Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith
Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report
Why did Joseph Smith behave the way he did? And why did his followers so gullibly accept his pronouncements as the Word of God? Psychiatrist Robert D. Anderson attempts to answer these questions in his book, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon. He begins by noting that Smith rode the backlash to the Age of Enlightenment. This was a century of practical and philosophical writings featuring attacks on theology by an international group called the philosophes, who were centered around France. They were led by Voltaire and Thomas Paine. John Wesley lamented about it, “To give up belief in witchcraft, one might as well give up belief in the Bible. The infidels have hooted witchcraft out of the world.” Nevertheless, “Proof” of a supernatural world now came back in the dramatic effects of the Holy Spirit in the revival and conversion meetings, but these emotional reactions were not the longed-for solid evidence needed psychologically to buttress belief in the Bible. The Book of Mormon led converts back from the edge of existential despair by sanctioning the emotional proofs, adding another buttress of miraculous conversions and angelic visions. It was a “second” and “new” witness for Christ. Mormonism provided security while rapid change and scientific development demolished social myths.
Anderson theorizes that Joseph Smith suffered from the narcissistic personality disorder. He points out that there is a danger in attempting to explain human behavior through psychodynamic theory. Accepting such theory as fact can cause damage. A few decades ago psychiatrists speculated that some serious mental illnesses were caused by the influence of the mother or of the environment. Now we know that chemical treatments such as lithium can effectively treat some of these illnesses. It is possible that in the future narcissistic personalities may respond favorably to specific medications. The fact is that the cause and source of the narcissistic personality are not known. However, the psychodynamic setting provides an unusual laboratory for studying this emotional problem, and some individuals do seem to respond to prolonged intensive psychotherapy. In his analysis of Joseph Smith, Anderson draws upon the body of literature, especially the Book of Mormon, produced by observation, experiment, theory, and psychiatric experience in his attempt to understand the founder of Mormonism. He says that splitting, a fundamental of personality weakness, is a major psychological defense demonstrated by the prophet. Its most obvious manifestations are 1) the division of the world into polar opposites and 2) the lack of integration of the various parts of the patient’s psyche. The individual may oscillate between two opposite positions. This behavior can be seen in the polarized opposites of the Nephite and Lamanite people depicted in the Book of Mormon, as well as in Smith’s ability to present one face in public (such as denying polygamy) while simultaneously converting associates and new plural wives to the principle in private. The individual may also exhibit psychological reversal of attitudes toward particular persons, by switching instantly from compliments to vilification, or of oscillation in moral positions, yet not be troubled in the contradiction. Examples are the instantaneous conversions of Alma, Jr., Zeezrom and the whole Lamanite population in 30 BCE in the Book of Mormon. Another example was Smith’s strong opposition to Masonry as a young man, followed by his later becoming a Mason himself and drawing on Masonic ritual for temple ceremonies.
Most psychiatrists believe that small children exhibit splitting because of lack of neurological development but that psychotic, narcissistic and borderline patients retain it into adulthood as a defense against disturbing emotional states. Anderson estimates Smith’s basic emotional age as pre-Oedipal, that is, somewhere before the age of four. He also argues that Smith experienced Oedipal fears of castration as a result of some very traumatic surgery on his leg between the ages of five and seven. On a psychological level he oscillated between the deprivation of an unstable childhood and the trauma of his surgery. Consequently, he regressed, drawing on the magic and impotent defense of very early childhood to resolve the later Oedipal fears. He was locked in at a childhood stage characterized by magic, fantasy, splitting, omnipotence, devaluation, projection and denial. A very young child has a sense of omnipotence because his or her mother is always at his beck and call to satisfy every physical need. Anderson says Smith later in life applied this omnipotent privilege and counterphobic defense to his sexual life. These attempts account for the Book of Mormon‘s compensating and conquering fantasies of invincibility and conquest by the sword. They also suggest the rather gloomy prognosis that he would never escape from extreme fantasy compensation for his real life.
The day to day purpose of the narcissistic personality is to block shame, avoid humiliation and maintain self-esteem. Smith’s court trial in 1826 for being a “disorderly person, and an imposter” brought great shame and humiliation on him, and he never mentioned it in any of his public writings. His imposture was bilking Josiah Stowell out of money by claiming to have a seer stone which would lead him to discover a buried treasure. Anderson thinks this trial appears in the Book of Mormon under three narrative guises: first, as a gigantic geophysical holocaust; second, as a literal court trial, after which the jail, guards and lawyers and the whole town were destroyed by the Lamanites a instruments of God’s vengeance; and, third, as a supernal ministry of angels in a literal prison that converted the whole Lamanite nation. Smith also had experienced a great personal humiliation when his first child was stillborn badly malformed. He had previously boasted that the child after its birth would have grandiose powers in his life on earth.
Anderson describes the present state of psychological theory on the formation of the narcissist: “in response to very early frustrations too great for the child to handle, internal mental images of violence and destruction emerge that interfere with normal development and function, accompanied by unrealistic images of himself as perfect and wished-for images of perfection in his caretakers, usually his parents. These become fused into an idealized picture of himself which is superimposed over the destructive images and have a quality of grandiosity. This superimposed idealized image, the “false self,” becomes the basis for the socially functioning personality of the narcissist and has even been labeled the ‘grandiose self’. This personality compensates for the feelings of helpless rage experienced in childhood and presents to the world what sometimes appears to be successful functioning.
