Theology? What Theology?
I refuse to have a theology. A theology involves assumptions about beings in a different dimension, things which cannot be perceived with the senses and I refuse to make such assumptions. I have a life-stance. Fortunately, I never needed to get rid of a family religion in order to get to that.
My parents were non-religious but very tolerant about it. When I wanted to go to church with my best friend they gave me the room to make up my own mind. I liked Sunday School, I even participated in the Christmas play, but after a year or so I decided that I couldn’t hear any God talk to me, and that it was silly to pretend.
I am a secular humanist. Before I came to America I thought that there could be no such thing as a religious humanist (that would be an internal contradiction), but I found out that I was wrong. Apparently, if you start out with a religion, and then strip away all the supernatural hogwash there will something left when you’re done, something like reverence or spirituality. I cannot talk about feelings like that because I don’t think I’ve ever had them; there have been moments of heightened perception, of everything fitting together, but I couldn’t call that religious.
The “fundamental” questions: whether there are gods, what is our purpose in life, etc., to me are non-starters, because they cannot be proven one way or another. I’d rather get my bearings from some facts we can all agree on:
- I am alive, here and now (and so are you)
- I will be dead in the foreseeable future (and so will you)
- I am unique in time and space (and so are you)
- Rules that involve both you and me should be based on reciprocity: I should not expect you to suffer what I don’t like myself, and vice-versa.
Those facts provide me with an outer limit of ethics, a set of rules that allows me to judge the conditions I find around me with enough goals to spend my life on.
–Mr. Anne Zielstra
Another Way to Define Humanism
In Grassroots News, the monthly newsletter of the Chapter Assembly of the AHA, September 15, 1992, there appeared an article from Quest And Controversy, the publication of The Humanists of Riverside County, CA. In this article, the editor mentioned that he had received a call from”…(a member who) had mentioned that she was a humanist in a group and a stranger asked, “What do they do?” …(She) was prepared to define humanism but that wasn’t the question. What occurred to her was the splinter organizations, the separate ways of the various freethought groups, the internal functions and meetings that had little meaning beyond the meeting itself…(She) didn’t say how she responded but she obviously didn’t like her reply—or non-response.”
The author went on to ask: “What is it that we do—what is our purpose?”
I suggest that we stop and think before we get into a paroxysm of self-criticism just because we can’t run off a list of activities. Did this questioner and the member know enough about humanism to ask and to answer? I don’t know, but it seems to me that what is important is the fact that it bothers people and it is therefore pertinent to ask: Is humanism an activity to be defined as “something we do?”
I suggest we examine humanism, as an organization, and other organizations that we might compete with or be compared to. Now there are too many service clubs, fraternal orders and other such groups to list. But what do they all have in common? They have requirements for membership. One just can’t say, for instance, “I’m a Rotarian.” A humanist can say “I’m a humanist” without any external requirements.
Then there are all the many religions. They all have a defined organizational structure, membership requirements and theologies. How does humanism compare to those? Humanism is free of structure, requirements, or theology.
Humanism is like nothing else. Why expect it to behave like a stereotype? Humanism doesn’t have a claim on anything of its own because humanism is that which the world accepts as knowledge.
Humanism begins each time someone uses the scientific method to find answers to questions on how the universe works and the other existential problems and accepts the answers which come.
I restate the question of “What do they (humanists) do?” to “How do humanists live?” which makes much more sense and quite possibly is what the questioner really wanted to know.
I suggest an answer which comes from an article in the Free Mind, the newsletter of the AHA. Maxine Negri, Chair of the Commission On The Defense Of Humanism, in her monthly column titled “Humanism in Action,” wrote of a couple who, having been members of Atheists United in Los Angeles, are now members of the Humanist Association of Los Angeles. These two are volunteers at various social service agencies, she is full time and he does what he can after his work. The author states: “in…(their) orbit, words without action are insufficient. Although fully appreciative of the power of words to inspire action—whether for good or bad—for them, the deed is the reality.”…
One member of the couple is quoted: “We haven’t needed someone else’s ‘scripture’ or even our own freethought philosophy to convince us that the work we do needs doing. What it all boils down to is the simple human logic of helping where we are able, living the best we know how in this one and only life we believe exists, and doing it for no other reason than it is ‘right.'”
I have just completed the report of the lecture on Classical Philosophy and, suddenly, 2400 years disappear and right here, right now is the manifestation of that philosophy!
In the same issue of Grassroots News, Don Page, the new Editor of The Humanist, is quoted as stating that he wanted the magazine “to reflect the fact that humanism is an ontology and not just a philosophy.” He wants to present humanism ‘in practice’ rather than simply ‘in theory,’ and this means “it must deal with everyday issues facing individual persons and families.” The dictionary definition of “ontology” explains that it is from the Greek infinitive “to be”; “the discipline which treats of the fact and nature of being.” In other words, in personal terms, humanism is a state of being. The two humanists from Los Angeles are this kind of humanist.
This kind of humanism is more than “something they do,” it is “something they live.” The fount of their doing is from what they are.
The President of the AHA, Suzanne Paul, has asked us to “rethink why we exist and for whom.” It seems quite plain to me that we are the inheritors, as Dr. Appleby intimated, of the humanism of Classical Philosophy. Humanism as an organization exists to facilitate the act of becoming a humanist.
Maybe They Should Read Aristotle!
This article appeared in the December 1, 1991 issue of Parade Magazine.
A recent study of high-level executives sponsored by London House, a human-resources testing organization, shows that those who scored high on an ethics exam were less likely to feel hostility, anxiety and fear than were the unethical executives.
The psychologists who conducted the study now face a chicken-or-egg dilemma: They’re not sure if ethical practices lead to feelings of emotional stability and competence, or if a positive self-image and emotional health lead to ethical practices. Either way, the conclusion is obvious.
When Bob Green and I were being interviewed last month for an article on humanism the reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune asked if we could summarize humanism in one sentence! It was a challenge that left us both feeling inadequate. A few days later I was reading an article by Howard B. Radest, Dean of the Humanist Institute, in which he comments extensively on the difficulty of defining humanism. Radest says, “The living stuff of humanism hides beneath a skilled playing of words. My humanism is the source of the richest meanings in my experience, but I am dumb despite a torrent of words when it come to conveying that richness.” After reading his comments I felt less uncomfortable about our fumbling response to the Trib reporter, Peter Scarlet.
I would like to quote a little further from Radest’s article “Intimacy: Humanism with a Human Face,” published in Humanism Today Volume 6, page 105.
There are moments when humanism reaches into deeper places of my experience … In the marriage ceremony we succeed in speaking directly to the joyous and fearful experiences of love of mutual support and respect, of marriage as a development and not a sacrament, of responsibility that is both intimate and communal, and of the nurture of the one and the other. Suspended in that moment of celebration are those endless disputations about What humanism stands for, and in their place is an experience of what humanism is.
I can report in the same way about memorials and funerals. The occasion is different and yet the same threads of human connection appear. The emphasis changes. In the presence of death I realize my loneliness and feel broken away, broken apart. My need is not for some never-never and false promises, but for the actually present connection, the touch of a hand, sound of a voice, glance of any eye that pulls me back from loneliness and beings to heal the brokenness. Here again, the humanist demonstrates the ability to care and to support.”
Humanism, a philosophy that affirms human worth in every aspect of life, is too broad, too important to summarize in a single sentence. Our thanks to the Salt Lake Tribune for increasing public awareness of the humanist movement in Utah.
I was recently requested to moderate a panel of religious leaders discussing “The Spiritual Aspects of Death and Dying.” The panel was composed of representatives from four different denominations. I was challenged by the opportunity, but could find no resource material on the subject of humanistic spirituality. Apparently humanists have discarded the use of the term, along with the words prayer and religion because they have such strong connotations of mysticism. I refuse to give orthodox religions exclusive use of these poetic terms so I did a little research and found resources and definitions that I find humanistically comfortable.
In the book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, the author Harold Kushner refers to the French sociologist Emile Durkheim’s 1912 publication “Elementary Forms of the Religious Life” in which he suggested that the primary purpose of religions at its earliest level was not to put people in touch with god, but to put them in touch with one another. Religious rituals taught people how to share with their neighbors the experiences of birth and bereavement, of children marrying and parents dying. There were rituals for planting and harvesting, for winter solstice and for the vernal equinox. In that way, the community would be able to share the most joyous and the most frightening moments of life. No on would have to face them alone. (Page 119)
As a humanist I find that definition of religion completely compatible with the social passion of Humanist Manifestos I & II.
A recent issue of “The American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care” (Sept/Oct 1991, Page 17) Thomas Welk says:
It is important to make a distinction between spirituality and religions. In explaining the issue of spirituality it becomes necessary to emphasize that this is the most central, deepest and most complex of human needs. It is often referred to as the integrative, creative function. It is our way of making sense, meaning, and significance out of life.
In the same issue of the magazine (page 33) another author, Richard Dershimer, writes, “I used spirituality in the secular sense, that is, humans turning their attention away from worlds beyond and toward this world and this time without, necessarily, recourse to religious creeds or doctrines. The spirit can be described as that force within each person that fosters good, the just, the beautiful and the truthful in life. It is both mysterious and consciously concrete, but it results in maximizing human awareness and connection to life.”
After finding this material on religion and spirituality and with the late Harold Scott’s definition of prayer, “The expression of the highest of human aspirations.” Recalled to consciousness, I was able to comfortably accept the offer of moderating the panel on “The Spiritual Aspects of Death and Dying.”
AHA Conference Report
This was the first conference of its kind I had attended and I wasn’t sure what to expect, I have only been a member of the AHA for a year. It was a group of 300 people from all over the country who were serious and somber, taking notes and getting information. As soon as Flo and I got settled into our hotel room, we registered and began a series of meetings which went from Friday afternoon through Saturday and ending just before 12 noon on Sunday. It was a group of rational people doing rational things, and that is, after all, what humanists are: rational. Yes, at the end of it I would have welcomed one foolish irrational act, such as happens in the real world.
My reason for going was to get some information which would be helpful for what I do, and I did. I also wanted to find out what kind of organization I was now a member of, and of that I am still not sure.
There were four presentations which to me were of most importance and which I describe below.
THE CHAPTER ASSEMBLY
This is an organization of the 70 or so chapters, about 20 of which had paid dues to have a vote in the Assembly. (The Utah Chapter paid its dues.) It is currently in transition to a more representative and useful entity. The organizational structure was confusing to me, but resolutions were passed to form a committee to revise the by-laws. It does publish a monthly newsletter, the Grassroots News, to report to the chapters on news of interest and serves to interconnect and inform each chapter of the activities of the other chapters. Of most significance is the fact that the Assembly does have money to give grants to chapters for growth activities. This fund was acquired by Harvey LeBrun, now deceased, who spent much effort to establish the chapter movement. These activities were discussed but none seemed applicable to our chapter. It is something that the chapter should consider for the future.
A DIET FOR ALL REASONS
This was a plenary discussion given by Michael Klaper, M.D., who presented the rational for animal-free nutrition. He was an excellent speaker and made a case for vegetarianism that almost frightened me into becoming one. He did make the point that a meat-based diet is very wasteful of the planet’s resources and continued life on this planet may very well depend on changing to plant-based nutrition. The menu for the two banquets at the conference gave a choice for either a vegetarian or a meat entree. I “chickened out” and chose the meat. I have to admit that the “nut cutlet” and the “garden steak” looked very appetizing, and I ended up leaving most of my fish entree on the plate.
BUILDING A HUMANIST COMMUNITY
The Humanist Community of San Jose (HCSJ) presented their program of what they were doing as a local chapter. The April Utah Humanist printed their program and both Flo and I attended that presentation with some interest. By the way, that issue of our Journal was duplicated by them and made available at the conference. I saw our banner here and there with some surprise and pleasure.
Theirs was the largest delegation and the most enthusiastic–lots of smiles and energy, and they were younger than most of us. It was reported that they have 215 members with a newsletter mailing list of 800 to 1000. They have a full-time executive director who is a former Unitarian minister. This position was made possible by a $100,000 gift over 5 years from an anonymous donor identified as “not a millionaire and not previously known.” The gift was given only after the chapter developed a “business plan that would demonstrate an ability effectively to use such a contribution.”
Their presentation was scripted: good natured banter between five people and very well done. They discussed how they were building a “community of Humanists,” of people who are interested both in “responsible activities to make this world a better world, and in the journey of personal discovery.” “This combination,” they explained, “is attractive because when people are as much concerned for furthering the public good as they are for gaining private goals, they attract friends with humane social and personal values–friends who bring out the best in them.” With this combined goal the Chapter has a very active program: Sunday morning programs at Stanford University, a weekly series of discussions led by the executive director or other qualified speakers, various groups, forums, and “polylogues” on various humanist themes, social activities of all kinds, plus a professional looking newsletter with a schedule of activities and information of interest about Humanism. Many of the activities were member initiated, in fact, one member regularly sends birthday cards to members.
Both Flo and I expressed the opinion that what in fact they were doing was building a “church” in everything but the name, but they call it a “community” instead. They were not affiliated with the local Unitarian church or any other local group. This group of people(men and women) built this “community” out of an existing AHA chapter which had been active but had not grown much in some years. It is an impressive feat and what they are doing has given me a great deal to think about.
Fred Edwords, the Executive Director of the AHA, made this presentation. he began with the question: “Why doesn’t the Humanist Movement grow faster?” An interesting discussion followed. In summary, Mr. Edwords suggested that AHA chapters use a multi faceted approach; that Humanists are more than “intellects on legs” but also social, physical and emotional beings who are interested in may different activities. He said “our culture is a guilt culture, (but) we are an anti-guilt society.” and that people wanted people want a philosophy that is “FUN” and affirmative. Finally, he asked us to ask ourselves the question: “What do Humanists do?” he then suggested that we find our own answers. He pointed to the San Jose chapter and the Dutch Humanists as examples to follow.
CONCLUSIONS AND A METAPHOR FOR THE CONFERENCE
I have noticed for some time that there is a great deal of questioning over definitions of Humanism. A number of members seem to be critical of the lack of good ones they could use. One member wanted to establish a prize for the best short “Humanism is…” statement, but he failed. No ones seemed to have a satisfactory answer to the questions “What is a humanist?’ and/or “What is Humanism?” There were suggestions given and examples handed out and perhaps something will happen. I don’t think the questions will go away.
I left the conference with a lot of new information, but with a very indefinite idea of what I should do when I got home. I thought it significant that not all AHA members belong to a chapter and many chapter members do not join the AHA and the relationship of one to the other is somewhat mysterious. There is no pattern and no direction on how to put a chapter together, and from what I saw and have read, each chapter is different, ranging from the “intense” activity of San Jose to chapters that are iconoclastic, spending much time and energy attacking organized religion. To me, neither of these were appropriate models for the Utah chapter, and I felt very much on my own.
It occurred to me then that an old folk-tale seemed to fit the situation. Remember the one of the “Blind Men And The Elephant?’ It is a good metaphor for this situation. The poetry version of the old story goes like this:
It was six men in Indostan
To learning much inclined
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind).
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
(The poem goes on to explain
how each felt a different part
and described the beast as a wall,
a spear, a snake, a tree, a fan,
and a rope.)
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong.
Thought each was partly in the right
And all were in the wrong!
So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
John Godfrey Saxe (author)
Now what if one of the blind men had been a humanist? What would he have said? How about this?
I know I only feel a part
Of this great big beast
So large I’ll never feel the whole
And I’m too small, I fear.
I’ll use the scientific method
Take evidence from all
Then form an hypothesis
And soon encompass all.
Some day I will surely know
All about this elephant
And then I can tell the world
And be the most intelligent!
I am a humanist, you see!
AHA Conference Report
The 51st Annual Conference of the American Humanist Association in Portland, Oregon, May 1-3, gave two chapter officers an opportunity to participate in several stimulating Humanist workshops and to hear some interesting presentations of Humanist subjects.
One of the conference highlights was the 1992 Humanist of the Year banquet when author Kurt Vonnegut was named the recipient of the annual award. Vonnegut is a former president of Poets, Editors, and Novelists (PEN) and is well known for his activism on behalf of progressive social and political causes. His response when receiving the AHA award was bitingly critical of the government bureaucracy’s slowness in responding to the nation’s critical social problems.
The Distinguished Service Award for the year was given to Ed Doerr, a member of the AHA board of directors, former chairperson of the AHA board and currently the executive director of Americans for Religious Liberty. Doerr was recognized for his energetic and continuous work on behalf of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He writes, talks, and travels continuously to awaken U.S. citizens to the never ending effort of many religious and political leaders to break down the wall that prevents government and religion from developing a cozy relationship.
The most exciting event for President Wineriter and Vice-President Bob Green, was the chapter award ceremony when they were called to the speaker’s platform and presented the 1992 Chapter Award.
The executive director of AHA, Fred Edwords, led an inspiring discussion on the goals of humanism and ways to stimulate public awareness of the humanist agenda and increased membership in AHA and local chapters. He emphasized the reality that there are many atheists and agnostics who are not intellectuals and urged us to broaden our image to speak to their interests.
Attending the conference renewed our enthusiasm to expand local interest in humanism and work towards doubling our Humanists of Utah membership in the next year.
Building a New Belief System
For the last three years I have taught a class at the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City called “Building Your Own Theology.” The title of the course might make some agnostic humanists a little apprehensive, but the words theology, and religion are defined so broadly that it can encompass Humanism. The values of freedom to use ones experience and reason to examine religious belief, the right to choose ones beliefs, and tolerance toward the beliefs of others is at the very center of the course, and have characterized the Unitarian tradition for 500 years. The Unitarian church embraces pluralism, and it has made humanists like me quite at home.
The majority of people who attend the class are “come outers.” That is, they have become disaffected with the church or religion they were born into, and have left looking for something else. With the collapse of their religious faith, and alienation from their church, many people sense a void in their life, and they come seeking to fill it. Others, who were not raised with a church and its creed, also sense something amiss and come searching.
My experience suggests that people need a belief system to function. Beliefs are conclusions we have drawn from our experience of the world. They are the bedrock to which we anchor our lives. They help us decide toward which ends we shall live our lives, and what values and principles will enlighten our journey. Without beliefs, there is a kind of paralysis: we need beliefs to get on with our lives. I also observe that some beliefs are better than others. Socrates was right when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I believe that science and rationality are important instruments to use in this examining process, and that our conclusions must be consistent with our own personal experience of life.
The course begins with each person sharing the story of their own religious odyssey. For many, it is the first time that their story can be heard, and understood about why they no longer can believe in the ancient creeds. Each person discovers that there are others who share their doubts, and that they are not alone. Being heard and understood provides affirmation, and courage to continue the quest. A feeling of trust, concern for others and community often grows out of this experience.
The course mostly employs a discussion and sharing format of instruction. What happens in the course is very much dependent on what the individual participants bring to the group. Some topics discussed are human nature, God, ultimate reality, ethics, suffering, death, immortality, truth, authority, history, justice, good, evil, eschatology and meaning.
I like the course because it goes well beyond helping each participant discover what they do not believe. It helps them build and be able to articulate a core of possible beliefs. I am always fascinated by what kind of beliefs each individual will choose for themselves when given the opportunity of free inquiry. Most of the participants build belief systems that are skeptical of the supernatural, center their lives in this life rather than an after life, and place their hopes for the future in human endeavor.
I don’t believe the course proselytizes humanism, but in spite of this, most participants would probably feel comfortable with views expressed in the Humanist Manifesto II. I observe that the course helps people make a transition; it doesn’t make converts. People don’t come to this course unless they have leanings in this direction already. I believe it is a good course for anyone examining humanist beliefs, and I extend an invitation to all who read this article.
Atheist Adds Brick to Wall Between Church and State
Chris Allen, a charter member of our Chapter, was featured in a March 22, 1992 story in the Salt Lake Tribune. The accompanying photo was captioned, “The Pledge of Allegiance statue near Salt Lake City-County Building is better without ‘under God’,” according to separatist Chris Allen. This is the article:
Chris Allen’s mission in Utah has not been easy.
The 45-year-old director of Utah’s Society of Separationists is a devout atheist who wants every reference to God erased from public view.
The “one nation under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance, and court oath of “so help me God,” get under his skin. Even the “In God We Trust” slogan on money gives him fits.
Mr. Allen used to stamp his own counter-slogans on currency, such as “Stop religious advertising on money.” He stopped after a warning from U.S. Treasure agents.
The former Californian’s conquests in Utah have been few. But he recently carved the first big notch in his belt.
Third District Judge J. Dennis Frederick issued a ruling March 4 that breathed new life into the Society of Separationists’ efforts to build a wall between church and state.
The decision in the lawsuit filed by the society outlaws prayers before Salt Lake City Council meetings, and could result in abolishment of praying at the Utah Legislature, and scores of local government bodies.
“We are not trying to infringe on an individual’s right to pray,” said Mr. Allen, a soft-spoken computer programmer who describes himself as a science nerd. “We’re against the government interfering in that right.”
The City Council had gone to a lot of trouble to make the opening prayers as inoffensive as possible. Apparently too far. One city employee was paid to hunt for people of diverse religions to offer the prayers.
“That clearly violated the state constitution’s prohibition against spending state money to promote religion,” said Mr. Allen.
Many people, including most City Council members, resent a group representing a minority view telling them when they can and can’t pray. The council voted 5-2 to appeal the district court-ruling to the Utah Supreme Court.
Other politicians side with Mr. Allen.
“People have plenty of opportunities to pray during the day,” said Salt Lake County Commissioner Jim Bradley. “I don’t think we have to make a public demonstration of prayer.”
The 700-member society hopes its initial victory on the public-prayer front will be followed by another in a suit against the Alpine School District involving prayer at high school graduations.
“Religion stirs a lot of resentment in Utah,” Mr. Allen said. “And public prayer has a lot to do with it. No matter how hard you try, it leaves some people out.
More on Classical Philosophy
When reviewing Corliss Lamont’s book I came across some comments about the influence of Classical Philosophy on modern Humanism. Several paragraphs seem pertinent to Professor Appleby’s lecture.
(Naturalistic humanism) considers that man, the earth, and the unending universe of space and time are all parts of one great Nature. The whole of existence is equivalent to Nature and outside of Nature nothing exists. This …(Humanism) has no place for the supernatural, no room for super-physical beings or a super-material God, whether Christian or non-Christian in character. But (it) does not, like the more naive type of atheist, go about shaking…(its) fist at the universe.
He writes this about Epicurean philosophy:
Epicurus had strong ethical grounds for preferring a materialistic (humanistic) system, since he wanted to see men live in the light of reason and without fear. Accordingly, he tried to eliminate apprehensions about the supernatural by teaching that there were no deities who intervened in human affairs and that mortal men had no existence after death. This negation of religious doctrines was a prerequisite, in the judgment of Epicurus, for attaining individual happiness on earth. Such happiness he defined in terms of the more refined pleasures, guided by wisdom and adjusted to the hard realities of life. The Epicureans placed affection, or friendship among the highest goods of experience. Epicurus himself retired to his garden to live quietly, abstemiously, and nobly, achieving a kind of philosophic saintliness. Yet Epicureanism had come to mean generally the pursuit of sensual enjoyment; the philosophy par excellence of wine, women, and song. And Epicurus remains perhaps the outstanding example of a great philosopher who has been perpetually misunderstood.
Corliss Lamont then adds a ringing injunction to humanists:
Philosophy’s constant involvement in the issues that mean most to men and in the defense of truth is dramatically brought out in the career of Socrates…The powers that were in ancient Athens accused Socrates of corrupting the minds of youth by raising too many thought-provoking questions and giving those questions unorthodox answers. Rather than remain silent or compromise, Socrates defied the authorities and drank the hemlock. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates in his final remarks to the judges, as recounted in the Apology. “I would rather die,” he continued, “having spoken after my manner, than speak in your manner and live…The difficulty, my friends, is not to avoid death, but to avoid unrighteousness…No evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.
