2004

 

What YOU Can Do

October 2004

The election is rapidly approaching. Many of us feel helpless because rational thinkers are a definite minority in this state.

Former Utah Humanist editor Richard Garrard eloquently addressed these thoughts in the November 2002 edition of this journal. Here is a short summary of his remarks. The complete original article is here.

  1. Learn–get a computer and get on the Internet.
  2. Read
  3. Change the channel, there ARE decent TV offerings, you just have to look!
  4. Listen to Community Radio
  5. Watch movies and videos (see #3 above)
  6. Act!, write letters to the editor, support causes you believe.
  7. Register to vote and go to the polls in November. Make an informed decision!

–Richard Garrard

What To Do About Religion

May 2004

How do we talk about religion or the religious, and how do we criticize or express concerns about the beliefs and actions of a religion or certain members without being regarded as “anti-religious?” I am afraid that explaining we are nonbelievers and not anti-religious is a distinction lost on a majority of the people who adhere to a theistic religion. This majority, I would speculate, reaches nearly 100% among fundamentalists. So, how do we couch written and spoken observations and criticisms?

In the time I have been a member of Humanists of Utah, a number of our members have admonished us not to become anti-religious and to instead concentrate on our humanist ideals. For the most part, I think this is a good idea. We do need to get the word out as best we can, what humanism is all about.

But to be honest, being nice to the zealots of the world is getting harder and harder for me. In the last few years, we have seen an increase in challenges to many aspects of our secular society. Challenges to choice (i.e. abortion rights) and challenges to separation of church and state (where fundamentalists want to stick the Ten Commandments all over public property, and they push to get evolution out of schools, or creationism and intelligent design taught alongside evolution). The list goes on and on.

A lot of this stuff is getting my hackles up. Furthermore, some of the mean-spirited religious who are intolerant and hurtful or who present their theistic beliefs as science while denigrating real science deserve little respect.

During the last two LDS General Conferences, I went down to observe what was happening. It was quite a scene, with loud mouthed street preachers waving temple garments around and yelling at conference goers, degrading their beliefs and promising them they were hell bound if they didn’t change. There was a contingent of the gay and lesbian community there, decked out in black and white with a coffin and a number of signs declaring certain statistics about Mormon suicide rates. There was also the group of evangelical Christians there to counter the nastiness of the street preachers by greeting the LDS members with handshakes, telling them to have a nice day.

While watching the spectacle, I engaged one of the Evangelicals in conversation. I told him that it is a tough situation, that while the right to free speech is of great importance, people should be allowed to worship without being harassed. I told him that I was agnostic and not there to defend LDS theology. He agreed that people shouldn’t be harassed, and said he thought Mormon beliefs were wrong but that it was a matter of “methodology” and that the street preachers’ methods weren’t likely to convert many Mormons.

We then had a civil discussion about several philosophical and various religious topics. This discussion was interrupted when one of the bellicose preachers started yelling right in my face from four feet away. Actually he was yelling through me at three young LDS boys who were laughing at him. His predictions of hellfire or whatever it was isn’t what irritated me, it was having a loudmouth yelling in my face. So I told him, “If Christ were here, he would rather be re-crucified than stand next to you assholes.”

I don’t plan to be anti-religious by challenging people’s basic theology, but if they yell at me or call me names or accuse me of being a “God hater” or in league with the devil, I will respond. Also, when they try to tell me (or the rest of the world) that all of geology is wrong and that “the flood” laid down the entire stratigraphic column with features like the Grand Canyon being carved in a few days, I plan to challenge these absurdities. If some see this as anti-religious, then so be it.

–Bob Lane

 

What’s The Matter With Kansas?

~Book Review~

October 2004

Author, editor, and social critic, Thomas Frank sees a different side of the demise of The Democratic Party. In the introduction to his latest book, What’s the Matter With Kansas? he describes the Great Backlash as a style of conservatism that began with public response to the protests of the late sixties. The response resulted in many democrats becoming republicans. He says, “Having rolled back the landmark economic reforms of the sixties (the war on poverty) and those of the thirties (labor law, agricultural price supports, banking regulation), its leaders now turn their guns on the accomplishments of the earliest years of progressivism (Woodrow Wilson’s estate tax; Theodore Roosevelt’s antitrust measures). With a little more effort, the backlash may well repeal the entire twentieth century.”

The author lays much of the blame on the New Democrats who neglect the problems of their low and middle income base and join traditional Republicans in supporting free trade and corporations.

This book explores all the forces that have pulled U.S. voters to the right.

–Flo Wineriter

Discussion Group Report

What Ever Happened to the Enlightenment

December 2004

By Richard Layton

The term Enlightenment refers to a unique set of ideas and ideals that came to fruition in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. It began with Bacon, Descartes, Locke and other philosophers who sought a universal method for establishing knowledge. They looked to science as the model for knowledge and debated whether reason or experience was more important (both are important) they took impetus from the remarkable discoveries of Newton and Galileo in mathematics, physics and astronomy and culminated with the French philosophes–Volltaire, Diderot, Condorcet and d’Holbach.

They criticized the ancient regime of religious superstition and dogmatism, hidebound social traditions and repressive morality. They wished to use science and reason to understand nature, solve social problems and advance human progress. In politics they developed social contract theories, defended the secular state and the rights of man and advocated economic liberty. The American Revolution was influenced by their ideals (through Jefferson, Franklin, Madison and Paine). They influenced the French Revolution, too, though some of them opposed its excesses. They wished to reform the penal code and end cruel punishments. They were anticlerical, castigating the corruption and hypocrisy of the churches. Most were deists; some were atheists. The Enlightenment defended a humanist outlook that drew its values from the Renaissance and Greco-Romanic Hellenic culture, which has also extolled the use of reason.

According to Karl Popper, “It was this idea of self-liberation through knowledge that was central to the Enlightenment.” “Dare to be free,” added Immanuel Kant, “and respect the freedom and autonomy of others…” He felt that it is only through the growth of knowledge that a person can be liberated “from enslavement by prejudices, idols and avoidable errors.” The Enlightenment inspired numerous scientists, philosophers and poets and continues to inspire research on the frontiers of scientific knowledge, which have produced new breakthroughs that have contributed to the betterment of humankind.

However, Paul Kurtz, in an article, “Re-Enchantment: A New Enlightenment,” laments that “Unfortunately, there has been has been a massive retreat from Enlightenment ideals in recent years, a return to pre-modern mythologies…” There has been a resurgence of fundamentalist religions worldwide–Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Judaism. There are occult-paranormal claims, which allegedly transcend the existing scientific paradigm. In the U.S. the preeminent scientific-technological-military superpower in the world–significant numbers of Americans have embraced primitive forms of biblical religion. These focus on salvation, the Rapture, and the Second Coming of Jesus. Evangelical Protestant Christians have made alliances with conservative Roman Catholics and neo-conservative Jews and have captured political power, which they have used to oppose secular humanism and naturalism. The Bush administration has rejected stem-cell research based on the questionable theological-moral doctrine of “ensoulment.” Even discarded cells that have begun to divide are held to have “souls.” There is “evangelical capitalism,” allied with a triumphalist imperial foreign policy convinced that “God blesses” America in military adventures abroad.

“But,” Kurtz goes on, “certain irreconcilable underlying cultural conflicts…must not be overlooked, for we are confronted by powerful forces eager to overthrow the basic premises of the Enlightenment. I submit that we need to awaken re-enchantment with the Enlightenment; there is a pressing need for a New Enlightenment, not only for America but for the global community.”

What are the characteristics of the New Enlightenment? First we must extend the methods of science and reason to all areas of human interest. The methods of science serve us as powerful tools in unlocking the secrets of nature and solving human problems. Scientific principles are always open to change in the light of new discoveries or more powerful theories; hence, science is fallible and self-correcting. Since the Enlightenment, science has expanded rapidly, entering into fields never before imagined possible, such as understanding consciousness, the brain, the biological world and the genome, and the micro- and macro-dimensions of the universe. We should be prepared in the future to extend the methods of scientific inquiry still further to all areas of human interest. In many areas the best term to describe this process is critical thinking, which provides a normative model for appraising claims to truth.

Second we need to respond to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” Many theists believe that, without a belief in a supernatural deity, life would be meaningless. People are unable to face death, they say; only belief in life beyond the grave would console them. Science has disabused us of such primitive concepts of God and immortality, though such skepticism has not always penetrated to a wider public. We can no longer accept the ancient metaphysical-theological interpretations of reality in the light of naturalistic accounts of cosmology. Moreover, scientific and scholarly criticisms of biblical and Qur’anic texts lack confirmation or corroboration by any reliable empirical evidence.

It is possible to live a full and meaningful life in a naturalistic universe, informed by knowledge and devoid of supernatural illusions. Democratic societies afford a wider range of opportunities for free expression than do authoritarian ones. All human beings live out their lives in a universe of order and disorder, causality and contingency, regularity and chance. It is hoped that individuals can learn from experience and modify their choices in the light of consequences.

Third is the question of ethical values. Principles and values should be tested by their consequences in practice. First there are excellences intrinsic to the good life of the individual where freedom and autonomy, self-determination, and the right of privacy are respected, as well as the values of creativity, aesthetic appreciation, self-respect, self-control and rationality. The ultimate goal is human happiness and joyful exuberance. Second are the principles of virtue and responsibility as they relate to other people in communities of transaction. These include the common moral decencies of integrity, trustworthiness, benevolence and fairness. Objective rational criteria can be applied to the comparative evaluation of moral choices.

Fourth, and perhaps the most important, is the realization that The New Enlightenment is planetary in scope and that it entails a doctrine of universal human rights. It considers all members of the human family to be equal in dignity and value. Planetary ethics emphasize our mutual responsibility to protect our common habitat, to guard against ecological damage and pollution. It recognizes the need to support international laws, a world court to interpret and support them, and to encourage the growth of transnational democratic institutions.

It is important, says Kurtz, that humanists take the lead in pointing the way forward to the new planetary civilization that is emerging.

What Can You Expect From Your Newspaper?

April 2004

The Readers Advocate for the Salt Lake Tribune, Connie Coyne, paid a high compliment to the Humanists of Utah in her weekly column two days after being the speaker at our March 11th general meeting. She opened her column Saturday, March 13, saying: “Seldom do I run into as educated and passionate a group as the one I spoke to this last week. And, speaking to a group so packed with hard-core liberals, I wanted to ask, ‘How did some of you come to Utah? Did your cars break down here on your way to California?'”

The Humanists of Utah would like to return the compliment by saying Utah needs more dynamic columnist of Ms. Coyne’s caliber and we hope she stays at the Salt Lake Tribune for a long, long time.

She is a keen observer of the human condition, staying aware of events by reading three newspapers per day, a dozen magazines a week, plus cereal boxes, band aid boxes, and everything containing information. Her mind is a sponge soaking up everything possible.

Coyne says a major challenge of the newspaper industry is finding the key to attracting young adults, age 35 and younger, to become daily readers and subscribers. Many of the visible changes in daily newspapers, events reported, writing styles, placements of stories, and pictures printed are the result of this effort.

What newspapers report on a daily basis is a snapshot in time: how things looked on a certain day, what was interesting and important on that particular day. That’s why you may find local news on the front page. Something that happens in Salt Lake City or elsewhere in our state may have more meaning in our lives and tell us a lot more about ourselves than anything that happened any place else in the world during the preceding 24 hours.

What you can expect from your newspaper is that it will be factual, accurate, interesting and acceptable for every member of your family. Your daily newspaper should also be childproof, containing nothing that you would be embarrassed if your child read it or looked at it.

Opinions and editorials should cover not just two sides of an issue, but every side of an issue.

She invited humanists to contact her whenever they have a complaint concerning the Salt Lake Tribune.

Connie Coyne’s formal presentation was followed by an intense audience exchange and an enthusiastic applause of appreciation.

–Flo Wineriter

Web Site of the Month

Member Recommended Web Sites

September 2004

This month’s featured sites were submitted by Flo Wineriter. He writes, ” The Institute for Humanist Studies; I particularly recommend the COHE Campus link which offers a variety of courses regarding Humanism. There is no charge to register as a student and in most cases the first lesson is free with no obligation to take the courses requiring tuition.”

You can visit the Institute site here.

Flo further recommends, “the newly designed web site of the International Ethical Union and has links to several other humanist web pages.

You can visit the IEU site here.


Do you have a favorite website you’d like to share with other readers of this page? If so please let us know!


Web Site of the Month

SETI@Home

Member Recommended Web Sites

October 2004

This month’s featured site is submitted by Wayne Wilson. He writes, “Many people think that the SETI (Search for Intelligent Life) is the stuff of science fiction. Actually, it is a serious effort that you can support with no pain and virtually no cost. The University of California at Berkley sponsors one of the largest distributed computing projects in the world. Here’s how it works: the university receives data collected by the giant radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico and sends out ‘units’ to millions of desktop computers world wide. These computers, instead of flying toasters or cruising fish for screensavers, run a number of scientific processes against the data looking for signs of intelligence in the radio signals. Once the analysis of the unit is complete, the results are returned to Berkley and another unit downloaded for analysis. Each unit will take between 2 and 36 hours to crunch depending on the power of the PC and options the user selects. If you like the ‘screensaver’ display, it takes longer; turn to black screen and the units process faster. Have a powerful machine and want to get through a lot of units? There are command line and Windows services options to run SETI@home. But it doesn’t have to be complicated.”

It is fun and you are contributing otherwise idle computer cycles to a good cause!

Check out SETI@Home here.


Do you have a favorite website you’d like to share with other readers of this page? If so please let us know!


Web Site of the Month

Hoaxes and Scams

Member Recommended Web Sites

November 2004

True sensational story or a hoax. New virus? Get rich quick scheme? Do not be embarrassed by forwarding bogus stories. If you get an email that sounds a little fishy check:

Snopes dot com (formerly Urban Legends dot com)-and/or-

Quack Watch dot comBEFORE you forward that email!


Do you have a favorite website you’d like to share with other readers of this page? If so please let us know!


Web Site of the Month

Rationally Speaking

Member Recommended Web Sites

December 2004

Flo Wineriter recommends this month’s site. It is a compilation of essays Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on the subjects of skepticism and humanism.

Rationally Speaking


Do you have a favorite website you’d like to share with other readers of this page? If so please let us know!


Voice of Reason

November 2004

Local radio personality Tom Barberi spoke at our October general membership meeting. His remarks covered a wide range of topics including politics, his own recently forced unemployment, corporate America, etc. He started his remarks by complimenting our organization and our ideals, especially the notion that human beings ought to solve human problems. Here are a few quotes:

I do not want to talk about religion but if you’re a Christian, I’ve got some bad news for you. He’s not coming back. I look out every morning and I see no signs.

I am a big sports fan, that’s the reason I went to college. Were it not for the opportunity to play sports, avoid the draft, and chase girls, I never would have gone to college.

I was fortunate enough to be such a lousy athlete that I got enough injuries to keep me out of the draft. I didn’t do it the George Bush way; I didn’t have that kind of influence. I certainly did not do it the John Kerry way which was to have the courage to go over there and actually do something that at the time people felt needed to be done. As we all found out, though, it didn’t need to be done, and as we’re finding out now, what’s being done in Iraq doesn’t need to be done, obviously the way it needs to be done…does that make sense at all? I feel like I sound like Donald Rumsfeld.

So what we have here are two individuals, one of whom is going to become the leader of the free world…again…or maybe for the first time and neither one of them are the absolute best choices. This is because our system has devolved to the point where real people, humanists if you will, where the best never get involved…but we do not hire the best people because we cannot interview them. Being elected to public office is the only job in the country where you have to have no qualifications, background, or experience to get. If you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, you have to have a license. If you want to cut hair, you have to have a license. If you want to be a Governor, nada. President, nothing. When we elect an individual, as soon as that person wins the election, we imbue that individual with wisdom, knowledge, and experience that they never have had, never will have, and cannot possibly possess. But because we give them the title, we subconsciously think that this person knows something about something that they don’t know anything about. We should question these people constantly.

We need term limits, we’ve got Orrin Hatch, Senator for life. We have a return rate to Congress of something like 98%. They are like ticks, once they get in, you can’t get them out, they have to die. As a matter of fact Strom Thurmond was dead for 12 years before they finally drug him out. It is a sad state, and it is our own fault. How does Orrin Hatch who has served in the Senate at a salary of $135,000 a year amass tens of millions of dollars of wealth? How do you do that? And it is certainly not on his music! We get the kind of government we deserve.

Corporate America has taken over newspapers, radio, and TV. There is such competition to be the first with the most sensational, its all about ratings. And if you watch Fox News, it should really be on the Comedy channel. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of the GOP.

The Electoral College is an archaic antique that should have been put to bed decades ago. Colorado’s proposition to divide the electoral votes is a step in the right direction. Think back to 2000 when the vote for the presidency was five to four and cast by the Supreme Court. Here we are ostensibly exporting democracy to Iraq where one guy, who is a man wearing a dress made George Bush the president.

This “us vs. them” goes back to ruling by fear. This is how it has been done throughout the ages. Whoever the king or the emperor is, or the Pope, or the President, or the Prophet or whatever. You keep people afraid and you keep them thinking they have to tow the mark and you end up with a herd mentality. All of your friends are going this way, so I’ll go along with them. You have this flock of birds going one direction or another. None of them really knows where they are going. We need more freethinkers who will examine the issues and make informed decisions.

Religion and Politics do not mix. Our Founding Fathers were smart enough to create a separation of church and state. Religion has nothing to do with politics. If religion were that important it would be in the Constitution…it is NOT! And by the way, the Constitution was not divinely inspired, it was inspired by a lot of beer at Fraunces Tavern.

We are the richest country on earth, and there is no reason why this country cannot find a way to take care of the health needs of our citizens. It is unconscionable that we can vaccinate and take care of people around the worlds, and yet we have people in our own country who go to bed hungry and no health care.

It is my lifelong ambition is to legalize adulthood; and it is a glacial process. It is simply what you humanists preach: it is adults using reasoning to make reasonable decisions, to solve problems for themselves. I don’t need the State to tell me what book to read, what movie to watch, what TV show to patronize, what I should eat or drink. The government in Utah treats us like children, we are not bright enough to make our own decisions.

–Wayne Wilson

Time Traveling

~Book Review~

June 2004

How serious have been the religious wars against science? Humanist George A. Erickson devoted more that two years researching this question and condenses 3000 years of brutal history into a disgusting and interesting 160 pages. Time Traveling With Science And Saints written by George A. Erickson, and published by Prometheus Books, details the historical battles against Galileo, Servetus, Bruno, Copernicus, Kepler, Darwin and hundreds of other scientists.

The battle for the human mind should now be over but Erickson points out it continues today with conservative theists pressuring to keep ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, awarding diplomatic recognition to the Vatican, restricting abortion and family planning, declaring the U.S. a Christian nation. Time Traveling is fascinating reading and a vital reminder that “religion has done a lot to uncivilize humanity.”