“However, the origins of, and responses to, frustration never fully disappear and demonstrate themselves in the fantasies of violence and conquest that the psychiatrist hears in therapy and uncovers in works of fantasy. Further, the personality of the narcissist may appear warm and charming, but will demonstrate the characteristics of splitting, devaluing others, idealizing relationships until they falter, making grandiose claims of specialness and special abilities, feeling constant threats to his self-esteem, needing perpetual admiration, and overreacting to shame and humiliation. These techniques of faulty personality interactions are necessary, it is believed, to help keep away from the original feelings of helpless and fury: ‘oral rage.’ Full maturation and integration of personality require moving past splitting and facing the underlying fury and helplessness, which is difficult, if not impossible for the narcissist to do; as a consequence, full maturation is not possible.”
Failure to get another to meet his needs makes the child feel inadequate. He returns to the previous feelings of omnipotence (fantasies) that compensate for this insufficient world. Rather than relinquishing his primitive memory of a world of power and perfection, he absorbs it into his view of himself His ultimate, underlying goal is to return to that initial stage of bliss he has now lost. In contrast, a child at about age two who is developing normally transfers the characteristic of omnipotence from himself to his parents, who seem godlike, giant, omniscient and omnipotent. Through the years he learns his parents are imperfect, but this potentially terrifying knowledge becomes tolerable as the child learns of his own abilities. In contrast the narcissistic personality must see himself as perfect or almost perfect to feel contentment. Because of his previous helplessness, his difficulty in truly trusting anyone, and the fear of shame and humiliation, his relationships with others tend to be controlling, usually by manipulation and coercion. The technique most commonly used is his attitude of superior abilities and confidence, which attracts less secure people to him.
Anderson posits three modifications to Smith’s narcissism: antisocial personality, pseudologica fantastica, and the imposter. The first consists of a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others. Characteristics of narcissism that may overlap with milder antisocial attitudes include feelings of special entitlement, exploitation, lack of empathy, and arrogance. These may be characterized by sexual promiscuity and/or financial exploitation of followers, yet the person may be honest and consistent in other dealings. He may blame others and offer rationalizations for troubles. “In the case of Smith, the theme of deceiving self and others is not a thread, but a steel cable,” says Anderson. “Seldom has such a characteristic been so well documented. It includes money-digging, seer-stone peeping, and sexual conquests under the guise of religious practice. The second modification is pathological misrepresentation, which varies from ordinary lying and daydreams in that the person intermittently believes in his fantasies or holds them for intervals long enough that he acts on them. Smith admitted the falsehood of his seer-stone claims to his father-in-law, Isaac Hale, and promised to give up money-digging; but later, under prodding from his family, returned to his stories of magic, the gold book, and the guardian angel. The third modification is the making of fraudulent claims, as in Smith’s affirmations of having had visits from angels and being able to translate ancient documents.
The narcissist spends his life desperately trying to return to that “eternal world of omnipotent perfection.” He therefore creates an artificial, omnipotent self, whose fantasies compensate for the failures of the real world. In a vicious cycle, he consoles himself for his failures by retreating into his fantasies, which, while providing comfort, assure continued failure by preventing him from finding more effective ways to seek success. This pattern continues as a technique throughout life. If his family responds favorably to this false self, as Smith’s family did, it will be enhanced.
How does a person like Joseph Smith attract and retain followers? Through projective identification. To compensate for his own feelings of inadequacy, a follower interacting with the narcissist must remain attached to this charismatic leader (narcissists in many cases are charismatic), who radiates value to him, as long as he does the leader’s bidding. Early Mormons achieved the illusion of returning to the eternal world of omnipotent perfection through personal contact with Smith, through the omnipotent stories of the Book of Mormon, and through attachment to the priesthood and group activities. He could not claim enough miracles for his followers, and they suspended critical evaluation of him.
What has come out of Smith’s interaction with his followers? “Mormonism,” offers Anderson, “has become the only truly American religion, now international in scope and capable of wielding social and political power.”
The Road To War
From the Evil Empire to the Axis of Evil
Twenty years ago, before there was an “Axis of Evil”–when there was only an “Evil Empire” –the U.S. State Department removed Iraq from its official list of sponsors of terrorism. Soon thereafter, Saddam Hussein began purchasing civilian helicopters from the United States. A second order of helicopters brought some congressional opposition but, with the blessing of the Reagan administration, the sale was approved in August, 1983.
Months later, in December, 1983, Middle East envoy Donald Rumsfeld arrived in Bagdad, the capital of Iraq. He brought a message from President Ronald Reagan: the United States is interested in resuming diplomatic relations with Iraq. An estrangement of 16 years was coming to an end. Rumsfeld would later tell the New York Times “it struck us as useful to have a relationship, given that we were interested in solving the Middle East problems.” The United States plainly saw value in using Iraq as a foil against the U.S. nemesis, Iran.
On March 24, 1984, Rumsfeld was back in Bagdad for meetings with Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. The day the two men met, UPI reported that Iraq had used Mustard and VX gas against Iran. Days later, on March 29, 1984, The New York Times reported from Bagdad that “American diplomats pronounce themselves satisfied with relations between Iraq and the United States and suggest that normal diplomatic ties have been restored in all but name.”
November, 1984. Full diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Iraq are restored. During 1984, the State Department approves the sale of military-type helicopters to Iraq.
In 1988, Saddam’s military launches attacks on Kurdish civilians, using chemical weapons. U.S. intelligence sources later, in 1991, told the LA Times that they “believe that the American-built helicopters were among those dropping the deadly bombs.”
There is a phrase–possibly apocryphal, because it has been attributed to both Franklin Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull–that refers to “OUR son of a bitch.” The story goes that, when the brutishness of an ally such as Somoza or Trujillo was mentioned in diplomatic circles, the retort was, “yes, he’s a son of a bitch, but he’s OUR son of a bitch.” Previous SOBs of ours had included the Shah of Iran and even Josef Stalin. Saddam was our SOB throughout most of the Reagan administration. Somewhere along the line, possibly in 1990, we dropped the “our.” It did not happen when Saddam used chemical weapons against Iran, in clear violation of the Geneva Convention. It did not even happen in 1988, when Saddam used GB nerve agent against an uprising of the Kurds–an ethnic minority of his open people–in Northern Iraq. It only happened when he ran afoul of the administration of George H.W. Bush.
