2005

 

Impact of Women

November 2005

25 years at radio station KRCL featuring women of history, plus music by women, Babs De Lay captivated the October audience with her wry humor and insight of how women have impacted humankind.

Introduction

De Lay began with, “How many women are in the world today? 3.1 billion women, according to 2003 statistics. How many generations of humans have we had on earth? Let’s say just ten although there have been more. That would make 60 billion people with 30 billion women with history.”

As an illustration of irony about gender inequity, De Lay cited a Greek play by Aristophanes named “Lysistrata” where the women of Athens, led by Lysistrata, devised a plan to stop the Peloponnesian War which was in its twenty-first year. Every wife and mistress was to refuse all sexual favors until the men came to terms of peace. As a precautionary measure, they also seized the Acropolis where the State treasure is kept. The result was the war ended.

The irony, De Lay asked? The play was written by a man, and performed only by men for both genders.

Centuries later we still have war, but women are not publicly withholding sex. Instead, De Lay said emphatically, they are TOLD publicly to not have sex or to hide their sex or be killed for it–in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Thailand, China, and many other countries. Women are dying today because…they are women.

Stories of Great Women

  1. The Nobel Peace prize was inspired by a woman. Alfred Nobel, for whom the prize was named, had felt guilty about inventing the blasting cap for dynamite in the 1800’s. Having been interested in peace for years, Nobel’s friend, Baroness Bertha Von Suttner, drew his attention to the international movement against war.

    As a result, he wrote to Bertha in January 1893 that he planned to establish a prize to be awarded to “him or her who would have brought about the greatest step toward advancing the pacification of Europe.” In 1905, she was the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. To date, only nine women have won the prize.

  2. Louise Hay was a metaphysical healer who began her work decades ago when the AIDS plague hit the United States. Her work involved mind over matter.
  3. Mother Teresa “saw Christ in every human being” and whose life’s work was respect for the individual and her worth and dignity, for example, the abandoned lepers.
  4. A vital, critical organization, the American Red Cross, was founded by another well-known woman, Clara Barton.
  5. Everyone has heard of Amelia Earhart, a pioneer in a male world yet De Lay asked who has heard of Women Airforce Service Pilots, another WASP acronym? Because during World War II so few men were available, women were needed to fly new planes from manufacturing factories to military bases. Thus, 25,000 women applied, 1,830 were accepted, and of those, 1,074 earned their Silver Wings.

    In two years, these women flew 60 million miles in every type aircraft at the Army Air Force arsenal and for every type mission a male pilot flew except combat. In addition, they paid their own way for training and for their return trip. If a woman was killed in her plane, the government did not pay for her body to be shipped back or for her funeral; 38 women died while in service.

    These WASPS were deactivated in 1944 without any government benefits, their records were sealed as secret or classified for 30 years, and they were denied “Veteran Status” for 35 years. They could only be buried at Arlington National Cemetery as “Enlisted” and not with “Officers Honors”.

    A personal friend of De Lay’s, Bill Nicholson, whose mother Alberta Hunt Nicholson was a Utah WASP, is part of Hill Air Force Military Museum’s memorabilia. Bill’s mother is an exemplary local example of courage and sacrifice.

  6. A contemporary woman of courage, Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in April of 2004 in Iraq, is actively protesting against the Iraqi War.
  7. Ofra Haza, one of De Lay’s favorite singers, represented Israel well during peace and war with her fusion of Yemenite folk and ’80s beat. The ninth child of poor immigrants, a star who made it from the back streets of South Tel Aviv to Hollywood, she died at 41 of AIDS. She could have been a poster girl for women with AIDS, but she refused to tell the world.
    In 2004, forty million people in the world were living with HIV or AIDS, and three million died from AIDS in 2004. Women are the largest growing community of people infected with HIV in the world. Why, asked De Lay? Because women are raped.
  8. Tori Amos was one of the first celebrities to go public about her rape when she released Me & A Gun on her Little Earthquakes CD in 1991. Amos in 1994 reached out to her label for help, Atlantic Records, who provided seed money for creation of the nation’s only toll-free hotline for survivors of sexual assault. Five years and more than 280,000 crisis calls later, Amos continues in this work.

Women in Politics

De Lay continued with asking how many countries are in the world, and how many of those countries have women leaders. Almanacs estimate between 189 to 194 countries. Of those, only nine countries have women heads of state, not counting figureheads like Queen Elizabeth. The countries are Sri Lanka, Ireland, Latvia, New Zealand, Finland, the Phillipines, Bangladesh, Mozambique, and Sao Tome/Principe.

De Lay then asked a provocative question: Do you think it might make a difference if there were more women running the world, since almost half of all humans are women?

Fight for the Right to Vote

In 1897 Millicent Fawcett founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage in England. Thinking violence would cause men to think women could not be trusted to vote, her plan was to exercise patience and logical arguments. One argument was that since women were on school boards, paid taxes, and managed large estates that employed gardeners, workmen and laborers who could vote, it was unjust they could not vote regardless of their wealth.

However, Fawcett’s method was making little progress. Most men in Parliament believed women simply could not understand how Parliament worked and therefore should not take part in the electoral process.

This left many women angry which included Emily Pankhurst and daughters Christabel and Sylvia who formed the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903. This Union, known as the Suffragettes, used peaceful means at first. It was only in 1905 that they created a stir when Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney interrupted a political meeting in Manchester to ask two Liberal politicians, Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey, if they believed women should have the right to vote. Neither man replied. The two women then raised a banner that said, “Votes for Women” and demanded answers to their questions.

Pankhurst and Kenney were thrown out of the meeting and arrested for obstruction and assault on a police officer. They refused to pay the fine, preferring prison to emphasize the injustice of the system. Thereafter women interrupted many meetings, and were insulted and violently thrown out.

Suffragettes were glad to go to prison and on hunger strikes. The government was concerned they might die in prison, thus giving martyrs to the movement. So prison governors were ordered to force-feed Suffragettes but this caused a public outcry as forced feeding was used for lunatics, not educated women.

As a result, the government of Asquith responded with the Cat and Mouse Act where authorities would allow the Suffragettes to go on a hunger strike and not force-feed them until they were very weak–and then were released. Dying out of prison would not embarrass the government.

But they did not die. After regaining strength, they were re-arrested for trivial reasons and the process was repeated. This, from the government’s point of view, was an effective weapon against the Suffragettes.

The Suffragettes became more extreme. Their most famous feat was at the June 1913 derby when Emily Wilding Davis threw herself under the King’s horse. Killed, she became the first Suffragettes’ martyr. For a dramatic look at these courageous women, De Lay recommended HBO film “Iron Jawed Angels.” “It should make you want to go out and vote in every single election!” she said.

De Lay concluded with what she has learned from women in history.

  1. Women are feelers. They sense what is wrong and fix it if they can.
  2. Women are motivated by compassion…for their families, friends, and communities.
  3. Through compassion, women are more tolerant than men. To affect change they are often patient and peaceful in their actions.

–Sarah Smith

Why Intelligent Design Fails

October 2005

To a large audience of about seventy-one, Anya Plutynski PhD spoke about “Why Intelligent Design Fails.” Remarking this would be the only joke in her presentation, she said, “After George Bush’s recent comments to the press concerning the teaching of intelligent design, no one can deny that one of the values most promoted by the current administration is diversity.”

Of course, true democracy means having freedom to express and debate a diversity of opinions in public forums like the media, senate floor, coffeehouse, or church. However, Plutynski said, a science class is not a public forum, just as medicine, biology, or engineering is not. The reason is that these fields operate under the scientific method–that of acquiring knowledge scientifically by formulating a question, collecting data through observation and experiment, and then testing a hypothetical answer.

In other words, scientists look to experience and do what works. Thus, not every conceivable hypothesis is given equal hearing by the scientific community, and not every theory deserves equal time in the classroom. If our high school students are to become educated citizens and part of the international scientific community to be able to compete in a global market, they need a foundation in those scientific theories that have the strongest empirical support. Evolution is such a theory. Intelligent design is not.

Plutynski pointed out five arguments that proponents of intelligent design give against evolutionists.

The first is the demarcation argument, or what she called, “T’ain’t science!” This argument holds there are conditions for something to count as a science, and evolution fails to meet these conditions.

Several problems exist with this argument. To begin, no one has been able to agree what these conditions are. Every time a demarcation criterion has been proposed, it has had various logical flaws or empirical consequences that no one is willing to accept. It turns out that the criteria are either too permissive or too restrictive so that we end up either including astrology or excluding Newton’s physics.

Philosophers of science have known this for about seventy-five years. However, just because we cannot draw a hard and fast line between science and pseudoscience doesn’t mean there are not many identifying marks of successful scientific research programs or there are no clues when something is bogus.

A successful theory has to inspire a research program. In other words, it has to suggest new experiments or new empirical ways of investigating the world. A good scientific theory never will suggest that the enterprise of inquiry should stop, or that our understanding of how the world works must end at some specified juncture.

A successful theory will also make connections between, systematize, or unify disparate phenomena in some domain. For example, Newton’s theory unified celestial and terrestrial mechanics; he showed that the same laws account for the motions of the planets and the motions of apples here on earth.

Evolution has done both of these things. Intelligent design has not.

The second argument is one of personal incredulity that goes something like this–I don’t understand how it works, and this seems impossible to me; therefore, it is impossible. One readily sees serious logical flaws with this argument.

On the other hand, addressing this argument is one of the most difficult challenges for evolutionists because this forces evolutionary biologists to make accessible to the public the most complex details of their science in what is often just a sound byte. As a result, biologists have been forced to become adept at making complex facts look simpler than they are. Thus, a byproduct of such reductive reporting is people often conclude that evolutionary biology is not a very sophisticated science–a grave mistake.

The third argument is what Plutynski called “gee whiz mathematics,” which goes something like this: There are so many gazillion bits of information in the universe that it’is mathematically impossible that these bits of information could have arisen from random and/or natural processes. Therefore, evolution is impossible.

Similar to the second argument, this one appeals to more sophisticated concepts that few people understand, and so it sounds more compelling. However, this argument is also flawed. First, there is no agreement on a natural measure of information. In other words, it is not clear how we ought to count up the bits. Second, this argument is often just reducible to arguments either from ignorance or incredulity, cloaked in vague “gee-whiz mathematics.”

The fourth is what Plutynski called the “incompleteness argument” or the “Look, you can’t explain this!” argument where one looks for controversy, gap, or incompleteness in some science, and then concludes that that science is not very good. The problem here is every science is incomplete, and any good active research program will involve controversy. Scientists have not finished explaining everything; if they claim otherwise, we should be suspicious of their claim to doing science.

The last argument is founded on a moral concern, which Plutynski believes is the basis for much of the controversy about evolution. Here opponents say evolutionists deny God’s power and influence in the world. Therefore, teaching our children evolutionary biology will cause them to lose respect for the values of church and family that could result in their eliminating motivation for behaving morally.

Plutynski cited three reasons why so many Americans are in favor of teaching intelligent design. First is ignorance. Most Americans do not understand Darwin’s theory and what natural selection is. Hence, the incredulity argument.

Second, many Americans believe that it is more “democratic” to teach a variety of theories. Yet the sciences are not, strictly speaking, a public forum where any and all opinions on any question should be heard. Just as we should not teach that we live in an earth-centered universe in the name of diversity, so too we should not teach intelligent design. Several hundred years of successful research has established the success of a sun-centered cosmology. Likewise, over 100 years of research has supported Darwin’s theory.

Third, many Americans fear that teaching Darwin’s theory is morally corrupting; Darwin’s views have been identified with moral relativism and nihilism. By placing humans among the other animals, many feel that Darwin has stolen God’s agency in nature, and thereby nullified morality and human dignity. This seems to be the greatest perceived threat of Darwin’s theory: what are our grounds of moral obligation if we are but animals? What is to prevent us from acting as animals?

Accepting Darwin’s theory does not suggest moral nihilism, the embrace of atheism, or the adherence to any particular political or social philosophy. A little attention to history shows that Darwin’s theory has been used to support a range of moral and political philosophies from Herbert Spencer to Carnegie, from Proudhon to Kropotkin.

In conclusion, Plutynski believes that evolution should, and intelligent design should not, be taught in the science classroom. If we want our children to become scientifically literate citizens, and if we wish them to compete in the global market, they need to be aware of the main principles of and evidence for evolution. If students wish to learn about intelligent design, philosophy classes or courses in the history of religion or of science would be the appropriate place.

–Sarah Smith

Suggested Reading

Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism, edited by Matt Young and Taner Edis

Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism, by Philip Kitcher.

Web Site of the Month

Intelligent Design?

Member Recommended Web Sites

September 2005

Both sides of the arguement from proponents in the current Intelligent Design controversy:.

Visit Intelligent Design?


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

October 2005

This month’s featured site is, well, this site. Over the years various styles have been used and tried as HumanistsofUtah.org has developed. For several years I have wished for a consistent design that is easy to navigate and useful. To that end I have added a Google search tool and a navigation footer to every page.

Reworking older material has been a rewarding experience. There is a wealth of information from throughout the history of Humanists of Utah. I encourage you to browse the site.

This July I added a counter that documents visits to the site. We are averaging nearly 300 visits per day. Over 90% of these are new visitors. Most people only look at one or two pages. I thought that you might be interested to see a graphical representation of where our visitors come from. Here is a live map from the hit counter documenting our most recent 200 guests. If you drag your mouse over the points, you will see where the visitor came from.

–Wayne Wilson



Geo-location by CounterCentral web site hit counter – Map by Green-Acres (Isere property) : Loading Map …

World

Geo-locate your visitors with www.countercentral.com [ server 1 ]
Location of last 200 visitors to www.humanistsofutah.org



And now a map that shows cumulative statistics of visitors.

Geo-location by CounterCentral hit tracker – Map by Green-Acres : Loading Map …

Geo-locate your visitors with www.countercentral.com [ server 1.0 ]



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


Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

November 2005

This month’s featured site is, the James Randi Educational Foundation, an “educational resource on the paranormal, pseudoscientific, and the supernatural.” This site is probably most famous for its Million Dollar Challenge. The money is in escrow and available to anyone who can prove, in a controlled setting, that they have “super” powers.

James Randi Educational Foundation

–Wayne Wilson


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

Web Site of the Month

TomPaine.com

Member Recommended Web Sites

May 2005

Tom Paine dot com is for people who want to keep in touch with the progressive community but don’t have time to surf dozens of websites.

Read opinions and/or post your own ideas. All things progressive are at:

Tom Paine


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Web Site of the Month

Secular Web

Member Recommended Web Sites

March 2005

One of my favorite websites is Common Dreams. It is the place I go to get my in-depth news on any issue I need clarification on. It has links to at least 500 news and commentary sources such as newspapers around the world, news services, periodicals, radio shows and television news services. It also has links to contemporary columnists and social commentators such as Jimmy Breslin, Tom Hayden, Jim Hightower, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy and a hundred more.

–Bob Mayhew

Common Dreams


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Web Site of the Month

Theocracy Watch

Member Recommended Web Sites

June 2005

The Rise of the Religious Right in the Republican Party is documented in great detail. Richard Garrard recommends Theocracy Watch

Theocracy Watch


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Web Site of the Month

Utah Policy

Member Recommended Web Sites

July 2005

If you are looking for a useful and valuable site that you can check daily to stay up to date on Utah politics, complete with a list of leader and state news sources, Flo Wineriter recommends Utah Policy


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Web Site of the Month

Design Science Revolution

Member Recommended Web Sites

January 2005

Flo, in his presentation at our December meeting, asked what the world would be like if humanists were the majority. Richard Garrard found a website that offers some intriguing answers:
The Design Science Revolution Today: Solutions to the challenges facing humanity

Design Science Revolution


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Web Site of the Month

Secular Web

Member Recommended Web Sites

February 2005

One of the best freethought resources on the internet is the Secular Web. Be prepared to spend a while browsing this extensive collection of articles, quotes, ideas, book reviews, etc. The Secular Web is hosted by the Internet Infidels and is dedicated to “naturalism.

Secular Web


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

December 2005

This month’s featured site is recommended by Flo Wineriter. Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia/dictionary that anyone can edit. Check it for definitions, histories, etc. And if you have something to add, you can!

Wikipedia


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Web Site of the Month

The Unfeeling President

Member Recommended Web Sites

August 2005

Bob Lane recommends an essay by E. L. Doctrow as an “antidote” to The Evil Empire.

Visit The Unfeeling President


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Web Site of the Month

MoveOn.org

Member Recommended Web Sites

April 2005

Grass Roots politics is arguably one of the most important bases of the Great American Experiment.

Move On dot Org was first started by activists opposed to the Iraqi war. Today it continues as a resource fighting for populist themes and causes.

MoveOn.org


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Understanding Polygamy

July 2005

The polygamous Kingston family professes that their genealogy line traces back to Jesus Christ, and so they possess holy blood. Therefore, to keep the bloodline “pure,” the Kingstons intermarry–half-brothers and sisters, uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews, and so forth. Consequently, genetic diseases and mutations have inevitably sprouted in many polygamous groups having this belief. Various congenital and genital defects, dwarfism, fused limbs, fingernails lacking, mental illness and mental retardation, spina bifida, and microcephalous are some of the diseases and mutations.

Six brothers of the Kingston group have over 600 children among them, with the champion having sired 120.

Such was some of the material that journalist, researcher, and author Andrea Moore-Emmett presented in June’s meeting. In addition to her book God’s Brothel, her stories about polygamy have appeared in Salt Lake City Weekly. She also was researcher for “Inside Polygamy,” a two-hour documentary that was aired on A&E and BBC.

In her speech was a brief overview of present-day polygamy in America which includes a host of renegade spilt-offs from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as well as a few fundamentalist Christian groups. One of them, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in the border twin cities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, openly practices polygamy with the full awareness of state authorities, yet this community continues to grow. The FLDS Church recently built and populated a large settlement near Eldorado, Texas, and purchased two tracts of land outside Mancos.

Many large FLDS families depend on welfare and food stamps to subsist. Multiple wives present themselves to social workers as single mothers while the patriarchs hide, smugly taking delight in “bleeding the beast,” their term for defrauding the hated government.

Polygamy is perpetuated one generation after the next in Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, California and elsewhere. The number of polygamists in North America, estimated at 50,000 or more, is doubling every decade. Polygamy is often subsidized through federal and state handouts, and many polygamists engage in tax evasion, welfare fraud, and even money laundering. Men are not required to support their families so wives and children survive with welfare benefits, food stamps, WIC, and Medicaid. Scrounging for food in dumpsters and garbage cans is not unusual.

Required by doctrine in many of the fundamentalist groups to bear one child per year, often without proper prenatal care, women live in a state of chronic pregnancy, their lives devoted to caring for husband and children; girls must drop out of school at a young age while boys in some instances may complete high school and college.

Groups that espouse religious freedom, including the American Civil Liberties Union, defend polygamy as an act among consenting adults and a victimless crime. However, Moore-Emmett contends that incest, statutory rape, torture, physical abuse, forced marriages, and trafficking of girls is rampant.

The plight of women and children growing up in a polygamous patriarchal system that Moore-Emmett described defiles intelligent reasoning. Often succumbing to the power of “groupthink” where brainwashing results in total acceptance of the prevailing belief system, women learn to endure physical abuse, poverty, and emotional pain of seeing their husbands have sex with other women. Groupthink is similar to Jim Jones’s brainwashing where his followers drank the poisoned Kool-Aid in 1978.

Rather than polygamy being about religion, Moore-Emmett believes that many polygamous marriages are about sex and power. In her book God’s Brothel is a collection of stories about eighteen women’s journeys away from polygamy into freedom where life is still difficult but it is their own. These are the women of Tapestry Against Polygamy, a grass-roots endeavor whose function is to assist women to leave their lives of oppression and to begin new lives in which they make their own choices. Because of the doctrine of “blood atonement killings” (death for one’s sins), several of these women live in hiding and fear for their lives and the lives of their children.

Her book also exposes some of the ineffectual attempts by the Department of Children’s Services and the District Attorney’s office to protect the children of polygamous marriage from physical and sexual violence. Moore-Emmett states that “The state legislature is consistently 90% Mormon…and several polygamist men serve in local government positions, including as mayors…and councilmen” (p. 31). Asserting that “the attitude between Mormons and Mormon fundamentalist polygamists is that of kissing cousins with more similarities than differences” (p. 30), Moore-Emmett suggests that the heavily Mormon Utah government is unduly tolerant of polygamy and reluctant to acknowledge the abuses of many polygamous families. Although the official stance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is against polygamy, several of the women’s stories reveal that LDS leaders dismiss the deviant sects and blame the women who come to them for help.

It is Moore-Emmett’s belief that the LDS Church who started polygamy in this country should take responsibility and provide financial aid and other resources for those polygamous families who have been abused. For the time being, Tapestry Against Polygamy is the only group that actively helps polygamous women escape their abusive and oppressive lives. TAP has been in such dire straits that director Vicky Prunty has occasionally resorted to selling her own plasma to obtain enough funds to help women escape polygamy.

Through her book, public speaking, and other activities, Moore-Emmett is a voice that is bringing awareness to the public of the plight of many polygamous families and helping the abused see that there is hope outside their imprisoned lives.

–Sarah Smith

Thanks!

~Letter to the Editor~

October 2005

I want to extend my thanks to our board for their timely and valuable comments in the September issue of the Utah Humanist re: “Intelligent Design.” I hope that the Utah educational community and officials will show the same concern regarding the importance of science education and the separation of church and state. I hope that Mr. Buttars will open his eyes to the fact that there are already ample numbers of seminaries adjacent to Utah schools that teach his “divine design” concept.

