June 1999

Re-enchanting Humanity

“We seem to be suffering from a decline in human self-confidence and in our ability to create ethically meaningful lives,” says the author in the prologue of this book. Much of the blame he places on forces opposed to humanism but some recognized humanists have contributed to the problem. He calls for a renewed focus on the goals of the Enlightenment Philosophies: reason, freedom, and science. Bookchin makes some strong statements contrasting “science” and “scientism.” He defines “science” as disciplines dealing with external realities that can be systematized into verifiable, testable, and predictable laws while “scientism” deals with speculative theories of human activities. He then claims that E. O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins and Paul Ehrlich are posing as scientist but practicing scientism! His challenge of these sacred personages of humanism will keep your attention and generate some serious thinking regarding his conclusions concerning the human evolutionary biological and sociological potential.

–Flo Wineriter

Irrational Hatred

I am writing in support of the actions of Kay Peterson, the principal of East High School. I am a retired AP Biology teacher. I taught at Kearns High School for 30 years. My children attend schools in Salt Lake City School District and both graduated from Highland High School. My children and I experienced in the schools, on an almost daily basis, the intense, irrational hatred of homosexuals. The worst epithet that a student can hurl is “faggot” and “dyke.” I heard it all the time and rarely do teachers or students try to stop this behavior.

My claim that it is irrational is based on the evidence from modern biology and psychology that homosexuality is not chosen. It is simply one of the endless ways that all of humanity is diverse. The hatred has its roots in Christianity and Mormonism in our particular community. I see a parallel here with Nazi Germany. If it were not for the anti-Semitism of the Catholic and Lutheran Churches in Germany, Hitler’s virulent anti-Semitism would never have taken root. Just as Germany, and much of the world, was blind to their own irrational hatred of Jews, so is this community blind to the hatred of homosexuals. The hatred is wrong and unjust.

I am very proud of the way that Kay Peterson, his choices and policy, took a stand against irrational hatred. I see Salt Lake City School District as being frightened to stand against this irrational hatred. That Kay Peterson received no support for his decision to allow a six-minute presentation about the discrimination against homosexuals at an assembly at East High School is appalling.

It sends a chilling message to teachers and administrators that if you take a stand against the irrational hatred of homosexuals you will be abandoned to face on your own the hateful judgments that Kay Peterson received. Kay Peterson’s courage to stand against irrational hatred is rare in this community.

— Richard Teerlink
published in the 
Salt Lake Tribune on May 8, 1999

Neutrality: Switzerland in the Crosshair

A high rate of unemployment, an influx of refugees, trade restrictions, foreign military forces on every border, and the constant fear of invasion were some of the economic and psychological wages Switzerland paid for its position of neutrality during WWII. This argument was presented by Dr. Robert Helbling when he spoke at the May 13th meeting of the Humanists of Utah.

Dr. Helbling, retired University of Utah professor of languages and literature, reviewed the legalistic history beginning in the sixteenth century that led to the recognition of Switzerland’s “perpetual duty” of neutrality by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. However, being recognized as neutral did not relieve the government of the landlocked nation from the constant fear of that status being violated. Its dependence on Germany for coal and on Italy for the transit of oil subjected the nation to intense economic and military pressure from the WWII Axis powers. The right to asylum, deeply rooted in Swiss history, sent 300,000 refugees fleeing France, Poland, and Germany across its borders, straining its communal welfare rolls to the breaking point. More than 100,000 military internees from both sides of the conflict added to the economic stress of the nations resources.

Early in the war, German bomber squadrons frequently invaded Swiss airspace. Later Allied planes violated Swiss neutrality nightly as they made bombing raids on southern Germany and northern Italy.

The wages of neutrality proved very costly, but through it all, Switzerland was able to preserve its territorial integrity and alleviate a great deal of human suffering on both sides through its humanitarian efforts and cooperation with organizations such as the International Red Cross.

“Today,” said Professor Helbling, “Switzerland continues to be a haven for the victims of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. Over the last four months Switzerland has accepted over 50,000 Kosovar refugees. Switzerland’s foreign residents constitute slightly more than 20% of its population.”

“Minorities are the majority of the Swiss population.” said Dr. Helbling. “We might take note that this year’s Swiss president is a Jewish woman, a Social-democrat from the Suizze Romande, thus representing a number of so-called minorities in her single person, concluded Helbling. “When applied to Switzerland, the term is a misnomer, for the case can be made that Switzerland consists of nothing but minorities.”

–Flo Wineriter

Building A Personal Philosophy

What philosophy is:

“Philos,” a Greek word meaning, “To love,” is an emotion, a passion, and an ambition. “Sophia,” ironically, is the quality of being wise, or the ability to make correct judgements based on information from our environment, our experience, and our accurate thought. Philosophy, therefore, is a passion to be wise.

