2007

 

Who’s A Nontheist?

April 2007

The following article was submitted by a reader who is a member of the Humanist Fellowship of San Diego. Your thoughts and ideas are welcome! Please email them to webmaster@humanistsofutah.org or mail them to the address on the back of this journal.Who’s a ‘nontheist’? Not me.

There’s a saying that if you let your adversary define the language of debate, you have already lost.

When the Church of England was established as the official religion of England, those who did not belong to it were called ‘nonconformists’ and ‘dissenters’. The implication is that the official church is the standard position, the default. Thus the Methodists etc. were outsiders, marginalized, and categorized with a negative label.

For years the fundies have been trying to establish their peculiar version of Christianity as the standard position in American society. They have worked hard to marginalize Humanism. Defining ourselves as mere dissenters from their theist position walks us right into their trap.

I do not concede to the fundies or to any other theists the right to marginalize me. Humanism, as the late Konnie Kolenda taught us, is not marginal but is the mainstream of Western Civilization.

Is the word ‘nontheist’ used anywhere in the Manifestoes? Are we defined as ‘atheist’ in the Manifestoes? Oh. I didn’t think so. Are we now to docilely allow the fundies to place us on the fringes of society? Are we going to help them do so by defining ourselves as exceptions to their standard?

Solar system astronomy is not called nongeocentrism. Evolutionary biology is not called noncreationism. I am not a nonflatearthist. You do not describe a correct position by accepting for yourself the status of a deviant from a false one.

Ludwig Wittgenstein says: Skepticism is nonsense if it raises doubts where asking questions makes no sense. Joe Engelsman’s take on that is: If you don’t know what you’re talking about, it makes no sense to talk about it. He adds: ‘The atheist and the agnostic and the theist consider God to be a logical possibility. I do not.’

Call me a freethinker and a skeptic. A Humanist with a capital H and with no limiting adjective attached. Free from supernaturalist superstition. Not a mere ‘non’-anything. No more self-definition by denial, please. Assertive, positive, Humanist identity.

–Francis Mortyn

Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

September 2007

The Tree of Life is this month’s featured site. It is a collaborative effort of biologists from around the world and consumes more than 9000 web pages. The structure of the ToL project is to illustrate the genetic connections among all living things.The “tree houses” are a great place to start.

Tree of Life


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

October 2008

Questioning Minds is a non-profit, educational organization that provides a forum for “less heard voices” in Utah. They hold forums twice a month at the main library in Salt Lake City. Check out their website and their upcoming meeting topics.

Questioning Minds


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

November 2007

Through Margaret Downey’s work, harmful taboos that venerate religious belief as a topic beyond critique are crashing down and leaving in their wake a freedom of inquiry that will help people to grow as individuals and push society toward progress.
Margaret Downey


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

May 2007

This Month’s featured the Humanist Fellowship of San Diego which is one of sister chapters in the American Humanist Association. The site has some great information and photos of historic humanists.

Humanist fellowship of San Diego


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

March 2007

This Month’s featured site addresses the oft heard question, “is support for the military the same thing as support for the Iraq War? See what some Veteran groups think at VoteVets.org

Vote Vets


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

June 2007

The AHA sponsored a video challenge contest on YouTube. Contestants submitted clips affirming their humanist values. Direct your browser to the link and spend some time seeing some interesting and provocative clips.

Affirming Humanist Values


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

July 2007

The Robert Krampf Science Education Company website shows simple experiments accompanied by easily understood explanations to make science available to the masses.Topology is a branch of higher mathematics that describes shapes. Watch a video to learn how to cut a hole in a 3X5 index card large enough to crawl through!

The Robert Krampf Science Education Company


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

January 2007

This month’s featured site is Pandora a concept created by the Music Genome Project. Supply the site with artists and/or songs that you like and it will play similar music for your enjoyment. If it chooses something you don’t like, tell it and it will better understand your tastes.

Pandora: The Music Genome Project


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

February 2007

This month’s featured site is from NASA. If you have a few minutes, follow the link and look at some of the “picture of the day” links. The universe is truly a beautiful and an amazing thing!

NASA: Picture of the Day


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

December 2007

The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers has website that is an excellent resources for members of the uniformed armed services.
MAAF


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

August 2007

The American Civil Liberties Union was If the rights of society’s most vulnerable members are denied, everybody’s rights are imperiled. If the rights of society’s most vulnerable members are denied, everybody’s rights are imperiled. Liberties are respected, even in times of national emergency.

“If the rights of society’s most vulnerable members are denied, everybody’s rights are imperiled.”

American Civil Liberties Union


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

April 2007

This Month’s featured site is a platform for reporting on, learning about, and analyzing and discussing the religious right–and what to do about it. Talk to Action is a website whose goal is to reclaim citizenship, history, and faith.

Talk 2 Action
One particularly interesting article on this site is about Pete Stark, one of the only openly freethinkers in Congress today.

Pete Stark


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In Memoriam

Wanda Young

1934 ~ 2007

October 2007

Our beloved wife, mother, sister, grandmother, and aunt, passed away September 24, 2007, of complications following surgery. She was born December 7, 1934, in Holdenville, Oklahoma, to Jesse C. and Carrie Gentry Pike. She married John A. Young on October 16, 1954, in Elko, Nevada. Although disabled early in married life, she overcame many hardships. She continued to raise her two children, Cindy and Jeff.

A long time chapter member of Humanists of Utah, she became involved in many community activities and women’s organizations. She was past State President of the Utah Ladies Auxiliary of the VFW (Post 4355), member of the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary (Post 112), an active member of the Democratic Party, and an election judge. She has been a member of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City since 1954.

She is survived by her husband, John, daughter, Cindy King (HoU Board member), son Jeff Young and his wife Stacy; brother Al Pike, and Joyce Pike, sisters Lois Lawrence, and Leta Sutton, grandchildren Chelsea, Jason, and Christopher, and numerous nieces and nephews.

Humanists of Utah wishes to express our deepest sympathy to John and Cindy as well as the rest of the family. Wanda will truly be missed.

In Memorium

Kurt Vonnegut

1922 ~ 2007

American Humanist Association honorary President Kurt Vonnegut died on April 11, 2007 of a head injury suffered in a fall. Vonnegut was a prolific author whose work served as a conscience to humankind. His work was grounded in the humanist principle of recognizing the value of everyone; he abhorred war and especially the popular media’s glamorization of armed conflict. His definitive work, Slaughterhouse Five, The Children’s Crusade, is among the most stinging criticisms of war ever published. The final line of the book refers to what birds will say in response to a slaughter, “poo tee weet.”Here is a list of Vonnegut’s books that have reviews posted on this website

God Bless You Mr. Rosewater; or Pearls Before Swine
Slapstick; or Lonesome no More
Jailbird
Hocus Pocus
Timequake
God Bless You Dr. Kevorkian

–Wayne Wilson

The Richard Layton

Discussion Group Report

View From the End of the World

March 2006

The May Discussion Group subject was a lecture given by author Sam Harris titled “View From the End of the World,” contained on an audio CD I was given. The group received copies of the disc, which contained a lecture that Harris has presented around the country at a number of venues. He begins by saying he is going to talk about belief, specifically religious belief, and acknowledges that he will offend some in the audience. He also understands that just being provocative or nasty is not useful and that discourse should remain civil.

Having made that disclaimer, Harris does proceed to criticize religion, quite harshly at times. But much of his censure is backed by strong examples, such as his analysis of the religious belief that condom use is immoral. He calls it “genocidal stupidity” when you map that belief onto sub-Saharan Africa, where AIDS is an enormous problem and condom use is a well established means of prevention.

He spends a considerable amount of time on the subject of religious moderates. Harris agrees that moderates are better than fundamentalists because “they don’t fly airplanes into buildings.” But he also blasts religious moderates, saying that they give cover to fundamentalists by insisting that we be non-critical of religion, specifically religious faith. Noting that religious faith stops ethical debate simply because it is taboo to criticize someone’s faith-based view of an issue, he advocates that we develop a “conversational intolerance” and not allow religion to escape scrutiny.

Harris has much more to say in this lecture than can be listed here. I tend to agree with him when he says that much of what is going on in our society (controversies about stem cell research, intelligent design, etc.) represent a conflict between science and religion, and that religion has been successful in “eroding science.”

In the end, Harris advocates that we use reason. Again, I agree, Reason is a good M.O.

A few copies of the disc are available; if anyone is interested in getting a copy, please contact me. The discussion can also be found on Sam Harris’ web page.

–Bob Lane

The Varieties of Scientific Experience
A Personal View of the Search for God

~Book Review~

February 2007

The Varieties of Scientific Experience; A personal view of the search for God, edited by Ann Druyan is a series of lectures given by Carl Sagan in 1985 when he was invited to present the centennial Gifford Lectures in Scotland. The book also marks the tenth anniversary of Sagan’s death.

The first lecture concerns our place in the universe and tries to understand the differences between religion and superstition. How conceited is the idea, considering the scope of the universe, to believe that an omniscient, omnipresent God would concern itself with our tiny planet? Sagan includes a quote from Thomas Paine that goes on to wonder why that god would choose to die on this planet because a woman ate an apple.

The next few chapters chronicle the loss of status of our home through recorded history. According to Aristotle, we lived on “the” earth; new knowledge is that we live on “an” earth. This earth is much older than our predecessors imagined which has created a “series of assaults on human vainglory” and evolution is perhaps the largest broadside to traditional religious dogma. He again quotes Paine, “Is it more probable that nature should go out of her course or that a man should tell a lie?”

The chapter on Extraterrestrial Folklore gives several examples of modern religions with shaky foundations. One description is particularly relevant to many members of Humanists of Utah.

There is a religion that believes that in the 19th century a set of golden tablets was prepared by an angel and dug up by a divinely inspired human being. And the tablets were written in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and had on them a hitherto unknown set of books like those in the Old Testament. And, unfortunately, the tablets are not available for any scrutiny these days, and in additions there is power evidence of conscious fraud at the time that the religion was founded, which led, last week, to tow people being killed in the state of Utah, having to do with some early letters from the founders of the religion that were inconsistent with the doctrine.

This chapter concludes comparing buying a used car and choosing a religion. For the former most of us are extremely skeptical and try to find a car that will actually work. “But on issues of the transcendent, of ethics and morals, of the origin of the world, of the nature of human beings, on those issues should we not insist upon at least equally skeptical scrutiny?”

The last section of the book deals with one of Sagan’s greatest fears: that humanity will destroy itself before we are able to reach and colonize the stars. Nuclear war remains an ominous threat 20 years after his lectures. More countries are joining the Nuclear Club which does not bode well for our future considering the current political milieu we live in.

I highly recommend this book; I think everyone should read it. I believe that many who do will decide that is a necessary addition to their own libraries. But don’t take my word for it; here is what Kurt Vonnegut thinks: “Find here a major fraction of this stunningly valuable legacy left to all of us by a great human being. I miss him so.”

–Wayne Wilson

Utah Politics

November 2007

Respectful and rousing was the banter of Frank Pignanelli and LaVarr Webb, their presentation in October’s meeting much like their conjoint column in Deseret News. They articulated how politics in Utah could swing from the current flaming red to cool blue if–if certain conditions prevail or had prevailed.

What is the state of partisan electoral politics in Utah was a question that Webb and Pignanelli tackled. Said Webb, “Probably the best measure was the gubernatorial race last year between Jon Huntsman and Scott Matheson. It was a classic match-up of two highly attractive candidates, each articulate, well-qualified, with strong name identification. Each had sufficient funding to get their messages out. Both campaigns were well-run without major mistakes to skew the results.”

Although some analysts said Matheson should have drawn a stronger contrast to Huntsman to give voters a reason to vote for him, Webb believes that the outcome was indicative of how Utah politics will be as the 2008 elections close in.

In the 2004 race, continued Webb, Huntsman beat Matheson 57.7% to 41.3%, probably a fairly reliable estimate of what a good Republican could win against a good Democrat in a statewide race, all other factors being equal.

Especially discouraging for the Democrats are the quite “red” Utah and Davis counties, the state’s next two largest counties after Salt Lake. In Utah County, Huntsman overwhelmed Matheson 71% to 26%. Not surprising, Salt Lake County is the swing county, obviously Utah’s most important county politically although “wild and unpredictable.”

Webb’s bottom line is he believes that a “really good Democratic candidate could beat a mediocre Republican candidate statewide in Utah. But if the Republicans nominate solid candidates who run good races with sufficient funding, it will be awfully difficult for a Democrat to win a statewide election for some time to come.”

Somewhat surprising, Frank Pignanelli started out as a Catholic Republican, but converted as a young boy to the Democratic Party during the civil rights movement.

More surprising was Pignanelli’s belief that Democrats are their worst enemies, citing how several specific and critical issues were not addressed in a way conducive to building support for the Democratic party in Utah. They have done a poor job of marketing their otherwise important values and principles, he said. Mistakes were made, particularly about the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion.

Pignanelli noted that the “dark ages” for Democrats began in the mid-1970s with Ronald Reagan helping Hatch win, and continuing in the 1980s with the Ronald Reagan presidency. Again, Democrats were unable to craft a message that resonated with Utah voters.

But few people realize that Democrats made a huge rebound in the late 1980s, doubling the numbers in the legislature, including elected officials from Utah and Davis County, thus recapturing two congressional seats. Partly responsible for this surge was the popular elected Democratic mayor Palmer DePaulis. “Utahans loved Mayor DePaulis, and were willing to cross over and vote for a Democrat,” Pignanelli said.

In addition, with the help of party chairman Randy Horiuchi and others, Democrat candidates started fashioning a message that worked.

Unfortunately, the abortion war erupted in the early 1990s. Utah Democrats did not “think through” this issue, Pignanelli said. Had clarity happened, Democrats could have won more support by stating, for example, that their belief about abortion was very close to the LDS Church’s belief. After all, Pignanelli inserted, the Catholic Church and evangelical groups are much more conservative about abortion than the LDS Church.

Added Pignanelli, another major issue for Democrats is that the party is viewed as a refuge for non-Mormons or former Mormons who have grudges with the LDS church. But the bottom line purpose of the Democratic Party is to elect Democrats. “If you have problems with the LDS church, take it up with the church. That’s not the role for Democrats.”

Pignanelli noted that a number of Mormon Democrats feel isolated because they’re not welcome in the LDS Church and they’re not welcomed at their political party. However, the church reached out to Democrats in the late 1990s, but the anti-Mormon Democrats “slapped their hand.” If Democrats wish to regain their strength in Utah, this attitude needs to change.

Yet Pignanelli is optimistic and hopeful about the Democrats’ ability to bridge the divide citing, for example, that Jim Matheson works hard and has a first-class constituency. Furthermore, Pignanelli noted that Utahans care about neighborhood and community issues, stating that it is Republicans who challenge big-box retailers like Wal-Mart and demanded environmental impact studies. “If Democrats can overcome the ridiculous religious issues that separate them from Utahans, they have a bright future,” Pignanelli said. He believes that Utahans will respond to Democrats of any religion who talk about values that people care about, values that “tug at the heart.”

–Sarah Smith

Utah-Nevada Border Waste Land!

February 2007

Terry Marasco warned Humanists of Utah that if Las Vegas is successful in its effort to gain access to the groundwater in the Spring and Snake Valley a replica of the Sahara Desert will develop in the Western Utah-Eastern Nevada border country. January 11th, Marasco presented a colorful slide show along with details of the human, plant, and animal culture now residing in the area to a small group attending the January meeting. He said a population of approximately 350 presently preserves the environment that attracts several hundred tourists annually who enjoy the beautiful plant life and wild animals that roam the open space.

The Baker, Nevada resident explained how the Las Vegas Groundwater Development Project would pipe approximately 150,000 acre-feet of water via a 300-mile pipeline from the Utah border near Garrison to Las Vegas, Nevada. The aquifer from which the water would be pumped flows northward from Nevada and interacts with groundwater structures to the Great Salt Lake. Wells, now supplying water to the area, would dry up, vegetation would die, animal life would disappear and within a few years the entire area would look like the Sahara Deseret.

Marasco said, “The moral question is: Does society sacrifice rural livelihoods and natural environments for the growth of cities?”

He is asking Utah’s governor and legislators to consider the dire economic, social and environmental consequences of the project and demand further scientific studies before making a decision on the Las Vegas proposal.

–Flo Wineriter

Summer Party

August 2007

Humanists of Utah Annual Summer Picnic was a smashing success. About 40 people turned out to share some good food and even better conversation. Here are some pictures from the affair.

Richard Layton’s

Discussion Group Report

Show Me The Science

December 2007

By Craig Wilkinson, M.D.

In 2005 Daniel Dennett responded to a statement by President Bush about intelligent design with an article in the New York Times. President Bush announced in August 2005 that he was in favor of teaching about “intelligent design” in the public schools.” I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought. This was followed a week later by Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee who made the same point. “Teaching both intelligent design and evolution doesn’t force any particular theory on anyone.” He said, “I think in a pluralistic society that is the fairest way to go about education and training people for the future.”

