt stated that the first premise of her presentation is that there is no need to lie. “If we can think through difficult dilemmas, we will find that there are numerous acceptable actions and responses that don’t need to involve lying. I see lying as a fundamental wrong and the need for truth telling a fundamental right.”

Lying leads to a vicious cycle of trying to protect the initial untruth, which can cause harm. Consider the example of a newspaper reporter who was interviewed by a public relations person of a prestigious local hospital. The reporter had just finished an emotional roller coaster of birthing a premature infant who, thanks to top quality care, is healthy today. The public relations person embellished the events in the story he wrote in the hospital letter used to solicit charitable donations. He stated that the infant had survived as a direct result of charitable care provided by the hospital. The mother, while grateful to the hospital and its staff, had insurance and did not accept any charity care–she didn’t require any. She used her position as a reporter for the Deseret News to question the ethics of the PR department of the hospital. In the end, the hospital had to issue a retraction and an apology.

“Epictetus, the early Stoic defended, above all, the principle, ‘not to speak falsely.’ In more modern times, Immanuel Kant took the prohibition against lying as his paradigm of a ‘categorical imperative,’ the unconditional moral law. There could be no exceptions, not even to save the life of a friend. Even Nietzsche took honesty to be one of his four ‘cardinal’ virtues, and the existentialist Jean-Paul Satré insisted that deception is a vice, perhaps indeed the ultimate vice.

Lying is essentially a social activity. As Bart Simpson states, “It takes two to lie–one to lie and one to listen.” Lying not only involves other people, but is part of the intercourse that binds people together. In this imperfect society, we do lie and lying fundamentally hurts people. Lying particularly hurts those who are close to us as it betrays a trust that has grown.

–Wayne Wilson

 

 

Ethnicities In Utah

June 1997

“I became fascinated by the concept of voice, the realization that the enterprise of black writers was to free themselves of the damaging stereotypes formulated by whites and to begin speaking in their own language, on their own terms.” That’s what got Leslie Kelen started in his 10-year project of talking with the ethnic groups in Utah.

Kelen, the director of the Oral History Institute in Salt Lake City, addressing the May 8th meeting of the Humanists of Utah, continued, “I began to realize that cultures, like individuals, strive for and must acquire authenticity. This quest takes on enormous urgency for groups that have had to contend with prolonged physical and psychological trauma of racism. I started to grasp that only by allowing ourselves to experience the layers and the voices of a culture, can we begin to comprehend what its people lived and lived through, how they pass on their heritage, how they contend with pain, how they make sense of their lives.”

His numerous interviews with representatives of the ethnic minorities in Utah taught him that speaking with people about their history, about their memories, reveals human insights about things that really matter, revealing vital truths about the human condition.

Kelen’s tape recordings have revealed the fears, the hopes, the disappointments and the aspirations of every ethnic group that has played a role in the history of Utah. His two published works, Missing Stories, and Sacred Images, help everyone gain a deeper appreciation for the events that have shaped the Utah culture since 1947.

–Flo Wineriter

 

 

Images of the Universe

July 1997

Robert Bigelow spoke at the June meeting of Humanists of Utah on the history of astronomy leading up to current happenings in the scientific field. Robert ably filled in for Richard Cox who had a last minute conflict.

After a short summary of historical perspectives of our solar system, which was considered to be the universe, Robert Bigelow showed pictures taken by cameras aboard the Hubbell telescope. He explained some of the repairs that astronauts made and showed some before and after images that elucidated the benefits of the maintenance. The Hubble space telescope stands as a tribute to human ingenuity and creativity. It is controlled by a series of gyroscopes that allow land based scientists to use a large number of sophisticated instruments on board to study images throughout the universe.

Many of the images presented were taken from telescopes that operate in the non-visible portion of the light spectrum. We saw super nova, red giants, many star “nurseries,” probable developing solar systems, and many other wondrous sights. Perhaps the most interesting image was taken of what was thought to be the edge of the expanding universe, a place thought to be void of structures. The picture at first appeared to contain hundreds of never before seen stars, but on closer inspection, the “stars” were actually galaxies! Bigelow explained that the image had caused astronomers to increase their previous estimate of the number of estimated galaxies from about 100 billion to 400 billion.

Robert asked us to consider the number one billion. He indicated that if we were to receive $1000 every day, it would take over 2700 years to accumulate $1,000,000,000! And Carl Sagan is famous for the phrase, “billions and billions”–almost unimaginable!

–Wayne Wilson

 

 

Social Justice

January 1997

Ross “Rocky” Anderson, who came in second during the recent election to congress, spoke to Humanists of Utah monthly meeting in December. Here is a summary of his remarks:

Our community, like most throughout this country, has several easily identifiable social problems:

  • We have far too many homeless, with politicians who engage in demagoguery about “family values” letting the poor die on our streets from exposure to the cold. Many of the homeless are mentally ill and are provided no treatment whatsoever. And all the while, the wealthiest in this country receive housing subsidies in the form of mortgage interest deductions, even for their vacation homes!
  • We have an increase in violent crime, with little being done to stop gang violence or the ready access to handguns and assault weapons. Between 1980 and 1990, there was a 79% increase in the number of 10 to 17-year-olds who used firearms to commit murder.
  • There are too many who have no access to preventive health care, and who end up in expensive emergency care with acute medical problems. We remain the only major Western nation without a national health insurance program or a system of family health care allowance.
  • Although we have the most expensive health care system in the world, we rank 17th among Western nations in infant mortality. The rate of infant mortality for African-Americans is more than twice the rate for whites and is similar to that of the Third World.
  • Our air is polluted, leading to increased incidence of respiratory illnesses on the Wasatch Front. Yet politicians like Jim Hansen plead the case of the polluters, arguing that, because of our unique geography, EPA requirements should be relaxed.
  • We have an increasing incarceration rate, with politicians clamoring for millions more to be spent on jail and prison facilities. Nationally, we have more than 1 million people behind bars, with the world’s highest incarceration rate, at a cost of $30,000-$45,000 per inmate each year.
  • Young people in our community are abusing drugs at an alarming rate, many of them turning to heroin or crack cocaine as their drugs of choice.
  • We have very few low income housing units available, with the U.S. Congress apparently oblivious to the problem because it has repealed the low income housing tax credit program, a very successful public-private program resulting in over 800,000 units of low-cost housing being built in the past 10 years.
  • The rich are getting richer and the poor are indeed getting much poorer. The gap between the rich and everyone else has never been greater. While the richest 20% have improved their economic lot dramatically during the past 20 years, the other 80% have fallen behind, even while our economy has improved.

There are other social problems that we don’t talk about much. Problems like apathy, incivility, greed and an absence of empathy for others. In my view, these are social problems in and of themselves, as well as causes of other social problems.

So, what suggestions do I have for solving these social problems? Several years ago, I drove past a Baptist Church in South Carolina and saw posted in front of the church, “He didn’t call them the Ten Suggestions.” Since this is a meeting of humanists, let me offer my “Ten Suggestions” for solving some of our social problems (although, of course there are countless other things that we must attend to!)

  1. Face the fact that we are in the midst of global environmental crises, particularly global warming and ozone destruction from the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of our forests. We must educate ourselves and others about these problems and take decisive steps to reverse the damage we have done-and continue to do-to our Earth.
  2. Balance the budget by (1) cutting out $150 billion in corporate welfare; (2) reducing waste in defense spending; and (3) fixing Medicare and Social Security. We now spend over 15% of our federal budget on interest on the debt-more than we spend on education, housing assistance, veterans’ benefits, law enforcement, transportation, national parks, space and science and health research combined.
  3. Shift resources from our failed war-on-drugs interdiction efforts to education and treatment programs.
  4. Provide equal educational opportunities-in terms of quality. We know that the cognitive development during the first 4 years of life is determinative of what can be accomplished thereafter. Its high time we act on that knowledge by providing good preschool programs so children are truly capable of obtaining an excellent education.
  5. Stop building prisons. Implement restorative justice programs, which are aimed at restoring the community, victims and offenders. Place nonviolent offenders in community programs, with requirements that they work, support their families, pay restitution and contribute to their own room and board.
  6. Provide affordable, effective family planning services to everyone. Our goal should be no unwanted children. And remember, high school dropouts are 6 times as likely to be unwed parents as graduates.
  7. Make joint custody after divorce the rule rather than the exception. Far too many children are adversely impacted their entire lives because of the essential loss of their father after divorce.
  8. Face up to the waste in our medical insurance system and save the billions of health care dollars siphoned off by insurance companies. Essential medical services should be a right of all Americans.
  9. Remove the corrupting influence of money from our political system. We should set campaign spending limits, eliminate PAC contributions, eliminate “soft” money corporate contributions to political parties, and require access to free and equal time on television and radio for candidates.
  10. Finally, we must teach our children well. We must give more than lip service to the notion that integrity, service to our community, and empathy for others are the true measures of success in life.

Humanists of Utah was proud to host Mr. Anderson’s first public address since the election.

–Wayne Wilson

 

 

Lessons From The Dead

February 1997

Ted Pysher, MD, Professor of Pathology and Clinical Pediatric Pathologist at Primary Children’s Medical Center, discussed autopsy at the January Humanists of Utah meeting. The autopsy is the prime procedure that moved medicine from the view that Galen and the Greeks had on anatomy and the treatment of disease to current practices.