Organizing the philosophy:

Wisdom comes from a foundation of skepticism. Though skepticism is a philosophical stance in itself, the root of skepticism comes from observing contradiction. Competing views, ideas, and faiths breed questions that ask, “Which of these competing views is correct?”

In fact, wisdom would not exist if contradiction did not exist. We would immediately assume that our ideas are correct, and naively place faith in these ideas. Faith that they will correctly guide our relationships, whether they are with nature, or with other human beings. In philosophy, therefore, we start with asking questions.

To ask a question means we trust our thinking to 1) ask the question, and 2) find an answer. This assumption, a form of faith in itself, requires that we have faith in ourselves to comprehend the questions and the answers. Faith, a principle of trust, begins with its application towards our senses and our imagination. We trust that what we sense, and what we feel, is real. We trust that our minds can perceive it correctly, and be creative in applying solutions to our problems.

The parts of philosophy:

Our experience and thought have lead us to define (or organize) the basic elements of focus in philosophy:

  1. Metaphysics. The metaphysics of philosophy is the study of first principles. This means examining what is objective, or independent, of ourselves. It is also a challenge to whether it may be subjective instead. What is the Cosmos? How are we part of it?
  2. Epistemology. What is knowledge? How is it founded? How do we know something in the first place?
  3. Logic. How does one determine between valid and invalid reasoning? How does one determine that the knowledge we have is correct?
  4. Ethics. What are the correct principles of human action? What is a good act vs. a bad one? Are there degrees of good and bad?
  5. Aesthetics. What is beauty, and why is it beautiful?

We are then caught in a quandary: faith and skepticism battle for the right to be right, one dependent on the other. We abandon faith as it shows to be wrong at times, and then in applying skepticism, we realize we have made an assumption, and have been exercising faith all along. We then realize that nothing can be known, because there will always be contradictions.

We are finally led in the frustration of our confusion to balancing skepticism and faith for the sake of practicality. We fight to apply skepticism and faith in the right places. We think, therefore we know we exist. We observe, and therefore attempt to relate ourselves to our observations. We recognize our reliance upon our thought, and upon our observations. In faith we realize that we are limited to thought and observation.

We then realize the importance of our philosophy, and therefore organize it into something workable, and when we work we continue to realize our existence. Therefore, we live and wish to continue living, and we finally realize that we love to live wisely, and smile that philosophy has guided us there.

–David Evans

Loyalty and Its Conflicts

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

Is loyalty really a virtue? Joseph Chuman raises this question in an address, “Loyalty and Its Conflicts,” which he gave to the Ethical Culture Society on February 2, 1997. What often comes to mind are members of street gangs or of organized crime, who through powerful loyalty to their own think nothing of mugging and killing people who are not members of the gang; or maybe we think of mindless chauvinism, patriotism or nationalism, which declares its incorrigible allegiance to one group or nation. Loyalty to my own clan or nation used to justify the slaughter of those defined outside of it.

Loyalty seems to justify much negative and cynical behavior these days; it is often preceded by the adjectives “misguided,” “misplaced,” or “blind.” Loyalties seem to arise almost unconsciously from visceral ties which have more to do with chance than choice or deliberation. People often have strong loyalties to their families, clans, religions and countries, not because on any objective scale their associations are better than others, but merely because of an accident of birth. Loyalty often seems to be governed by arbitrary and not reflected upon associations, the strongest pre-rational.

Chuman suggests using the definition of loyalty proffered by Harvard philosopher Josiah Royce, author of what is probably the only philosophic text on this subject, The Philosophy of Loyalty: “The willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause.” By this definition loyalty is not something blind; but rather it involves a free act of the will. One has to choose one’s loyalties or at least approve them. In the truest sense, loyalty is enlightened, not merely a matter of gut affinities. It is also practical. If you are loyal to a person or a cause, you need to mobilize it. If you don’t, it is worthless.

Chuman says loyalty also imposes upon us certain duties and obligations. We often think of duties as something negative that we would rather not deal with. But when we have a sense of loyalty, duty and personal desire no longer stand opposed to each other. What we have to do, we want to do. My love and loyalty transform the tasks I perform into an intrinsic expression of who I am. A sense of love and loyalty and of long-range commitments can have very basic personal payoffs for those who develop them.

The cultivation of personal loyalties can take us even into the realm of personal fulfillment. Cultivating happiness “has something to do with resonating with our inner voice, of marching to our distinctive drummer, of realizing our authentic potentialities, of acting in accordance with what the Greeks called our “daimon,” the defining sense of our self. Yet…a program of self-realization that remains unguided by anything outside of us remains shallow.”