In his article Mr. Dennett asks the question, “Is intelligent design a legitimate school of scientific thought?” Throughout the rest of his article he proceeds to show that it is not a legitimate scientific theory but only a ploy to get religion taught in our public schools.

He starts off by explaining why a determined band of naysayers would like to shake America’s confidence in evolution. He explains, “the fundamental scientific idea of evolution by natural selection is not just mind-boggling; natural selection, by executing God’s traditional task of designing and creating all creatures great and small, also seems to deny one of the best reasons we have for believing in God. So there is plenty of motivation for resisting the assurances of the scientists and biologists. Nobody is immune to wishful thinking.”

He states, “…No intelligent design hypothesis has ever been ventured as a rival explanation of any biological phenomenon, including evolution. It has no content. When intelligent design proponents argue that Darwin’s evolution by natural selection hasn’t explained everything yet, this is not a competing hypothesis. Evolutionary biology hasn’t explained everything yet but intelligent design hasn’t tried to explain anything. To formulate a competing hypothesis, the intelligent design folks would have to get down in the trenches and offer details that have testable implications. So far, intelligent design proponents have conveniently sidestepped that requirement, claiming that they have no specifics in mind about who or what the intelligent designer might be or how he might have accomplished his goal of creating all life on earth.”

The Discovery Institute, the conservative organization that has helped to put intelligent design on the map, complains that its members face hostility from the established scientific journals. But establishment hostility is not the real hurdle to intelligent design. If intelligent design were a scientific idea whose time had come, young scientists would be dashing around their labs, trying to win the Nobel Prizes that surely are in store for anybody who can overturn any significant proposition of contemporary evolutionary biology. Remember cold fusion? The establishment was incredibly hostile to that hypothesis, but scientists around the world rushed to their labs in the effort to explore the idea, in hopes of sharing in the glory if it turned out to be true. Mr. Dennett concludes by quoting George Gilder, a long time affiliate of the Discovery Institute, who has said, “Intelligent design itself does not have any content.” Mr. Dennett then concludes, “Since there is no content, there is no ‘controversy’ to teach about in biology class.”

It is the opinion of the author that we should make all efforts to keep our public schools from including intelligent design in our science curriculum. We would not let the competing theory of astrology be taught in our astronomy classes. We would not let the competing theory that “evils humors” can cause illness to replace the germ theory of disease in medical school. We would not allow the Ptolemy theory of an earth centered universe to share equal time with the Copernican theory of a sun centered universe.

Using the same reasoning, “intelligent design” should not be given the respect of being taught as a competing theory with Darwin’s natural selection in explaining the evolution of life on earth.

In Memoriam

Rabbi Sherwin Wine

1928 ~ 2007

August 2007

Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the leader of a worldwide Jewish movement that viewed the religion as a culture rather than a faith died in an automobile accident in Morocco.Wine was born in Detroit in 1928 and raised by conservative Jewish parents. He earned a Masters Degree in Philosophy from the University of Michigan.

He authored several books including Humanistic Judaism, Judaism Beyond God, and Staying Sane in a Crazy World.

He founded the Birmingham Michigan Temple in 1963 and helped establish the Society for Humanistic Judaism in 1969. He retired in 2003. He built a movement that began with eight Detroit area families into a worldwide one with an estimated 40,000 members. He was the AHA Humanist of the Year in 2003.

Humanists of Utah expresses condolences to his family and loved ones.

Reason and Reverence

~Book Review~

September 2007

Reason and Reverence by William Murry is one of the best well-rounded affirmations of humanism as a positive way of life since Corliss Lamont’s The Philosophy of Humanism.

In discussing human nature and destiny, Murry shows that humanism can be as eloquent as Pascal in noting both the grandeur of humans as well as their evil side. This is an optimism balanced with an awareness of the destructive side of humans and of the tragic dimensions of life. He stresses both the individual and social aspects of humanness. Humans are part of the natural world, yet each person is of great worth and inherently sacred. Even though we are embedded in nature, we have freedom and moral responsibility.

The humanist call is to live well and morally, to appreciate life and renounce the hope for immortality.

Author William Murry is a past president of the Meadville-Lombard Theological school and Minister Emeritus of River Road Unitarian Church in Maryland.

–Flo Wineriter

Available from Beacon Press
Telephone 617.742.2110

President’s Message

September 2007

September 23, the Autumnal Equinox, the “official” end of summer. This is a date I am very much looking forward to. With its arrival I am hoping for (much) cooler temperatures and less need to mow lawns and prune trees. This also means our summer recess is at an end, and we are moving back to our regular schedule of meetings, discussions and chapter business. Please watch the “Upcoming Events” section in the newsletter and on our website to see what is on track for the next several weeks.Everyone who attended the Summer Party on August 9 had a great time. We had a great turn out and not only saw familiar faces, but some new ones as well, new faces that we hope will return to Humanists of Utah events and perhaps even consider membership. The food was delicious and saw everything from seasonal fruit plates to a variety of home made desserts to fresh squeezed lime-aide. I think we can add the “Barbecue Picnic” to our list of Things to Do Again Next Year. Special thanks go to John and Wanda Young for hosting the Party in their beautiful back yard, to Cindy and Art King for their hard work and fearlessness on taking on both Costco and the grill, and to everyone who contributed the tasty food and drink. It was a great success because of all of YOU.

I hope everyone had a chance to read Bob and Julie Mayhew’s excellent article in the August Utah Humanist. They presented a very lucid and rational case detailing the numerous abuses of power under the current Administration and put forth a call for the impeachment of President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney (the Board voted unanimously to support and call for impeachment at the July 19 Board meeting). This article has been sent to the Salt Lake Tribune for publication and we strongly encourage you to write letters to the editor of your local newspapers to support restoring the system of checks and balances so vital to our democracy, something that has suffered tremendously during this administration.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

November 2007

Humanists of Utah has set forth an ambitious agenda for the next several months. The Board of Directors has agreed to move in some exciting new directions; after hearing of some of our plans, I am sure you will share in our enthusiasm. In an effort to make our chapter more visible (especially to younger persons) and to continue our mission to advocate for humanism in Utah, we are working on hosting a couple of special events, along with our usual fare of regular monthly gatherings. Toward that end, the board created a special committee to plan and implement our first ever “Darwin Day Event”, to be titled, “Darwin Day With Humanists of Utah.” Most of the details are still in the planning stage (with more details forthcoming), but I am pleased at the progress we have already made and thank our enthusiastic Committee members for their time and many great ideas.

I have already registered our event with www.DarwinDay.org, where our announcement is now posted on their events page. They also have a variety of resources we will make use of. Darwin Day Celebration (DDC) is an organization that coordinates and promotes events on Charles Darwin’s birthday, February 12, in an effort to celebrate science and humanity. A Darwin Day celebration “maintains that the knowledge system that informs our modern culture is science and that humanism is the most rational by which to live by.” I think you will agree with the DDC that these both deserve to be celebrated. This will be a wonderful way to showcase our chapter and to promote humanism among the community.

The Darwin Day Committee quickly discovered that several volunteers will be needed to help make Darwin Day a success. Please contact me or any Humanists of Utah Board member if you can devote any time to this endeavor. We especially need volunteers on February 12, to do such things as staff literature tables, answer questions from the public, and assist with video/s we plan to show. Any time you can devote is appreciated-even a few hours can make a difference.

We also remain in urgent need of volunteers to assist with refreshments at the General Meetings. I find that with my presidential tasks, I no longer have time to bake and serve the refreshments on a monthly basis. While other Board members have stepped up to assist, they too are pressed for time and have an already heavy workload from their board member duties. We believe that serving refreshments is a pleasant end to the General Meetings, and have found that it really does keep people from making an abrupt exit, thus having time spent to visit among one another, to learn more about the Chapter and (we hope) to even join our organization. Refreshments do not need to be home made, and taking turns is encouraged, so no one person has to take on an entire year. Please get in touch with me if you can help out in this important area.

Finally, remember to mark your calendars for our annual Winter Gathering on Thursday, December 13, at Eliot Hall. More information will be in the December Utah Humanist.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

May 2007

April was a busy month, with the usual events coupled with the debate, “Is God Necessary for Ethics?” which Humanists of Utah co-sponsored with Christ Presbyterian Church. It was an interesting experiment and I think it went very well. It was a way to get together with people of differing viewpoints about an important subject and debate and discuss it in a civil manner.

I don’t think that either side gained any “converts” and I fear that too much familiarity may breed some contempt, or perhaps some “overheated arguments,” when two groups with such vastly differing viewpoints get together.

However, the board feels that we should continue to co-sponsor debates and forums on subjects of interest or importance, with other groups such as the University of Utah Department of Philosophy.

I want to thank Mark Hausam of Christ Presbyterian Church for suggesting and arranging the many details of the debate and for serving on behalf of Christ Presbyterian Church. Thanks also to Dr. David Keller of Utah Valley State College for representing H of U. Both gentlemen served as articulate and thoughtful spokespersons for the various “sides” they represent. A special thank you must go to Dr. Deen Chatterjee, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah, for moderating the debate in such a professional and considerate manner.

Once again, Board members Bob and Julie Mayhew sprung into action and worked very hard to secure excellent selections for the literature table, as well as a new Humanists of Utah banner for the debate, all of which we will use for future events. Thank you, Bob and Julie.

I would like to remind everyone again that we will be suspending our regular meetings in June and July. We will resume in August, with a picnic on the second Thursday. Watch for announcements about time and place as the date approaches. Finally, make a note to check out our ad in the May Catalyst.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

March 2007

Quite often I tell people that I came to humanism by way of science. What does that really mean? It means that early in my life I became skeptical, and as time went on I began to question those things that didn’t, in my mind, fit in with reality. Most of those things were associated with religious beliefs, especially those that dealt with creation, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, etc. Those beliefs (and many others) appeared ridiculous to me.

They continue to be ridiculous to me to this day. As people try to discredit science and inject religion into public schools and other areas that should remain secular, for me it is necessary to focus on science by defending it, disseminating factual information about it, and by being more vocal in its importance and truth.

For the next few months, you will see this occur in the President’s Message. In addition to the usual updates, requests and announcements, I plan to include a mixture of defense of science with some various educational facts. Hopefully this won’t bore everyone to death! (You will have another opportunity for such boredom when I am the speaker at the September General Meeting.)

My purpose in all of this is to inform people in the areas in which I have some knowledge, as well as to defend science in every way possible. I believe that we must confront misconceptions of all kinds and to stand up to what are sometimes lies about scientific areas, or seemingly authoritarian pronouncements of “how the world really is.”

Accuracy is one aspect of science we need to remain ever vigilant about; people often have incorrect and/or unreliable information that is designed to confuse or misinform. One example is the doubts so many people profess to have regarding the seriousness or even the reality of global warming-something which most respected scientists worldwide agree upon. I read a recent letter in the local newspaper in which an individual based his entire opinion on global warming (that it is bunk) on incorrect information about glaciers (melting rates, etc.) As someone who has studied Glaciology extensively, I could tell from the comments that the writer knew very little about the subject. This is not necessarily anyone’s fault, but it does illustrate the importance of keeping scientific facts accurate and that the media have an obligation to report information correctly. A recent Google search of “glaciers” and “glaciology” was very disappointing: a lot of what I found was either inadequate or inaccurate-and this was on the premiere sites! It was troubling to think that people are getting their data from these sites that are either woefully inadequate or blatantly incorrect. It was a good reminder to me that when presenting any type of fact, about global warming or otherwise, scientists and the science minded alike must be scrupulous in our accuracy. Science should enlighten, not misinform, inform, not confuse, bring the truth, and not spread fallacies. Providing accurate information is vital in this endeavor.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

June 2007

Well, here we are at the beginning of our first summer recess. This is the first time that the chapter has taken a ‘seasonal hiatus,’ but I think we will all agree it is a good idea. People are busy with many different things this time of year: graduations, vacations, working in our yards and gardens, and the like. While we are tending to these things (or are just feeling really wiped out from the summer heat), attendance at the General Meeting and discussion group suffers during the summer months. The Board (which will continue to meet during the recess period) felt it would be a good idea to try the break and return to our regular meeting schedule in September. We do, however, have some summer social events planned that we hope you will consider joining us for.

Our first two “Movie Nights” several months ago were such a success that we have decided to hold another one, and what better time to do so than on a hot summer night? We plan to show The Gods Must Be Crazy at 6:00 PM. on Thursday, June 21, at the University of Utah Union Building. This is a great movie that will bring a smile to your face while raising some thought-provoking ideas. The movie tells the story of Xi, a bushman of the Kalahari who one day finds an empty Coke bottle in the desert. You might not think that this one small item could change civilization but it does, and in ways that will bring many a chuckle. Add to it jungle animals, a love story, and many important morals and messages, and it makes for one interesting and funny movie. I’ll be bringing some of my decadent popcorn (made with real butter and salt,) and hope to see many of you there. We will also hold the annual Summer Social in August, and again it will be another first for the chapter: a picnic/BBQ at the home of members John and Wanda Young. The Board has had a preliminary planning session for this special event and while many details are still being worked out, I can tell you that it will be a fun evening with great food, conversation and company. Please mark your calendars for August 9 (tentative time 6:00 p.m. but final details to be announced.) John and Wanda’s home is at 2127 South 1900 East, and we thank them for opening their lovely home to us for this event.

I will be leaving in a few days to attend the 66th Annual Conference of the American Humanist Association in Portland, Oregon. It is always a pleasure to be around fellow humanists, and I am looking forward to many engaging activities and conversations with like-minded freethinkers. I am sure this will be a stimulating and informative few days, and will share my conference experiences with you in a subsequent newsletter.

Finally, please mark your calendars for September 13, at 7:30 PM-our first General Meeting after the summer recess and featuring your President! My presentation is tentatively titled “I Am Not Persuaded” and will be (mostly) about using science to prove the age of the earth as opposed to the biblical creationist view. I would love to see some friendly and familiar faces out there.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

July 2007

I recently returned from the 66th Annual Conference of the American Humanist Assoication. Attending a conference for four full days is quite an experience. It is exhilarating, interesting, informative, and when it was over, I was quite exhausted. One thing that happened to me was that I wanted to attend so many of the sessions (and did) that I wore myself out. On two of the days, sessions started at 8 or 9 in the morning with a banquet ending at 10 in the evening.In addition to all the good stuff that the AHA presents, there is the added bonus of being around and having discussions with the many like-minded conference attendees from all around the country.

I have come back with some ideas I hope we can use with our chapter and some reassurances from other chapter leaders that they face the same challenges we face here at Humanists of Utah, namely, growing the chapter and promoting humanism.

I collected a small mountain of handouts and notes on the many sessions I attended. I will have more to say about these sessions when I have had more time to digest all the information and have discussed it with other board members.

A piece of good news I received at the conference is that our chapter was given a thousand dollar check from Ron Renard of the AHA Chapter Assembly for our grant application to assist in our efforts to attract young people, and people in general, to the cause. We will likely use it to sponsor more debates and forums like the “Is God Necessary for Ethics” debate we co-hosted at the University of Utah.

Back here in Utah, we had an enjoyable evening on June 21, the Summer Solstice, watching The Gods Must be Crazy. Although we are having a summer recess, some of us find it hard not to have some kind of humanist activity. Movie night helps fill that need. We will be having movie nights every so often; and I enjoy them as a way to get together, relax and watch a classic movie. Suggestions for what to watch are always welcome. I was amused when an individual who attended said he would join our chapter if we showed The Hospital with George C. Scott. If we do show it, I plan to hold him to his word.

I want to remind you to mark your calendar and attend our Picnic/BBQ on August 9, when we kick off our new season of events. I hope to see you then.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

February 2007

Happy New Year, everyone, and may 2007 be a good one for all. I feel very optimistic that the coming year will be a successful one for the Humanists of Utah, as a number of exciting changes are underway that I believe will be positive for our chapter and help us further the cause of humanism in Salt Lake City.

The biggest event to announce regards advertising. The Board has decided to make a series of announcements in Catalyst magazine. Many of you are likely familiar with the Catalyst,: a local, monthly magazine, whose mission is “Healthy Living, Healthy Planet.” After researching the magazine’s demographics, we feel that advertising in this publication will help us reach potential members and will be an excellent vehicle to spread the word about our cause and chapter. The AHA has developed a series of advertisements that we will use and personalize with our own contact information. Our plans are to run the ads starting with the March 2007 issue, with subsequent ads placed throughout the year. The ads will be visually stunning and consist of full page and quarter page sizes for different issues.

As excited as we are about working with the Catalyst, doing so represents a significant financial outlay: the ads are not cheap. However, the Board feels strongly that we must create interest in the Humanists of Utah and do what we can to bring in new members. More information will be made available as additional details are worked out.

This year we will also work earnestly to ally with student organizations (starting at the University of Utah) to promote humanism on campuses and involve young people in the cause (and hopefully bolster our own membership). Initial contacts with the Secular Student Alliance (who are aligned with AHA) have been very successful and we feel joining with them to advance the cause and message of humanism to young people is critical for the survival of humanism. You can learn more about this student group by going to their website.

