2003

 

 

Women’s Rights

Letter to the Editor

February 2003

Women’s rights are absolutely protected under the Constitution and should be largely defended from that point of view. Too many women having access to the media are wasting valuable airtime debating whether polls support their position or whether Roe vs. Wade will be upheld. I say they should go directly to the Constitution for the defense of their rights.

What does the Constitution have to say? I refer you first to Article XIV under the AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION. It states: All persons born (not about to be born) are citizens of the United States. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens (people who are born) .nor shall any State deprive any person (born) of life, liberty, or property .nor deny the equal protection of the laws. Now take a look at the Preamble to the Constitution. We the people (breathing, walking, talking people, not the unborn) of the United States in order to promote the general welfare (of the people and certainly women qualify) and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves (again women qualify) and our posterity (those who will inherit constitutional rights equal to their mothers only after being born) do establish the CONSTITUTION for the United States of America.

Certainly the whole absurd idea of rights of the unborn being separate from and superceding women’s rights as citizens is a Christian notion. Certainly they are in the majority but we also have separation of Church and State. Americans should know that when it comes to abrogating individual rights it takes a great deal more than a simple majority. In my view a state that oppresses even 20% of its citizens is not a state worthy of our Constitutional ideals. It would take something greater than an 80% majority before I would believe we are talking about a universal morality shared by all good people.

Christians need to be taught a constitutional morality. Christian fundamentalists are determined to change America in ways never envisioned by our Founding Fathers. That fundamentalism is little different from the Muslim fundamentalism that motivates bin Ladin, and we have a devastatingly costly and unnecessary war to show for it today.

–Grant Simons

Send letters to: Richard Garrard or: Editor, PO box 900212, Sandy, Utah 84090-0212

Discussion Group Report

What is Consciousness?

April 2003

By Richard Layton

Through millennia philosophers have wrestled unsuccessfully with the question, what is consciousness? And in recent times neuroscientists have achieved some success but have loaded the deck by defining consciousness strictly in terms of the brain. In “Consciousness and Cognition,” in the book Mysteries of the Mind, published by National Geographic in the year 2000 and written for the general public, Richard Restak summarizes and thoughtfully elucidates what has been discovered about the subject.

Before I get into describing the book, let me point out that much has been discovered about brain functioning through scientific research in the last 50 years; but because the brain is such a highly complex organ, probably the most complex creation of nature on earth, very much remains to be found out about it. Humanists might be interested in knowing that the findings about brain science give no support to the idea of the existence of what religionists and some philosophers refer to as the “spirit,” or “soul,” an animating or vital principle, possibly supernatural, that is held to give life to physical organisms. The evidence points to the conception that “It’s all in the brain.”

Restak describes the problem in conceptualizing consciousness: “No amount of conscious introspection on your part will teach you a thing about your brain as a physical object, even though consciousness is a property of your physical brain. Should you fall asleep or receive an anesthetic, your resultant loss of consciousness can be monitored by others through chemical and electrical alternations in your brain. Yet you are not aware of any of these chemical or electrical changes.”

Now imagine that, in the next room, some neuroscientists are using a highly sophisticated imaging device to monitor the moment-to-moment operations of your brain. Those scientists have no access to your consciousness, no idea of what you may be thinking. While the mind and the brain form a unity, our knowledge about them rests upon an irreducible duality. As philosopher Colin McGinn put it in The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World, “You can introspect till you burst and you will not discover neurons and synapses and all the rest; and you can stare at someone’s brain from dawn to dusk and you will not perceive the consciousness that is so apparent to the person whose brain you are rudely eyeballing. Even high-tech instruments only give the physical basis for consciousness, not consciousness as it exists for the persons whose consciousness it is.”

Restak observes, “Today we are no closer to an understanding of the mind-brain conundrum than our forbears, and can only agree with Thomas Huxley’s 1886 observation. ‘How it is that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as a result of irritating nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the djiin, when Alladin rubbed his lamp…'” Restak proposes not to try to present answers but to suggest some approaches to help you make up your own mind-brain about this dilemma. In the short space of this article it is possible only to synopsize his ideas very briefly and inadequately to give you a rough idea of his thinking.

Under ordinary conditions, an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate, which is located toward the front of the brain, is activated whenever we have to focus and concentrate our attention. Patients with damage to the anterior cingulate do not initiate any action or even speak on their own. They sit for long periods of time without speech or movement, in a state called akinetic mutism. One patient who recovered from such an injury explained her previous passivity by saying, “Well, nothing ever came to mind.” Only after her recovery did she become fully conscious once again and experience herself as the initiator of her own thoughts and behavior.

Even so, the anterior cingulate is not the “seat of consciousness.” There is no single area responsible for consciousness; consciousness is not an entity but an active process that requires the participation of many components. Among these are awakeness and alertness, access to our memories of preceding events, the ability to form some kind of mental picture of the likely consequences of our actions and being able to “get in touch” with ourselves via internal monitoring–that sense of self and identity that separates each of us from everyone else in the world. When Descartes declared, “I think, therefore I am,” he gave short shrift to some very vital processes. Without neurotransmitters in his brain stem, without areas in the brain called the hippocampus and the frontal and prefrontal areas, as well as the anterior cingulate, he wouldn’t have been able to formulate the concept of “I.”

But isn’t it overly simplistic to imply that one of the world’s great thinkers can be explained by simply referring to neurons and networks? Philosopher John Searle considers consciousness to be “a biological feature of the human and certain animal brains. It is caused by neurobiological processes and is as much a part of the natural biological order as any other biological feature.” As a neurologist Restak is comfortable with this view because in his experience he has observed the effects of various kinds of brain damage on consciousness. These can vary from a slight decrease in alertness and wakefulness to deep and irreversible coma. In between there are people who deny their paralysis and seem unaware they have suffered brain damage; others who have developed profound amnesia for important events in their past; still others who can’t recognize their spouses or children by sight alone but only after hearing their voices. In such instances brain, mind and consciousness seem inseparably interwoven.

Much of our uncertainty about consciousness can be traced to difficulties in understanding the unconscious. Philosopher Stuart Hampshire sums it up: “A great deal of our thinking proceeds without conscious awareness. In the exercise of the use of language itself and in many of our skills we are thinking preconsciously, working things out without knowing how we worked them out, or by what steps we arrived at the conclusion.” Bertrand Russell offered: “Suppose you are walking on a wet day and you see a puddle and avoid it. You are not likely to say to yourself: ‘There is a puddle; it would not be advisable to step in it.’ But if somebody said, ‘Why did you step aside?’ you would answer, ‘Because I didn’t wish to step into that puddle.’ You know, retrospectively, that you had a visual perception, and you expressed the knowledge in words. But what would you have known, and in what sense, if your attention had not been called to the matter by the questioner?”

We respond to most of the events and people around us without thinking consciously about them. Imagine the torture of driving a car if each and every action had to be consciously attended to. Instead we learn to ‘automate’ frequently practiced routines so that our conscious awareness can work on other more interesting things. Hidden mental processes regularly exert an influence on our behavior.

As children our capacity for consciously exerted emotional self-control depends on the healthy maturation and functioning of the anterior cingulate. Many criminals and psychopaths suffer from disturbances in the pre-frontal-cingulate axis, which helps explain why they have trouble restraining their emotions and making wise decisions about the consequences of their behavior. I ask, is it possible that criminal behavior can result from a brain defect? If so, what would be the implications of this possibility for law enforcement?

All attempts to locate a single area, a “seat of consciousness” in the brain have failed. Research reveals that consciousness is based on the operations of many discrete brain areas, referred to as modules. How and where are all these modules integrated into the unified whole we call consciousness? Philosophers refer to this as the homunculus problem, because some early microscopists thought they could detect a tiny person–what they called a homunculus–in human sperm or the fertilized egg of a human. Where in the brain, they ask, is hidden the tiny man or woman who makes sense out of all the brain’s widely distributed activity? Even the most modern imaging techniques have failed to reveal a homunculus.

Restak says that to speak of a “consciousness” of chemical and electrical events is nonsense. Does it make sense to ask, “What is happening in my brain’s potassium channels or serotonin receptors when I decide to contact an online travel service to book a flight tomorrow to Geneva?” To ask such a question is to make what the philosopher Gilbert Ryle called the category mistake: to lump different things together instead of distinguishing them, like apples and oranges, which are both fruits but shouldn’t be mixed when making a point. Only compare things that are in the same category.

He considers an analogy to compare without mixing apples and oranges. He compares brain and consciousness to a clock and time. The position of the clock hands (the brain) bears a constant relationship to the time (consciousness) indicated by the clock. The clock hands, like the brain, are physical and configured in special spatial positions. But time is not spatial; it lacks position or physical extension. So it is with consciousness. The clock or brain tells the time and can be read by any number of observers. Yet consciousness is a personal affair; only you are privy to it. This is a fundamental and probably unbridgeable distinction. McGinn writes,” Consciousness indubitably exists, and it is connected to the brain in some intelligible way; but the nature of this connection necessarily eludes us.”

Restak suggests we stop looking for connections and locations and, instead, search for dynamic systems that move through the brain like waves through the ocean. Rodolfo Llinas has measured such a wave moving though parts of the brain at 40 cycles per second. He believes it provides an answer to the “binding problem”: how the information provided by all our senses gets tied into a single, coherent whole. Nerve nets with billions of neurons couldn’t function if every neuron “spoke” at the same time. Neurons that have the same rhythm at the same time connect with each other more easily than when they have different rhythms (as when people dance).

In The Missing Moment: How the Unconscious Shapes Modern Science, Robert Pollack states, “The conductor in charge of bringing the symphony of consciousness out of the brain’s separate centers is a synchronizing wave of electrical activity that sweeps regularly through the brain from behind the forehead to behind the nape…This wave links the centers responsible for unconscious and conscious activities of the mind…where…emotional states are generated, long-term memories stored and the intentions to speak and act generated.” Other brain waves with different frequencies have been found.

Certainly forces and energy fields have become central to our understanding of the physical world. In contemporary physics “solid” matter isn’t so solid, but is composed of atoms separated by large empty spaces. Why not think of consciousness in similar terms? Philosopher Galen Strawson says, “It can seem natural to think of consciousness as a form or manifestation of energy as a kind of force, and even perhaps a kind of field.”

We Had Order

December 2003

I remember a conversation I had several years ago with a man of German descent. While working at the same job site for a considerable time, we had occasion to chat now and then. He had served in the German Tank Corps during WWII.

I don’t recall what started us talking about law and order. I do remember that we were talking about the fact that in a society such as ours (the United States), where we have a high degree of personal freedom and this freedom is sometimes abused by those who take advantage of our open and free society.

I also remember one of the things he said, somewhat forcefully: “In Germany we had order! There was very little crime. The streets were safe. But oh, what a price we paid!”

I am not worried that the Third Reich is going to rise up in the U.S. But we cannot continue to give away our civil liberties to those who would consolidate power against the citizenry. We must be aware that while it is very easy to give up our liberties, it will be very hard to get them back from those who would lace up the jack boot in the name of national security.

I don’t trust them, and believe they attack our liberties to amass power as much as for any “security concerns.”

–Robert Lane

War Junkies

From the Editor

Date Published

So begins the new Pax Americana: the liberation of Iraq.

The entertainment value alone is enormous. Such spectacle: earnest young men and women in high tech gear, traveling thousands of miles, through sandstorm and media storm, to save the oppressed people of a distant land. What could be nobler? More photogenic, more evocative of patriotic rhetoric and flags and eagles and bravery and sacrifice?

Each generation apparently gets to have its war, its particular myth of apocalyptic conflict. Such is also the stuff of much of great literature, from the Bible to Lord of the Rings to Star Wars. It is rousing, blood pumping stuff: the horror and glory of battle, of dying for a purpose. It is so very seductive.

And so very deceptive.

America is not only the greatest military power in human history, but also the greatest exporter of entertainment. We are the dreamers, but also the mythmakers. From Madison Avenue to Hollywood, we have perfected the technology of illusion. We can make prehistoric creatures come alive, portray long dead heroes and extraterrestrial beings with a stunning realism. As we sell products and political candidates, we also sell the desirability of war.

War is like a surge of adrenaline to a people: the body politic is jolted, ready for extreme situations, brain and muscle pumped up and dedicated to swift and powerful action. It also means redlining the metabolism and the emotions and it cannot be sustained without damage to the organism. Yet, if this is the only way the creature can survive, it can be called upon.

The Iraq war, a pre-emptive attack without provocation, is artificial, like a methamphetamine.

If the American people become addicted to this jolt, to the high of bellicose patriotism, to shooting up on the drama of war, where will it lead?

The morning after is inevitable; the crash will come. There will be an awakening, terrible and real, to the waste and devastation that cannot be undone. America the Beautiful will become America the Terrible. What is worse, is one shot will lead to another. And another. And another.

We will–or have–become a nation of war junkies.

–Richard Garrard

War

~Difference of Opinion~

October 2003

From two of my favorite people who I admire and respect:

An excerpt from a speech given by President Gordon Hinkley during the April 2003 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints:

“I believe that God will not hold men and women in uniform responsible as agents of their government in carrying forward that which they are legally obligated to do. It may even be that He will hold us responsible if we try to impede or hedge up the way of those who are involved in a contest with forces of evil and repression.”

Hinkley came to this conclusion after, in his own words, “As I discuss the matter I seek the direction of the Holy Spirit. I have prayed and pondered much concerning this.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here are a few excerpts from Albert Einstein’s writings in January of 1928 and in the spring of 1929:

“Every thoughtful, well meaning and conscientious human being should assume, in time of peace, the solemn and unconditional obligation to not participate in any war for any reason. No one has the right to call himself a Christian or a Jew if he is prepared to commit murder upon the instruction of a given authority. As far as I am concerned the welfare of humanity must take preference over loyalty to one’s own country–in fact over anything and everything.”

Einstein came to his conclusions without any help from the supernatural. In his words “My pacifism is an instinctive feeling, a feeling that possesses me; the thought of murdering another human being is abhorrent to me. My attitude is not the result of an intellectual theory but is caused by a deep antipathy to every cruelty and hatred.”

–Rolf Kay

Federal Aid For Church Construction, Repair
Would Violate Constitution
Warns Americans United for Church and State

April 2003

Proposed ‘Faith-Based’ Aid From HUD Draws Protest From Watchdog Group

The Bush administration’s plan to use federal housing funds to help churches and other houses of worship construct or repair their facilities is constitutionally flawed and should not be implemented, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In a seven-page memorandum delivered today to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Americans United’s legal department said the plan, which was first made public in early January, fails “to comply with constitutional requirements.”

The public had until today to issue comments to the department before it is expected to approve the plan, which would allow religious groups to acquire federal aid to rehabilitate or build facilities used for both religious and social service activities. Richard A. Hauser, HUD’s general counsel, told The New York Times that the department’s traditional rule prohibiting religious entities from using tax dollars to build or refurbish houses of worship would be dumped for the administration’s new plan.

“The First Amendment clearly forbids government to build or repair houses of worship,” said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “I hope the Bush administration will scrap this egregiously unconstitutional proposal.”

Lynn noted that the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that tax funds could not be used for the maintenance of religious buildings. In its Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty v. Nyquist decision, the justices stated that “[i]f the State may not erect buildings in which religious activities are to take place, it may not maintain such buildings or renovate them when they fall into disrepair.”

AU’s memo to HUD noted that the Bush plan contains no explanation of how federal workers would ensure that public funds are not spent to advance religion or how they would ensure that the needy would not being subjected to religious indoctrination in publicly funded programs that provide shelter or housing.

“The new HUD policy is a reckless extension of Bush’s initiative to provide broad-based financial support to religious groups,” Lynn said. “It will also undermine our country’s efforts to help our neediest.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

© Americans United for Separation of Church and State, 2002. All rights reserved.

The Value of Literacy

February 2003

I would like to comment on a much-valued human asset in our society: literacy. Since colonial times, literacy has been given great emphasis. In the early 1800’s, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error”, and, a century later, Thomas Mann saw education as a means of “elevating conditions of the poor” and “Americanizing the collection of varying cultures and religions.” Today there is not a politician who fails to exploit the notion of the power of literacy, and the precious gift of reading. So, with such strong support over three centuries, why is the quality of our literacy relatively poor? Just HOW has reading been used over 300 years? How does it empower us?

According to historian Harvey Graff, author of Perspectives of Literacy (1988), reading in colonial schools meant scriptural study, with the specific aim of inculcating rigid values in a united citizenry. The New England primer was used for 150 years and sold 3,000,000 copies. It reminded students they were in need of salvation. Students read couplets such as, “In Adam’s Fall/We sinned, all.” The reasons for imparting reading skills were clearly NOT emancipation or creative empowerment of the reader.

