April 2004

What Can You Expect From Your Newspaper?

The Readers Advocate for the Salt Lake Tribune, Connie Coyne, paid a high compliment to the Humanists of Utah in her weekly column two days after being the speaker at our March 11th general meeting. She opened her column Saturday, March 13, saying: “Seldom do I run into as educated and passionate a group as the one I spoke to this last week. And, speaking to a group so packed with hard-core liberals, I wanted to ask, ‘How did some of you come to Utah? Did your cars break down here on your way to California?'”

The Humanists of Utah would like to return the compliment by saying Utah needs more dynamic columnist of Ms. Coyne’s caliber and we hope she stays at the Salt Lake Tribune for a long, long time.

She is a keen observer of the human condition, staying aware of events by reading three newspapers per day, a dozen magazines a week, plus cereal boxes, band aid boxes, and everything containing information. Her mind is a sponge soaking up everything possible.

Coyne says a major challenge of the newspaper industry is finding the key to attracting young adults, age 35 and younger, to become daily readers and subscribers. Many of the visible changes in daily newspapers, events reported, writing styles, placements of stories, and pictures printed are the result of this effort.

What newspapers report on a daily basis is a snapshot in time: how things looked on a certain day, what was interesting and important on that particular day. That’s why you may find local news on the front page. Something that happens in Salt Lake City or elsewhere in our state may have more meaning in our lives and tell us a lot more about ourselves than anything that happened any place else in the world during the preceding 24 hours.

What you can expect from your newspaper is that it will be factual, accurate, interesting and acceptable for every member of your family. Your daily newspaper should also be childproof, containing nothing that you would be embarrassed if your child read it or looked at it.

Opinions and editorials should cover not just two sides of an issue, but every side of an issue.

She invited humanists to contact her whenever they have a complaint concerning the Salt Lake Tribune.

Connie Coyne’s formal presentation was followed by an intense audience exchange and an enthusiastic applause of appreciation.

–Flo Wineriter

Our Humanist Legacy

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

“God dies only for a few,” declares William F. Schultz in an article with the same title as the present one in UU World, November-December 2003. “Over time, God may well change form for many people, from personal to vague to immanent, from transcendent to immanent, from transcendent to omnipotent to limited. But in American culture, at least, God dies only for a few. ‘Whither is God?’ cried Friedrich Nietzsche’s madman.. I shall tell you. We have killed him–you and I.’ But the people only stared in astonishment. “I came too early,’ said the madman. ‘This tremendous event…has not yet reached the ears of man.'”

In the third or fourth decades of the 20th century, Schultz continues, some heard Nietzsche’s call and heeded his question. Their story is that of religious humanism, a religious movement that emphasized human capabilities, especially the capacity to reason; that adopted the scientific method to search for truth; and that promoted the right of all humans to develop their full potential. It tells of a movement that sought to construct what the Reverend John Dietrich called a “religion without god,” shifting the focus of religious faith from divinity to humanity. Clergy and journalists, philosophers and scientists banded together, refusing to believe that human beings could not be saved and insisting that they themselves would be the instrument of salvation.

Perhaps in no denomination but Unitarian Universalism (UU), with its aversion to creeds and dogmas, could such a frankly non-theistic movement as religious humanism have arisen without provoking a schism, and even UU itself was hard-pressed to encompass the new thought. UU’s debated the merits of a strictly human-centered, scientifically minded, ethically focused religion. In 1933 a group of philosophers, Unitarian ministers and other religious liberals issued A Humanist Manifesto, to articulate a coherent statement of humanist principles. It was consciously designed to encapsulate a religious faith, not just a philosophy of life, and for all its religious failings, it represented a heartfelt attempt to amalgamate intellectual integrity with religious expression.

