20 Years Ago
Humanists of Utah is celebrating our 20th anniversary. Here is the lead article from Volume 1, No. 1 of the Utah Humanist published in February 1991.
Beginnings: Humanists of Utah Organized
The organizational meeting of Humanists of Utah was held in November 1990. Eight people attended the meeting. One of those was 94-year-old Edwin H. Wilson, an original founder of the American Humanist Association, who was retired and living in Salt Lake City. The group voted to form a local chapter and to apply to the American Humanist Association for recognition.
This is going to be a long letter, because there is lots of news. So we might as well call it a newsletter: Volume 1, Number 1. Suggestions for a catchy name for it will be appreciated.
What the Chapter Has:
- A treasurer and a bank account
- A chapter application in the process of being approved
- A post office box
- A first event
- 51 people on the mailing list
What the Chapter Does Not Have:
- Your Input
- A regular meeting place and time. The irrepressible Ed Wilson captured our first speaker, and that pretty much determined when and where he would speak. To some people, Tuesday night will not be convenient; to others, any church (even a Unitarian one) is associated with bad experiences
- A Who’s Who. You can leave who you know to chance. It would be easier, though, if you already know the peculiarities and preferences of your fellow humanists, and if they knew yours. A membership directory for internal distribution could do that. There are those who want to keep their private opinions very much to themselves. Such “silent partners” would of course not be listed
Beautiful Humanist Wisdom
Here are some provocative thoughts to start your new year…the answers to what we would go back and tell our younger selves.
- Question everything and close your mind to nothing.
- To be less dutiful and more sensitive.
- Be stronger, trust yourself more, be free of religion and celebrate and laugh each day.
- To play harder and play at every opportunity.
- I would ask questions, like: Why does religion imply morality? Why are non believers suspected of immoral activity? Why do I need the comfort of an afterlife to dictate my behavior? I think that hatred and prejudice are like poison on a plant, and like a plant, we flourish with wholesome attention, all of which has nothing to do with theatre, ritual or religion. What would I tell my younger self? Be kind. Do no harm. Seek understanding. Do not judge those whose lives you have not lived. Forgive. Give guidance and support. And know when to be silent.
- I wouldn’t want to change any specific decisions I made because I could not accurately predict that the alternate decisions would result in significantly more meaningful results. What would I tell my younger self? How about ‘buy Microsoft?’ The likelihood, of course, would be that I would ignore that advice just as I ignored pretty much anything that older people tried to tell me. After all, even though I was an atheist and did not believe in an after life, as a teenager, being 60 or 70 years old seemed an afterlife of sorts. I might just tell myself, “Don’t worry so much, life is short.”
- I wish that I would have learned to question authority earlier and a little more rationally. When I “discovered” that some of the things my parents taught me were not correct, I assumed that everything they had said must be incorrect. It made living with myself difficult for quite a few of the turbulent years between 18-26 or so. I tried very hard to teach my children that their mother and I are solid and qualified resources for knowledge, but there are also other fountains of wisdom available and that it is not necessary for our children to agree with us on everything; we can still be civil with each other and learn from and respect all of us.
- I would tell myself to pursue my dreams until I either achieved them or I had completely exhausted all avenues. I think that too often in life we settle for less than what we want and as a result never seem to be happy with where we are in life whether that be our job, where we live, etc. Pressure to be responsible to our family when we get married and have children leads us off the path we wished we had taken. When we are young we can recover from most of life’s pitfalls, so that is the best time to suffer through them when trying to reach those dreams. When we get older we are sometimes disappointed in ourselves for giving up too easy.
The Conversation for January:
What is one of your favorite evidences supporting the idea that there is no “Watchmaker” (i.e. the argument for life being designed based on functioning like it has a designer)? Your answers can be something whimsical or in the realm of scientifically factual.
Personally, I think the existence of horrendous, hideous viruses and parasites like AIDS, malaria, dysentery, and the Guinea worm (as the barest of starts) are plainly ridiculous in a ‘designed’ world. Surely a designer could have made a world without introducing these. (Oops, logical fallacy: nothing compels a good or kind designer, does it? Oh well, run with it anyway–I can’t wait to hear your ideas!)
There is a movement in Belgium among disenchanted Catholics to be De-Baptized. According to National Public Radio on the program PRI’s the World on October 7, 2010 many Belgian citizens are angry about the continuing pedophilia accusations of priests coming to light.