–Flo Winewriter

 

Textual Silences and Critical Thinking

October 2004

A hallmark of the humanities is the ability to think critically about the world. In practice, this has typically meant the close examination of language, be it discourse, texts, or data.

When we read some of George W. Bush’s notorious struggles with English, we tend to see deeper meanings in them:

“I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy–but that could change.” 5/22/98

“First, let me make it very clear, poor people aren’t necessarily killers. Just because you happen to be not rich doesn’t mean you’re willing to kill.” 5/19/03

“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” 8/5/04

Much of the public discourse we are exposed to on a daily basis–advertisements, political speech, radio interviews, editorials, letters to the editor, etc.–is effective not so much for what it is saying as for what it is not saying, that is, what it is leaving out. Ads, for example, Likewise, letters to the editor–because of space constraints–typically present only one point of view. Political speeches, of course, leave much unsaid. In all of these cases, the text producer is trying to manipulate his or her audience by setting the agenda. Critical thinking involves not just what or how to think but what to think about. This can occur in ways both big and small.

Big silences:

Bush’s 2004 acceptance speech. Conspicuous absences include:

  • Osama bin Laden
  • Civil liberties (Patriot Acts I and II, TIPS, TIA, etc.)
  • The deficit (now projected at $2.29 trillion over 10 years)
  • Environmentalism
  • Framing
    • Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant
    • “death tax” or “tax relief”
    • “We don’t need a permission slip to defend America.”

Consider President Bush’s acceptance speech September 2, in New York City as an expert example of framing:

“Mr. Chairman, delegates, fellow citizens: I am honored by your support, and I accept your nomination for president of the United States.

When I said those words four years ago, none of us could have envisioned what these years would bring. In the heart of this great city, we saw tragedy arrive on a quiet morning. We saw the bravery of rescuers grow with danger. We learned of passengers on a doomed plane who died with a courage that frightened their killers. We have seen a shaken economy rise to its feet. And we have seen Americans in uniform storming mountain strongholds, and charging through sandstorms and liberating millions, with acts of valor that would make the men of Normandy proud.

Since 2001, Americans have been given hills to climb, and found the strength to climb them. Now, because we have made the hard journey, we can see the valley below. Now, because we have faced challenges with resolve, we have historic goals within our reach, and greatness in our future. We will build a safer world and a more hopeful America, and nothing will hold us back. . .

Conceptual metaphors

  • The ‘war on terror’ metaphor
  • The ‘freedom’ metaphor in 2004 acceptance speech (39 mentions in the 2004 acceptance speech)

Small silences

From Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, after many paragraphs of misinformation about Saddam’s WMDs: “Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction. But why? The only possible explanation, the only possible use he could have for those weapons, is to dominate, intimidate, or attack.” But the US maintains its stockpiles for self-defense and for national pride.

This last example, one of the many lies in this speech, begins the heart of Bush’s speech–where he lays out the rationale for the new American policy of pre-emptive aggression. This short section consists mainly of insinuations, another form of textual silence which is especially insidious because it’s defeasible(deniable).

Insinuation:

“With nuclear arms or a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Saddam Hussein could resume his ambitions of conquest in the Middle East and create deadly havoc in that region…”

  • Governing frame: Saddam wants to take over neighboring countries and has the military arsenal to do it.
  • Vague assertion: Use of the hedge “could,” which in the context Bush has painted will be interpreted by many as “will try to.”
  • Why this, why here? Bush wants us to think it’s an urgent situation. There is no good alternative interpretation.

“…And this Congress and the American people must recognize another threat. Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own.”

  • Governing frame: Saddam is collaborating with al Qaeda, which wants to attack the US again. Saddam is therefore an accomplice, and he has WMDs.
  • Vague assertion: Use of the hedge ‘could,’ which in this context will be interpreted as “will.”
  • Why this, why here? Bush wants us to think it’s an urgent situation. There is no good alternative interpretation.

“Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained.”

  • Governing frame: same as above
  • Vague assertion: September 11 showed that Saddam Hussein was not contained. This insinuates that Saddam was behind September 11.
  • Why this, why here? The prominent use of the time frame plus the context up to this point blocks any good alternative interpretation.

“But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained.”

  • Governing frame: same
  • Vague assertion: “…are not easily contained.” This will be interpreted as “cannot be contained.”
  • Why this, why here? Reinforces the insinuation that Saddam played a key role in 9-11.

“Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.”

  • Governing frame: same
  • The reference to those 19 hijackers is hypothetical, since they are now dead. The insinuation is that Bush means hijackers like those 19 al Qaeda members. The hypothetical Imagine, in this context, invites a more definite interpretation.
  • Why this, why here? There is no good alternative interpretation. (cf. Justin Frank’s analysis)

“Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late.”.

  • Governing frame: same.
  • The conditional If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge is unclear in its meaning. A fearful listener might think that the threat is real and present.
  • Why this, why here? Earlier Bush had said, “[These outlaw regimes] could give or sell those weapons to terrorist allies, who would use them without the least hesitation.” So the only good interpretation is one of imminent threat.

Detecting silences requires a good knowledge of the relevant context. If you don’t know much about a topic, you won’t know what’s being left unsaid. This is why, in a democracy where an informed citizenry is essential, the citizenry needs to be informed. This is why citizens need a broad education, whether formal or otherwise. For most people, school is just a beginning. Learning about the world must continue throughout adult life.

For most citizens, lifelong learning about political matters occurs through the media–television especially, but also film, radio, the Internet, newspapers, etc. Mainstream journalism is too shallow and too compromised to do the job, so much of what we learn as educated citizens comes to us through polemical discourse. Learning from such discourse requires special critical thinking skills–the ability and desire to expose oneself to contrasting, passionately-held views.

–Professor Thomas Huckin

Summer Social Report

September 2004

Our annual Summer Social was held this year in Eliot Hall and catered by Distinctive Catering. The food was served buffet style and enjoyed by everyone who attended.

Entertainment was provided by Becca Terry who sang a wide range of songs, mostly A Cappella that were enjoyed by all. After the performance Ms. Terry was heard saying that she worried that nobody liked her singing because there was hardly a dry eye in the hall.

–Rolf Kay

Stardust Returning Home

May 2004

NASA’s Stardust spacecraft has begun its two-year journey back home to Earth after surviving an out-of-this-world sandblasting by cometary particles. On January 22, 2004, Stardust successfully passed through the particle- and gas-laden coma surrounding comet Wild 2. During the hazardous traverse, Stardust flew within 240 kilometers (150 miles) of Wild 2, gathering samples of comet particles and snapping detailed pictures of its pockmarked surface. “Things couldn’t have worked better in a fairy tale,” Stardust project manager Tom Duxbury said of the encounter.

The particles collected from Wild 2 are stowed in a sample return capsule on board the spacecraft and will be returned to Earth for in-depth analysis on January 15, 2006.

To read more about Stardust’s amazing encounter, go to Planetary Society’s web site

–The Planetary Report
March/April 2004

Separation of Church and State

August 2004

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. Where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote. Where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference.

I believe in a America where religious intolerance will someday end, where all men and all churches are treated as equal, where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice, where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind, and where Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, at both the lay and the pastoral levels, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

–John F. Kennedy
Presidential Candidate
September 12, 1960

Discussion Group Report

Secular Humanism and Humanist Ethics

September 2004

By Richard Layton

“Secular humanism and atheism are not identical,” says Paul. Kurtz, who is a preeminent leader of the secular humanist movement. “One can be an atheist and not a secular humanist or humanist. Indeed some thinkers or activists who call themselves atheists explicitly reject humanist ethical values (for example, Stalin, Lenin, Nietzsche, and others).” Also, secular humanism, he says, is surely different from religious humanism.

In his article, “Secular Humanism: A New Approach,” in Free Inquiry, winter 2002/03, Kurtz advocates the secular humanist viewpoint. My resume here is merely expository; I am not trying to convert you away from religious humanism to secular humanism. I am just summarizing Kurtz’ viewpoint for informational purposes. Actually AHA and Utah humanists are inclusive of both religious and secular humanists.

He states that secular humanism is not antireligious; it is simply nonreligious. Secular humanists are nontheists–atheists, agnostics, or skeptics–about the God question and/or immortality of the soul. They are not religious; theirs is a scientific, ethical and philosophical life stance.

He thinks the term religious humanism is unfortunate. “It has been used to denote a kind of moral and aesthetic commitment to a set of ideals and practices; but this is most confusing. It often serves to sneak in some quasi-spiritual and/or transcendental aspect of experience and practice, aping religion.” He accuses religious humanists of fear of being seen as criticizing religion or becoming known as atheists and as not wishing to be seen as critical of any religion.

Being nonreligious does not, he says, mean that secular humanism does not criticize the claims of religion. We have a moral obligation to speak the plain truth, to analyze religious claims and call them to account for their lack of reliable empirical foundations. What is central to humanism is the ethical component.

The Discussion Group this month also discussed a second article by Kurtz, “The Ethics of Humanism: Without Religion,” which is in the same issue of Free Inquiry as the above-mentioned piece.

He asks, “Can a society or person be moral without religion?” Yes, affirm secular humanists. Morality is deeply rooted in the “common moral decencies” (relating to moral behavior in society) and the “ethical excellences” (as they apply to a person’s own life).

The former are widely shared and are essential to the survival of any human community. He puts forth some of these: personal integrity: telling the truth, being sincere; keeping one’s promises and being honest; trustworthiness: loyalty to our relatives, friends and coworkers and being dependable, reliable and responsible;benevolence: manifesting goodwill and noble intentions toward others, having a positive concern for them, having a lack of malice; in the sexual domain seeking mutual consent between adults and being beneficent, that is, kind, sympathetic and compassionate; fairness: showing gratitude, holding people accountable for their deeds, justice and equality in society, tolerance and cooperation with others, and seeking to negotiate differences peacefully without resorting to hatred or violence. These moral decencies are tested in the final analysis by their consequences in practice.

The ethical excellences are as follows: autonomy, the ability to take control of one’s own life, to accept responsibility for one’s own feelings, one’s marriage or career, how he or she lives or learns, the values and goods one cherishes, and being self-directed (some are willing to forfeit their right to self-determination to others, to parents, spouses, or even totalitarian despots or authoritarian gurus); intelligence: to develop our cognitive skills: technical expertise, skilled virtuosity, and good judgment about how to make wise choices (many critics demean human intelligence and believe that we cannot solve our problems. They are willing to abdicate their rational autonomy to others); self-discipline: to satisfy our desires, emotions and needs in moderation, under the guidance of rational choice, recognizing the harmful consequences of imprudent choices; self-respect: some appreciation for who we are as individuals and a realistic sense of our own identities (self hatred can destroy the personality); creativity: a willingness to be innovative and have a zest for life that involves adventure and discovery; high motivation: a willingness to enter into life and undertake new plans (a motivated person finds life interesting and exciting. One problem for many people is that they find life and their jobs boring. They are merely masking their lack of intensity of commitment to high aspirations and values); an affirmative attitude toward life (in spite of failures and defeats, we must believe that we shall overcome and succeed despite adversity); joie de vivre: an appreciation for the full range of human pleasures, food, sex and the most ennobling and creative aesthetic, intellectual and moral pleasures; good health: avoiding smoking and drugs, drinking only in moderation, seeking to reduce stress, and get proper nutrition, adequate exercise, sufficient rest and achieving sexual fulfillment and love.

“The end or goal of life is not to be discovered in some hidden, mysterious realm…It can be found by eating the succulent fruit of the Tree of Life and by living in the here and now as fully and creatively as we can.”

Secrets and Lies:

Operation Iraqi Freedom and After

~Book Review~

June 2004

Secrets and Lies: Operation Iraqi Freedom and After by Dilip Hiro argues that the war on Iraq was planned by the neoconservatives prior to the election of George W. Bush. The book starts with this premise, and goes into great detail on how the aggression was planned. Weapons of Mass Destruction were completely destroyed prior to 9/11, according to numerous footnotes that follow each chapter.

Dilip Hiro clearly defines the cost of this war to the American people, not only in lives, but also in dollars. It is a shocking expose of the deception of the Bush administration’s war with Iraq. Amazon.com readers gave the book a four star rating

–Cindy King

 

Santa Claus And God

January 2004

The myth of Santa Claus is a mostly harmless fib. Santa fades as children become reasonable and see through it all. Mostly they aren’t mad at their parents for this; the sweet memories of their early Christmases aren’t spoiled by the deceit. But the myth of God is a machination that isn’t allowed to fade, and surely isn’t going away anytime soon. It might be a close call which of the two is actually older, God or Santa. But if God could be proved to be just a little older, maybe he could be retired. To have Santa sitting full time in God’s place would be a lot less emotionally traumatic for a lot of people. This time of year is a powerful season for human beings whatever our particular faith or lack of it. It symbolizes one of the most sacred realities of our existence, the miracle of birth, the pageant of parenthood.

–Heather Dorrell

Rosier Future

July 2004

Adapted from Humanists of Minnesota News & Views, June 04.

Here is a list of six things organized humanists may want from their organization:

  1. Rights protected; to be treated equally under the law.
  2. Organization; freethought community for respect, management of resources, leadership, money, recognition.
  3. Separation of Church and State; government agencies should not use their power to promote religion or specific churches to discriminate against freethinkers.
  4. Image by the public; preserve and protect us from disrespect, prejudice, and slander.
  5. Education of public about freethinkers in general and humanists in particular.
  6. Representation to public office.

Jerry Rauser, the author of this list, comments that this list can be considered long-term objectives for organized humanism. He further states that humanist chapters should provide their membership with newsletters, membership meetings, social events, chances to speak and be heard, and educational materials.

Religious Wars

November 2004

For more than 300 years the liberal tradition has sought to free people from the tyranny of religious doctrines. Today’s evangelical right detests that tradition and seeks nothing short of a state-sponsored religion. If we don’t focus the public’s attention on the larger ongoing assault on religious liberty, the evangelical right will whittle away these freedoms.

The issues of abortion, civil unions, creationism, school prayers, and sex education are all about imposing religious views on the body politic. However important religion is to our spiritual lives, there is no room for liberty in a theocracy.

–Flo Wineriter

Excerpts from an article written by Robert B. Reich in The Prospect magazine.

Religious Wars

July 2004

Robert B. Reich, Brandeis University Professor, charges evangelicals are mounting a vigorous campaign to impose their narrow religious values on our nation and to dominate the U.S. culture. He sees their campaign to abolish partial birth abortions, repeal Roe vs. Wade and put religion back in public schools as a clear and present danger to religious liberty in our nation.

Writing in a recent issue (vol. 14 no. 11) of The American Prospect magazine, the Secretary of Labor during the Clinton administration, points out that for more than 300 years the liberal tradition has sought to free people from the tyranny of religious doctrines that today’s evangelicals are seeking to impose with a state sponsored religion.

Reich calls on liberals to recognize this ongoing assault on religious liberty. He urges a political campaign to alert Americans to the dangers evangelicals pose and hold them responsible for attempting to require teaching creationism in our public schools, demanding school prayers and opposing sex education. He cautions liberals to remind voters that however important religion is to our spiritual lives there is no room for religious liberty in a theocracy.

–Flo Wineriter

 

Religion Bashing

~Letter to the Editor~

May 2004

I was a little disturbed upon reading last month’s article titled simply “On Easter.” Disturbed not so much by the content of the story but by the fact that it appeared in our Journal. True, we do not believe in the supernatural and all of its ramifications but it should not be our main agenda, nay, it should not be on our agenda at all. We have many positive thoughts to dwell on. And I’m as much opposed to Christian bashing as I am to Mormon bashing, or Gay bashing.

I believe that anyone who ridicules, makes fun of, badmouths, or hurts another religion or any other group in any way, shape or form is not a true humanist. After all don’t we “preach” happiness, freedom, and progress for everyone irrespective of nationality or religion? Don’t we “preach,” as Flo Wineriter so beautifully said, “Humanists encourage moral excellence, positive relationships, and human dignity; compassion, cooperation, and community.” Religion bashing somehow does not fit.

Humanism will suffer as long as articles like “On Easter” are published in our Journal.

–Rolf Kay

 

Religious Divide

November 2004

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson will launch a series of public meetings with the goal of “Bridging the Religious Divide” November 17, 2004 in the auditorium of the Main Salt Lake City Library. The former president of our chapter, Flo Wineriter, was invited by the mayor to be a member of the project planning committee which has been meeting on a regular basis since last June. The goal of the project is to develop ways for citizens to engage in thoughtful conversations about the role of beliefs and convictions in civic affairs.

Chapter members are encouraged to attend the November 17, 2004 meeting which will begin at 7:00 PM.

Recommended Reading

January 2004

Here are two recently published books dealing with the historical perspective of humanism. Both will reward readers with a clearer understanding of our philosophy.

The Case for Humanism

Lewis Vaughn and Austin Dacey
Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

From the Foreword:

“It is the central mission of philosophy to ask the probing questions that may force us to scrutinize our beliefs. It is the special penchant of philosophy to ask searching questions about fundamental beliefs. This book is for those who have the courage to ask themselves such questions. It is an introduction to the ideas and issues that constitute the historical legacy of the humanist movement. It provides a fairly comprehensive overview of humanist positions and arguments concerning the centrally disputed issues that have fueled the debate about humanism. It also provides a fair summary of the major arguments from opponents of humanism.”

Evan Fales, Professor of Philosophy, University of Iowa
This book was made possible by a grant from the Institute for Humanist Studies.

Doubt, A History

By Jennifer Michael Hecht
Publisher: Harper San Francisco

From the introduction:

“Doubters have been remarkably productive, for the obvious reason that they have a tendency toward investigation and, also, are often drawn to invest their own days with meaning. Many scientists and doctors have been doubters; many ethicists and theorists, authors and poets. The earliest doubt on historical record was twenty-six hundred years ago, which makes doubt older than most faiths. Doubt has been just as vibrant in its prescriptions for a good life, and just as passionate for truth. This is its story.”

The author is an accomplished historian and award-winning poet. She is an assistant professor of history at Nassau Community College.

–Flo Wineriter

Reason

~Book Review~

September 2004

One of the major principles of humanism is promoting reason and Robert Reich’s latest book bears that title. The author, a passionate believer in liberalism and American democracy, clearly defines historic social and political liberal principles and tells us how to restore liberalism as the prestigious dominant influence in our American Society. Reason explains why keeping Social Security, Medicare, minimum wage, and progressive taxation is important to our future well being. Reich encourages us to regain our passionate support of liberalism.

–Flo Wineriter

Purpose of Life

January 2004

Humanists are often criticized because we stumble on the question, “what is the purpose of life?” Because we reject the notion of a divine plan we are often left stammering.