Fast forward to the Brave New Millenium. The United States, still reeling from a terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, has not apprehended the chief villains of the tragedy: Osama Bin Laden and Mulla Omar. The FBI has not apprehended a suspect in the mailings of anthrax to Federal legislators and other government officials. A massive, unprecedented series of corporate scandals, involving billions of dollars in fraud, has seriously shaken the U.S. economy. The president–who is in office because of a Supreme Court decision made by a slim majority of his ideological sympathizers–sees his approval ratings plummeting, sees the dominance of his party in Congress swiftly eroding. Israel and the Palestinians, India and Pakistan are teetering on the brink of wide scale conflict, perhaps even war, perhaps even nuclear war.
So–it’s time to return to Iraq?
George W. Bush, who proudly proclaimed himself as the first “CEO President,” places great stock in his Board. The Board of the Bush presidency is strong indeed. The Chairman of the Board is unquestionably Vice President Richard “Dick” Cheney: past Secretary of Defense, Senator from Wyoming, successful oil company executive and friend of the Bushes. Cheney was SecDef during Father Bush’s greatest hours: the fall of the Soviet Union and the Gulf War. For a lifelong civilian, Cheney knows the war business.
The collapse of the Evil Empire took Cheney and many others in the defense establishment by surprise, but one Pentagon official was vindicated: Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz was skeptical of U.S. intelligence estimates of Soviet strength and disarmament strategies. As the discrediting of the mighty USSR military took place, Wolfowitz’s influence with Cheney grew. Wolfowitz predicted that the ensuing power vacuum in the Gulf, where the US-USSR spheres of influence had met, would encourage the aggression of elements like Saddam Hussein.
Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 took place in the face of U.S. intelligence that indicated that Hussein had not made extensive plans for such an action. Once again, the intelligence community had failed. Wolfowitz complained, “When signs started to turn up that the projected scenario regarding Iraq behavior was not unfolding as we wished, somebody within the Community should have said, ‘Wait a minute, here are facts that we ought to take some account of.’ Analysis, in this instance, would have usefully pointed to the fact that events were not going in the direction we had expected or hoped for.” Wolfowitz added, “We made enormous use of intelligence throughout the lead-up to the Gulf war, and during the Gulf war. But it was primarily used to figure out how to implement policy, not to debate policy preferences.”
The ‘policy preferences’ of the present Bush administration heavily favor the geopolitics of oil. Not only did the president receive almost $2 million from the oil industry in his last campaign, the elder Bush is heavily involved in the Carlyle Group, a transnational corporation deeply invested in energy and defense resources; the vice President was chair of Halliburton, a Dallas-based oil services company; his National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice, is a former Chevron board member; his Deputy Secretary of the Interior is a former CEO of a Denver oil and gas company; and numerous other members of his administration came from the same industry. In fact, eighteen of the energy industry’s top 25 donors to the Republican Party helped the Vice President’s energy task force develop its plan. The minutes of that task force are still in dispute, embroiled in a lawsuit from the General Accounting Office. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham met with 109 representatives from the nuclear, electric utility, coal, oil and gas industries during the three months he spent preparing Bush’s national energy policy; by contrast, representatives of only 11 environmental groups were consulted, and were allowed only 48 hours to fax in their comments.
As Paul Wolfowitz has demonstrated, policy trumps intelligence in this administration. In the Bush presidencies, policy comes from economics, not from human rights. During the first Gulf War, much was made of the outrages committed by Saddam Hussein in the gassing of the Kurds; yet, as is noted above, these atrocities had little influence on U.S. foreign policy at the time. Even the highly publicized accounts of “babies thrown out of incubators” was revealed by the New York Times to be a public-relations hoax orchestrated by the Kuwaiti government and the PR firm Hill & Knowlton.
What of the assassination attempt made on the elder George Bush in 1993? The Clinton administration confirmed the existence of an Iraqi-designed car bomb, apparently intended for the former president and a high-ranking Kuwaiti. Such an assassination attempt is inexcusable, but not exactly rare in the world of covert operations. The U.S. has variously attempted assassinations of foreign leaders such as Fidel Castro, Muamar Qadafi, and Saddam himself. At the time, the Clinton administration responded with an escalation of bombings of Iraq.
In fact, in addition to the imposition of sanctions against Iraq, bombings continued throughout the end of the first Bush administration and the duration of the Clinton presidency. Though controversial, the sanctions themselves are considered by objective groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as counterproductive in the toll they take on the lives of the ordinary Iraqis. The U.S. State Department proclaims that Saddam misdirects or misuses the “Food for Oil” transactions, but UN observers are not convinced.
What of Saddam’s potential for developing WMD–“weapons of mass destruction”? Reports vary as to the potential and the actual. UN weapons inspectors have not been in Iraq since 1998. Crude chemical and biological weapons are easily produced and hidden. There is little in the way of inspection regimens that could provide assurances. Weaponized versions of anthrax and the delivery systems (ballistic missiles) required involve much more sophisticated technologies that should be verifiable. True nuclear (fission and fusion) weapons are even more amenable to detection, while so-called “dirty” radioactive bombs require substantial quantities of radioactive dust and could not easily be delivered over a large target area in any effective way. Even if Saddam were to attack Israel with WMD, the reprisal would be swift and devastating: Israeli nuclear capabilities are estimated at around 200 tactical nuclear warheads.
