September 2004

Letter From Our President

Many of you know I started a second Master’s Degree course, Educational Leadership and Policy, this Spring at the University of Utah, in hopes of qualifying to become a school administrator. This would enable me to “graduate” from teaching to school administration a few years down the road, when I foresee I will be too tired and “out-of-it” to teach any more, but would still be able to influence school policy. I’m finding the course extremely interesting, and while I am learning a great deal and finding there is great need for humanist principles to be more actively pursued in the schools to result in real change–equal access to education for all children–the course is proving to be a very challenging project for me. It will require 450 hours of internship over two years, as well as 36 hours of class, in addition to my full time teaching. Happily enough, Fall term begins again next week, and on top of it, my teaching with Granite District also starts again in early September. Something had to give!

Fortunately for me the Humanist Board has rallied to help me find a way forward. We have agreed that my duties as President will be taken over by our Vice President, Bob Lane, and by Bob Mayhew, Flo Wineriter, and others on the Board so that our Chapter will continue to function smoothly and our new projects continue to flower over the next months. We have a spectacular slate of speakers through to the year’s end. Because of my two-year commitment to the ELP program, I will refrain from seeking re-election in February, 2005. I will miss my part in the Humanists of Utah organization, and am extremely grateful for the support of the Board, all of whom already had many commitments before taking on even more.

–Heather Dorrell
President, Humanists of Utah

Secular Humanism and Humanist Ethics

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

“Secular humanism and atheism are not identical,” says Paul. Kurtz, who is a preeminent leader of the secular humanist movement. “One can be an atheist and not a secular humanist or humanist. Indeed some thinkers or activists who call themselves atheists explicitly reject humanist ethical values (for example, Stalin, Lenin, Nietzsche, and others).” Also, secular humanism, he says, is surely different from religious humanism.

In his article, “Secular Humanism: A New Approach,” in Free Inquiry, winter 2002/03, Kurtz advocates the secular humanist viewpoint. My resume here is merely expository; I am not trying to convert you away from religious humanism to secular humanism. I am just summarizing Kurtz’ viewpoint for informational purposes. Actually AHA and Utah humanists are inclusive of both religious and secular humanists.

He states that secular humanism is not antireligious; it is simply nonreligious. Secular humanists are nontheists–atheists, agnostics, or skeptics–about the God question and/or immortality of the soul. They are not religious; theirs is a scientific, ethical and philosophical life stance.

He thinks the term religious humanism is unfortunate. “It has been used to denote a kind of moral and aesthetic commitment to a set of ideals and practices; but this is most confusing. It often serves to sneak in some quasi-spiritual and/or transcendental aspect of experience and practice, aping religion.” He accuses religious humanists of fear of being seen as criticizing religion or becoming known as atheists and as not wishing to be seen as critical of any religion.

Being nonreligious does not, he says, mean that secular humanism does not criticize the claims of religion. We have a moral obligation to speak the plain truth, to analyze religious claims and call them to account for their lack of reliable empirical foundations. What is central to humanism is the ethical component.

The Discussion Group this month also discussed a second article by Kurtz, “The Ethics of Humanism: Without Religion,” which is in the same issue of Free Inquiry as the above-mentioned piece.

He asks, “Can a society or person be moral without religion?” Yes, affirm secular humanists. Morality is deeply rooted in the “common moral decencies” (relating to moral behavior in society) and the “ethical excellences” (as they apply to a person’s own life).

The former are widely shared and are essential to the survival of any human community. He puts forth some of these: personal integrity: telling the truth, being sincere; keeping one’s promises and being honest; trustworthiness: loyalty to our relatives, friends and coworkers and being dependable, reliable and responsible; benevolence: manifesting goodwill and noble intentions toward others, having a positive concern for them, having a lack of malice; in the sexual domain seeking mutual consent between adults and being beneficent, that is, kind, sympathetic and compassionate; fairness: showing gratitude, holding people accountable for their deeds, justice and equality in society, tolerance and cooperation with others, and seeking to negotiate differences peacefully without resorting to hatred or violence. These moral decencies are tested in the final analysis by their consequences in practice.

The ethical excellences are as follows: autonomy, the ability to take control of one’s own life, to accept responsibility for one’s own feelings, one’s marriage or career, how he or she lives or learns, the values and goods one cherishes, and being self-directed (some are willing to forfeit their right to self-determination to others, to parents, spouses, or even totalitarian despots or authoritarian gurus); intelligence: to develop our cognitive skills: technical expertise, skilled virtuosity, and good judgment about how to make wise choices (many critics demean human intelligence and believe that we cannot solve our problems. They are willing to abdicate their rational autonomy to others); self-discipline: to satisfy our desires, emotions and needs in moderation, under the guidanceof rational choice, recognizing the harmful consequences of imprudent choices; self-respect: some appreciation for who we are as individuals and a realistic sense of our own identities (self hatred can destroy the personality); creativity: a willingness to be innovative and have a zest for life that involves adventure and discovery; high motivation: a willingness to enter into life and undertake new plans (a motivated person finds life interesting and exciting. One problem for many people is that they find life and their jobs boring. They are merely masking their lack of intensity of commitment to high aspirations and values); an affirmative attitude toward life (in spite of failures and defeats, we must believe that we shall overcome and succeed despite adversity); joie de vivre: an appreciation for the full range of human pleasures, food, sex and the most ennobling and creative aesthetic, intellectual and moral pleasures; good health: avoiding smoking and drugs, drinking only in moderation, seeking to reduce stress, and get proper nutrition, adequate exercise, sufficient rest and achieving sexual fulfillment and love.

“The end or goal of life is not to be discovered in some hidden, mysterious realm…It can be found by eating the succulent fruit of the Tree of Life and by living in the here and now as fully and creatively as we can.”

Summer Social Report

Our annual Summer Social was held this year in Eliot Hall and catered by Distinctive Catering. The food was served buffet style and enjoyed by everyone who attended.

Entertainment was provided by Becca Terry who sang a wide range of songs, mostly A Cappella that were enjoyed by all. After the performance Ms. Terry was heard saying that she worried that nobody liked her singing because there was hardly a dry eye in the hall.


~Book Review~

One of the major principles of humanism is promoting reason and Robert Reich’s latest book bears that title. The author, a passionate believer in liberalism and American democracy, clearly defines historic social and political liberal principles and tells us how to restore liberalism as the prestigious dominant influence in our American Society. Reason explains why keeping Social Security, Medicare, minimum wage, and progressive taxation is important to our future well being. Reich encourages us to regain our passionate support of liberalism.

–Flo Wineriter

Institute of Humanist Studies

Member Recommended Websites

This month’s featured sites were submitted by Flo Wineriter. He writes, ” The Institute for Humanist Studies; I particularly recommend the COHE Campus link which offers a variety of courses regarding Humanism. There is no charge to register as a student and in most cases the first lesson is free with no obligation to take the courses requiring tuition.”

Institute for Humanist Studies