In today’s schools, there is also a catechism, a political one. Our country is the bastion of human rights, the lade of equal opportunity. The exercise of free inquiry through reading is subtly compromised by the demand for adherence to ideology and cultural conformity. This compromise is an effective silencer of opinions. Students learn about John D. Rockefeller, but not Mother Jones, about Teddy Roosevelt but not Eugene V. Debs. The context of education is political, and political agendas pervade students’ lives from an early age and, too often, usurp their ability to be empowered, galvanized, vocalized by literacy. According to John Fiske in his book Reading the Popular (1989), “Knowledge is never neutral. It never exists in an empiricist, objective relationship to the real. Knowledge is power, the circulation of knowledge is part of the social distribution of power.

Actual empowerment through literacy, that is, gaining insights and understanding from reading, is really NOT what government seeks, as this would threaten the grip of corporate, social and religious status quo.

Thus, literacy programs, historically, have had a very different intent from the purported objectives. It hasn’t really been the aim to create an informed, CONFIDENT, free, thinking populace, able to spot propaganda or commercial jargon, and thus avoid being prey to manipulation or exploitation, in other words, to read intelligently. Michael Apple, of the University of Wisconsin, argues in his book, Democratic Education in a Conservative Age (1993): “Our aim should be to create critical literacy, powerful literacy, political literacy which enables growth of genuine understanding and control of all the spheres of social life in which we participate.”

I have some texts of letters published in Harper’s Magazine, November, 2002, from U.S. citizens to J. Edgar Hoover. I feel they illustrate the failure to read with genuine understanding and control of these social spheres. The letters, dated 1955 to 1971, were found last year in Mr. Hoover’s files, courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act. The finder was Ed Norris, publisher of a newsletter for Mad Magazine collectors, called The Mad Panic:

Dear Mr. Hoover,
I have read many issues of this Mad Magazine and I would like to pass my observations on to you. First of all, you will notice there are no advertisements and no photographs in the entire magazine. It costs millions of dollars to produce this kind of magazine and the single copy costs only .25 cents, which leads me to believe that someone is subsidizing the cost of this publication. Second, this magazine attacks every phase of our American way of life, such as churches, police departments, armed forces, television, radio, doctors, professional men, politics etc.etc. I feel this magazine is a diabolical form of Red propaganda used to infiltrate the minds of our teenagers and destroy our American way of life. A word used at the bottom of the first page by their own admission is a good way to describe what they are trying to do: “Satiric.”

Dear Sirs,
During an Anti-Communist Study Course at Sylvania Heights School, the speaker named Mad Magazine as a Communist Front publication, giving as her authority a Naval Training Unit film she had seen. Please tell me whether it is true that the magazine is a front for Communists, subtly influencing our youth away from good American ideals; or whether it is just the satiric comedy it appears to be, panning the foibles of humanity wherever they’re found. Our PTA wishes to take up the cudgel against Mad, and I want to be sure it’s the right information I have.

(I see that writer didn’t trust her common sense too far–but came dangerously close!)

The final letter is from a sixth grade class:

Dear Mr. Hoover,
It has been said that Mad Magazine is either Communist-controlled or has Communist articles. We would like your help in clearing up this rumor. If it is true, we shall take action against the sale of this magazine. If it is not true, we shall feel free to buy it. Could you please explain the truth to us?

–Heather Dorrell

Tom Snyder’s Prayer

May 2003

Our Mother, who art in heaven (if, indeed there is a heaven and if there is a God that takes a woman’s form) hallowed be thy name, we ask for thy blessing for and guidance of those that will participate in this meeting and for those mortals that govern the state of Utah;

We fervently ask that you guide the leaders of this city, Salt Lake County and the State of Utah so that they may see the wisdom of separating church and state and so that they will never again perform demeaning religious ceremonies as part of official government functions;

We pray that you prevent self-righteous politicians from mis-using the name of God in conducting government meetings; and, that you lead them away from the hypocritical and blasphemous deception of the public, attempting to make the people believe that bureaucrats’ decisions and actions have thy stamp of approval if prayers are offered at the beginning of government meetings;

We ask that you grant Utah’s leaders and politicians enough courage and discernment to understand that religion is a private matter between every individual and his or her deity; we beseech thee to educate government leaders that religious beliefs should not be broadcast and revealed for the purpose of impressing others; we pray that you strike down those that mis-use your name and those that cheapen the institution of prayer by using it for their own selfish political gains;

We ask that the people of the State of Utah will some day learn the wisdom of the separation of church and state; we ask that you will teach the people of Utah that government should not participate in religion; we pray that you smite those government officials that would attempt to censor or control prayers made by anyone to you or to any other of our Gods;

We ask that you deliver us from the evil of forced religious worship now sought to be imposed upon the people of the State of Utah by the actions of mis-guided, weak and stupid politicians, who abuse power in their own self-righteousness; All of this we ask in thy name and in the name of thy son (if in fact you had a son that visited earth) for the eternal betterment of all of us who populate the Great State of Utah.

Amen.

On April 11, 2003, the Utah State Supreme Court ruled that Murray City, Utah violated the free speech rights of Tom Snyder when it refused to allow him to offer this “prayer” before a meeting of the City Council. Murray City officials had declined, informing Mr. Snyder that “the text of (this) proposed prayer was unacceptable…” This appeared to contradict the earlier claim that the city had no “established formal policies” on prayer content. With the help of First Amendment attorney Brian Barnard, Snyder has won his case, charging that his rights to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment had been violated, along with his rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.

Tolerance

December 2003

The Nov/Dec 2003 Newsletter of the Humanist Association of Massachusetts features an article on tolerance by one of its chapter members, Peter B. Denison. I would like to share the essence of his thoughts with the Humanists of Utah.

“While humanists and atheists decry the intolerance of certain religious leaders, we should also look into ourselves. Are we as tolerant as we should be?

“We humanists reject the concept of god as unproven, but is believing in god really stupid? Most religious people are as intelligent as we.

“Fundamentalism is not the whole of Christianity even if is the noisiest part. Most Christians have really given up on Fundamentalism, and perhaps we humanists and other freethinkers should do so too.

“Humanists believe in human dignity, that all people should be treated with the respect due all human beings.”

–Flo Wineriter

Thanks to Richard Garrard

September 2003

Circumstances in Richard’s life conspired to have him make a decision not to carry on as Editor and Publisher of The Utah Humanist and as a chapter board member. He submitted a letter of resignation to both positions. The board reluctantly accepted the letter and wishes him well. Over the past three years Richard has taken The Utah Humanist to heights that it may never again achieve. Wayne Wilson and Flo Wineriter agreed to assume the responsibility for production of our monthly publication until someone else steps forward.

Richard also vacated a 2-year position on the board. If anyone is interested in serving the rest of his term, please talk to any member of our chapter leadership.

However, Richard also pledged to remain an active member of Humanists of Utah. He produces an outstanding on-line news summary titled, “Beyond the Outrages.” If you are not already a subscriber you can email him to join.

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.

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Action Alert!

Help Stop Barbaric Stoning
Appeal Planned for June 3rd

May 2003

(Washington, DC–April 24, 2003) A great deal has been made of religious fundamentalism in the past months, Christian and Islamic, at home and abroad. Now it has reared its ugly head once again and an innocent woman desperately needs your help to avoid a tortuous death. As humanists we are called upon by our conscience to fight the archaic applications of fundamentalism.

The Nigerian Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to apply the death penalty to adultery convictions. However, in Nigeria, regional laws that contradict federal law are frequently introduced and enacted because the Nigerian constitution protects individual states from federal intrusion. So an Islamic court in Katsina State did exactly that and convicted Amina Lawal, 30, of adultery because she admitted to having a child while divorced. She was sentenced to death by stoning and is waiting for the June 3rd appeal date.

If the sentence is not overturned, Amina’s fate will involve being first buried to her waist, then the executioners will hurl stones at her until she finally dies. Four other people are currently sentenced to die in the same manner.

The judge in this case ruled that the sentence could not be carried out before Amina finished breastfeeding her newborn baby. So there is still a real chance to save her! It is imperative that we aid the efforts of others around the world who are working to save Amina Lawal and four other Nigerians from such inhuman punishment. The Spanish branch of Amnesty International’s petition to end this horrible punishment has already received over four million signatures! A similar campaign has already saved the life of a similarly imperiled Nigerian woman named Safiya Hussaini.

How you can help:

Demand that President Olusegun Obasanjo overturn Amina and other’s stoning sentences! Please sign Amnesty International of Spain’s Letter to the Nigerian president. On the space marked “nombre,” put your first name. Put your last name in the space marked “apellidos.” Type your state of residence under “Provincia.” And in “país,” select “Estados Unidos” (United States). Then click “Seguir.” After you’ve signed, send the petition to as many people as possible. You may additionally contact President Olusegun Obasanjo Amina’s appeal is set for June 3, so please act now!

Sin, Lust, and Love in Utah

October 2003

What do Prostitution, Polygamy and Power have in common? They begin with the same letter and all have played significant roles in early Utah history. Professor Jeff Nichols developed that theme when he spoke to the Humanists of Utah September 11th public meeting. The assistant professor of history at Westminster College explained that his search of the two major Salt Lake City newspapers files found very little mention of prostitution until 1870, the year following the original Golden Spike ceremony marking completion of the cross country railroad system.

His research revealed many colorful stories regarding officials, and public, political and religious institutions and their connections with prostitution. Most of the stories involved the 30-year power struggle from 1875 to 1905 between Mormons and gentiles as they sought social, economic, and political influence. The stories combined prostitution, illegal cohabitation, and polygamy all portrayed as acts of lust, sin and antifamily. The three P’s were underlying themes in the Deseret Territory’s struggle for statehood.

Professor Nichols appearance was sponsored by the Utah Humanities Council’s speakers bureau. His book, Prostitution, Polygamy and Power: Salt Lake City 1847 to 1918 , was published 2002 by the University of Illinois.

–Flo Wineriter

Rethinking Jefferson

November 2003

Recently, a gentleman by the name of C. Odell Kay (no relation) wrote a letter to the editor as follows: “Senator Ted Kennedy has a lot to say about President Bush. He manages to sidestep the glaring fact that 9-11 didn’t happen overnight. Mistakes were made a decade ago by the previous administration.” The following quote is from Thomas Jefferson: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Far be it for me to try to improve on Jefferson’s writing but I wish he had said something like, “I hope that someday the tree of liberty will not have to be refreshed by the blood of patriots and tyrants but by the tears of joy and happiness of all mankind”

–Rolf Kay

Responsibility

November 2003

Author Chester Dolan (Religion on Trial, second edition, page 157) is adamant about the necessity of humans taking personal responsibility. With his permission I quote:

“The universe is indifferent, not capable of caring about us one way or another. There is not now nor has there ever been the slightest evidence that the universe can dispose or propose, that purpose plays any part in the goings on beyond the nervous systems of sentient beings. The universe has not motive nor means, and produces no intended effects. The universe just is, that is all. The universe is not out there to get us nor to favor us. We are in command, and we must make every effort to improve the ways we do that which we do.”

–Flo Wineriter

March 2003

“Perhaps we think that we won’t find another human being inside that person. Perhaps we think that there are some people in this world who I can’t ever communicate with, and so I’ll just give up before I try. And how sad it is to think that we would give up on any other creature who’s just like us.”

–Fred Rogers


“Difference of opinion leads to enquiry, and enquiry to truth.”
“We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

–Thomas Jefferson


“The American ideal is not that we all agree with each other, or even like each other, every minute of the day. It is rather that we will respect each other’s rights, especially the right to be different, and that, at the end of the day, we will understand that we are one people, one country, and one community, and that our well-being is inextricably bound up with the well-being of each and every one of our fellow citizens.”

–C. Everett Koop
Former US Surgeon General


“I love America because it is a confused, chaotic mess-and I hope we can keep it this way for at least another thousand years. The permissive society is the free society, the open society. Who gave us permission to live this way? Nobody did. We did. And that’s the way it should be-only more so. The best cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.”

–Edward Abbey
The Journey Home


“The great decisions of government cannot be dictated by the concerns of religious factions…. We have succeeded for 205 years in keeping the affairs of state separate from the uncompromising idealism of religious groups and we mustn’t stop now. To retreat from that separation would violate the principles of conservatism and the values upon which the framers built this democratic republic.”

–Senator Barry M. Goldwater


“The capacity for getting along with our neighbor depends to a large extent on the capacity for getting along with ourselves. The self-respecting individual will try to be as tolerant of his neighbor’s shortcomings as he is of his own.”

–Eric Hoffer


“If you have two religions in your land, the two will cut each other’s throats; but if you have thirty religions, they will dwell in peace.”

–Voltaire

Religion on Trial

Book Review
by Flo Wineriter

September 2003

Religion on Trial
by Chester Dolan
Mopah Publications

The author is 88-years old and this book represents the summation of his life’s critical study of world religions. The more than eight hundred thinker-writers whose quotations appear in Religion on Trial have chosen to defend the negative side of propositions about religion. Quoting from the preface: “In the creed-bound atmosphere in which we live today, effective dialectic is suppressed. Very few people understand or dare relate the salient truths about religion. Such neglect gives religion the stranglehold it has over malleable, unreflective minds everywhere.”

Each chapter deals with a specific subject, making it an ideal reference book as well as an excellent read on mysticism and superstition.

The “Real” Political Struggle

September 2003

Gore Vidal has written an impressive fictional history of our Great American Experiment that covers several volumes. Here is an excerpt describing one of Franklin Roosevelt’s Cabinet meetings taken from The Golden Age, the last book in Vidal’s series.

“Those rich boys daydream about vast armies and navies conquering all the seas and lands while we humble folk think of boys that we know-sons even-dying in a process that benefits no one but the international banks and their lawyer-lobbyists. The real political struggle in the United States, since the Civil War, has been between the peaceful inhabitants of the nation with their generally representative Congresses and a small professional elite totally split off from the nation, pursuing wealth through wars that they invent and justify and resonate for others to die in.”

Reality Check Anyone?

December 2003

As more and more big businesses take a dive, should anyone be all that surprised? For twenty years or more I have been of the opinion that “the Market” had been taken over by money manipulators, people who make obscene amounts of money while contributing little to society. Some, as we now see, have not only schemed their way to wealth, but have also ruined businesses and employees’ lives in the process.

I sense that a great many Americans are surprised and aghast at what has been happening. So maybe what we all need is a reality check. American business is infected with the ethic “do whatever it takes,” which manifests itself in a number of ways: “Don’t compete with your competitors, destroy them,” “Tell them what they want to hear,” “Money talks and bullshit walks,” and on and on.

Basically it is endemic dishonesty, so pervasive that we don’t even recognize it when it is right in our faces. A few good and even amusing examples are in advertising. I admit that a lot of the garbage in advertising is innocuous and is meant to be stupid or goofy, but a lot of it is still dishonest or a false representation. A few examples: One, a few years old and that I will never forget, was by a local bank. While showing us a scene of the mountains from the air, the announcer proclaims, “Long before time there were the mountains.” Now any analysis of this gem might lead you to ask a couple of questions like, how do you get long before time? Does this mean that they have discovered negative time? Also, how do you have mountains before time? And finally, who thought up this asinine sentence? Another good one is, “this car has a soul”…okayyy. One of the newer ones is for the “mach three turbo.” Now folks, you might think this is a fighter jet, but it is a shaving razor. By its name we could assume that it has a turbine engine of some sort and shaves at three times the speed of sound. Be very, very careful shaving with this razor. And, of course the classic distortion is the one I call the immaculate hamburger. Clearly, they have to make it look good, but the burgers always shown on television don’t exist. You can’t buy a burger like that. No burger I have ever bought looked like the ones that are shown four to six inches thick and absolutely perfectly constructed. These advertising examples may seem silly to you, but I think that they show that the business world BS goes all the way from the fast food burger right up to the executives gutting your 401(k). Oh, let’s not forget the new buzz phrase “reality TV,” which has nothing to do with any reality that I know of.

–Robert Lane

PS: I composed this letter over a year ago, long before President Bush and his administration took us to war with a pack of lies. While TV ads may be amusing, death and destruction are not funny at all.

Promoting Science Education

From the National Center for Science Education

Summer 2003

Education in general and Science education in particular are vital for our youth. What can we do to promote science education?

Donate books and videos about evolution to school and public libraries (NCSE can help you choose appropriate materials).

Encourage and support evolution education at museums, parks, and natural history centers (by positive remarks on comment forms, contributions to special exhibits, etc.).

Thank radio and television stations for including programming about evolution and other science topics.