Yet it was not just a matter of historical curiosity as far as UU was concerned. Forty-six percent of UU’s reported in 1998 that they regarded themselves as theologically humanist, more than twice as many as identified with the second most common perspective, nature-centered spirituality and far more than the 13% who called themselves theists or the 9.5% who described themselves as Christian. Much nonsense passes for religion in this 21st century, as in all the preceding centuries. Religious humanism is willing to call a charlatan a charlatan, and while reason is by no means the only vehicle of religious exploration, we abandon it altogether at our own peril. “Where would we,” asks Schultz, “who cherish the natural world be without religious humanism’s insistence that the world is a seamless garment and that we humans are a part of the weaving? And what about the second point in the Manifesto, that human beings are “a part of nature” and have “emerged as the result of a continuous process,” Or humanism’s courageous faith that the future of the world is in human hands–not those of an angry God or inexorable fate. Humanism beckons us to believe that we can make a difference to history. This, says Schultz, is the source of his own passion for social justice. “Human rights themselves, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are grounded, not in the callings of the divine or the imperatives of natural law but in the common experience of human empathy transmogrified into a set of guidelines designed to effect a civilized world.”

But Schultz says religious humanism–particularly that of the 1933 Manifesto is now outdated, as show by the fact that humanists found a need to issue Manifesto II in 1973 and Manifesto III this year.

Why does Schultz prefer present-day religious humanism to the early religious humanism of the signers of Manifesto I? He says the early humanism lacked a clear doctrine of human freedom–not political freedom, which it endorsed, but free agency, what was traditionally called free will. Hence it lacked an adequate understanding of evil. The Manifesto makes not a single mention of the human capacity for choice. On the contrary it seems to suggest a brand of cultural determinism in its affirmation that “man’s religious culture and civilization…are the product of a gradual development due to his interaction with his natural environment, with his social heritage. The individual born into a particular culture is largely molded to that culture. “The religion embodied in the Manifesto is little better than a product of cultural dictation. Without a belief in some measure of free choice, the Manifesto was hard pressed to account for human evil. It had little to offer in the way of consolation from anguish. Religion was not just about insight but also about poetry. Culture was reflected, not only in its worldview, but also in its music. As George Santayana put it, “Religion is the love of life in the consciousness of its impotence,” He talks of the plight of Winnie the Pooh who, when stuck in the doorway of Rabbit’s house, requested, “Would you be so kind as to read a Sustaining Book such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in a Great tightness?” “In large measure,” says Schultz, “humanism lacked such a “book.” He said, “…humanism fell mute when Pooh was…stuck, in the face of evil and heartache and death, when the only response worthy of the occasion was to curse the human plight and be determined to dance nonetheless.” Humanism lacked an aesthetic sense. It had little, if anything to offer to those who brooked consternation before chaos or treasured awe before vastness.

He lists the following as basic principles of humanism which have come to pervade our larger culture: 1) Showing love to all humans, 2) Immortality is found in the examples we set and the work we do, 3) We gain insight from many sources and all cultures, 4) We have the power within ourselves to realize the best we are capable of as human beings, and 5) We are responsible for what we do and become.

He says most religious explorers today would want to go further, use richer language, and wrestle with deeper questions. He says the humanist-theist controversy is behind us and the religious world has largely said to such explorers, “Go to it.”

What? He apparently hasn’t talked to any authoritarian-dogmatic religionists lately. He advocates a willingness to employ a wider lexicon of traditional religious language than that with which the early religionists would be comfortable. He continues, “It is not particularly important to me any more whether I or anyone else uses ‘God talk.’ What is of supreme importance is that I live my life in a posture of gratitude–that I recognize my existence and, indeed, Being itself, as an unaccountable blessing, a gift of grace.” Then he says, “Sometimes, it is helpful to call the source or fact of that gift of grace God and sometimes not.” This statement contradicts his above statement that it doesn’t matter whether one uses “God talk” or not. He goes on, “But what is always helpful and absolutely necessary is to look kindly on the world, to be in bold pursuit of its repair, and to be comfortable in the embrace of its splendor. I know no better term for what I seek than encounter with the Holy.” Certainly I would not quarrel with these outlooks, but I question that it is necessary to be a “religious” humanist to hold to them.

