2010

 

Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

AlterNet

AlterNet’s aim is to inspire action and advocacy on the environment, human rights and civil liberties, social justice, media, health care issues, and more.

Thanks to Bob Lane for suggesting this site.

AlterNet


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

British Humanist Association

The British Humanist Association is the national charity supporting and representing people who seek to live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs. Our vision is of a world without religious privilege or discrimination. We promote Humanism, campaign for an open society and a secular state, and work with others of different beliefs for the common good.

British Humanist Association


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

University of Utah Middle East Center

Established in 1960, the Center has administered degree programs at all levels (B.A., M.A., and Ph.D.) and offers, both to students and to the larger community, a variety of opportunities for the advancement of understanding of the Middle East.

University of Utah Middle East Center


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

May 2010

Food For the Eagle

Adam Savage, of Myth Busters fame, was recently awarded the Harvard Secular Society’s Annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism. This is his acceptance speech given in April 2010. Thanks to Karen Keller for suggesting this site.

Food For the Eagle


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

March 2010

You’ve committed your life to Jesus. You know you’re saved. But when the Rapture comes what’s to become of your loving pets who are left behind? Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind.

Pet loving humanists can obtain contracts to care for pets if (giggle, giggle) paying customers are caught up in the rapture.

Thanks to Helen Mulder for submitting this site.

Earthbound Pets


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

Utah Coalition of Reason

U-Core, the Utah Coalition of Reason, is an umbrella group for Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, Freethinkers, Secularists – Utahns.

Humanists of Utah is pursuing membership

Utah Coalition of Reason


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

January 2010

The Freethinkers Association of Central Texas (FACT) have a great website with a lot of good resources. It definitely deserves a bookmark in your browser!

FACT


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

Symphony of Science

The Symphony of Science is a musical project headed by John Boswell designed to deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form. Here you can watch music videos, download songs, read lyrics and find links relating to the messages conveyed by the music.

The words of Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Richard Feynman, Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins, and many others set to music.

Thanks to Bob Lane for suggesting this link!

Symphony of Science


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

StumbleUpon

StumbleUpon is a tool that integrates into your internet browser. You create an account and describe you likes. When you press the Stumble button, it will take you to a site rated by other Stumblers with similar interests. You can and should rate sites you visit as this will enhance your browsing experience.

StumbleUpon


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

April 2010

The nonprofit Freedom From Religion Foundation works to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism, and to promote the constitutional principle of separation between church and state.

Won’t you join us in our critical work to defend the separation between government and religion?

Freedom From Religion


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Thank You Dad!

November 2010

This year marked the 60th anniversary of North Korea’s invasion of the Republic of Korea on June 25, 1950. Twenty-one member countries of the United Nations joined with the Republic of Korea to stop the invasion. One of these military personnel was my father, a young man of twenty-one. At the time, the Republic Korea was one of the most impoverished countries with an annual per capita income of less $40. Over a million people were homeless, living in whatever they could find for shelter; people were hungry. How does a daughter who believes that if war is the answer then the right question has not been asked, tell her father thank you for his military service?

This summer I joined my dad and other Korean War veterans for a seven-day tour of remembrance in the Republic of Korea. At the entrance of the War Memorial in Seoul was the following inscription: “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” This is the same inscription at the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C. Each of the member United Nation countries has a section of the wall that lists the names of those they have lost; there was a moment of silence.

One of the hardest things for me to see and hear was briefing prior to visiting the Demilitarization Zone near the 38th parallel. The Demilitarization Zone was established on July 27, 1953 in accordance with “The Armistice Agreement”; it is 155 miles (248 km) long. The military personnel informed that group of finding of a dead North Korean soldier. The Republic of Korea informed North Korea of their finding. To ease tension it was agreed by both sides that an independent country would perform the medical examination for the determination of cause of death. The determination was malnutrition. In the last sixty years the North Korean average height of males is five feet five inches, average weight 155 pounds, but the most amazing fact is that the size of average male cranial capacity of the North Korean has decreased in size. All of these things are due to lack of access to proper food. We arrive at Panmunjeom, the place where “The Armistice Agreement” was signed; the place where the county of Korea was divided and where the war broke out. What one must remember is “The Armistice Agreement” is a truce and not an end of war or a peace treaty. In reality this war is still ongoing. Panmunjeom is 30 miles (50km) from Seoul.

Touring the Korea Folk Village and seeing traditional houses from different parts of the country helped in demonstrating the rich cultural history of Korea. While we were listening to our tour guide numerous elementary school age children would interrupt by saying thank-you and asked to shake the veterans hands. The guide explained that this was the second generation that has benefited from what the Korean War veterans accomplished. What are some of the benefits? At the time of the Korean War the Republic of Korea was one of the most impoverished countries. In 2009 Republic of Korea became a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee, the first aid recipient to become a donor in only one generation. In the official “Welcome to Korea: Korean War and 60-years Later” ends with the following quote: “Republic of Korea is forever indebted to you for your service and sacrifice. We will continuously build trust and friendship among 21 United Nation Allied Nations.”

On this Veteran Day’s this daughter has a better understanding of what all veterans are asked to do. That is to travel to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met. I would suggest if you see or know a veteran on this Veterans Day ask them what it was like and thank them for their services.

–Cindy King

Thanks to … Whom?

December 2010

Last month most American families will gather on the fourth Thursday to join in the uniquely American ritual of setting aside a whole day to eat themselves silly, watch football, and fight with their relatives. Tens of millions of those Americans will also, just before the eating-silly part, join in the only prayer they’ll mutter all year, something (thankfully) short that usually begins, “Lord, we thank you for all …”

Okay for them. But those of us who don’t talk to imaginary friends have to ask, to whom do we talk? Most of us feel thankful, but whom do we thank?

This year at my family’s table I think I’ll thank Abe Lincoln for instituting the holiday in the first place. The 1621 Pilgrims-and-Indians affair was a one-day one-timer, as was Washington’s in 1789, which was actually about our new nation’s success in the late unpleasantness with England. Lincoln’s Day of Thanksgiving, too, had more to do with politics and battlefield victories in the Civil War than about bountiful harvests and roasted turkeys. But then so did the Emancipation document, his other big Proclamation of 1863. I’ll thank Lincoln for Thanksgiving.

While I’m at it, I’m going to thank those same god-obsessed Pilgrims, who would have created a theocracy here if they could, but who nonetheless conceived the idea of a country based not on geography, ethnicity or ancient hates, but on an ideal, a “city on a hill.”

I’ll thank the Founders, who risked their lives and fortunes to win a country for me, and made the Pilgrims’ ideal a possibility. And I’ll thank the tens of millions of Americans who have since served and defended my country–and me and mine.

I’ll thank the generations of slaves on whose scarred black backs so much of my country’s wealth and power were built. Then I’ll thank the hundred million or more of “wretched refuse”–micks and dagoes, beaners and hebes and chinks–who have since stood in courtrooms to announce that they wanted to be Americans, swore allegiance to my country, and contributed their talents and their sweat to the building of our city on a hill.

No, it’s not perfect, it’s not “undimmed by human tears,” but we’re still building our city, all of us.

That’s who I’m going to thank: all of us. I’m thankful not just that I’m an American–which is an accident of birth, and there’s no one but my parents, who are gone, to thank for that–but that I live in this country with so many other Americans, millions of whom I disagree with about dozens of issues, but nearly all of whom share my ideals, nearly all of whom I can count on to return to me the respect I give them, and who count me their fellow-American. For which I thank them.

This Thanksgiving, I thank us.

–John Rafferty,
President, Secular Humanist Society of New York

Thank You Sarah Smith

September 2010

Sarah Smith has resigned from our Board of Directors and as meeting reporter. She has served the chapter faithfully and well for many years. We really appreciate her efforts and dedication.

This means that there are two positions available that could be done by one or two volunteers.

The most immediate need is for someone to write up the monthly meeting reports for this newsletter and our website. We ask our speakers for copies and/or notes of their presentations and we also record the meetings. These documents need to be formatted in a standard word processing document.

We also need a replacement for Sarah on the Board. We will be having elections in December and will probably opt to wait until then to formally select a replacement. The new person on the Board may or may not be chosen to serve as Secretary. It is possible that an existing director will assume this position.

If you are interested in either job, please contact any current Board member.

2010 State of Affairs

January 2010

Our annual business meeting and banquet was a great success. About 30 people attended and enjoyed good food, conversation, and comments from members Flo Wineriter and Earl Wunderli (his almost-annual poem is published in this newsletter.)

All five candidates running (volunteering) for service on the Board of Directors were elected by overwhelming majorities. We now have 10 members on the Board with two new people who have already expressed fresh ideas to help our chapter move forward. We are excited that Karen Keller and Lisa Miller have joined our leadership team.

We wish to express our thanks for the service of longtime Board member Cindy King who retired after many years of work promoting Humanists of Utah. Her involvement will be missed but she assured us that she was not really leaving, just retiring from the Board of Directors.

Our chapter remains financially sound and viable. We have also been able to support the University of Utah secular student group SHIFT with some financial help. This seems like a great investment in the future of humanism.

Ideas and constructive criticisms are always welcome, even solicited. If you have something to say, please contact any Board member.

–Wayne Wilson

So Help Me God

July 2010

Dr. Robert Groves
Director
U.S. Census Bureau

As directors of organizations committed to the rights of humanists, atheists, and other freethinkers, a number of us have received complaints from persons who were hired by the U.S. Census or sought Federal employment as Census workers. They complain that they were asked to take a religious oath that ends in “so help me God.”

We, the undersigned, write to urge you to remove such superfluous and divisive language from the oath you administer. As it stands this practice leads hirees and applicants to believe that Census has a religious test for public office in violation of U.S. Constitution, Article VI, and clause: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” The oath is harmful to those who do not believe in a monotheist god because it implies that the non-believer cannot get the job without taking the oath or would lose his or her job if their lack of religious belief were discovered by management. Moreover, the oath has the effect of stigmatizing non-monotheists as outsiders.

The Census does not require the use of phrase “so help me God” as seen in the Census’ Guide for Training Enumeration, which states that the “so help me God” phrase is not required and may be crossed out. Notwithstanding that the cross-out option is available, by having to ask in front of Census officials and other new hirees with whom they would be working in the future, those who object to this religious practice expose themselves to religion-based prejudice going forward. Consequently, the oath has a substantial coercive effect upon Census applicants.

Accordingly, we respectfully request “so help me God” be deleted from the oath administered by Census.

Signed by:

    • Edward Buckner, President, American Atheist
    • Katharine Archibald, Executive Director, American Ethical Union
    • David Niose, President, American Humanist Association
    • Stuart Bechman, President, Atheist Alliance International
    • Amanda Metskas, President, Camp Quest
    • Tom Flynn, Executive Director
    • Council for Secular Humanism
    • Dan Barker, Co-President, Freedom From Religion Foundation
    • Warren Wolf, President, Institute for Humanist Studies
    • Matt Cherry, Director, International Humanist and Ethical Union
    • Jason Torpy, President, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers
    • Herb Silverman, President, Secular Coalition for America
    • Hemant Mehta, Chair, Secular Student Alliance
    • Louis Altman, President, Society for Humanistic Judaism
    • Fred Edwords, Director, United Coalition of Reason

Source

SHIFT Receives Recognition Award

July 2010

Humanists of Utah has been encouraging the University of Utah student group SHIFT for the past year with advice and monetary considerations. The group was recently awarded for their efforts by their parent organization:

Each year, the Secular Student Alliance gives out five awards to groups that have excelled in particular facets of activism and campus involvement. This year, we had a record number of applicants; we got nearly 30 excellent entries.

Best Educator: University of Utah SHIFT

The SSA chose the University of Utah’s SHIFT (Secular Humanism, Inquiry and Freethought) for its Best Educator Award. This Utah club’s efforts at educating the community are impressive, to say the very least. Last fall, SHIFT put together a wildly successful talk about health care with Representative Brian King, which the club followed with a movie screening of Sicko. As a result of the event, club members learned about how the health care debate interacted with secular values.

In addition, SHIFT educated the community with a lecture and movie for Carl Sagan Day. Another compelling event was the group’s hosting geneticist and artist, Dr. Daniel Fairbanks. Fairbanks not only explained Darwin Day; he also sculpted a bust of the notable freethinker, which SHIFT donated to the university to be placed on exhibit. After hosting Fairbanks, SHIFT welcomed noted freethinker Austin Dacey to give a presentation about blasphemy and host a debate with a philosophy professor. These accomplishments make the SSA proud to award its Best Educator award to Utah’s SHIFT.

SSL Link to Article
Congratulations to the leadership and members of SHIFT. We hope that you continue to thrive in the coming years!

Semantic Traps

March 2010

Atheist, Non-theist–Theologians, claiming their belief system as the default, propagated the perception of those who didn’t accept their orthodoxy as dissenters, to marginalize them. “Atheist” is by intent pejorative. And “non-theist” means the same. Must freethinkers passively accept a label devised by their enemies whose purpose was to discredit them?
Non-believer–Commonly refers to a disbelief in the existence of God. Using it thus implies that you accept its validity, gives undeserved weight to one assumption over all other assumptions. Better to just eschew the negative, affirm the positive meaningful “skeptic.” What should be challenged is any categorization by a metaphysical allegation inaccessible to experimental test. Are you a skeptic? Don’t adopt your adversaries’ language!

–Freethought Forum
Humanist Fellowship of San Diego
October 2009

Secular Coalition for America Makes History

April 2010

The following is excerpted from the Secular Coalition website. They, dare I say “we,” were invited to discuss a wide range of issues with Administration officials.

Secular Coalition for America Makes History with Administration Briefing

On February 26, 2010, the Secular Coalition for America, along with a unified delegation of members of the secular movement from across the country, sat down with White House representatives for an official policy briefing–the first of its kind for American nontheists. The event opened up new channels of dialogue between American nontheists and the Obama administration, serving as the latest indication that we are gaining significant momentum, and that secular Americans, numbering in the tens of millions, are a constituency that must be included in national policy decisions.

The news media took note of the significance of the meeting, with coverage by ABC News, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the McClatchy News Service (appearing in the Miami Herald, the Denver Post, the Sacramento Bee and other large papers). All over the blogosphere, the event remains a topic of impassioned discussion. Over at the Christian Broadcasting Network, one rightwing pundit warned that the SCA and its allies are “influential” and “very effective.” We’re pretty sure he didn’t mean it as a compliment, but we agree just the same.

The Secular Coalition for America has big goals for the coming months and years. We’re executing a strategy that will see us expanding our base of issues, increasing our lobbying efforts, and generating new and innovative ways for secular Americans to connect, network, and get active throughout America. As Sean Faircloth said in his closing remarks to the administration:

“It is not our disbelief that brings us before you today. Rather it is our deep belief in the light of reason–and our confidence that the light of reason and justice will lead us all to a better and more compassionate world.”

Journey to Atheism

Ruth Carol

February 2010

I was raised as a Jew in a kosher household and went to a synagogue on the Jewish holidays with my family. Since Judaism is also a culture I now refer to myself as a Jewish Atheist. Whenever someone used to ask me how I became an atheist, my response was always rather vague. My usual reply was that I came to the conclusion as a teenager that all concepts about god had to be fairy tales. However, after volunteering to participate in this presentation, I seriously began to think about what did lead me along this path and came to the conclusion that Eli, one of my older brothers, played the most important role in my understanding of how the world evolved

To fully appreciate how this journey of mine started you need to know a little more about my family. I was the sixth child of seven. My two sisters were born 12 and 14 years before me and my oldest brother and I shared an identical birthday, ten years apart. They obviously could not have been my playmates and never did any babysitting that I was aware of. The four youngest of the siblings always played together. Eli was two years older than Charlie, four years older than me, and eight years older than my baby brother, Henry. It was Eli who was always with us when my parents were out or were busy with other things. Further thought has brought me to the conclusion that it was from Eli that I learned about Atheism. Since he died a few years ago I phoned his daughter Adele, who assured me that she was brought up with the same view of the world.

Where we resided also has played a role in my story. I lived in New York for the first 66 years of my life. But, when our first granddaughter was born my husband and I sold our house so we could watch her grow up. Our four daughters live in different cities so we moved each time we acquired another grandchild.

In Chicago we joined a secular Jewish group and attended their programs on Sundays. It was at one of these when a Minister and a nonbeliever presented their views about God that I first found out that Atheist organizations actually existed. The Atheist speaker told us that we could sign up on his mailing list. I was amazed at the number of cities that had Atheist groups and was excited to note that when my daughter Susie and her family decided to move from New Jersey where we were at that time, to Salt Lake City that there was such a group here.

Not only is there definitive and absolute scientific proof that human beings came about through evolution, but why would a god give two atheists the best lives anyone could possibly ever have had. For me at almost 89, it still continues to be absolutely wonderful.

The fun that my three brothers and I enjoyed as young children was greatly enhanced by Eli when he made me into a tomboy. I played softball, punch ball and touch football in the street with the boys that lived on my block. When a new comer moved into our street, Eli immediately made him understand that I was one of the ‘boys.’ Considering this was in the 1920’s, I only recently appreciated how advanced my parents were in this respect when they did not interfere with my tomboy activities. Whenever my father passed on the street while I was playing ball, after I ran up to kiss him he would always send me back to continue with the game.

My husband and I enjoyed 56 years of total bliss. He was the best human being that ever existed and was not only handsome and brilliant but also extremely ethical.

Bernie was so handsome that people were always mentioning it to me. For instance on our first date I happened to pass by the mother of one of my childhood friends. So I introduced him to her. When next I saw her the first thing she said was how good-looking he was. Even when the two of us as were already being classified as elderly, at the voting polls one of the staff commented how handsome he was.