Make sure friends, colleagues and neighbors know you support evolution education and can connect them with resources for promoting good science education.

Monitor local news media for news of anti-evolution efforts in your state or community, and inform NCSE — for example, by mailing newspaper clippings.

When there is controversy in your community, add your voice: Hold press conferences with colleagues, record public opinion announcements, and send letters or editorials supporting evolution education to local newspapers.

Ask organizations in your community to include questions about science education in questionnaires for school board candidates and other educational policy makers.

Share your views with school board members, legislators, text-book commissioners, and other educational policy makers.

Share NCSE publications with concerned citizens, educators, and colleagues.

Link your personal or organizational web-site to The National Center for Science Education

When you see a web site that would benefit by linking to NCSE (for example, a science education site), write to their webmaster suggesting the new link to NCSE.

Encourage professional and community organizations (like the PTA) to give public support to evolution education. Send copies of their public statements to NCSE.

Give gift subscriptions to Reports of NCSE to friends, colleagues, and libraries.

Take advantage of member benefits like discounts on book purchases and car rentals.

Donate to NCSE beyond your annual membership fee. (Contact NCSE about in-kind gifts and planned giving).

PARENTS: Make sure your child’s science teacher knows s/he has your support for teaching about evolution, the age of the earth, and related concepts.

PARENTS: Help your child’s teacher arrange field trips to natural history centers and museums with appropriate exhibits.

PARENTS: Discuss class activities and homework with your children — this is often the way communities learn that “creation science” is being taught; or, you may learn your child’s teacher is doing a commendable job of teaching evolution.

PROFESSIONALS: Inform your colleagues about the evolution/creation controversy and the need for their involvement: for example, by making presentations at professional society meetings, writing articles for organizational newsletters, making announcements on email listserves.

COLLEGE TEACHERS: Make sure that your institution has several courses that present evolution to both majors and non-majors.

COLLEGE TEACHERS: Create opportunities to learn about evolution outside the classroom: for example, public lectures, museum exhibits.

K-12 TEACHERS: Work with your colleagues to create a supportive atmosphere in your school and community.

K-12 TEACHERS: Work with colleagues to develop or publicize workshops and in-service units about evolution; take advantage of them yourself.

INFORMAL EDUCATORS: Include evolution in signage, interpretation of exhibits, docent education, and public presentations.

SCIENTISTS: Share your knowledge with K-12 teachers and students by visiting classrooms or speaking at teacher-information workshops (NCSE can provide tips).

Panopticon:

Government And Privacy In The New Millenium

January 2003

Panopticon: a word from the early 18th century. An idea from the mind of Jeremy Bentham, English civic philosopher and designer of prisons. An idea that has become central to American life in the 21st Century.

Panopticon: a prison system, whereby the jailer can keep in view all of the inmates, all of the time. The dream of fascists.

Panopticon: the ambition of many of the present leaders of the United States Government, ostensibly to fight a war against terrorism.

It is the stuff of dystopian novels like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, movies like Brazil and THX 1138, the fevered conspiracist fantasies of the black helicopter theorists who rant from cryptic websites and on late night talk radio shows.

But this time is different. This time the fears are couched in the words of conservative journalists like William Safire, Republican stalwarts like Dick Armey and Bob Barr, let alone the urgent warnings from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

For example: the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Information Awareness Office administers a program known as “Total Information Awareness”(TIA). The aim of TIA is to gather data from all available signal intelligence sources and compile it into a mammoth, ever-churning database. Expert system and fuzzy logic software would search for patterns in the data, patterns which would flag possible terrorist activity. The scope of the data would include transaction data contained in current databases, such as financial histories, medical records, communications, travel records and commercial and other private transactions.

This outrageously intrusive, intimate, unconstitutional (see the Fourth Amendment) project is supervised by none other than Iran-Contra conspirator, liar to Congress and convicted felon, Vice Admiral John Poindexter. As of this writing, a coalition of over thirty civil liberties groups have urged Senate leadership to “act immediately to stop the development of this unconstitutional system of public surveillance.”

Not only does TIA aim to cull together the data already described, but also to develop biometric technology for the identification and tracking of individuals by various means, including gait and face recognition.

TIA is only one part of a host of new measures which sacrifice individual privacy–guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution–in order to combat terrorism. The list also includes:

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows for the circumvention or suspension of standard criminal procedures as required in tracking suspected terrorists;

The USA PATRIOT Act: Section 215 allows for, among other things, the review of library and bookstore records;

The Department of Homeland Security, the largest reorganization of government in over half a century, a domestic intelligence agency involving more than 170,000 new employees, unprecedented organizational mandates, of labyrinthine complexity;

The Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, which is drafting a proposal for requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to allow for government monitoring of all traffic through their gateways;

In addition, already underway are more extensive surveillance techniques, such as expanded video surveillance and the use of so-called “backscatter” imaging which permits the viewing of persons and items inside of vehicles and possibly even buildings.

The current administration has argued that these measures are necessary in order to combat terrorism. At the same time, the operative definitions for terrorism are vague and ambiguous, and we are also asked to accept the premise that the war on terrorism could last indefinitely, perhaps for decades, perhaps even half a century.

So–when will the “war on terrorism” be over? How will we know when to call a halt? There will be no Berlin Wall to dismantle; there will always be threats, dissent, enemies, those who are critical of U.S. foreign policy or even American culture.

What will become of the vast apparatus of government power, commercial interests, and confidential information even if an end is declared? Will all of these entrenched political and financial entities simply evaporate?

What has happened to our Constitution? What about our perception of ourselves, our rights, our identities, our relationship to our government and to each other?

The Panopticon of Jeremy Bentham represented the ultimate imbalance of power between the State and the Prisoner. All power resided with the State. The State was omniscient and omnipotent; the Prisoner was completely powerless. As Michel Foucault described it from the inmate’s point of view, “He is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication.”

In our day, the White House has closed off access to presidential records going back to the Reagan-Bush era, has refused to divulge information on policy formation as requested by the General Accounting Office, and has directed federal agencies to expand rejections of Freedom of Information Act requests. The imbalance between private and public power grows steadily, all in the name of national security.

As surveillance of individuals increases–whether by video, wiretap, internet or other means–intimidation increases as well. According to Foucault, “Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.” Government control becomes internalized.

For the time being, the “war on terrorism” has meant the radical escalation of power in the Executive Branch of our government. Money and manpower are being pumped into an impending war on Iraq as part of a “pre-emptive” strategy to eliminate threats to the U.S., while domestic spying increases unchecked.

What about Congress? Congress has approved, with little debate, extraordinary actions which will undermine individual rights for years to come.

The Judiciary? Last August, the American Bar Association Task Force on the Treatment of Enemy Combatants, found that “The government has taken the position that with no meaningful judicial review, an American citizen alleged to be an enemy combatant could be detained indefinitely without charges or counsel on the government’s say-so.”

James Madison, writing in The Federalist Papers, stated that, “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands . . . may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

Civil liberties, once given up, are difficult to recover. Unlimited government surveillance–the Panopticon–and unlimited government power, for whatever justification, will lead us to a very dangerous place.

“This (TIA) is a program that incorporates all of the ‘Big Brother’ operations that the American public has feared from its government all these years and that the Constitution has protected us from–spying, invasion of privacy, you name it,” said Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive at George Washington University. “And Admiral Poindexter, of all people, is now in charge of that program.”

“If the Pentagon has its way, every American–from the Nebraskan farmer to the Wall Street banker–will find themselves under the accusatory cyber-stare of an all-powerful national security apparatus,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the Washington office for the American Civil Liberties Union.

“So much for the presumption of innocence and the right to privacy,” said George Getz, a spokesman for the Libertarian Party. “Unless this Orwellian project is dismantled, innocent Americans will suffer under the kind of high-tech, 24-hour surveillance that the Stasi and the KGB would have envied.”

“This could be the perfect storm for civil liberties in America,” said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington “The vehicle is the Homeland Security Act, the technology is DARPA and the agency is the F.B.I. The outcome is a system of national surveillance of the American public.”

“…this (Homeland Security) is one of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation I have seen in my 50 years…” said Senator Robert Byrd. “Never have I seen such a monstrous piece of legislation sent to this body.”

“A lot of my colleagues are uncomfortable about this and worry about the potential uses that this technology might be put, if not by this administration then by a future one,” said Barbara Simon, a computer scientist who is past president of the Association of Computing Machinery. “Once you’ve got it in place you can’t control it.”

–Richard Garrard

 

No Humanists Need Apply

January 2003

(Washington, DC) President Bush signed executive orders today to further his agenda of faith-based initiatives. American Humanist Association Executive Director Tony Hileman responded, “Bush’s actions explicitly ignore the wishes of the elected members of Congress who intentionally did not pass faith-based initiative legislation.”

Today’s executive orders allowed sectarian organizations to receive public dollars, specified that those public dollars won’t come attached with prohibitions against discriminatory hiring practices, and opened two new governmental faith-based offices in the Department of Agriculture and the Agency for International Development.

“In these actions, not only does Bush undermine the democratic process by usurping legislative powers but he also misuses public funds by opening the door for violations of the principle of church-state separation. Perhaps of even more consequence, these executive orders specifically allow faith-based organizations to discriminate in their hiring even though they are using public funds,” explained Hileman.

“One thing’s for sure, the message is loud and clear that some of these faith-based organizations receiving our tax dollars will be able to say ‘Gays, women, and Humanists need not apply.’ Public funds shouldn’t be used to discriminate. Congress made this understood only a few years ago when they stopped the flow of public dollars to Bob Jones University,” said Fred Edwords, editor of the Humanist magazine.

Bush’s faith-based initiatives will invariably lead to discrimination in hiring and in the services provided. Should Jews have to receive services in an environment inundated with Christian faith symbols, rhetoric, and practices? Should Humanists and others in need have to give up their freedom of conscience in order to receive government services?

When our representatives in Congress were presented with these programs they were rejected. The President should respect the decisions of Congress and not subvert them in a way that breaches the integrity of the wall of church-state separation.

Discussion Group Report

New Political Tools: Neoconservative Mind Control and War

December 2003

By Richard Layton

What is the intellectual basis of “Bushism,” the orientation toward foreign and domestic policy of the Bush administration? Concerns and fears are being leveled by the left about it, and they represent an attempt to break the hegemony of the “neocons” (neo-conservatives), which began with George W. Bush’s presidency and has infiltrated a patriotic America since September 11, 2001. Their central complaint is that the ideology of the “Straussians”–of the special role America is to play in the 21st century–is one on which the actions of Donald Rumsfield, Dick Cheney and Bush are based. This concern is discussed in “The Leo-Conservatives,” an article by Gerhard Sporl in the German publication Der Spiegel, 32/2003. The Straussians have been students of Leo Strauss, a German Jew who came to the United States in 1932 and became a very popular professor at the highly regarded University of Chicago. “He was,” says Sporl, “the only German immigrant to establish a philosophy movement that became widespread in the U.S., a movement whose influence extends to within today’s inner circles of power in Washington.

The Straussians “are viewed as a group of neo-conservative conspirators, as a small, elite order guiding the Bush administration–and when its path becomes crooked, providing it with a good conscience. They can be found among the justices of the Supreme Court, and they work at both the White House and the Pentagon. Although most of them have learned their particular way of thinking from Strauss, they are more power-conscious than the master was. They want to change and not just interpret America.”

Paul Wolfowitz, the Bush administration’s hawkish idea man, and other Straussians are part of an avant-garde of the conservative revolution that essentially despises the idea of a liberal democracy. Strauss despised the Enlightenment and viewed democratic liberalism as a sinful political movement. He maintained friendly relations with Carl Schmitt, a critic of parliamentarianism and a spiritual precursor of the Nazis. According to historian August Winkler, certain parallels exist between the “conservative revolution” prior to Hitler’s rise to power and the current situation in the United States. In Winkler’s view, the Straussians have found in Bush Junior what Schmitt ultimately sought in vain: “access to the ruler.”

Strauss saw World War I and the constant threat to the German Weimar Republic following the war as historical proof that the Enlightenment, with its positive view of human nature and its faith in progress, was an illusion. He also believed that faith in a liberal democracy as the governmental and social order of the future was invalid. And he remained true to this theory until his death. Yet his theory has been received with surprising enthusiasm many years later in America, says Sporl.

Strauss says religion is the opium of the people, but it is an indispensable opium. Religion serves as a binding agent in a stable social order. Liberal democracies such as the Weimar Republic are not viable in the long term, since they do not offer their citizens any religious and moral footings.

“The practical consequence of this philosophy is fatal,” states Sporl. “According to its tenets, the elites have the right and even the obligation to manipulate the truth. Just as Plato recommends, they can take refuge in ‘pious lies’ and in selective use of the truth.”

Straussians, such as Wolfowitz and other proponents of the Iraq war, are now suspected of simply having used the Strauss political principles for their own purposes. “When seen in this light,” opines Sporl, “the partly fictitious reasons for the war against Saddam Hussein represent the philosophical heritage of an emigrant from Germany.” Strauss was deeply pessimistic and tended to believe that history could only bring decline and decay. The professor was satisfied with only considering the problems because he did not believe they could be solved.

The true godfathers of the neocons are the Kristol family. Irving Kristol coined the classic sentence, “A neo-conservative is a left-winger who has been ambushed by reality.” Kristol’s wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb, criticizes the loss of civility and the Protestant work ethic, permissive morality and the sexual revolution but sees these as the consequence of unfettered liberalism in democratic America. Irving Kristol knew America as more or less religious people, primarily Catholics or Protestants, a mundane form of piety that was organized into countless sects and represented a political power base for reborn Republicans.

Originally the neocon ideology discovered that the politically decisive battles in America are waged around cultural values. The neocons say the state should stay out of the economy but not the bedrooms of its citizens. More recently the greatest battles have been about abortion and the death penalty, homosexuality or sex before marriage–the moral battles of a Christian-minded country suspicious of liberalism as an ethos. For this reason, which judges are appointed to the Supreme Court is of critical importance, since they are ultimately responsible for determining the degree of liberalism that prevails in America. The arch-conservative Clarence Thomas is considered a Straussian.

The first phase of the neocon revolution came to fruition under Ronald Reagan, says Sporl. The second phase is now taking place under George W. Bush, the born-again Christian who knows exactly how important religion is–to the patriotic cohesion of his nation and to his reelection, for which he desperately needs the votes of the well-organized Christian groups. Foreign policy is now at the center of the neocon revolution. The highest honor for being a Strauss creation belongs to Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Pearl, who have been arguing for the complete exercise of power by the world’s only superpower and for war as a political tool ever since the end of communism. But these two neocons are students of a different professor, Albert Wohlstetter, who taught the theory of security policy and made a lasting impression on them. Aggressiveness instead of passiveness in foreign policy and the will to change instead of the old status quo way of thinking are his ideas and represent the conditions of the new Pax Americana.

The New Longevity

December 2003

We are now capable of living 120 years and there are consequences:

  • Working longer
  • Social Security changing (Great Britain and Japan already have some means testing to determine who draws these funds)
  • Taking sabbaticals
  • Changing careers
  • Must keep the mind active and look towards the future.

The future is the final frontier; we should be focused on that and how we are going to get there and what we want, our goals and aspirations.

What is the Middle East about but the past? They don’t seem to think about the future. Bosnia was about the past. The Serbs, the Muslims, and the Christians; a thousand years of the past being hashed and rehashed. The same is true of the war in Ireland, 400 years of strife that escalated again 30 years ago. In short, many of us are creating a future just like the past. Golda Meir said, “There will never be peace in the Middle East until the Arabs love their children more than they hate the Jews.”

It really doesn’t matter how old you are: 20,30, 50, or even 80. What do you want your next five or ten years to be like? What do you want next month? Do you want it to be a rehash of old stuff? We tend to blame things that have happened in the past for what is happening now. If only your mother had been different. If only your third grade teacher hadn’t humiliated you or if someone hadn’t died, etc. I like what my friend Lazaris said, “I am going to lift a finger to help rather than point a finger in blame,” because really blame never helps. Think about it. If what you are going to do depends on what your ex, your third grade teacher, or even what your boss said, you are really going to be in a pickle. What will be liberating will be to take back your power by taking back your responsibility for your future.

My daughter was listening to an interview the other day with an expert on longevity and he was discounting looking for magic pills, surgery, or medical breakthroughs. His suggestion was something that all of us really know: eat right, get enough exercise, be positive, and change your thinking. This is a complex matter. It has been estimated that we have about 50,000 thoughts each day. Do you know what yours are? Use the past as a backdrop, learn from it but dwell more on the future than the past. “If you don’t know where you are going, you may land up some where else.”

