October 1996

Marie Springer

My Journey to Humanism

Marie’s pampered childhood made it easy for her to become a Humanist! She explained that she had a fortunate childhood, being much loved, her every wish granted by adults who adored her and respected her. As a result, said Marie, she developed a high degree of self-assurance that enabled her to make healthy changes and positive decisions as an adult.

One of her earliest religious experiences established a positive memory. Marie revealed that her father was angry when he learned that she had been baptized a Mormon, without his permission, when she was 12 years old. He told the family member responsible for arranging the baptism that Marie, even as a child, had the right to make religious decisions for herself. His support impressed on her young mind her personal dignity, and respect for her right to make decisions.

As a young adult in the 1940’s, Marie moved to New York City, and began her career in journalism with Look Magazine. While living in Manhattan, she met the man who eventually became her husband. He was a well-read man with a wide circle of literary friends, and exposed Marie to the philosophy of atheism. She was at first shocked to learn that there are people who don’t believe in God, but then getting to know fine people who professed atheism led her to be tolerant, and to appreciate more fully the religious freedom this nation encourages. Her religious curiosity led her to a variety of liberal religions. Back in Salt Lake City in 1963 she visited the Unitarian Society where Hugh Gillilan was then the minister. His stimulating intellectual approach to religious questions was satisfying to her curious mind and, as she said, “resulted in her conversion to humanism.” Marie said that when she told her Mormon sister she had joined the Unitarian Church, her sister replied: “Thank God you belong to something!”

For Marie, Unitarian Humanism is the sensible place to be. It’s a way of living that encourages people to think seriously, and live fully.

–Marie Springer

Economics Help Explain Religious Belief

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

A “new paradigm” in the sociology of religion is a great source of excitement among a growing number of economists and sociologists. Viewing religious behavior through the lens of economics suggests answers to questions about religion that previous theories could not explain.

In this view, religious denominations are seen as companies that deal in various commodities — everything from eternal salvation to coffee and doughnuts after mass. “Picture believers as investors, trying to decide if the price of goods is right,” asks Ellen K. Coughlin, in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The key assumption underlying this approach is that religion is not significantly different from other spheres of human activity. This rational-choice theory postulates that religious behavior springs from the same kind of basic impulses that other behavior springs from. People choose to join a church or convert to another religion by weighing the anticipated costs (financial contributions, time spent at weekly services) against expected services (moral guidance, a supportive community, life everlasting). Denominations compete for members by lowering the costs or increasing the payoff, or both.

The theory helps explain the vitality of religion in the United States. Over the centuries, religious participation in Europe has dwindled, while in America it has flourished. From the beginning, America has been the home to a wide variety of mainline denominations and upstart sects. Competition among America’s many sects explains the country’s religious vitality, and the changing fortunes of its denominations. Some churches have declined while others have struggled to replace them.

Laurence R. Iannaccone of Santa Clara University attempts to demonstrate why strict churches are strong. “Why would anyone,” he says, “join the Mormons, who are required to abstain from caffeine and alcohol, or the Moonies, who must submit to arranged marriages, when he or she could obtain spiritual sustenance at less cost from the Presbyterians or the Methodists?” He argues that strictness alleviates the free-rider problem that churches often face by weeding out less-committed believers. Stringent rules help to increase church member’s commitment and level of participation, thereby enhancing the net benefits of belonging.

Critics of rational choice theory say: The market metaphor may help explain some things about religion, but that culture and identity are so intimately involved that a strict cost-benefit accounting is not the most compelling explanation of behavior. There is a problem with the theory’s argument that religion is not only not irrational, but particularly rational. Also, rational-choice scholars, in characterizing their work on religious pluralism as a refutation of the old secularization theory, which held that, as science and technology advanced, religious tradition would inevitably decline, and possibly die off, have misrepresented that process. The consumer model of religion suggests the old religious patterns have broken down, and that itself is a mark of secularization.

Rational-choice scholars are not dissuaded. They believe rationality and market considerations will go a long way toward explaining religious behavior.