In this issue you will find additional information about our upcoming elections. Please respond to your ballots, which you will receive soon. Election results will be announced at the Annual Membership Meeting/Social on February 8th, at Distinctive Catering. Please plan to attend for an evening of great conversation, good food and live entertainment.

Your mailboxes will also soon bring you a questionnaire the Board is developing. We are seeking your input on a number of issues and urge you to respond with your thoughts, ideas and preferences. We are always interested in any way we can make the chapter better, and to do so we need YOUR feedback.

Please watch the calendar for changes as well, including “time off” in June and July, and a new, pre-autumn picnic/potluck we will be hosting in August. The March, April, and May General Meetings will have interesting and timely speakers, so please plan to attend. Yours truly will be your speaker in September, so having some friendly faces in the audience will be appreciated.

As always, the Board and myself want to thank you for your commitment to the chapter and want you to know we are here for you-to hear your ideas, concerns and thoughts about Humanists of Utah With your efforts and ideas, we can make 2007 our best year yet.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

December 2007

The “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah” event planning is proceeding well. We now have venue space reserved at the University of Utah Student Union Building for the program we have planned. Dr. Craig Wilkinson has arranged for two distinguished speakers. The early afternoon speaker will be Kristen Hawkes, Distinguished Professor at the University of Utah Anthropology Department, recipient of the Rosenblatt Prize and member of the National Academy of Sciences. Our evening speaker will be Scott D. Sampson, Professor of Geology and Geophysics and Chief Curator and Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, at the Utah Museum of Natural History. Also, we will be showing a video about the life of Charles Darwin at the little theater in the union building. There will be tables with literature about the Humanists of Utah, The American Humanist Association, and Darwin. We will also have some items for sale from the Evolve Fish organization. In addition, Utah Friends of Paleontology will also have a display table, and we hope perhaps one other table from a University of Utah science department.

I am looking forward to “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah.” I think this event is a good way for us to become more visible to the public as humanists while championing causes we are in agreement with. Science, especially evolutionary science, has been under increasing attack from creationists. This is a good opportunity to display facts about evolution and science to the public. While debates are a useful way to give both sides of an issue a fair hearing, it is also nice to present our side of the issues without the need to argue with creationists or have them present their views. This will be a celebration of Darwin, his contribution to science, and a celebration of science in general. I hope that you will all join us on Tuesday, February 12, 2008 for our first annual “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah.”

On another note, don’t forget to join us on Thursday December 13, for our December Social. Board members will be bringing the food for this potluck-type dinner. We will also have an open microphone for anyone who wishes to have a say about, well, just about anything.

Also, I want to remind the membership that we still have a seat on the Board of Directors that needs to be filled. And, we are still looking for a few volunteers for monthly chores and to help out on Darwin Day.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

August 2007

Our summer recess is about over, and I am looking forward to a new season of events. In addition to our usual general meetings and discussion groups, we are planning to host a few other activities in the coming year. The board of directors is working to include an event allied with the Darwin Day organization, which has sponsored the event since 1995. Darwin Day Celebration is held on February 12 of each year.At the 66th annual conference of the American Humanists Association, which I attended, the Darwin Day Celebration organization, along with many other organizations, had a table with literature handouts. One of the handouts congratulated the AHA “on the occasion of its Sixty-Sixth Annual Conference”!

“Darwin Day wishes to express its sincere appreciation to the American Humanists Association for its cooperation during the past many years regarding our common interests in establishing a National Celebration of Darwin Day, Science and Humanity. Authentic celebrations provide a tradition and a common bond to be shared among those who understand their significance, permitting them to experience a meaningful connection to one another and to the principles to which they subscribe. Darwin Day Celebrations maintains that the knowledge system that informs our modern culture is science and that humanism is the most rational philosophy by which to live. Therefore they both deserve to be celebrated!”

I agree wholeheartedly and will work to make it an annual event of the Humanists of Utah. This first year should be a good learning experience in organizing the event. It will also help us be better prepared to celebrate in 2009, the Bicentennial Celebration of Darwin’s birthday.

Science has always been under attack by religious fundamentalists of all kinds. This attack has been on the increase in recent years, and I feel we must do all we can to counter this trend. Establishing an annual event is one of the best ways in my mind to make science more visible to a larger number of people.

The board of directors will also be working to continue hosting additional forums and debates about a variety of subjects. We hope to hold many of these events at the University of Utah, and we hope that it will “catch the eye” of some University students. Having these events at the University of Utah is also part of a strategy that the board has been discussing to get more young people involved with Humanism and to help establish a student organization at the University.

In addition to these events, I feel that we should continue to have our movie night several times a year. I know this seems to be a lot of new events to be hosting. However, while attending the AHA conference, I spoke to a number of individuals from other chapters and learned that some of them have two or three events a week as opposed to two or three a month. It is my hope that these additional events will help us achieve our chapters goal to advocate and promote humanism.

Again, I want to remind you of our Summer Picnic to be held on August 9 (details to be found elsewhere in the journal). I am looking forward to seeing many of you there. And don’t forget that at our September general meeting, yours truly will be the speaker. I have decided to call my presentation, “What Would I Have to Give Up to Believe in a 6000 Year Old Earth?”

So, mark your calendars while enjoying the remaining summer hiatus. See you soon.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

Lack of Information, Misconceptoins, and Bad Definitions

April 2007

Last month I mentioned that I would be offering some science facts. To do so I will use the topic of glaciers as an example of how misconceptions can occur and be perpetuated.

In the many discussions about global warming, simplistic statements about glaciers have been made which show a lack of understanding of how natural processes and geographical location influence the nature of glaciers.

Googling “glacier” is quicker than hauling out one of my old textbooks. However, as I began compiling information, I was disappointed and somewhat surprised at the poor and at times incorrect definitions I found. One of the worst is a definition for glacier from MSN Encarta: Glacier, Noun, Definition, ice mass: a large body of continuously accumulating ice and compacted snow, formed in mountain valleys or at the poles, that deform under its own weight and slowly moves.

At first glance this definition may seem OK, but if we look a little longer at it, we can find some errors that render it a poor definition. First is the use of the word “continuously.” Accumulation of ice and snow, which form glaciers, is not continuous, accumulation is intermittent, and in the long term, accumulation occurs much the same way that precipitation occurs in the rest of the world, with seasonal highs and lows. And the overall mass of a glacier may fluctuate up and down over the span of a few to thousands of years. A glacier could also stay relatively stable for variable periods of time.

Another problem with this definition is the use of the plural “poles.” It is true that the largest glacial mass is situated on the Antarctic continent located at the South Pole; however there is no landmass at the North Pole and thus there are no glaciers there. There is plenty of ice, but ice in the seas is not considered glacial. Glaciers occur only on land where gravity can cause accumulations to deform and flow.

I use the preceding poor definition as an example of how people can become misinformed when something as basic as an Internet dictionary is inaccurate.

This reminds me of an interesting and sadly humorous story showing one of Rush Limbaugh’s stupid and misinformed statements. He is quoted as having said, “Even if the polar ice caps melted, there would be no rise in ocean levels. …After all, if you have a glass of water with ice cubes in it, as the ice melts, it simply turns to liquid and the water level in the glass remains the same.” The problem with this idiotic statement is that the vast majority of ice on this planet is on land, above sea level, which means that if it all melted, it would add quite a bit to sea levels.

Glaciology is one of those “geo” sciences that I find very intriguing and enjoyable to study. Glaciers are one of the most powerful phenomena on the planet and glaciers are affected by many environmental factors: how far north or south of the equator they are they? Are they near the oceans or are they inland? How far above sea level is the glacier. What is the amount of heat in the underlying rocks and the angle of slope where the glacier is situated. But the force of gravity is what creates a glacier by forcing the ice mass to flow. And of course the glacier’s own size also plays a role in how much solar energy is reflected from its surface.

Glaciers tend to straighten out curves in canyons and leaves behind U-shaped channels by way of their erosional processes. They carry and deposit huge loads of debris, and their melt waters cause further erosion and deposition. There are many more interesting aspects to glaciers, but that is enough for now.

Getting back to the question of global warming, I would like to conclude with a few comments.

I am convinced that six billion humans affect the environment in a number of ways. The degree to which human activity contributes to climate change is still being argued and studied, but human effect is not zero, as some would contend.

While global warming is a significant problem, I feel we are spending too much time simply arguing over it, rather than working on solutions. We should be working on reducing pollution of all types because it is the right thing to do. Polluting is not some sort of “first right” granted to a would-be polluter, a “right” that often becomes a mess the rest of us has to contend with, by cleaning up the mess left behind or by attempting to force the polluter to deal with the mess themselves.

Being responsible for the “waste products” that we produce and making their disposition a part of the cost of doing business is the right thing to do. If somehow we could convince our collective selves of that, many of the problems of environmental degradation would obviously go away or at least be manageable.

But if we are to argue any of these environmental issues as we will and as we should, it will do no good for either side of the debate to proceed with bad information and misconceptions. We should always endeavor to be factually informed.

Next month’s message will not have such a heavy scientific theme. I look forward to seeing you at the upcoming debate, as well as the next general meeting.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

Positive Humanism

January 2007

At our holiday celebration dinner December 14, 2006, former chapter president Flo Wineriter made the following remarks during the open mike period.

I would like to spend a few minutes thinking out loud about the positive aspects of our humanist philosophy. I believe that can best be done by reading the inspiring words of two great American humanists. First, the words of a song written by the founder of the American Humanist Association, the Humanists of Utah, and a minister of this Unitarian Church in the 1940’s, Edwin H. Wilson. The title of his song is: Where is Our Holy Church?

Where is our holy church?
Where race and class unite as equal brothers in the search for beauty, truth, and right.
Where is our holy writ?
Where’er a human heart a sacred torch of truth has lit, by inspiration taught.
Where is our holy man?
A mighty host respond; For good men rise in every land to break the captive’s bond.
Where is our holy land?
Within the human soul, wherever strong men truly seek with character the goal.
Where is our paradise?
In aspiration’s sight, wherein we hope to see arise ten thousand years of light.

Ed Wilson’s song exemplifies his high regard for human potential.

Another respected humanist scholar, Robert Ingersoll, glorified human intelligence in an essay on morality. He wrote:

What is morality? In this world we need certain things. We have many wants. We are exposed to many dangers. We need food, fuel, raiment, and shelter, and besides these wants, there is, what may be called, the hunger of the mind.
Happiness, including its highest forms, is after all the only good, and everything, the result of which is to produce or secure happiness, is good, that is to say, moral. Everything that destroys or diminishes well-being is bad, that is to say, immoral. In other words, all that is good is moral, and all that is bad is immoral.
What then is, or can be called, a moral guide? The shortest possible answer is one word: Intelligence.
We cannot depend on what are called “inspired books,” or the religions of the world. These religions are based on the supernatural, and according to them we are under obligation to worship and obey some supernatural being, or beings. All these religions are inconsistent with intellectual liberty. They are the enemies of thought, of investigation, of mental honesty. They destroy the manliness of man. They promise eternal rewards for belief, for credulity, for what they call faith.
And all “inspired books,” teaching that only those who obey the commands of the supernatural are, or can be, truly virtuous, and that unquestioning faith will be rewarded with eternal joy, are grossly immoral.

Again I say: Intelligence is the only moral guide.

It is my hope that the ideals of these two humanist pioneers will inspire us to proudly explain and exclaim the principles of humanism.

–Flo Wineriter

Political Courage

December 2007

During the last Democratic debate, the host asked all candidates to comment on their Christian faith. At the recent Republican debate, a similar question was asked concerning their Biblical beliefs. Both the Democrat and the Republican candidates scrambled at the chance to show who was the most believing Christian.

How would you have reacted had at least one candidate shown the courage, and felt the moral obligation, to take that most opportune chance to express Constitutional values as follows?

Mr. Host, I find the question constitutionally inappropriate for a presidential debate. But it was asked and I will respond. Everyone who knows me privately knows who I am and what I believe. Those in the American audience who do not, need only know this one thing: As president I will consider all peoples regardless of faith, or no faith for that matter, as equals. I consider this attitude an absolute requirement for any public servant. Furthermore, I say to the world, and especially to the Muslim world, during this perilous time, America embraces your faith as it embraces our majority Christian faith. This idea is a very important concept, and I want to make it perfectly clear. Our Founding Fathers did not create a Christian nation; they created a political system where all peoples have the right to live and practice their beliefs in anyway they want while pursuing their right to the pursuit of happiness. Of course there is an important constitutional restriction. No one has the right to violate another person’s similar guarantees, especially the sacred right to life and property.

Bin Ladin violated those American concepts to the core! Of course, America and the world will remain dedicated to bringing anyone inflicting those unacceptable kinds of religious terrorist acts to justice. As President I will emphatically invite the Muslim world to join with us, confident that with these kinds of new sincere American attitudes, they will. The so called war on terrorism should never have been a war of violence or “Crusades,” as President Bush believed and conducted; but rather, an American invitation to the Middle East to a sharing of human values and a joining together of all good peoples everywhere in the victory over extremist fundamentalist behavior be it Muslim or Christian. A safe home, food on the table, health care, children educated, etc., all of these are universal human goals. A continuance of this insane war with all its associated costs, human and otherwise, and wasted world resources makes those human goals ever more difficult to achieve.

If Americans are ever going to solve the Muslim terrorist problem they need to put their own house in order first. Today’s American house and the Middle East house are very similar. At this very moment, the Middle East house is in conflict regarding who is the best Muslim, the Sunni or the Shi’a, while the American house is having presidential arguments being broadcast to the rest of the world as to who is the best Christian. Certainly one difference is in the degree to which the conflicts are conducted. But I don’t like the direction America is going, and the people of the Middle East can see the contradiction.

The American message should not be just about Democracy, which I have been hearing about forever, but rather about our great Constitution and its Bill of Rights and our Secular (not a dirty word) or neutral government that respects all beliefs and who’s duty is to act as moderator of religion (and never a participator) in cases where those beliefs become abusive, or out of hand, from time to time.

And so, I believe, with good people taking to the streets and showing their repugnance at every violent religiously motivated act, even if it comes from within their own culture, terrorism will cease because it will be seen as being counter productive.

As your President I promise these kinds of human-to-human communications, including many taken directly to the common Middle East peoples, will be a large part of the peace initiatives of my administration.

–Grant Simons

Petersburg Declaration

April 2007

Released by the delegates to the Secular Islam Summit, St. Petersburg, Florida on March 5, 2007

We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree. We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons. We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights. We find traditions of liberty, rationality, and tolerance in the rich histories of pre-Islamic and Islamic societies. These values do not belong to the West or the East; they are the common moral heritage of humankind. We see no colonialism, racism, or so-called “Islamaphobia” in submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights.

We call on the governments of the world to reject Sharia law, fatwa courts, clerical rule, and state-sanctioned religion in all their forms; oppose all penalties for blasphemy and apostasy, in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights; eliminate practices, such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage, that further the oppression of women; protect sexual and gender minorities from persecution and violence; reform sectarian education that teaches intolerance and bigotry towards non-Muslims; and foster an open public sphere in which all matters may be discussed without coercion or intimidation.

We demand the release of Islam from its captivity to the totalitarian ambitions of power-hungry men and the rigid strictures of orthodoxy. We enjoin academics and thinkers everywhere to embark on a fearless examination of the origins and sources of Islam, and to promulgate the ideals of free scientific and spiritual inquiry through cross-cultural translation, publishing, and the mass media.

We say to Muslim believers: there is a noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine; to Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is, and all members of non-Muslim faith communities: we stand with you as free and equal citizens; and to nonbelievers: we defend your unqualified liberty to question and dissent.

Before any of us is a member of the Umma, the Body of Christ, or the Chosen People, we are all members of the community of conscience, the people who must choose for themselves.

One Nation, Under WHOM?

May 2007

Thank you and good evening. When Julie Mayhew called me a few weeks ago to inquire about the possibility of my speaking to this group on this date, we talked a little bit about possible topics and finally decided that, since I taught recent U.S. history at the University of Utah for 36 years and my research field is really political history, I ought to be able to work out something on the subject of Religion in American Politics. So I brainstormed the topic for a couple of days and found the history of religion in our political arena interesting.

And then, the following Saturday morning, I turned on the telly and landed on C-SPAN 2 and there was an author named Chris Hedges talking about his recent book entitled American Fascists. How many of you are familiar with that volume? I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I was not, but as I listened to Mr. Hedges describe the increasing intrusion of radical right-wing Christians into American politics, I was fascinated by his “take” on the subject and quickly concluded this program was probably a gift from God. That’s a joke.

As it turns out, Hedges himself is an interesting guy. He was a reporter for the New York Times for many years, specializing in covering the world’s hot-spots (including Iraq) and won himself a Pulitzer Prize. He is by no means your typical critic of conservative Christianity, having been born the son of a Presbyterian minister–but his father was definitely a mainline Christian with a social conscience, taking part in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, for example. Chris Hedges can still quote chapter and verse from the Good Book when he needs to. Beyond that, he tells a story drawn from the time he was earning a degree at Harvard Divinity School and sitting in the Ethics class of Professor James Luther Adams. Adams, then maybe eighty years of age, was warning his pupils about the stated goal of Pat Robertson and other televangelists to create a new “political religion” that would eventually take control “of all institutions, including mainstream denominations and the government.”

