May 1997

Liar, Liar

Professor Elaine Englehardt, director for the study of ethics at Utah Valley State College, was the speaker at Humanists of Utah’s March meeting. Englehardt stated that the first premise of her presentation is that there is no need to lie. “If we can think through difficult dilemmas, we will find that there are numerous acceptable actions and responses that don’t need to involve lying. I see lying as a fundamental wrong and the need for truth telling a fundamental right.”

Lying leads to a vicious cycle of trying to protect the initial untruth, which can cause harm. Consider the example of a newspaper reporter who was interviewed by a public relations person of a prestigious local hospital. The reporter had just finished an emotional roller coaster of birthing a premature infant who, thanks to top quality care, is healthy today. The public relations person embellished the events in the story he wrote in the hospital letter used to solicit charitable donations. He stated that the infant had survived as a direct result of charitable care provided by the hospital. The mother, while grateful to the hospital and its staff, had insurance and did not accept any charity care–she didn’t require any. She used her position as a reporter for the Deseret News to question the ethics of the PR department of the hospital. In the end, the hospital had to issue a retraction and an apology.

“Epictetus, the early Stoic defended, above all, the principle, ‘not to speak falsely.’ In more modern times, Immanuel Kant took the prohibition against lying as his paradigm of a ‘categorical imperative,’ the unconditional moral law. There could be no exceptions, not even to save the life of a friend. Even Nietzsche took honesty to be one of his four ‘cardinal’ virtues, and the existentialist Jean-Paul Satré insisted that deception is a vice, perhaps indeed the ultimate vice.

Lying is essentially a social activity. As Bart Simpson states, “It takes two to lie–one to lie and one to listen.” Lying not only involves other people, but is part of the intercourse that binds people together. In this imperfect society, we do lie and lying fundamentally hurts people. Lying particularly hurts those who are close to us as it betrays a trust that has grown.

–Wayne Wilson


Response to Nancy Moore: Seminary Released Time

The December 1996 and January 1997 issues of The Utah Humanist carried an article written by Nancy Moore challenging current release time practices in Utah public schools. Nancy is a career High School Counselor who has retired due to terminal cancer.

At Nancy’s request I sent copies of her article to the State Board of Education, the State Attorney General’s Office, the Utah Education Association, and Ed Doerr, President of the American Humanist Association and long time Church State Separation activist. Recently I received a reply from Douglas F. Bates, Coordinator School Law and Legislation at the State School Board. Here is his response:

“Shortly before Christmas last year, you sent a letter to the Utah Attorney General’s Office with copy to the Curriculum Division of the State Office of Education expressing concern about release time seminary.

“Released time religious instruction has been permitted in public schools in Utah and other states for many years. The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the practice in 1952 in Zorach vs. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 72 S.Ct. 679, 96 L.Ed. 954 (1952). Mr. Justice Douglas, writing for the Court in a case involving released time religious instruction in New York City, stated:

When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe Government may not finance religious groups nor undertake religious instruction nor blend secular and sectarian education nor use secular institutions to force one or some religion on any person. But we find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence.

“It is clear from the above that released time religious instruction may not be provided in school-owned facilities; the instruction must take place in privately owned facilities apart from the school. Because of the numbers of students that typically participate in LDS and non-LDS released time instruction in Utah, it is also clear that reasonable accommodations are essential to avoid unnecessary burdens upon both the school and the seminary program. As noted by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in a case which challenged extension of a school intercom system to the seminary building and the provision of boxes in the school building where seminary personnel could obtain copies of school notices and other information:

The primary effect of these aspects of the program is simply to make the school’s administration of the released-time system convenient and to avoid unnecessary conflicts with school classes and activities. The seminaries pay for the installation and maintenance of the intercom system, and the cost of the boxes is presumably negligible. These aspects of the program neither advance nor inhibit religion. Neither do these aspects of the program foster an excessive government entanglement with religion. Lanner vs. Wimmer, 662 F.2d 1349, 1359 (1981).

“I have enclosed a copy of the Lanner case for your information. Nancy Moore may be sincere in her beliefs about released time seminary, law, and the Constitution, but neither the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals nor the U.S. Supreme Court fully shares those views. The Supreme Court has not charted a clear course between the separationist and accommodationist extremes, and if anything appears at the present time to be leaning towards the latter–the Court, for example, invited a challenge to an earlier decision prohibiting public school teachers from teaching special needs children in parochial schools; the case was recently accepted by the Court, will be decided this year, and a majority of the justices are apparently prepared to overturn the previous decision. Their opinion could well have major impacts upon a number of current policies and practices in the schools.”