Then and there, in the year 399 B.C., Socrates once and for all established a moral imperative for philosophers: that no matter what the personal consequences, it is necessary for them to exercise their freedom of speech and stand firm for what they consider the truth and the right. Indeed, no man has a philosophy worthy of the name or has achieved full stature as a human being unless he is willing to lay down his life for his ultimate principles.
One Way To Meet Another Humanist
There aren’t many humanists around, so when an opportunity comes to meet another, I feel obligated to do what I can. This is the story of my recent experience.
I recently had a complete physical, and a colonoscopy was scheduled with a Dr. Marshall. A member of our chapter, Dr. Strother Marshall, is on the staff at the clinic. Probably the same person, but I have never met him. I thought it was a good opportunity to make his acquaintance.
I got on the table and lay on my side with an IV containing a sedative to make me comfortable during the procedure. The Doctor came in and took his expected place. I couldn’t see him. Now seemed to be the time.
I asked: “Are you Dr. Strother Marshall?”
“Yes,” came the reply.
“I send you a periodical every month” (At this point I was getting pretty woozy.)
“Oh, what is it?” the Dr. asked, beginning the exam.
“The Utah Humanist,” I managed.
“I enjoy it very much”
Just then I recognized the incongruity of the situation, and it seemed very funny, and as my mind went into never-never land, I started to laugh.
Ever tried to laugh in that circumstance? I’m afraid the laugh came out as a giggle, or maybe a cackle. I couldn’t tell.
When the exam was over, Dr. Marshall said to come back in five years. I think I remember seeing him and giving a parting word, but I’m not sure. Neither am I sure that I would recognize him should I see him again, nor he, me.
But, we did meet, not exactly face to face, but you might say, humanist to humanist.
LDS On Humanism
The July, 1992 issue of the LDS publication Ensign (page 16) cites the Humanist Manifesto II as an example of the modern day voice of Satan. An article discussing the Book of Mormon character Korihor, who is described as the messenger of Satan (Alma 30:6), states he was preaching the doctrine of the devil to the Zoramites. The article says, “today the world is permeated with philosophies similar to those taught by Korihor” and goes on to quote three sections of Humanist Manifesto II as examples.
The author, Gerald N. Lund, advises Mormons not to get drawn into an academic philosophical debate with Korihor’s followers but rather combat their philosophy with “revelation and true doctrines.”
Mission Statement of the Humanists of Utah
- We affirm our association with the American Humanists Association, the North American and International Humanist movement, and support their goals and policies.
- We accept the Humanist Manifestos I & II as the basic philosophy of the humanist movement, not as a credo or dogma, but as an expression of a living and growing body of knowledge.
- It is our goal to identify all Utahns who accept the humanist philosophy and to gather them into an association of humanists where all can have a sense of belonging to a larger community and find friendships and support.
- We recognize that humanism is a satisfying and positive philosophy of life which meets the challenges of our times, and we declare our intention to spread the knowledge of humanism throughout the State of Utah.
- It is our goal to learn as much as we can about humanism and its application to our lives. We will educate and inform our membership about the philosophy of humanism, social issues of current interest, and the activities of the chapter.
Letter to the Editor
(Editor’s note: Mr. Anne Zielstra is from a freethinker background and a secular humanist from Holland. His viewpoint reflects that experience and is typical of a secular humanist.)Dear Bob:
The March, April, and May issues of the Utah Humanist have featured a series of articles on Humanism as a religion, and on community building. Here are some other thoughts on these subjects.
THE POWER OF WORDS AND THE POVERTY OF LANGUAGE
First, to set the record straight, the word “religion” has its origin in Latin, and comes from the same root that gave us words like “ligament.” The original meaning may have been something like “to bind together again,’although the classicists are not sure about that.
But what a word means does not depend on what the linquists or the priests decree. A word means what most people understand it to mean, and Webster’s dictionary is a good a reporter on common understanding as any. It defines religion as the “concern over what exists beyond the visible world, differentiated from philosophy in that it operates through faith or intuition rather than reason, and generally including the idea of the existence of a single being, a group of beings, an eternal principle, or a trasdecent spiritual entity that has created the world, that governs it, that controls its destinies, or that intervenes occasionally in the natural course of its history, as well as the idea that ritual, prayer, spiritual exercises, certain principles of everyday conduct, etc., are spiritually rewarding, or arise naturally out of inner need as a human response to that belief in such a being, principle, etc.” [Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary, 1989]
That’s quite a mouthful. Notice, thought, that his description does not mention the word, “god” once. Not all religions require the belief in a god. But all assume that there is a reality out there that we cannot physically perceive, and that knowledge about how that reality behaves and how it can be manipulated has been revealed to certain individuals.
Humanism, by that description, is not a religion. So then what is it? A philosophy, a “rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge or conduct?” (That’s Webster’s again.) To some people that does not suffice. Humanism to them is an active, sweaty, practical movement, not an ivory-tower, passive and self-sufficient navel-staring mind game. But speakers of the English language have not yet accepted a new word to fit the concept. “Euphraxophy” (“the knowledge on how to do things well”) has been proposed. So has “life-stance”, but neither is in wide use. Perhaps humanists should make up their own minds about what to call this thing they have, and then consistently stick with it until the majority follows suit.
“Religion” is not the right word to describe Humanism, not only because it would confuse the listeners, but also for very practical reasons. Some time ago, the American Humanist Association aspired to the privileges that states normally bestow on religions. In other countries humanist counselors are accepted in the armies, hospitals and prisons as much sa priests are, so why not here?
When religious fundamentalists heard of that idea, they turned it on its head. Humanism is a self-proclaimed religion, they said, and its tenets (such as evolution) are taught in the public schools. If the Humanists can teach their doctrine there, then we want to have the school curriculum opened up to Creation Science and Bible Study! The AHA quickly put the lid back on that can of worms, and is now officially an educational organization, as is the Utah chapter.
PRACTICES AND PRINCIPLES
Quite apart from semantics, should humanists follow the example set by organized religions? Art Jackson (in the April, 1992 issue) thinks so: religions, he says, are glue that hold society together.
Religions will gladly accept that assertion, I’m sure, but history does not bear it out. Babylon, Rome and Tenochtitlan did not fall because people did not believe in the established religion anymore. And religiously inspired schisms are still tearing many societies to warring pieces.
I’d rather think that society’s glue is not made by religion, but by economics. Even if they had nothing else in common, people would still prefer to interact because of the benefits of specialization of labor and technology. (That’s not me who came up with that, that’s Adam Smith.)
Sociologically, religions don’t glue people together, they split them up, in a tribal in-group of people who are right, and an out-group that is wrong. If a large part of humanity can be excluded from consideration, the efforts can be concentrated on effectively promoting the welfare of your tribe.
Historically, organized religions have been very easy tools for those in power, used to keep them in power. The Crusades, the Mogul empire, the Inquisition, the Victorian white man’s burden, and many other bloody enterprises used religion to mobilize and silence people who would ordinarily just mind their own business. I don’t want to throw doubt on the integrity of individual believers here. I do want to show that masses of believers have been easy prey for cynical manipulators. I have heard many people express a grudging respect for the public relations means of many religions, even if they don’t agree with the ends. (Bob Green’s article in the March issue provides an example.)
But should we follow an organizational example that has been so easily abused? Communist parties all over the world have done so, using the in-group/out-group principle (complete with the purges of heretics), and it has made them terribly ineffective. It would be an instance of old brain thinking” to try and repeat the practices of organized religion, and still exclude its principles. You might object that the Unitarian Universalist Church is an established religious organization that does not practice intolerance and exclusiveness. I do not know enough about that denomination to be able to say whether it fits Webster’s definition or my stereotype… But I doubt if its example can be reproduced: it evolved from a traditional church into a progressive one, not (as Art Jackson would have us do) from an association into a religious community.
Humanists are global rather than exclusive; they invite doubt and discussion; they are not willing to accept and preserve the status quo while waiting for a hereafter; and they are fiercely independent. Those are not characteristics that make for a successful docile and restricted religious order.
I think we should be able to come up with something new and better, and steer clear of old-time religions. That even extends to words and symbols. For instance, I don’t want to have a “belief system,” because a belief is something that cannot be disproved. I’d rather call it by “set of working hypotheses,” the few things I take for granted until new information becomes available.
So what does a new and better humanist organization look like? Since humanists are inclusive and open to different ideas, I think it is bound to be a diffuse entity of human catalysts, a loose network of people who make things happen through the single-issue groups that they support. The principles they share will be general to the point of sounding trite. Democracy, equality, tolerance, reason, these are not new ideas; but their practice is.
A humanist organization’s effectiveness should not be measured by how strong the organization is as a body separate from its members, or by how many buildings it owns and how many people it employs. It should be measured by how well it enables its individual members to give to one another the power and inspiration to change the world.
by Bob Green
No, Anne, dictionaries do not adequately define words such as religion which have so many emotional overtones. In this case, the word “religion” needs modifiers properly to define the meaning. For instance, the kind of religion you describe is the “traditional established religion.” The kind of religion Art Jackson of the San Jose chapter, Professor Appleby in his lecture, and others describe is a “personal” religion or perhaps a “generic” religion. My dictionary has one definition of religion as “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith,” and this will do to define “generic” religion. Unless otherwise defined, this generic religion is what we are all talking about. Humanism can easily be considered as that kind of religion.
The other, a “personal” religion, goes to define that unique set of beliefs, or ideas or whatever, which we all individually formulate to help us make sense of the world and our place in it. I do agree that we need to adopt a single term to define what it is that humanism means to each of us. I suggest the words “idea-system.” This term comes from Julian Huxley, a founder of modern humanism. In his book, The Humanist Frame (1961), he acknowledges the need to have a term for Humanism and suggested the non-technical term idea-system, “with the proviso that it includes beliefs, attitudes and symbols as well as intellectual concepts and ideas.’ (p. 13) We can do no better than this, and I am going to adopt it in place of all the other terms.
The possibility that the Community of Humanists that Art Jackson describes could become a traditional established religion is beyond the realm of possibility. No humanist I know even considers doing anything like that. However, we need to avoid the possibility that the public gain the perception that it is , or could be. Flo and I thought it resembled a church or a generic religion. The question is: How to build an effective organization which facilitates the learning and living of humanism without appearing to be a church or a religion? Well, that is the job at hand, and your last sentence answers the question very effectively: “It should be measured by how well it enables its individual members to give one another the power and inspiration to change the world.” If we do that, what does it matter what we are called? “If we build it, they will come.” (Field of Dreams)
What is Rational Recovery?
Rational Recovery (RR) is a non-profit organization of self-help groups that use the principles of Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) as developed by Albert Ellis, Ph.D. RR is a national organization and an outgrowth of the Humanist movement. The basic philosophy of RR is based on the self-reliance of the individual and his or her ability to use rational thinking as the mainstay in a program of sustained abstinance from alcohol and chemical addiction.
RR was founded by Jack Trimpey, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and recovered alcoholic. Mr. Trimpey noticed in his clinical practice that not all clients respond well to the traditional Alcoholic Anonymous 12-step program, as practiced by almost all treatment programs in the substance-abuse field. Furthermore, some clients even seemed to resent having treatment based on reliance upon a higher power (supernatural force), and the powerlessness of the individual. RR now has over 300 chapters around the U.S. and is growing at a rapid rate.
History is What We Make of It
I am somewhat pessimist about the future because I believe people have been lulled to sleep in this century. They believe that progress is automatic, that God is in his heaven and all is well; and that everything will turn out for the best. I concur with William James when he said, “In times like these, God has no business hanging around heaven.”
We have no guarantees whatsoever, and there are no guarantees that history is on our side. History is what we make of it. We have the freedom to choose one way or another. It is an open-ended affair, and no supernatural power says things are going to turn out fine. There is a necessity for us to believe that we must depend on ourselves. It will take our independence, our interdependence, our struggle and our wisdom to fight for the right.
In the long run we stand a chance of winning if we don’t just coast along, but take the attitude that we must fight the good fight, and make wise choices. The future is as free as we make it.
Sterlink McMurrin, Ph.D.
Memorial Luncheon Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.
January 20, 1992, Salt Lake City, UT
Prayer Objectionable in City Council Meetings
The following is a letter to the Salt Lake City Council, by our chapter President, Florien Wineriter.March 18, 1992
Salt Lake City
451 South State Room 304
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Dear Council Members:
I want to register my opposition to your decision to appeal the courts ruling against opening a government meeting with prayer. When you took the oath of office you agreed to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Utah. May I remind you of Article 12, Section 4 of the Utah Constitution:
“There shall be no union of church and State, nor shall any church dominate the State nor interfere with its functions. No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or for the support of any ecclesiastical establishment.”
There certainly can be no doubt in your mind that the city council chambers are “Public Property” and you certainly must recognize that the act of “praying” is a form of “religious worship,” therefore praying in the city council chambers must be applying public property to religious worship, a clear violation of the Utah Constitution.
So why are you appealing the 3rd District Court ruling?
Florien J. Wineriter, President, Humanists of Utah
Chapter of the American Humanist Association
CC: Utah Supreme Court
Since the noun “humanism” can be used in so many different ways, we often add the adjective “naturalistic,” to suggest a self-sufficient world-view that doesn’t require the intervention of any deity. That’s because we haven’t been convinced by the arguments for the traditional Western God – an All-Good, All-Powerful Person.
However, some Naturalists, past and present, have attached non-traditional meanings to “God:”
- Epicurus: Gods exist…but are indifferent.
- Spinoza: God is nature…but exhibits no will, no purpose, no design.
- Deists: God began the world…but the world is on its own; scientific laws prevail.
Poetic usages that have been observed:
- God is our higher self.
- God is the spark of goodness in people.
- Gods and Goddesses of old are often used in a playful manner to evoke liberating insights.
While Humanists don’t usually use the word, “God,” since they can say anything that’s important to them without using it, they concede that a poetic or non-traditional usage of the word need not conflict with Naturalism – the claim that any process in the universe can be explained without recourse to non-natural forces.
- Naturalism is an open investigative project that explores the four working assumptions of modern science. The challenge is to establish the following sequence without resorting to a personal deity or an immortal soul to fill in the gaps:From as primordial explosion…
a physical universe,
From a physical universe…
a web of planetary life,
From a web of planetary life…
the human mind,
From the human mind…
art, religion, law, science.The enterprise is successful so far: a seamless flow of natural causation seems to link everything. The origins of life and mind become clearer each day.
- While some people imagine that a naturalistic philosophy is a pessimistic one, we relish the challenge of living with the naturalistic and impersonal world-view created by science:
- There was a time when I was not, and a time will come when I will cease to be.
- What will I do with the short interval that constitutes my entire existence?
- I will write a life story that makes my interval a story of high purpose and significant meaning–a moment of grace, tolerance, exuberance, joy.
- I am a child of the stars: the planet, my home; all life, my body; the entire human species, past, present, and future…in my awareness.
- When we naturalists turn our attention to the pressing issues of the day, our judgments are not clouded by non-naturalistic assumptions. Also, we grant that social, economic, and political questions are so complex that people of good will and intelligence can honestly disagree. That said, most naturalistic Humanists accept the following agenda:
Caring about those alive today, we
- Reach out to assist the needy in body and spirit so that those individuals can become truly self-sufficient
- Promote effective support groups for those struggling with addictions
- Fight unwarranted intrusions of the state into matters of privacy, such as abortion and euthanasia
- Root out racism, sexism, homophobia, and stereotypes about disabled persons.
Caring about future generations, we invite serious dialogue between representatives of religion and Humanism in order to:
- Reverse a population-pollution explosion that threatens the web of life on which a future generation will live and move and have its being
- Establish a just and self-sustaining society that can protect the carrying capacity of the only home the human species can ever call its own.
Source: Humanist Community, May 1992.
Another Way To Answer Controversy
As humanists we reject the supernatural and the religions which support that belief. We marshall many facts and arguments to support our position. I have been looking for a way first to understand why so many intelligent people continue to support such practices as public prayer, and secondly, how to address those kind of problems.
Recently, the answer came when a humanist friend gave me an editorial from The World, the publication of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) of January/February, 1992. It was titled “When the Theological Tire Hits the Political Road” written by William F. Schulz, President, UUA. In this editorial, the author states: “…theological assumptions—often unspoken—about the nature of the universe and the character of humanity still underlie many of our attitudes toward public policy. Three examples come to mind.”
I will include all three examples, since they concern issues which are still before the public.
“Initiative 119 which sought to permit ‘aid in dying’ in Washington State was defeated at the polls in November.”
I will omit most of the explanation to present his argument:
“…in order to oppose all forms of euthanasia, passive or active, one must believe that suffering has some meaning which transcends its endurance for otherwise, if it be no moral good whatsoever, to impose it upon others is nothing but cruelty. If, on the other hand, we believe suffering possesses no transcendent meaning, we will be far more sympathetic to euthanasia. Our theology of suffering cannot help but bear upon our position on public policy.”
“Or consider the debate about supplying condoms to teenagers. Those who argue against the practice say that it implicitly endorses teenage sex and that, because abstinence is the only safe way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, nothing less ought be expected. Underlying this posture is a theological doctrine of human nature. It’s called ‘perfectionism’.”
“Or consider the refusal by the Boy Scouts to admit openly gay youth to their ranks. To do so, say the Scouts, is to endorse moral turpitude. Underlying thispolicy—that the mere presence of certain people is enough to ‘contaminate the pool’—is an ancient theological doctrine. It’s called ‘demonization’.”
The author concludes with this admonition:
“They lie in wait for us—these theological culprits—but they lose much of their power when they’re exposed to the air. One of Unitarian Universalism’s highest callings is to be the agent of such exposition and, in the process, to offer the alternative of a theology as wise as it is humane.”
This then, is one way to address controversy: First, define the theological assumptions and expose them, and Secondly, offer an alternative.
Along this line, I recently came across a quotation from Robert Ruark’s book, Something Of Value, which states: “If you change a man’s way of life, you had better have something of value with which to replace it.”I have been aware of that need since I first became involved with humanism, and it forms the foundation of what I do as Program Director and as Editor.
Our present series of Lecture/Discussions is designed to help humanists understand the philosophical and theological assumptions which form the basis for our civilization and to present a humanist idea-system to replace the theological.
What Do Unitarian Universalists Believe?
Editor’s Note: Many chapter members are Unitarians, but many are not. Recently, Max Shiffer, who is both, gave me a card which he carries. For the interest of everyone, I am including that information.
- We believe in the freedom of religious expression. All individuals should be encouraged to develop their own personal theology, and to present openly their opinions without fear of censure or reprisal.
- We believe in the toleration of religious ideas. All religions, in every age and culture, possess not only an intrinsic merit, but also a potential value for those who have learned the art of listening.
- We believe in the authority of reason and conscience. The ultimate arbiter in religion is not a church, or a document, or an official, but the personal choice and decision of the individual.
- We believe in the never-ending search for Truth. If the mind and heart are truly free and open, the revelations which appear to the human spirit are infinitely numerous, eternally fruitful, and wonderfully exciting.
- We believe in the unity of experience. There is no fundamental conflict between faith and knowledge, religion and the world, the sacred and the secular, since they all have their source in the same reality.
- We believe in the worth and dignity of each human being. All people on earth have an equal claim to life, liberty, and justice—and no idea, ideal, or philosophy is superior to a single human life.
- We believe in the ethical application of religion. Good works are the natural product of a good faith, the evidence of an inner grace that finds completion in social and community involvement.
- We believe in the motive force of love. The governing principle in human relationships in the principle of love, which always seek the welfare of others and never seeks to hurt or destroy.
- We believe in the necessity of the democratic process. Records are open to scrutiny, elections are open to members, and ideas are open to criticism—so that people might govern themselves.
- We believe in the importance of a religious community. The validation of experience requires the confirmation of peers, who provide a critical platform along with a network of mutual support.
By David O. Rankin.
Published by the
Unitarian Universalist Association
The Mission Statement
Last August, after the chapter’s meeting place was moved to Eliot Hall, and the Journal took its present form, I wrote the Mission Statement, and with editing by the Planning Committee, it was published. It was my feeling then, as now, that the chapter needed to state its authority, what it believed in, and what it intended to do. We did not pretend that the prose was perfect. We felt that humanists would understand the meaning and take it for its intent. It would seem that there is always a better way to say almost everything, and the only way to offend no one is to say nothing. This is done all the time.
The real question facing this Humanist Chapter is not the content of the Mission Statement, or how we organize. The question is whether or not there even can be a Humanist Chapter at all. My working thesis as a member of the Planning Committee is that all humanists are self-converted. There are no humanist missionaries, no one asks the “golden question,” no tracts are passed out on the street corners, and there are no radio or TV programs. If there is an outreach program, I am unaware of it. Some humanists are born into it, I know of a couple, but there are few multi-generational heirs to a humanist’s belief.
How does a humanist become a humanist? There are as many answers to that question as there are humanists. And no one knows how many humanists there are, not to mention the many more who are, but don’t know it yet.
However, I have learned that there are certain common characteristics. Since everyone became a humanist on one’s own, no one owes anything to anyone. There is a strong individualism, a “spit in your eye” and “chip on the shoulder” sort of thing. There is a rejection of almost any kind of authority, of dogma or creeds or allegiance to organizational structure, and membership requirements. In fact, anything even reminiscent of organized religion is rejected.
I’m reminded of the story about the Democrats who, when they organize a firing squad, form a circle. It would seem that the humanists, when they meet, if they meet, also form a circle, but with everyone facing outward.
I have been asked these questions many times: “Why do we need a humanist organization?”, and “What can you do for me that I don’t already have or that I can’t get elsewhere?”
Well, organized religion promises salvation. Of course, religions have to spend most of their energies toward proving that there is a need for salvation. It almost seems incidental that they work on what happens after salvation. To a humanist, there is no need for salvation and that is the end of it. So there can be no promise of salvation, any variety of which would be helpful, but humanists can’t promise anyway.
So what can this chapter do? In the mission statement, in item 3, we state that our goal is to provide an association “where all can have a sense of belonging to a larger community and find friendships and support.” There are few other places in this country where there is such a contrast between fundamentalist religion and humanism that here in Utah. Humanism is clearly the enemy here. This chapter of the AHA wants to do something about that. It is lonely out there; why not get together once a month?
Item 4 of the Mission Statement states, “It is our intention to spread the knowledge of humanism throughout the State of Utah,” and yes, that does have an evangelistic flavor. Why not? Can anyone deny that there is a need for more humanism out there?
The last item states that “We will educate and inform our membership about the philosophy of humanism, social issues of current interest and the activities of the chapter.” This is the most visible part of what we do.
Since all humanists are self-converted, is it assumed that everyone is completely knowledgeable about humanism? I certainly am not. Ed Wilson, one of the founders of the national humanism movement and the guiding light of this chapter, is the only one I know who is completely knowledgeable, and that only because he is now 94 and has been at it since he was young. I don’t mean to insult anyone, but I think that there are a lot of “half-baked” humanists out there who would benefit, enjoy and learn from some more knowledge of humanism.
This chapter wants to help you. It will be difficult to do this, but I am going to begin. Whether or not we will succeed is uncertain, but for some reason or another, I am going to give it a shot!
A Prescription For The Future
Or, Are We Always Going to be the Way We Are?
I might be the only one to ask that question, and considering my role in the Chapter, I am probably the only one to answer it. It is a question I have had in my mind during the past year and especially at the recent Portland conference.
Of the possible directions there are two extremes and a range in between. The first extreme is to be iconoclastic and do battle with Traditional Established Religion (TER) and their symbols and practices. Personally, I reject that approach, I don’t recommend that we be the skunk at the family picnic. It is my belief, based on my own experience, that thinking, reasonable people (the possible humanists) do not maintain their membership and activity in TERs to satisfy their intellect. They go to the TERs because the experience satisfies social, emotional, spiritual and family needs.
Another approach is that presented by Dr. Don Page in his editorial, the lecture of Professor Appleby, Fred Edwords at the conference and Anne Zielstra’s conclusion who all say that if humanism is to have a future, it must do what TERs do, but do it more effectively and in the humanist manner.