Music is important to our lives in many ways. My daughter has confirmed this importance as she has worked with institutionalized elderly for ten years. And as a gerontologist I have seen the benefits of music in the lives of older people. Because of this and the research we have done the result has been a video and CD.

More information about these please visit Music For Memories web site.

–Mary Simper, Ph.D

Bush: The New Face of the Religious Right
A Report Issued by the American Humanist Association

May 2003

Contact Information Roy Speckhardt (202) 238-9088

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(Washington, D.C., April 22, 2003) A report entitled Bush: The New Face of the Religious Right was released today by the American Humanist Association. This new report details how the Bush Administration is the new executive branch of the Religious Right. It also explores the question, “Is President Bush so beholden to religious fundamentalism that he is illegally making appointments based on faith?”

When President Bush says, “I welcome faith to help solve the nation’s deepest problems,” it’s clear from his context and actions that he may not just welcome such help but that he is actually relying on it. As this report details, Bush is not just a public official who happens to hold a strong faith, he’s one who’s willing to allow his faith and Religious Right interpretations of faith to guide national policy.

Bush is the most overtly religious president to use his office as a bully pulpit, and his pervasive religiosity is raising serious concerns. If Bush is choosing his appointees based on their faiths, he is in direct violation of Article VI of the United States Constitution as it states, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Despite being spread across many different offices, several Bush appointments (some clearly unqualified) are nevertheless comparable in one conspicuous way. A survey of his friends, advisers, and appointments reveals a disconcerting similarity–an unusual proportion of men and women of deep religious faith who often harbor extreme views on a host of the Religious Right’s favorite subjects: abortion, gay rights, the dangers of secularism, and others.

AHA executive director Tony Hileman said, “The contents of this report should concern all supporters of our Constitution, even the most religious, but we are releasing this today because Humanists are being excluded from full participation in democracy.”

This new report can be read in full at the AHA site or print copies can be ordered from the AHA national offices.

Time for a Change:
New Editor Sought

May 2003

About two and a half years ago I became the editor and publisher of The Utah Humanist.

A lot has happened since: a controversial presidential election; a worsening religious dispute on Main Street in Salt Lake City; the most horrific terrorist attack ever against our country; the Winter Olympics in our state’s fair capital; two short wars and a long-festering division in our nation.

We are all a little older and, I hope, a little wiser.

All things must pass, the large and the small.

It has come time for me to seek an associate editor who can become the editor of The Utah Humanist. In recent months it has become more difficult for me to fulfill my duties in giving you what I hope has been thoughtful information. The other demands of life-personal, professional, and otherwise-must be met, and so I plan on relinquishing this post as your editor in the coming months.

There are among you many passionate and eloquent voices for peace and rationality. It is time that you are heard. I invite you to meet with me and with the board of Humanists of Utah to discuss the next chapter in the evolution of our journal. Please email me for more information.

This is a very important time in the life history of our community and our nation. You are needed.

–Richard Garrard

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February 2003

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In Memoriam

Marion Craig

December 29, 1920 – February 13, 2003

Summer 2003

Marion Craig, long time member of Humanists of Utah, recently died. Here is information from her obituary published in The Salt Lake Tribune on 2/16/03.

Marion Campbell Craig passed away February 13, 2003 at age 82. Born in Salt Lake City Dec 29, 1920 to Katherine and James Craig. Marion Worked for the U.S. Army during World War II; after the war she attended the University of Utah where she earned a Masters Degree. She enjoyed teaching and taught third grade up until the time she retired. Marion was an active member of the Unitarian Society and the National Organization of Women. She traveled extensively with her brother, Allen, to Europe and Scotland to research their family heritage. Marion is survived by cousin, Stuart Craig; and nephews, Jim, William Craig. She is preceded in death by parents, Katherine and James; brothers, Allen, Angus; and sister, Catherine.

Additionally Marion left significant sums of money to some of her favorite organizations including the University of Utah, The United Nations, The First Unitarian Church, and Humanists of Utah. The Board is planning on using funds Marion left us in a way that remembers and honors her for years to come.

Marion was profiled in our Member Spotlight in July 1999.

Marion Craig Fund

November 2003

Marion Craig left Humanists of Utah a very generous gift as part of her estate. We have invested the money in the Vanguard Fund in order to generate funds so that Marion will be remembered in perpetuity. She was a teacher in our public schools so we decided to use her chosen career to honor her.

This year we are sponsoring an essay writing contest for high school students in the Jordan School District. If it is successful we hope to make this an annual event and expand to schools throughout the state.

We are offering $1000 prize money to winning essays on the subject of The Bill of Rights.

Limits of Humanism

January 2003

We celebrate humanism as a progressive, rational life stance, a broad path for thought and action. Humanism encompasses transcendentalism, atheism and secularism. It includes those who are agnostic about claims to absolute truth and those who embrace an enlivened ethics to guide life choices, and frames our understanding of existence in terms of evolution rather than creationism.

Furthermore, it recognizes human life is both cognitive and intuitive .Human emotion is now known to have a biological basis. Intuition has been shown to provide a bridge between conscious and unconscious thought in the human brain in a firmly interdependent, productive way. Intuitive knowledge is therefore no less valid than rational knowledge; it is just non-obvious, non-rationally derived knowledge. There is no longer any doubt, scientifically, that humans, in order to be healthy, have to be intuitive as well as logical.

Despite science’s failure to illuminate much of the unknown, it is clear that it makes steady inroads into seemingly unfathomable, mysterious territories through application of observable, repeatable techniques. Scientific confirmation of what we know instinctively– that healthy humans need to be both non-rational and rational–underpins our “faith” in science. It has yielded us vast quantities of empirical knowledge–both of outer, and now inner, worlds, and brought them into commonplace acceptance.

Still, Humanism has been said to be limited in that it fails to stand in awe of life’s mysteries. I would rejoin that humanists face mysteries with a deep and natural wonder, with all the full emotional and intellectual appreciation a well-equipped brain could encompass, but ultimately, subject any and all findings to the rigors of scientific, critical analysis, for substantiation, repeatability. It strikes me that the real mysteries that bewilder us demand our utmost vigilance have their roots in human behavior: mutual mistrust, disrespect and mistreatment of our own and other species with whom we share the earth. The real limits of humanism lie in our failure to inspire passionate concern, and action, for human failings.

–Heather Dorrell

 

Letter to the Editor – Humanism and Its Aspriations

I Feel Disappointed

Summer 2003

After reading Humanist Manifesto III, I must admit, I feel disappointed. In the perspective of HMI and II, and Paul Kurtz’s HM2000, the new Humanist Manifesto seems to have lost its distinctive vision. It seems, instead, a watered down, inclusive rationalism.

Though embodying a general perspective or summary of humanism, HMIII does not give new direction, does not provide insight into our follies, and does not use the powerful language of the others.

Unfortunately, I fear that it may fall dead by the wayside, and do nothing more than secure a signpost that states, “We were here.”

I expected more.

–D. E. Evans

Letter to the Editor – Humanism and Its Aspirations

Congratulations to the AHA!

Summer 2003

I am personally very pleased with the final release of Humanism and Its Aspirations, also known as Humanist Manifesto III, recently published by the American Humanist Association. I have enjoyed reading and rereading Humanist Manifestos I & II over the years; they remain seminal documents that will always be the foundation of the humanist movement. However, their length and polemic nature, especially HM II, have, in my opinion, aggravated the notion that humanism is only for the intellectual elite.

Humanism and Its Aspirations succinctly, yet comprehensively delimits the humanist philosophy. I know that the project that bore these fruits has been in the making for several years. It was well worth the wait!

If you have not taken the opportunity to read this new Manifesto yet, there is a link to it on our website. The document offers three options, all worth considering: 1) reading the text, 2) electronically signing it as a show of your support, and 3) a printable document that is nicely formatted and suitable for framing. It was also printed in the May issue of The Utah Humanist.

–Wayne Wilson

Just for Smiles…

November 2003

From the October 2003 edition of the CDHS Humanist: A group of humanists found these bits of fortune-cookie wisdom following a recent Chinese dinner:

  • You have had many travels; you have seen more than you remember; and you remember more than you have seen.
  • You can fool some of the people some of the time–including yourself.
  • Man who say he has found Jesus should put him back.
  • You will take a long journey. You will meet many infidels–if you are lucky.
  • Woman who go crazy in church has Methodist in her madness.
  • Atheist in coffin at funeral is all dressed up with no place to go.
  • A theist believes in god. An apatheist is indifferent as to whether or not there is a god and is too lazy to find out.
  • An agnostic is not sure there is a god. A diagnostic is not sure there are two gods.
  • Many who say he is born again should now grow up.
  • You have well-concealed charm and intelligence.
  • There are no words to describe your innate talents.
  • Confuse-us say: It is virtually impossible to overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.
  • George Carlin say: Most people don’t know what they’re doing, and a lot of them are really good at it.

Jesus as Brother

Book Review
by Humanist News and Views

September 2003

Jesus As Brother
by Phillip Griffin, Ph.D.
Galde Press, Inc

The basic theme of Dr. Phillip Griffin’s book is the unrecognized evil that undermines American democracy. That unrecognized evil is triumphalism.

Triumphalism is the belief that one religion is essentially superior to, and is divinely ordained to, supercede and replace all others. The evil that faces American democracy in general and American Christianity in particular is the unrecognized element of triumphalism. It infects America’s churches and schools, its political and economic institutions and its popular culture.

Griffin wrote that Harold Bloom was one to first use the awkward-sounding term in his 1992 book, The American Religion, “The American religion moves towards the twenty-first century with an unrestrained triumphalism.” Griffin wrote this book to make a radical statement about the “Christ” of Christianity. His thesis is that the unique quality of Jesus is that of an entirely different order of person from the popular “Christ.” Jesus as Brother is the brother of every person, of whatever race, gender, or heritage.

This makes a family of all humanity, each person due the same respect and advantage.

To segregate any portion of humanity as less worthy than others violates the example and teachings of Jesus.

This segregation is the root of the evil of triumphalism, which infects our American culture. Christianity in America has assimilated triumphalism from the Puritans down to the mainline churches today and their multitude of branches and twigs. The equality of all citizens, which is enshrined in our historical documents, is undermined by this evil belief. Greed and arrogance flow into our domestic and global policies from the poison of personal, political, and denominational triumphalism.

Christianity owes to America a vision of Jesus as brother that is not obscured by triumphalism so that our culture is not infected by triumphalism. Christian triumphalism is the root cause of the erosion of our social conscience.

In the past, triumphalism sanctified the conquest, subjugation, and extermination of less powerful human beings by adherents of American triumphalistic religion. Enslavement of imported Africans and deliberate decimation of the native population was one of the ways in which triumphalism was expressed in America in the past. Currently, the triumphalistic attitude is manifest in other ways, most grievously in the acceptance as “normal” a dysfunctional economic system that produces great extremes of hereditary wealth and hereditary poverty. Typically the mainline churches accept poverty, homelessness and economic exploitation as inevitable, and charity as the “normal” way of dealing with them. The hungry need food, but hungry children need a way to escape a future of hunger.

This normalization of poverty is part of the culture of Christianity, but is it compatible with the way Jesus lived and taught? Jesus placed his priority on mutually respectful and nurturing relationships between people. For us as individuals and as a society, this way of life is a valid source of hope that we can improve the America of the future.

This review originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Humanist News and Views, a publication of the Humanists of Minnesota.

Discussion Group Report

Is America Becoming Orwellian?

October 2003

By Richard Layton

George Orwell in his classic book, 1984 , depicted a world in which humans had given up their liberties to become the minions of an all-powerful elite. The story suggests that people tend to have an inability to resist tyranny. They have an inclination to give up liberty to obtain security and happiness. The media of 1984 are broadcast technology imagined as totally in the service of the state, and no different from the media of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or of today’s North Korea.

As the control of the media in our own country is coming more and more under the control of fewer and fewer people because of a loosening of regulations that help guarantee freedom of the press, are we becoming more and more a controlled society?

William Gibson [“The Road to Oceania,” N.Y. Times , June 25, 2003] does not think we are heading toward Orwell’s fictional state of Oceania. He says that “driven by the acceleration of computing power and connectivity and the simultaneous development of surveillance systems and tracking technologies, we are approaching a theoretical state of absolute informational transparency,” one in which “Orwellian” scrutiny is no longer a strictly hierarchical, top-down activity, but to some extent a democratized one. As individuals steadily lose degrees of privacy, so, too, do corporations and states. Loss of traditional privacies may seem in the short term to be driven by issues of national security, but this may prove in time to have been intrinsic to the nature of ubiquitous information.

“Certain goals of the American government’s Total (now Terrorist) Information Awareness initiative may eventually be realized simply by evolution of the global information system…It is becoming unprecedentedly difficult for anyone, anyone at all, to keep a secret.”

Some say that Orwell failed to predict the future correctly, but their assertions miss the main point. Orwell, says Gibson, did not fail in any way, but, rather, succeeded. 1984 remains one of the quickest and most succinct routes to the core realities of 1948. (The book was written in 1948 but in the title the final digits of that year were inverted) If you wish to know an era, study its most lucid nightmares. In the mirrors of our darkest fears, much will be revealed. But don’t mistake those mirrors for road maps to the future, or even to the present. “We’ve missed the train to Oceania, and live today with stranger problems.”

Gwynne Dyer, a London-based independent journalist, says the totalitarians never achieved the kind of thought control Orwell and the rest of us feared. [“Orwell Would Be Happily Surprised Our World Hasn’t Become Orwellian,” The Salt Lake Tribune , June 30, 2003] He tells of an incident when he and some other visitors drove past a derelict Orthodox church in Belgorod, Russia in 1982. “There was no church there,” the local Party guide insisted as they watched it recede through the rear window. When they suggested he drive around the block for another look, he flatly refused. “Orwellian,” they said-and then realized by his embarrassment that he knew exactly what they meant. He was used to making the people around him swallow bare-faced lies. But they didn’t actually believe the lies, and neither did he. Sixty-five years of ruthless censorship and totalitarian rule had not even managed to keep lower level provincial party officials from knowing what “Orwellian” meant.

By the mid-1980s most people were getting ready to dump the dictators. A technique for bringing them down without spilling buckets of blood spread by example from the Philippines in 1986 to Thailand, South Korea, Bangladesh and Burma in 1987-88, and then to Tiananmen Square in the heart of Communist China in 1989. Not all of these nonviolent revolutions succeeded, but the example was so powerful and the technique so promising that in 1989 the citizens of European countries picked it up and ran with it. Then came the nonviolent revolutions to end apartheid in South Africa in 1994, the overthrow of Suharto in Indonesia in 1998 and the fall of Milosevich in Serbia in 2000. And the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

“1989-91,” asserts Dyer, “was when the balance of power in the world changed. From then on, totalitarianism was on the defensive and a majority of the world’s people (for the first time in history) lived in democratic countries.

“The discrediting of the totalitarian dream and the democratization of a large part of the world were genuine gains for the human race. Coping with too much wealth and leisure is a problem too, no doubt, but a different and lesser one…Frankly on this one I am with George W. Bush: ‘Freedom is a powerful incentive. I believe that some day freedom will prevail everywhere because freedom is a powerful drive.’

“What Bush overlooks, however, is that all the people who overthrew their oppressors in recent decades did it for themselves. It is doubtful that powerful countries with suspect motives can successfully export democracy to others by force and the attempt of the Bush White House to do just that could yet bring a certain aspect of 1984 back to life. Not the politics of it, of course that is now gone in most of the world-but the geopolitics.”

Walter Cronkite described 1984 as “an anguished lament and a warning that we may not be strong enough nor wise enough nor moral enough to cope with the kind of power we have learned to amass…We recognize, however dimly, that greater efficiency, ease, and security may come at a substantial price in freedom, that law and order can be a doublethink version of oppression, that individual liberties surrendered for whatever good reason are freedom lost.” “Doublethink” is a word coined by Orwell, which means, “a simultaneous belief in two contradictory ideas,” as in the above incident regarding the church in Belgorod.

Erich Fromm describes Orwell’s book as “the expression of a mood, and it is a warning. The mood it expresses is that of near despair about the future of man, and the warning is that unless the course of history changes, men all over the world will lose their human qualities, will become soulless automatons, and will not even be aware of it.” He cites two other writers, who like Orwell, describe negative utopias, the Russian Zamyatin in his book We and Aldous Huxley in his Brave New World, and says these books and Orwell’s express the mood of powerlessness and hopelessness of modern man. All three authors, says Fromm, imply “that the new form of managerial industrialism…is conducive to an era of dehumanization and complete alienation, in which men are transformed into things and become appendices to the process of production and consumption…it is a danger inherent in the modern mode of production and organization, and relatively independent of the various ideologies.”

