May 2014

American Atheist Convention

Chapter members Sally Jo Fuller and Robert Frahm attended the recent Atheist Conference in Salt Lake City. Here is a report from their experiences.

At this time, I will just give a short summary of this incredible experience. Robert and I attended many of the programs and were greatly impressed by the speakers and their messages.

The presenters represented the LGBT community, those who reported their legal battles regarding Separation of Church and State, the historical fraud concerning the LDS Church religion, discrimination against assorted races and cultures, the ‘hold.’ certain religious factions have on their congregations, and human interest stories.

One of the speakers, Frank Zedler, dedicated his presentation to the memory of his dear friend, Richard Andrews, a longtime pillar of the freethought community here in Utah, who died recently.

Dan Ellis, the President of Atheists of Utah, welcomed everyone and all throughout the conference I noticed him in conversations with many of the attendees. He graciously accepted the American Atheist Affiliate of the year for 2013 Award for this local group.

My kudos to the American Atheist organizers of this convention for providing American Sign Language Interpreters throughout the entire conference; showing real commitment to allow EVERYONE to have access to this event.

I felt quite at home there as many of the people were around my age with similar views. Of course, the majority of attendees were between 20 and 40; they are the ones who will make the political and cultural changes for more equality for ALL!!!!!!

Wayne was good enough to offer me space in some of the future Humanist of Utah Newsletters in order to elaborate more on the speakers and their messages.

Thanks for this opportunity.

—Sally Jo Fuller

Palm Sunday
~Book Review~

Several of the late, great Kurt Vonnegut’s novels have been reviewed on these pages in the past. Vonnegut also published several books of thoughts and essays that are good reads. In his Palm Sunday, there is a chapter titled “Religion.” It starts out with a quote from his great grandfather Clemens Vonnegut who published a book in 1900 titled Instruction in Morals. It includes instructions for his funeral:

“Friends or Opponents: To all of you who stand here to deliver my body to the earth:

“To you, my next of kin:

“Do not mourn! I have now arrived at the end of the course of life, as you will eventually arrive at yours. I am at rest and nothing will ever disturb my deep slumber.

“I am disturbed by no worries, no grief, no fears, no wishes, no passions, no pains, no reproached from others, All is infinitely well with me

“I departed from life with loving, affectionate feelings for all mankind; and I admonish you: Be aware of this truth that the people on this earth could be joyous, if only they would live rationally and if they would contribute mutually to each other’s welfare.

This world is not a vale of sorrows if you will recognize discriminatingly what is truly excellent in it; and if you will avail yourself of it for mutual happiness and well-being. Therefore, let us explain as often as possible, and particularly at the departure from life, that we base our faith on firm foundations, on Truth for putting into action our ideas which do not depend on fables and ideas which Science has long ago proven to be false.

“We also wish for Knowledge, Goodness, Sympathy, Mercy, Wisdom, Justice, and Truthfulness. We also strive for and venerate all of those attributes from which the fantasy of man has created a God. We also strive for the virtues of Temperance, Industriousness, Friendship, and Peace. We believe in pure ideas based on Truth and Justice.

“Therefore, however, we do not believe, cannot believe, that a Thinking Being existed for millions and millions of years, and eventually and finally out of nothing—through a Word—created this world, or rather this earth with its Firmament, its Sun and Moon and the Stars.

“We cannot believe that this Being formed a human being from clay and breathed into it an Immortal Soul, and then allowed this human being to procreate millions, and then delivered them all into unspeakable misery, wretchedness and pain for all eternity. Nor can we believe that the descendants of one or two human beings will inevitably become sinners; nor do we believe that through the criminal executions of an Innocent One may we be redeemed.”

The chapter continues with a graduation speech KV gave at William Smith Colleges on May 26, 1974. This speech presages his book Slapstick or Lonesome No More. Commencement speeches purportedly tell the graduates what they need to know to go forward in their lives. Vonnegut argues that is what they should have been learning spread out over the last four years. Why would this important information be held until the very end? The answer he says is: “No responsible, truth loving teacher can answer those questions in class, or even in the privacy of his office or home. No respecter of evidence has ever found the least clue as to what life is about, and what people should do with it.” After declaring himself to be the world’s greatest authority on tooth fairies, he offers this advice:

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured. Young people should also identify and expound theories about life in which sane human beings almost everywhere can believe.”

