February 1999

Role of Religion in the American Revolution

The statement by Jerry Fallwell, “We need to recommit ourselves to the faith of our fathers,” indicates that the United States was founded on biblical morality and the Christian religion, but this is not reflected in real history, Dr. Steven Epperson, former BYU history professor, told the January 14th meeting of the Humanists of Utah. Following the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Dr. Epperson said Alexander Hamilton encountered on a Philadelphia street a Princeton professor who told him the Princeton faculty was shocked that the constitution proposed for ratification contained no recognition of God or the Christian religion. Hamilton replied, “Upon my word, we forgot.” That historical anecdote should put to rest the claims that this nation was founded on Judaic-Christian religious principles, said Epperson.

Efforts to institute mandatory classroom prayers, references to the Faith of our Fathers, Judeo-Christian Heritage, Spiritual Foundations, America–A Christian Nation, continued Professor Epperson, are mere sentimentalism and trivialization of this nation’s history. The founding of this nation was much more complex and complicated. In reality, he said, more than half of the colonial population was non-churched. Many colonial residents were born, married, and died without benefit of religious ceremonies.

Many pilgrims came to North America to escape from the dominance of religion in the political structures of Europe. History records hundreds of years of the two power structures, religion and government, working together to dominate the lives of citizens, and people came to this geographical location to escape from such tyranny. Because of their experience with the heavy burdens imposed on people by the combined powers of civil government and religion the founders of this nation were determined that no such collusion would ever be permitted in their new nation. Thus the strong constitutional language that separates religion and government.

Asking the audience to take out a dollar bill and look on the back at the pyramid, the eye, and the two slogans engraved around the symbol, Epperson pointed out that the pyramid consists of 13 blocks watched over by the All Seeing Eye of Providence. The slogans, in Latin, do not come from the bible but from the pagan writings of Virgil.

In conclusion Dr. Epperson, currently the Program Coordinator for the Utah Humanities Council, said, “In the new nation one found no uniformity of opinion, nor any ever-present harmony. One did find, however, vision, courage and hope. They had this vision because they believed very strongly that great were the possibilities and challenges that faced the American people in establishing this nation.”

–Flo Wineriter

Applying Humanism to Personal and Social Problems

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

Can humanism really help one to solve personal problems? Or social problems? Don’t the seemingly easy answers provided by authoritarian religion give a more uncomplicated and emotionally comforting approach to life’s problems?

Lloyd and Mary Morain in their book Humanism As the Next Step argue persuasively that humanism as the basis for an upbeat, constructive way of life without any ready-made formulas makes it easier to work problems through to solution and prevents us from creating new problems while meeting old ones. First, it is a state of mind of self-reliance and confidence which prompts people to act from perfectly natural causes rather than occult ones. This approach gives hope of understanding and perhaps even controlling the causes. Success and failure depends on whether we can see the chains of cause and effect leading up to the present situation and whether we act on the basis of this knowledge. We are allowed no transcendental alibis and are freed from insoluble riddles. We are encouraged to feel that there is usually some kind of answer to a problem if we could but find it. Second, humanism involves reliance on a common-sense realistic method, basically the thoughtful scientific method, which consists of observing keenly, gathering facts, questioning traditional authority, and carefully checking assumptions. It encourages keeping the mind open for new knowledge and being always reluctant to jump to conclusions.

A humanist looks at problems in social relations as problems in human happiness, in working out what will be best for the people concerned. One doesn’t ask who is right or wrong or recognize hard and fast categories of good and evil, but, rather, is interested in workable solutions and happy relationships. The point-of-view of others is respected; they have an equal right to their respective slants. The aim is to be nondogmatic and democratic, to keep the mind open for new insights. Only by accepting people as they are and trying to understand them can we live with them successfully. We do not make hard and fast judgments about people on the basis of past actions alone. We recognize that people change, and we have faith in them.

The Morains present too sugar-coated a picture of human relations. While in many situations their approach works, what about those where it doesn’t, where other people refuse to work with us in good faith. Should we have respected the point-of-view of Hitler and Stalin? I suggest that we humanists should work to get people to resist prejudice, hatred, murder, and other evils that bring unnecessary suffering and death to human beings.

The authors counsel correctly that we can free ourselves of fears, tensions, frustrations, and hostilities–the inner demons urging us to self-destruction–through the humanist orientation, which gives self-respect, security, inspiration, and independence. This point of view is also valid in dealing with the social and economic situations of our time. “We ourselves must take responsibility for making the world a better place in which to live, as there is no being or power, called by whatever name, to whom we can shift this task.”

Martha Stewart

Member Spotlight

Martha died on December 10, 2009. Her family included this simple statement in her obituary that really sums up who she was: Martha avoided drawing attention to herself. She could never quite believe how beautiful she was.

What’s in a name? Apparently nothing, as Juliet tells us, for a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. And yet one must wonder, since the Westport, Connecticut, Martha Stewart of crafts and television fame is like, although but a pale reflection of, our own Martha Stewart, that gentle woman who serves refreshments each month after our general meeting. You name it and our own Martha Stewart can not only do it, but probably does. She makes leaded glass creations that she contributes to the Unitarian Church’s “action auction” each year. She makes her own Christmas (Winter Solstice?) Cards with linoleum blocks. She paints with oils and water colors, and she does the calligraphy on our membership cards.

Martha Stewart

She and her entire family are multi-dimensional. She graduated from LDS High School, where she learned in her theology classes that she was not of the faith. She went on to the University of Utah where she was editor for five quarters of The Pen, a literary magazine, and graduated when she was not quite twenty with high honors in art and English. She broke her contract as a teacher at Davis High School to marry Justin Stewart on New Year’s Eve in New York City. Justin was at Columbia working on a master’s degree in adult education. He was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Signal Corps during WWII and was the first to bounce radar off the moon, and eventually went back for his law degree and set up his own law firm. During the course of his life’s journey, Justin served as chairman of the Democratic Party in Utah and died six years ago; there was no apparent relationship.

Meanwhile, her son Peter, a mechanical engineer, has retired from Boeing; her daughter Polly teaches at Salisbury College in Maryland; and another daughter Heather lives next door, teaches Adult Education at Granite District, and is married to a Welshman who teaches English at Westminster College and writes plays for BBC radio, like last November’s play on Frank Lloyd Wright. Martha herself eventually returned to work at the Salt Lake City library for eleven years, then for the circulation library for the blind and physically handicapped for five years, and finally as a reference librarian for the Utah State Historical Society for ten years, retiring in 1980. She has since served as a docent at the Museum of Fine Arts at the U, and in the manuscript division of special collections at the Marriott Library at the U. But best of all, says her daughter Heather, Martha has enchanted generations of children with life-like butterflies and birds snipped magically out of construction paper.

Can the other Martha Stewart top this?

–Earl Wunderli