March 1997

Triumph Of Labeling

Doug Stevens believes that in the 2nd Congressional District race, Ross Anderson lost “because he is pro-abortion, pro-gay, pro-criminal rights and an ACLU militant,” and not because Merrill Cook could buy the office with his own money because “the voters are so uninformed that the issues do not matter” (Forum, December 16, 1996). Let’s assume Stevens is right and look at the issues that he identified.

“Pro-abortion” is a red herring. No one favors abortions over births. What most Americans favor is the individual woman over the government in making the wrenching decision of whether to abort her pregnancy under her particular circumstances. No one should mount a moral high horse on this vexing issue. Even the Supreme Court was divided in Roe vs. Wade but did lay down some reasonable rules as the law of the land, which Ross Anderson and most Americans support.

“Pro-gay” is nothing more than pro-human being, pro-fellow citizen. Our best scientific information, I believe, indicates that gays are born that way. They don’t choose their sexual orientation, nor do they recruit heterosexuals into their ranks. They are as decent, law-abiding and productive as the heterosexual population, and entitled to the same rights and privileges as all citizens.

“Pro-criminal rights” means protecting such constitutional rights as due process and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. “ACLU militant” means protecting such constitutional freedoms as speech, religion (separation of church and state) and assembly.

It is unfortunate that issues too rarely get aired in a political campaign. Labels substitute for thought, and sound bites for understanding. Stevens, for example, calls Anderson a “zealous liberal extremist,” apparently because he supports the law on freedom of choice, treats all human beings with equal respect and seeks to protect our constitutional freedoms.

Since Stevens apparently disagrees with Anderson, would it be fair to label him “anti-freedom,” “anti-equality” and “anti-civil liberties”? If I spent $1 million branding Stevens as such, the voters would think Saddam Hussein’s clone was on the ballot.

–Earl Wunderli
Letter to the Editor published in
The Salt Lake Tribune
January 14, 1997

Shame, Shame

Shame on state Rep. Brad Johnson for telling Robert Redford to donate some of his land (private property) to wilderness just to get even with the feds for putting public land into the Escalante Monument. Redford’s Sundance is a wonderful example of how to develop a canyon without ruining it. Compare it to the development of Emigration Canyon, for instance.

Shame, also, on Representatives Chris Cannon and Merrill Cook. As custodians of Utah’s well-advertised devotion to values, they never should have voted to sustain Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House of Representatives.

–Barbara Kleiner
Letter to the Editor published in
The Salt Lake Tribune
February 2, 1997

Why Support Humanism?

One of our chapter members recently decided not to renew membership because of limited funds for supporting organizations. The former member decided to make contributions to a more socially active organization. I thought about this decision for several days and responded with the following letter:

I’ve thought a great deal about what you said. I agree with you and I have concluded that we need to improve the communication skills of the Humanists of Utah. We need to be much more effective in letting people know why we exist. We need to clarify our Mission Statement, our Belief Statement and our Goals and Objectives. We need to enhance our public image so that those sharing the humanist philosophy can voice their convictions without fear of ridicule, censure, loss of job or community standing. Our purpose is to give humanism recognition and acceptance.

That is a real challenge in a community that has been deeply indoctrinated with a belief system that accepts an authoritarian supernatural mysticism; a belief system that convinces people they are sinners; that the only purpose of this life is preparation for a life after death; that the condition of that life-after-death is dependent upon their accepting the teachings of someone who suffered death-by-execution; and that stories in certain books are the words of a supernatural being.

Humanism wants people to live meaningful, productive, enjoyable lives because its the ethical thing to do! We can’t promise any rewards other than a clear conscience and a feeling that we have made a difference. I think that is a noble cause, worthy of our support.

This is our message and every dollar our members contribute to our chapter is used to increase public awareness of that message. Thanks for stimulating me to write this. And thanks for the support you’ve given our chapter in the past few years.

–Flo Wineriter

Why I Am Not a “UU”

This was my last sermon preached from a Unitarian Universalist pulpit. It was delivered in 1985 or so at The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus (OH), and in it I share my, shall we say, misgivings about the Unitarian Universalist (UU) movement. Around that time is when I resigned from membership in that church.

The reasons for NOT being UU may be as diverse as the reasons for coming here in the first place.

I’ve been told by a UU minister acquaintance of mine that the average “stay” within the UU church is about five years.

In that sense, it seems to me the church is like a train station, a place to be between where you’re leaving from and where you’re going to. This led me to a working title for my talk today, Unitarian Universalism, The Train Station Religion, Or Pardon Me Boy, Is That The Chattanooga UU?

My personal stay as a member of the church was approximately two years. My doubts began, in reality, about the time the ink was drying on my name in the book, but it took me a number of experiences, some of which I detailed in my sermon on my religious odyssey, to realize that I am, in fact NOT a UU.

The historical roots of the UU Church have produced a religion with a unique flavor. The combination of residual Christianity and disguised humanism found in this denomination is to be found nowhere else. The hospitality to atheists as well as to believers in mysticism, flying saucers, pyramid power and all manner of foolishness is amazing. You do provide a church home for a lot of people who simply would be without one otherwise. I am attracted to many things, and most of the people here. Hence, my reason for still being about as a friend.

However, as a humanist, I find certain aspects of UU to be frustrating. The principle of affirming no creed is, I believe, less than forthright. Agreeing to disagree is an appropriate principle for our pluralistic society as a whole, but it is not appropriate for a religious community dedicated to celebration and action as a community. Groups that stand for everything stand for nothing or else they deceive.

The alliance of convenience between residual Christians and closet humanists is inhibiting–to both groups. Neither theists nor atheists may act boldly or creatively on their convictions out of fear of offending the other. For humanists, the result is a timid humanism that spends more time keeping peace with the god believers in the church than meeting their own needs as Humanists and reaching out to other humanists in the larger community.

