December 31, 1924 ~ March 24, 2019
Flo was one of my heroes, in fact I often thought of him as second father. He was also the father of institutional humanism in Utah and was our longtime chapter president.
Like many of us he was raised in the LDS Church and came to humanism as a philosophical reaction to religion in general and to Mormonism in particular. His trigger service in World War II, he had real difficulty in killing fellow humans and especially other Mormons.
In 2012 he wrote a summary of his life philosophy, “We celebrate the diversities of the human mind and the variety of acceptable life styles those minds have developed.
“Like the diverse colors of a rainbow that exist separately but blend together in a glorious array of beauty, we celebrate our human individuality, and our independent beliefs that blend together to make our community a glorious array of beauty. humanism believes that our very existence depends upon the web of life and that our place in nature must be in harmony with all of life.
“Humanist ethics, based on love and compassion for humankind and nature, place responsibility on humans for shaping our destiny and the future direction of the world.”
I’ve seen Flo one or two times a year for several years since he moved to St. George and he was ready to die; legally blind, nearly deaf, and no longer able to care for his body himself. He is missed but should be celebrated as a fine human being.
Happy April, fellow humanists! As we enter spring finish the first quarter of 2019, the Humanists of Utah have been quite busy implementing many ideas and strategies that we deemed priorities for the year. I feel confident in our ability to provide you with a top-notch experience with fellow Humanists as well as an environment of learning, activity and camaraderie.
In looking forward this year, one of the first needs we identified for HoU was increasing our visibility to potential members and the public. Without knowing HoU exists and what it stands for, potential humanists will not be able to find the information, support and social bonding that aligns them with our organization. An improved marketing framework for our organization and its offerings is under way and we are seeing improvements so far. I wanted to share a few highlights:
- Facebook—Our Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/humanistsofutah/) currently sits at 1062 members and has shown growth for each of the last 4 months. Member interaction has increased, and we have used the group to heavily advertise our events and meetings with great success. In a digital era, Facebook presence is ubiquitous, and we will continue to use this as a platform for reaching many current and potential members. If you use Facebook and are not a member of the Humanists of Utah group, please join.
- Formal events—Darwin Day in February was a great success. Dr. Craig Wilkinson spoke on evolution and molecular biology at the Eccles Dinosaur Park in Ogden. We had attendance of 82 people and were assisted by the Atheists of Utah, who helped promote the event and brought the cake. A highlight was having 14 students from the anthropology department at Weber State show up to earn extra credit for writing a report on Dr. Wilkinson’s presentation.
- In June we will be attending Pride Festival in Salt Lake City to support LGBTQ causes and awareness in Utah. We will have a booth to disseminate HoU materials and information, answer questions, encourage people to join our organization and sell Humanist items. If you are interested in helping us with the booth or planning, please contact us.
- Website — The HoU board is currently looking into upgrading our existing website to gain more flexibility, functionality and design options while still preserving existing data. The hope is that by integrating stronger social media links, digital payment options, graphics and security, we can reach more people and promote the humanist lifestyle more effectively.
- Meetings — Our monthly meetings have a full schedule this year with very interesting guests on a variety of subjects. Attendance so far is over double our previous autumn average and we hope to make that increase permanent. Increased promotion, engaging subject matter, and guests from members and HoU Facebook group have contributed to this. We are still meeting at Elliott Hall on the second Thursday of each month at 7:30.
- April 11 — Citizen’s Climate Lobby : “Fighting Climate Change with Democracy”
- May 9 — International Rescue Committee on the plight of refugees in SLC
- June 15 — Jason Torpy, president of Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF): There Are Atheists in Foxholes, and how to make sure that your community knows it.
- Hopefully you are feeling as excited as we are this early into the year. We are counting on each and every one of you to attend our events, contribute online and consider bringing friends and family to events with you. We are passionate about enhancing our visibility and we are seeing early success. But we still have a long way to go and any ideas or thoughts on this will be considered, so we would like to see you involved!
Meditation Improves Humanism
As humanists, we try to live a thoughtful, joyful, and rational life based in human experience. This type of life is a process of discovery. Meditation can function as an exploration tool to discover how best to live as a human being and can be a part of traveling the path to successful Humanism.
