June 1998

The Three R’s: Rise of the Radical Right

It’s beyond Republican versus Democrat and it’s beyond Conservatism versus Liberalism, Lily Eskelsen told the Humanists of Utah at the May 14th general meeting. Extremism of the Radical Right poses a very frightening element in the political discussion searching for real solutions to the problems facing our nation. Eskelsen said her professional career gave her many opportunities to work with both major political parties in finding acceptable middle-of-the-road compromise solutions to the serious educational problems that needed addressing in recent years. She fears the agenda of the radical right is a position that threatens the very fabric of our nation’s political structure. She sees the agenda of the radical right as the dismantling of our constitution, the demolition of public institutions, and the destruction of public service.

Lily Eskelsen reviewed some of her experiences appearing before legislative committees and talking with individual state lawmakers about the state’s educational problems. She said she always felt respected and recognized that conservatives and liberals have honest disagreements but both were genuinely interested in getting the facts, analyzing problems, and finding beneficial solutions. Conversely, she says, the political radical right has a frightening agenda, it is not seeking solutions, and it wants to annihilate opponents, destroy public education, repeal all social programs, and completely change the conscience of America.

Eskelsen says she hopes voters will recognize the dangers posed by the radical right and will support those reasonable candidates who have a desire to enter the political arena of debate and find constitutional solutions to our many serious problems.

–Flo Wineriter

The Many Names of Humanism

The number of names applied to Humanism astounds me. Looking at some of these names provides insight into the way others interpret the meaning of Humanism. Recently these names were showcased at the Atheist Alliance convention, sponsored by the St. Louis Rationalist Society Many groups were represented: The Freedom From Religion Foundation, The Eupraxophy Center, The Council for Secular Humanism, The Rationalist Society, The Freethinkers, The Atheist Alliance, and The American Humanist Association.

Each of these groups espouses a secular philosophy consistent with Humanism. The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Annie Laurie Gaylor gave a presentation on her book Women Without Superstition, emphasizing women in history who promoted a secular viewpoint. Humanists are free from religious bonds and sexual bigotry and can empathize with these secular women.

Eupraxophy is a world view independent of religion. The word is derived from several components to form the new word, Eupraxophy. Secular Humanism and Humanism are nearly interchangeable at this point. The rationalist view point is one of a very Humanistic ilk; viewing the world in a rational way is paramount to the Humanist experience.

Freethought probably entails the most significant contribution to the Humanist experience. Without freethought, many would not examine the world with an open mind, share ideas in new ways, and contribute to the well being of those around them. Atheism also embodies Humanistic ideals; a world guided by humans and human thoughts has little place for a god belief.

I think that the titles we accept for ourselves accentuate our priorities. As a member of the San Francisco Atheist Alliance group, Ray Ramano created a very realistic portrayal of Judas as a man, attempting to be the manager of Jesus and the Apostles’ finances and public appearance dealings. He put so much feeling into the character that the entire audience paused for a brief period, in shock, before applauding his performance. To take such an historic person and contrast the day to day problems is very Humanistic, but the emphasis on treating Jesus as a human rather than a god, requires an atheistic viewpoint, as well.

Herb Silverman, the candidate without a prayer, described his experiences running for Governor and Notary Public in his state. South Carolina had a restrictive law that effectively prohibited atheists from running for public office. Herb presented a very humorous portrayal of his experiences. The primary focus of his efforts were to free a portion of the secular population to become contributing members of the political system. He founded the Secular Humanists of the Low Country.

Steve Schafersman spoke on the American Humanist Association’s venture into the Web. Many popular freethought books are being scanned and provided on the web for all who wish to read them. Steve also spoke of the efforts to censor the web and the intention to use filter engines to censor bad ideas. This has backfired as libraries and schools eliminated sites discussing breast cancer, for example. Steve founded the Houston Skeptics group. His work emphasizes his preference for Skeptic as a label.

The many names of Humanism can be a bit confusing, but we all hold similar views with varying emphasis. Choose your name, join the fun and work together with all of these organizations to help provide support for a secular Humanistic accepting world.

–Clayton Slaughter
May/June issue of The Central Ohio Humanist

Ethnicity of Jesus

Humanist Humor

These “proofs of Jesus” are widely circulated on the Internet. No offense or defamation is intended towards any of the ethnic groups mentioned.

Three proofs that Jesus was Jewish:

  1. He went into his father’s business.
  2. He lived at home until the age of 33.
  3. He was sure his mother was a virgin and his mother was sure he was God.

Three proofs that Jesus was Irish:

  1. He never got married.
  2. He was always telling stories.
  3. His last request was a drink.

Three proofs that Jesus was Puerto Rican:

  1. His first name was Jesus.
  2. He was bilingual.
  3. He was always being harassed by the authorities.

Three proofs that Jesus was Italian:

  1. He talked with his hands.
  2. He had wine with every meal.
  3. He worked in the building trades.

Three proofs that Jesus was African American:

  1. He called everybody brother.
  2. He liked Gospel.
  3. He couldn’t get a fair trial.

Three proofs that Jesus was Californian:

  1. He never cut his hair.
  2. He walked around barefoot.
  3. He invented a new religion.

Three proofs that Jesus was a Woman:

  1. He fed a crowd at a moment’s notice when there was no food.
  2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn’t get it.
  3. And even when he was dead, He had to get up because there was more work to do.

