December 1998

Shakespeare and Religion

Professor Brooke Hopkins opened his presentation November 12th at the Humanists of Utah general meeting commenting that the writings of William Shakespeare indicate he was strongly influenced by the ‘sacred’ but not the ‘religious,’ as we commonly understand the word. Professor Hopkins said this is his tentative intuitive conclusion after studying and teaching the Bard at the University of Utah for the past 22 years.

The question of Shakespeare’s personal religious beliefs has intrigued scholars for hundreds of years. The late Unitarian Minister, Dr. Paul Beattie, wrote, “Shakespeare never embodied the central Christian teaching regarding ‘law and sin’ in a play; nor did he write a play about Christianity. He may have been a Christian, or he may not. He may have been consciously or unconsciously a pagan. We will probably never know for certain.” Professor Hopkins agreed, saying Shakespeare was probably a humanist. Students of Shakespeare agree that though he may not have dealt with religion, he was concerned about human morality.

Hopkins said one of Shakespeare’s remarkable plays, A Winter’s Tale, portrays the degree of holiness or sacredness he felt toward life. The renewal of the friendship between Leontes and Polixenes following 16 years of suspicion and remorse and the revelation that Leontes’ wife Hermione was alive 16 years after he had her imprisoned seems to reveal his deep compassion, respect and concern for the enigmatic human condition.

Hopkins quoted lines from several Shakespearean orations that cite ordinary but miraculous ‘breath,’ rather than transcendent soul or spirit, as the holy force that is the essence of life. “Shakespeare, concluded Professor Hopkins, “celebrated the living human flesh and the great sacred nature that created breath.”

The Agnostic Christmas

AGAIN we celebrate the victory of Light over Darkness, of the God of day over the hosts of night. Again Samson is victorious over Delilah, and Hercules triumphs once more over Omphale. In the embrace of Isis, Osiris rises from the dead, and the scowling Typhon is defeated once more. Again Apollo, with unerring aim, with his arrow from the quiver of light, destroys the serpent of shadow. This is the festival of Thor, of Baldur and of Prometheus. Again Buddha by a miracle escapes from the tyrant of Madura, Zoroaster foils the King, Bacchus laughs at the rage of Cadmus, and Chrishna eludes the tyrant.

This is the festival of the sun-god, and as such let its observance be universal.

This is the great day of the first religion, the mother of all religions–the worship of the sun.

Sun worship is not only the first, but the most natural and most reasonable of all. And not only the most natural and the most reasonable, but by far the most poetic, the most beautiful.

The sun is the god of benefits, of growth, of life, of warmth, of happiness, of joy. The sun is the all-seeing, the all-pitying, the all-loving.

This bright God knew no hatred, no malice, never sought for revenge.

All evil qualities were in the breast of the God of darkness, of shadow, of night. And so I say again, this is the festival of Light. This is the anniversary of the triumph of the Sun over the hosts of Darkness.

Let us all hope for the triumph of Light–of Right and Reason–for the victory of Fact over Falsehood, of Science over Superstition.

And so hoping, let us celebrate the venerable festival of the Sun.

–Robert Ingersoll

Time Honored Truths

Humor from the Internet

  • Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things.
  • One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.
  • One nice thing about egotists: They don’t talk about other people.
  • Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.
  • The older you get, the better you realize you were.
  • I doubt, therefore I might be.
  • Age is a very high price to pay for maturity.
  • Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.
  • Men are from earth. Women are from earth. Deal with it.
  • Do pediatricians play miniature golf on Wednesdays?
  • Before they invented drawing boards, what did they go back to?
  • Do infants enjoy infancy as much as adults enjoy adultery?
  • If all the world is a stage, where is the audience sitting?
  • If one synchronized swimmer drowns, do the rest have to drown too?
  • If the #2 pencil is the most popular, why is it still #2?
  • If work is so terrific, how come they have to pay you to do it?
  • If you’re born again, do you have two bellybuttons?
  • If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?
  • Why is it called tourist season if we can’t shoot at them?