Investigating how meditation can benefit us in the Utah chapter of the American Humanists Association, we invited Mary Ellen Seien Sloan Sensei to speak to us this March.
Seien Sensei is a Zen Teacher and certified Big Mind Facilitator. She has studied with Zen Master Genpo Roshi since 2001, was ordained in 2005, and received acknowledgment as a Sensei (Zen Teacher) September 2017. Mary Ellen is a lawyer. She was formerly counsel to the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, as well as having practiced privately.
Speaking with us, Seien Sensei asked if we wanted to meditate and what had stopped us from that practice. The discussion led to many saying that they were distracted by their own thoughts about what they were doing, what they were going to do later, what they did earlier, were they wasting their time, and all the other disrupting thoughts that had arisen unbidden as people had tried to meditate. Her description was of us being controlled by our “thinking minds”.
Seien Sensei then asked us to get comfortably relaxed in our chairs with our hands on our knees or in our laps. We could keep our eyes open or closed. Sensei asked us to think whatever we wanted to think and give the “thinking mind” full control. My mind went empty when I had permission to think whatever I wanted. I was no longer distracted by the myriad of thoughts swirling in my mind.
An empty and quiet mind is a state that allows the meditator to receive the most benefits.
“Clarity” is the one-word response that a different teacher, Lama Surya Das, gives when asked about the benefits of meditation. He then offers a longer list and calls the benefits amazing. He says:
- Meditation helps our minds empty themselves of clutter and confusion.
- It makes us feel calm, peaceful, and more aware of our inner resources.
- It brings a sense of being centered, grounded, and balanced.
- It makes our senses and perceptions more vivid.
- It helps us see how everything in life fits together.
- Meditation helps us become more skilled at navigating life and, consequently, less likely to be buffeted about by the winds of fate.
- It helps us gain greater insight into our personal issues and hang-ups.
- It helps us become less egotistical and self-centered.
- It helps us increase our capacity and ability to love.
- It helps us gain greater insight into the nature of reality.
- It helps us become more mindful and able to lead our lives with greater awareness and understanding.
Meditation, it seems, can help us become better humanists. Our visit with Seien Sensei cracked open a door through which shone a very bright light.
—Lauren Florence, MD
Death: Celebrate Life
Flo contributed a great deal to this newsletter over the years. This article from December 1994 seems appropriate now.
This past month I spoke at a memorial service for a life-long, close friend. As I looked over the group of people attending the service, I realized how many of them had suffered the grief caused by the death of a loved one in the past few years. Many had experienced the death of a spouse, a parent, or a child and I thought how our coming together to celebrate the life of a friend helps us to understand our own grief, have compassion for the grief of others and generates a sense of community.
Celebrating life as we grieve reminds us how short and how precious are the bonds we develop with just a few other humans during this experience we call life. It reminds us of the very short time we have to share the beauty of a sunrise, the serenity of a sunset, a refreshing breeze, and a cleansing rain.
It reminds us that we, too, are drifting toward the end of life and we should take advantage of every opportunity to make life meaningful for our selves and meaningful for those with whom we share this experience. The human condition is precarious and chaotic. Let us celebrate its uncertainty frequently.
Writings by or about Flo gathered from our Website
This is only a sampling, In no particular order, I just spent a couple of hours looking for information on this website…enjoy.
Philosophy to rock and roll and Hiroshima to Barbados exemplify the broad interests and experience of Flo Wineriter. With his deep, resonant voice, Flo developed an interest in broadcasting at Granite High School, doing odd jobs and a little announcing in the evenings at a local radio station. But after graduation in 1943, during World War II, he enlisted with the Airforce as a cadet, trained at Texas A&M, Kelly Field in San Antonio, and Lowry Field in Denver, and was discharged in 1946.
While at Henniger’s Business School, he worked part-time at KDYL, and after completing Henniger’s was hired as an announcer and copywriter. He moved on as a disk jockey in Ogden where he sang with a western band, did a stint in Colorado and California, and finally returned to Salt Lake to work for KALL, where he also became a disk jockey for rock and roll at its very beginning in the mid-50’s. With his notoriety, he ran for and won a seat in the state legislature in 1956. Because of an intervening divorce, which in those days could wreck a political career, he moved back into journalism, building a career as a political broadcaster covering the state legislature and city hall. In 1968, KSL hired him as a political specialist and immediately sent him to cover the celebrated Democratic Convention in Chicago featuring the Chicago 7, as well as the Republican Convention in Miami. He retired in 1986 after 18 years at KSL as a newscaster and political analyst.
