Thursday, May 9th, 1991 is an important day for Humanists of Utah. It is our chapter’s official zeroth birthday, the day the chapter charter will be approved by the national board of the American Humanist Association.
At its official birth, the chapter weighs in at 134 people on the mailing list; 72 of those have sent in a donation of $5 or more to help get the chapter started. At the moment, most of that money goes into newsletter production costs. It is time to start thinking of ways to share the financial burdens more equitably. The way I see it, the chapter can go three ways: it can become:
- more exclusive,
- more inclusive,
- or more expensive.
And those ways don’t exclude one another.
- Those people whom we have been sending the newsletter for some time, and whom we haven’t heard from yet, will get a letter asking them to give us some feedback. If we can stop sending mail to people who have long since moved, that should cut our cost.
- The postal service and the printers offer economies of scale. If we can get 200 or more readers on our mailing list, the production cost would actually be lower than it is now. That is why the people who already expressed a financial interest in the newletter will also get a letter with this issue. It will ask them if any of their friends might be interested, as well. That’s not an invitation to do a proselytizing hard sell, although we may include a promotional brochure. We can send those friends a couple newsletter issues so they can make up their own minds.
- Either way, by making the mailing list leaner or fatter, there will be enough money in the kitty to produce another six newsletter issues this year. (That gives everybody one month off. What month would a newsletter be missed least? Please let us know!) But there are other things the chapter could be doing. Things like inviting speakers from out of state, acquiring books and videos for our lending library, sponsoring a Rational Recovery group (for people who want to stop their addiction, but without getting religion), you name it. The idea has been floating around to have chapter dues in tiers: $10 for ‘regular” people, $5 for those who live on a fixed income, $0 for those who are financially challenged. We don’t want anybody to be unable to link up with us just because they are smart, but not rich.
How does that plan strike you? Please let us know.
Last month, we asked how we could adapt the Humanist HappyMan to our local environment. Two ideas were bounced back to us.
One is to have Happy riding on top of the statue of the angel that decorates the religious building on Temple Square. Um…no.
Another is to have him frolicking on a mountain ridge. That sounds like fun, but my artistic development stopped at stickfigures. Is there a graphically gifted person out there who can make the Happy Man go over the mountains?
Bob Goff’s article in last months Utah Humanist, “Dreaming: Peace with Justice” got us this rather unusual response.
The Loyal Opposition
After reading Bob Goff’s article “peace with Justice,” I realized that there are still people stuck in the 60s!. People who are still espousing their same old dogma in the same old way, offering no new concepts or original ideas. These people have to wake up, see what is really happening in the world, and make the peace movement mean something to people other than each other.
Most people who desire peace in the world see it as a global issue. A problem for humanity. The problem faced by Mr. Goff, and those who believe as he does, is that it gives most people the impression that the United States is the only impediment to world peace. True or not, this is the impression that most people have. It is probably the single greatest obstacle that most peace advocates face. Until this impression is overcome, there will be no mass support for a solid peace movement among Americans. At the present moment in history, the peace activists are talking to each other, and nobody else.
It is certainly proper for Mr. Goff to have dreams of peace. But Mr. Goff and many others are going to have to be far more pragmatic in their efforts. This is the only way to gain any meaningful support from the American public. After all, America just won a major campaign in Iraq, one that Americans believe was for “good.” Americans see Secretary of State Baker continuously flying from country to country to attempt to build a real peace process in the Middle East. He is talking to countries who, for their own political reasons, simply do not appear to be listening. When Americans see this, why should they pay any attention to Mr. Goff?
Americans currently see the United States working for a peace process for the 21st century. They also have the perception that peace activists are people who are still stuck in the 60s.
Some conversations are very quick, you say your piece, you listen to the other guy, you reach a conclusion, and that’s it. Some conversations take a lifetime. A bonsai gardner talks to his tree with light and water and rope, telling it: “I would like you to grow in this direction, please.” The plant talks back by growing, or not.