Increase Theory

Duncan Wallace, M.D., an Identity Psychotherapist, addressed Humanists of Utah on September 12, 1996. His subject was “Increase Theory,” a subject he was responsible for developing, and one that he has used in both his private and professional lives.

Dr. Wallace discussed how our lives constantly move from uncertainty to certainty. It is important to be clear on what you know, and on what you don’t know. This allows gaining of confidence from past experience.

People in their late teens tend to be more certain about things in their lives than 24-25 year olds. It is about this time of life that uncertainty is born. You may be both certain and uncertain about the same thing at the same time. Focus on yourself; your mind will seek certainty at all times. Your mind seeks clarity, accomplishment, and well being. Your mind will also seek uncertainty in the form of new things, challenges, and excitement; excitement exists at the edge of the unknown.

Uncertainty is around you all the time, in your awareness and consciousness. Certainty and uncertainty are somewhat analogous to air: 20% oxygen (certainty), 79% nitrogen (uncertainty). Things a long way away don’t have much effect on you, closer things have profound effects. A lot of what we do is with an eye to the future; life is linear. Uncertainty is a component of anxiety.

Uncertainty is a component of worry, of discovery, and of exploration. People are lured by positive uncertainty as in, “there’s gold in them tar hills,” or in a desire to see a grandchild.

Frightening uncertainty can be a barrier to improvement and lead to despair. Despair is a state of being where the old-self and confidence are insufficient to handle a current life crisis. You have to build new capabilities when you are least able. When you being to move out of depression, you are scared and uncertain, and don’t think you have the capacity. The road out is best taken one step at a time.

Increase Theory: We grow and increase whether we like it or not. If you consciously seek growth, you are more likely to learn more and be happy. The pains and pleasures of the mind are signals related to increase.

Good, in terms of Increase Theory, is that which allows increase without impinging on others. Evil is that which restricts or controls, or slows the increase without agreement.

Anxiety or fear is a gap signal that you are at the edge of where you are, and where you want to be. Survival requires you to “get safe” and sometimes you don’t use the right tools to deal with fear.

Stress of the mind is pressure in the mind. If you do something that relieves it, your mind becomes momentarily clear, but the stress returns. Stress is related to a goal from motivational statements you make to yourself. There is something in the future that you want or don’t want. That is not the problem; the illogical is that you say, “I must have this solution.” There are always other possibilities. The problem is being illogical about the goal.

Emotions are signals that you are born with that are based on who you are, and what you believe. As you understand your emotions you will be happier and grow. Life continues to be a progress from certainty to uncertainty. Anyone who thinks they have achieved ultimate certainty needs to take up golf to rediscover what uncertainty really is!

–Wayne Wilson

Letters to the Editor: Responses to Humanism Bashing

Two Letters to the Editor from Humanists of Utah members were published in The Salt Lake Tribune during September. Earl Wunderli (September 10, 1996) and Flo Wineriter (September 9, 1996) each had a response to the letter condemning humanism written by Dale Hawkins.

Earl Wunderli:

Professor Dale R. Hawkin’s seeming defense of BYU President Merrill J. Bateman, and his assertion that “the deplorable conditions in society today are the result of the teachings of atheistic doctrines” (Forum, August 29) both require comment.

First, Bateman was not accused of “stealing unique ideas” from Professor Gertrude Himmelfarb’s mode of expression. More precisely, Bateman was accused of using “a sequential summary of (Himmelfarb’s) ideas and writing” without attribution (Sunstone, September 1996), which is plagiarism. In other words, plagiarism consists not of stealing unique ideas, but of using, without attribution, someone else’s mode of expressing ideas, even ideas that, in Hawkins’ words, are “well-known facts” rather than “‘unique’ ideas of original authorship.” Bateman understood this distinction when he admitted that his attribution to Himmelfarb “could and should have been clearer” (Salt Lake Tribune, August 27).

Second, Hawkins has found what seems to be an ideological scapegoat for the “deplorable conditions of society.” But deplorable conditions have always existed. War, poverty, in humaneness, crime, hatred and ignorance have been with us from the beginning of time, and today, in addition to these, environmental degradation and overpopulation threaten our very survival. Naming any scapegoat does little to solve problems; using our intelligence and compassion, and sharing ideas with civility and open minds, do much more.