Medical texts survive from many ancient civilizations, including Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia, India, Chinese, and Old Testament mentions of Hebrews. None of these societies practiced autopsies, and in fact many of them had laws prohibiting postmortem examination. Yet they all had some knowledge of anatomy, perhaps from dissection of animals. The first documented autopsies occurred in Alexandria in the third century. The ruling Ptolemaic Greeks allowed the performance of some autopsies for the study of anatomy and cause of death. There is some evidence of sporadic autopsies being performed during the Middle Ages. One Norwegian king, returning from a Crusade, suffered the loss of many men in a particular town. Thinking that a particular wine caused the deaths, the King had the liver of a pig soaked in the wine and found that it appeared to be damaged. He then had several of the victims dissected and their livers examined to see if they suffered a similar fate. Roger Bacon commended the study of the dead body but did not mention any personal autopsy experience. In 1163, at the Council of Tours, there was an official decree that the Church abhorred blood. It was interpreted to mean that priests could not cut the patient either living or dead.

The earliest record of an autopsy in the New World occurred in 1533 in what is now the Dominican Republic. A set of female Siamese twins died shortly after birth. An autopsy was ordered by the priest to determine if there was one or two souls. The still surviving report indicates that all of the organs were duplicated, resulting in a report of two souls. The father objected because he had to pay for two baptisms.

DaVinci performed at least 30 autopsies and recorded the procedures in great detail. However, because of fear that the Church would ostracize him, he did not publish the results during his lifetime. It was not until the 16th century that routine autopsies were performed. It was found that abnormalities of the organs correlated with diseases the patients had before death. There were several books published documenting autopsies during the 16th and 17th centuries. One of these, published in the 17th century by Bailey, first described diseases as affecting organs instead of the “humors.” Napoleon issued specific instructions that an autopsy be performed on his body and that the information gained be used to help his son.

In the 20th century, we have applied what was learned about anatomy in the past 300 years and moved on the causes and cellular effects of disease. Through the 1960’s, most medical students were required to view autopsies. Since the 1950’s, the autopsy rate has declined dramatically. This is often explained by the argument that advances in technology have eliminated the need for routine autopsies. In fact, unexpected findings occur in as many as 30% of all postmortem examinations. Also, the examination takes a long time, weeks or even months, as compared to minutes to days for other clinical testing.

The main reason for performing an autopsy on children is to try to discover the reason, and therefore clues to future prevention of the cause, of death. Another justification for an autopsy is that it is a final examination that helps to close the book on a person’s life. It can also be used as a quality measurement for hospitals. Standards can be set to a certain level of unexpected findings as a benchmark to measure good practice of medicine for the living.

Autopsies always include saving of small pieces of tissue embedded in paraffin wax blocks. Thin sections are cut, stained and examined microscopically. They are kept indefinitely and can provide sections for many years as new information becomes available. The same is true of specimens removed during surgery.

At the great Renaissance medical school in Padua, the examination room wall is lined with the skulls of former professors who have donated their bodies for dissection by students. Since 1950, 150 new diseases have been identified by autopsy. Necessarily the numbers will decline over time but the need for and value of autopsies will continue for a long time to come.

–Wayne Wilson

 

 

Religion’s Broad Influences

April 1997

Religious studies are key to understanding world history, literature, society, even art and music,” Professor Colleen McDannell told the March 13th meeting of the Humanists of Utah. Professor McDannell holds the Sterling McMurrin Chair in Religious History at the University of Utah and has been promoting a religious studies major since her arrival in 1989. The March 24th issue of Time magazine quoted Professor McDannell twice on page 75 in the lengthy cover story entitled “Does Heaven Exist?”

McDannell clarified the difference between studying theology and religion, theology being the study of religious beliefs in a seminary environment, while the study of religion refers to the effect of religions on cultures. “One cannot understand the world, past or present, without understanding religion.” She cited the current situations in Bosnia, Ireland, Israel and parts of Africa as examples of the powerful influence of religion in secular affairs. To further clarify, McDannell cited U.S. Supreme Court decisions banning the practice of religion but approving discussions about religion in public schools.

Many universities and colleges during the past 20 years have established departments of religious studies, making them a vital part of the liberal arts. McDannell was one of the first students at the University of Colorado in Boulder to graduate with an undergraduate degree in religious studies in 1975.

Utah is one of only 7 or 8 states in the nation that does not have a department of religious studies at any of its institutions of higher education. She said there seems to be a great deal of resistance to new programs at the University of Utah, and the administration of the Department of Humanities is opposed to a religious studies program. In response to a question from the audience regarding possible opposition from the LDS church, Professor McDannell said she has seen no evidence of such opposition and has seen some evidence that LDS authorities would support such a program. McDannell said many people fear that a religious studies program would be taken over by religious zealots and become an indoctrination program rather than an education program but she has not seen it happen at other institutions.

Professor McDannell cited three reasons for establishing a religious studies program:

  1. Religion is and has been a powerful force in world politics.
  2. Religion has had a historical influence in the arts.
  3. Students in the program gain a deep sense of what is significant in people’s lives and a better appreciation of the consequences of religious intolerance.

McDannell is the author of three books about the influence of religion. The first one is The Christian Home in Victoria America, the second, Heaven, a History, and the third, Material Christianity . She is working on a fourth book, which will deal with religion and photography.

–Flo Wineriter

 

 

Accept Gay Teachers

December 1997

Richard Teerlink, Humanists of Utah member, had the following letter to the editor published in the Salt Lake Tribune on November 19, 1997:

In response to John C. Josephson’s letter (“Homosexuals Should Not Teach,” Forum, November 11, 1997), I would like to say that we gay teachers have always taught and we are not about to go away.

I have taught thousands of students in my career. In my A.P. biology and chemistry classes, I taught some of the very best. Upon my retirement this spring, I was honored to receive the Kearns High School K-crest award for my 30 years of dedicated service at that school. As a college student, I was a camp counselor for two summers for the Boy Scouts of America at Camp Steiner. Did I corrupt the morals of these young people? I think not, but you are encouraged to ask my students and their parents for their opinion.

We gay people make up roughly 2-10 percent of the human population. We are ubiquitous. You will find us in about the same proportions in every culture, race, church, family, nation, political party and, yes, even schools in Utah Valley. I find this to be strong evidence that sexual orientation has biological origins. It is ludicrous to me that someone believes that I have the power to change any person’s sexual orientation.

Chances are some of your best coaches, teachers, principals, and scout leaders were and are gay. It’s a fact. Get used to it.

Thank you for allowing me to tell my students after all those many years who I really am.

–Richard Teerlink
Letter to the Editor
Published in The Salt Lake Tribune
November 19, 1997

 

The Garden

October 1997

An old story tells of a person who took a patch of rocks and weeds and turned it into a beautiful garden. A religious authoritarian neighbor saw the garden and tried getting in a plug for his religion. “Praise God for the beautiful garden He shared with you,” said the neighbor.

The gardener admitted that he did depend on the rain and weather to get the garden to grow and then said, with a wink, “You should have seen the garden when God had it to himself.”

Humanists recognize that making the most of our one and only life here on earth depends on human effort and intelligence, not on supernatural beings.

— Derrick Strobl
The Central Ohio Humanist

 

 

The Historical Influence of Humanism

July 1997

MODERN MYTH
Olympic gods are clearly creations
Of desperate men’s imaginations
And Roman gods only inventions
That served to ease man’s apprehensions.
And while these stories may amuse us
They have no power to delude us
Yet the tale of a snake tempting Eve
Is somehow myth we choose to believe.

–Fran M. DeVenuto,
American Atheist Magazine, Summer 1997

To begin my discussion on the historical influence of humanism, I’ll quote from the definition given in the Microsoft encyclopedia Encarta: “Humanism is an attitude that emphasizes the dignity and worth of the individual. A basic premise of humanism is that people are rational beings who possess within themselves the capacity for truth and goodness.”

During the past four years I’ve inundated myself in reading about humanism. Independently and through the Humanist Institute I’ve devoured dozens of books, listened to several lectures, and been involved in countless discussions. My goal has been to internalize humanism, to get a feeling that I have some degree of understanding concerning the central ideas that constitute the humanistic philosophy, to acquire some sense of where the concept of humanism originated and how that concept has impacted history. I suppose what I’ve been seeking is a secular ‘ah ha’ experience of humanism, similar to what a religious person might refer to as a ‘revelation.’

One such experience occurred just a few months ago while I was listening to a lecture by Dr. Michael Sugrue, a philosopher of history at Princeton. He was lecturing on the problems and the scope of philosophy. In defining physics and metaphysics he discussed the ancient philosophies of Athens and Jerusalem.

In the Greek intellectual tradition, the dispute was between the ‘one-world’ physics of the pre-Socratic thinkers, which he referred to as the philosophy of Athens, and the “two-worlds” metaphysics of the post-Socratic thinkers, which he labels the philosophy of Jerusalem. He explained that in Western philosophy, Athens represents secular reasoning of the physical, natural ontology, while Jerusalem represents divine revelation, of the mystical, metaphysical ontology.

In Athens the highest virtue was human reason and discourse, while in Jerusalem the highest virtue was faith in divine revelation.

In Athens the representative icon was god-defying Prometheus, while in Jerusalem the representative icon was god-fearing Job.

Athens, then, became the foundation for rational, secular thought, and Jerusalem the foundation for mythical, religious thought.

In the opinion of professor Sugrue, significant philosophical discussions have centered around this basic ‘Athens versus Jerusalem’ question of ‘one world versus two worlds’…secularism versus mysticism.

He concluded this segment of his presentation with the notion that much of the Christian tradition has been an attempt to reconcile these conflicting concepts established 2500 years ago in Athens and Jerusalem!

Dr. Sugrue’s explanation struck a responsive chord in me. All of my studies of the past four years suddenly seemed to fall into place and I had one of those rare ‘ah ha’ experiences. It reminded me of a similar feeling I had maybe 30 years ago while reading Alan Watts book, Man, Woman and Nature. A paragraph somewhere near the middle of the book stimulated a sudden realization of my being at home on this planet, in this universe. I had the feeling then that, along with every blade of grass, every flower, every rock, every animal, I am a significant part of nature.