–Richard Garrard

Thank You!

~Letter to the Editor~

July 2005

I just want to express my appreciation for three long-time stalwarts of our chapter. I don’t know where our chapter would be without them.

Flo Wineriter was our president for many years and continues as a board member, Pastoral Counselor, arranger of programs, book reviewer, and face and voice to the public.

Wayne Wilson has been for years our secretary, editor of the Utah Humanist, web master, guardian of the back table, and computer guru. He recently took a new job that keeps him away from meetings but he still helps where he can.

Rolf Kay has also been for years and remains our social chairman, chapter photographer, greeter, guardian of the name tags, handyman, and humorist.

These are only their most obvious contributions to our chapter and we all benefit from them. This is not to take anything away from past and present board members like Richard Layton, who runs the discussion group, and Robert Lane, our cookie-making president, but they would all agree that we owe a special thanks to Flo, Wayne, and Rolf. So, a special thanks to you three.

–Earl Wunderli

Teaching Humanism

September 2005

I am indeed confronted with individuals unexposed to traditional religion. I confront them every day. They are my children.

How do I teach my children humanism? Well, I don’t do it by running down religions they have never heard about. I don’t do it by exposing them to the varieties of religious experience. Instead, I expose them to the varieties of worldly experience. My children, ages four and five, already enjoy travel, pictures, movies, music, people, animals, flowers, daydreams, stories, words, numbers, shapes, colors, and the joy of learning. I want them to live the good life envisioned by humanism, to experience the promise first hand. That’s why, when I asked my eldest daughter, Livia, what the praying hands in front of the Oral Roberts medical complex were doing, she exclaimed, “They’re clapping!”

Are my children humanists yet? Time will tell, but other humanist parents I know who have used a similar approach have been pleased with the results. And the implication is clear. The promise of humanism is a good life here and now.

Source: The Promise of Humanism, an essay by Fred Edwords, Editor, The Humanist

Teaching About Religion

August 2005

I hope to revive interest in teaching about religion in public school. It seems to me that this is the best way to mitigate the narrow parochialism that is pervading our culture. Tolerance is still a defensible value, and it should be easy to make the case that tolerance depends upon acquaintance. The United States has become a religiously pluralistic society, and honest teaching about our society cannot ignore these varied religiosities, as well as the non-religious and freethinkers. Nor can we ignore the varied roles that religion has played in the past, here and elsewhere.

Thirty years ago there was a significant movement to promote the teaching about religions, avoiding any teaching of any specific religion. The American Academy of Religion has renewed interest in the field, as has our own Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion. It will be important to keep this spectrum broad, exploring various alternatives to traditional religions, freethought, and humanism.

–Robert B. Tapp

Faculty Chair, The Humanist Institute

From the June 2005 Newsletter of the North American Committee for Humanism

Note: For several years Robert Tapp was the Dean of the Humanist Institute. He retired this past April but will remain with the institute as Faculty Chair.

State of Fear

~Book Review~

March 2005

Michael Crichton’s latest book caused me to do some serious questioning of some of my deeply held beliefs with regards to the environment. For example, was banning DDT really the right thing to do? Since that ban two million people a year are dying from malaria, mostly children. DDT is actually not poisonous to humans, nor carcinogenic. However, parathion which replaced it really is unsafe. More than 100 farm workers died in the months after the DDT ban because they simply did not know how to handle toxic chemicals. According to UN statistics, before the DDT ban deaths attributable to malaria were in the range of 50,000/year world wide. Now the mosquito borne disease is again a global scourge killing 50 million people since the ban.

The story line of State of Fear is about a large environmental group out to protect us from global warming. The issue quickly becomes the veracity of the perceived threat and the unwillingness of the activists to admit the numerous problems with their data. Radical groups are willing to kill, maim, and destroy in order to protect long term funding. Environmentalism has indeed become a big business in today’s world.

People who are familiar with Crichton’s work only via the movie screen may be unaware of an issue he has long championed: the need to do pure science, unfettered by expected outcomes of large bank rolls. The book Jurassic Park explores this theme in the author’s introduction. It is not that successful businesses are inherently evil; the issue is when scientists are paid to research in search of specific findings, we stand the potential to miss truly important discoveries. Furthermore, directed research also can be harmful in a big way. Consider the consequences of the park for dinosaurs. They spent hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars to make the park safe, but life has a way of extending itself.

Crichton’s novel Prey follows a similar scenario. Scientists have a specific goal, a lot of money is at stake, shortcuts are taken and ugly consequences are the end result.

The end results of Crichton’s works are exciting stories with a lot of action and suspense. But underneath the plot, the characters, and the events there is an undercurrent of social responsibility that is getting louder with each book. Humanists frequently say that science is our tool to discover truth. However, there is a distinct difference between true science and applied technology. The former, by its very nature, is free of outside influences of its directions. Crichton is an articulate champion of freeing research and allowing, indeed demanding, that humans keep searching for the unknown. I believe that this is the true foundation of science.

State of Fear elucidates these concerns much more clearly. Indeed the book is full of temperature graphs, footnotes, and includes 15 pages of bibliography. The “good guy” in the novel frequently challenges other characters to check their data and their sources. Crichton has obviously done his homework.

–Wayne Wilson

Speaking Freely

~Book Review~

November 2005

Author Floyd Abrams, as a young attorney, became the lead counsel after the Washington Post’s legal firm (of 150 years standing) would not represent them; this was after the Post had printed excerpts of what became known as the “Pentagon Papers.”

This started Abrams on a career specializing in the protection of the First Amendment’s guaranteed protection of “Freedom of the Press.” A free press is not necessarily an accurate or wise one, but is necessary for democracy to occur.

The book ends with current First Amendment issues being discussed, including Justice Anthony Kennedy’s ruling “The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from government because speech is the beginning of thought.”

–Cindy King

Discussion Group Report

How Secularism Became a Dirty Word

April 2005

By Richard Layton

“Four score and 15 years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and founded not on the authority of God but on the rights of humankind and the bedrock of human reason. Now we are engaged in a crucial test to determine whether a nation so conceived as the first secular government in the world can endure.” So Susan Jacoby began a speech at the Freedom from Religion Foundation convention in Madison, Wisconsin, on October 30, 2004. A copy is found in Freethought Today, December, 2004.

She said Americans are woefully undereducated about the secular side of the nation’s heritage, beginning with the rationalist Enlightenment values that shaped the revolutionary generation. Nearly four years into a presidency that has mounted the most radical assault on the separation of church and state in American history, she said, secularism is in even greater trouble in the United States.

It is ironic, she continued, that this situation would occur when people around the world are witnessing extraordinary and terrifying new demonstrations of the power of religion to do harm when it is united with political and state power. The Taliban reduced Afghanistan to a near-medieval society. Both Islamic and Jewish fundamentalists played a role in sustaining the seemingly intractable conflict in the Middle East. It is difficult to negotiate agreements when representatives of each side are convinced that God himself has given them the right to occupy the same piece of land. A celibate pope in Rome declares that condoms do not discourage the spread of AIDS, a belief that is medical nonsense.

The framers of the American Constitution protected government from religious interference by prohibiting any religious test for public office, omitting any mention of God from the Constitution, and reserving supreme governmental authority for “We the People.” And separation of church and state also protects the church from governmental interference in church governance. What an achievement in a world not far removed from a time when Protestants and Catholics massacred one another over doctrinal differences and a world in which Christians were still massacring Jews for the crime of deicide?

The fundamental question, one that was not joined in the 2004 presidential campaign, is why on earth would we want to change an arrangement that has served both religion and government so well for more than two centuries? “Why,” Jacoby asks, “are Americans and their elected leaders not proclaiming from the rooftops that secular government, coupled with complete religious liberty, is the cornerstone of a decent society? Why do we tolerate the preaching of a Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia, who bases his support for the death penalty on his belief that government derives its power not from men but from God–and since God has the power of life and death, so too should governments? Why are we still fighting fundamentalist Christian attacks on the teaching of evolution in American public schools–nearly 150 years after Darwin?…

“Where is a modern candidate with the courage of Abraham Lincoln, who when ministers in his home town of Springfield, Ill., called him an ‘infidel’ and excoriated him for not joining any church, replied that he would make haste to join a church–if he could only find one that did not require belief in elaborate supernatural doctrines and instead simply preached the word, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself?’… Where is a candidate with the forthrightness of John F. Kennedy, who in his 1960 speech to the Houston ministers famously declared, ‘I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.'”

It is too easy to blame financial and political power of the religious right exclusively for the demonization of American secularism. It evades the role of larger forces in American society and absolves secularists themselves of their responsibility to educate the public about the neglected noble secular heritage of this republic.

An essential factor in the stigmatization of secularism is the larger American public’s unexamined assumption that religion per se always exerts a benign influence on society. The ultra-conservative apostles of religiousness have exploited that assumption brilliantly and tarred opponents of faith-based adventurism as enemies of all religion, as relativists, which is an unfairly demonized word. It takes a drastic example of religion’s potential to do harm, as in a Christian Scientist’s denial of a blood transfusion to his dying child or the transformation of a plane into a lethal weapon in the name of radical Islam, to shake the American faith in religion as a positive social force.

The problem is not religion as a spiritual force, but religion melded with political ideology and political power. Since the religiously correct do not acknowledge danger in mixing religion and politics, evil acts committed in the name of religion must always be dismissed as the dementia of criminals and psychopaths.

“What America lacks today,” says Jacoby, “is a public figure who talks about the danger of religious interference with government in the uncompromising terms used by Robert Green Ingersoll, the foremost exponent of freethought and the most famous orator in late 19th century America… He declared that the founders ‘knew that to put God into the Constitution was to put man out.'”

Actually many Americans today do retain a healthy respect for everything that the separation of church and state has given our country. The highly respected Pew Forum on Religion found in a 2001 poll that, while 70% of those questioned endorsed tax support for faith-based social services, 80% would exclude religious organizations that hire only members of their own faith. Yet George Bush pushed ahead with executive orders exempting church groups from the usual prohibitions against religious discrimination in hiring.

“Candidates should not try to hide their support for separation of church and state, but should proclaim it on every possible occasion,” Jacoby argues…”As anyone with a scintilla of historical memory knows, fundamentalist white southern Protestants were the strongest supporters of segregation in the 50s and 60s…King and other African-American ministers were able to use their moral values for social action precisely because their churches were independent of government control. Would they have been free to do so if they had been dependent on faith-based funding that came from the government?”

Ingersoll quoted what he said was “the best prayer I have ever read,” Lear’s soliloquy on the heath when he stumbled upon a place of shelter. The prayer ended, “…And show the heavens more just.” Jacoby said of these words that they are “the essence of the secularist and humanist faith here on earth, and it must be offered not as a defensive response to the religiously correct but as a robust and ardent creed worthy of the first secular government in the world.”

Science and Ethics

December 2005

I believe that we must find a way to bring ethical considerations to bear upon the direction of scientific development, especially in the life sciences. By invoking fundamental ethical principles, I am not advocating a fusion of religious ethics and scientific inquiry.

Rather, I am speaking of what I call “secular ethics,” which embrace the principles we share as human beings: compassion, tolerance, consideration of others, the responsible use of knowledge and power. These principles transcend the barriers between religious believers and non-believers; they belong not to one faith, but to all faiths.

Sometimes when scientists concentrate on their own narrow fields, their keen focus obscures the larger effect their work might have. In my conversations with scientists I try to remind them of the larger goal behind what they do in their daily work.

This question must assume a sense of urgency for all those who are concerned about the fate of human existence.

A deeper dialogue between neuroscience and society–indeed between all scientific fields and society–could help deepen our understanding of what it means to be human and our responsibilities for the natural world we share with other sentient beings.

–Dalai Lama

Excerpt from New York Times OP ED 11-12-05

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is the author of The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality.

The Sacred Depths of Nature

~Book Review~

July 2005

The author of The Sacred Depths of Nature, Ursula Goodenough, received the Humanist Pioneer Award at the American Humanist Association 2005 conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has served as president of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science and presents major lectures on science and religion. She is professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis and former associate professor of biology at Harvard.

The Sacred Depths of Nature reconciles scientific understanding with human spiritual yearnings. Her writing style makes it possible for even non-scientists to appreciate the origins of all life and the universe and to respond with a sense of reverence and wonder.

Goodenough is that exceptional intellectual who can capture the reader’s attention as she weaves together the fascinating stories of evolution. When you finish The Sacred Depths of Nature you will agree with her introductory statement: “The point of hearing a story for the first time is not to remember it but to experience it.”

–Flo Wineriter

The Sacred Depths Of Nature
Ursula Goodenough
Oxford University Press 1998

Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior

January 2005

  • Associate yourself with persons of good character. It is better to be alone than in bad company.
  • Think before you speak.
  • Accept corrections thankfully.
  • Be not obstinate in supporting your own opinion.
  • Do not repeat news if you know not the truth thereof.
  • Speak not evil of the absent.
  • Do not reprove or correct another in anger.
  • Do not curse or revile anyone.
  • Let your conversation be without malice or envy.
  • Yield the place in front of the fire to the latest comer.
  • Jog not the desk on which another reads or writes.
  • Speak not injurious words either in jest or in earnest. Scoff at none although they give occasion.
  • In disputes, give liberty to each one to present his opinion.
  • Be attentive when others speak.
  • Always submit your judgments to others with modesty.
  • Do not undertake to teach your equal in an art in which he is qualified.
  • A man should not preen himself about his achievements, his wit, his virtue, and much less about his wealth.
  • When a man does the best he can, yet succeeds not, do not blame him.
  • Do not express joy before one who is sick or in pain.
  • If anyone comes to speak to you while you are sitting, stand up, even though you may consider him to be your inferior.
  • Show a good example, particularly before the less experienced.
  • Do not give advice unless you are asked.
  • Be not curious to know the affairs of others.

–George Washington

Roger Williams

~Book Review~

September 2005

If humanism needs a Patron Saint, surely Roger Williams (1603-1683) would be appropriate. The founder of Rhode Island strongly promoted complete separation of church and state, freedom of conscience, and urged that polytheists, deists, pagans, and atheists be excused from swearing on the Bible or to God. He preached the secular equality of all humanity, governance by consent, and fairness in trading with Native Americans.

Two sojourns to London finally resulted in a charter being granted July 8, 1663 by parliament and King Charles 11 recognizing Rhode Island and granting it “full liberty in religious concernment.” Religious and secular freedom owes a debt of gratitude to Roger Williams.

Roger Williams, written by Edwin S. Gaustad, and published by Oxford University press 2005, is only 132 pages but it is packed with inspiration for humanists.

–Flo Wineriter

Rights from Wrongs:

Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights

~Book Review~

April 2005

The basic premise of this book by Alan Dershowitz, published by Basic Books, Copyright 2004, is to answer the following questions: Where do rights originate; Divine sources, natural law, or secular experiences? How does experience teach us that rights can survive emergencies? Dershowitz explores each of the origins of rights, coming to the conclusion that rights have to come from secular origin. “We cannot endure without morality, law and rights, yet they do not exist unless we bring them into existence. We must not abdicate our own decision-making to other human beings who alone claim to hear the silent voice of God or to understand the moral implication of nature…. It is our job (as judges/citizens) to give meaning to the (constitution/government.) We have the methodology for interpreting it.”

Ergo, we must remember, as Justice Robert Jackson observed, “The President is not the commander-in-chief of the country, only of the military, and that other branches of government must play an important role in striking the proper balance between security and liberty.” If not, we will be living the wrongs when we were guaranteed the rights.

–Cindy King

Discussion Group Report

Reason Embattled

February 2005

By Richard Layton

“In January 2002 Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made a major speech so sweeping and extreme in its contempt for democracy, and so willfully oblivious to the Constitution’s grounding in human rather than divine authority, that it might well, in an era when American secularists were less intimidated by the forces of religion, have elicited calls for impeachment,” says Susan Jacoby in her book, Freethinker. She describes in the chapter with the same title as this article the pummeling that reason is receiving presently by the religious right.

Scalia upholds capital punishment to the point of upholding state laws that permit the execution of minors and the mentally retarded. The death penalty, he says, does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment because executions were not considered “cruel and unusual when the Constitution was written. It could be imposed not only for murder but for many other felonies like horse thieving. Under this line of thought courts should feel free to hand down death sentences for grand theft auto, the modern equivalent of horse theft.

The real underpinnings of Scalia’s support for the death penalty, argues Jacoby, are to be found, not in constitutional law, but in the justice’s religious convictions. He believes that the state derives its power not from the consent of the governed–“We, the people”–but from God. God has the ultimate power of life and death, and therefore lawful governments also have the right to exact the ultimate penalty. Democracy, with its pernicious idea that citizens are the ultimate arbiters of public policy, is responsible, he says, for the rise of opposition to the death penalty in the 20th century. “Few doubted the morality the death penalty in the age that believed in the divine right of kings,” Scalia noted in his speech. He would have been accurate to point out that most subjects in absolute monarchies also supported the right of kings to torture and impose the death penalty by drawing and quartering. Like many conservative politicians he supported his argument by pointing to the evangelist Paul: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but that of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive unto themselves damnation. Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.” Scalia went on in the speech to imply that the New Testament justice is morally superior to “Old Testament vengeance”: the divine authority claimed by Scalia for the death penalty is not the law of Moses but Christian (conservative Christian) doctrine.

The fact that Scalia’s radical speech attracted little public attention is one measure of the religious right’s success in placing liberals and secularists on the defensive–and the cowardice of politicians who fear being maligned as antireligious when they stand up for separation of church and state. The justice’s extremism lays bare the messianic radicalism at the heart of the current assault on separation of church and state; it is intended to undermine all secularist and nonreligious humanist values. For the religious right, governmental power is one more mechanism, along with institutions of education, communications and finance, for advancing their values within society.

The White House Web site offers a long list of “do’s and don’ts for faith-based organizations” attempting to negotiate the ever-expanding array of grant possibilities for religious organizations. Heading the list is abstinence education, the pet program of those who oppose birth control and abortion and insist that preaching chastity is the only way to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Fifty-six years ago Justice Hugo Black asserted, “Jefferson’s metaphor in describing the relation between Church and State speaks of a ‘wall of separation,’ not of a fine line easily overstepped.” The White House’s checklist inviting churches to begin feeding at the federal trough does not even acknowledge the existence of a line, much less a wall.

Jacoby feels it is a measure of the intimidating power of religiously correct rhetoric that so many Democrats have jumped on to the faith-based bandwagon. Al Gore in 2000 told reporters he would precede every major executive decision with the question, “What would Jesus do?” His running mate, Joe Lieberman¸ pooh-poohed First Amendment concerns.

Religion is so much a part of the public square that a majority of Americans say they would refuse to vote for an atheist for president. Important factors in the rise of religious correctness are right-wing money, political clout and the larger American public’s unexamined assumption that religion is, and always will be a benign influence on society. The extreme right has exploited that assumption brilliantly.

Embattled secularists have done a particularly poor job of educating mainstream religious believers about the religious right’s effort to vitiate the First Amendment. A poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that 70% of Americans support faith-based funding for social services but that 80% opposed tax support of religious organizations that hire only members of their own faith. Yet Bush told federal agencies that religious groups could qualify as public contractors even if they refuse to hire workers of other faiths. One reason he felt free to do this may have been the near-total absence of press coverage highlighting the kinds of reservations expressed in the Pew poll.

Fanatics throughout history have always been convinced of the virtuousness of their visions. The fundamental issue is whether fanatics possess the power to pursue their particular religious/political vision with devastating consequences for those who do not share it. It is precisely because secularists do understand the power of religion, and the possibility that any intensely felt drive for righteousness may overwhelm dissenters in its path, that they insist on the fundamental importance of separation between church and state. But it is not enough that they speak up in defense of the Constitution; they must also defend the Enlightenment values that produced the legal structure crafted by the framers. Their case must be made on a broader plane that includes the defense of rational thought itself. The need for a strong secularist defense of science is especially urgent today, as many of the anti-secularist right’s policy goals are intimately linked to an irrational distrust of science and scientists. There is a particularly strong connection between the revival of antievolutionism since 1980 and the political attack on separation of church and state because the Christianization of secular public education has long been a goal of the forces of conservative religion. Indeed the teaching of evolution is often cited by right-wing politicians as a major cause of school violence. Soon after the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School Representative Tom DeLay of Texas (now House majority leader) suggested that the theory of evolution, which places humans within the animal kingdom, is responsible for influencing children to behave like lower animals.

Secularists frequently present themselves, and are perceived by others, as a cool lot, applying intellectual theories to social questions, but ignoring the emotions that move religious believers. Yet it is crucial, says Jacoby, for today’s secularists to find a way to convey the passions of humanism as Ingersol once did, to move hearts as well as to change minds. They must present their faith, not as a defensive response, but as a robust creed worthy of the world’s first secular government. They have trouble deciding what to call themselves today. It is time, Jacoby proffers, to revive the evocative and honorable freethinker, with its insistence that Americans think for themselves instead of relying on received opinion.

Random Thoughts

March 2005

If you listen to the discussion of the tsunami this past week, you receive the clear impression that the meaning of this event is that there is no meaning. Humans are not the universe’s main concern. We’re just gnats on the crust of the earth. The earth shrugs and 140,000 gnats die; victims of forces far larger and more permanent than themselves.

