The beautiful pristine geology of southeastern Utah was presented in a multi-media program to Humanists of Utah at the October 9th general membership meeting. Dave Pacheco, Outreach Coordinator for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), clarified some of our confusion in understanding the 30-year effort to preserve Utah’s magnificent red rock country from devastation by commercial explorers and developers. The Utah Wilderness Coalition’s proposal to protect 5.7 million acres of Utah’s wild country is detailed in the book Wilderness at the Edge. Several copies of the book sold at our book table after the fascinating presentation.
Pacheo said the fight to preserve and protect Utah’s wilderness is gaining support across the nation as citizens learn that these canyon lands are America’s public lands. “Protecting America’s Redrock Wilderness has become a national effort,” said Pacheo, “exemplified by the incredible outpouring of grassroots pressure and national media coverage.” He concluded saying, “We will continue seeking citizens support to defeat destructive legislation that would open Utah’s wilderness to exploitation.”
Copies of the book Wilderness at the Edge: A Citizen Proposal to Protect Utah’s Canyons and Deserts are available from the Utah Wilderness Coalition, PO Box 520974, SLC UT 84152-0974.
I monitored C-Span television coverage of “The Promise Keepers” rally a few weeks ago in our nation’s capitol. I heard several speakers trying to convince the thousands of men attending the rally that they are powerless weaklings who must give up their individuality and meekly submit their lives to a mythical personage. Speaker after speaker told them they were sinners, unworthy of life unless they accepted a superstition as reality and sought on bended knee, an uplifted arm and tearful eyes the forgiveness offered by a mythical character.
As I tried to understand why millions of people the world over let themselves be denigrated to a meaningless mass by such trash-talk, I thought about the much more realistic message to males exemplified by Rudyard Kipling in his poem If:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream-and not make dreams your master;
If you can think-and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings-nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run-
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And-which is more-you’ll be a Man my son!
I graduated from Pleasant Grove High School in 1968. Pleasant Grove was then a sleepy little town that was about 98% Mormon. Early in the school year a most unusual young man from somewhere on the east coast transferred to PGHS. He took the pseudonym “Nimrod Ragnarok,” lived by himself in an apartment which he decorated with psychedelic posters, lava lamps, and other sundry items from the sixties. To say he was different from most of us was an understatement.
One of the major events for any senior class at PGHS is the annual whitewashing of the “G” on the mountain. It was also a time for all the macho males to get drunk. This event occurred at the time that I was beginning to “see the light,” that is, I was actively questioning the canon of Mormon doctrine. I was also fulfilling the requirements for graduating from Seminary. I was in transition. I sat on the mountain all night with Nimrod while he got plastered and argued morality. Our conversation mostly concerned alcohol and profanity. To my credit, I argued not from a religious point-of-view, but that alcohol is not healthy and that profanity is a poor substitute for education.
Nimrod later wrote in my yearbook, “Some day you’ll learn that livers can’t live forever and that profundity is no substitute for profanity.” I haven’t seen this person since graduation, though whenever I think of him I wish I could. His personal note to me has stuck with me for nearly 30 years now.
So what does this have to do with Kurt Vonnegut’s new novel Timequake? Anyone familiar with Vonnegut’s work will know that he went through a profane period (probably best exemplified by Breakfast of Champions) at about the middle of his work. He took a lot of criticism and had his works variously banned and burned. He not only complained publicly, he “cleaned up his act” for his last several novels. With Timequake he considers himself a “harmless old fart” that can pretty much do as he pleases. This attitude, combined with an apparent distaste for writing (maybe if he would give up his typewriter for a word processor) combine to produce a series of profane images and language that may offend some.
Timequake, dedicated to “All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental,” is reminiscent in several ways with Breakfast of Champions, not only in tone and language, but in following the exploits and preaching of Kilgore Trout. The basic premise of the book is that the expanding universe has a little hiccup in February of 2001. Time, instead of progressing, goes back exactly 10 years. Everyone is compelled to relive the last decade, knowing in advance what will happen and is powerless to change it. Free will is suspended.
When time finally catches up and free will is re-instituted, nearly everyone is so used to the lack of volition that it is a total shock. Anyone who is not sitting or laying down, falls down. Those in moving vehicles are the most unlucky–there is a huge crash all around the world. Nearly everyone everywhere is stuck in PTA (Post Timequake Apathy). Kilgore Trout comes to the rescue. First he tries to tell people that they have free will. Nobody understands so he modifies his message to, “You were sick, but now you’re well again, and there’s work to do.”
Chapter 21 begins with the sentence, “I am Honorary President of the American Humanist Association.” Vonnegut has a unique view of our philosophy of life. He states that humanism isn’t for most people–religion is a better option. “Humanists, by and large educated, comfortably middle-class persons with rewarding lives like mine, find rapture enough in secular knowledge and hope. Most people can’t.”
Devotees of Vonnegut, like me, will treasure Timequake. If you haven’t yet read any of his other books, I’d recommend that you start with something a bit more conventional. If Mr. Vonnegut, through some quirk of fate should read this, I’d like to say to him, “Consider Kilgore Trout and James Michener, they both continued writing no matter what. I know you are tired, but whether you think so or not, you still have plenty to say. I, for one, am interested in reading what flows from your pen, or typewriter, or whatever.”
Church and State: A Christian Nation?
