December 2010

C-Cubed: Celebrating the Winter Solstice

What will you do to celebrate the coming Winter Solstice?

  • We tend to eat great quantities of food, decorate a fir tree, drink some adult beverages and exchange gifts, you know, have a kind of Potlatch.
  • To me, the solstices and equinoxes are important because they represent one of the earliest triumphs of reason over suspicion. Careful observations accumulated over time allowed prediction of these major celestial events so that they no longer needed mystical explanations. Truly one of the great triumphs of the human intellect!
  • One of my favorite myth stories about the Winter Solstice is from Mesopotamia. They identified the lengthening darkness and dying plants with chaos gaining strength over the world. At the Solstice, their patron deity, Marduk, did battle with chaos and won–regenerating the world for another year.
  • I love the idea of celebrating the end of lengthening nights. (I’m basically a sun worshipper at heart.) And I’ve been inspired by your ideas. So here’s what I’ve decided to do for my Winter Solstice celebration: instead of just hurrying in from the cold, I will stop and really take in that awesome sky. I’m also going to get a big bunch of candles and give them labels. Then on December 21st I will light all my candles in a happy celebration of light. I’m going to be lighting candles to: Science, Reason, The Cosmos, Tycho Brahe, Louis Pasteur, Dorothy Height, Skepticism, Curiosity, and Humanity!

Have a joyous Winter Solstice and many happy times in the Festivities of your choice.

The Conversation for December:

If you could go back in time and tell your younger self something, what would it be? I’d like to tell younger me not to be afraid to explore, to ask questions and demand better answers. And that doing so will never hurt me. I wonder if I would have trusted older me enough to take it to heart?

Send your responses to Lisa at for next month’s newsletter.

–Lisa Miller

Celebrating Our Diversity

The Utah Inclusion Center invited Flo Wineriter to be one of six local religious leaders to speak at their 21st annual Interfaith Service “Celebrating our Diversity”. The Thanksgiving program was held Sunday evening, November 21, at the Congregation Kol Ami. Flo was the first humanist invited to participate this annual event. The following is the text of his talk:

The basic humanist statement of belief clearly and plainly exemplifies our devotion to respecting and celebrating the diversity of human beliefs, human practices and human life-styles.

Humanism is a worldview which believes that reason and science are the best ways to understand the world around us, and that dignity and compassion should be the basis for how we act toward one another. Humanism recognizes the moral and ethical values of all religions, every race and all adult sexual preferences whether genetic or chosen. We encourage every human to develop the courage of their convictions, to study moral and ethical issues, to question and to defend their conclusions vigorously but develop the willingness to change when new evidence is convincing and to celebrate the diversity of opinions arrived at by critical thinking.

We recognize the brave men and women who have spearheaded the historical events that have dramatically changed society. Changes that gave women the right to vote, the right to decide when to have a child, the women who demanded that children be free of religious indoctrination in the public classroom and that the wall of separation be maintained between religion and government.

We celebrate those who demanded civil rights for all in our diverse society, who removed children from assembly lines, gave us the 8-hour work day and receive adequate compensation for our human labor.

We celebrate the diversities of the human mind and the variety of acceptable life styles those minds have developed.

Like the diverse colors of a rainbow that exist separately but blend together in a glorious array of beauty, we celebrate our human individuality, and our independent beliefs that blend together to make our community a glorious array of beauty. We join in celebrating the human diversity that makes our communities more enjoyable and our world more peaceful. We hope our diversity is the means to furthering human bonds.

–Flo Wineriter

Thanks to … Whom?

Last month most American families will gather on the fourth Thursday to join in the uniquely American ritual of setting aside a whole day to eat themselves silly, watch football, and fight with their relatives. Tens of millions of those Americans will also, just before the eating-silly part, join in the only prayer they’ll mutter all year, something (thankfully) short that usually begins, “Lord, we thank you for all …”

Okay for them. But those of us who don’t talk to imaginary friends have to ask, to whom do we talk? Most of us feel thankful, but whom do we thank?

This year at my family’s table I think I’ll thank Abe Lincoln for instituting the holiday in the first place. The 1621 Pilgrims-and-Indians affair was a one-day one-timer, as was Washington’s in 1789, which was actually about our new nation’s success in the late unpleasantness with England. Lincoln’s Day of Thanksgiving, too, had more to do with politics and battlefield victories in the Civil War than about bountiful harvests and roasted turkeys. But then so did the Emancipation document, his other big Proclamation of 1863. I’ll thank Lincoln for Thanksgiving.

While I’m at it, I’m going to thank those same god-obsessed Pilgrims, who would have created a theocracy here if they could, but who nonetheless conceived the idea of a country based not on geography, ethnicity or ancient hates, but on an ideal, a “city on a hill.”

I’ll thank the Founders, who risked their lives and fortunes to win a country for me, and made the Pilgrims’ ideal a possibility. And I’ll thank the tens of millions of Americans who have since served and defended my country–and me and mine.

I’ll thank the generations of slaves on whose scarred black backs so much of my country’s wealth and power were built. Then I’ll thank the hundred million or more of “wretched refuse”–micks and dagoes, beaners and hebes and chinks–who have since stood in courtrooms to announce that they wanted to be Americans, swore allegiance to my country, and contributed their talents and their sweat to the building of our city on a hill.

No, it’s not perfect, it’s not “undimmed by human tears,” but we’re still building our city, all of us.