As a Mathematical Statistician his job was to analyze data. One day in the process of doing this, Bernie discovered that a drug named “Inderal”, if discontinued abruptly, could cause death. Because of his insistence that this be reported to the Food and Drug Administration, he was demoted from being the head of the department of statistics to a lowly member of the staff. This is only one example of how important ethics was to my great partner.

Actually since then anyone who has taken a medication prescribed by a physician has also benefited. All prescription drugs are no longer abruptly discontinued.

Another example of how extraordinary my darling was took place when our fourth daughter was a year old. My beloved went to my adviser at Columbia University, without telling me, and asked if she would take me back into the doctoral program. I had dropped out when I unexpectedly became pregnant with our first child. I immediately returned to school and received my Doctorate in Nutrition education six years later.

At Brooklyn College I mistakenly majored in home economics because jobs were scarce at the time and there were openings in that field. My sister- in- law Florence, the wife of my oldest brother, Lenny was currently teaching this course in a junior high school. As a student teacher I quickly recognized that cooking and sewing were not for me. Dietetics and the science of nutrition were also included in this major. Serving as the manager for executive luncheons also was too uninteresting. However, I tremendously enjoyed the fifty years of my professional life after being granted my Doctoral degree in nutrition by Columbia University. All of my positions were fascinating I developed each program from scratch and resigned each time things became dull. For example, I was the first Nutritionist at the New York City Bureau of Health to develop a weekly radio program and when I joined the staff of the “American Council on Science and Health” I established a weekly television program and also wrote a book, “Diet Modification: Can it Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease?” A physician at Columbia University applied for a grant to establish a “Maternal and Infant Care” project. Since it basically involved nutrition he asked me to set it up and see to it that it functioned properly. I did not know him, but apparently he had heard of me since I was well known in nutrition circles because of my doctoral thesis, “The Application of Computers to Nutrition ” and from all of the presentations I was always being invited to give. “Weight Watchers” also came to me and asked if I would head up their organization. But, my preference was to go to serve as nutritionist with the New York City Department of Health. I also was an Adjunct Associate professor at several colleges where I primarily taught students working towards masters and doctoral degrees.

I was so active in the feminist movement from its very beginning that several years ago I was honored for my role and awarded a Certificate. My husband was also a male feminist. In fact we were so much alike in many respects that my daughter Marilyn sent us a card addressed to the “Bobbsey Twins” for our fortieth anniversary.

Our entire family is also remarkably unusual. Two of our four daughters are physicians, one is an attorney and the oldest is an artist. All have been married for substantial amounts of time to great men and have given us six delightful grandchildren. Since the current rate of divorce is one of every two marriages, I feel compelled to note that none of my daughters has ever been involved in such a situation.

My husband and I also set up our own corporation, “Statistical and Nutrition Services”. Many of our clients were nursing homes, psychiatric centers and rehabilitation programs.

When my husband passed away I was devastated. But, after a while I started to socialize, just so I could talk to other people, never considering anything else. I was amazed that a young man asked me for a date when I was 80. Bob, who is in the audience, is not at all like Bernie. He frequently attends Jewish religious services and of course believes that god exists. We have been living happily together for the past 8 years, go out almost every evening and are always having fun.

I also have been in excellent health since I was born. I have not had a cold or any other infectious disease for over thirty years. However, my autoimmune system is so good that it attacked my own tissues so that I had a severe attack of arthritis. Fortunately, it is being well controlled by a drug prescribed by my rheumatologist. The only other medication I take is thyroxine. Only two drugs at my age is quite unusual.

Why would a god reward an atheist with such an amazing life! He would not and could not because there is no such entity.

I had never heard about humanism until I saw an announcement about a meeting in the Salt Lake Tribune. So here I am.

–Ruth Carol

Right Wing Scapegoating

January 2010

November 15, 2009 Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Political Research Associates in Boston, spoke in Boise on Obama, Right-Wing Populism, and White Rage: How Race, Class, & Gender Anxiety Fuel Demonization & Scapegoating.

His appearance was co-sponsored by The Interfaith Alliance of Idaho, Humanists of Idaho, Idaho Human Rights Education Center, and the First Congregational United Church of Christ. Berlet (pronounced Ber-LAY) is a progressive activist who focuses on keeping track of right-wing groups who promote various conspiracy theories and bigotries. He reviewed a long history of such phenomena in America’s past, including the Salem witch trials, a 1790’s panic against Freemasons, and Catholic vs. Protestant flare-ups at various times. He cited recent quotes from some 2009 Tea Parties, in which people made claims like, “Obama is a Socialist Fascist, just like Hitler and Stalin.” While one can certainly associate wide-ranging government programs with the concept of socialism, it is certainly not defensible to imply that the really horrible thing about German Nazis was that they provided medical care to their citizens.

Berlet displayed a very deep understanding of many, many groups on the scene today and in the past. He was also clear on two very important points. First, he cautioned listeners not to assume right-wingers are “crazy” or that they lack education, and he urged listeners not to fall into the same bad habits they dislike about right-wingers, namely, name-calling and scapegoating. Berlet pointed to some of the reasons why people are angry today: 1) the economic meltdown; 2) race: Obama is black; and 3) deep-seated beliefs that are being challenged by gender issues, such as women in the workforce, abortion, and homosexuality. We must keep discourse civil, and focused on

observable facts. Second, Berlet was careful to separate the irrational, such as racism, religious bigotry, and unfounded conspiracy theories, from the “rational-but-disagree” arguments such as progressive versus free-market economic debates. Reasonable people can disagree about certain principles or issues while still agreeing, and working together, on issues of basic human rights, and opposition to racism, sexism, religious bigotry, fantastic conspiracy theories, etc.

It was an interesting talk, and much useful ground was covered in a rather extensive question-and-answer session following it. Information on Political Research Associates is available on their website. As a free-market libertarian myself, I disagree with their economic bent. But in promoting basic human rights, separation of church and state, and opposing racism and bigotry, I’m certainly with them.

–Paul Rolig
President, Humanists of Idaho
Reprinted from
Secular Idaho,
January 2010

President’s Message

September 2010

The Texas State School Board has mandated that students learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.” It is okay with me if they want to include this material in the history books, as I suppose some of it is part, if an unpleasant part, of history. But they do not want to just add to the textbooks, they want to erase things they do not like, like Thomas Jefferson for hell’s sake! That’s right folks; apparently they are taking him out of the history books. I’m not sure how one does that as he was a pretty big player in the American Revolution as well as President. Furthermore, I gather from the news releases I receive from the AHA, CFI, Alternet, and others, that they are including lessons on the Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas, as well as the tired argument about “Separation of Church and State not being intended by the Founding Fathers.”

How stupid are these people? I’m sorry, but I can’t be nice after I read this stuff. It is bad enough when they try to add creationism to science classes, but to erase Thomas Jefferson from the history texts! I guess it is true that the facts don’t really change people’s minds when there is conflict with their values or religious dogmas.

I plan to be much more vocal about these attacks on science and history; with as much civility as possible. But when certain individuals or groups attempt to rewrite history with what I consider, at best, deceptions and often pure lies, it drives me crazy. When I open our Darwin Day celebration, I try to make it known that we are there to not only celebrate Charles Darwin, but to disseminate knowledge. We need to be, or at least I need to be, much harder on those who try to tell us the earth is only 6,000 years old or who try to put Jefferson on the shelf of obscurity the way, somewhat successfully, that has happened with Thomas Paine.

I call myself any number of things: agnostic, humanist, evolutionist, and Geographer. But I do not want to call myself docile anymore in the face of these attacks on reality and reason. The opposition is relentless in pursuit of their goals. And this is the one area where we should take a lesson from them.

Switching gears, at our last board meeting we discussed the need for the chapter to be more active in keeping in touch with our members, to be willing to lend a helping hand when needed. As humanists go, we as a group have tended to leave this area of “human fellowship” somewhat neglected. We intend to rectify this, by perhaps setting up a fellowship committee or something similar. We don’t wish to bother anyone, so if we call on you in the future and you wish to be left alone, just say so. And if you would like to be a part of this fellowship effort, please let us know. I have to admit that I have never been very good at this sort of thing and some members I have talked to admit to the same.

This flaw of mine was brought to mind recently, when I learned that an old friend had died. He had been a heavy drinker for many years, and I grew somewhat distant toward him, as I don’t like to be around people who are always inebriated. He was older and stubborn and I doubt I could have changed him very much. But the point is I never tried.

I know many of you are much better at being warm to others and my criticism is mostly directed towards myself. I know that many of you are involved in other organizations such as the Gandhi Alliance, hospice, etc. and that is laudable. But as an organization, I believe that Humanists of Utah needs to improve in the fellowship area. All suggestions in this endeavor are welcome and appreciated.

Our summer schedule is over and once again, the annual Summer Picnic was great. Special thanks to John Young for the use of his lovely yard and to Cindy and Art King for their hard work in helping make it a success.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

October 2010

I will be leaving for Los Angeles in a couple of days to attend the Free Inquiry subscriber’s conference. It has an impressive line up of speakers and some entertainment. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, James Randi, Eugenie Scott, Paul Kurtz, Lawrence Krauss, and Victor Stenger represent a partial list of speakers that will make this a stimulating and enjoyable conference. Their areas of expertise cover a wide spectrum of thought from genetics to neuroscience, physics, biology, philosophy, science advocacy, etc. etc. I am sure I will have a great deal to talk about when I return.

This conference comes at a time when I can use an infusion of reason and rationality and the opportunity to be amongst people with a passion for freethought and a love of science. I say that “I can use an infusion” because every day events worldwide and here locally can be somewhat draining for those of us who stay fairly well informed.

For example, as I began to read the morning paper yesterday I gave a groaning sigh of disdain for the remarks by LDS authority Boyd Packer about gays being impure and unnatural. Quite sad and hurtful, and an indication of how ill informed and basically uncaring these people can be. It also challenges the ideal we have to be civil, as I for one find little to respect and much to denigrate. Add to that the news that the Texas School Board not only wants to remove Thomas Jefferson from textbooks but they now want to “de-emphasize Islam” in the textbooks. Sigh. So you can see why I am looking forward to the conference.

I hope that you are enjoying the fall weather as much as I am. I love the colors and the cooler temperatures and any moisture we get is welcome here on the edge of the desert. Also, with the cooler temperatures I’m willing to get my cookie mill cranked up for all the cookie monsters who keep asking me when I am going to bake again. Anyway, I hope to see you at our American Founders Day on October 14th, when our speaker Peter McNamara will inform us about Thomas Jefferson.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

November 2010

In my message last month I mentioned that I would be attending a conference in Los Angeles hosted by the “Center For Inquiry” and their magazine Free Inquiry. I returned from the conference with some food for thought, and the energized feeling that I get by the conversations with the other conference goers. It is so refreshing to talk to likeminded people about the issues common to the freethought community.

At this conference the familiar theme of civility was dominant. I have discussed the subject of civility more times than I suspect some of you might wish so I apologize for bringing it up again. However, it was the subject of much of the conference, and deserves additional thought.

One of the plenary sessions was titled “Confrontation or Accommodation,” and started by putting forth three questions: 1) How should secular humanists respond to science and religion? 2) If we champion science, must we oppose faith? 3) How to best approach flashpoints like evolution education. Panel member, Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science and Unscientific America was of the opinion that being too critical of religion only alienates the religious and prevents useful dialogue in areas where we may be able to agree. An example is the fact that there are some religious moderates who have recently become more willing to look at environmental protection as a good thing. On the other hand panelist, P.Z. Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota Morris, and Victor Stenger, professor of physics and philosophy and author of God: The Failed Hypothesis and The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason, are not inclined to be respectful of those who believe in things like creationism, a young earth, crystal gazers, or apologists for religion, to name a few.

As I discussed this “Confrontation or Accommodation” subject with fellow attendees I found that most were of the same general opinion as me. That is, that it is a situational decision. When people of a differing viewpoint are willing to have a non-confrontational discussion of the issues at hand, then of course maintaining a civil tongue is the best approach. Yet there are times when the opposition is so strident and/or mean-spirited that they must be countered with strength and a willingness to confront and oppose them.

The next evening a dialogue between Sam Harris and Robert Wright took on the same tone, with Robert Wright expressing the opinion that being confrontational is counter productive. Sam Harris asserted that some things that are done by the religious are wrong and they are also bad and harmful and must be confronted.

There is not enough space here to go into detail about the proceedings that took place during 35-40 hours of sessions over the three days of the conference. CFI is selling conference CD’s, and I plan to purchase them. They should be useful for future discussions and will be a different and pleasant way to inform ourselves on many of the issues we often deal with as humanists.

We often use words like “respect” and “tolerance.” It seems to me that in our culture respect they should be “automatic” or a “given.” And I believe that respect for human rights of all human beings should be assumed.

But it is my opinion that respect is something that must be earned or given when one sees something as respectable. The same also applies to tolerance, in that something needs to first be tolerable. I know this sounds rather simplistic, but I think the idea that we need to tolerate and be respectful of the beliefs and actions of others simply because they have the right to have them is abused in today’s world, especially as it applies to the actions and beliefs of the religious. While I will agree to respect someone’s basic right to believe in a God, I draw the line when that belief leads to what I consider wrong and harmful actions. Sometimes their actions deserve no respect or tolerance and instead should be criticized and vigorously opposed, and if some of these people whine about being picked on, I have no sympathy and make no apologies.

Should we be respectful or tolerate people like the preacher Fred Phelps who protest at funerals of service men and women with hateful signs about homosexuals, or evangelicals who are pushing to make homosexuality illegal (even a death penalty offense) in parts of Africa? Do we respect a custom that punishes a woman for being a rape victim?

Should we respect those who blame secular humanism for all the ills of the world, who say we are in league with the devil, or who work to deny the gay community their constitutional rights to marry, or those who work to insert the absurdity of creationism in schools as science and remove Thomas Jefferson from school textbooks, What about those who would destroy the separation of church and state and ruin this nation by installing a theocracy? I don’t think so! And this is just a short list.

If we don’t oppose these people and their harmful actions we give them tacit approval just as the so called moderate religious do by not opposing those in their “flocks” who subvert their religions and use it in harmful ways.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

May 2010

Here it is the beginning of May, and the people I talk to and even I am somewhat surprised that the weather has turned cold with rain and snow. I don not know why we were surprised, I am nearly 62 and like all of us who have lived in Utah for a time know, April is NOT summer. Still, the early spring thaw draws us outside, and tempts us to enjoy the weather and for us gardeners, to plant early. I enjoy growing some of the things I eat. There is nothing better than a tomato fresh off the vine from your garden.

I think the practice that is being renewed in this country of having cooperatives is a good idea, as are farmers markets. I think we should all try to eat and buy local when possible. It is good for the local businesses obviously and better for the environment if the items are not shipped from far away.

I must at this point change the subject from the pleasantness of gardening to the horrors of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. As it unfolds, I am getting a little depressed and at the same time angry. It is such a huge disaster, and one that grows even larger each day. We can only hope that they will be successful soon, in getting the flow stopped! As I write this message the best guess is at least several more days if not a couple of weeks and perhaps a couple of months if early efforts are not successful. The potential is almost too horrid the think about. There is the prospect of a continuing flow of oil, eventually getting into the Gulf Stream and being carried around Florida and up the east coast. Plus the historical knowledge that usually only a small percentage of oil from spills ever gets removed from the environment. It is devastating to say the least.

If the reality of the situation is not grim and depressing enough, idiots, (mostly conservative) are making outrageous statements. Rush Limbaugh has said that environmentalists might have blown up the rig, and Texas governor Rick Perry calling it “an act of God.”

That is about it folks, blame it on someone other than the owners of the business enterprise, even blame it on God. How utterly ridiculous, the idea to drill was a human one. The business, the rig, the technology to build and use the rig, the maintenance, and day-to-day functioning of the rig are all human endeavors, pure and simple. What a sick, petty, and malevolent act it would be for a God to do such a thing; and for what reason?

Unfortunately there are a lot more of these statements out there, and in their midst is Sarah Palin pitching for off shore drilling while this is all happening. You would think that these clowns could get with the reality of this situation and at least shut up for a while. But no, it is time for them to make it political and also to start posturing in defense for the poor oil industry.

I also believe that much of the blame for this disaster can be placed on the business creed to always maximize profits. Profits are a good thing, except when they cause humans to make unethical, immoral and greedy decisions in their pursuit. These corporations lobby against safety regulations, are cutting corners here and there, obfuscating, etc. It is hard to know for sure, but it appears to me that in this case safety may be the victim of the pursuit of profits. It is nothing new, as we can note that pollution is another example of profits first.

Well, I better end this rant before I get carried off into pollution issues. I will save that diatribe for another time. Right now, most of us can only watch and hope for the best for the near by residents and businesses that will be affected, not to mention the planet. It is nice outside so I think I will go work in the garden for a while. Hope to see you soon.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

 

President’s Message

March 2010

Our third annual Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah went very well, as those of you who attended already know. Professor Bruce Dain, of the University of Utah History Department gave us an excellent presentation about Charles Darwin. While I have read a fair bit about Darwin and his works, Professor Dain helped further enlighten me with a better perspective of Darwin the man. Learning more about Darwin’s personal characteristics, his upbringing, his education and his intellectual abilities that made him capable of taking on such an endeavor as he did, was delightful. I again want to thank Professor Dain for his presentation and all the board members who helped with the logistics and so that the event actually happened.

Also, on the 29th of February, I attended the presentation orchestrated by the student group SHIFT. At the U of U Fine Arts auditorium they presented Dr. Austin Dacey who gave a presentation about blasphemy and free speech. It was very interesting and well attended by what I would estimate as around a hundred people. Dr. Dacey’s book, The Secular Conscience, is an excellent read and expands on the idea of blasphemy and free speech in greater detail.

After his presentation, Dr Dacey engaged in a discussion with Dr. Mark Hausam of Christ Presbyterian Church about whether God is necessary for morality.