I believe that we do have a grand purpose that is based in basic biology. Survival of the species is among our strongest inherent instincts, even more potent than self preservation. Our purpose, in my opinion, is to ensure that we are survived by succeeding generations of homo sapiens.

When we care for our families, our neighbors, our communities, and our planet we are fulfilling our purpose.

Organized religions’ philosophies are not really very different than ours except that they advertise a prize of eternal life for the individual. In fact, the root source of religious values is based on the same basic survival instinct. Religious leaders find it easier to control the masses with promises of the reward of eternal life and the threat of damnation.

Doesn’t acting in a responsible manner to our peers and our environment for the sake of preservation of our species not only make more sense but isn’t it actually a more morally sound argument for “good” behavior?

–Wayne Wilson

This is Your Proselytizer Speaking

March 2004

Flight 34 had just taken off from Los Angeles for New York when the pilot’s voice resounded through the cabin. The American Airlines pilot, Roger Findiesen, suggested that Christian passengers skip the movie and instead attest to their faith by raising their hands in the air. The master of the ship then invited an interfaith dialogue between the Christians and the non-believers.

Four and a half hours later, the plane landed, and the pilot, having heard of complaints in the cabin, genially offered to engage in further dialogue about the Lord. The airline is investigating, noting that Mr. Findiesen had recently visited a Christian mission and wanted to “share his emotions.”

–New York Times, 2/11/04

 

Praying for Peace

Humanist Humor

February 2004

A CNN reporter assigned to cover Israel was searching for a positive and emotional human interest story.

In Jerusalem, she heard about an elderly Jew who had been praying at the Western Wall twice a day, every day, for a long, long time. So she decided to check it out.

She went to the Western Wall and there found him! She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, she approached him for an interview.

“Excuse me, sir, Rebecca Smith, CNN News. Could you tell me how long you have been coming here to pray?”

“For about 50 years,” the old man said.

“50 years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”

“I pray for peace between the Jews and the Arabs; I pray for all the hatred to stop; and I pray for our children to be allowed to grow up and live in peace.”

“And how do you feel after coming here for the past 50 years?” the reporter asked.

“Like I’m talking to a wall.”

Institute for Humanist Studies Web Site
Submitted by Frank Jordans
New Humanist Magazine

Podium Upgrade

October 2004

Our humanist podium has been dramatically improved. Thanks to your generous response to our appeal for contributions a few months ago our podium now has two new state-of-the-art wireless Shure microphones, a new power amplifier, and a new Shure mixer.

We tried out the renovated system at our September meeting and the results were excellent. Chapter President Heather Dorrell and Secretary Wayne Wilson used the wired podium mike, the speaker used the new wireless lapel microphone and the audience used the new wireless portable microphone. All produced clear voices with no squealing feedback. A new wiring system will also eliminate dangerous lengthy cords strung around the Eliot Hall floor.

Thanks for your financial support to make these improvements and thanks to Lee Shuster and Layne Owens for their installation expertise Humanists of Utah has an outstanding, modern, electronic sound system.

–Flo Wineriter

Discussion Group Report

Rescuing a Planet Under Stress

March 2004

By Richard Layton

“As world population has doubled and as the economy has expanded sevenfold over the last half-century, our claims on the Earth have become excessive,” says Lester R. Brown in an article in the Humanist, November-December, 2003, with the same name as the present article. “We are asking more of the Earth than it can give on an ongoing basis.”We are harvesting trees faster than they can regenerate, overgrazing rangelands and converting them into deserts, over pumping aquifers, and draining rivers dry. On our cropland, soil erosion exceeds new soil formation, slowly depriving the soil of its inherent fertility. We are taking fish from the ocean faster than they can reproduce.

“We are releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere faster than nature can absorb it, creating a greenhouse effect. As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rise, so does the earth’s temperature. Habitat destruction and climate change are destroying plant and animal species far faster than new species can evolve, launching the first mass extinction since the one that eradicated the dinosaurs sixty-five million years ago.

“Throughout history, humans have lived on the earth’s sustainable yield–the interest from its natural endowment. But now we are consuming the endowment itself. In ecology, as in economics, we can consume principal along with interest in the short run but in the long run it leads to bankruptcy.”

A study by Mathis Wackernagel and a group of scientists, published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, estimated that our demands in 1999 exceeded the Earth’s regenerative capacity by 20%. By satisfying our excessive demands by consuming the Earth’s natural assets, we are in effect creating a global bubble economy. When the food bubble economy, inflated by the over pumping of aquifers, bursts, it will raise food prices worldwide. The challenge for our generation is to deflate the economic bubble before it bursts.

Since September 11, 2001, political leaders, diplomats, and the media worldwide have been preoccupied with terrorism and the occupation of Iraq. A legitimate concern, terrorism, if it diverts us from the environmental trends that are undermining our future until it is too late to reverse them, Osama bin laden and his followers will have achieved their goal in a way they couldn’t have imagined.

In February, 2003, U.N. demographers made an announcement that the world-wide rise in life expectancy has been dramatically reversed by AIDS for a large segment of humanity–the seven hundred million people in sub-Saharan Africa–from 62 to 47 years. Another mega threat, climate change, isn’t getting the attention it deserves from most governments, especially that of the U.S., the nation responsible for one-fourth of all carbon emissions. Other neglected mega threats include eroding soils and expanding deserts, which jeopardize the livelihood and food supply of hundreds of millions of the world’s people.

Plan A, business as usual, isn’t working. Brown recommends a new approach, Plan B, an urgent reordering of priorities and a restructuring of the global economy–to deflate the global economic bubble before it bursts. It involves rapid systemic change, based on market signals that tell the ecological truth.

The tax system would be restructured by lowering income taxes and raising taxes on environmentally destructive activities, such as fossil fuel burning, to incorporate the ecological costs. The economic and social conditions would be changed and the priorities adopted that will lead to population stability. Thirty-six nations, all in Europe except Japan, have already essentially achieved this goal. Crucial to it are extending primary education to all children, providing vaccinations and health care, and offering reproductive health care and family planning services in all nations. There would be a shift from a carbon-based to a hydrogen-based energy economy to stabilize climate. This change is now technologically possible, as shown in advances in wind turbine design, and solar cell manufacturing, the availability of hydrogen generators and the evolution of fuel cells. This transition depends on getting the price right, on incorporating the indirect costs of burning fossil fuels into the market price. Iceland, Germany, Japan, Denmark, the Netherlands and Canada have already led out in this endeavor. Israel, with its use of drip irrigation technology, is showing how to deal with the fall of the water table. In stabilizing soils South Korea and the U.S. stand out (the latter by farmers’ systematically retiring roughly 10% of their most erodible cropland, planting the bulk of it in grass, and leading the world in adopting minimum-till, no-till and other soil-conserving practices). All the things we need to do to keep the bubble from bursting are now being done in at least a few nations.

Brown presents his plan in his latest book, Plan B. There he estimates the total cost to the world at $62 billion, of which he proposes the U.S. offer one-third, and he feels that, if it did, the rest of the industrial world would be willing to provide the remainder

Adopting Plan B is unlikely unless the U.S. assumes a leadership position, as it did belatedly in World War II after the Pearl Harbor attack. That mobilization of resources within a few months demonstrates that a nation and, indeed, the world, can restructure its economy quickly if it is convinced of the need to do so.

“History judges political leaders,” says Brown, “by whether they respond to the great issues of their time. For today’s leaders, that issue is how to deflate the world’s bubble economy before it bursts. This bubble threatens the future of everyone, rich and poor alike.” To paraphrase former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, let no one say it cannot be done. Brown says, “Historians will record the choice–but it is ours to make.”

Discussion Group Report

Our Humanist Legacy

April 2004

By Richard Layton

“God dies only for a few,” declares William F. Schultz in an article with the same title as the present one in UU World, November-December 2003. “Over time, God may well change form for many people, from personal to vague to immanent, from transcendent to immanent, from transcendent to omnipotent to limited. But in American culture, at least, God dies only for a few. ‘Whither is God?’ cried Friedrich Nietzsche’s madman.. I shall tell you. We have killed him–you and I.’ But the people only stared in astonishment. “I came too early,’ said the madman. ‘This tremendous event…has not yet reached the ears of man.'”

In the third or fourth decades of the 20th century, Schultz continues, some heard Nietzsche’s call and heeded his question. Their story is that of religious humanism, a religious movement that emphasized human capabilities, especially the capacity to reason; that adopted the scientific method to search for truth; and that promoted the right of all humans to develop their full potential. It tells of a movement that sought to construct what the Reverend John Dietrich called a “religion without god,” shifting the focus of religious faith from divinity to humanity. Clergy and journalists, philosophers and scientists banded together, refusing to believe that human beings could not be saved and insisting that they themselves would be the instrument of salvation.

Perhaps in no denomination but Unitarian Universalism (UU), with its aversion to creeds and dogmas, could such a frankly non-theistic movement as religious humanism have arisen without provoking a schism, and even UU itself was hard-pressed to encompass the new thought. UU’s debated the merits of a strictly human-centered, scientifically minded, ethically focused religion. In 1933 a group of philosophers, Unitarian ministers and other religious liberals issued A Humanist Manifesto, to articulate a coherent statement of humanist principles. It was consciously designed to encapsulate a religious faith, not just a philosophy of life, and for all its religious failings, it represented a heartfelt attempt to amalgamate intellectual integrity with religious expression.

Yet it was not just a matter of historical curiosity as far as UU was concerned. Forty-six percent of UU’s reported in 1998 that they regarded themselves as theologically humanist, more than twice as many as identified with the second most common perspective, nature-centered spirituality and far more than the 13% who called themselves theists or the 9.5% who described themselves as Christian. Much nonsense passes for religion in this 21st century, as in all the preceding centuries. Religious humanism is willing to call a charlatan a charlatan, and while reason is by no means the only vehicle of religious exploration, we abandon it altogether at our own peril. “Where would we,” asks Schultz, “who cherish the natural world be without religious humanism’s insistence that the world is a seamless garment and that we humans are a part of the weaving? And what about the second point in the Manifesto, that human beings are “a part of nature” and have “emerged as the result of a continuous process,” Or humanism’s courageous faith that the future of the world is in human hands–not those of an angry God or inexorable fate. Humanism beckons us to believe that we can make a difference to history. This, says Schultz, is the source of his own passion for social justice. “Human rights themselves, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are grounded, not in the callings of the divine or the imperatives of natural law but in the common experience of human empathy transmogrified into a set of guidelines designed to effect a civilized world.”

But Schultz says religious humanism–particularly that of the 1933 Manifesto is now outdated, as show by the fact that humanists found a need to issue Manifesto II in 1973 and Manifesto III this year.

Why does Schultz prefer present-day religious humanism to the early religious humanism of the signers of Manifesto I? He says the early humanism lacked a clear doctrine of human freedom–not political freedom, which it endorsed, but free agency, what was traditionally called free will. Hence it lacked an adequate understanding of evil. The Manifesto makes not a single mention of the human capacity for choice. On the contrary it seems to suggest a brand of cultural determinism in its affirmation that “man’s religious culture and civilization…are the product of a gradual development due to his interaction with his natural environment, with his social heritage. The individual born into a particular culture is largely molded to that culture. “The religion embodied in the Manifesto is little better than a product of cultural dictation. Without a belief in some measure of free choice, the Manifesto was hard pressed to account for human evil. It had little to offer in the way of consolation from anguish. Religion was not just about insight but also about poetry. Culture was reflected, not only in its worldview, but also in its music. As George Santayana put it, “Religion is the love of life in the consciousness of its impotence,” He talks of the plight of Winnie the Pooh who, when stuck in the doorway of Rabbit’s house, requested, “Would you be so kind as to read a Sustaining Book such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in a Great tightness?” “In large measure,” says Schultz, “humanism lacked such a “book.” He said, “…humanism fell mute when Pooh was…stuck, in the face of evil and heartache and death, when the only response worthy of the occasion was to curse the human plight and be determined to dance nonetheless.” Humanism lacked an aesthetic sense. It had little, if anything to offer to those who brooked consternation before chaos or treasured awe before vastness.

He lists the following as basic principles of humanism which have come to pervade our larger culture: 1) Showing love to all humans, 2) Immortality is found in the examples we set and the work we do, 3) We gain insight from many sources and all cultures, 4) We have the power within ourselves to realize the best we are capable of as human beings, and 5) We are responsible for what we do and become.

He says most religious explorers today would want to go further, use richer language, and wrestle with deeper questions. He says the humanist-theist controversy is behind us and the religious world has largely said to such explorers, “Go to it.”

What? He apparently hasn’t talked to any authoritarian-dogmatic religionists lately. He advocates a willingness to employ a wider lexicon of traditional religious language than that with which the early religionists would be comfortable. He continues, “It is not particularly important to me any more whether I or anyone else uses ‘God talk.’ What is of supreme importance is that I live my life in a posture of gratitude–that I recognize my existence and, indeed, Being itself, as an unaccountable blessing, a gift of grace.” Then he says, “Sometimes, it is helpful to call the source or fact of that gift of grace God and sometimes not.” This statement contradicts his above statement that it doesn’t matter whether one uses “God talk” or not. He goes on, “But what is always helpful and absolutely necessary is to look kindly on the world, to be in bold pursuit of its repair, and to be comfortable in the embrace of its splendor. I know no better term for what I seek than encounter with the Holy.” Certainly I would not quarrel with these outlooks, but I question that it is necessary to be a “religious” humanist to hold to them.

Since Schultz in the article does not define the words “God,” or “Holy,” I can’t discern what he means when he uses these terms. Do they refer to a supernatural deity, nature, or something else? Also, “grace” implies receiving some kind of gift from someone, as in divine assistance or a virtue coming from God, or some kind of approval or favor. Is being really a gift of grace or is it more simply an outcome of organic evolution? It isn’t that I am not grateful to be alive and in good health, but is the fact that I am necessarily a gift of grace? Do religious humanists of today really wrestle with deeper questions than the authors of Manifesto I or, for that matter, secular humanists? Does one have to use religious lexicon to deal with the deeper questions. To most people the words “God”, “holy” and “grace” in the sense used here refer to the divine; and I suggest that their use in discussing humanism confuses non-humanists, and perhaps even humanists, about what we’re talking about. I suggest it is perfectly possible to talk about the deeper questions without using religious terminology. Isn’t it a key feature of humanism that we question the existence of the supernatural? Then why do we have to borrow words and phrases implying the supernatural to express our human-centered outlook? The writers of Humanist Manifesto I did not reject free agency. They seem to recognize it in their call for “a new statement of the means and purposes of religion.” If Winnie the Pooh’s Great Tightness is that of a terminally ill person, the Sustaining Book, tragically, will not necessarily help him get out of his situation. It might give him some comfort as he faces its reality, yet there are a number of documented cases where atheists maintained their atheism even when they were about to die, as during combat in war. Don’t Manifesto I and secular humanism look kindly on the world? Don’t they accept the world’s splendor as they ponder its wonders? Why aren’t the words “religion” and “religious” used in Manifesto III? I do not feel Schultz makes a very convincing case in this article that it is necessary for humanism to be religious in order to deal with the deeper questions. Perhaps you feel differently than I do, or perhaps you feel the same. It might be interesting for you to send your views to The Utah Humanist.

Ouch! Your Free Speech is My Pain

May 2004

Ken Wallentine, who works for the Administrative Council for the Utah Department of Public Safety, addressed the Humanists of Utah general meeting on April 8, 2004. His presentation was sponsored by the Utah Humanities Council.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment has a long and storied history in our country. Our courts have dealt with many cases involving this right. Some of the issues that are at issue include: hate speech and fighting word profanity and offensive speech, expressive “speech,” incendiary political speech, soft money for political campaigns, and obscenity and censorship.

There are two principal views on limitations of free speech. First is the pro-regulation faction that argues limits are necessary to protect traditionally prosecuted minorities and to foster a positive learning environment. Anti-regulation, the second group, argues that free speech and equality are not at odds and that in fact, free speech is the strongest weapon against prejudice and oppression.

The Supreme Court defined the Chaplinsky Test as “any offensive, derisive, or annoying word to another person who is lawfully in a public place.” So called “fighting words” is language that by its “very utterance will inflict injury or incite an immediate breach of the peace. The test is what men of common intelligence would understand would be likely to cause an average addressee to fight.” On the surface these definitions sound clear and easy to interpret; however, in real situations all is not clear. Consider the historical event of the American Nazi Party requesting and being granted a permit to march through Skokie, Illinois, the home of many elderly Jewish survivors of Hitler’s death camps. Another famous incident is when Gregory Johnson burned a US flag. The Supreme Court said, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Not everyone agrees, including Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who has been trying for years to pass an Anti-Flag Desecration amendment to the Constitution.

Many people believe that the millions of dollars that are used as “soft” money in support of political parties and, indirectly, candidates is an abuse of free speech. Political donations to individual candidates are regulated, but donations to parties and political action committees are less tightly controlled. Thus millions and millions of dollars are spent on campaigns ,eliminating, in the view of many, fairness and equal exposure of candidates and ideas.

The concept of obscenity is also contested in the ring of free speech. The biggest problem in regulation of obscenity is defining what it is and what it is not. Many court cases have struggled with the concept which often centers around “community standards.”

In conclusion, any discussion of free speech always raises more questions than it provides answers!

–Wayne Wilson

On Gay Marriage

May 2004

Dear Eric,

In response to your article in the February 23rd University of Maryland Flyer, let me first say I am a non-gay married female, mother of three non-gay men. The issue of “gay marriage” is fraught with irrational fear and invective. Now it is time not only to listen to others who have different views, but learn. Our right of free speech is a system for speaking our opinions, but more importantly, for finding the truth. Finding truth means we must seek out contrary views and, whether we like them or not, be prepared to learn from them, and to change. This process is indispensable to the preservation of liberty (Walter Lippman, “The Indispensable Opposition”, The Atlantic Monthly, 1939). It is from the standpoint of constructive dialogue, then, that I invite a second look at your arguments opposing gay union.