He has been active in civic and social organizations, including the Mental Health Board, the Juvenile Court Advisory Committee, the Salt Lake Planning and Zoning Commission, the first Utah Hospice program, the Ethics Committee at St. Mark’s Hospital and the IHC Home Health Care, the Utah Lion’s Club, and, most importantly, as a founder and president of Humanists of Utah. Flo completed the three-year Humanist Institute in New York City, becoming certified as a humanist counselor with authority to preside over marriages, funerals, and other such events. One of his main interests since retiring is studying history, philosophy, politics, and religion, reading at least one book a week in these areas. He also enjoys golf, bridge, bowling, and traveling. His favorite island in the Caribbean is Barbados, and he remembers a poignant visit to the rebuilt Hiroshima.
He came to humanism via the LDS church, becoming disillusioned with it intellectually in his twenties, when he became an active Unitarian. Now, having assembled and catalogued a significant humanist library, his dream is to build a Humanist Center and donate his library to it.
The following article was published in the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah on Sunday, November 22, 1992.
“Humanism’s basic message is that man alone is responsible for the world and its dreams, and moral values derive their source from human experience,” said Florien J. Wineriter, President of the Utah Chapter of the American Humanist Association.
Wineriter spoke at a recent Unitarian meeting where he discussed humanism and its message. The former radio journalist said humanism is a quest for life’s values, and a belief that we can solve our own problems without having to ask for supernatural guidance. He has observed that religion attempts to teach moral values through fear of punishment, whereas humanism teaches moral values through caring.
Wineriter’s own journey into humanism was triggered by the events of World War II. As a religious young man he felt a concern about the ethics of killing another human being on the other side of the world who might believe in the same religion as he. After studying the many religious wars of the past, Wineriter concluded, “If beliefs in God create so much bloodshed, even among those who share the same religion, then I want and need a basic belief that holds more hope for the future of the human race, and for peaceful resolutions of conflicts.”
The Humanist Counselor believes we must have freedom of choice and experience a wide range of full liberties. “There is no area of thought that we are unwilling to explore, to challenge, to question, or to doubt,” as our philosophy tells us.
Humanists want to maintain a separation of church and state. “Our founders were fearful of religious domination because of past experiences when countries mingled faith and government.” Wineriter believes that churches should continue to have the freedom to lobby and take positions on issues, however the fault lies when individual lawmakers make decisions based on the belief that church should be the final authority because their leaders are spokespersons for God. “The authoritarian mentality is not conducive to democratic governments. This nation is politically and economically secular, and we must not equate religious affiliation with patriotism. Our Constitution provides that there shall be no religious test of any kind,” says Wineriter.
Prayer in public meetings should not be allowed because, in rural Utah especially, it becomes an extension of theocracy. “Prayer in civic meetings continues the mood of yesterday’s priesthood meeting,” as Wineriter put it. He believes humanists should take an active role in their communities by helping others recognize the difference between secular authority and religious authority.
Many religions are threatened by humanistic thoughts, says Wineriter. Garth Brooks’ recent song “We Shall Be Free” is presently being censored by radio stations in Tennessee because of its apparent secular message. The following lyrics appear to be the most controversial.
When we’re free to love anyone we choose,
When this world’s big enough for all different views,
When all can worship from our own kind of pew,
Then we shall be free.
“Brooks has summed up humanism in just a few simple words, and it has upset the traditional religious ideas of country music,” says Wineriter.
Being a humanist does not lead to immoral behavior, as some people believe. “Humanism teaches us to be responsible, caring people and to continually search for the highest human ideals” he emphasized.
As a Humanist Counselor, Wineriter performs marriages, memorial services, and child naming celebrations.
Florien Wineriter Receives Utah Humanities Council Award
The Utah Humanities Council recognized our chapter president, Florien Wineriter, with a Friend of the Humanities Award at their annual Governor’s Awards ceremony, Saturday, October 14th.
