March 2010

C-Cubed: Gender Equality, Torturing, and Religion

What a strange surprise: our community conversations revealed a bonus nugget truism (see the title)!

For February we were talking about human rights, specifically torture, gender equality, and the ability to freely question religion. Here’s what was on our minds:

Torture. A definite human rights issue with lots of emotion. Using any means possible to “save a US life or member of your family” has strong emotional pull. You would do anything to protect your family, right? But torture “violates the Geneva Convention, human dignity, past American values, and is not known to get good information from the tortured person.” What happens to the people who become the torturers? What happens to us as a nation when living and governing by conscience gets a special circumstances pass? What happens to the innocents caught up indiscriminately in the torture machine? Can you really imagine standing by and supporting the torture of a human being? Imagine a world where we didn’t torture each other. Is it worth trying to work towards that vision?

Gender Equality. Isn’t it sobering to realize “that fully half of the people in some cultures have in fact little or no rights?” Thankfully our world has given much attention to equal rights for minority groups, but a sneaky “minority” isn’t even a minority. Deep-rooted biases of women being inferior are very problematic all over the world. And though America is certainly not Saudi Arabia, we have plenty of ground to cover too. “To NOT be treated as property, as vessels for men to OVER procreate and for the most part be slaves to men. Denied education, equal treatment under the law, etc.” We cry at the atrocities waged against women uniquely and our world is poorer for the untapped resources that could do so much if given equal opportunity and rights. Think about this: gender equality is widely acknowledged as key to erasing poverty and hunger.

Questioning Religion. The ability to freely question and debate an established idea is core to the promotion of any area of human rights. Religion and its effects on individuals and society is truly another important human rights issue. We must safeguard and promote “the right to freely question the tenets of religions”. To do this “without being offensive and to offer positive alternatives is one of humanism’s great missions.”

Thanks for your thought provoking responses community.

Your Conversation for March:

We recently passed the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release after 27 years in prison. It got me thinking about historical events that impact your life. One that was huge for me was when the Berlin Wall came down. I still get chills when I hear that clip from Reagan, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

What are the historical events that loom large in your own history? Send your thoughts to Lisa at for next month’s newsletter. The deadline is March 27.

–Lisa Miller

Ruth Carol

My Journey to Atheism

I was raised as a Jew in a kosher household and went to a synagogue on the Jewish holidays with my family. Since Judaism is also a culture I now refer to myself as a Jewish Atheist. Whenever someone used to ask me how I became an atheist, my response was always rather vague. My usual reply was that I came to the conclusion as a teenager that all concepts about god had to be fairy tales. However, after volunteering to participate in this presentation, I seriously began to think about what did lead me along this path and came to the conclusion that Eli, one of my older brothers, played the most important role in my understanding of how the world evolved

To fully appreciate how this journey of mine started you need to know a little more about my family. I was the sixth child of seven. My two sisters were born 12 and 14 years before me and my oldest brother and I shared an identical birthday, ten years apart. They obviously could not have been my playmates and never did any babysitting that I was aware of. The four youngest of the siblings always played together. Eli was two years older than Charlie, four years older than me, and eight years older than my baby brother, Henry. It was Eli who was always with us when my parents were out or were busy with other things. Further thought has brought me to the conclusion that it was from Eli that I learned about Atheism. Since he died a few years ago I phoned his daughter Adele, who assured me that she was brought up with the same view of the world.

Where we resided also has played a role in my story. I lived in New York for the first 66 years of my life. But, when our first granddaughter was born my husband and I sold our house so we could watch her grow up. Our four daughters live in different cities so we moved each time we acquired another grandchild.

In Chicago we joined a secular Jewish group and attended their programs on Sundays. It was at one of these when a Minister and a nonbeliever presented their views about God that I first found out that Atheist organizations actually existed. The Atheist speaker told us that we could sign up on his mailing list. I was amazed at the number of cities that had Atheist groups and was excited to note that when my daughter Susie and her family decided to move from New Jersey where we were at that time, to Salt Lake City that there was such a group here.

Not only is there definitive and absolute scientific proof that human beings came about through evolution, but why would a god give two atheists the best lives anyone could possibly ever have had. For me at almost 89, it still continues to be absolutely wonderful.

The fun that my three brothers and I enjoyed as young children was greatly enhanced by Eli when he made me into a tomboy. I played softball, punch ball and touch football in the street with the boys that lived on my block. When a new comer moved into our street, Eli immediately made him understand that I was one of the ‘boys.’ Considering this was in the 1920’s, I only recently appreciated how advanced my parents were in this respect when they did not interfere with my tomboy activities. Whenever my father passed on the street while I was playing ball, after I ran up to kiss him he would always send me back to continue with the game.