  1. You state, “I believe that marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. Simple as that.” This is an unsupported opinion. Belief is fine, but for a well reasoned, convincing argument, you need facts. I could declare,”I believe in UFO’s, plain and simple”, but why would you take me seriously? No one would expect you to.
  2. “Marriage is a sacred institution.” This is an erroneous concept. Marriage is a civil institution. Couples may imbue their marriage ceremony and lifestyle with whatever religion they like, but their marriage will not be legal without a civil license. God does not issue such licenses, even through churches. So God cannot be construed to “ordain” marriages, as you claim.
  3. “In Genesis, God said,”–In fact, we don’t know what God said, only what the Bible claims he said. The Bible is a notoriously unreliable source on which to base an argument. Many claim it was written by people who said they had the word of God. Is God everybody’s God? Can everyone receive His word? If so, what language is he speaking? Are God’s exact words translated by completely reliable people into different languages, or could a typo conceivably slip in? If so, is it still God’s word? Many claim to have direct links to God or that God speaks to them. In a recent case here in Salt Lake City, a man told the judge God had told him to kill a woman and her baby, which he did. The judge did not buy the part about God., and convicted the man. The judge might have seen fit to reply, “God tells me I should put you away for a very long time…”You see my point: that people may misuse the Bible for their own purposes. (For some enlightening reading on the word of God, read Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, Part II, written from a Paris jail during the French Revolution.) The Bible suggests commitment and “union” but makes no actual mention of marriage. In fact, marriage practice first appears around medieval times, a purely social construct intended to preserve wealth and inheritance between prominent, moneyed families. Clearly, nothing is “sacred” about preserving and passing on wealth.
  4. “Traditional marriages are healthier happier, safer, wealthier and longer lived”–you don’t say so, but I presume you mean in contrast to gay marriage. This is an unwarranted claim. You need some evidence, such as a comparative group, to back up your statement. The only comparative group would be gay marriages. Only by studying that group after a considerable passage of time could a reasoned evaluation be made. But because we don’t have a body of same-sex marriage to contrast with traditional marriage, you cannot justify claiming any superior qualities of traditional marriage over same-sex ones. Unhappily, many apparently strong traditional marriages collapse, as did Ronald Reagan’s, Newt Gingrich’s, and others. Realistically, it is inevitable that many gay marriages will prove just as fragile as many traditional ones, beset by domestic abuse, divorce, and unfaithfulness, just as heterosexual marriages are.
  5. In my view, society would benefit most, not from forbidding the legality of gay union, but recognizing more committed partnerships, with two responsible, loving people building a monogamous life together, working and paying taxes, regardless of sexual orientation. Because we don’t recognize gay marriage, gay partners can’t enjoy basic rights other married people do. They can’t inherit property as heterosexuals can; can’t receive medical care under a partner’s insurance. The present law, therefore, undermines the hard work, commitment and effort of a considerable segment of society, some ten per cent.. The reasons given to justify denying these Americans the civil rights other Americans enjoy–citing words of God, quotations from Genesis, perceiving violation of sanctity or sacredness–simply do not stand the light of day.
  6. “Marriage is for the purpose of procreation.” This immediately disqualifies countless traditional marriages where the couples a) can’t or b) decide not to have children. Are childless marriages less valid for not having children, and should they be revoked? Incidentally there is no evidence whatever children raised in gay households become gay. So we are not protecting children by forbidding gay unions.
  7. The fear that traditional marriage will be undermined, or more passionately, “wounded”, by recognizing gay marriage, is totally irrational. The fact that two same sex people love each other, co-habit and justifiably seek legal rights does not harm, threaten or insult my marriage or any straight marriage I know. Someone’s gay union does not tempt me to run off and live with a gay partner.
  8. There is no evidence that anyone can compel anyone else to become homosexual– and you, by the same token, cannot make anyone straight. My concern, Eric, is that you seem to want to, with all your heart. Why? You live in a democracy. No one justifiably interferes with your quiet enjoyment of life, and you have no need, or right, to interfere with anyone’s. You don’t have to approve of others’ religions, politics, or behavior, but you do have to tolerate them. It may be hard for you to bear, but that is your civic responsibility. You are an American. Our Constitution bestows civil rights. It does not take them away. In the words of Herbert Muschamp: “We do not embrace reason at the expense of emotion. We embrace it at the expense of self-deception.”
  9. Keep listening and thinking.. Keep the dialogue open.

–Heather Dorrell

On Easter

April 2004

The things you are liable to read in the Bible, they ain’t necessarily so.
–Porgy and Bess

Easter is the High Holy Day of the Christian religion. In its many manifestations, Easter celebrates the myth of the reanimation from death of the god Jesus, AKA the Christ. Like its womb mate Christmas, Easter is a marvelous blend of Christian and non-Christian nonsense. The Christian side is represented by “Handel’s Messiah” and hot cross buns (a seasonal pastry with a sugar cross on it) and the non-Christian nonsense side by “In Your Easter Bonnet…” and hunts for Easter Eggs (dyed boiled eggs in the shell laid–young minds are taught to believe–by rabbits).

To understand the phenomena of Easter, one must understand the Christian “gospels.” These four small propagandist tracts, written long after the supernatural fact, by unknown authors who did not know Jesus, contain the only known evidence for the existence of Jesus. Believers will argue other historic proofs, but these are provable forgeries added centuries later by pious priests who copied or translated Jewish, Roman and Greek texts. If the ancient writers had deliberately omitted Jesus merely because they had never heard of him, this error was often fixed for later Christian editions. The only evidence for Easter beliefs comes from the gospels.

Here’s a neat Bible study exercise for non-believers. It will help you learn something of the Christian belief system and will prove useful in the civil war when believers try to force you to play in their sandbox. Read all four gospels and, including every fact contained within them, write a concise, non-contradictory chronology of what happened between the time Jesus was crucified on a stake (the Greek word translates “stake” not “cross”–tell that to your preacher and watch him ring them bells) and the moment he went up to Heaven. Then you will know what Christians believe. To make the challenge more exciting, be sure to include facts, for the same time frame, from “The Acts of the Apostles” and from the letters of Paul. Paul really got Christianity going. He claimed to have seen Jesus after Jesus had gone to Heaven. Lots of people believed him. Lots of people believed Joseph Smith too. Joseph Smith wrote “The Book of Mormon” and claimed an angel helped him translate buried gold plates the angel later reburied. At least Paul had honest delusions.

The reason the death of Jesus is of importance to Christians is because if they believe Jesus died for their sins they get to live forever with him when they die. Because Jesus survived death, believers will too. Somehow Jesus’ “sacrifice” doesn’t seem like such a big deal, being a god and all, and getting to come alive again after being dead only one day and two nights. Many people have died for others and have stayed dead. There should be no shortage of volunteers willing to die to save everyone forever and be worshipped as a god if they could come alive again after being dead between Friday evening and Sunday morning.

Once you finish the Bible stories about Jesus, you may well wonder how anyone could believe this stuff, and you should understand why the events were omitted from every other history of that time. When Jesus died on the stake, the Bible reports that dead people came out of their graves (whether decomposed or not isn’t revealed), walked around the city and were recognized by many. This should have provoked some interest by the scandal sheets of the day, but no other reference is found of it. We might wonder if the risen dead sued to get their property back from their useless heirs.

You will note from your Easter biblical studies that the primary witness to the resurrection of the Christ was one Mary Magdalene, a woman thought to be a prostitute who had been possessed by seven demons, i.e., she was nuts. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the risen savior of the world had appeared in all his glory to the Roman Senate where literate rational humanists could have recorded an accurate account of this miracle? Why have your immortal soul hang in the balance on less than credible evidence? Should one accept that laws of nature have been broken and that a dead body has come alive again on the word of a deranged hooker? Would a just, rational, compassionate god condemn one to eternal torment for doubting such evidence? Clearly the Senate, or even a meeting of the Aqueduct Committee, would have been a better place to break the good news of salvation.

But we are not dealing with a rational god or even decent moral behavior in the Easter story. The god the myth says was the father of Jesus believed in child sacrifice. Previously content with blood drained from the slashed throats of sheep, goats and such, god needed more gore to save everyone. He wanted his own kid killed as a blood sacrifice for the sins of the world. This is what little children (kids) are taught in Sunday School (that’s where Christians violate the Fourth Commandment by worshipping on the first day of the week instead of the seventh as god ordered–no wonder we are in such trouble). But if child murder for the sins of others isn’t bad enough, consider this. Christians celebrate the death and rebirth of the god Jesus in a grotesque cannibalistic ritual of literally (or symbolically –depending on choice of sect) eating his flesh and drinking his blood! This bizarre custom is known as “Holy Communion” –dare we call it “swallow the leader?”

If Jesus rose from the dead, and if he went to Heaven, and if Heaven is outside the known universe, and if the laws of nature invented by god apply to god, then Jesus could not travel faster than the speed of light. If he left for Heaven two thousand years ago, he isn’t there yet, and won’t be there for some time. Therefore, we really need not concern ourselves at this point about his return to earth. Presumably he will return sometime after he gets there.

So now you know about Easter. You will probably be a happier and better adjusted human being if you stick to the Easter Parade and pass on the eating of human flesh and blood. And please remember that this disgusting rite is practiced in buildings owned by Christian groups who do not have to pay taxes on their property or income.

And the next time some un-American lunatics want to have forced Christian prayer in public schools, tell them you are a spiritual vegetarian. Happy Easter.

–Ed Kagin
Dr. Kagin’s Web Site

Morals and Politics

April 2004

I have wondered for years why Utahns so strongly and consistently support conservative principles. I have just finished reading Moral Politics, written by George Lakoff, which provides some answers.

Lakoff says that American politics are based on two distinct family values concepts: The strict father concept and the nurturing family concept. He says conservatives are united by the notion of a patriarchal family in which the parents’ role is to develop self-discipline in children by enforcing strict rules of good and evil. In contrast liberals view nurturing and caring as the most effective means of creating competent, responsible children.

Lakoff maintains American politics is suffused with family based morality and that family values matter. The question is, which family values, strict father or nurturing parent?

Moral Politics clarified some of my confusion regarding the conservative nature of Utah politics.

–Flo Wineriter

Annual Business Meeting Report

March 2004

Then annual business meeting and banquet of the Humanists of Utah was conducted on Thursday, February 12, 2004, at Distinctive Catering. Approximately 40 members and their guests attended. Chapter President Heather Dorrell welcomed everyone and recounted the past year as one where we were alternately challenged and then amused and entertained by many noteworthy speakers. She also regaled the audience with several humorous stories from the internet.

Wayne Wilson, chapter Secretary, presented the Treasurer’s report which showed that the chapter again did not take in as much money as we spent. This is the third year in a row where receipts have fallen short. He then, switching hats to his more natural role as Secretary, noted that many of our fiscal woes can be traced to a declining membership. He recalled an article written by Bob Green in 1994 where Bob argued that blind pursuit of membership may not be in the best interest of humanism. We do, Bob said, have an obligation to make ourselves known to the community; however, he continued, we do not necessarily need to count our membership numbers as an absolute measure of success or failure.

Heather thanked outgoing Board members Joyce Barnes, Helen Mulder, and Earl Wunderli for their tireless efforts in promoting humanism over the past years. She then announced the results of our first ever election by mail. The turnout was impressive with many people who were not able to attend voting. All four candidates, John Chesley, Mike Huston, Cindy King, and Bob Mayhew were elected with overwhelming support of the voting membership.

Outgoing Board member Earl reported that our first Essay Contest was a mixed success in that we received only one entry. However, he is confident that we learned a lot and can expect a better response next year.

Both Earl and Joyce thanked the membership for supporting their efforts and encouraged other people to volunteer and serve on the Board in the future.

Incoming Board Members Mike Huston, Cindy King, and Bob Mayhew thanked the membership for the confidence shown in them by the voting. They pledged to work hard with the rest of the Board to keep our chapter strong in the coming years.

Finally, we were entertained by a unique musical program performed by The Bells of Joyful Sound under the direction of Bob Nohavek. This ensemble consisted of about 15 people who rang a series of bells that spanned eight octaves. The music was remarkable and the instructive commentary from Mr. Nohavek made it even more enjoyable.

The arrangements for dinner and the entertainment were again made by Rolf Kay. Flo Wineriter provided the wine and everyone had a pleasant evening. If you didn’t attend, you missed out. However, you’ll have another chance come August when we hold our summer social!

–Wayne Wilson

 

The Logic of Myth

December 2004

The Buddha told the story of the blind men and the elephant. The men, each assigned a different part of the elephant, could not agree on the nature of the beast. Yet we know that the elephant was a combination of all of the things that each man experienced. Because the term “myth” means so many things to different people, in discussions of it we need to establish some kind of common bond, but also to expect and accept that you will have points of disagreement with what I say tonight. What we try to do in the study of myth is to gain access to the whole elephant, to see that the elephant is not A, not B, and not C, but all of those things–and that is sometimes hard to realize, because we use culture-bound ways of seeing things.

Myth means many things to many people, but the meaning I will assign to it this evening is, “a narrative of importance to an entire culture.” The terms myth and culture can generally be used interchangeably if we modify that definition a bit to read, “deeply held ideas of importance to an entire culture.” Culture is (to use Edward T. Hall’s phrase) out of awareness–it is so completely ingrained in us from our childhood that the particular patterns that we live by are not available to us for rational examination. We do not necessarily understand that we are operating under rules that we know deeply in our bones, but we often get upset, without knowing why, when these cultural rules are violated.

We can know things in only three ways: from direct experience, from vicarious experience (what others tell us and what we read), and from ideation. (Just for reference, we might say that the experiential part is Aristotelian and the ideational part is Platonic.) Everything we are capable of thinking about, from myth to logic, comes from the same well. The center of human experience–what differentiates us from other animals–is nothing practical; not any technique nor any knowledge about how to stay alive, but (I believe) our ability to be bowled over by realizing that we are but a small part of a world that is immeasurably bigger than we are. This idea is not my invention; Joseph Campbell reiterated it in all his writings, especially as he grew older.

The mystery of being is experienced in awe at our recognition of our personal tiny-ness in the vastness of the universe. Because such experience is humbling, it is spiritual, and our recognition of it is a form of worship–that is, of “worth-ship.” Direct and vicarious experience teaches us that sooner or later, inevitably, we are going to feel pain and to suffer and to die. Myths are told as a way of placing our awareness of our individual suffering and mortality in that grand universal context. I believe that all human expression–material, customary and oral–is artistic and is ultimately grounded in this awe and is a form of worship. The most primitive designs on earth–the zigzag, the meander, the spiral–were created in worship, not to gain practical ends but to express a spiritual recognition. The same is true of later, more sophisticated, stylized and bilaterally symmetrical designs such as the bucranium (ox-head), labrys (double axe), rosette, cross, circle, and swastika. None of these is “practical,” but rather a human statement about symmetry in the universe. Six crossed lines in a circle will sooner or later suggest spokes and a wheel, but the design itself is best understood as a revelation of our ancestors’ awe at seeing heaven with its celestial bodies as meaningful and connected to us (the Zodiac) and to the sensory world (the seasons). It may seem odd to think of a calendar as a spiritual object, but the first calendars were circular and were created as a map of the divine plan in heaven.

Codification, rigidification, and religiosity inevitably, eventually, replace the kind of spiritual expression discussed above. The cross was turned into something that now means only one thing. In modern times the swastika, in the wrong hands, became the very symbol of evil. These designs were appropriated by a particular group to fulfill a particular agenda. Yet we respond to these ancient symbols at some deeper level than just the political or the religious. According to Carl Jung, who was Joseph Campbell’s early inspiration, this response may have to do with ancient experience. Campbell offers the example of newly hatched chicks, which (with no direct experience) run for cover when they see a shadow of a chicken hawk fly over.

Experiments show that this happens even with a wooden model drawn across the chicken yard on a wire. If all actual chicken hawks were somehow to disappear, baby chicks would still respond to the model. Jung’s theory of the Collective Unconscious may thus be analogized as the reason human beings respond to symbols. (I do not subscribe to Jung’s theory in its entirety.)

Myths of the world may seem extremely strange and puzzling, but really a very small number of things are accomplished in their telling. All myths are metaphors, using language, itself a form of metaphor, for our awe at the mystery of being, which is unknowable. Myths cannot give voice to the unknowable, but they can make up a story, a metaphor, about the unknowable. Even “God” is a metaphor for the unknowable. A very small number of themes can be found time and again in creation myths of every culture (but not in every creation myth!), for example, order out of chaos, creation by speaking, sacrifice of a divine being to make the world, the androgynous parent, the paradox that once creation happens it is no longer perfect, and others.

For us who live in the Occident–the West–the logic of Western myth is seen everywhere even if we don’t consciously live by the codified official belief system of our culture the Bible, say–even if we consciously defy it. We still have unexamined cultural assumptions that are grounded in those myths and we cannot manage without them, for they provide the pattern or model against which we measure and evaluate our experience and our thought. Even if the most we do is rebel against our culture, we are ineluctably part of a system whose values are systemic.

After the lecture, Dr. Stewart responded to questions about terms and phrases she had used in her talk–for example, “spirituality,” “God,” and “divine”–that many humanists tend to avoid. She stated that language is metaphorical, words are metaphors (that is, they stand in for something) and that the vocabulary of spirituality–being humbled by a sense awe before the “mystery of being”–is necessarily metaphorical because it addresses that which cannot be known directly. Anyone who finds a particular metaphor unsatisfying is free to reject it.

–Polly Stewart
Dr. Stewart is a chapter member

Life’s Purpose

June 2004

Everyone of us is engaged in a life long effort to make living both meaningful and significant. Meaningful by fulfilling our own potential. Significant by improving the world.

Lyle Simpson, president of the Humanist Foundation, put it this way in a paper he wrote last year for “Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism” published by the Humanist of Houston:

After considering the question of “what is my purpose?” for years, I find that for me only two aspects of life ultimately have relevance. First, “our life is meaningful to ourselves to the extent we share in happiness.” By achieving actualization of our own life, in the manner articulated by Dr. Maslow, we reach the pinnacle of our own existence. However, that alone would cause one to become selfish, and to miss the greater values in life that come from sharing one’s own existence with others. Therefore, the second relevant element is equally necessary.

Simply stated, “our own life becomes ‘significant’ to the extent the world becomes a better place because we have been here.” The healthy person keeps both in balance. Thus, as humanists, we not only have a duty to actualize our own existence, but we also must assist others to achieve the same result.

–Flo Wineriter

 

Liesel Hugged Me When We Met

March 2004

Rolf's BuffoonFor the last 10 years or so Jane Ball and I have been photographing the young dancers at Ballet West’s annual production of The Nutcracker These are the kids who volunteer for the part, don’t get paid, and start rehearsing sometime in September for the performances that start in early December. Bene Arnold, with a little help from her friends, does it all and has been doing it a lot longer than I have

Between Christmas and New Years of last year we were photographing the buffoons. They are the six and seven-year-olds that come out from under grandma’s skirt, do their dance and go back under the skirt. We don’t photograph them on stage but rather they come up to our studio and we photograph them individually

So much for the background. I photographed all eight of the buffoons individually and when I was thru I sat down and with the camera on my lap started reloading it with film. As I was doing so, I noticed out of the corner of my eye two little feet. When I got thru I looked up and there stood a little buffoon with a beautiful smile. Without a word she threw her arms around my neck and gave me a big hug. And before I could say or do anything she had scampered off. The feeling I had was hard to describe but it was wonderful. And actually left me speechless for a few minutes. By that time she was gone.

It reminded me of one of my favorite poems written by Leigh Hunt. It goes like this:

Jenny kissed me when we met
Jumping from the chair she sat in,
Time, you thief, who likes to put sweets in your list
Put that in.
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I’m growing old but add…Jenny kissed me.