In the April issue of the Utah Humanist, I published the program of the Humanist Community of San Jose (HCSJ). In that program, Art Jackson set forth nine characteristics of the “Model” humanist group. Briefly, these are: (1) have a vision to be a institution with a message (have an attitude?), (2) recognize the need to build a community where searchers for truth can come, (3) have a building to meet in and leadership to carry out policies and goals, (4) programming should be broad enough to appeal to every kind of humanist, (5) have festivals, its ceremonies, etc., as part of the activities of the group, (6) hold weekly meetings on Sunday mornings to bring everyone together with programs to appeal to the whole family, (7) recognize every member of society as a potential organization or a church which holds all people together, and (9) be open to the idea of humanist spiritually and mysticism.
Before I go any further with this, I want to consider the beginnings of the Humanist movement. Briefly, it grew from the desire of Unitarian ministers in the western U.S. to preach a secular doctrine, and to “establish its right of a naturalistic humanist to fill the pulpit,” as opposed to the eastern part of the church which was theist oriented. Ed Wilson, one of those Unitarian ministers, was part of this movement, and has written its history published in the Humanist 50th Anniversary issue of Jan/Feb, 1991. In talking to him recently, I asked him about the beginnings of the American Humanist Association and what it was meant to be and do. He stated that it was to be a “channel for expression,” which meant a journal which would write about Humanism in such terms that the “ordinary intelligent layman would understand, versus the academic approach.” Ed and the others of the group wanted to “draw a ring around liberal, humanistic thinkers and scholars in the academic world,” such as John Dewey, E.A. Burtt, and John Herman Randall Jr., and “establish communication and cooperation.” The publication in the New Humanist Journal in 1933 of the Humanist Manifesto was an example of that effort.
An organization was needed to support the journal and members “were important for influence and income.” The chapter movement began in the late “40’s primarily as “cottage meetings” to extend that support of the journal. In some places, the chapters became a support group for the members themselves and for the most part were independent entities, changing the emphasis. The Unitarian church, in the meantime, was becoming increasingly agnostic, and depending on local leadership, supported and cooperated with local Humanist chapters. From then to now, there have been changes in the emphasis of the journal and the formation of many new chapters.
After the Portland conference, I pessimistically concluded that the American Humanist Association after 50 years now has a static membership of only under 10,000, with 76 or so chapters which act like separate little fiefdoms engaging principally in iconoclastic with some notable exceptions like the Humanist Community of San Jose, which is going along its merry independent way. And the AHA magazine–in the year I’ve been a member, has added nothing to my idea-system. However, there is presently the promise of change!
What is happening, then, with the HCSJ group is a change away from what has been done toward building what they call a “humanist community.” The record of their efforts indicates that it is successful. From my reading of its journal and newsletters, it is doing what religions do: it gives the answers to the existential questions of “Who am I?” and “What is the purpose of life?” and promises salvation, not in the religious sense, but as they state. I will write a life story that makes my interval a story of high purpose and significant meaning–a movement of grace, tolerance, exuberance, joy.” (Humanist Community Programs and Ideas, May 1992).
In Utah especially, we live in a culture with a traditional established religion which answers in a particularly effective manner the existential questions with a promise of salvation. Those questions are a part of the teaching curriculum and the problems of salvation are emphasized constantly.
The question then presents itself, can a humanist movement succeed here unless it addresses those same existential questions and a promise of a humanist kind of salvation? Can it in fact succeed anywhere? The next question: Does Humanism have the answers to the existential questions? It there a humanist kind of salvation? The people out in San Jose think so.
One more point: Why did I discover that I was a humanist a year ago? Because the first thesis of that first Humanist Manifesto said: “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.” Finally, a life idea-system that included evolution! And it went on from there to continue to answer those existential questions that as a Mormon I had been trained to ask and consider very important.
Shortly after that, I asked the question: Why did it take so long for me to discover Humanism? It was in the fall of 1953 that I formulated my humanist idea-system. I consider myself a well-educated and well-read person, and although I knew about Humanism, I had never met a humanist or heard of the AHA (that I remember). I now know the answer: it isn’t structured so that it could reach someone like me and it wasn’t intended to. Is it going to stay that way? I hope not.
Coming back to the original question, what kind of program should the Humanists of Utah have? I recommend we follow the HCSJ model with an important difference. We should recognize that we don’t need to build a Humanist community, we need to recognize that we already have one. What is a Humanist community? It depends on the definition of both terms in this context. Define humanism as an idea-system that asserts the dignity and worth of humankind and its capacity for self realization through reason and science, and a community as a group of larger society. This is the humanist community in which the Humanists of Utah will find its role. And there are many kinds of humanists here: secular, religious, rational, ethical, atheist, and even LDS humanists.
Considering the HCSJ nine characteristics one by one, what do we have? (1) Yes, we do have a vision of who we are and that we have a message and I daresay there are those of us with an attitude. (2) and (3) We do have a community and a place and the leadership in both the chapter meetings and in the Unitarian church where we meet. (see Tom Goldsmith’s letter, following.) (4)The programs which take place in the Unitarian church, of which ours is only a part could appeal to every kind of humanist, (5) Yes, festivals and ceremonies are present (but we could do more), (6) There are meetings every Sunday morning in the Unitarian church and a religious education program for children, (7) I’d like to think that every member of society in Utah is a potential member but that’s too difficult (if that is limited to only the thinking, rational people, okay). (8) We have been saying all along that a religious (generic) organization is necessary, and (9) We are open to the idea of spirituality and mysticism, in a humanist frame.
In this humanist community the Humanists of Utah have a place. That place is essentially the same role that the founders of the American Humanist movement set for themselves when they began. We will publish a journal that will write about the Humanist idea-system in terms that the “ordinary intelligent layman can understand.” We have members who are good writers and we will find more. There is a distinguished group of humanist scholars in Utah and they will be encouraged to participate. The journal needs important improvements in its presentation and editing, and we are working on that.
There is also a great deal to do yet in preparing informational materials to explain humanism to those who request information. (That is a summer project of mine.) Generic Humanism (if you will) has always been difficult to define and explain. The idea-system of humanism needn’t be because there are specific ideas that explain the existential questions and have a great deal to say about “salvation” in the here and now.
The lecture/discussion series will of course be continued. I have enough suggestions for speakers that I could hold two meetings a month for the next year. The emphasis will continue to be on the idea-system of humanism.
Last week I wrote a letter for the Grassroots News of the AHA chapter assembly at the editor’s request to explain why we were chosen as the Chapter of the Year. Many of the ideas I wrote for the News are included in this article, and this is pertinent here: “…we decided that our mission was to help humanists be humanists, find new humanists, and provide an association where all could find a sense of belonging to a larger community.”
In summary, we will continue to do what we have been doing. However, the difference now is that we will have a clearer vision of why we are doing it, and improve on it.
Freedom of Religion
Today in America, freedom of religion is slipping away from us. We are losing it because we have not taken care to preserve it. We are losing it because too many Americans do not understand what freedom itself means and how it works. Freedom is a loaded word, a symbol like the American flag. We know it is good and that we should defend it, but how can we be sure we are really defending it if we don’t know what it is where it comes from?
Democracy and Freedom
Is it democracy that makes us free? Democracy is an essential feature of the American form of government. Instead of a king making law by edict, we vote on how we are governed, and the will of the majority prevails. It is called majority rule, and is widely felt to be the strength of democracy as a form of government. It was the main idea presented in the American Declaration of Independence. “We, the people…” forms the government, and its ultimate authority is derived “…from the consent of the governed.”
Today democracy and majority rule are commonly invoked to justify the mingling of religion with government. The assertion is that if the majority want to mix state and church then that is how it should be. That is “the American way.” If the majority of Americans want prayer in the public schools then we should have it. That is majority rule. It does follow from the simple definition of democracy, but American democracy is not that simple.
Democracy alone is not enough. It lacks an essential element, an element that makes this country a free country, an element that is lacking in other democracies of the world. There is a difference, but what is it?
The answer again is the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident …” it states, that all Americans must have “inalienable rights,” such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” History shows that Americans refused to adopt the Constitution of United States until it contained a “Bill of Rights.” That Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution as the first ten amendments.
The Bill of Rights defines the official civil rights of every individual American. This is where the U.S. Constitution provides us with the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence. But just what does “inalienable” mean here?
For the answer to that question, we refer to the U.S. Supreme Court whose function is to interpret the Constitution. In the 1943 case of West Virginia State Board of Education versus Barnette (319 U.S. 624) the Supreme Court ruling contained the following explanation: “The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials, and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”
There you have it. Civil rights take precedence over majority rule. That is what an inalienable right means and it is a fundamental principle of American government. In the American brand of democracy the American government guarantees and protects the civil rights of the minorities as defined by the Bill of Rights, even if a majority are not willing to do so. That is what makes America a free country, and distinguishes it from other simple democracies. This is what we must understand about freedom in order to preserve it. A lynch mob is majority rule. Majority rule is not “the American way” when civil rights are at stake.
Freedom of Religion
Our first right guaranteed in the first line of the first article of the Bill of Rights, is the right to freedom of religion. Again, if we as a people do not understand what freedom of religion means, and where it comes from, it can be taken away from us by our own government, and we won’t even know it. There are crucial principles to be understood:
- Freedom of Conscience
- Governmental Neutrality
- Separation of State and Church
- Freedom From Religion
The basic idea of freedom of religion is that no one, especially the government, is allowed to force religion on anyone else or prohibit anyone from practicing a religion. To force others to support a church or profess belief in a church’s tenets is as much a violation of their civil rights as is preventing them from practicing their religion.
One component of freedom of religion is freedom of conscience. This is the freedom to hold and express our ideas sincerely. It s our civil right to accept or reject any religion or religious idea, and to do so openly and honestly without fear or coercion.
Americans used to be proud of that. The unity we felt as a nation, in spite of our plurality of religious ideas, found expression in our original national motto. E Pluribus Unum, Latin for “One Out of Many”. We called it Pluralism and valued it as a strength derived out of our freedom; from the historic divisiveness of religion. Pluralism is the willingness to put aside religious differences and work together for mutual prosperity. It is what the words “one nation, indivisible” in the original version of our Pledge of Allegiance referred to, before the divisive words “under God” were inserted.
Pluralism depends on social tolerance of a variety of opinions about religion. The pre-Revolutionary American colonies had been intolerant. Each colony had its own official church supported by tax money. Failure to attend was against the law and other churches were outlawed. Tolerance is the elimination of all such discrimination by government.
To guarantee freedom of religion, the First Amendment specifies two restrictions on government must not promote the establishment of religion or prohibit its free exercise. These two restrictions often tend to oppose each other, so the key to freedom of religion is striking a neutral to religious ideas and institutions, granting them no special privileges or exemptions. This is what is meant by separation of state and church.
In the majority opinion of Wallace versus Jaffree (83-812, 1985), Supreme Court Justice John P. Stevens wrote, “The individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all.” Freedom of conscience thus guarantees that the right to freedom of religion includes the right to freedom from religion.
A civil right to freedom from religion is also supported by the establishment clause. It states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” If the purpose was simply to proscribe favoring one religion over another, as some religionists maintain, it should read “..respecting the establishment of areligion.” If it said “a,” the assertion would be that government is forbidden from favoring Islam, say, over Pentecostalism. The lack of the indefinite article “a,” however, makes it clear that it is religion in general, as opposed to non-religion which may not be established.
Ironically, it is the very religious that are leading the campaign to deprive us of freedom of religion. Every time they get the government to support and promote their churches and doctrines our freedom of religion is reduced. With tax-exempt funding they lobby the government, claiming the right to do so under the Free-speech and Free-exercise Clauses of the First Amendment. Powerful and ambitious, they have been increasingly successful at persuading government to impose religion and religious ideas on us.
To accomplish this they have to twist the meaning of freedom of religion in the minds of the public officials and the public at large. Government cannot promote the tenets of specific religions such as prayer and “God”, without violating the American values of freedom of conscience and pluralism. On the other hand, the ultra-religious cannot overtly challenge these values without drawing attention to their subversion of civil rights.
Instead they pay lip service to the words “freedom of conscience” and “pluralism” and then ignore their meanings and applications. The faithful in and out of the government are easily deceived by this. They readily accept this approach at face value and fail to notice the inherent contradiction.
Another tactic is distortion. They have perverted the meaning of tolerance to their advantage. They have managed to convince most of the American public that criticism of churches and religious ideas is persecution.
As a result, anyone who publicly criticizes a church or a religious idea is characterized as intolerant, discriminatory, rude, and therefore a bigot. The nation’s media cater to this distortion and are quick to sensor statements directly critical of church leaders or the ideas they promote. It is as if churches have a First Amendment right to freedom from criticism.
This is turning the First Amendment on its head. Tolerance is the elimination of real acts of persecution by government. In every other area of endeavor, criticism is properly considered a valuable tool for filtering the nonsense out of flawed ideas. The editorial pages of our newspapers are filled with criticism and even ridicule. Both freedom of expression and freedom of conscience protect the right of individuals to criticize religious ideas. Criticism is not persecution.
Another distortion, one that has recently appeared in Utah newspapers, is that tolerance means that people should tolerate the use of religion by government. This is also backwards. It is the government that is constrained to be tolerant of the people’s freedom of religion. That means neutrality. That means staying out of religion altogether.
Religious extremists have also been successful in distorting what separation of state and church means. They do it by undermining the idea of neutrality, injecting a bias in favor of religion.
They tip the balance in favor of the Free-exercise and Free-speech Clauses at the expense of the Establishment Clause. This movement of distortion has come to be known as government accommodation of religion.
Accommodationists attach a qualifier to the word “neutral.” They refer to a “benevolent neutrality” or a “respectful neutrality” of government towards religion, and claim that to be the true meaning of separation of state and church.
Of course, if government is any more respectful or benevolent towards religion than non-religion, it is not being neutral. Any special privileges or exemptions for churches or religious ideas are incompatible with the requirement for neutrality. The terms “benevolent neutrality” and “respectful neutrality” are simply oxymorons.
The Supreme Court ruled on this issue on June 5, 1985, when it rejected Alabama’s moment of silence for voluntary prayer in the public schools (Wallace versus Jaffree, 83-812, 1985). The court concluded that Alabama’s purpose was to “convey a message” that the state was endorsing prayer as a “favored practice.” “Such an endorsement is not consistent with the established principle that the government must pursue a course of complete neutrality toward religion.” The word neutrality is clear enough, but in view of the trend toward distortion of the word, Justice Stevens found it necessary to add the word “complete.”
Theism vs. Freedom
The most sinister distortions originated in the early 1950’s as a part of the McCarthy Era paranoia. In that climate of fear, religionists seized the opportunity to subvert the position of freedom as the central, essential value of American government, and to substitute theism in its place. Belief in “God” was advanced as the litmus test to distinguish true Americans from “godless communists.” Red baiters across the nation associated patriotism more with theism than with freedom.
The claim itself is entirely specious. Socialists and communists distrusted both religion and government. They rejected religion because they did not want it to be used as a tool of government. The United States instituted separation of state and church for the same reason.
Separation of state and church and the secularization of government are characteristics that the United States and Soviet Union have in common. Both nations were established in rebellion against theocratic states. Other countries, like England, Ireland, and Iran, have officially established state religions. In those countries, churches control the enactment of laws, and the governments officially claim to derive authority from the gods of their established churches.
The authority of the U.S. government is derived from “We the people…” The U.S. Constitution is completely secular and devoid of any reference to a god. Given that the Greek roots of the word atheist mean “without” (a) “god” (theos), the U.S. Constitution is literally an atheistic document.
While religion is indeed an effective tool for controlling people it ought to be apparent by now that its use by government presents a real threat to individual freedom. The threat presented by the Moslem fanatics in Iran is readily apparent, but Americans conveniently forget that we fought two World Wars against Christian troops from Germany. The words Gott mit uns (God [is] with us) adorned the belt buckles of both the Kaiser’s troops and Hitler’s storm troopers.
Nonetheless the campaign to establish “God” belief as the paramount American value and to associate patriotism with theism was largely successful. The subversion of freedom to a secondary position has been accomplished in many people’s minds.
Distorting the meaning of freedom of religion was the first tactic, ignoring its supporting principles was the second, and usurping the place of freedom with theism was the third. The fourth tactic was to get laws enacted based on those distorted precepts. By serving as legal precedents those laws effectively legitimized the distortions.
A series of such laws were passed in the early 1950’s (the McCarthy Era). For example, on June 14, 1954, the words “under God” were added to the pledge of allegiance to make it read “one nation under God.” America is supposed to be one nation under a constitution, but this law now instructs everyone that our Constitution is officially secondary to the word of “God.”
Public Law 140, signed by President Eisenhower on July 11, 1955, was another one (31 U.S.C. 324a). It required that all coins and currency bear the motto “In God We Trust.” Originally, all American money was secular. It wasn’t until 1864 that “In God We Trust” first appeared on an American coin at the instigation of a Baptist minister. Theodore Roosevelt discontinued the practice, but it was subsequently reestablished for certain coins. American paper money had remained completely secular up to 1955.
This was followed by Public Law 851 signed by President Eisenhower on July 30, 1956, which replaced our traditional national motto E Pluribus Unum with “In God We Trust” (36 U.S.C. 186). In making belief in a generic god a precondition for patriotism, the American tradition of pluralism was effectively declared null and void. The First Amendment has not been repealed, but this new legal precedent had the same effect as far as freedom of religion was concerned.
Mr. Allen then talked about the history of the prayer cases in Utah, much of which has been in the news, and space doesn’t permit printing that part of his presentation. He did state that it is very possible that the forces for the amendment permitting public prayer are strong enough to change the law. He stressed that it is very important for everyone to do everything possible, to oppose this by writing to legislators, newspapers, and circulating petitions to send to your legislator. To help this, petitions have been sent to Chapter members.
January 2, 1920 – April 6, 1992
Isaac Asimov, president of the American Humanist Association, died April 6, 1992. A short memorial service was dedicated to him at the April 9th meeting of the Humanists of Utah. Flo Wineriter, Ed Wilson, Martha Stewart, and Lorille Miller participated in the service. President Wineriter read the following statement:
The Humanists of Utah are saddened with the death of Isaac Asimov, president of the American Humanist Association since 1985. He has served for many years on the board of directors of AHA,. making millions of people aware of the humanistic philosophy of concern for the world, compassion for people, and dedication to liberty, justice and reason. During his seven years of leadership, the American Humanist Association and the Humanists of Utah have taken an uncompromising stand in support of women’s rights, maintaining the wall of separation between church and state, and stood firm against the spread of violence in our society. We will miss his dynamic leadership but will continue to build a strong humanist structure on the solid foundation he established.
Edwin H. Wilson, one of the incorporators of the American Humanist Association and current board member of the Humanists of Utah, spoke of his meetings with Asimov and read quotes from the Bill Moyers historian. Lorille Miller presented a beautiful scrolled tribute to Asimov prepared by Humanists of Utah board member Martha Steward and invited the more than 50 people present to sign the scroll. It was later mailed to AHA headquarters to be forwarded to the Asimov family
Gary Wills, writing in Under God, makes some surprising conclusions following 380 pages of fascinating anecdotes about the competition between politics and religion for leadership, and power in the United States. He builds a strong case for complete separation of church and state on the basis that such a separation makes both institutions stronger. He says one of the American paradoxes of which we can be most proud is the increased influence of religion because churches are independent of government. That, more than anything else, made the United States a new thing on earth … disestablishment, the complete separation of church and state was and is a unique U.S. creation, according to Willis. He cites examples of diminished religious influence in nations where the ties of church and state are strongest.
Another conclusion I found interesting is his though that the several incidences of anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism in U.S. history indicates that we do not have a “Judeo Christian Heritage,” but rather a “Protestant” heritage.
The author attributes a “representation of stability” as the appeal of Ronald Reagan, his “clinging uncritically to notions that reassured people, despite their lack of practical impact.” He says, “Reagan made it possible to live with change while not accepting it.” Willis explains Reagan’s religion without denomination as a vital part of his mass public appeal. “President Reagan was constantly praised as ‘a great communicator’ without giving enough emphasis to what he was communicating. He communicated religious attitudes (despite his absences from church on Sunday); he communicated appreciation of the conventional family (despite his own family’s messy interrelationships.”
On the subjects of pornography, abortion and censorship Wills cites a variety of religious attitudes and supports persuasion rather than coercion. “We should have some freedom to do so.”
If you need a mental jolt on how far we humanists are from the mainstream of religious Protestantism I suggest you read “Under God,” and encounter the subjects of creationism, evangelism, fundamentalism, millennialism, and rapturism.
What is Humanism?
This Journal has printed a number of definitions of humanism, mostly from other chapters. The AHA prints a card which can be handed out to interested people with its own definition. I include it here because it seems to me to be as good as any I have seen:
Humanism affirms the inherent dignity and worth of every human being and asserts that individuals are responsible for the realization of their aspirations and that they have within themselves the power of achieving them.
Humanism is free from any belief in the supernatural and is dedicated to the search for meaning and values for individuals on Earth through reliance upon intelligence and the scientific method, democracy and social empathy.
Humanism contends that humans have emerged as a result of continuous evolutionary process, and that all their values–religious, ethical, political and social–have their source in human experience and are the product of their culture.
To summarize, humanists believe in (1) the ideal of the perfectibility of humankind, (2) the scientific method of obtaining knowledge, (3) in the evolutionary process, and (4) in human experience as the source of values and ethics. Everything else follows from these four main points.
In this issue of the Journal, I will discuss briefly the Scientific Method. In subsequent issues, I hope to follow with other three. (Better still, perhaps I can find someone else to do it who is more qualified.)
I had some difficulty finding information about the scientific method. Many books write about it, none seemed to give an explanation of what it actually was, so I went back to original sources. This explanation of the scientific method is from the book Right Thinking – A study of its principles and methods, by E.A. Burtt (1928, 1931, 1946), whose analysis is derived from John Dewey’s How We Think (1910). Both are signers of A Humanist Manifesto. I also took some information from Webster’s dictionary.
There are a total of six steps:
Step One: Occurence of a Perplexity
To perplex is to be unable to grasp something clearly or to think logically and decisively about something.
Step Two: Clarification of the Perplexity
To clarify is to be free of confusion and to make understandable.
Step Three: The Appearance of Different Solutions
Or working hypotheses of the perplexity. To hypothesize is to form a tentative assumption made in order to draw out and test its logical or empirical consequences.
Step Four: Deducing Implications of the Suggested Hypothesis
A deduction is the deriving of a conclusion by reasoning, specifically of an inference in which the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises.
Step Five: Verification of the Chosen Solution
By some action or observation, engaged in the purpose of determining which, if any, of the suggestions as developed, offers an adequate solution of the perplexity.
Step Six: A Reiteration of the Preceding Thinking
To uncover any inadequacies that might be corrected.
Not long ago I told an old friend, an active LDS, that I had become a humanist. His reply was, “Well, it depends on who you believe has the authority,” which is the kind of answer I would expect if he was comparing one religion to another, and I wasn’t sure that he understood me.
Perhaps he didn’t, but maybe he did, because authority is a central question. To the LDS, authority is the Priesthood and the source is God. To the humanist, authority is the scientific method and the source of nature.
These two means of acquiring knowledge have been at war with each other probably from the very first time someone asserted that they spoke for some supernatural being, and someone else discovered from the observation of nature that something to the contrary was the truth.
Corliss Lamont, in his book The Philosophy of Humanism, which is given to all new members who join the AHA, writes:
An objective study of science shows that all knowledge, even the simplest mathematical proposition, springs originally from human experience within this natural world. Scientific method operates without any dependence on or need for supernatural mental faculty in man that gets in touch with a supernatural truth-giving Being or that draws ideas out of some mysterious realm beyond Nature. There is no ground, either, for alleging that “scientific” truth originates in the this-earthly experience of man, but that “spiritual” or “ethical” truth comes from on high in an altogether different way. It is the Humanist contention that all truth or knowledge has the same natural status and origin.
Lamont also states:
Humanism believes that the greatest need of our age is the application, insofar as it is possible, of the method and spirit of science to all human problems and that the acquisition of this method and spirit constitutes a training of the mind far more important than the assimilation of any number of individual facts.