As Hedges says, it was hard to take such “fantastic rhetoric seriously,” but Adams had been in Germany in 1935-36 working with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and an underground anti-Nazi church and saw ominous parallels between the pro-Nazi “German Christian Church” and what was going on with the religious Right in this country. One other interesting footnote: James Luther Adams, if the name is not familiar to you, was widely regarded as the pre-eminent Unitarian theologian of the 20th century.

Well, I’ll get back to Chris Hedges a little later. When I first started thinking about this topic, my first impulse was (as you might suppose) to approach it historically –at least historically through the last several decades. Thus came the title, “One Nation, Under Who?” –derived from the decision of the new Republican Congress in 1953 to add the words “One Nation, Under God,” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Some have traced that action to the fact that, by 1953, we were thoroughly involved in the Cold War (and just finishing a hot war in Korea) and the bi-polar world view of the U.S. as defender of the “Free World” (which included, of course, some pretty unsavory right-wing dictatorships)–defender of the “Free World” against what was often described as “godless, atheistic Communism.” So maybe if we stuck God into the Pledge of Allegiance it would give us an edge.

Having said that, I don’t remember the early 1950s as a time when religion played an especially active role in American politics. The historian Jon Wiener has reminded us that President Eisenhower once said: “Our government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, ” but then added “and I don’t care what that faith is.” Ike’s opponent in the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections was Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson who was, of all things, a Unitarian. And I don’t think for most Americans that was a big deal–although that might have been because they had no idea what Unitarians were about. As a liability in the ’52 campaign, I think Stevenson’s Unitarianism was far less damaging than the fact that he was a divorcee at a time when divorce was still deeply troubling to many Americans. It took Ronald Reagan in the 1980s to legitimize divorce in the public mind–but maybe we cut him some slack because he was a movie actor and we all know about the mating habits of people in Hollywood.

Some of you might have begun your historical survey of religion in politics with the 1960 presidential race and specifically the candidacy of John F. Kennedy. In a sense, it wasn’t a new issue in 1960. There were still plenty of people around who remembered the abuse Al Smith had received in 1928 as the first Catholic nominated by one of the two major parties with predictions that, if he were elected, the Pope would move into the White House the next day. And while Smith would almost certainly have lost to Herbert Hoover anyway, even if he’d been Protestant, it is clear that many voters in the previously Democratic “Solid South” either stayed home or actually voted Republican in 1928.

There have been suggestions recently that Mitt Romney ought to try to dispose of the “religious issue” the way JFK did in his talk to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in mid-September 1960. That was about as clear a proclamation of why religious affiliation ought to be irrelevant in a system such as ours as you can imagine. Kennedy said, in part, that there were real issues they ought to be talking about but since he was talking to an assemblage of Protestant ministers he thought it was an appropriate time to address the false issue of his Catholicism. In his moat telling passages, he said:

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute–where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic)how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote–where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference–and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish–where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source–where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly of indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials–and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
“For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew–or a Quaker–or a Unitarian–or a Baptist”
“. . . I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end–where all men and all churches are treated equal–where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice–where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind–and where Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, both the lay and the pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past..
[And then, finally:] “If I should lose [this election] on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate, satisfied that I tried my best and was fairly judged. But if this election is decided on the basis that 40,000,000 Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.”

I really hadn’t intended to quote that speech at such great length–but there’s something compelling these days about the prose of a truly literate President.

The myth is that Kennedy’s forthright confrontation of the religious issue put it to rest.

It did pretty much remove the topic from open discussion, but if you study the election returns from 1960 you will find Republican margins significantly increased in the southern “Bible Belt.” And, just as interesting, you will find some critical areas in the North (Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and, perhaps critically, Illinois, as well as Jack Kennedy’s Massachusetts)–all with large Catholic populations, going for the Democratic candidate. So religion was a factor after all.

Okay, back to the historical survey. Religion is one of the last things I think of when I think of Lyndon Johnson or his Presidency. I think he may have been raised in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but the matter is so unimportant that Robert Dallek, in his magisterial Johnson biography, basically doesn’t mention it. And LBJ was followed by that pious Quaker, Richard Nixon. Nixon took the pacifism of his faith so seriously that he intensified the bombing of North Vietnam and authorized a new incursion into Cambodia.

Perhaps the spirit had moved him to do it.

Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, is another President who might have been photographed attending church services with Betty from time to time but never made a big deal out of his religion. But his successor, Jimmy Carter, was a self-proclaimed “born-again” Christian and a Sunday School teacher in his Baptist church in Plains, Georgia, even though he was a Democrat. And, as the 1976 campaign wore on, we found out that his sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton, was even more . . . what word should I use? . . . devout, just a few paces this side of the snake-handlers. Clearly Jimmy Carter’s identification with fundamentalist Christianity didn’t hurt him with millions of voters, especially in the South, and I’m sure Republican strategists noticed.

So, with some irony, it seems to me it is the Reagan years, the early and middle 1980s, that constitute a turning point in the subject of religion and American politics. These are the years in which we begin to hear more and more about the Rev. Jerry Falwell and his “Moral Majority,” and the Rev. Pat Robertson and his “700 Club” as well as Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and all the rest. The Reagan people would have been blind not to see the political possibilities in playing to these folks and their constituents. So a part of the Reagan program, in addition to building up the defense establishment, taking a more aggressive line toward the Soviet Union, and pursuing a conservative economic agenda, was to pay lip service to efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade, restore prayer to the public schools, and generally bring God back into American life (as though he–or she–had ever been away). The fact that the President had no realistic chance of delivering on his anti-abortion, pro-school prayer promises given the positions taken by the Supreme Court and the difficulties in passing amendments to the U.S. Constitution, didn’t seem to lessen the political advantage he enjoyed with the Religious Right.

I think Reagan’s successor, George Herbert Walker Bush, was never entirely comfortable with these new political bedfellows. He, after all, was the son of an old-line New England family, Episcopalian if I recall correctly, and it must have seemed a little tacky to wear your religion on your sleeve the way the evangelicals did. Whatever problem Bush 41 (as he is now sometimes called) had with the Fundamentalists must have been exacerbated when the Democrats nominated another southern Baptist to oppose him in 1992: Bill Clinton of Arkansas.

Now I have no idea how sincere Bill Clinton was or is in his religious beliefs. If he was shown from time to time to have feet of clay, to be susceptible to various human weaknesses, you have to remember there is considerable room in evangelical Christianity for sin, repentance, and even forgiveness. What I think is indisputable is that Bill Clinton was (and remains) one of the most genuinely gifted politicians this country has seen in the last century. I’m not saying he was a man of great vision or great courage or necessarily possessed some of the other leadership traits we might wish for. But he’s highly intelligent and connects with people in person and on the stump in a way that few candidates have. I think he truly likes people (not just White House interns) and a lot of politicians don’t.

The fact that Clinton was so attractive to so many voters made him anathema to Republicans who had come to think of the Presidency as rightfully theirs. And in that sense Clinton may have played a role in the further politicization of the Religious Right. Which brings us chronologically to George W. Bush, the man Garrison Keillor refers to these days as simply “the current occupant.” Unlike his father, this President Bush is apparently a serious born-again Christian and there have been reports that he talks to the Lord upon occasion before making policy decisions. (I thought talking to Dick Cheney was scary enough.)

Beyond that, it is virtually certain he could not have been elected in 2000 (if he was elected in 2000) without the energetic support of Christian evangelicals and the same was probably true in 2004.

It seems to me it is President Bush’s vocal support for a long list of the Religious Right’s political causes (not just an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning abortion, but another banning same-sex marriages), as well as his administration’s advocacy of “faith-based initiatives,” i.e., providing federal tax money to help fund religiously-connected projects and programs, that have injected religion into American government and politics to a degree hardly imaginable forty years ago. So where does that leave us?

Frankly, I think it leaves us in danger of suffering a basic change in the way this country has understood the relationship between government and religion for the last 220 years since the U.S. Constitution was written. I’m not even talking about the First Amendment–yet. I’m referring to the main body of the Constitution, specifically Article VI, Section 3, which declares that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” That was later complemented by the language of the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . .” It was that mind-set that caused Thomas Jefferson, after he had become President in 1801, to write a letter in response to one he had received from the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut–a letter complaining that the Connecticut state legislature was treating freedom of worship as merely a “favor granted” by the state.

In reply, Jefferson wrote in part: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.” [Emphasis mine.] But old habits die hard, and as religious conservatives still point out, the nation’s currency bears the motto “In God We Trust,” and both houses of Congress have chaplains to begin each day’s session with a prayer.

By the 1980s and ’90s, “God talk” permeated the political arena and even liberal Democrats seemed compelled to end every speech with “God bless you all and God bless America!”

(That, by the way, has always struck me as a curious phrase. Just what does it mean? Is it simply an expression of hope that the Almighty will bless America? Or is it a command, suggesting that he really ought to? Or is it rather a clumsy attempt to re-state the old idea that this country is already peculiarly blessed by Providence, chosen by God to serve as a “City upon a Hill”? Either way, it comes across as arrogant and, if there is a God, presumptuous.]

But politicians are in the business of winning votes, and the real question is why such language now plays a prominent role in our national rhetoric. That brings me back to Chris Hedges and American Fascists. For starters, do not be put off by the title. Chris Hedges says he was actually surprised that it did not draw more criticism because there are obviously some significant differences between Nazi Germany in the 1930’s and the United States in the early 21st century. But he is serious about the Religious Right being embarked on a conscious and absolutely serious effort to “create a global, Christian empire.” Whereas James Luther Adams’s warnings a quarter of a century ago were hard to take seriously, Hedges notes that in the intervening period.

“the powerbrokers in the Christian Right have moved from the fringes of society to the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Christian fundamentalists now hold a majority of seats in 36 percent of all Republican Party state committees, or 18 of 50 states, along with large minorities in 81 percent of the rest of the states. Forty-five Senators and 186 members of the House of Representatives earned between an 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian Right advocacy groups–The Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum, and Family Resource Council. Tom Coburn, the new senator from Oklahoma [and what I am quoting here Hedges wrote shortly after the 2004 elections] had included in his campaign to end abortion: a call to impose the death penalty on doctors that carry out abortions once the ban goes into place. Another new senator, John Thune, believes in Creationism. Jim DeMint, the new senator elected from South Carolina, wants to ban single mothers from teaching in schools. The Election Day exit polls found that 22 percent of voters said that the most important issue in the campaign had been ‘moral values.”

Hedges identifies the “Reconstructionist movement, founded in 1973 by a man named Rousas Rushdooney, as “the intellectual foundation for the most politically active element within the Christian Right.” Rushdowney’s three-volume, 1600-page work Institutes of Biblical Law, argues “that American society should be governed according to the Biblical precepts in the Ten Commandments,” and that “the elect, like Adam and Noah, were given dominion over the earth by God and must subdue the earth, along with all non-believers, so the Messiah could return.”

As Hedges describes it, Rushdooney’s ideal Christian society would be “harsh, unforgiving and violent. Offenses such as adultery, witchcraft, blasphemy, and homosexuality, merited the death penalty. The world was to be subdued and ruled by a Christian United States.” And, for good measure, Rushdooney felt the figure of six million Jews killed in the Holocaust was inflated. Since I’d never heard of Mr. Rushdooney before, I was puzzled as to his importance in the story. But Chris Hedges tells us that the man’s theories, called “Dominionism,” came to dominate the politically active wing of the Christian Right. The religious utterances from political leaders such as George Bush, Tom Delay, Pat Robertson and Zell Miller are only understandable in light of Rushdooney and Dominionism.”

To the extent that the threat is real, who do you suppose the prime targets of the Dominionists are? Hedges quotes the popular Christian Right theologian Francis Schaeffer as saying that “Secular Humanists are the greatest threat to Christianity the world has ever known.” Take that!

Well, there’s a lot more to it than that: Addiction to the image of Jesus as a Warrior, a strong strain of macho-masculinity derived from the fear that liberals and homosexuals have emasculated real men. What better issue, then, than a campaign for a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriages? Perhaps most frightening is the psychological profile of the extreme leaders on the Religious Right. They see the world as “binary” (Hedges’ word), divided into Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, Us and Them, with no gray areas in between. He makes a clear distinction between these people and an earlier generation of evangelicals (typified by Billy Graham) who urged their followers to separate themselves from the evils of secular values, government, and commerce so that they might lead truly moral lives. The Robertsons and Dobsons and Falwells want to control that secular world.

Hedges also sees them as possessing no theological legitimacy since they absolutely ignore both Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” and also what medieval theologians called the “Doctrine of the Two Swords,” Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees that we should “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”–which really comes down to a separation of Church and State. Nowhere in the preachings of these Christian televangelists will you find Jesus’ message of love, compassion, and forgiveness . . . or the man who surrounded himself with society’s outcasts and the downtrodden.

Yet according to Hedges’ view, “all debates with the Christian Right are useless. We cannot reach this movement. It does not want a dialogue. It cares nothing for rational thought and discussion. It is not mollified because John Kerry prays or Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday School. These naïve attempts to reach out to a movement bent on our destruction, to prove to them that we too have ‘values,’ would be humorous if the stakes were not so deadly. They hate us. They hate the liberal, enlightened world formed by the Constitution.”

In painting such a graphic picture, Chris Hedges caught my attention. But I have to believe that millions of Americans, conservative American Christians, voted for George W. Bush in 2004 without endorsing or even being aware of this blueprint for world domination. So the more important question is, Why has a substantial constituency been ready to listen to the preachings of the Religious Right? My own judgment is that a combination of factors have come together to create anxiety, even fear among those in a certain stratum of American society. I don’t think it is elitist to suggest that many of the folks I’m talking about are not particularly well-educated or sophisticated thinkers. And in many cases that’s not their fault. They are fearful of a world that has become far more complex than anything they were trained to handle–and a world much closer to them and more threatening than ever before. (Read that as “9-11” and Iraq and globalization and formerly-forbidden subjects aired on television during prime time.)

Now here come the Falwells and the Robertsons and the Dobsons with easy answers and appeals to place their faith in God and his anointed spokesmen. And the appeal is great enough to make millions of these people, who have also often been abused by rapacious capitalism, vote against their own economic interests. But if the system works the way it ought to, shouldn’t we be able to turn away these authoritarian impulses with reason and compassion, appealing to the best instincts of those they have led astray?

Chris Hedges, and James Luther Adams before him, were not optimistic. They had (and

have) little hope that leadership in the battle will come from the liberal, secular, and rather small

intellectual elite that should be our first line of defense. To quote Hedges, Adams’s “critique of the prominent research universities, along with the media, was . . . withering. These institutions, self-absorbed, compromised by their close relationship with government and corporations, given enough of the pie to be complacent, were unwilling to deal with the fundamental moral questions and inequities of the age. They had no stomach for a battle that might cost them their prestige and comfort. He told me that if the Nazis took over America ’60 percent of the Harvard faculty would begin their lectures with the Nazi salute” . . . [and] “He had watched academics at the University of Heidelberg, including the philosopher Martin Heidegger, raise their arms stiffly to students before class.”

I think I take that as a challenge–not just a challenge to college professors but a challenge to all thinking people and all of us who continue to cherish the belief that reason can ultimately control unbridled emotion, reality will ultimately prevail over fantasy and fear-mongering, and humanity has a potential for good and kindness as well as evil and hatred. That is the bedrock assumption on which this country has operated ever since the time of Thomas Jefferson and the Enlightenment and if the assumption is flawed we truly are in deep trouble. It will not be easy.

It will require sustained effort and courage and understanding and a willingness to reach out to those in our society and in the world who need our friendship and our own perceptions ofTruth..

But I have already rambled on too long. What do you think?

RECOMMENDED READING ON THIS TOPIC:

Balmer, Randall, Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America: An Evangelical’s Lament (Basic Books, 2006).

Danforth, Senator John, Faith and Politics: How the “Moral Values” Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together (Viking, 2006).

Hedges, Chris, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (Free Press, 2007).

Kuo, David, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction (Free Press, 2006).

Lynn, Barry W., Piety and Politics: The Right-Wing Assault on Religious Freedom (Random House, 2006).

Suarez, Ray, The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America (Harper Collins, 2006).