I did a little research and found out that the little buffoon was named Liesel. If anyone recalls the names of the young lovers in the sound of music they were Rolf and Liesel.

Of course I’m now in love with Liesel and I think she’s fond of me. She’s seven years old and I’m almost eighty two. However in these modern times the differences in our ages should not matter. I’ll keep you posted.

–Rolf Kay

 

Letter From Our President

September 2004

Many of you know I started a second Master’s Degree course, Educational Leadership and Policy, this Spring at the University of Utah, in hopes of qualifying to become a school administrator. This would enable me to “graduate” from teaching to school administration a few years down the road, when I foresee I will be too tired and “out-of-it” to teach any more, but would still be able to influence school policy. I’m finding the course extremely interesting, and while I am learning a great deal and finding there is great need for humanist principles to be more actively pursued in the schools to result in real change–equal access to education for all children–the course is proving to be a very challenging project for me. It will require 450 hours of internship over two years, as well as 36 hours of class, in addition to my full time teaching. Happily enough, Fall term begins again next week, and on top of it, my teaching with Granite District also starts again in early September. Something had to give!

Fortunately for me the Humanist Board has rallied to help me find a way forward. We have agreed that my duties as President will be taken over by our Vice President, Bob Lane, and by Bob Mayhew, Flo Wineriter, and others on the Board so that our Chapter will continue to function smoothly and our new projects continue to flower over the next months. We have a spectacular slate of speakers through to the year’s end. Because of my two-year commitment to the ELP program, I will refrain from seeking re-election in February, 2005. I will miss my part in the Humanists of Utah organization, and am extremely grateful for the support of the Board, all of whom already had many commitments before taking on even more.

–Heather Dorrell
President, Humanists of Utah

 

In Memoriam

Julia Annemarie Rivers

December 24, 1951 ~ October 5, 2003

February 2004

Julia RiversMy wife, best friend, partner and the love of my life, Julia Annemarie Rivers, 51, passed away peacefully at home October 5, 2003. She was born December 24, 1951 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Julia married Michael Rivers on January 25, 1986 in San Diego, California. After living most of her life in San Diego, she moved with her husband, first to Simi Valley, CA and then to Salt Lake City.

Julia had a passion for the civil rights of the Atheist community and fought to preserve those rights. She was the Director of the Salt Lake Valley Atheists, Assistant Utah State Director of American Atheists, and a member of Humanists of Utah. Julia previously served on the Board of Directors of the Santee, California Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Directors of Mission Trails Regional Park Committee, a member of Kiwanis and established and directed the Simi Valley Freethinkers.

She is survived by her husband Michael, daughter Anita Marie Quitoriano and grandchildren Melissa Olsen, Tyler Rivers, and Lupo Quitoriano. Julia will be deeply missed and forever remembered by all those whose lives she touched. The Salt Lake Valley Atheists will continue as strong as it ever has with all the energy and enthusiasm Julia put into it.

–Michael Rivers

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Humanists of Utah, founded in 1991, is a chapter of the American Humanist Association. We are a non profit corporation organized to advocate humanism among our membership and the larger community.

Humanism Promotes
Joyful Living, Rational Thinking, and Responsible Behavior.
 
Utah Humanist – September 2007
Contents
 

Discussion Group Report:

Articles:

Book Reviews

Chapter News and Announcements
November Meeting
Humanists of Utah is proud to present Brandon Johnson, PhD, who will discuss Debunking Spirit Materialization: The New Journalism, Secular Magicians, and the Dissatisfied Audience.

By the 1880s and 1890s, the fortunes of materialization mediums-or people who claimed they could materialize spirit bodies out of thin air-had changed dramatically from earlier decades. Spiritualists had once branded spirit materialization as the ultimate proof of life after death, and many Americans had begun to agree with their assessment, feeling that, thanks to mediums, the spirits of deceased friends and relatives no longer were marooned across a biblical “gulf” that separated the mortal and immortal realms. Cultural changes in the final two decades of the nineteenth century, however, put spirit materialization on the defensive. It was now a besieged practice.

Newspaper reporters could often be found at the forefront of the campaign to expose spirit materializers, but other skeptics-including secular magicians and ordinary people fed up with what they believed were gross violations of the public’s trust-followed, adding their own unique reasons to the list of justifications for debunking spirit materialization. Ironically, it was the very thing that made the practice of materializing spirits so compelling to believers-its promise to provide visual proof of life after death-that also made it vulnerable to attack. Visuality, at least in the case of spirit materialization, was a two-edged sword: it cut to the heart of what many spectators expected from séances (namely “clear-cut evidence” of the immortality and functionality of spirits), while also draining the lifeblood out of materialization itself by providing observers with the chance to test spiritualism’s claims firsthand. In effect, materialization sowed the seeds of its own destruction.

The meeting will held Thursday, November 8th, at 7:30 PM in Eliot Hall at the First Unitarian Church which is located at 569 South 1300 East, in Salt Lake City. The lecture will be followed by a question and answer session and then light refreshments and an informal discussion. There are no admission charges; all interested people are invited to attend and participate.

Discussion Group
The October Discussion Group will be held Thursday, October 25. Please join us for stimulating conversation on the topic of How Moderation in Faith Fosters Fanaticism.

Thursday, October 25, at 7:30 PM in Room 201 at the First Unitarian Church.

Chapter Business
Volunteers Sought
We are looking for fresh talent to join our Board–People with new ideas for the care and feeding of our growing community.

We also need volunteer(s) to coordinate/organize refreshments for after the general meeting

If you are interested in either or both opportunities, please contact any board member (see page 7) as soon as possible. The election committee is looking for candidates!

Membership Dues Increase
Membership fees have not changed in over 10 years. In contrast, the cost of postage and printing has not been stable. Beginning January 1, 2008, the Board has approved a new membership fee structure to keep pace with our rising costs:

Regular Household                                       $50.00
2-years                                               $90.00
Student                                               $20.00
Electronic Journal (new option)           $35.00
Subscription only                                           $20.00

For the Regular membership, $30.00 annually will be tax deductible. The entire $35 for the Electronic Journal option will be tax deductible. Your copy of the Utah Humanist will be sent in PDF format via e-mail. This will save printing and postage costs, hence the savings can be passed on to you.

We do not want to exclude anyone from joining our chapter for financial reasons. If you are unable to afford membership, please contact any board member and we will work with you.

AHA Participation
Sign Up On Line
The American Humanist Association now has the capacity to offer e-action alerts with links that will allow you to contact your legislators. You can sign up for AHA e-action alerts at or email. If you would like to receive AHA press releases, please email.

 

 


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Humanist Declaration on Sin

June 2004

The following is a statement authored by Fred Edwords, Editorial Director of the American Humanist Association that was adopted by the membership present at the ATA Conference held in May 2004.

We, the members of the American Humanist Association assembled at the organization’s 63rd annual conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, wish to declare to a candid public that there is no sin. We say this because sin is a theological concept, not a moral one. And as Humanists we have no theology.

Therefore, while recognizing the existence of ethical wrongs, unwise personal behaviors, and socially harmful practices–all of which should be discouraged–we see nothing as legitimately warranting the epithet, “sinful.” Nor do we judge a whole person as a “sinner” for wrong acts.

 

Humanist Committments

May 2004

The following are excerpts from the opening statement on the web site of the Humanist Institute. Click here for the complete statement and information about the institute.

Over the years, many individuals and many organizations have labeled themselves “humanist.” A consistent theme is the centrality of ethics, for both individuals and for societies. Humans are responsible for their destinies in an evolutionary universe. Our ethical choices stem from our genetic structures as well as from the cultures that we have created. Reason and critical intelligence are the best guides in these choices, and the sciences are our best source of knowledge. Artistic and emotional experiences are important in expanding our visions and our joys, and in suggesting new possibilities for human flourishing–and in expanding the common good.

Humanists make their ethical choices by weighing the consequences. From earliest statements, humanists have included caring, social well-being, empathy, and compassion among their ethical values.

While some humanists work to build nontheistic religious communities, all modern humanists would agree that gods, devils, and spirits are creations of human imagination. Whether or how humanism can or should function as an ethical and nontheistic religion remains a matter of intense debate and experiment. Developing, expanding, and extending these values is the central humanist commitment.

–Robert B. Tapp
Dean, Humanist Institute

 

Humanism: More Than Religion

April 2004

Religion is that which people have invented to help them explain the big unanswerable questions in life. Religion also provides a solace in need, and gives meaning and direction to our lives. It tells us what is right and what is wrong, and how to act.

Humanism for me does all that and more, since it also challenges me to think and to be responsible and to weigh things rationally and make my own decisions. Religion does not need to be theistically based in order to support how live in the world: it is far more than belief in god. Humanism does for me what religions in general do for other people.

–Brian Eslinger, UU Minister

 

Humaism Is:

March 2004

Humanism, I want to emphasize, is an attitude, not an ideology, a philosophical life-stance, not a creed. Humanists do not worship human beings–far from it!–but seek to accept and appreciate all of humanity while at the same time criticizing human error and folly and endeavoring to improve human lives and human society. Humanism affirms that we have both the freedom and the responsibility to make a more human world, to be actively engaged in the endeavors that improve human existence.

Humanism is not a doctrine, but a concern with certain questions such as: what is the nature of a good life; what makes for a good community, a good society; how can we best understand our existence and our universe. Humanists are concerned with this life we are living and this earth we share. We regard the world’s religions as expressions of a human struggle with problems of meaning and purpose in human existence and as possible sources of insight or wisdom but not often of “truth.”

–Bob Berson
American Ethical Union

 

 

Humanism in Star Trek

June 2004

Gene Roddenberry, creator of the sensational television series Star Trek, wanted the characters to portray the ultimate of human potentials according to Susan Sackett in her May 13th presentation to the Humanists of Utah. She was the personal executive assistant to the Star Trek creator for the 17 years prior to his death in 1991. She said Mr. Roddenberry resisted pressures from religious leaders to include theistic messages and references to deities in Star Trek scripts. He wanted to personify human abilities by portraying the power of the human mind to resolve conflicts and solve challenging problems. With the use of computer generated clips from various Star Trek episodes she demonstrated how Roddenberry used the series to exemplify the human ability to resist evil and eventually subdue oppressive powers.

In addition to serving as Roddenberry’s personal executive assistant, Sackett was his production assistant on the first Star Trek film and Production Associate during the first five seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Gene Roddenberry became a member of the American Humanist Association in 1986 and was the recipient of the Humanist Arts Award at the AHA’s annual conference in Chicago in 1991. In receiving the award, Roddenberry was praised as “one of the most influential humanists of the Twentieth Century.” He told the AHA that Star Trek was his political philosophy, his social philosophy, his racial philosophy, and his overview on life and the human condition.

Susan Sackett is president of the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix and is hosting the HUMANICON Southwest Conference this summer, August 13-15, 2004.

–Flo Wineriter

 

 

Discussion Group Report

How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

November 2004

By Richard Layton

“The poorest county in America isn’t in Appalachia or the Deep South. It is on the Great Plains, a region of struggling ranchers and dying farm towns, and in the election of 2000 the Republican candidate for president, George W. Bush carried it by a majority of votes.

“That puzzled me when I first read about it, as it puzzles many of the people I know. For us it is the Democrats that are the party of workers, of the poor, of the weak and the victimized. Understanding this, we think, is basic; it is part of the ABCs of adulthood. When I told a friend of mine about that impoverished High Plains country so enamored of President Bush, she was perplexed. ‘How can anyone who has ever worked for someone else vote Republican?’ she asked…”

“Her question is apt; it is in many ways the preeminent question of our times. People getting their fundamental interests wrong is what American political life is all about. This species of derangement is the bedrock of our civic order; it is the foundation on which all else rests,” says Thomas Frank in his recently published book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. Frank sees the conservative takeover of American politics as contrary to the economic interests of middle class and lower income people.

If you earn over $300,000 a year, he goes on, you owe a great deal to this derangement. It is thanks to their self-denying votes that you are no longer burdened by the estate tax, or troublesome labor unions, meddling bank regulators, and what your affluent forebears used to call “confiscatory” tax levels. Thanks to them you are able to buy two Rolexes this year instead of one and get that Segway with the special gold trim.

Yet millions of average Americans see nothing deranged about this at all. Frank tells of his friend’s father, who was a teacher in the local public schools, a loyal member of the teacher’s union, and a more dedicated liberal than most. But he eventually converted. These days he votes for the farthest right Republicans he can find on the ballot. The issue that brought him over was abortion. He was persuaded in the early nineties that the sanctity of the fetus outweighed all his other concerns, and then he accepted the whole pantheon of conservative devil-figures: the elite media; the American civil Liberties Union, contemptuous of our values; the la-di-da feminists; the idea that Christians are vilely persecuted–right here in the U.S.A. His new hero, Bill O’Reilly, blasts the teacher’s union as a group that “does not love America.” Or maybe he got sick of hearing rich kids bad-mouth the country back in 1968. Or maybe it was Richard Nixon when he talked about the “silent majority,” whose hard work was rewarded with constant insults from network news, the Hollywood movies, and the know-it-all college professors, who had no interest in anything you had to say. Or maybe it was the liberal judges who got you mad as hell. Or maybe Ronald Reagan pulled you into the conservative swirl by talking about that sunshiny, Glenn Miller America you remembered before America went to Hell.

And Frank’s friend’s dad’s superaverage Midwestern town has followed the same trajectory he has, even as Republican economic policy laid waste to the city’s industries, unions and neighborhoods. The townsfolk responded by lashing out on cultural issues, eventually winding up with a hard-right congressman, a born-again Christian campaigning largely on an anti-abortion platform.

“Today,” says Frank, “the city looks like a miniature Detroit. And with every bit of bad economic news it seems to get more bitter, more cynical, and more conservative still.”

This derangement is an expression of the Great Backlash, a style of conservatism that first came snarling onto the national stage in response to the partying and protests of the late sixties. The backlash mobilizes voters with explosive issues–summoning public outrage over everything from busing to un-Christian art–which it then marries to pro-business economic policies. Cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends. The backlash has made possible the recent international free-market consensus with all of its privatization, deregulation, and deunionization that are its components. It ensures that Republicans will continue to be returned to office even when their free-market miracles fail and their libertarian schemes don’t deliver. The backlash imagines itself as the foe of the elite, as the voice of the unfairly persecuted and as a righteous protest of the people. The movement’s basic premise is that values matter most, and on these grounds rallies citizens who once would have been reliable partisans of the New Deal to the standard of conservatism. But once conservatives are in office, the only old-fashioned situation they care to revive is an economic regimen of low wages and lax regulation. They talk Christ but walk corporate. They have smashed the welfare state, reduced the tax burden on corporations and the wealthy and generally facilitated the country’s return to a nineteenth century pattern of wealth distribution. This is a working-class movement that has done incalculable, historic harm to working-class people.

“Values,” points out Frank, “may ‘matter most’ to voters, but they always take a back seat to the needs of money once the elections are won… Abortion is never halted, affirmative action is never halted. The culture industry is never forced to clean up its act…” The grandstanding leaders of the true believers never deliver, the fury of the believers mounts, and nevertheless they turn out every two years to return their right-wing heroes to office for a second, third and twentieth tries. “With a little more effort, the backlash may well repeal the entire 20th century.”

“On closer inspection the country seems like a panorama of delusion and madness…of sturdy blue-collar patriots reciting the Pledge while they strangle their own life chances; of small farmers proudly voting themselves off the land; of devoted family men carefully seeing to it that their children will never be able to afford college or proper health care; of working-class guys in Midwestern cities cheering as they deliver up a landslide for a candidate whose policies will end their way of life, will transform their region into a ‘rust belt;’ will strike people like them blows from which they will never recover.”

 

Homegrown Democrat

~Book Review~

October 2004

Garrison Keillor, host of the PBS weekly show Prairie Home Companion says “I’m a Democrat because I received a good education in public schools and attended a great state university.” Garrison Keillor describes the Democratic values of hard-working people and the idea of the common good, the civil compact, the politics of kindness, the obligation to defend the weak against the powerful. In contrast Keillor says of Republicans whose goal is to repeal the New Deal, they “are determined to cripple the social compact by cutting taxes so as to starve government and kill off public services and reduce us to a low-wage no-services plantation economy…”

In his best Prairie Home Companion style satire he devastates the ultra conservatives who currently control the Republican party under the leadership of “their Etch-a-Sketch president with a voice like a dial tone, who for almost four years has looked as if he were about to say something smart…”

This is a fast, factual, funny read you will find hard to put down.

–Flo Wineriter

 

Holiday Celebration

January 2004

Once upon a time there was a young woman who moved to Salt Lake City from Denver. She was the product of a mixed marriage–a Mormon mother and Episcopalian father–but her grandparents remained true to their own religion, so she was raised Mormon, Episcopalian, Congregationalist( because her parents joined after their marriage), and Presbyterian (in-laws). No wonder she was a humanist from junior high on–and she and her husband became Unitarians soon after their marriage.

On her first day of teaching, she started to pour a cup of coffee during lunch in the faculty room, but was told very sternly by the coach that no coffee was permitted in the faculty room.

Just after Thanksgiving, the principal told her to prepare her choruses for a Christmas presentation at the local Stake house. The usual dilemma arose: she knew about the separation of church and state and felt very strongly–but needed the job and as a first year teacher needed to be sure she didn’t offend. Ho Ho Ho, what to do? With the help of student leaders the music was selected to reflect many countries and cultures. Lots of practice and the choruses were ready.

On the evening of the big event, the principal told her she would be expected to deliver a talk, too! After a momentary panic, she had the groups perform all the music, and then stood up to deliver her talk. She discussed the origins of the pieces and the cultural background, and then concluded her remarks by saying, “Isn’t it a miracle that the birth of a tiny baby resulted in such glorious music throughout the world?”

Afterwards the principal walked up and said, “Thank goodness–I thought you were never going to mention Jesus.” I never did tell him that I didn’t!

P.S. The day after the coffee incident, I was told that fresh coffee was brewed each noon in the home economics room.

–Joyce Barnes

 

Holiday Celebration

January 2004

The Solstice celebration, or the Christmas festival, is the richest of our human traditions, bringing a great store of human treasures down through many centuries and many lands. Much of the stuff and the decorations we surround ourselves with that seem so necessary are an ancient weave of myth and fancy and belong to the realm of imagination. It is now well accepted that some of the greatest values of life DO belong to this realm, and they are rightfully there to nourish our need for tradition, pageantry, and jubilation, not to mention anticipation, surprise, singing, color, and tempting aromas. We mostly keep separate the realms of magic and myth from fact, but, after all this time, it is practically in our nature to have an absolutely divine Christmas.