Facing Death

~Book Review~

I recommend for your thoughtful reading two interesting books concerning dealing with the medical verdict that death is likely within a few months, Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom, and All My Dreams Came True by Abigail Judd Bishop. Tuesdays With Morrie is the recorded reflections of a journalist who spent every Tuesday visiting with his former college professor during the final months of the retired professor’s suffocating from Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

All My Dreams Came True is the daily thoughts, feelings and activities of a 42-year-old Salt Lake City women dying from the effects of a brain tumor. Abigail Judd Bishop kept a detailed diary during the final three months of her life. Abigail died December 22, 1996. Her family graciously shares that diary with us.

These two books give the reader important insights into the dying process from the viewpoint of the observer and the patient. Both books give you a profound appreciation for living each day to its fullest.

Abigail Judd Bishop is the deceased daughter of Utah Humanist Virginia Judd Leonard, a member of our chapter. Tuesdays with Morrie should be available at most book stores.

–Flo Wineriter

Memes Fact or Fiction?
The Discussion Continues

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

In the last issue of this journal, John Hendrickson “protested the presentation of [Richard] Dawkins’ theory of memes” in the October issue “as though it were fact rather than science fiction.” Dawkins is, of course, a respected scientist, but John’s challenge to what he regards as science fiction is welcome.

Each month the study group chooses a book or article to read and discuss, and then I write an article in the journal about it. The study group chooses the piece. We are a free inquiry group that likes to consider a variety of points of view. John is welcome to attend and help choose the discussion topics.

In my October article I did not refer to Dawkins’ theory or any part of it is fact. The article in its entirety was an exposition, that is, a setting forth of the meaning or purpose, of Dawkins’ theory. I presented the whole article as being about what he thinks, his theory.

Throughout the article I used ascriptive phrases–“…says Richard Dawkins,” “Dawkins names…” “explains Dawkins,” etc.–often enough to make it clear that I was describing his theory, not fact. I did use a number of declarative sentences in the manner in which these are often used to describe an author’s ideas, for example, “Just as we can think of genes as active agents working for their own survival, we might think of memes in the same way.” Read in context, these sentences are obviously statements of parts of Dawkins’ theory rather than statements of fact. If I used an ascriptive phrase with every declarative sentence, the writing would be redundant and tediously repetitive.

Nor did I ever indicate that I agreed or disagreed with the theory. As a matter of fact, I feel there are some problems with the theory, but being unscientific is not one of them.

John says Dawkins notions are unsupported “by a single shred of objective evidence to verify the existence of ‘units of information analogous to genes which transmit ideas.” As a matter of fact, the scientist cites examples of evidence from real life of such units, such as tunes, ideas, catch phrases, clothes fashions, and ways of making pots or building arches. Dawkins regards these as units of information that transmit ideas. He also shows their analogy to genes, that they leap from brain to brain as genes leap from body to body, though the two leap by different processes.

It is interesting that Edwin O. Wilson, another noted scientist, refers to memes in his recent book Consilience. Having discussed Dawkins’ theory, members of our discussion group would not be lost with Wilson’s reference.

I hope this clarifies the nature of our discussion group and my write-ups about our discussions.

Barbara Luke

Member Spotlight

Barbara Luke was born in Alaska before it became a state, and attended BYU High School in Provo before she became a humanist. Her family moved from Anchorage to Provo when she was three, and she grew up in Provo while her father became “Mr. Daily Herald” as the city editor of the Provo newspaper.

After graduating from a parochial school, as she calls BYU High School, she went on to BYU to pursue her love of dance, but she was lured away at the tender age of twenty to teach dance at a private girls school in Connecticut. There she stayed for the next thirty-five years, marrying, raising a son, and teaching.

It was in the east that she found her girlhood religion wanting, joined an ethical society, and realized whenever she heard humanists speak that she was a humanist. Upon retiring four years ago and returning to Provo to be a companion to her mother in the same house she grew up in, she learned of Humanists of Utah through the Unitarian Church and joined.

Barbara returns to Connecticut each summer to teach “music and movement” in a women’s art camp. Her other activities are diverse: she works part time for Head Start, plays the recorder with a group, roller blades, hikes, sings with a chorus, and once played bells with a group in Greenwich, Connecticut. And she raves–really raves–about her two beautiful cats. Now if we could just get her to take an interest in something!

–Earl Wunderli