In presenting the certificate for outstanding support of the humanities at the Memorial House, in Memorial Grove, the UHC Executive Director, Cynthia Buckingham, mentioned that during his years in the broadcasting industry, Flo had been the producer of “Vital Issues” at KALL, and “Public Pulse” at KSL, discussion programs that addressed important social and political issues pertaining to the humanities. He was also praised for inviting several Utah Humanities Council representatives to speak at the Humanists of Utah monthly meetings. Director Buckingham remarked that the Humanities represent the bridge of balance between religion and science
Receiving certificates of recognition along with Flo were Wally Cooper and Allen Roberts, architects, Anne and Sandy Dolowitiz, leaders of the Utah Jewish community, Michael Zimmerman, former Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and Bonnie Stephens, Director of the Utah Arts Council.
The basic humanist statement of belief clearly and plainly exemplifies our devotion to respecting and celebrating the diversity of human beliefs, human practices and human life-styles.
Humanists trace their views to the ancient Greek philosopher Protagoras and his dictum, “Man is the measure of all things.” The preciousness and dignity of the individual is a central humanist value. We work closely with people from a wide spectrum of faiths and philosophies for civil liberties, a healthy ecology, and social justice.
Humanism is a worldview which believes that reason and science are the best ways to understand the world around us, and that dignity and compassion should be the basis for how we act toward one another. Humanism recognizes the moral and ethical values of all religions, and every race. We respect all adult sexual preferences whether genetically determined or chosen by personal preference. We encourage every human to develop the courage of their convictions, to study moral and ethical issues, to question and to defend their conclusions vigorously but develop the willingness to change when new evidence is convincing and to celebrate the diversity of opinions arrived at by critical thinking.
We recognize the brave men and women who have spearheaded the historical events that have dramatically changed society. Changes that gave women the right to vote, the right to decide when to have a child, the women who demanded that children be free of religious indoctrination in the public classroom and that the wall of separation be maintained between religion and government.
We celebrate those who demanded civil rights for all in our diverse society, who removed children from assembly lines, gave us the 8-hour work day and the right to receive adequate compensation for our human labor.
We celebrate the diversities of the human mind and the variety of acceptable life styles those minds have developed.
Like the diverse colors of a rainbow that exist separately but blend together in a glorious array of beauty, we celebrate our human individuality, and our independent beliefs that blend together to make our community a glorious array of beauty. Humanism believes that our very existence depends upon the web of life and that our place in nature must be in harmony with all of life.
Humanist ethics, based on love and compassion for humankind and nature, place responsibility on humans for shaping our destiny and the future direction of the world.
We recognize the moral dilemmas and the need to be very careful in every moral decision because every decision and action has a consequence. We find spirituality in using our intelligence and creativity to leave the world a better place than we found it.
Asher Jace Martinez
I am a fortunate 86-year old man sitting on the couch holding my three-week old great-great-grandson admiring this beautiful child and wondering what magic chemical actions of nature created this gazing human who ten months ago did not exist.
I notice the perfect shape of his head displaying thin strands of hair, the perfectly proportioned facial characteristics, forehead, eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth and chin in perfect relationship. His tiny tongue curling up between his parted lips tasting the air of my home. His eyes not yet focusing but already distinguishing the shadows between lightness and darkness of my living room. His beautifully shaped ears already alert and responding to the differences of frightening loudness and soothing quietness.
His tiny perfect arms testing the air around him. His chest encasing lungs that gently expand and contract to balance the oxygen and blood that nourish and sustain his beautiful body. The muscles of his firm legs strengthened by thrashing within his mother bosom for several months now released and pressing lightly against my hand.
The tiny film of nails that protect the tips his delicate fingers and toes. This perfect human being barely released from a womb that nurtured and protected the miniscule sperm and cell that united just a few months ago and agreed to form this beautiful person.
I believe he senses the love I feel for him and the safety we will provide him as he experiences growing up in a testing world.
I hope he will enjoy the fullness of life that will enable him 86-years from now to hold his great-great-grandchild and marvel at the magic mindfulness of nature.
–Florien J. Wineriter
June 24, 2011
Father of Susan
Grandfather of Angel
Great-grandfather of Cassie
Great-great grandfather of Asher
One of the most frequently asked questions when I give talks on the history and philosophy of humanism is, “If you don’t believe in God and life after death, what’s your incentive for leading a moral life?” My answer is, “My respect for others and respect for myself.”