I am quite happy that Humanists of Utah was one of the co-sponsors, with SHIFT, Secular Student Alliance and Christ Presbyterian Church. It is one of Humanists of Utah’s goals to foster learning and help bring younger people in contact with humanism. We will work to make these events continue to happen regularly.

I want to comment on the word, or more specifically, the concept of “Mystery.” I recently read an article brought it back to mind for me. I won’t bore you with the details of the article, but in my experience there are certain people who try to criticize science by asserting that it somehow destroys the mysteries of life, or the universe, or of the creation. Or perhaps they will say that we should “leave some things alone” or “just go with the mystery,” Often it is obvious that statements of that sort are fueled by the criticizing person’s religion.

I see it quite differently. To me the beauty of nature, if you will, isn’t solely in being awed by its mysteries, but rather in being intrigued by them. To want to understand what is going on out there in the world or the cosmos. Why are there earthquakes, why is that volcano where it is, how can life can survive in the deep dark depths of the oceans floor? Imagine exploring the far off stars or perhaps our neighboring planets.

I think Richard Dawkins speaks to this idea of “destroying the mystery” quite well in his book Unweaving the Rainbow. Dawkins tells us that the title to his book is from the poet Keats who lamented that Isaac Newton had “destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to its prismatic colors.” Three sentences from his preface sum it up very well, “The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music or poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that make life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living it is finite.” Rainbow is truly one of my favorite books.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

 

President’s Message

June 2010

Every now and then I feel compelled to thank the Arts, all the members of the symphonies, operas, ballet companies, visual artists, you name it. The Arts obviously make life much more enjoyable. My gratitude to the Arts brings to mind, at times, another aspect of humanity, that of the vast range of human endeavors and accomplishments. Recently Amy and I attended the Utah Opera, and of course it was delightful. Such a human construct is of the highest merit in the realm of collective accomplishments.

Unfortunately, that “range of human endeavor” also reaches a low level in other areas. One of the flaws in human nature is in the area of management “ethics.” Many in management look almost exclusively at the profit line and also how to funnel as much money as possible to their own pocket and the pockets of their friends and cronies.

As far as this “greed” thing goes, I’m sure some of you are saying, “What else is new?” And to say greed has consequences begs the same response.

But the consequences can be so destructive and harmful that one almost stands in awe at the stupidity of some decisions. For example, the decisions of oil companies to save a few million dollars in their multi billion-dollar business, by eliminating redundant safety measures, measures that would have ultimately been beneficial to both the company (and its workers) as well as the environment. Even a small percentage of what they will spend on this recent oil spill/blowout would buy them a lot of safety measures.

I realize that I wrote a nearly identical message about the oil spill last month as it was in its early stage. But as I write this message, we learn that their latest attempt to stop the flow has failed and it may not be until August that it can be stopped, if even then. So I think it is a topic worth revisiting and I intend to continue on with some sort of an environmental rant fairly regularly in my monthly messages.

It is unfortunate that we allow a “corporate imperialism” (as I have seen it termed) to exist in this country; an imperialism that is headed by people who skipped out of any business ethics class and went straight to lying, cheating, and stealing. And then when they get caught they use their ill-gotten booty to hire expensive lawyers to fight for them in the courts for years. It is also unfortunate that we allow industries of various kinds to have what I see as some sort of “freedom to pollute.” Obviously we can’t stop all human generated pollution, but we could do a lot better.

Sometimes I try to make my point in the following way: what would happen if, I, as an individual, decided that I don’t want to pay for sewer and water charges and stop paying the bill? Additionally, I might decide to run my sewer line out to the gutter. Well, it wouldn’t take long for my neighbors and the government to put a stop to my actions, and rightly so. But in essence this is what large corporations do, fueled by the “greed factor.” As with pollution, the short cuts that oil companies like BP take are fueled the same way and end very badly, as we are seeing unfold in the Gulf of Mexico. We simply should not allow the bottom line in business to dictate in matters that effect public health and the health of the environment.

That’s enough of my rambling for now. I need to listen to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” or something and I definitely need to get up into the Uintah Mountains and get lost among the rocks, lakes, and trees.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

 

President’s Message

July 2010

Humans are well known to form groups; it is quite natural and quite obvious. There are tribal groups, political groups, religious groups and on and on. Likewise, we humanists have a plethora of groups, sub-groups, and affiliates of many kinds. For the most part this is a good thing, as it gives us the ability to choose the groups that best fit our individual preferences. This can lead to a certain amount of fragmentation of what we might call, for lack of a better term for all groups, the Freethinkers World.

Part of what got me going on this subject was when I thought about putting together a list of links to free thinker organizations. I soon realized that this project was more than a short term little job.

When one populates such a list, again the word plethora comes to mind. The AHA has many affiliates, as does CFI. There are ethical unions, humanist councils, LGBT councils, humanist foundations, skeptical societies, secular coalitions, secular student groups, and atheist organizations, freedom from religion organizations and many more. I realize that much of the fragmentation is unavoidable and perhaps even necessary.

The American Humanist Association has an affiliate called United Coalition of Reason; with a local group now organizing named Utah Coalition of Reason (U-CoR). This local group, as an umbrella organization, will be useful to all the member groups in efforts to coordinate and promote their various agendas. In this way I feel this group will actually address some of the problems of “fragmentation.” This coalition may also help Humanists of Utah with recruitment, by increasing our visibility. Recruitment is for me and the Board of directors is one of the toughest tasks we have. Humanists tend to be individualistic and not big on “joining” organizations. We don’t like to urge others to join either, perhaps because doing so feels a little like missionary work. Whatever the reasons are recruitment is difficult and can be expensive if you try to get peoples attention through the media.

The board of directors of Humanists of Utah discussed and then voted to pursue joining the Utah coalition of Reason, in hopes that it will enhance our visibility to the public and also foster and facilitate more cooperation among the member groups.

Also of interest, at the June board meeting, a young man named Taylor Worthington attended by my invitation. He is a student at UVU and is interested in starting a humanist group in Utah County. He was there to get informed and tell us about what he wants to accomplish. The board was receptive and is willing to help him in his efforts to start what will probably be some sort of a satellite organization of Humanists of Utah or AHA. We wish him well and will work to help make this happen.

Another item of interest was a letter I had forwarded to me about a presentation given by Hugh Giblin where he raises the proposal to create an American Humanist Party. As you may well know Humanists of Utah has to be careful about getting involved in politics because of our non-profit status. But as individuals we are free to vote for the candidate of our choice regardless of party, so why not the Humanist Party? It would also be a way to fight this fragmentation problem I mentioned earlier. The party would likely have a platform that most of the people in the “freethought community” would agree with. Quite a task creating a new party, but a task that several fellow humanists that I have talked to, agree is a good idea.

That’s about it for now. I hope your summer is going well and I hope to see soon at the July movie night or at our BBQ in August.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

 

President’s Message

January 2010

Happy New Year everyone, I hope you had an enjoyable holiday season. As we start the New Year, there is talk in the media about the new decade and what happened in the last one. One rather humorous complaint is from the math minded people of the world. They point out that 2010 is not the first year of the second decade; it is the tenth year of the first decade. But I guess we have to go with the flow, as the majority of people see this year as the start of a new decade. For me, my first thought is that I would like to see a little more peace in the world. I know, I know, a pretty tall order. But wouldn’t it be nice if humans could spend more of our human and natural resources on making life better for all humans and indeed all creatures here on earth. Humanity has the capacity to do so, but sadly at present not the collective will. I think there is just too much tribalism, religion and politics in the world, not to mention greed. (So what else is new I ask myself.) But that is why it is important for us as humanists to continue to advocate the affirmations of humanism and work to make life enjoyable in the here and now for everyone. The first event of the year for our chapter will be our general meeting on the January 14, at 7:30 PM. This month we will present three members who will speak about their “Journey to Humanism.” Member Ruth Carol, Vice President Robert Mayhew, and I will be the presenters. It has been a few years since we have done this, so I think it is about time. As I have read some of the newsletters of other humanist organizations, I have noticed that they often feature someone expressing what humanism means to them or giving an account of their “Journey” and what led them to humanism. In the past our chapter also had an ongoing “Member Spotlight,” and those interviews are on our web site. I think it is time to start doing this again. It is a good way to get to know members better and a way for some of you to talk about your “Journey to Humanism” without getting up in front of everyone and talking. I am aware that public speaking is on top of the list of fears that people have. In February we will host our third annual “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah”. This year our speaker will be University of Utah history professor Bruce Dain and we will be hosting it at Eliot hall. So mark your calendar and bring a friend to our Darwin Day celebration of science.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

 

President’s Message

February 2010

On February 11th we will be hosting our third annual “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah.” It is the time when our chapter celebrates Science. We do this around the birthday of Charles Darwin for there is no person in the history of science or indeed the history of humankind who is more deserving of a celebration of his or her life and birthday. His contribution to science is one of the greatest humanity has in the numerous contributions by scientists of all stripes. The theory of evolution is certainly at the top of any list of human accomplishments.

For me, calling evolution a theory is just fine, even though many who don’t understand the scientific method will call a theory “just a guess.” I think it is useful to also remember that while Darwin was one of the first to explain the “Theory of Evolution,” it should also be thought of as a discovery. He did not invent it or “think it up,” evolution has always been there just waiting to be understood.

I believe that advocating for and defending Science and the scientific method are extremely important and require our vigilance. This vigilance is necessary because there are groups and individuals who are working against science, reason, and rationality. It would be easy to feel smug about our knowledge about evolution and earth history, but the people who wish to discredit evolution are not idly sitting back watching, they are active and well funded. We have not instituted Darwin Day to argue against anyone’s belief in god. We want our celebration to be about those who have contributed to science and free thought. But it is necessary to recognize the existence of the wide gulf between those of us who understand evolution and those who do not and who work to try to discredit evolutionary science and the other disciplines that are related. They wish to remove evolution from schools if they can or at least wedge creationism into schools in the form of creation science or intelligent design.

At our first two Darwin day events we presented various professors of different scientific disciplines, Biology, Paleontology, and Anthropology. Their presentations were very instructive. This year however, we thought it would be a good idea to focus on Darwin himself. So Professor Bruce Dain of the University of Utah History Department will give us a presentation titled, Darwin’s Personality and His Ideas. I hope that you will support our efforts by attending our celebration. I am sure you will enjoy the evening of enlightenment by Professor Dain and of course our tradition of a cake with Darwin’s likeness, ice cream and other refreshments. Thank you for your continuing support.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

 

President’s Message

December 2010

When I traveled to Los Angeles in October to attend the Free Inquiry Conference, I was scanned, had to take off my shoes and put all metal objects and pocket stuff in a bin. I was happy to comply and never felt degraded or that anything was invasive. In fact, I am quite grateful that the security measures are in place.

Are all the measures implemented by the TSA necessary? Perhaps not; the ban on fingernail clippers is one example of overkill, there is always room for improvement. But I would rather deal with something that seems like a waste of time than have a lax system that allows something to get past and cost lives. Plus you can imagine the cries of incompetency that would ring out should the unthinkable happen due to the TSA opting to ease off due to public criticism.

I hope I’m not offending anyone who is among the critics of the TSA measures, but I am getting sick of whiney Americans. While we are sending our military personnel off to fight and be killed, wounded, and forever changed psychologically, people are crying that some shadowy image of their body is being viewed by some unfortunate employee who has to sit there and look at thousands of images of every body type from the sublime to mine. What a horrible job that must be! I say, “if you don’t like the security measures, don’t fly.”

While I am ranting about whiney Americans, here’s another thing that drives me a little crazy. Americans want good paying jobs, with benefits, and so on and at the same time they want products they purchase to be low priced. To get these low prices they are willing to buy foreign goods produced by slave labor or below poverty level wages, from stores like WalMart, which has no qualms about buying from foreign producers in order to corner as much of the market as possible. Not to mention the fact that WalMart treats their employees so poorly that the biggest class action lawsuit in history is about to go forward against them.

This shopping for low prices has happened to the point that it is now hard to even find certain goods produced in the U.S., even if you are willing to pay more. While corporations are shipping more and more jobs overseas we keep looking for the good deal instead of products “Made in America.” I admit to being part of the problem by owning a Japanese car and being overly price conscious. Labor also bears some responsibility by not being willing to help more to regain some competitiveness in the global market.

I have read that Americans pay only a fraction of their income for food compared to much of the rest of the world, and that we have become accustomed to food being much cheaper than it should be, if livable wages and the true cost of resources were reflected in the price. This rant about food items was brought to mind recently when I was shopping at Harmons. This store has thousands of food products and non-food items, all in one convenient location. I was looking for a special ingredient I use in one of my cookie recipes. Next to me was a women looking at something and in a small talk way we both were lamenting (whining) about our plights. Me about the absence of a product and her saying “I am not buying this at this price.” The item she was complaining about was probably about three dollars and I suspect that if she found it cheaper somewhere else she might have saved 20 or 30 cents.

Well, that’s enough of me whining about whiners, so I will give it up and just say that in a few days I’ll be going to Costco to purchase a bunch of goods for our December social and dinner and I will try not to whine about prices or crowds.

Take care, and I hope to see you on December 9, at 7:30 PM, for the usual good food and conversation.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

 

President’s Message

April 2010

It is quite unfortunate how uncivil today’s public discourse has become; often angry and shrill, nasty and threatening. Frequently poorly informed or misinformed. “Cherry picked” facts to support one’s position, rather than rigorous study. Name calling, insults, lies, and unfounded accusations, you name it. Sometimes it appears that being disagreeable is the trait humans display the most.

It feeds on itself, this disagreeableness, when someone makes you their target, you want to fight back. For instance, recently I read that there are some religious groups who are advocating what I think they call “gloves on” approach to what they want. They go on to characterize humanists with “Marxist, Leninist’s and a satanic worldview.” It makes it hard not to get angry when you see yourself depicted (wrongly) in this fashion. One is also tempted to fire back with similar invectives.

The discussion about civility is ubiquitous and I have brought it up many times myself. But it is a subject that will never go away, and rightly so, as we should always be willing to discuss anything, including the way we discuss things.

Recently however, I find it interesting all the denials of complicity coming from all sides but especially the conservative groups. It is sort of weird that we could take all the people from the Bush administration and sit them down and show them thousands of videos of them lying again and again, and present the documentation and show them the damage they did, and they would, with a straight face look at you and say “it’s all the liberals fault.” But in some ways the Democrats aren’t much better as those who stood by or helped conservatives will cry, “we were fooled” and or “we didn’t really want to help.”

To me the most unfortunate thing about this entire rancorous dialog is that it is a huge waste of human energy. If only we could channel that energy into actually solving problems. I know, I know, dream on. It is so much easier to rant and stomp your feet that to come up with a cogent argument.

Our schedule of events will soon be taking us to the summer break in June and July. While we have no speakers during the break, we do have a couple of movie nights. Those of you who might like to attend are solicited to make suggestions as to what you would like to see.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

 

On Being Reasonable Persons

January 2010

This is an original poem composed by Chapter Member Earl Wunderli on the occasion of out annual Business Meeting and Holiday Social.

We humanists are a dangerous lot, as menacing as can be,
And we’re arrogant, our critics say, for a minority.
Our ranks are few (but growing), our ideas are clearly wrong.
We never thank our Maker or celebrate with song.

We believe the world is warming when everybody knows
We still have spring and fall and winter and the lovely snows.

God made this world for us; all scripture tells us this,
And He’ll determine when it ends, as it says in Genesis.

And how can we be moral without God’s guiding hand?
Our ethics must be built upon soft and shifting sand.

We’re at odds on everything, from gays to God in school.
Can’t we see that each of us is just a secular fool?

We rely too much on science. There’s a lot of stuff
That prayer can do that science can’t if we have faith enough.

God made man and woman and each one has a role
And we must all acknowledge this or we might lose our soul.

We’re not descended from the apes; there’s dignity in man,
And if we can’t see this obvious fact, religious people can.

Our country is a Christian one, which we don’t recognize,
Which shows that we’re close minded and anything but wise.

We really should get back in step, we really should reform,
And leave our thinking minds behind and accept faith as the norm.

Our puny minds can’t give us truth but just approximations.
We can’t rely on evidence or reason or equations.

We need the certainty of God and what He has revealed.
And if He hasn’t told us all, there’s good reason it’s concealed.

It tests our faith, and we should learn it’s what our life’s about.
We’re here to exercise our faith and scuttle any doubt.

It’s true the world has many faiths, but we should choose the one
Among them all that has the truth, which is easier said than done.

And when we find it we should reject the others out of hand,
And convince those of other faiths they’re in some fairyland.

But isn’t this what humanists do? And yet we’re not excused
Like missionaries are, so now I’m totally confused.

I guess it boils down to our epistemology.
Reason’s out and faith is in, and that’s as it should be.

If you’re a man of faith then you’re on the side of God
And you’re accepted though what you think may be quite odd.

And so it is that reason may be just too much to ask,
And humanists who do it face a mighty arduous task.

With this happy thought I’ll wish you all a merry Christmas,
Or Hanukkah, or Kwanza, or Solstice just among us.
–Earl Wunderli

 

 

Now You’re Getting Mad?

May 2010

You didn’t get mad when the Supreme Court stopped a legal recount and selected a President.

You didn’t get mad when Cheney allowed energy company officials to dictate energy policy.

You didn’t get mad when the habeas corpus-killing Patriot Act was passed. You didn’t get mad when we illegally invaded a country that posed no threat to us.

You didn’t get mad when we spent over 600 billion dollars (and counting) on said illegal war, or when the U.S. death count rose over 3,000.

You didn’t get mad when over 10 billion dollars vanished into thin air in Iraq.

You didn’t get mad when you found out we were torturing people.

You didn’t get mad when it came out that the government was illegally wiretapping Americans.