Legislation is a very slow conversation, too. Those who make the laws tell those who have to obey them: “I would like you to behave in this way, please, or else I am going to make you hurt.” People talk back by behaving as they see fit.
In a democracy, where the rulers are no different from the ruled, the conversation is a bit like schizophrenic talking to himself: we the people as individuals talk with we the people as a community. For this conversation to work, it is vital that legislators take themselves and their conversation partners seriously. That means that they should not tell people: “Do this, or else.” Unless they are actually willing and able to “or else them” each and every time.
There are formidable means to enforce a law: people can get held up, robbed, kidnapped, kept in a little room against their will, and killed, if they don’t behave. If legislators don’t take their own legislation seriously, if they don’t insist on enforcement, they garble the conversation. Lately, there has been a lot of that going on.
- The majority of Utah lawmakers have said that people are people from the moment of conception. They earlier said that ending a human life is bad, so bad that someone who does that should get shot with a gun until they are dead themselves. The ACLU ran a page ad in the New York Times saying the same thing. The makers of the law said that was outrageous, they don’t mean for a woman who had an abortion to be prosecuted for murder.
- A Utah state court has ruled that bigamists can not be excluded from adopting children. Lawmakers earlier said that being married to two people at the same time is bad, so bad that you can get punished as long as you do that.
- Federal lawmakers said driving fast is dangerous. They said that people who do drive faster than the speed limit will have money taken from them, and their license to drive. But they didn’t say that there would be money available to check and see how fast people drive.
- Federal lawmakers said that someone who sells cocaine should be kept in a little room for a long time. But they did not tell the makers and keepers of little rooms to make enough little rooms to hold all the salesmen.
I am not saying that we should not make laws. I am not saying that we should have a police state, where everything that is not allowed is forbidden. But an unenforced or unenforceable law is a badly made one.
People may break it, because they think the lawmakers are only kidding. And enforcers, if not pushed to enforce every time, will have the leeway to only punish those lawbreakers they personally dislike.
Hope and Despair
The following items were side by side on the front page of the Salt Lake Tribune of April 22, 1991.
A national committee of Presbyterians has shaken the church to its core by recommending the denomination rid itself of sexual taboos and viewing sexual relations as enjoyable by everyone including single men and women, gays and lesbians, and responsible adolescents. The majority report attacks the sexual attitudes of the church and this country as patriarchal, homophobic and biased toward heterosexuality. (Washington Post)
A flurry of recent research has found that Americans believe in God and identify themselves as strongly religious. Seven of eight Americans identify with a Christian denomination. 96% of the population believe in God and 60% believe in eternal damnation in Hell.” (Boston Globe)
Memo to Myself
One of the funniest traits most humans have in common is that they forget pain and hardship very quickly. I imagine that it must be a defense mechanism of the brain: if we were able to recall in vivid and excruciating detail every painful or disappointing event that had ever happened to us, we might get very depressed indeed.
On the other hand, if you forget the pain, you may also forget to make sure it will not come back. So let me write this down while it is still with me:
February is a very blah month around here. February is to the year what Monday is to the week, a bleak period without many prospects for fun, and you just have to rely on your sense of duty to work yourself through it. It’s not just that it’s winter. It’s winter in December, too, but then there’s all the parties and cards and goodwill. And in January you still have your new Christmas toys to play with. But in February there’s nothing much to look forward to. Your tan is definitely gone, you get the flu again, and things have been cold and snowy for so long that you might get the idea that maybe, maybe this time, there is not going to be any spring.
There’s a children’s book that tells about that time of the year. It’s called Frederick, and it’s written by Leon Lionni. The philosophical depth of books for kids is easy to underestimate; this one has certainly got something important to say. Frederick is a mouse, and while all the other mice are working their tails off to store supplies for winter, he just sits around and watches things. “What are you doing Frederick?” they ask him, and he tells them that he is storing sunshine and harvesting colors. The other mice don’t try to correct his anti-social behavior, and they even share their pantry with him. But when food and the warmth and the gossip run out – it must be February by then – they turn to Frederick. He makes them close their eyes, and he tells them of summer, and flowers and sunshine, and he does it so well that they can feel the heat and smell the roses. “But, Frederick, you are a poet!” they tell him. “I know it,” he answers, and blushes.