Yet Orwell, he says, has hope for the human race, a desperate hope. He wants to warn and awaken us. Fromm advises, “The hope can be realized only by recognizing the danger with which all men are confronted today, the danger of a society of automatons who will have lost every trace of individuality, of love, of critical thought, and yet will not be aware of it because of ‘doublethink.’ It would be most unfortunate if the reader smugly interpreted 1984 as another description of Stalinist barbarism, and if he does not see that it means us, too.”

In Orwell’s book Winston is being tortured by O’Brien, a worker for the Ministry of Love. Winston was sure he knew the terrible thing O’Brien was about to tell him-that the Party did not seek power for its own ends, but only for the good of the majority because men in the mass were frail, cowardly creatures who could not endure liberty or face the truth, and must be ruled over and systematically deceived by others who were stronger than themselves; that the choice for mankind lay between freedom and happiness; and that, for the great bulk of mankind, happiness was better. ‘You believe,’ Winston said, ‘that human beings are not fit to govern themselves, and therefore-‘O’Brien pulled back the lever of the torture machine to make a pang of pain shoot through Winston’s body. ‘That was stupid, Winston, stupid! Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power…We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwittingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?'”

Discussion Group Report

Intolerance in the Left Behind Series

March 2003

By Richard Layton

“Nicolae Carpathia, the man who turned the United Nations into a one-world government with himself as dictator, has just decided on genocide. In his palace in New Babylon, capital of the world, Carpathia–alias the Antichrist–barks instructions to his top aide. ‘I will sanction, condone, support, and reward the death of any Jew anywhere in the world,’ he says. ‘Imprison them. Torture them. Humiliate them. Shame them. Blaspheme their god. Plunder everything they own. Nothing is more important.’ The aide rushes to obey, not knowing that he’s fulfilling one more divine prophecy about the final days of history before the Second Coming.”

This scene is from the latest novel by the Rev. Tim La Haye and Jerry Jenkins called The Remnant. It goes on to say that many Jews will survive the new Holocaust by becoming born-again Christians. Jews need to make up for the “national sin” of rejecting Jesus. Their choice in the last days is: convert or die. This book levitated to the top of The New York Times bestseller list immediately after publication in July, 2002, with an initial print run reported at 2.75 million copies. LaHaye and Jenkins’ series of thrillers, Left Behind, which included this book, had already sold 33 million copies since they first appeared in 1995. The books sell because they base fiction on fundamentalist theology and they’ve succeeded in spreading that theology far beyond its original audience. Besides expressing contempt for Judaism, they demonize proponents of arms control, ecumenicalism, abortion rights and everyone else disliked by the Christian right; and they justify assassination as a political tool. Their anti-Jewishness is exceeded by their anti-Catholicism. Most basically, they reject the very idea of open, democratic debate. In the world of Left Behind, there exists a single truth, based on a purportedly literal reading of Scripture; anyone who disagrees with that truth is deceived or evil.

This series plus other publications advocating a similar religious intolerance are described in an article by Gersham Gorenberg entitled “Intolerance: The Best Seller” in The American Prospect, September 23, 2002.

LaHaye has served as a prominent comrade-in-arms of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. He was a board member at the time of the Moral Majority’s 1979 founding, and he created the mid-1980s American Coalition for Traditional Values, which got out the vote for the religious right and played a key role in Ronald Reagan’s re-election.

The series is intensely political. It provides a window on how theology can drive right-wing activism–sometimes in bizarre ways, as when vocal supporters of Israel look forward to the conversion or death of the Jews. Propaganda in the guise of fiction, they demand our attention.

The “Rapture of the Church,” popularized by John Darby, a nineteenth British preacher, is a key element of a theology known as dispensational premillennialism, which pervades evangelical Christianity. Between one-fifth and one-fourth of all Americans are evangelicals, researchers report. Millennialism refers to the belief that history as we know it will end, to be followed by the establishment of a divine kingdom. The term is based on the Book of Revelation, which describes the godly era as lasting 1,000 years. It asserts that the world is flawed and must be utterly reconstructed. In its acute form, it says that the existing order must be razed by cataclysm before the new order can be built–and that the cataclysm is near. That radicalism is one reason religious establishments normally oppose millennialism. Another is that every millennial movement has brought bitter disappointment. History refuses to end. Millennialism is a form of public manic depression, so profoundly embarrassing to religion that established faiths try to repress the very memory of outbursts. Yet millennialism was the fevered spirit of 17th century British Puritanism, and has been an essential part of American religion since the Mayflower. “America,” states historian Richard Landes, “was born in an apocalyptic stew.”

Premillennialists insist that the Second Coming will take place so Jesus can rule during that period. Darby added that history should have ended in Jesus’ time–if only the Jews had accepted him as messiah. Because they didn’t, God began a new era, or dispensation; the Church Age, an immense parenthetical clause between the First Coming and the Second. The Church Age could end anytime with the “Rapture,” so believers need to remain perpetually worthy of being transported heavenward. But before the end, God would fulfill his promises to the Jews, to return them to their land and rebuild their temple. Dispensationlism preserved the view of Jews as lost in error, while making them stars of the drama that brings about the end of an evil world. A nonfiction bestseller that popularized dispensationalism, The Late Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey asserted current events were leading to the Antichrist’s one-world government and nuclear weapons were essential to fulfilling prophecies of the end. Lindsey virtually made it an obligation for Christians to welcome nuclear conflagration. Doomsday themes of the Christian right suffused Reagan’s rhetoric.

Although dispensationalism is not the only theology among fundamentalists or evangelicals and may not be the center of their lives, its books reveal something important of what is happening in that subculture. LaHaye’s vision is being read by millions of evangelicals and other Americans. It is fiction that is intended to teach. Inspiration is part of the appeal. Here’s how the global economy (which may have cost me my job or halved my retirement savings) works. Here’s what lies behind debate over abortion or foreign policy. Some people serve God and some serve falsehood. Here’s why a believing Christian can feel left out: Today’s society is controlled by evil. And here’s why cataclysmic war between the forces of good and the axis of evil is inevitable. The Left Behind series rejects the principle of truth arising from democratic debate.

Gorenberg says the proper response to the series’ arguments is “to debate them–to make the ideas woven into the fiction explicit, to analyze and rebut them…The preachers of intolerance should not go unchallenged.”


Some representative quotes from Left Behind author La Haye:

  • “I’ll tell you what is wrong with America. We don’t have enough of God’s ministers running the country.”
    –From an address, Religious Roundtable breakfast, New York Times September 8, 1984.
  • “Most of all, I believe God has chosen to bless this series. In doing so, he’s giving the country and maybe the world, one last, big wake-up call before the events transpire.”
    –From an article in the Southern California Christian Times, quoted from Guy Manchester, “Tim LaHaye: the man behind the bestsellers,” Freedom Writer, Sept.-Oct. 2000
  • “No humanist is fit to hold office.”
    –From Mind Siege (co-authored with David Noebel, author of Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles).

Humanists Appalled at Ashcroft’s Request for Police State Powers

Summer 2003

Press Release from the AHA
~for immediate release~
(Washington D.C., June 5, 2003)

“Our Attorney General seems bent on turning our nation into a police state, where he holds the reins of power,” Mel Lipman, president of the American Humanist Association, said in response to Ashcroft ‘s latest request on the Hill. “To broaden the prosecutorial authority from covering only those who actually commit acts of terrorism to those who may inadvertently or tangentially “support” them is a perilous extension of judicial power.”

Today before the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Ashcroft asked legislators to expand the Patriot Act by extending jurisdiction of the death penalty and imprisonment sentences of suspected terrorists. Ashcroft’s desire is to allow government prosecutors to charge supporters and workers of suspected terrorist organizations with being “material supporters.”

The freedom that Ashcroft asked for would specifically allow prolonged pre-trial detainment of American citizens. Ashcroft also seeks the death penalty or life imprisonment for support of terrorist involvement so peripheral that it amounts to guilt by association.

AHA Executive director Tony Hileman responded, “The Patriot Act is already a dangerous assault on civil liberties. To increase the power of it could allow maximum penalties to be enforced with minimum criteria. It could also result in the extended incarceration of innocent people based solely on government suspicion, with the possible imposition of a death sentence.”

Ashcroft tried to alleviate the harshness of his request by saying, “God forbid, if we ever have to do this again we hope we can clear people more quickly.” He also added that the United States has “no interest whatsoever” in holding innocent people.

But, when Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California questioned Ashcroft on the now deported but previously detained individuals, Ashcroft responded that only three of the 505 individuals were determined to be linked in any way to terrorist groups. He claimed that the reason for the deportation of the others was their status as illegal immigrants. However, there was no reason given for their months of imprisonment.

“There is insufficient reason to extend a law that already assaults our civil liberties. To broaden the Patriot Act would be to further endanger our human rights,” concluded Hileman.

 

Humanism and Its Aspirations

May 2003

The American Humanist Association announced the release of the much anticipated “Humanist Manifesto III” on April 21, 2003. This new document has been several years in the writing and has received input from humanists worldwide. The title of this 1-page proclamation is “Humanism and Its Aspirations” and it may be viewed on the AHA Website. There is also a utility that will allow you to sign the new declaration electronically.

For historical reference:

Of Humanism and Religion

November 2003

The November 2003 issue of Dialogue, a publication of the American Ethical Union, contains an article by Joe Chuman, the Ethical Culture leader of Bergen, NJ, discussing humanism and religion. I want to share with you some of his comments.

“In the modern era, religion no longer requires an affirmation of a transcendental realm. If values and ideals serve to focus life, lift individuals beyond their self-interest and animate life with meaning and purpose, such beliefs may be construed as religious ones.”

“It is a long-standing canard that people must believe in God, especially a God that rewards and punishes, in order to be moral, with the implication that humanists, agnostics and atheists are immoral. We see no empirical evidence for this. An absence of belief in a God would not inhibit people from giving to charity or loving their children, nor would it transform warm-hearted individuals into misanthropes.”

“Humanism doesn’t worship human beings. It reverences ethical ideals, which we human beings yearn for but recognize we can never reach.”

“The supreme importance of recognizing, respecting, and eliciting the dignity of human beings is the most important idea in the world.”

Joe Chuman teaches philosophy at Columbia University and was my mentor when I was a student at the Humanist Institute.

Information about the American Ethical Union is available on the internet at www.aeu.org.

–Flo Wineriter

Hard Questions for Humanists

March 2003

  • How much do you identify yourself as a humanist? Is it a belief system, a philosophy, or a religion?
  • What is and/or should be the relationship among humanist groups such as the AHA and the Council of Secular Humanism?
  • What should be the relationship between humanism and atheism? Between humanism and Unitarianism? Between the Humanists of Utah and local religious and philosophical groups?
  • What does it mean to be a practicing humanist?
  • What do you think of the Humanist “Manifestos?”
  • Does humanism have any political objectives? If so, what are they?
  • Are there humanist positions on any of the following: a) Euthanasia; b) Therapeutic Cloning; c) Reproductive Cloning; d) Genetic Modification of Humans; e) Late-term Abortion?
  • Are there aspects of humanist history that trouble you?
  • Do you feel humanism has evolved? What do you think its future direction might be?
  • Should humanists seek to grow their numbers?
  • What are the greatest challenges that you see humanists facing?

Please send your answers to these questions-and/or additional questions you recommend-to Richard Garrard, Utah Humanist editor or by postal mail to: Editor, Utah Humanist, P.O. Box 900212, Sandy, Utah 84090-0212.

And A Good Time Was Had By All…

September 2003

…Well at least by 27 of us. We enjoyed each other’s company, wine graciously provided by Earl, Flo, and Rolf, good food, and some exciting entertainment. The only thing that wasn’t great about our Annual Summer Social was the light attendance.

The Board is concerned and would like to hear from you as to why you did not attend.

Here are some pictures from the affair.

Rolf Kay, Master of Ceremonies

Flo Wineriter and Mary Schulz

James Lee

Kathryn Kling and John Chesley

Joyce Barnes

Musicians

Fundamentals of Extremism

Summer 2003

There have been many wonderful histories and analyses of the Christian Right in America-works by Frederick Clarkson, William Martin, Sara Diamond. Unfortunately, these books came forth in the 1990’s, and, after the failed impeachment of Bill Clinton, many social commentators concluded that the religious right was a paper tiger, certain to collapse. After all, Ralph Reed left the Christian Coalition, Gary Bauer self-destructed as a presidential candidate, Robertson and Falwell embarrassed themselves blaming 9-11 on secular humanists. The militias have been quiet and the abortion clinics are still operating. So, all’s well, right?

Wrong.

With the assault on the World Trade Center and the ascension of George W. Bush, the Christian Right is stronger than ever. Kimberly Blaker, and such freethought activists as Edwin Kagin (of Camp Quest), Bobbie Kirkhart (of the Atheist Alliance, International), John Suarez (of Americans United for Separation of Church and State), Herb Silverman (of the Secular Coalition for America), and Ed Buckner (of the Council for Secular Humanism), have brought together a devastating series of essays on the gathering forces bent on imposing fundamentalist Christian theocracy on the United States.

The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America, Kimberly Blaker, editor, is published by New Boston Books, Inc.

–Richard Garrard

Selected Quotations

The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.

–Pat Robertson

Those who control what young people are taught, and what they experience–what they see, hear, think and believe–will determine the future course of the nation.

–James Dobson

We are engaged in a social, political and cultural war. There’s a lot of talk in America about pluralism. But the bottom line is somebody’s values will prevail.

Anything that has been commissioned by a homosexual has obviously been tainted in some way.

–Gary Bauer

The “wall of separation between church and state” is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor that has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.

–Justice William Rehnquist

Our goal is not to make the schools better…the goal is to hamper them, so they cannot grow…our goal as God-fearing, uncompromised…Christians is to shut down the public schools…step by step, school by school, district by district.

–Robert Thoburne

Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently all character training and religion must be derived from faith. We need believing people.

–Adolph Hitler

Discussion Group Report

Fossil Dating

June 2003

By Richard Layton

Usually in the Discussion Group Report I synopsize and possibly critique the article that has been discussed in the meeting for the particular month, but this month I am rather quoting directly without modification the first part of an article by Michael Benton, Ph.D., printed by BioScience Productions, Inc. in 2000, which we read for our June meeting. I feel that, it makes a good, succinct summary of the evidence for the theory of evolution. It follows:

Our understanding of the shape and pattern of the history of life depends on the accuracy of fossils and dating methods. Some critics, particularly religious fundamentalists, argue that neither fossils nor dating can be trusted, and that their interpretations are better. Other critics, perhaps more familiar with the data , question certain aspects of the quality of the fossil record and of its dating . These skeptics do not provide scientific evidence for their views. Current understanding of the history of life is probably close to the truth because it is based on repeated and careful testing and consideration of the data.

The rejection of the validity of fossils and of dating by religious fundamentalists creates a problem for them:

They cannot deny that hundreds of millions of fossils reside in display cases and drawers around the world. Perhaps some would argue that these specimens–huge skeletons of dinosaurs, blocks from ancient shell beds containing hundreds of specimens, delicately preserved fern fronds–have been manufactured by scientists to confuse the public. This is clearly ludicrous.

Otherwise, religious fundamentalists are forced to claim that all the fossils are of the same age, somehow buried in the rocks by some extraordinary catastrophe, perhaps Noah’s flood. How exactly they believe that all the dinosaurs, mammoths, early humans, heavily armored fishes, trilobites, ammonites, and the rest could all live together has never been explained. Nor indeed why the marine creatures were somehow ‘drowned’ by the flood.

The rejection of dating by religious fundamentalists is easier for them to make, but harder for them to demonstrate. The fossils occur in regular sequences time after time; radioactive decay happens, and repeated cross testing of radiometric dates confirms their validity.

Fossils occur in sequences

Fossil sequences were recognized and established in their broad outlines long before Charles Darwin had even thought of evolution. Early geologists, in the 1700s and 1800s, noticed how fossils seemed to occur in sequences: certain assemblages of fossils were always found below other assemblages. The first work was done in England and France.

Around 1800, William Smith in England, who was a canal surveyor, noticed that he could map out great tracts of rocks on the basis of their contained fossils. The sequences he saw in one part of the country could be correlated (matched) precisely with the sequences in another. He, and others at the time, had discovered the first principles of stratigraphy–that older rocks lie below younger rocks and that fossils occur in a particular, predictable order.

Then, geologists began to build up the stratigraphic column, the familiar listing of divisions of geological time–Jurassic, Cretaceous, Tertiary, and so on. Each time unit was characterized by particular fossils. The scheme worked all round the world, without fail.