You didn’t get mad when Bush didn’t even try to catch Osama Bin Laden in Tora Bora.

You didn’t get mad when you saw the disgusting conditions at Walter Reed.

You didn’t get mad when you found out thousands of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans were destitute and homeless.

You didn’t get mad when we let a major U.S. city drown.

You didn’t get mad when we gave a 900 billion dollar tax break to the rich.

You didn’t get mad when the man who is now the Minority Leader distributed tobacco lobbyist checks on the floor of the House of Representatives.

You didn’t get mad when a covert CIA operative was illegally outed.

You didn’t get mad when, via reconciliation, a trillion of our tax dollars were redirected to insurance companies for Medicare Advantage, which costs over 20 percent more for basically the same services that Medicare provides.

You didn’t get mad when the deficit hit the trillion dollar mark, and our debt hit the thirteen trillion dollar mark.

You finally got mad when the government decided that every American has the right to see a doctor. Yes, illegal wars, lies, corruption, torture, stealing your tax dollars to make the rich richer, are all okay with you, but helping other Americans, Oh, Hell no … and now you’re mad!

Slightly different versions of this text exist on the internet. This one is from the May issue of PIQUE

 

A Meaningful Life

May 2010

A popular presenter, Associate Professor Jeffrey Nielsen made his third appearance with Humanists of Utah. Starting out with bit of autobiographical information, Nielsen spoke about his last semester at Weber College just before heading to Boston for law school. Needing to complete some G.E. requirements, he enrolled in an introductory class in philosophy taught by a Professor Owens, “an interesting character with a white Afro.” A book he mentioned in class was Leo Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilych.

Unlike his students nowadays where Nielsen said he could hardly get them to do assigned reading, he’d rush out to get books his professors mentioned, and Tolstoy’s novel was no exception. “It was a transformative moment for me,” said Nielsen after he finished this novel. The main character was a lawyer, and he was going to be a lawyer. In his entire life, Tolstoy’s lawyer was inauthentic; never once did he make a decision or choice based on his own values. Instead, he conformed to what Nietzsche referred to as “the herd mentality or the crowd mentality.”

The thesis of the novel caused Nielsen to wonder how it would be to live one’s entire life but to never be truly alive. “How would it be to make it through life with fake ID’s and never once be your own true self?” Shocked, this realization caused him to think. Putting Tolstoy’s novel together with Socrates’ belief that the unexamined life is not worth living, Nielsen said he wondered why the unexamined life wasn’t worth living.

According to Socrates, an unexamined life leads to mindless dogmatism and annihilation. Socratic thought is to believe in commitment to intellectual honesty and moral conscience. And for Socrates, care of the self was our highest obligation and our highest happiness. But Nielsen said that you cannot care for the self without seeking understanding. And you cannot care for the self when you’re harming others. Thus the unexamined life can lead to harming others and unjust practices.

As a result of this revelatory moment, Nielsen decided against law school, and instead pursued a PhD program in Philosophy. “My wife is still not too happy about that,” Nielsen joked. In his studies in philosophy, Nielsen wondered about some basic questions, such as what does it mean to exist, and what does it mean to be real. And what is reality, what is knowledge, what is truth, how should he live, and what should he do.

Such questions have shaped Nielsen to how he is as a philosopher. And to him, his job as a philosopher is to question institutions for the sake of community, to question power for the sake of justice, and to question lifestyles for the sake of happiness and meaning, all the while guided by the Socratic thought to intellectual honesty and moral conscience. Intellectual honesty is the wisdom to know what you don’t know and to have openness, humility, and tolerance of others’ ideas and values.

Nielsen interjected that he finished his degree, came back to Utah and taught at BYU until 2004, when the LDS church encouraged members to not support same-sex marriage. Sitting in sacrament meeting as this letter from the church presidency was read, Nielsen said it struck him that that wasn’t quite right. To make a long story short, Nielsen said he wrote an opinion piece that the Salt Lake Tribune published, challenging the church’s stand on same-sex marriage. Consequently, he was fired from BYU, and since has been at UVU and Westminster College.

And being here with Humanists of Utah, he said, is just a continuation of his job as a philosopher, a Socratic project of intellectual honesty and moral conscience, searching for the truth, and in the process, making sure he doesn’t harm others.

With that bit of autobiography, Nielsen began to address the cynicism, apathy, and anger being played out in politics today. With Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett in our local political scene and the national tea party movement, Nielsen is very troubled.

According to Nielsen, the Utah Institute for Public Deliberation has three points that they address:

  • What it means to be a human being or a symbolic animal
  • What it means to be a social animal
  • What it means to be a relational or organizational animal

The symbolic animal refers to the physical needs and existential needs we have–or “Will to Meaning.”

  • The will to meaning means we must gain a psychological confidence of our own self-worth
  • The will to meaning means we have to feel like we’re making a creative contribution to life
  • The will to meaning means to have a genuine connection to community

To experience a meaningful life Neilsen maintains that, we need these three conditions. When a person’s will to meaning is frustrated or when one or all of the above are not met, the defense mechanism of cynicism and apathy comes into play to protect ourselves from self-destruction.

When cynicism and apathy are placed into a social context where on one hand, you have opulence and consumption, and on the other hand, you have fear, anxiety, insecurity, and growing inequality, then the frustrated will to meaning explodes into anger, public unrest, and public instability.

Displaying a book he brought along to our meeting, At the Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson, a book about epidemiology, Nielsen cited an interesting piece of information. Thirty years of research has shown that people are happiest and healthiest when they experience the least amount of social inequality. What jumped out for Nielsen was how the book showed that since 1980, we’ve had growing inequality in America of our economic state, which is accompanied with a host of ills.

From that research, Nielsen said he is concerned about the clear correlation between social inequality and growing distrust. In other words, the more inequality in a society, the more distrust there is. Therefore, in America for the last 30 years with the growing inequality, there’s been a growing distrust; we just don’t trust one another.

Thus, cynicism and apathy is the result of frustration to our will to meaning. Nielsen said, “During hard social economic times, when that frustration gets manipulated by certain people, who shall remain unnamed, when that gets manipulated by people in the media who have self-interested motives, that can explode into anger and civil unrest.”

Social animals naturally live in groups. And groups need to be organized. Groups need to be ordered, and power has to be applied to order the groups to promote cooperation and to resolve conflicts. Nielsen said he calls it political power whenever power is used to order relationships in the community, in terms of cooperation and conflict.

According to Nielsen, there are three ways that power can be ordered. These ways pertain whether in a family, religious institution, non-profit agency, work or government institution: coercively, manipulatively, or persuasively.

  • Coercively means to threaten or force the person to do something against his will.
  • Deceptively or manipulatively means acting under false pretenses. At this point, Nielsen tells a Santa Claus story from his own family. When his daughter was ten, she asked him if Santa Claus was for real. He knew if he “messed up,” he’d be in trouble with his wife. After conferring with her, his answer to his daughter was, “No, sweetheart. There is no Santa Claus. It’s your parents who bring you the presents.” She started to cry, running to her room. After about 20 minutes, she came out with a picture she’d drawn. Holding up her picture for us, it is of his daughter with tears rolling down her face. At the top, she’d written: “I’ve been lied to all my life.” The trouble with manipulation, concluded Nielsen, is that when the truth comes out, all credibility is lost.
  • Persuasion uses logic and dialogue to influence people to organize cooperation and resolve conflicts. As a teacher of ethics, Nielsen has to ask himself what the ethical way to exercise power is. With few exceptions, the only moral way to exercise political power is with persuasion through reason and dialogue. To coerce or manipulate is unethical. He’s confident that all of the ethical theories and models that he’s aware of embodies persuasion.

Nielsen said that he sees only two ways to relate to another person, whether in an organizational context, in life, to his wife or to us. And that is a relationship of equality or of inequality. In a relationship of inequality, there tends to be coercion and manipulation whereas in a relationship of equality, there tends to be the invitation to be persuasive. Nielsen observed that relationships of inequality are rank-based whereas in relationships of equality, they are peer-based.

In which of these two contexts is a person more likely able to satisfy his basic will to meaning, that is: self-worth, creative contribution, and connection to community? Peer-based, of course, while relationships of inequality frustrate our basic will to meaning. But why is it that every relationship we have in life, in fact, every aspect in life is always organized in a line of inequality?

This is where the myth of leadership comes into play; the line of inequality is a set of assumptions that justifies the significance we place on our concept of leadership and the privileges we bestow upon our leaders, frequently to the detriment of others in our organizations–whether they be business, religious, family, or government. The myth of leadership creates the powerful belief that only a relatively few gifted individuals can be made leaders and thus, trusted to make the decisions and do the commanding and controlling of everyone else. It makes false assumptions about leaders and followers.

  • The leader speaks and the followers listen
  • The leader controls information and the followers can only guess
  • The leader knows and the followers only have opinions
  • The leader decides and the followers just do what they’re told
  • The leader directs resources and the followers must make do with less and less
  • The leader commands and the followers obey
  • The leader is superior and the followers are inferior

The implications of the peer principle require that the following values be recognized, respected, and implemented:

  • Openness with information-as opposed to the secrecy allowed and considered legitimate with leaders and leadership.
  • Transparency in the decision-making process, which requires greater participation of all affected parties-as opposed to the top-down and behind closed door decision-making allowed and considered legitimate with leaders and leadership.
  • Cooperation and sharing of management roles and responsibilities, which requires the exercise of power-in-common-as opposed to the command and control nature of the exercise of power-over allowed and considered legitimate with leaders and leadership.
  • Commitment to peer deliberation as the legitimate exercise of authority-as opposed to the rank-based exercise of coercive, manipulative, or even persuasive authority allowed and considered legitimate with leaders and leadership.

For more detailed information, check out Nielsen’s fascinating book, The Myth of Leadership: creating leaderless organizations.

–Sarah Smith

 

In Memoriam

Leon Ward

August 22, 1925 ~ December 16, 2009

January 2010

Avowed humanist, social activist, and veteran, Owen Leon Ward died December 16, 2009 at Woodland Park Care Center in Salt Lake City. He was born, August 22, 1925 in the Salt Lake Valley to Rex and Mamie Myers Ward, joining older brother Max.

Leon saw Army action and became POW in World War II. He reenlisted and served in Korea. He earned a BA in History from the University of Utah. He taught at West High School where he was an alumnus. With his father and brother Maurice, he managed Ward’s Market, located on 3rd East and 21st South for 37 years. On September 19, 1958 he married Virginia Bell.

He was a strong advocate for peace, civil rights, and social justice. He served as founding Board Member of Friendship Manor, participated in NAACP, JACL, U.N. Association of Utah, World Federalist Movement, and Humanists of Utah. He arranged speaking engagements for Hiroshima survivors.

In 1963, accompanied with 14 civil rights advocates and with his wife Virginia, he traveled to Washington, DC and stood within 50 feet of Martin Luther King during the “I Have a Dream” speech.

He volunteered for 10 years at the County Aging Services and Senior Companions.

He was a loving foster grandparent to Angelina and Fred Callahan, Jr., Nicholas Johnson (deceased), and Joshua Adams; step-father to Timothy Champney and Joan Pennette (Penny) and Philip Letson; great-grandparent to Sean and Brooke Johnson. He is survived by spouse Virginia, step-children, and cousin Leslie Perry of Woodlawn, Utah. Memorial service scheduled at the First Unitarian Church, January 10, 2010 at 3:00p.m., 569 South 1300 East, Salt Lake City, Utah.

 

Thomas Jefferson on Religion

2010 Founders’ Day Lecture

November 2010

This is a transcript of our annual Founders’ Day Lecture presented by Peter McNamara of Utah State University

Cake showing separation between State and Church
But unfortunately no Wall — these are perilous times
(click picture to display larger image)Thomas Jefferson is famous for his idea that there should be a “wall of separation” between church and state. But what were his personal views on religion? Although he never spoke in public of his religious views, they were a burning political issue in the elections of 1796 and 1800 and into Jefferson’s Presidency. This was particularly true in the bitter election campaign of 1800 when his Federalist opponents had little to run aside from attacking Jefferson’s character. There were two or three points of attack. Jefferson had expressed some views with religious implications in his one and only book, the Notes on Virginia, published in the mid1780s. He had questioned in a scientific manner the idea that there was once a universal deluge that covered the earth. He also raised the possibility that Africans were a separate species of man from Europeans-the so-called “polygenesis” thesis. Most famously, he advocated religious freedom on the grounds that:

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

Jefferson’s apparent questioning of the story of Adam and Eve, the flood in the time of Noah, and his extension of toleration to atheists were all the subject of extensive commentary by both Federalist politicians and orthodox clergyman, especially in New England.

Perhaps more important than his Notes on Virginia was Jefferson’s early and continued support of the French Revolution which many Americans came to see as an attack on religion, in general, and Christianity, in particular. Closely related to Jefferson’s support for the French Revolution was his association with Thomas Paine–author of the Rights of Man and of The Age of Reason. It is common to decry the partisanship and vitriol of American politics today but things today are positively polite by the standards of Jefferson’s day. Federalists charged that if Jefferson were elected Jacobin tyranny would ensue, blood would flow, religion and morals would be destroyed, Bibles would be burned, wives and daughters would become prostitutes.

Throughout this onslaught Jefferson remained silent. His supporters did respond but Jefferson did not. Why did he remain silent? Why did he not address the issue head-on? There are, I would suggest, two answers. The first is that Jefferson’s views on religion were unorthodox and not easily explained. He was, as he always maintained privately, no “infidel” or “atheist” but, as we will see, his views were highly unorthodox. There was a second, more principled, reason for Jefferson’s refusal to comment. He thought that to respond would be to cede an essential right–that of freedom of conscience. As he wrote to Benjamin Rush in 1803,

I am averse to the communication of my religious tenets to the public; because it would countenance the presumption of those who have endeavored to draw them before that tribunal, and to seduce public opinion to erect itself into that inquisition over the rights of conscience, which the laws have so justly proscribed. It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances become his own. It behooves him, too, in his own case, to give no example of concession, betraying the common right of independent opinion, by answering questions of faith which the laws have left between God and himself.

Thus, to respond to such charges would be to make public opinion a religious inquisitor, something which the public had no right to whatsoever. In Jefferson’s version of social contract theory, the right to freedom of conscience is a natural right that one retains completely in civil society. No part of it is given to government or society.

So, what were Jefferson’s religious views? This is a question not so easily answered. His views were complex, they seem to have evolved over time, and he seems to have left some parts of them open to even further evolution. Jefferson did express his private views in letters to certain close friends. These letters seem to have been spurred by the political attacks Jefferson was subject to, but they also seem to have been part of a genuine intellectual inquiry. Jefferson was particularly stimulated by scientist philosopher Joseph Priestley’s comparison of the moral teachings of ancient philosophy with the moral teachings of the revealed religions. The first letter I would like to discuss is Jefferson’s letter to his nephew Peter Carr from 1787. After the death of Carr’s father, Jefferson took charge of young Carr’s education. The letter to Carr is interesting and important because it makes clear the general approach Jefferson took to religion. (Carr would have been about 17 at the time.) Jefferson tells Carr “to fix reason firmly in her seat and call to her tribunal every fact and every opinion.” He continues: “Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” Jefferson tells Carr that he must interrogate the Bible according to the standards of reason. He concludes with some words of comfort. “Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences.” Jefferson is adamant on only one point.

…you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is your only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but for the uprightness of the decision.

Jefferson was surely relating to this favored nephew the approach he himself had taken and indeed was taking to religion.

Where did Jefferson’s reason lead him? It led him to embrace two doctrines, summed up in two affirmations: the first, “I am a Christian” and, the second, “I … am an Epicurean.” Jefferson said the first, “I am a Christian,” to Benjamin Rush a doctor, an educator, a political ally, and a friend. Rush and Jefferson, however, did not see eye to eye on the matter of religion. Rush was a believer in revealed religion and also a believer in the idea that Christianity, understood as a revealed doctrine, was a crucial support of republican government. He tried to get Jefferson to demonstrate to the public more clearly his support for Christianity. In the end, Jefferson left Rush disappointed but the request elicited a memorable letter from Jefferson explaining his idea of Christianity.

Jefferson described Jesus a moral teacher who took the religion of the Jews and perfected it. The great insight of the Jews, according to Jefferson, was their monotheism. However, the moral ideas of the Jews were, again according to Jefferson, “often irreconcilable with the sound dictates of reason and morality.” It was these that Jesus reformed.

His moral doctrines, relating to kindred and friends, were more pure and perfect than those of the most correct of the philosophers, and greatly more so than the Jews; and they went far beyond both in inculcating universal philanthropy, not only to kindred and friends, to neighbors and countrymen, but to all mankind, gathering all into one family, under the bonds of love, charity, peace, common wants and aids. A development of this head will evince the superiority of the system of Jesus above all others.

Unfortunately Jesus (like Socrates) wrote nothing of his own and as a result to understand his ideas we have read his chroniclers who were according to Jefferson “unlettered and ignorant men.” To these distortions of Jesus’s teachings introduced by the apostles were added the distortions introduced by the Church fathers. What were these distortions? Jefferson listed several in another letter on the same subject.

The Immaculate conception of Jesus, His deification, the creation of the world by him, His miraculous powers, His resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity, original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of hierarchy etc.

Jefferson became convinced that there was an authentic Jesus, a man, a moral teacher, whose doctrines could be extracted from the New Testament. Late in his life he devoted a great deal of time to assembling what he thought was true life and teachings of Jesus. His efforts became what is now usually referred to as the “Jefferson Bible.” Jefferson seems to have become genuinely convinced that there was an authentic and vitally important moral teaching conveyed by Jesus about our duties to others. I say genuinely because it does not seem to me that Jefferson was doing this for tactical political purposes–he did not publish his thoughts in his lifetime–or even for strategic political purposes, say making republicanism safe for the religiously heterodox like himself in the future. It seems to me more like a serious attempt to get the bottom of the subject and especially to explain the power of Christianity in the world.