–David Brooks
NY Times Op-Ed 1/1/05


Reason is the armament of ideas, the weapon employed in conflicts between viewpoints…But reason so understood has always had enemies. One is ‘religion,’which claims that revelation from outside the world conveys truths undiscoverable by human enquiry. Another is ‘relativism,’ the view that different truths, different views, different ways of thinking, are all equally valid. ‘Postmodernism’ says there are authorities more powerful than reason, such as race, tradition, nature, or supernatural entities.

But still, say the champions of reason, ‘reason’ remains by far the best guide in the search for knowledge.

–A. C. Grayling


Bush’s “faith-based initiative” drivel is just that–drivel. Basing something upon religion is the poorest idea…. especially when it comes to educating our children about sex. This “abstinence-only” thing is laughable at best, and downright dangerous to our young women at worst. I think I heard it said in this “abstinence-only” agenda that they were saying that chastity was a cure for poverty? Yeah, right! We should be teaching our children respect for each other and themselves, and should stress sexual responsibility should they decide to be sexually active. Parents should take the lead on this matter.

–Karen Wood


Love for life is not something that we can take for granted. We have to create the conditions for it, for ourselves as well as for other people. This means that it is not with coercion or weapons that we will defeat our enemies, here or abroad. It is by taking away the reasons for people to despise life to the point of taking the lives of their fellow human beings, of being willing to give up their own life at the push a button. The war against crime is a perpetual failure, and so is the war against terror. We can overcome crime and terror only by realizing that people don’t go around stealing and killing if they have something to live for, if, in other words, we make it possible for them as well as for us to love life.

–Massimo Pigliucci


Thanks to Flo Wineriter for compiling these thought provoking gems!

Random Thoughts

April 2005

Tsunami Relief Effort

Our chapter recently sent $3500.00 to the American Humanist Association to be used in the Tsunami Relief Fund. The AHA is coordinating with humanist groups and organizations in the affected areas of the world so that we can be certain that our donations will be used for victim relief and not administrative overhead.

We received confirmation of the donation from Tony Hileman, President of the AHA:

“Your donation was far and away more than any other organization or individual’s, and the Humanists of Utah are to be commended for your compassion and generosity. All together we took in something over $12,000. That is impressive!”

–Flo Wineriter


Rubella Eliminated!

In March news agencies world wide reported that Rubella, the cause of German or “hard” measles, has been eliminated from the United States. This is, in this writer’s opinion, a major triumph for science.

The methodology for the successful eradication is vaccination of the vulnerable population. Smallpox was eliminated from the world (except in controlled storage) several years ago.

These advances are a direct result of application of the Scientific Method and based on application of the Law of Evolution. Victories like this are an affirmation of humanist principles.

–Wayne Wilson

Discussion Group Report

The Quest For Happiness

July 2005

By Richard Layton

“Down through the ages, philosophers and poets, politicians and theologians, friends and strangers have argued about the nature of happiness. They haven’t been able to settle on what happiness is exactly, but that hasn’t kept them from chasing it down. In the end, and the beginning, too, happiness may be a lot easier to experience than to define,” says Darrin M. McMahon in “The Quest for Happiness” in the Wilson Quarterly of winter, 2005.

The importance of the role of happiness in our lives has changed through the eras of history.

Hegel believed it was the fate of great men like himself to be denied “what is commonly called happiness.” The periods of happiness in history are blank pages, he concluded.

What is this thing called happiness? Many of us today would likely be quick to describe it as a good feeling or positive mood. But the first taxonomist of the emotions, Aristotle, excluded happiness from his classifications. In the Rhetoric he posited that the list includes anger, love, enmity, fear, pity, indignation, envy and contempt. Happiness is apparently something else, “a certain kind of activity of the soul expressing virtue.” Happiness is nothing so cheap as a fleeting feeling or a passing fancy. It entails “a complete life,” lived according to virtue and measured right up to its end. Until that end, a tragic turn or a cowardly choice might bring shame or misfortune on a life otherwise well spent. The Greek statesman Solon averred, “Call no man happy until he is dead.”

Aristotle’s view of happiness as a universal moral end was widely shared in the ancient world, among both the Greeks and the Romans. Though they granted that pleasure and good feeling might have a place in a happy life, the principal element was thought to be virtue, which frequently demanded discipline, sacrifice and even pain. Cicero thought virtue was so indispensable that, if a man possessed it, he could be happy regardless of the circumstances, even while being tortured. Though this was taking matters to the extreme, it illustrates how ancient thinkers considered happiness a thing apart, not a sentiment or a passion or an emotional state.

Kant conceded that, although everyone wishes to attain happiness, he can never say definitely and consistently what it is he really wishes and wills. Thus it could never be a reliable guide to evaluating moral action. Apparently historians have reasoned along similar lines, concluding that happiness is not a useful category of inquiry. But this is a perilous assumption. “How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness,” William James observed in The Varieties of Religious Experience, “is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all they are willing to endure.” His contemporary, Sigmund Freud, maintained that happiness is something “essentially subjective.” “Though all men aim at being happy,” John Locke concluded, they take “various and contrary ways in pursuit of that end, down as many paths as there are palates.”

“But what if one were to consider happiness not as a private emotion or a universal moral end but rather as an idea?” McMahon asks. “Doing so would allow one to treat this mysterious yearning like any other abstract notion–freedom, justice, or truth–evaluating ideas of happiness as they have taken shape and evolved over time, tracing their genealogy, and following their representations in different cultural contexts.” If we acknowledge this concept of happiness, it would not surprise us that Marx and Engels considered happiness an integral part of their system, nothing less than the solution to the riddle of history. Marx observed, “The overcoming of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.”

But he never revealed what “real happiness” might entail. What is revealing is his insistence that we can attain it on our own, in the space once occupied by God. A similar emphasis had long occupied the Greeks. Aristotle’s attempt to locate happiness in virtue was part of a broader effort to wrest happiness from forces over which we have little or no control: fate, the gods, the movement of the stars.

But Socrates ran up against the old and very widespread “tragic tradition of happiness,” The belief that happiness is ultimately out of our hands–controlled by fortune, fate or the gods; governed by the movement of the stars, the actions of our ancestors or the whims of occult forces and spirits. This appears to be the common feature of all traditional cultures. For many in the classical world, even those of perfect virtue, happiness was something that could never be entirely controlled. This connection of happiness with fortune, chance or fate persisted into the High Middle Ages and the early Renaissance. Happiness was what happens to us.

By Shakespeare’s time, all discussion of happiness had been shaped by another powerful force: Christianity. An elaborate theology promised unending ecstasy as the reward for earthly privation. Because of our first parents’ original transgression in the Garden of Eden, true happiness was “unattainable in our present life.” Death was the true happiness of the elect. Thomas Aquinas called imperfect happiness a pale imitation of our heavenly reward.

Not until the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries were considerable numbers of men and women exposed to the possibility that they might legitimately hope for happiness everlasting in this life. To construct happiness in a place of our own making was not to defy God’s will but to live as nature intended. This was our earthly purpose, and in a world governed by natural laws liberated from the capricious whims of an angry deity or the chaos of fortune, this purpose was realizable. Thomas Jefferson summarized a century of reflection on the subject in Europe and America by stating that the “pursuit of happiness” was a “self-evident” truth. The “greatest happiness for the greatest number” had become the moral imperative of the century. However he said nothing in the Declaration of Independence about the right to attain happiness; he restricted himself to its pursuit. He was pessimistic that the chase would ever be brought to a satisfying conclusion because of calamities and misfortunes that greatly afflict all of us. The preamble to the French revolutionaries’ “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” in 1789 pledged to work for the “happiness of everyone.” This promise was made a mockery of by Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, but the line was nonetheless indicative of a dramatic shift in the nature of human expectations.

In spite of the skepticism of some observers such as Alexis deTocqueville and Thomas Carlyle, a new god was taking shape. Earthly happiness was emerging as the idol of idols, the locus of meaning in life, the source of human aspiration, the purpose of existence, the why and the wherefore. Yet belief in happiness, like an older belief in God, is a type of faith, an assumption about the meaning and purpose of human existence that is a relatively recent development in human affairs. But we have come to assume that people ought to be happy and that, if they’re not, there’s something wrong. As that assumption collides with the often painful realities of existence, we see clearly what an article of faith it is.

Along with the strides now being made in the scientific understanding of mood and the tendency to pathologize, says McMahon, our post-Enlightenment faith inevitably pushes us in the direction of compensating for nature when nature fails us in the pursuit of our natural end. If happiness is not, as Freud said, “in the plan of ‘Creation,'” there are those ready to alter the handiwork of our maker to put it there. That was the great fear of Aldous Huxley, for whom genetic engineering and psychopharmacology harnessed in the service of happiness constituted two of the most chilling features of the dystopia he created in Brave New World. As pointed out in the report by Leon Kass and the President’s Council on Bioethics, Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, the science of mood enhancement is upon us and is rapidly outpacing our readiness to think through its ethical implications. The council members argue for increased moral reflection to help us understand our situation today and discern what might lie ahead.”

Philosopher Pascal Bruckner has observed, “Happiness is the sole horizon of our contemporary democracies”.

“To bring that vision into better focus,” says McMahon, “we must take up Hegel’s neglected challenge to ‘contemplate history from the point of view of happiness.’ We must conceive the history of all hitherto-existing society as a history of the struggle for happiness.”

President’s Message

November 2005

First, I must apologize to Julie Mayhew. At the Board retreat mentioned in last month’s newsletter, I neglected to thank her for being the facilitator. Her contribution to this effort was invaluable and the Board appreciates it greatly.

At the October Board meeting, we voted to change the by-laws slightly. In the first sentence of Section IV. A, it states, “The Association shall be governed by its membership and, between meetings thereof, by a board of directors consisting of a President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, and five other board members.” We propose to change the last part to read, “and up to five other board members.” We feel this is necessary because in an association of this size, it is often difficult to maintain the full compliment of board members. At the next general meeting we will ask for a vote on this change.

Our annual “Marion Craig Humanists of Utah Essay Contest” materials have been finalized and will be in the mail during the last week of October. Each year we have made a few changes in hopes of garnering more participation by high school students. I feel confident that this year we will have more involvement, as has been the case each year so far.

–Bob Lane

President’s Message

March 2005

I want to thank the membership of our chapter for the honor of being the new president. I feel the position will be one that is made much easier by the other board members. The board we have now is working well toward facilitating our organization’s agenda. I want to thank all the board members, as a group and individually.

Thanks to Flo Wineriter for his long-time dedication to Humanists of Utah He remains our bedrock of wisdom, experience, and lots of time and effort. Likewise thanks to Wayne Wilson, who has for years been Secretary, with its multiplicity of tasks. Thanks to Leona Blackbird our Treasurer for keeping the books in order, and to Rolf Kay for arranging our social events and his other efforts throughout the years. And, thanks to all the other board members: Cindy King, Mike Huston, John Chesley, Bob Mayhew, and our newest member Sarah Smith. Their work on various committees is proceeding very well.

Thanks also to Richard Layton, our discussion group leader, to Earl Wunderli for being on the speakers committee, and to Lorille Miller our Historian. I hope I haven’t left anyone out.

Finally, many thanks to Heather Dorrell for serving as our previous President. I hope that when the hectic nature of graduate school allows, she will get involved with us again.

I am looking forward to our future.

–Bob Lane
President, Humanists of Utah

 

President’s Message

December 2005

It has been nearly a month since Bob and Julie Mayhew and I returned from our trip to Amherst N.Y., where we attended the International Academy of Humanism, World Congress, “Toward A New Enlightenment.” It was most enjoyable and I am still excited about the experience. For me it was very gratifying to be among so many freethinkers (there were over 600 who registered for the congress). I will refrain from saying much more about the trip at this point because the three of us will give a short report on the trip at the December 8th dinner.

For the last few years the Board has been putting on this dinner instead of our usual meeting with a guest speaker. So please come and come hungry, I look forward to some good food and lively conversation.

We will be having our annual membership meeting and social in February. At that meeting we will elect board members. For that reason I ask that any member that would like to serve as a board member, contact any of the current board members so we can announce it by the deadline in January. We need to fill a couple of vacancies so please give it some thought.

Also, in my message last month, I stated that we would vote on a change in the by-laws “at the next general meeting.” That is incorrect. This is a matter we will vote on at the February annual meeting.

Finally, I would like to recommend that you check out the latest edition of the periodical Mother Jones, “God and Country. Where the Christian Right is Leading Us.” It is a very good issue.

Thanks to everyone for your support of our chapter.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

Place For Teaching Intelligent Design

September 2005

Why not let them teach Intelligent Design in a Comparative Religion class without any proselytizing. It may backfire on these nice albeit misguided zealots. Students may not want to go to church when they realize that the Divine theory is as baseless as the stork story.

The church would be better off trying to forbid teaching the ID so as not to start their flock thinking that there might be a theory out there called evolution.

–Rolf Kay

Discussion Group Report

Ownership Society

March 2005

By Richard Layton

“As the American Founders knew and as generations of serious students have long known, an ownership society is a society of responsibility, liberty and prosperity,” says Dr. Tom Palmer in an article with the same name as this present article by the Cato Institute in January, 2004. “A number of policy initiatives–including creation of personal retirement accounts, expansion of medical savings accounts, and school choice–have been proposed recently that seek to strengthen an ‘ownership society.’ Such initiatives build on a long and deep tradition.”

He cites Aristotle: “What belongs in common to the most people is accorded the least care: they take thought for their own things above all, and less about things common, or only so much as falls to each individually.” Thomas Aquinas made a similar observation. The philosopher John Locke rested personal identity itself on the idea of ownership.

Palmer contends, “Owners have a right to benefit from the wise use of their property and therefore incentives to take care of it. Similarly they bear the consequences of unwise management. Not only are they more likely to care for what they own, but a system of property requires people to treat others with respect, as well.” They can exclude others from the use of what belongs to them. Each owner must respect the rights of others and concern himself with their interests. Property makes people–including lawmakers–respectful of others, he says.

John Locke saw society as founded on the “mutual Preservation of their Lives, Liberties and Estates, which I [Locke] call by the general Name, Property.” Property is a necessary condition of independence. Without ownership of printing presses, paper and ink, there can be no free press. Without ownership of land and buildings, there can be no freedom of association, no freedom of common worship, no freedom of action generally. A free society is of necessity an ownership society.

Ownership makes markets possible, and markets make prosperity possible. Ownership channels the efforts of millions of persons who are unknown to each other into corporations to produce wealth, rather than into the squabbling and conflict characteristic of political control. It is the foundation of a society of widespread and growing prosperity. The extension of ownership rights into fields that have been dominated by government power–including social security, medical care and schooling–represents an opportunity for Americans to enjoy in their retirement planning, their medical care and the education of their children the responsibility, freedom and prosperity that only ownership can make possible, says Palmer.

David Boaz in his article, “Defining an Ownership Society,” also published by the Cato Institute in January, 2004, points out that President Bush wants an ownership society. Benefits Boaz claims for such a society include responsible homeowners, responsible citizens, and people who feel more dignity, pride and confidence. They have a stronger stake, not just in their own property, but in their community and their society. Margaret Thatcher, in privatizing Great Britain’s public housing, believed that that action would make homeowners more responsible citizens and see themselves as having a real stake in the future and quality of life in their communities, and, yes, that they would be more likely to vote for lower taxes and less regulation.

The United States has the most widespread property ownership in history. Increasing numbers of Americans are becoming capitalists–people who own a share of productive businesses through stocks or mutual funds. But about half of Americans are not benefiting as owners inthe growth of the American economy, though they still benefit as wage-earners and consumers. In general these are the Americans below the average income. The best thing to do to create an ownership society is to give more Americans an opportunity to invest in stocks, bonds and mutual funds so that they, too, can become capitalists, argues Boaz.

It is obvious how to do this, he says. Every working American is required to send the government 12.4 percent of his or her income up to about $88,000 via payroll taxes. But that money is not invested in real assets, and it doesn’t belong to the wage earner who paid it. It’s used to pay benefits to current retirees. If we want to make every working American an investor–an owner of real assets, with control of his own retirement funds and a stake in the growth of the American economy–then we should let workers put their Social Security taxes into private accounts, like IRAs or 401(k)s. Other reforms that enhance the ownership society include school choice, giving parents the power to choose the schools their children attend, and wider use of Health Savings Accounts, which transfer control over health care decisions from employers, insurance companies and HMO gatekeepers to individual parents.

An ownership society, says Boaz, can also improve environmental quality. People take care of things they own, and they’re more likely to waste or damage things that are owned by no one in particular.

That’s why timber companies don’t cut down all the trees on their land and instead plant new trees to replace the ones they do cut down. When the government owns all property, individuals have little protection from the whims of politicians.

The Cato Institute, the publisher of these articles, is generally described as a conservative libertarian organization. The above-mentioned generalized statements are presented as established fact with little or no objective evidence to support them except quotations from writers or philosophers, who are presenting their personal opinions. These may or may not accurately reflect the real world.

I would like to see every family own its own home, but we might ask the questions: Does ownership necessarily induce people to act responsibly? Are there no people who abuse others or exploit them by wielding unjustly the immense power they have gained by controlling large amounts of ownership of property and money? What protection does the “ownership society” give other people from them? Has America ever seriously considered allowing the government to own all property, as in Boaz’s extreme example about the whims of politicians? Does our economy realistically give low wage earners or the unemployed a fair chance to participate in the “ownership society”? Is it true that timber companies don’t cut down all the trees on land they own without replacing them? Hasn’t Boaz ever seen the egregious examples of the clear-cutting of vast tracts of forest land by corporations (large owners of property)? Or of the air pollution some corporations cause? Does it really serve our best interests for us to give up the security of traditional social security to gamble retirement savings on chancy investments in private accounts? Or to undercut the public school system by using tax money to fund private schools? What about separation of church and state? These are questions we need to consider carefully before we jump whole hog into an “ownership society.” We may find ourselves living in a debased society if we abandon some of our governmentally managed programs, such as national parks, public schools and environmental protection.

Discussion Group Report

Our Lying Minds

November 2005

By Richard Layton

“I’d love to give you that pay raise,” says your boss, but we’re not in a financial position to make that happen right now; maybe next year.” Or perhaps your children are fighting again: “He hit me first.”

“…a surprising number of our social interactions involve trying to deceive each other–and spotting if we are being deceived,” says Raj Persaud in an article with the same name as this present article in www.newscientist.com July 30,2005. Psychologists are starting to get a handle on what it takes to be good deception detector.

Humans are not the only primates to deceive, but with our unique intelligence and language abilities we are the only ones to have made it such a fine art. Whether we are trying to attract a mate or gain wealth or status, lying can be an effective strategy, especially since humans are so bad at detecting deception. Even people whose job it is to detect deception–police officers, FBI agent, therapists, judges, customs officers, etc., perform on average little better than if they had taken a guess. Successions of scientifically well-conducted studies have shown that most of us are not very good at spotting if someone is lying.

However, some people are an exception to the rule. Two psychologists, Paul Eckman of the University of California, San Francisco, and Maureen O’Sullivan of the University of San Francisco located 29 “wizards” of deception detection out of 14,000 people studied. The odds of passing the test by chance were less than 25 in one million. Preliminary analyses of their study confirm some of these researchers’ findings: that fleeting facial expressions leaking emotions such as anger or guilt are key indicators of lying. Some of these “micro-expressions may last less than one-fifth of a second. Women often perform better on the average in nonverbal communication tasks, such as gauging people’s emotions through their expressions. And a study by Eckman found superior lie-detecting ability in people with damage to the left hemisphere to the brain. These people apparently were forced to rely more on nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions.

Another intriguing finding is that wizards tended to have had difficult childhoods, in which sensitivity to emotional temperature at home could have been useful. Some, for example had alcoholic parents. Others had unusual family backgrounds, such as parents who were immigrants, or mothers with demanding careers at time when this was less common.

An investigation at Montclair State University of women’s tested skills at detecting men who were pretending to have appealing attributes–sometimes called “faking good.” An example is a man claiming he owned the Ferrari outside, rather than admitting he had borrowed it from a friend for the night. The single women seemed to be better in detecting men who were faking good than those who were in a committed relationship. “Women,” says Julian Paul Keenan, leader of the research team, “have a kind of radar for deception in men, which they switch on and off, depending on the context.”

Mixing your genes with a man who borrows rather than owns a Ferrari could have serious implications. Becoming pregnant by a deceptive male could have “huge negative consequences,” Keenan points out.

His group also investigated what makes a good liar. This and other studies show evidence that people with higher self-awareness, as indicated by self-recognition, self-pronoun use, and self-conscious emotions were better deceivers.

How do you know if someone is lying to you? Bella de Paula of the University of California at Santa Barbara says there can be some tell-tale signs. Contrary to folklore, liars are not more fidgety, nor do they blink more or look less relaxed. Rather they tend to seem more nervous than truth-tellers in other ways. Their voices are pitched higher. And there is an association between lying and larger pupil size, a sign of tension and concentration. Other signs are becoming unusually still; making notably less eye contact with listeners; starting their answers more quickly than truth tellers; if taken by surprise, taking longer to start answering questions and talking less; seeming more negative than truth tellers–more complaining and less cooperative; tending to withhold information, either from guilt or to make it easier to get their stories straight; repeating words and phrases; sounding more discrepant and ambivalent; and telling stories that are less logical. There is a technique called content-based criteria analysis used by forensic scientists to analyze witness statements to work out if they are true or fabricated. True statements are supposed to include more superfluous details, spontaneous self-corrections and speculation about other people’s mental states. The truthful witness is also more likely to be self-deprecating and to make comments that go some way toward pardoning the alleged perpetrator

For those who wish to learn more about the subject of this piece, Persaud in his article also explores deception in animals, especially primates, as well as the tricks used by mediums, magicians and illusionists who give the appearance of mind-reading and thought control.