Professor Sugrue’s lecture helped me to understand more clearly how humanism, the one-world Athenian philosophy of naturalism and rationalism, has played a major role in human history and has been a significant stimulus to scientific, social and political progress.

Another lecturer spoke further about the pre-Socratic period. Dr. Darren Staloff, professor at the City College of New York, said the Greek philosophers who lived during the 400 year period before Socrates were primarily concerned about scientific questions, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of the nature of the universe rather than the ‘why.’ Their commonality was ‘materialism,’ looking for the basic material, the unifying factor, of all matter.

For example, Thales (625 BCE to 545 BCE) thought ‘water’ was the basic ingredient of everything. Thales was the first person on record to be referred to as a ‘wise man.’ He is also credited with being the first person to correctly predict a solar eclipse, which he did in 585 BCE.

Anaximenes (570-500 BCE) maintained that the basic element of the cosmos was air, which when rarefied becomes fire and when condensed becomes water and earth.

Around 500 BCE Pythagoras speculated that the royal road to truth was understanding the language of mathematics. He postulated the Theory of Numbers, which for Pythagoreans became the ultimate principle of order and harmony in the universe.

And about 400 BCE Democritus (460 BCE-360 BCE) speculated that the ultimate form of matter was the ‘atom,’ tiny particles that flew around randomly and were too small to be seen. More than two thousand years later, Albert Einstein proved Pythagoras and Democritus had been close to ultimate truth.

The important point made by Dr. Staloff was that none of these pre-Socratic thinkers looked outside ‘this world’ for an explanation of how it functions. They were ‘naturalist,’ seeking answers to the what and how of nature and developed what many refer to as the ‘this world’ philosophy of Athens.

Socrates, famous for his statement, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” questioned the Greek myths of polytheism, and as we know was charged with corrupting Greek youth and sentenced to death.

With the death of Socrates, Greek philosophers began to pursue the ‘why’ question of the universe. Their discussions speculated about the purpose of this world and they searched outside of the natural world for their answers. While pre-Socratic thinkers were concerned with physics, post-Socratic thinkers were concerned about Metaphysics. Mysticism began to dominate their thinking. Judaic-Christian philosophy moved northward, gradually replacing Greek mysticism. For the next 2000 years the ‘two world’ philosophy of Jerusalem became the focus of the thinkers and rulers. Religion and politics became one, restricting the lives of their subjects and imposing the metaphysical values of their two-worlds idea system. In the post-Socratic era, metaphysics replaced physics and mysticism replaced reason as the dominant thought process.

During those two thousand years the ‘peoples of the book,’ Judaism, Christianity, and Islam competed for the control of the human belief system in the western world. The emphasis was on ‘the other world.’ Their basic belief system indoctrinated people with the idea that the purpose of this life was to learn how to live in this world in order to get to the other world and then how to reap the highest rewards and avoid eternal punishment in that ‘other world’.

The polytheism of Rome was also intermingled with Asian mythology as Alexander the Great extended the Roman Empire. The Jerusalem Religion of Revelation became part of the mix as Christianity replaced Roman influence. In the 7th century of the Common Era, Islamic legions reduced the influence of repressive Christianity; a few hundred years later the Christian Crusades drove the Muslims out of Europe. The combined powers of the Jerusalem ‘two-worlds’ concept of myth and mysticism maintained a strong wall of silence around the Athenian ‘one-world’ concept of reason and rationality for nearly two thousand years.

In the middle of the 1400’s a sequence of thinkers and events took place that we now refer to as the Renaissance. It was a renewal of interest in the pre-Socratic questions concerning the what and how of the universe, the role of reason in problem solving, and the significance of the individual in society. The philosophy of humanism was taking shape. Thinkers such as Machiavelli, Thomas Moore, Copernicus, and Galileo thought, spoke and wrote about the independent power of the human brain. The printing press was developed, paving the way for the mass communication of ideas, including a re-birth of interest in the writings of the pre-Socratic philosophers. The Renaissance of Humanism was summarized later, in the 1700’s, by the poet Alexander Pope with his now famous quotation, “The proper study of mankind is man.” The Renaissance generated interest in the human potential for making decisions and taking responsibility. Renaissance writers openly challenged the power of the political-religious institutions to restrict the thinking, reading, writing, speaking and actions of the populous.

Three philosophers shared a major humanistic influence in the early 1500’s. Machiavelli (1469-1527) established the groundwork for secularism in Italy. He examined the structure of political power, writing two famous books concerning how to get political power and how to use it. His first book, The Prince, concerned the ruthless use of power. His second book, The Discourses, was toned down considerably and recognized the need for a more democratic political structure.

Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), a Dutch Catholic philosopher, openly voiced concern about the evils and errors of the church. He wrote concerning the perfectibility of human beings and their power for self-determination. His books were listed in the famous Index of Forbidden Books by the Council of Trent.

Thomas Moore (1478-1535) was an early advocate of religious freedom and democracy in England. He proposed that the fullness of power in any society resides in its members and no legitimate authority exists apart from the common consent of its members. He was beheaded for his thinking by Henry VIII.

These three writers caused serious cracks in the theological wall of enforced ignorance and set the scene for breaking the political power of religion, namely the Catholic church, to control thoughts, peoples and nations.

In their footsteps, Copernicus (1473-1543) proclaimed that the earth is not the center of the universe. Copernicus declared that the sun, the planets and the stars do not revolve around the earth, that contrary to religious teachings the earth is one of several planets that revolves around the sun, and that each planet rotates on its axis.

Galileo (1564-1642) several years later confirmed the Copernican theory and with his telescope further expanded human knowledge of the universe. He fell into conflict with the Catholic authorities and was ordered not to discuss the Copernican concept of the universe. For his scientific beliefs Galileo was charged with heresy and sentenced to life in prison. Three hundred and fifty years later, in 1992, Catholic officials acknowledged the Vatican error.

Francis Bacon(1561-1626) called for the separation of natural philosophy and theology. He fostered interest in natural history, promoted the scientific method of problem solving, and created the slogan “Knowledge is Power.” He urged a break with authoritarian religion and a new approach to knowledge independent of theology.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) developed Calculus and wrote Principia Mathematica, the scientific handbook of the ages. He formulated the laws of motion, and established the experimental method as the basis for true science.

These men of science, condemned by religion for secularizing knowledge, revealed the weakness of myth and dogma, releasing the creative power of the human mind and empowering other thinkers to question religious myths by developing rational solutions to human problems. They constructed the road leading to the Enlightenment, the historical period beginning in the 1600’s that Thomas Paine called The Age of Reason. Among the Enlightenment leaders were:

René Descartes (l596-1650), credited by some as the Father of Modern Philosophy. He supported Francis Bacon’s conclusions that “true knowledge must come from Human Reason alone.” Descartes’ most frequently mentioned quotation concerns how an individual can be certain of his or her own existence. He wrote, “I think, therefore I am.”

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) who declared the mind and body were a unified single identity. Spinoza wrote that one of the essential exercises of a sovereign government is the preservation of liberty in religious and political issues. He was charged with being an atheist and was excommunicated by his Jewish Synagogue.

In England in the late 1600’s, John Locke (1632-1704) challenged the religious dogma that the soul, spirit and conscience were imprinted with a godly code. He declared that every person’s mind is a clean slate at birth, that knowledge is gained only by experience and reflection. He made many contributions to our concepts of what it means to be human; he wrote extensively on the questions of tolerance, goodness, pleasure, and happiness. Locke argued against the divine right of kings and in favor of human equality. He proposed that the chief function of government is the protection and preservation of private property. Thomas Jefferson praised Locke’s ideas for the proper role of government and gave credit to Locke as the spiritual guide of the American Constitution.

The principles of humanism developed by the leaders of the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment periods influenced the recognition and acceptance of political structures that enhanced the status of the individual in society, the acceptance of reason as the source of knowledge, and freedom from imposed authority as the right of every person.

–CONCLUSION–
As I reviewed the writings of the many people who contributed to the evolution of the Humanist Philosophy, I searched for the lowest common denominator. I wanted to find one or two thoughts that all of them shared. If I could discover what ideals they agreed were important, then I might more clearly understand humanism. I found it was not their religious convictions. They represented a wide range of theology. Some of them were theist, some deist, others agnostic, some atheist. Among them were Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims. I discovered what they did share was an attitude about the value of the individual. They all advocated respect for human dignity, personal liberty, and individual responsibility. They put a premium on reason, rationality and limited political power. The center of all of their concerns was the well being of each person in this life. Their cumulative effect on history was to free people from the restrictive controls of authority, both religious dogma and political conformity. Limitations on political powers developed slowly over a period of several hundred years.

In Babylon, Hammurabi was a pioneer in establishing some limits of government.

In England, the Magna Carta spelled out limits of kings.

The U.S. Declaration of Independence demanded freedom from colonialism.

The French Declaration of Human Rights expanded on human expectations of freedom from excessive government controls.

The U.S. Constitution spelled out the separation of governmental jurisdictions and limited the powers of each, while the Bill of Rights defined and expanded the unalienable rights of the individual.

Abraham Maslow went even further by defining in detail the hierarchy of values necessary for the individual to find satisfaction and happiness.

And it is my conclusion that the ideal form of religious and political organization is one that will recognize, support and encourage conditions that enable the individual to realize Maslow’s value pyramid.

The Humanist Idea System, the old philosophy of Athens, putting primary emphasis on conditions in this world, respecting the dignity of the individual, placing reason above revelation and democracy above theology, is stronger now than it has ever been. And it seems to me the ‘physics philosophy of Athens’ is now successfully competing with the ‘metaphysics philosophy of Jerusalem.’