The second statement by Jefferson–“I … am an Epicurean”–was made to William Short whom Jefferson described as an “adoptive son.” Short was Jefferson’s secretary while he was Ambassador to France. Short was an Epicurean. This was the ancient school of philosophy that was reputed and reviled for its atheism and for its notion that pleasure (in a refined and moderate form) is the highest good for human beings and the key to a happy life. How did Jefferson reconcile his Christianity, albeit highly unorthodox Christianity, with his Epicureanism? Jesus he believed taught us about our duties to others. Epicurus taught us our duties to ourselves and, especially, about how to find contentment in this life. Like Jesus Jefferson believed that Epicurus’s teaching had been distorted. In this case, it was by his enemies, the Stoics and the Platonists, that the master’s doctrines were distorted. The authentic Epicurus was, Jefferson believed, not an enemy of virtue. The real Epicurus believed that happiness consisted in “tranquility of mind.” Such a state is best achieved through living a virtuous life and pursuing pleasure in a moderate way so that neither the body nor the mind is disturbed by useless fears and desires.

Was Jefferson an atheist as Epicurus was reputed to be and certainly was? The answer seems to be, “No.” Jefferson saw too much order and harmony in the universe. As he wrote to John Adams:

I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the universe, in its parts, general or particular, it is impossible to for the human mind not to perceive ad feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of its composition…it is impossible for the human mind to believe, that there is in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a Fabricator of all things from matter and motion, their Preserver and regulator.

Jefferson left some doubt about whether this first cause was a material cause and about whether the world was coeternal with its first cause or God. Yet there seems no doubt that at the end of his life just as when he wrote the Declaration of Independence that he believed that laws of nature were, in some sense, legislated by Nature’s God.

Among Jefferson’s letters there are some beautiful statements of the order and harmony he saw in the universe. Writing to Abigail Adams in 1817, Jefferson reflected upon the process of growing old.

Our next meeting must be in the country to which they (referring to departed friends) have flown–a country for us not now very distant. For this journey we shall need neither gold nor silver in our purse, nor scrip, nor coats, nor staves. Nor is the provision for it more easy than the preparation has been kind. Nothing proves more than this that the being who presides over the world is essentially benevolent. Stealing from us one by one the faculties of enjoyment, searing our sensibilities, leading us, like the horse in the mill round and round the same beaten circle… Until satiated and fatigued with this leaden iteration we ask our congé (leave).

Thus, Nature’s God is benevolent and orderly in that it not only makes possible happiness in this life, but that it makes easy and appropriate our departure from this world.

These I believe were the results of Jefferson’s rational inquiry into the subject of religion. The answers he found are less important than the model he provides for our own inquiries when we make reason our only oracle.

–Peter McNamara
Utah State University

 

James Madison

March 16, 1751~June 28, 1836

March 2010

“And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

In New York City he has given his name to a high school and any number of retail stores, to an Avenue, a Park and even a succession of Square Gardens.

Far more important, Founding Father James Madison was the fourth President of the United States (1809-1817), the principal author of the Constitution and its fiercest defender as the author of more than a third of the Federalist Papers. Perhaps most important of all to rationalists, humanists and democrats (small d), he was the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, on which the first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, were based, and the co-author, with Jefferson, of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, the basis for the Constitution’s First Amendment.

“Not accidentally,” Christopher Hitchens wrote last December in “In Defense of Foxhole Atheists,” in Vanity Fair, “the first clause of our Bill of Rights, this amendment unambiguously forbids any ‘establishment of religion’ in or by these United States. In his ‘Detached Memoranda,’ not published until after his death, Madison even wrote that the appointment of chaplains in the armed forces, and indeed in Congress, was ‘inconsistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principles of religious freedom.'”

In fact, President Madison did veto legislation authorizing congressional chaplains, but Congress overrode him. Madison was no atheist, but became more of a Deist as he matured, and a Unitarian through his friendship with John and Abigail Adams. While today’s revisionists loudly proclaim Madison’s Christian faith and practice in his youth, they ignore the fact that Madison came home to Virginia from the College of New Jersey as an orthodox Christian but almost immediately, David Holmes says in The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, “witnessed the persecution and jailing of religious dissenters [Baptists] by the established [Anglican] church-his church.”

At the age of twenty-two, Madison became a convert to religious freedom, believing and arguing that only liberty of conscience could guarantee civil and political liberty. And in 1785 he wrote the “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments,” which advanced fifteen arguments why government should not support religion. Tell us, Mr. President, what you really think of established religion:

“Experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishmetnts, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contray operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”
James Madison, addressing the Virginia General Assembly, June 20, 1785

–John Rafferty
PIQUE, March 2010
Secular Humanist Society of New York

 

Insurmountable Risks

~Book Review~

February 2010

With the current discussions of a possible nuclear power plant coming to Utah: what are the benefits and risks? This is especially important regarding global climate change and energy policy. This book addresses several prevalent policies that have arisen since the birth of the nuclear industry and its various facets.Insurmountable Risks by Brice Smith starts out by discussing various types of nuclear power plants, and the advantages and disadvantages of each including costs and benefits. Evolvement of regulatory policies that govern the nuclear industry from the Atomic Energy Commission to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are discussed, including international policies from the United Nations Commission on Nuclear Proliferation.

Comparison is also made between nuclear and other forms of power generation with regard to economy, safety, sustainability, including consideration of whether nuclear power is really a “green” technology when all aspects of the energy generation are taken into consideration. There is also a discussion of how energy is treated as a commodity on the various national and international stock exchange markets. There is also an analysis done by various economists comparing the different ways of generating electrical power, with special attention to factoring in hidden costs, such as disposal of uranium mining mill tailings, use of large volumes of water, etc. to that of other energy industries hidden costs.

Discussion of radioactive waste management from the different forms of nuclear power generation is also presented, such as different reprocessing methods from various countries (and where this stands as of today), as well as the as yet unsolved disposal problems related to high level waste. Another consideration dealt with in this book is the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation by rogue nations, since the accumulation of weapons grade uranium and plutonium is easily accomplished once a country has the technology to produce reactor grade material.

The culture of safety is analyzed from miners of raw materials, to that of the refining, to that of processing in the nuclear power plant, to the waste material. This includes a discussion of depleted uranium (which is produced in large quantities in the refining of uranium ore), to mixing of radioactive isotopes, to long-term waste management, and to that of other energy technologies safety issues.

While this book is not a light read, there are over 1000 footnotes that are as interesting as the text itself. There are about 50 pages devoted just to references, and a list of acronyms is provided to help the reader navigate through the book. It is a very informative source on this crucial current issue. It may be hard to find, but a copy can be obtained from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (www.ieer.org or www.rdrbooks.com ), and King’s English Bookstore.

–Cindy and Art King

 

 

 

If Only There Were Such a Place

May 2010

John Chesley submitted this quote from Lost Horizon a novel by James Hilton 1933. If only there were such a place.

High Lama: We have reason. It is the entire meaning and purpose of Shangri-La. It came to me in a vision long, long ago. I saw all the nations strengthening, not in wisdom, but in the vulgar passions and the will to destroy. I saw their machine power multiplying until a single weaponed man might match a whole army. I foresaw a time when man exalting in the technique of murder, would rage so hotly over the world, that every book, every treasure would be doomed to destruction. This vision was so vivid and so moving that I determined to gather together all things of beauty and culture that I could and preserve them here against the doom toward which the world is rushing. Look at the world today. Is there anything more pitiful? What madness there is! What blindness! What unintelligent leadership! A scurrying mass of bewildered humanity crashing headlong against each other, compelled by an orgy of greed and brutality. The time must come, my friend, when this orgy will spend itself, when brutality and the lust for power must perish by its own sword. Against that time is why I avoided death and am here and why you were brought here. For when that day comes, the world must begin to look for a new life. And it is our hope that they may find it here. For here, we shall be with their books and their music and a way of life based on one simple rule: Be kind. When that day comes, it is our hope that the brotherly love of Shangri-La will spread throughout the world. Yes, my son, when the strong have devoured each other, the Christian ethic may at last be fulfilled, and the meek shall inherit the Earth.

–John Chesley

 

Humanist Women

October 2010

INTRODUCTION

One of the major challenges we humanists face is to clarify our basic beliefs, explain our goals in every day language that people can understand and with knowledge, either accept or reject. One way I believe we can do that is to explain “our hopes for humanity.” Since humanism is basically an alternative to religion the challenge is tough. Most religious “hopes for humanity” demand subservience to an outside authority with the reward for various degrees of personal sacrifice promised in a “life after death.”

Humanism teaches the ultimate authority is science, the science of consequences, for every action there is a reaction. We believe the rewards for understanding this knowledge will be realized only in this life. We welcome questions, accept uncertainty, and recognize mistakes as part of the natural process of experimentation. We believe the reward for righteous living will be personal fulfillment and social justice, in this life, on this earth, here and now.

The faith of a humanist is the faith that we have the ability and the responsibility, to build a healthier world for the sake of ourselves, our loved ones, and for all humanity.

Humanism teaches we can lead good, productive and moral lives without supernaturalism and without the dictates of an ethereal authoritarian.

Our historical authorities have been such humans as Epicurus, Spinoza, Thomas Jefferson, Tom Paine, Freud, Marx, Nietzsche, and Charles Darwin. They were all males BUT there have been many females who have been great teachers and supporters of Humanism and those are the people I want to talk about tonight.

I was abruptly reminded of how males have subjugated women during the final minutes of my LDS excommunication trial. The presiding male judge at the trial said to me: “Do you want your wife and children excommunicated with you?” I was shocked by the question, after a short silence while I gathered my composure, I replied: “No, because I cannot make that decision, nor can I speak, for my wife nor for my children.”

It was at that moment I began to realize how women and children have been treated as second class citizens. How men have arbitrarily acted as the “supervisory authority” both within the family and in the greater world community.

The Feminist movement of the past forty years has finally turned the spot light on the contributions women have made to our current era of the Enlightenment. So tonight I want to emphasize the contributions many of them have made to our society in general and the humanist movement in particular.

BEVERLEY EARLS

I will begin my presentation with a tribute to a contemporary Humanist Feminist, Beverley Earls. Beverley Earles has a Ph.D. in religious studies from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. She served several years on the AHA Board. She came to Salt Lake City several years ago to speak at the memorial service of our founder, Ed Wilson. She is currently active in a number of humanist groups worldwide. In the July 1992 she wrote: “One day I would like to write a book about the contributions humanist women have made not only to humanism but to t to modern civilization.” When I once mentioned this to a male humanist friend, he said, “Well, it would be a very short book.” Needless to say, I have since dropped this individual to acquaintance level!

At conferences of humanist organizations, one notices that the top table often bears a remarkable resemblance to the Politburo, the governing body of the former Communist party of the Soviet Union, all male and virtually all within a certain age group.

I will argue that this patriarchal system of values must be questioned and that, when it is questioned, the significant contributions of humanist women become visible.

DORA RUSSELL (1894-1986)

As an author, a feminist and progressive campaigner, and the second wife of the eminent philosopher Bertrand Russell. Dora Russell worked tirelessly for the humanist cause for over 70 years. The BBC did a television documentary on her as one of the six great women of our century. Yet she cannot be found in humanist anthologies. Dora Russell’s case is one of those that tell me in no uncertain terms that there has been something terribly wrong in the way humanists have been recording their history and building their identity. Humanists need to become more astute in identifying dualistic human values in order to recognize the women of our movement and their contributions. We must do something about the fact that humanists have not had a strong conception of women as authorities and that outstanding humanist women have not always placed a high priority on personal recognition. Dora Russell once said, “Something that women have to say is being left out of everything in the world,” and there can be no humanist world without it.

I have selected fourteen humanist women to illustrate tonight the contribution they have made to furthering the understanding and acceptance of humanism.

ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR

One of the leading humanist contemporary women is Annie Laurie Gaylor, cofounder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and co-chair for 15 years of the American Humanist Association’s Feminist Caucus. She has a degree in journalism and has authored several books including the first book exposing sexual abuse of children by religious leaders. She is married to Dan Barker, a retired clergyman and active leader in the humanist movement.

One of her best selling books is Women without Superstition, an anthology of more than one hundred women who have been leaders in the anti-religion movements of the last 200 years. In the introduction to this outstanding publication Ms. Gaylor writes:

“Many women freethinkers have dared all things for the truth.” Everyone featured in this collection has a life story worth remembering, as well as thoughts worth reading. Largely untold have been not only their stories but the history of women fighting to be free of religious strictness.

In 1977 she led a protest against prayers being uttered at University of Wisconsin graduation ceremonies. Her objections eventually led to halting the practice.

She organized a public protest against a judge who commented during the trial of three male college students charged with raping a female student, “rape is a normal reaction” to the way women dress… Her protest led to the recall of the judge.

Humanism, Agnosticism, Anti-authoritarianism, are grateful to Annie Laurie Gaylor for her unceasing devotion to researching and recording the thoughts and convictions of the brave women who have challenged the efforts of all religions to dominate the social, ethical, and political atmosphere of society.

MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT (1759-1797)

The first influential women to talk about and write about the need for gender equality and recognizing “reason” and “rationality” as the highest human virtue was Mary Wollstonecraft. She was a freethinking deist who was born and died during the last half of the 1700’s! During her short life of only 38-years she wrote two major books that have influenced the struggle for gender equality for more than 200 years.

Her first book was A Vindication of the Rights of Men published in 1790 and the second book as A Vindication of the Rights of Women published in 1792. She was a child of the Enlightenment with an unceasing faith in reason. She openly declared she was an agnostic.

She expressed strong opinions against conventional religion, the ministry, astrology, the monarchy, the customs of the wealthy and slavery. She championed women’s rights, children’s rights and animal rights. She counseled the benefits of breast-feeding, early education, dress reform, rational parenting, and called for a national system of free, coeducational primary day schools. She urged and spoke frequently on her deeply held views on the need to respect children and their views.

This quote from her book The Rights of Women summarizes her basic belief, “Women’s first duty is to themselves as rational creatures…in fact, it is a farce to call any being virtuous whose virtues do not result from the exercise of its own reason”

Mary Wollstonecraft was truly a feminist pioneer in the historical effort to establish humanism as an admirable philosophy.

FRANCES WRIGHT (1795-1852)

Another early women supporter of humanism was Frances Wright. She was just two years old when Mary Wollstonecraft died. She was the first women to speak out in the United States publically advocating women’s equality, to question religion and to denounce the influence and power of the clergy. She pioneered antislavery, was a social reformer and early advocate of free public schools and was editor of the first humanist publication, The Free Inquirer.

She sat at the feet of free thought philosopher Jeremy Bentham and won the praise of Thomas Jefferson. But the clergy of her day said she was, “The Red Hot Harlot of Infidelity, a bold blasphemer, and a voluptuous preacher of licentiousness.”

She said of herself, “I am neither Jew nor Gentile, Mahomedan nor Theist: I am but a member of the human family.”

In a lecture on “Morals” she criticized religion severely declaring: “…so far from entrenching human conduct within the gentle barriers of peace and love, religion has ever been, and now is, the deepest source of contentions, wars, persecutions, angry words, angry feelings, backbiting, slanders, suspicions, false judgments, evil interpretations, unwise, unjust, injurious, inconsistent actions…we have seen that no religion stands on the basis of things known, nor bounds it horizon within the field of human observation; and therefore, as it can never present us with indisputable facts, so must it ever be at once a source of error and contention.”

And on the subject of knowledge Francis Wright told an audience, “I am not going to question your opinions, I am not going to meddle with your belief. I am not going to dictate to you mine. All that I says is, examine, inquire. Look at the nature of things. Search out the grounds of your opinions, the for and the against. Know why you believe, understand what you believe, and posses a reason for the faith that is in you.”

MARGRET KNIGHT (1903-1983)

Born in Hertfordshire, England, Margaret Knight attended Cambridge, receiving her Bachelor’s degree in 1926 and her Master’s in 1948. She authored three books on humanism: Morals Without Religion, The Honest Man, and A Humanist Anthology, a lengthy collection that demonstrates humanism is a family of ideas older than Christianity. In chronological order she lists expansive quotations of 100 leaders from sixth century BC thinkers to 20th century writers.

Margaret became a celebrity across Great Britain when she achieved the freethought coupe of giving a series of freethought lectures on the BBC radio. She gave her first BBC talk on January 5, 1955 and the fireworks began. The Daily Express wrote an accurate account of her lecture, headlined: “Woman Psychologist Makes Remarkable Radio Attack on Religion for Children.” A Daily Telegraph columnist demanded that the BBC forbid a second broadcast. The Sunday Graphic ran a snapshot of Margaret next to a headline with two-inch letters, “The Unholy Mrs. Knight.” It began, “Don’t let this woman fool you. She looks just like the typical housewife; cool, comfortable, harmless. But Mrs. Margaret Knight is a menace. A dangerous woman. Make no mistake about that.”

After her second broadcast, the uproar continued, she issued solid, humanistic advice to parents, such as “to provide a firm, secure background of affection so that it never occurs to the child to doubt that he is loved and wanted.” Despite hyperbole and condemning headlines, the accurate news reports conveyed her message to an even larger audience. In 1973 she wrote: “The fashionable view at the present time is that the important thing about Christianity is not its cosmology but its ethic. I was inclined to share this view, but it dawned upon me later that my admiration for Christian ethics was based mainly on inadequate knowledge of the Gospels. Wider reading has convinced me that there is no ground for the common claim that Christianity is the source of all that is best in our culture. The true roots of our civilization lie in classical Greece and Rome; and I believe, it was one of the major disasters of history when Europe turned aside from its true heritage to embrace an ascetic, other-worldly religion which for centuries has served to stifle the free intelligence and to limit disastrously the range of human sympathies.” (Preface Honest to Man, 1974)

She wrote, “morality needs no supernatural sanction, and that the philosophical arguments which claim to show the it does, are fallacious; that the mainsprings of moral action are what Darwin call the social instincts–tendencies towards altruism and cooperation that are as much part of our innate biological equipment as are our tendencies towards aggression and cruelty; the attempt to preserve moral standards by indoctrinating children with Christianity leads to a pervasive intellectual dishonesty and is doomed to failure.”