Man For Himself
In this timeless book, Eric Fromm takes a positive view of Mankind’s ability to govern oneself through understanding the dynamics of both authoritarian ethics and humanist ethics. Following are some of the highlights of his book.
In the authoritarian system of ethics, an authority states what is good for humankind as lays down the laws and norms of conduct. It denies a person’s capability to know what is good or bad because the norm-giver is always an authority transcending and exploiting the individual. It ordains obedience to be the main virtueand disobedience the main sin.
In contrast, the humanistic system of ethics is based on using our innate and acquired ability to reason, our own power to love, and on our ability to live productively. Fromm considers productiveness an intrinsic human faculty which can give meaning to our life.
To love one’s neighbor is not a phenomenon transcending mankind. It is something inherent in and radiating from all of us. Love is not a higher power which descends upon us, nor a duty which is imposed upon us. It is our own power by which we relate to the world anb make it truly ours.
The nature of all life is to preserve and affirm its own existence. The first duty of an organism is “to be alive” and is the same as the duty “to be oneself.” This is a dynamic concept. human strivings are what distinguish us from other animals. We strive for the experience of harmony and unity to make productive use of our own powers by removing obstacles in ourselves and our environment. There is a human need for devotion. Man cannot live without faith. The question is whether this faith will be an irrational faith in leaders, machines, and success. Or the rational faith in mankind based on the experience of our own productive observing, thinking, and experiencing to free ourselves to BE ourselves and for ourselves.
We have to be hopeful regarding the future of mankind. However, there is one qualification for success–that we realize the decision rests with us. It rests upon our ability to take ourselves, our life, and happiness seriously; and on our willingness to face our own and society’s moral problems. The future rests upon mankind’s courage to be himself and for himself.
A Rational Approach to Sobriety
“Rational Recovery – The Powerful Alternative” was the title of a talk given by Nile B. Ward, a Counselor of the FIRST STEP HOUSE at the June 14th meeting of Humanists of Utah. The following highlights were prepared by Nancy Moore.
About five years ago, when Nile was a senior majoring in social work at Westminster College, he and his wife found themselves in a situation when they discovered their 16 year old daughter was addicted to cocaine and other drugs. They were concerned that she was going to die, so they placed her in a program called Day Spring which uses the 12 Step Program originated in Alcoholics Anonymous. Their daughter progressed very well in Day Spring, has recovered, and is living a productive and happy life.
Nile has worked in various social agencies, including Alcoholics Anonymous, but always felt there was a problem with the spiritual and religious commitment part of the 12 Step Program. Nile saw that therapy ended up much like a cheerleading group in high school, with little of the solutions of remaining sober being based on rational thinking and the real world.
Last year, Nile went to work for First Step House in Salt Lake City where he found that the therapy was based on a cognitive model. Clients were required to look at the basic assumptions they formulate their life around, and ask themselves if those premises are based on rational and realistic thinking. Nile liked this approach of helping people because it made a lot of sense.
JACK TRIMPEY AND RATIONAL EMOTIVE THERAPY
A few years ago, Nile met Jack Trimpey (MSW) a licensed social worker and recovered alcoholic. Jack had discovered that some of his clients resented having their treatment based on reliance upon a supernatual power, and having to submit themselves to feelings of powerlessness. He felt there had to be another way, so Jack initialized psychotherapist Dr. Albert Ellis’ Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) into his program. RET is based upon the simple idea of “Give up irrational thinking, and begin basing your life on rational thinking.” In this type of therapy, people must be willing to look at rational ways of thinking and when they do, then recovery from alcohol or drug abuse will naturally follow. Rational Emotive Therapy believes our thoughts control how we feel, and our feelings influence how we behave, therefore therapy begins in correcting our irrational thoughts. “Thinking is the problem, not the drinking” is a familiar adage in Rational Recovery (RR).
RATIONAL RECOVERY SYSTEMS
The term “Rational Recovery Systems” (RRS) was created and the definition is as follows: RRS is a nonspiritual, nonreligious, nonprofit, self-help addiction-care group. Rational Recoverists use the word RECOVERY because they feel if a person has had a long, sustained period of sobriety, and has changed to a happy and productive lifestyle, then shy not consider themselves recovered? Because rational recovered alcoholics have taken ownership of their won problems, they do not think of themselves as victims, not do they consider alcoholism a disease.
Nile listed some Dubious Assumptions from contemporary alcohol treatment centers, which Rational Recovery Systems challenge because they are irrational, and do not lend themselves to responsible recovery. They are as follows:
DUBIOUS ASSUMPTION #1: A person must have a history of addiction or alcoholism in order to be effective in helping an addict or alcoholic.
RATIONAL RECOVERY SAYS: Alcoholics and other addicts are not so different from anyone else that they can;t be helped by a non-addicted person. Inbreeding is not necessary.
DUBIOUS ASSUMPTION #2: Supernatrual aid is required to recover from alcoholism.
RATIONAL RECOVERY SAYS: Spiritual healing is for spiritually inclined people, and it’s not for everyone. To convince people that only a higher power can restore them to sanity undermines the sense of personal competence that for many is central to recovery.
DUBIOUS ASSUMPTION #3: Only Alcoholics Anonymous works.
RATIONAL RECOVERY SAYS: Alcoholics can learn to abstain through many means, the chief of which is adherence to rational thought.
DYNAMICS AND STRUCTURE OF RATIONAL RECOVERY
Rational Recovery, with its emphasis on Rational Emotive Therapy teaches people how to take personal responsibility for what is taken into their body, and how to avoid relapses year after year. This can be accomplished without supernatural aid, daily ritual, or prayer. Sobriety is a matter of self-interest, and the locus of control is found within.
The structure of the RR meetings at First Step House was touched upon. Because First Step House is not a medical facility, its clients have already detoxified before they come into the program, so at least their minds are functioning as they begin therapy.
The program is client-centered. However, a counselor helps keep people focused and thinking in the present. Swelling in the past prevents people from dealing with their present irrational thinking. People sit in a circle and they process information from each other. Patterns are observed, and suggestions are made. Meetings are held once a week and last about an hour. There is no fee, however, donations are accepted. The main concern of RR is to help people stay sober. The goal is to help people become self-sufficient, and to realize that becoming a rational thinker is a life-long process.
Sometimes it a RR group, unresolved or deep-seated problems emerge, such as past physical or sexual abuse. Rational Recovery’s advise to these clients is also to get competent, professional help outside of the group, because solving these types of problems is not the focus of RR.
Nile sees a couple of shortcomings in RR. First, the focus of the program is mainly on the average person, and talk about varied lifestyles is not common. Second, RR doesn’t deal with substantial substance abusers. As the program grows however, these shortcomings will be addressed.
AHA SPONSORSHIP OF RATIONAL RECOVERY SYSTEMS
The American Humanist Association officially sponsors Rational Recovery, and the program is the offspring of the Humanist Movement. Presently, Humanists in Massachusetts are using RR in prison. And in Sacramento, California, the RR treatment program has only a 30% recidivism rate during an 18 month time period. The results of a New York University study on RR participants is almost ready for publication.
Readings required for Rational Recovery clients are The Small Book, by Jack Trimpey, Delacorte Press, and A Guide To Rational Living by Albert Ellis, Ph.D. and Robert A. Harper, Ph.D., Wilshire Book Company. Both are available at most book stores
A Liberal Decalogue
- Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
- Do not think it worth-while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
- Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.
- When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your spouse or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
- Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
- Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
- Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric
- Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than be latter.
- Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
- Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness
The life of the humanist is not devoid, because of his naturalistic philosophy, of moral and spiritual value. Like those who believe in God, he loves his wife and cherishes the fondest hopes for his children; he is concerned for the well being of his fellow men; like them, in his heroic moment he will give his life for another, he gazes upon the same art as they, communes with the same nature, his spirit uplifted by the same music, his will steeled by the same high resolve, his life shattered by the same tragedies. Atheism does not make the humanist morally bad; it cultivates in him the cosmic loneliness of those who believe that their only companions in life and death are their fellow man and the mute world that has unknowingly cast them up, and will unknowingly reclaim them.
The strength of the humanistic religion is its supreme commitment to reason, its faith in man’s creative intelligence, faith that he has the power to discern, articulate, and solve his problems. The humanist is confident that under the guidance of good will the patient process of scientific thought may eventually win through for the amelioration of society and the achievement of human happiness. Nowhere is there greater confidence in education, in man’s power to affect his won character or to determine the course of history. Humanism denies that there are uniquely religious experiences and refuses to distinguish between the sacred and the secular. It declares instead that religion embraces every worth-while human attitude and activity, and it grounds its moral ideals in the living experience in the individual and society. Man is the primary object of its interest and devotion. Its instruments are science and democracy, and its goal is the good life.
–Sterling M. McMurrin, PhD
The Flight Of The Wild Gander
“..it is simply an incontrovertible fact that, with the rise of modern science, the entire cosmological structure of the Bible and the Church has been destroyed and not the cosmological only but the historical as well.” This quotation will probably not cause any of the readers of this review to run out and get a copy of The Flight Of The Wild Gander by Joseph Campbell. In fact, I assume that most of you consider this statement to be virtually an a priori statement. However, I do believe that many will find the works of Joseph Campbell and this book in particular intellectually stimulating.
The premise of the book is that there are a limited number of Myths, metaphysical events or stories, which are inherently believed or known to be true by all of us. This is a human condition that is inherited just as surely as hair or eye color. These ideas and concepts arise from an inborn need to have “heroes” coupled with a desire and an inability to explain the unknown.
It is incredible to see how various cultures throughout history have always used the same symbols and ideas (Tree of Life, Serpent, Virgin Birth, etc,). To be sure various ethnic groups have used twists in the telling and interpreting of the tales, but basically it is the same story with the same players over and over again.
Dr. Campbell makes the very interesting point that a fundamental change took place 8,000-10,000 years ago when humans moved from the root gathering and primitive hunting groups into cities. This led to the high bronze and Iron Age civilizations. At that time deities were changed from female or hermaphroditic figures into males. This change is echoed in the Bible. The first story of creation describes how God made male and female in his own image, presumably as equals. This legend is then followed by the more recent rendition of God creating man who becomes lonely. Woman is then created from the rib of Adam and is therefore subservient to the will of the first created, dominant male.
I was very sorry to miss the discussion of the possibility of developing a religion of Humanism. It seems to me that any such organization must take Dr. Campbell’s ideas into account to be successful. He believes that development of a new religion is inevitable and indeed has already begun. He states that the first effort was perhaps Copericus’ De revolutionibus orium coelestium (1543) and then Darwin’s Origin of the Species in 1853.
Dr. Campbell writes:
“…not all, even today, are of that supine sort that must have their life values given them, cried at them from the pulpits and other mass media of the day. For there is, in fact, in quiet places, a great deal of deep spiritual quest and finding now in progress in this world, outside the sanctified social centers, beyond their purview and control: in small groups, here and there, and more often, more typically (as anyone who looks about may learn), by ones and twos, there entering the forest (the Waste Land condition of the Middle Ages troubadors) at those points which they themselves have chosen, where they see it to be most dark, and there is no beaten way or path.”
The discussion in the newsletter recognized the importance of celebrating life’s rites of passage and sign posts. The question is, it seams to me, would these ceremonies have a metaphysical flavor? From Dr. Campbell’s work there is ample empirical data to suggest that humans always have had and presumably always will need a common link with the Myths and Heroes of the past.
Setting the Record Straight
Recently, a letter appeared in the editorial section of both the Provo Daily Herald and the Deseret News. The letter claimed that “we are witnessing the greatest occult explosion of all time.” It then went on to lump secular humanism with “New Age” occultism:
The “New Age” occultism has influenced almost every aspect of our contemporary life, from self-help psychology and holistic medicine to politics and public education. (In broad definition, the New Age is a combination of mysticism, the occult, secular humanism, Eastern religions, Native American tribal religions, the ancient goddess religions and the goddess of Mother Earth cult.)
Adrienne “Tess” Morris, a member of the Humanists of Utah, who doesn’t mind being associated with unpopular causes, but does mind being linked with the supernatural, had the following response published in both newspapers:
Ms. Griffin’s recent letter about the “occult explosion” contained a startling error. In her “New Age occultisms (sic)” she lists mysticism and various religions, but also includes secular humanism.
Secular humanism is in no way a new-age occult or a cult. “Secular” means not religious, and humanism has a skeptical legacy as old as the classical Greeks. Secular humanists deplore any explanations of the world in supernatural terms. In other words, we are the opposites of mystics and cultists; as independent free-thinkers, we believe neither gods nor devils, heaven nor hell, magic nor faith, miracles nor dogma.
On the contrary, humanists are committed to reason and science for the understanding of the universe and the solving of human problems. We reject anything which denigrates human intelligence and looks outside nature and the real world for answers, help or “salvation.” As a matter of fact, humanists work for a happy, healthy humanity in the here an now, and are also concerned about new-age nonsense and “demonology.”
Unfortunately, any system of thought which attributes imaginary causes for real effects has the potential for great human harm. Such a belief as “Satan is real” may produce as many problems as if he were.
by Alan Coombs
Here I go
On my twenty-minute run/walk
Sustained exercise for the third time
In a week,
After taking my aspirin a day,
To be followed by
One or two glasses of red wine
In the evening.
Then I can gobble my oat-bran muffin
For lunch, prior to
Skinning the chicken
Or boiling the halibut
To go on my lettuce and cucumber
Salad (hold the mayo)
I’m going to live
The Future of Humanism: Building a Local Group
For many of you my talk will be a throw away, therefore I’d like everything out front at the beginning so you’ll know whether to listen carefully or catch up on your sleep. The things I am about to say may sound like heresy. You may want to reject my whole message because it seems to be in conflict with your current position and understanding. I can only hope that additional thought and experience will lead you to re-evaluate your position and change your mind.
Everything I will be saying is based on defining Humanism as a religion. If you are not able or willing to even consider doing that then I think we will all lose. If you are willing to suspend judgment until you’ve had an opportunity to carefully evaluate my presentation then I welcome your thoughtful consideration. I ask no one to take everything I say on faith. I encourage you to acknowledge every doubt and every question you have on this issue and move where your best thinking leads you.
Humanism is a Religion
I am totally convinced that it is essential that we recognize humanism as a religion. But of equal importance we must see that this is true not legally, but also semantically, psychologically, sociologically and anthropologically. If you have trouble with the foregoing I can understand. After I discarded Protestant Christianity as a youth, I became a militant atheist. I wanted to throw out all religion as well as God, Jesus, prayer and the Bible. It wasn’t until some 20 years ago, while attending a humanist program in the Los Angeles area, that one of your local humanists helped me to begin clarifying the issue. I can’t remember the person’s name, but I know he died several years ago.
He pointed out that the roots of the word religion are of ancient Greek origin, and do not relate to the supernatural, but rather to the binding into a community. So semantically humanism is a religion. This insight game me a tool to begin seeing humanism, society and religion in a new way. Over the past 20 years I have explored every element of the issues that have been raised about the relationship of humanism and religion. I now am totally convinced that humanists must return to our humanist roots of the 1920’s and 30’s when all those who helped to develop the concept and the organization saw humanism as a religion.
What is a religion?
As a result of the foregoing experiences, I began to realize that another aspect of religion is that it provides the glue that holds a culture together. It provides the symbols that its members use to define themselves, the universe and the rest of society in a unified way so they feel connected, not alienated. Ideally, it incorporates the wisdom of the past with the best knowledge and understanding of the present.
At this point I was starting to see the true role of religion in society and its deeper importance. I saw that psychologically a religion provides a feeling that life has meaning, and that humanism can do this. Humanism can help individuals to be fully integrated and healthy with a totally congruent world view. For me, the power and glory of humanism is that it not only has the ability to bind all the world’s societies together, it has the potential to integrate the emotional and intellectual sides of an individual. If any Humanist only functions as a talking head, it is not because they understand and have mastered humanism, rather just the opposite. The greatest weakness of the organized humanist movement today is that too many of its practitioners interpret emotion as bad. But this is wrong. Emotion is power. Emotion is the core of our humanity, at least when it is emotion joined to and congruent with intellect, knowledge and science. When the foregoing condition exists, then one has power that can overcome all barriers and sweep humanity toward a world of universal fellowship, joy and plenty. All situations that demean any human being can be tackled and overcome.
The Humanist Vision
For me Julian Huxley has best captured the humanist vision. He calls humanism the religion for the modern world and explains what this means in his books, “New Bottles for New Wine” and “The Humanist Frame.” He describes why humanism is a religion from a sociological standpoint. Sociologically as Huxley says, “Religion is the organ of humanity concerned with human destiny.”
When humanism is properly functioning, it is focused on this issue. Humanism recognizes that human beings are social animals, and that they must relate to other people. Humanism binds a person to all other people independent of nation, sex, cultural and religious backgrounds, or any other differences that exist between people. It is because of the universality that humanism is the religion for the modern world: the multicultural world, the world of science.
Anthropologically, religion is the institution that all cultures possess that provides social bonding. This institution ensures that each person is joined to all other persons in the tribe or group. It is only in modern society that we have lost this resource and Humanism has the capacity to reverse this situation.
Why Fight Traditional Religion?
But suppose you have not been swayed by my arguments. Suppose you maintain the position that calling humanism a religion would be confusing because most people think religion involves the supernatural. If this is your position, I would ask why the foregoing state exists? If you thought about it long enough you would respond, “Because our ministers and priests have told us so.” And I would ask, “Why are you willing to reject everything else your ministers and priests told you except that religion means God or the supernatural, or both?”
Rejecting the idea that humanism is a religion for this reason seems particularly unfortunate. Accepting the definition of priests and ministers on this point means fighting all the battles with handicaps too great to overcome. Therefore, your beliefs must probably lose while theirs will win because you have been willing to let your position be defined by them. If you believe that traditional religion has hurt you and hurts other people, then I would encourage you to recognize that the best revenge for being brainwashed as children is success, not individual acts of rebellion. Getting prayer out of the public schools, removing God from our currency, do not at this time qualify as success. People who work on such projects achieve just enough victories in the courts and elsewhere to keep them from realizing they are losing the war. Success is helping to provide an alternative to traditional religions that will help people find their way in a confusing, complex world where every action includes more ignorance than knowledge. Direct confrontation of tradition religion is counter-productive. To the degree that one succeeds they increase the likelihood of a bigger failure. The only possibility of success is to establish alternative organizations to provide the binding structures of society. Humanism has that potential. When Humanism replaces traditional religions as the primary glue that holds societies together this occurrence will be equivalent to the replacement of early Roman religion by Christianity. Humanists could very well benefit from in-depth study of this period to help clarify as well as possibly how such a thing occurs.
If anyone wants to understand what religion actually means they must understand that God, the Virgin Mary, worship of trees, and any other supernatural ideas are only specific symbols used by particular societies to explain and understand the universe in which they live. These symbols are the trappings of religion, not the essence of religion. Therefore, I would encourage you to recognize that religion has nothing to do with the supernatural. It is an essential tool of social organization.
The Need for Vision
So, moving right along. How can we build such organizations? I think we must begin with a vision. But why do I focus so much on vision? For me the issue is very clear. In order to develop a strong group, the group must start with a strong, clear vision. For humanists this is a severe problem. Our national organizations do not have a simple, positive goal. I once thought that the American Humanist Association had the best opportunity to arrive at such a clear goal. But past Board and membership actions leave me skeptical. It may be necessary to set up a whole new national organization made up of people who share a positive humanist vision. Currently, humanist organizations only spin their wheels as members line up on opposite sides of arguments and thereby ensure that no movement is possible.
If there were a national humanist group with a clear, positive message, it could be a magnet that would attract all kinds of local groups. Some of them would be current humanist chapters and similar kinds of groups. Others might be current UUA churches and fellowships that want to clarify their purpose and focus their energy in a dynamic direction. Others might be various church denominations that have grown beyond the dogma of their sect, and who want to align themselves with a deeper, and wider truth. Others would spring up spontaneously from wherever there are people of vision, and energy who want to use their lives in constructive, congruent ways.
The Need For Definition
But in spite of everything I’ve said so far, the reality is that the core ideas about humanity and society from a humanist perspective still are waiting to be clarified. All of the basic ideas that define a person, society and the meaning of life come out of our supernatural roots. Everything needs to be changed, or at least re-focused as we build a firm humanist foundation for society. For the last couple of years I have edited a quarterly humanist journal working to do this. It is currently called The Humanist Dialogue. This journal searches for the essential ideas necessary to provide the foundation for a good society made up of good people. A core assumption is that the empirical scientific processes are an essential part of this effort.
The Good Society and the Good Person
To me a good society is one that believes and implements the idea that human beings are the source of meaning and the individual person is the only worthy focus for ultimate concern. All of our science and all of our wisdom show us that human beings are the ultimate reference system (rather than “objective” reality) because we must always interpret the objective universe, and we always do it with limited knowledge and limited understanding.
A good person by my definition is a Person Who Has Achieved a Sustainable Feeling that their Life Has Meaning.(PWHASFLHM).
A sustainable feeling that one’s life has meaning requires that one be part of a good society. It is an open-ended position with science and wisdom behind it. It incorporates the best understanding available about human beings and their lifetime needs, and is able to change as knowledge and understanding increases.
The Need To Develop A Model Organization
But how can we get from where we are today to the grand and glorious places I have held up as the future? Organization is essential. But we do not currently have organizations such as I am discussing. Partially, this is true because we don’t have even clear models for the kind of organizations I am discussing. Julian Huxley’s vision is my vision. But though he acknowledges that organizational development is an essential element in actualizing his position, he admits that the task of laying out what this means exceeds his talents. Therefore, the task of developing a model for humanist organization remains to be accomplished. How can we develop organizations that are congruent with our philosophy? To me the foregoing is the greatest hurdle humanism faces in becoming the religion for the modern world.
This is a project I have worked on for over 20 years. I have laid out my best thinking on this issue in my book, The Humanist Chapter of The Future, and The Future of Humanism. This book got its start at the first Southern California regional Humanist conference held in San Diego when I was asked to talk about my vision for humanist chapters. Today I hold in my hand the latest edition which I produced partially to be able to have available to participants of this year’s HumCon conference.
So far I have been talking generally. Now I would like to mention the specifics of my answer to the question: What are the characteristics of a model humanist group?
The Characteristics of the Model Humanist Group
First and foremost, as indicated above, these groups must have a vision. They must see themselves as permanent institutions. They need to legally incorporate, and begin laying the groundwork to develop and maintain the resources they will need as they grow and expand. They must see themselves as custodians of positive virtues essential to the well being of the larger society. They must see themselves as having a message that will be ever perfected until it speaks to every human being.
Secondly, the group must recognize the need to build a community, a place where people feel connected with joyful bonding. This must be a place where the open-minded searcher will be helped to find their own way while drawing from the best thinking available. Here all must be helped to grow and develop their best talents, their core interests. Here individuals must be encouraged to become fully functioning, warm, loving, capable, open, nurturing, positive, creative, dynamic, congruent human beings.
Third, such a group must understand the importance of having their own building and a paid administrator. This paid administrator should be closer to a facilitator than a minister, priest or rabbi. They are the person with the time, energy and talents to ensure that the policies and goals of the organization get carried out in the best way possible. The group needs to establish a savings program and do whatever it takes to keep this account growing towards the day when the funds are adequate to hire an executive director who shares the chapter’s vision, and who has proven skills to build a group that will generate sufficient energy, and money to keep it growing and developing.
Fourth, their programming should be as broad as possible to appeal to every kind of humanist and every important need and concern. All who have interest must be encouraged to lead and coordinate those activities, or services they feel are important. The group must empower people, not disempower them.
Fifth, festivals, ceremonies, weddings, etc. must be a part of the organization. Ideally, they will be ones that will speak to the larger society, and can get them involved. This area is one of the most fertile in terms of the bonding function.
Sixth, and very important, the group must have a weekly meeting on Sunday morning to bring everyone together and provide the sharing and interacting necessary to build a real community. Programming must appeal to the full spectrum of human beings: women as well as men, youth as well as the elders. Activities for children are essential.