We are deeply indebted to the intellectual leaders of the 14th and 15th centuries for creating a serious breach in the tyranny of the church over the physical and mental life of the human race, a breach that continues to widen and will hopefully result in a worldwide ending of religious tyranny.

In closing I’ll paraphrase again from the article on the Age of Enlightenment in the Microsoft Encyclopedia: “The Enlightenment left a lasting heritage for the 19th and 20th centuries. It marked a key stage in the decline of the church and the growth of modern secularism. It served as a model for political and economic liberalism and for humanitarian reform throughout the western world.”

That’s how I see the influence of humanism on world history. And I propose that the icon for humanism might very well be Sisyphus, the Greek mythological King of Corinth, who tricked death and was condemned to push a rock endlessly up a hill, the rock always rolling back before he reached the top. Each one of us is challenged to travel up the hill of life and simply enjoy the intrinsic rewards of the journey.

–Florien Wineriter
President, Humanists of Utah

 

Discussion Group Report

Facing Life and Death

December 1997

By Richard Layton

“What place does human life, my life or your life, or that of society, have in the grand scheme of things?” asks Paul Kurtz in his book The Courage to Become. People wonder whether the aspirations and achievements of humans can find safe haven in the universe at large. They yearn for immortality for themselves and their loved ones. “Alas, the testimony from everyday life hardly supports the vain hope that human life has any special ontological anchor in reality, or that humans will exist in some idyllic state of immortality. Life can be wonderful, but the brutal fact is that each individual at some time must die.”

The Copernican and Darwinian revolutions have dethroned us from the conviction that we are the center of a universe that was created for us, and the belief that we are fundamentally different from all other species. Many refuse to accept the full implications of these discoveries.

“If there is no discernible purpose to human existence, and nature is ultimately indifferent to our fondest hopes and deepest aspirations,” queries Kurtz, “what is left for us? If we are all dead in the end, why does anything matter? Experiencing failure, illness, conflict, the death of friends or family, or other tragedies only intensifies a person’s longings for answers to these root questions. Do they have any deeper meaning? Or is it all ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?”

There are three major responses to the quest for meaning, two of which are anti-humanist.

First is the theistic response, which begins by denying our finitude and defeat by death. It holds forth the prospect that there is a hidden purpose to reality, and an ultimate meaning to human existence. It involves a leap of faith, goaded on by what Kurtz calls the “transcendental temptation:” the human tendency to believe in a world beyond, and to seek a solution to human finitude by postulating a transcendental reality that will save us from the finality of death. Extremely pessimistic about human power, this approach is grounded in denial; it seeks to persuade us that we do not have the power to control our destinies, that we are weak and dependent creatures, and that we can only be rescued in the end by a divine or higher power. It denies that the universe is impersonal and is based on a belief that there is a spiritual key to our destiny. Theists invent tales and parables that promise eternal life. They yearn to be released from the trials, tribulations and tragedies of life by convincing themselves that God has created the universe and will save us from oblivion.

The second response to the question of the meaning of life is skeptical nihilism. Nihilists agree with humanists that there is no evidence that God exists, no separable immortal soul, and no divine scheme of salvation; but they infer that there is no humanist foundation for human ethics or social justice either. All values ultimately are subjective, a question of caprice and taste. Nihilists are often depressed by what they meet with in life. All of our projects will fail inevitably, they say, for in the end we all must die. There is no real hope for humankind. The reality principle can inhibit motivation and undermines the enthusiasm for living and the gusto for achievement. All knowledge is subjective and all values are relative. Because there are no truths, passion and the will-to- power eventually prevail in the human domain. Nihilists have little or no faith in the abilities of us humans to solve our problems or the possibility for human progress. They lack confidence in the worth and significance of the human prospect and become irremediable pessimists.

The third response is Humanism. That is “What it means to be human: pluck and audacity, the will to survive and thrive.” It focuses on the need for self-reliant striving. “Humanism seeks to portray the human condition in realistic terms, though very few individuals are able to face the brute character of existence: the fact that the universe at large is blind to our deepest expectations and darkest fears, that there is no teleological purpose discoverable in the nature of things, and that there is no conscious exaltation or grieving by nature, per se, if any particular organism or species fails, or succeeds, in its ventures, survives or dies.

The ‘patron saint’ of Humanism is the ancient mythological character Prometheus, who challenged the gods on high, stole fire, and bequeathed to humankind the arts of civilization so that we might take destiny into our own hands and overcome the limits of our animal natures.” This exultant humanism is an expression of optimism. Humanists advise to be courageous, to use our best talents, especially our rational power, to understand the natural causes of things, and to focus on ways of resolving problems. They are determined to persevere and overcome adversities. They exude a positive outlook and may even at times be exuberant. They affirm the possibility of the good life here and now; they believe that human suffering can be ameliorated and that the problems of life can be overcome by human efforts. They advise both individual enterprise and cooperative action to mitigate evils and attain social justice. They feel we are part of a community of persons; our highest ideals are realized within the parameters of society and culture. The goal of human life is not only to survive, but to flourish, to fulfill our dreams and aspirations. We are free to create our futures, and to leave our mark upon the world.

Our vistas require a quality of character that is pivotal to all human enterprises: the quality of courage. It is the courageous person who can best bear adversity in spite of it all. Bacon observes, “It is a miserable state of mind to have few things to desire and many things to fear.” Shakespeare said, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” Emily Bronte expresses, “No coward soul is mine, no trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere.” Our prospect depends on what we will or will not dare to do, how we will respond to challenges that we meet with, and how we will face death. Dylan Thomas sums up the humanistic attitude towards death: “Do not go gentle into that good night . . . Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

 

Discussion Group Report

Evolution and the Creative Web of Life

January 1997

By Richard Layton

“It may be argued that…[Charles Darwin’s] theory of evolution is the most important contribution to biology in the history of science.” It is “supported by overwhelming empirical evidence and convincing logical argumentation,” observes James Birx in his useful article, “Evolution, God and Humanism,” in Religious Humanism, XXX, No. 1 and 2.

In Western intellectual thought, the idea of evolution first appeared during the Presocratic age (600-400 BCE). The earliest philosophers as naturalistic cosmologists rejected traditional legends and myths as well as personal opinions and religious beliefs. Several of them even anticipated to a certain degree the evolutionary framework.

Thales claimed that life forms first appeared in water, changed through time, and later were able to adapt to and survive on dry land. By maintaining water to be the cosmic substance, he intuited the essential unity of all reality, a great insight! Anaximander, the father of comparative morphology, critically compared and contrasted our species with fishes. He maintained that the line leading to our own species had once passed through a fish-like stage of development. Heraclitus held that the essential characteristic of all reality is change itself. Being or reality is actually cosmic becoming manifested as the cyclical recurrence of all things. Rejecting all human-centered views of the universe, Xenophanes recognized both the biological and historical significance of fossils as the remains of once-living but different species. Today it may be argued that the fossil record is the single most important body of empirical evidence to support the fact of organic evolution.

Perhaps the most relevant of all the Presocratic thinkers, Empedocles claimed that, at the beginning of life, the surface of this planet was covered with free-floating organs of different sizes and shapes: all kinds of heads, arms, legs, and trunks were moving about. These organs haphazardly came together, farming organisms (collections of organs), which were usually monstrosities with multiple heads and strange combinations of arms and legs. Such monstrosities died off, but occasionally an organism formed that could adapt to its environment and survive long enough to reproduce. This bizarre explanation does contain some of the essential principles of the Darwinian theory: multiplicity, variation, adaptation, survival, and reproduction.

Since these ideas anticipated evolution, why did science have to wait 2000 years for Darwin to present his theory? The reason is Aristotle, the greatest philosopher of creek antiquity. Although the father of biology, he was an essentialist and a teleologist, not an evolutionist. He held that every plant and animal has its own unique essence that is eternally fixed in nature.

Later on and before Darwin’s time, other thinkers in ancient, medieval, and Renaissance times who anticipated the evolutionary framework were Lucretius, Giordano Bruno, Avicenna, and Leonardo da Vinci,

Bruno claimed that the universe is eternal, infinite, and endlessly changing. He even speculated that life forms, even intelligent ones, exist among the stars and planets. His cosmology went far beyond the conceptual views of Nicolas Cusa, Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo. It may be argued that his ideas ushered in the modern worldview free from a closed, finite, earth-bound and human-centered interpretation of nature. For overcoming dogma and superstition, he was burned at the stake.

Seventeenth and eighteenth century evolutionists preceding Darwin were Carolus Linnaeus, who placed the human animal in the same primate order with the apes, monkeys, and lemurs; Georges Buffon; LaMettrie; Diderot; Helvetius; d’Holbach; Condorcet; Lamarck, Robert Chambers, and Phillip Gosse.

Organic evolution is now documented by empirical evidence from geology, paleontology, biogeography, anthropology, and genetics as well as comparative studies in taxonomy, biochemistry, immunology, embryology, anatomy, and physiology. Grounded in science and reason evolution has descriptive, explanatory, and predictive powers free from supernatural claims and dogmatic religious beliefs. It is always subject to modification and expansion in light of new discoveries in science and widening perspectives in philosophy. “For humanists,” says Birx, “the challenge of evolution is to save and enrich and fulfill human life, despite pervasive problems and the inevitability of death. It is science and reason, not theology and mysticism, that offer human beings a long and fulfilling and joyful life within a cold and violent universe uninterested in our emerging species with its personal goals and entrenched illusions. Despite ultimate abstract speculation on God, Charles Darwin’s lasting legacy is the power of science and reason. Invoking Nietzsche’s affirmation of life, both secular and religious humanists should celebrate that creative web of life which Darwin has helped us to understand and appreciate in terms of organic evolution.”