In the big picture, some progress is being made. Experimental science, just a few centuries old, has discovered and is discovering vast amounts of reliable knowledge about us, our world and our universe which we can use to make life better for everyone. The increasing number of democratic governments is protecting human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for more people than ever before. In spite of the shortcomings in our own society, I rather suspect that Hawkins would, like me, rather live in this country at this time than at any other place or time in history.

Florien Wineriter:

As president of the Humanists of Utah, I would like to respond to Dale R. Hawkins (Froum, August 29), who impugned the effects of secular humanism.

Professor Hawkins is objectively correct in stating the basic ideology of secular humanism, but his subjective conclusions are unsubstantiated. As he stated, secular humanism does promote “atheist doctrines of moral relativism”; John Dewey and William James are the 20th century philosophers who defined current interpretations and applications of godless humanism.

We do not dispute Hawkins’ description of secular humanism, but we strongly disagree with his conclusions that humanism is the cause of the decline of moral values, the destruction of families, and the deplorable conditions of our society.

Contrary to Hawkins’ conclusions, humanism puts the emphasis on humans solving problems without the imposed authority of religious or secular dogma. Humanism is committed to rational thinking and responsible behavior.

We encourage moral excellence, ethical relationships and human dignity; compassion, cooperation and community. Humanists have faith in the human capacity for goodness without the fear of supernatural intervention or post-life punishment.

The Secular Humanist Pantheon

From the August 1996 issue of the Humanist Monthly, newsletter of the Capital District Humanist Society.

The following are among people from the past who have contributed enormously to the development and history of secular humanism as a philosophical world view based on rational thought and human self-reliance.

Confuscius–c. 551-479 BCE
Chinese philosopher
Marie Curie–1867-1934
French physical chemist
Socrates–c. 470-399 BCE
Greek philosopher
George Sand–1804-1876
French novelist
Epicurus–341-270 BCE
Greek philosopher
Charles Darwin–1809-1882
English naturalist and evolutionist
Hypatia–c. 370-415 BCE
Greek philosopher
George Eliot–1819-1880
English novelist
Aristotle–384-322 BCE
Greek philosopher
Robert Green Ingersoll–1833-1899
American lawyer and orator
Lucretius–c. 100-53 BCE
Roman poet.
Friedrich Nietzsche–1844-1900
German philosopher and poet.
Marcus Aurelius–121-180
Roman emperor
George Bernard Shaw–1858-1950
British playwright and critic
Glordano Bruno–1548-1600
Italian philosopher.
John Dewey1859-1952
American philosopher, psychologist, writer
Italian mathematician, astronomer, physicist
George Santayana–1883-1952
Spanish-American poet and philosopher
German philosopher
Bertrand Russell–1872-1970
English mathematician and philosopher.
French writer and satirist
Albert Einstein–1879-1955
American physicist
David Hume–1711-1776
Scottish philosopher and historian
Margaret Louise Sanger–1879-1966
American founder of birth control movement
Thomas Paine–1737-1809
American political philosopher
James Langston Hughes–1902-1967
American writer
Thomas Jefferson–1743-1826
Third President of the United States
Sidney Hook–1902-1989
American social and political philosopher
Mary Wollstoncraft–1759-1797
English author, advocate of women’s rights
B.F. Skinner–1904-1990
American behavioral psychologist
Rammohan Ray–1772-1833
Indian religious and social reformer
Jean-Paul Sartre-1905-1980
French writer and philosopher
Auguste Comte–1798-1857
French philosopher
Joseph Fletcher–1905-1991
American biomedical and situational ethicist
Elizabeth Cady Stanton–1815-1902
American woman suffrage leader
Jacob Bronowski–1908-1974
American mathematician, humanist author
Mark Twain–1835-1910
American writer
Albert Camus–1913-1960
French novelist, essayist and playwright
Thomas Alda Edison–1847-1931
American inventor
Andrei Sakharov–1921-1981
Russian muclear physicist and political dissident
Sigmund Freud–1856-1939
Austrian founder of psychoanalysis
Isaac Asimov–1920-1992
American biochemist and author