One of the basic teachings of humanism is recognizing the dignity of every human being and taking responsibility for how we treat every person we encounter. The daily acts of road rage, the gang shootings, and school yard fights; the political character assassinations, abuse of family members and the brawls in professional sports are not caused by a lack of belief in God, but by a lack of belief in the rights of people.
When people in positions of power and influence demand sexual favors from associates, it’s not because they don’t believe in a supernatural power, it’s because they lack a sense of responsibility that goes with leadership. The ethical teachings of the world’s leading religions use the fear of a supernatural power as the enforcer of moral values. Humanism suggests that ethics can and should be based on knowledge and reason, respect for human values that have been outlined by such documents as the Hammurabi Code, the Magna Carta, the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, the U.S. Bill of Rights, and numbers six through ten of the Ten Commandments.
Humanists may not believe there is life after death, but we do believe in honoring this life. We conclude that the moral problems of this world are not the result of people having lost their religion, but the result of people having lost their humanism.
Published in The Salt Lake Tribune 10/5/98
My Belief System
Developing a personal belief system after giving up the LDS ideology has been an evolutionary process for me. At some point in my intellectual development, I discovered that the concept of an anthropomorphic god who created universes and intervened in the lives of human beings was not logical. I really had nothing to replace the certainty provided by the LDS gospel, and began the search of a philosophy that would make sense of the nonsense we call life. The search has been long, and at times painful. The longing for certainty and meaning at times make a return to the LDS faith almost desirable. But today, at age 67, I feel comfortable with the knowledge that uncertainty is the only certainty, and that honest relationships with people is rewarding. Sharing my feelings, being of service, and giving others opportunities to develop their talents are some of the rewarding spiritual aspects of life. The philosophies expressed in Humanist Manifestos I and II are excellent guidelines for the continuing development of my personal belief system.
I continue to admire the social and community ideals of the LDS church. The concepts of freedom of choice, personal responsibility, concern for the poor, community involvement, and the many individual and social concerns of the LDS religious philosophy are secular ideals that I support. But I endorse such ideals because they will result in a better life on this earth, not some reward after death in another sphere.
I believe it is unfortunate that the religious fears of punishment, rather than intrinsic rewards of self-realization, are major motivators of many peoples.
The Essence of Humanism
I was challenged to quickly define Humanism during a Humanist conference in Columbia, Maryland, a few years ago. A passenger on an elevator noticed my convention name tag and said to me, “What’s Humanism?”; before I could think of a 30-second sound-bite definition the elevator stopped and the person left. That incident made me realize that we need to clarify for ourselves and for others just what we are all about.
Let me remind you of a familiar story that may illustrate basic Humanism. It’s the story of the man who bought a piece of ground overgrown with weeds and filled with debris. He spent a lot of time, effort and money in clearing the land, constructing a nice home and landscaping the yard. One morning while he was weeding his flower garden a local minister walked by and commented, “What a beautiful place you and God have created.” The man replied, “You should have seen it when God was taking care of it alone.”
That story indicates the main thrust of Humanism—Humans are responsible for the state of the world, we created the beauty and the ugliness of the human condition. We can take credit for the things that go right and we must take responsibility for the things that go wrong.
In 1933 a group of men put their signatures to a document defining human responsibilities and possibilities. They said the document was the result of much study and discussion, that it was representative of a large number of people who were forging a new philosophy about the human condition. They called the document “A Humanist Manifesto.”
The introduction says, “The time has come for widespread recognition of the radical changes in religious beliefs throughout the modern world. Science and economic changes have disrupted old beliefs. Religions of the world are under the necessity of coming to terms with new conditions created by vastly increased knowledge and experience.” They defined religion as “the quest for life’s highest values and life’s abiding values.” They proposed their manifesto as a new statement of the means and purposes of religion. They set forth fifteen principles defining what they called Religious Humanism. Let me summarize those principles.
Religious Humanism regards the universe as self-existing and not created.
Asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural origination of human values.
Considers the complete realization of human personality to be the goal of life.
In place of the old attitudes involved in worship and prayer, the humanist finds religious emotions expressed in a heightened sense of personal life and in a cooperative effort to promote social well-being.
Believing that we must work continuously to define the virtuous life, humanist seek to explore the possibilities of life, aim to foster human creativeness, and encourage conditions that add to the satisfactions of life.