Is Iraq connected to 9/11? One report has surfaced of a contact between Iraqi and Al-Qaeda operatives in the Czech Republic in 2001, but the report has since been discounted by both the Czechs and the U.S. Government. Israeli intelligence sources have argued for Iraq-Al-Qaeda connections, but there is much greater evidence of Taliban and even Saudi (but not official Saudi government) involvement, particularly the fact that three-fourths of the suspected hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi citizens. Israel clearly views Saddam as a threat, especially since the launching of Scud missiles against Israel during the Gulf War, but the case of a clear provocation against the U.S. has not been made.
In fact, the lack of evidence is why the United States has only two potential allies in a war against Iraq: Israel and Great Britain. Israel’s position relates to their past experience, and the alliance with Britain is questionable. A clear majority of Brits disagree with British involvement in a war with Iraq. The coalition that preceded the initiation of Operation Desert Storm does not exist. Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France and Japan have clearly stated that they would not support such action.
While a majority of the American public supports military action against Saddam, a recent Washington Post-ABC news poll found that “66 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats said Bush should seek congressional consent before attacking Iraq.” At this time the Congress has not been consulted and Congressional support is steadily eroding. The latest casualty is Richard Armey, Republican House leader and fellow Texan. Concerns have been expressed by top national security strategists of previous administrations: Brent Scowcroft, who warned in a Wall Street Journal article of “an Armageddon in the Middle East.” Lawrence Eagleburger, who stated that unless Saddam had “his hand on the trigger” of a weapon of mass destruction, an attack was unwarranted; and Henry Kissinger, who cautioned against unilateral action as a dangerous precedent.
So why is this president so adamant? Could it be because of the stratospheric popularity of many wartime presidents? Could he be concerned that, historically, the party in the White House loses seats during midterm elections? Could it be because the president’s corporate managerial credentials–and those of the bulk of his appointees–are in disrepute? Or because the federal budget surplus turned to deep deficits on his watch? Could it be, with the failure of the “war on terrorism,” the president needs another chance, in another war? The growth of executive power to make war is a disturbing trend of administrations over the last fifty years, especially since Vietnam. The war proposed is remote in geographical distance and also psychic distance: the enemies are 10,000 miles away, they are Muslims; we kill them with smart bombs, stealth aircraft and unmanned Predators at little risk to ourselves; we can even subdue them with nonlethal microwave “pain rays.” War has never been so un-warlike…right? If the gore is not televised, does it exist? Everywhere bumper stickers proclaim, “US Troops Kick Ass!” as if war is some sort of Superbowl game.
Should we care? Yes. The United States should not embark on a war in the Middle East without Congressional oversight and support. The American public must hear a full and open debate on the issues and the options. The U.S. should seek an international consensus, as well. War should not be seen as an exercise in patriotism, but a dreaded last resort. In the sanitized, public-relations managed era of remote, high-tech war, we easily forget: War is killing. War not only destroys others but, in the end, destroys us as well.
My Journey to Humanism
I was ten years old. It was 1965. I was standing in the living room of a tiny house on Third East in Salt Lake City, talking to my brother and my mother when it happened: my first epiphany.
The sheer fact of my own existence struck me like a thunderbolt. “I’m here,” I said suddenly, gasping in wonder. “I’m really here–right now!” Everyone was amused but me. I was shaking with exhilaration, with awe. I had no language for what I had experienced, but I knew that it was powerful and real.
A few months later came the second revelation. I was in the bathtub, a favorite place for experimenting with bubbles and for meditating on the dancing reflections of the overhead light fixture and the water-puckered wrinkles of my fingers and toes. At the end of the bath I pulled out the rubber stopper and I watched the vortex of the bathwater twisting down into the drain. It hit me, then: “I’m going to die someday. Me. I’m going to die.”
Everything changed. I began taking long walks in lonely places. Sometimes I walked under the stars, and I loved their cold beauty and even their lifeless, deathless inhumanity. I wanted to be like that. But I felt fear and hurt and doubt. Somehow I had to find a way to live with my awful knowledge.
At first I escaped into fantastic novels of other worlds and godlike characters, but the fantasy always came to an end and I returned to my mortal, cringing self. Then I began to read about mystics who had experienced the “timeless moment,” the “peak experience” that transcended death. The mystics seemed to retreat behind subjectivity and to find refuge within religions that I could not accept.
I began to look to the philosophers, and soon discovered the existentialists. While I could appreciate their honesty in appraising the absurdity of life, I did not have the will or the confidence to construct meanings of my own. I wandered through the Eastern religions, American versions of Zen and Mahayana Buddhism, but they seemed ill-suited to modern life. And so I drifted.
At seventeen I met a lovely girl and her fascinating, creative family. There was only one catch; they were Mormons. Yet, I told myself, if you could be an intellectual and an artist and still be a Mormon, perhaps the religion was not so restrictive after all. And so I was baptized at the age of eighteen and soon left for Brigham Young University.
I was not prepared for the terrific cultural shock that enveloped me. My relationship with the girl and her family ended, but I began another one with the woman I would marry. I underestimated the power of a dominant culture with highly developed methods of persuasion and seduction. My faith in Mormonism did not survive my time at BYU, but I was still caught in a web of relationships that included the church.
For the next twenty odd years I would live on the fringes of a religion, an outsider who wanted to be accepted but who would never belong. Over the course of my marriage I became a stranger to myself. I would play a role. I would try to become the perfect father, the perfect husband. I would try to be respectable. I sought validation in the opinions of others, but never from myself.
The marriage crumbled and crashed. As the layers of my false self were stripped away, I wondered what would be left. At last, alone, in an empty house, with my children far away and my future dark, I sat down with my day planner and began a new section. It would be my “Book of Beliefs.”