The UU Hymnal–a hymnal for both Protestants and atheists–is not a miracle; it’s a disaster. This hymnal to me is a symbol of the watered down religion so often offered in the UU church.

The willingness on the part of the UU Church to tolerate my humanism is far from enough for me. My need is for an organization that affirms my humanism.

So, while I will remain a friend of the UU Church and of all of you, as long as you’ll have me, I cannot for reasons above consider myself a member of your congregation.

–Larry Reyka
Humanist Chaplain Humanist Society of Friends

Bob Goff

1918 – 1997

In Memoriam

Robert D. Goff, 79 years of age, one the early members of our chapter, died February 9, 1997. Bob’s devotion to the problems of humanity made a significant improvement in many areas of life. His primary cause was working to end the hostilities among peoples and nations by supporting ideas and organizations that promote peaceful solutions to problems. He was active in the United Nations Organization and in the World Federalist. He participated in peace tours of Russia and Cuba, picketed the U.S. Atomic facility in Nevada, and wrote dozens of Letters to the Editors urging peace talks between all nations threatening to settle their difference with bullets rather than ballots. He also took an active role in seeking interracial understanding and respect for cultural diversity. He was an early advocate of Drivers Education for High School students in Utah and helped to shape and enact legislation making Drivers Ed mandatory for teens getting their first drivers license.

Bob Goff was an exemplary citizen and an outstanding member of the Unitarian-Universalist Society and the Humanists of Utah. The world is a better place because of his efforts and we are the beneficiaries of his devotion to improving the human condition.

–Flo Wineriter

Who Was Jesus Really?

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

“It should bring to an end the myth, the history, the mentality, of the Gospels. But nobody’s going to want to read it!” says Burton L. Mack, retired professor of New Testament at the School of Theology at Claremont and the author of a best-selling book about the origins of Christianity. He is talking about a scholarly document, a reconstructed Greek text of “Q,” a hypothetical first-century work composed mostly of sayings of Jesus.

Charlotte Allen discusses the work done on Q in “The Search for a No-Frills Jesus,” in the December 1966 Atlantic Monthly. Many scholars believe that Q served as a literary source for the Gospels of Mathew and Luke, which contain numerous parallel passages. Other scholars believe it never existed, since there are no manuscripts of it or references to it in ancient literature. Contained in the parallel passages are many of the teachings of Jesus that Christians place near the heart of their faith: the Lord’s Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes, the Golden Rule, and the admonition, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

Although some scholars who are Christian believers endorse the Q hypothesis, a cadre of biblical scholars including Mack argue that the teachings of Jesus in Q hold the key to an understanding of Jesus that is fundamentally non-Christian. They maintain that the authors of Q did not view Jesus as “the Christ” (the promised Messiah) or as the redeemer who had atoned for their sins by his crucifixion or as the son of God who rose from the dead. Rather they esteemed him simply as a roving sage who preached a life of possessionless wandering and full acceptance of one’s fellow human beings, no matter how disreputable or marginal. He was a Jesus for third-millennium America, with little supernatural baggage but much respect for cultural diversity.

Some Q scholars saw Jesus as a leader in a Q community in Galilee consisting essentially of Cynics. Mack describes Galilee “as a kind of beachhead where the surge of political crosscurrents constantly kept the people on their toes.” It had, he says, a multiethnic population that felt little loyalty to Jerusalem. Jesus was a countercultural guru who encouraged his Galilean followers to “experiment with novel social notions and life-styles,” to question “taboos on intercourse with people of different ethnic roots,” and to “free themselves from traditional social constraints and think of themselves as belonging to a larger human family.” “It’s over,” Mack said. “We’ve had enough apocalypses. We’ve had enough martyrs. Christianity has had a two-thousand-year run, and it’s over.”

Mack’s explanation has its critics. James Robinson contends that Mack has gone a bit over the top, having tilted his translation to make it more in keeping with a Cynical image.

The Search for a No-Frills Jesus

“It’s all faux history,” says Luke Timothy Johnson. “…we know so little about Christianity in Galilee.” Richard Horsley’s book, Galilee: History, Politics, People, says, “My book pulls the rug out from under the Cynic sage…The sapiential figure–that’s our modern typology, something we’ve made up. Q is prophetic–it’s traditional Bible prophecy…it was functioning in a dynamic way in the oral tradition…Jesus played out the role the script called for.”

Q is speculative scholarship, which is more tolerated in the American university than in the European academy. There is also an understandable lack of willingness to accept that there are limits to what historical research can provide by way of hard information about Jesus and his early followers. The only first-century texts dealing with first-century Christianity are specifically Christian documents.

Robinson comments, “I think that Jesus was an important person, one of the most important people who ever lived. In modern times many enlightened types have become skeptical, and we look down on the uneducated types who believe. It’s a sort of a pity that all that most of us know about Jesus is from the creeds, which we can’t believe in. This focus on the sayings is a way to make Jesus comprehensible in this age. Jesus was giving people the kingdom–a kind of selfless society where everybody is supposed to have a trusting attitude toward one another.”

Educated Europeans and Americans have come to see the purpose of religion is its social utility as an enforcer of morality among the poor. The Gospels, or Q, give a more radical commandment, which requires one to make a gift of everything, of one’s very self. Allen feels that it may be worthwhile that scholars in Claremont and elsewhere have pulled out the texts as a distilled reminder. I agree, but I ask, is it healthy-minded for us to give everything, even our very selves, thus possibly denying ourselves the fulfillment of our own personal needs? Wouldn’t it be better for us simply to love others as ourselves and to give thoughtful consideration to their needs while expecting them to give us the same consideration?