March 2011

A Profile of the Utah Humanists

From our conversation this month we found these interesting numbers about the make-up of Humanists in our group.  It is a privilege to be part of such a distinguished group.

  • Newest humanist: 3 years
  • Longest humanist: 59 years
  • Average years as a humanist: 20.4 years

Average member age: 60.5 years old.

One of the founding members of our chapter, Flo Wineriter, shared this about his years as a humanist: He is a humanist missionary/counselor, has officiated more than one hundred humanist wedding ceremonies, conducted a dozen or so naming ceremonies, conducted a few humanist memorial services, and has spoken to dozens of Utah school teachers about including humanism in their “Teaching About Religion” classes. He is a graduate of the Humanist Institute and is 86-years old. Thank you Flo!

—Lisa Miller

Not For Profit
~Book Review~

I recently read Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, by Martha C. Nussbaum. Have you ever wondered where ethics and morals come from? It is not from the various religious institutions; it springs from the understanding of humanities. The various courses that are required in most United States public universities are the very courses that some of the Utah Legislators want to eliminate in all of Utah’s public universities. What is the worth that of all those humanities classes have to society?

Granted, many humanities graduates may not be making the largest profit margins in monetary measures, but in reality they just might save us from total ignorance. Ms. Nussbaum develops a case for the need of pedagogy of humanities, starting even in elementary school and continuing into college. Ms. Nussbaum bases part of her rationale on Rabindranth Tagore (a Nobel Laureate,) and Bronson Alcott (the father of Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women and Little Men,) training of humanities forms that develop the morals and ethics of a society, and makes the case that the religious indoctrination does not develop morals and ethics. Ms. Nussbaum further points out that the lack of the clear understanding of teaching of humanities is what causes societies to falter.

There are several examples of faltered societies and their outcome, including our own society. Ms. Nussbaum does discuss the very point that the Utah Legislators, who are currently trying to limit humanities programs, are concerned with. She concludes that the limitation of humanities to society is too great a cost and actually limits how our society interacts with other cultures, such as in the form of commerce and exchange of intellectual ideologies. The book concludes that the lack of pedagogy for humanities risks leading us into ignorance.

This book can be found in the Salt Lake area libraries.

—Cindy King

Hold Religious Leaders Accountable

Excerpted from “Faith and Foolishness” in Scientific American, August, 2010

I don’t know which is more dangerous; that religious beliefs force some people to choose between knowledge and myth or that pointing out how religion can purvey ignorance is taboo. To do so risks being branded as intolerant of religion. The kindly Dalai Lama, in a recent New York Times editorial, juxtaposed the statement that “radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold religious beliefs” with his censure of the extremist intolerance, murderous actions and religious hatred in the Middle East. Aside from the distinction between questioning beliefs and beheading or bombing people, the “radical atheists” in question rarely condemn individuals but rather actions and ideas that deserve to be challenged.

Surprisingly, the strongest reticence to speak out often comes from those who should be most worried about silence. Last May I attended a conference on science and public policy at which a representative of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences gave a keynote address. When I questioned how he reconciled his own reasonable views about science with the sometimes absurd and unjust activities of the Church—from filing false claims about condoms and AIDS in Africa to pedophilia among the clergy—I was denounced by one speaker after another form my intolerance.

Religious leaders need to be held accountable for their ideas. In my state of Arizona, Sister Margaret McBride, a senior administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, recently authorized a legal abortion to save the life of a 27-year-old mother of four who was 11 weeks pregnant and suffering from severe complications of pulmonary hypertension; she made that decision after consultation with the mother’s family, her doctors and the local ethics committee1 Yet the bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted, immediately excommunicated Sister Margaret, saying, “The mother’s life cannot be preferred over the child’s.” Ordinarily, a man who would callously let a woman die and orphan her children would be called a monster; this should not change just because he is a cleric.

Keeping religion immune from criticism is both unwarranted and dangerous. Unless we are willing to expose religious irrationality whenever it arises, we will encourage irrational public policy and promote ignorance over education for our children.