VASHTI McCOLLUM (1912-2006)

Credit for stopping the indoctrination of religions in our public schools goes to one of our dynamic humanist women, Vashti McCollum. She was born in Lyons, N.Y., on November 6, 1912, and died just four years ago in August 2006 at the age of 93. In her obituary the New York Times wrote:

It was her lawsuit to stop religious instruction on school property that led to a landmark ruling by the United States Supreme Court in 1948 to protect the separation of church and state in education, Mrs. McCollum, who called herself an atheist in Illinois court proceedings but later preferred the word “humanist,” said her son was ostracized and embarrassed by his schoolmates because she refused to let him attend the religion classes at his public school. The classes for Protestants were on school premises; Jews and Roman Catholics went to religious buildings elsewhere. She also contended that religious classes were a misuse and waste of taxpayers’ money, discriminated against minority faiths and were an unconstitutional merger of church and state. After losing in two Illinois courts, Mrs. McCollum won an 8-to-1 decision by the Supreme Court. Justice Hugo L. Black, who wrote the majority opinion, said the practice in Champaign was “beyond all question” using tax-established and tax-supported schools “to aid religious groups to spread their faith,” and, he added, “It falls squarely under the ban of the First Amendment. The First Amendment rests upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achieve their lofty aims if each is left free from the other in its respective sphere,” Justice Black wrote.

Time magazine observed that the trial shared “features that made the Scopes ‘monkey trial’ a sideshow”. Ms. McCollum wrote a book on the case, One Woman’s Fight, She became a world traveler and served two terms as president of the American Humanist Association.

MARY MORAIN (1911-1999)

A graduate of Radcliffe College and the University of Chicago, Mary Morain accomplished much during her long life. She was noted for her support and leadership of American and International Humanist organizations and her work on behalf of the United Nations Association and Planned Parenthood. With her husband Lloyd Morain she wrote Humanism As the Next Step, published in 1988. In that book she wrote, “Humanism is practical. It helps us to understand complex situations, to solve problems, and make decisions. It teaches us that there is an intrinsic, inalienable value in all human beings. It teaches us to look for courage, for comfort, to one another, our fellow humans. A sense of belonging comes to those who realize that we are in every respect a part of nature-a nature far larger, far older, than ourselves.” In 1994, the American Humanist Association named her Humanist of the Year. In accepting that award Mary said: “Most systems of basic beliefs–most life stances–give some emphasis to helping others rather than our individual selves. Believing that we exist only in a single world, the natural world that we share with other living creatures, and that we have no special first-class tickets that allow for travel to continuous existence in other spheres at the end of our journey in this life. In our human distresses, we have only each other to turn to for help.”

LISA KALVELAGE (1923-)

Lisa was born in Nuremberg, Germany and immigrated to the United States after World War two. Witnessing the devastation of German cities during that war she vowed to bring greater understanding of the horrors of war to everyone willing to listen. When she and her husband with their five daughters moved to San Jose, California they met Art Jackson who was organizing a chapter of the American Humanist Association. She joined and remains an active member.

In 1966 Lisa and three other women staged a Vietnam protest demonstration at a military storage yard. They sat down in front of a forklift loaded with napalm destined for Vietnam. The women were arrested and charged with trespassing. They were convicted and sentenced to 90 days in jail. Now in her eighties, she remains a vocal critic and anti-war demonstrator. She says, “As a humanist I feel I must do everything in my power to become involved in the issues of our time. If we have this conviction, we also will have the strength to make a difference.”

BARBARA FRANCES WOOTTON (1897-1988)

I turn now to another prominent British feminist humanist, Barbara Frances Wootton (1897-1988), Baroness Wootton, was born into an academic family and was educated at Girton College, Cambridge, where she won First Class honours and a research scholarship to the London School of Economics. She left Cambridge for London and labour socialist politics in the early 1920s.

Baroness Wootton was an out spoken opponent of both Christianity and Communism, referring to them as two of the greatest superstitions of the western world. Christianity, she said, had a much longer period in which to sterilize intelligence and divert the human mind from fruitful use. But it hard to say which of the two caries the heavier burden of guilt. In the mid 1940’s she wrote: “In the Soviet controlled regions of Europe the battle between these rival contestants for the human spirit rages savagely, and the communists, who have the advantage of exercising temporal power, are persecuting their enemies with a fury which rivals that of the church in an earlier age…The ‘scientific attitude’ is the common foe of both. The skeptic would do well to make it unmistakably clear about his complete rejection of both dogmas.”

“The whole attitude to doubt is a critical test of the differences between faith and scientific knowledge. To the faithful doubt is a sin, to the scientist it is the first of all virtues.”

MARGARET SANGER (1879-1966)

Humanist Margret Sanger, is credited with probably making the biggest historical contribution to the sexual freedom of all women, filing the lawsuit that resulted in the overturning of the Comstock laws giving women the right to birth control information! She was honored with recognition as “The Women of the Century” in 1966.

She was responsible for the distribution of the diaphragm, the development of effective contraceptive jelly, the education of physicians in birth control techniques, the proliferation of birth control clinics, the founding of the Planned Parenthood organization, and ultimately the creation of the birth control pill.

Margret taught women to “look the whole world in the face with a go-to-hell look in her eyes. She described herself as “a nurse working in the slums who saw a fire and was shouting for help.”

In 1920 she wrote a book titled, Women and the New Race, which sold a quarter of million copies. She campaigned for a women’s right to erotic satisfaction and charged Christianity with turning back the clock for women two-thousand years. She said the church had deprived women of their legal rights, educational rights, her love life, and her reproductive freedom.

The historian, H.G. Wells wrote, “when the history of our civilization is written it will be a biological history and Margret Sanger will be its heroine.” She died at a few days before her 87th birthday in a Tucson, Arizona nursing home.

SONIA JOHNSON (1936-)

Sonia Johnson is a business consultant, a freethinker, and writer. She was excommunicated from the LDS church in1979 for having a leadership position in the movement supporting the Equal Rights Amendment. In1982 the Feminist Caucus of the American Humanist Association named her “Humanist Heroine” of the year. In her acceptance speech she said:

“We know men’s rights are worth laying down one’s life for. Patrick Henry is considered an American Hero because he said, ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’

“No one doubts that, and the revolution was the result. Women must realize that women’s rights are worth the same sacrifice. Human rights are never bestowed, they are wrested.”

Following her excommunication from the Mormon Church she was interviewed by a news reporter who asked, “if, now that you are no longer theologically a Mormon, have you acquired any non-Mormon habits?” ” Yes”, she replied, “in fact I have. I have acquired the habit of free thought.”

Sonia advocates faith not in God or goddess, but in our selves, in our own voices, in our own judgment, our own abilities.

In her book, From Housewife to Heretic, she writes: “We’ve got to start listening to our own hearts. We’re just beginning to learn how. We have got to learn to love and value ourselves and other women, to make the same kind of sacrifices and take the same kind of risks for our human rights, dignity, and safety that men have always known had to be taken and made, and they’ve always been willing to take and make for themselves.”

BARBARA WALKER (1939-)

A contemporary feminist, Barbara Walker, now in her early seventies, was born in Philadelphia in 1939. Seventeen years ago the AHA held their annual conference in her home city and appropriately recognized her as our “Humanist Heroine” of the year.

I had the opportunity of attending that conference and hearing her vibrant acceptance speech.

In that speech she told us she began to question religion when her high school curriculum included reading the King James Bible which to her sounded cruel. She said the story of a God who would not forgive the world until his son had been tortured to death, did not strike her as the kind of father she would want!

She said, “Faith in God necessarily implies a lack of faith in humanity. The profoundly cynical premise of all religionists is that people are not capable of behaving decently toward one another unless they are lured with promises of pie in the sky.”

When skepticism is regarded as a vice, skeptics are forced into a minority position and forced to live in a world whose majority opinions they find very distasteful.”

Ms. Walker concluded her remarks with this observation: “Our world is violent for the very reason that its full of men who have been wounded by oppressive father figures, both real and imaginary. This can be changed by bringing us all down to earth in the practice of enlightened humanism and take sensible precautions for the preservation of our earth and our own species.”

BETTE CHAMBERS

My final feminist Humanist Hero is a personal friend and advisor. I served on the AHA broad during one her many terms of leadership. I can assure you of her complete dedication to our principles. Bette Chambers joined the AHA in 1961. She was a member of the Minnesota Humanist Society, and eventually was elected president of that society. Bette was appointed to serve as a vice president the AHA board in1966 and was elected to her first term as AHA board president in the fall of 1972. At that time the AHA was in a lot of turmoil and needed reorganizing. It was at this time that Ed Wilson became her mentor, and remained so until his death here in Salt Lake City nearly 20 years ago. In a personal letter to me she wrote about the problems she faced in her final year on the AHA board.

During the waning months as AHA board president in 1979 a simmering controversy in the Humanist Magazine publishing division erupted. It resulted in the abrupt resignation of Paul Kurtz as editor, the appointment of previous board president Lloyd Morain as editor and within a few months Lyle Simpson was elected to be the AHA board president. Lyle restored an atmosphere of respect and put the AHA back on the road to fiscal solvency.

Bette continued her leadership role as the volunteer AHA Executive Director and managed the national office in Amherst New York from her home in Lacy, Washington until a paid Executive Director was hired. Later she served as Editor of the Free Mind Magazine for 20-years

She concluded her letter to me: After serving in humanist leadership roles most of my adult life, I am now at that point where I am jealously guarding my independence and my husband’s. He’s 92, a thorough humanist, and a true prince among men. We’ve been married over 60 years, raised three daughters, and now have three grandsons and a great grandson and great granddaughter. Our days are spent reading books we’ve always wanted to read, and coping with health issues. We enjoy the quiet time and are both taking maximum advantage of it. Because of health, we no longer travel any great distances. While I miss all my good humanist friends and colleagues, I cherish my memories of the internal disputes and their resolutions. The years of introducing humanism to hundreds of people and mentoring young humanist leaders were richly rewarding. I am nearly deaf, and so public gatherings, and speeches, must give way to e-mail and easier forms of communication.

I would define humanism simply as “the Golden Rule; writ large.” But when a few more words are required, I say “Humanism is a moral philosophy grounded upon the premise that all people deserve recognition for their unique dignity and worth, free from any form of supernaturalism. When possible I expand the definition to say: “Humanism is a world-view, informed by science, based on democracy in the social order, coupled with concern for the natural world and including compassion and succor for the less fortunate, and the recognition of equality in all endeavors.”

CLOSING

I believe the examples I have shared with you tonight indicate that women have been strong, important leaders of the Humanist Philosophy, often over looked but never under rated. They have made significant contributions to the social and cultural developments of society in general, the Humanist movement in particular, and have demonstrated the validity of the world wide feminist movement. My personal belief is: “Humanism is being passionate about living this life.”

Florien Wineriter

 

Humanist Message

February 2010

The democratic candidate in the Massachusetts senatorial special election to replace the late Ted Kennedy was soundly defeated. Several analysts theorized the reason was a failure to effectively communicate. The analysts’ comments stimulated my thinking about the membership problems of our chapter.

Our membership numbers have declined more than 20% during the past ten years. Death has been the major cause, a few losses by previous members not renewing. We have not attracted enough new members to replace either. I wonder if we, like the democrats, are also failing to communicate. Do we know what we want to communicate? Do we know the essence of humanism? Do we know how to communicate effectively?

Humanism is more than a scientific society. We are also a society that encourages ethics, morality, and compassion. Humanism is concerned with human relations, happiness, fulfilling of life’s needs, physical and emotional, as well as intellectual. Our goal is similar to the goals of a liberal arts college, encourage people to develop habits of the mind that will connect the dots to a full life.

We have two challenges, first, clearly defining humanism. Secondly, discovering how to communicate that definition.

–Flo Wineriter

 

Freedom From Religion

April 2010

Professor of law at S. J. Quinney College of Law at University of Utah and the son of two holocaust survivors, Amos Guiora presented provocative ideas about freedom and religion. In fact, he has authored a book with the provocative title Freedom from Religion. Not mincing words, he said, “The single greatest threat to civil democratic society is posed by religious extremists.” In this century, terrorism constitutes one of the gravest threats to democratic societies and national security, in particular, terrorism incited by religion.

Why religion? Religion is a powerful motivator for both positive social change, as well as mass violence, and for many people, religion goes to the core of who they are and defines who they are. When violence is initiated and fueled by religion, governments not only are responsible for protecting civil liberties, like freedom of or from religion, but they also are responsible to protect their citizens from threat and harm.

“As important as freedom of speech is, as important as freedom of religion is, we all have the right to live,” Guiora said. Government needs to end religious immunity that is granted to religious extremists, specifically in the three monotheistic faiths of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Certain rights should be limited when they threaten civil society in any way.

Although counterintuitive in a democracy, according to Guiora, limiting the free speech of those inciting violence in the name of religious extremism is legitimate. Naturally constitutional law scholars are extremely uncomfortable with such limitations, but extremists leave us with few choices.

When violence from religious motivations becomes extreme, Guiora believes that religious extremists no longer deserve immunity predicated on faith. Civil societies cannot afford to continue to treat religion as an “untouchable” subject. In fact, when government officials hear any religious leaders calling for violent action in the name of God, that leader should be taken down. Therefore, violence preached in a house of worship should lose any immunity based on freedom of speech. And rather than wait for people to act violently as a result, law enforcement should act on the violent extremist speech alone. An extremist religious leader’s power is potentially extraordinary.

To facilitate this proactive approach, we must re-define the limits of clergy speech, such as how often must clergy incite before the law moves in? What words justify such monitoring? To Guiora, we must recognize that religious extremism poses an immediate danger and that religious extremists do not deserve immunity, ideas that he knows are controversial but they may be inevitable–as inevitable as the next religious extremist-induced terrorist attack.

A taped interview of Guiora by Radio West host Doug Fabrizio can be found here.

–Sarah Smith

 

Discussion Group Article

September 2010

How facts backfire

Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains

By Joe Keohane — July 11, 2010

It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.

In the end, truth will out. Won’t it?

Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters – the people making decisions about how the country runs – aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon – known as “backfire” – is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

These findings open a long-running argument about the political ignorance of American citizens to broader questions about the interplay between the nature of human intelligence and our democratic ideals. Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.

This effect is only heightened by the information glut, which offers – alongside an unprecedented amount of good information – endless rumors, misinformation, and questionable variations on the truth. In other words, it’s never been easier for people to be wrong, and at the same time feel more certain that they’re right.

“Area Man Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines Constitution To Be,” read a recent Onion headline. Like the best satire, this nasty little gem elicits a laugh, which is then promptly muffled by the queasy feeling of recognition. The last five decades of political science have definitively established that most modern-day Americans lack even a basic understanding of how their country works. In 1996, Princeton University’s Larry M. Bartels argued, “the political ignorance of the American voter is one of the best documented data in political science.”

On its own, this might not be a problem: People ignorant of the facts could simply choose not to vote. But instead, it appears that misinformed people often have some of the strongest political opinions. A striking recent example was a study done in the year 2000, led by James Kuklinski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He led an influential experiment in which more than 1,000 Illinois residents were asked questions about welfare – the percentage of the federal budget spent on welfare, the number of people enrolled in the program, the percentage of enrollees who are black, and the average payout. More than half indicated that they were confident that their answers were correct – but in fact only 3 percent of the people got more than half of the questions right. Perhaps more disturbingly, the ones who were the most confident they were right were by and large the ones who knew the least about the topic. (Most of these participants expressed views that suggested a strong antiwelfare bias.)

Studies by other researchers have observed similar phenomena when addressing education, health care reform, immigration, affirmative action, gun control, and other issues that tend to attract strong partisan opinion. Kuklinski calls this sort of response the “I know I’m right” syndrome, and considers it a “potentially formidable problem” in a democratic system. “It implies not only that most people will resist correcting their factual beliefs,” he wrote, “but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be least likely to do so.”

What’s going on? How can we have things so wrong, and be so sure that we’re right? Part of the answer lies in the way our brains are wired. Generally, people tend to seek consistency. There is a substantial body of psychological research showing that people tend to interpret information with an eye toward reinforcing their preexisting views. If we believe something about the world, we are more likely to passively accept as truth any information that confirms our beliefs, and actively dismiss information that doesn’t. This is known as “motivated reasoning.” Whether or not the consistent information is accurate, we might accept it as fact, as confirmation of our beliefs. This makes us more confident in said beliefs, and even less likely to entertain facts that contradict them.

New research, published in the journal Political Behavior last month, suggests that once those facts – or “facts” – are internalized, they are very difficult to budge. In 2005, amid the strident calls for better media fact-checking in the wake of the Iraq war, Michigan’s Nyhan and a colleague devised an experiment in which participants were given mock news stories, each of which contained a provably false, though nonetheless widespread, claim made by a political figure: that there were WMDs found in Iraq (there weren’t), that the Bush tax cuts increased government revenues (revenues actually fell), and that the Bush administration imposed a total ban on stem cell research (only certain federal funding was restricted). Nyhan inserted a clear, direct correction after each piece of misinformation, and then measured the study participants to see if the correction took.

For the most part, it didn’t. The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic – a factor known as salience – the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total.

