April 1995

Humanist Morality

“We need to speak out and educate others that a non-theistic morality is not only possible, but inevitable.”, that was the thrust of AHA President Michael Werner’s presentation to the Third Annual Ed Wilson Memorial Lecture March 2nd at the Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City. His address, “Humanist Morality in a Post Modern World” emphasized the need to develop a positive image of humanism by living a moral and ethical life. He said morals and ethics should be at the heart of our response to those who do not understand us. “Humanist ethics,” said Werner, “is based on reason, compassion, responsibility and a belief in the worth and dignity of each human being.” He challenged Utah Humanists to promote humanism by working together to enhance community goodness and to acknowledge that humanist morality “has been time tested in the court of human lives.”

The King Decrees

If I were king of Utah, I would devote progressively more of the public revenues each year to the care and education of our children and progressively less to law enforcement, criminal courts, prisons, and welfare.

By devoting more resources at the front end to the care and education of our children, I believe that not only would fewer resources be needed at the back end for law enforcement, criminal courts, prisons, and welfare, but fewer resources would be needed in total, since my would-be exchequer assures me that the ounce of prevention would cost much less than the pound of cure.

In one generation I could convert my kingdom into a democracy and rid myself of the cares of governing. By having cared for and educated my kingdom’s children, they would have grown up prepared for self-rule. They would be far-seeing enough to continue my practice of caring for and educating their children as the first priority of their society. They would understand that the moneys spent today for the care and education of their children are an investment that might not provide a measurable return for eighteen years or more. But they would know that as soon as they failed to make the investment, they would begin a downward spiral that might require another king to reverse, because a king could control his subjects while he prepared their children once again to govern themselves.

I would expect my kingdom-turned-democracy to satisfy both liberals and conservatives, men and women, majorities and minorities, and religionists and humanists, because everyone would be as self-sufficient as possible, crime would be reduced to the practical minimum, both individual freedom and personal responsibility would be enhanced, taxes would be as low as they could be, government would be optimized to its appropriate size, and we could afford to help those who still need help.

–Earl Wunderli
Letter to the Editor
Published inĀ The Salt Lake Tribune
February, 16 1995


The following article is a presentation our chapter president, Flo Wineriter, gave March 25, 1995 to his Humanist Institute class in New York City.

My presentation concerns the growth of Humanist influence in world affairs during the past 300-years and the intense competition for that influence by the fundamentalists of the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. My thoughts are in response to the book “Defenders of God” by Bruce B. Lawrence, published by Harper & Row in 1989. All quotations are from the soft-cover edition.

I will begin with the authors’ definitions.

“Fundamentalism is the affirmation of religious authority as holistic and absolute, admitting of neither criticism nor reduction; it is expressed through the collective demand that specific creedal and ethical dictates derived from scripture be publicly recognized and legally enforced.

“Modernism is the search for individual autonomy driven by a set of socially encoded values emphasizing change over continuity; quantity over quality; efficient production, power, and profit over sympathy for traditional values or vocations, in both the public and private spheres.”

I believe the terms Modernism and Humanism are interchangeable terms defining current attitudes that have developed from The Enlightenment.

It seems to me the central point of controversy between Fundamentalist and Humanist is authoritarianism and the role of religion in politics and government. The fundamentalists of the three Abrahamic religions feel it is their mission to establish earthly theocracies in preparation for the arrival of a messiah. They use political influence to enact government laws and regulations that will give their creedal beliefs the force of secular law thereby forcing everyone to live according their moral precepts.

“All fundamentalists, whether they be Christian, Islamic, or Jewish, agree that the leadership of certain extraordinary individuals is decisive for the collective good.

The success of the fundamentalist campaign would destroy secular democracy and establish a theocracy. Humanists have a responsibility to keep a public spotlight focused on the goals of fundamentalism to prevent a loss by default of the freedoms’ people have gained under the Enlightenment leadership of the past 300-years.

Protestant Fundamentalism:

“Fundamentalist fought internal foes. Their leaders separated from mainline Protestant denominations, specifically Presbyterianism and the American Baptist Convention. They protested creeping rationalism within the church. They founded their own churches in order to maintain doctrinal purity and also to point out the defilement of those from whom they separated. “Expound and expose” was their clarion cry. According to one of its leading proponents, “Historic fundamentalism is the literal exposition of all the affirmations and attitudes of the Bible and the militant exposure of all non-Biblical affirmations and attitudes.”

Fundamentalist success would destroy the rights of self-expression, freedom of choice, equality, justice, the pursuit of individual fulfillment and the powers of the individual as advocated by Voltaire, Hume, John Locke, Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin, etc. Fundamentalist success would return us to the authoritarian days of the Holy Roman Empire when Kings enforced the will of Popes.

Judaic Fundamentalism:

“The oft told story of Judaism in the twentieth century pits the Jewish people against a host of inimical forces. Those are the headline stories. They ignore the other story of Jewish resistance to assimilation and secularization. That resistance has become an internal struggle. It does not pit Jews against the outside world but Jews against other Jews. It is a fight for the soul of Judaism. It is a fight to prove that Jews are not merely a special race with a piece of territory but a divine instrument with a universal mission.

“Almost all Jews would be offended by such a narrow definition of Jewish identity. It is for this reason that groups advocating such views have been called ‘extremist,’ ‘ultra orthodox,’ or ‘fundamentalist.’

The belief differences between fundamentalists and humanists revolve around the source of basic core values and are not resolvable. Fundamentalists believe human values are divinely instituted while humanists believe they result from the evolution of experience.

Fundamentalists believe a supernatural entity will reward or punish individuals according to their adherence to those values while humanists believe consequences are the result of the natural law of cause and effect. Fundamentalists believe they have a duty and an obligation to enforce those divine values while Humanist believe they have only the responsibility to promote desirable values and examine probable consequences.

Islamic Fundamentalism:

“We are required to focus on our Islamic duties, first to apply the Law of God (the shari’a) and the Word of God. And there can be no doubt that the first battleground of jihad is the removing of those shackles of unbelief that constrain us and substituting for them an Islamic order….”Abd As-Salam Faraj.

Fundamentalists have a concept of being a chosen people, directed by divinity to establish god’s kingdom on this earth and prepare for the day of a messiah to rule. Humanists believe in the equality of all races, that no one is inferior nor superior, that all are created equal, that everyone has basic rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “Like their American Protestant counterparts, Sunni Islamic fundamentalists want to take over the system rather than over-throw it. The outcome is no different for Muslims than for Jews and Christians.”

Humanism gives respectability to the philosophy of non-theism and moral support to those who are willing to question deity concepts and take personal responsibility for their actions without the promises or threats of after-death consequences. Humanism, a moral code built on respect for ourselves and others, needs no other-world threats or rewards to make life meaningful and desirable. Making this world a better place for everyone is sufficient incentive for understanding and supporting the ethics of Humanism.

The irresolvable differences of core beliefs indicate that it is useless to seek areas of commonalty. Perhaps the most we can hope for is an atmosphere of tolerance. Even that poses a danger to Humanism because if fundamentalists are successful in their drive for power they would eradicate humanism while the dominance of Humanist power permits fundamentalist freedom of expression and the freedom to try to become theocratic dictators.

Understanding this paradox gives us a more clear understanding of what Voltaire meant when he said “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

–Flo Wineriter