–Alan Coombs

Ode to Language

January 2007

Christmas 2006 Greetings

When in the course of human events it’s time to write a verse
I’d love to be a Milton or a Shakespeare, but I’m worse.
I’d love to think of mighty words like “fourscore and twenty years!”
Or “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, please lend me your ears.”
Though Juliet mused, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Speaking in iambic pentameter is really quite a feat.
So common speech is fine for occasions big and little.
We shouldn’t have to worry about every jot and tittle.
But Lord, what fools these mortals be who defile their mother tongue,
Whom, between you and me, ought to be took out and hung.
The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things,
Including all the slings and arrows that such defilement brings.
So listen, my children and you shall hear of acronyms for words,
Like URL and BPS used by computer nerds.
Legal lingo like “recuse” is heard in courts and foyers.
The first thing we should do is let’s kill all the lawyers.
I also think a thing of beauty is a joy forever.
“Delta Center” is okay, “EnergySolutions Arena” never.
We hold this truth to be self-evident that spin is not admired.
“You’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie” just means that you’re being fired.
A cakewalk, liberators, WMD they said,
And fools rushed in where angels feared to tread.
Now is the winter of our discontent with our uniter, not divider.
But we’ll stay the course, we cannot cut and run from our decider.
As Dubya’s speech gets curiouser and curiouser
All English lovers get furiouser and furiouser.
Those who misuse language make these times that try men’s souls
And Santa Claus, on Christmas Eve, should fill their socks with coals.
But now that winter’s come, can spring be far behind?
Yeah, it can if you’re not charitable to me and kind.
I know this poem’s told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
But I’ve been very busy and had to write it in a hurry.
I could’ve written it and put it on the shelf,
But I know the only thing I have to fear is fear itself.
Some enchanted evening I would like to write some words
That sing before a king like twenty-four blackbirds.
I may have erred to write this literate poem of mine
But remember to err is human, to forgive is most divine.
And so with malice toward none; with charity for all,
Please accept this Christmas poem without a loud catcall.
Please don’t gnash your teeth and think me full of vice.
See not the mote that’s in my eye but a pearl of great price.
Thou canst not be false to me if to thine own self you are true.
And I in turn the best of all possible worlds wish for you.
So when the party’s over go gently into that sweet night,
To your warm and comfy homes beneath the stars and bright moonlight.
I hate to see the party end, parting’s such sweet sorrow,
But here’s to tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.
Since brevity is the soul of wit I’ll say if I might,
Merry Christmas to you all, and to you all, good night.

–Earl Wunderli

Richard Layton’s

Discussion Group Report

The Need for Liberal Arts Education

March 2006

By Flo Wineriter

The Autumn 2006 issue of the Wilson Quarterly featured a scholarly essay by Michael Lind, Whitehead Senior Fellow at the New American Foundation, exploring the demise of Liberal Arts curriculum at many universities. Lind maintains that never has a broad liberal education been more necessary than it is today, and never have colleges and universities done such a poor job of delivering it.

Liberal education is a general education in the humanities, music, the arts, and the classic great books plus the scholarly disciplines of logic, reasoning and rhetoric that prepares one for citizenship rather than a vocation or career. Liberal Arts formed the basis of Western higher education from the Renaissance to the early 20th century but has been almost completely demolished by the demand for professional careerists.

The author reminds us that in the late 19th century it was the practice to go from high school directly to professional training. Lawyers and doctors held only undergraduate degrees.

Following the end of World War I changes in requirements for admittance to professional schools took place at Harvard and Columbia; they required undergraduate degrees for students applying to their medical, law, and other professional schools. Many universities eventually followed suit. Following World War II the nation’s economy and job market demanded more highly trained workers and college campuses began to be more utilitarian oriented, vocational training ground. Liberal arts studies gave way to political science, economics, and the creative arts.

With the emphasis on the flat earth economy more and more of the jobs being created in the United States today are low- wage, low-prestige, service sector jobs that do not require college training. This means fewer people will have the means or the desire to attend college and will miss even an introduction to the liberal arts still available in undergraduate college courses. With the classic belief that knowledge of the liberal arts is necessary for good citizenship it is time to develop a Liberal Arts curriculum for our nation’s high schools. Since high schools are free and mandatory every citizen would then receive a liberal arts education learning to read, write, and reason.

The Nature of Thought

February 2007

This essay, by Wayne L. Wessman, will stimulate you to think about human values, social cultures, and maturing attitudes. A recurring thought as I read this book, he reason we fail to mature is we are taught what to believe before we are taught to think. The author writes, “The endless search for something meaningful and striving to achieve it is the great part of life.”

The Nature of Thought: Maturity of Mind addresses the lack of physical maturation of the brain throughout the last 10,000 years of human evolution, which has resulted in an immaturity of thought throughout history to the present day. This work explores the ideal of a fundamental integrity of thought, and a maturity of mind.

About the Author, Wayne L. Wessman received his Masters in Psychology from the University of Utah. He is retired and continues his research in philosophy, psychology, biology, physics, and anthropology.

–Flo Wineriter

Richard Layton’s

Discussion Group Report

How Moderation In Faith Fosters Fanaticism

November 2007

By Craig Wilkinson, M.D.

The importance of “How Moderation In Faith Fosters Fanaticism,” extracted from Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and its message revolve around the following: When two people, two ideologies, two communities, or two nations sit down to discuss their differences they can either talk or fight. If they choose to talk, there must be a mutual agreement as follows. The thoughts, ideas, truths, or facts that have the most verifiable evidence behind them must be given more credence than the thoughts, ideas, truths, or facts that have less verifiable evidence to support them. Without this agreement, there can be no discussion. If the sides resort to defending their arguments with “faith” it will turn into a fight.

It has been the “norm” in most of mankind’s history to give “faith” an automatic, implied, condoned, and demanded acceptance. Faith in support of a fact, need not supply any verifiable evidence. All other claims to truth, like “external beam radiation therapy can cure prostate cancer,” would need to provide supportive evidence.

It is Richard Dawkins claim that the world is now too dangerous a place to continue to allow faith such a sacrosanct position. Quoting from his article, “Christianity, just as much as Islam, teaches children that unquestioned faith is a virtue. You don’t have to make the case for what you believe. If somebody announces that it is part of his “faith”, the rest of society, whether of the same faith, or another, or of none, is obliged, by ingrained custom, to “respect” it without question; respect it until the day it manifests itself in a horrible massacre like the destruction of the World Trade Center, or the London or Madrid bombings.” Or perhaps manifests itself in the Christians in America who blow up abortion clinics and murder physicians who work there.

The defenders of faith point out that these people can be considered religious fanatics or extremists. But, as Dawkins points out, “Even mild and moderate religion helps to provide the climate of faith in which extremism naturally flourishes. As long as we accept the principle that religious faith must be respected simply because it is religious faith, it is hard to withhold respect from the faith of Osama bin Laden and the suicide bombers.”

As Dawkins points out, “Our Western politicians avoid mentioning the R-word (religion), and instead characterize their battle as a war against “terror”, as though terror were a kind of spirit or force, with a will and a mind of its own. Or they characterize terrorists, as motivated by “evil” (As President Bush has said, “The axis of evil.”) But they are not motivated by evil. However misguided we may think them, they are motivated, like the Christian murderers of abortion doctors, by what they perceive to be righteousness, faithfully pursuing what their religion tells them. They are not psychotic; they are religious idealists who, by their own lights, are rational. They perceive their acts to be good, not because of some warped personal idiosyncrasy, and not because they have been possessed by Satan, but, because they have been brought up, from the cradle to have a total and unquestioning faith.”

The respected journalist Murie Gray, writing in the “Glasgow Herald” after the London bombings stated. “Everyone is being blamed, from the obvious villainous duo of George W. Bush and Tony Blair, to the inaction of the Muslim “communities.” But it has never been clearer that there is only one place to lay the blame and it has ever been thus. The cause of all this misery, mayhem, violence, terror, and ignorance is of course religion itself, and if it seems ludicrous to have to state such an obvious reality, the fact is that the government and the media are doing a pretty good job of pretending that it isn’t so.”

In conclusion I quote from Mr. Dawkins, “This is the one reason why I do everything in my power to warn people against faith itself, not just against so-called “extremist faith.” The teachings of “moderate” religion, though not extremist in themselves, are an open invitation to extremism.” I would add that it is the blind acceptance of faith by the religious “moderates” that opens this invitation.

A Metaphor for President Bush?

August 2007

In the current issue of Religious Humanism, Paul Woodruff, Professor of Ethics at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote this about the hubris of ancient Athens.”At a certain stage, at the height of its success, Athens decided to take on Syracuse, the biggest and richest city that Athens did not control. They obviously weren’t driven mad by the gods; they were crazed with their own success. They were so successful that they just didn’t believe that this could go wrong. Besides, they had noble (as well as mercenary) motives; by expanding their empire they were adding to the area that could participate in trade under their umbrella. It was good for the economy to be part of their empire; they fostered democracy in the states that belonged to their empire. But this war turned out to be a disaster, and they were terribly defeated. To make matters worse, the Greek states outside the empire became very angry at the tyrannical way in which Athens was carrying on in the empire, and the result was, eventually, the total defeat of Athens. Human nature affected the result two ways: it led to disaster because hubris made the city blind, but also because hubris antagonized other people so much that they mobilized to put down the imperial state.”

The neocons and theocons controlling the current Bush administration may want to ponder this as a possible metaphor of their Middle East entanglements.

–Flo Wineriter

re: Impeachment – Letter to the Editor

September 2007

Kudos to Julie and Bob Mayhew for having the guts to say what most of us just think–the Founding Fathers gave us not only the right to impeach scoundrels, but the duty and the obligation to do so.Impeaching Bush and Cheney is the right thing to do, not only to punish them, but send a message to future elected officials that we will not condone anyone who totally ignores our Constitution.

If the Bush and Cheney Gang still don’t get it, then let’s try them as war criminals. That might wake them up!

–Rolf Kay

Jar City

~Book Review~

February 2007

This novel, by Arnaldur Indridason, is based in Iceland. If you like BBC mysteries you will love this book; it reads just like one. The trick is understanding the cultural differences, such as how the Icelanders write their names, the reverse from us. This story is about the investigation of a current crime that relates to a thirty-year-old case, having to do with the current medical examiner. A good read!

–Cindy King

Jailbird

~Book Review~

July 2007

When Kurt Vonnegut died a couple of months ago, I decided to reread some of his novels. Some kind of serendipity kicked in when I chose Jailbird. You see, I’m 56 years old and Vonnegut begins the book pointing out that he was 56 at the time he wrote the novel. Furthermore, the genesis for the thematic ideas was a luncheon he had with, among others, his father when the senior Vonnegut was 56. In fact, numbers are so important in this work that they are all spelled out, even years such as this is Two Thousand Seven.Walter F. Starbuck, the protagonist of the story, lives a rags, to riches, to jail, to rags, to riches, to jail life. As a young boy and son of a chauffer to a rich industrialist, Starbuck witnesses the beginnings of the labor movement and the injustices suffered by working people. However, as a favorite of one of the company owners, he earns himself a scholarship to Harvard. Is there really anyone more important that a Harvard alumnus?

After graduating from Harvard, Starbuck secures a position at the White House as the advisor on Student Affairs to President Richard Nixon. His office is in the basement and virtually forgotten by everyone in the executive branch. However, after the Watergate break in, some illicit funds are secreted away in his office which are found by the authorities. Hence, it is off to prison for Walter.

After his release he accidentally comes across one of the four women that he ever really loved. She doesn’t look like much now, but she has a huge secret that ends up giving Starbuck great wealth and power. Will he be able to hold it?

This novel is a vehicle to Vonnegut’s belief that every human has value. The true life story of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants that were executed by the state on trumped up murder charges, is presented in detail. What they were guilty of was organizing the labor movement. However, they were killed in an electric chair along with a third criminal who, at the last minute, confessed to the murder they stood accused of.

This is a bitter-sweet story that is very typical of the Vonnegut genre.

–Wayne Wilson

 

The Importance of Words

November 2007

Centuries before Socrates lived, there were Greek thinkers in Ionia who made a remarkable discovery. They recognized the difference between things considered supernatural, and the observable world of nature.

Their ideas about nature and nature’s laws led to the development of natural philosophy. Thinking about what is outside nature was left aside, to develop into theology. Natural philosophy meanwhile became natural science. In our time it is simply “science.”

In the scientific way of thinking, the language used is about what exists or may exist in nature. Modern humanism is built within nature, using the language of nature. Thus, right and wrong are known by human experience, in this world, with no reference to any supernatural authority.

Theologians, not scientists, discuss supernatural interests. Theological language includes “revelation,” “theism,” “atheism,” “agnosticism,” “predestination,” “Satan,” “God,”

Lenin’s “historical determinism,” Hubbard’s “engrains,” Reich’s “orgones” and Freud’s “drives.” Humanism stands on its own–no need to use language of supernaturalism.

Asked if he believes in the existence of God, no Humanist should be trapped into responding “yes” or “no.” That question belongs entirely in the realm of theology, not of nature. It makes no sense unless you are in the realm of thought which makes room for supernatural things to exist, the realm of theology. For us, it is not a real question. Humanism moves on and leaves all that behind.

Are you an “unbeliever”? A “non-theist”? These terms are meaningful to theologians. But Humanists discuss their stance and perceptions in the language of science, not of theology. Humanism is not defined as mere denial of what theologians assert. It stands apart from theology on the firm ground of experience within nature. Why talk about other people’s fantasies? Humanity and human experience are real and natural. These are what matter to humanists.

–Freethought Forum
Humanist Fellowship of San Diego

Impeachment!

August 2007

On July 19, 2007 the Board unanimously voted to support and call for impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Chapter Vice President Bob Mayhew explains why:

Impeachment is an indispensable part of a system of checks and balances that sustains our democracy. When strong evidence exists of the most serious crimes, we must use impeachment or lose the ability of the legislative branch to compel the executive to obey the law. This is not a question of supporting one party over another, but of upholding the rule of law over both of them. It is not about partisan politics but about power.

The assaults we are witnessing on our Constitution by George Bush and Dick Cheney are unprecedented. They include lying to Congress and the American people about the reasons for invading Iraq, violating the Geneva Convention by torturing prisoners of war, conducting illegal wiretaps of American citizens, obstructing an investigation into and covering up knowledge of the deliberate exposing of the identity of a U.S CIA undercover operative and violating the Constitution by using signing statements to defy hundreds of laws passed by Congress.

Impeachment is the tool, the cure that protects us from over-reaching power. It is a gift from the Founding Fathers who envisioned the possibility of executive abuses of power. Without the checks and balances granted the three branches in the Constitution we lose our ability to hold our elected officials accountable.

The Presidency of the United States is not a kingship. It is an office the holder is elected to by a majority of the citizens of this country. In that capacity the President and Vice President have sworn an oath to uphold the laws of the land and to protect and defend the Constitution. George Bush and Dick Cheney have consistently demonstrated contempt for the law and are systematically dismantling our constitutional checks and balances. It is the citizens’ duty to call for their impeachment and hold them accountable.

To do this at this time, with only 18 months of their administration remaining is even more important. It is not a question of removing them from office it is about checking power. Once power is ceded to the Presidency it will not be easily given back. The power of this Presidency will be transferred to the successors.

John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation, stated on Bill Moyer’s Journal, July 13, 2007, “When the Founders spoke about impeachment, one of the things that Madison and George Mason spoke about was the notion that you needed the power to impeach, particularly in regards to pardons and commutations because a president might try to take the burden of the law off members of his administration to prevent them from cooperating with Congress in order to expose wrongdoings by the president himself”, as George Bush may have done in the case of Scooter Libby.

It takes vigilance on the part of citizens to sustain democracy. The nation’s founders expected ordinary people to take up the patriot’s task. Let us hope we are able to fulfill their trust and will take the time to learn more about the reasons and need to impeach. Using those often cited lyrics, “you don’t know what you got ’til its gone”, we need to recognize we are about to lose our ability to hold our government accountable. Regret is a poor substitute for action today. It is time to check the power of the executive and restore legislative and judicial balance.

Please call or write your congress person and tell them to join in the fight to curtail executive power and reestablish the constitutional checks and balances by impeaching President George Bush and Vice-President Richard Cheney.

–Julie and Bob Mayhew

Contact Information for Utah’s Representatives:

Jim Matheson
1323 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
202-225-3011
877-677-9743 Toll Free
435-627-0880 St. George
435-636-3722 Price

Rob Bishop
124 Cannon Bldg
Washington, DC 20515
202-225-0453
801-625-0107 Ogden

Chris Cannon
1 2436 Rayburn House Office Bldg
Washington, DC 20515
202-225-7751
801-569-5126 West Jordon
801-851-2500 Provo

Background Information:

After Downing Street.org

Impeach Bush

OpEdNews.com

Bill Moyers Journal

The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism

Additionally, Humanists of Utah encourages you to write letters to the editor of your local newspapers calling for restoration of the balance of power among the branches of our government.

I Cry For the World

October 2007

I cry for the children too weak to cry
With bloated bellies just waiting to die

I cry for the innocents on a distant shore
Who bury their loved ones as a result of war

I cry for the poor of any race
While the rich get richer and spit in their face

I cry for the soldiers who gave their lives
For reasons I sometimes fail to recognize

I cry for the black homeless waiting still
While whites build mansions on top of the hill

I cry for the billions who pray in vain
Who seem only to suffer more pain

I cry for the poor sick who suffer
And have to choose between drugs or supper

I cry for the elderly confined to a home
Who wonder why so many leave them alone

I cry for the legless kids in Afghanistan
And wonder why Bush never signed the land mine ban

I cry for America which once was great
But is now the object of worldly hate

I hate the bastards who start a war
While most of us don’t know what the hell for

I admire the people who with all their might
Work to end all wars and make things right

–Rolf Kay

I Am an Agnostic

January 2007

My decision has been made and it is that I require empirical evidence for either the existence or non-existence of any supernatural being. Until that evidence is forthcoming, I do not know and cannot know any answers to questions about that existence.