It’s unclear what is driving the behavior – it could range from simple defensiveness, to people working harder to defend their initial beliefs – but as Nyhan dryly put it, “It’s hard to be optimistic about the effectiveness of fact-checking.”

It would be reassuring to think that political scientists and psychologists have come up with a way to counter this problem, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves. The persistence of political misperceptions remains a young field of inquiry. “It’s very much up in the air,” says Nyhan.

But researchers are working on it. One avenue may involve self-esteem. Nyhan worked on one study in which he showed that people who were given a self-affirmation exercise were more likely to consider new information than people who had not. In other words, if you feel good about yourself, you’ll listen – and if you feel insecure or threatened, you won’t. This would also explain why demagogues benefit from keeping people agitated. The more threatened people feel, the less likely they are to listen to dissenting opinions, and the more easily controlled they are.

There are also some cases where directness works. Kuklinski’s welfare study suggested that people will actually update their beliefs if you hit them “between the eyes” with bluntly presented, objective facts that contradict their preconceived ideas. He asked one group of participants what percentage of its budget they believed the federal government spent on welfare, and what percentage they believed the government should spend. Another group was given the same questions, but the second group was immediately told the correct percentage the government spends on welfare (1 percent). They were then asked, with that in mind, what the government should spend. Regardless of how wrong they had been before receiving the information, the second group indeed adjusted their answer to reflect the correct fact.

Kuklinski’s study, however, involved people getting information directly from researchers in a highly interactive way. When Nyhan attempted to deliver the correction in a more real-world fashion, via a news article, it backfired. Even if people do accept the new information, it might not stick over the long term, or it may just have no effect on their opinions. In 2007 John Sides of George Washington University and Jack Citrin of the University of California at Berkeley studied whether providing misled people with correct information about the proportion of immigrants in the US population would affect their views on immigration. It did not.

And if you harbor the notion – popular on both sides of the aisle – that the solution is more education and a higher level of political sophistication in voters overall, well, that’s a start, but not the solution. A 2006 study by Charles Taber and Milton Lodge at Stony Brook University showed that politically sophisticated thinkers were even less open to new information than less sophisticated types. These people may be factually right about 90 percent of things, but their confidence makes it nearly impossible to correct the 10 percent on which they’re totally wrong. Taber and Lodge found this alarming, because engaged, sophisticated thinkers are “the very folks on whom democratic theory relies most heavily.”

In an ideal world, citizens would be able to maintain constant vigilance, monitoring both the information they receive and the way their brains are processing it. But keeping atop the news takes time and effort. And relentless self-questioning, as centuries of philosophers have shown, can be exhausting. Our brains are designed to create cognitive shortcuts – inference, intuition, and so forth – to avoid precisely that sort of discomfort while coping with the rush of information we receive on a daily basis. Without those shortcuts, few things would ever get done. Unfortunately, with them, we’re easily suckered by political falsehoods.

Nyhan ultimately recommends a supply-side approach. Instead of focusing on citizens and consumers of misinformation, he suggests looking at the sources. If you increase the “reputational costs” of peddling bad info, he suggests, you might discourage people from doing it so often. “So if you go on ‘Meet the Press’ and you get hammered for saying something misleading,” he says, “you’d think twice before you go and do it again.”

Unfortunately, this shame-based solution may be as implausible as it is sensible. Fast-talking political pundits have ascended to the realm of highly lucrative popular entertainment, while professional fact-checking operations languish in the dungeons of wonkery. Getting a politician or pundit to argue straight-faced that George W. Bush ordered 9/11, or that Barack Obama is the culmination of a five-decade plot by the government of Kenya to destroy the United States – that’s easy. Getting him to register shame? That isn’t.

Joe Keohane is a writer in New York.

 

Richard Layton’s

Discussion Group Report

In Defense of Blasphemy

February 2010

By Craig Wilkinson, M.D.

Tauriq Moosa is an ex-Muslim who has a web site on which he “Defends Reason and Promotes Beauty without a God.” He is a contributing editor for the Secular Humanist Bulletin and also writes for “Skeptic” magazine. His motto on his web site is “Freedom of thought is the only good more important than peace; for without it peace would be another word for servility.”

In his recent article entitled “In Defense of Blasphemy,” he defines blasphemy as “impious utterance or action concerning the God of the theists or sacred things.” In Judaism it is defined as a) an act of cursing or reviling God.or b) pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) in the original, now forbidden manner instead of using a substitute pronunciation such as Adonai. The Catholic Encyclopedia however, defines blasphemy as an “etymologically gross irreverence towards any person or thing worth of exalted esteem.” How are we to contemplate these various definitions, all churning within a pot of miasmatic confusion? He feels there is an absurdity of any imperfect human being able with his or her language to insult an omniscient, omnipotent being like a God. It is the humans themselves that take offense to having their particular God’s name taken in vane.

Mr. Moosa then goes on to ask, “Does anyone feel hurt when I say Zeus is a bastard?” Only if there are any classic lecturers listening. Or “I know what Thor can do with his hammer.” Shocking to a medieval Viking. But what happens if we replace these insults with the name Yahweh, capital-G god , or Jesus. By today’s standard, this is not allowed. We must ask ourselves why we can all scorn Zeus but not Yahweh. Offense is taken in and of itself as an argument. You have hurt my feelings, it states, therefore you must be silenced or censored. On the other hand, open dialogue, the nature of a stable society, means that we have an agora-or open market place of ideas-to which all are allowed to contribute. Naturally being an open environment there are things that we will not like. But whether we like something or not, does not tell us whether it is true or helpful. It must be subjected to criticism from both sides, for and against. It hurts your feelings, well, that is really just too bad. We cannot simply dismiss an idea because one side is “hurt.” Defenders of reason do not use offense in and of itself as an argument. Moosa quotes JM Coetzee: “Convictions that are not backed by reason…are not strong but weak; it is the mark of a weak position, not a strong position, that it’s holder, when challenged, takes offense. All viewpoints deserve a hearing; debate, according to the rules of reason, and reason will decide which deserves to triumph.”

But why to so many people take offense so easily? Most people believe their religion to be true because these ideas have been passed down via heritage and are not subjected to the same criticism as many other ideas. A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. When challenged about their religion they immediately retreat under the guise of offense. This is a personal thing, and you are not allowed to talk about it. Mr. Moosa feels that if it was not the fact that so many people believe in a god and so many people respond to open criticism of religious ideas in this way (personal offense); we would all agree that most religions are absurd; at least all the other religions, other than our own. Which leads directly to the definition of a myth, which is of course “the other persons’ religion.”

Blasphemy is a right for everyone because everyone will be offended by some view, in this open market place of ideas. This is the deal we sign up for when entering a secular society, premised on freedom of speech and equal human rights. If a view upsets you, you must be able to give good reasons, aside from a simple assertion of unquestioning belief or faith. We must eliminate the arbitrary boundaries based on emotion and magic books. Reason will decide the victor. The tiny light of reason in this path of darkness, marked with the blanket of religious superstition, is our guiding light in this world.

–Craig Wilkinson, MD

 

Celebrating Our Diversity

December 2010

The Utah Inclusion Center invited Flo Wineriter to be one of six local religious leaders to speak at their 21st annual Interfaith Service “Celebrating our Diversity”. The Thanksgiving program was held Sunday evening, November 21, at the Congregation Kol Ami. Flo was the first humanist invited to participate this annual event. The following is the text of his talk:

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.

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, every race and all adult sexual preferences whether genetic or chosen. 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 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. We join in celebrating the human diversity that makes our communities more enjoyable and our world more peaceful. We hope our diversity is the means to furthering human bonds.

–Flo Wineriter

September 2010

by Lisa Miller

Ode to Summer by Utah Humanists

We humanists really know how to enjoy summer, here are responses to my question about favorite summer activities:

  • Skinny dipping in the Great Salt Lake; second only to a passionate sexual encounter with my partner.
  • In the morning, sitting on my back patio with some just-picked raspberries and/or blackberries in a bowl of cereal with a cup of coffee and the Trib. And then in the evening, sitting on my front porch sipping red wine watching the sun disappear from Mount Olympus and then seeing the stars come out.
  • Smelling the morning air when stepping out to pick up the Trib!
  • I have recently retired and now find time to take long walks in the evening listening to podcasts of Radio West, This American Life, and Point of Inquiry. It is a great way to relax, become informed, and get exercise all at the same time.
  • Simple pleasures are always the best. I love the smell of rain after a summer shower and the smell of freshly cut grass. One of my favorite things is to walk my dog Tucker around the Oquirrh Lake on a nice summer evening.
  • A picnic in the park with a good book.
  • One of my favorite summer activities is attending the productions at the Festival Opera in Logan, the plays and musicals at the Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, and the musicals at Tuacahn outside of St. George with our grandchildren. A second favorite activity is picking our vine-ripe tomatoes and gorging on them.
  • Backpacking in the High Uinta’s Wilderness Area. It affords me the opportunity to enjoy several things that I value and even treasure. To escape civilization and pack in to where the closest road is 8-10 miles away, to be among mountains that reach 12-14 thousand feet high, to be in forested and meadowed landscapes with flora and fauna of many varieties with lakes and streams. To follow streams to where they flow off a precipice and turn into rarely seen waterfalls with grottos at the bottom. To climb up the side of a peak to where trees no longer grow to full height. To sit on that slope and look out over an immense landscape and also be high enough to touch the clouds as they swoosh by (only when they are small enough to not make sparks). It’s all so refreshing to be there able to survive and enjoy nature, and for me to relish in the knowledge of how nature shaped all that you see. To enjoy the campfire and the campfire conversations.
  • Lying on my back looking up through the leaves of a tree, which gives me a whole new perspective, and then just breathing in the summer air and being still.

The Conversation for September:

The question I’m wondering about this month is not really a fair question; I am having a hard time answering it myself, but I am really curious to know what your favorite branch of science is. Astrophysics, biology, geology, paleontology, chemistry, evolutionary biology, psychology…(just to get you started). What is the science area that gets you the most excited? What is our group’s distribution of science geekyness?

Send your responses to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah dot org for next month’s newsletter.

–Lisa Miller

October 2010

by Lisa Miller

Utah Humanists Love Science

Utah Humanists reported their science favorites in the areas of: anthropology, astronomy, biology, chemistry, cosmology, environmental science, evolutionary science, genetics, geology, neuroscience, paleontology, volcanology, and the scientific method.

Here are some great comments:

“Evolutionary science–this area of study continues to answer the fascinating questions about the origins of life, the history of the morphology of all plants and animals including humans. It explains why the details of our bodies are on the one hand so beautifully adapted and on the other hand so confoundedly peculiar.”

“Rather than one specific discipline, the Scientific Method, the concept of always questioning everything is what is important to me.”

“The Universe is quite a mystery and wonder. Our place in it humbles me a bit to say the least. I find the Big Bang, Black Holes, Quasars, the formation of galaxies and planets, etc. all very interesting.”

“It’s hard to pick a favorite science since they all, hard and soft, offer so much. But how can we not consider environmental science with climate change threatening our very existence, and biology with its confirmation of evolution, both sciences still being denied by too many people?”

“Considering that there are estimated to be more potential interneuronal connections (i.e. connections between brain cells) in the human brain than there are estimated to be stars in the universe, how could anyone not be fascinated with neuroscience? Also, it amuses me to think that I am using my brain (which is me) to think about itself (which is myself). Specifically, I am interested and do research in cognitive neuroscience, which studies how the brain creates the mind/thought (i.e., cognition) and how, in turn, the mind affects the brain. It is like a combination of neuroscience and psychology.”

“My favorite science area is the theoretical/hard science of the mind. Theoretical and hard in what predictions do the best theories make, and how will such be shared, measured (or effed). I want to know, concisely and quantitatively, what the best (most well accepted) theories of consciousness are–in a documented way that everyone can share/communicate with. I’m in the camp that believes we are about to make the greatest scientific discovery, ever, in this field–the discovery of the relationship between the subjective experience and objective brain.”

I’m very embarrassed to admit that in my religious life it turns out I was pretty fundamental. I thought I had to believe in creation, the flood, no dinosaurs, a young earth. Oh the pain! I’ve always been kind of a science geek but I couldn’t do the reconciliation and so buried my interest in science to a large extent. Having to view science as misleading, flawed, or wrong was so twisted. My world has exploded with wonder, curiosity, delight, and intellectual satisfaction now that I can fully explore and pursue real science and the explanations of our world! Thank you for sharing your own love of science with me.

By the way, Brent Allsop suggested a very interesting web site dealing with the theory of consciousness

The Conversation for October:

The question for October is on behalf of the Board. Would you miss our second meeting of the month, i.e. the Discussion Group Meetings, if we suspended these meetings? Is there some activity you would like to see us do as a group… enough to draw you out of your cozy homes? Maybe we’ll some day be sending our holograms to meetings for us, so we won’t have to actually leave the house. Wait, that doesn’t sound so good.

Send your responses to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter.

–Lisa Miller

November 2010

by Lisa Miller

Discussion Group Changes?We only had a few comments/opinions about our second meeting of the month and its format. The board will take the comments we did get and continue discussions on how best to serve our community.

Most agreed that a monthly book club is more than anyone wants. I think we may be looking at trying a variety of things. We’ll keep you posted, of course, and you are still encouraged to express your feelings and ideas.

The Conversation for November:

Do any of you do things to celebrate the equinoxes or solstices? The Winter Solstice is coming up and I’ve been thinking I’d like to start some fun traditions of my own to mark this day. What are some things you do or think would be fun for a Winter Solstice celebration?

Send your responses to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter.

–Lisa Miller

May 2010

by Lisa Miller

Utah Humanists Share Book Recommendations

We have some great recommendations from fellow humanists this month. My to-read list has definitely grown. By the way, Wayne is graciously offering to print book reviews in the newsletter for anyone willing to submit a report now or in the future. Please consider it! Also, take a look at our website for more humanist reading suggestions. Many of these have links to reviews provided by members. https://www.humanistsofutah.org/BookRecommendations.html

Enjoy!
Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke (Jason Cooperrider)
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson and Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Lisa Miller)
Island and Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov: Favorites dealing with themes of religion, violence, war, politics, social stigmatization for beliefs. (Justin Howland)
Still Alice by Lisa Genova: Gave new insight into how to think about what is going on in the mind of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. (Lauren Florence)
Passion and Principle by Sally Denton: The story of the lives of one of America’s first “power couples”, John C and Jessie Fremont. It includes the history of Fremont’s Western explorations, the California gold rush, the Mexican war, the Civil war, and an interesting early reference to “plausible deniability” on the part of a US president. (Rob Duncan)
Slapstick or Lonesome No More by Kurt Vonnegut: Favorite book ever. Though for someone who has never read Vonnegut, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater would be a better introduction to his works. (Wayne Wilson)
Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough: Deals with the beginnings of the F.B.I. in the 1930’s and their war against crime, specifically Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, the Barker Gang and John Dillinger. It is very interesting for those who enjoy history about old time gangsters and outlaws. (Richard Cushing)
The Road by Cormac McCarthy: The story of a father and his young son trying to find safety after an apocalyptic event. Not always an uplifting story, nevertheless, compelling and hard to put down. (Richard Cushing)
The Conversation for May:

WHAT IF… states actually started seceding from the United States? Given Utah’s track record this year (joining in to sue the federal government over the health care bill; the legislature calling on the EPA to desist on CO2 reduction programs since that climate change stuff is all unsubstantiated science; further policing of women’s reproductive systems with a specifically tailored criminal law against inducing miscarriages; talking about following Arizona in their radical immigration law) I’m betting Utah would be joining them. So, a little poll for this “what if” world. Will you be staying in the seceded state?

A) No. I’m outta here.

B) Yes. It wouldn’t make any difference in my day to day life.

C) Yes. I like a good fight. I’ll stay and be a voice of reason.

Send your responses to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter. The deadline is May 28.

–Lisa Miller

February 2010

by Lisa Miller

Gender Equality, Torturing, and Religion

What a strange surprise: our community conversations revealed a bonus nugget truism (see the title)!

For February we were talking about human rights, specifically torture, gender equality, and the ability to freely question religion. Here’s what was on our minds:

Torture. A definite human rights issue with lots of emotion. Using any means possible to “save a US life or member of your family” has strong emotional pull. You would do anything to protect your family, right? But torture “violates the Geneva Convention, human dignity, past American values, and is not known to get good information from the tortured person.” What happens to the people who become the torturers? What happens to us as a nation when living and governing by conscience gets a special circumstances pass? What happens to the innocents caught up indiscriminately in the torture machine? Can you really imagine standing by and supporting the torture of a human being? Imagine a world where we didn’t torture each other. Is it worth trying to work towards that vision?

Gender Equality. Isn’t it sobering to realize “that fully half of the people in some cultures have in fact little or no rights?” Thankfully our world has given much attention to equal rights for minority groups, but a sneaky “minority” isn’t even a minority. Deep-rooted biases of women being inferior are very problematic all over the world. And though America is certainly not Saudi Arabia, we have plenty of ground to cover too. “To NOT be treated as property, as vessels for men to OVER procreate and for the most part be slaves to men. Denied education, equal treatment under the law, etc.” We cry at the atrocities waged against women uniquely and our world is poorer for the untapped resources that could do so much if given equal opportunity and rights. Think about this: gender equality is widely acknowledged as key to erasing poverty and hunger.

Questioning Religion. The ability to freely question and debate an established idea is core to the promotion of any area of human rights. Religion and its effects on individuals and society is truly another important human rights issue. We must safeguard and promote “the right to freely question the tenets of religions”. To do this “without being offensive and to offer positive alternatives is one of humanism’s great missions.”

Thanks for your thought provoking responses community.

Your Conversation for March:
We recently passed the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release after 27 years in prison. It got me thinking about historical events that impact your life. One that was huge for me was when the Berlin Wall came down. I still get chills when I hear that clip from Reagan, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

What are the historical events that loom large in your own history? Send your thoughts to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter. The deadline is March 27.