From the 1830s onwards, geologists noted how fossils became more complex through time. The oldest rocks contained no fossils, then came simple sea creatures, then more complex ones like fishes, then came life on land, then reptiles, then mammals, and finally humans. Clearly there was some kind of ‘progress’ going on.

All became clear, of course, in 1859 when Charles Darwin published his On the Origin of Species. The “progress” shown by the fossils was a documentation of the grand pattern of evolution through long spans of time.

Discussion Group Report

How Do You Distinguish Between an Unorthodox or Bizarre Faith and Delusion?

November 2003

By Richard Layton

“Critical examination of the lives and beliefs of gurus demonstrates that our psychiatric labels and our conceptions of what is or is not mental illness are woefully inadequate,” says Anthony Storr inFeet of Clay. “How, for example, does one distinguish an unorthodox or bizarre faith from delusion?

“Gurus are isolated people, dependent upon their disciples, with no possibility of being disciplined by a Church or criticized by contemporaries. They are above the law. The guru usurps the place of God. Whether gurus have suffered from manic-depressive illness, schizophrenia, or any other form of recognized, diagnosable mental illness is interesting but ultimately unimportant. What distinguishes gurus from more orthodox teachers is not their manic-depressive mood swings, not their thought disorders, not their delusional beliefs, not their hallucinatory visions, not their mystical states of ecstasy: it is their narcissism.”

In a recently published book,Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer discusses violence among the followers, present and past, of the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith. Martin Naparsteck, a reviewer forThe Salt Lake Tribune says, “The violence in the Church’s early history, in Krakauer’s exploration, results from a belief that the LDS Church alone is the conduit to salvation and truth, which led its early leaders to rationalize whatever they did, including lying and violence, as sanctioned by God.” Modern-day cultists, excommunicated or otherwise excluded from the LDS Church, have justified murder from this belief. An example extensively described in the book is the case of the 1984 murders of Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter by Brenda’s brothers-in-law, Ron and Dan Lafferty.

Chapter 23, “Judgment in Provo,” describes how psychiatrists dealt in court with the question of Ron’s sanity or insanity. Peggy Fletcher Stack, religion writer forThe Salt Lake Tribune, states, “Saying that anyone who talks with God is crazy has enormous implications for the world of religion. It imposes a secular view of sanity and means that all religions are insane.” The entire Mormon faith is based on talking to God.

Ron’s behavior in the pretrial hearings served to underscore his lawyers’ contention that he was mentally incompetent. He addressed the judge with obscene expletives. He wore a cloth sign attached to the seat of his prison jumpsuit that read, EXIT ONLY. His attorneys explained that he wore the sign to ward off the angel Moroni, who he believed was an evil homosexual spirit trying to invade his body through his anus.

Called as expert witnesses for the defense, three psychiatrists and one psychologist testified that, after examining the defendant, they were utterly convinced that he was deranged. Dr. C. Jess Groesbeck based his diagnosis on the fact that Ron’s bizarre beliefs could not be changed “with reason” and are so fantastic and so beyond any kind of rational acceptance by anyone in the culture, that they would be categorized as delusional. When Ron’s wife had left him, he had suffered “a total loss of self-esteem or self-image,” which prompted him to compensate “by creating a new but unreal view of himself and the world”

“He can’t even evaluate the reality of, for example, the case the state has against him. And I think that even when he can hear a few of those facts, his delusional system is so strong for example, he absolutely believes that every piece of evidence that has been brought against him had been planted. And I think that’s a product of his delusional thinking. And because of that in my opinion he does not meet the criteria of being able to appreciate the charges.”

Reasons given by other defense witnesses were: He didn’t understand why he was being tried by the state instead of his own family. He considered the issue of his guilt or innocence “a family matter” that could be resolved by having him “duke it out with Allen, the husband of the deceased woman. He sometimes heard Christ speaking to him. He heard a buzzing sound when spirits were present. He saw sparks shooting from his fingertips.

But prosecution expert witnesses threw cold water on the notion that such behavior demonstrated Ron was crazy or unfit to stand trial. Dr. Noel Gardner of the University of Utah Medical School admitted Ron’s belief in “travelers,” evil spirits, reflector shields, and the like was due to very odd, strange ideas. But “in an in-depth exploration of where these ideas came from, and how he uses them and thinks about them, it is very clear to me they are not psychotic ideas [They are] very consistent with things he’s learned as a child.” Gardner explained that Ron described “travelers” as being spiritual entities with the ability to “inhabit different bodies at different times.” This belief wasn’t really very different from the notion of reincarnation, and Ron simply “used some very unusual labels” for a “rather conventional set of ideas. There are millions, literally, probably billions of people who believe in a spirit world.”

Although Ron talks about reflector shields, warding off or defending against evil forces, which might suggest a psychotic, paranoid set of ideas, he actually “‘describes these forces in very much the same kind of language that ordinary religious people would. For example, I asked him how these spirits were alike or different than the ideas of guardian angels, and I said I grew up in a family where we believe in guardian angels.”

Ron responded that his “reflector shields” were very much like guardian angels, which struck Dr. Gardner as “very non-psychotic.” It seemed nearly identical to the ordinary Christian concept of erecting defenses “against the temptations or influences of Satan. It’s not all that different in many ways than a common New Testament text And it’s real clear that many of his ideas have come from his early Mormon teachings.”

Utah Assistant Attorney General Creighton Horton asked, “Are people who believe in divine guidance, or believe God sends guardian angels to protect us, mentally ill?”

“I would hope not,” Gardner replied. “Certainly the majority of the people in our country believe in God And while the labels that Mr. Lafferty uses are certainly unusual, the thought forms themselves are really common to all of us.”

Do travelers enter humans? “The idea that Christians should pray to have the Holy Spirit fill their lives, to come in and control their lives, possess them is a very common notion.” A number of religions still engage in exorcisms, to remove evil spirits that have taken possession of individuals. “A false belief isn’t necessarily a basis of mental illness.” Most of mankind, Gardner points out, subscribes to “ideas that are not particularly rational,” for example, trans-substantiation, the belief that the bread and wine in the Mass become the actual blood and body of Christ, or the idea of the virgin birth.

What makes Ron’s religious beliefs “so striking,” says Gardner, “is not that they are somewhat strange or even irrational, because all religious people have irrational ideas,” but “that they are so uniquely his own.” He had constructed his own idiosyncratic theology “in a very non-psychotic way He created it by whatever feels good to him. He says, ‘It just gives me a sense of peace, and I know it’s true.'” Ron’s beliefs are rooted in things he was taught at an early age.

Psychologist Richard Wootton said Ron’s beliefs were bizarre but no more so than many notions held to be true by religious folk, including Mormons. Many things accepted by one culture would appear crazy or extreme to those outside the culture. Psychologist Stephen Golding said whether Ron’s beliefs were true or false was irrelevant in determining whether he was mentally competent. His “approach to the world is no different than other kinds of political or religious zealots in this country, in Iran, in Montana, in a variety of places A zealot is simply someone who has an extreme, fervently held belief” and is willing to go “to great lengths to impose those beliefs, act on those beliefs.”

Why had the Lafferty brothers’ religious beliefs turned them into ruthless killers? Dr. Gardner told the court that, although Ron was not psychotic, he suffered from a psychological affliction called narcissistic personality disorder, which is described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy indicated by five or more of the following:

  1. An exaggerated sense of self-importance.
  2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. Believes that he or she is “special” and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high status people.
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement.
  6. Selfishly takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
  7. Lacks empathy.
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing, or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes.

The causes of narcissism are not known for sure, but there are various theories which attempt to explain why it occurs.

The jury agreed with the state, and it is expected that Ron will exhaust his appeals and be executed as early as 2004.

Ethics for Everyone

Book Review
by Flo Wineriter

September 2003

Ethics for Everyone: How to Increase Your Moral Intelligence
by Arthur Dorbin

Ethics has a high priority on the list of humanist values and here is a book that will increase every humanist’s understanding of ethics and making moral choices. In Ethics for Everyone: How to Increase Your Moral Intelligence, written by Arthur Dorbin, DSW., you will learn the basics of ethical theory plus how to increase your ability to think about and discuss ethical dilemmas. This sensible, practical book provides thoughtful discussions of twenty-one tough real-world ethical questions. The author is a Leader Emeritus of the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island and Professor of Humanities at Hofstra University. His book is an easy read of a tough subject.

Discussion Group Report

Ethics: Back to the Basics

May 2003

By Richard Layton

Is there any more important subject than ethics? In an article in The Humanist, March-April 2003, Gregory D. Foster says, “Nearly all of us acknowledge the importance of ethics. Most of us hope for and expect ethical behavior and treatment from particular segments of society…But regrettably few of us really understand ethics as well as we think we do or as well as we should.”

He suggests that there are a whole host of issues that can be treated as ethical issues. Abortion, globalization, capital punishment, defense spending, gun control, and genetic engineering are just a few.

What is ethics all about? Foster says it is about right and wrong, good and evil, virtue and vice, benefit and harm, propriety and impropriety. But it is also about principle–fixed, universal rules of right conduct that are contingent on neither time nor culture, nor circumstance;

“If habit is not a result of resolute and firm principles ever more and more purified, then, like any other mechanism of technically practical reason, it is neither armed for all eventualities nor adequately secured against change that may be brought about by new allurements.”–Immanuel Kant.

And ethics is about character–the traits, qualities, and established reputation that define who one is and what one stands for in the eyes of others. It is about example–an established pattern of conduct worthy of emulation–and conscience–the voice of the soul,” “the pulse of reason,” “that inner tribunal,” “the muzzle of the will,” “the compass of the unknown,” “a thousand witnesses.”

“The moral sense follows, firstly, from the enduring and ever-present nature of the social instincts; secondly, from man’s appreciation of the approbation and disapprobation of his fellows; and thirdly, from the high activity of his mental faculties, with past impressions extremely vivid; and in these latter respects he differs from the lower animals…Hence after some temporary desire or passion has mastered his social instincts, he reflects and compares the now weakened impression of such past impulses with the ever-present social instincts; and he then feels that sense of dissatisfaction which all unsatisfied instincts leave behind them, he therefore resolves to act differently for the future–and this is conscience.”–Charles Darwin.

“Ethics involves critical analysis of human acts to determine their rightness or wrongness in terms of two major criteria: truth and justice.”–Clarence Walton. Walton observes that ethics has virtually everything to do with the quality–even more than the content of our thinking. How we think may not guarantee a right or best answer but it dramatically improves the prospects of finding one in sound, defensible fashion.

“To think well is to think critically,” suggests Foster. Critical thinking–the conscious use of reason–stands clearly apart from other ways of grasping truth or confronting choice: impulse, habit, faith, and intuition. Impulse is nothing more than unreflective spontaneity. “Given the magnifying and accelerating effects of the media,” says Foster, “impulsiveness is much more likely than deliberation in characterizing the response of today’s policy practitioners to the manifold crises that define contemporary political affairs.” Habit is programmed repetition, the routinization of thought by which we remove presumably mundane matters to our subconscious so they can be dealt with more efficiently or conveniently without the attendant need to constantly revisit first principles. It is what we do when we standardize, generalize, or stereotype. Faith, in the words of Walter Kaufman, “means intense, usually confident belief that is not based on evidence sufficient to command assent from every reasonable person.” “For the true believer, though,” says Foster, “it isn’t just the certainty of proof that is unnecessary; evidence itself is superfluous, especially evidence that contradicts an established belief system, worldview, or doctrine. This is what cognitive dissonance is all about–the prevalent human tendency to ignore events or data that run counter to one’s preconceptions or predispositions,” “Action and faith enslave thought, both of them in order not to be troubled or inconvenienced by reflection, criticism and doubt.”–Henri Frederic Amiel. Intuition is a way of speculative “knowing” based more on experience than on reason, more on our overall sensory apparatus than on the workings of the mind. In it superficial impression of what appears to be often gives birth to deep-seated pseudoknowledge of what is. George Santayana says we must discount this subjective or ideal element in thought if we are anxious to possess true knowledge.

What distinguishes the above forms of unreason from critical thinking is the systematic, investigative nature of the latter. “If you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure,” said Henri Heine, “then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then enquire.” Thinking critically, states Foster, is a disciplined pattern or mode of thought or inquiry that requires, first, questioning rather than accepting at face value; second, seeking and weighing all evidence on all sides of an issue, not just evidence that affirms one’s beliefs; and third, employing rigorous logic to reach defensible conclusions. The object of critical thinking is to achieve a measure of objectivity to counteract or diminish the subjective bias that experience and socialization bestow on us all. Why is this necessary? Because when we are dealing with ethical matters, the well-being of someone or something beyond ourselves is always at stake. “If we live according to the guidance of reason , we shall desire for others the good which we seek for ourselves.” –Spinoza.

What should be the bases for analyzing human acts, for determining their rightness or wrongness? There are many bases that are sometimes used, but Foster suggests we should have two major criteria in mind–truth and justice. “Truth is the summit of being; justice is the application of it [truth] to affairs.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ethics requires that we seek the truth in order to have a proper basis for achieving justice. Justice served is ethics realized, argues Foster.

Truth is what is–conditions, occurrences, and statements whose existence and nature are there to be confirmed or verified by observation or reason. To possess truth is to have knowledge, the expected outcome of critical reasoning. If we possessed the truth, we would know what is ethical. But there’s the rub. Truth is inherently elusive, and our ability to grasp it is tenuous at best, even illusory. “A man with a watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches isn’t so sure.”–Old Saying.

Together truth and justice constitute a basis for trust, offers Foster. “Trust is a social good to be protected just as much as the air we breathe and the water we drink. When it is damaged, the community as a whole suffers; and when it is destroyed societies falter and collapse. –Sissela Bok. “Trust is a social glue,” says Foster. “If I am sure I can count on you to tell me the truth, to seek the truth where I am concerned, to treat me fairly, to care whether I get what I deserve and deserve what I get, then our relationship is more likely than not to be characterized by trust… Where such trust exists, …the prevalence of ethical conflict and the burden of ethical choice are materially diminished. Restoring trust thus is the great task of ethics, and understanding ethics accordingly is the great task of humanity today.”

Discussion Group Report

Creationist Controversy

August 2003

By Richard Layton

Did you know that the Grand Canyon was formed in a matter of only weeks, or at the most, months; that all of the earth and space were created in one day and the atmosphere in another single day; and that it is not unreasonable from a scientific point of view to believe that all the plants were created in one day?

“Creation science” can explain all this for you. And this movement has become very politically powerful. It has claimed to have taken majority control of 2200 school boards in the United States and is demanding that its point of view be taught as a scientific theory in schools on an equal basis with the theory of evolution. Although creationists are agreeable to teaching evolution in science classes, they demand that it be taught as only a theory, not fact. However, the creationists commonly teach creationism as fact, rather than theory.

This month the Humanist Study Group viewed a two-hour PBS videotape called “In the Beginning…The Creationist Controversy,” an excellent explication of both the creationist point of view and the evidence for evolution. This tape can be obtained in some public libraries, for sure in the one in Murray city. It contained the main arguments of the creationists and a wealth of evidences for evolution.

Creation scientists are now attempting to use a “scientific” approach in promoting their views. There is no evidence for evolution, say creationists. There are no intermediate transitional forms, as between a fin and a foot, or a forelimb and a wing or scales and feathers of birds.

Creationists are claiming that most scientists follow a closed-minded orthodoxy of thought where they see what they want to see and reject any alternative theories to evolution arbitrarily. The scientists are a “priesthood” which does not allow deviance from the one true theory. Darwinism is the creationist myth of our culture.

Creationist advocates have an Institute of Creation Research, which attempts to reconcile science and religion. They say it is scientifically sound to accept the idea that the earth was created in seven days. The first three days were as described above. The “firmament” of the Bible was the atmosphere. The sun, moon and planets, including the solar system were created in the fourth day; the things that flew and swam in the fifth; the land animals in the sixth; and God rested in the seventh. This explanation, they contend, is not unreasonable from a scientific point of view. As long as this interpretation is not anti-scientific, its reasonable. If all things came from one place, as hypothesized by “orthodox” scientists in the Big Bang theory, there would be homogeneity in the sun, moon, stars and planets; but instead there is a great diversity. It is known that the comets, for instance, Halley’s, are very young, indicating they were created in a short time. This fact suggests that the solar system is only about a million years old. Other information doesn’t rule out the interpretation that all of these phenomena had a creator. Therefore, it is scientifically feasible.

Adam and Eve’s disobedience of God brought sin and death into the world. Evolution denies this fact. Without the concept of sin, people feel no sense of responsibility for their actions, and society will disintegrate into a chaotic immorality. Evolution, the creationists declare, takes the moral significance away from life.