Since Schultz in the article does not define the words “God,” or “Holy,” I can’t discern what he means when he uses these terms. Do they refer to a supernatural deity, nature, or something else? Also, “grace” implies receiving some kind of gift from someone, as in divine assistance or a virtue coming from God, or some kind of approval or favor. Is being really a gift of grace or is it more simply an outcome of organic evolution? It isn’t that I am not grateful to be alive and in good health, but is the fact that I am necessarily a gift of grace? Do religious humanists of today really wrestle with deeper questions than the authors of Manifesto I or, for that matter, secular humanists? Does one have to use religious lexicon to deal with the deeper questions. To most people the words “God”, “holy” and “grace” in the sense used here refer to the divine; and I suggest that their use in discussing humanism confuses non-humanists, and perhaps even humanists, about what we’re talking about. I suggest it is perfectly possible to talk about the deeper questions without using religious terminology. Isn’t it a key feature of humanism that we question the existence of the supernatural? Then why do we have to borrow words and phrases implying the supernatural to express our human-centered outlook? The writers of Humanist Manifesto I did not reject free agency. They seem to recognize it in their call for “a new statement of the means and purposes of religion.” If Winnie the Pooh’s Great Tightness is that of a terminally ill person, the Sustaining Book, tragically, will not necessarily help him get out of his situation. It might give him some comfort as he faces its reality, yet there are a number of documented cases where atheists maintained their atheism even when they were about to die, as during combat in war. Don’t Manifesto I and secular humanism look kindly on the world? Don’t they accept the world’s splendor as they ponder its wonders? Why aren’t the words “religion” and “religious” used in Manifesto III? I do not feel Schultz makes a very convincing case in this article that it is necessary for humanism to be religious in order to deal with the deeper questions. Perhaps you feel differently than I do, or perhaps you feel the same. It might be interesting for you to send your views to The Utah Humanist.

Humanism: More Than Religion

Religion is that which people have invented to help them explain the big unanswerable questions in life. Religion also provides a solace in need, and gives meaning and direction to our lives. It tells us what is right and what is wrong, and how to act.

Humanism for me does all that and more, since it also challenges me to think and to be responsible and to weigh things rationally and make my own decisions. Religion does not need to be theistically based in order to support how live in the world: it is far more than belief in god. Humanism does for me what religions in general do for other people.

–Brian Eslinger, UU Minister

On Easter

The things you are liable to read in the Bible, they ain’t necessarily so.
–Porgy and Bess

Easter is the High Holy Day of the Christian religion. In its many manifestations, Easter celebrates the myth of the reanimation from death of the god Jesus, AKA the Christ. Like its womb mate Christmas, Easter is a marvelous blend of Christian and non-Christian nonsense. The Christian side is represented by “Handel’s Messiah” and hot cross buns (a seasonal pastry with a sugar cross on it) and the non-Christian nonsense side by “In Your Easter Bonnet…” and hunts for Easter Eggs (dyed boiled eggs in the shell laid–young minds are taught to believe–by rabbits).

To understand the phenomena of Easter, one must understand the Christian “gospels.” These four small propagandist tracts, written long after the supernatural fact, by unknown authors who did not know Jesus, contain the only known evidence for the existence of Jesus. Believers will argue other historic proofs, but these are provable forgeries added centuries later by pious priests who copied or translated Jewish, Roman and Greek texts. If the ancient writers had deliberately omitted Jesus merely because they had never heard of him, this error was often fixed for later Christian editions. The only evidence for Easter beliefs comes from the gospels.

Here’s a neat Bible study exercise for non-believers. It will help you learn something of the Christian belief system and will prove useful in the civil war when believers try to force you to play in their sandbox. Read all four gospels and, including every fact contained within them, write a concise, non-contradictory chronology of what happened between the time Jesus was crucified on a stake (the Greek word translates “stake” not “cross”–tell that to your preacher and watch him ring them bells) and the moment he went up to Heaven. Then you will know what Christians believe. To make the challenge more exciting, be sure to include facts, for the same time frame, from “The Acts of the Apostles” and from the letters of Paul. Paul really got Christianity going. He claimed to have seen Jesus after Jesus had gone to Heaven. Lots of people believed him. Lots of people believed Joseph Smith too. Joseph Smith wrote “The Book of Mormon” and claimed an angel helped him translate buried gold plates the angel later reburied. At least Paul had honest delusions.