–Lisa Miller

June 2010

by Lisa Miller

Utah Humanists vs. A Seceding State

The results of our poll on who will be staying in the hypothetical case of Utah seceding from the federally governed nation:

4 are outta here (29%)

1 feels it will probably have no effect and will be staying on (7%)

7 are staying and taking on the cause of reason (50%)

2 are already beyond Utah’s borders (14%)

Of course, the fact that 2 are no longer in this state (or possibly have never been in this state) is coincidental to this poll and does not, necessarily, show a worrying trend that “people are already getting out”.

When I sent out the poll I was thinking the group would lean more to A, so you surprised me. But then again, it didn’t surprise me. Thinking about this brings the same questioning when I think about break-ups of other countries. How, and why, did they dare to go it on their own? Aren’t you stronger commercially and defensively as a bigger nation? Like in the break-up of Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia. I’ve traveled to Slovenia (formerly part of Yugoslavia) and they’re doing very well. Bosnia, not so good. The Czech Republic is faring far better than The Slovak Republic. Of course, many of these irreconcilable differences were from artificially created countries, people thrown together as political powers redrew country borders. We’re not in quite the same boat, right? Or is liberal and traditional-conservative the new ethnicity? Are we going to end up being irreconcilable? I guess we still have hope when rational humanists are willing even to stay in a seceded conservative state!

The Conversation for June:

If you could invite anyone, living or dead, to come speak to us at an upcoming humanist meeting, who would that be? I’m leaning towards Hypatia. She was a pagan Greek scholar, sought after for her wisdom. And a Christian mob killed her. I would love to hear her take on the rising “Christian” sect, as seen from her vantage point. I also really want to hear her opinions on how women fit in the world.

And who would you invite? Send your responses to Lisa@HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter. The deadline is June 26.

–Lisa Miller

July 2010

by Lisa Miller

Humanist Guest Speakers

Take a look at our wish list for Humanists of Utah guest speakers:

  1. Jesus: Surveying Christianity around the world with a ‘Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
  2. Buddha: Including one lecture on why Buddhism is philosophy and not religion.
  3. Hypatia: a Greek scholar and philosopher: What is this thing called “Christianity” and living life on your own terms.
  4. Leonardo da Vinci: How could we pass up the widely regarded most intelligent human to have lived?
  5. Christopher Columbus: Comparing our world with his.
  6. Reverend Jonathon Mayhew: (extra bonus: he’s a relation of one of our members!): John Adams called Rev. Mayhew “the morning gun of the Revolution.” Adams also dubbed him a “transcendent genius.” Robert Treat Paine called Dr. Mayhew, “The Father of Civil and Religious Liberty in Massachusetts and America.” No one today should underestimate the significant contribution that the Rev. Jonathan Mayhew made toward the cause of liberty and American independence.
  7. Mark Twain: How much has the world changed and how much has it remained the same.
  8. Charles Darwin: He would love Utah!
  9. Albert Einstein: A truly brilliant man: His life and his views on the world today, with special focus on global climate change and clean energy.
  10. Nelson Mandela: How he maintained his equanimity in the face of such odds. And was he planning the way he would run the country during the 30 years they had him imprisoned?
  11. Casey Jones: columnist for the Salt Lake City Tribune: A session of humor, good for the soul.
  12. Christine Durham: Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court: The importance of civility.
  13. Apa Sherpa: The Sherpa who has summited Everest 20 times and lives in Draper: What we can do to take care of the earth?
  14. David Irvine: Co-author of the Utah legislative ethics reform initiative
  15. Christopher Hitchens
  16. Carl Sagan

You guys are so great! What an amazing list. Doesn’t that just get your imaginations soaring? Oh, how I wish there was a way to pull that off. It would be so incredible to talk face-to-face with these people.

The Conversation for July:

Yay! Summer is here! It’s glorious to be able to spend an afternoon at the park, under a shady tree, bare feet in the grass, getting lost in a great book. What’s your favorite summer activity?

Send your responses to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter.

–Lisa Miller

February 2010

by Lisa Miller

This month we are launching a new newsletter feature fondly named C-Cubed: our Community Corner Conversations.

Each month I will pose a question or a poll or something along those lines and ask you to send in your contributions to the discussion in the following weeks. I will then compile your responses and post them in the next newsletter. I think it will be very interesting to hear from and share with each other. Imagine the surprises and the fun that awaits our little humanist community!

There are so many things I’d like to ask you, but let me lead with this: do you have a human rights issue that you just can’t stop thinking about? Something that you want to shout to the world? (Or just generally let out a good yell?)

For some reason I just can’t stop thinking about the law they’re trying to push through in Uganda engaging draconian attacks against homosexuality. The proposed law (which was reported at one time to have had a 99% chance of passing, before the international community got involved) calls for lifetime imprisonment for anyone committed of a homosexual act. Death is the sentence for “aggravated” homosexual acts, which includes anyone found to have the HIV virus. As extreme as this is, the law also includes a 7-year prison term for anyone who “helps” with homosexuality: counselors, activists. AND a 3-year prison term for anyone who doesn’t report within 24 hours any known instance of homosexual activity. My mind reels. It seems some of America’s religious leaders are complicit in this bill. They were leading seminars in Uganda about homosexuality (we can just imagine), but disavow any links to a call for death…

So what human rights issue is on your mind community? The newly enacted 25,000 euro fine in Ireland for any instance of blasphemy? The brutal silencing of election protestors in Iran?

You can send your thoughts to “Lisa at HumanistsofUtah dot org.” I will also be sending out a group email a little later for easy response (and a reminder.) The deadline is February 26. Keeping in mind that we need to compile this for the newsletter, I will definitely enjoy reading your paragraphs but will probably condense them down to a sentence or two. I’m also thinking that we will not identify the specific members with the responses, so you will have some anonymity if that helps. I can’t wait to hear from you!

–Lisa Miller

December 2010

by Lisa Miller

Celebrating the Winter Solstice

What will you do to celebrate the coming Winter Solstice?

This year there will be a full moon on the solstice. If the sky is clear, it would be great to gather some friends and do a hike and ski by moonlight.

  • We tend to eat great quantities of food, decorate a fir tree, drink some adult beverages and exchange gifts, you know, have a kind of Potlatch.
  • To me, the solstices and equinoxes are important because they represent one of the earliest triumphs of reason over suspicion. Careful observations accumulated over time allowed prediction of these major celestial events so that they no longer needed mystical explanations. Truly one of the great triumphs of the human intellect!
  • One of my favorite myth stories about the Winter Solstice is from Mesopotamia. They identified the lengthening darkness and dying plants with chaos gaining strength over the world. At the Solstice, their patron deity, Marduk, did battle with chaos and won–regenerating the world for another year.
  • I love the idea of celebrating the end of lengthening nights. (I’m basically a sun worshipper at heart.) And I’ve been inspired by your ideas. So here’s what I’ve decided to do for my Winter Solstice celebration: instead of just hurrying in from the cold, I will stop and really take in that awesome sky. I’m also going to get a big bunch of candles and give them labels. Then on December 21st I will light all my candles in a happy celebration of light. I’m going to be lighting candles to: Science, Reason, The Cosmos, Tycho Brahe, Louis Pasteur, Dorothy Height, Skepticism, Curiosity, and Humanity!

Have a joyous Winter Solstice and many happy times in the Festivities of your choice.

The Conversation for December:

If you could go back in time and tell your younger self something, what would it be? I’d like to tell younger me not to be afraid to explore, to ask questions and demand better answers. And that doing so will never hurt me. I wonder if I would have trusted older me enough to take it to heart?

Send your responses to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter.

–Lisa Miller

April 2010

by Lisa Miller

History Among Utah Humanists

This month our community was talking about historic events that were large in our lives. I hope our conversationalists don’t mind, I’d like to quote them directly:

“July 16, 1969, right in the middle of the worst summer of my life…stuck in Big Piney, Wyoming working in the oil fields. That was the summer I was vilified for reading during my breaks and eventually chased with clippers because my hair was starting to grow over my ears. I only saw TV once all summer long. I somehow managed to get invited to watch Astronaut Neil Armstrong take the first step onto the moon. What a thrill!!!”

“One of the big events in my life, although I didn’t recognize it until after it had essentially happened, was the shift in the Republican party beginning with Reagan’s election from what I had always thought was a responsible, business-like party to a mean-spirited, ideological party. I thought my parents, my siblings, and I were in the right party much of my life but I eventually caught on to its being the extreme right-wing party and I moved on.”

“One day in 1954, I placed my hand over my heart to recite the pledge of allegiance in school. Wasn’t I surprised when it had changed overnight? We were to add ‘under God.’ I have never said the pledge with these two words. It just seemed wrong even at 9 years of age. I cite this as a big event in my life because, every time I hear the pledge, it reminds me of how history can be rewritten and how vigilant we must remain to keep a separation between church and state.”

There’s something so uplifting and energizing about remembered history. Is it the element of the personal in the grand scheme of things? Or something we can mutually relate to and so share? I also think it’s the wisdom of observation from the down-the-road, which adds depth to the here-and-now. Thanks so much for your shared thoughts, they made me grin all over!

Your Conversation for April:

With Spring coming on my thoughts are turning to good books and warm sun–an afternoon with a book in the park, a book over morning coffee, a book on a fun vacation. So how about sharing your recommendations for a good read with the community. It will be like a virtual book fair for our next newsletter!

Send your responses to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter. The deadline is April 27.

–Lisa Miller

 

Journey to Humanism

Bob Mayhew

February 2010

I was not born into humanism. Neither my parents nor grand parents were humanists. Some of my father’s forbearers were liberal enough to involve themselves with the Underground Railroad in cahoots with John Brown and his rabble rousing group.

Farther back in time you can find some liberal preachers in the Boston area that have been implicated in the formation of the American Unitarian church and were preaching a liberal message that may have contributed to the unrest that eventually led to American liberation from England.

I came to this philosophical bent the same way many do. A slow process of awakening to the truth of the world around me and by involvement with it and the people and situations I have come in contact with.

My parents were not particularly churchy people. In fact I do not recall my father ever mentioning his involvement with any church during his growing up in west Kansas sand hill country. I do remembering him mentioning his family’s involvement with John Brown and a preacher in Boston way back in the middle 1700’s. He always made these remarks with the disclaimer that the Boston preachers were probably witch burners and the folks associated with john Brown were outlaws-as if he were slightly embarrassed by the association or that he needed to make the disclaimer less people will think less of him if they knew he had come from a family with long held liberal beliefs.

My mother on the other hand was made to attend church by her very devout god-fearing parents in central Kansas and did so until she was married to my father in 1938. I do not recall what cult, sect coven or denomination it was she and her family attended but I do know her father sang in the choir and was a very active member, even in leadership, until he became too frail to attend. I also know that none of her 3 brothers were particularly active church goers after they left home, suggesting they were not going of their own volition.

I never had a serious conversation with either of my parents about their personal religious beliefs and can only guess what they really believed. I do know that they had different views of the world and people around them.

My father accepted everyone he met at face value and let his assessment of them be formed by their actions over time. My mother would do the same but her first impressions were usually more judgmental and slower to change.

I was born in California, Pasadena to be precise. About a mile from the Rose bowl I was told. I do not know if this fact has had anything to do with my current philosophical bent but it does not hurt.

Dad was a Geologist, so we moved from place to place depending on where his profession took him. Consequently we did not have a steady church to attend as we moved from Southern California to Albuquerque to Aztec, New Mexico to Moab. In Moab mother experimented with church’s to find one that suited her and her need to give us kids an ethical religious upbringing. We were Baptists, Presbyterians and finally Episcopalians. I did not mind too much going to church except that it interfered with playing. I did go to church school and learned all the common bible stories. I was even confirmed at age 13 or so. I remained a dutiful, unquestioning little Episcopalian throughout my school years.

I do remember feeling that I was not a true believer and questioning my desirability to be a member of the “saved” class when my time would inevitably come.

My young adult hood found me not caring about such things as being saved, heaven, hell or anything at all about the existence of God.

It was not until I met Julie and moved back to Utah in the early 1980’s that I seriously gave any of this any real thought. And it came slowly. I have never been a real deep thinker and mostly just shrugged off questions of faith as a waste of energy and time. I have since come full circle and believe that questions of faith are a waste of energy and time-why bother.

Julie, and her mother Alice were regular attendees at First Unitarian Church where we are now. I attended with them and our children and started to learn what liberal religion is. We were avid members of first church for a decade or so. It is here that I learned of my ancestor’s involvement in the founding of American Unitarianism-from my children coming home from religious philosophy classes they attended at this church.

Julie’s mother Alice was an original member of this humanist chapter and was she and Julie that introduced and brought me here. I will be forever grateful for that.

That is the abbreviated testament of my journey to humanism.

–Bob Mayhew

 

Beyond Atheism

December 2010

Excerpted from Beyond Gods; Secular Humanism’s Future, by David Koepsell, the executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism.What of values and morals or of the good life? Most of us try to do the right thing and are guided through cultural norms of ethics and morals, But there are no secular-humanist holy scriptures to give us guidance; rather, we rely on our own natural tendencies and the facilities of reason imbued in us by nature. Sympathies for our fellow men and women and our societally and self-imposed consciences can guide us in the right direction.

Without some sort of ethical framework, by which we can agree that certain things are unacceptable and others are acceptable, secular humanism is mere atheism. Without concerted and continued determination to try to discover and describe the bases for these duties, rights, obligations, and liberties, we are expressing just another faith.

Can we help to convince the world that the path of reason, humanism, and science is more fruitful than dogma, fear, and mysticism? Secular humanism offers an alternative to dogmatism. It looks to the power of reason over superstition–science over supernaturalism.

I believe reason will prevail, guided by our humanist passion and emotions and by a clear vision of where secular humanism fits in the lives of ordinary people.

–Flo Wineriter

Humanists of Utah

2010 Business Meeting

Elections

 

Our annual business meeting will be held at Eliot Hall in the First Unitarian Church (569 South 1300 East, Salt Lake City) at 7:30 PM on Thursday, December 9, 2010. Dinner will be provided. We will have a short business meeting and then an open mike.

 

Please mark the ballot below and mail it in the included envelope. For households with more than one member, a ballot is included for each member. Please put all household ballots in the same envelope for mailing. Ballots must be postmarked no later than December 6, 2010 in order to be counted.

 

 

¨     Robert Lane for President

Bob was born and raised in Utah. . 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 third term as President.

¨     Robert Mayhew for Vice President

Bob has been 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.

He is seeking his third term as Vice President

 

 

 

¨     Jason Cooperrider for Secretary

Jason is a Ph.D. candidate in the Interdepartmental Program in Neuroscience at the University of Utah, where he has been since August 2008, when he moved to Utah from Ohio for graduate school.His research involves the neurobiology of autism and the neural basis of exceptional abilities. He co-founded the student group SHIFT (Secular Humanism, Inquiry and Freethought) at the University of Utah in May 2009, and served as its vice-president from then through December 2009 and as its president from January 2010 through December 2010. He also serves as the secretary and founding board member of the Utah Freethought Society, and as a founding board member of the Utah Coalition of Reason. He has been an active member of the Humanists of Utah since August 2009 and received the top award for its Marion Craig Memorial Essay Contest in 2009.

¨     Leona Blackbird for Treasurer

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. She is seeking her second elected term.

¨     Write in. You can nominate yourself or suggest someone from our membership

 

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December 21, 2010

January 2010

Wait, the world is going to end on the Winter Solstice in 2010, and no one told me? The ancient Maya calendar ends, the Earth and the sun line up with the center of the galaxy, or something like that, and the planet Niburu, which the government has been hiding from us (we know they’re hiding it because they never say anything about it,) smashes into the Earth like a bowling ball into a head pin-and everybody dies!

All of us! It’s not only on the internet and in the tabloids; it’s even a major motion picture. We all die-and nobody told me?

Who’s responsible for this, Obama? It is, isn’t it? Obama, right? Damn socialist Muslim.

–John Rafferty
President, Secular Humanist Society of New York
PIQUE, December 2009

 

July 4, 1876

September 2010

Robert IngersollAnd what more (in the Declaration of Independence)? That the people are the source of political power. That was not only a revelation, but it was a revolution. It changed the ideas of people with regard to the source of political power. For the first time it made human beings men. What was the old idea? The old idea was that no political power came from, or in any manner belonged to, the people. The old idea was that the political power came from the clouds; that the political power came in some miraculous way from heaven; that it came down to kings, and queens, and robbers. That was the old idea. The nobles lived upon the labor of the people; the people had no rights; the nobles stole what they had and divided with the kings, and the kings pretended to divide what they stole with God Almighty. The source, then, of political power was from above. The people were responsible to the nobles, the nobles to the king, and the people had no political rights whatever, no more than the wild beasts of the forest. The kings were responsible to God; not to the people. The kings were responsible to the clouds; not to the toiling millions they robbed and plundered.

And our forefathers, in this Declaration of Independence, reversed this thing, and said: No; the people, they are the source of political power, and their rulers, these presidents, these kings are but the agents and servants of the great sublime people.

For the first time, really, in the history of the world, the king was made to get off the throne and the people were royally seated thereon. The people became the sovereigns, and the old sovereigns became the servants and the agents of the people. It is hard for you and me now to even imagine the immense results of that change. It is hard for you and for me, at this day, to understand how thoroughly it had been ingrained in the brain of almost every man that the king had some wonderful right over him, that in some strange way the king owned him; that in some miraculous manner he belonged, body and soul, to somebody who rode on a horse, to somebody with epaulets on his shoulders and a tinsel crown upon his brainless head.

–Robert G. Ingersoll
July 4, 1876

From PIQUE, July 2010