September 1999

Pernicious Philosophy

We have just celebrated the beginning of our great nation. The Constitution played a major role in making our country great.

Do you fully understand the Constitution and do you realize that the Constitution is being misinterpreted and abused by many individuals and organizations seeking political and monetary gain?

The Constitution was clearly constructed under the influence of the Christian religion and that influence played a major role in determining what it is composed of. We need to remember that the Constitution was considered to be the greatest political document ever written by man and its influence has been felt throughout the world.

We have allowed secular humanism, an atheistic organization, to displace the Christian influence in our schools and in our society.

We must examine carefully the origin and present influence of secular humanism. For example, today because of secular humanism, prayer is not allowed in many schools, displays of the Ten Commandments, etc. are not allowed and moral integrity is no longer a major issue for consideration in the teaching of our children.

Secular humanism was the controlling doctrine of government in Russia under Lenin and Stalin. It failed completely and was associated with the loss of millions of lives. History clearly shows that secular humanism is of no benefit to mankind and we must do everything we can to prevent it from having any influence in our society today.

The United States Constitution with its religious emphasis played a major role in the growth and development of our country and it helped our country become the most powerful and influential country in the world today.

If you claim to be an American citizen, you must take the time to study the Constitution, be willing to stand up in defense of its principles, do all you can to remove the influence of secular humanism from our schools, and remove from our society all aspects of its destructive influence.

–Jess Bushman

The Salt Lake Tribune published the following letter to the editor written by Jess R. Bushman of Provo on July 30, (also published in the Provo Herald, July 20, and in the Deseret News). The Utah Humanist, Humanists of Utah, and any other humanist publication or group obviously take exception to Dr. Bushman’s comments. Several letters with a more enlightened viewpoint have since been published. Other letters have been written but not published yet. These comments are contained inside this issue.


Replies to “Pernicious Philosophy”

The first published response to “Pernicious Philosophy” was written by chapter member Virginia Leonard and published in the Salt Lake Tribune August 11, 1999.

We all have reason to be grateful for the “pernicious philosophy” of secular humanism that Jess Bushman holds in such fear and contempt (Forum, July 30).

Religious diversity, the right to private judgment, the necessity of free inquiry are essential ingredients of democracy and guaranteed by our Constitution. Escaping ignorance and superstition has never been without controversy.


Chapter president Flo Wineriter’s response was published August 13, 1999

In response to Jess R. Bushman’s “Pernicious Philosophy” (Forum, July 30), I challenge him to quote even one sentence in the Constitution of the United States indicating that the founders of our nation were influenced by Christianity or intended for this land to be a Christian nation, or that makes any mention of its being a religious document.

To the contrary, I cite Article VI of our Constitution, paragraph 2, which clearly states that the Constitution and the laws made in pursuance to it and all treaties made under the authority of the United States shall be the law of the land, and paragraph 3, which says “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust.”

Regarding his insinuation that secular humanism lacks moral standards and is a destructive influence on society, I point out that Humanism is committed to rational thought, responsible behavior and compassion; human dignity, community involvement and peaceful conflict resolution. Humanists do believe that moral values are not the special property of any religious tradition.

If he and others are sincere about a careful examination of the origin and influence of Humanism, I suggest they begin by reading Francis Bacon, John Locke, Voltaire, David Hume, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Stuart Mill. For an understanding of contemporary Humanism, go to www.HumanistsOfUtah.org.

I wholeheartedly agree with Bushman on two things: (1) The U.S. Constitution is one of the greatest documents human minds have created, and (2) everyone should take time to study the Constitution and fully understand it.


Board Member Earl Wunderli’s response was published August 14, 1999

I certainly agree with Jess Bushman’s view (Forum, July 30) that the U.S. Constitution “played a major role in making our country great,” but I disagree with just about everything else he wrote.

I fail to see how he could urge us to study the Constitution and then extol its “religious emphasis.” The Constitution is a secular document. It was inspired more by such 18th-century Enlightenment ideas as reason, equality and freedom than anything else, including the Christian religion. It does not mention God. It states that no religious test shall be a qualification for public office. It requires the government’s strict neutrality on matters of religion, erecting, as Jefferson wrote, a wall of separation between church and state. Because of this, the Supreme Court has prohibited prayer in public (not private) schools and displays of the Ten Commandments on government (not private) property. And because of this, we can practice any religion or no religion as we choose. This freedom is one of the great strengths of our country.

As for secular humanism, Bushman would do well to understand rather than demonize what he opposes. According to the American Humanist Association, for example, secular humanists believe in the dignity of each human being, individual liberty, social responsibility, participatory democracy, open societies, human rights and social justice. Yes, they are nontheistic and believe that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny, but they also believe in all the basic moral values such as integrity, honesty, and fairness, and believe that schools should teach these values. Therefore, Bushman is wrong in stating that because of secular humanism, “moral integrity is no longer a major issue for consideration in the teaching of our children.” If he has in mind his particular religious moral code, then the Constitution itself would prohibit teaching it, and secular humanists would agree.


