May 2001

Holy Terror! Religiously Inspired Terrorism

Professor Carl Yaeger discussed terrorism in general and religiously motivated terrorism in particular at the April meeting of Humanists of Utah. He began his remarks by defining terrorism as the “calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain political, religious, or ideological goals through destruction, intimidation, and coercion. Terrorism involves a criminal act that is often symbolic and intended to influence an audience beyond the immediate victims.”

Organized terrorism with religious motivations is frequently the most destructive form because its perpetrators are on a mission from God and do not care who gets hurt. Politically motivated terrorism, in contrast, is often more cautious with target selection because the terrorist need to be mindful of public opinion.

Currently a significant portion of terrorist acts are committed by radical Moslems. Professor Yaeger was quick to point out that 95%+ of the violent acts are perpetrated by the Shi’ite branch of Islam. This group is much smaller than the majority Suni branch. Among the Shi’ites only a small percent are violent. Most Islamic adherents are gentle caring people.

Christian terrorists in this country belong to many sects. Among the more well know are the Skinheads, the Ku Klux Klan, etc. Many followers of these sects believe that Adolph Hitler was a prophet of sorts. Timothy McVeigh had The Turner Diaries, which is considered to be a “Bible” by many members of the racist right wing white supremacists.

This movement attracts many people who seem to be otherwise very normal. During the week they are soccer parents, members of the PTA, etc. But when the weekend comes they don their survival gear and head into the woods where large stockpiles of weapons are cached, collected, and even made.

A lively discussion followed the formal presentation. This is an uncomfortable subject with many twists.

–Wayne Wilson

Antihumanism in Our Time

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the [White] Queen.

“When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. …”

Through the Looking Glass
by Lewis Carroll

A powerful movement is underway to place a “Biblical worldview” squarely in the courts, the White House, the academy…even in your home. It is not monolithic, it is not inhuman, it is not evil, but it is well funded and powerful and it will be heard. It condemns cosmology, evolution, gay rights abortion and the empirical foundations of science..

The spiritual father of this movement is, or was, an odd, charismatic and brilliant evangelical theologian named Francis A. Schaeffer. In mid-life, Schaeffer found himself caught between the strict apologetics of the Presbyterian Evangelicals and the sincere seekers of the 1960’s. To reconcile both, he established a retreat in Switzerland which proved to become a training ground for many of the leading lights in contemporary Protestant theology.

“Today’s humanists control nearly all media by dominating a few wire services and a handful of major television networks.”

Schaeffer focused on two issues in a novel way: the choice of worldviews, called Presuppositionalism, and the need for a “Second Reformation” to break the grip of humanism on western culture.


Christian apologists have occupied themselves for centuries with arguments for the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, and the inspired, if not inerrant, character of the Bible. This arguing from “evidences” of these things has been termed “evidentialism”; the presuppositionalists, instead, contend that concept precedes percept-that we choose what is true and what is real, and that the choice of the “Biblical worldview” is the only one which is consistent with reality, truth and happiness. This may appear to be an irrationally subjective stance, but it has come to be the most powerful new movement in Christian apologetics. Although Schaeffer borrowed the concept from Cornelius Van Till, Schaeffer popularized it.

The Decline of Western Culture

In his most popular work, How Then Should We Live? Schaeffer purports to document the decline of western civilization from the time of Thomas Aquinas, when churchmen departed from Biblical models of logic for those of the pagan Greeks and Romans. What followed was, according to Schaeffer, the contamination of the Catholic Church by “humanism” in the power of the pope and the ecclesiastical bureaucracy.

Little of the book dwells on theology, but instead catalogs the growing secular influence on art and literature and the general culture, culminating in the nihilism and existentialism, the Dadaism and Surrealism, of the twentieth century. Schaeffer claims that such humanistic thinking made Hitler and Stalin possible:

“Modern men, in the absence of absolutes, have polluted all aspects of morality, making standards completely hedonistic and relativistic.”