That’s what we need in February, a poet to celebrate that life is bound to continue. Maybe not a poet in the flesh, there is not necessarily one Frederick in every crowd, and not every poet is an optimist. But we collect pick-me-ups all year long, poems, cartoons, songs, stories, the kind that make the blood run hot, that make the eyes twinkle and the smile twitch. And then, at the February membership meeting, and in the February newsletter, we can share them and remind one another that there really is going to be another summer. Just jot it down on your calendar.
C.S. Lewis was a man of moral courage. He started out as a gung-ho atheist, but in time dared to examine new ideas, and to think the unthinkable. He ended up a staunch defender of the Angelican church. He also ended up estranged from his former friends.
Many of us have walked that road the other way around. They had the guts to examine the faith of their fathers and friends, and found that they could no longer share it. At that point, though, the roads split.
Some people decide to keep their conclusions to themselves, and go through the motions of their former religion.
Some break with their church, and with all the friends they had in there, and with their families.
And some manage to keep their friends even after they have lost their faith.
There must be something more involved here than raw courage alone. What works, and what doesn’t? In this state, religion is an all-embracing part of social life. That means that if you lose all your friends who go to church, you may end up with very few friends indeed. And that means that the search for a successful communication strategy is of vital importance to a lot of independent thinkers. In fact, it is such a vital issue that we would like to devote the next newsletter to it, and the June membership meeting as well.
By pooling our experiences, we may be able to make a map for those who still are on the road.
So please write the Utah Humanist and tell: how did you deal with your doubts? How did you tell others about them? And did it hurt you or those around you? Would you have done things differently if you had known the outcome?
We are waiting to hear from you.
I would not want to be a teenager in this day and age. The average age at which contemporary Americans have their first sexual encounter is at 16 years and two months. (At 16, you can get your driver’s license. Is this a coincidence?) But the number differs by sex, by region, and by individual.
Imagine being 16, and your hormones running riot on your system. Imagine looking deep in the eyes of your first Meaningful Other. And imagine having to say: “Uh, sweetheart, before we go any further, can I ask you something? Are you a virgin? Certifiably so? And if not, when was your last test for AIDS, gonorrhea, herpes, genital warts, and other nasties? Can I see the results, please? Do you like me enough to not fool around with others? What kind of birth control do you prefer? What are the odds on that method?”
Forget it. To ask sensible, potentially life-saving questions like that, not only do you have to know what to ask, you also have to have the guts to ask them. Mere factual education is not enough; if I were a teenager today, and learned just the scary facts, chances are I would still be single and lonely by the year 2005. Next to facts, you also need the attitude that will let you act on them. You need indoctrination. And not just you, everybody else around you needs to be well informed and just as well adjusted. Are they?
Utah has a yes-but-no policy on sex education in public schools. The way it was explained to me by the State Education Office, yes sex ed is a part of the core curriculum, which means that every student has a right to be taught all the facts of life. But no, that right is not unconditional, because the parents have to give their consent for the student to attend the sex ed lessons. But yes, if a student has a question about sex, that question needs to be answered fully, honestly, and right there, consent or no. But no, such questions can not be engineered, they must be spontaneous. Can each teacher answer those questions? Yes, there is a curriculum available. But no, teachers can not be required to teach sex ed. But yes, outside instructors can be allowed. But no, that is at the principle’s discretion. And yes, he can decide not to have sex ed taught at his school.
For the majority of young persons in Utah, the resulting lack of full knowledge is not going to have any effect. They are going to do what they have been told is right, and abstain, and marry young. It is the young who don’t belong to the majority social grouping, or who rebel against its dictates, for whom a little bit of knowledge may be a deadly, dangerous thing.