Some of our Christmas treasures produce a deep satisfaction we are scarcely conscious of. The holly, the evergreen, and mistletoe speak of a time long ago when the earth would die back and humans cherished the few remaining plants. Despite the perishing cold, these retained their green. It was comforting proof that life would survive, would grow again. The Yule log, too, suggests a time long before the birth of Jesus when humans were poignantly aware of their dependence on light as the days grew ever darker and shorter, threatening to kill the sun altogether. Then, fire kindled warmth and comfort, and was also thought by early people to help the sun gain back strength. In these symbols–the evergreen and fire light–we share fellowship with untold generations who have had a vivid awareness of our dependence on the great order of nature.

Also at the core of the solstice and Christmas festivals is one of our most sacred but commonly occurring realities, which is also probably the supreme mystery–the miracle of birth and parenthood. Although the special sacredness of the family predates the birth of Jesus, it is unimaginable that an event of such significance would not be clothed in religion. But the value of the Christmas pageant and the gospel stories lies not in the recital of the birth of one, marvelous child, but in the timeless, shared experience of all parents, rendered almost helpless by the awe and tender love for their child, who wish and dream for its future. It is a time when the whole, exalted world kneels before the cradle. The stories of the birth of Jesus are part of the poetry of Christmas, not history, but expressions of reverence Jesus inspired in his early followers. As poetry, they express an inherent sacredness of family, of nurturing, of giving, of doing all we can to prepare our offspring for life.

And alas, Christmas is not always a time of joy, and these symbols of life and family may instead call to mind days that are gone, and gone with them, other scenes and other faces. It is a time when laughter and tears are commingled in timelessness. It is a time of re-awakening, when the idealism of the human heart comes to the foreground of consciousness, and we are stirred by the qualities of human nature in which our chief hopes lie–the impulse of forgiveness, kindness, generosity, and the urge to join in fellowship with our kind. It is a time when we yearn to throw all the power of our lives onto the side of wholeness, happiness, joy to loved ones, to neighbors, and even strangers spanning great distances, whose hearts may be beating with the same, sweet impulse. It is a realization that, despite all that is wrong with the world, there is, through human effort, still hope of redemption, still hope of reaching out to embrace others, in peace. That peace, which is so illusive, may yet be achieved, there to be grasped–maybe not in our own lifetime, but possibly in our children’s. Could any gift be a greater treasure than that?

–Heather Dorrell
President Humanists of Utah

 

Me and Humanism

February 2004

This is another presentation from last month’s meeting.

When I signed the application to the American Humanist Association to organize a Humanists of Utah chapter several years ago I did not realize how dramatically it was going to change my life. Within a few months I found myself consumed with an interest in history, philosophy, religion and ethics! I enrolled in the Humanist Institute in New York, became a Humanist Celebrant performing weddings, celebrating welcoming ceremonies for children, and conducting memorial services for those who died.

I have shared my new found knowledge of and interest in humanist history with several college and high school classes, defended the individuals’ right to doubt religious beliefs, and urged hundreds of people to question authority.

I have discovered that one of the weaknesses of humanism is its reluctance to recognize the importance of human emotional needs. We spend so much time intellectualizing that we tend to neglect the human need to be inspired. We really need to find ways to appeal to human feelings: to be awed by the beauty of life, the wonder of a starry sky, the arch and colors of a rainbow, the power of the wind, the constant changing shapes of clouds, the inspiration of music, poetry and prose. We need to recognize the satisfaction of good food, good drink and good sex.

Humanism needs to learn that man does not live by the intellect alone.

–Flo Wineriter

 

 

Marion Craig Memorial Essay Contest
Winning Entry

A Rational Look At Gun Ownership

March 2004

The results are in and the winner of our first annual Marion Craig Memorial Essay Writing Contest is Marc Watterson who is a Senior at West Jordan High School. The challenge was open to all high school students in the Jordan School District. We did not get as many entries as we hoped for, but are pleased with the work of Mr. Watterson. He will receive a check for $500.00 for his efforts.
Since the early 1990’s when the Brady Bill was first passed, the Second Amendment has come under increased scrutiny. Yet the people who argue that the individual right to bear arms does not include the individual citizen are those who, instead of looking at the issue rationally, have chosen to set their mind in one view, and refuse to look at all the facts. The Second Amendment states: A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The aforesaid right addresses two separate, yet equally important issues.

First, that of the responsibility of the State to keep “a well-regulated militia” or, as we now call it, a National Guard. Every state has their own individual National Guard. And, as being a part of the Union, or the United States, when we go to war, each state has a responsibility of supplying troops to the effort. The Founding Fathers recognized the threat of outside nations upon the United States and thus enabled the States to organize their own branch of the army, located within their borders. This was also important because in the early beginnings of our country, there was a heated debate over representation of the states. The smaller states worried that they would be powerless to overcome the over representation of the larger or more heavily populated states. Thus, it was equally important that representation of each state was able to be in every part of the government, including the army. Therefore, it was necessary to incorporate into the Second Amendment a measure that would include equal representation of a state’s National Guard, or “well-regulated militia” in the American army.

The last part of the Second Amendment is what comes mostly under scrutiny, that of the right “of the people to keep and bear arms.” Now, I agree that not every person should have a gun. Those people who are felons or who have psychiatric problems should not have the right to carry a gun because they have already proven, through their actions and psychological problems, that they may pose a threat to society and as such should not have the same rights that the average citizen should. It is not the gun that poses a threat to society, it is the person who carries the gun. A man with a knife or bat could pose just as much of a threat as a man with a gun or a toothbrush. It is our thoughts that determine our actions, not our instruments. I have had the opportunity to grow up in a family where guns are taught to be something that should be respected, not feared. With the proper education, a gun can become a tool for the owner, whether they use it to hunt, protect, or compete.

Most people who own guns use them for recreational purposes only. This is done through hunting, and/or target shooting. These guns are issued to responsible citizens who do not take their rights for granted and use their guns in a manner conducive to the laws of the land. A gun is essential to the humanitarian method of the thinning out of herds. The meat obtained from such hunts, which are regulated by the state, is used for the consumption of the average citizen and/or hunter. Thus, through such conservation, the amount of animals dying from starvation decreases, because more food resources are opened up to other animals. These hunts are regulated by both the state government and the Fish and Game. The two working together are able to track animal reproduction ratios and effectively issue out hunting permits based on these findings.

I myself have felt both the positive and possible negative affects of gun ownership. Owning a gun has allowed my family to draw closer together because we enjoy hunting together and enjoying one another’s company. We have been able to reap the benefits of hunting and use the meat that we obtain from such. Conversely, four years ago I was involved in a hunting accident that left me blind in one eye. A single BB from a shotgun ricocheted off of a tree and struck me in the eye. But I do not blame the gun, neither do I blame the person who pulled the trigger. The event was a freak accident of which I hold no one or no thing responsible. It happened I lived to deal with it.

Unfortunately there are those who disagree with my views of gun ownership, but that is their opinion, and we are all entitled to our own opinions. But, I feel that I have been able to share my rational thoughts on gun ownership, and feel confident in my views. The debate over the Second Amendment will continue until the Supreme Court rules on their interpretation of such. Whether they make the correct decision will be in the eye of the beholder.

–Marc Watterson

 

Marc Accepts First Prize Check from Chapter President Heather Dorrell and Contest Chairperson Earl Wunderli

Marc read his address to the chapter at our April general meeting and accepted his award.

 

 

FreeThinkers

~Book Review~

August 2004

Here is THE book every serious humanist should read and then keep handy for a quick reference. FreeThinkers, a History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby is a fascinating summary of the secularist founders of our nation and the influence the philosophy of the Enlightenment played in establishing a government based on reason rather than religion. Robert Ingersoll, the Great Agnostic, and Walt Whitman, the secular poet, Vashti McCollum, Humanist Heroine, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, Feminist Pioneers are just a few of the secularists recognized by the author.

FreeThinkers restores to history generations of dedicated Humanist champions who have led the struggle to uphold secular government and religious liberty, the glory of the American system.

After digesting the contents of FreeThinkers you’ll be proud of your humanism and be ready to answer the questions of our critics. Arthur Miller says, “This book is fresh air for the lungs of those who defend the separation of church and state.”

–Flo Wineriter

 

 

In Memoriam

Dr. Francis Crick

June 18, 1916 – June 28, 2004

November 2004

(Washington, D.C., July 29, 2004) Dr. Francis Crick, the preeminent scientist and prominent Humanist, died July 28, 2004, of colon cancer. Dr. Crick’s extraordinary insight and intelligence contributed to a cornerstone scientific achievement. In 1953, Dr. Crick and James Dewey Watson discovered the double-helix structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. The two subsequently received the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1962. Dr. Crick also studied physics earlier in his career and later switched to studying neuroscience. He was widely quoted regarding his nontheistic examinations of the border between living and nonliving.

Dr. Crick’s reputation as an atheist and a humanist created controversy, but he steadfastly defended his views and has even acknowledged that his rejection of a religious world view helped form his reasons for exploring scientific investigation into questions about life. At the Golden Jubilee of the Atheist Centre in India in 1990 Dr. Crick stated, “I have no doubt, as will emerge later, that this loss of faith in Christian religion and my growing attachment to science have played a dominant part in my scientific career not so much on a day-to-day basis but in the choice of what I have considered interesting and important. I realized early on that it is detailed scientific knowledge which makes certain religious beliefs untenable.” In his 1994 book, The Scientific Search for the Soul, he advocated scientific study of the human soul as he looked into questions about human consciousness.

Dr. Crick publicly supported humanism as a notable signatory of the American Humanist Association’s Humanism and Its Aspirations, the third Humanist Manifesto, and he also signed the document’s predecessor, Humanist Manifesto II. He additionally lent his support to the humanist holiday Darwin Day. In 1986 he accepted the AHA’s Humanist Distinguished Service award.

Fred Edwords, editor of the Humanist magazine said today, “Francis Crick was an admirable Humanist in his unwavering commitment to scientific naturalism and his creativity, curiosity, intelligence, kindness, modesty, and fascination with the questions of life.” He was 88 years old at the time of his death and is survived by his wife, Odile Speed; two daughters, Gabrielle Crick and Jacqueline Nichols; a son, Michael Crick; and four grandchildren.

Obituary published by the American Humanist Association

 

Marion Craig Essay Contest Topic Selection

December 2004

There were nineteen members who voted to determine the topics for the Marion Craig Essay Contest. The following were ranked the top five:

  1. What is rational thinking?
  2. How does the establishment clause prevent government in religion?
  3. What is the role of ethics in our society?
  4. Homeland security versus personal rights/liberties?
  5. What is our stewardship of the planet?

On November 6, 2004 the essay committee mailed out 26 packets to all high schools in Salt Lake County. The essay committee members will be following up with phone calls to ensure that each of the 26 high schools received its packet and if they have any questions. The essay committee would like to thank all members who helped in determining the topics for this year’s Marion Craig Essay Contest.

–Cindy King

 

Marion Craig Memorial

Essay Contest

September 2004

Our Marion Craig Memorial High School Essay Contest is taking off with a bang! The Board is requesting members help in choosing the essay contest topic. This year’s contest will have participants choose from five different topics. The contest will include all high school juniors and seniors in the Salt Lake Valley, approximately 26 schools.

This year we are including an award to the teacher whose student wins first place, for classroom supplies. The purpose of going to all the high schools in the Salt Lake Valley is to help in enhancing awareness of the humanist philosophy in the school system. Humanist philosophy is rich in rational, creative thinking, and the wisdom that human beings are the only ones that really can solve their own problems rather than relying on divine beings. The contest also is to help these young developing minds to never stop questioning and to never stop seeking a variety of viewpoints in solving any issues in life that they must face, for a closed mind is a lost mind.

The contest will start November 5, 2004 and run to February 28, 2005. The winner will be announced in our April General meeting.

We need your input to select the topics for this year’s contest. Please rank your top five choices in this form.

 

Marion Craig Memorial

Essay Contest

October 2004

The Marion Craig Essay Committee would like to warmly thank all the members who have responded to the committee’s request for help in picking a topic for this year’s contest. The rest of you still have time to vote for your choice. The deadline is October 14, at the general meeting. You may use this form. Your choice will make a difference in this year’s contest topics!

We need your input to select the topics for this year’s contest. Please rank your top five choices in

 

Lake Powell Reservoir and Glen Canyon Dam

Dam in Crisis

August 2004

The following is a summary of a lecture given by Chris Peterson at the Humanists of Utah July general meeting.

Glen Canyon Dam, completed in 1963, dammed the free flowing Colorado River and created Lake Powell reservoir. The Glen Canyon Dam inundated and flooded some of America’s most spectacular wilderness beauty. The current severe drought in the West is revealing what was lost to the waters of Lake Powell reservoir. This is a brief introduction to the issues surrounding Glen Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell reservoir, and the Colorado River. Like the receding waters of Lake Powell reservoir, this introduction reveals it’s not worth it!

Glen Canyon Dam was built as the final piece of the Colorado River Compact with the primary purpose of water storage to ensure water delivery to the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona, and Nevada. Lake Powell reservoir was justified to Congress in the 1950’s as the perfect solution to uncertainty of water supply for the growing Southwest. It was to be the “silver bullet,” providing an insurance policy for the Upper Basin States’ water delivery responsibility, regulating floods, and being a “cash register” hydropower dam to pay for building dozens of other dams upstream in the Colorado’s watershed. After forty years, it is clear that Lake Powell reservoir is far from the perfect solution to water supply problems in the West.

As a combined result of being lined by sandstone walls and having a large surface area in an arid climate, Lake Powell reservoir wastes significant amounts of water to bank seepage and evaporation (nearly 1 million acre-feet annually). The hydropower it actually generates contributes an insignificant amount of less than 3% to the region. Due to rapid sedimentation, the dam and reservoir are imposing significant long-term costs on the public, are unsafe, and have all but destroyed the biological resources in Glen and Grand Canyons. However, the most devastating impact of Lake Powell’s development has been the false sense of water security to both the Upper and Lower Basin States, which has resulted in unsustainable growth and development.

The idea of a centralized water and electricity system has simply proven to be unsustainable. Glen Canyon Dam began life as a political decision. It exists today as a monument to the political tradeoffs of the 1950’s. The Colorado River is a national resource, supported and subsidized by all Americans. Its purpose and future should be debated on a national level, not in the offices of developers.

What is Glen Canyon?

Described by John Wesley Powell as a “land of beauty and glory,” and by Edward Abbey as “a portion of Earth’s original paradise,” magnificent Glen Canyon and its unique side canyons are unlike any in the world. Waterfalls, hanging gardens, spectacular narrows, arches, painted grottos, and picturesque alcoves abounded in the more than 125 unique side canyons. Glen Canyon also holds many secrets from the past, with more than 3000 documented ruins from ancient cultures. As the biological heart of the Colorado River, more than 79 species of plants, 189 species of birds, and 34 species of mammals lived along the stream and river terraces in Glen Canyon. River otters played in the calm waters while herons nested in the cottonwoods along the shores. Maidenhair ferns decorated the cliff walls that towered over crucial breeding grounds for humpback chub and numerous other endemic species that depended on the free-flowing Colorado River for their seasonal migration.


Hidden Passage, under 300 feet of water
Glen Canyon Dam and “Lake” Powell Reservoir

In 1963, the gates at Glen Canyon Dam were closed. Lake Powell reservoir began to drown Glen Canyon, one of the world’s most spectacular and unexplored riparian environments. The waters that backed up behind the dam flooded 186 miles of the Colorado River, including all of Glen Canyon and large portions of its tributaries. The fragile Grand Canyon ecosystem, which depended upon the nutrients the Colorado River picked up in Glen Canyon, immediately began to decline. Spring floods that previously deposited millions of tons of vital sediment and nutrients in Grand Canyon were halted and replaced by cold, clear, regulated flows. Since 1963, all of the sediment that should have been destined for the Grand Canyon has been trapped behind the dam. These sediment deposits are growing at a rate equivalent to 30,000 dump-truck loads every day. Native fish, which had evolved and flourished in the dynamic, pre-dam environment, have been unable to adapt, several have become endangered, and two have been extirpated from Glen and Grand Canyons.

The Ongoing Drought: The Restoration of Legendary Glen Canyon

The current drought in the Southwest, which is not unprecedented in recent history, has drawn the water levels of Lake Powell down by more than 56%, exposing hundreds of miles of “lost” side canyons and more than forty miles of the Colorado River itself. In addition, the record low water levels have shown that Glen Canyon and its side canyons possess an incredible capacity for rapid restoration. Plants and animals are beginning to return to many side canyons as returning streams wash away the sediment that had accumulated when reservoir levels were higher. Seeps of desert varnish are creeping their way down canyon walls to cover the white bathtub ring that marked the reservoir’s high water levels. As the reservoir’s water recedes from the canyons, it is evident that Lake Powell reservoir is not an acceptable solution to the region’s water resource problems. Long-term climate models predict changing hydrologic dynamics throughout the watershed, decreasing the reservoir’s storage capacity-as there may not be sufficient water in the river to refill it.


Cathedral in the Desert. Will be fully visible in late 2005
In the time since the dam was first considered, it has become increasingly apparent that the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell reservoir are not worth the sacrifices that must be made to keep them in operation. The large amounts of water lost to evaporation and bank seepage, the costs to taxpayers to keep the system running, the flooding of Glen Canyon, and the continuing destruction of Grand Canyon and the Colorado River are prices we cannot afford to pay. We have been granted a window of opportunity that is revealing to us once again the wonders of Glen Canyon while bringing the debate of western water consumption to the foreground so we may see that there are other, more sustainable options for how we manage our water. The current drought is showing us now that we can reverse this great western tragedy and restore Glen and Grand Canyons.

For more information follow this link to the Grand Canyon Institute or on Chris’ name below to send him e-mail.

–Chris Peterson
Executive Director Grand Canyon Institute

 

Discussion Group Report

Creating a Theocracy in America

August 2004

By Richard Layton

Along with the steady numbers of dead soldiers in Iraq, there are two other categories of American casualty, says James Heflin, the author of Their Will Be Done: Creating a Theocracy in America. One consists of civilian contractors, Halliburton employees and others who are helping rebuild Iraq, and the other of Southern Baptist missionaries. The presence of the latter in harm’s way has been made possible by the curious relationship of the Religious Right and the Republican Right. These missionaries are the ultimate recruiting tool for the Islamic Right. The Islamic fundamentalists can point to direct evidence of Bush, the Christian Crusader, not Bush the benevolent exporter of freedom. That’s OK with the Christian fundamentalists, who view America as a Christian nation that is directly favored by God in world affairs.

Heflin grew up in the Southern Baptist church, the son of a minister. Baptists were strong supporters of the separation of church and state–until recently. The denomination’s foundational beliefs were trampled in the ’80s and ’90s by a minority who forced it from conservatism to rigid fundamentalism. This transformation was made “through cynical manipulation of the Southern Baptist Convention’s democratic procedures, a no-holds-barred, unethical ruthlessness that used every loophole and ugly smearing of anyone who stood in the way. A self-declared righteous few left Christian behavior far behind, and through fear mongering about ‘liberals’ turned Southern Baptist sentiment ever further toward absolutism.”

