January 2012

Celebrating Diversity

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.

Humanists trace their views to the ancient Greek philosopher Protagoras and his dictum, “Man is the measure of all things.” The preciousness and dignity of the individual is a central humanist value. We work closely with people from a wide spectrum of faiths and philosophies for civil liberties, a healthy ecology, and social justice.

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, and every race. We respect all adult sexual preferences whether genetically determined or chosen by personal preference. 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 the right to 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. Humanism believes that our very existence depends upon the web of life and that our place in nature must be in harmony with all of life.

Humanist ethics, based on love and compassion for humankind and nature, place responsibility on humans for shaping our destiny and the future direction of the world.

We recognize the moral dilemmas and the need to be very careful in every moral decision because every decision and action has a consequence. We find spirituality in using our intelligence and creativity to leave the world a better place than we found it.
–Flo Wineriter

A World of Ideas

In 1989 Bill Moyers presented A World of Ideas for public television. He interviewed writers, sociologists, ethicists, physicians, historians, pastors, anthropologists, teachers, poets, and more, one of whom was Isaac Asimov, author of nearly 400 books and past president of the American Humanist Association. Following is a short excerpt from his interview with Moyers.

Moyers: Do you think that we can educate ourselves, that any one of us, at any time, can be educated in any subject that strikes our fancy?

Asimov: There are some things that simply don’t strike my fancy and I doubt that I can force myself to be educated in them. On the other hand, when there’s a subject I’m ferociously interested in, then it is easy for me to learn about it. I take it in gladly and cheerfully.

M: Learning really excites you, doesn’t it?

A: I think it’s the actual process of broadening yourself, of knowing there’s now a little extra facet of the universe you know about and can think about and can understand. It seems to me that when it’s time to die, there would be a certain pleasure in thinking that you had utilized your life well, learned as much as you could, gathered in as much as possible of the universe, and enjoyed it…What a tragedy to just pass through and get nothing out of it.

M: It is possible that this passion for learning can be spread to ordinary folks? Can we have a revolution in learning?

A: Yes, I think not only that we can but that we must. [There is a lengthy discussion about how Asimov sees the future of computers helping people educate themselves.]

M: Is this revolution in learning just for the young?

A: No, it’s not just for the young. That’s another trouble with education as we now have it. People think of education as something that they can finish. And what’s more, when they finish, it is a rite of passage. You’re finished with school…I’ve talked to some…dropouts, and they think they’ve become men because they’re out of school…

There’s the famous story about Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was in the hospital one time, when he was over ninety. President Roosevelt came to see him, and there was Oliver Wendell Holmes reading the Greek grammar. Roosevelt said, “Why are you reading a Greek grammar, Mr. Holmes?” And Holmes said, “To improve my mind, Mr. President.”

–Susan Fox

Expanding Humanism

More and more people are seeing that atheism is not enough. Indeed, to be atheist is to say nothing of how we live and h we approach life. Where humanism succeeds is that it offers a view of the world and the philosophy necessary for action, and more people are finding this appealing. These people point to the growing number of humanists–those who seek to live an ethical, socially responsible life without belief in the supernatural. “We are humanist because it is a term that describes what we believe not what we don’t believe.”

From Free Mind, vol. 55 #4 Winter 2011 An AHA membership publication.

–Flo Wineriter

Website of the Month
The Capital District Humanist Society

The Capital District Humanist Society provides a supportive community for exchanging ideas, heightening our knowledge of the world and ourselves, fostering moral and ethical growth, and promoting the principles of secular humanism.


Human, Not Gay Rights

Sometimes you just have to give credit where credit is due. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could have given some boilerplate remarks about the importance of human rights on International Human Rights Day in Geneva (12/8/12). She could have taken the opportunity to take some swipes at Iran or the Taliban.

But instead she gave a speech that made everyone sit up and notice:

”Today, I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today. In many ways, they are an invisible minority.”

She was talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transcended people.

It was landmark because it made the very simple point that gay rights are part of human rights–an argument that sounds obvious but which has been repeatedly denied by countries around the world.

But the most interesting (and un-American) part of the speech was that she didn’t use her speech to set up the United States as any kind of beacon for human rights or get on a moral high horse. She acknowledged that the American record was ”far from perfect.” She didn’t use her bully pulpit to just trumpet the Obama administration’s own record–for example, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

She actually looked abroad for inspiration–to South Africa, Colombia, Mongolia, and India:

”To highlight one example, the Delhi High Court decriminalized homosexuality in India two years ago, writing, and I quote, ‘lf there is one tenet that can be said to be an underlying theme of the Indian constitution, it is inclusiveness.”’