Seventh, they must accept as one of their goals the transformation of the bigger society to develop the institutions and resources to overcome every barrier that keeps anyone from becoming a PWHASFLHM. They must recognize every person as a potential member of the group, and work to develop whatever programs, services and activities are necessary to attract an ever broadening range of people. Each success must be used to show the way to further expansion. The goal is not size and power, but rather finding and sharing answers to improve the quality of life for more and more people. We must recognize that no one is secure until all people are secure, and that security is best provided through humanism. We must accept our share of responsibility for all of society’s negative trends, behaviors, and institutions. We must realize they are there because we have not yet developed a full bodied humanist alternative to tradition religions.
Eighth, in my opinion no humanist group can achieve the things I have discussed unless they realize that they are a religious organization, more specifically a church. Humanism joins all human beings together based on their common humanity independent of their particular cultural, racial, national origin, or religion of birth. All history is our history. Christianity is our history as is Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, the Renaissance, early Greek thinking, etc.
Ninth, and finally, they must be open to the idea of humanist spirituality and mysticism. These activities must be developed in such a way that study and practice do not allow one to get caught in the inner byways of their own mind, but provide tools to ensure that the empirical process does not get lost or misapplied. How this can get done I do not know. But I am sure that somehow it can and must be done.
Well, there is my vision and my message. If any of you feel that the thrust of what I have been saying correct, I hope you will add your energy to the processes that will be necessary to move these ideas forward.
–Arthur M. Jackson
Scientists mostly ignore creationists such as Duane Gish and his colleagues of the Institute for Creation Science. The creationists interpret this “conspiracy of silence” as an inability to refute their claims and a disdain for biblical truth. The following is a rebuttal by Professor William J. Dickensen, PhD, Professor of Biology at the University of Utah. It takes a lot of valuable time and energy to rebut the same threadbare arguments again and again. His recent debate at the U. of U. with the creationists was the topic of discussion for the July meeting of the Utah Humanists.
Evolution and The Public Schools
Resistance to teaching evolution in U.S. Public schools has a long history. legal actions pursued by creationists have failed. The courts struck down laws forbidding the teaching of evolution, and laws that require equal time in the classroom for creationism. Presently, there are no legal barriers to teaching evolution in the public schools but that does not mean the creationists have given up the fight. If courses were altered to placate the creationists much of biology, geology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, anthropology, linguistics, and ancient history would disappear from the curriculum.
One tactic use by the creationists is to oversimplify the question of origins and creation into two choices: supernatural creationism (biblical, of course, but often not acknowledged), or naturalistic evolution. In actuality, most people do not fall neatly in either one. Offering only two choices tends to force those who are a bit uncomfortable with evolution into the creationist camp.
Another approach is quoting evolutionary authorities out of context. There are two aspects of evolution that scientists assign different degrees of certainty: (1) that evolution has taken place (high level of certainty) and (2) the mechanism that causes evolution (less certainty). By quoting scientists that are discussing the second aspect, it appears that scientists disagree with each other and are themselves uncertain about evolution.
A third strategy of creationists is to place questions of origins in the realm of the supernatural beyond the limits of science. Dr. Dickensen illustrated this with an analogy. Suppose you switch on a lamp but it does not light up. Using simple common sense, you are likely to construct hypotheses about the lamp’s failure such as, the light globe is burned out, the lamp in not plugged in, there is a power failure in the area, etc. These hypotheses are directly testable. We have here a simple model of how science is done, and the point is, it works. Now let us suppose that we made the hypothesis that the lamp in not working because the spirits of the lamp are displeased. This hypothesis is not amenable to scientific inquiry. It will likely divert you from solving the problem, and supernatural creationism does this. This should make clear why the term creation science is an oxymoron.
Evidence For Evolution
Dr. Dickensen pointed out that scientists accept evolution because there is supporting evidence. Because the quantity of evidence is large, it is difficult to do it justice in a one hour presentation. Included are two examples of his lecture.
Years before the idea of evolution was common, biologists classified species according to similarity. This grouping, for example places swallows in one group (birds), and bats in another (mammals). As the fossil evidence began to accumulate, it was clear that the system of classification reflected evolutionary history. The bird group separated from the mammal group over 100 million years ago and all mammals share a more recent common ancestor with common characteristics. Recently new methods of showing similarity were discovered. The DNA of swallows and penguins is more similar than bats and swallows, even though bats and swallows both have wings and earn their living catching airborne insects. Chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than they are to gorilla. Testing shows that humans and chimps differ in only 1% of their DNA composition.
Another example of evidence comes from biogeography, which presents a set of facts that creationists have particular difficulty explaining. There are about 2,000 known species of fruit flies and of these 700 species live only in the Hawaiian islands. When the ark released its horde on Mt. Ararat, how did those 700 species make it to the Hawaiian islands and nowhere else? That a set of oceanic islands have many species of fruit flies fits the evolutionary model of specification precisely. It doesn’t matter what distribution of species you take, it gives the creationists trouble. Why did kangaroos make it only to Australia, humming birds only to the Americas, and hippos only to Africa?
The heart of Dr. Dickensen’s lecture dealt with refuting the arguments of seven creationist arguments. They were: (1) Thermodynamics, (2) Probability, (3) Transition fossils, (4) Order of randomness, (5) Appeal to authority, (6) Evolution is not testable, and (7) Evolution leads to immorality. For the sake of brevity, Numbers (1), (2) and (4) will be discussed.
The second law of thermodynamics says that free energy, the kind used for doing work, is always being downgraded. Water running down hill has energy that can be harnessed by a water wheel or a hydroelectric dam. Once the water runs into the ocean, all the energy is dispersed or degraded and can’t be harnessed anymore. Another aspect of the law is that it takes energy to keep things organized, otherwise chaotic randomness results. Much of what we do, whether it is repairing the car or cleaning the house, is an effort to reverse entropy (measure of disorder). The creationists argue that since everything in the universe tends to run down, disperse energy, and become chaotic and that evolution contradicts natural law. Evolution does produce intricately organized matter, namely life. In this argument the creationists give attention to only part of the law, and ignore the rest. If nature runs down over time the rivers should have stopped running long ago and all water on the planet should be in the oceans. The sun provides the energy through evaporation from the ocean to replenish fresh water in the mountains. The point here is that entropy can be, and is reversed all the time if you have an input of energy. The energy source which powers plants and animals, keeps their molecules organized rather than chaotic, and drives the uphill process of evolution is the sun which has produced a steady flow of energy to planet earth for 5 billion years.
Creationists are quick to point out a major tenet of evolutionary theory, that the raw material of evolution, the changes (mutations, genetic recombination, etc.), are purely random. How, they quibble, can we get the exquisite organization of a life out of randomness and chaos? They then present an example of this. Please switch into math mode now because this requires an understanding of a branch of algebra called permutations and combinations. Suppose we consider a particular protean found in an animal (proteins are long chains and the links in the chain are amino acids. Insulin and hemoglobins are examples of proteins). Suppose the protean polymer chain is 150 amino acids long (a small protein). Since there could be any of 20 amino acids that could fill that first site in the protein strand, the probability is 1/20 (read one chance in 20), the second is 1/20, etc. The probability that this protein would randomly come together in the right sequence is 20 multiplied by itself 150 times, or 1/20 to the 150th power. Such a number would have over 150 digits in it making such a chance occurrence highly improbable. This argument by itself is completely valid.
The important idea left out of the creationists argument is natural selection. Neither randomness or natural selection by themselves will cause evolution. By linking them, the probabilities become more realistic. Take the protein molecule example described above. Suppose that you had a die with 20 sides (each of the 20 amino acids). Then you roll the die until by chance you get the first amino acid. If you could keep it in its first position while you rolled the die for the second amino acid, the calculation changes dramatically. It now becomes 1/20 plus 1/20 etc. for the 150 amino acids. This produces a probability of 1/3,000. This example has included both the principle of reproduction and selection with randomness.
Because organisms can reproduce, they can duplicate and retain what organization they have already achieved. Each time they reproduce, if copying errors creep in (random mutations) we have modifications added by chance. Those modifications that are useful and help the organism survive are retained. If the change causes a disadvantage, the organism is selected out in the struggle for survival.
The course of evolution does require fantastically low probabilities to occur. A chance event of 1/1,000,000 looks pretty unlikely to occur but if the event is repeated 1,000,000 times, it will occur. In the history of the earth there have been billions of organisms alive at any one time for chance events to occur and billions of years for them to accumulate. With such a breadth of time and events, the improbable becomes probable.
Dr. Dickensen ended his presentation by discussing some of the principles of creation science. He listed five serious problems in their case: (1) The orderly flood, (2) The “slippery kind”, (3) The negative proof, (4) The incredulous observer, and (5) The omnipotent loophole. Just number (1) will be discussed here.
The Grand Canyon exposes a column of sedimentary rocks over a mile thick. Creation science would have us believe that those layers were ALL laid down in only a few month’s time during the “universal flood.” They explain the sequence of fossils thus: helpless invertabrates succumbed first and are in the bottom layer, reptiles succumbed next and are in the middle layers. Birds, being able to fly, and mammals and humans, with their intelligence succumbed last and are found in the top layers. The Colorado River cut through these solidified sediments since the flood, a few thousand years ago. Draw your own conclusions about creation science.
Futuyma, Douglas J. Science On Trial: The Case For Evolution, New York, Pantheon Books, 1982.
Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker; Why The Evidence Of Evolution Reveals A Universe Without Design, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 1987.
Our Second Year Begins
During our first year of publication, the Utah Humanist has made a number of improvements. There have been enrichments in both style and quality that has taken us from a simple little type written newsletter to a Humanist Journal. We went from a simple word precoessing system to employing a state of the art computerized graphics production system. Likewise, we went from having a Publisher and an Editor to a full Editorial Advisory Board.
Our plan was, and is, simple. We do not want to publish a newsletter. Anyone can do that. We decided very early in the life of the Utah Humanist that we wanted to produce a journal that would reflect the best qualities of Humanism. We wanted to print a monthly document that would be open to the dieas, concepts and concerns of our members. We hope we are getting a little closer to this desire with every edition. We have received recognition from other Humanist Publications for our efforts.
No matter how far we have come, we have never been satisfied. I sincerely hope that we will never be fully satisfied with our publication, and that we will continue to find ways to improve our journal. I have no doubt that the other members of the Editorial Advisory Board feel the same way.
During the upcoming year there will be some additional improvements in the way that we will publish the Utah Humanist. Sometime in late January a new software package will be arriving. A package that will allow us to produce clearer graphics, clean photographs, and a wider variety of special printing effects. It is a package that will someday give us the capabilitiy to publish in full color.
Although the Editorial Advisory Board continues to make enhancements in your Utah Humanist, we fully understand that we cannot do it alone. We hop that each of you will take a few moments an dthink about ways you would like to see us improve. What changes would you like to see? Would you please take a few minutes to write us, and tell us how we can do better? After all, our primary goal is to serve you.
A New Editor For The Humanist
It was announced at the Portland Conference that the new editor of the AHA magazine is Dr. Don Page, presently the editor of The International Humanist, the Journal of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), to which the American Humanist Association belongs. He will begin with the January/February, 1993 issue of The Humanist.
Dr. Page visited Salt Lake City on February 10th of this year to interview Ed Wilson. During that visit, both Flo Wineriter and I became acquainted with him, and our friendship was renewed during the Portland Conference. Dr. Page has a more international view of humanism which I find supports my own vision of what direction the Humanists of Utah should take.
In the April, 1992 issue of The International Humanist, Dr. Page’s editorial “On Practice vs. Theory” sets forth his views on what direction humanism in the United States should take if it is to be an effective movement. His appointment will mean a change in the content and direction of The Humanist magazine. Many members at the conference voiced complaints about the magazine as it has been the last few years. Portions of the editorial are very pertinent and important to the chapter membership as we find our place within the humanist community in Utah, and are as follows:
“The humanist movement has been characterized, at least in Europe, as ‘pluralist’, ‘pragmatic’ and ‘practical’ in an article by Rob Teilman (co-chairman of IHEU) in the December, 1991 issue (The International Humanist). Dr. Teilman points out that wherever the public image of humanism has been clear and consistent the movement has grown in public acceptance, while it has remained stagnant where its image has been blurred by an over emphasis on philosophical and semantic debates. His analysis focuses our attention away from philosophical points (on which humanists generally agree in any case, i.e., that we are ethical, secular, non-theistic and naturalistic) and highlights, instead, the question of what we contribute in practical terms to the lives of people in our communities.”
Dr. Page continues: “…This discussion is about acknowledging that humanism itself goes beyond human needs which are its raison d’etre, needs which were formerly the domain of traditional religions. Thus mainstream humanism provides the existential support that people continue to need when they are no longer theistic. And it is concerned with confronting the spread of nihilism as traditional religions wither in influence, by promoting a continuing emphasis on moral values.”
“The humanist movement is strongest in those countries where it has had a unified strategy aimed at becoming a mainstream component of pluralistic society. It is evident that significant numbers of people in most countries are secular and non-theistic in outlook while at the same time having no wish to interfere with the beliefs of their theistic fellow citizens. This observation supports the conclusion that as a strong humanist movement, if it is to represent these people and attract their support, will put its emphasis on serving their needs, and will choose to project a tolerant rather than iconoclastic public image while striving to work cooperatively with progressive allies to cultivate broad social acceptance of humanistic values and objectives.”
The editorial further states: “…European humanists are heavily involved with the provision of non-theistic counseling services for prison inmates, for armed forces personnel, and for the sick and dying in hospitals. European humanists are also involved in the provision of moral education in schools. …The existence of humanist conscientious objectors draws attention to the fact that humanism (in the Netherlands) is an alternative to traditional belief systems as a source of moral values. It also raises the issue of pluralism and our commitment to the right, indeed the responsibility, of individuals to behave accordingly to their deeply-held ethical beliefs. And most important to this discussion, the problems facing humanist conscientious objectors illustrates our obligation, both as individual humanists and as humanist organizations, to conduct ourselves so as to promote and not hinder a wider public acceptance of humanism as a belief system which can provide a grounding for ethics.”
In conclusion, Dr. Page writes: “…(It) might be asked if a unified objective exists among humanists to develop a positive mainstream public image, with an emphasis on programs to serve the practical humanist needs of the large numbers of non-theistic people we wish to represent. It seems clear that such an objective is not shared by those who, in the name humanism, emphasize intellectual and iconoclastic activities which appeal only to narrow groups and which drive away the great majority of the potential members and progressive allies whose support we need to achieve our goals.”
Chapter of the Year!
The Humanists of Utah received this award at the annual conference of the American Humanist Association held in Portland, OR, May 1-3, 1992. This new award was based on membership growth, local activities and public recognition. Our chapter’s name will be the first to be inscribed on a large plaque hung in a place of honor at the AHA headquarters in Amherst, New York. The chapter also received a check for $250.
The chapter president, Flo Wineriter, accepted the award and challenged the other chapters to double their membership in one year, rather than the AHA goal of two years, because the Utah chapter would! Bob Green, the chapter Vice-President also spoke, briefly recounting his short journey from an “uncertain Mormon” to a “certain humanist.”
For a chapter only chartered in 1991, this was a significant honor. A number of older chapters were also under serious consideration for this first of its kind award.
The faculty of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.
At a recent LDX-Evergreen meeting, I heard Brigham Young University anthropologist explain how he kept his LDS faith in spite of the knowledge he has of science. I was amazed at the lengths he went to in justifying and rationalizing his position. He is a fifth generation Mormon (that means that his ancestry dates from the beginnings of the church and carries with it an injunction to maintain belief and not betray that heritage) with close relatives who are or have been in leadership positions (this too carries that obligation).
Attending the meeting were a number of people who had left the church or who had become inactive because they no longer believed in it. A dialogue between the two took place. What I remember most was the depth of feeling that these people felt as the discussion proceeded. I sensed deep anger and hurt, a sense that they had been betrayed, lied to, and then cut off and ostracized. More importantly, they were having great difficulty getting past that hurt and anger. But when he said that he had no problem with evolution because “that was the way God chose to create man,” I concluded that he had more reasons to maintain belief than was apparent in his explanations, and I couldn’t make sense of it.
As I left, I recalled another instance last year when I heard another well educated man talk of his journey of faith. After than meeting, as I walked home with Ed Wilson, I asked what he thought of it, and Ed replied, “It sounded more like a journey of adaptation than a search for truth.” As usual, Ed got to the heart of the matter. For some, maybe there are some things more important than the search for truth.
In the next week, Ed Wilson has as his guest for a day, the editor of the International Humanist, the journal of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), Don Page. Don was here to interview Ed for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the IHEU, in which Ed had an important part. There were a couple of free hours in the afternoon, and Don wanted to see what was important in Salt Lake City. We went to Temple Square, and I attempted to explain the history and theology of Mormonism. We also went to the top of the Administration building, and since it was a clear day we had a good view of the valley. Don Page is primarily a scientist, and as I explained, in general terms, what goes on in the temple, ending with baptism for the dead, I saw that he had a look of incredulity and astonishment. I have grown up with the whole thing, but at that moment I realized how ridiculous this could appear to an outsider. How to make sense out of it all? One can, if one looks at it as a whole, as an all-encompassing system which envelopes its members in an “all questions answered” theology, a “just obey and you will be saved” theocracy, constantly reinforced and justified by repetitive temple ritual.
We kept meeting several young lady missionaries who cheerfully offered to answer questions, give us a tour, or a Book of Mormon tape. They all looked the same: a well scrubbed look, dressed similarly, and wearing a dark blue overcoat. They seemed to be possessed of a self-assurance that comes from having complete confidence in the rightness of their cause. (I know, I was once a missionary myself.) As we walked away, we met a crowd of people coming out of a gate carrying small suitcases, having been in the Temple. They all had that same look. I then commented to Don, “Humanism can provide as complete and satisfying belief system as the LDS church, and it can make people just as happy as those people coming from the temple!”
I went on to explain that if LDS missionaries can find someone who believes in God and the Bible, they can build on that and make a convert. Doesn’t the supposition naturally follow that humanism could be able to find common belief based on science, build on that and make converts?
Later on that week, I read an article in the newsletter of the San Jose, California chapter of the AHA. We exchange newsletters. That chapter is one of the most successful of all AHA chapters, and associates with Stanford University. They hold many social events, weekly meetings and lectures, and have a large membership supporting the chapter. It could serve as a model for own chapter. This is the article:
The honest critic is a friend. William Whalen, a respected Catholic author, proves to be such a friend in his Faiths for the Few, a book which received the authoritative blessings of his church when it was published. Humanism, like Buddhism, is a non-theistic religion, a religion without a God, the supernatural, or sacred scriptures — a comprehensive and integrated way of life which includes the shared quest of ideals, and the celebration of existence. Humanists are confident that theirs is the religion of the future. The laboratory will one day provide the answers which people have sought in revelation and sacred books. Service to others will replace service to God as the ethical ideal. humanists will learn to concentrate on living to the fullest in this life, easing its pain, contributing to its art and beauty. For the moment humanists must face the realities of life, and its financial demands. Despite the impressive roster of humanists in science and the arts, the roll call of the American Humanists Association is shorter than many Catholic parishes. Humanism is supposed to inspire people to overcome [social ills], but it seems to convert many into freelancers who care little about spreading humanism, or helping the person next door. The potential for organized secular humanism is enormous, but whether the existing humanist groups will be able to tap this potential is doubtful. [Edited to eliminate repetition and sexist language.]
The article further reads:
I accept everything my good Catholic colleague points out. Indeed, our chapter takes these critical words as a challenge: the growing list of names on this page, the activities in this newsletter, and the kind of honest self-criticism Suzanne Paul will share with us this month — all augur well for the future of humanism. We’ve moved from free-lancing to community. Look out, Whalen, here we come!
This was partly an answer to my earlier questions. Humanism can provide a “comprehensive and integrated way of life.”
Last week Ed Wilson loaned me his copy of Towards a Better World, by Mikhael S. Gorbachev, which is one of his speeches from 1987. Ed had marked a passage which he thought should be used in the Journal:
Man rose above all other living creatures on earth on the wings of humanism. Today, five billion people living on this planet need humanism more than anything else. They need it for establishing good neighborly relations between individuals and states. The fostering of a new way of thinking is, in my opinion, instrumental in bringing about a radical turn in the life of the world community. Revolutions always begin in the mind. The way to save civilization and life itself does not lie in thinking up new technologies for ever more accurate and lethal weapon systems, but rather in liberating the mind from prejudices–political and social, national and racial–from arrogance, self-conceit and the cult of force and violence.
I believe that humanism will do what Gorbachev wants it to do. Can organized humanism have a part in bringing these changes to pass?
What do these serendipitous events mean to me? My conclusion is that the general theme concerned belief systems.
We all have a belief system. It begins at birth, and continues until we die. It contains basic information about our identity, and helps us make sense of the world around us, among many things. Religion can take up much of it, especially if it is as complete a system as the LDS theology. Because of that it is very difficult to leave, and when someone does there is a great void, and that can be the source of a lot of feelings, negative and positive.
For most of us here, humanism took the place of religion, and we incorporated that in a new belief system. My suggestion that humanism come up with a missionary plan is naive and foolish. Nothing will ever come of it because humanism can’t be defined that way. A humanist’s belief system is personal and individual, and can’t be dictated. We can’t say: “This is what you should believe,” nor should we even try.
A study of history can lead to the conclusion that the very movement of civilization will lead to humanism. However, as a new convert, I still have to ask the question: “Isn’t there some way we can help people build a humanistic belief system?”
Humanists Offer Alternative To Religion-Based Spirituality
In January, the Salt Lake Tribune featured a story on our chapter in its Religion section. This month, on April 4, 1992, the Deseret News in its Metro section also had a story about the chapter. This time the story told about Mr. Anne Zeilstra’s efforts to organize the chapter, and gave essential information about our activities. Of special interest was the information about our President, Flo Wineriter, and his activities as a Humanist Counselor. The article included a photo of Flo and a client, Joann Lewis, in a counseling session.
The article is printed in this issue for those who haven’t read it, or for those who might like to have others see it.
When Anne Zeilstra moved to Utah from West Lafayette, Ind., he was advised to “find your own circle of friends, because if you are not a member of a church, you get pretty lonely out there.”
The Salt Lake man, who was born and reared in The Netherlands, and who lived seven years in Indiana before moving to Utah, says that is why he helped start a local chapter of the American Humanist Association.
“I have not been lonely. Through the chapter I have gotten in touch with people who I normally would not meet so easily,” said Zeilstra, past president and now secretary of the Humanists of Utah.
Chartered in the spring of 1991, the organization has about 50 dues paying members. But Zeilstra says about 150 more people have expressed interest n the group and receive a monthly journal.
Humanism, first organized in 1933 in the East by Edwin H. Wilson (he is now 94 and lives in Salt Lake City) and a group of Unitarian ministers, provides an alternative to organized religion and church-focused social life. “You find a surprising number of non-churchgoing people in Utah,” Zeilstra said.
One of the people Zeilstra met and became friends with is Florien Wineriter who was recently elected chapter president, and has been a humanist counselor for about a year. Other officers are Robert H. Green, Vice Chairman; Anna Hoagland, Treasurer; Richard C. Layton, Martha Stewart, and Edwin H. Wilson.
Wineriter, a former broadcast journalist for radio stations KALL and KSL, says he has espoused a humanist philosophy for at least 40 years, and has been a Unitarian for about the same period of time. Unitarianism is a religion without a creed or dogma, and encourages people to develop their own beliefs.
Humanist counselors perform weddings, conduct memorials, or funerals, and other ceremonial functions, and provide ethical and moral counseling upon request.
“I have conducted several weddings, and I do counseling for people in the process of bereavement. I have conducted several bereavement groups as a spiritual counselor for IHC Home Health Care Hospice program,” said Wineriter.
Wineriter said he doesn’t believe there is much public awareness that someone other than judges and clergy can perform non-religious wedding ceremonies. There is no charge for this or other services, including a “welcome to life” type ceremony for infants.