When we anchor our best talents and efforts onto ideals, causes and persons to whom we are loyal, then we have accomplished several sublime tasks: We have helped define who we are to ourselves and others. He is a man of integrity; she is a woman of valor. Furthermore, if self-fulfillment alone is the glue which keeps us bonded to others, then we have created very shaky foundations. If we can see our human relations as commitments to something that transcends self-interest or individual fulfillment, then we have reached an understanding of loyalty which is far richer and deeper. We have opened a gateway to a type of spiritual appreciation which is also distinctively humanistic. “Spirituality in a humanist sense,” suggests Chuman, “understands grasping and working to realize the ideal which lies beneath the surface of things, how my helping the person in need not only helps the person but pushes forward the ideal of compassion; how my working to build a just society helps to bring to the light of day the justice which latently lies within the unjust realities to which I apply my best efforts. A spiritual sensibility about life emerges from being able to see the wheat within the chaff, the ideal within the actual.”

What about loyalty as it affects marriage? We can see marriage in one of three ways:

  1. Arranged marriages in which the partners are held together by external constraints. The prevailing sensibility is authoritarian.
  2. Two individuals’ coming together seeking only their own personal fulfillment. As long as these fulfillments are met, all is groovy and the marriage endures; but as soon as frustration is met by one or both partners, the marriage is dissolved.
  3. “The ethical marriage,” as described by Felix Adler, which introduces a third partner into the relationship. There is a commitment, not only to one’s own happiness and to each other’s, but also to the idea of marriage. There is wisdom in the traditional vows of loving one another for better or for worse.

How should we deal with the problem when our own loyalties conflict with those of others? Professor Royce counseled not to attempt to demolish the other person’s loyalties in such situations, but rather to try to work things out through a larger resolution, which encompasses the loyalties of both, possibly involving compromise. “But,” says Chuman, “in some of the nitty-gritty conflicts of life this approach is not useful. If I’m a federal law-enforcement agent, I’m not really interested in preserving the loyalties of criminal gangs. In the resolution of many conflicts both with others and within ourselves, said Jean Paul Sartre, ‘There is no comforting way out.'”

“As we travel through life,” says Chuman, “we engage experience on many levels…But it is through our loves and loyalties to others and to the ideals which move us that over time our lives are nurtured and we achieve a meaning in life we could not find otherwise.”

Richard Layton

Member Spotlight

Dick Layton

Richard Layton, who was born on November 26, 1927, died on March 13, 2010. He played a significant role in Humanists of Utah; he organized and ran our Discussion Group from May of 1995 until July of 2006. He faithfully produced a report for our newsletter all those years. All of these accounts are available on our website. Humanists of Utah expresses sincere condolences to his family.

Richard Layton always claims to have been a social activist. Let’s see. He grew up in Layton and went on to the U, where he earned a BS, a master’s, and eventually a Ph.D. degree. He spent 35 years in education, as a counselor and teacher in the Davis County schools, as director of the Salt Lake Teachers Association, as director of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (in Tennessee), as director of the Granite Teachers Association, and finally as Personnel Director for the Weber County School District. What was most exciting for him was being active in civil rights in Nashville in the 1960’s; he has taken a strong stand in favor of civil rights in the schools in all his directorships.

Apart from the schools, he served as one of three lay persons on the Utah Legislative Council in the 1960’s, the most powerful committee of the legislature, where he initiated and spearheaded legislative action to develop the recreational potential of Antelope Island, which was then privately owned, and the Great Salt Lake. He chaired the Great Salt Lake Authority Committee, which led to the island’s becoming a recreation area, and eventually a state park. The legislation also established a program to publicize the mineral potential in the Great Salt Lake, to help bring in industry. He has served as a member of the Davis County Welfare Board, and as an elected member of the Clearfield City Council.

He was an active Mormon until age 32 when he read Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason and began a gradual transformation. Other influences include H.G. Welles’ Outline of History, particularly the chapters on the history of religion; his disillusionment with the LDS Church in Nashville when it was still excluding blacks from the priesthood; and Free Inquiry, to which his wife introduced him. Just when he thought he was the only humanist in Utah, he received a letter from Anne Zeilstra, inviting him to an organizing meeting, at which he helped found Humanists of Utah. He served on the first board. Had his wife not died eleven years ago, she would be a humanist, too.

He loves reading–he leads our monthly discussion group, which he started-and is devoted to his son, two daughters, and grandchildren. OK, promoting civil rights in the schools, serving on councils, boards, and commissions, establishing Antelope Island as a recreation area, publicizing the minerals in the Great Salt Lake, founding Humanists of Utah, starting a discussion group-he seems to qualify as a social activist.

–Earl Wunderli