Although Schaeffer often referred to a “Biblical worldview” as the preferred alternative to humanism, he was unable to explain why the “Biblical worldview” has produced so many sects and denominations with a great variety of beliefs.

Schaeffer’s horror at the popularity of abortion after Roe v. Wade led him, along with C. Everett Koop, to produce a film, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? This work, and his books, seminars, and exchanges at his retreat, allowed Schaeffer to profoundly influence later fundamentalists such as Tim LaHaye, Randall Terry (of Operation Rescue) and Charles Colson. Schaeffer’s protégés would become the nucleus of the twenty first century Christian fundamentalism that we will examine next month. Almost twenty years after his death, they carry on a crusade against empirical science, mixing the incompatible methods of Presuppositionalism and Evidentialism in what they hope will be a “Second Reformation.”

–Richard Garrard

Living With the Local Culture

Extracted from The Mormon Hierarchy, Origins of Power
by D. Michael Quinn

May, 1833

“Church members in various branches condemn the vision of three heavenly degrees as devilish because of its universalist rejection of heaven and hell. Brigham Young is among those who initially doubt the vision. Missionaries in the U.S. excommunicate these disbelievers for the next two years. This occurs again in England (1837-1839) when new converts learn of the ‘Three Degrees of Glory’ doctrine, later published by the LDS church as Doctrine and Covenants, section 76.”

May, 1844

“Nauvoo’s political convention nominates Smith and Rigdon as presidential and vice-presidential candidates and appoints delegates to campaign for their election in every state.”

May, 1857

“U.S. War Department orders army to suppress what U.S. president James Buchanan regards as Mormon treason and insurrection. One army officer writes on 10 June that Mormon ‘opposition to government cannot be overcome without the destruction of its cause, which involves the complete destruction of their life as a public body.'”

May 1883

“Salt Lake City police arrest seventeen boys for ‘breaking the Sabbath’ by playing baseball on Sunday.”

May, 1888

“…at dedication of Manti temple, Wilford Woodruff says, ‘We are not going to stop the practice of plural marriage until the Coming of the Son of Man.’ During dedication some hear heavenly choir, while others see bright halos of light around apostles…”

–Richard Garrard

The Pro-Choice Doctrine of the LDS Church

There is a point of dogma in the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which utterly escapes me: the ProChoice Doctrine.

According to the doctrine, gay and lesbian people were never born gay or lesbian. At some point, they obeyed the promptings of Satan and chose to be homosexual. Never mind medical science or empirical data; we’re talking about The Truth.

I know that I’m a bit forgetful, but I don’t remember the day when I made the big decision. And then, once I did ‘choose’ heterosexuality, apparently Satan tempted me with all kinds of images and impulses for choosing ‘rightly’. No wonder I’m confused! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Literally.

As if the ProChoice Doctrine weren’t, er, complicated enough, there’s the Doctrine of Matrimonial Crosscultural Nullification. This holds that, if a gay couple gets married, my heterosexual marriage is somehow diminished, polluted or otherwise compromised. Huh? If two gay or straight people get married, how does that affect me? Any more than if marriage occurs between two New Zealanders, three Certified Public Accountants, or even seven maids a milking. What is the connection to me? Hello?

In the words of former bishop and father of a gay son, David Hardy, in a letter to the Salt Lake Tribune, “I have come to understand that I know far fewer of the answers than I thought I knew, and am hopefully wiser for it. I have learned that when dogma and reality come face to face, one must invariably yield to the other.”

–Richard Garrard

~Letter to the Editor~
Stop “Antihumanist” Columns

The last newsletter was great but I must disagree with the antihumanist column. What purpose does it serve? Our newsletter should inform its readers of the positive aspects of humanism, not as a review of those who think we are a threat to society. Let’s not give them a platform. You say there is more to come–I hope not. I sincerely believe it’s counterproductive.

–Rolf Kay

Thank you, Rolf, for your thoughtful response.

My purpose in addressing the origins and activities of the ‘antihumanists’ is not to act as their advocate. They certainly have the media outlets and funding to promote their own causes. My purpose was to inform the chapter of the results of my studies into the actions of a small group of conservative Christian activists who attack humanism but are not representative of Christians or the American public at large. I feel strongly that this information should be shared.