During the past year, Wineriter has officiated at about a dozen funerals and weddings. He counsels couples, helping them plan their wedding ceremonies. Also, he will meet with families or individuals to help them make arrangements for funeral or memorial services.
Wineriter defines humanism as a “joyous alternative to supernatural religion, a rational approach to human needs, responsibilities and values. We find there are people who for one reason or another have disaffiliated themselves from organized religions, but who find the need for belonging to a group that promotes ethical and moral values.” Joann Lewis says she has known and appreciated Wineriter for about 25 years.
Wineriter conducted, and spoke to, a graveside service last August for Lewis’s husband, William A. Lewis. She said Wineriter and his wife, Connie, A Hospice nurse and director of the Hospice program for IHC Home Health, came to her home after her husband’s death.
“He took all the things (letters and other materials loaned to him) and put it all together in such a wonderful, poetic way. It was so amazing how he was able to show the value and beauty of Bill’s life. His presentation at the cemetery was as perfect as something like this can be,” she said.
–Douglas D. Palmer
The American Humanist Association (AHA) and the Humanists of Utah (H of U) have cooperative roles in promoting the growth of the Humanist philosophy. The AHA has been promoting humanism nationally since 1941. It publishes the Humanist, a magazine of Critical Inquiry and Social Comment, a bi-monthly. On alternate months it publishes the Free Mind, a newsletter for the AHA membership. The AHA has also produced 63 half-hour television series and a 45-minute video for home and group use that defines humanism and how it relates to public issues. AHA maintains a list of expert speakers who are available for lectures and debates and is affiliated with several national and international organizations developing cooperation and extension of the humanist philosophy. During the past 50 years AHA has established a national reputation of respectability for humanism.
Humanists of Utah is standing on the firm foundation of the AHA and is in the process of establishing an image of respectability within the State of Utah. In less than two years HoU has gained recognition for the publication of a monthly journal, the Utah Humanist, exploring the philosophy of humanism; has attracted a large audience for monthly meetings that present scholarly speakers addressing the various issues of humanism; provides a counselor-leader for the various ceremonial stages of life; and is in the process of providing every public library in the State a copy of Corliss Lamont’s Philosophy Of Humanism and a 1-year subscription to the Humanist magazine.
The Humanists of Utah Board of Directors urges Chapter members to become members of AHA to give support to the national and international growth of the humanist philosophy. Membership in AHA includes a subscription to both the Humanist and Free Mind plus a copy of Corlis Lamont’s book.
Humanists recognize that humans determine the moral principles by which they live and take responsibility for their own lives and are involved in efforts to solve the many problems that confront humanity. Your participation in both the AHA and HoU helps greatly to build the humanist organization nationally, internationally and locally.
–Flo Wineriter and Ed Wilson
Slapstick, or Lonesome No More
Family Values is an issue both major political parties have chosen for emphasis in this year’s election. This subject is the theme for Kurt Vonnegut’s 1976 novel Slapstick, Or Lonesome No More. The story is a history of Wilbur Daffodil-11 Roosevelt Swain, the last President of the United States. He occupies this position, not because the government is overthrown or otherwise destroyed, but because of a lack of interest. The story takes place far in the future when the earth’s supplies of fossil fuels are exhausted. Communication networks no longer exist. After two or three months in the White House with no messages or word from the outside, he leaves to see what the Duke of Michigan is doing.
Wilbur wins the Presidency with the campaign slogan “Lonesome No More!” His contention is that modern times and instances have destroyed the fabric of the traditional family. His solution assigns everyone in the country a new middle name. The first part of this name is an animal, vegetable, or a mineral followed by a number from one to 20. If the first part of your new name matches someone else’s, you are cousins. If your new middle name is an exact match, you are siblings. In this manner everyone immediately gains 190,000 cousins and 10,000 brothers and sisters. These new artificial families replace traditional households and must look out for one another. People start saying that if you know of a relative involved in questionable behavior, don’t call the police, call 20 more clan members.
The book is typical of Mr. Vonnegut’s middle novels: he tells nearly everything that is going to happen in the story in the first chapter. Much of the action is autobiographical; sadness and tragedy are no strangers to the Vonnegut family.
The above description is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Vonnegut explains the building of the pyramids, how the Chinese overcame the population question and explores problems associated with drug addiction. The story is delightfully funny and poignantly sad. This is an enjoyable novel presented to us by a great Humanist. I highly recommend it.
Edwin Wilson Recognized
From the International Humanist, July 1992, Don Page, Editor.
“Wherever the scientific spirit begins to develop — whether among Christians, Moslems, or whomever — there emerges Humanism. It is not the rejection of the religious attitude that is important or necessary, it is the rejection of belief in the super-natural.”
-Edwin H. Wilson
Edwin H. Wilson is the father of organized humanism in the United States. He was a key figure in the drafting of Humanist Manifesto I, which was published in 1933, and which was signed by the leading humanists of the day, including the American philosopher, John Dewey. Many of the original Manifesto signers were, like Ed, radical Unitarians. In the 1930’s he published a humanist newsletter, which later became The Humanist, the prestigious journal of the American Humanist Association. Ed was the first executive director of the AHA, and for many years continued to be editor of The Humanist. At the founding Congress of IHEU (International Humanist andEthical Union), it was Ed Wilson who moved that the name include both “Humanist” and “Ethical”, so resolving the long discussion about how the new organization should be named.
At 94, Ed lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, wherein the past three years he has sparked the formation of an active humanist group, which this year received the AHA award for being its most impressive new chapter.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In honor of Edwin H. Wilson, the Humanists of Utah will establish a yearly “Edwin H. Wilson Lecture on Humanism.” The firstspeaker will be Sterling McMurrin, Ph.D., E.E. Ericksen, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, and Professor Emeritus of History, on 19 November 1992, at the First Unitarian Church.
by Florien J. Wineriter
This month I completed my first year as a Certified Humanist Counselor, administering to the pastoral and ceremonial needs of the Humanist community in Utah. I have had the opportunity of performing a dozen marriage ceremonies, conducted three funeral services, co-facilitated six bereavement groups, and counseled with several people about grieving. I serve as the pastoral director of the Hospice program of IHC Home Health Care. I talked on the subject of Humanism to the Sugarhouse Rotary Club, attended three national Humanist Conferences, and was the subject for two newspaper articles about Humanism. Being a spokesperson and representative for Humanism in Utah has been a very fufilling and rewarding experience.
As I begin my second year as a Humanist Counselor, my goal is to develop a program that will let the young adult community of Utah become aware of Humanism as an acceptable alternative to supernatural religion, and to make the public aware that moral and ethical values are the evolutionary result of human relations, not mandated standards established by messiahs and other godly messengers.
By Bob Green
A score of members of the Chapter met on July 9th at Lindsay Gardens for our annual picnic. It was sunny, humid, hot and we had yellow-jackets for company. Nevertheless, we enjoyed ourselves and ate our fill of whatever we each brought, and shared some watermelon from several generous donors.
A suggestion: If we are going to have a picnic, and we really need one social occasion during the year, let us do it properly.
I suggest we go to some cool shady canyon place, with wind whispering in the pines near a running canyon stream. To do that we need to start now to plan and make reservations.
Flo and I need a month off. This is a good opportunity for a member-generated activity. I think that members would be willing to travel a little distance to get the right spot, participate in the planning and providing whatever is needed.
Volunteers are respectfully requested.
by Flo Wineriter
The man who sparked the flame that generated interest in starting the Humanists of Utah is leaving us. Anne Zeilstra, first President and current Secretary, informed the Board of Directors at the July board meeting that he will be moving to Houston, Texas in December. He informed the Board of the change as far in advance as possible in order to help find and train a new Secretary.
The responsibility of chapter Secretary entails a great deal of correspondence, and record keeping. Expertise with a home computer is almost a necessity, and attendance at monthly board meetings is essential. Enthusiasm with the growth of Humanism in general, and the local chapter in particular, is important. This is a great opportunity to influence the awareness of Humanism in Utah and contribute to our chapter’s growth. If you can fill this office we’d like to hear from you. Contact any member of the Board of Directors.
No pay. Much Appreciation. Also, Fame, Glory, Honor.
by Flo Wineriter
“Humanists of Utah” is now a registered corporation in the State of Utah. Articles of Incorporation were filed with, and accepted by, the State of Utah Department of Commerce on the 3rd of August, 1992, at 2:29 pm. Humanists of Utah is now officially recognized as a nonprofit corporation to act and operate as a religious, educational, charitable and ethical organization, by advocating and promoting ethical, rational and democratic humanism among our membership, and the larger community.
The Articles of Incorporation were written, studied, rewritten and refined by the Board of Directors for five months. The services of two lawyers were utilized in finalizing the papers of incorporation: Steve Hutchinson and Brian Barnard. Our thanks to them for their service and advice.
Humanists of Utah, a nonprofit corporation, may now solicit and receive contributions, and engage in all other lawful purposes, activities and pursuits authorized by Sections 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Members can feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in this step toward professionalism. In a sense it’s a “rite of passage” for one of the newest, and fastest, growing chapters of the American Humanist Association.
By Anne Zeilstra, membership secretary
Now you can become a card-carrying memberof Humanists of Utah!
If you recently joined, or renewed your membership, you will receive your card in the mail soon, designed and hand-lettered by calligraphist Martha Stewart.
About renewals: your Chapter membership, or Journal subscription, runs from the month you paid to the same month next year. You can find your expiration date at the top right corner of the address label of the Journal. We will alert you a month before that your membership is about to expire. If you find yourself unable to mail a check right away, that does not mean you will be shoved from our mailing list immediately: there is a generous grace period, and we will even let you know when it ends.
About membership categories: we’ve always favored an uncomplicated dues structure. By now, it is about as simple as you can get: chapter membership is $35, and Journal subscriptions are $12. I know that humanists are almost by definition contrary to external limitations. So, if you want to write your check for any amount other than the ones we’ve chosen, you are free to do so: we’ll just consider the difference an extra gift from you.
We don’t want to turn away people who are interested, but short of cash. If the dues are an obstacle to you, please feel free to contact any Board Member.
First Annual Membership Meeting
The first annual meeting of the Humanists of Utah was held February 20, 1992, and was attended by more than 50% of our membership. A brief history of the American Humanist Association was given by Ed Wilson, and the background of the founding of the Humanists of Utah was presented by Anne Zeilstra. Bob Green summarized the first year operations of our monthly Journal. Our Bylaws were reviewed and amended, and our first election of officers was conducted.
Edwin H. Wilson (Ed) told the fascinating story of today’s American Humanist Association being the result of a schism in the Unitarian Church during the early years of the 1900’s when several Unitarian ministers heading parishes in the western states began a movement to remove references to God from official Unitarian publications. He said the Unitarian officials in Boston referred to the movement as “The Western Problem.” When Unitarian headquarters moved too slowly to resolve the dispute, the Western Unitarian leaders decided to call themselves humanists, but maintained a loose affiliation with the Unitarian Association. Ed became a leader in the humanist movement, and eventually left his position of minister to the Unitarian Congregation in Salt Lake City, and moved to Yellow Springs, Ohio where he founded the Fellowship of Religious Humanists, Inc. Ed’s talk made us all more knowledgeable of the history of humanism, and he was encouraged by those present to write a book detailing the brief outline he presented.
A sense of isolation motivated Anne Zeilstra to get the Humanists of Utah started. He related his family’s difficulty finding meaningful relationships upon moving to Salt Lake City. He said the people they met seemed to be totally involved in church related activities, making it impossible to develop significant communications with them. He told of contacting the A.H.A. and asking for a list of members in Utah. This led to his connecting with Ed Wilson, and the planning of a public meeting to see if local members of AHA and others were interested in forming a Utah chapter. Interest was generated, and today we have 46-members plus seven additional subscribers to the Utah Humanist journal. And the Zeilstra family now has many people with which they can have a relaxed friendship.
Bob Green told of his plans to solicit a variety of writers for future issues of our Journal, writers who will challenge us with issues of vital concern to humanists, and to a better understanding of humanism. Bob reports his making contacts at the University of Utah to find speakers who will explore humanistic ideas at our monthly meetings.
Amendments to our Bylaws were proposed, discussed and adopted that clarify the roles of elected officials and members of the Board. Annual auditing of the treasurer’s books was made mandatory. Appointments by the board of an editor for Journal, an historian, and a librarian were approved, as were Standing Committees and Ad Hoc committees as needed. The nominating procedure was clarified and election by secret ballot was made mandatory. The open discussion resulted in Chapter Bylaws that could very well become a model of clarity for other chapters of AHA, as well as other organizations.
Officers elected for one year terms are: President, Florien Wineriter; Vice President, Bob Green; Treasurer, Anna Hoagland; Secretary, Anne Zeilstra; Board members, Richard Layton, Martha Stewart and Edwin Wilson.
The social hour following the business meeting provided an opportunity for members to get better acquainted and exchange ideas for attracting new members, and enhancing the influence of humanism in our local community.
My Belief System
Developing a personal belief system after giving up the LDS ideology has been an evolutionary process for me. At some point in my intellectual development, I discovered that the concept of an anthropomorphic god who created universes and intervened in the lives of human beings was not logical. I really had nothing to replace the certainty provided by the LDS gospel, and began the search of a philosophy that would make sense of the nonsense we call life. The search has been long, and at times painful. The longing for certainty and meaning at times make a return to the LDS faith almost desirable. But today, at age 67, I feel comfortable with the knowledge that uncertainty is the only certainty, and that honest relationships with people is rewarding. Sharing my feelings, being of service, and giving others opportunities to develop their talents are some of the rewarding spiritual aspects of life. The philosophies expressed in Humanist Manifestos I and II are excellent guidelines for the continuing development of my personal belief system.
I continue to admire the social and community ideals of the LDS church. The concepts of freedom of choice, personal responsibility, concern for the poor, community involvement, and the many individual and social concerns of the LDS religious philosophy are secular ideals that I support. But I endorse such ideals because they will result in a better life on this earth, not some reward after death in another sphere.
I believe it is unfortunate that the religious fears of punishment, rather than intrinsic rewards of self realization, are major motivators of many peoples.
The Virtuous Character
The following is a summary of a presentation by Bridget Newell, Visiting Instructor from the University of Utah Department of Philosophy at the March meeting of the Humanists of Utah.
The source for Aristotle’s main argument was taken from The Nichomachean Ethics. Aristotle reasons that in order to become virtuous we must develop habits of doing moral deeds. It begins in a person’s childhood, and requires a constant and proper upbringing. Virtuousness does not come naturally. It is up to us to become either virtuous or vicious. The potential is there in all of us, but virtuousness requires nurturing and modeling at a very young age. Personal responsibility is required for maintaining it throughout our adulthood.
We can help children to become virtuous if we help them do deeds which are pleasant, and if we associate pleasure with doing them. Children then connect feelings of pleasure with the doing of good deeds. For example, we can teach generosity by being kind to other people, and reward our children with praise when they behave in a generous way. And when they’re selfish, we need to reprimand them for not doing the proper thing. Children develop positive feelings with doing the right act, and negative feelings for doing the wrong act.
Aristotle taught that once a child has learned to associate good deeds with pleasant feelings, then the child will eventually do good deeds on his own. And the deeds will not remain based on feelings alone, but on a cognitive level as well. Eventually people do virtuous deeds because they become the right thing to do, and because they discover they actually feel better for doing them. People come to the conclusion that the examples they’ve been taught really do make sense. When knowledge blends with an activity, then a deed becomes “goodness for goodness sake.” And when this point is reached, authority figures no longer become necessary because good behavior has been internalized. This is how a virtuous character is developed.
What if children don’t have the proper upbringing? Can they develop a virtuous character later on? The answer is yes, but it becomes much more difficult. You begin by thinking good deeds. Imagine them first in your mind, then do them. The cognitive element will eventually follow. Virtuousness begins with the thinking process, then it is analyzed, followed by placing oneself in appropriate situations, and ending by doing good deeds.
Aristotle defined the word “virtuous” as, ” Doing the right thing, at the right time, and in the right amount.” He taught that “Virtues are a MEAN between two extremes.” For example, courage is not a foolhardy act, but it is not running away either. Generosity is not generosity if we give all our money to the homeless. Instead, generosity is giving what we can: we are neither stingy nor wasteful, and we consider our own growth and development in the process. Virtuous development is doing what’s appropriate for the individual.
A good way an adult can develop and maintain a virtuous character is to have a “companion friend.” This is a person with whom we share the same values: a person we can trust, be intimate with, and relate to in a non-authoritarian way. A companion friend would be one who helps point out our deficiencies as well as our strengths. This friend knows the whole of us, and is willing to give us feedback about our behavior. A companion friend must be self-directed, and have self knowledge. This type of friend helps us formulate goals, and ideals and is morally obligated to point out our flaws.
Aristotle believed that human interaction is necessary to become virtuous. He taught that we are all political, and social beings, and we are lacking if we do not have companion friends. They add to the good life. They help us pay attention, and keep us from getting out of character, and becoming vicious. Companion friends help us to put things in perspective. They are our moral yardstick, and we learn our moral sensibilities from them.
Aristotle made allowances for “weakness of will,” when rage or passion comes into our lives. The philosopher believed that conflicts are what lead us to self-examination, wherein our ignorance is identified, and rational and virtuous goals are explored. Since virtue does not come naturally, it behooves us to accept the responsibility to nurture moral deeds.
The Humanist Manifesto and the Future
THE EDWIN H. WILSON INAUGURAL LECTURE
BY STERLING M. MCMURRIN
Address delivered to the Humanists of Utah, November 19, 1992, at the First Unitarian Church, Salt Lake City, Utah, on the occasion of the First Annual Edwin H. Wilson Lecture on Humanism, established to honor a pioneer and leader of the American humanist movement.
The Edwin H. Wilson lectureship honors a man whose impact for good on his society is beyond measure. Over a long professional life of service to others, his voice and pen have eloquently and forcefully and persistently championed the cause of human freedom—the “freedom from’s”: from political tyranny and economic need, from superstition and ignorance, and from religious and ecclesiastical oppression—and the “freedom for’s”: freedom for individual expression, for intellectual adventure, for creative action, and for independence of mind. Those who have established this lectureship have done a very good thing. Edwin Wilson’s name should be known and celebrated in perpetuity in this church and this city.
I became personally acquainted with Ed Wilson when I came to the University of Utah faculty in 1948. I admired his work as editor of the Humanist and his ministry of this church. It has been a great pleasure to renew association with him since his return to Salt Lake City. He is a delightful person. It is for me a great honor to give the inaugural lecture on the Wilson Lectureship.
Not the least of his accomplishments is Wilson’s important role in the composition and publication of the two Humanist Manifestos of 1933 and 1973. These documents are a magnificent expression of the human spirit and are a permanent deposit in our heritage of the literature of human values. For this occasion, I will discuss the Humanist Manifesto and the future. Manifesto II absorbed Manifesto I, so I will simply refer to the Manifesto.
But there is an important facet of Manifesto I that is not explicit in Manifesto II. Somewhere in the four decades that separated them, the earlier positive emphasis on religion seemed to fade. The 1933 statement is a clear call for a humanist religion, a religion “shaped for the needs of this age.” Although the traditional religions, even their modern versions, should be replaced by a religion that “must formulate its hopes and plans in the light of the scientific spirit and method,” Manifesto I declares that “through all changes religion itself remains constant in its quest for abiding values, an inseparable feature of human life.” In contrast, Manifesto II seems to be somewhat negative and critical of religion in principle.
Now, I don’t mean to make an issue over the disappearance of the word “religion.” Among the signatories of the first document are persons well known for their strong opposition to all forms of theism and established religion, and among those who signed the second Manifesto there are undoubtedly many who regard themselves as religious and see their version of humanism as a form of religion. After all, there are no morals in definition, and we can use words any way we care to as long as they facilitate communication and understanding.
Nor am I arguing for a humanist religion. We have enough religions now and don’t really need another one. I think it would be most unfortunate if humanism were to add to the present religious confusion by aggressively competing with the churches. And it would do just that if it were to organize itself as some kind of church to contest with the other churches. I personally find humanism as set forth in the Manifesto immensely attractive morally and intellectually as an ethical philosophy. It is a philosophy that is entirely compatible with religious sentiment and feeling, as the framers of Manifesto I clearly recognized. But I would have nothing to do with a humanist church.
Organization and institutionalism can kill a good thing; destroy its freedom and vitality. They produce regulations, bureaucracies, hypocrisy, propaganda, dogmas, orthodoxies, and endless contention–all of the evils that can already be found in the majority of established churches.
Create a humanist church and soon there would be a multitude of different kinds of humanist churches, with excursions into metaphysics, arguments over religion and politics, and the whole works all over again. The religious qualities of humanism can be cultivated for the satisfaction of those with religious disposition without a movement in the direction of a church. One thing that should never be forgotten is that the churches with their priests and ministers and general authorities are not the proprietors of religion. Religion belongs to anyone who is religious, and it is freely available to the unchurched as well as the churched.
But in my opinion, the Manifesto would be greatly strengthened if, in its next revision, it at least gave expression to the human experience that lies at the heart of religion–the experience of the sacred. My concern is simply that the Manifesto should fully account for all the basic elements of human experience, and these include the experience of the sacred, the holy, the sense of mystery, the numinous. This does not mean abandoning nature for the supernatural. We commonly distinguish the sacred from the secular, defining the secular as whatever is natural and equating the sacred with the supernatural. But this distinction is far too simple. Things, places, and events are not sacred or secular in themselves. They are not sanctified by some sacralization that comes from on high. They are made sacred by the attitudes and actions of human beings, by human devotion and consecration. Insofar as religion is identified by these, it is a natural function of human beings and does not depend on the supernatural.
The same is true of spirituality. Spirituality is a quality of our attitude, commitment, or valuation. The very word “spiritual” and its cognates suggest to many something that is unnatural, mysterious, uncanny, occult, or bizarre. But “spiritual” is a word rich in connotation, and we should not be willing to abandon it to those who claim it for supernatural phenomena and those who mutilate it for the occult. It appears only once in Manifesto II, and then in quotation marks, almost as if to apologize for its use.
In 1954, in this chapel, I gave a lecture on religion that closed with a discussion of humanism. Afterward, a woman of obvious piety approached me with a serious problem. She wanted to be a Unitarian and also a humanist, but she desperately wanted to continue to believe in God. Couldn’t she also believe in God? To complicate matters, she was a Mormon and didn’t want to endanger her LDS membership. I told her that the Unitarians were not stuffy about these things and would no doubt put up with her as long as she believed that at the most there is only one God. And the humanists, I said, really are poorly organized, so there wasn’t anyone there in authority to cause her any trouble, though with her belief in God she might be a bit out of the mainstream of humanism. Her only real problem, I told her, was with the LDS Church, which is all too well organized. I said the main thing she faced was to make sure that her home teachers didn’t catch her in these shenanigans. She seemed very pleased and, unlike the rich young ruler, she went away quite satisfied.
The Manifesto was not composed in a day, or a year, or a hundred years. It is a summit in the centuries-long history of our culture that issued from the confluence of Greek science, art, and philosophic thought, Judaic religion and morality, and Roman jurisprudence and imperial statecraft and was finally energized by the individualism of the tribes of Northern Europe. Nearer our time, the cultural ingredients that went into the making of the Manifesto were the remarkable achievements of modern science and its related technologies, the rise of democracy, the wide extension of literacy, the powerful thrust of liberal religion, the social gospel, the secularizing impact of public education, and the social conscience of the labor movement.
The Manifesto is essentially a moral document. Even a casual reading reveals a surprising number of ethical principles that have played important roles in the moral philosophies which have gone into the making of our value culture. Dominating and permeating the entire statement is what Aristotle called eudaimonia, the end which is pursued not for the sake of something else, but for its own sake–happiness–a life of complete virtue, noble and just. There is also the Epicurean ideal of life lived free from mental pains, the fear of the gods and fear of death; the Stoic life of harmony with the natural world; Spinoza’s pursuit of intellectual love; the utilitarian’s insistence on the greatest good for the greatest number; the Kantian conception of the good as the good will; and the pragmatist’s insistence on moral freedom–to mention only a few of the Manifesto elements that are drawn from our intellectual and moral heritage.
