April 2010

Richard Layton

11/26/1927 ~ 3/13/2010

Richard Layton, who was born on November 26, 1927, died on March 13, 2010. He played a significant role in Humanists of Utah; he organized and ran our Discussion Group from May of 1995 until July of 2006. He faithfully produced a report for our newsletter all those years. All of these accounts are available on our website. Humanists of Utah expresses sincere condolences to his family.

Richard Layton always claims to have been a social activist. Let’s see. He grew up in Layton and went on to the U, where he earned a BS, a master’s, and eventually a Ph.D. degree. He spent 35 years in education, as a counselor and teacher in the Davis County schools, as director of the Salt Lake Teachers Association, as director of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (in Tennessee), as director of the Granite Teachers Association, and finally as Personnel Director for the Weber County School District. What was most exciting for him was being active in civil rights in Nashville in the 1960’s; he has taken a strong stand in favor of civil rights in the schools in all his directorships.

Apart from the schools, he served as one of three lay persons on the Utah Legislative Council in the 1960’s, the most powerful committee of the legislature, where he initiated and spearheaded legislative action to develop the recreational potential of Antelope Island, which was then privately owned, and the Great Salt Lake. He chaired the Great Salt Lake Authority Committee, which led to the island’s becoming a recreation area, and eventually a state park. The legislation also established a program to publicize the mineral potential in the Great Salt Lake, to help bring in industry. He has served as a member of the Davis County Welfare Board, and as an elected member of the Clearfield City Council.

He was an active Mormon until age 32 when he read Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason and began a gradual transformation. Other influences include H.G. Welles’ Outline of History, particularly the chapters on the history of religion; his disillusionment with the LDS Church in Nashville when it was still excluding blacks from the priesthood; and Free Inquiry, to which his wife introduced him. Just when he thought he was the only humanist in Utah, he received a letter from Anne Zeilstra, inviting him to an organizing meeting, at which he helped found Humanists of Utah. He served on the first board. Had his wife not died eleven years ago, she would be a humanist, too.

He loves reading–he leads our monthly discussion group, which he started-and is devoted to his son, two daughters, and grandchildren. OK, promoting civil rights in the schools, serving on councils, boards, and commissions, establishing Antelope Island as a recreation area, publicizing the minerals in the Great Salt Lake, founding Humanists of Utah, starting a discussion group-he seems to qualify as a social activist.

–Earl Wunderli

Max Shifrer

9/12/1922 ~ 3/5/2010

Max Shifrer who was born on September 12, 1922, died on March 5, 2010. He was on of the original members of Humanists of Utah.

Max Shifrer has energized Humanists of Utah meetings with his friendly, outgoing personality for many years. Son of Slovenian parents, Max learned at an early age about religion and humanism.

Born into a strong Catholic family in Slovenia, Max’s father served as an altar boy in the church, but became disillusioned as he learned that the church “took from the poor and gave to the rich.” In those days, the economic climate of Slovenia was primarily controlled by the church, the government, and the wealthy. Frustrated and dissatisfied by a despotic governing system, Max’s father emmigrated to America, just before World War I.

Max’s father sent money to transport a wife from his native country to America. Together only ten days in Carbon City, the young couple traveled to SLC to marry in the Catholic Church. In 1922, their first child was born, Max Shifrer.

As an infant, Max and his parents lived in a 24 square-foot army tent built of thin wood and canvas. To keep warm during winters in temperatures below freezing, baby Max slept between his parents. After a few years, they purchased a home in Carbonville where Max lived from age four or five until he graduated from Carbon High. In high school, among other accomplishments, Max played football, which later earned him a much deserved sports scholarship to attend Brigham Young University (BYU), where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physical education, recreation, and health. During his playing days at BYU, Max participated in a 1942 game where BYU garnered its first win against the University of Utah–a momentous year in BYU football history.

During World War II, Max was a bombardier on B-24 bombers, a position about which he is particularly proud. Fortunately, Max never had to go to battle “in the trenches.”

Max then resumed his education at BYU where, with his usual charm and charisma, he dazzled a woman by the name of Bonnie Hindmarsh. After a year of joyous courtship, they married and eventually had five children; three sons and two daughters.

Max’s father left the Catholicism of his youth, becoming an avid atheist. In retrospect, Max believes his father, unbeknownst to him, was really a humanist at heart, as was his mother, who also left Catholicism.