Do Not Include Divine Design in Public School Curriculum

September 2005

Board Member Flo Wineriter had the following letter to the editor published in the Deseret Morning News. He wrote in response to an op-ed piece published on August 9, 2005.

Thanks to Marjorie Cortez for a thoughtful, rational editorial opposing the imposing of religious opinion on students in the public classroom. I am an active Humanist with a capital H. I served on the American Humanist Association board of directors for eight years and as president of the local chapter, the Humanists of Utah, for ten years. I also serve on the advisory committee of the Utah Three-R’s program. I am in complete agreement with Ms Cortez concerning the teaching about the role religions have played in world history, U.S. history and Utah history, both the positive and the negative.

Those of us who share this view have the responsibility, even the obligation, to help people understand the vital difference between education and indoctrination. Recognizing the difficulty adults have with this discernment we can appreciate the difficulty children will have. For that reason, among others, it is imperative that Divine Design not be included in the curriculum of Utah Public schools.

–Flo Wineriter

The Mormon Church and the ERA

August 2005

When I asked my sons, individually, for their first reaction to “E-R-A,” they said “Earned Run Average,” or the baseball pitcher statistic; the lower the ERA of a pitcher, the better. Indeed, they could have learned about another kind of ERA had they attended July’s enlightening presentation about the Equal Rights Amendment by Martha Bradley Ph.D.To begin, Bradley asserted that she would not say whether the Mormon Church’s anti-ERA campaign was wrong. Instead her goals were to understand how the ERA worked, the impact ERA had on women’s individual lives, the position of Utah Mormons about the ERA, and the long-term implications of the ERA on the women’s movement in general.

First proposed to Congress in December 1923 by Alice Paul and National Women’s party, three years after women won the right to vote, the ERA wording was simply, “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” ERA was not ratified.

In 1972, ERA was reintroduced into Congress with the same language as Paul’s original document:

Sec. 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Sec. 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Sec. 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Riding on the heels of the 1960’s civil rights movement, ERA passed in 1972 by the Senate and barreled out of Congress, getting twenty-two of the necessary thirty-eight state ratifications. But the pace slowed as opposition began to take its toll–only eight ratifications in 1973, three in 1974, one in 1975, and none in 1976.

Despite a more vigorous campaign by supporters, the amendment was again defeated in 1975. By then opposition to ERA had intensified and expanded. By 1977, five states had voted to rescind, and only thirteen additional states had ratified.

In the summer of 198l, National Organization for Women (NOW) even sent missionaries to Utah to go door to door asking Mormons to support the ERA. Despite a time extension to 10 June 1982, ERA did not obtain the thirty-eight states even though national polls consistently showed the majority of Americans in favor of the amendment. Thus in 1982, the fifty-nine-year battle for ERA came to an end, or at least to a rest. According to NOW, since 1985 to the present, ERA had been reintroduced into each session of Congress and held in Committee.

Early anti-ERA organizers included Phyllis Shafley, right wing leader of the Eagle Forum and the coalition STOP ERA, the John Birch Society, and a religious converging of Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Mormons. Pro-ERA advocacy was led by the National Organization of Women and ERAmerica, a coalition of nearly 80 other mainstream organizations.

Opposition against ERA, Bradley pointed out, seemed at times alarmist and hysterical. Dwarfing the constitutional principal of equality, ERA opponents instead targeted “traditional family values” like sexual permissiveness, abortion, childcare, homosexuality, and unisexuality. They claimed the ERA would deny woman’s right to be supported by her husband, privacy rights would be overturned, women would be sent into combat, and legal abortions and homosexual marriages would be upheld.

The anti-ERA movement reflected fears about the changing roles of women and men and the changing structure of the family. There was perceived danger in equality for the ideological and cultural concept of the father as head and provider, mother as nurturer and manager, and children as replicas into the next generation. Equality would make women more vulnerable and exposed, and men would feel freer to abandon family responsibilities.

In addition, many believed equality was already guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, a belief reinforced in 1963 by the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, which concluded that an equal rights amendment was redundant because of provisions of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

National polls, however, indicated that feminists believed in the necessity of an ERA.

In Utah, the attack against ERA began when the amendment was first considered by the Utah legislature in 1973. The same fears of anti-ERA opponents prompted Mormon Church leaders to join their financial resources, promotional skills and broad network of members to the anti-ERA movement. In 1976, church leaders described ERA as “a moral issue with many disturbing ramifications for women and for the family as individual members as a whole.” President Spencer Kimball declared it “would strike at the family, humankind’s basic institution.”

In typical grassroots fashion, ward bishops solicited donations to support the anti-ERA effort, speeches against the amendment were deemed appropriate at all church meetings, and church buildings were used as anti-ERA literature distribution centers. Church-sponsored anti-ERA organizations operated in Florida, Nevada, North and South Carolina, Missouri, Illinois and Arizona.

As the official voice of the church, the Ensign published articles clarifying the church’s position, speeches about ratification given by church leaders in different locations, and official policy statements that left no room for misinterpretation. Bishops, stake presidents, teachers and women read them in classes, and official press packets were distributed widely to local newspapers, television personalities and other individuals in the media. In March 1980, the Church went all out with the publication of The Church and the Proposed Equal Rights Amendment: A Moral Issue.

In the midst of this anti-ERA campaign, active Mormon Sonia Johnson testified in 1978 in support of ERA before the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, upsetting Senator Orrin Hatch. Her feisty testimony caught media attention, and she became a lightening rod for Mormon and other religious supporters of equality. Subsequently though, she was excommunicated from the Mormon Church in December 1979.

Normally the church’s position on politics is one of neutrality. Bradley noted, however, the inconsistencies between some public statements of policies and the way church systems and membership were used to sway political opinion about ERA. On the one hand, ward bishoprics instructed members not to use church facilities for political purposes, yet during the fall of 1978, ward newsletters repeatedly called for political participation in fighting the amendment’s ratification. The same newsletters told ward members that if they wanted ‘to support the Prophet in his opposition to the ERA, they could call or write to their Congressmen. Anti-ERA candidates were scheduled for speeches and advertisements were handed out in church houses. Notices of pro-ERA legislators were posted in the hallways of meetinghouses, and even sample letters of opposition one might send to their legislators were posted as well. At Relief Society or Sunday School, petitions were circulated and delivered to state legislators. One petition read in part: “We consider the Equal Rights Amendment a nonpartisan issue and will, in the 1979 elections, vote only for those candidates who oppose ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.”

Many sociologists of religion place the Mormon Church’s activities as pivotal in a new coalition of the religious right after their anti-ERA campaign. Women who had never before been involved in politics played a critical role in this new conservative political movement. Developed virtually overnight, they exhibited an impressive ability to raise money and to establish strong organizations that depended on mass grass roots support and tactics that persuaded elected officials.

Why did such resistance erupt to an amendment that sought to remedy injustices long experienced by American women? Why would an organized coalition engage in such a vigorous and exhaustive campaign against ratification? Because ERA represented a symbolic challenge to traditional gender roles that spanned historical boundaries and crossed over religious and cultural lines. This challenge, profound in the way it might alter the lives of men and women, had great potential for creating fear and anxiety.

The campaign, the “right fight,” Bradley said, was largely a rhetorical battle fought with words, but words nevertheless with profound impact on the lives of all American women. It was a battle no one won, with still an undecided outcome.

–Sarah Smith


Author’s note: For a complete history of ERA in Utah and in the LDS Church, look for Bradley’s upcoming book published by Signature Books: Pedestals and Podiums: Utah Women, Religious Authority, and the Equal Rights Amendment.

Other helpful references about ERA include Linda Sillitoe and Paul Swenson, “A Moral Issue,” Utah Holiday Magazine (January 1980); Rex E. Lee, A Lawyer Looks at the Equal Rights Amendment (1980); Mary Frances Berry, Why ERA Failed (1986); and Joan Hoff-Wilson, ed. Rights of Passage (1986).

More Thanks

August 2005

When a boyfriend took me to my first humanist meeting, circa 1992, I was intrigued and have been a humanist since, at least in spirit. Indeed, where would we be without Flo, Wayne, and Rolf as Earl Wunderli so passionately pointed out in his letter last month? Without the monthly dedication, work, and time these three have expended to this chapter over the last fourteen years or so, there might be no Humanists of Utah, period. As a new board member, I feel honored I could give a little back.

This is why when the board has a retreat this fall, two critical items should be addressed: 1) How to maintain and increase membership participation which means how to make humanism more vital to our members and meet their needs. 2) How to ensure that the committed leadership we have now continues to be sustained and strengthened. Obviously without both strong leadership and strong membership, our chapter could die.

With Earl, heartfelt thanks to the three and to the many others who have worked devotedly to keep this chapter alive and kicking.

–Sarah Smith


Response from Wayne: Did we die? Is this a wake? Yes we three have been involved for a long time, but there are many others equally dedicated to humanism in general and Humanists of Utah in particular. As Sarah notes, volunteer to help the cause; it is worth it!


In Memoriam

Martin Zwick

November 22, 1920 ~ September 24, 2005

October 2005

Martin Zwick, long time member of Humanists of Utah, died recently. He was better known to the general community as a musician and a true man of the world.

He taught elementary instrumental music in the Granite and Murray school districts and was an adjunct associate professor at the University of Utah and Westminister College. Martin met and married Muriel Hood Zwick, who is now deceased, in the early 1950’s. After retiring from the Utah Symphony, he had a second career playing, teaching and recording with the mandolin. Martin was truly a renaissance man. His joy of life and his spirit, his love of music and teaching, his enjoyment of good food, of great books and of his wonderful friends and his close family, all touched and affected many lives.

Humanists of Utah extends our condolences to his family.

Discussion Group Report

Love, Justice, and the Schools

June 2005

By Richard Layton

In facing your own mortality, what final message would you leave to posterity? Steve Allen, one of the world’s most outstanding humanists of the 20th century, asked that question in a speech at the Denver Performing Arts Center on October 22, 1994.

Noel Coward has described Allen as the most talented man in America. Described often as a “true Renaissance man, Allen created and hosted the Tonight show, authored 43 books and created and hosted the Emmy award winning show, the Meeting of the Minds. One of his best books is one called Reflection.

In his speech Allen said that his experience had led him to the conclusion that there is no natural justice in the Universe. People have suffered terrible natural disasters from time immemorial that showed no sign of any just force, natural or supernatural, having influenced the outcome, if one looks at the facts about what caused these occurrences.

Yet now the time of danger has not passed. We face the possibility of a man-made world-wide holocaust, a nuclear one. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has arisen the danger that nuclear weapons might fall into the hands of terrorists. The list of worries the human race faces is greater than ever. Formerly, serious social problems were confined to certain geographical areas. With the improvements in communications technology and the ability to travel long distances very rapidly, problems that formerly would have been local have become global. The bell of tragedy is now heard everywhere. In earlier times moral atrocities were over and done before news of them arrived in other areas.

For almost all of history, he says, the reaction to saying the kinds of things he was saying in this speech would have been his execution. We do not face such a danger now. Yet all humans face enormous moral questions everywhere. There are dark areas where moral monsters terrorize helpless people, as in Serbia and Haiti. The perpetrators of such monstrous injustices are usually the rich and the military and police forces that support them.

Allen proposes that all humans are entitled to protection from murder, rape, robbery and terrorizing actions. Yet our philosophical advisors about the moral dimension of human activity have been those who are formally religious. But it does not require a professional theologian to clarify simple questions of right and wrong.

Social bias and economic self-interest confers on us the moral judgments of those to whom we turn for instruction. Every culture is affected by such judgments. Ibsen in An Enemy of the People tells of a medical doctor who works in a local resort. He discovers a germ in the water that feeds into the resort that threatens the lives of everyone there. He tells the local officials about it, and they tell him to keep his mouth shut. The doctor’s advice is “bad for business.” Precisely the same trauma is now acted out everywhere (consider environmental warnings). Many die from inhaling tobacco smoke. Reformers are warned against because they disrupt business and might bring on big government intrusion. Manufacturers take your place as the judges of what will be allowed to take place. Again there is no natural justice in the universe; life is unfair. All around us are thousands who do not enjoy good health; they are not free of suffering inflicted by nature and humans.

One of the most foolish assertions we can make is that a vengeful, violent God inflicts such suffering. Ancient scriptures say that God is bent on bloody revenge and violence on us. It is an obligation of every human to oppose this idea, to develop as much justice as possible and never to hurt another human being. Some of us consider such ideals as worthless, seldom or never achieved. But there is never a direction that can be called true north. We sometimes make mistakes about morality, but we should continue to strive for virtue, to set the scale of justice as perfectly as possible. A greatly mistaken notion is that the only virtuous people are those who believe in religion, while unbelievers are unvirtuous.

Is there an all-knowing, all-loving and all-powerful God? This question has never been resolved satisfactorily to the world jury. Almost all of the world’s crimes, says Allen, are committed by those who accept the existence of God. Some assume that if there is no God, there is no reason to be virtuous. “Anything is permitted.” In two of the largest societies in history, both atheistic, the Soviet Union and China, not only is not everything permitted but much less is permitted than in free societies. If there is no God, the entire task is up to human beings. God is content to leave the work of improvement to humans.

Allen spoke of the experience of one of his sons, who converted to a religious cult. After 12 years his son left the cult. Allen says that, if one is converted to a religious belief system, the power of reason to change his mind is ineffective, even if the factual record is inconsistent with his religion. However, in general, whenever science and religion are pitted against each other, science has presented a more reasonable explanation.

Allen expressed a very serious concern about the American family. He says schools should teach people to love one another, but religion has taught love in the abstract rather than how to love in practical everyday relationships. Hitler’s Germany was overwhelmingly Christian and was the best educated populace in Europe. But they displayed blind strong hatred labeled as patriotism.

What is needed is for philosophy and religion to reinforce each other with the emphasis on practice, that is, on morality. Almost all religions teach that love is a supreme virtue. However, we all are gifted in loving what pleases us. The highest and most edifying form of love, and the one which may save the world, Allen suggests, involves loving those who are the most difficult to love.

He says the American family is now largely a failed institution. In our schools we train for almost every skill except marriage and parenthood. We don’t seem to learn anything from our philosophical opponents.

In Memoriam

Lois Craig

December 28, 1918 ~ June 10, 2005

July 2005

Lois Craig, well known among the freethinking community died June 10, 2005, in Denver, Colorado. Ms. Craig was an active member of Humanists of Utah, the Utah Atheists, and the First Unitarian Church.

Humanists of Utah extends our condolences to her family.

Life in a Theocracy Without a Free Press

February 2005

Brigham Young, wrote a vengeful ex-wife, “loses his temper every morning over the Salt Lake Tribune–the leading Gentile paper of Utah–and longs for a return of the days when one word of his would have put a summary and permanent end to the existence of this sheet, by the utter annihilation of everything and, everybody connected with it. But the time is forever past when the unsheathing of his bowie-knife, or the crooking of his little finger,’ pronounced sentence upon offenders, and the Gentile paper and its supporters flourish in spite of him.”

The subject of this article is the history of proud Utah’s independent newspapers and examines how the LDS church destroyed Utah’s first free press, The Valley Tan, and repeated the process by silencing the late, great Salt Lake Tribune.

Michael Vigh, Elizabeth Neff And Kristen Moulton, “Anatomy of a Newspaper War” Salt Lake Tribune, June 9, 2002, wrote, “Days after the Deseret News failed to take over the Salt Lake Tribune in October 1999, chairman of the board Glen Snarr stayed up much of the night praying. By abandoning a bid to buy the Tribune, ‘We would not own a newspaper that would continue its war of hate against us under our ownership,’ Snarr that morning told first counselor Thomas S. Monson. ‘It is more palatable to have our enemy owned elsewhere.’

Reminiscences of Early Utah, Robert N. Baskin

Upon becoming acquainted with Stephen DeWolfe who, in 1860, was the editor of Valley Tan, the first Gentile paper published in Utah, I expressed to him my disbelief of what I had heard asserted respecting the massacre. He replied that what I had heard was true, that he had carefully investigated the matter, and had published in the Valley Tan a true version of the crime. He subsequently gave me a copy of that paper, and the occurrences respecting the massacre therein stated were substantially the same as was afterward shown by the evidence in the first trial of John D. Lee. In an editorial he also asserted that the Mormons had perpetrated other horrible crimes, and that none of the participants had been prosecuted by the Mormon authorities. After the appearance of that editorial a committee of Mormons, of which Jeter Clinton, the police magistrate of Salt Lake City was spokesman, waited upon Mr. DeWolfe and demanded a retraction of what he had written. Mr. Clinton stated that unless the retraction was made he would not be responsible for the safety of Mr. DeWolfe, as the editorial had created great excitement among the people, and many threats of violence had been made against its author. The next editorial written by Mr. DeWolfe after the demand to retract had been made upon him, and which met with his refusal was far from apologetic.

The next day after the committee had waited on Mr. DeWolfe, Arthur Stainer, a hunchback bookkeeper for Brigham Young, entered the office of Mr. DeWolfe, who arose to greet him. Stainer approached with uplifted hands and pronounced upon him in the most solemn manner, and in the name of Jesus Christ, a curse. In relating the incident to me Mr. DeWolfe laughingly said, “he cursed me from head to foot, and wound up by cursing my powers and parts of procreation, at which I took him by the collar and ejected him from my office.”

Michael Scherer, “The News In Mormon Country,” Columbia Journalism Review, March-April 2003

Almost anywhere else, this symbolic blurring of church and state might seem exceptional. But in Utah, the line was never clearly drawn. More than a century after Young founded a new Zion on the western frontier; the region still functions as a quasi-theocracy. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints still dominates politics, local media, and culture. It claims membership of roughly two-thirds of the state’s residents and annual revenues that have been estimated at $6 billion. It is Utah’s largest employer and Salt Lake City’s largest landowner. Roughly 90 percent of the state legislature is Mormon, as are the governor, the House and Senate delegations, and a majority of the state’s Supreme Court and federal judiciary. In addition to Salt Lake’s afternoon daily, the Deseret News, the church owns the state’s largest television and news radio station and is buying two more of Salt Lake’s top five radio stations. Public schools still allow midday recesses for religious study; some have even banned Monday night activities in deference to the church’s traditional time for family worship. Mormons who publicly criticize church doctrine can still face excommunication, and critical news sources sometimes run the risk of ecclesiastical sanction.

For 132 years, Utah’s other major daily, the Salt Lake Tribune, has more or less defined itself against these interests. Far more than the Deseret News, the Tribune has reported aggressively in recent years on the political favors that benefited the church, on the ties between the Mormon church and the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee, and the church’s controversial conversion of a piece of Main Street into a religious park. The paper infuriated church leaders with a three-day series about a frontier massacre that may have been ordered by Brigham Young. But the newspaper’s independence is now in question….

Such delicate concerns, and the peculiar historical role of the Tribune, distinguish journalism in Utah. There are some signs that Singleton is learning the ropes. When he visited the paper in July, he lambasted an editorial cartoon by the Tribune’s Pat Bagley that lampooned–in typical Tribune fashion–Deseret Newsreaders. It portrayed non-Mormon readers of a new morning Deseret News spitting out the coffee, an oblique reference to the Mormon prohibition of certain caffeinated drinks.

“You won’t see cartoons like yesterday’s,” Singleton told the Tribune staff when asked about any changes he would make. “We will treat our partners with respect.” Bagley, whose biting wit often ruffles the feathers of church leaders, thought that his job might be on the line. “So I asked him to clarify,” Bagley says. “And he did a hundred-eighty-degree turn. I have free rein as long as I stay away from the lawsuit.”

Peter Waldman, the Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2000.

James Wall, the Deseret News publisher, says the church never planned to take over the Tribune’s news department, only the joint papers’ business operations. Yet in a November 1997 letter to Mr. Snarr, Deseret News Editor John Hughes offered detailed proposals for content and personnel changes at a church-ownedTribune. One read: “Exploit the presence of a non-Mormon editor (assuming you keep him) to reassure faint-hearted non-Mormon subscribers.” Mr. Wall dismisses that letter as just “an editor’s musings.”

AT&T’s Plan to Sell Newspaper Adds Fuel to a Salt Lake Feud Peter Waldman, the Wall Street Journal, October 6, 2000.

But the Tribune publisher acknowledges that the paper’s coverage of the church has also grown tougher in recent years, antagonizing its business partner. Earlier this year, he was summoned for an unusual meeting with Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley and his two top counselors. Everyone was cordial, Mr. Welch says, but the Mormon leaders expressed dismay at a recent Tribune series that delved into the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, when 120 California-bound emigrants from Arkansas were slaughtered by Mormon zealots and their Indian subordinates.

At the same meeting, Mr. Welch says, church leaders expressed disappointment in a 1998 Tribune series on polygamy (which the church discourages) and a 1991 article about traditional Mormon practices such as baptizing certain dead people, including William Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower.

“They don’t like us to bring up old history,” Mr. Welch says. Just a few weeks ago, the church publicly slammed the Tribune for an article accusing the church of misleading people about its intentions for a parcel of downtown Salt Lake City real estate.

A church spokeswoman says the church won’t comment on the Tribune’s coverage. But William B. Smart, the Deseret News’s editor and general manager from 1975 until 1988, says he has noticed a marked decline in the Tribune’s efforts at what he calls “community building.” He cites the series on the Mountain Meadows Massacre as a particularly telling example of the Tribune becoming “overblown and needlessly abrasive.”