In addition to that, I am comfortable not knowing. That does not mean that I don’t care. It just means that I understand that one can know certain things and not know others and one does not gain anything by filling in the blanks with wishful thinking or with beliefs. I pursue knowledge with the understanding that I will not know everything by the time my brain shuts down into oblivion. That understanding does not reduce my enjoyment in learning everything that I can reasonably learn in the meantime.

–Doug Thomas
HumanistNetworkNews.org
November 22, 2006

Humanist Parenting

December 2007

I recently participated in a round table presentation to a group of Jordan District school teachers regarding religious tolerance. Members of the panel included leaders of the LDS, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Native Americans, and myself speaking for Humanist Unitarians. Each panelist was given ten-minutes to present the basic liturgy of their organization and how we would like our belief system to be presented to students in the school classroom.

It was impressive to hear the panelists summarize their doctrines and then express the hope that school students would have a better understanding of their own religion and a more tolerant attitude of their fellow students practicing a different religion.

The teachers in the audience asked a variety of serious questions of the panel participants and said they appreciated hearing the variety of religious expressions that differed from their own. They said they now felt better prepared to talk positively and tolerantly about religions to their students.

As the session drew to a close I thought about the responsibility we humanist parents have to set an example of religious tolerance in our own homes. If we want our children to be understood and accepted by their peers, then we owe it to them to present the idea of religion respectfully in our homes. Hopefully we can discuss the positive moral values of humanism to our children without disparaging other religious systems. Let us impress upon our kids that being “different” does not mean being “better or inferior.” Let us emphasize to them that humanism hopes to attain the goals of the enlightenment, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” for everyone.

–Flo Wineriter

Hocus Pocus

~Book Review~

July 2007

This novel by Kurt Vonnegut combines several familiar techniques that make it vintage Vonnegut. The story is told by a prisoner awaiting trial or sentencing reminiscent of Mother Night. Eugene Debs Hartke, the narrator and protagonist of the story, has spent his life trying to make the best of the bad situations he finds himself in. In the beginning he is recruited to attend West Point because his father breaks the rules of a high school science fair.In Vietnam, Hartke does his job as a soldier and indeed is one of the last Americans to leave the political fiasco that was the Vietnam War. He returns to the revile and the loathing that many Vietnam era veterans found themselves subject to. He is recruited to teach in an upscale private university for rich children who have learning disabilities. This unnaturally leads to working in a prison across the lake from the school when he is framed for his socialist ideas. The prison is run by the invading horde of Japanese that has taken over the United States. It is not a military coup, but rather an assault by suited occupants who overtake American business and supply us with services that we can no longer provide for ourselves. Managing prisons is a good example, we have so many of our population incarcerated that it becomes impossible to manage the prisons!

The humanist value of equality of all is central to this work. Indeed, the book is dedicated to the memory of Eugene Victor Debs, 1855-1926, who famously said, “While there is a lower class, I am in it. While there is a criminal element, I am of it. While there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” Debs was the Socialist Party candidate for President of the United States five times, including once from prison. Both his wife and mother-in-law are afflicted with an hereditary form of mental illness. He spends much of his time and effort trying to be human to everyone be they mentally challenged, ill, downtrodden, or whatever. Humans are important to Hartke.

Other common Vonnegut devices include a science fiction story of a superior race to pontificate on the human condition. Also included is a debasing of numbers, they are all represented by digits to indicate that numbers are not important enough to be actual words. Vonnegut had been roundly criticized for some rough language in some earlier books. He strikes back in Hocus Pocus by refusing to use any vulgate language, even though a significant portion of the dialog is among soldiers, it is written with euphemisms instead of literal language. Vonnegut uses his own methods to make his points.

–Wayne Wilson

The God Delusion

~Book Review~

November 2007

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins is a book everyone should read. It is eminently rational and wonderfully readable, as Dawkins’ writings always are. Take, for example, his “amusing strategy” when asked whether he is an atheist. He points out “that the questioner is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon Ra, Mithra, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” Dawkins just goes “one god further.”

Dawkins challenges the privileged position that religion enjoys in society, which puts the “sacred” beyond criticism. He extols the scientific method and criticizes religion’s promotion of faith, or belief unsupported and even opposed by facts. And he does not duck any of the criticisms made against naturalism but answers them fairly and cogently.

He examines each of the traditional proofs for God, including the argument from design-the only one of Thomas Aquinas’s “still in regular use today”–that whatever looks designed is designed. Charles Darwin blew this “out of the water” since “evolution by natural selection produces an excellent simulacrum of design, mounting prodigious heights of complexity and elegance.”

Creationist “logic,” he writes, is always that some natural phenomenon is too complex “to have come into existence by chance,” and therefore “a designer must have done it.” He answers that design raises an even bigger problem of who designed the designer. And he agrees that “chance,” considered as a “single, one-off event” as creationists do, also fails. The real alternative to design is not chance but natural selection, which “is a cumulative process,” breaking “the problem of improbability up into small pieces,” each of which is “slightly improbable, but not prohibitively so.” The end product is an accumulation of these pieces, but creationists fail to “understand the power of accumulation.”

This is but a small sampling. Dawkins later gets into the origin of religion and the roots of morality or being good without God, with evolution playing a dominant role throughout. He’s always careful with his answers. For example, he is “inclined to suspect” (with some evidence) that “there are very few atheists in prisons,” but does not claim “that atheism increases morality, although,” he notes, “humanism–the ethical system that often goes with atheism-probably does.” And he examines both the Old and New Testaments as bases for moral living, and the problem with religion. It is no wonder that this book has received so much attention in the press.

–Earl Wunderli

What Would I Have to Give Up to Believe in a 6000-year-old Earth?

October 2007

It was indeed a pleasure to be the speaker at our September general meeting. The night was, for me, a sort of show and tell night as I brought along a few handouts, some maps, and a series of slides, which were all intended to show some factual evidence of an old earth.

In the last few years I have become increasingly concerned with the growing popularity of the pseudoscience known as “Creation Science.” This concern is why I decided to give a presentation about the age of the earth and why I named it “What Would I Have To Give Up To Believe In A 6000 Year Old Earth?”

It may have appeared at times that I was attacking religion, (and to some extent I was) but my intent is not to change people’s beliefs about whether there is a god. Anyone having deeply held beliefs about the existence of those gods is certainly free to do so. That is, as long as it doesn’t interfere with other peoples’ lives. But I will not back away from criticizing religion when creationist beliefs spill over into and attempt to discredit what is well known about the reality of the physical and historical nature of this planet in this solar system in this galaxy in this universe.

Well, for me, creationist assertions interfere with my life, they insult my intelligence when they attempt to discredit and degrade the things I have learned through study and observation. It offends me when they imply that belief in an ancient earth is not only incorrect, but is evil and will lead to other sins and end in our destruction. This nasty attitude is now startlingly on display at the recently opened Creation Museum. Along with displays showing humans and dinosaurs living happily along side each other, there is one depiction that disgusts and offends me. It depicts a wrecking ball with a label, “Millions of Years.” This wrecking ball is shown smashing the ground around the foundation of a church, causing cracks to reach from the church to a home where a teenager is sitting at a computer and, we are told, looking at pornography.

There is a deep division between those who believe in a 6000-year old earth and those who believe that the earth is indeed ancient in terms of billions of years. I am on the side of the argument that believes that the universe is probably in the realm of 14 billion years old and that the earth has been around for the last 4.5 billion years. So much of the information that is available about earth history is firmly on the side of antiquity.

So, what would I have to give up to believe in a young earth? To start with, much of physics, deep space astronomy, any astronomy, planetary sciences, geophysics, plate tectonics, physical geology, historical geology, anthropology, paleontology, archeology, geomorphology, biology and genetics, and several other disciplines and sub-disciplines. The point is that to go with a young earth, you would have to believe that the vast amounts of evidence for an old earth are incorrect. I refuse to do that.

I have an understanding of the earth that is informed by a degree in physical geography, namely geomorphology. It is also informed by a lifetime of observing the real world as it is laid out and apparent to us. Geomorphology gives us a way to do a considerable amount of classroom study, lab studies, and field studies. It is also very enjoyable, in that field trips or studies often mean going out to some beautiful and interesting places. That is truly a bonus.

For me, as a geographer, the landscape is a large part of the evidence for an old earth, and it tells its own story of age and all the changes that take place when there is lots and lots of time for the story to be told. The story needs some interpreting but the story is there and very interesting. We use a number of tools to gain an understanding of how landforms came into existence, and none of them supports the idea of a 6000-year-old earth.

In my presentation I used a series of slides to show some of the landforms while talking about how they arose. Obviously we can’t do that here, but we can mention a few areas that I touched on.

We looked at the Uintah Mountains and talked about their glaciations in the past, and looked at some of the remnants left by the glaciers’ retreats such as large boulders called erratics, and the rocky terrain called glacial till. I also talked about Lake Bonneville and we looked at slides of sedimentary layers that have distinctive features in the layers that show a long history and variety of climates in the past. We looked at slides of Pavant Butte near Fillmore, Utah, which erupted in Lake Bonneville and shows a distinctive shoreline. I talked a little about a real flood when Lake Bonneville overflowed near Downey, Idaho, and eroded quickly into an enormous flood. These are just a few of the many pieces of evidence that combined give us a good understanding of the history of earth.

While looking at the slide of lake sediments I posed the question to the creationists: How did the flood do this? How did one single flood lay down all these diverse layers that are indicative of lake bottoms, salt flats, river sediments, soils, and how did it include a few ash layers from volcanoes? My answer to the question is that the biblical flood could not and did not create any of the diverse features of the landscape.

The earth is wonderfully and intriguingly old; it displays its age grandly with mountains and arches, and thousands of other features. It displays its age in the fossil record with huge dinosaurs and fossils of microscopic size. It shows its age in a multiplicity of ways that are all around us and apparent to anyone who is willing to take a look around.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

9th Annual Gandhi Birthday Celebration

September 2007

To honor Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy of service and nonviolence, the public is invited to the 9th annual Gandhi Birthday Celebration.For her work preserving the site and memory of the Topaz Internment Camp, Gandhi Alliance for Peace will give Jane Beckwith, president of the Topaz Museum Board, the Gandhi Peace Award. Beckwith and her board epitomize one of Gandhi’s best known sayings: You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

Near Delta, Utah, Topaz Internment Camp was the site where over 8,000 Japanese-Americans, most of them US citizens, were confined during World War II. This summer on June 30th, the camp was dedicated as Utah’s 13th National Historic Landmark.

Such a momentous event was the result of a group of concerned citizens, the Topaz Museum Board, who has labored long and hard to preserve the site and memory of the camp. Not only have they secured 627 of the 640 acres of the actual physical site, they are progressing with the establishment of a museum–Topaz Museum in Delta–their mission to educate people about what happened at Topaz, and to prevent such an injustice from ever occuring again.

Along with music and devotionals, Beckwith will be honored at our annual Gandhi Birthday Celebration. Please join us Sunday, September 30, 2007 at 5 PM in Jordan Park, 1060 South 900 West, SLC. For more information, call 801.364.2971. Free.

–Sarah Smith

Elections 2007

February 2007

Elections for the Board of Directors will be handled the same way polling has been done the past few years. Ballots will be mailed to all members with an addressed return envelope. Results of the election will be announced at the General Membership Banquet and Business meeting on Thursday, February 8th.

Offices up for election this year include: President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer. 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 his second term as President. Regulars at our meetings know him as Cookie Bob.

Vice President – Bob Mayhew

Bob is running for his second term as Vice President

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.

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.

Secretary – Sarah Smith

It has been a privilege and honor serving on the board the last two years, and helping to maintain and further Humanists of Utah.

Along the way, she has learned more about humanism and its relevance especially in these troubled times, and she has learned what dedicated board members and members we have. Working together, let’s make the next two years some of the best Humanists of Utah has had

Doubt, a History

~Book Review~

September 2007

Doubt, a History by Jennifer Michael Hecht is a remarkable history of virtually every significant doubter in history, east and west, from 600 BCE down to the present when it was published in 2003. It is extraordinary that one person could write so comprehensive a work.Secular humanists cannot feel anything but pride to be in the company of such a dizzying array of historical figures. As a philosophy major, I always enjoy visiting not only Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, but the Cynics like Diogenes, the Stoics like Zeno, the Epicureans named for Epicurus, and the Skeptics who began with Pyrrho, and reading of the lasting influence they had. But the doubters were not just classical philosophers. Hecht takes us on a visit to Judaism, including the biblical books of Job and Ecclesiastes, to Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, and then back to Rome and Cicero, Lucretius, and Marcus Aurelius. She walks us through Christian doubt, Medieval doubt including Muslim skeptics, and the great Maimonides. She leads us through scholasticism and the European renaissance and Rabelais and Montaigne and into the scientific revolution. We come to the Enlightenment, Voltaire, Diderot, and David Hume and continue on to Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson, and then to the more recent Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, and Sigmund Freud, and the contemporary Salman Rushdie of The Satanic Verses, Stephen Hawking of A Short History of Time, and Watson and Crick who deciphered the structure of DNA. And I haven’t even named any women, like Margaret Sanger, Katherine Hepburn, and Jodie Foster.

There are hundreds more, including not only philosophers but scientists, historians, poets, musicians, actors, financiers, filmmakers, authors, inventors, fashion designers, and magicians, including Penn and Teller. The list is astounding. Secular humanists are in great company. Listen to Hecht: “The only thing…doubters really need, that believers have, is a sense that people like themselves have always been around, that they are part of a grand history. I hope it is clear now that doubt has such a history of its own, and that to be a doubter is a great old allegiance, deserving quiet respect and open pride.” Hecht, as you might guess, is not only a historian but a poet.

–Earl Wunderli

Discussion Group Changes

May 2007

We are going to change this meeting from the first Thursday of the month to the fourth Thursday. This change will take place in September, after our summer break.

Because of health issues, Richard Layton will no longer head the Discussion Group. We wish to thank him for his years of leading this forum and providing excellent reports for our journal. We wish him well and hope that his health improves soon.

Board member Dr. Craig Wilkinson will be heading the Discussion Group when we resume in September. The topic will be The True Meaning of the Establishment Clause, a position paper published by the Center for Inquiry.

–Bob Lane

Democracy 2.0

April 2007

The articulate XMission CEO Pete Ashdown, who ran for US Senate in 2006 against Orrin Hatch, was March’s charismatic speaker. Without a political background, and as an introvert more comfortable behind a computer, the decision to run was quite a process, said Ashdown. Finding out that no democrat, again, was going to challenge Hatch, he soon learned to be an extrovert and organized a clear platform for his campaign.

One reason Ashdown ran for Senate was his concern whether our voice was truly heard by those representing us. Because even as a prominent businessman, Ashdown felt that he was not being heard by Hatch.

Another reason Ashdown ran is that he believes anyone with innovative ideas and determination, instead of just the very wealthy, should be able to run; after all, the common person more represents the majority.

In his business, Ashdown’s procedure is to ask if a certain business decision would be good for his customers, employees, and community. If not, and if the decision would only benefit him, he would choose the more humanitarian decision over the profitable one.

Using a similar philosophy to run his campaign, Ashdown generated Democracy 2.0; this originated from the ancient Greeks and philosophers like Aristotle who believed that “in a democracy, the poor had more power than the rich because there were more of them, and the will of the majority reigns supreme.” The Greeks had a rudimentary definition of democracy, not quite complete or refined because in no period of history did the poor ever reign supreme.

The next stage, said Ashdown, was Democracy 1.0; this is “a bunch of rich, aristocrat white guys at the beginning of our country getting together to write a document to say what Democracy 1.0 would be.”

“So what do we have today? Do we have Democracy 1.0?” he asked, “No, we have Democracy 1.090538 and on down the line.” In software terms, this would be “a hairball where small fixes and adjustments are applied to an original idea, but over time, the result is something large, bloated, and just almost unworkable.”

During his campaign, Ashdown met many people who were constitutional literalists, a group who believed in living in a republic and not in a democracy. Ashdown agrees with them. However, a republic should not be sending “someone to represent us who has the wisdom of a king” and to make decisions without the people. Instead, a republic should be a representative of democracy making decisions based upon the advice of the American people. “This is not happening,” Ashdown said.

But he has hope; like supporting revolutions. Quoting Thomas Jefferson: every generation needs a new revolution. But this does not necessarily mean guns and warfare and battling against the aristocracy. Instead, a revolution can be subtler, such as stripping away or breaking down certain barriers.

Barriers:

For example, an early barrier of the US was a barrier or tyranny that was dissolved by the Constitution. In the 19th century was a barrier of slavery whose abolition was initiated by one person who started a small revolution.

Ashdown related how his ancestors had crossed the plains to Utah in extreme hardship, many dying during the trek. Today, technology and people like Henry Ford and the Wright brothers have broken the barrier of mobility.