 

Discussion Group Report

Does God Merely Exist in the Brain?

July 1997

By Richard Layton

A recent survey shows that more than a third of American adults claim God speaks to them directly. But a Canadian neuroscientist has different ideas about this. Michael A. Persinger, head of the Neuroscience Research Group at Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, and the author of more than 100 published technical articles on psychobiology, parapsychology, brain functions, and environmental health, says religious visions and divine voices are in fact the product of electrical flare-ups in your brain. God is in the brain’s chemistry, in your head.

We have found that we can reproduce many of these experiences in the laboratory by stimulating both of the brain’s temporal lobes, located on the sides of your head just over the ears. We discovered that the prototype of the God experience, the visitation experience, was the sense of a presence, the idea of an entity, something being nearby or behind you, and that this sense of a presence could be generated by stimulating or producing very weak magnetic fields over the brain.

What we call the sense of self is primarily involved with the left hemisphere of the brain, which has language processes. It is not an accident that people will fight and die to maintain their culture and language because this is tied intimately to the sense of self. Without language there is no sense of human self. We argue that there must be some kind of right-hemispheric equivalent, like the sense of self, but that which have the characteristics of the right hemisphere, such as emotion, vagueness and spatial characteristics. If you stimulated this hemisphere, you would expect to have this sense of presence that the person would identify as being real, not him/her, that is, ego-alien, the equivalent of the person’s sense of self represented within the right hemisphere. We have found that, if you stimulate the left hemisphere, the person is likely going to hear voices, which will be attributed to an ego-alien source, to something outside himself/herself. In most cultures, we have labels for this, which are often attributed to a god. When a person hears an instructing voice, and that voice is associated with intense meaningfulness because deep portions of the brain are stimulated, the person is convinced the voice is real. Culture then applies the “god” label to the voice. In most human cultures the label is Jehovah, Allah, God or an equivalent.

The fact that people believe that God speaks to one-third of them is actually normal human behavior because that is exactly what you would predict on the basis of how the human brain is organized. But the behavior is not supernormal or supernatural. The experience of the person is just as real as any other. A delusion by definition is an organization or belief that is not substantiated or substantiable. Therefore these experiences are delusions, but delusions do not have to be abnormal. Many of us have delusions. They are simply ways that we organize the world. They help us to reduce our anxiety.

Experimentally we know that the experience of positive and negative, of good and bad, can be stimulated in the brain directly; for example, when we stimulate the right hemisphere, which is associated with vigilance, apprehension, and fear, people attribute the sense of presence to something negative, very often a demon or a devil, or if they are more new-age, a malevolent alien.

The sense of a spirit or a soul is tied intimately to the sense of self. Accompanying the sense of self is the capacity to anticipate its own demise, and you can see this if you map the cognition, the thought process. That anticipation produces tremendous anxiety and apprehension. Usually there is a culture around that says, “No, you don’t die because you live independently onward.” That reduces the anxiety. The belief is reinforced; and that continuous, spiraling relationship of reducing the anxiety–the stronger the belief, the more the anxiety is reduced–continues. The person begins to believe there is a sense of self that will live on. It is a normal process to conclude that somehow your self is unique, that it is different from everyone else’s and that it may have immortality, particularly if your culture gives you a verbal label, such as God, which has as its characteristics infinity and is everywhere.

You can chemically or electronically manipulate the brain to produce religious ecstasy. That suggests you can experience inner peace without religious faith. Very often, after people are depressed psychologically, they have a religious conversion. There is an intimate relationship between a decrease in activity in the left temporal lobe and the propensity to have a religious conversion, to have sense of a changed self.

We are concerned that along with the experience often come beliefs, and what we have found historically is that beliefs can be potentially dangerous because a part of the belief system is that somehow the person’s beliefs are unique and are better than other people’s beliefs. There is a general tendency as a part of our self to think that the way we see the world is superior to the way other religions see it. Sadly, one of the historical ways of eliminating the competition is to kill it. A dark side of our egocentrism is the belief that people who do not share our experiences or beliefs are not quite as human, and that has been a long, historical path of human beings.

The God belief may be the last cherished illusion we have. By pursuing how the brain works, we may find out the actual purpose of the processes that create the God experience.

 

Discussion Group Report

Dilemma of the Mormon Rationalist

November 1997

By Richard Layton

“He (Galileo) had realized at last that the authorities were not interested in truth, but only in authority.”

–De Santillana

“In the decline of Christianity over the past 900 years no incident has so symbolized the struggle between faith and rationality as has the trial of Galileo (1564-1642),” psychiatrist Robert E. Anderson pointed out in a speech at the Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City this past August. “With his development of the telescope and discovery of the moon-like phases of Venus, he concluded that the sun was the center of the universe and challenged the literal interpretation of the Bible.”

Refusing to follow the orders of the church fathers to present his views as only a hypothesis and to give equal weight in his writings to the traditional view of the universe and, after being threatened with torture, he was condemned to imprisonment in his house until he died nine years later. He is universally recognized as the father of modern science and his trial as the cause celebre of the twin conflicts of faith versus reason, obedience versus individual freedom.

“In the more than three centuries since Galileo,” Anderson continues, “the results of science have been so profound and far-reaching that we in the west have come to suspect all supernatural claims and to look for other more rational explanations first. Most religions have accommodated the discoveries of science, but many fundamental religions maintain their belief in the supernatural by frequent appeals to so-called ‘groupthink.’ Within such religious groups praise is given for maintaining a belief without external evidence and greatest praise in holding firm to those beliefs despite considerable contradictory evidence. The conflicts of faith versus rationality versus free inquiry have become central in the dilemmas facing the rationalist Mormon, and his or her dilemma can be seen as part of an ongoing history of the struggle between reason and fundamentalism. If rationality casts doubt, the fundamentalist response is usually increased dogmatism and demand for submission. For the rationalist Mormon, the problem has become dogmatism in the face of compelling contradictory information or evidences.”

In 1853, Mormon leader Brigham Young began to teach that God was still progressing in knowledge and had come to earth as Adam to father his spiritual offspring physically. Apostle Orson Pratt, wanting to reconcile Mormon scriptures with the Bible, in contradiction to Young’s doctrine, taught the omniscience of God, not his personhood. Young’s response was that Pratt’s teaching was a lie that was “false as hell.”

Years later Pratt recanted, confessing, repenting, and capitulating. “If the prophet of the living God, who is my standard, lays down a principle in philosophy or science we must bow. We must yield.”

In a conflict that began as a difference of opinion, Young shifted the debate to submission to authority and demanded that Pratt recognize his right as prophet of the church to declare doctrine. Yet today the majority of church leaders hold to Pratt’s views on divine omniscience. Teaching Adam-God can result in excommunication. Does salvation include the surrender of rational thinking to authorities who disagree among themselves?

“Yet I think he (Pratt) pointed a possible theoretical and practical direction for solving the problem of Mormon fundamentalism by rising above it and focusing instead on the virtues taught,” comments Anderson. Several approaches are being used by Mormon rationalists in an effort to implement Anderson’s suggestion: holding that the Book of Mormon is authentic history but that Joseph Smith expanded on it by adding elements of his environment, maintaining that the book has no historical value but should be revered for its teachings, or limiting one’s involvement to social or charitable activities in the church. Critics attack these approaches as compromised positions; they wonder why something that is not what it purports to be should be revered.

“In the final analysis, adherence to the virtues of Mormonism is not a rationalist escape, for the church sometimes seems to take a dim view of some of the virtues that the rationalist Mormon considers critical: a fullness of truth, wisdom and knowledge, unfettered access to information and pluralistic discussions.” Censored history, the rewriting and alteration of history, locked archival doors, and condemnations of study groups are anathema to a rationalist.

The church can and is forcing rationalist members to back away and separate themselves. These people are using vigorous, firm or simply impassive methods of separation: 1) Shifting to another form of Christianity, which some doubting Mormons see as changing one form of questionable irrationality to a less organized one. 2) Firm withdrawal by removal from the membership rolls of the church, accompanied by an indifferent, uninterested attitude toward the church. 3) By anger; or passive withdrawal, simply becoming inactive (probably the most common form) which leaves one’s options open and does not directly attack friends and/or their beliefs but which may lead to doubt, guilt, remorse, or uneasiness about their standing with God.

Anderson defines well the plight of the Mormon rationalist, and calls for him to work to change the direction of the church flock toward expanded tolerance and keeping outspoken independent thinkers within the fold. “Of those of us who have a belief in Jesus as the son of God, we think he will be pleased with our work, for he defied the immorality and hypocrisy of religious leaders in his day, and within the Book of Mormon he condemned the church of the medieval times for its abuse of power. We wait on him and await his return.”

Yet, while decrying fundamentalism for having no historical or scientific base, Anderson inexplicably looks to a miraculous, supernatural deliverance for humans, an expectation that also has no historical or scientific base and no evidence to support it in objective reality.

 

The One Thing Needful

October 1997

People have the problem of letting other people think for them.

If everyone is letting everyone else think for them, then who is doing the thinking?

I don’t think it’s just a matter of laziness. For many, I’m sure it is. But I don’t think that all humankind is lazy. Lazy seems to imply ignorance: lack of action in the face of knowledge. I think the problem is people don’t know how to find the knowledge to act on. People “know” many facts, but aren’t motivated by them. Why?

I remember reading a book in high school. It was an assignment, and in the face of such a requirement–as I’m sure all of us understand–those books just don’t seem to hold me. I would rather read something I chose to read. (“Don’t you know that this will help you,” I can hear my teacher ask? “Yes, of course,” I respond, “but I don’t want to.”)