“We can expect no spectacular miracles from the heavens, that the problems of ordinary human beings will have to be solved by ordinary human beings. Help is not on the way. Repeat: help is not on the way.”

In short I recommend Palm Sunday as an invigorating look into the philosophy of Kurt Vonnegut.

—Wayne Wilson

President’s Report

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting really sick of the, I hate the federal government/militia clowns/states righters/sagebrush rebels/secessionists/freeloading rancher/whatever crowd. Judging from the way this state government runs things, I want more federal government not less. Keeping as much land as possible protected and natural resources used and paid for fairly and judiciously should be a priority.

If we were to give in to any of these scenarios where states’ rights prevailed we would likely see the sale and commercialization of nearly everything. Plus if a state (especially Utah) were to become the ultimate authority, it wouldn’t be long before the majority religion would assert their power and influence even more than they already do, and democracy would likely disappear as it would anywhere a theocracy prevails. Now that may sound a bit paranoid, but I think it’s true.

But I think the dumbest notion is secession from the Union, which was settled long age with a little incident called the civil war. The idea that a state could become a sovereign nation inside the U.S. is just plain dumb. I guess in a way it’s not a bad Idea for them, because the day after a state became a nation it could then apply for foreign aid from the federal government of the United States of America. You know, so they could keep up the roads, bridges and dams, to mention a few items largely funded by the Feds.

I’m happy to have lived most of my life in Utah, except for a short time in California and four years in the United State Air Force. It’s a beautiful state with a wonderful diversity of landscapes. We have more national parks and monuments than any other state except Alaska and California. But, I’m merely a resident of Utah, free to live in any state, because I am a citizen of the U.S., not a citizen of Utah.

Like I said last month, I seem to always be criticizing someone lately and it is pretty much criticism of conservatives who make up the above “slash groups” I listed and a few more I didn’t. Perhaps I should call my newsletter contribution “The Bitch and Moan Column.”

Moving on, I want to write a little about what we might say is an ongoing controversy over whether to be accommodating or confrontational in our dealings with those we disagree with. The controversy has been around for a while and was part of the reason that the humanist community split into The American Humanist Association and The Center for Inquiry. With CFI being, shall we say, more stridently atheistic than AHA.

At one of the annual CFI conferences I attended, one of the panel discussions was called Accommodation or Confrontation, with four of the keynote speakers discussing the issue. Of the attendees I spoke to, the opinion I heard most was that, as I have always felt, that it isn’t an “either or” situation, but that both approaches are needed depending on the circumstances.

For instance, some progress has been made recently as some Evangelicals are starting to see stewardship of the environment as the “Christian thing to do.” I believe we should be as friendly and accommodating as possible in this sort of case. But on the other hand, in a recent article I read on the internet, some asshole mayor in the Midwest called gay people the equivalent of “axe murders and cannibals.” I have no interest in being nice in cases like this. This idiot and all who are like him deserve only…well, everything we can give them, or at least lots of derision and opposition. And that’s just one example of the disgusting crap coming from religious conservatives. These people are why I am more inclined to be confrontational these days.

A short anecdote might be helpful.

Several years ago a chapter member and friend asked me to stop by to discuss atheists. While an admitted atheist herself, she really disliked the “in your face hatred of Mormons” she observed in the atheist groups and certain individuals in our Humanists of Utah chapter. She talked about how well she was treated by Mormons, some of them general authorities as she dealt with then in her personal business. Being friendly and not wearing her humanism and atheism on her sleeve, she got along well. She couldn’t understand why some people spent so much time being opposed to the LDS church. I think I helped her understand a little better by relating my experiences growing up Mormon and being in business in Utah. I won’t go into detail here too much, but suffice it to say it was unpleasant and stifling to be a “questioning youth” in a Mormon family, to say the least. I also related how I got “screwed” more than once in my working life by the good brethren.

I think it is accurate to say that many of us in the local freethought community have some legitimate bones to pick with the LDS faith for personal reasons and religion in general for secular reasons.

Well, so much for my “Bitch and Moan Column.”

Hope to see you at our movie night this month.

—Robert Lane,
President, HoU