Years ago if one wanted to make a feature film, Ashdown said you would need 20 million dollars, a good script you would need to sell to the studio, and have access to a studio to break this barrier of entry. Today with technology and a few thousand dollars, someone with talent could make a film and give it to e.g. Sundance. Again, another barrier is stripped away.

The same with publishing when 100 years ago, a write would need a publisher and a printing press. Now with computer technology, the publishing barrier is dissolving.

The barrier of communication has taken a phenomenal, unsurpassed leap with technology. When he first used the Internet twenty years ago, Ashdown said he was stunned when he received a response from Australia in seconds. Right then and there, he realized that the Internet would change the world’s communication forever.

This new technology modifies the barriers of business too. For example, when his parents had an international importing business of kitchenware from Finland, business communication was laborious and took a long time. Now one can easily build an international business just by going to eBay.

The last barrier to fall is government, said Ashdown. How do we dissolve the barrier of money, communication, and representation? He sees this as Democracy 2.0.

Breaking the Barrier of Government

Much is coming together allowing us to break the barrier of government, said Ashdown. For instance, we have an “open source” movement from which has generated, for example, the free web browser Firefox and Daily Kos, a blog of political analysis from a liberal perspective.

Said Ashdown, “What we have [had] is a monolithic center where the author controls everything about their book, everything about their piece of software, and they dictate it to their users.” For instance, if you are a Stephen King fan and have a great idea for him, it would be solely up to him whether to use your idea. This procedure is the same with Microsoft about a Windows program. If there is a new Windows program out, and you didn’t like a feature about their last one, you could write a letter, petition them, and maybe they’ll listen and change, but it would be up to them to make the ultimate decision.

With open source, that is reversed where everyone works on a project, and anyone is able to contribute. In other words, there are fewer or no barriers. If Ashdown was a software programmer who wanted to contribute or add a feature to Firefox, he could do so without permission.

In a broader sense, the same goes for the popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, where anyone can contribute. Admittedly, there can be problems. But Ashdown said that Wikipedia also has incredible strengths citing, e.g., that when hurricane Katrina attacked, one could get much more up-to-date factual information about what was happening on the ground because people on the ground were actually writing it rather than news organizations filtering everything. Wikipedia is a central project with no monolithic control.

In government where it is dictated to us what we need, like the school vouchers, Ashdown thinks this tradition can be turned around to be an open government where citizens are more empowered to be part of the decision making process. When he was running for Senate, part of his campaigning was expressing his belief that it was arrogant for anyone to go back to Washington and tell people that he or she is an expert in everything. For instance, Ashdown is knowledgeable in technology and balancing budgets and so on, but he needs help in everything else. Thus, Congress should be appealing to the American people for help rather than ignoring us.

Continuing on, Ashdown observes that government is going through a paradigm shift. Whereas in the past we used a model of competition to get ahead, a model of collaboration is becoming more prominent where the support of thousands of people is gaining strength rather than the usual interest groups.

These are the kind of ideas that Ashdown writes in his own blog.

He is encouraged that some conservatives are also blogging and welcoming commentary from the public. For instance, sponsor of the voucher bill Steve Urquhart has a blog. The Utah Senate puts information online and accepts public commentary, although when Mike Leavitt was visiting the Utah Senate, and Ashdown asked if he was flying here on a private jet, his question was deleted.

While blogging still has an overriding control, Ashdown is encouraged by the Wikis, which do not have an overriding control. Wikis are hyper-transparent where if he makes a comment and somebody takes it out, that audit trail is apparent to everyone. People could write in and ask why that comment was removed, and what the justification was for removing it. “Certainly there is vandalism that deserves to be removed,” said Ashdown, “but something that’s unbiased and straight-forward deserves to remain, and what we see on large sites like Wikipedia is that there are more people interested in seeing it work rather than tearing it down.”

For his campaign, Ashdown set up a Wiki of his own where he explained how he was going to craft his policy and campaign. Although he thinks he has some pretty good ideas on a number of topics, he wants to hear what people are interested in, get their questions, and hear their comments and criticisms on his ideas. To him, it’s not just a matter of the one side of the political spectrum hiding behind a door trying to come up with policy but it’s a matter of all Americans working together to come up with policy. In a book called “The Wisdom of Crowds,” the author’s thesis is that it not only takes a large group to come up with solutions but also a diverse group.

Because some people think that Wikipedia has a liberal bias, some conservatives have set up their own Wikipedia called Conservapedia. Their bias is apparent; if you look up Bill Clinton, the highlights of his career are his liaison with Monica Lewinsky, never winning 50%+ in an election, White Water and other tawdry information. It remains to be seen, Ashdown said, what would happen if additional information were suggested for Clinton.

Nonetheless, this dialogue encourages Ashdown who believes that liberals and conservatives–all Americans–should have a voice. On his own Wiki, he was surprised when he observed that not only were Americans writing in but also people from around the globe like Australia, Germany, and England. Ashdown discovered that people everywhere have similar frustrations with their own governments, who also feel locked out of the deacon making process. When they told Ashdown that they wished there was someone like him running for office in their state and in their country, he told them that they probably have someone just like that sitting right behind their keyboards, and that they should encourage that individual to run for office.

Thus, Ashdown is working toward breaking down government barriers with technology where public input is welcomed and by showing people that they could run for office too. You don’t have to have millions of dollars to run, he said. He, in fact, spent only about $300,000, minimal compared to other campaign races around the country, yet he received a higher percentage than about half of the losing Democrats.

Ashdown concluded with a quote from Thomas Jefferson found inside his memorial in Washington DC.

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

Said Ashdown, “That in my mind is progress. And that’s what we should be doing in our government.”

Side Note:

Ashdown said he is committed to running for US Senate again. He is committed to federal office and federal issues like education, energy policy, and access to government.

–Sarah Smith

Richard Layton’s

Discussion Group Report

Declaration in Defense of Science and Secularism

May 2007

By Bob Lane

This month we discussed a document from the Center for Inquiry in Washington DC. The document, titled Declaration in Defense of Science and Secularism.

I have added my name to the list of those in agreement with the declaration and feel honored to be listed among all the distinguished names on the list. I urge you to read the document and if you agree, add can your name as well.

The declaration is concise and gives some sad statistics about the willingness of many Americans to believe in intelligent design or creationism and to reject evolution. It also points to the sorry amount of scientific illiteracy. The document also lays out some steps deemed necessary to rectify these problems. Again, I urge you to read the declaration as it is well worth the time.

–Bob Lane

Debate Report

May 2007

The Board would like to than Professor David Keller for his thoughtful and aggressive defense of freethinking. Also thanks to Mark Hausman and Christ Presbyterian Church for giving us the opportunity to sponsor this public discourse. Also, thanks to Professor Deen Chatterjee for an excellent job of moderating and public presentation of the debate.

The entire debate can be viewed here.

Journey to Humanism

Dr. Craig Wilkinson

March 2007

I have read the biographies on the Humanists of Utah web site. They are very interesting and informative. In trying to write mine, I have decided to be more personal than most I have read. I have done this, not for my personal aggrandizement, but because I feel it might help someone else if they are struggling with science vs. religion. If you find this personal touch offensive, I hope you can forgive me.

My life has been a long, protracted, sometimes painful, struggle between religion and science. It has been a steady growth from superstition, myth, and religion (Mormonism in particular,) to factual knowledge, natural history and science. Recently I can add humanism, and the friends I have found there, to my evolving life philosophy.

I was born in Memphis, Tennessee May 11, 1945 while my father was going to the Army Medical School during WWII. After the war our family moved to Kansas and Colorado while my father paid back his medical debt to the Army in the Public Health Service. He was chief medical officer in two different federal prisons, Leavenworth, and the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, Colorado. I had a carefree childhood with many friends of different religions, and backgrounds in both Kansas and Colorado.

Because my family was devoutly LDS we moved back to Salt Lake City, Utah in 1957. I grew up with the Mormon religion being a major part of my life. Moving to Salt Lake meant that most, if not all, of my friends were now Mormons. Meanwhile, I was a curious kid and loved to read. Story time at the local library was my favorite. As a teenage I read some of the Holy Scriptures. They didn’t make much sense, and everyone had a different interpretation of them, but I was told I must take it all on faith. However, my favorite books were mystery stories. How detectives solved mysteries fascinated me. The smart people, who could solve mysteries that many others couldn’t, seemed bigger than life. I admired them and wanted to be one of them. I read most Conan Doyle’s mysteries and I still have the complete Sherlock Holmes on my library shelf. The mysteries of the natural world were solved by scientists. I was read books about the lives of Francis Bacon, Joseph Priestly, Lavoisier, Newton, Marie Curie, and multiple others. They were able to unravel the mysteries, and discover .the facts about physics, chemistry, and geology. By careful thought and experiment they discovered what our world is made of, and how our world works. I wanted to know, step by step, their thinking processes and how they discovered the truths of our natural world. I kept a scrapbook of the science biography pages that came in our “Weekly Readers” during grade school. Each week there would be a page outlining a scientist, like Joseph Priestley describing how he discovered oxygen. Scientist became my childhood heroes, and they still are. One topic that was missing was evolution. This is because we lived in Utah, I’m sure it’s the same for children in the southern “bible belt”. I did not have much exposure to Charles Darwin. Evolution was not a topic of discussion in our home and creationism was taught in our local ward Sunday School.

Science and religion seemed compatible during my childhood. However, in high school and college I took courses in chemistry, physics, and biology. In biology we were taught that all life on earth evolved over millions of years. Many other ideas I was learning in college were not compatible with what I had learned in Sunday School. Emotionally I was still attached to the LDS faith, but I was disconcerted by Mormonism’s lack of what I call “intellectual honesty” When I brought these issue to my church leaders and authorities I was told to “not delve into the mysteries” These were left to God. I had some issues with this philosophy. If Newton had followed this advice we wouldn’t understand the laws of motion, gravity etc. and we wouldn’t have a space program. We could not have calculated the trajectories that put man on the moon. If Henri Bequerel hadn’t discovered X-rays we wouldn’t be looking inside of the human body to make diagnoses and prescribe proper treatments. If Charles Darwin had not discovered evolution by natural selection we wouldn’t understand biology. There are many other examples of creative thinkers in the history of science. They weren’t content to let God keep all the secrets hidden from them. It seemed to me, that the magic, miracles and superstitions that were part of my religious training began to fall apart in the bright light of scientific discovery.

Medicine was an integral part of my growing up, because my father was a family doctor. I saw him prescribing antibiotics for severe childhood illnesses, like strep throat, which can progress to scarlet or rheumatic fever. Antibiotics would cure the patient and prevent death or severe sequelae like rheumatic heart disease. Valvular heart disease, as a result of rheumatic fever, makes a life long invalid out of an otherwise normal healthy child. I could not, and still cannot, understand how a “kind God” could allow young children to die, or be crippled in alarming numbers, from infectious disease for hundreds of years before Louis Pasteur discovered the germ theory of disease and Fleming discovered penicillin. If God was omnipotent, he would have known about germs and antibiotics long before Pasteur and Fleming. Why didn’t he reveal all this much sooner, say around 500 A.D. God knows how many lives that would have saved in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. I often asked my father, who was a practicing family physician about these issues. He didn’t have an answer. My religious leaders would tell me, “Because we needed to learn about good and evil.” This made no sense. Killing a child doesn’t teach a lesson because a dead child can’t learn anything from the experience, he’s dead. It just seemed cruel…so, so cruel. I have now come to believe that NO advancement in the human condition, no solving of medical or other mysteries came about because we ascribed the mystery to “God”. In fact one author describes the history of religion as; just one retreat after another, as each successive religious “miracle” is unraveled and explained by the continuous march of science.

Geology and evolution were key issues for me. The Mormon faith had taught me that the history of the world was all tied up in a story about a family of Jewish Middle Eastern tribesman, wandering around in the Arabian Desert. The biblical story in Genesis explained that creation occurred in seven days, or no, maybe 7000 years. It included unbelievable stories, and outmoded cultural laws. For example, turning the Nile river into blood (that’s a lot of blood), or how about allowing concubines but stoning adulterers to death, or for another example, the scriptures suggested that you should kill your children if they didn’t profess a belief in “Yahweh”. How could the patriarchal genealogy of a small tribe of Middle Eastern people, there wanderings in the desert, and their relationship with “Yahweh” be the complete history of earth? We were taught it all started with Adam and Eve and ended up with Joseph Smith in about a 4,000 year time period. Was this the entire history of earth with its plants, animals, and humans? If this was the history of the world, where were the dinosaurs? They weren’t mentioned in the Bible. How about the Chinese and Japanese people? Where did they come from? What about the ice age? What about wooly mammoths? It seemed to me, that my college courses in geology, biology, paleontology and evolution, including human evolution taught the true history of planet earth and life on it. It was a story that included facts and evidence. Dinosaur bones were fossilized and being found in abundance. Science was piecing together an all inclusive story of everything inorganic and organic on the earth. The earth was 4.5 billion years old and multi-cellular live evolved over approximately 600 million years. The driving principle of evolution was a natural one that didn’t require supernatural guidance by a God or gods. It is called “natural selection” as explained by the great scientist Charles Darwin. What courage he had in facing his religious creationist critics; and what intellectual honesty he portrayed. Most people do not know that he began life, planning to go into the priesthood, but his study of life on earth over the years revealed the facts of evolution repeatedly until “the facts could no longer be denied.” He anticipated the far flung repercussions his ideas would cause, but his intellectual honesty would not allow him to keep evolution by “natural selection” under wraps and he published his ideas in The Origin of Species by Natural Selection. Over the past 150 years, since the publication of this book many scientists and others have tried to prove him wrong, but they have failed. It is now one of the strongest theories of science proving to be as reliable and predictive a theory as the theory of gravity.

Because of social pressures I attempted an LDS mission in l964. I only lasted 6 weeks at the missionary training center when I realized I was becoming severely depressed. I didn’t think I would be able to convince others about a religion or philosophy with which I wasn’t truly convinced. I think both the LDS church and I came to the conclusion that a mission wasn’t in my cards. Returning to Salt Lake City, I found myself a pariah. Not many decent, law abiding, sane, young men were returning from missions in 1963. Church members treated me like I had leprosy. Rumors spread of why I returned from my mission including rumors of sexual improprieties. These had nothing to do with my “failure” to serve a mission. Interestingly one of my tormenters who spread most of the sexual rumors happened to be a member of my ward, the infamous Mr. Tom Green, the polygamist, who, by the way, is now in prison for child rape, after “marrying” a 14-year old girl.

About this time, my father suggested that I enroll at Westminster, College. It seemed to be the place where most of the “infidels”, non-Mormons, went to school. What a relief for me! I had a wonderful experience there. I felt the infectious enthusiasm my teachers and mentors had about learning and knowledge. Science classes were my favorite. I majored in mathematics, with a minor in both physics and chemistry. We had required protestant convocations weekly. These opened my eyes to people of other faiths and religions. I realized one didn’t have to be a member of the “chosen people”, the “Mormons”, to be a “good” person. After graduation, due to the Vietnam War, I spent some time in the Army Reserve. During this time I grew to hate war and a sense of kindness to all people despite their politics, race or beliefs began to grow in my consciousness. After active duty, I decided to try and get in Medical School. It seemed a perfect way to combine my interest in science and my growing sense of humanism. I was accepted at the University of Utah Medical School graduating in 1974. I finished a general surgery residence at Maricopa County Hospital, Phoenix, Arizona in 1979, I practiced general surgery for five years and then took a sabbatical leave for one year to complete a vascular surgery fellowship at the University of Southern California in 1985. Since then I have practiced general and vascular surgery in Salt Lake City for 17 years. I am now beginning my gradual retirement. I am slowing down my surgery practice, doing only varicose vein surgery in private practice, and teaching surgery residents vascular surgery, one day every other week, at the VA Hospital in Salt Lake City.

During my years which were kept very busy as a practicing surgeon, husband, and father to three children, I didn’t have much time to reflect on my life philosophies. I wasn’t attending church but I felt that, if there were a God, my taking care of sick people might be good enough for at least a standby ticket to the Celestial Kingdom (Mormon heaven.)

I wasn’t interested in baptizing my children in Mormonism or any other religion for that matter. It was a difficult experience living in this valley and trying to instill in my children a respect for all people despite their race, religion or background. This was especially true when they felt the ostracism of being a minority (non-LDS), in the midst of their LDS friends and for that matter some of their LDS cousins. Fortunately they have all grown up to be open minded and compassionate adults.

During these years my casual reading led me to authors including, the psychologist Erich Fromm’s On Becoming a Human. I read nearly every book written by Joseph Campbell. I felt he explained the history and evolution of the world’s religions as myths written by humans. We made God in our image; he did not make us in his. My science readings included geology, paleontology, anthropology, and astronomy. My library now includes two whole walls of bookshelves. All of these books made sense when compared to the Bible. Here, in science, was the true history of the universe, the history of earth, the history of life on earth, including human evolution and our anthropological and cultural history. The brilliant biologist Edwin O. Wilson wrote a book summarizing a lot of what I had been reading in science over the years. I consider it perhaps the greatest book of our time. It is called Consilience and I recommend it strongly.