Noah’s flood is of central importance. Most of the extinct creatures whose fossil remains we have discovered died in the flood. Others were unable to adapt to life after the flood. Strata of earth and rocks were formed over a short period of time. In the Grand Canyon, which is very large, stretching over several states, the layers were laid down when part of Arizona was uplifted, sending a great rush of water laying down various layers. The Canyon was carved in weeks or perhaps months. The word “catastrophe” should be becoming a more accepted word in geology than it is, since it explains some geologic “episodes.”

Humanists can readily see the logical fallacies of creationists. This tape does a good job of presenting the compelling evidences for evolution. Here are just a few of them:

If you take a close look at the details of the Grand Canyon, you see that the life forms in the lower strata are less well developed than those farther up. You can see evolution taking place all around us as life forms change. We even help it along ourselves in some cases, as in the selective breeding of animals like horses, cows, and dogs. There is a good deal of fossil evidence for transitional forms, as in the changes found from reptiles to mammals and the transitional fossils of pre-humans. All of life is based on a common biochemistry. All of life shares a common basic anatomy. There are certain useless anomalies in fossils that would not occur if all life were created by an intelligent creator, for example, pigs with two toes that touch the ground and two that don’t, birds and bugs with wings that can’t fly, and human males with nipples.

Creationism causes many problems for scientists, mainly in the waste of time they have to spend refuting it. Unfortunately, many scientists do not take this problem seriously; they just ignore creationist claims. There would be many fewer people among the general public believing erroneous creationist claims if more scientists, especially science teachers in college and high school, would do a more adequate job of teaching evolution.

The tape says there are certain things we can learn from evolution: that there is change, that science has nothing to say about the existence of God, that there is no evidence of a world-wide flood, and that creationism is racist because it puts forth only the myth of a particular culture as the truth while it rejects the creation myths of all other cultures. It is the job of science to help allow as many parties as possible into the dialogue about creation but to see to it that no one view commandeers discussion.

Discussion Group Report

The Consequences of War With Iraq

February 2003

By Richard Layton

“Going to war with Iraq would mean shouldering all the responsibilities of an occupying power the moment victory was achieved. These would include running the economy, keeping domestic peace, and protecting Iraq’s borders–and doing it all for years, or perhaps decades. Are we ready for this long-term relationship?” asks James Fallows in his article, “The Fifty-First State?” in the November 2002 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.

He says that some of America’s wars of the past generation–in Grenada, Haiti, Panama, the Persian Gulf, and Afghanistan–have turned out far better–tactically at least–than many experts predicted. But when fighting, not organized armies, but stateless foes, as in Vietnam and “Black Hawk Down” in Somalia, we have underestimated our vulnerabilities. In the Vietnam War the public couldn’t imagine how badly combat would turn out for the United States. Wars change history in ways no one can foresee, as in the1967 Six-Day War between Egypt and Israel. No one who had accurately foreseen what World War I would bring could rationally have decided to let combat begin. Retired Air Force General Merrill McPeak has misgivings about an invasion of Iraq, largely because of how hard it is to imagine the full consequences of America’s first purely pre-emptive war–and our first large war since the Spanish-American in which we would have few or no allies.

“The day after a war ended,” says Fallows, “Iraq would become America’s problem, for practical and political reasons. Because we would have destroyed the political order and done physical damage in the process. The claims on American resources and attention would be comparable to those of any American state. Conquered Iraqis would turn to the U.S. government for emergency relief, civil order, economic reconstruction, and protection of their borders. They wouldn’t be able to vote in U.S. elections…But they would be part of us. ”

According to dozens of knowledgeable people whom Fallows interviewed before writing his article, America, after defeating Iraq, would face the following problems:

What would Saddam, facing defeat and perhaps death, have decided to do with the stockpiled weapons of mass destruction? All Pentagon battle plans leaked to the media assume Iraq would use chemical weapons against U.S. troops. Both of the chemical weapons thought to be in Iraqi arsenals–“GB” and “VX” can be absorbed through the lungs, the skin or the eyes and can cause death from amounts as small as one drop, GB quickly and VX less quickly. U.S. troops would be equipped with protective suits, which are cumbersome and retain heat, a fact that is used to argue for not attacking in the summer. Also, Saddam might use chemical weapons strategically, not just tactically, to lash out beyond his borders, in particular, against Israel. During the Gulf War Iraq launched 42 SCUDS against Israel, but Israel, under Yitzhak Shamir, did not respond, complying with a U.S. request. Fallows remarks, “nothing in Ariel Sharon’s long career suggests he could be similarly constrained. A U.S. occupation of Iraq could begin with the rest of the Middle East at war around it.

Immediately afterward many Iraqis would be desperate. “You are going to start out with a humanitarian crisis,” says William Nash, a retired two-star army general, who is on the Council on Foreign Relations and served in Bosnia and Kosovo. “In the drive to Baghdad, you are going to do a lot of damage. Either you will destroy a great deal of infrastructure by trying to isolate the battlefield–or they will destroy it, trying to delay your advance.” Postwar commerce and recovery in Iraq will depend, of course, on roads, the rail system, air fields and bridges across the Tigris and the Euphrates–facilities that both sides will have incentives to blow up.

“So you’ve got to find the village elders and say, ‘Let’s get things going. Where are the wells? I can bring you food, but bringing you enough water is really hard.’ Right away you need food, water, and shelter–these people have to survive. Because you started the war, you have accepted a moral responsibility for them. And you may well have obliterated the social and political structure that had been providing these services.” Most of the military and diplomatic figures Fallow interviewed stressed the same thing. It has been estimated that the cost of restoring the infrastructure would be $16 billion dollars for security and $1 billion for reconstruction–presumably all from the United States, because of the lack of allies in the war.

It would be a problem finding both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, both of whom would be out there achieving heroic mythical status in the Arab world just by surviving. McPeak says, “My concern is that he [Saddam] is smarter individually that our bureaucracy is collectively. Bureaucracies tend to dumb things down.”

Some other huge problems would be police control, manpower, intelligence, forming a government, territorial integrity, de-Nazification and loya-jirgation. Simply manning a full occupation force would be a challenge requiring 50,000 soldiers. There would be little help from allies. In the short term there would be a need for people trained in setting up courts and police systems, restoring infrastructure, and generally leading a war-recovery effort. The occupying force would face the challenge of understanding politics and rivalries in a country whose language few Americans speak. Inability to communicate could be disastrous. Following the Gulf War there were some near riots among Iraqi prisoners in American camps when it was thought Saddam’s agents had infiltrated. Iraq has no obvious sources of new leadership such as Corazon Aquino was in the Philippines, Charles de Gaulle in postwar France, Nelson Mandela in South Africa and Kim dae-Jung in South Korea. The former monarchy is too shallow-rooted to survive reintroduction, and Saddam has had time to eliminate nearly all sources of internal resistance. There appears to be no one of promise from the leadership of the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group which survives on money from the U.S. government. The first major test of the occupiers’ exercise of power may come in protecting Iraq’s territorial integrity. Iraq has grown out of three provinces which existed under the Ottoman Empire. One, Baghdad, is the stronghold of Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority, comprising only 20% of the population, which has dominated the army and government since the Empire collapsed. The second, Mosul, is the stronghold of Kurds, who make up 15-20% of the population. Through the years they have both warred against and sought common cause with other Kurdish tribes across Iraq’s borders in Turkey, Iran, and Syria. The third province, Basra, consists mainly of Shiite Moslems, who comprise a majority of the country as a whole but have little political power. Geographic, ethnic and religious forces tend to pull Iraq apart. The strains will be real.

Iraq’s missiles cannot reach Europe or America. But, I point out, America has 15,000 operational nuclear missiles. In view of these facts, is Iraq really a clear and present danger to us, as the Bush administration has claimed?

The above information describes the downside of the war with Iraq. Fallows believes there is also a positive theme, which comes from some of the most dedicated members of the war party. They claim that forcing regime change would create the possibility of bringing to Iraq, and eventually the whole Arab world, something it has never known before: stable democracy in an open market system. James Woolsey, a former CIA director, says that in three world wars–two hot and one cold–we’ve achieved this objective for two thirds of the world. At the beginning of World War I there were eight or ten democracies. Now there are around 120. “An order of magnitude! It is said about the natural world that small disturbances to complex systems can have unpredictably large effects…Merely itemizing the foreseeable effects of a war with Iraq suggests reverberations that would be felt for decades. If we can judge from past wars, the effects we can’t imagine when the fighting begins will prove to be the ones that matter most.”

By the time you read this article, a definite decision about whether this war will occur may have already been made. I comment that the decision to go to war will begin a new direction in foreign policy that is a radical departure from a policy regarding major wars that we have followed the past. The new path will call for preemptive strikes against other nations when our national Administration deems them a danger. Former President Carter says this posture is dangerous. George Bush may come out of this war hailed as a great visionary. Or he may come out of it as a president who led us into troubled waters that we may wish we hadn’t gone into.

2003 Business Meeting Report

February 2003

Humanists of Utah held their annual business meeting and winter social at Distinctive Catering on February 13, 2003. The food and entertainment were marvelous. The company was even better.

Elections were held and the following people were chosen to serve:

  • Heather Dorrell, President (2 years)
  • Robert Lane, Vice President (2 years)
  • Wayne Wilson, Secretary (2 years)
  • Leona Blackbird, Treasurer (2 years)

Board Members:

  • Joyce Barnes (1 year)
  • Richard Garrard (2 years)
  • Rolf Kay (2 years)
  • Helen Mulder (1 year)
  • Earl Wunderli (1 year)

Results of Survey on Monthly Programs

Those who attended our dinner in February filled out a survey on subjects and speakers of interest to them for our monthly programs. This is a report on the results of that survey.

The survey asked about your interest on a scale of 1 to 5 in twelve different subjects. The subject of most interest was humanism itself, followed by history, philosophy, and national politics. Close behind were ethics, literature, and science. A call to action came eighth, which would include such past programs as encouraging us to contact Congress to support the National Endowment for the Arts and to provide free air time for political candidates. Local politics came in ninth, followed by religion, Mormonism, and opposing views. These last four may perhaps be explained by one responder’s comment on opposing views that “we are saturated with this viewpoint.” So maybe we hear plenty of local politics and religion in our daily lives and not enough of history, philosophy, and things beyond our Utah culture.

Far and away the most popular of the six categories of speakers was university professors, of which we have had quite a few over the years. In second place were debates, although we have had few if any of these. This interest does, however, belie a close-mindedness that some might infer from our lack of interest in hearing opposing views. A close third were experts other than university professors. The final three were local politicians, panels, and chapter members. These last three are interesting because responders were asked about their favorite meetings, and five of them named Rocky Anderson’s (local politician), two of them mentioned the program featuring Richard Garrard, Helen Mulder, and Robert Lane (both a panel and chapter members), and others mentioned meetings featuring chapter members Paul Trane and Richard Tierlink, Hugh Gillilan, and Bill Mulder (also a university professor). The Rolly and Wells meeting tied with Rocky Anderson’s for favorite meeting.

Other responders wrote that there were too many good meetings to single any out; that the responder liked variety and had no favorites; that seeing fellow humanists is reason enough to attend the meetings; and that we can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time, and to keep up the good work. This we intend to do. With your interests in mind expressed through this survey, a program committee consisting of Flo Wineriter, Joyce Barnes, Earl Wunderli, and Heather Dorrell (ex officio) will identify speakers and subjects for our monthly meetings. If you want to comment on this report, contact Earl Wunderli or, better still, write a letter to the editor. Also, please contact any member of the committee with any ideas you have about speakers, subjects, or anything else to do with our monthly meetings.

Didn’t attend the meeting but want to take the survey anyway? Click Here

 

Bush Shows Contempt for Religious Liberty and Congress on Historic Anniversary

Summer 2003

Press Release from the AHA

~for immediate release~
(Washington D.C., June 16, 2003)

“Humanists will never accept the Bush administration’s regular displays of contempt for religious liberty,” said Tony Hileman, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “We are especially dismayed to learn of President Bush’s strong-armed tactics so close to the anniversary of the historic Supreme Court decision, Abington Township v. Schempp.”

In the case, the family of AHA member Ellery Schempp filed suit in 1956 against Abington High School. The then 16-year old Schempp refused to participate in mandatory morning Bible readings and school prayer, claiming that those practices had no place in public schools because they violated the separation of church and state. The Supreme Court concurred in an 8-1 decision on June 17, 1963.

The current issue of Christianity Today reports that the Bush administration has devised a strategy to use executive orders in order to circumvent restrictions imposed by the Senate on his faith-based initiatives, known as the Charity Aid, Recovery, and Empowerment Act (CARE). Bush already issued one such order in December 2002 allowing direct federal support for religious groups.

“It is incredible that Bush is announcing his administration’s intentions to bypass and, if necessary, override Congress in order to enact of the sectarian provisions of his faith-based agenda. This will thwart the decisions of our elected representatives who stripped Bush’s legislation of the most sectarian provisions, including those allowing faith-based groups to reject job applicants based on their religious faith,” continued Hileman.

Hileman concluded, “With his actions, he blithely disregards the separation of church and state, which it should be added, has served this country quite well for over two centuries. Humanists and all who support religious freedom are justifiably outraged.”

Bush Misrepresents America

January 2003

(Washington, DC) “The Bush administration is misrepresenting America by trying to impose President Bush’s personal religious views internationally,” said American Humanist Association Executive Director Tony Hileman.

Despite the fact that abortion is legal in America, U.S. representatives pushed for anti-abortion measures throughout the Fifth Asian and Pacific Population Conference attended by thirty-two nations. In the opening days of the conference they demanded there be “No reference to ‘services’ in relationship to reproductive health,” objected to use of the term “reproductive rights,” and tried to remove references to adolescents, arguing that it might promote teenage sexual activity.

A Bush administration statement issued at the conference makes clear the extent of this unpopular view: “The United States supports the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.”

Hileman responded, “Bush is stepping over the bounds of appropriate separation between religion and government when he puts forth his religious interpretations as U.S. foreign policy. The public at large–especially we Humanists–are not supportive of this extreme view that protected human life begins at conception. Not only is there no legitimate national interest in pursuing this agenda, but it hinders existing international family planning efforts and is not supported by American law.”

The international community soundly rejected U.S. demands, which likely will be used to excuse continued lack of support of reasonable population programs. The delegation from the Philippines was particularly taken aback. The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development Foundation expressed concerns over the U.S. position, particularly noting “the attempt of the US government to impose its own policies over other nations through a process that violates democracy and the use of threat to exhibit its power in relation to international agreements and commitments.”

Hileman added, “But these aren’t really America’s policies. They are only those of George W. Bush and his church. Reproductive rights must be protected, not just in the United States, but internationally, particularly where countries are asking for the help such services provide. We need to stand up to these continued religiously motivated attacks on women’s reproductive freedoms by the Bush administration.”

–Tony Hileman

The Bible Unearthed:
Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts

by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman

~ Book Review By Adrienne Morris ~

March 2003

Why is understanding the origins and purposes of the Bible important? No one book has more strongly influenced Western history, and still does. Modern Zionists justify not only Israel’s existence but its aggression based on so-ca1led Biblical history. Right-wing Christians who believe in a literal Bible strongly influence the Bush administration policies. Sadly, most Americans are ignorant of its nature and contents. This makes them very vulnerable to manipulation and power-grabbing “authorities.”

Starting with genuine Biblical criticism in the 18th century, most of it has been focused on the text itself, and later with what actual history seemed to reveal or not. The Bible Unearthed is a revelation of the vast difference between what the Bible claims and what modern archeology has demonstrated. It is no surprise to find out there were no patriarchs, no exodus, no conquest of Canaan. What might be surprising to many is that Finkelstein, an archeologist at Tel Aviv University, and Silberman, also an archeologist and historian, also draw conclusions from archeological digs all over Israel in the past few decades to conclude that there was not even a united monarchy.

The book is divided into three logical sections: “The Bible as History” (it isn’t), “The Rise and Fall of Ancient Israel” (not so ancient after all) and “Judah and the Making of Biblical History” (most of it was fabricated for political and religious purposes). The last section is, in my opinion, the most interesting one. The two authors think the “book of law,” most probably Deuteronomy, was produced in the 7th century BCE by King Josiah and cohorts to purify the cult of Yahweh and further the aims of a small nation. Monotheism began to take root, and the Bible began to be compiled, pulling on many traditions, being edited and embellished at will.. It is among other things a political document designed to connect Josiah, etc., to a golden era, weaving historical fragments and myths of various Canaanite peoples to justify expansionist policies. The Israelites were originally natives of the land, indistinguishable from other Canaanite peoples. Much later they became the “chosen people”–an ambivalent legacy.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who thinks it is important to demythologize the ancient idols to which so many humans remain subject. Without benefit of modern science, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We discover (in the Bible) a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstition, fanaticism, and fabrication.” He was so right.