–Wayne Wilson


Humanist Manifesto I

May 1, 1997, marks the 64th anniversary of the publication of Humanist Manifesto I. Significant changes in the social and economic conditions following World War I generated the interest of religious, political and educational leaders in searching for a new idea system that would stimulate realistic hope for the destiny of human life. The search led to the humanistic philosophy espoused by European leaders of the Enlightenment and the eventual drafting of the Humanist Manifesto I. Thirty-four preeminent men of science, letters and academia approved and signed the finished document which was published in Chicago by Rev. Edwin H. Wilson, a Unitarian Minister, in the May 1933 issue of his bimonthly magazine, The New Humanist. Fifteen of the 34 signers were Unitarian ministers.

Corliss Lamont said, “The Humanist Manifesto of 1933 was a landmark in the development of religious and philosophical humanism.”

The fascinating story of the events leading to the Humanist Manifesto is chronicled in The Genesis of a Humanist Manifesto written by Ed Wilson and published after his death by the American Humanist Association.

–Flo Wineriter


A New Kind of World Conflict

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

“The last decade of the twentieth century reminds me of the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…'” says Tamara Nasrin in her article, “On Islamic Fundamentalism,” published in the July/August ’96 issue of The Humanist. She is in exile to escape government prosecution for blasphemy and a sentence of death by Muslin leaders.

Nasrin points out that at the end of the twentieth century, human creativity has opened up incredible new possibilities, while at the same time large areas of the globe are ruled by bigotry, hatred, and fanaticism in the name of race, religion, and political creed. Humankind is facing an uncertain future. New kinds of rivalry and conflict threaten us–in particular, conflict between two different ideas: secularism and fundamentalism. This is not a conflict between Christianity and Islam or between East and West. It is basically a conflict between irrational blind faith and the modern rational, logical mind; the past and the future; innovation and tradition; those who do not value freedom and those who do.

The basic argument of the fundamentalists is this: the idea of secularism is Western in origin. The imperialist West sold secularism to the leaders of the newly independent states so that the West could dominate the indigenous culture and religion by proxy. A belief grew among western Asians and sub-Saharan Africans that Islam should go back to its roots to find an alternative to Western life, culture, values, and institutions.

In many parts of the world, the secular state has not lived up to its promise of political freedom, economic prosperity, and social justice. Disenchantment and a feeling of having been betrayed has grown, especially among educated middle class people who have had high expectations of secularism. There is also a feeling that the Western societies have betrayed themselves with their government scandals, persistent social inequities, and devastating economic difficulties, especially in the United States and the former Soviet Union. The exaggerated reports by the global mass media have sent the message that there is a deep malaise in the United States caused by the social failures of unwed mothers, divorce, racism, and drug addiction.

Nasrin finds it difficult to accept fundamentalism as an alternative to secular ideas because of the insistence of fundamentalists on divine justification for human laws, the superior authority of faith as opposed to reason, and the idea that the individual does not count. “Group loyalty over individual rights and personal achievements is a peculiar feature of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists believe in a particular way of life; they want to put everybody in their particular straitjacket and dictate what an individual should eat, what an individual should wear, how an individual should live everyday life…” They believe in propagating only their own ideas, do not encourage or entertain free debate, deny others the right to express their own views freely, and cannot tolerate anything they perceive as going against their own faith. They want to replace democracy with theocracy.

Nasrin believes the situation would be different in the areas where fundamentalism is strong if only there were faster economic growth, less unemployment, and better access to education. With globalization of the economy, the advanced nations should not allow just greed and profit-making to become the guiding forces in the drive against fundamentalism with no consideration of ethics and moral values. Otherwise fundamentalists will name globalization as exploitation and will compare market leaders to past colonial powers. The promotion of the idea that Western culture is “superior” would also be counterproductive.

Bertrand Russell’s thoughts are instructive: “Gradually men will come to realize that a world whose institutions are based upon hatred and injustice is not one most likely to produce happiness. We need a morality based upon love of life, upon pleasure in growth and positive achievement, not upon repression and prohibition.”

“The power of reason is thought small in these days, but I remain an unrepentant rationalist.”

“Reason may be a small force, but it is constant and works always in one direction, while the forces of unreason destroy one another in futile strife. Therefore every orgy of unreason in the end strengthens the friends of reason, and shows afresh that they are the only true friends of humanity.”