But that book made a great impact on me. I met one of my best friends while reading it (he seems to have the same feeling about reading books, too) and I seemed to connect with what it said in the first chapter, The One Thing Needful.

A teacher stands before his classroom. There is a point he wants to get across, a point he wants to emphasize. “Now, what I want is, facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to facts, sir!

“…In this life, we want nothing but facts, sir; nothing but facts!”

Thinking back on it, what I objected to was being force fed “facts,” without good reasoning to back them up. I wanted to believe, to accept, because I understood. But most importantly I wanted principles and knowledge that would help me achieve and support the things that I valued.

For me it was a moral stance. I began to realize that the One Thing Needful was not facts, but Reason.

What does the child ask for when commanded by a parent? A reason. They want to know why.

But what does that mean? What is it they really want? To me, the human being from day one begins to recognize patterns. A person begins to bring in information, and so not to be overwhelmed, that person looks for patterns in the overall confusion. As time progresses, this desire turns from patterns to security. More than anything, I feel the common human wants to feel secure.

However, we realize that since action is a requirement of life, security is not possible. With action comes reaction; with reactions, come a lack of control because we are being acted upon. We begin to look for meaning in all this.

Our confusion, and insecurity, lead us to find meaning in existence, and in our lives; and from meaning we search for a purpose. And what is purpose, but the reason behind the meaning.

Funk & Wagnall’s Dictionary defines “reason” as “a motive or cause for an action, belief [or] thought, etc. An explanation for, or defense of, an action, belief, etc. Justification. Good judgement. Common Sense….To think logically; obtain inferences or conclusions from known or presumed facts.” But finally, Funk and Wagnall’s concludes, “To think out carefully and logically; to analyze.”

When it comes to how we conduct our lives, there are attitudes, and there are reasons. Attitudes are the state of mind, or position held, by our brains. Reasons are the motivations for the attitudes. These combined lead to action, and to the action of living.

The problem, maybe even the biggest problem, is that too often we allow others to dictate our attitudes for us, as if they have the reasons. When we lose the reasons, we lose the motivation, we lose the meaning, we lose the purpose, and therefore, we lose the power to achieve, and maintain, what we have found to be of value.

How do we stop this? How do we empower ourselves, instead of letting someone else dictate for us what our reasons are? We must think for ourselves.

  1. Here are some reasons, steps, that I feel will give us a place to start. If you don’t find them consistent with what you have experienced, that’s okay. You don’t have to agree with them. The very fact that you disagree already gets you going in the right direction.
  2. Develop a method for finding what is true, or accurate. Take everything into account: every sense, every feeling, every thought. Don’t deviate from your method without good reason. If you must, stick with your changes henceforward.
  3. Let the method define your attitude. Your attitude will give you direction. It will give you purpose.
  4. As you pursue your purpose, your pursuit will require continued effort.
  5. At this point you will have achieved. You will no longer be a part of “the problem,” but a part of the resolution. You must continue, however or you may become a part of “The Problem.”

For me this is the foundation. Everything we want to express, everything we want to feel, everything we want to experience comes from following this foundation: these steps. Or as George Santayana once said, “For the life of Reason, being the sphere of all human art, is man’s imitation of divinity.”

How does all of this fit into Philosophy? It is significant because Philosophy is the recognition of these things. It is a recognition of our attitudes. It is a recognition of meaning, and a search for purpose. It develops our attitudes, and gives them definition. It challenges us to continue, and makes us smile as we recognize success, and feel our motivation.

Morality is our integrity in staying true to our values that motivate our lives, giving meaning and purpose to our existence, and happiness in our achievements. Reason, what we find when we think for ourselves (and there is no other way but to think), is the One Needful Thing. Facts are just the assertions of the weak, who have lost power over themselves, and therefore must rely on others to live their lives for them.

–David Evans

 

Discussion Group Report

Is the Creation Myth Harmful?

October 1997

By Richard Layton

The creation story in the book of Genesis in the Old Testament contains a number of contradictions and superstitions, some of which grow out of scientific ignorance, Utah Humanists member Earl Wunderli pointed out at the last meeting.

This tale was put together by priestly hands soon after the time of the exile of the Jews to Babylonia in 586 BCE. It is widely accepted among scholars today that the story “was, in fact, a version of the Babylonian creation myth, purified of polytheism and grossness, and put into the loftiest and most abstract terms of which the Jewish priesthood was capable,” according to Isaac Asimov. This plus some other portions of the first few books of the Bible are part of the “Priestly document,” which is usually designated as P. There are two strands in the Hexateuch: the first, an early one, is known as the “J document” because of its characteristic use of “Jehovah” (Yahvew) in connection with God. The second, the “E document,” uses Elohim for God. There are actually two creation stories, one in chapter one of Genesis and the other in chapter two

Contradictions in the myth are: First, on the third day God created grass, herbs and fruit trees (1:11-13), but the sun on the fourth day (1:14-19) [Grass, herbs, and fruit trees cannot live without sunlight]. Second, on the first day God created light to divide night from day (1:3-5); but the sun and moon on the fourth day (1:14-19). Third, he made birds from the waters (1:20-23), but he formed every fowl out of the ground (2:19). Fourth, the order of creation in the P account were fowls (1:20-23), then beasts (1:24) and man and woman (1:26-27), but in J it is man (2:7), beasts and birds (2:19) and then woman from man (2:21).

Then there are the superstitions of the story: God commands Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:17). Adam named every living creature (2:19) [Science has shown that there are millions of species]. God made Eve from the rib of Adam (2:21-23). The serpent persuaded Eve to eat the forbidden fruit (3:4-5). God is vengeful. Because of disobedience, woman was to bring forth children in sorrow (3:16), and the ground is cursed bringing forth thorns and thistles (3:17-18).

Concepts growing out of scientific ignorance were the Pre-Darwinian idea that plants reproduce “after his kind” (1:11-12) and the pre-Copernican notion that God put stars in the firmament to give light upon the earth.

Some values taught by the creation story can have a harmful effect upon people. The view that man is to have dominion over every living

thing (1:26, 28) has been used as justification for unwise destruction of the environment, which could leave future generations with an unhealthy and unpleasant world in which to live. God’s commandment to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” encourages overpopulation, a major cause of poverty. Attributing Adam’s disobedience to Eve’s temptation of him unjustly and chauvinistically pictures women as the source of men’s evil actions, and thus fails to hold men responsible for their own actions. Sexism and patriarchal exploitation and abuse of women are sanctioned by the injunction that, because of Eve, a woman’s “desire shall be to her husband, and he shall rule over thee.”

Experience suggests that contradictions in the teachings of scriptures don’t matter to the True Believers. They simply dismiss them, as a duck sheds water off its back. Even harmful doctrines usually don’t dissuade the faithful. It is likely that the only effective approach to the problem of superstitious belief is extensive education.

 

Cogito Ergo Sum
Can We Think For Ourselves?

October 1997

Ron Yengich, a distinguished local attorney, spoke to the general meeting of Humanists of Utah on September 11, 1997. There were 88 people present at the meeting, a new attendance record for a Humanists of Utah event. Ron’s remarks were very well received and a lively discussion ensued after the formal presentation. Here is a summary of his remarks:

According to Yengich, the major problem in our society today is blind adherence to religious and secular authority because we have lost the ability to think for ourselves.

Galileo Galilei, who did his own thinking, was prostrate before the Inquisition as René Descartes was penning his most famous phrase. Other thinkers were tortured and killed for the crime of challenging ecclesiastical authority–for doing their own thinking.

“Our sense of thinking about ourselves establishing our own reality, is becoming a lost concept,” said Yengich. “You can’t love other people until you have some understanding of yourself.” Jefferson, Madison, Adams and Paine would be astounded by today’s society. These leaders, who established the great American experiment, would be aghast that we allow others to do our thinking for us. Our opinions and attitudes are all set by television, newspapers, the government and the Internet. We have become, “We the Sheep.”

Our government is overworked and understaffed. We expect government employees to do everything with no budget. Our political parties are dependent on big money–we as individuals have no influence on politics because the very wealthy have locked us out. We have sold out to special interests. The main reason we have given up our birthright is that we have lost the ability to think for ourselves. Thomas Paine could not and would not live in our society. He would not do what it takes to influence a Senator and he would never appear on Oprah, so Common Sense would never sell.

We label people, ideas and groups. This limits our ability to interact with ideas or people who have different labels than our own. We have lost the ability to compromise. We are all responsible for the ills of society because we don’t think for ourselves. We let the media tell what to thing and what opinions to have. They tell us what is right and what is wrong.

We no longer even have the desire to compromise. “If Orrin Hatch, Jesse Helms, Joe Biden, Dick Gephart, and Newt Gingrich were at the Constitutional Convention, we would still be acting under the Articles of Confederation.”

Anything that is not an all out victory is considered a weakness. Compassion is considered a weakness and nearly everything these days is described as a war metaphor: the War on Drugs, the War on Crime, even sporting events are billed as wars and battles. Even a miniscule amount of thinking will reveal that sporting events are not wars, they are games.

We never take responsibility for anything. We blame lawyers, doctors, liberals, humanists, or welfare mothers for all of society’s ills. The last thing any of us is willing to do is acknowledge blame if something goes wrong. We operate on fads, catch words and jingles because we refuse to think for ourselves and then blame someone else if something goes awry. “We are more concerned about what others think about us than what we think about ourselves. This has led to the loss of the simple pleasure of good humor.”

–Wayne Wilson

 

 

Church and State: A Christian Nation?