When in 2000, the fundamentalist faction changed the Southern Baptist statement of belief, the takeover was complete: Ex-president Jimmy Carter left the denomination and Jerry Falwell joined. In place of the Convention stands a monolithic power structure bent on imposing its version of Christianity–a rigid, exclusive, Old Testament, fire-and-brimstone, fear-and-loathing, un-Christ like Christianity–on more moderate Christians, on the federal government and the rest of the world.

The plans of these Christians are preached in pulpits weekly. Heflin fears, “If we do not pay attention to their manipulation of American democratic processes now that they have gained remarkable power among Republicans, the principles of our democracy will eventually be as distant a memory as the kinder, gentler southern Baptist Convention of my childhood.”

He says we’re a country founded by people fleeing religious persecution, who understood that, when it comes to protecting the rights of religious groups, every group, no matter who is the majority, must be equally protected to preserve “religious freedom.” The framers of the Constitution were so adamantly opposed to the theocratic-style governments of the American colonies that they expressly forbade religious tests for public servants.

Author Frederick Clark explains, “Before 1787, most of the colonies and early states had required pledges of allegiance to Christianity and that one be a Christian of the correct sect to hold office. Part of the struggle toward democracy at the time was the disestablishment of the state churches–the power structures of the local colonial theocracies.”

In the present day, Christian fundamentalists have introduced in Congress the Constitution Restoration Act, sponsored in the Senate by Richard Shelby (R-Ala) and Zell Miller (D-Ga). If backers get their way, Americans will no longer receive the same protections that Washington has insisted that Iraqis have. The act calls for exemption from Supreme Court jurisdiction of all cases in which public servants, including judges, “acknowledge” God as “the source” of law. It would disallow the Supreme Court from referencing any source other than the Constitution or English common law in its decisions. It would retroactively exempt from Supreme Court jurisdiction cases such as that of Roy Moore, a judge who was recently removed from office for his refusal to remove a Ten Commandments monument from a courthouse. A judge who attempted to rule in such cases could be impeached. Who knows what actions a public servant could get away with under the banner of invoking God as the source of law.

Westerners get outraged at the barbarity of calls for the imposition of Islam’s laws called sharia, in which, for example, an adulterous woman is to be stoned. But Heflin says, “Many of the fundamentalists are–really–actively pursuing an America in which a judge who says that adulterous women are to be stoned according to biblical law would be allowed to impose that sentence, not to mention execution for such things as heresy, apostasy, and homosexuality. Although the Constitution Restoration Act will probably disappear like most extremist bills, Heflin believes it is important because it is a “brazen play to further the wishes of an insatiable, power-hungry minority convinced of God’s exclusive blessing.”

Christian Reconstructionist thought is pervasive among fundamentalists of several denominations. The idea is simple: Christians have not only the right but the duty to take the reins of government and establish a secular manifestation of God’s power. It is theirs, they believe, to enforce biblical law on the rest of us, at least the Old Testament kind, not the “turn the other cheek” New Testament variety. They feel they would be stripping away our rights for our own good, for the saving of our souls. To hold that religious pluralism is good, they contend, is to hold that moral relativism is good. They know the Truth, and they know that even moderate Protestants are hell bound, in need of saving. Theirs is a world of absolutes, and it is to them only a matter of our sinfulness that keeps us from seeing those absolutes.

“This would be,” states Heflin, “a mere curiosity if it were not for George Bush’s reliance on the Religious Right for much of his power. They have anointed him as the nation’s Christian leader, who was installed by the Supreme Court because God willed it, even if the American people, in their sinful folly, did not vote according to the Divine Will. Bush passes the only important fundamentalist test: the acceptance of Christ as his ‘personal savior.’ That phrase absolves him of all need to justify his actions. If Bush says God told him so, then God told him so… [The fundamentalists] grant Bush precisely what America fought a revolution to get rid of: the divine right of kings…

“They could deliver votes and systematically take over Republican infrastructure. That’s what the liberal Left needs to do.”

 

Discussion Group Report

Is It Constitutional?

January 2004

By Richard Layton

Sometimes questions arise about the constitutionality of laws. This month the Discussion Group read the U.S. Constitution and discussed it. Below are some of the questions raised and the exact words in the document that pertain to them, followed by brief commentary. You may have your own opinion about what the Constitution means with regard to some of them.

Gun control: Amendment II: “A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Some believe this provision guarantees the right of people to keep and use any arms without any restrictions. Others believe it allows the government to put restrictions on the ownership and use of arms to protect the citizenry from murder and injury. These latter argue that the opening phrase in the provision states that the purpose of the right to bear arms is to provide for a Militia and does not give people the absolute right to own arms for other purposes. The opening paragraph of the Constitution, they point out, says that one of the purposes of the constitution is to “promote the general Welfare.” If restricting the ownership and use of guns helps prevent crime, then this promotes the general Welfare. The former say the framers did not intend to restrict the right to bear arms to use for the Militia. The reference to the Militia is a mere statement that a Militia is necessary, but it was not intended to confine the right. Recently I heard a constitutional scholar say that, at the time of the writing of the Constitution, the term Militia was commonly used to refer to the military.

Search and seizure: Amendment IV: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall be issued, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Commentators have expressed concern that some provisions in the Patriot Act, enacted following 9/11, infringe on people’s constitutional right to privacy. I have heard it contended that the law gives police the right to search a suspect’s house without obtaining a judge’s order and without notifying the suspect that his house has been searched. Previous to the enactment of this act the judge’s order and notification to the suspect were required. So far I know of no one who has actually taken legal action to contest the Act. Its constitutionality can be contested legally only through such action.

Treatment of Prisoners: Amendment V: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger…” Also, Amendment VI. “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed; which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” There is controversy over the detainment of prisoners suspected of terrorist crimes and the detainment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. In the case of some of the former, they were detained for an unusually long time before being informed of the charges and before being allowed attorneys. In the case of the latter, the Bush administration has classified them as “enemy combatants” and apparently intends to hold them indefinitely. Does the constitution allow these treatments? Or is this a question that more properly should be considered as relating to the Geneva Convention?

 

Christianity Without God

~Book Review~

May 2004

This book by Lloyd Geering, Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand, packs a lot of religious history into 146 pages! It is a thoughtful exploration of conventional Christian doctrine that supports modern humanism. It is scholarly but a fast, rewarding read. This quote from page 98 reflects the flavor of the author’s message.

“It can be argued that Christianity without the theistic God is no longer Christianity but humanism. For this reason the word ‘humanism’ is strongly disliked in conservative Christian circles. As the term humanism is used today, it usually does imply non-theism, but it did not do so when it was first used. The term originated during the Renaissance and basically refers to all philosophies and sets of attitudes which acknowledge positive value in the human condition and which concede to humankind the right to be free, to think for itself, and to be responsible for its own destiny.”

–Flo Wineriter

 

 

Discussion Group Report

Can a Humanist be a Political Conservative?

July 2004

By Richard Layton

Roy Speckhart, director of membership programs of the American Humanist Association, says a case can be made that Humanists can’t be political conservatives. He points out that less than 3% of AHA members consider themselves conservative and less than 1% define themselves as libertarian.

The political positions held by the progressive majority come directly from core humanist principles. Political conservatives aren’t merely people who subscribe to one or two conservative positions; they are those who follow conservatism as a general rule. Merriam Webster defines liberal as “favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.” The dictionary definition says conservatism “favors traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.”

Speckhart puts forth the following as probably defining positions of conservatives:

  1. Abortion is wrong and should be outlawed in almost all circumstances in order to protect the sanctity of life.
  2. The United States has been a godly nation since its founding and the government should actively make sure it stays that way.
  3. Homosexuality is unnatural, so there’s no reason to grant gays and lesbians the same rights and benefits as heterosexuals.
  4. What is good for business is also necessarily good for the United States and its people.
  5. Men and women, like other definable groups, have dissimilar aptitudes, which is probably why males are so successful in this society.
  6. Retribution is an acceptable motive for punishment of crime and for becoming involved in global conflict.

While the AHA has issued dozens of position statements that strongly oppose the outlined conservative viewpoints, no solitary position truly bars one from being a humanist. But, Speckhart suggests, “…someone who agrees with all the base conservative statements might do well to consider a different philosophical home–because humanism simply isn’t compatible with such a set of positions. Conservative viewpoints go counter to the principles outlined in Humanist Manifesto III, a document signed in 2003 by leaders of every humanist organization in the United States and most worldwide. This is because humanists base their ideas and actions on the scientific method, compassion, and equality, not dogma and outdated convention.”

Three core principles underlie humanism’s progressive outlook: the scientific method, compassion, and egalitarianism.

Our unflagging dedication to the scientific method is relied upon because experience has proven it is reliable. Because of this approach, humanists tend to reject failed doctrines, simplistic or uselessly abstract concepts of right and wrong and stereotyped or conspiratorial notions of good and evil.

“Humanists,” contends Speckhart, “are often skeptical of unproven claims–frequently exposing falsehoods from get-rich-quick schemes to medical quackery.” They “are also generally skeptical of large concentrations of power, be they religious, governmental, or economic.” They are among the first to raise concerns about government’s suspension of liberties, government secrecy, private profiteering, and similar encroachments. Their willingness to question a wide range of authorities is contrary to those forms of conservatism which side with corporatism.

The second core principle is compassion because benefiting society maximizes individual happiness and raises the potential of humanity. Indeed, for humanists the primary purpose of the scientific method is to pursue compassionate goals, improving the world through their quest for knowledge and using that knowledge to benefit society and the environment. They are almost alone in contemporary society in recognizing that only reason, observation, and experience provide truly reliable tools for realizing compassionate ends. It is completely contrary to the principles of humanism to reject altruism as a legitimate moral force and instead, after the fashion of objectivists and libertarians, embrace a monolithic rational selfishness. Humanists are driven to embrace social policies that are inclusive, spread the benefits of wealth, diffuse social and political empowerment, and promote reasonable levels of self-determination. This is the source of the humanist embrace of democracy and individual, social, and human rights.

The third principle is the conviction that humans are basically equal and that each person should be treated as having inherent worth. Acceptance of group inequality is insupportable through humanist reasoning. Humanists recognize the ethical responsibility of individuals and society to treat each other equally with respect to social, political and economic rights and privileges. This orientation discounts many arguments against gay marriage. The commitment to compassion dictates that discrimination against same-sex commitments isn’t only an unsupported position but is morally wrong. Another example is the humanist view of the role of women in society. Despite the refusal of conservatives to give up the idea that a woman’s place is in the home, science has failed to demonstrate any significant differences in the intellectual aptitudes of men and women.

“It is obvious,” argues Speckhart, “that the core principles of humanism support liberal ideals. So it isn’t surprising that over 90% of humanists support reproductive rights, assisted suicide, and uncensored freedom of speech–an extraordinary level of agreement.” “Nonetheless, humanists must continue to welcome diverse views. Not only is this liberal open-mindedness characteristic of humanism, it is necessary for any group that so relies on disagreement and discourse to further its philosophy.” And there is plenty of room for disagreement on methods for achieving progressive goals.

In the last two years, much more frequently than in years past, the AHA has spoken publicly on social justice issues–and has watched membership numbers rise to a new historic high while reporters and opinion leaders begin to take notice. “If humanists refuse to address difficult subjects,” Speckhart concludes, “the resulting blandness will diminish the movement’s potential–both in terms of numbers and effectiveness.”

 

Building A Positive Image

November 2004

What do we call ourselves? Atheist, Agnostic, Nontheist, Freethinker? What do we want other people to call us? This question has inspired endless discussion, sometimes civil and sometimes downright cantankerous.

The sad fact is, our well-meaning friends have painted themselves-and us-into a negative, exclusionary corner. We are left out when the language of ‘inclusiveness’ uses phrases like “people of all faiths and none,” that only heightens the contrast between us.

We will never break out of the corner if we, too, use language that implies opposition and exclusion. Humanists are convinced that reason, logic, critical thinking and common sense are the tools to problem solving. I suggest that we write and speak about “people of all faiths and convictions,” and urge our friends to do the same. “Conviction” has a positive ring! And it is inclusive. It acknowledges that we share something in common with people of all faiths: our common humanity.

“People of all faiths and convictions” is the basis for positive, inclusive language that humanists and our friends can use to build recognition, freedom, and equality.

–Flo Wineriter

*Based on an article by Molleen Matsumura in the electronic newsletter of the Institute for Humanist Studies.

 

Discussion Group Report

Bush Administration Distorts Science

May 2004

By Richard Layton

“Federal agencies with global reputations for scientific excellence depend upon the objective input of leading scientists and the impartial analysis of scientific evidence to develop effective policies. The Bush Administration, however, has repeatedly suppressed, distorted, or obstructed science to suit political and ideological goals. These actions go far beyond the traditional influence that Presidents are permitted to wield at federal agencies and compromise the integrity of scientific policymaking.”

The above conclusion is made in a comprehensive report, “Politics and Science in the Bush Administration,” which was prepared for Representative Henry A. Waxman by the Committee on Government Reform-Minority Staff of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2003. The report presents findings about the performance of the Administration in presenting scientific information to the public on 20 very important issues that face the country and the world-abstinence-only education, agricultural pollution, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, breast cancer, condoms, drinking water, education policy, environmental health, global warming, HIV-AIDS, lead poisoning, missile defense, oil and gas, prescription drug advertising, reproductive health, stem cells, substance abuse, wetlands, workplace safety, and Yellowstone National Park.

A quite typical handling of scientific information is found in the Administration’s treatment of the subject of global warming. According to the report, despite Bush’s statement when he rejected the Kyoto Protocol that “my Administration’s climate change policy will be science-based,” his Administration has repeatedly manipulated scientific committees and suppressed science in this area. It opposed the re-appointment of a leading U.S. climatologist to the top position on the preeminent international global warming study panel, Dr. Robert Watson. Under his leadership, The International Panel on Climate Change had produced a report predicting an increase of 2.5 to 10.5 degrees Fahrenheit in average global temperatures by 2100 and concluding that “there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.” These conclusions were confirmed by the National Academy of Sciences.

After the release of the 2001 report, ExxonMobil lobbied the Bush administration for Dr. Watson’s ouster. ExxonMobil opposes the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming and gives over a million dollars a year to groups that question the existence of global warming.

The report says, “The Bush Administration has also suppressed scientific evidence on global warming. In September 2002, the section on global warming was removed from an annual report on the state of air pollution. Then in June 2003, the Administration published a supposedly ‘comprehensive’ report on the environment without any information on climate change.”

Politics, not the complexities of science, led to the deletion of the section on global warming. The White House even objected to the reference to a National Academy of Sciences report on the human contribution to global warming. These sections were replaced with a reference to a study funded by the American Petroleum Institute questioning climate change evidence. It even sought to replace the scientifically indisputable statement that “climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment” with a statement about “the complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections among its components.” In the end, EPA officials chose to eliminate the section on global warming entirely.

The report states the Administration has repeatedly manipulated the advisory committee process to advance its political and ideological agenda by appointing unqualified persons with industry ties, appointing unqualified persons with ideological agendas, stacking advisory committees, and opposing qualified experts. It has distorted and suppressed scientific information by including misleading information in presidential communications, presenting incomplete and inaccurate information to Congress, altering web sites, and suppressing agency reports. It has interfered with scientific research by scrutinizing ongoing research, obstructing agency analyses, undermining outcome assessment, and blocking scientific publication. There is not room in a short article like the present one to cite all the considerable evidence to substantiate all the above charges.

The report points out that the President’s right to make federal agencies “should not extend to manipulating scientific research, controlling the advice provided by scientific advisory committees, or distorting scientific information presented to decision makers and the public.” Leading scientific journals have raised worries about the state of scientific independence. Nature has expressed concern that the Administration has made poorly supported decisions “in which scientists would normally play an advisory role.” Scientific American has objected that on issues like global warming and missile defense, the President “has come down against the scientific consensus.” The Administration, Science has written, “invades areas once immune to this kind of manipulation.” And the British journal Lancet warns of “growing evidence of explicit vetting of appointees to influential [scientific] panels on the basis of their political or religious opinions.”

Roger G. Kennedy, former director of the National Park Service told the Los Angeles Times, “Tinkering with scientific information, either striking it from reports or altering it, is becoming a pattern of behavior…It represents the politicizing of a scientific process, which at once manifests a disdain for professional scientists working for our government and a willingness to be less than candid with the American people.”

 

Unearthing the Atheist Roots of Judeo-Christianity

July 2004

I am a former Mormon. I was raised all my life in an active Mormon family, went on a mission and was married in the Idaho Falls Temple and had fully convince myself that it was the ‘true religion’ as is constantly drilled into the Mormon mind. But in my mid-thirties reality came face to face with belief and forced me to be more objective about my life and belief system. My experience since then with other former Mormons has taught me that the point at which a Mormon leaves his religion is probably the point at which the ‘believer’ finally agrees with him or herself to be objective because once over that hump it’s almost certain that leaving is the inevitable result because Mormonism in my experience does not hold up to objective scrutiny.

My leaving Mormonism took an unusual path. A few years prior to leaving I became interested in parts of the Old Testament from a literary perspective. In particular I became interested in what appeared to be repeating patterns of metaphors and word relationships that seemed to have as a basis a strange unidentified paradigm of some sort that seemed unrelated to both Judaism and Christianity. This so intrigued me that I took on the personal challenge of putting my finger on just what exactly was on the minds of these ancient authors when they wove into their writings some of the strange things they wrote. When I eventually left Mormonism some years later for unrelated reasons, soon followed by Christianity, my interest in identifying their underlying paradigm continued. Early on while still a Mormon I realized that I’d be in a better position to piece together what exactly was on their minds if I became acquainted with the original language the text was written in – Hebrew. Once I did the pieces began coming together, not rapidly by any means, but little by little over a period of ten years. One of the key aspects of the strange pattern that seemed to have no explanation in Judeo-Christianity was their consistent use of plant metaphors when writing of what they called mashiyach, in English translated as Messiah. For example:

“And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people..” (Isa 11:10)

“For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground…” (Isa 53:2)

“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.” (Jer 23:5)

That use of plant metaphors as an absolute fundamental aspect of their paradigm and not mere peripheral adornment was realized when I discovered the likely Hebrew meaning of one of the most often repeated names in the Old Testament – God. In Hebrew the word is spelled from right to left with the letters Aleph, Lamed, Hay, Yowd, Mem, and taken at face value are pronounced as elaheem:


At around 600 BC vowel markings in the form of small dots and dashes were introduced to the Hebrew alphabet that forced the pronunciation as eloheem, but prior to the use of vowel markings the above pronunciation is more natural as there is no ‘oh‘ sounding letter in the spelling of the word.