Or consider the substantive values evident in the Manifesto –the classical cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice (adopted by the Christian philosophers as the natural virtues of prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice); and the Platonic triad of truth, beauty, and goodness. All of these with varying emphases can be found in this remarkable and admirable document.
Those who may not be acquainted with the Humanist Manifestos would be well advised to read them. They are an authentic American scripture that should be placed alongside the sacred books in any library. My teacher E. E. Ericksen, a man who did great things for the liberation of the mind in this region, used to say, “Religion is a crusade, not a consolation.” Ericksen was a pragmatist with a typical pragmatist’s preoccupation with moral values, moral in the large sense covering personal conduct and social structure and behavior. He would regard the Manifesto as a profoundly religious document. It is not simply a statement of ethical principle; it is a call for moral action.
Far too often humanism is judged and, for that matter, condemned, for what it denies, its characteristic disbeliefs, rather than being judged by what it affirms, its beliefs. It is the great virtue of the Manifesto that it concentrates on what humanism affirms, and here its strength lies in its affirmations of human personality and human values. It is life-affirming–in contrast with much religion, which is life-denying. It is this that makes it a lasting, living testament of the human spirit.
In its strictly naturalistic form, humanism denies the supernatural; it is either agnostic or non-theistic. (I say non-theistic rather than atheistic because atheism and its cognates have taken on a pejorative meaning, as if a person who does not believe there is a God is for that reason a bad person–what nonsense!) humanism rejects the belief in a cosmic meaning or overarching purpose in the universe, that there are ultimate guarantees on the survival of whatever is of value to human beings. It holds that the material world of natural forces is totally without cosmic purpose or meaning, that the world is indifferent to the achievement of human values or the survival of the human race or of life in any form. When the French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre was accused of pessimism for holding these and similar views, he replied that he was only facing consistently the obvious implications of atheism.
But this is only one side of the picture of humanism. One of my teachers, the American philosopher William Pepperell Montague, wrote that a person may believe that this “dreadful thing is true,” that everything of value is destined to perish, “but only a fool would be glad that it is true.” The humanists are not glad that the human race is alone in a morally indifferent universe. They have the courage to believe that this is true and yet pursue the high and heroic road of creating and preserving the things of human worth as if they were going to last forever.
To fully grasp the historic meaning of the Manifesto as a life-affirming document, it must be seen against the negative censure of humanity that has been the chief corrupter of the Christian religion: the belief in original sin that for centuries was a blight on Western culture. Original sin, arguably the most pernicious idea that ever infected the human mind, had a complex origin. But four persons stand out as the chief sources of its toxic impact on Christianity: the Apostle Paul, St. Augustine, and the Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin.
The sin-obsessed Apostle to the gentiles, to rationalize his belief that Christ’s crucifixion was required for the salvation of humankind, held that Adam’s behavior in the Garden of Eden caused the entire human race to be in a condition of sin, of total alienation from God, having lost the freedom to do anything that could contribute to salvation. Today, with our emphasis on women’s rights, we should call it the sin of Eve, rather than Adam, because, after all, she got him to eat the apple. She was to blame; so she deserves the credit. As the preachers say, “It’s in the Book.”
Paul seems to have had no interest in Jesus as a human being in Galilee and Judea, having love and compassion for other human beings. Paul’s religion was the mystic identification of the sinner with Christ as the dying and rising savior God, and this became the central concern and meaning of historic Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant–that the Almighty God became incarnate in Jesus Christ to take upon himself the sin of the world, to bring salvation to those who cannot save themselves. For centuries this sublime myth has been the powerful moving force in Western culture.
The Catholic Church wisely refused to go along with St. Augustine’s insistence that in the Fall man lost all freedom to do good, became corrupt, and could only do evil. Original sin, the Church holds, as set forth in the sixteenth-century Council of Trent, is the loss of the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace which was added to human nature to assure salvation. But it does not entail the corruption of human nature or human reason, or the loss of human freedom capable of at least partially meriting salvation. As it is sometimes said by Catholic theologians, the Fall wounded human nature but did not corrupt it. Besides, the baptism of an infant removes the stain of original sin. But this kind of liberal theology didn’t sit well with Luther and Calvin, who wanted to get back to St. Augustine. They insisted that Adam’s sin corrupted the human race, that we are not sinful because we sin; we sin because we are sinful. Moreover, God elected some to salvation and others to damnation. Those who get to heaven will be there not because they are good. They are good because they were predestined for salvation, created to be in heaven. The rest of us do not go to hell because we are bad; we are bad because we are going to hell. Going to hell is our proper vocation, so it makes perfectly good sense for us to be bad.
Now, it doesn’t do any good to complain to Calvin that it isn’t very nice of God to predestine some of us to damnation when we haven’t even had a chance to sin on our own, because, insists Calvin, God is an absolute sovereign who wills as he pleases, and his will is inscrutable, beyond understanding. It is not possible for human reason to discern the ways of God. It is not within the province of human beings to question the divine will. “What can we expect in the face of God,” Calvin wrote in his Instruction in Faith, “we miserable ones who are oppressed by such a great load of sins and soiled by an infinite filth, except a very certain confusion such as his indignation brings? Though it fills man with terror and crushes him with despair, yet this thought is necessary for us in order that, being divested of our own righteousness, having given up faith in our own power, being rejected from all expectation of life, we may learn from the understanding of our poverty, misery, and infamy, to prostrate ourselves before the Lord and, by the acknowledgement of our inequity, powerlessness, and utter ruin, give him all glory of holiness, might, and deliverance.”
Even Jonathan Edwards, America’s foremost theologian, liked the idea of predestination to heaven and hell. “God’s sovereignty,” wrote Edwards, “used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to the sovereignty of God, and his justice in thus disposing of men, according to his sovereign pleasure; … so that I scarce ever have found as much as the rising doubt of an objection against it … in God’s shewing mercy to whom he will shew mercy, and hardening whom he will… . The doctrine has very often appeared pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.” (Personal Narrative.)
Besides, those of us who are consigned to hell really have no grounds for complaint. In the long run, we come off as well as those created for heaven. Man exists, say the Calvinists, to glorify God. The good people who will end up in heaven glorify his mercy, and we who are destined for hell glorify his justice. The point is that justice is just as important as mercy. So what’s the complaint? I have never found this argument to be very convincing and certainly not very consoling.
Now, I’m not suggesting that the generality of those today who are in the religious tradition of Luther and Calvin believe this kind of nonsense–far from it. There has always been the problem of reconciling such things as predestination with the freedom of will necessary to the meaning of moral responsibility, and the secularizing and liberalizing forces in Western society have eroded and transformed much of the theology, even in the churches. But the offending doctrine of original sin can still be found, though usually in a sublimated form, in the more recent interpretations and editions of the Creeds, and it is basic to much of the evangelical Protestantism today. Its impact on American culture has been very great. The Catholic Church never did officially hold a doctrine of human corruption, and the more liberal Protestant churches no longer advocate such doctrines as divine election, predestination, the perseverance of the saints, and salvation by grace only. In the case of Mormonism, a religion in the Calvinist tradition, even though there is a strong Puritan ethic, the fundamentals of Calvinist theology are explicitly denied. The Mormon theologian James E. Talmage wrote that the doctrine of original sin “with its dread incubus as a burden from which none can escape, has for ages cast its depressing shadow over the human heart and mind.” (The Vitality of Mormonism, p. 48.) I couldn’t have said it better myself.
But original sin is far from dead. It is the basic ingredient of Christian fundamentalism, with its come-to-Jesus movement on college campuses, much of the incessant preaching on radio and television, and even the so-called moral movement in right-wing politics. Nor is it simply the literalists and fundamentalists who have championed original sin in our time. The emergence of religious existentialism, especially following the Second World War, produced a sophisticated theology among liberals who were disenchanted with the optimism of liberal religion. I refer to theologians who believe, for instance, that the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve never existed, but who still believe that original sin properly describes the human condition. Consider, for instance, the leading theologians in this country, Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, both of whom have argued for original sin as the fact of radical alienation. Original sin, for Niebuhr, is the pride and hubris that refuses to accept the condition of human finitude. For Tillich, the myth of the Fall is an attempt to account for the fact of estrangement–that man is estranged from God, from his fellow men, and from the ground of his own being and suffers the anguish of moral guilt and the anguish of annihilation.
The arguments of theologians like Niebuhr and Tillich may be tossed off by the liberals. But they should not be tossed off lightly. The liberal doctrine of man and history has often been superficial and has avoided the more profound psychological analyses of individual behavior and the moral indifference, even the demonic character, of human history.
But what a difference between the absurd ultra-nihilism of the Reformers and typical fundamentalists and the life-affirming character of the Humanist Manifesto! Or contrast it with the religious philosophy of Edwin Wilson, as expressed in one of his sermons: “The thought of nature’s grandeur, the sacrifice of men who gave their lives for freedom, the sympathetic figure of Jesus and others who exemplify the law of kindness, the disinterestedness of men of science, the ideals to which men have again and again turned as the opposite of cruelty and greed and hatred, the faith of progress–all these sources of inspiration are focused in the successful act of liberal worship. Knowing that we, by taking thought of the best, can gain power for better living, we seek to lift our lives to higher ground … . We draw strength from awareness that our roots are in nature.”
But it would be a mistake to suppose that all humanists radiate this life-affirming quality so evident in the Manifesto and in Wilson’s words and work. Some do and some don’t. One who does is Corliss Lamont, the humanist philosopher who over many years published extensively in advocacy of humanism as a philosophy. I well remember a conversation with Lamont in 1948 or ’49, when he argued that personal immortality, which is a basic factor in traditional occidental religion, should not be a crucial issue because it is possible for the individual person to find full satisfaction in this life. There need be no longing for immortality. “This life is all,” he insisted, “and enough,” a confident assertion which became the title of his most famous essay.
Even though most humanists agree that this life is all, not all humanists are as sanguine as Lamont about life’s satisfactions. Consider, for instance, Bertrand Russell, an agnostic, naturalistic humanist and arguably the foremost philosopher of this century, who was acutely conscious of the tragedy of human existence. In the closing passages of Russell’s famous essay “A Free Man’s Worship,” he pronounces a judgment on life that is the diametric opposite of that of Corliss Lamont: “Brief and powerless is Man’s life,” wrote Russell, “on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way … the trampling march of unconscious power.”
Russell’s friends called him Bertie, and on one occasion at a social a friend asked, “Bertie, what if you die and get on the other side and find that you were entirely wrong?” Replied Russell, “I will simply say, ‘But God, you didn’t give us sufficient evidence.’” It seems to me that Russell has a good point there. I certainly agree with him that God keeps herself well hidden.
If Corliss Lamont can be called the “cheerful,” or at least the “hopeful” humanist, Bertrand Russell is the “tragic” humanist. Contrary to Russell’s despair, the Manifesto resounds with optimism and hope, for both the individual and society. But lest we be too easily seduced by the attractiveness of that optimism, we should remember that not only much profound philosophy and religion but most of the world’s great literature, music, and art are on Russell’s side–they eloquently express the consciousness of tragedy in human existence; the Book of Job, for instance: “Man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower and withers… . For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not die… But man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he?”
This sense of tragedy is found in the great Greek dramas, as in the Prometheus Bound of Aeschylus, in Shakespeare, as in Hamlet, in Goethe’s Faust, and in countless others. Or consider the tragic character of the great operas, for instance, Aida, Lucia di Lammermoor, Carmen, Madame Butterfly, Tosca, Il Trovatore, or the Wagnerian Ring. It isn’t simply that tragic literature and art have a strong appeal to our reason and emotions, as if we had an abnormal liking for the morbid. The ground of tragedy is that human experience is in fact infused with pain and suffering as well as good fortune and happiness, and that none can escape the fact that life must end in death. The argument of Epicurus that we cannot experience death so why be concerned about it is entirely logical but not always consoling.
The tragic is recognized in Lamont’s essay, but it can be transcended by the hope for a just society, as in Christianity the failure of Christ’s mission in his crucifixion is transmuted into the victory of his second coming. The trouble is that the “second coming” is always coming, and we may safely assume that it will never get here. I’m afraid that that is also the case with the Manifesto’s just society. The Manifesto seems to be strangely indifferent to the tragedy of the individual, almost as if the hope for an eventual good society, the ideal society which will never be real, can erase the pain and suffering of individual experience. But we are haunted by the pronouncement of the existentialists that society does not really exist, and humanity as a universal does not exist. That only the individual person truly exists, the individual person who knows he or she is going to die. While I was writing these words, Superman, the hope of the world, died.
What might be called the sociohistorical optimism of the Manifesto is an inheritance of the liberal doctrine of progress that achieved its high point at the turn of the last century, a product of two centuries of scientific and technological accomplishment, the spread of democracy, the extension of education, and the improvement in conditions of living. Just prior to the First World War, a leading American educator made a celebrated speech assuring his audience that the world had now achieved a level of sanity and knowledge that made war on any serious scale an impossibility. He had overlooked what Paul Tillich has called the “demonic” factor in human history.
The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr held that the optimistic doctrine of historical progress was a dogma of the humanists who, as they gave up belief in God, turned to history as the instrument of salvation. “The dominant note in modern culture,” he wrote in 1949, “is not so much confidence in reason as faith in history. The conception of a redemptive history informs the most diverse forms of modern culture… . The uncritical confidence in historical development as a mode of redemption may have … contributed to our present disaster by heightening the historical dynamism of Western civilization to the point where it became a demonic fury.” (Faith and History, 1949.)
In 1907 the leader of the American Social Gospel movement. closed his famous book Christianity and the Social Crisis on this sanguine note that was echoed in countless other publications and in the general consciousness of the nation. “In the intellectual life,” wrote Walter Rauschenbusch, “there has been an unprecedented leap forward during the last hundred years… . If the twentieth century could do for us in the control of social forces what the nineteenth did for us in the control of natural forces, our grandchildren would live in a society that would be justified in regarding our present social life as semi-barbarous… . Perhaps these nineteen centuries of Christian influences have been a long preliminary stage of growth, and now the flower and fruit are almost there. If at this juncture we can rally sufficient religious faith and moral strength to snap the bonds of evil and turn the present unparalleled economic and intellectual resources of humanity to the harmonious development of a true social life, the generations yet unborn will mark this as the great day of the Lord for which the ages waited, and count us blessed for sharing in the apostolate that proclaimed it.” (421f.)
My copy of the Rauschenbusch volume was published in 1909. Five years later the First World War was under way, and now the great day of the Lord seems farther away than ever.
It was during that war that the German philosopher Oswald Spengler, serving in the German Army, began to write his ominous prophecies on the coming death of Western culture. His logic and method were seriously flawed, but his penetrating insights were a quite sure sign of the coming times, of the threat of death to a high culture of religion, science, art, and philosophy confronted by a threatening civilization of commerce, power, monstrous cities, and the devastations of war.
“The dictature of money marches on,” wrote Spengler,”… the last conflict is at hand in which the Civilization receives its conclusive form–the conflict between money and blood …The coming of Caesarism breaks the dictature of money and its political weapon democracy . . The sword is victorious over the money … Money is overthrown and abolished only by blood . . World-history is the world court . .. Always it has sacrificed truth and justice to might and race, and passed doom of death upon men and peoples in whom truth was more than deeds, and justice than power. And so the drama of a high Culture–that wondrous world of deities, arts, thoughts, battles, cities–closes with the return of the pristine facts of the blood eternal that is one and the same as the ever-circling cosmic flow…For us, however, whom a Destiny has placed in this Culture and at this moment of its development–the moment when money is celebrating its last victories, and the Caesarism that is to succeed approaches with quiet, firm step–our direction, willed and obligatory at once is set for us within narrow limits, and on any other terms life is not worth the living. We have not the freedom to reach to this or to that, but the freedom to do the necessary or to do nothing. And a task that historic necessity has set will be accomplished with the individual or against him.” (Decline of the West, vol. 2 , pp. 506f.)
Today there is little incentive to believe in general social progress. Most historians and philosophers of history have been severely chastened by the wars, the Holocaust, economic failure, famine, and now even by the trivialization of our culture and the current political failures that threaten to destroy what yesterday had such great promise. But still in 1973, Manifesto II closed with words that, while in secular rather than religious language, are in their optimism remarkably like the closing words of Rauschenbusch’s book. Here is the close of the Manifesto:
These are the times for men and women of good will to further the building of a peaceful and prosperous world… We urge recognition of the common humanity of all people. We further urge the use of reason and compassion to produce the kind of world we want–a world in which peace, prosperity, freedom, and happiness are widely shared…. Let us work together for a humane world by means commensurate with humane ends… We will survive and prosper only in a world of shared humane values. We can initiate new directions for humankind; ancient rivalries can be superseded by broad-based cooperative efforts… What more daring a goal for humankind than for each person to become, in ideal as well as practice, a citizen of a world community. It is a classical vision; we can now give it new vitality. Humanism thus interpreted is a moral force that has time on its side. We believe that humankind has the potential intelligence, good will, and cooperative skill to implement this commitment in the decades ahead.
Now, it is obvious that there has been much progress in our century–in science, technology, and transportation, for instance, or in the spread of literacy and education, and most of all in medicine and electronics. But we live in the century of the Holocaust, of the atomic bomb, of genocide, of the starvation of millions, and of unspeakable violence–violence both fictional and real that, like starvation, is daily before our eyes. In our own time we have become acutely aware of the capacity of the individual and society to commit the most obscene and unthinkable evil. We have seen so much suffering, hopelessness, and despair that we are in danger of becoming insensitive to it. To say the least, we have been chastened in our optimism. Notwithstanding our great intellectual, moral, and spiritual resources, there are no guarantees whatsoever on our future. We live in a world of great danger. We no longer talk about such things as human perfectibility, or Manifest Destiny; we no longer believe in automatic progress, if we believe in progress at all. Only a few fanatics now look seriously for the second coming just around the corner. I rather think that with all its virtues, the optimism of the Manifesto can stand a similar chastening.
I want to comment very briefly on a deficiency and a major strength of the Humanist Manifesto. The primary concern of the Manifesto is essentially ethical, as it should be, the hope for an eventual good and just society. It’s a little short on the individual, but perhaps that’s not serious. But what is regrettable is its virtual neglect of the aesthetic element of human experience. Of the classical value triad of truth, beauty, and goodness, it comes down hard on goodness, and the concern for truth permeates the entire document. But beauty and the arts receive short shrift. The affective side of human nature deserves equal billing with the rational and moral sides.
A great strength of the Manifesto, one that I can enthusiastically endorse, is its insistence that morality does not and should not require a religious sanction. Religion and morals are obviously intimately involved. They support each other and give meaning to each other. Religion can and has and does provide morality with a powerful motivation, and a religion without moral substance would simply be a set of cult beliefs and practices, with no real living strength. But morality, which has to do with “oughts” and “ought-nots,” issues from human experience. Whether it is the law from Mt. Sinai, a judgment of priests or prophets or of an authoritative scripture, it is the product of human experience, reflecting and expressing the value experiences and judgments, large and small, arising from personal conduct, social behavior, and human aspiration and idealism. The word of God heard by the prophets is their own voice echoed back to them from the encircling void.
I have a volume entitled I Yahweh, the autobiography of God. It’s getting so everyone is writing his or her life story these days. The problem is, this book was ghost-written by a writer named Grey. But Grey really knew the story of the life of the God of the Bible–from the time that he was awakened in the Ark of the Covenant and tutored by the prophets and Jesus, to his maligning by the theologians, to his resuscitation by the social gospelers. Fortunately, he didn’t stay around long enough to be insulted by the televangelists. God’s last contact, according to his autobiography, was with that remarkable evangelist of the Four-Square Gospel, Aimee Semple McPherson. When he got to Aimee in the line after the service in Angelus Temple and shook hands with her, she said to him, in her inimitable way, “God bless you, brother.” He replied, “God bless you, sister.” When God asked her what she was doing to hasten the coming of the Kingdom, she said, “I’m packing ’em in, brother, I’m packing ’em in.”
I’m told that there are some who think that because humanism is a reasonable, scientifically oriented, highly moral, idealistic religion or philosophy, it will eventually, in our advanced society at least, drive the Judeo-Christian religion into retirement if not oblivion. This is a vain hope, because it’s not likely to happen. We do not live by reason alone, and scientific advancement only enhances the mystery of reality that nourishes religion. Besides, the radical modern de-sacralization of life has failed to obliterate religion even in the irreligious, who live by the vestiges of sacred symbols and sacred times and places. We cannot know what the world will be like a thousand years from now. If any of our cultural descendants are still around and in their right minds, they may all be humanists, though I doubt it. But we may hope that any religions that survive will show considerable influence from today’s humanism. Where is the force that could destroy the Jewish religion–the faith that survived the Babylonian captivity, the Greek suppression, the Roman destruction, the Inquisition, the medieval pogroms, and, in our own century, the Holocaust, the most unspeakable evil in human history? And, as for Christianity, it should be a crusade, as Ericksen held, but the Christian religion is also a consolation. A faith that the Eternal became incarnate in time to overcome the agony of sin and death will be around in some form for a long time to come, bringing strength and consolation to those who face the tragedies of human existence. The dogma and the sacramental cult may fail, but the profound faith and hope that the things that matter most will not ultimately be destroyed by the things that matter least will not die easily. We can hope that in the years ahead religion will shed the remnants of the negativism that still clings to it and radiate the life-affirming, humane character that is the heart of the Humanist Manifesto.
Dr. McMurrin earned a B.A. and M.A. at the University of Utah, and a Ph.D. at the University of Southern California where he was appointed to the faculty of the School of Philosophy. In 1948 he accepted a position as Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah.
At the University of Utah, Sterling McMurrin has held faculty appointments in the Departments of Philosophy, History, and Educational Administration and administrative appointments as Dean of the College of Letters and Science, Academic Vice President, Provost, Dean of the Graduate School, and founding Director of the Tanner Lectures on Human Values. Dr.McMurrin has lectured and written extensively on the history and philosophy of religion. He now holds the title of E.E. Ericksen Distinguished Professor Emeritus.
The Humanities Center of the University of Utah recently established the Sterling M. McMurrin Lectures on Religion. An inaugural set of lectures will be given by Dr. McMurrin, who states: “…It is time for us to give the study of religion the attention it needs—serious, reasonable, knowledgeable study—unless we are resigned to becoming victims of the irrationality and emotionalism in religion that are already so much in evidence.”
Truth via Religion or Science
Current Trends in Contemporary Philosophy that Affect the Foundations of Humanism was the topic of discussion at the Utah Humanists meeting on January ninth. Dr. Clifton McIntosh, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah was the featured speaker.
There is an intellectual movement in existence which is fundamentalist in nature that poses a threat to Humanism because its premise is that “Religious belief is as valid as scientific belief when it comes to discovering truths.” The movement’s purpose is to diminish the important steps science utilizes in arriving at truths about the world. The movement asserts and teaches the following:
- That religious experience is as valid as scientific experience.
- That there is no evidence that science tells us truths about the world
- That only good people have religious experiences, others do not
As humanists we must remember that there are two central foundations of humanism:
First, a belief that there is no rational basis to conclude that religion can bring forth knowledge.
Second, that knowledge is possible and will emerge only by using the Scientific Method. Science is of primary importance to humanists. Science can be wrong, of course, but the mistakes are usually corrected. Ethical and respected scientists do not fall into the trap of pre-determining or choosing what will work.
Science is going to succeed in bringing us the best accounts of the world because religious experience is limited and subjective. There are no checks and balances in religious experiences. Everyone’s experience is considered as valid as the other person’s. Religion is very individualistic and has a multitude of differences. We must evaluate specific belief systems according to their own standards, not by ours.
The difference between a religionist’s claims and a scientist’s claims is that the scientist just doesn’t take an experience of the senses and leave it at that. He/she goes one step further and wants to know how the experiences of the senses works. Scientists use methods that measurable. Professor McIntosh states that the burden of proof is on the religious epistemologists to prove their beliefs are true. For example, they must develop a valid and measurable test to prove God’s existence. It cannot simply be said that God exists because somebody had to create this world. There cannot be a double standard of proving truths.