The first entry read, “We must choose whether or not to live or die. This is not a choice that is made once, but may have to be decided every day. Without this, nothing else matters.”
Later, I added a quote from Henry Miller: “The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”
After a couple of years alone I met my beloved wife. When we knew that we wanted to be together, we wanted a wedding that reflected us and the lessons we had learned in discovering our true selves. We met Flo Wineriter, and he married us on a beautiful October day almost two years ago.
It has been a long journey, and there is much more to do, much to learn. My guiding principle these days is “Passion without illusion.” I think it may lead me to social and political activism, to self-expression, to a fuller and richer life.
I still recognize my fallibility and my mortality. But I also know that, “I’m really here–right now.”
My Journey to Humanism
I am an endangered species; yes, I am Utah Democrat, but I am from an even more endangered species, which is a third generation native Utah Unitarian. I lack any formal schooling of Judeo-Christian upbringing. My journey to humanism starts with a strong opinionated family and Corliss Lamont’s book The Philosophy of Humanism, that I received from my Humanist minister Uncle as teenager. Along my journey there have been many “fascinations of distractions” that have tried to test my belief that: “all human problems can and will be solved by humans.” To do this humans have to do one of the hardest things: communicate. They have to use a language that is understandable to all, but confusing too most. My adult passion is using Robert Fulghum’s definition of a government worker being a United States Citizen. I have specialized as an environmental citizen activist dealing with hazardous and nuclear waste. I believe that hazardous and nuclear waste issues cause the greatest harm to humans, and there are better ways to treat the waste, including not making so much of it in the first place.
I will be sharing three brief examples of my “fascinations of distractions” on my journey to humanism as an environmental citizen activist.
- In 1990-1991, the Department of the Defense held a conference on “Defense and the Environment” in Washington, D.C. Over 400 people attended. Out of the 400 were four people (of whom I was one) who came from chemical weapons storage sites. Three of these people had an idea and planned to ship all of their chemical weapons to Utah’s storage site. I informed them that we have enough, and that we could work together to solve this problem for all, or we could use the Department of Defense’s method of “divide and conquer.” At this time this was the only method which we knew was getting nowhere quick. We soon formed an international citizen’s coalition called the “Chemical Weapons Working Group.” We have been able to get Congress to pass a bill preventing the shipping of any chemical weapons on interstate roads, and several congressional and senate hearings and a Public law to look at alternative technologies to incineration. I can report that there are currently six alternative technologies to incineration of chemical weapons that have been proven. The Environmental Protection Agency has endorsed all of these alternative technologies to be used for hazardous waste treatment I can also report that the Chemical Weapons Working Group just celebrated their tenth anniversary, and currently some colleges and universities sociology classes are now studying their methods of the decision-making process.
- In the mid-1990’s I received a call asking me to help a newly formed citizen group in East Carbon, Utah who were facing a large national company, (Union Pacific Railroad), who they were having communication problem with. In a public hearing at East Carbon High School, standing room only, the facility’s representative had scheduled a three-hour meeting. The company proceeded to explain in obscure detail how great it would be for the residents of East Carbon to house this nation’s largest solid waste landfill. Finally a break was taken. I proceeded to get the word to the people not to leave they would be heard. I asked the representative running the meeting if we could say the pledge of alliance in honor of our President being in Utah’s capitol city. I knew that a flag would not be able to be obtained. I then asked to read a poem one of the citizens gave me in his honor. The local police stood closer and ready to remove me. The company soon realized that the people want to be heard. The local police moved back. The meeting that started at 6 p.m. ended closer to midnight than 9 PM. All who wanted to speak were heard. While the citizens of East Carbon are now housing this nation’s largest solid waste landfill, they did win in the Utah Supreme Court ruling that year on zoning issues affecting the landfill.
- Last year, I learned the importance of not leaving one’s communication skills to others when it comes to informing your folks of upcoming articles in the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News which affect you. Before going to class one night at the University of Utah for my masters degree, I received a call from Salt Lake Tribune environmental reporter Jim Wolfe, who informed me that Envirocare of Utah had just filed with the third district court a six million dollars or more lawsuit against me and others. Of course, by this time the Deseret News had run the their story stating it was 60 million dollars. I knew that my folks did not receive the Deseret News, so at dinner were my folks agreed to feed my family while I was at class, my beloved husband said the following, “Please pass the salt and pepper, and by the way Cindy has been hit with a six million dollar plus lawsuit.” This immediately got my folks’ attention and he went on to say “Cindy will explain when we pick up from her class,” and continued eating.
In closing, I will say I have learned two things so far in journey of Humanism “fascinations of distractions”: (1) communication skills are one of the hardest things to do, and (2) never leave your communication skills to any one else.
My Journey to Humanism
Just what do we mean by “Journey to Humanism” I guess it is an obvious and straightforward statement. But each of our journeys is unique, similar in some ways but unique. Some of you were lucky enough to grow up in secular or nonreligious families and some like me grew up in religious families.
As I have been thinking about what to say tonight, I wondered if there was something I left out the last time I spoke about my “Journey to humanism” a few years back. Or perhaps, if something needed more emphasis. Here is my revision.
I was born to Mormon parents, and was raised by my mother and stepfather. I attended Church every Sunday until I went to a military school for my junior year in high school.
First signs of my skepticism were early doubts about the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and Santa. No Tinker Bell with coins for your teeth, no giant bunnies with eggs and candy and no Santa (Down the chimney? Give me a break)
Probably one of the earliest things that happened to start me on the path that would take me away from the path of religion was when I received for Christmas a small microscope with a small lab kit to go with it. I enjoyed it immensely; I remember that it had this packet of some kind of eggs something like brine shrimp or something similar. On the low magnifying setting you could add a little water to some of them on a slide and then come back a while later and watch them hatch and begin to grow. It had other things to do and some polarizing lenses and stuff for a few projects.