The reason the death of Jesus is of importance to Christians is because if they believe Jesus died for their sins they get to live forever with him when they die. Because Jesus survived death, believers will too. Somehow Jesus’ “sacrifice” doesn’t seem like such a big deal, being a god and all, and getting to come alive again after being dead only one day and two nights. Many people have died for others and have stayed dead. There should be no shortage of volunteers willing to die to save everyone forever and be worshiped as a god if they could come alive again after being dead between Friday evening and Sunday morning.

Once you finish the Bible stories about Jesus, you may well wonder how anyone could believe this stuff, and you should understand why the events were omitted from every other history of that time. When Jesus died on the stake, the Bible reports that dead people came out of their graves (whether decomposed or not isn’t revealed), walked around the city and were recognized by many. This should have provoked some interest by the scandal sheets of the day, but no other reference is found of it. We might wonder if the risen dead sued to get their property back from their useless heirs.

You will note from your Easter biblical studies that the primary witness to the resurrection of the Christ was one Mary Magdalene, a woman thought to be a prostitute who had been possessed by seven demons, i.e., she was nuts. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the risen savior of the world had appeared in all his glory to the Roman Senate where literate rational humanists could have recorded an accurate account of this miracle? Why have your immortal soul hang in the balance on less than credible evidence? Should one accept that laws of nature have been broken and that a dead body has come alive again on the word of a deranged hooker? Would a just, rational, compassionate god condemn one to eternal torment for doubting such evidence? Clearly the Senate, or even a meeting of the Aqueduct Committee, would have been a better place to break the good news of salvation.

But we are not dealing with a rational god or even decent moral behavior in the Easter story. The god the myth says was the father of Jesus believed in child sacrifice. Previously content with blood drained from the slashed throats of sheep, goats and such, god needed more gore to save everyone. He wanted his own kid killed as a blood sacrifice for the sins of the world. This is what little children (kids) are taught in Sunday School (that’s where Christians violate the Fourth Commandment by worshipping on the first day of the week instead of the seventh as god ordered–no wonder we are in such trouble). But if child murder for the sins of others isn’t bad enough, consider this. Christians celebrate the death and rebirth of the god Jesus in a grotesque cannibalistic ritual of literally (or symbolically –depending on choice of sect) eating his flesh and drinking his blood! This bizarre custom is known as “Holy Communion” –dare we call it “swallow the leader?”

If Jesus rose from the dead, and if he went to Heaven, and if Heaven is outside the known universe, and if the laws of nature invented by god apply to god, then Jesus could not travel faster than the speed of light. If he left for Heaven two thousand years ago, he isn’t there yet, and won’t be there for some time. Therefore, we really need not concern ourselves at this point about his return to earth. Presumably he will return sometime after he gets there.

So now you know about Easter. You will probably be a happier and better adjusted human being if you stick to the Easter Parade and pass on the eating of human flesh and blood. And please remember that this disgusting rite is practiced in buildings owned by Christian groups who do not have to pay taxes on their property or income.

And the next time some un-American lunatics want to have forced Christian prayer in public schools, tell them you are a spiritual vegetarian. Happy Easter.

–Ed Kagin

Morals and Politics

I have wondered for years why Utahns so strongly and consistently support conservative principles. I have just finished reading Moral Politics, written by George Lakoff, which provides some answers.

Lakoff says that American politics are based on two distinct family values concepts: The strict father concept and the nurturing family concept. He says conservatives are united by the notion of a patriarchal family in which the parents’ role is to develop self-discipline in children by enforcing strict rules of good and evil. In contrast liberals view nurturing and caring as the most effective means of creating competent, responsible children.

Lakoff maintains American politics is suffused with family based morality and that family values matter. The question is, which family values, strict father or nurturing parent?

Moral Politics clarified some of my confusion regarding the conservative nature of Utah politics.

–Flo Wineriter