My husband and I enjoyed 56 years of total bliss. He was the best human being that ever existed and was not only handsome and brilliant but also extremely ethical.

Bernie was so handsome that people were always mentioning it to me. For instance on our first date I happened to pass by the mother of one of my childhood friends. So I introduced him to her. When next I saw her the first thing she said was how good-looking he was. Even when the two of us as were already being classified as elderly, at the voting polls one of the staff commented how handsome he was.

As a Mathematical Statistician his job was to analyze data. One day in the process of doing this, Bernie discovered that a drug named “Inderal”, if discontinued abruptly, could cause death. Because of his insistence that this be reported to the Food and Drug Administration, he was demoted from being the head of the department of statistics to a lowly member of the staff. This is only one example of how important ethics was to my great partner.

Actually since then anyone who has taken a medication prescribed by a physician has also benefited. All prescription drugs are no longer abruptly discontinued.

Another example of how extraordinary my darling was took place when our fourth daughter was a year old. My beloved went to my adviser at Columbia University, without telling me, and asked if she would take me back into the doctoral program. I had dropped out when I unexpectedly became pregnant with our first child. I immediately returned to school and received my Doctorate in Nutrition education six years later.

At Brooklyn College I mistakenly majored in home economics because jobs were scarce at the time and there were openings in that field. My sister- in- law Florence, the wife of my oldest brother, Lenny was currently teaching this course in a junior high school. As a student teacher I quickly recognized that cooking and sewing were not for me. Dietetics and the science of nutrition were also included in this major. Serving as the manager for executive luncheons also was too uninteresting. However, I tremendously enjoyed the fifty years of my professional life after being granted my Doctoral degree in nutrition by Columbia University. All of my positions were fascinating I developed each program from scratch and resigned each time things became dull. For example, I was the first Nutritionist at the New York City Bureau of Health to develop a weekly radio program and when I joined the staff of the “American Council on Science and Health” I established a weekly television program and also wrote a book, “Diet Modification: Can it Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease?” A physician at Columbia University applied for a grant to establish a “Maternal and Infant Care” project. Since it basically involved nutrition he asked me to set it up and see to it that it functioned properly. I did not know him, but apparently he had heard of me since I was well known in nutrition circles because of my doctoral thesis, “The Application of Computers to Nutrition ” and from all of the presentations I was always being invited to give. “Weight Watchers” also came to me and asked if I would head up their organization. But, my preference was to go to serve as nutritionist with the New York City Department of Health. I also was an Adjunct Associate professor at several colleges where I primarily taught students working towards masters and doctoral degrees.

I was so active in the feminist movement from its very beginning that several years ago I was honored for my role and awarded a Certificate. My husband was also a male feminist. In fact we were so much alike in many respects that my daughter Marilyn sent us a card addressed to the “Bobbsey Twins” for our fortieth anniversary.

Our entire family is also remarkably unusual. Two of our four daughters are physicians, one is an attorney and the oldest is an artist. All have been married for substantial amounts of time to great men and have given us six delightful grandchildren. Since the current rate of divorce is one of every two marriages, I feel compelled to note that none of my daughters has ever been involved in such a situation.

My husband and I also set up our own corporation, “Statistical and Nutrition Services”. Many of our clients were nursing homes, psychiatric centers and rehabilitation programs.

When my husband passed away I was devastated. But, after a while I started to socialize, just so I could talk to other people, never considering anything else. I was amazed that a young man asked me for a date when I was 80. Bob, who is in the audience, is not at all like Bernie. He frequently attends Jewish religious services and of course believes that god exists. We have been living happily together for the past 8 years, go out almost every evening and are always having fun.

I also have been in excellent health since I was born. I have not had a cold or any other infectious disease for over thirty years. However, my autoimmune system is so good that it attacked my own tissues so that I had a severe attack of arthritis. Fortunately, it is being well controlled by a drug prescribed by my rheumatologist. The only other medication I take is thyroxine. Only two drugs at my age is quite unusual.

Why would a god reward an atheist with such an amazing life! He would not and could not because there is no such entity.

I had never heard about humanism until I saw an announcement about a meeting in the Salt Lake Tribune. So here I am.

–Ruth Carol

James Madison

March 16, 1751~June 28, 1836

“And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

In New York City he has given his name to a high school and any number of retail stores, to an Avenue, a Park and even a succession of Square Gardens.

Far more important, Founding Father James Madison was the fourth President of the United States (1809-1817), the principal author of the Constitution and its fiercest defender as the author of more than a third of the Federalist Papers. Perhaps most important of all to rationalists, humanists and democrats (small d), he was the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, on which the first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, were based, and the co-author, with Jefferson, of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, the basis for the Constitution’s First Amendment.