I also recommend two classics, Folklore in the Old Testament by J. G. Frazer and Robert Graves and the Hebrew Myths by Graves and R. Patai.

The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts, by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman; The Free Press, 2001.

–Adrienne Morris

Ben Franklin

November 2003

Professor Paul Lerdahl was the featured speaker at the October general meeting. He arrived dressed as Benjamin Franklin. His prepared remarks on the electrical experiments and discoveries of Franklin included several props that he made to show Franklin’s actual work. The central topic was the lightening rod which apparently was not well received at the time. People were superstitious and feared that Franklin was usurping the power of God. Indeed, Professor Lerdahl noted that the custom was to ring the church bells to warn the community of electric storms. He read a list of bell inscriptions noting that the bells had the power to ward off the storms. He also noted that many bell ringers died relatively early from electrocution.

Professor Lerdahl has devoted many hours to studying Mr. Franklin. His clothes, his props, and even his hair are all studious impersonations of one our most revered forefathers. After his prepared lecture, fielded questions from the audience. Professor Lerdahl would listen to the question, pause and think for a few moments, and then “Ben” would answer the query, often citing experiences from his life and attitudes.

–Wayne Wilson

Believe It, or Not

October 2003

Today marks the Roman Catholics’ Feast of the Assumption, honoring the moment that they believe God brought the Virgin Mary into Heaven. So here’s a fact appropriate for the day: Americans are three times as likely to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus (83 percent) as in evolution (28 percent).

So this day is an opportunity to look at perhaps the most fundamental divide between America and the rest of the industrialized world: faith. Religion remains central to American life, and is getting more so, in a way that is true of no other industrialized country, with the possible exception of South Korea.

Americans believe, 58 percent to 40 percent, that it is necessary to believe in God to be moral. In contrast, other developed countries overwhelmingly believe that it is not necessary. In France, only 13 percent agree with the U.S. view.

The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time. The percentage of Americans who believe in the Virgin Birth actually rose five points in the latest poll.

My grandfather was fairly typical of his generation: A devout and active Presbyterian elder, he nonetheless believed firmly in evolution and regarded the Virgin Birth as a pious legend. Those kinds of mainline Christians are vanishing, replaced by evangelicals. Since 1960, the number of Pentecostalists has increased fourfold, while the number of Episcopalians has dropped almost in half.

The result is a gulf not only between America and the rest of the industrialized world, but a growing split at home as well. One of the most poisonous divides is the one between intellectual and religious America.

Some liberals wear T-shirts declaring, “So Many Right-Wing Christians . . . So Few Lions.” On the other side, there are attitudes like those on a Web site, dutyisours.com/gwbush.htm, explaining the 2000 election this way:

“God defeated armies of Philistines and others with confusion. Dimpled and hanging chads may also be because of God’s intervention on those who were voting incorrectly. Why is GW Bush our president? It was God’s choice.”

The Virgin Mary is an interesting prism through which to examine America’s emphasis on faith because most Biblical scholars regard the evidence for the Virgin Birth, and for Mary’s assumption into Heaven (which was proclaimed as Catholic dogma only in 1950), as so shaky that it pretty much has to be a leap of faith. As the Catholic theologian Hans Küng puts it in “On Being a Christian,” the Virgin Birth is a “collection of largely uncertain, mutually contradictory, strongly legendary” narratives, an echo of virgin birth myths that were widespread in many parts of the ancient world.

Jaroslav Pelikan, the great Yale historian and theologian, says in his book “Mary Through the Centuries” that the earliest references to Mary (like Mark’s gospel, the first to be written, or Paul’s letter to the Galatians) don’t mention anything unusual about the conception of Jesus. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke do say Mary was a virgin, but internal evidence suggests that that part of Luke, in particular, may have been added later by someone else (it is written, for example, in a different kind of Greek than the rest of that gospel).

Yet despite the lack of scientific or historical evidence, and despite the doubts of Biblical scholars, America is so pious that not only do 91 percent of Christians say they believe in the Virgin Birth, but so do an astonishing 47 percent of U.S. non-Christians.

I’m not denigrating anyone’s beliefs. And I don’t pretend to know why America is so much more infused with religious faith than the rest of the world. But I do think that we’re in the middle of another religious Great Awakening, and that while this may bring spiritual comfort to many, it will also mean a growing polarization within our society.

But mostly, I’m troubled by the way the great intellectual traditions of Catholic and Protestant churches alike are withering, leaving the scholarly and religious worlds increasingly antagonistic. I worry partly because of the time I’ve spent with self-satisfied and unquestioning mullahs and imams, for the Islamic world is in crisis today in large part because of a similar drift away from a rich intellectual tradition and toward the mystical. The heart is a wonderful organ, but so is the brain.

–Nicholas D Kristof
The New York Times
August 15, 2003

In Memoriam

Barbara Kleiner

October 28, 1925 – June 27, 2003

Summer 2003

Barbara Kleiner, long time member of Humanists of Utah, recently died. Here is information from her obituary published in The Salt Lake Tribune on 6/29/03.

Barbara died peacefully in her sleep Thursday, June 27, 2003. She is survived by her children, Rebecca Kleiner, Ed Kleiner, Jr., Eric Kleiner; and grandchildren, Evan, Eric Kleiner. Barbara’s love of books and education as a librarian and teacher influenced many young people in their career paths and personal lives. She was a very active member of the Unitarian church over her lifetime and had a strong commitment to principles of fairness and equality. Her frequent contributions to the editorial pages of the Tribune with regards to Utah politics and religion were enjoyed and appreciated by many for their honesty, forthrightness and humor. A personal service was held by her family. For those who care, donations should be made to the Unitarian church in her memory. Our family wishes to thank the staff at Garden Terrace and Silverado senior centers for their care and kindness to mom. Barbara’s wit, perception and humor will be greatly missed by her family, friends and acquaintances who were fortunate to cross her path.

We already miss her very much.

Barbara was profiled in our Member Spotlight in August 1999.

Attack on Utah Public Schools is Just Beginning

Summer 2003

Utah ranks as one of the lowest states in the nation in terms of per pupil spending. Utah parents and voters have repeatedly polled as against various privatization schemes for public schooling, including bills for vouchers in the most recent session of the Utah legislature.

Yet, reactionary and fundamentalist forces continue to assail Utah schools and Utah teachers.

The Sutherland Institute, a “think tank” headquartered in Murray, Utah, recently promoted a document entitled, “Saving Education and Ourselves: the Moral Case for Self-Reliance in Education.” This report proposes that the existing public school system in Utah be dismantled in favor of “neighborhood” schools, with curricula and teacher qualifications set by the community. Throughout this document, the public school system is referred to as “coercive government education” and is repeatedly referred to as a “welfare” system.

Sutherland and its president, Paul Mero, might be easy to dismiss as far-right extremists except for their access to statewide media and politicians. Mero is a member of the Salt Lake Tribune’s Editorial Board Advisory Committee and is widely recognized for a role in legislation to prevent Utah public employees from voluntarily deducting from their paychecks a contribution to a political action fund.

Mero and his group have close ties to the anti-gay rights group the World Congress of Families, founded by religious right leader Paul Weyrich; they are also allies of the Utah Eagle Forum and the anti-environmental American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC).

Utah education is a good value and a quality product. What Sutherland proposes is a giant step back to 19th century Utah. Sutherland advocates for Christian fundamentalism and irresponsible, corporate interests. And guess what their newest project is? A handbook for “model legislation for a variety of essential family issues.” Stay tuned.

–Richard Garrard

Discussion Group Report

Are Human Traits Inherited or Acquired?

January 2003

By Richard Layton

“Intellectual life today is beset with a great divide,” says Steven Pinker in his article, “The Blank Slate,” in Discover, October 2002. “On one side is a militant denial of human nature, a conviction that the mind of a child is a blank slate that is subsequently inscribed by parents and society…At the same time there is a growing realization that human nature won’t go away.”

For much of the past century psychology has tried to explain all thought, feeling and behavior with a few simple mechanisms of learning by association. Social scientists have tried to explain all customs and social arrangements as a product of the surrounding culture. A long list of concepts that would seem natural to the human way of thinking–emotions, kinship, the sexes–are said to have been “invented’ or “socially constructed.” Behaviorist psychologists John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner simply banned notions of talent and temperament, together with all the other contents of mind, such as beliefs, desires and feelings. Watson boasted, “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in. and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select–doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.”

Yet anyone who has had more than one child, or been in a heterosexual relationship, or noticed that children learn language but house pets don’t has recognized that people are born with different talents and temperaments. An acknowledgement that we humans are a species with a timeless and universal psychology pervades the writings of great political thinkers, and without it we cannot explain the recurring themes of literature, religion and myth. Moreover, the modern sciences of mind, brain, genes and evolution are showing that there is something to the commonsense idea of human nature. There must be complex innate mental faculties that enable human beings to create and learn culture.

The denial of human nature has not just corrupted the world of intellectuals but has harmed ordinary people. The theory that parents can mold their children like clay has inflicted child-rearing regimes on parents that are unnatural and sometimes cruel. It has increased the anguish of parents whose children haven’t turned out as hoped. The belief that human tastes are reversible cultural preferences has led social planners to write off people’s enjoyment of ornament, natural light and human scale and forced millions of people to live in drab cement boxes. And the conviction that humanity could be reshaped by massive social engineering projects has led to some of the greatest atrocities in history, Pinker says.

Cracks are appearing in the doctrine of the blank slate. As new disciplines such as cognitive science, neuroscience, evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics flourished, it became clearer that thinking is a biological process, that the brain is not exempt from the laws of evolution, that sexes differ above the neck as well as below it, and that people are not psychological clones. There is a suggestion that the human mind evolved with a universal complex design. Anthropologists have returned to an ethnographic record that used to trumpet differences among cultures and have found an astonishingly detailed set of aptitudes and tastes that all cultures have in common. This shared way of thinking, feeling and living makes all of humanity look like a single tribe, which the anthropologist Donald Brown has called the universal people. Hundreds of traits, from romantic love to humorous insults, from poetry to food taboos, from exchange of goods to mourning the dead, can be found in every society ever documented.

Studies of the brain also show that the mind is not always a blank slate. The brain has a pervasive ability to change the strengths of its connections as the result of learning and experience–if it didn’t we would all be permanent amnesiacs. But that does not mean that the structure of the brain is mostly a product of experience. Study of the brains of twins has shown that much of the variation in the amount of gray matter in the prefrontal lobes is genetically caused. . These variations are not just random differences in anatomy like fingerprints; they correlate significantly with differences in intelligence. People born with variations in the typical brain plan can vary in the way their minds work. A study of Einstein’s brain showed that he had large, unusually shaped inferior parietal lobules, which participate in spatial reasoning and intuitions about numbers. Gay men are likely to have a relatively small nucleus in the anterior hypothalamus, a nucleus known to have a role in sex differences. Convicted murderers and other violent, antisocial people are likely to have a relatively small and inactive prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that governs decision-making and inhibits impulses. These facts imply that differences in intelligence, scientific genius, sexual orientation and impulsive violence are not entirely learned.

The blank slate has often been widely embraced as a rationale for morality, but it is under assault from science. Yet just as the supposed foundations of morality shifted in the centuries following Galileo and Darwin, our own moral sensibilities will come to terms with the scientific findings, not just because facts are facts but because the moral credentials of the blank slate are just as spurious.

One of the fears associated with the idea of innate human endowment is the fear of inequality. Individuals, sexes, classes and races might differ innately in their talents and inclinations. If people are different, it would open the door to discrimination, oppression or eugenics. But none of this follows. A universal human nature does not imply that differences among groups are innate. Confucius could have been right when he wrote, “Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that carry them far apart.”

Moreover, the case against bigotry is not a factual claim that people are biologically indistinguishable. Enlightened societies strive to ignore race, sex and ethnicity in hiring, admissions and criminal justice because the alternative is morally repugnant. Discriminating against people on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity would be unfair, penalizing them for traits over which they have no control.

Regardless of IQ or physical strength or any other trait that might vary among people, all human beings can be assumed to have certain traits in common. No one likes being enslaved. No one likes being humiliated. No one likes being treated unfairly.

A second fear of human nature comes from a reluctance to give up the age-old dream of the perfectibility of man. If we are forever saddled with fatal flaws and deadly sins, according to this fear, social reform would be a waste of time. But an antisocial desire is just one component among others. Some faculties may endow us with greed, lust or malice, but others may endow us with sympathy, foresight, self-respect, a desire for respect from others and an ability to learn from experience and history. Social progress can come from pitting some of these faculties against others.

Remarkably, although both Nazi and Marxist ideologies led to industrial-scale killing, their biological and psychological theories were opposites. Marxists had no use for the concept of race, were averse to the notion of genetic inheritance, and were hostile to the very idea of a human nature rooted in biology. “All history is nothing but a continuous transformation of human nature,” wrote Mao.

But “the reminder that human nature is the source of our interests and needs as well as our flaws,” states Pinker, “encourages us to examine claims about the mind objectively, without putting a moral thumb on either side of the scale.”

AHA Questions “PATRIOT II”

March 2003

For Immediate Release – February 13, 2003
Contact: Roy Speckhardt (202) 238-9088

(Washington, DC) Attorney General John Ashcroft’s staff drafted new “anti-terrorism” legislation to be the sequel of the USA Patriot Act. Mel Lipman, president of the American Humanist Association, responds, “The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 encroaches on the rights and protections of Americans even more than its predecessor did. At its core this legislation is intended to drastically expand the powers of law enforcement and federal intelligence agencies with apparent disregard for the rights it tramples upon.”

Lipman continued, “If the Domestic Security Enhancement Act were to become law we would see our basic freedoms diminished along with key checks and balances on executive branch powers.

As with provisions in the original Patriot Act, this will result in certain individuals being targeted based not on their actions but on their “potential threat,” which can be ethnicity, belief, appearance, or other unrelated factors.

Specifically, this legislation would codify existing administrative efforts to secretly arrest citizens and hold them without charges. Government would be immune from judicial oversight of certain surveillance methods. This would expand capital punishment and prevent courts from questioning certain government actions. Perhaps worst of all, it would have a chilling effect on our freedom of association by enabling government to strip citizenship from people who’ve supported organizations the government deems to have links with terrorism.

During the McCarthy era, Humanist philosopher Corliss Lamont was wrongly accused of being a communist sympathizer and was illegally investigated by the FBI. Fortunately, he was able to use our laws guaranteeing privacy and due process to win judgments and clear his name.

“If this legislation passes, such protections that freed innocent activists in the 1950’s will be history. If we continue down this road of sacrificing liberty for false security we will have nothing left to secure. For when freedom goes, more is soon lost, and tyranny usually overwhelms what remains of civil liberties,” Lipman stated.

Lipman concluded, “The Domestic Security Enhancement Act is the latest in the Bush Administration’s continued efforts to expand executive powers–even at the cost of our rights and liberties. The time to make our voices of dissent heard is now, before government acquires the power to legally stifle us.”

AHA Applauds Court Decision to Stand by Pledge of Allegiance Ruling

April 2003

Contact Information Tony Hileman, Executive Director

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(Washington, D.C.- February 28, 2002) Today the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed its Pledge of Allegiance ruling from last June. This ruling overturns the 1954 act of Congress that modified our Pledge of Allegiance to include the words “under God.” “The court simply recognized the fact that adding a testimony of religious belief to our statement of national loyalty was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion back in the 1950s, and it still is today,” responded Tony Hileman, executive director of the American Humanist Association (AHA).

“As I said in June, even though the Supreme Court ruled in the past that it couldn’t be a requirement for public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, students without sectarian faith continue to be placed in an intimidating position. They are forced to either refuse in front of their peers to recite the Pledge or pledge to something they do not believe in,” continued Hileman.

“The combined media firestorm and political circus that ensued last summer after this court’s original ruling on the Pledge made it clear beyond a doubt that these are meaningful words, and that they are undeniably religious in meaning,” said Hileman.

The Ninth Circuit Court’s decision clarifies that government sponsorship of sectarian religion is unconstitutional and will not be supported further. The government cannot endorse one religion over another religion, nor can it endorse religion in general over non-religion. Hileman states, “The Pledge in its current form violates the American principle standard of religious freedom. As this case will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court, the AHA will remain strongly supportive of the effort to return the Pledge to its previously inclusive form,” said Hileman.

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The American Humanist Association is the oldest and largest humanist organization in the nation. The AHA is dedicated to ensuring a voice for those with a positive outlook, based on reason and experience, which embraces all of humanity.