My Journey to Humanism
Hugh came to humanism from a rather orthodox Christian background. As a child he attended a variety of Christian churches and says his fondest memories of his early religious experiences was the robust hymn singing. During his college years he was actively involved in the Wesley Foundation, a Methodist religious organization. His involvement in the Wesley Foundation led to his decision to become a Methodist minister.
Hugh says his liberal arts education did what a liberal education is supposed to do: it opened his eyes to a wider vista, a wider perspective on the cosmology of our universe and particularly life on this planet of owl solar system. Classes on the history of religion increased his awareness of the many religious points of view, and philosophy classes revealed to him the various ways generations have thought about the important issues of life. All of these things were affecting his personal belief system even though he was seriously studying for a career in the ministry. “My heart was very much in what I was trying to do but my head was raising other kinds of issues and questions,” Hugh told the audience at the May meeting.
Hugh says his biggest problems were caused by the theology classes, particularly a professor who frequently quoted the famous Tertullian phrase concerning religious faith: “I believe because it is absurd.” Hugh said giving faith a higher value than reason made no sense to him then and it makes no sense to him now.
Hugh began his ministerial career as an assistant minister in a large Methodist Church in Cleveland, Ohio. After two years, he decided his religious convictions were more in tune with the liberal theology of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, an outreach program at that time of the American Unitarian Association. Having a deep-felt need to be honest with himself and with his Methodist congregation, he resigned
his position. As he put it, “I gave up Methodism for Lent.”
He became a candidate for a ministerial opening at the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City in 1961. He found the congregation was humanistically oriented and felt his religious philosophy was very much in sync with the membership of the Salt Lake Unitarian Society. He was unanimously approved by a congregational vote and served with distinction for eight years. He enjoyed his years as a minister in Salt Lake City because he could be a thoroughgoing humanist without any reservations ‘whatsoever.
Hugh Gillilan’s humanistic philosophy may be summarized in the following words he used during a memorial sermon for President John F. Kennedy on November 24, 1963: “It is for us to reaffirm that friendliness and sympathy for our fellow man, which now as always remains the foundation stone of the good society; to resolve anew to bend our minds and energies toward the pursuit of truth, the creation of beauty, and the freedom and welfare of all persons…”
Hugh left the ministry in 1969 and today is in private practice as a family therapist and active member of Humanists of Utah.
Humanists of Florida
The following article is condensed from the homepage of the Humanists of Florida.
Goals and Concerns
- To promote the philosophy of Humanism, as elaborated below, to the problems of Florida’s developing society.
- To encourage attitudes of kindness, compassion, tolerance, and a loving generosity in human relationships, and in our treatment of all life. These attitudes help us to see ourselves in the lives of others, and encourage appreciation for the remarkable diversity of human culture and experience.
- To develop and popularize the skills of creative and critical thinking that empower people to challenge prejudice, superstition, and irrationality in every area of life and enable the individual to reach the highest levels of achievement.
- To survey those artistic and imaginative expressions of life which have been the source of the greatest pleasure and enlightenment, and which reflect compelling human truths.
- To explore the grounds of ethics and morality within the unfolding complexities of our evolving culture. Such knowledge will enable us to become effective protagonists for the happiness of the individual person.
In practical terms, our Humanist goals are realized through continuous education, extensive debate, and testing of ideas. Acting in the belief that the true wealth of mankind is found in the sharing of knowledge and experience, we learn from each other and from the vast number of people with whom we share this common perspective.
Humanists are committed to improving prospects for our species in many ways. We are leaders in our communities, and participate in alliances with others on vital matters of common concern.
Humanism…an incomplete definition
Humanism is a movement with roots deep in the history of human civilization. In ancient times, and through to the present, courageous Humanists have challenged the power of entrenched autocracies and the debilitating myths of established institutions. From the times of the early Creek philosophers, Zeno and Democritus, whose thoughts outlined the beginning of the scientific method, to the heroic martyrs of the renaissance who questioned the rule of theocracy, Humanists have traced the true source of happiness and prosperity to human imagination, intelligence, and creativity. Human life, like all life, is a consequence of over four billion years of natural evolution by a universe which is as indifferent to our fate as it was to the dinosaurs. Our success as a species will be determined by our capacity to overcome the temptations of magical thinking, and to create meaning and purpose that truly satisfies the ever expanding world of human competence. Humanism is an instrument for the conscious control of human destiny by the only intelligence known to exist in the universe: our own.
Join with those who believe that:
- The methods of reason and science provide the soundest means of understanding ourselves and the universe.
- Creative ability, happiness, personal responsibility, and fulfillment are best realized in political cultures that nourish freedom and genuine democracy.
- Human beings and their societies are the product of naturalistic, evolutionary processes that form our universe.
- The values, ideas, myths, and social systems of every human culture arise from experience, and are modified by present and future knowledge.
