September 2009

Defining Humanism

We humanists may know who we are and what we stand for but how do you answer someone who asks the question, “Humanism? What is that?” Even though recent surveys show that non-believers are a large and rapidly growing segment of our population it can be difficult to succinctly summarize just what humanism is and stands for. One of the better definitions is just to the left of this article.

I am looking forward to our general meeting this month to hear what Flo Wineriter has to say on this subject. We also have had other chapter members and officers over the years weigh in on this topic. One of my favorites is from former chapter president Heather Dorrell:

Humanism is a rational philosophy based on belief in the dignity of human beings, informed by science and motivated by human hope and human compassion.
Humanists revere the natural world, knowing of no other place to set good examples, to work, and to show love. We accept responsibility for what we do and what we become, believing that our immortality is found in the examples we set and in the work we do. We rejoice in the diversity around us.
In the words of Thomas Paine, “such is the irresistible nature of truth that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.”
We seek insight from all cultures and from many sources–scientific, secular, and religious–recognizing that there are many truths and many ways to learn about how to live.

The unfortunate thing with this “definition” and the AHA one to the left is that they aren’t snappy, not the kind of thing you can fire off in an instant; assuming that you have them memorized.

The best one liner that I have heard is that humanists promote the Santa Claus philosophy: “Be good for goodness sake!”

–Wayne Wilson


~Book Review~

Gore Vidal is now the Honorary President of the American Humanist Association. Over the years I have enjoyed his fictional account of the history of the United States that he calls Narratives of Empire which includes seven books: BurrLincoln1876EmpireHollywoodWashington DC, and The Golden Age.

My personal favorite is Lincoln. This book provides several characterizations of the universally recognized truly great people in American history. Lincoln is viewed by family, friends, political rivals, and enemies. The portrait one gets from reading this book is much more complete and intimate than the standard school presentations of the man.

The book begins as Lincoln arrives with no fanfare in Washington DC after winning the election. He was accompanied by a Mr. Pinkerton, “what they call a detective.” He came without his family to avoid the wild boys in Baltimore who openly had vowed to kill him.

The book notes how Lincoln was able to charm and disarm most of his critics with his storytelling. However, there aren’t many of his actual stories chronicled in the text. Lincoln was able to pull together both allies and opponents to serve in his cabinet; often refusing to accept resignations, saying he needed the diverse group to be able to solve the weighty problems that the country was experiencing.

Lincoln is remembered as the Great Emancipator but I wonder if this would be the case if he had not been assassinated and served out his second term. He strongly believed that people from Africa would never be able to live with people who had held them as slaves. His “solution” was to pay the slave holders and ship all the black people either to an island or to Central/South America.

These Narrative books are a great read. Mr. Vidal has obviously thoroughly researched the content but has added some fictional characters who make our history lessons much more intriguing.

–Wayne Wilson

President’s Message

This month I am going to vent a little. In discussions I have had with members of our chapter, we have on several occasions touched on the need to remain civil and respectful of those we disagree with. It has been said that it is unnecessary and even counterproductive to bash or denigrate individuals, their religion, their politics or their ideas. For the most part I agree with this admonition. Shouting matches rarely accomplish much of anything except chaos and ill feelings.

I have been characterized by my friends as “laid back” or “easy going,” and I don’t mind those labels at all. Throughout my adult life I have also tried to refrain from hating individuals. Hate, like being disrespectful, is too much wasted emotion and therefore is usually counterproductive.

However, I recently became aware of something that has challenged my ability to stay respectful and to refrain from hating some of the willful idiots out there. It is hard enough to tolerate the garbage being spewed by so-called conservatives (I prefer to call them regressives) in regard to health care reform. But when they victimize my 87-year-old mother, I start to fume.

My mother is a devout Mormon who is one of the few who is also a democrat. On the way home after taking her to her eye doctor appointment recently, she started talking about health care issues and told me she was worried that the changes would effect her ability to receive treatments. She also said she was told that the government would decide if old people should receive life-saving care based on their usefulness; the “death panels” lie.

While observing the flow of misinformation about health care reform out there in the national arena, it is easy to ignore much of the noise and B.S. But when it hit close to home I became outraged. These people spreading lies to my mother are her neighbors and fellow Mormons who are causing her to worry and be fearful. It is difficult for me because I know these people and my respect for them is now at an all time low.

Perhaps part of the problem with those of us who are liberal or progressive is that we are a bit too “laid back” and “easy going.” Sometimes it appears we are just watching, while the opposition is out there creating fear and spreading lies. For me it is time to call these people what they are: liars. If some call me intolerant, so be it. I truly have little tolerance for these idiots. They are truly regressive and want to drag us back to the dark ages or perhaps to the Stone Age. Well, I am not going with them.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

White House

Member Recommended Websites

President Obama threw open the curtains of the Executive Branch. This website details the current administration’s goals and the progress that is being made. A few years ago Humanists of Utah heard Pete Ashdown discuss Democracy 2.0 where he said the government should be open for public inspection.