July 1996

Sandy Usry

My Journey to Humanism

Although I am not afraid of death, I am terrified of public speaking! Now you are in store for more information than you ever wanted to know about me! I guess I will start at the beginning. I was born October 2nd, 1950, in Los Angeles, California. I have one sibling, a brother, who is 18 months older than I. My mother is a religious woman with a Presbyterian background. My father was nonreligious. Both of my parents were, in their own way, good role models. Both were liberal democrats, full of compassion and humanity.

I have both good and bad memories of my childhood. Life is not easy and my family was not spared its fair share of trials and tribulations. I was a good student, but after graduation from high school, eager to get on with life, I chose to get married. We had one daughter and the marriage lasted five years.

During the five-year period of my marriage, my brother had joined the Air Force and had been stationed at Hill Air Force Base. My parents had also retired and moved to Utah.

Following my divorce, I moved to Utah to be near my family. I lived with my parents while I found employment and got settled. They were a great source of love and support and took care of my daughter while I worked.

I grew to love Utah but never adjusted to the predominant religion and culture. I tend to think I was a good LDS person’s worst nightmare: a liberal, divorced, nonreligious female from California.

It was at this point in my life that I began to ask myself all the customary questions: Is the Bible true? Should it be taken as the word of God? Does God exist? Must morality be derived from religion? I came to the conclusion that the answer to all of these questions, for me, was “No”! I began to formulate my own belief system. About two years ago I ran across the book Unitarianism in Utah, written by Stan Larsen and Lorille Miller. I identified myself as a Unitarian. That discovery led me to South Valley Unitarian Church. At South Valley I picked up a brochure entitled “The Faith of a Humanist.” I identified myself more specifically as a humanist.

Contrary to popular opinion, my life has been enhanced through this shift in reality. My relationships have a greater depth and meaning. Life in general is sweeter. No belief system can lessen the pain of the loss of a loved one, but I have grown to accept the reality that loss is an indispensable part of life and growth.

My life has been enriched through my association with this Humanist community. I hope that our community will grow and eventually we will be able to develop a humanist center that will have a positive influence on Utah culture.

Finally, to bring you up to date on my current life, 17 years ago I met and married my second husband. We have two daughters: Jenny (15) and Jamie (14). So far so good!

–Sandy Usry

What is the Future of Science?

Humanists and humanist organizations frequently invoke “Science” or the “Scientific Method” in an almost religious sense. We believe that the universe can be explained both macroscopically and microscopically through application of scientific principles. Carl Sagan subtitled The Demon–Haunted World, which is almost certainly his farewell to humanity, Science As A Candle in The Dark. Last month I included a short quotation indicating that Mr. Sagan believes that Americans are scientifically illiterate. We have a hunger, indeed a need for science. The problem is that we are fulfilling this vacancy with “pseudo-science.”

The book shows that today’s UFO and alien encounter crazes are modern day manifestations of the demons and witches that plagued the earlier centuries in this era.

Combine Sagan’s ideas with other items and there is, I believe, real cause for concern. Cora B. Marrett, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, notes that two decades’ worth of surveys reveal that people know less and less about technology. In spite of the publicity of the infamous O.J. Simpson trial, only one in five Americans can provide a minimally acceptable definition of DNA. Less than half of Americans know that the Earth rotates around the sun once each year.

Furthermore, the USA spends less proportionally of non-defense research and development dollars than either Japan or Germany. Japan spends one-third more; Germany one-fifth. In addition, American Research and Development spending is not keeping pace with inflation. In real dollars, US public and private spending on R&D declined an estimated 2 percent between 1990 and 1995.

Ms. Marrett finds a silver lining to this dark cloud: increased cooperation between industry and university scientists and programs is replacing government funds. Anyone who read Michael Crichton’s introduction to Jurassic Park will not take comfort in this point. In the book (though not necessarily in the movie), Crichton points out that pure research must be free from the influences of naked capitalism. When big money from big corporations is involved, the direction of Research and Development programs is influenced by what the source of funds wants instead of a pure quest for knowledge.

Late in May, the House of Representatives voted to back wide cuts in government science programs that critics say would destroy US energy policy and rob the nation of its lead in research and development (Reuters News). According to Vice President Al Gore, the measure “would abandon a 50-year partnership among American industry, universities and the federal government to support science, research and technology.”

Republican supporters said the bill provided more for basic research but said the government should not be funding research that should be supported by the private sector.

The good news is that the Senate is unlikely to even consider the bill and if they do it would face a likely veto from President Clinton.

We humanists need to take a lead role in promoting and supporting programs that are based upon logic and reason. Our airwaves are filled with nonsense about aliens, demons and parapsychological tomfoolery. Ignore them when you can, counter them in public discussions. Become educated in the basic principles of the Scientific Method and encourage your children and families to do the same. The only way to defeat ignorance is with knowledge.