I personally have only minimal experience with the Catholic Church, but I understand the need to have my name disassociated with formal religion. I tried to get the Mormon Church to take me off its rolls for nearly 20 years. I would ask the local Bishop and he would want me to attend a “court” and reread their sacred books. Finally I heard from a friend that requests for removal were being approved. I wrote a letter to the local Bishop who responded that he would grant me a 90-day window to change my mind but after that he would remove my name. It has been several years now and I haven’t heard a word so I assume that he followed through.
I wrote a clear letter that left no options for discussion. If you are like I was and would like to have your name removed from the LDS rolls, I think that you can probably do the same. For your convenience I am including the relevant content of my letter. Feel free to use as much of it as you like.
I really do not have anything in particular against Mormonism, it is no worse nor better than any other Christian denomination. I am a humanist: I belong to the American Humanist Association and am a board member of the Humanists of Utah which is affiliated with the AHA. We believe in relying on rational judgment instead of depending on illusory mystically based dogma. One of our prime directives is to question authority, both secular and religious. This is the founding principle of the scientific method through which all natural phenomena can be understood.
Please consider this letter sufficient to remove my name from the LDS membership rolls. I am not interested in any meetings nor further discussions. I have read the Book of Mormon, Bible and other “holy” literature and understand them for what they are, the works of confused, frightened men trying to make sense of their environment.
The One True Band
I think the whole god existence question is ridiculous. People who believe in a god are supposed to have faith. Faith requiring proof ain’t faith! Why try? And why do atheists have to “prove” the non-existence of anything?
Does someone need to prove the non-existence of hobbits?—of gnomes?—of unicorns?
We all know the real question is this: how do we keep our society free from intrusions of religious fundamentalists while guaranteeing those same people the freedom to hold their opinions and meetings? All other questions should be null and void.
I think about the essay I read last time I was home. It was from the person who didn’t like to self-apply the term “atheist” because it implied a definition through a negation. It implies that atheists spend their time thinking about the non-existence of God. I think about the non-existence of god as often as I think about the non-existence of vogons—which is to say never. I’d prefer to be thought of as a “non-theist,” or as an “is-this-really-at-all-relevant-ist.”
But for arguments sake, let’s say I self-apply the term “atheist.” To me, that says meaning in my life doesn’t come from a supernatural force. But does it imply that I must therefore rely on science to fill some sort of need for answers to the cosmic questions? No, it doesn’t. I’m fearful of getting lumped in with atheist biologists and physicists. The debate isn’t just GOD OR SCIENCE. I love scientists. But personally, I’m not much interested in science. And I have no need to answer cosmic questions.
I suppose in one way, I’m like religious folks; I fill my life with meaning that is non-tangible and indefinable. I’m completely comfortable with that.
I take much of my inspiration, values, and morality from art, music, poetry, comedy, and other mysterious powers. (I guess you can blame yourselves, my secular family, for raising me in the unofficial Church of the Humanities.) But at the end of the day, if a play, or a film, or a poem, or a song has moved me to tears or to laughter or if it has conveyed meaning, do I need to prove that the events which led to that catharsis actually happened? Is my enjoyment of the film “Harold and Maude” diminished by the thought that Harold wasn’t really Harold but actually an actor named Bud Cort? Is my laughter at a Marx Brother’s film cheapened because Groucho’s moustache wasn’t really a moustache at all, but rather an application of shoe polish to his upper lip? Does the film “Babe” loose its profound message of sweetness simply because the pig wasn’t really talking?
Of course not! Connections with infinite sensations, broad truths and rich experiences don’t need to be defined or proved. (The best experiences can’t be!) Shouldn’t this apply as much to a hymn, a psalm, a scripture, or a parable as it does to a play, a poem, or a film?
Whether or not the story is “true” is generally irrelevant to the message. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something, intimidate you, or control you. Either that or they’ve completely missed the point.
I know my life would be so much more empty and meaningless without Shakespeare and The Beatles. I know Shakespeare and the Beatles can bring truth, beauty, meaning, and help to all. I am so convinced of this, to me, it seems an indisputable fact. And I love to build a community with other folks who, like me, believe this to be a fact. But I’m happy to let it be my own fact. It doesn’t need to be the one true fact. And I’m not going to condemn you if you disagree.