Max thinks that for years he was a humanist and didn’t know it. During the period when his wife was ill, it was recommended that she seek counseling from the Unitarian Universalist minister, an experience that led Max to be receptive to humanism some years later after his wife passed away. During this difficult period, Frank and Lorille Miller encouraged Max to attend humanist meetings where he, indeed, found comfort and camaraderie with like thinkers. Through humanism, Max discovered a belief system based on “the real world,” the scientific method of proving phenomenon, the espousal of accepting all people, and the responsibility of humanity to seek its own destiny without supernaturalism.

Currently, Max is enthralled with the reforming politics of “democracy is winning, worldwide,” meaning that countries spanning the world are learning through economic crisis that their military and religious governments are not working in today’s high-tech global market.

An active, astute, pleasant, articulate, bright, thinking, and reading individual, Max is a cherished member of the human and humanist family, a man well-respected and well-loved.

–Sarah Smith

C-Cubed: History Among Utah Humanists

This month our community was talking about historic events that were large in our lives. I hope our conversationalists don’t mind, I’d like to quote them directly:

“July 16, 1969, right in the middle of the worst summer of my life…stuck in Big Piney, Wyoming working in the oil fields. That was the summer I was vilified for reading during my breaks and eventually chased with clippers because my hair was starting to grow over my ears. I only saw TV once all summer long. I somehow managed to get invited to watch Astronaut Neil Armstrong take the first step onto the moon. What a thrill!!!”

“One of the big events in my life, although I didn’t recognize it until after it had essentially happened, was the shift in the Republican party beginning with Reagan’s election from what I had always thought was a responsible, business-like party to a mean-spirited, ideological party. I thought my parents, my siblings, and I were in the right party much of my life but I eventually caught on to its being the extreme right-wing party and I moved on.”

“One day in 1954, I placed my hand over my heart to recite the pledge of allegiance in school. Wasn’t I surprised when it had changed overnight? We were to add ‘under God.’ I have never said the pledge with these two words. It just seemed wrong even at 9 years of age. I cite this as a big event in my life because, every time I hear the pledge, it reminds me of how history can be rewritten and how vigilant we must remain to keep a separation between church and state.”

There’s something so uplifting and energizing about remembered history. Is it the element of the personal in the grand scheme of things? Or something we can mutually relate to and so share? I also think it’s the wisdom of observation from the down-the-road, which adds depth to the here-and-now. Thanks so much for your shared thoughts, they made me grin all over!

Your Conversation for April:

With Spring coming on my thoughts are turning to good books and warm sun–an afternoon with a book in the park, a book over morning coffee, a book on a fun vacation. So how about sharing your recommendations for a good read with the community. It will be like a virtual book fair for our next newsletter!

Send your responses to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter. The deadline is April 27.

–Lisa Miller

Freedom From Religion

Professor of law at S. J. Quinney College of Law at University of Utah and the son of two holocaust survivors, Amos Guiora presented provocative ideas about freedom and religion. In fact, he has authored a book with the provocative title Freedom from Religion. Not mincing words, he said, “The single greatest threat to civil democratic society is posed by religious extremists.” In this century, terrorism constitutes one of the gravest threats to democratic societies and national security, in particular, terrorism incited by religion.

Why religion? Religion is a powerful motivator for both positive social change, as well as mass violence, and for many people, religion goes to the core of who they are and defines who they are. When violence is initiated and fueled by religion, governments not only are responsible for protecting civil liberties, like freedom of or from religion, but they also are responsible to protect their citizens from threat and harm.

“As important as freedom of speech is, as important as freedom of religion is, we all have the right to live,” Guiora said. Government needs to end religious immunity that is granted to religious extremists, specifically in the three monotheistic faiths of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Certain rights should be limited when they threaten civil society in any way.

Although counterintuitive in a democracy, according to Guiora, limiting the free speech of those inciting violence in the name of religious extremism is legitimate. Naturally constitutional law scholars are extremely uncomfortable with such limitations, but extremists leave us with few choices.