That’s noteworthy. When foreign leaders decide they need to acknowledge inspiration from India in a speech, they don’t usually look to the Delhi High Court. Their speechwriters do a quick search on ”Famous Quotes from Mahatma Gandhi” instead.

By singling out the Delhi High Court judgment at a time when it is being challenged in lndia’s Supreme Court, the United States just raised its stature. Gay activists in India might bask in the sunshine of that unexpected plaudit, but they should also take a moment to learn something from her speech.

Too often the fight for equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people gets bogged down in the same arguments.

We don’t need the West dictating its values to us. This is against our Indian values. It is illegal, immoral and against the Indian ethos, said the BJP’s senior leader, BP Singhal. Yoga guru Baba Ramdev claimed that it offended the ”structure of Indian value system, Indian culture and traditions.

Clinton took that issue head-on: ”Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do.”

But then she went further. She said that gay rights are human rights, and that you cannot do to gay people what you would not do to other humans. You cannot just hide behind the veil of culture, value systems or tradition. There cannot be a ”women exception” or a ”Dalit exception” or a ”gay exception” to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Then it is not universal at all.

Take women’s rights. Terrible things have been done to women in the name of cultural tradition:

”This is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women, like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it is criminal.

It is not that honor killings do not happen, but it is harder to excuse them as just part of culture. But homosexuals still exist outside that circle of protection. A gay man can be hanged in Iran for being gay. Fifty-two men can be picked up in a boat party in Cairo and thrown into jail. Robert Mugabe can call homosexuals in his country ”pigs and dogs” with impunity. We are much readier to hold homosexuals to a different standard because we regard homosexuality as unnatural, not part of our culture.

Therefore, activists expend a lot of energy to make gay rights make sense in their cultural context. That makes sense. It is important for us to argue for something that looks like it is home- grown and not imported from New York or Amsterdam. It is vital for us to research and reclaim our own gay and lesbian history, as Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai did in their book Same-Sex Love in India. But while the fight for equal rights can and should be local, the issue is universal. As the declaration states:

”All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Clinton showed in her speech that ultimately there must be a line in the sand before it turns into the quicksand of cultural relativism. Some things are just not negotiable. Otherwise, you slowly strip the ”universal” out of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the detriment of us all. In Geneva she reminded us that whether you are fighting for gay rights in Washington, D.C. or at the Supreme Court in Delhi, it is actually not about gay rights at all. Because as long as you are fighting for gay rights, you are fighting for special rights.

This fight is actually about human rights. Period.

–Richard McMahan
CDHS Humanist, January 2011

President’s Report

My goodness here it is 2012, the year the latest bunch of doomsayers say we will all perish on the next winter solstice. Like all of the previous predictors of the end of the world, they will most likely be wrong. Some may ask “how can you be sure they will be wrong?” My answer is that their claims are not based on any knowledge like discovering an asteroid hurling toward earth. Those claims of doom rarely have any real science behind them. I strongly suspect that the earth will be here a year from now.

Occasionally I have expressed a desire to not be negative in my president’s message. At first, that was true for this month also, but I just can’t do it. There are a couple of thing in the front of my mind that I have to say something about.

First is the news that legislation authorizing indefinite detention of citizens was signed by the president. When I read about this I had to ask myself “What kind of country is it that allows this kind of law to go into effect?” This is a law that pretty much gives the government the ability to send you to a gulag or concentration camp. To then have no redress, no rights. This is not the United States I served in the Air Force for.

This has to be a violation of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth amendments. These decrees, which deal with search and seizure, the right to a speedy trial, and other similar issues are fundamental to what this country is all about. Are we so inept at fighting terrorism that we must turn to destroying the very rights we claim to be protecting? The very words, “indefinite detention” are the exact opposite of “the right to a speedy trial.”

We can also take note that the media pretty much ignored this little item. This law is not a good start for the New Year.

The other thing that has been in the front of my mind is on a much smaller scale and local. It kind of made me chuckle in a black humored sort of way when I heard that a senior center, due to budget restraints, was cutting out most or all of the bread and some of the desserts. Additionally, the small portable CD player they used for exercise classes was broken and there weren’t funds to replace it. While I chuckled, I again asked myself, “what kind of country is this?” where we pamper the rich and a senior center has to go without. I realize that in the world of suffering these senior center items are pretty mild, but the contrast between rich and poor in these times is rather stark.

Before I finish I want to thank former board members Julie Mayhew and Karen Keller. Their time and efforts over the past several years is much appreciated. Again Thanks so much.

Donations for the Homeless Youth Center we collected at the December social were well received. The value was estimated to be over $600.00. Thanks everyone!

–Robert Lane
President, HoU