Recently I have read Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. What they have to say rings true. I can’t remember if it was Dawkins or Harris who said, “When are we going to stop killing each other over who has the best imaginary friend?” I agree with Sam Harris who wrote “unless humanity can come to the realization that it is better to know something than pretend to know something we are all doomed.”

Then I found humanism. It seemed to fit perfectly. In says, in essence, we need to be nice to each other because it is the right thing and the human thing to do, not because some mythical father figure in the sky says we have to, or go to hell. We need to be kind to our planet for it is all we have to sustain us. It is not ours to subdue as outlined in the Bible. We need people to stand up for these humanist ideas, without religious tribalism and bigotry. Hopefully we can make some appropriate decisions before some of the more zealous among us blow the whole planet up with nuclear bombs trying to convince us that they have the “best” imaginary friend. Witness the ongoing deadly battle between the Muslims (Allah and Mohammed) and the Christians (God and Jesus.)

I was happy to find your humanist group. Along with science, it is the only philosophy that makes sense to me. I have to say, however, it is a bit disconcerting to find our numbers so small. Does anybody ever think out there? Hopefully they’re not just content to obey their religious leaders, like some animal, or dog. We have brains and we should use them.

Whatever hope the world has, I believe it resides in the knowledge of science and the morality of humanism. I am also hoping there are many “closet humanists” out there. Maybe being a member of the secular humanist group and now a board member I can help bring some of the closet secular humanists out of the darkness.

Dr. Craig W. Wilkinson
Salt Lake City, Utah
2/10/07

Richard Layton’s

Discussion Group Report

Challenges to Religion

March 2006

By Flo Wineriter

The February discussion group read and discussed “The New Naysayers” by Jerry Adler, published in the September 11, 2006 issue of Newsweek. The author examined four books written by three atheists that have enjoyed a spot on the top selling books list during the past several months: “The End of Faith” and Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris, Breaking the Spell by Daniel C. Dennett, and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

Atheists are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public according to a study by Penny Edgell, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota. In a recent Newsweek Poll, Americans said they believed in God by a margin of 92 to 6 and only 37 percent said they would be willing to vote for an atheist for president.

Newsweek writer, Adler, says Dawkins and Harris are not writing polite demurrals to the time-honored beliefs of billions- they are not issuing pleas for tolerance or moderation, but bone rattling attacks on what they regard as pernicious and outdated superstition. They ask: “Where do people get their idea of God? From the Bible or the Qur’an? Tell them their book was written by an invisible deity who will punish them with fire for eternity and they require no evidence whatsoever. How can anyone believe in a benevolent and omnipotent God who permits a tsunami to swallow up 180,000 people in a few hours?”

Adler’s article says Dawkins attempts to show how the highest of human impulses, such as empathy, charity and pity, could have evolved by the same mechanisms of natural selection that created the human thumb. The driving force in evolution is the survival and propagation of our genes. They may impel us to instinctive acts of goodness.

Responding to the question, “If there is no God why be good?” Dawkins writes, “Do you mean the only reason you try to be good is to gain God’s approval and reward? That’s not morality, that’s just sucking up.”

Regarding the Bible, Sam Harris is quoted as saying, “Why would anyone take moral instruction from a book that calls for stoning your children to death for disrespect, or for heresy, or for violating the Sabbath?

The Newsweek article concludes with: “Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris treat belief in God as a superstition the modern world can no longer afford, if they are right the five-century long competition between science and religion is sharpening.”

Atlas of Creation

~Book Review~

October 2007

Atlas of Creation, written by Adnan Oktar of Turkey under the name Harun Yahya, is turning up, unsolicited, in mailboxes of scientists around the country and members of congress and at science museums in places like Queens and Bemidji, Minnesota.

At 11X17 inches and 12 pounds, with a bright red cover and almost 800 glossy pages, most of them lavishly illustrated, Atlas of Creation is probably the largest and most beautiful creationist challenge yet to Darwin’s theory, which Mr. Yahya calls a feeble and perverted ideology contradicted by the Koran. The principal argument of Atlas of Creation is that creatures living today are just like creatures that lived in the fossil past. Ergo, evolution must be impossible, illusory, a lie, a deception, or a “theory in crisis.”

Kevin Padian, an evolutionary biologist at UC Berkeley, who found a copy in his mailbox, said people who had receive copies were “just astounded at its size and production values and equally astonished at what a load of crap it is.”

While unimpressed with the book’s content, recipients marveled at its apparent cost–millions of dollars. Who finances these efforts is a big question that no one knows the answer to.

Support for creationism is also widespread among Muslims, said Dr. Taner Edis, a physicist at Truman State University, whose book An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam, was published by Prometheus Books this past Spring. “Taken at face value, the Koran is a creationist text,” he said, adding that it would be difficult to find a scholar of Islam “who is going to be gung-ho about Darwin.” That’s troubling because Mr. Yahya’s ideas cast evolution as part of the corrupting influence of the West on Islamic culture, and that promotes a profound anti-science attitude that is certainly not going to help the Islamic world catch up to the West.

–From The Capital District Humanist Society publication The Humanist Monthly

Atheist Iraq War Vet Still in a Foxhole

December 2007

In today’s politically correct society, it’s just fine to be different. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. No one should be looked at differently for their personal views. The freedom to personal expression is one of America’s most unalienable rights.

As a Marine, I was on call twenty-four hours a day seven days a week for four years to protect those rights. In 2003, I was called upon to serve in Iraq and continue to protect the rights and freedoms of America’s citizens.

Now that I have left military service, I have been called an atheist in a foxhole.

I was taught in Marines that we don’t reside in foxholes. Foxes hide from confrontation, and Marines fight for what they believe in. Now I should be able to stand up for what I believe in no matter what the consequences, but then why do I feel that I must keep my opinions and beliefs to myself.

Everywhere I go I’m inundated with references to God, religion, and all other aspects of theology, yet I feel that I must go through my day hiding my true self for fear of what kind of looks or comments will be made. So, now why do I have to hide my true self in a supposed secular society. This country is based on the idea of freedom of religion. Yet, what if I don’t have a religion, if I’m a humanist, a free thinker, a secularist, a Darwinist, or what ever name I choose to refer to myself and my beliefs?

Living in America is about freedom and the right to choose to believe in what I or anyone wants. So, why do I feel that I have to stay in the proverbial foxhole? I can’t move my ideas mainstream for fear of being ostracized.

I look forward to when all people of all faiths or beliefs can live in harmony. Why is America, a supposed secular nation still so bent on being tied to religion? I know that I’m not alone and the atheist in a foxhole organization http://www.maaf.info/ is beneficial to all service members, but really why should we need a special organization to provide support for our ideals? In a supposed secular society, all service members should be free to think what they wish.

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be religion in the military, since everyone has their own personal beliefs. In fact, chaplains provide an invaluable service to military members, because they provide a person that all soldiers, airmen, Marines, or sailors can talk to without fear of reprisal. Why does a man like this need to be tied to religion?

I do, however, disagree with organized prayer in the military formations or other ceremonies. I should never have to bow my head to anything I don’t believe. I know that I may sound proud and that some may think that it doesn’t make a difference–I should just go with the flow. However, if an individual in the military has different religious beliefs than another individual the military offers separate services for each of them. In fact all religions have their own services, yet, I’m expected to bow my head to something I don’t believe in.

This double standard in today’s society is why I still feel that I must keep my personal views to myself. One day I hope to be able to express beliefs, the same way a religious person can. Until that day I remain an atheist in a foxhole, waiting to move to my fighting position.

–Daniel Kuhns

Daniel Kuhns is a senior at the University at Albany, majoring in sociology. As a U.S. Marine 1st Marine Division, 5th Marines in 2003, he was in the second vehicle to enter Iraq and the second vehicle to enter Baghdad as part of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Originally published on Humanist Network News, November 14, 2007

The Assault on Reason

~Book Review~

October 2007

The Assault on Reason by Al Gore is a strong defense of reason, although not in the context of reason vs. religious faith. Gore has religious faith; his concern is that we are becoming less and less a “well-informed citizenry,” which has profound implications for the survival of our democracy. Our Founding Fathers relied on an engaged public that freely debated the issues, but several things have happened to undercut this ideal. Radio and later television, which are one-way media with large barriers to entry, have largely displaced print, which encourages two-way discourse and which, as Gore writes, “begat the Age of Reason which begat the age of democracy.” Also, for example, political professionals have honed their messages to short-circuit reason by appealing to emotion.

Gore especially excoriates the Bush administration because of its assault on reason by its excessive secrecy, its lack of openness, its politics of fear, and its disregard of science. He gives many examples on which he bases his accusations, but one stands out in my mind that shows Bush’s “lack of curiosity about any new information that might produce a deeper understanding of the problems and policies that he is supposed to wrestle with on behalf of the country.” Gore describes the warning signals that the FBI and the CIA were picking up in the summer of 2001 and notes that the only ones he recalls as vice-president that remotely resembled those that Bush was receiving were the Y2K threats and the less specific warnings regarding the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. In each case, “these warnings in the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) were followed immediately, on the same day, by the beginning of urgent daily meetings in the White House” with appropriate people to prevent the attack. “By contrast,” he writes, when Bush “received this fateful and historic PDB [‘Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.’],” he did not convene the NSC, bring together the FBI and CIA, or ask follow-up questions, but he did dismiss his CIA briefer with the comment, “All right. You’ve covered your ass now.”

This is a hard-hitting book that conservatives will likely dismiss as a hysterical screed by the loser in 2000. Maybe Gore would have liked the book to prompt a draft for another run. In any case, for anyone concerned about the health of our democracy, there is too much here to dismiss so easily.

–Earl Wunderli

The Ancestors Tale

~Book Review~

October 2007

The Ancestor’s Tale, A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins is an amazing reverse chronicle of the history of human kind. The model is to use both fossil and genetic records to move backwards in time to then next “consestor,” where consestor is defined as common ancestor.

The book is human-centric, that is it uses humans as the starting point and goes back in time adding species as they converge to common consestors. If Dawkins had begun at the beginning of life, humans may have played a much smaller role as the tree of life has many branches of which only a few are our consestors.

The first hundred pages are concerned with genus Homo, that is humans and our immediate predecessors. The first “rendezvous” with a consestor is the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees. It occurred approximately six mya (million years ago.) Gorillas joined about seven mya, Orangutans about 14 mya, and so on.

The book contains many interesting and informative points that explain how conclusions are achieved and which points are more thoroughly understood and which branches are still open for discussion.

Several times Dawkins warns creationist apologists not to use this item or that statement as evidence that scientists are at odds with each other.

Several interesting anomalies are discussed. One example is the axolotl, a member of the salamander family that is unique in that it never actually reaches the “adult” phase that most amphibians achieve. That is, they are hatched in the water, have a tadpole phase, develop sex organs and move out of the water, become salamanders and mate. Axolotls are an exception; the tadpoles develop sex organs and mate. They never leave the water. However, if the tadpoles are administered a specific hormone, the adult salamander phase develops. This anomaly, known as neoteny, has been put forth by some biologists to explain the bipedal nature of humans. Perhaps we never fully reach our adult stage and if we did we would revert to walking on all four limbs.

Ancestor’s Tale had many insights and updates for me since I haven’t studied evolutionary biology for many years. The field of Molecular Biology has added a great deal of knowledge and the ability to accurately date changes to genetic materials. One example of an update for me is that I was taught that our most primitive ancestor was probably an amoeba. Actually, these creatures have much more ancient consestors common to both them and us: the bacteria. Actually, all of our cells contain separate bacteria-like structures that live in a symbiotic relationship with their (our) host cells. They are known as mitochondria, the power plants that provide the necessary resources for our cells to do their business.

The book is long and not a quick read. However, it is decidedly not a dry text book. Dawkins’ style and wit come through over and over again. It is written to an educated audience, but not necessarily only to biologists. I recommend it.

–Wayne Wilson

Agnosticity

June 2007

Ray Hult, with his engaging personality and sense of humor, spoke about his personal journey from the entrenched world of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to his current agnosticism. For those of us who have traveled a similar road, we could only nod in agreement as Hult related his story.

Beginning with a joke, Hult asked, “What do you get when you combine an insomniac, an agnostic, and a dyslexic? Somebody staying up all night wondering if there is a dog.”

Proceeding with how he became agnostic after years with an unshakable belief in God and Joseph Smith, his religious story began early. Born in Colorado, his mother was LDS while his father was from a long line of Swedish Lutherans. At first taking turns every Sunday alternating at each other’s church, his father converted to Mormonism. After moving to Salt Lake City, his parents and all the children became immersed in the LDS Church.

Beginning to have doubts about Mormonism during the time he was eligible to become a missionary, Hult stopped attending church. One thought he had during this period was that it did not make sense to him that God wanted to be worshipped, an admonition that seemed egotistical.

Continuing on, Hult said that when he and his wife were married, they were inactive Mormons, but became active and eventually married in an LDS Temple after participating in a six-month program intended to activate inactive people. Even though his family was elated with their temple marriage, Hult recalled how unsettling that temple experience was.

A roller coaster ride after that, he and his wife and children for the next twenty-eight years were also immersed in the LDS Church. With five daughters, a job with the FBI, and demanding positions in the church, Hult did not have much time to linger upon the doubts that popped up from time to time.

After more than twenty years in the FBI that involved working with numerous fraud cases of some of the most charismatic, creative charlatans one could imagine, Hult illustrated with the case of Josepf Papp.

Supposedly having developed an alternative car engine that used inert gases, Papp solicited investors for this invention. But during a demonstration of the engine when an explosion killed an observer, Papp blamed the accident on interference by a pseudo-skeptic, who was in fact physicist Richard Feynman. Although Papp never demonstrated another engine, he continued to accept money from investors.

Most of the time, Hult said, victims of con artists still sing praises of them “even as they were being checked into prison. They had a difficult time admitting they had been fooled and lost their investments.”

After his children started leaving home and he was involved in less demanding church positions, Hult began to think more objectively about the claims of Joseph Smith. “It occurred to me for the first time that he might be more like the con men I had been working on than I had been willing to admit,” he said.

With doubts also about the temple marriage ceremony, Hult was reluctant to share them with his wife, recalling how as a bishop in the LDS Church, he had witnessed divorces resulting from one spouse becoming an unbeliever and the other fearing not being able to attain the highest place in the hereafter; LDS doctrine espouses that both spouses must be believers to attain the highest place. Hult was terrified of a possible divorce from what he thought was his believing wife.

Luckily, his wife had the same doubts, also afraid of telling him for the same reason. That was a “major relief,” said Hult, which marked the start of “a multi-year investigation into the claims of Joseph Smith.” While traveling this journey, he decided that the best way to keep track of his research was to contain them in book form.

Hult continued, “I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but it suddenly hit me that I may have been brainwashed about the Bible too. I had never even considered that possibility before. I decided to investigate the Bible the same way I had investigated Mormonism and came up with a second book.”

The publicist for his books summed it up this way; “Using his twenty-seven years as a FBI special agent as a springboard, the author draws on his experience in deductive reasoning to justify the agnostic point of view.”

Still friends with LDS members and still harboring great respect for the LDS culture, Hult concluded in the first book with his ultimate life goal: “I hope to be a good person because I know in the core of my being it’s the right thing to do.”

For a detailed account of Hult’s deductive reasoning process responsible for his becoming an agnostic, refer to his books. The two volumes can be purchased directly from the publisher at Trafford.com where readers can also review several pages of each book. Both books are also available at a number of internet book sites including both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Agnosticity, volume 1 An Agnostic view of bothersome Christian Doctrine

Agnosticity, volume 2 An Agnostic view of bothersome Mormon Doctrine

–Sarah Smith

Author’s note: For fascinating information about the infamous car engine inventor, refer to these two websites.

Museum of Hoaxes
Physicist Richard Feynman’s account

1491

~Book Review~

April 2007

Charles C. Mann, the author of 1491, New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, is a writer not a scientist. This book is a compilation of ideas, theories, and research primarily from archeologists and anthropologists on what the American Continents were like after Pangaea split to form North and South America and Europe. The results are very different from what I learned in high school, and what is still being taught in our school systems.

According to the best information available Mesoamerica and South America were some of the most populous places on earth for many centuries dating back to before the Common Era. The pristine wildernesses of our own homeland that is the United States came into being after European civilization as a result of the deaths of most of the indigenous peoples that were here.

Mann raises the possibility that the US Revolution was influenced in a very large way by the native people known as the Five Nations and their “Great Law of Peace.” This group of tribes dates back to somewhere between the 11th and 12th centuries. In the first two centuries of European colonization, “the border between natives and newcomers was porous, almost nonexistent.” Both John Adams and Ben Franklin refer to them and were heavily influenced by their egalitarian life styles. The Indians were amazed and perplexed over the social class system that the new people lived under. The natives were living models of human liberty. It seems apparent that many of the seminal thinkers of the American Experiment of 1776 were greatly influenced by the local Indians.

This book is an interesting read that may well challenge many ideas that you have held as fact since childhood.

–Wayne Wilson