But in my family, church came first, always. My interest in science was never recognized much less encouraged. My first inklings that the grown ups in my life didn’t know as much as I thought they did came at about age fourteen. I remember asking an adult after priesthood meeting the question, “If God created everything, who created God”. His answer wasn’t as memorable as his attitude. He was not happy that I had asked the question. I also remember asking about the “war in Heaven” which is essential too most if not all of the religions of the Bible, for it establishes the existence of the devil. But it seemed illogical that anyone, in the presence of God the creator, knowing that he was God the creator could, to his face defy him. I mean how stupid can you be? I believe this is when I was beginning to think for myself. In those teen years I was becoming more and more rebellious, which is why I was sent to a military school. But if my parents had known how that year away from happy Valley would affect me, I’m sure they never would have sent me.
Military school was a big wake up. I went from being around almost all Mormons to being one of only two or three Mormon students. This was also when I started to enjoy Learning. I especially enjoyed gaining scientific knowledge. Science became so much more interesting to me than the static unchangeable nature of religious teachings. At this school, the most memorable class was “Advanced biology and physiology.” The class was held two hours a day, three days a week for the entire year. It had a college like setting with a good lab. I remember that the professor had a human arm that was striped of its skin. He also had a juvenile Dolphin he acquired somewhere and dissected it in class over several class and lab periods. We also did team dissections of lab rats and a couple of different reptiles in order to compare the physiology of warm and cold-blooded animals. We also did our own blood typing and Rh factor. We studied evolution, and had a section on sex education, and this was in the mid 60’s.
Also at this Military school, my roommate introduced me to certain Science fiction books. Most notably Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, One of the characters while discussing religion with other characters mentions an incident in the bible as instructive of how nasty God is. The story in second kings is about Elijah and how when some kids make fun of his bald head, he calls on God and God sends a she bear out of the woods which tears up these kids. This is an act of God?
The next big change in my life came when I spent four years in the United States Air Force. The year in Thailand was quite an experience. When you spend a year somewhere you get more than just a “vacation like glimpse” of a place and its people. You have time to explore the culture, the Buddhist religion, and the food. (That’s where I learned to love rice.)
But my final break with organized religion came when I was on leave during the holidays of 1970. I was given a book for Christmas from the stake presidency called The Miracle of Forgiveness, by Spencer W. Kimball. While thumbing through this book, I came across a passage in a chapter called “The Sin Next to Murder.” The passage, attributed to Heber J. Grant, is part of a larger discourse about chastity, and ties the Word of Wisdom to chastity. In part it is as follows. (Speaking of young people)
“Partaking of Tobacco and Liquor is calculated to make them a prey to those things which, if indulged in, are worse than death itself. There is no true Latter-day Saint who would not rather bury a son or a daughter than have him or her lose his or her chastity –realizing that chastity is of more value than anything else in all the world.”
When I read that passage I knew that I had nothing left in common with Mormonism.
When I got out of the Air Force I started attending the University of Utah and became a Geography major and eventually graduated with a B.Sc. in physical Geography. It was here that all the science classes in Geography, Geology, Anthropology, helped hone my knowledge of evolution, Earth history, and the processes that make the physical world what it is.
I consider myself a humanist, an agnostic, and an evolutionist. I feel that they are all grounded in my knowledge of and enjoyment of Science.
Now I would like to mention the names of some of the people both past and present that have had an influence on me by what they did or what they wrote.
Galileo, Kepler, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Crick and Watson, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, E. O. Wilson, Professor Donald Currey, Professor Frank Brown, Robert Ingersoll, Jacob Bronowski, Steve Allen, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, George Orwell, H.G. Wells, and Robert A. Heinlein.
I would like to end by reading one of the quotes of a fictional character of Robert A. Heinleins named Lazarus Long. I believe it speaks to the essence of science.
“What are the facts? Again and again and again–What are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the ‘unguessable’ verdict of history”–What are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!”
My Journey to Humanism
The story of my life as I have told it to myself includes being born on the coldest day ever recorded in history of the United States–a record broken only quite recently–when on February 10th, 1933, the temperature in West Yellowstone was recorded at seventy degrees below zero. In Logan, my birthplace, it was just forty below. But even as a newcomer, I must have noticed that it was a cold, if not cruel, world I had come into. My parents were impressed and convinced themselves, and me, that there was something wonderful about my birth. I have achieved their prophecies and have lately recorded in my India memoirs how I became a goddess. But that is a development which I’ll explain later.
Because I learned to walk at eight months and learned to read by the age of three, my parents and grandparents enfolded me in an aura of wonder and admiration. And then, since no other children came into my family to rival my “clouds of glory,” for a long time there was no challenge to this illusion. It also created an environment where I was destined to grow up alone, introspective, and bookish. To this day, the characters I have known in literature seem far more real and dear to me than the ordinary folks of my everyday acquaintance.
I early preferred the mythology of the classical world to that of the Judeo-Christian tradition and considered the Bible myths of negligible interest. When I consider why that was so, it could be that my maternal grandfather studied a Classics curriculum at Amherst College in Massachusetts and my mother was herself an English literature M.A. from the University of Michigan in the early 1920’s when most western women did not pursue postgraduate studies. My father was a scientist, first a geologist, a teacher, then a medical doctor from Columbia University in New York. My paternal grandfather was a university graduate and a superintendent of schools in Cache Valley. With this overburden, it is evident that from the beginning I was being constantly formed and informed. The landmark books of my early childhood were Alice in Wonderland , with the grinning but disappearing Cheshire cat and the Red Queen who screamed, “off with her head”. This wildly imaginative text surely imparted to me a quirky preference for the inventive and absurd. Quite a different book, Robinson Crusoe, suggested to my impressionable self a strong confirmation that I, too, was alone on an island challenged to survive by my wit and endurance, sustained largely by raisins.