Who am I kidding? Be warned! You will suffer eternal fire and wrath all ye who deny The Beatles are the One True Band!
Barbara Ehrenreich is a humanist writer and activist who promotes secular optimism. Isolated by oceans and habits, we in the USA live in times of great literary riches, with much of the world’s word-wealth translated into the only language we can speak. And many of our homegrown writers travel the many roads of history to bring back gems of insight and encouragement. I’m sharing one of my favorites.
I have a secondary purpose, which is reminding you of the long list of distinguished AHA Humanist of the Year awardees. I’d read her feisty opinion pieces before I picked up Barbara Ehrenreich’s best seller, Nickel and Dimed. The facts she provided in this investigation were gripping. Ehrenreich conducted her research by going under cover (not mentioning her PhD in chemistry or her columns in the New York Times, or any other work experience.) She lived in cramped rented quarters, hashed and scrubbed bathrooms as she studied the life of the working poor. She captured the desperation, the frantic sinking into debt and despair— and the mutual support, the camaraderie that made this bearable. In her next book, Bait and Switch: the futile pursuit of the American Dream she explored the myriad of programs; government and private that promised to help jobseekers. As she shows, these range from the incompetent to the cynical, all meant to prepare the unemployed for middle class jobs already disappearing even before the most recent crisis.
After she was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, Ehrenreich turned this into another opportunity to inform the public about the inadequacies of our health care system. More recently, she traveled around the world to take part in carnivals and community festivals, then researched the history of ecstatic experience for Dancing in the Streets. Long before organized religion, people everywhere expressed their love of community made music and dance. She describes how European colonizers discredited such rites, demonizing or controlling in the name of religious authority what they couldn’t respect or understand. Music and seasonal rituals have always been part of creating cohesive communities, she says. Lacking these outbreaks of joy we are prone to anxiety, to fear of each other. That leaves us easy prey for self-appointed leaders ready to exploit our needs for their own purposes. Cynical secularists like Hitler and Mussolini, missionaries and priests all share the blame.
Secular Idaho Newsletter
First Meeting Announcement
Tuesday, February 12, 1991
Unitarian Church, 569 South 1300 East
Dr. Ken Phifer of Ann Arbor, Michigan Discusses
Spirituality is one of the code words of our age. It is also more elusive in terms of any common understanding of what it could mean. For some it signifies certain activities, rituals and programs. For others it is something more philosophical. For some, it is a contrasting experience from religion, which they reject, while they embrace spirituality. Yet others are completely uncomfortable with the word because of its association with reactionary religious groups. The Humanist Institute has had programs on the subject and in my own religious movement, the Unitarian Universalist Association; it is a very popular word. Designated the Spiritual Leader of my congregation, I probably should have some sense of what is mean by spiritual, and thus this talk on Humanist Spirituality.
Sometimes what’s in the news just cries out for a response. Such is the case now that Congress has done away with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that has been in place in the military for quite a while. It was a bad policy in the first place, as it directed people to be secretive and basically dishonest about their private lives.
With gay and lesbian individuals now able to SERVE OUR COUNTRY in the military and be truthful about their sexual orientation, a number of news items have shown how utterly stupid some members of the military, (active and retired) can be. The story of the Commander of the U.S.S. Enterprise has to be an example of a person who you would think would have the good sense not to make prejudicial, idiotic videos. While he may be a capable commander, it does make you wonder about his overall decision-making abilities. Now his career is pretty much over.
Perhaps this change in policy will help weed out some of the homophobic idiots in the military as more of them open their big mouths and insert their proverbial feet; at least we can hope. This will only last for a short time though, as they begin to realize that they had better keep their mouths shut if they want to finish their careers in the military.
The point has been made recently that the same kind of foolish resistance was present when the military was racially integrated by President Truman, but the sky never fell. And when the military started allowing women to serve in combat units, again the sky never fell.
I can’t think of a way that inclusion and diversity isn’t a good and strengthening thing to demand in all aspects of society, including the military. The only requirement should be is that one is qualified and capable of performing the job.
One final question: If we now allow homosexual men and women to serve in the military as equals with all the inherent rights, privileges, and responsibilities, shouldn’t that translate into our society as a whole?
How can we expect them to fight, be forever changed by the horrors of war, get wounded or even die, then deny them the right to marry whom they love and enjoy those very freedoms they have fought for?