Week of February 27 to March 5, 2001. Lucinda Fleeson, “The Battle of Salt Lake,” American Journalism Review

Shortly after the Tribune devoted most of its Sunday front page to the [Mountain Meadows] story, the office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints summoned Tribune Publisher Dominic Welch to 47 East South Temple Street, the imposing columned granite Mormon headquarters. There, Welch remembers, Mormon leaders castigated the Tribune for bringing up old history at a time when they sought healing.

The Tribune’s managers charge that news stories about the massacre and other matters the church would just as soon keep quiet are responsible, at least in part, for what they portray as a recent Mormon Church-led raid on their newspaper. In December, the Salt Lake Tribune was sold in a hostile takeover to Denver-based media mogul William Dean Singleton and his MediaNews Group. The Tribune’s managers–who wanted to buy the paper–went to court, charging that Mormon Church leaders pressured Tribune owner AT&T and conspired with Singleton, who in their view acted as a front for the Mormon Church.

Singleton, AT&T executives and managers at the Mormon Church-owned Deseret News, Salt Lake City’s afternoon daily, all deny such conspiracy assertions. The Tribune managers were unsuccessful in winning a restraining order against the sale but are pursuing a suit against Singleton, the phone company and theDeseret News for changing the joint operating agreement governing the two papers.

The events leading to the takeover of the Tribune are far more complex than a series of news stories. They involve 150 years of bad blood between Salt Lake City’s two dailies, as well as unexpected repercussions that reverberate from media mergers.

Church President Hinckley promised him editorial independence. “Those assurances were adequate and have been honored,” he says.

Even so, Hughes faxes editorials over to the church headquarters for review, a practice he deems appropriate, and similar to that at the Monitor. All of his newspaper’s profits revert to church coffers and have been enough to buy Hughes a stunning paneled office with a view of the mountains in a new nine-story downtown building.

Hughes’ counterpart, Tribune Editor James E. “Jay” Shelledy, is unabashed about most of his paper’s aggressive postures, saying: “We don’t just take press releases. We hammer hard on diversity, on the Legislature’s conflicts of interest. We tend to give women, minorities, Democrats more ink than their numbers and power bases would otherwise dictate.” Shelledy picked up a recent Sunday section devoted to gays in Utah and waved it. “They never would have done this story. Never.”

(Hughes concedes the point, saying he thought the story was “irrelevant.”) Shelledy also seems to take delight in tweaking the nose of the Mormon Church, with stories focusing on the church’s practice of baptizing the deceased and polygamy, which is still practiced by about 30,000 renegades in southern Utah.

One story that Shelledy kept quiet, however, was about attempts by the Tribune management and the News to buy the Tribune from AT&T. Tribune reporter Chris Smith says he learned in February 2000 that U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) had met with AT&T executives in mid-1999 on behalf of the Deseret News, regarding its possible acquisition of the Tribune. Not until more than 50 staff members signed an October 2 petition asking management to run a story about Hatch’s intervention did the piece surface.

“The petition was a good prompt,” says Shelledy, who says that the paper had been holding off on coverage because it had been contemplating a suit against AT&T at the time. The incident spotlights the inherent conflicts of interest that arise when a newspaper covers, or doesn’t cover, itself or its business partner.

“You’ve got to wonder what we’re doing in partnership with the Mormon Church, anyway,” says reporter Smith, “as it is the major institution that we cover.”

The church hierarchy at first denied that it was trying to buy a controlling interest in the rival and only admitted it when court papers became public. President Hinckley contended then that the church would have spun off the property, as it supports two independent editorial voices for Utah’s largest city.

Hatch, who is public about his membership in the Mormon Church, is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has broad oversight over mergers–including those involving AT&T. The senator has since stated that he was only meeting with AT&T on behalf of a constituent to advise the phone company that he didn’t see any antitrust problems if the Deseret News acquired another newspaper. Hatch has also conceded the meeting was an error, as it created what he says was the false appearance that he was trying to influence AT&T. “That’s like the elephant saying, ‘Please disregard that I was having sex with the mouse,’ ” contends Shelledy.

–Will Bagley

It Takes a Liberal and Conservative to Run a Nation

June 2005

Liberal. Conservative. Two honorable adjectives.

At least half of those who made America great were called liberals. The other half were called conservatives. They worked together. They discussed ideas. They made compromises. And the nation moved forward.

None of the policies that make America great are either all liberal or all conservative. Wise leaders and wise citizens adopt the best from both sides of the equation. That’s one reason for the nation’s success.

Now, a few leaders and their misinformed lackeys seek to make half that successful equation unacceptable. For them, “liberal” is synonymous with “evil.”

Sadly, too many of those negative voices are heard on my long-time professional home–KSL radio. Lately, I find myself apologizing for KSL to individuals I hold in high esteem. Some are business leaders. Some are educators. Some are church leaders. They complain about what they hear, and their status lends credibility to their remarks. These are not the nasty “liberals” ridiculed so often on KSL radio. They are intelligent, mostly conservative listeners…or former listeners.

Too bad. The programs originated by KSL here in Utah are excellent. No one operates a more balanced, fair and civil talk show than Doug Wright does each morning. And his weekly “Movie Show” is far better than the officious overreaching of movie reviewers on syndicated television and public radio.

Grant and Amanda may be the most balanced and professional morning drive team in America. They offer thinking listeners a meaningful combination of news, information and entertainment. KSL radio’s news, traffic and weather product outperforms anything else in the region, and the station’s professional radio news staff is strengthened by a large professional television news staff.

But during the afternoon and late evenings, KSL radio sells its broadcast soul for a few pieces of silver.

No doubt, Sean Hannity attracts large audiences. But a large audience for radio these days consists of a few thousand listeners, a small percentage of the total population. Hannity appeals to his audience with ridicule, prejudice, rudeness and anger. Some people find simple-mindedness more entertaining than reason. A prime rule of communication is that we tend to seek those things with which we agree.

Dr. James Dobson, another syndicated regular, pretends to talk about family, but his words are mostly political. He carries so much political baggage that those with opposing viewpoints should demand equal time.

Bill O’Reilly, in the late evening, is not as rude as Hannity, but he consistently ridicules those who disagree, sometimes after they have signed off and can no longer object. Lars Larsen is basically an anarchist who believes the only good thing government does is kill foreigners and put lawbreakers in jail–especially minority lawbreakers.

These broadcasters and their followers brand “liberals” as enemies of the state. Like Hitler’s mind-bending propaganda, they tell listeners over and over again that anyone with a drop of “liberal” blood is evil.

Their approach tarnishes KSL’s image and colors listener reaction to the high quality broadcast services KSL provides locally.

For 22 years, I was honored to write and present KSL editorials–almost 6,000 of them. I was never asked to say anything mean, disrespectful or unreasonable. More importantly, I can’t recall a single time when KSL’s ownership tried to impose its will on editorial comments. And so it is no surprise that the station’s ownership has refrained from meddling in program schedules.

I certainly don’t expect ownership to force changes now. And neither should you. But KSL’s board of directors could reasonably express concerns. Members of the board are business men and women. They must hear from the same critics who corner me more often than I like. And listeners or former listeners definitely have influence over management decisions. Don’t call or write to Hannity and friends; your effort will only be ridiculed. Instead, write directly to KSL. If you like the programming, let them know. But if you don’t like it, express your disappointment. Otherwise, station management looks only at the listening “numbers” and the “bottom line.”

The real bottom line is that those who entertain with rudeness, incivility and misinformation do more to hinder American progress than to help it along.

Reason and good manners are more important than financial gain.

–Don Gale

G. Donald Gale is president of Words, Words, Words, Inc. He was formerly editorial director at KSL. He earned a doctorate at the University of Utah and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Southern Utah University.

(Originally published in the Deseret Morning News, May 7, 2005)

Humanist Majority!

January 2005

At our December dinner social Flo Wineriter discussed his recent humanist presentation to a Jordon School District teachers’ conference on religion. One of the ideas he was asked to discuss with the teachers was his response to the question “What would be different in Utah if your members represented 70% of the population?”

Among the changes Flo presented to that conference were: public education would be tuition free through a college degree, sex education K-12 would emphasize responsible sexual expression, and public housing would be available for the homeless.

Flo asked those in attendance at our meeting to share their thoughts on how Utah would be different if humanists dominated our culture. Several societal improvements were expressed including: higher degree of tolerance, Utah would be a political blue state, families would have fewer children, there would be better funding for children’s day care, liquor would be sold commercially,

The audience responded with laughter when Flo summed up the suggestions saying, “Ironically, Utah would be heaven on earth if humanism dominated the Utah culture.”

In conclusion Flo said the exercise demonstrates the philosophy of humanism is much more than simply a non-belief in the supernatural.

–Flo Wineriter

The Law of Evolution

September 2005

Current challenges to teaching Evolution in our public schools misses one very important point. It really does not matter whether you “believe” in Evolution or not. Evolution is a “tool” that is used by scientists to understand life. It is not a belief system. It has certainly been an effective instrument! Many of the medical advances since Darwin are a direct result of applying Evolution to the study of life and life processes. The other biological sciences also have their foundation firmly seated in Evolution.

Much of the rancor could be removed, over time, from this debate if the general public would start referring to the “Law of Evolution.” The evidence is overwhelming and there is precedent; Physicists consider Gravity to be a theory. The evidence supporting Evolution, like the proof sustaining Gravity, is pervasive and overwhelming. Let scientists call these processes theories. These observable phenomena should be considered Laws of Nature by the general public.

Finally, we should understand that as soon as a new explanation (i.e., a better tool) surfaces that more thoroughly explains empirical observations, our current laws/theories will be dropped like hot potatoes and traded in on the new models. Science is in the business of explaining, not believing.

–Wayne Wilson

It Can’t Happen Here

~Book Review~

November 2005

Sinclair Lewis, perhaps best known for his novels Babbit, Main Street, Elmer Gantry, and Aerosmith published It Can’t Happen Here in 1935. This is a chilling novel that seems uncannily similar to our current political situation. The story line is that FDR lost his bid for re-election in 1936 to a party that gave rise to the Corpo’s, a parallel movement to Communism in the Soviet Union, Nazism in Germany, and Fascism in Italy.

President Berzelius Windrip, supported by the Evangelical movement and enforced by his private Minute Man army (the MM’s,) announced on his inauguration day that his 15-Point Plan will take effect immediately. Congress convened and promptly rejected the new President’s ambitions. The MM’s marched and took those in Congress who voted against Buzz into “protective custody.”

It does not take long for Buzz to declare himself ruler (dictator) with the expressed goals of ridding America of welfare cheats, sex, crime, and the liberal press.

The story line develops around a liberal newspaper man who is beaten and jailed for his unwillingness to join the movement.

Here is a quick quote from the book: “More and more, as I think about history, I am convinced that everything that is worth while in the world has been accomplished by the free, inquiring, critical spirit, and that the preservation of this spirit is more important than any social system whatsoever. But the men of ritual and the men of barbarism are capable of shutting up the men of science and of silencing them forever.”

I hope that it really cannot happen here!

–Wayne Wilson

Humanist Humor

November 2005

  • I am an agnostic pagan. I doubt the existence of many gods.
  • A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar.The bartender says, “What is this, some kind of joke?”
  • And on the 8th day God said, OK Murphy, you take over.
  • Atheist achieving orgasm: Oh Random! Oh Chance!
  • Blessed are the Fundamentalists, for they shall inhibit the earth.
  • If money is the root of all evil, why do churches want it so badly?
  • That was Zen. This is Tao. Sects, sects, sects. Is that all you monks ever think about?

From HumanistNetworkNews.org, October 11, 2005

Humanism as the Next Step

~Book Review~

November 2005

If you are still stumped when friends ask you about humanism, this is the book for you. Authors Lloyd and Mary Morain have been humanist leaders for more than fifty years and have condensed the essence of our philosophy into a little more than 100 pages! The 3000 year history of humanist thinkers, basic beliefs of modern humanism, guidelines on living humanist principles today, it’s all here. The book includes the essay by Fred Edwords, “Humanist Philosophy in Perspective.”

Keep this book on your coffee table for a quick reference.

–Flo Wineriter

Discussion Group Report

How Rich is Too Rich for Democracy?

December 2005

By Robert Mayhew

Dick Layton is recovering from surgery. This month’s article was written by Bob Mayhew. Best wishes to Dick for a rapid and complete recovery!

At what point does great wealth held in a few hands actually harm democracy, threatening to turn a democratic republic into an oligarchy?

In a letter to Joseph Milligan on April 6, 1816, Thomas Jefferson explicitly suggested that if individuals became so rich that their wealth could influence or challenge government, then their wealth should be decreased upon their death. He wrote, “If the overgrown wealth of an individual be deemed dangerous to the State, the best corrective is the law of equal inheritance to all in equal degree…”

In this, he was making the same argument that the Framers of Pennsylvania tried to make when writing their constitution in 1776. As Kevin Phillips notes in his masterpiece book “Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich,” a Sixteenth Article to the Pennsylvania Bill of Rights (that was only “narrowly defeated”) declared: “an enormous proportion of property vested in a few individuals is dangerous to the rights and destructive of the common happiness of mankind, and, therefore, every free state hath a right by its laws to discourage the possession of such property.”

Unfortunately, many Americans believe our nation was founded exclusively of, by, and for “rich white men,” and that the Constitution had, as its primary purpose, the protection of the super-rich. They would have us believe that the Constitution’s signers didn’t really mean all that flowery talk about liberal democracy in a republican form of government.

But the signers didn’t send other peoples kids to war, as have two generations of the oligarchic Bush family. Many of the Founders themselves gave up everything, even risking (and losing) their lives, their life’s savings, or losing their own homes and families to birth this nation.

The majority of the signers of the Constitution were actually acting against their own best economic interests when they put their signatures on that document, just as had the majority of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Forrest McDonald notes in his book, We the People: The Economic Origins of the Constitution, that a quarter of all the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had voted in their own state legislatures for laws that would have helped debtors and the poor and thus harmed the interests of the rich. “Another fourth of the delegates had important economic interests that were adversely affected, directly and immediately, by the Constitution they helped write.”

So what motivated the framers of the Constitution? Why did James Madison not publish his own notes of the Convention until 1840, just after the last of the other participants had died? The reason, simply put, was that most of the wealthy men among the delegates were betraying the interests of their own economic class. They were voting for democracy instead of oligarchy.

But there were larger issues at stake. The people who hammered out the Constitution had such a strong feeling of history and destiny that it at times overwhelmed them.

They realized that in the seven thousand-year history of what they called civilization, only once before, in Athens-and then only for the brief flicker of a few centuries-had anything like a democracy ever been brought into existence and survived more than a generation.

Their writings show that they truly believed they were doing sacred work, something greater than themselves, their personal interests, or even the narrow interests of their wealthy constituents back in their home states.

They believed they were altering the course of world history and if they got it right we could truly create a better world.

Since the so-called “Reagan revolution” more than cut in half the income taxes the multimillionaires and billionaires among us pay, wealth has concentrated in America in ways not seen since the era of the Robber Barons, or, before that, pre-revolutionary colonial times. At the same time, poverty has exploded and the middle class is under economic siege.

The Founders of our republic fought a war against an aristocratic, oligarchic nation, and were very clear that they didn’t want America to ever degenerate into aristocracy, oligarchy, or feudalism. We must hold to their vision of an egalitarian, democratic republic.

H E L P

President’s Message

October 2005

On September 11, 2005, members of the board of directors for our chapter held a retreat at the home of John and Wanda Young, with their daughter and board member Cindy King as hostess. We held the meeting to discuss ways to improve the chapter. I’m happy with the results. During the session we came up with many good ideas and projects, and we will be working toward making them a reality. At the September board meeting, we began to sort out what we discussed at the retreat.

You might ask “what ideas and projects?” I won’t elaborate right now because they are in the early planning stage. However one idea that has already started is our HELP program or mission as Flo Wineriter has worded it:

Humanists of Utah, an incorporated Utah non-profit corporation, has a mission to promote the principles of Humanism, the history of the Enlightenment, the philosophy of Liberalism, and the policies of Progressivism.

H E L P

Wayne Wilson has made that sentence a footer on our web page, and you can expect to hear more about H.E.L.P. in the next few months. It is our hope that we can restore these words and ideals to common knowledge and understanding. The board of directors is in agreement that the right wing has been good at making these words and concepts negative or pejorative in perception. That needs to change. Being progressive is a good attribute. In deed, the very process that the board is going through is a progressive thing to do. To revitalize, to move forward, make changes, to think. And good discussions and accurate definitions will aid in the mission to promote these concepts.

–Bob Lane

God’s Politics

~Book Review~

April 2005

Liberal values are summarized with clarity in George Lakoff’s book, a short easy read of 120 pages. Every humanist will be energized with a burst of adrenalin and pride as the message of liberal ideas unfolds on every page. As the author writes in the preface, “It is vital for us, for our country, and for the world that we (Liberals) stay united. It is our values that unite us. We must learn to articulate those values loud and clear.”

This book is written in the service of helping us reach that goal.

George Lakeoff is Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley.

–Flo Wineriter

The Godless Constitution

~Book Review~

November 2005

After the intense thinking and reflection stimulated by America’s Constitution it was refreshing to read The Godless Constitution, written by Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore. This moral defense of the secular state is a much easier read and deals only with the historical efforts to declare the United States a Christian Nation. Did you know that in 1810 religious leaders demanded that the U.S. Postal Service stop delivering mail on Sundays? Their century plus campaign continued until 1912 when Congress closed for good all postal activities on Sundays.

The authors challenge secularists to recognize our serious moral problems and learn to speak passionately about solving them.

–Flo Wineriter

God and Country

~Book Review~

July 2005

Subtitled Politics in Utah, God and Country is a series of essays by 17 prominent Utahns regarding their experiences and views on how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints directly and indirectly exerts influence on political, cultural, and social life in the Beehive state. Among the distinguished contributors are the late Professor Peter C. Appleby, Governor Calvin L. Rampton, political reporter Rod Decker, Rev. Thomas R. Goldsmith, attorney John J. Flynn, peace activist Edwin B. Firmage, and Salt Lake Tribune publisher emeritus John W. Gallivan.

In the foreword, Harold J. Berman says, “We delight in the Constitutional order in which ecclesiastical and political authorities are required to be entirely separate and where neither may interfere in the legitimate activities of the other.” The various contributors discuss several ways that wall of separation has historically been tested in Utah. Berman continues, “Tensions between religious belief and governmental policy become especially acute when adherents of different religious faiths compete with each other to influence governmental action.” Berman concludes, “…government and religions are dimensions of each other…the two need each other.”

Everyone interested in how church and state, religion and government, interact in Utah will find these essays compelling.

–Flo Wineriter

God And Country
Jedffery E. Sells, editor
Publisher: Signature Books, SLC 2005

Discussion Group Report

Global Warming

August 2005

By Richard Layton

Richard Layton is on leave. Thanks to Cindy King for writing this month’s report

“The Death of the Environmentalism: Global warming in a Post-environmental World” by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus and an in-depth response “There is Something Different about Global Warming” by Carl Pope are reviewed this month.

Shellenberger and Nordhaus interviewed more that twenty-five of this Country’s leading environmental progressive leaders, which was the basis of their article “The Death of Environmentalism” and was presented to the Environmental Grantmakers Association in October 2004.There are three main premises that their article focuses on: 1. Is it time to reexamine everything we think we know about global warming and environmental polices? 2. Has environmentalism become too much of a special interest? 3. What does and doesn’t get counted as “environmental” to the movement’s small-bore approach to policymaking?

Over the last 15 years environmental organizations have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into combating global warming, from the battles over higher fuel efficiency for cars and trucks to the attempts to reduce carbon emissions through international treaties. Yet there is little to show for it. The public campaigns of America’s environmental leaders in articulating a vision of the future commensurate the magnitude of the crisis. Instead they are promoting technical policy fixes like pollution controls and higher vehicle mileage standards–proposals that provide neither the popular inspiration nor the political alliances the community needs to deal with problems. By failing to question their most basic assumptions about the problem and the solution, the community’s political strategy has become focused around using science to define the problem as “environmental” and crafting technical policy proposals as solutions.

What the environmental movement needs more that anything else right now is to take a collective step back to rethink everything. Shellenberger and Nordhaus believe it will never be able to solve the problem of global warming unless we understand our failures as essentially tactical and make proposals that are essentially technical. Shellenberger and Nordhaus point to the three-part strategic framework for environmental policy-making that hasn’t changed in forty years: First: define a problem as “environmental,” second: craft a technical remedy, and third: sell the technical proposal to legislators. The arrogance here is that environmentalists are asking not what we can do for non-environmental constituencies, but what non-environmental constituencies can do for environmentalists.

Shellenberger and Nordhaus claim that for the environmental community the answer is easy when it comes to addressing the global warming issue: too much carbon in the atmosphere. They recommend the forming of coalitions. But the problem according to authors is that environmental leaders have persuaded themselves that it’s their job to worry about “environmental” problems and that it’s the labor movement’s job to worry about “labor” problems. If there’s overlap, they say, great. But we should never ever forget “who we really are.” They concluded by stating that environmentalism should die out and be reformed.

In response to Shellenberger and Nordhaus, Carl Pope, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, who was one of the environmentalists that Shellenberger and Nordhaus interviewed, replied. Pope claims that the premises of Shellenberger and Nordhaus are troublesome and their conclusions are very much flawed. This may distract us from the real work at hand.