Scientists work from the frame of reference that all ideas are not equivalent, that all ideas are not the same, and that all forms of life are not equally as good.
The two questions we should ask ourselves are:
How do we define truth?
What are the truths about the world?
Figuring out what truth actually is becomes difficult because the Scientific Method takes time, and many variables come into play. The upshot of all of this is twofold:
First: Science must always remain skeptical in order to progress.
Second: The scientific method is superior to religion when it comes to discovering truth and knowledge about the world. It is best that we periodically test our assumptions, not just to believe them because of personal experience.
Because there is a decreasing interest in science by students, the challenge of the 21st century will be encourage our young people to value science and the Scientific Method so we may discover truths about this world which will lead to a better and more rational life.
Morality, Religion, and Humanism
The following is a summary of a presentation given by University of Utah Professor, William N. Whistler, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy at the May meeting of the Humanists of Utah.
I would like to suggest some philosophical ideas that are compatible with humanism. You are a group with whom I have a great deal of sympathy, so I am arguing for your position.
Modes of Inquiry
There appears to be a resurgence of American Pragmatism during the last few years. Charles Pierce was the first to expound on it. In an essay entitled “Fixation of Belief” he examined various modes of inquiry people use to substantiate their belief system. He argued for the view that there is one reliable method wherein we can justify our basic beliefs. Pierce identified three methods, the first which he felt was the best. First, there is the tenacity mode. This is the “head in the sand” thinking. People tenaciously hold onto their belief system even in the light of other evidence presented to them. They have already made up their mind, so there is no need to question any further. Then there is the authority mode. These type of thinkers believe in God, or do not believe in God, because some authority says so. It is an uncritical type of approach to belief. The third and best mode according to Pierce is the empirical mode. This approach is open-minded and gives us the most reliable evidence. It is scientific in nature, because people can change their mind in light of new evidence discovered. This mode is open-ended, self-correcting, and independent of any institutional authority.
The empirical mode of thinking has a tradition which goes back to Plato and his independent way of pursuing truth. Plato taught that moral rightness should not be determined just because the gods command, nor because they love piety. Instead, our standards for truth should be chosen independent of religion or of the gods. It is a personal quest.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Kant, a German philosopher, believed in God and at the same time was a pure rationalist. He felt that religion could be justified by reason alone because mankind has a moral nature. And because of this innate quality, man could arrive at some Universal Moral Laws. Kant also believed humans to have an innate dignity and worth, and all we need to do in order to reach a moral belief system is to use our powers of reason.
During the 20th century there have been different movements which prove compatible with Humanism. In the Existential Movement, there emerged an idea which espoused the notion that human beings are a source of value in and of themselves. This concept elevated mankind to a higher status than before.
John Dewey believed there was reflective morality and an unreflective morality. Reflective morality happens when people get to the point where they not only have a belief system, but they begin to think critically about those beliefs; they get to wondering if their beliefs have any grounding. Reflective morality moves beyond authority, because one personally examines life critically. We create our own personal values through critical reflection.
Dewey also believed in sincerity, in that, if we believe we are a source of value, then we will avoid self-deception. Self deception is either totally blaming our present condition on our environmental conditions, which is not taking responsibility; or it is believing we are the absolute masters of our fate, because we always have choices. Dewey felt we are in the process of becoming, and as a result, we can’t say exactly what we are essentially. So it is bad faith to say “I am an honest person,” because honesty is not a permanent characteristic. We are always in a condition of what we can become. The struggle to be a good person is a never-ending process, for there will always be more choices to make tomorrow.
Dewey also believed people need to have a cooperative quest for truth which should be based on diversity of opinion and mutual trust. There needs to be an open marketplace for ideas where the approach is both open-minded and broad-minded; with a breadth of outlook and wide sympathy. (I must interject here that there is room for Religious Humanism, and it can be compatible with science. However, we cannot make gains with any type of dogmatic tenacity.)
A Set of Virtues
The exercise of good judgment is critical to thinking properly. Good judgment is when we apply a set of virtues in pursuing a problem. We need virtues such as open-mindedness, sincerity, and fairness. We should also weigh conflicting information in order to gain insight so we can make wise decisions. We need to be flexible in our depositions when we think of how we confront moral issues. Moral courage is crucial in developing a moral philosophy because the minority, who are usually on the cutting edge of change, will always be bucking the majority, who usually maintain the status quo.
It is important that a particular end, like happiness, also be considered in developing a belief system; and that both ends and means are seen as being vitally important.
Critical Thinking Brings Doubt and Fear
When we use the process of critical reflection, then it opens the door to doubting, and once that door is opened, it comes into play, because we see our accepted beliefs begin to crumble; and we dread the consequences. In some cases, critical thinking itself might be sinful, because our accepted belief considers it immoral to question. This is tenacious type of thinking.
We need to discover what kind of casual factors create and encourage people not to think critically. We should ask ourselves “Why is there a resistance to critical thinking?” Education is the answer to help others learn the value of critical thinking.
I would like to leave you with the idea that it is a fallacy to believe that the subject of philosophy is the private domain of professional philosophers. It is not. Philosophy is within the reach of everyone.
A Silent Pulpit
The following is a summary of the presentation made by Law Professor Edwin B. Firmage at the February meeting of the Humanists of Utah
The ideal relationship between church and state is a tough proposition. In the past, horrendous crimes were committed in the name of the church, such as when St. Augustine interpreted Jesus’ words to mean “Force them to come in.”.. Because of the violent past, our country’s founders insisted upon a distance between church and state. However, the First Amendment right to free speech, we must also remember not to violate the third Commandment, that being taking the name of the Lord in vain. Some of the direct consequences of our concept of law come from fundamental religious notions, such as the idea of inherent human rights as embodied in our Bill of Rights. Then there’s the bearing of false witness, slander, the taking of oaths, mens rea (or criminal intent) and defilement. The legacy of “the importance of the individual” comes from the era of Enlightenment, which demanded reforms.
If we study our history, during the 1960’s, the Civil Rights Movement originated in the southern churches. I personally favor the clergy who marched with Martin Luther King for human rights. There are vicious happenings in the world which the church should be actively speaking out against. It’s sad that the influence and muscle of the church is used to fight such insignificant things as betting on horse races, liquor laws, and the like. Churches should be pulpit-pounding for more spiritual and moral issues, such as protecting our environment, reducing military spending, improving social programs such as education, and working for world peace. These are the subjects that are matters of faith and morals. The condition of our spirituality has more to do with the well-being of our environment than with opposing sex education, gambling and liquor laws.
We humans are vastly interconnected and must not be circumscribed by our own personal families. We should ask ourselves, “Who are our brothers and sisters?” There are gross injustices going on in the world, such as nuclear threats, inequitable economies, civil rights violations, and mass hunger. We must see the larger picture of humanity by saying to ourselves, “My humanity is larger than myself, larger than my religion, larger than my ethnicity, and larger than my gender.”
St. Francis Assisi, know as the patron Saint of the environment, had a deep reverence for the animals of the world. He conversed with the birds, and felt respect for the earth. After having many experiences with nature, I myself question the difference between the organic and the inorganic. How does on distinguish a plant from the soil in which it grows? We are all part of an ecosystem, and we should be spokespersons for the ecosystem, and not subjugate the animals or the earth to us, nor destroy it. In very few things are we humans unique. The pulpit in the civic square should address the environment and social problems of the day. The essence of humanism is not to concern ourselves with how we define God and kill each other because of our differences, but to concern ourselves with our brothers and sisters of the world, and attempt to make our heaven here on earth.
The church has traditionally feared anything new. I honestly differ with church authorities on the subjects of sex., the ERA, abortion and women holding the priesthood. I would love to see the time when churches take a stand and put the Earth in the forefront of their liturgy, where they invest themselves in the concept ofone system of life, where there is no line dividing gender, race, religion, and animal, and where the oneness of humanity is emphasized. I would like to see a time when countries do not concern themselves with petty ethnic divisions, but rather with our interconnectedness and our interdependence. We simply cannot afford to ignore our ecosystems with thermal nuclear war at hand. We must see the larger picture of humanity if we want to survive.
We are taking God’s name in vain when we consciously exclude gays from a hate bill, when we vote against public housing, and when we fail to feed our hungry children in school. We must no longer have a silent pulpit on these types of social issues. Religions must not confine themselves to piety. They must open up to larger concerns such as recognizing the need for day care centers and public housing. They must work toward reducing the military budget and increase social spending for much needed projects such as highway repair. They must work toward eliminating racism; reduce poverty, homelessness, and unemployment. They must also provide for quality education, and eliminate war as a means of solving problems. These are the matters of faith and morals we should be concerning ourselves with. As the saying goes, “We must think globally and act locally.” We can accomplish this by putting pressure on the public person, and by encouraging an active, not a silent pulpit.
Humanism: Is It a Religion?
The follow is a summary of a presentation given by University of Utah Professor, Peter C. Appleby, Ph.D., Chairman of the Department of Philosophy, at the April meeting of the Humanists of Utah
What’s in a name, and does it make any difference if Humanism is a religion or not? Religion is difficult to define because it is an “open-textured” concept. Everyone knows what it means, but defining it is much like trying to define the word “game.” It has many definitions, and is a broad-ranged phenomenon. When we say “religion,” most people think of God, or a supernatural being. Humanists eschew the concept. The philosopher, Alfred Whitehead, said “Usually if you have a theology, you believe in a God, ritual, a holy book, revered leaders, sacred objects, a sense of awe, guilt, adoration, and a moral code sanctioned by deity. These are the central features of religion.
It is recognized that religion does not require a belief in God because there are religions which do not, such as Zen Buddhism. However, all do have some of the same features of religion. We can also use the word “religion” metaphorically, such as when we say “he makes a religion out of playing golf.” Religion, then is that which concerns us most.
The Humanist Manifestos I and II are much like a creed, and are clear efforts in that direction. But humanists fear creeds, dogma, and exclusiveness. They feel creeds can become obnoxious because they can and have become absurdities that every one is demanded to submit to, and that the function of a creed is to separate the good guys from the bad guys. This results in mindless intolerance. We can have suggestions of a creed with a shared philosophical perspective which is open to change.
A good thing about the Humanist Manifestos is that they are under constant revision: the feminists are claiming gender bias; there is an “eco-spirituality” which ties human life to all kinds of non-human life; and a “world view” philosophy in which there is a natural order to life, and a belief that we are all made from the same fabric. The latter is a loving perspective where we realize we can’t live without our interconnectedness.
Should Humanism become a religion? There are privileges and liabilities in becoming a religion. People have a universal need for a spiritual home where they can express their beliefs and commitment in a community of faith. We all experience “turning points,” and need “rites of passage” in our lives, wherein we seem naturally to turn to something like religion. The turning points arise especially during birth, marriage, and death when we tend to look for a representative of a religion for some type of ceremony. Many of us look for a Faith Community during those moments in our lives. In the last Utah Humanist, Arthur Jackson said, “We must have religion because we need social bonding in order to be effective.”
The Community of Faith
I see a need for faith in a “temple of humanity,” but we cannot invent the liturgy and religious symbols to go with it. These types of things must evolve naturally as a result of the needs of the “community of faith.” We just cannot think up a set of symbols and liturgy to use, because it will fail as a result of its artificiality.
The Unitarian Church is a non-dogmatic religious group. Perhaps this is the “community of faith” of humanism. We have no choice but to wait and see. Innovative forms of expression will take root much like Christianity took root. It is a natural growth phenomenon.
There is a need for a community of faith where we can celebrate the rites of passage and life’s turning points. People need it most intensely, however, it can be offensive to get unknowingly involved in religious rites. We don’t need pious platitudes such as “returning to our Father in Heaven.” Maybe the non-dogmatic things can work.
Our social needs are connected to our personal identity. We have spiritual needs that require us to discuss the meaning of life with others, and talk about the things that are of value which transcend us. We need to have faith that somehow or other life means something; that life is worthwhile in and of itself. And the fight for humanism is worth it. Faith enriches our life, here and now. Ordinary folk need to hope that the more decent things that they do really matter, not necessarily eternally, but at least in this life.
Without a community of faith, we run the risk of impoverishment. Spirituality is a dimension of the “soul” which unites our emotional functions, making it possible to appreciate beauty. It also develops our sensitivity to the personal qualities of human beings and helps us gain a sense of the depth of our passage through life. There is no such thing as the “soul,” but we are “soulish” and becoming soulish heightens our sensibilities, and means that we can discover what inspire people to think of human beings as having a soul. It is both intellectual and emotional in nature. Human beings are capable of many dimensions. A good deal is known about mysticism, and we have levels of awareness that only some people achieve.
The New Religion
Perhaps a new religion will grow out of humanistic discourses where there will be a new sense of the sacred with rituals that have meaning. There are trade-offs either way, whether humanism becomes a religion or not. One risks the problem of dogmatic exclusivism, where there are “in groups” and “out groups.” But there is a spiritual loss in not becoming a religion also, because the spirituality that we find in vibrant religions where the celebrations of great occasions can be very meaningful. (Somehow the Wendover wedding doesn’t quite do it.)
I believe it will be a win-win situation for the community if humanism does become a religion. Religious qualities are possible within a secular and materialistic setting. Religious qualities are possible within a secular and materialistic setting. Religion gives us personal identity and values, and it helps us express that which is ultimately important to us. We can have a depth of commitment and have the sacred without the superstitious. We do not want to get caught in a situation where we declare, “Not believing in God is the God I believe in.” If we allow ourselves to do this then we are on the same par as creationism.
Becoming a religion can be a serious and dangerous undertaking, as well as a vibrant solution to our spirituality. In essence, we need to do all the things that churches do, but in our own way.
Humanistic Elements in Classical Philosophy
Summary of the lecture by Peter C. Appleby, Ph.D., at the monthly meeting of the Humanists of Utah, October 8, 1992.
The antecedents of humanism can be found in the Golden Age of Greek Philosophy. It is not like modern humanism but has humanistic characteristics. Institutions in the Greek world had become more complicated and they developed new ways of thinking, having doubts about Homeric philosophy, the mystery religions and the various Heroes. This new thinking did not abandon religion per se but was developing an urge to follow science, intelligence and the recognition of the power of reason.
The beginnings were in Mylesian philosophical thought (Thales, 640 BCE), that questioned evil and speculated about organic evolution (Anaximander). Xenophanes (580 BCE) attacked anthropomorphism: “If cattle had hands and drew pictures of Gods, Gods would look like cows,” concluding that Gods are of our own making.
The Pythagorean Society (Pythagoras, 497 BCE, was a mathematical genius) tried to understand the world quantitatively, a kind of humanism, but still was concerned with a mystical religion, or theism.
Parmenides (515 BCE) was a philosophical rationalist, stating that the real is rational and the rational is real. “It is the same thing that can be thought and that can be.” He claimed that an understanding of the world has to be under control of reason and no other criteria should be considered.
Democritus (460-370 BCE) speculated on the theory of evolution and physics and attacked religion and superstitions. He believed that observation and reasoning is the source of knowledge about the world.
Sophists schools trained young men of Greek society to become rulers. They saw human life as malleable: we can shape and control our own lives, a kind of modern humanism. (Plato despised them as morally irresponsible because tools were put in the hands of leaders without telling them what to do.)
The first notable humanist of whom there is a reliable record was Protagoras, (c 450 BCE) a Greek teacher and philosopher whom we know from Plato’s dialogue. Protagoras formulated the famous dictum “Man is the measure of all things, of things that are that they are, and of things that are not that they are not.” This statement was at the time a daring and unorthodox thought. For such iconoclastic sentiments, the Athenians accused Protagoras of impiety, banished him, and burnt his works in the market place after sending around a herald to collect them from all who had copies in their possession.
SOCRATES (470-399 BCE), PLATO (384-345 BCE), AND ARISTOTLE (384-322 BCE)
These three men were not really humanists, but humanistic elements are seen in their philosophy. They were religious but contemptuous of the idea that truth comes to us through supernatural or other religious means. Their position was that we can best understand human values by studies of what humans are good at doing, and that the essence of human nature is known from observation and studies of what humans are. Aristotle’s Naturalistic Ethics separates his philosophy from Plato and Socrates.
A number of other Greek philosophers in the fifth century BCE showed humanist tendencies in that they, too, concentrated on the analysis of manrather than on the analysis of physical nature, as the earlier generation of Greek thinkers had done. Most of them were Sophists, that is, wandering “teachers of wisdom” who discussed practically all the major issues that have ever arisen in philosophy.
Plato’s criticism and satirization of the Sophists made them the foil of a fellow-Sophist, the wise and loveable Socrates, the intellectual and moral hero of the Dialogues. Socrates expounded typically humanist maxims such as “Know thyself” and “The good individual in the good society.” While believing in a God himself and having hopes of immortality, he tried to work out an ethical system that would function independently of religious doctrine. Through the chief Socratic dialogues of Plato there is an abundance of mellow ethical philosophy, relevant for humanism, that can be sifted out from the frequently super-naturalistic and anti-democratic currents of thought in these works.
Aristotle was the most universal of Greek philosophers, a student of Plato and tutor of Alexander the Great. He was the first great naturalist in philosophy and gave power to the life of reason by clarifying the laws of logic. Also, he was a founder of science as an organized body of fact, and he explored and extended practically the whole range of knowledge as it existed in his day. His ethics stressed the happiness of humankind in the here and now and that the human mind was able to attain moral truth without any supernatural help.
A set of philosophies pessimistic in character developed after the conquests of Alexander the great and the later deterioration of the empire.
One was that mankind lives in a tough world and must accommodate to the harsh realities of life.
In 341 BCE, Epicurus defined philosophy as “the activity which, by means of words and arguments, secures the happy life. He advised his followers to pay attention to practical questions to overcome the sources of stress and anxiety coming from death and the gods. It was a kind of negative happiness which comes by understanding what is around us. Gods? Evidence is slim. It was a non-religious kind of humanism: “Where you are, death is not; where death is, you are not.”
The Cynics were despised among the Greeks (cynics meaning “the dogs”). This ascetic philosophy taught that humans should get along with as little as possible. This forces attention on a more cosmopolitan outlook and curtailed expectations.
Skeptics thought that there is very little that human beings can know. They said that reason and observation only leads to the conclusion that the senses are confused, so the solitary concern here is about the sources of information.
The Roman Stoic philosophy stressed cultivating the greatness of the soul. Stoicism is not an irreligious philosophy, it is an ideal of the unity of all processes going on around us, and that humans should live in harmony with what ever happens. There is a deep religious element to Stoicism with a broad cosmic attitude. It is both optimistic and fatalistic.
The ancient world has made a contribution to humanism in that it was neither irreligious nor anti-religious but brought about new ways of thinking. Human beings gradually became aware of the self. One conclusion was that when listening to the gods, we are only listening to human beings.
A question from the audience asked for clarification of hedonism. Dr. Appleby replied that it is an ethical doctrine with a primary aim to search for pleasure. The positive way of obtaining this goal is to know what kinds of pleasure are worth pursuing and what kinds are not. (It can be orgiastic in nature.) The negative approach is to eliminate the source of pain. With freedom, this can be difficult and even the act itself quite painful.
After more general discussion, Professor Appleby ended with the comment: “It is hard work to think for oneself.”
–Bob Green and Willa Mae Helmick
Myths as Metaphors
The first in a series of lectures and discussions on the history of humanism was given by Dr. Randall O. Stewart, Ph.D., at the September meeting of the Utah Humanists. The topic was “Humanism in Ancient Greece and Rome.”
Professor Stewart began his lecture by explaining the “standard story line” that most scholars believe the lives of ancient Greeks and Romans were dominated by gods and goddesses and religion. These cultures believed that supernatural forces controlled the everyday events of their lives, and they naturally ascribed these events to these gods, accepting the literal existence of deities. Pre-Socratic philosophers began looking for scientific explanations, but still acknowledged the gods, and the god’s control. This changed with the philosophers Socrates and Plato, who started to debunk myths and introduce rationalism.
The Mythical Mind
After this explanation, Professor Stewart introduced his own interpretation: that the mythical mind saw the natural phenomena in the world as mysteries; therefore, the writers of the day created poetic mythical explanations which were metaphorical. For example, the world was thought to be like a flat plate, and the sun was the great God Apollo with his chariot of fire rising in the east, flying across the sky during the day, and descending into the western ocean at night to float on the great river back to the East. Our present use of the phrase, “Acts of God,” to describe natural disasters as events beyond human control, is a metaphor and can help us understand how the ancient Greeks interpreted their world.
In analyzing the myths, some conclusions can be drawn. There are five characteristics of the mythical mind.
- Everything has a soul, and is living.
- There is no distinction between the parts and the whole, a part can equal the whole.
- Any result can come from any cause.
- There is no distinction between that which is real and that which is unreal.
- The mythical mind looks at things in a concrete way, rather than in the abstract.
The capability of humans to distinguish between the real and the unreal evolved very slowly. It was a developmental process. If we were to have asked an ancient Greek, “Can’t you tell the difference between the real and the unreal?” the question would have made no sense, because they didn’t see the difference.
It Is All Metaphors
As we study the ancient myths, we discover we are actually dealing with metaphors – visual and colorful figures of speech used to add depth and meaning to an idea. Humanism can masquerade behind metaphors. If we push the Greek myths far enough, they become rational Humanism, and Humanism was flowering long before Plato’s time. An example of rational thinking is when Plato speaks about the gods telling him to do certain things. He couches all their advice in metaphors.
The Bicameral Mind
Professor Stewart then introduced the theory by Julian Jaynes, from his book “The Origin of Consciousness In The Breakdown of The Bicameral Mind” (Houghton Mifflin, 1976). In this theory, early humans had a bicameral mind, or a left brain and a right brain, and could not “think” as we do today. They were unable to introspect, experienced auditory hallucinations, and thought them to be the voices of gods, actually heard, as in the Iliad. These voices, coming from the right brain, told a person what to do under circumstances of stress. When there is a division between the two halves of the brain, people may have related to deities as personifications of inner forces and personality traits.
Homer lived in a culture where the emphasis is on “hero,” not the deities. The emphasis is on humanness: life is wonderful even with its pains.
The culture described in the Iliad has these characteristics:
- There is no sense of divine justice or punishment.
- The gods neither reward nor punish humans for their actions.
- Even the most noble person suffers the same pains in the Underworld as the basest criminal.
- There is no more fear of the gods than of human overlords.
- One fears only loss of face – one fears shame, as do the gods themselves.
The deities represent humanness – metaphors – probably not literal for a large segment of society. For example, Aphrodite is the personification of love, and this makes as much sense as a biological and physiological explanation for this emotion. The comic playwrights and poets of the time perceived the myths of old as metaphors and poked fun at the literal interpretation of these myths. It’s all metaphor. Socrates, while in his prison cell, before he drank the hemlock, goes into a long mythical exploration of the afterlife, after which he says, “No sensible man would rely on the things I have just described.”
Plato also uses “myths” and “gods” to make his points, and introduces a myth only to dismiss its literal meaning. The underlying meaning is the message. Plato’s god was reason; he was talking about his own humanity.
During the discussion that followed, Professor Stewart explained that the Greek heroes had certain characteristics attributed to them, such as miraculous births, great deeds, coming back to life, and deification. As we study any of the Greek heroes, we find an extraordinary emphasis on human abilities.
Further, he said that the Greek heroes lived life in the present, and didn’t believe in the literalness of their myths. If our myths are taken literally, then it becomes religion. “Myth is somebody else’s religion, and religion is misunderstood myth,” as Joseph Campbell put it. Jesus is a great metaphor. He teaches us about the things we should be doing now, and he accomplished what is considered the “ideal pattern” of the life of a hero.
In conclusion, he stated that the Greeks loved life, and made the most of the present. Life was great for them: tough but great. They faced the trials and tribulations squarely on their own. They believed in their myths, but only figuratively, and they were mostly speaking about their own humanity.