January 2014

Freedom of Marriage in Utah

On December 20, 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex couples from marrying, declaring that the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and due process. Utah’s political leadership seems to have been caught unaware and thus far has not been successful in their efforts to halt these marriages. So far there have been about 900 licenses issued with many of them being executed almost immediately.

Humanists of Utah member Elaine Stehel (Ball) and her wife Kristen were one of the happy couples who took advantage of Judge Shelby’s ruling. That first evening the local news had live feeds from the Salt Lake County Courthouse which was an amazing celebration of love and happiness. Even people who were only marginally interested in the issue were moved by the spontaneous and fervent expressions of joy among the newly wed couples.

I’m not a lawyer nor a legal scholar, but it seems to me that the logic the State is using to first try to stay the marriages and then reverse Judge Shelby’s ruling are very weak and without substance. They are arguing that first that the statute is a Constitutional amendment that was passed by a large majority and that this is firmly a State’s Right issue. This, to me ignores the 14th Amendment and the Constitutional role of the Judiciary to protect the minority from oppression by the majority. Next, and this one is really a stretch, the State is arguing that children benefit most from growing up in household with a mother and a father. Parents are important to healthy upbringing of children. The fact of the matter is that two parents are better than one and that a formal, codified relationship between the parents is important.

With so many weddings already complete it seems likely that the momentum of this event has a good chance to keep going. With any luck, it will open the flood gates by providing precedent to overturn similar State laws and that Utah will no longer be the most recent State to recognize marriage equality.

—Wayne Wilson

Ruminations About Time

I was a teenager during the late 1960s when I first heard the new Beatles song When I’m 64. I recall thinking that for me, while I hoped it would come, it would be “many years from now;” indeed I would not see 64 until 2014 which was not until the second decade of the next century. I woke up on December 31, 2013 with this song in my head. Oh my, it is actually happening!

I have been fascinated by the concept of time for most of my life. About the same time 64 was released I was exposed to Einstein’s concept that time is relative. I still cannot honestly say that I totally understand how time is flexible any more than the more observable three dimensions but I have come to accept it.

Other important influences in my life have examined the nature of time. William Shakespeare discusses these concepts extensively. Among the most influential to me is Richard II when the title character is in the tower waiting for his assassin to come and end his life. Richard fettered his kingship away with inaction and indecision. Here is his famous I have wasted time speech:

Ha, ha! keep time: how sour sweet music is,
When time is broke and no proportion kept!
So is it in the music of men’s lives.
And here have I the daintiness of ear
To cheque time broke in a disorder’d string;
But for the concord of my state and time
Had not an ear to hear my true time broke.
I wasted time, and now doth time waste me;
For now hath time made me his numbering clock:
My thoughts are minutes; and with sighs they jar
Their watches on unto mine eyes, the outward watch,
Whereto my finger, like a dial’s point,
Is pointing still, in cleansing them from tears.
Now sir, the sound that tells what hour it is
Are clamorous groans, which strike upon my heart,
Which is the bell: so sighs and tears and groans
Show minutes, times, and hours: but my time
Runs posting on in Bolingbroke’s proud joy,
While I stand fooling here, his Jack o’ the clock.

—Richard II
Act 5 scene 5

My other favorite study of time in Shakespeare appears in As You Like It in a conversation between Rosalind, disguised as Ganymede, and Orlando. She explains how time moves at different paces to different people:

ROSALIND: (as Ganymede) I pray you, what is ‘t o’clock?

ORLANDO: You should ask me what time o’ day. There’s no clock in the forest.

ROSALIND: Then there is no true lover in the forest, else sighing every minute and groaning every hour would detect the lazy foot of time as well as a clock.

ORLANDO: And why not the swift foot of time? Had not that been as proper?

ROSALIND: By no means, sir. Time travels in diverse paces with diverse persons. I’ll tell you who time ambles withal, who time trots withal, who time gallops withal, and who he stands still withal.

ORLANDO: I prithee, who doth he trot withal?

ROSALIND: Marry, he trots hard with a young maid between the contract of her marriage and the day it is solemnized. If the interim be but a se’nnight, time’s pace is so hard that it seems the length of seven year.

ORLANDO: Who ambles time withal?

ROSALIND: With a priest that lacks Latin and a rich man that hath not the gout, for the one sleeps easily because he cannot study and the other lives merrily because he feels no pain—the one lacking the burden of lean and wasteful learning, the other knowing no burden of heavy tedious penury. These time ambles withal.

ORLANDO: Who doth he gallop withal?

ROSALIND: With a thief to the gallows, for though he go as softly as foot can fall, he thinks himself too soon there.

ORLANDO: Who stays it still withal?

ROSALIND: With lawyers in the vacation, for they sleep between term and term, and then they perceive not how time moves.

—As You Like It
Act 3 scene 2

Another important influence that began in my teen years and continues today is science and science fiction. The works of Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five, Timequake, etc.,) Isaac Asimov (Foundation series, etc., etc., etc.,) Frank Herbert (the Dune saga,) Carl Sagan (Contact, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, etc.,) Gene Rodenberry (Star Trek,) and many others have consumed many enjoyable hours of my time. They challenge my mind and fill me with wonder.

Back to December 31, 2013 last week. On my way to work I listened to a story on NPR’s Morning Edition with Steve Inskeep  about a clock that is being built by Danny Hillis a scientist and engineer. His idea came from story about New College, one of the oldest colleges at the University of Oxford founded in the 14th century. A few years ago they were renovating a hall and needed some 40-foot oak beams to replace the originals. Where do you get such a thing? They noticed that Oxford had some forests and so they asked a forester if there were any oaks they could harvest for the beams. They were surprised to find out that actually, oaks had been planted many years before for this express purpose! How many of us think in terms of hundreds of years? Most of us probably follow modern news cycles where only the biggest stories last for more than a week before they are essentially forgotten. Many news items barely last 24-48 hours in our consciousness.

Hillis decided to build a different kind of clock. It is designed to last for 10,000 years. The intent is that it will tick once a year, the century hand will advance every 100 years, and the cuckoo comes out on the millennium. The clock will be built inside a mountain in Texas.

I started these musings with a song, so coming full circle, here are lyrics to the song Time Is by It’s a Beautiful Day. I think they offer a great insight on one good way to think about time:

Time is too slow for those who wait
And time is too swift for those who fear
Time is too long for those who grieve
And time is too short for those that laugh
And love is too slow for those who wait
And love is too swift for those who fear
Love is too long for those who grieve
And love is too short for those that laugh
But for those who love
But for those who really love
But for those who love
Sweet time
Precious time
Lovely time
All the time
Time, time, time, time
is eternity
Hours fly
Hours fly
Hours fly
But even flowers must die
And then a new day comes
And there’s a new day’s dawn
And there’s a new day’s sun
And love stays on
Sweet love stays on
Love stays on
Love stays on
Love, love, love, love
And time, time, time, time

—Wayne Wilson

David Keller, PhD

Utah Valley University Professor of Philosophy David Keller died Saturday December 28, 2013. Dr. Keller was well known among the freethought community as a public debater and defender of science and reason. His father, Richard Keller, MD is a longtime member of Humanists of Utah. We offer Richard our most sincere condolences. David graced our pulpit in November 2005 and lectured on the topic of Ethics and Religion. Below is a summary of his remarks

David R. Keller, PhD


In the Western intellectual tradition, beginning with the Greeks and Hebrews and passed down by the Romans and Judeo-Christian traditions emerged the tight, overt, and seemingly necessary connection between religion and ethics. In other words, one cannot be ethical without religion, a belief espoused by philosopher John Locke who wrote, “The atheist is a moral outlaw.”

In Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Alyosha, who is studying for the seminary, criticizes his brother, Ivan, for his beliefs in secular humanism, reason, and rationality, arguing that without God, everything is permitted and that without religion, there is no morality.

Similarly, in the Salt Lake Tribune letters are frequently published where this belief is expressed, one man writing that without religion, he would be a drunkard and a philanderer.

In one of his books The Gay Science, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche wrote about a madman who in the middle of the day runs into the town square saying that he sees God. Because many people did not believe in God, the madman caused a great amusement, and they ask if God has strayed or hidden. In reply, the madman says we have killed God.

The counterclaim made by many Enlightenment thinkers of which secular humanism is an outgrowth, Scottish philosopher David Hume, French philosopher Francois Voltaire, and compatriot Jean Rousseau all opposed Locke, believing that no necessary connection exists between religion and morality. In fact, most Enlightenment philosophers believed religion was dying, and if they were alive today, Keller asserted that they would be aghast to find religion so prominent.

—Sarah Smith

2013 Annual Report

–Leona Blackbird
Treasurer, HoU

President’s Report

Happy New Year everyone, I hope the holidays were enjoyable for all of you freethinkers. I had a lot more relatives in town than usual which was nice but more hectic. I’m happy the New Year is here. I know it is a ways off, but I am ready for spring and to get out of the cave and the haze (partly) and into some warmer weather.

I want to thank outgoing board member Lisa Miller for her time and efforts during her time on our board of directors. She will be missed. I also want to welcome new board members John Barnes and Lauren Florence to our board and look forward to working with them to move our agenda forward.

Having removed some time consuming obstacles from my personal agenda, I’m happy to have more time for Humanists of Utah issues and projects. There is much to be done as we work on the calendar of events coming up. This month we are excited to start the New Year by welcoming Charles Lynn Frost to our podium.

February we will host our annual Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah. This year’s celebration will be on our usual meeting night the second Thursday, which is the 13th of February. It will be held at the Unitarian Church in Elliot Hall where we usually meet. Planning has been delayed a bit, but just in the last few days we have finalized plans to co-host with Utah Friends of Paleontology. We are actually combining our two monthly meetings which occur on the same day each month. Also we have confirmed that the State Paleontologist James Kirkland will be the featured speaker. Stay tuned for more details.

We could use some suggestions for speakers for the months we feature speakers. Even suggestions for a subject would be helpful.

It is shaping up to be an eventful year for the free thought community. In April the American Atheist Association is holding their annual convention here in Salt Lake City. This promises to be an excellent opportunity to meet with like-minded individuals. Then in June the Pride Festival will be another opportunity, especially with all that has been going on since Judge Shelby’s ruling making it possible for Gay’s to Wed.

The HofU Board is planning on having a presence at the Pride Festival this year. To help with having a presence at the Pride Festival (or any other event,) I’m continuing to purchase items to create what I call our event kit. When it is finished it will contain items such as a canopy, tables, chairs, literature display items, a cooler, etc. We plan to make this kit available to the other free thought groups such as the Utah Coalition of Reason, Student group SHIFT, Post Mormons and others groups.

Well, enough for now. Hope to see you on January 9th for our first meeting and speaker and conversation with friends.

—Robert Lane
President, HoU