I began writing poetry at Ogden High School under the expert and legendary tutelage of Wilson Thornley, an innovator in teaching creative writing. Before his retirement, Mr. Thornley had become the mentor of several professional writers. A lifelong love of poetry and the foundation of my professional career as teacher began, then and there, with a veneration of language and the literary tradition, all richly awakened in my eighteenth year.
Next, at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, I won the freshman poetry prize, a cause for momentary jubilation, but that mood was soon countered by a suicidal depression brought on when I walked through the open stacks in Taylor Library, a Neo-Gothic building with towers and leaded glass windows, and despaired, realizing that I could not, in a hundred lifetimes, be able to absorb the knowledge encapsulated in the shelf after shelf of books each representing the scholarly effort of another human being. And this was just the section on the classics, Greek and Latin. I felt an affinity akin to mystical appreciation for the original texts and the scholarly commentaries. I realized that the throngs of dusty volumes each represented a life of devotion to learning, a living voice from the past. I was vastly outnumbered and overwhelmed. This epiphany created an impossible appetite to know everything–and soon.
It was during that year, also, that I ventured into the college’s Neo-Gothic chapel for midmorning services and heard the best and brightest visiting clergy from up and down the east coast. It was the first time I had heard intelligent discourse from a pulpit, and I began to wish in an envious way that I, too, could kneel and cross myself unselfconsciously like the others and feel comfortable doing so. I longed to be part of an ancient and solemn tradition. While the aesthetics were appealing, I was blocked by skepticism and consigned to being always a sympathetic observer.
When I was twenty, my parents sent me to Europe for four months, on the Grand Tour. I was in London in 1953, witness to the Empire’s millions who made the pilgrimage to London for Elizabeth II’s coronation. My experience of golden coaches and high pomp and circumstance was extremely limited. I was enthralled by the formal protocol, the elaborate and colorful rituals handed down from distant times and adhered to with precision The tattered flags from bygone military campaigns hanging from the chapel at Christ Church College, Oxford; the illustrious figures from history who had paced across the university courtyards; the deep and resonant sense of the past that seeps from the very stones; each cold marble figure reclining atop his sarcophagus awakened an urgent need in me to absorb the totality of meaning of the vast human history, everywhere ambient and insistent. I wrote my parents, “Sell the house and car and come!” My father wisely continued his surgeries to pay for my trip, and I was further isolated from my peers at home in Utah where I saw local history as a paltry thing, reiterated each year and marked with a Pioneer Day Queen, a rodeo and parade.
Back at the University of Utah, I was fortunate to have major professors who could fill those empty spaces in my understanding that I had discovered while in England and Europe. Dr. Clarice Short in Romantic and Victorian poetry; Emil Lucki in English History; Sterling McMurrin, James Jarrett, and Waldemer Read in many philosophy courses, all sped me on my way to a triple major in English, History and Philosophy with Latin as my B.A. language. None could have been finer. I took a few courses in American literature and came to know my future husband.
Through his offices, I secured my first teaching position at the University of Buffalo in 1960. We were married in 1961. Skip over five children. Anyone with a family knows just how the love and concern for children can humanize a person.
The next life-altering experience was our first time in India. I was most reluctant to leave behind my blooming roses, and I suffered agonies of claustrophobia on the 24-hour flight, clinging to my nine-month-old boy as to a life preserver. However, the initial experience of India jolted me out of my comfortably formed self. The “mysterious east” required the creation of a radically different world view and a new self to inhabit it. I was aided by Indian friends, Parsi, Muslim, and Hindu who, themselves, were rich embodiments of their communities’ cultural and religious traditions. Love conquers all, and I came to love our hundred-year-old villa, each of our eight servants, my students: both the boys at Hyderabad Public School and the girls at St. Francis Women’s College. I loved the ancient banyan trees, the Gul Mohor, and Neem and the wealth of bird life that flocked and sang. I had time to read and write. I discovered Joseph Campbell whose explanations of the Hindu temple sculptures, and the life force behind the multiplicity of gods and goddesses suggested parallels to the Greek and Roman pantheon. A world of undiscovered mythology lay before me. My husband’s position as director of a research library in American Studies gave us opportunity to travel and visit member academic institutions and scholars countrywide. There was no going back to a provincial world view nor ever to accept one religion’s version of things.
After three years we reluctantly returned to Utah where sometimes greeting old friends, they would say innocently, “We haven’t seen you in a while,” not realizing we were not at all the same people who had left. I began a seven-year stint teaching British and World Literature, Art History as well as Creative Writing at Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s School. As an enhancement to my interest in human history, I was led by the headmaster, Bill Purdy, to the works of Loren Eiseley. A paleo-biologist, a scientist and humanist, Eiseley in his many books conveys an earth historian’s cosmic sense of time. After reading The Immense Journey or the Firmament of Time, I could relish the local topography, the ancient sand dunes pressed into stone, fossils and shells found in badlands once ancient seas, present and ambient. Trips with students to “read the landscape” allowed me to cherish our local environment and accept my own ephemeral place in the whirling and changing universe.
Ten years after our first “at home” in Hyderabad, India, we returned for another three years, this time with children who were in high school and college. Another one hundred-year-old villa, even more age-old trees and birds, some of the same–now older–servants and a joyous reunion with dear friends made it a true homecoming. We absorbed the Indo-Saracenic mosques, the massive f rts and ancient temples with wiser eyes and learned to accept the mysteries of a complex culture instead of settling for easy answers. A five thousand-year-old civilization has accretions, sediments, and fossils much like the diverse rock formations of Utah.