The accusations of the ‘antihumanists’ are often left unanswered. I hope that situation will not continue.

I know, Rolf, that your view on what our response should be is shared by many others. I would be happy to print the various opinions of chapter members and others as to how humanists should respond to criticism.

–Richard Garrard

Humanists of Utah Celebrate 10th Anniversary

The Humanists of Utah chapter was granted its charter from the American Humanist Association on May 9. 1991. This was just six months after a small group of people first met to discuss the possibility of forming a Utah Humanist Chapter.

In November of 1990 the founder of the American Humanist Association, Edwin H. Wilson, met with eight people at the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City to explore a chapter formation. Reverend Wilson, a former minister at the Salt Lake City Unitarian Society, had retired from the ministry and his leadership positions in the AHA and was living in Salt Lake City at Friendship Manor. Following Rev. Wilson’s explanation of Humanism, those in attendance voted unanimously to pursue the formation of a Utah chapter and six months later, May 9, 1991 received notification from the American Humanist Association that a chapter charter has been approved.

During the ten years of its existence, almost 200 people have joined the chapter and more than 800 people have attended meetings and requested information about Humanism.

–Flo Wineriter

Is Morality Possible Without God?

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

“We constantly hear the same refrain, that without God, morality is impossible,” says Paul Kurtz in his article, “The Common Moral Decencies: Essential Guidelines for Humanists,” in The Newsletter of the Secular Family Network, Winter 2000\01. “Religious folks everywhere tell us that moral conduct requires religious foundations: ‘If it is absent, anything goes!.'”

We deny this claim. Not all religious believers are moral and many or most humanists are. Kurtz points out that believers of different faiths have argued for or against monogamy, polygamy, divorce, suicide, slavery, women’s rights, democracy, or the divine right of kings. Some of the great humanists in history have made significant contributions to human welfare and have demonstrated in their own lives the principles of moral conduct.

Humanists ought to strive to be considerate of the needs and feelings of others. There can be a rational foundation for ethical conduct, and the humanist morality is rooted in both reason and compassion. Like Aristotle, we should encourage the moral development of character in our children.

Kurtz thinks our basic principles should be: 1) That each individual has only one life to live, and that he or she should live it fully. We should take personal responsibility for our individual destiny; should satisfy our creative potentialities in order to achieve a significant, satisfying, and happy life; should strive to attain levels of excellence within our own personal lives; and should cultivate critical thinking and the reflective attitude to evaluate our values. 2) That each person has equal dignity and value. 3) That we should develop an empathetic other-regarding attitude toward others. 4) That the second and third principles above apply first and foremost to the individuals we encounter immediately in our own family, school or workplace, and the face-to-face communities in which we interact, 5) That these ethical principles should be extended to the broader society in which we live and indeed to the entire planetary community. Still, our first responsibility is to the small communities in which we are daily engaged.

He suggests our obligation in principle to follow what he calls the common moral decencies: 1) integrity: to tell the truth, keep our promises, be sincere, and be honest; 2) trustworthiness: to express fidelity and loyalty to our friends and relatives and be dependable; 3) benevolence: to have good will toward others, never knowingly harm other persons nor seize their property, never force our sexual desires on others, and show beneficence toward others; 4) fairness: to express gratitude for past deeds performed on our behalf, be held accountable to others for any misdeeds we have done, try to abide by the principles of justice, be tolerant of others, and try to cooperate and negotiate our differences peacefully.

We should avoid, where we can, untruthfulness, infidelity, disloyalty, hatred, envy, resentment, and unfairness; and we should emphasize a positive moral attitude toward others. Why? Because we have internalized these principles; we see that they make eminent good sense and we judge them consequentially by their effectiveness within the community. “As humanists,” Kurtz proposes, “we are not decent because a church dictates such behavior or threatens to punish our sins or transgressions, but because we recognize morality’s rational basis.”