–Wayne Wilson

Florien Wineriter

My Journey to Humanism

I believe my first conscious awareness of my need to find an acceptable philosophy was triggered by the events of the second world war. During a furlough home I was asked to speak at the sacrament meeting of my ward. The focus of my talk was my concern about the ethics and the morality of a Mormon from Salt Lake City being required to kill a Mormon from Berlin, Rome or Tokyo. I was deeply bothered by the conflict of loyalty to God and loyalty to country. To this day I continue to believe that members of all religions must wrestle with that conflict.

Another ingredient of my journey was my awareness of the powerful influence religions have on political affairs. One example occurred when I was a member of the House of Representatives in 1957. A bill that required an appropriation of for a project supported by the LDS church failed to pass. The Speaker of the House said he wasn’t posing as a prophet but predicted that the bill would eventually pass. The next day several legislators announced that they had received calls during the night “explaining the bill in more detail” and they moved for reconsideration of the defeated measure. As you might have guessed, those “explanatory phone calls” came from LDS church lobbyists and, just as the Speaker had prophesied, the bill passed with votes to spare!

The political power of the LDS religion is clearly evident in this state’s history, from 1847 to the latest session of the state legislature. State liquor laws, the Equal Rights Amendment, gay and lesbian legislation, and abortion laws are just a few of the issues that illustrate how effectively the church influences politics in Utah.

Religion is rooted in authoritarianism. All religions accept the concept of an infallible God, the word of God being final authority. Anything attributed to God is absolute truth. To question anyone recognized as a spokesperson for God is considered blasphemous. This “authoritarian mindset,” encouraged by religions, makes religious involvement in politics a dangerous problem. Religious leaders speaking on political matters pose the danger of theocracy usurping democracy.

I am also upset with the tendency in our political system to equate being religious with being patriotic. This nation is politically and economically secular. In 1833, US Representative Rufus Choate of Massachusetts said, “We have built no temple but the capitol, we consult no common oracle but the constitution.” That quotation is engraved over a doorway in the US House of Representatives. Maintaining the independence of religion and politics and the separation of church and state is a major principle of humanism.

It has been many years since I spoke in that LDS meeting and posed my deep concerns about Utah Mormons being forced to kill our Mormon brothers and sisters in Berlin, Rome and Tokyo. Everything I’ve read, studied and contemplated about the human condition during these many years has convinced me that humanism’s concern for every person, desire to find peaceful resolution of conflicts, and dedication to the complete separation of religion and government holds the most promise for a desirable future. That’s why I am a humanist and have dedicated my retirement years to promoting public awareness of the philosophy of humanism.

–Flo Wineriter

Freethought Across the Centuries

In his book, Freethought Across the Centuries, Gerald A. Larue provides an overview of the historical ways in which inquiring human minds have challenged beliefs. He urges today’s students, educators, parents and society in general to become involved in critical thinking and to keep open the doors of free inquiry to provide the basis for a New Age of Enlightenment. His basic concern is with the recognition of those who have not only rejected standard faith and belief systems, but have also excluded any form of supernaturalism. He addresses the questions of their place in human history and in American life, their contributions to a free society, and the maintenance of the wall of separation between church and state.

As public school boards develop curricula to teach students the history of religion, Larue’s book should be an important item on the required reading list. The author is an Emeritus Professor of Biblical History at UCLA, a member of the prestigious International Academy of Humanism, and was honored as the Humanist of the Year in 1989 by AHA.

–Flo Wineriter

Co-housing: Fulfillment, Privacy, and Community

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

Co-housing is an emerging housing option for disaffected suburbanites who are trading in big homes on large lots in bedrock neighborhoods for a way of living that emphasizes friendship, cooperation and belonging. “The goal is…to create a fulfilling balance between privacy and community,” says the February 16, 1996, Wall Street Journal.

The tenets of co-housing are resident participation in development, extensive common facilities, a design reinforcing community, and significant self-management by residents. Most, though not all, feature smaller, more affordable homes.

The social mix in co-housing is broad–from traditional two-parent families to single mothers to older singles to lesbian couples. Children are developing fast friendships and their parents a sense of security that is reminiscent of their own childhood. Most of the people in co-housing units feel that it is more fun to live in a community than to live in a big house by themselves.

Co-housing attracts a very well-educated market. The participants have a lot of choices. They are very picky about what they get and they are reaching for more.

The residents act as the developers, contributing to a fund for the land; fees for lawyers, architects, and appraisers; and site preparation. Half of cost overruns may be divided equally among residents and half according to each home’s appraised value. The community may be a condo association; residents own their homes and undivided shares of all common property, and pay a monthly homeowner’s association fee. Homeowners can sell to whomever they choose, but buyers must agree to the community’s rules.

Homes are clustered in “neighborhood centers” typically of four to seven units landscaped with a pedestrian trail and benches to stimulate contact. There may be a common house in the center, walkways, a neighborhood center, a private front yard, a porch, a kitchen facing common areas, and finally, private living space.