Recommended Reading

~Book Review~

The Gifts of the Jews, by Thomas Cahill, is only 275 pages but the author tells the engrossing story of how a tribe of desert nomads changed the cultural course of history for the western world. Cahill explains how Judaism established the belief that life is linear rather than cyclical, promoted the significance of the individual, the family and the tribe, and developed a moral code of compassion, love, justice and conscience, the seven-day week, and a philosophy of progress. In a concluding comment the author says, “There is no way that it could have been ‘self evident that all men are created equal’ without the intervention of the Jews.” (page 249) The Gifts of the Jews is a fast read that rewards you with a deep appreciation of our treasured human values.

Another new publication that deserves your time is Consilience by Edward O. Wilson. The noted Harvard biologist argues for the fundamental unity of all knowledge and shows why the goals of the Age of Enlightenment are surging back to life. Says Wilson; “The originators (of the Enlightenment) clashed over fundamental issues. (But) they shared a passion to demystify the world and free the mind from the impersonal forces that imprison it.” (page 21) Consilience is not a fast read but it is rewarding.

–Flo Wineriter

Mormons vs. Baptists

Observing the somewhat delicate, preliminary sparring between the Mormons and the Baptists, who will “invade” and proselytize Salt Lake City this summer, is very amusing. It is delicate, of course, because money is involved. H.L. Mencken said it best: “Every religion of any consequence teaches that all the rest are insane, immoral, and against God. It is seldom hard to prove it.”

–Adrienne Morris
Published in The Salt Lake Tribune May 13, 1998

The Source of Human Good

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

“Why have freethought, atheism, and secular humanism thus far failed to gain mass support on the world scene?” asks Paul Kurtz in his book Eupraxophy: Living without Religion. “Why do scientific humanism and secularists win all the intellectual campaigns against religionists, yet lose in the long run?”

Humanist and secularist ideas have had a profound impact in the world: the development of science and the progressive application of its methods to the understanding of nature and life. The application of technology and industry for the betterment of the human condition and their contributions to improved standards of living and health. The development of secular schools and universities and the extensions of the horizons of learning to millions of inhabitants of this planet. The continued secularization of society and culture, the arts and sciences, and philosophy and politics, making them independent of religious authority or control. The progressive development of democratic ideals world-wide, those that recognize freedom of conscience, the right of dissent, and the separation of church and state. The growing respect for human rights on a global scale and the sense that we are all part of an interdependent world community.

Although in some countries, particularly in Western Europe, the humanist movement is now growing, the overall impact is still very weak. Unless strong humanist institutions are developed, says Kurtz, there is no guarantee that the secular and humanist revolution in the modern world will continue. Secularist and humanist culture in pagan Hellenic civilization was overwhelmed by the Dark Age of Christianity; the Alexandrian library, a treasury of great classics, was burned; and the infamous Holy Inquisition was eventually launched. There is no assurance that this will not happen again and that men and women will not retreat in fear and trembling into the false security of a religious cocoon. A collapse of courage and a renewed dread of death, individually or collectively, can again overtake human consciousness and it may again feel the need to postulate myths of solace to ease frustration and sorrow.

“The only way to see to it that humanist philosophical, scientific, and ethical concepts survive our age is by transforming them into conviction and commitment in the minds and hearts of ordinary men and women and by embodying them in institutional form.” Ideas take on a new vitality when they are reinforced by their institutional forms though only a nonviolent strategy can most effectively accomplish this, one based primarily on moral suasion and education.

Kurtz proposes a public education that especially develops the skills of critical intelligence, logic, and scientific methods of inquiry; an appreciation of the importance of rational inquiry and thinking skills; and a clarification of the most effective methods for evaluating truth claims, judging them by the evidence, and in light of their logical relationships, and testing them by reference to their consequences. These methods involve an open mind about questions still unresolved and some element of skepticism about claims not objectively corroborated.

“The great challenge of the immediate future is to extend the methods of critical analysis from narrow specialized fields of knowledge to all aspects of thought and action, and especially to use them in appraising the claims of religion, as well as dilemmas encountered in the ethical and political domains.” This should be the task of all the institutions of society. We should attempt to provide within the media critical dissent, an appreciation of alternative points of view, and improved quality of taste and judgment. People need to be encouraged to appreciate the findings of science in general, to cultivate rational powers of thought, to study the methods of logic, of clarifying ideas, and of reaching reliable knowledge. “The best therapy for nonsense is critical intelligence.” Skepticism is important as an antidote to gullibility.

Kurtz says that many humanists are unduly reluctant to criticize religion. Yet true believers bitterly attack them. We have reached a stage in the development of human culture where dissent is tolerated. We should never return one intolerance for another, nor mock or ridicule alternative belief states, but we should criticize them fairly. We should not assume that the Bible and claims to revelation are immune to critical scrutiny; when we examine them carefully, we find that their claims are highly questionable.

Humanism is deeply concerned with ethics and cherishes moral principles and values, but is troubled by repressive moral codes imposed by authoritarian religions. It is identified with moral freedom: the emancipation of the individual and society. This emancipation does not break down the social fabric and lead to violence, crime, licentiousness, pornography, drugs, and sexually transmitted disease, as many defenders of the social order charge. Eschewing transcendental theistic morality with absolute commandments and a focus on obedience to God to win salvation, humanistic ethics focuses on the here and now and wishes to use critical intelligence to cope with problems or make moral choices.

Kurtz advocates the establishment of Eupraxophy Centers, focusing on eupraxia, good practice. They would be both schools and laboratories for lived experience, providing for people actually to relate to each other. Some of their functions would be ethical education, counseling, creative renewal and friendship, rites of passage, enjoyment; and social polity or the discussion of concerns about society and social justice.