The manifesto concluded with:
“Though we consider the religious forms and ideas of our fathers no longer adequate, the quest for the good life is still the central task for mankind. Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement.”
(Parenthetically, I should point out that in that period of time the use of the male pronoun was an acceptable reference to both sexes!)
Forty years later the manifesto was revised and published as Humanist Manifesto II. The preamble to the 1973 document recognizes the tremendous progress of the preceding 40-years noting: “We have virtually conquered the planet, explored the moon, overcome the natural limits of travel and communication; we stand at the dawn of a new age, ready to move farther into space and perhaps inhabit other planets. Using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life. Humanity, to survive, requires bold and daring measures. We need to extend the uses of the scientific method, and to fuse reason with compassion in order to build constructive social and moral values.”
The second Manifesto is organized into six major sections. The first section restates the humanist attitude toward religion concluding with the statement, “We appreciate the need to preserve the best ethical teachings in the religious traditions, but we reject those features of traditional religious morality that deny humans a full appreciation of their own potentialities and responsibilities. No deity will save us, we must save ourselves.”
The second section deals with ethics and says “We affirm that moral values derive their source from human experience. Ethics stem from human need and interest. Reason and intelligence are the most effective instruments that humans possess.”
Section three deals with the individual, saying “The preciousness and dignity of the individual is central to humanist values. Individuals should be encouraged to realize their own creative talents and desires and freedom of choice should be increased.”
The fourth section supports the Democratic Society, saying “To enhance freedom and dignity the individual must experience a full range of civil liberties in all societies. This includes freedom of speech and the press, political democracy, the legal right of opposition to governmental policies, fair judicial process, religious liberty, freedom of association, and artistic, scientific, and cultural freedom.
We would safeguard, extend, and implement the principles of human freedom evolved from the Magna Carta to the Bill of Rights, the Rights of Man, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The fifth section expands to the world community and deplores the division of humankind on nationalistic grounds. Quoting from Manifesto Two: “We have reached a turning point in human history where the best option is to transcend the limits of national sovereignty and to move toward the building of a world community in which all sectors of the human family can participate. This world community must renounce violence and force as a method of solving international disputes…and must engage in cooperative planning concerning the use of rapidly depleting resources. The cultivation and conservation of nature is a moral value.”
The sixth and concluding section says “At the present juncture of history, commitment to all humankind is the highest commitment of which we are capable; it transcends the narrow allegiances of church, state, party, class, or race in moving toward a wider vision of human potentiality. What more daring a goal for humankind than for each person to become in ideal as well as practice, a citizen of a world community. We believe that humankind has the potential intelligence, goodwill, and cooperative skill to implement this commitment in the decades ahead.”
Conversion to Humanism
So much for the history and the philosophy of Humanism, now I would like to spend a few minutes explaining how I came to be an advocate for Humanism. I believe my first conscious awareness of my need to find an acceptable philosophy was triggered by events of the Second World War. During a furlough home I was asked to speak to the Sacrament meeting of my Ward. The focus of my talk was my concern about the ethics and morality of a Mormon from Salt Lake City being required to kill a Mormon from Berlin, Rome, or Tokyo. I was deeply bothered by the conflict of loyalty to God and loyalty to country. To this day, I continue to believe that members of all religions must wrestle with that conflict.
My concern about ultimate loyalty led me to do a great deal of reading about wars, their causes and resolutions. I discovered that the Old Testament contains a great deal of history about religious wars, that the history of Europe is filled with religious wars; the history of relations between the Jews and the Arabs is a continuous religious war that has lasted thousands of years. I eventually came to the conclusion that if beliefs in God created so much bloodshed, even among those who share the same basic religious concept, then I needed to find a basic belief that holds more hope for the future of the human race and for peaceful resolutions of conflicts. I believed then, and I believe now, that humans are more capable of coming to terms with conflict when they have a deep respect for life and for one another than when their highest allegiance is to a supreme being.