The increasing effort of some religious organizations to declare the United States a “Christian Nation” prompts me to make the following observations. One of the clearest constitutional statements regarding the intent of the founders of our nation to maintain a separation of secular and religious activities is the final phrase of Article VI, “…no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Please note that this is not an amendment to the Constitution, it is language in the original body of the document.
Regarding praying in public schools and at government functions, it is important to remember that minor children are compelled to attend public schools and are therefore a captive audience. Adults attend government meetings voluntarily and are free to talk out if they object to the use of a religious ritual. Children are taught to obey authorities and are discouraged from questioning the contents or the effectiveness of religious rituals. They are easily indoctrinated to accept the religious beliefs of the adults controlling them.
Religion teaches people what to think, not how to think. Religions indoctrinate, public schools educate. Those who support the movement to declare our country a “Christian Nation” are supporting an action that would further divide and tribalize us.
Dilemma of the Mormon Rationalist
Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report
“He (Galileo) had realized at last that the authorities were not interested in truth, but only in authority.”
“In the decline of Christianity over the past 900 years no incident has so symbolized the struggle between faith and rationality as has the trial of Galileo (1564-1642),” psychiatrist Robert E. Anderson pointed out in a speech at the Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City this past August. “With his development of the telescope and discovery of the moon-like phases of Venus, he concluded that the sun was the center of the universe and challenged the literal interpretation of the Bible.”
Refusing to follow the orders of the church fathers to present his views as only a hypothesis and to give equal weight in his writings to the traditional view of the universe and, after being threatened with torture, he was condemned to imprisonment in his house until he died nine years later. He is universally recognized as the father of modern science and his trial as the cause celebre of the twin conflicts of faith versus reason, obedience versus individual freedom.
“In the more than three centuries since Galileo,” Anderson continues, “the results of science have been so profound and far-reaching that we in the west have come to suspect all supernatural claims and to look for other more rational explanations first. Most religions have accommodated the discoveries of science, but many fundamental religions maintain their belief in the supernatural by frequent appeals to so-called ‘groupthink.’ Within such religious groups praise is given for maintaining a belief without external evidence and greatest praise in holding firm to those beliefs despite considerable contradictory evidence. The conflicts of faith versus rationality versus free inquiry have become central in the dilemmas facing the rationalist Mormon, and his or her dilemma can be seen as part of an ongoing history of the struggle between reason and fundamentalism. If rationality casts doubt, the fundamentalist response is usually increased dogmatism and demand for submission. For the rationalist Mormon, the problem has become dogmatism in the face of compelling contradictory information or evidences.”
In 1853, Mormon leader Brigham Young began to teach that God was still progressing in knowledge and had come to earth as Adam to father his spiritual offspring physically. Apostle Orson Pratt, wanting to reconcile Mormon scriptures with the Bible, in contradiction to Young’s doctrine, taught the omniscience of God, not his personhood. Young’s response was that Pratt’s teaching was a lie that was “false as hell.”
Years later Pratt recanted, confessing, repenting, and capitulating. “If the prophet of the living God, who is my standard, lays down a principle in philosophy or science we must bow. We must yield.”
In a conflict that began as a difference of opinion, Young shifted the debate to submission to authority and demanded that Pratt recognize his right as prophet of the church to declare doctrine. Yet today the majority of church leaders hold to Pratt’s views on divine omniscience. Teaching Adam-God can result in excommunication. Does salvation include the surrender of rational thinking to authorities who disagree among themselves?
“Yet I think he (Pratt) pointed a possible theoretical and practical direction for solving the problem of Mormon fundamentalism by rising above it and focusing instead on the virtues taught,” comments Anderson. Several approaches are being used by Mormon rationalists in an effort to implement Anderson’s suggestion: holding that the Book of Mormon is authentic history but that Joseph Smith expanded on it by adding elements of his environment, maintaining that the book has no historical value but should be revered for its teachings, or limiting one’s involvement to social or charitable activities in the church. Critics attack these approaches as compromised positions; they wonder why something that is not what it purports to be should be revered.
“In the final analysis, adherence to the virtues of Mormonism is not a rationalist escape, for the church sometimes seems to take a dim view of some of the virtues that the rationalist Mormon considers critical: a fullness of truth, wisdom and knowledge, unfettered access to information and pluralistic discussions.” Censored history, the rewriting and alteration of history, locked archival doors, and condemnations of study groups are anathema to a rationalist.
The church can and is forcing rationalist members to back away and separate themselves. These people are using vigorous, firm or simply impassive methods of separation: 1) Shifting to another form of Christianity, which some doubting Mormons see as changing one form of questionable irrationality to a less organized one. 2) Firm withdrawal by removal from the membership rolls of the church, accompanied by an indifferent, uninterested attitude toward the church. 3) By anger; or passive withdrawal, simply becoming inactive (probably the most common form) which leaves one’s options open and does not directly attack friends and/or their beliefs but which may lead to doubt, guilt, remorse, or uneasiness about their standing with God.
Anderson defines well the plight of the Mormon rationalist, and calls for him to work to change the direction of the church flock toward expanded tolerance and keeping outspoken independent thinkers within the fold. “Of those of us who have a belief in Jesus as the son of God, we think he will be pleased with our work, for he defied the immorality and hypocrisy of religious leaders in his day, and within the Book of Mormon he condemned the church of the medieval times for its abuse of power. We wait on him and await his return.”
Yet, while decrying fundamentalism for having no historical or scientific base, Anderson inexplicably looks to a miraculous, supernatural deliverance for humans, an expectation that also has no historical or scientific base and no evidence to support it in objective reality.