This is an interesting word because the English translation as God has virtually no basis other than tradition. For example, although it’s widely accepted that the above Hebrew word is plural, it is translated as the singular word, God. But if a Hebrew were to read the word for the first time, completely unfamiliar with its theistic use, most likely he or she would think it means ‘oak trees‘. Yes, oak trees! This is because the first three letters spell the Hebrew word elah that is most often translated as ‘oak‘. When the Yowd and Mem letters (making the eem or im sound) are appended to the end of a Hebrew word it makes the word plural, such as cherub and seraph becoming the plural cherubim and seraphim, as well as elah becoming elaheem.

Although it may seem strange for the Hebrews to represent God as oak trees, that it was their intent is supported by a verse near the end of the opening chapter of Genesis where it says:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Substituting what appears to be the Hebrew intent it reads as:

So [oak trees] created man in his own image, in the image of [oak trees] created he him; male and female created he them.

It seems odd to me that the passage as it appears in Genesis implies that the image of God is both male and female when God, according to my Judeo-Christian upbringing, was a male deity. Substituting oak trees only seemed to make the passage more bizarre. However, it began to make sense when I stumbled onto the realization that while most tree species have either male for female flowers on them, requiring both genders in a forest for the species to propagate, the oak tree is one of the few that has both male and female flowers on the same tree. Therefore, the human species is collectively an organism with both male and female members and is therefore reasonably described as in the image and likeness of the oak tree, also possessing both male and female members–a beautiful metaphor in my opinion! Another piece of the puzzle I later discovered that further supported the plant-God relationship was the realization that in Ancient Egypt, where the Hebrews are believed to have lived for a time, it was not uncommon for various sects to worship trees as a deity. For example, the picture below shows an Egyptian worshipping the god Nut represented as a tree.


Although the information I had found was enlightening it was still unclear why the Hebrews placed so much significance on plants. It wasn’t until some years later that it began making sense when I discovered an emerging science called memetics that deals with how information gets spread from person to person. Among the proponents of memetics the virus is generally accepted as a good metaphor for understanding how information spreads through various verbal and nonverbal means, such as books, symbols, lectures, art, social chat, music, body language, etc. While the virus has been the most popular metaphor for talking about memes (units of information), creating books such as Virus of the Mind and Thought Contagion, some have recognized its limitations. For example, Susan Blackmore, one of the recognized gurus of memetics, when speaking of the limitations stated in her book The Meme Machine that “the terminology of memetics is in a mess and needs sorting out.” As I acquainted myself with memetics, having the Hebrew plant metaphor problem tucked away in the back of my mind, it occurred to me one day that the plant and seed are a better cognitive tool for understanding information propagation than is the virus — in fact it’s quite an elegant metaphor. Just as plants are unable to propagate unless they alternate from plant to seed to plant to seed forms, information is unable to propagate unless it alternates from mental to physical to mental to physical forms. For example, the information in my mind that is the subject of this article remains in my mind until I transform it into a physical form such as the words and images on this page. They are like information seeds that remain in this dormant physical form until they come in contact with your mind and are transformed back into a mental form as thoughts in your mind. And once in your mind the information can also go to seed when you write or speak about these concepts with the intent of passing the information on to others. Coming to this realization was like discovering the Rosetta Stone! From that point on the fundamental paradigm of the Hebrew authors that for years both intrigued and eluded me quickly emerged from the fog into a logical and reasonable form, making their writings not only more intelligible but often nothing short of ingenious in form and meaning.

To make a long story short due to the limited space in this summary, the ‘Rosetta Stone’ revealed that the only so called god the original Hebrew authors recognized appears to be what science today describes as the very real yet intangible forces of mind and consciousness. This hypothesis appears to explain such Hebrew names as, Immanuel, a Hebrew phrase literally meaning god within us, similar to the New Testament statement, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” The paradigm also appears to be the basis for the name Israel, Hebrew for “he rules as god.” Evidence suggests that the name Israel was never intended as a reference to the Hebrew people as is generally thought today but to the consciousness that they recognized as living within them collectively through the information they shared. This appears to be the reason why the Hebrew people themselves are often referred to by a name that denotes them as the physical home for the consciousness — the House of Israel. It also appears to be the basis for the often-used name Lord of Hosts consisting of the Hebrew words yahweh mistranslated as Lord but literally means to exist. The second word, hosts, comes from the Hebrew tsabah, reasonably translated as a body or host of people. The name therefore literally means something like, that which exists within a body of people. The paradigm also seems to be behind the Parable of the Sower in the New Testament where words are represented as seeds and appears to be the basis for the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, representing desirable information as wheat and unhealthy information such as fads and especially unhealthy religious concepts as tares (weeds).

What does all this lead to? It appears that to the Hebrew the theist notion of an external god in a distant heaven was anathema and worshipping such a god was in their way of thinking the worst of sins due its destructive influence on any culture. One of my favorite chastisements of the proponents of theism is found among the writings of the author of Isaiah in the first chapter. After verbally raking over the coals the religious leaders of his day and their vain assemblies and meaningless religious ceremonies he writes:

“Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from my sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.”

A similar chastisement I also like is found in the 58th chapter where their ceremonial fast days are condemned, concluding with:

“Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke?” Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him?”

Perhaps these long deceased authors possessed a wisdom the world in general lacks today, as history is full of examples of theism’s negative contribution to (and often the cause of) most conflicts, oppression and abuses in the world.

While this summary can only provide a sketchy introduction to the subject, I presented a more complete overview to the Humanists of Utah on June 10, 2004, with specifics on how information propagates like plants, including a number of examples of Hebrew words and word relationships. A subset of the same information was presented previously to the Utah chapter of the American Atheists in the Fall of 2003. For more information on the subject the reader is invited to visit my website (which at the time of the writing of this summary is under development).

–Jeffery Ricks

 

 

Discussion Group Report

Are Our Democratic Ideal Being Eroded?

June 2004

By Richard Layton

Fred Edwords’ answer to the question in the title of this article is yes. In a piece in The Humanist, March/April 2004, he shows how our basic democratic ideals were set forth eloquently by Pericles in a funeral oration in Athens in 431 BCE during the Peloponnesian War.

There were three democratic concepts–equal justice under the law, political inclusiveness, and public service as a civic duty. And he espouses respect for the rule of law, a concern for victims, and a community conscience. He further asserts that quality of life is important enough that it should be fostered by government, commercial trade and society. He offered a bold affirmation of the open society with a focus on freedom of access for foreigners and an absence of government (especially military) secrecy and disinformation. He expressed the ancient Greek commitment to reason, unfettered freedom of inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge.

Athens, of course, failed in many ways to live up to such noble sentiments. Nevertheless even the level of democracy attained was highly unusual for the time. And such a clear statement of the ideals and aspirations wasn’t only unique but powerful enough in its influence to transcend centuries and continents to become the basis for the proliferation of democratic ideals in our time.

What does a comparison between the Greek democratic ideal and the current American reality show? First, what are the opportunities for citizens of ordinary means to fulfill the civic duty of public service? The merging of money and politics in America has made it next to impossible for all but a few to run for significant public office. Furthermore, the mainstream media’s focus on celebrity journalism, and away from issues affecting the community, has generated widespread political apathy. Although there has been progress in the area of social tolerance for individual freedom of expression, it continues to be resisted by the forces of tradition and faith, both inside government and out. Respect for the rule of law has been undermined by the criminalization of a number of harmless or minor activities. Draconian “three strikes and you’re out” sentencing laws has placed millions of Americans in prison. As for the quality of life, it has been reduced to a trivial pursuit of consumption.

The federal government has turned its back on the ideal of the open society and embraced secrecy. Let’s just compare the application of the democratic ideal to the present administration in the White House, comparing its realities to just three Periclean principles: the open society, individual freedom and the triad of reason, inquiry, and knowledge. Immediately after George W. Bush assumed the presidency, federal agencies were directed to freeze more than 300 of President Bill Clinton’s pending regulations until they could be reviewed. This is a common practice of new presidents, but unlike with other presidents, this review process, according to U.S. News and World Report, December 22, 2003, “expressly precluded input from average citizens.” Three months later the White House notified federal officials that they could no longer make information publicly available about federal government spending on information technology. Fees for government documents skyrocketed “to preserve the confidentiality of the deliberations that led to the president’s budget decisions.” U.S. News reports that in May 2002 Dick Cheney’s energy task force called for an increase in gas and oil drilling, including on public land. Activist organizations sought access to the task force’s records, expressing a suspicion that lobbyists from energy companies had unduly influenced the process. The organizations filed suit and won an order from a federal judge that the government produce the records. But, arguing the separation of powers, the Bush administration has appealed the case to the Supreme Court. After 9/11, government curtailment of the free flow of information increased dramatically until today it is difficult to secure details on many federal programs, the specifics of certain federal civil and criminal court cases being pursued by the justice department, and much of the business and consumer information that private entities must report. Large numbers of documents previously available under the Freedom of Information Act have been declared secret or returned to a former classified status, and the administration is even seeking a narrowing of the act itself. The overall impact has been particularly strong on environmental groups. They have found it more and more difficult to learn about not only environmental effects of government activities but also those being carried out by businesses which must report to governmental agencies. The party line is that information on the nation’s infrastructure would be valuable to terrorists and therefore must be hidden.

The free flow of information is also being affected by the administration’s religious and social doctrines. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) was pressured to remove the findings of a study from its website that contradicts the fundamentalist myth that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. The NIH and Centers for Disease Control have also removed fact sheets on condoms and a sex education curriculum from their websites, replacing them with information on condom failure rates.

Related to the concept of an open society, civil liberties have fallen on hard times, sacrificed to the fear manufactured by the promoters of the war on terror. The Patriot Act dramatically increases the power of the state; and, worse, the public doesn’t know the extent of civil liberties violations occurring under the act. It has secrecy and gag orders written into it, making it difficult to learn just how it is being used and against whom. Furthermore, the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2004 was quietly signed into law when the world was watching a newly captured Saddam Hussein being checked for lice. This expansion of the Patriot Act gave the FBI the power to check the financial records of any citizen, even if that citizen isn’t suspected of involvement in terror or other crimes. The FBI doesn’t need to go before a judge or show “probable cause.” By using a number of stealth tactics to get the Act passed, the principles of a closed society were used to jeopardize the privacy rights of citizens–to remove protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. There is not enough room here to chronicle a number of other ways in which the police powers of the state have been augmented.

Why so vigorous a rejection of democratic ideals? A desire by a privileged or opportunistic few to consolidate money and power in their hands? Or a desire to make the world better?

Can the driving force be also a misguided ideology? This is the thesis that runs through Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill. This book recounts the struggle to apply the ideals of reason, inquiry and knowledge to the Bush-Cheney administration–but generally met a brick wall of foregone conclusions drawn from political ideology.

A problem was the way loyalty was defined in the inquiry process in the administration. O’Neill followed a core principle of inquiry: learning all the facts you can and then “telling someone what you really think and feel–your best estimation of the truth instead of what they want to hear.” The White House relied on “loyalty to a person and what they say and do.” Reasoned analysis was often taken as disloyalty.

And then there was Bush’s lack of engagement in the inquiry process. Christine Todd Whitman, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said she had never heard Bush “analyze a complex issue, parse opposing positions, and settle on a judicious path. In fact no one–inside or outside the government, here or across the globe–had heard him do that to any significant degree.” Bush also didn’t read newspaper reports or newspapers. As a result, cabinet meetings and other important gatherings of advisers became carefully scripted events in which Bush rarely asked questions. When she began outlining in a meeting the compelling scientific evidence on climate change behind the Kyoto Protocol, Bush said, “Christie, I’ve already made my decision.” Then he read to her portions of a previously written official letter declaring the administration’s sudden opposition to Kyoto and a reversal of his own campaign promise to regulate the carbon dioxide emissions of U.S. power plants.

Whitman and O’Neill saw the pivotal, behind-the scenes role played by Cheney. His central precept was that first priority be given to energy production, which necessitated protecting coal and lifting energy regulations regarded as burdensome. There was a tight circle of neoconservative advisers around the president promoting an agenda involving a foreign policy of pax Americana, a domestic policy of deregulation, and a social policy of conservative religion.

Official consideration of a war on Iraq began in a meeting of the National Security Council on January 30, 2001, only ten days after Bush assumed the presidency. Bush at that meeting gave all the major players specific assignments for gathering more information or drawing plans. All of this together with the eventual invasion of Iraq demonstrates the power of doctrine to shut out a free exchange of ideas. O’Neill experienced this phenomenon when it came to the budget. As secretary of the treasury he inherited from Clinton a possible surplus of 5.6 trillion dollars over the next ten years. He had hoped to use some of this money to rescue social security. But he watched that surplus disappear in two years.

The costs of abandoning the Periclean ideal are indeed dear. And those affected aren’t only the citizens of a society incrementally letting go of its democratic principles but sometimes the leaders as well, who can suffer failures that usher in their own loss of power. Also, history shows that less-than-democratic societies are more inclined to make war on others. They spread the suffering to other societies. Washington Post Correspondent Pamela Constable writes that what legal protections were enjoyed by Iraqi women over the last four decades–such as prohibitions of marriage below age 18, arbitrary divorce, and male favoritism in child custody and property inheritance disputes–have dissipated as the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council voted to wipe them out.

“Democratic values,” concludes Edwords, “…are a global, not just a national issue. This is why it is imperative in this dawning millennium that we reassert the democratic ideal. Born in the ancient world, revitalized in the Renaissance, nurtured by the Enlightenment, and matured in today’s international age, democracy remains the best hope for humanity.”

 

Update: The ACLU in Utah

February 2004

Dani Eyre, director of the Utah Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, addressed the January meeting of Humanists of Utah.Eyre made several points but they all supported her central thesis that the Bill of Rights is the ACLU’s only real client. She noted that the Utah Chapter has several rather unique characteristics that distinguish it from other ACLU chapters. Primarily it is the fact that many of the local chapter’s issue are directed towards separation of church and state. This is a result of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being headquartered in Salt Lake City and having such a wide-spread financial and political base. Generally, the ACLU spends more time fighting for religious freedom than in opposing religious bullying. She gave a couple of examples where the ACLU has defended the LDS church in other states in the matters of proselytizing and in stopping forced prayers (Southern Baptist) in Texas high schools.

Another thing about this ACLU chapter is that it gets considerably more press coverage than other chapters nationwide. Ms. Eyre specifically said that coverage in the two major Salt Lake based newspapers is generally fair and accurate. She surprised the group a little by saying that she considered the writing in the Deseret Morning News to be generally higher quality that the Salt Lake Tribune. However, she evened the playing field by noting that News headlines were often provocative in nature without really having any substantive connection to the content of the article.

Eyre also pointed out that most of the ACLU cases never come to trial. They prefer to handle cases through negotiation rather than litigation. Often they need to only explain their issues to groups or people and the desired changes are effected without a costly court battle.

Eyre noted that she is personally generally satisfied with Mayor Rocky Anderson although she believes he erred in the Main Street Plaza case. She also expressed concern over dangers to basic Bill of Rights issues that she perceives the Patriot Act is causing.

–Wayne Wilson

 

 

About Religion

December 2004

Early in November I was invited by the Three R’s Project to participate in a panel discussion about religions for a Jordan School District teachers conference. In addition to my representing humanism, there were six other panelists representing Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Mormonism. Each panelist was asked to present the highlights of their religious beliefs and practices. I was surprised when the spokesperson for Judaism said after my presentation, “Every time I hear Flo speak I think humanism sounds like Judasim without rituals!”

At the conclusion of the seven formal presentations each panelist was asked to respond to questions from the moderator. One of the most interesting requests she made was, “describe how Utah would be if 70% of the population were members of your conviction.” For the first time in my humanist experience I had the chance to visualize what a dramatic difference society would be if humanism was the dominant culture.

I want to explore this fantasy with you at our December Holiday Season Social. Think about the challenge and let us create a rewarding delusion together December 9th.

Here is the script of my conference presentation.

Thank you for this opportunity to discuss and endorse teaching about religions in public schools. Some people are still opposed to this for a variety of reasons. In the humanist community which I represent here today there is strong disagreement as well. Many of our local and national members and officers are divided on the question. Humanists fear that teaching about religions in the public classroom will lead to evangelizing for the particular religion of the teacher.

I don’t share their fears. I recognize it is possible but I am confident that with adequate training and your professional teaching skills, your students will gain a greater understanding of the various religious beliefs and a much deeper knowledge of the different ways people respond to the basic questions of life:

  • From whence we came,
  • Why we are here,
  • What happens when we die.

Understanding that the human race has found a variety of answers to these questions will eventually result in a more tolerant, acceptable community. Hopefully your students will become adults who can discuss religious difference in a civil manner recognizing that religion is a very personal matter and that we don’t need to agree on the answers to religious questions to be cooperative friends and neighbors.

I was pleased this past week when President Bush at his election victory press conference, responding to a reporter’s question regarding the influence of the religious right, said, in very strong language, that Americans of all faiths, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Theists, Agnostics, and Atheists, are all good citizens, that the believer and the non-believer, the religious and the non-religious all enjoy equality in this nation.

That’s why I support the program of the Three R’s Project and why I appreciate being a humanist member of their advisory council.

Humanism officially represents a very small minority of the U.S. population, numbering only about ten-thousand members. Philosophically we probably speak for ten times that number, perhaps around one-hundred thousand people. In the classrooms of our nation there very few children from humanist homes but hopefully those numbers will change significantly when students are made aware that humanism is an acceptable alternative to orthodox religions.

Regarding the three basic questions about life that religions ponder here are the humanist answers:

  • We believe life in general began through a natural process of the universe.
  • Our individual lives began when a male sperm and female ovum united.
  • Each person determines the purpose of their life.
  • Our individual life ceases at death.

Our philosophy of life is based on confidence that each person has the capacity for goodness, even greatness, that everyone can learn to think critically and reasonably well, that the chaos and uncertainty are acceptable and we learn to deal with life’s problems by the consequences of our actions in the various situations of living.

We recognize that life is sometimes unfair, that nature is not concerned with our individual destiny, that we receive rewards and punishments for our actions while we are alive, not after we die.

Socially and politically we are progressives. We believe we have an individual responsibility for the welfare of the community. We encourage sharing equitably the burdens and the rewards of community building, help ensure justice, equality, and a good life for everyone. The roots of humanism are connected to the European Enlightenment period that sought an end to religious authoritarianism and promoted critical thinking to solve human problems. The philosopher Immanuel Kant coined the battle cry of the Enlightenment: “Dare to use your own intelligence!”

We believe this nation was founded on the Enlightenment principles of individual rights, worth, and responsibilities and we cite the 6th article of the U.S. Constitution to substantiate this assertion. It reads: “….no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

While humanism does not profess a belief in supernatural powers nor practice rituals seeking non-human intervention in life, we do consider ourselves “religious beings” with a strong conviction that cooperatively we can solve the problems of existence.

–Flo Wineriter