My personal experiences as a member of the Utah State legislature and as a political reporter for several years made me acutely conscious of the need to be alert to religious pressures in state politics. One example occurred when I was a member of the House of Representatives in 1957. A bill that required an appropriation of several thousand dollars for a project favored by the LDS church failed to get the two-thirds vote required for passage. The Speaker of the House, Jerry Jones, said he wasn’t posing as a prophet but he was predicting that the bill would eventually pass. The next day several legislators announced that they had received telephone calls during the night “explaining the bill in more detail” and they moved for reconsideration of the defeated measure. As you might have guessed those “explanation phone calls” came from Church lobbyists and, just as Speaker Jones had prophesied, the bill passed with votes to spare!
I only need to remind you of the LDS Church involvement in State liquor laws, a State lottery proposal, the Equal Rights Amendment, and horse racing legislation to point out how effectively the Church influences politics in Utah.
Now I don’t take the position that the Church should be silent on legislative and political matters. Religious leaders have the same freedom of expression that every citizen enjoys. Churches have the same right as all other organizations to take positions on social and political issues. The problem is not religious involvement, the problem lies with individuals who, because of authoritarian religious indoctrination, accept their authoritarian religious leaders as also being their authoritarian political leaders.
Religion is rooted in authoritarianism. All religions accept the concept of an infallible God, the word of God as the final authority, the ultimate truth. Anything attributed to God is absolute truth: the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud. And to question anyone accepted and recognized as a spokesperson for God is considered to be grounds for excommunication in many religions. It is this “authoritarian mind-set”, encouraged by religions, that makes religious involvement in politics a dangerous problem. Religious leaders speaking on political matters poses a danger of theocracy replacing democracy.
I am also upset with the tendency in our political system to equate being religious with being patriotic and the converse of not being religious with being unpatriotic. George Bush said during the 1982 presidential campaign that he didn’t think it possible to be President and not be religious. Such intertwining of religion and politics is in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Utah Constitution (Article 4, paragraph 3, of the U. S. Constitution and Article 4, sec. 4, of the Utah Constitution). Even with these constitutional restrictions George Bush made his statement about the Presidency and religion and many candidates continue to cite their religious activities as evidence of their qualification for office. Such statements I believe are an inferred “religious test” imposed indirectly and contribute to a public tolerance of theocracy.
This nation is politically and economically secular. In 1833, U. S. Representative Rufus Choate of Massachusetts said, “We have built no temple but the Capitol, we consult no common oracle but the Constitution.” That quotation is engraved over a doorway in the U.S. House of Representatives. Maintaining the independence of religion and politics and the separation of Church and State is a major principle of Humanism and is one of the reasons I have become an advocate of Humanism.
So far, I’ve discussed the philosophy of Humanism, the historical development of Humanism and my conversion to Humanism. I’d like to now spend a few minutes discussing what I think are the challenges to the Humanist movement.
If Humanism is to become a major part of the human enterprise, I believe we must recognize the need to develop the attributes of community. We must increase our awareness of the role religions play in the lives of humans and position ourselves as an alternative to religion rather than an esoteric philosophy.
We must make an effort to recognize the important role emotions play in life. Humans are more than just cerebral beings, we are feeling animals as well as thinking animals. Feeling has been the primary appeal of religions; they call it spiritual, it’s really emotional. We are more than rugged individuals, we are also social animals; we are more than independent and something more than dependent, we are interdependent. We are not loners, we are joiners; we have a need to belong, to share, to care with and about each other. Human relations and human involvement are a vital part of life and Humanism must find ways to recognize this and develop ways of bringing humanness into Humanism.
Kahlil Gibran speaks on Reason and Passion in The Prophet saying:
“Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite. Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody. But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers, nay, the lovers of all your elements? Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else beheld at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction. Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing; And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above it’s own ashes. I would have you consider your judgment and your appetite even as you would two loved guests in your house. Surely you would not honor one guest above the other; for he who is more mindful of one loses the love and the faith of both.”
Symbolism, rituals, poetry, moving prose, they are all important aspects of community and the big challenge for the Humanist movement is to recognize this and find ways to involve the finest aspects of the human intellect and human emotions. Ed Wilson knew the importance of this. In 1986, writing for Volume Two of the publication Humanism Today, said: “The whole field of secular art, poetry, literature, drama, music is ours to claim and use selectively for inspiration and renewal, for the enrichment of the heart.”