When violence from religious motivations becomes extreme, Guiora believes that religious extremists no longer deserve immunity predicated on faith. Civil societies cannot afford to continue to treat religion as an “untouchable” subject. In fact, when government officials hear any religious leaders calling for violent action in the name of God, that leader should be taken down. Therefore, violence preached in a house of worship should lose any immunity based on freedom of speech. And rather than wait for people to act violently as a result, law enforcement should act on the violent extremist speech alone. An extremist religious leader’s power is potentially extraordinary.

To facilitate this proactive approach, we must re-define the limits of clergy speech, such as how often must clergy incite before the law moves in? What words justify such monitoring? To Guiora, we must recognize that religious extremism poses an immediate danger and that religious extremists do not deserve immunity, ideas that he knows are controversial but they may be inevitable–as inevitable as the next religious extremist-induced terrorist attack.

–Sarah Smith

Secular Coalition for America Makes History

April 2010

The following is excerpted from the Secular Coalition website. They, dare I say “we,” were invited to discuss a wide range of issues with Administration officials.

Secular Coalition for America Makes History with Administration Briefing

On February 26, 2010, the Secular Coalition for America, along with a unified delegation of members of the secular movement from across the country, sat down with White House representatives for an official policy briefing–the first of its kind for American nontheists.The event opened up new channels of dialogue between American nontheists and the Obama administration, serving as the latest indication that we are gaining significant momentum, and that secular Americans, numbering in the tens of millions, are a constituency that must be included in national policy decisions.

The news media took note of the significance of the meeting, with coverage by ABC News, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the McClatchy News Service (appearing in the Miami Herald, the Denver Post, the Sacramento Bee and other large papers). All over the blogosphere, the event remains a topic of impassioned discussion. Over at the Christian Broadcasting Network, one rightwing pundit warned that the SCA and its allies are “influential” and “very effective.” We’re pretty sure he didn’t mean it as a compliment, but we agree just the same.

The Secular Coalition for America has big goals for the coming months and years. We’re executing a strategy that will see us expanding our base of issues, increasing our lobbying efforts, and generating new and innovative ways for secular Americans to connect, network, and get active throughout America. As Sean Faircloth said in his closing remarks to the administration:

“It is not our disbelief that brings us before you today. Rather it is our deep belief in the light of reason–and our confidence that the light of reason and justice will lead us all to a better and more compassionate world.”

President’s Message

It is quite unfortunate how uncivil today’s public discourse has become; often angry and shrill, nasty and threatening. Frequently poorly informed or misinformed. “Cherry picked” facts to support one’s position, rather than rigorous study. Name calling, insults, lies, and unfounded accusations, you name it. Sometimes it appears that being disagreeable is the trait humans display the most.

It feeds on itself, this disagreeableness, when someone makes you their target, you want to fight back. For instance, recently I read that there are some religious groups who are advocating what I think they call “gloves on” approach to what they want. They go on to characterize humanists with “Marxist, Leninist’s and a satanic worldview.” It makes it hard not to get angry when you see yourself depicted (wrongly) in this fashion. One is also tempted to fire back with similar invectives.

The discussion about civility is ubiquitous and I have brought it up many times myself. But it is a subject that will never go away, and rightly so, as we should always be willing to discuss anything, including the way we discuss things.

Recently however, I find it interesting all the denials of complicity coming from all sides but especially the conservative groups. It is sort of weird that we could take all the people from the Bush administration and sit them down and show them thousands of videos of them lying again and again, and present the documentation and show them the damage they did, and they would, with a straight face look at you and say “it’s all the liberals fault.” But in some ways the Democrats aren’t much better as those who stood by or helped conservatives will cry, “we were fooled” and or “we didn’t really want to help.”

To me the most unfortunate thing about this entire rancorous dialog is that it is a huge waste of human energy. If only we could channel that energy into actually solving problems. I know, I know, dream on. It is so much easier to rant and stomp your feet that to come up with a cogent argument.

Our schedule of events will soon be taking us to the summer break in June and July. While we have no speakers during the break, we do have a couple of movie nights. Those of you who might like to attend are solicited to make suggestions as to what you would like to see.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

Earthbound Pets

Member Recommended Websites

You’ve committed your life to Jesus. You know you’re saved. But when the Rapture comes what’s to become of your loving pets who are left behind? Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind.

Pet loving humanists can obtain contracts to care for pets if (giggle, giggle) paying customers are caught up in the rapture.

Thanks to Helen Mulder for submitting this site.

Earthbound Pets