The Sierra Club, as early as the Carter Administration, sought an alliance with the United AutoWorkers on domestic content legislation to free the union up to becomes again an advocate for change among the domestic manufacturers.

On the issue of should we junk our environmental institutions, as Shellenberger and Nordhaus claim, because environmentalists are framing the issue around too narrow of a technical solution, they ask then who will craft the proposals around vision and values? The full record which Shellenberger and Nordhaus negate is to show that in the summer of 2002 the Sierra Club joined the Steelworkers in calling for federal action to relieve steel companies of their legacy pension and health care costs, for which the Sierra Club received a lot of praise.

Pope claims the Shellenberger and Nordhaus failed to provide answers to some very basic and troublesome questions. They do not seem to have sorted out whether they think the environmental movement should abandon or embrace the “tell the world how many of its problems are due to global warming frame” or what role technological optimism should play in our efforts and communications strategies. Shellenberger and Nordhaus have not touched on the thorny question of how they stand on the long dialogue among social change theorists about whether incremental behavioral changes leads to newer and eventually larger changes in thinking, which then enables new behavior changes. Unfortunately, by failing to offer their own ideas for scrutiny they rendered their report nihilistic–able to destroy but not create.

Some of the solutions that environmentalists have to offer are multitude. For example: policy-based interest group advocacy; creating community vision and have value-driven “wrong” industrial practices or technologies banned or eliminated world wide; creating new forms of rights such that citizens could assume more control over a wider range of decisions which have impacts on them, to name a few. The conflict in solving the global warming issues is the conflict between prudence/prevention versus risk/retaliation. Environmentalists have been pretty consistent in taking the side of traditional–prudence, the precautionary principle, prevention–against the hard libertarian right. Environmental disclosure gives us tools we can use effectively to move the public conversation on global warming–even though they are not the tools of interest-group lobbying.

The End of Faith
The Future of Reason

~Book Review~

August 2005

Sam Harris, PhD, delivers a startling analysis of the clash between reason and religion in his book The End of Faith. The Future of Reason, published by WW Norton, 2004.

He calls for a modern foundation for ethics that is both secular and humanistic. These few quotes from his epilogue summarize his thoughts.

“In the best case, faith leaves otherwise well-intentioned people incapable of thinking rationally about many of their deepest concerns; at worst, it is a continuous source of human violence…Many are still eager to sacrifice happiness, compassion, and justice in this world, for a fantasy of a world to come…

“…whatever changes await us, one thing seems unlikely to change: as long as experience endures, the difference between happiness and suffering will remain our paramount concern.

“…it must be possible to live ethically–with a genuine concern for the happiness of other sentient beings–without presuming to know things about which we are patently ignorant.”

You will be lavishly rewarded for the time you spend reading this scholarly work.

–Flo Wineriter

Discussion Group Report

The Future of Immortality

January 2005

By Richard Layton

Our society’s youth orientation has created a consumer culture devoted to prolonging our vitality and lives. Perhaps someday soon scientists will learn how to extend the human life span indefinitely, which may lead us to create a race of human “immortals.” This will inevitably change our attitudes towards family and aging, not to mention our understanding of life itself. Are we prepared to answer the questions this possibility will raise?

This question is raised by Brian Trent in his article, “The Future of Immortality,” in the May/June, 2004, issue of the Humanist.

“Death is natural, but not everything natural is good,” he says. There is a time-honored tendency to erect an altar to nature while simultaneously rebuking human civilization for its ingenuities. We choose to imagine the natural as a sort of Disney character filled with benevolence and tenderness, and in doing so we evade the more brutal, red-in-tooth-and claw reality. The scavenging life of our earliest human ancestors who tread the narrow threshold between survival and extinction is forgotten–the winters that drove them into caves, the mortal combat with wooly titans of yesteryear, the young aspirations of a being who could hope for 20, maybe 25 years of life…

“With no claws, no fur, no poison sacs or natural armor, the naked ape was headed for early and permanent retirement: a dead-end of evolution. Instead this vulnerable being made use of the only asset that distinguished it from its unforgiving environment: a three-pound organ housed within a delicate skull. And with this tool it enacted a legacy spanning from the first flint knife to the surgeon’s scalpel forever remaking the world to suit its needs. With its meteoric ascension came an increase in longevity.”

Brent Jones, says Trent, doesn’t exist, but one day someone like him most likely will. He wakes up each day with the perspective that tomorrow is forever because he is forever. Yesterday he celebrated his 800th birthday though he looks barely more than 30. He has lived longer than the entire history of the Roman Empire. He is the living example of homo sapiens’ most enduring dream: he is an immutable being. Perhaps he takes a weekly dose of youth drugs, or maybe his own genes have been permanently engineered to keep him perpetually youthful.

Perhaps someday soon, scientists will learn how to extend the human life span indefinitely. To a growing number of scientists and commentators, this is neither wild dreaming nor science fiction. The mechanics of aging and death are being laid bare in laboratories around the world. Evolutionary biologist Michael R. Rose of the University of California at Irvine has bred “immortal” fruit flies. While an average fruit fly lives several weeks, Rose possesses flies that have lived 24 years and still have a daily metabolic rate which is the same as that of normal flies. Trent says, “The Holy Grail of this research will be to discover what enzymes allow the insects to enjoy these stellar life spans and then find an equivalent dose for human beings.” Or it might be 62 enzymes plus DNA treatments.

As the human genome gets mapped, attention has fallen on two genes that seem to be managers of the death process–Mortality 1 and Mortality 2. These genes seem to be responsible for ordering the body to wither and die. The Grim Reaper is truly under the microscope. It may bring to life a dream as old as civilization.

Death was an obsession to the brilliant Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, who devoted much time in his Meditations to proclaiming that “human lives are brief and trivial; yesterday a blob of semen, tomorrow embalming fluid and ash.” The ancient Egyptians interest in eternal life is well documented and formed the basis for their mummification rituals. In China the self-proclaimed First Emperor Ch’in Shi Huangdi was so obsessed with finding immortality that he sent thousands of explorers to seek it out. When their efforts failed, he commissioned a full-body suit of pure jade to be his funeral cerements (Jade was believed to have magical powers of rejuvenation.)

Can we build a race of immortals? At what cost? But should we? Trent asks.

The first chorus of objections will hail from a familiar source: the major parties and religions. They will parallel the vociferous objections bandied about when it was first suggested that the Earth wasn’t flat, that the sun was at the heart of the solar system, and that humanity evolved from early primates. After all, religion’s greatest strength is in providing hope for the life beyond the one we now have. But if science suddenly could gives eternal life, then scientists would become the new priests, handing out eternity in pills rather than prayers.

Today the cosmetics industry offers an array of makeup, concealers, moisturizers, and other treatments to make wrinkles go away. Is it likely that consumers who fuel this global market will back off if eternal youth comes in pill form?

Secular opponents will raise their voices, too. The fear of overpopulation is the most immediate quandary. Already more than six billion strong, a race of immortals inevitably strain the planet’s resources to the breaking point. The prospect of constructing permanent settlements on the moon and Mars has found its way into the political spotlight. Would there be a ceiling for human population?

There’s something else to consider. If forever pills went on the market tomorrow, not everyone would take them. Many people are perfectly content to cash in their chips and go forth to whatever fate they believe awaits them–pearly gates, Valhalla, or the happy hunting grounds. There will likely be people who, after a full life of 200 or two million years, will decide that enough is simply enough.

General social upheaval is the next and biggest concern. What do you do when a company has an immortal board of directors? Or when you’re married to someone for nine centuries and finally become bored with it all? Or when you have a senator who has lingered in the government for five thousand years? With the possibility of immortality, the fabric of society may be stretched and pulled until it breaks and will have to be rewoven. Even the scientific community could raise objections. Immortals could represent an affront to and the end of evolution. But this is nothing new. We don’t surrender to nature; we fight back. Not just biological evolution but creative and social evolution as well will be under threat. Will immortal nations enter a state of torpor, devitalized by a lack of ambition and innovation? Or will limitless horizons be seized with new force? Will a poet’s lament be not over death but be over the vastness of eternity?

Life isn’t always pleasant, even if we subtract the dread of dying from the equation. If 80 years is difficult to cope with how would Brent Jones handle 800? With newscasts showing him the latest wars, disease and human cruelty, does there ever reach a point when he decides to cancel his dose of eternity? If the doors of the brave new world swing wide, everything will be transformed. We might perish like bacteria in a petri dish. Or an undying race might achieve a perennial Golden Age even the most inspired Greek dared not imagine.

Either way,” says Trent, “the immortals are likely coming… There may be people alive right now who could live to see endless sunrises. Dreaming of the reality for so long, humanity won’t back away when the creeping dawn of attainment can already be seen brightening the attainment.”

Freedom of Copnscience

February 2005

As a humanist, I profess non-theistic beliefs. I do not believe in God or the supernatural. But I do believe in ethics based on reason and compassion. I also share with religious thinkers a sense that the fundamental questions of existence–such as “What is the nature of the universe?” and “How should I live my life?”–are of the greatest importance.

Unfortunately, it is widely assumed that if you are nonreligious you must be anti-religious. Like most nonreligious people, I am not afraid to criticize religious beliefs that I think are wrongheaded or harmful, but that does not make me anti-religious. I respect and defend the right of people to hold religious beliefs.

Free inquiry is thus essential to the process of discovering reality and gaining insight about our own human experience. Humanists value tolerance and diversity as beneficial qualities in society. We don’t just put up with different viewpoints because we have to; we believe that dialogue between different viewpoints can lead to progress in understanding.

–Matt Cherry, President
U.N. NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion
Also past director of the Institute for Humanist Studies
Printed in Humanist Network News 12/29/04

Fear Mongering

November 2005

Herman Goering at his Nuremberg trial said: “The people can always be brought to do the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.”

Fear mongering is an especially effective way to incite violence. We must ever dedicate our lives to affirming the dignity of others, not through beliefs but through actions.

–Curt Collier
N.Y. Ethical Culture Leader

The Evil Empire

August 2005

The other day I was watching the original Star Wars movie. In one scene, Luke and Obi-Wan are looking down at the port city where they are going to look for transport off the planet. Obi-Wan states, “You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” I had to laugh, because I thought he could just as well be talking about Washington D.C. or at least the group in charge at present. They are the same group who are presently trashing the Constitution and claiming to be the only ones who are patriotic and righteous. Sounds like a real-world evil empire to me.

And, of course, now that I’ve criticized them, this letter will go into some database or file. So that if the time comes that they somehow amass enough power, they can come and haul me away with all the other “undesirables”: liberals, nonbelievers, freethinkers, feminists, gays, and lesbians, humanists, atheists, believers in non-mainstream religions, “noncompliant” scientists, evolutionists, and environmentalists and on and on. They will haul us away to some Topaz-like compound or make the “worst of us” just disappear.

Sound a bit dramatic and over blown? Perhaps, but then again, maybe not.

As a postscript, I suggest that you take a look at a web sitecalled The American Taliban. It is a little hard to read the whole thing. But it helps make my point about these people.

–Bob Lane

Essay Contest Winners Present Papers

May 2005

This year’s winners of the Marion Craig Essay Contest read their winning entries and received their awards at our April 14th meeting. The first place winner, receiving a check for $500.00, was Megan Smith, Riverton High School senior, who wrote about Rational Thinking . Her essay described various aspects of Rational Thinking and concluded with, “In order to make the world better, people with rational thought must speak out and have influence.”

The second place winner was Halie Boardman, also a senior at Riverton High School. She wrote about the Role of Ethics in Our Society and received a check for $250.00. She summarized her essay saying, “Ethics help keep things in order and in peace…It is our responsibility to our society and those around us to live a life of good ethics.”

In addition to the awards to our winning essayists, Humanists of Utah presented a $250.00 check for classroom supplies to Ms. Claudette Rush, Riverton High English teacher.

Winners

Ms. Smith accepting her check from Marion Craig Essay Contest Committee Chairperson Flo Wineriter and Chapter President Bob Lane

Ms. Boardman accepting her check from Marion Craig Essay Contest Committee Chairperson Flo Wineriter and Chapter President Bob Lane

–Flo Wineriter

Marion Craig

Essay Contest Winners 2005

April 2005

Results are in for the second annual Marion Craig Essay Contest. This year we received many more entries than last year. All were well written and showed remarkable thinking skills by the young people who submitted them. Congratulations to the Essay Contest Committee of Flo Wineriter, Cindy King, Bob Lane, Bob Mayhew, and Mike Huston for a job well done in running this contest.

Two Riverton High School students were the winners. The First Place award of $500.00 was earned by Megan E. Smith, Second Place winner of $250.00 is Halie Boardman. Both awardees are seniors. Mrs. Rush, English teacher of first place winner Megan Smith, will receive $250.00 for classroom supplies from the Humanists of Utah.

The essay contest invited high school students in junior and senior English classes in the Great Salt Lake Valley to write an essay of 1500 words or less on one of five subjects: What is rational thinking? How does the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution affect government involvement with religion? What is the role of ethics in our society? Homeland security versus personal rights, and What is our stewardship to our planet?

Ms. Smith’s essay on Rational thinking

Ms. Boardman’s essay on Ethics

–Flo Wineriter

Marion Craig Memorial Essay Contest
Second Prize

What is the Role of Ethics in Our Society?

April 2005

As children, we were taught by our parents that it is wrong to lie, cheat, and steal. As we grow up and enter into the real world with some knowledge of right and wrong, we see, first hand, the importance of ethics as well as its complexity. The role of ethics in our society is very necessary because it has a large influence on today, as well as the future. We need to learn about good ethics because they guide our decisions, make us who we are, and determine our future.

Ethics are learned throughout our lives as we associate with others. During years of schooling, we learn ethics as we interact with teachers and classmates and learn respect and other skills. In the work place, we learn responsibility, teamwork, punctuality, and communication skills. When we understand why these ethical values are necessary, we realize the importance they have in our success as well as our everyday lives. We use these skills, along with our knowledge of right from wrong as we go about various activities such as driving, buying milk at the supermarket, filing out an application, etc. We know that it is unlawful to run a red light, shop-lift, and lie under oath. Because good ethics make us honest, law-abiding citizens, we contribute to the good of society.

Today’s society is full of crime, irresponsibility, and dishonesty…but imagine if the entire population had no sense of ethics. The role of ethics in our society is very important because it is the basic beliefs and standards that make everything run smoothly. Ethics are involved in all organizations and institutions around us whether it be political, medical, lawful, religious, or social. Ethics are what gives us comfort knowing that we live in a country where we are able to choose. Because we believe our doctors are ethical, we feel certain we can trust their diagnoses. If ethics did not apply to medicine, some doctors may knowingly misdiagnose their patients just for the sake of money rather than for the persons’ health and well-being. Ethics give us comfort that the business deal will not fall through. In today’s society, laws and contracts are enforced to make sure that the business deals are fair and that the both people will hold up their end of the deal. Without any application of ethics, our society would be one of dishonesty and uncertainty. Although we do not have a perfect society, the ethics in our country is what makes the United States such a great country.

Ayn Rand explains, “Ethics is a code of values which guides our choices and actions and determine the purpose and course of our lives.” It is simply a principle that helps promote, enhance, and maintain our lives. Ethics play a role in the lives of individuals and each individual has an influence on society considering that all people and things around them are affected by their choices whether they be good or bad (running a stop sign or slowing down when the light is yellow). Many people decide early in life if they are going to live their lives in truth or dishonesty. Ethics influence the choices that individuals make and will eventually determine their lives and who they become. Our beliefs, standards, and personalities are formed by the way we interpret what is wrong and right and how we act upon these interpretations.

Valdemar W. Setzer said, “Ethics is not definable, is not implemental, because it is not conscious; it involves not only our thinking, but also our feeling. Not only do we need to know what ethics are, but we also need to want to act upon them. People can have the knowledge of right from wrong, but still have no desire to live and act in an ethical manner. Alfred Adler expresses this idea by saying, “It is easier to fight for principles than to live up to them.” In many auto shops, they guarantee honest and superior workmanship, but in reality, their work is substandard. Actions speak louder than words because they are just that…words. So many people criticize our country and its leaders, but do not live in a way that can improve our society. In order to want to better society, one must have high ethical standards.

We know that ethics are more than abstaining from lying, cheating, and stealing, but that it is the knowledge of right from wrong which influences one’s conduct and decisions. The way people choose (wrong or right) effects all those around them whether they like it or not. Without ethics, our society would become even more corrupt and fall from the great nation which it is today. Ethics help keep things in order and in peace. Because our decisions have such a great influence, it is our responsibility to our society and those around us to live a life of good ethics.

–Halie Boardman

Ms. Boardman accepting her check from Marion Craig Essay Contest Committee Chairperson Flo Wineriter and Chapter President Bob Lane

Marion Craig Memorial Essay Contest
Winning Entry

What is Rational Thinking?

April 2005

Rational thought is reasoned thought. Reasoned thought is logical thought. And logical thought has the ability to draw conclusions based on knowledge. This knowledge comes from science and art, or simply culture. Culture and history show the problems of the past, and perhaps a solution. The solution comes through weighing the options, thinking of the consequences, and coming to the conclusion that is the best for the individual. Thus, rational thought promotes the common good for the individual, by making changes in government and society for their benefit.

Socrates and Aristotle’s ancient philosophies influenced much of the western world as well as the modem world today. Aristotle believed that no one could be happy without fulfilling his or her “function.” He called humans the “rational animal,” and since humans’ ultimate goal is to be happy, they must live a life governed by reason in order to be happy. In order for behavior to be considered “governed by reason”, it has to be moral and be for the common people’s good. Socrates’ ultimate goal was to show human’s how to think and act with reason so they can be happy by acting morally and ethically correct.

Conscientiously, or rationally, a human cannot be happy when seeing other humans suffer. There are some who would not recognize their suffering as suffering, or possibly recognize them even as human beings. Biologically, humans are genetically similar, no matter what their race. Across races, humans are certainly more genetically similar to each other than to apes. Thus, the rational human recognizes those suffering as fellow humans, has pity on them, and feels humans owe it to each other to treat one another as equals. This is a fundamental principle of rational thought.

In order to treat each other as equals, as rational thought leads to, the government must treat them as equals, and allow everyone a part in government. This is something that the Founding Fathers understood very well. They gave the people new rights they never had before under other governments. They could vote, bear arms, have the right of free speech, etc. Thomas Jefferson originally wished to allow the African Americans to vote, but because of “non”-rational thinkers who did not understand the fundamental principle formerly mentioned, they took that portion out of the Declaration of Independence. Because of more recent rational thinkers, women, all races, can now vote.

In the Age of Reason, also called the “Age of Rationalism”, books such as Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre de Laclos, Philosophy in the Bedroom by Marquis de Sade, and Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind by Condorcet, stressed how life could be changed, and how the common or accepted belief mayor may not be correct. These books encouraged skepticism, and questioning. In some novels during this time, it provokes the rational thinking individual to separate from the common beliefs of the culture.

Rational thinking involves making one’s own opinions, not conforming to others. One needs to find what is right for one’s self. By doing this, people can come up with new ideas to make society better. They can come up with a solution to help the individual have more rights. Once a good, accurate, well-thought out idea is found, there is a major responsibility to let others know about it. An idea does no good in the world if it is never heard. Columbus would not have discovered America, the Methodist, Baptist, Protestant, and Puritan churches would not have been established, the American Revolution would not have happened, if important, influential people had not spoken out, none of these major events would have taken place.

Rational Thinking includes considering the consequences beforehand, and trying to make life better for the individual. Philosophers and politicians have studied history and used rational thinking for centuries. History, art and science can teach principles and theories, which are critical in order to have good, rational thought. In order to make the world better, people with rational thought must speak out and have influence. They have before, they can again.

–Megan Smith

Ms. Smith accepting her check from Marion Craig Essay Contest Committee Chairperson Flo Wineriter and Chapter President Bob Lane

Elections 2005

January 2005

Elections for the Board of Directors will be handled the same way polling was done last year. Ballots will be mailed to all members with an addressed return envelope. Ballots need to be post marked and sent no later than Friday, February 4, 2005. Results of the election will be announced at the General Membership Banquet and Business meeting on Thursday, February 10th.

Offices up for election this year include: President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, and one Board position. Voters also have the option of writing in a candidate’s name providing they contact that person and obtain their approval in advance. Watch the mail for your ballot, mark it and return it as soon as possible!

President – Bob Lane

Bob was born and raised in Utah. He graduated from Skyline High School in 1966. Bob graduated from the University of Utah with a BS in Physical Geography. He loves both science and science fiction.

He has two children, Nicole and Eric, from a previous marriage. He has spent the past 20+ years with his “sweetheart” Amy O’Connor.

Bob has served on the Board since 2001 and is running for President to assume the reigns from retiring Heather Dorrell. Regulars at our meetings know him as Cookie Bob.

Vice President – Bob Mayhew

Bob’s first year on the Board has been very successful and productive. He is looking for a promotion!

Bob came to humanism the usual way, probably born one but did not realize it until half of his life’s journey was finished. His high points started with the realization of the general hypocrisy of the several protestant sects whose services he attended as a child and adolescent.

He was influenced by writers whose names are; Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Clark, Wells, Verne, Orwell, Vonnegut, Vidal, etc.

He met and married Julie. She and her mother, Alice Jensen, introduced him to Unitarian Universalism and that led, inevitably to humanism.