November 1997

The increasing effort of some religious organizations to declare the United States a “Christian Nation” prompts me to make the following observations. One of the clearest constitutional statements regarding the intent of the founders of our nation to maintain a separation of secular and religious activities is the final phrase of Article VI, “…no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Please note that this is not an amendment to the Constitution, it is language in the original body of the document.

Regarding praying in public schools and at government functions, it is important to remember that minor children are compelled to attend public schools and are therefore a captive audience. Adults attend government meetings voluntarily and are free to talk out if they object to the use of a religious ritual. Children are taught to obey authorities and are discouraged from questioning the contents or the effectiveness of religious rituals. They are easily indoctrinated to accept the religious beliefs of the adults controlling them.

Religion teaches people what to think, not how to think. Religions indoctrinate, public schools educate. Those who support the movement to declare our country a “Christian Nation” are supporting an action that would further divide and tribalize us.

–Flo Wineriter

 

 

Discussion Group Report

Christianity’s Zoroastrian Connection

April 1997

By Richard Layton

Bible scholars have shown strong evidence that much of early Christian belief and doctrine had its origin in pagan religious and philosophical thought. Zoroastrianism, founded by the Persian religious prophet, Zoroaster, around the beginning of the sixth century BCE, likely strongly affected the course of Judeo-Christian demonology, angelology, and eschatology. Indeed, “the intellectual depth of his system may well have exerted a profound influence on Western thought; Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek thinkers showed a great interest in his doctrines,” says Martin Schwartz in “Zoroaster,” in Microsoft Encarta.

Zoroastrianism placed upon individuals the responsibility for choice among actions reckoned as positive or negative, good or evil, ritually pure or impure. Merits accruing from right actions and right attitudes included the acquisition of self-control and rewards from Ahura Mazda, the “Lord Wisdom” and the source and support of all that is good. All evil is caused by Ahriman, the twin of Spenta Mainyu, the “Holy Spirit” or “Incremental Spirit,” a creative force. This concept of Ahriman appears to be the origin of the Judeo-Christian idea of Satan as the source and supporter of evil, which does not appear in the Bible until accounts of late Old Testament times.

As with the biblical Job, hunger, disease, violence, and other forms of distress often seemed to be in control of earthly life. Zoroastrian mythology projected divine rewards into the afterlife. There was no escape from divine retribution, evil for evil, good for good. On the fourth day after death, the souls of the righteous entered the realm of the blessed, a place of beauty and endless joy. The wicked went to a place of woe and suffering. After a final rite of purification, the formerly wicked joined the righteous souls to share in the reconstituted world of the pure. Finally, there was salvation for all.

Colleen McDannel and Bernhard Lang in Heaven, A History, point out that the first Jew to use a bodily resurrection was Ezekiel who, as a prophet active in the Babylonian exile, would have been acquainted with Zoroastrianism. In one of his visions, he recognized a vast plain covered with dry human bones, bleached by the sun. Such a plain recalls a Zoroastrian funeral ground, since the followers of Ahura Mazda never buried their dead. They let the bodies lie for a year under the sun so that the rain might fall upon them and birds devour the flesh. Ezekiel, after being shown the plain, was commanded to prophesy to the bones and announce their resurrection. Immediately the skeletons were resurrected with living bodies. Later, during the Jewish persecution in 167-4 BCE, the book of Daniel expected that “of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake.” Then Paul, probably the earliest Christian writer, taught that, at an appointed time in the future, a resurrection of the dead to bodily life would occur.

It is interesting that there are similarities between Zoroastrianism and Mormonism in addition to those between Zoroastrianism and Christianity. These include an initiation ceremony (Mormon baptism) at the age of seven or eight, wearing special clothing, and the brother relationship of good and evil spirits. It is not known for sure how or why these resemblances occurred, but it is possible that Mormon scholars close to Joseph Smith may have influenced him in his formulation of doctrine.

 

Broca’s Brain

Book Review

October 1997

Broca’s Brain, written by Carl Sagan, first published in 1974, is a compilation of the author’s thoughts and musings that cover a broad spectrum of ideas. The title comes from the 19th century surgeon, neurologist and anthropologist, Paul Broca. He was one of the first to discover that different functions are confined to different parts of the brain. He believed that by studying the brains of cadavers and correlating the known experiences of the former owner of the organs, human behavior could eventually be discovered and understood. To that end he saved hundreds of human brains in jars of formalin. Among the collection is his own neural organ.

Sagan uses Broca as an example that ideas, which seem perfectly sound at any given moment, often change as knowledge accumulates and technology marches forward. This is one of the primary principles of the Scientific Method. Without the ability to modify our understanding, we become mired in dogma.

Much of the book is devoted to debunking “paradoxers” who either live at the edge of science or are outright charlatans. Another large part of the book discusses naming conventions for the members of our solar system and their physical features. Science fiction is also discussed at some length.

The final section of the book is entitled, “Ultimate Questions.” Here are a few lines:

“My deeply held belief is that if a god of anything like the traditional sort exists, our curiosity and intelligence were provided by such a god…on the other hand if such a god does not exist then our curiosity and intelligence are the essential tools for survival. In either case the enterprise of knowledge is essential for the welfare of the human species.”

“When I give lectures on borderline or pseudo or folk science, I am sometimes asked if similar criticism should not be applied to religious doctrine. My answer is, of course, yes. Freedom of religion is essential for free inquiry. But it does not carry with it any immunity from criticism or reinterpretation for the religions themselves. The words ‘question’ and ‘quest’ are cognates. Only through inquiry can we discover truth.”

Sagan posits that much of life, from so-called near death experiences to religions, can be understood and explained by the one common experience we all share: birth. The explanation is elegant, well articulated and worth reading.

Dr. Sagan is sorely missed.

–Wayne Wilson

 

 

Youth Hear About Humanism

August 1997

The Hugh O’Brian Youth Foundation invited me to participate in a Cultural Diversity panel discussion June 13, at Snow College. On the panel were representatives of LDS, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Calvary Baptist and Humanism. The audience consisted of Freshman High School students representing the student leaders of more than 80 Utah High Schools.

Panelists were asked to make an opening statement addressing the question, “What challenges and responsibilities do you have as a leader or member of your faith group here in Utah?” Responding to that question, I told the students my task is two fold: 1) to enhance public awareness of humanism and 2) to promote the positive principles and belief system of humanism.

In response to questions regarding theology I explained that humanists consider the nature of gods unknowable so we concentrate our attention on human nature and look for ways to improve the quality of this life.

The one hour panel discussion with all of the conferees was followed by an opportunity for more intimate discussions with several small groups of students. I was pleased and impressed with the interest and serious questions the students posed in the group sessions.

Hopefully these 80-plus Utah High School leaders now have a rational interest in humanism and will not be easy targets of those hate mongers who portray humanists as immoral destroyers of cherished human values.

–Flo Wineriter

 

 

In Memoriam

Bob Goff

1918 – 1997

March 1997

Robert D. Goff, 79 years of age, one the early members of our chapter, died February 9, 1997. Bob’s devotion to the problems of humanity made a significant improvement in many areas of life. His primary cause was working to end the hostilities among peoples and nations by supporting ideas and organizations that promote peaceful solutions to problems. He was active in the United Nations Organization and in the World Federalist. He participated in peace tours of Russia and Cuba, picketed the U.S. Atomic facility in Nevada, and wrote dozens of Letters to the Editors urging peace talks between all nations threatening to settle their difference with bullets rather than ballots. He also took an active role in seeking interracial understanding and respect for cultural diversity. He was an early advocate of Drivers Education for High School students in Utah and helped to shape and enact legislation making Drivers Ed mandatory for teens getting their first drivers license.

Bob Goff was an exemplary citizen and an outstanding member of the Unitarian-Universalist Society and the Humanists of Utah. The world is a better place because of his efforts and we are the beneficiaries of his devotion to improving the human condition.

–Flo Wineriter

 

 

Why Support Humanism?

March 1997

One of our chapter members recently decided not to renew membership because of limited funds for supporting organizations. The former member decided to make contributions to a more socially active organization. I thought about this decision for several days and responded with the following letter:

I’ve thought a great deal about what you said. I agree with you and I have concluded that we need to improve the communication skills of the Humanists of Utah. We need to be much more effective in letting people know why we exist. We need to clarify our Mission Statement, our Belief Statement and our Goals and Objectives. We need to enhance our public image so that those sharing the humanist philosophy can voice their convictions without fear of ridicule, censure, loss of job or community standing. Our purpose is to give humanism recognition and acceptance.

That is a real challenge in a community that has been deeply indoctrinated with a belief system that accepts an authoritarian supernatural mysticism; a belief system that convinces people they are sinners; that the only purpose of this life is preparation for a life after death; that the condition of that life-after-death is dependent upon their accepting the teachings of someone who suffered death-by-execution; and that stories in certain books are the words of a supernatural being.

Humanism wants people to live meaningful, productive, enjoyable lives because its the ethical thing to do! We can’t promise any rewards other than a clear conscience and a feeling that we have made a difference. I think that is a noble cause, worthy of our support.

This is our message and every dollar our members contribute to our chapter is used to increase public awareness of that message. Thanks for stimulating me to write this. And thanks for the support you’ve given our chapter in the past few years.

–Flo Wineriter

 

 

Why I Am Not a “UU”

March 1997

This was my last sermon preached from a Unitarian Universalist pulpit. It was delivered in 1985 or so at The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus (OH), and in it I share my, shall we say, misgivings about the Unitarian Universalist (UU) movement. Around that time is when I resigned from membership in that church.

The reasons for NOT being UU may be as diverse as the reasons for coming here in the first place.

I’ve been told by a UU minister acquaintance of mine that the average “stay” within the UU church is about five years.