I became aware of why religious authority is a threat to human reasoning while reading the newspaper reports of LDS President Gordon Hinckley blaming the secularizing of public attitudes for the rampant social illness in America. The articles quoted Hinckley with saying of secularizing, “Its consequences are deterioration of family life, a weakening of self-discipline…single-parent households…people on welfare, abortions…and an increase of the prison population…” My immediate reaction was to begin composing a letter to the editor responding to his denunciation of secularization. Then my years of LDS indoctrination of never questioning a church authority made me pause to consider the public consequences of criticizing Hinckley. I became acutely aware of how powerful is the religious teaching of respect for authority and how that religious indoctrination carries over into political and secular affairs. I realized that if I am intimidated against responding to Hinckley’s remarks, then it is certainly doubtful any active Mormon would dare to question his accusations. I gained a new appreciation for the fact that it was a major turning point in human history when leaders of the Enlightenment dared to question both religious and secular authority.
If there is any validity to Hinckley’s conclusion that shutting our doors to the god of the universe is a cause of the moral decay of America, then humanism has a real challenge to stress our principles of human decency, responsibility and concern for ethical and moral values based upon reality. The authority of human reason, not the authority of supernatural mysticism, is the source of improving life on this earth. We humanists can probably agree with part of President Hinckley’s presentation, the part where he said: “There must be a change in attitude, the taking on of a sense of accountability for one’s actions.”
1916 – 1996
Beverly Hyde, a member of our chapter, died July 10, 1996. Beverly, 80 years of age, made her valuable contributions to humanity helping people to sove their individual problems and frustrations with life. She graduated from the Universtiy of Utah with a Masters Degree in Social Work, then put her knowledge and talents to use at the Veteran’s Hospital and the State Division of Family Services. She was a resident of the Friendship Manor at the time of her death
Do We Need a New Mythology Founded on Religion and Science?
Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report
“Religion has been present at every level of human society from the earliest times,” points out Geoffrey Parrinder, author of World Religions, a useful encyclopedia of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices from Paleolithic times down to the present day. The Oxford English Dictionary defines religion as “the recognition of superhuman controlling power, and especially of a personal god, entitled to obedience.” Belief in god(s) is found in most religions, but different superhuman powers are often revered, particularly those connected with the dead. There are many other elements of religious life which cannot be included in a short definition.
Religion has been universal at all stages of history and human geography, but not all individuals have been religious. Likely this was so to a lesser degree in the past, though atheists and agnostics probably appeared more among literate and individualistic peoples than in closely-knit societies, Socrates was condemned to death for teaching atheism to young men, but in fact he had only criticized the myths about the Greek gods for being immoral. He believed in the immortality of the soul and in a divine genius which he thought guided him.
“The study of religion reveals that an important feature of it is a longing for value in
life, a belief that life is not accidental and meaningless. The search for meaning leads to faith in a power greater than the human, and finally to a universal or superhuman mind which has the intention and will to maintain the highest values for human life.”
Whether morals can exist without religion or some supernatural belief has been debated, but at least all religions have moral commandments.
In recent, times the errors in speculations about the origins of religion, says Parrinder, have made scholars cautious. If religion is as old as thinking human beings, as seems likely, then its origins are so remote that it is improbable much evidence will appear to explain its beginnings. The important task is to study the different phases and aspects of religious life, and to discover from these the role of religion for human life.
He says that in studying religion, the believer may have a better chance of understanding other faiths than the skeptic, for the unbeliever often seeks to explain religion away as psychological or social illusion. He quotes E. Evans-Pritchard, “The believer seeks rather to understand the s manner in which a people conceives of a reality and their relations to it.”
The suggestion he makes here is questionable because he assumes that the unbeliever does not seek “to understand the manner in which a people conceives of a reality and their relations to it.” This assumption is itself debatable. The doubter asks whether the people’s conception of a reality is valid, and when there is no evidence that it is, he may ask what the psychological and sociological reasons are why the people conceive of reality as they do. Actually, many doubters themselves have previously been believers and have experienced the manner in which believers conceive of a “reality,” and may very well understand it.
Parrinder also briefly discusses “anti-religion,” which he says can be traced from the cynics and skeptics of ancient Greece and the charvakas of India down to modern secularists. Originally it referring to that which lasts for an age or century, it has undergone changes in meaning so that it has now come to be applied to that which opposes religious belief or, more narrowly, is against religious education. He says humanism, formerly concerned only with human interests, now is taken to exclude the divine, and declares that men and women are on their own in the universe, without a god or life after death,
He says, “Belief in a universe of law, and trust that truth can be found, are basic to both religion and science and can form the ground for a modern mythology.” This statement does not run against humanist thought if the religion he has in mind is religion “in the best sense,” which Humanist Manifesto II points out “may inspire dedication to the highest ethical ideals.” It was cautioned, however, in the study group discussion, that the warning in the Manifesto “that traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species,” appropriately points out a serious problem in the development of a modern mythology. If science is to help form the basis of such a mythology, then, as the Manifesto states well, ^Any account of nature should pass the tests of scientific evidence; in our judgment, the dogmas and myths of traditional religions do not do so.”