Secretary – Wayne Wilson

Wayne brought his check book to the first Humanists of Utah meeting he attended in 1993 and has been a paying chapter member ever since. He joined the Board in 1994.

Wayne also edits and publishes this journal and maintains our website. Wayne works for Intermountain Health Care Information Systems, specifically with laboratory computer systems

Treasurer – Leona Blackbird

Leona has served Humanists of Utah well the past two years as treasurer and is running for another 2-year term. During her tenure she has ably managed our changing financial situation including establishment of the Marion Craig fund that will make funds available to promote humanism in the future.

We have Leona because she met her husband David at bridge club in 1990 and he introduced her to humanism.

Leona is a computer programmer for Meteorological Solutions, Inc. which she is also a part owner of the business. Their business is to help companies manage harmful pollution which makes the world a better place for all of us to live.

Board Member – Sarah Smith

Equipped with a bachelor’s degree in Special Education (USU), master’s degree in Educational Psychology (BYU), and years working with diverse issues and populations, Sarah Smith is eager to contribute her skills to Humanists of Utah.

Professionally Sarah has counseled older, nontraditional students at BYU, been assistant director of an agency to prevent child abuse, advised college students on academic/career goals, and done therapy with court-ordered youth. Avocationally, she enjoys reading, writing, running, and practicing violin.

Almost fifteen years of embracing humanism, Sarah also respects and desires to work cooperatively with our community’s diverse beliefs and values.

Don’t Think of an Elephant

~Book Review~

April 2005

Liberal values are summarized with clarity in George Lakoff’s book, a short easy read of 120 pages. Every humanist will be energized with a burst of adrenalin and pride as the message of liberal ideas unfolds on every page. As the author writes in the preface, “It is vital for us, for our country, and for the world that we (Liberals) stay united. It is our values that unite us. We must learn to articulate those values loud and clear.”

This book is written in the service of helping us reach that goal.

George Lakeoff is Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley.

–Flo Wineriter

Defending Science

September 2005

I don’t know if I am the most sage person to be addressing this question, but as one who appreciates and enjoys science, I have to try. I feel that I must express my opinion, because of what is being done and said by those who fear or hate science because it challenges many of the assertions of religious dogma.

There are many issues involved when dealing with this topic, but for this short essay a few is all there is space for. If we take up defending evolution, there are a few items that I feel need to be addressed.

One of the problems we face is that the opposition is very good at twisting word meanings around so that they become disparaging (i.e., “liberal,” “it’s just a theory,” etc.). We need to get better at this word game. This is a tactical problem when trying to debate these people, which results in our being put on the defensive right away. There is a good essay in Isaac Asimov’s book, The Roving Mind, called “Losing the Debate.” In this essay, he warns us not to debate at all if we are going to let the creationists force us to defend evolution, a long proven process.

I also believe that one of the best ways to defend science is to teach and advocate it enthusiastically, and not just in schools. Education is one of the ways we, as individuals and as a humanist organization, can make a difference. Letters to the editor, an op-ed., or a well worded statement of principle that supports science and specifically evolution, would allow us to explain factually what evolution is and what it is not. It will also allow us to clear up myths and misconceptions, and to bring some needed rationality into this debate (of course anything with the chapter name on it will need careful scrutiny and approval by the Board and perhaps even the general membership).

I plan to encourage the idea that we should see evolution as a discovery, a result of Darwin’s observations and the synthesis of his explanation of what is happening in nature. Evolution has always been here. In a way, evolution is another word for change. The whole cosmos is changing as we move through time, and everything that is a part of the cosmos changes in varying degrees. Some changes take place really fast, like in nuclear fusion where processes take place in a very small fraction of a second. Other things take place very slowly, like the formation of a solar system. Biologic change lies somewhere in the middle of those extremes of time. Whether the creationists like it or not, things change. And they should, for it is the relentless changes throughout time that have given us such a great diversity in life and indeed the cosmos itself. If many choose not to see the beauty of the universe as it is, obvious and laid out for us to observe, it is unfortunate.

There certainly is an abundance of ideas to discuss and consider when promoting and defending science and I plan to address some of these items in future issues. I encourage other Humanists of Utah members to do the same.

–Bob Lane
President, HoU

Deep Time

October 2005

In keeping with the discussion of defending science, I want to touch on another topic, deep time.

But first I have a little diatribe to get out.

In order to stay somewhat aware of what the creationists are up to, I watch some of their television programs. At the end of one episode where they had been tearing down evolution, the host summarizes by saying that evolution is “a fraud and a forgery.”

My goodness, I was devastated. How could it be that just about everything I learned in obtaining a B.S. in physical geography was all based on fraud and forgeries? I decided to make a list of all those evil science classes to try to figure out what went wrong.

As part of my undergraduate work, I took 28 science classes related to my major and a few math and statistics classes. Did they all lead me astray? Was it the Anthropology classes, the Biology classes, or perhaps Physical Climatology? Could it have been some of my favorites like Historical Geology, Glacial and Periglacial Geomorphology, Pleistocene Stratigraphy of the Great Basin, or a devilish little class known as Rocks and Minerals? The truth is, it was all of them that helped to make me the defender of science I am today. (Come to think of it a lot of my high school classes were corrupting me way back.)

I had to make this statement for a couple of reasons. First, the assertion that evolution is a fraud and a forgery is baseless when you really look at the arguments creationists present. Second, it insults my intelligence when these boobs dismiss all the massive amounts of information accumulated in numerous scientific disciplines, which all add to the knowledge that the earth is extremely old.

The knowledge that the cosmos is extremely old is very gratifying. To me, deep time (simply put, a lot of time) is what allows for all the myriad of changes that have taken place in the universe and specifically the earth’s biology. The Hubble space telescope has recorded images of galaxies over 14 billion light years away, that is a lot of time! When fossils are scrutinized, they also reveal great age. The study of glaciers shows us that it took considerable time for them to accumulate and a long time for them to carve and straighten out their paths. Stratigraphy also reveals many things and again the evidence of lots of time is one of them, as we can see that these layers represent sediments having been deposited for millions and even hundreds of millions of years.

There are many more examples we can come up with, and they all point to an exquisitely old and wonderful earth and universe. The idea that the earth is only a few thousand years old is as untenable as the notions that the earth is flat or that the sun revolves around the earth.

–Bob Lane

Discussion Group Report

What Is The Real Danger In Appointing
A Conservative Supreme Court?

September 2005

By Richard Layton

“Liberals talk as if the world will end if President Bush gets to name some Supreme justices.” claims Benjamin Wittes in an article in The Atlantic, May 2005. He says that in general liberals fear conservative judges too much in almost all areas, except in one–where the stakes are truly immense and they dramatically understate them.

He says the threat to reproductive rights has been oversold by liberals for decades. With respect to civil rights the foundations of modern civil rights law are exceptionally secure. Conservative judges nibble around the edges sometimes, but almost no one seriously argues about the basic meaning or legitimacy of core civil protections. In criminal law? Hardly. True, the Court has curtailed the Warren era’s famed revolution in criminal procedure, and has rolled back review of state-court convictions. But this war is over; the conservatives have already won. Ironically some conservatives are now leading the court’s aggressive rights-creation effort in criminal sentencing.

Then where have liberals tended to ignore the biggest threat posed by a conservative Court? It’s in the environment. Environmental protection is not central to the fear-mongering of liberals that oppose conservative judges. “But the threat,” he says, “to basic environmental protections from conservative jurisprudence is broad-based and severe.”

Consider the Constitution’s commerce clause, which empowers the national legislature to regulate “commerce…among the several states.” Since the New Deal the commerce clause has been construed very broadly, becoming the constitutional backbone of much important civil rights legislation and of all the major environmental laws. Yet since 1995 the Court has issued a series of decisions that emphasize the limits of the commerce power. The potential dangers to the environment of these decisions are hard to overstate. While the environment itself is intrinsically interstate, not all environmental protection measures are regulations of commerce among the several states–or even regulations of commerce at all.

“Can the government, under the Endangered Species Act,” asks one conservative judge, “protect a hapless toad, that…lives all its life in California?” The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld protection of the hapless toad, as the Fifth Circuit did of “six species of subterranean invertebrates found only within two counties of Texas.”

A dissenting judge wrote, “For the sake of a species of 1/8 inch long cave bugs, which lack any known value in commerce, much less interstate commerce, the panel has crafted a constitutionally limitless theory of federal protection.”

In recent years the Rehnquist Court has breathed life back into the notion of state’s immunity from suits for money–an immunity rooted in the Eleventh Amendment. In 2001, the Fourth Circuit used an Eleventh Amendment argument to block an environmental suit that sought to force West Virginia officials to stop letting mining companies blow the tops off mountains to get at the coal inside. “A reinvigorated Eleventh Amendment,” says Wittes, “could prove a disaster for federal environmental laws, which because of their unique structure could be unusually vulnerable to this doctrine.”

If the courts limit federal environmental protection, can’t the states step in and fill the gap? First, many environmental problems are inherently interstate and cannot be reasonably managed by state government. Winds carry polluted air across state borders, and migrating species don’t check local species-protection laws before entering a state. In addition, judicial conservatives have greatly energized the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits government seizure of private property without “just compensation.” But the courts in recent years have made aggressive use of the concept of “regulatory taking”–that is, government action that so diminishes property values as to constitute a taking even without a formal expropriation. The expanded concept of takings is already having dire consequences for environmental protection in the lower courts. Courts have found takings when the Army corps of Engineers denied a company a permit to mine limestone in wetlands in Florida and when federal agencies imposed water-use restrictions to protect restrictions to protect endangered smelt and salmon in California. The Rehnquist court has also tightened doctrinal requirements that limit citizen access to the courts. This greatly reduces the legal accountability of polluters.

What is the unifying theme of opposition to environmental protection? A libertarian suspicion of regulatory power, charges Wittes. Environmental laws represent some of the most aggressive uses of federal power, and by their nature they limit the use of private property, sometimes intrusively. They genuinely push up against the limitations on governmental power outlined in the constitution. Tighten these limitations, as conservatives tend to do, and the dominoes of environmental law quickly begin tumbling.

In recent years some conservatives have become sensitive to the problem. In fact, several of the most important recent pro-environment opinions–including the Fourth Circuit’s decision affirming protection for the red wolf–were issued by conservative luminaries.

But a portion of the judicial right harbors a strain of simple hostility to environmental values. According to Wittes, what hangs in the balance in the future composition of the Supreme Court, more than the fate of abortion rights, civil rights, or criminal justice, is the fate not only of the Flower-Loving Fly, of the red wolf, the hapless toad, the West Virginia mountains–but of the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Discussion Group Report

Creating Living Entities Composed of Both Human and Animal Cells: Is It Moral?

October 2005

By Richard Layton

There are “valid scientific reasons” for creating chimeras–living entities composed of both human and animal cells–said the guidelines for research on embryonic stem cells issued by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences this past April. The implications of the kind of research addressed in this statement were explored in an article, “I, Chimera,” by Jamie Shreeve in www.newscientist.com, June 25, 2005. “As stem cell technology pushes forward, expect to hear a lot more,” she says.

In Greek mythology, she points out, the chimera was a monstrous creature with the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a serpent. In real-life laboratories mildly chimerical creatures have long been commonplace–mice and other animals with human immune systems, kidneys, skin, and muscle tissue, all created for the purpose of better understanding human diseases. Today pig heart valves are routinely transplanted into heart patients. None of this research has caused any public outcry, but stem cell technology has made the creation of more potent human-animal mixtures both easier and more urgent. Researchers have created monkeys with brains that are partially human, mice with functioning human photoreceptor cells in their retinas and sheep with organs that are up to 40% human. And there’s a plan to create a mouse with a brain made entirely of human neurons. Such chimeras would be hugely useful in biomedical research.

But organisms assembled by mixing humans and animals are troubling. What if such a creature turned out to have human attributes? And what new responsibilities would such an ambiguous being pose to a society accustomed to a clean moral and legal distinction between human beings and the rest of the animal world? “How do we treat these new beings?” asks bioethicist Francoise Baylis.

The reason for all of this sudden interest in chimeras is the immense medical potential of stem cells. Isolated from the inner cell mass of a very early embryo called a blastocyst, human embryonic stem cells have the ability to morph into any other kind of cell in the body. They might one day be transplanted into patients with heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other ailments to regenerate damaged tissue.

Eugene Redmond of Yale University and his colleagues have injected human neural progenitor cells–stem cells that have already taken the first developmental step towards becoming a brain cell–into the brains of velvet monkeys with the intention of exploring them as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease. A team at Harvard University transplanted neuronal progenitor cells into fetal monkeys to see if they would grow, migrate and differentiate along with their monkey counterparts (they did), while still others have treated mouse brains to a similar neural dusting.

Is it possible that you could end up with a creature possessing a human-like brain–and human-like cognitive abilities, such as intelligence and self-awareness–trapped in the skull of an animal? Shreeve posits that the answer to that question seems to depend on three factors: the stage in development at which the cells are introduced (the earlier, the more effect they have) the amount of material added, and how closely related the animal is to us.

Art Brivanlou of The Rockefeller University plans to inject human embryonic stem cells into 3 to 5-day-old mouse blastocysts, and then implant the embryo in a mouse uterus. “We have to know,” he says, “how many cell lines contribute to the pancreas, how many to the nervous system, and so on. If we don’t know the answers to these basic questions, we will never go to the next step of using stem cells clinically.”

Irving Weissman and his colleagues came up with an ingenious idea to study human brain cancers and drug therapies. He imagined transplanting human neuronal stem cells into the brains of a strain of mouse that loses its own neurons just before birth. The result would be a mouse with a brain composed almost entirely of human neurons. This has already drawn negative rhetoric from talk-show host Bill O’Reilly, anti-biotech activist Jeremy Rifkin, and numerous religious commentators and bloggers. Some scientists are uncomfortable, too. Weissman answers that these critics “must be reminded that if they succeed, it’s the kind of research that could result in real and new therapies, then I personally hold them morally responsible for the suffering and death of those patients.”

Mouse brains are less than one-thousandth the size of human brains in volume, and are far simpler in their organization. To create an animal with a brain possessing any human attributes you would probably have to use an animal much closer to us in evolution, and early in its development, a chimpanzee, for instance. The NAS report recommends that the transfer of human stem cells into the early embryos of apes or other primates should not be permitted at this time.

Cynthia Cohen of Georgetown University argues that the real problem is that chimeras denigrate what it means to be human. Robert Streiffer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison maintains, “I don’t think that taking an individual with a lower moral status and conferring a higher moral status on it is wrong for the animal. It could even be beneficial, if it reminded us in a useful way that the categorical difference between a human being and the rest of nature is not so categorical.”

Shreeve opines that a true human-animal chimera “could provide unimagined insights into the lives and minds of non-human primates, and in so doing advance our understanding of all animals. But what if it were trapped between those two worlds, able neither to realize its humanity, nor to live in peace with its animal self?…Perhaps the best argument against too potent a mix of human and animal would be the emotional torment suffered by a being so unspeakably alone in the world. But such thoughts are still safely in the realm of science fiction.”

“It’s always science fiction,” says Streiffer, “up until the point when it happens.”

Discussion Group Report

How Corporations are Robbing Us of Self-Governance

May 2005

By Richard Layton

“Do we consider ourselves capable of and entitled to self-governance? If so, are we willing to struggle to achieve it?” asked Mary Zepernick in a 2004 address to the Harvard Divinity School’s Theological Opportunities Program on October 21, 2004. “How we answer these questions determines the fate of the commons–including ourselves and all we hold dear.”

A group called Friends of the Commons defines the commons as “the vast realms of nature and society that we inherit together and must pass on, undiminished, to our children.” The commons has come into use today as a helpful way to think about various aspects of nature and society that are increasingly under assault by giant corporations. Jane Anne Morris points out that the commons is everything except what we the people choose not to include. It derives from decisions made by us, collectively–which presumes democratic self-governance.

It wasn’t a collective decision in the Enclosures of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries when the English commons–lands worked “in common” by peasants for centuries–were fenced so that the landed gentry could pursue single crops for profit , like grain or sheep or wool. Some historians have described them as enterprising and ruthless capitalists. A protest was, “The law locks up the man or woman who steals the goose from the common. But the greater villain the law lets loose, who steals the common from the goose.” The Enclosures, which is an old-fashioned word for privatization, helped spark the Cromwellian revolution that deposed and beheaded King Charles I in 1642.

“Today,” says Zepernick, “privatization refers to turning over to corporations–now considered the ‘private sector’–aspects of nature and society previously under the jurisdiction of government–the “public sector,” with its authority ostensibly rooted in us, the public. The vast realms of nature and society are being increasingly privatized for the primary benefit of the few. However, it’s not about good or bad people, good or bad corporations. It’s about who governs.”

The modern corporation is one of the world’s foremost concentrations of wealth, power and property. Ambrose Bierce describes it in the Devil’s Dictionary as “an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.”

During the colonial period, the royal chartered corporations–trading companies like the East India and Hudson Bay companies–were extensions of the English monarch, institutions not only of commerce but of governance. It was through these corporations and the chartered crown colonies, like Massachusetts Bay and Virginia, that the colonists most felt the weight of English control. So it was logical that, once independent from England, the founders put corporations on a short leash through state-issued charters that defined their purpose, length of capitalization and operation, made shareholders liable for harms done, and prohibited corporations from owning other corporations.

The Pennsylvania legislature declared in 1834: “The corporation is just what the incorporating act makes it. It is the creature of the law and may be molded to any shape and for any purpose that the legislature may deem most conducive for the general good.” For the first several generations of U.S. history, property organized in the corporate form was subordinate to the people’s representatives–with the few and small corporations that existed considered public, not private institutions. Charters had teeth and were invoked when violated and the corporation dissolved.

What happened? The word corporation wasn’t mentioned in the Constitution. The Supreme Court first “found” the corporation in the Constitution in the Dartmouth college case of 1819. The court, an unelected, unaccountable and elite body, declared the corporation a private contract under the contracts clause of the Constitution–the beginning of privatizing this public institution which had been meant to be conducive for the general good. The Industrial Revolution and the Civil War brought enormous growth in the number, size and wealth of corporations. Corporate managers, lawyers and lobbyists, seeing rights conferred on individuals, began inserting into court cases arguments for inclusion of corporations as persons entitled to 14th Amendment due process and equal protection of the laws. They succeeded in 1886, when the Supreme Court in Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad “found” the corporation in the 14th Amendment–what is now known as corporate legal personhood. Subsequently the Court has “found” the corporation in the Bill of Rights protections of the 1st, 4th and 5th Amendments. Corporate free speech is solidly in the way of meaningful changes in the electoral and legislative processes, since court decisions in the 1970s equated political spending with speech and voided a Massachusetts law prohibiting corporate interference, including funding, in citizen referenda. Also, the Supreme Court has “found” the corporation in the commerce clause of the Constitution, voiding over 1000 local and state protective laws as being in restraint of trade, and repeatedly ruling against labor organizing and strikes. The U.S. domestic free trade zone has provided the model for unelected and unaccountable and elite bodies like the WTO and NAFTA, which make and enforce global trade policies. Thus the corporation has once again become, as in colonial times, not only a commercial or economic institution but a governing institution. The few who wield the constitutional rights of the giant corporation, along with their complicit public officials, decide policies on investment, production, technology and work; foreign and military policy; policies on energy, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and the environment, including natural resources like water, minerals and forests; policies on social issues like welfare, health care, transportation, education and more.

What can we do about this situation? The Abolitionists didn’t demand a Slave Protection Agency. They drove freedom and rights into the Constitution. Women suffragists didn’t ask men to treat them a little better. Civil rights activists weren’t content to make Jim Crow and other laws less harsh. These were movements that changed the culture in order to support a legal strategy to change the law. For the past five years rural Pennsylvania townships have claimed the authority to protect their commons by banning hog farms and the spreading of toxic fluid sludge on farmland and have actually revoked corporate constitutional rights to override local decisions protecting health, safety, family farms and the environment. Communities and counties in California have prohibited further incursions from chain restaurants, and the planting of genetically engineered crops, and are exploring ordinances to revoke corporate constitutional rights in their local jurisdiction.

“Do we really believe we are capable of governing ourselves?” asks Zepernick. “Cornel West said that our minds are so colonized that we can scarcely imagine what a real democracy would look like. Are we by nature doomed to hierarchical power relationships, or can we throw off the colonization of millennial-old patriarchy (not only a gendered word)?”

Coping With Life and Death

June 2005

PhD candidate and chapter member Tawna Skousen gave an informative, rousing presentation at the May meeting of Humanists of Utah about how different laws and people define death and dying, pointing out interpretations and circumstances that make defining death not as simple as we may believe.

What is death?

Death is a term that refers to either the termination of life in a living system or the state of the organism after that event. The traditional definition of death is that the organism stops breathing and the heart stops beating.

Biologically, death can occur to wholes, to parts of wholes, or to both. Individual cells and organs can die yet the organism as a whole can continue to live. Or an organism can die yet its cells and organs continue to live; transplantation is possible because of this phenomenon. Irreversibility is part of the traditional definition where the organism cannot be brought back to life with an irreversible loss of vital fluids.

Irreversible also is cessation of all brain functions where even the brain stem stops functioning but is this death? The permanent loss of consciousness is part of irreversible coma although the heart is still beating and breathing is still occurring. Is this death? Some people believe that life stops when a person loses ability to think [e.g. make decisions, has sense of past and future, is rational and logical, etc.], feel emotions, and interact socially.