In that sense, it seems to me the church is like a train station, a place to be between where you’re leaving from and where you’re going to. This led me to a working title for my talk today, Unitarian Universalism, The Train Station Religion, Or Pardon Me Boy, Is That The Chattanooga UU?

My personal stay as a member of the church was approximately two years. My doubts began, in reality, about the time the ink was drying on my name in the book, but it took me a number of experiences, some of which I detailed in my sermon on my religious odyssey, to realize that I am, in fact NOT a UU.

The historical roots of the UU Church have produced a religion with a unique flavor. The combination of residual Christianity and disguised humanism found in this denomination is to be found nowhere else. The hospitality to atheists as well as to believers in mysticism, flying saucers, pyramid power and all manner of foolishness is amazing. You do provide a church home for a lot of people who simply would be without one otherwise. I am attracted to many things, and most of the people here. Hence, my reason for still being about as a friend.

However, as a humanist, I find certain aspects of UU to be frustrating. The principle of affirming no creed is, I believe, less than forthright. Agreeing to disagree is an appropriate principle for our pluralistic society as a whole, but it is not appropriate for a religious community dedicated to celebration and action as a community. Groups that stand for everything stand for nothing or else they deceive.

The alliance of convenience between residual Christians and closet humanists is inhibiting–to both groups. Neither theists nor atheists may act boldly or creatively on their convictions out of fear of offending the other. For humanists, the result is a timid humanism that spends more time keeping peace with the god believers in the church than meeting their own needs as Humanists and reaching out to other humanists in the larger community.

The UU Hymnal–a hymnal for both Protestants and atheists–is not a miracle; it’s a disaster. This hymnal to me is a symbol of the watered down religion so often offered in the UU church.

The willingness on the part of the UU Church to tolerate my humanism is far from enough for me. My need is for an organization that affirms my humanism.

So, while I will remain a friend of the UU Church and of all of you, as long as you’ll have me, I cannot for reasons above consider myself a member of your congregation.

–Larry Reyka
Humanist Chaplain Humanist Society of Friends

 

 

Teaching About Religion

January 1997

I’m pleased to announce that as president of Humanists of Utah I have been asked to serve On the Advisory Board of Utah’s “Three R’s “Project,” a new initiative designed to increase public understanding of religious diversity. Our nation is founded on the principal that we must understand and respect our deepest difference if we are to have meaningful civil discourse and effective problem solving.

The Three R’s Project will be funded by a $250,000 grant to the Utah State Office of Education from the George S, and Dolores Dorè Eccles Foundation. That grant will be used to teach teachers and schools how to teach about religion so that Utah students can build a sense of respect for peoples of all beliefs and non-beliefs. The Three R’s (Rights, responsibility and Respect) Project, based on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, will put together policies and practices that protect the religious liberty rights of students of all faiths and no faith. The project will work with teachers to help them learn how to teach about religions and cultures without proselytizing. The goal is education without indoctrination.

This is a major educational challenge and I appreciate being asked to represent the humanist philosophy in this project.

–Flo Wineriter

 

 

About Religion

January 1997

I’m fully supportive of teaching about religion in public schools because I believe it will eventually result in a higher level of tolerance for all religious expressions including the right to reject religious beliefs, The humanist goal of respect for human dignity requires more than tolerance, it requires understanding diversity and acceptance of the right to be different, even the right to be wrong. Teaching about religion will, hopefully, increase public recognition of the values of diversity.

Full disclosure of the history of the world’s religions will encourage critical thinking about individual liberty compared to blind obedience to authoritarianism. Keeping citizens ignorant of the role of religion in the history of the human race has perpetuated the power of religion to indoctrinate. The more any idea is subject to public discourse, the sooner that idea must stand on its merits rather that its superstitions, By discouraging public discussion, religions have helped to develop a public attitude that to question the validity of gods is not only sinful but unpatriotic. I think this is one of the major reasons talk-radio has not promoted spirited debates about religion. It’s still taboo. Talk radio hosts and their listener participants carry on endless heated discussions about politics, economics, welfare, liberal versus conservative, etc., but debate about religion is neither encouraged nor permitted. Religion and death remain outside acceptable areas of discussion. Perhaps including teaching about religion in public education will break this barrier of silence.

–Flo Wineriter

 

 

Reform City Campaign Finance

August 1997

The Salt Lake Tribune (June 10) reported that the Salt Lake City Council is considering reforming the city campaign finance codes to limit the amount candidates can spend. The proposed limits are $17,000 per candidate for the City Council races and $340,000 for each mayoral candidate.

The City Council cannot require candidates to limit their expenses, as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that campaign spending is protected by the First Amendment. The most the City Council can do is set up a voluntary program to encourage candidates to limit their expenses.

But, what are reasonable expenditure limits for the mayoral race? Are qualified citizens who would perhaps make excellent candidates not running because they don’t have access to large sums of money? Is the mayoral race in Salt Lake City becoming similar to U.S. Senate races in which only the wealthy can compete? What will happen to our democracy if our elected leaders need to either be independently wealthy or have easy access to huge sums of money in order to run a competitive campaign?

The Salt Lake City Council can devise a better plan with dramatically lower voluntary spending limits. Here is just one suggestion: Before both the primary and the general election, the city could mail to all city residents a candidate-approved information flyer which shows back-to-back where the candidates stand on important city issues. Those candidates who did not agree to limit their expenditures would get one line with their name and the fact that they refused to limit their expenditures.

The quality of our democracy is dependent on well-informed citizens who believe that their elected officials are responsive to their needs. Campaign finance reform is desperately needed at every level of our government. The Salt Lake City Council has the opportunity to help create an electoral process which will help strengthen citizen confidence in our government.

–Barbara and Norman Tanner
Letter to the Editor Published in
The Salt Lake Tribune
July 7, 1997

 

 

19th Amendment
August 18, 1920

August 1997

The concept that the people under a government should have a voice in selecting its leaders was a significant idea coming out of the 16th century’s Age of Enlightenment.

The U.S. Declaration of Independence, 1776, declared the equality of all people, yet it was not until August 18, 1920, that women in the United States were officially recognized as equal participants in the nation’s political process. On that date the 19th amendment was ratified, ending the long struggle for women’s political suffrage in this country. Women are still battling for equality in business and the religious process.

–Flo Wineriter

 

Humanist Manifesto I

May 1997

May 1, 1997, marks the 64th anniversary of the publication of Humanist Manifesto I. Significant changes in the social and economic conditions following World War I generated the interest of religious, political and educational leaders in searching for a new idea system that would stimulate realistic hope for the destiny of human life. The search led to the humanistic philosophy espoused by European leaders of the Enlightenment and the eventual drafting of the Humanist Manifesto I. Thirty-four preeminent men of science, letters and academia approved and signed the finished document which was published in Chicago by Rev. Edwin H. Wilson, a Unitarian Minister, in the May 1933 issue of his bimonthly magazine, The New Humanist. Fifteen of the 34 signers were Unitarian ministers.

Corliss Lamont said, “The Humanist Manifesto of 1933 was a landmark in the development of religious and philosophical humanism.”

The fascinating story of the events leading to the Humanist Manifesto is chronicled in The Genesis of a Humanist Manifesto written by Ed Wilson and published after his death by the American Humanist Association.

–Flo Wineriter

 

 

Why I am an Agnostic

April 1997

An agnostic is a doubter. The word is generally applied to those who doubt the verity of accepted religious creeds of faiths. Everyone is an agnostic as to the beliefs or creeds they do not accept. Catholics are agnostic to the Protestant creeds, and the Protestants are agnostic to the Catholic creed. Any one who thinks is an agnostic about something, otherwise he must believe that he is possessed of all knowledge. And the proper place for such a person is in the madhouse or the home for the feeble-minded. In a popular way, in the western world, an agnostic is one who doubts or disbelieves the main tenets of the Christian faith.

I would say that belief in at least three tenets is necessary to the faith of a Christian: a belief in God, a belief in immortality, and a belief in a supernatural book. Various Christian sects require much more, but it is difficult to imagine that one could be a Christian, under any intelligent meaning of the word, with less. Yet there are some people who claim to be Christians who do not accept the literal interpretation of all the Bible, and who give more credence to some portions of the book than to others.

I am an agnostic as to the question of God. I think that it is impossible for the human mind to believe in an object or thing unless it can form a mental picture of such object or thing…

The reasons for agnosticism are abundant and compelling. Fantastic and foolish and impossible consequences are freely claimed for the belief in religion. All the civilization of any period is put down as a result of religion. All the cruelty and error and ignorance of the period has no relation to religion.

The truth is that the origin of what we call civilization is not due to religion but to skepticism. So long as men accepted miracles without question, so long as they believed in original sin and the road to salvation, so long as they believed in a hell where man would be kept for eternity on account of Eve, there was no reason whatever for civilization: life was short, and eternity was long, and the business of life was preparation for eternity.

When every event was a miracle, when there was no order or system or law, there was no occasion for studying any subject, or being interested in anything excepting a religion which took care of the soul. As man doubted the primitive conceptions about religion, and no longer accepted the literal, miraculous teachings of ancient books, he set himself to understand nature. We no longer cure disease by casting out devils. Since that time, men have studied the human body, have built hospitals and treated illness in a scientific way. Science is responsible for the building of railroads and bridges, of steamships, of telegraph lines, of cities, towns, large buildings and small, plumbing and sanitation, of the food supply, and the countless thousands of useful things that we now deem necessary to life. Without skepticism and doubt, none of these things could have been given to the world.

The fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is the death of wisdom. Skepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom.

The modern world is the child of doubt and inquiry, as the ancient world was the child of fear and faith.

Excerpted from the Secular Web