For many years I thought the Unitarian Church was the religion of Humanism, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there remains a very strong element of Deism and Theism in Unitarian Universalism and therefore Humanism must find its own distinctive and distinguished ways to appeal to the whole human personality. Humanism must talk about morality, the values and the standards that are vital to an effective and worthwhile human community. We must talk about ethics, reasonable and acceptable ways of treating each other.
If we are to become a major player in the struggle for human allegiance, Humanism must find ways to speak to, in the words of Gibran, “Reason and Passion.”
Early in November I was invited by the Three R’s Project to participate in a panel discussion about religions for a Jordan School District teachers conference. In addition to my representing humanism, there were six other panelists representing Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Mormonism. Each panelist was asked to present the highlights of their religious beliefs and practices. I was surprised when the spokesperson for Judaism said after my presentation, “Every time I hear Flo speak I think humanism sounds like Judasim without rituals!”
At the conclusion of the seven formal presentations each panelist was asked to respond to questions from the moderator. One of the most interesting requests she made was, “describe how Utah would be if 70% of the population were members of your conviction.” For the first time in my humanist experience I had the chance to visualize what a dramatic difference society would be if humanism was the dominant culture.
I want to explore this fantasy with you at our December Holiday Season Social. Think about the challenge and let us create a rewarding delusion together December 9th.
Here is the script of my conference presentation.
Thank you for this opportunity to discuss and endorse teaching about religions in public schools. Some people are still opposed to this for a variety of reasons. In the humanist community which I represent here today there is strong disagreement as well. Many of our local and national members and officers are divided on the question. Humanists fear that teaching about religions in the public classroom will lead to evangelizing for the particular religion of the teacher.
I don’t share their fears. I recognize it is possible but I am confident that with adequate training and your professional teaching skills, your students will gain a greater understanding of the various religious beliefs and a much deeper knowledge of the different ways people respond to the basic questions of life:
- From whence we came,
- Why we are here,
- What happens when we die.
Understanding that the human race has found a variety of answers to these questions will eventually result in a more tolerant, acceptable community. Hopefully your students will become adults who can discuss religious difference in a civil manner recognizing that religion is a very personal matter and that we don’t need to agree on the answers to religious questions to be cooperative friends and neighbors.
I was pleased this past week when President Bush at his election victory press conference, responding to a reporter’s question regarding the influence of the religious right, said, in very strong language, that Americans of all faiths, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Theists, Agnostics, and Atheists, are all good citizens, that the believer and the non-believer, the religious and the non-religious all enjoy equality in this nation.
That’s why I support the program of the Three R’s Project and why I appreciate being a humanist member of their advisory council.
Humanism officially represents a very small minority of the U.S. population, numbering only about ten-thousand members. Philosophically we probably speak for ten times that number, perhaps around one-hundred thousand people. In the classrooms of our nation there very few children from humanist homes but hopefully those numbers will change significantly when students are made aware that humanism is an acceptable alternative to orthodox religions.
Regarding the three basic questions about life that religions ponder here are the humanist answers:
- We believe life in general began through a natural process of the universe.
- Our individual lives began when a male sperm and female ovum united.
- Each person determines the purpose of their life.
- Our individual life ceases at death.
Our philosophy of life is based on confidence that each person has the capacity for goodness, even greatness, that everyone can learn to think critically and reasonably well, that the chaos and uncertainty are acceptable, and we learn to deal with life’s problems by the consequences of our actions in the various situations of living.
We recognize that life is sometimes unfair, that nature is not concerned with our individual destiny, that we receive rewards and punishments for our actions while we are alive, not after we die.
Socially and politically we are progressives. We believe we have an individual responsibility for the welfare of the community. We encourage sharing equitably the burdens and the rewards of community building, help ensure justice, equality, and a good life for everyone. The roots of humanism are connected to the European Enlightenment period that sought an end to religious authoritarianism and promoted critical thinking to solve human problems. The philosopher Immanuel Kant coined the battle cry of the Enlightenment: “Dare to use your own intelligence!”
We believe this nation was founded on the Enlightenment principles of individual rights, worth, and responsibilities and we cite the 6th article of the U.S. Constitution to substantiate this assertion. It reads: “….no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
While humanism does not profess a belief in supernatural powers nor practice rituals seeking non-human intervention in life, we do consider ourselves “religious beings” with a strong conviction that cooperatively we can solve the problems of existence.