1NPR coverage of this episode made reference to “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” issued by The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (November 17, 2009), which includes the following provisions:

“45. Abortion (that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus) is never permitted. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and activities of the Church—from false claims about condoms implantation of the embryo. Catholic health care institutions are not to provide abortion services, even based upon the principle of material cooperation. In this context, Catholic health care institutions need to be concerned about the danger of scandal in any association with abortion providers.

“47. Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child”

Sister Margaret apparently relied on #47. Bishop Olmsted apparently hadn’t read past #45.

Lawrence M. Krauss
The Capital District Humanist Society
Humanist Monthly
October 2010

Website of the Month

Chapter member Lisa Miller suggests the KickStarter website as a place to spend some cyber-time.

It provides a way for people to get funding for various creative projects. I think it is a fun way to be part of things and help make them happen. Issues that are really interesting to you.


President’s Message

This humanist chapter president thing is creeping a little too far into the inner reaches of my mind. Amy and I had a bit of a laugh over a recent dream I had. I don’t remember any past dreams specific to humanists, but this one was. We were all gathered together for some sort of social and everyone was in line with plates at the ready. When I started to speak, anxiety went through the roof as I realized that I had forgotten to purchase and bring the food! There was grumbling and people were starting to leave, even though I said I would go get some pizzas or something. After that it started morphing into something else. As a skeptic I don’t believe that dreams are any portent of things to come. But you never know, as I age my memory isn’t what it used to be. Better bring a granola bar with you next time just in case.

I’d like to report that our Darwin Day celebration was a great success. The venue at Westminster College was quite pleasant with a light lunch and our usual cake with Darwin’s likeness on it; which I did remember to pick up! Professor David Goldsmith’s presentation was very interesting as he provided a historical view of evolution and the scientific method that came before and after his discovery. The movie Creation was excellent with its focus on the struggle Darwin had in deciding to write and publish what he knew would be quite controversial, and to say the least. Earth shaking.

Many thanks go to Board member Dr. Craig Wilkinson for his efforts in arranging the venue, speaker, and video; not to mention his generosity in providing the catering and Salt Lake Tribune ad. Also thanks to Bob Mayhew and Leona Blackbird for helping out with Darwin Day chores.

By the way, Creation was superb—to the point that I recommend showing it again on a future Humanists of Utah movie night; both for those who have not yet seen it and those like me who would enjoy seeing it again.

I now want to write about something that has been on my mind a lot recently: nuclear weapons. I’m not sure why it keeps popping up in my consciousness. While it is an important issue, there are other issues closer to home and more “of the moment” that I could write about. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that when I served in the Air Force during the Vietnam era I went to tech school to learn about munitions and weapons. For four months we studied several hours a day, studying everything about small arms to chemical and biological agents, to nuclear weapons and just about everything in between.

The ratification of the new START Treaty by the last Congress was a welcome and overdue action. In a rather black humored way I would say that reducing nuclear weapons to a point where Russia and the U.S. can destroy the entire world two or three times over rather than six or seven times over is a good thing. But it is also a good thing that we show the world we are serious about arms reductions. Another advantage of the treaty is that eventually the reduction will lessen the economic burden or this enormous arsenal on our struggling economies.

However, I have a problem with those who say that the treaty is not enough and that we should get rid of all nuclear weapons on the planet. While I agree that eventually the reductions should continue to more reasonable levels, I see a few problems with the idea of getting rid of all nuclear weapons everywhere. It is unrealistic to think we could ever accomplish this goal. The knowledge and technology to build them and the growing industrial capability of countries to construct them exist, and it is not going to go away. Plus while we are reducing our stockpiles, other countries are working to obtain them or add to their own caches and delivery systems. I am thinking specifically of North Korea, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Israel. Furthermore, we should not forget that we have a lot of enemies in the world that would love to see us weak enough to risk attacking the U.S. Finally there is a strong desire by terrorists to obtain nuclear weapons.

I think that the prudent thing to do is to make sure that the nuclear weapons we retain are the best, most up to date, and in sufficient numbers to deter any enemies now or in the future.

It would be nice if there came a time when humans were of one mind so that total elimination was possible, but sadly that time is not yet anywhere in sight.

—Robert Lane
President, HoU