And now, partake of some mysteries. We watched with growing wonder the process by which a stone mile-marker beside the 16th century structure the Char Minar (four towers) in the center of the thronging bazaars of the Old City was, little by little, transformed into a holy shrine. The mile marker, a simple, oblong, granite upright, did resemble a Shiva-lingam, the male phallus, the creative force in Hindu mythology. Someone coming out of the nearby fever hospital carrying a wilting garland of flowers may have draped them over the stone. Another person passing by may have taken the discarded flowers as a ritual offering to Shiva. In the three years that we observed, a Hindu priest took up residence beside the stone to receive offerings and dispense blessings. Before long a miniature temple was being erected to house the “shrine.” encroaching on the Muslim monument and clogging street traffic. While we had watched, a holy site was born.
Then three separate events transpired that became linked in my mind. On a trip to the great Meenakshi temple complex at Madurai, we we taken to a cave-like shrine in a hill where, during a special religious festival, devotees were lined up to pay obeisance to a white temple elephant and receive his blessings. Moved to the front of the line as visiting dignitaries, we were presented to the priests. The expectation was that we would step forward and receive a benediction from the elephant, a huge beast capable of killing with one blow. There was some hesitation and embarrassment, so I stepped forward. I bent my head, and as the elephant fixed my eyes with his, he gently lowered his trunk to rest on my head. The communion with another living creature, and the “peace that passes understanding” surged between us.
Some time later another greeting was given to me when a shadow passed my French door screen. I rose from my needlepoint work to see if a rat were trying to gain entry. I found myself face to face with a giant cobra, erect and unwavering, whose stare stopped my breath until I was finally able to scream for my son and the gardener. They ran in time to see him retreat behind the verandah palms and vanish into the stonework of the house foundation. A cobra bite means almost instant death. I was stunned with the potential of his visit. But there was a different response from my servants. They were eager to fall at my feet and touch me in veneration of one so honored as to be chosen for a visit from the god Shiva in the form of a snake. The snake is both the embodiment of creation and destruction since he carries within his body the power of death through venom. Moreover, he gains renewal or immortality through shedding his skin and thus being born afresh. I accepted, and shared, their gestures of wonderment.
After the beautiful six-year-old only son of our widowed maid servant died from the bite of a rabid dog–to our horror knocked down and attacked as we watched in our own compound–I saw the world through the eyes of Ahab, understood the ravaging indifference of the cosmos that we call cold evil. That young death tainted my optimism.
Later, when out of deep compassion for the grief of his mother, I took great care of her during a difficult and hard-to-diagnose illness, involving many trips to different doctors, labs, and, finally, ultrasound and an emergency operation that saved her life. She remained grateful for what we had done. Much later when she had regained her health, I made a rare visit to her room in the servants’ quarters. I admired her domestic shrine: a calendar-art picture of Shiva over a rough table where she could light incense and place fruit and sweets as puja offerings to her deity. Next to Shiva, she had hung my photograph! To my astonishment, I had become a goddess myself, joining the Hindu pantheon of 333,333 gods and goddesses.
Since It had become so easy to attain the reverence of others–even achieving a pseudo-divinity, my longtime conviction was strengthened that being truly human embodies all that there is of the divine.
As a postscript, I should mention the twelve years I had teaching the gifted Brighton high school students in Advanced Placement English. Offered to the top ten per cent of the graduating seniors, this course in world literature and composition was designed to give them a year’s equivalent credit for a college level class. The epics, plays, novels and poetry we read made indelible, and living, those characters and situations that inhabit the classics. Every year we read the third millennium B.C. Sumerian epic Gilgamesh. In this tale, after many heroic adventures with his companion at arms, Enkidu, Gilgamesh is distraught when his friend dies. He can not sleep, fears death, and in a wild and despairing state roves the world looking for immortality. Nearly at the end of the world, having subdued lions and braving the dark mountain passes, he comes upon Siduri the wine maker for the gods. She says, “Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to? You will never find that life for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping. As for you, Gilgamesh, fill you belly with good things day and night night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this is the lot of man.”
Are these not the basic human values? From nearly five thousand years ago comes this insight. Human focus should be on love of family, simple pleasures, and the joy of life itself. To seek beyond this world is to chase the wind. Since Siduri is the winemaker to the gods, in vino veritas, in wine is truth.
Another moment that is particularly appropriate in these times is a scene from Virgil’s epic, the Aeneid. Having escaped with a band of followers from the ravages of the Trojan war where his city burned around him , having suffered there the loss of his wife, and weary with travels to establish a new Troy, grieving the recent death of his father, Aeneas lands on the shores of North Africa. Exploring inland, he finds people building a city, their first completed construction, a temple. On its walls is a sculpted relief telling the tragic story of the fall of Troy, the slaughter and suffering, but also the heroic deeds. Aeneas concludes upon seeing this tribute that he has come upon a people who understand lacrimae rerum, the tears of things, the sadness of the human condition. He feels it would be safe to seek aid from people who through their art show compassion and empathy. Encouraged, he moves to to appeal for sanctuary and assistance from Dido, queen of Carthage, herself a refugee from Phoenicia. Our country has recently understood the tears of things. We are moving toward shared compassion.
A poem which all my students memorized is a carpe diem poem by Ezra Pound which affirms love and beauty even in the face of loss.
“Thank you, whatever comes.” And then she turned
And, as the ray of sun on hanging flowers
Fades when the wind hath lifted them aside,
Went swiftly from me. Nay, whatever comes
One hour was sunlit and the most high gods
May not make boast of any better thing
Than to have watched that hour as it passed.