Chapter member James Carroll’s letter has not been published yet.

In his July 30th letter to the editor (“Pernicious Philosophy”) Jess Bushman asks the question “Do you fully understand the Constitution…?”, and then goes on to show that he clearly does not. He claims that Americans do not have prayer and the 10 Commandments in school because of Secular Humanism when in fact it is because his beloved U.S. Constitution that he maintains is a Christianity-inspired document. I wonder how he squares this view with the 1797 statement (Treaty with Tripoli) by framers of the Constitution that “…the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.”

Mr. Bushman goes on to ask “do you realize that the Constitution is being misinterpreted and abused by many individuals and organizations seeking political and monetary gain?” It has likely ever been thus, but the current abusers appear to be Christian revisionists like Mr. Bushman, and not the Secular Humanists he supposes. Thankfully the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution is not these individuals or organizations but an entity created by the Constitution itself-the U.S. Supreme Court.


History Belongs to the Powers in Control

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

Those who control the directions society takes are those who control the words we hear and read maintains Patty Henetz in an article in the Salt Lake Tribune on May 2, 1999.

In earlier times history was forged in poetry. In the West troubadours mixed their traditional love songs with word of the land beyond the tiny rural villages where most people lived. Ordinary people, almost exclusively illiterate, memorized poetry and stories that contained all the information they needed to live–their family histories as well as ancient sagas.

“History, though, has always kneeled before power,”says Henetz. “The stories we accept today…have the earmarks of victors’ spoils. But as the new millennium approaches, it may be possible to loosen the hold the powerful have on knowledge.”

“History,” she quotes historian Rick Perlstein as saying, “embarrasses us, reminds us that it is first and foremost story, shifting and contingent, and that we are in its thrall.”

It is often said that a dog is man’s best friend. This stripped-down version of the bond between humans and canines isn’t quite the whole story. Crucial elements of the conventional wisdom have been purged from our memory. Traditional narrative points to women, not men, as the original domesticators of dogs. In pagan legends dogs were the companions of the Goddess in many different contexts. Our culture doesn’t remember all the parts of this story and ignores others.

“You know the old saying,” Peristein says, “History is written by the winners…How we communicate is always interrelated with power.”

Women’s stories suffered as Christians took control of the West. The parts of the Bible that asserted women’s equality were suppressed. The inherent wickedness of women was written into the Bible from its opening tale of the fall of man. In the sixth century churchmen even denied women had souls. Countless numbers of women who refused to renounce the stories of the old religions were murdered during the Inquisition. Women who might have remained non-Christian gave in and adopted the faith written by the men of the church. And even men who tried to sidestep papal authority were dealt with swiftly and harshly. The first men who published the Bible in the language of the ordinary people were burned at the stake.

The dark ages were a time of vast spiritual struggle during which religious and political leaders forcibly abolished the study of philosophy, mathematics, medicine, and geography. Temples and libraries were smashed and burned, pagan intellectuals and teachers persecuted, and schools closed. Church control of information was nearly absolute because few beyond the monasteries were literate, and even there learning and writing was in Latin, which was not understood by the general public. For 1,500 years, writes historian Barbara G. Walker, “the church maintained a monopoly of written records, and virtually wrote its own history to its own order.” But the human impulse to share a good yarn persisted. It was the bards who preserved the scraps of history in spite of the suppression. Finally, a revival of interest in historical documents occurred. Paperwork became big business. Then the invention of the printing press brought about an immense change; it took information out of the hands of a few. The press pumped out 8 million books in its first 40 years of operation.

“Publishing allowed passionate stories wide circulation,” says Henetz. Information had forever slipped the bonds of the church moralists.

But a new kind of “uber-control” has emerged, she says. “Publishing today is increasingly ruled by gigantic multimedia corporations. As storytellers, they seem far less concerned about their hearts than their pockets. As institutions, they exert massive control over information, just like their church forebears. Television, but a half-century old, is the prophet of the age.”

Brenda Cooper, director of women’s studies at Utah State University, states, “Kids learn more about their culture and society today from media than any other source.” And those who tell the stories are overwhelmingly homogeneous. “Ninety percent of the executives involved are white men.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.

“It’s all about power, baby,” Perlstein says. “Whether a certain story will still endure 100 years from now will have little to do with how true it is.”

But Cooper wishes women could take over the media industry and control the stories we embrace. Henetz comments with reason, “Unfortunately the only previous example of such a total media takeover involved five centuries of relentless social pressure via thumbscrew, rack and pyre with a public relations assist from Torquemada.”

Henetz suggests that the Internet, with its global access to information and relative gender indifference, may be a way for women to reclaim chapters left out of his-story. Anyone can be a troubadour in the electronic community.