“Not accidentally,” Christopher Hitchens wrote last December in “In Defense of Foxhole Atheists,” in Vanity Fair, “the first clause of our Bill of Rights, this amendment unambiguously forbids any ‘establishment of religion’ in or by these United States. In his ‘Detached Memoranda,’ not published until after his death, Madison even wrote that the appointment of chaplains in the armed forces, and indeed in Congress, was ‘inconsistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principles of religious freedom.'”

In fact, President Madison did veto legislation authorizing congressional chaplains, but Congress overrode him. Madison was no atheist, but became more of a Deist as he matured, and a Unitarian through his friendship with John and Abigail Adams. While today’s revisionists loudly proclaim Madison’s Christian faith and practice in his youth, they ignore the fact that Madison came home to Virginia from the College of New Jersey as an orthodox Christian but almost immediately, David Holmes says in The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, “witnessed the persecution and jailing of religious dissenters [Baptists] by the established [Anglican] church-his church.”

At the age of twenty-two, Madison became a convert to religious freedom, believing and arguing that only liberty of conscience could guarantee civil and political liberty. And in 1785 he wrote the “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments,” which advanced fifteen arguments why government should not support religion. Tell us, Mr. President, what you really think of established religion:

“Experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishmetnts, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contray operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”
                        —James Madison, addressing the Virginia General Assembly, June 20, 1785

–John Rafferty
PIQUE, March 2010
Secular Humanist Society of New York

Semantic Traps

Atheist, Non-theist–Theologians, claiming their belief system as the default, propagated the perception of those who didn’t accept their orthodoxy as dissenters, to marginalize them. “Atheist” is by intent pejorative. And “non-theist” means the same. Must freethinkers passively accept a label devised by their enemies whose purpose was to discredit them?

Non-believer–Commonly refers to a disbelief in the existence of God. Using it thus implies that you accept its validity, gives undeserved weight to one assumption over all other assumptions. Better to just eschew the negative, affirm the positive meaningful “skeptic.” What should be challenged is any categorization by a metaphysical allegation inaccessible to experimental test. Are you a skeptic? Don’t adopt your adversaries’ language!

–Freethought Forum
Humanist Fellowship of San Diego
October 2009

President’s Message

Our third annual Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah went very well, as those of you who attended already know. Professor Bruce Dain, of the University of Utah History Department gave us an excellent presentation about Charles Darwin. While I have read a fair bit about Darwin and his works, Professor Dain helped further enlighten me with a better perspective of Darwin the man. Learning more about Darwin’s personal characteristics, his upbringing, his education and his intellectual abilities that made him capable of taking on such an endeavor as he did, was delightful. I again want to thank Professor Dain for his presentation and all the board members who helped with the logistics and so that the event actually happened.

Also, on the 29th of February, I attended the presentation orchestrated by the student group SHIFT. At the U of U Fine Arts auditorium they presented Dr. Austin Dacey who gave a presentation about blasphemy and free speech. It was very interesting and well attended by what I would estimate as around a hundred people. Dr. Dacey’s book, The Secular Conscience, is an excellent read and expands on the idea of blasphemy and free speech in greater detail.

After his presentation, Dr Dacey engaged in a discussion with Dr. Mark Hausam of Christ Presbyterian Church about whether God is necessary for morality.

I am quite happy that Humanists of Utah was one of the co-sponsors, with SHIFT, Secular Student Alliance and Christ Presbyterian Church. It is one of Humanists of Utah’s goals to foster learning and help bring younger people in contact with humanism. We will work to make these events continue to happen regularly.

I want to comment on the word, or more specifically, the concept of “Mystery.” I recently read an article brought it back to mind for me. I won’t bore you with the details of the article, but in my experience there are certain people who try to criticize science by asserting that it somehow destroys the mysteries of life, or the universe, or of the creation. Or perhaps they will say that we should “leave some things alone” or “just go with the mystery,” Often it is obvious that statements of that sort are fueled by the criticizing person’s religion.

I see it quite differently. To me the beauty of nature, if you will, isn’t solely in being awed by its mysteries, but rather in being intrigued by them. To want to understand what is going on out there in the world or the cosmos. Why are there earthquakes, why is that volcano where it is, how can life can survive in the deep dark depths of the oceans floor? Imagine exploring the far off stars or perhaps our neighboring planets.

I think Richard Dawkins speaks to this idea of “destroying the mystery” quite well in his book Unweaving the Rainbow. Dawkins tells us that the title to his book is from the poet Keats who lamented that Isaac Newton had “destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to its prismatic colors.” Three sentences from his preface sum it up very well, “The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music or poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that make life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living it is finite.” Rainbow is truly one of my favorite books.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

Freedom From Religion

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