Identifying death

Identifying death is important because this a) Allows correct timing on the death certificate. b) Those responsible will act only after the person is truly deceased. c) Allows organ transplantation.

Definitions of death

Differing definitions of death: Prior to ventilators, CPR, and other technological means, death meant cardiovascular failure and breathing cessation. Since the 1960s, death shifted from an event to a process. The law, however, still approaches death as an event rather than a process, and as a matter of status rather than a medical condition.

Since 1968, differing perspectives on defining death began with “brain death,” the entire cessation of cerebral function or the whole brain while the person is still breathing and heart still beating. Few patients meet these criteria, however. The majority of cases are far more complex involving severe neurologic damage. In the 1970s, various statutes were proposed and adopted with brain-based criteria for defining death.

Most of the time, it’s pretty easy for doctors to tell when someone is dead; the person’s breathing and heartbeat stops and can’t be revived. But this changed when Congress passed the Uniform Determination of Death Act in 1981, stating that an individual, who has sustained either a) irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions or b) irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem, is dead.

With this act, the overwhelming majority of organ donors have been declared dead by a very different standard: Machines keep their hearts and lungs pumping, but doctors determine that their brain and brain stem have irreversibly stopped functioning. Now, some ethicists and doctors are beginning to question the validity of the brain death diagnosis. At a minimum, they say, many brain-dead people still have some brain activity, making the declaration of death less clear.

Vegetative States

Persistent Vegetative State and Permanent Vegetative State: These vegetative states are not considered death although the courts may authorize withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration after six months of no improvement.

It is considered “persistent” after one month in a vegetative state, considered “permanent” after three months if caused by non-traumatic events such as oxygen deprivation to the brain, and considered “permanent” after one year if caused by traumatic injuries such as a blow to the head. Guidelines for children are different.

Changing Laws

Instead of defined as a moment, death has evolved into also a process. Patients now have the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment, defined as medical procedures or interventions when used by one with a terminal condition serves only to prolong the dying process; this right excludes palliative care. “Terminal condition” is defined as an incurable or irreversible condition for which continuing medical treatment would not improve health but only prolong the dying process. Regardless of treatment, death would be imminent within reasonable medical judgment.

Here the crucial questions are when did the dying process begin, and when is death imminent? Persistent and permanent vegetative state patients are a predicament because they are not terminally ill nor are they brain dead.

In addition is the continuous battle between the “sanctity of life” [all life is equal] versus “quality of life.” Technology creates the imperative that if it can be done, we will do it whereas ethics asks if we should do it and who should decide the best course.

Widely covered by the media, the most recent ethics case has been of Terri Schiavo. Skousen also cited the cases of Karen Ann Quinlan, Nancy Beth Cruzon, Anthony Bland, Trisha Marshall, Terry Wallis, and Marion Ploch.

The Future

Currently the courts are the final arbiters although in the years to come will be continuous debate and discussion involving the patient’s family, the patient’s wishes, social mores, religious traditions, and the medical profession.

Author’s Addendum

The definition and determination of death according to Utah code is:

  1. An individual who has sustained either:
    • Irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions;

    • Irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem; is dead.
  2. A determination of death must be made in accordance with accepted medical standards.

For more information about Utah State Laws concerning death, click here

–Sarah Smith

Bruce Miller’s Prayer

January 2005

Bruce Miller, besides being Board Member Cindy King’s father, is a humanist counselor in San Luis Obispo, California. He also subscribes to this journal and gave a generous contribution to our essay contest. Here is his reworking of the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed:

Prayer

Fellow humans who labor in the halls of learning,
glory be to the process of education
and the scientific method.
May truth, forever changing, reside in the human mind
as we struggle to understand ourselves.
May I have the strength to replace old assumptions when
confronted with new evidence.
May I be judged not by past beliefs,
but by my willingness to change.
May truth, based upon faith in logic, probability, rational
thought, and verification through replication be the basis
for renunciation of absolute authority and the source of
democratic interactions.
For all people, forever and ever. Amen.

Creed

I believe in the theory of probability based upon mathematical principles and in the discovery of knowledge through the scientific method. I believe in the power of the human mind as it has evolved over time. I believe in the development of life through the process of evolution and in the modification and generalization of truth as it is discovered through the examination of facts. I believe in the renunciation of dogma as it is handed down by unquestioned authority. Thence, I shall be judged by my actions and my beliefs as they rest in faith based upon inquiry, openness, tolerance, and the uncertainty principle and may I dwell in the house of skepticism forever and ever. Amen.

Books, Books, Books

November 2005

One of the things that separates humans from other animals is our ability to accumulate and perpetuate knowledge over time. The written word is a the major vehicle for this phenomenon. Carl Sagan went so far as to argue that this ability is a kind of extra-corporeal form of evolution.

Humanists are, as a group, avid readers. This issue of The Utah Humanist, in a large part, is about of books. Recommendations and reviews.

The Board has compiled a recommended reading list for those interested in studying humanism. These books will be available for purchase on our literature table at general meetings.

Humanism, the Next Step
Lloyd & Mary Morain
Humanist Press

Philosophy of Humanism
Corlis Lamont
Humanist Press

Road to Reason
Pat Duffy Hutcheon
Canadian Humanist Publications

Humanism, Beliefs and Practices
Jeaneane Fowler
Sussex Academic Press

Humanist Anthology
Margaret Knight
Fletcher & Sons Ltd.

Humanism with a Human Face
Howard B. Radest
Praeger Publishers

Humanism
Barbara Smoker
Thetford Press Ltd.

Humanist Alternative
Paul Kurtz
Prometheus Press

Living Without Religion
Paul Kurtz
Prometheus Press

Freethought Across the Centuries
Gerald Larue
Humanist Press

Book Recommendations

The Price of Loyalty

The Conscience of a Liberal

December 2005

The Price of Loyalty by Ron Suskind published by Simon and Shuster, 2004.

This is an explosive account of the George W. Bush administration based on interviews primarily with Paul O’Neill, U.S. Treasury Secretary during the first two years of GWB’s presidency. O’Neill is the first George W. cabinet member to resign and talk frankly about the secrecy and smugness of the administrations insiders.

The author was the Wall Street Journal’s senior national affairs reporter from 1993 to 2000 and won the Pulitzer Price for Feature Writing. He appears frequently on PBS network news.

The Conscience of a Liberal by Senator Paul Wellstone, published by Random House, 2001.

The late Senator Paul Wellstone speaking for his Minnesota constituents and millions of other Americans said if you get beyond political labels you’ll find the overwhelming majority of people don’t like anything big–big government or big corporations. But they want the government to be on their side. People respond according to their sense of right and wrong. They respond to leadership of values.

He dedicated his life to the cause of economic justice and equal opportunity for all Americans. Fortunately for us he spelled out his goals and recommendations for achieving them before his untimely death in an airplane accident.

–Flo Wineriter

Basic Humanism

November 2005

Humanism is concerned with the world of human existence, as it is known through human experience. What we are willing to say that we know about the universe in which we find ourselves, and the lives we find ourselves living, is based exclusively upon our own shared experience and reason.

Humanism begins with the premise that our human bodies and minds are the tools with which we must engage this world and our existence. Humanism invites us to grow up, to consider thoughtfully what might constitute a good life, a life worth living even in the face of certain death. It teaches that we are accountable, individually and collectively, for what we make of ourselves and our world.

NACH Newsletter June 2005
Kendyl Gibbons
Co-dean The Humanist Institute

Are We Back In Kansas, Toto?

September 2005

State Senator Buttars, Republican-West Jordan, had a letter to the editor published in USA Today on August 8, 2005. In part it reads:

The campaign to eliminate God from the public forum has been going on for decades, having accelerated greatly since the Supreme Court’s ill-advised decision in 1963 to eliminate prayer from public schools. And I believe those fighting against the teaching of intelligent design in schools have an ulterior motive to eliminate references to God from the entire public forum…

Teaching evolution is really about the determined drive by activists to eliminate any reference to an intelligent power in the universe. That said, could it be that the reason they can’t find the missing link is that human evolution didn’t happen at all?

Predictably much of the (mis)information in Buttars’ letter is incorrect and misleading. However, the senator has also threatened our public schools to either knuckle under and give credence to the newly resurrected concept of Creationism called Intelligent Design or face legislation.

Both major Salt Lake Papers have published numerous letters to the editor from both sides of the issue. This issue of the Utah Humanist contains opinions written by chapter leaders, present and past, on the subject.

Our Endangered Values:
America’s Moral Crisis

~Book Review~

December 2005

President Jimmy Carter’s newest book is a no holds barred condemnation of America’s current leadership. The book is divided into several parts.

The first section of the book addresses President Carter’s personal religious beliefs. He declares emphatically that he is an evangelical Christian. He takes issue it very clear that “evangelical” means spreading the word and draws sharp contrasts between his own personal beliefs and those of who he refers to as “fundamentalists.” “Personal” is probably the operative word of his religion. He notes that while is decidedly a Southern Baptist that he is at odds with the Southern Baptist Convention; specifically over the issues of world peace and women’s rights. Most readers of this essay will probably find this the least important and least interesting section of the book. I would argue that what he is really talking about is a “moral compass.” In my opinion, humanism is a better instrument that religion and I found myself substituting “humanist” for the word “Christian” as I read the book. However, I suspect that President Carter would disagree, his personal faith and beliefs are obviously extremely important to him.

The next theme of the book is the concept of separation church and state. President Carter articulates the importance of this concept at great length. He quotes extensively from Thomas Jefferson. Indeed, the importance of Jefferson to Carter is apparent in several parts of the book. Carter, upon leaving the White House, received a plaque with a Jefferson quote stating pride in the fact that no hostile blood was shed during his watch as President. I also believe that Carter’s religion is much like Jefferson’s was; very personal and dedicated to following the life and teachings of Jesus rather than centered upon the dogma of any particular sect.

President Carter then expresses his opinions the importance of maintaining women’s rights, support for the poor, and opines strongly against the death penalty.

Perhaps the strongest point that he makes in this important book is that the current administration has changed foreign policy. America has abandoned diplomacy in favor of preemptive war. What is to stop other countries from following our lead. It seems likely that the tragedy of September 11, 2001 was used an excuse to turn the diplomatic work of all administrations in the past 50 years on their ears and pursue military occupation as a means to further American goals. This is resulting in the opposite. Our country is losing our moral leadership and respect.

The final chapters of this book concern the almost unbelievable redistribution of wealth that is taking place. The poor are getting poorer and the rich are bleeding the middle class and becoming richer. Statistics show that the government is spending the same amount of money, but is taking in much less due to the massive tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations. This is causing a dramatic rise in our international debt. The Warren Buffet Berkshire Hathaway report states that within a decade from now international debt levels will be at roughly $11 trillion which will effectively change America from an Ownership Society to a Sharecropper Society.

–Wayne Wilson

America’s Constitution

~Book Review~

November 2005

America’s Constitution is a scholarly work by Akhil Amar a member of the Yale Law School faculty past 20-years. This ‘biography’ of our founding document explains not only what our constitution says but why it says it. For example the phrase, ‘to form a more perfect union,’ refers to the weak union of the Articles of Confederation under which the states exercised limited cooperation between 1776 and 1788 when New Hampshire became the 9th state to ratify the efforts of the Constitutional Convention. One reviewer says America’s Constitution is an indispensable work, bound to become a standard reference for any student of history and all citizens of the United States.

–Flo Wineriter

The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism

~Book Review~

December 2005

The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism by Haynes Johnson, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, examines the parallels of President George W. Bush’s “War on Terrorism” to Joe McCarthy’s “War on Communism.” The “Sedition Act of 1917,” the “Espionage and Alien Act of 1918,” “House Un-American Activities” of 1950 to the “USA Patriot Act” all have the same thing in common; they allowed national fear and anxiety to blind our national security and question civil liberties. Attorney General A Mitchell Palmer, in the wake of terrorism bombings in 1919, had at least 5,000 foreign nationals rounded up and imprisoned. Eighty years later Attorney John Ashcroft has at least 5,000 foreign nationals imprisoned; of those detainees none were convicted of a terrorist crime.

This book challenges us not to be so overcome with fear, as happened in the McCarthy period, that we over-react. We must not let fear blind us to those tasks necessary for providing national security limit necessary civil liberties.

–Cindy King

University of Utah Accommodations Policy

May 2005

Gregory A. Clark, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Bioengineering Department, University of Utah presented A Contrarian’s Sincerely-held Beliefs Regarding the University of Utah Accommodations Policy to Humanists of Utah April meeting. The following is a summary of his remarks. The MS PowerPoint Professor Clark can be downloaded here.

The Accommodation Policy was created as part of a settlement agreement between the University of Utah and Christina Axson-Flynn, who had alleged that the U had violated her rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion by requiring her to speak words that she considered profane as part of a classroom exercise in the Actors Training Program.

Originally the focus was accommodations made on the basis of religion. Then the focus broadened to include accommodations made for both content and scheduling.

The scheduling accommodation inclusion basically parallels the U’s existing policy that says students who must be absent from class for U. activities or religious obligations are permitted to make up assignments and examinations.

According to Clark, two aspects of the content accommodations are appropriate and correct.

  1. Instructors are not required to grant course content accommodations, as long as the subject course requirement has a reasonable relationship to a legitimate pedagogical goal.
  2. Personal disagreement with these ideas and theories or their implications is not sufficient grounds for requesting an accommodation. Accommodations requested on such grounds will not be granted.

Nevertheless, Clark states that the central conceptual issue is not one of students’ rights versus faculties’ rights, or of academic freedom versus religious freedom, or of one religion versus another religion. It would be unfortunate if polarization occurs along these lines.

The central issue should be what constitutes appropriate criteria for determining the content of an academic curriculum. Clark believes only one principle applies: curricular decisions should be based on legitimate pedagogical concerns.

As indicated in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision of the Axson-Flynn case, “…the First Amendment does not require an educator to change the assignment to suit the student’s opinion…so long as…actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns…A more stringent standard would effectively give each student veto power over curricular requirements, subjecting the curricular decisions of teachers to the whims of what a particular student does or does not feel like learning on a given day. This we decline to do.”

Further, “…religious speech is speech, entitled to exactly the same protection from government restriction as any other kind of speech–no more and no less.”

Consequently the accommodation policy is partly correct in not requiring that legitimate curricular content be modified to accommodate personal, non-pedagogical concerns.

However, Clark states the policy errs in two fundamental ways. First, it allows curricular decisions to be based on religious or secular beliefs that have no reasonable relationship to legitimate pedagogical concerns. In short, instructors may alter legitimate course content expressly to avoid conflict with personal beliefs, even when those beliefs have no reasonable relationship to any legitimate academic goal; the validity of such decisions may not be evaluated or questioned no matter how extreme.

Such a policy opposes the very nature of academia, which is one of open and honest inquiry, and seriously compromises meaningful attempts to balance conflicting principles.

Second, this policy promotes religious discrimination by allowing assignments to be required for some students but not others on the basis of students’ beliefs rather than on legitimate pedagogical criteria.

Thus, personal religious and secular beliefs are not appropriate criteria for altering course content, just as they are not appropriate criteria for altering grades, research results, or contents of scholarly or pedagogical publications.

The policy does not allow accommodations for “disagreement”; however, it would still allow accommodations for “conflict” with personal beliefs. This distinction raises the important question: What is the difference?

To address this question, the policy would still allow accommodations like those requested by Axson-Flynn11. Irrespective of whether one is or is not sympathetic to that particular case, the 10th Circuit Court decision clearly indicates that “requiring an acting student, in the context of a classroom exercise, to speak the words of a script as written is no different than requiring that a law or history student argue a position with which he disagrees.”

Further, schools “routinely require students to express a viewpoint that is not their own in order to teach the students to think critically. . . A more stringent standard would effectively give each student veto power over curricular requirements, subjecting the curricular decisions of teachers to the whims of what a particular student does or does not feel like learning on a given day. This we decline to do…It is not necessary to try to cram this situation into the framework of constitutional precedent, because there is no constitutional question.”

Or, as the lower court ruled, “were this [the Axson-Flynn case] a First Amendment violation, then a believer in ‘creationism’ could not be required to discuss and master the theory of evolution in a science class; a neo-Nazi could refuse to discuss, write or consider the Holocaust in a critical manner in a history class. Indeed, a Catholic law student could not be required to make an argument in favor of capital punishment during an in-class exercise designed to enable law students to argue cases they find unsympathetic. Just as it is reasonable for law school faculty to find that such an ability is necessary for competent would-be lawyers, so is it reasonable for an acting program faculty to use such exercises to foster an actor’s ability to take on roles of persons they might find disagreeable.”

It is also noteworthy that the 10th Circuit Court makes no distinction here between what some might regard as divine mandate and others might regard as personal prejudice: “The religious nature of Axson-Flynn’s refusal to say the offensive words is not determinative…’Religious speech is speech, entitled to exactly the same protection from government restriction as any other kind of speech–no more and no less.'”

Thus, in short, if instructors may excuse professional actors in training from legitimate exercises because of conflict with personal beliefs, then instructors could plausibly also excuse students in the other circumstances above, so long as other policy conditions were met. Stated another way, allowing accommodations based on “conflicts” may seriously compromise the apparent prohibition against accommodations based on “disagreement.”

Clark disagrees with the oft-repeated contention that making accommodations in cases such as those above would not compromise basic academic principles of any kind. As a matter of principle, it is not inappropriate to expose students to legitimate pedagogical material that they may find offensive; rather, it is inappropriate to delete legitimate pedagogical material simply because someone may find it offensive.

Censoring books, texts, and topics that are pedagogically legitimate to avoid conflict with personal beliefs is becoming alarmingly popular at public institutions. Consider for example, the Provo public library, which recently banned the Salt Lake City Weekly for several months. Although Provo library director Gene Nelson “feels very strongly that the main focus and purpose of a public library is to make sure that voices are heard–both majority voices and minority voices,” he nonetheless banned the paper because of conflict between the paper’s content and patrons’ “religious values.”

Just as it is inappropriate for a public library to remove legitimate material from its shelves simply to avoid conflict with personal beliefs, so too it is inappropriate for a University to use such a conflict as a reason to remove legitimate material from its curriculum. Another instance, Utah county school board is now refusing to adopt any current psychology text that refers to homosexuality to avoid conflict with non-pedagogical beliefs.” It is a very sensitive subject,” said Nedra Call, Nebo school district’s director of curriculum.

Along similar lines, on March 1, 2005, the Salt Lake City school board deleted policy IB, Academic Freedom, which had previously allowed teachers the right to teach “sensitive materials.” The board intends to consider a new policy involving “religion, sensitive materials, ‘academic freedom,’ and similar issues.”

Admittedly, the policies above involve high schools and libraries, not universities, and may involve mandated as well as voluntary censorship. But all deal with the central issue of whether it is appropriate to delete legitimate material simply to avoid conflict with personal beliefs.

Title VI funding for the University of Utah’s program in Middle Eastern Studies has been threatened because scholars in such programs have voiced “criticisms of American foreign policy” that are considered unpatriotic.

Private universities such as BYU may, and do, subjugate pedagogical goals to non-pedagogical missions, and routinely censor legitimate materials that conflict with non-pedagogical beliefs, or that are considered somehow “distressing,” “offensive,” “sensitive,” or “taboo.” Such institutions may also claim that such censorship does not adversely impact students’ educational experience.

A summary of what the accommodation policy does do:

  • Treat requests for scheduling and content accommodations separately.
  • Leave faculty in charge of establishing the content of the curriculum and of specific courses.
  • Requires students to understand and be able to articulate ideas and theories that are important to the discourse within and among academic disciplines whether or not they agree with or believe those ideas and theories.
  • Place the burden on the individual student for determining when and if the content of a course conflicts with a sincerely held core belief.
  • Provide a procedure to follow in case a student requests a scheduling or content accommodation.
  • Permit any instructor to deny any request for a content accommodation as long as the course content has a reasonable relationship to a legitimate pedagogical goal.
  • Permit any instructor to grant any such request, only if a reasonable alternative means of satisfying the curriculum requirement is available, only if that alternative is fully appropriate for meeting the academic objectives of the course, and only if the instructor considers all such requests during the same course equally.

A summary of what the accommodation policy does not do:

  • Require faculty to alter course content
  • Permit students to “opt out” of course assignments for religious or any other reason.
  • Oblige faculty to grant accommodations requests, except in those cases when a denial would be arbitrary and capricious or illegal.
  • Require faculty to predict what course content may conflict with a student’s deeply-held core beliefs.
  • Require faculty to judge either the sincerity or the validity of a student’s beliefs.
  • Guarantee that all students will be able to complete all classes or majors at the University.

After the University of Utah Senate gave the accommodation policy a favorable vote, members agreed to hold a formal evaluation and discussion about the policy’s status during the January 2007 Academic Senate meeting. However, the Senate is free to informally review any policy at any time.” The concern of the body and faculty is that the policy will provoke a lot of activity vis-à-vis accommodation requests,” Kate Coles, chair of the Accommodations Policy committee, said. “We’ll see whether that happens and how those are being treated.”

For Clark, the bottom line is that a college-level education requires considering and evaluating alternative viewpoints, including viewpoints that conflict with one’s own beliefs. So warns Derek Bok, the former president of Harvard University: ‘By compromising basic academic principles, universities tamper with ideals that give meaning to the scholarly community and win respect from the public'” (Ethics, 2004 Annual Report, U of U Office of the VP for Research).

The best way to ensure both academic integrity and religious/secular freedom is to base curricular decisions on pedagogical criteria.

–Sarah Smith