That’s who I’m going to thank: all of us. I’m thankful not just that I’m an American–which is an accident of birth, and there’s no one but my parents, who are gone, to thank for that–but that I live in this country with so many other Americans, millions of whom I disagree with about dozens of issues, but nearly all of whom share my ideals, nearly all of whom I can count on to return to me the respect I give them, and who count me their fellow-American. For which I thank them.

This Thanksgiving, I thank us.

–John Rafferty,
President, Secular Humanist Society of New York

Beyond Atheism

Excerpted from Beyond Gods; Secular Humanism’s Future, by David Koepsell, the executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism.

What of values and morals or of the good life? Most of us try to do the right thing and are guided through cultural norms of ethics and morals, But there are no secular-humanist holy scriptures to give us guidance; rather, we rely on our own natural tendencies and the facilities of reason imbued in us by nature. Sympathies for our fellow men and women and our societally and self-imposed consciences can guide us in the right direction.

Without some sort of ethical framework, by which we can agree that certain things are unacceptable and others are acceptable, secular humanism is mere atheism. Without concerted and continued determination to try to discover and describe the bases for these duties, rights, obligations, and liberties, we are expressing just another faith.

Can we help to convince the world that the path of reason, humanism, and science is more fruitful than dogma, fear, and mysticism? Secular humanism offers an alternative to dogmatism. It looks to the power of reason over superstition–science over supernaturalism.

I believe reason will prevail, guided by our humanist passion and emotions and by a clear vision of where secular humanism fits in the lives of ordinary people.

–Flo Wineriter

President’s Message

In my message last month I mentioned that I would be attending a conference in Los Angeles hosted by the “Center For Inquiry” and their magazine Free Inquiry. I returned from the conference with some food for thought, and the energized feeling that I get by the conversations with the other conference goers. It is so refreshing to talk to likeminded people about the issues common to the freethought community.

At this conference the familiar theme of civility was dominant. I have discussed the subject of civility more times than I suspect some of you might wish so I apologize for bringing it up again. However, it was the subject of much of the conference, and deserves additional thought.

One of the plenary sessions was titled “Confrontation or Accommodation,” and started by putting forth three questions: 1) How should secular humanists respond to science and religion? 2) If we champion science, must we oppose faith? 3) How to best approach flashpoints like evolution education. Panel member, Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science and Unscientific America was of the opinion that being too critical of religion only alienates the religious and prevents useful dialogue in areas where we may be able to agree. An example is the fact that there are some religious moderates who have recently become more willing to look at environmental protection as a good thing. On the other hand panelist, P.Z. Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota Morris, and Victor Stenger, professor of physics and philosophy and author of God: The Failed Hypothesis and The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason, are not inclined to be respectful of those who believe in things like creationism, a young earth, crystal gazers, or apologists for religion, to name a few.

As I discussed this “Confrontation or Accommodation” subject with fellow attendees I found that most were of the same general opinion as me. That is, that it is a situational decision. When people of a differing viewpoint are willing to have a non-confrontational discussion of the issues at hand, then of course maintaining a civil tongue is the best approach. Yet there are times when the opposition is so strident and/or mean-spirited that they must be countered with strength and a willingness to confront and oppose them.

The next evening a dialogue between Sam Harris and Robert Wright took on the same tone, with Robert Wright expressing the opinion that being confrontational is counter productive. Sam Harris asserted that some things that are done by the religious are wrong and they are also bad and harmful and must be confronted.

There is not enough space here to go into detail about the proceedings that took place during 35-40 hours of sessions over the three days of the conference. CFI is selling conference CD’s, and I plan to purchase them. They should be useful for future discussions and will be a different and pleasant way to inform ourselves on many of the issues we often deal with as humanists.

We often use words like “respect” and “tolerance.” It seems to me that in our culture respect they should be “automatic” or a “given.” And I believe that respect for human rights of all human beings should be assumed.

But it is my opinion that respect is something that must be earned or given when one sees something as respectable. The same also applies to tolerance, in that something needs to first be tolerable. I know this sounds rather simplistic, but I think the idea that we need to tolerate and be respectful of the beliefs and actions of others simply because they have the right to have them is abused in today’s world, especially as it applies to the actions and beliefs of the religious. While I will agree to respect someone’s basic right to believe in a God, I draw the line when that belief leads to what I consider wrong and harmful actions. Sometimes their actions deserve no respect or tolerance and instead should be criticized and vigorously opposed, and if some of these people whine about being picked on, I have no sympathy and make no apologies.

Should we be respectful or tolerate people like the preacher Fred Phelps who protest at funerals of service men and women with hateful signs about homosexuals, or evangelicals who are pushing to make homosexuality illegal (even a death penalty offense) in parts of Africa? Do we respect a custom that punishes a woman for being a rape victim?

Should we respect those who blame secular humanism for all the ills of the world, who say we are in league with the devil, or who work to deny the gay community their constitutional rights to marry, or those who work to insert the absurdity of creationism in schools as science and remove Thomas Jefferson from school textbooks, What about those who would destroy the separation of church and state and ruin this nation by installing a theocracy? I don’t think so! And this is just a short list.

If we don’t oppose these people and their harmful actions we give them tacit approval just as the so called moderate religious do by not opposing those in their “flocks” who subvert their religions and use it in harmful ways.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU