Cultural Diversity for High School Students
I was invited by Professor Ed Firmage to participate in his West High School series on Cultural Diversity October 23, 1995. The University of Utah Professor of Law initiated the forum to heighten the interest of high school students in the great diversity of cultural belief systems in this nation. It was an honor for me to speak about humanism to approximately 200 students.
I explained that 20th Century humanism is a movement to preserve the ideals of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. These two periods of western history saw humans freed from the tyrannies of both governments and religions. The spokesmen for these two periods renewed public interest in the democracy of the Golden Age of the Greeks and the Romans. They spoke out against the divine right of sovereigns and the kingly rights of the divine that had enslaved the human mind for a thousand years from the fall of the Roman Empire about 400AD to the Renaissance of the fourteenth century.
The first great document to declare this revolutionary ideal was the Magna Carta that called upon the king of England to halt the secular and religious tyranny and give the citizens the right to self government. This movement gradually replaced ecclesiastical control with secular control. It inspired growing respect for human dignity that eventually led to the Renaissance and over many years generated such great minds as Francis Bacon, Copernicus, Galileo and Newton.
The Renaissance was followed by the Enlightenment, a time of increasing optimism led by such giant intellects as David Hume, Voltaire, Jefferson and Jackson. These individuals stimulated the questioning of superstition and deplored imposed ignorance. Their thinking led to the next great humanist document, the Declaration of Independence, fueled our revolution against British rule, and supported the French revolution against tyranny. The third humanist document was the US Constitution, then came the Bill of Rights and the great French document of humanism, the Rights of Man.
Modern humanism continues to extol the virtues of individualism, freedom, human dignity, equality and the separation of religion and government. Humanists urge a constant vigil to keep both government and religion from re-imposing their tyranny over the human mind.
My remarks received a strong ovation and several students talked with me after class requesting information about humanism. It was an encouraging experience.
Discussion Group Report
The Human Conscious
By Richard Layton
The focus of our April meeting was the human unconscious mind. The lively discussion was led by John Paul. Sigmund Freud, the Father of psychoanalysis, cut a sloppy road into the wilderness of the unconscious by studying only ill humans. He developed the process of psychoanalysis, which is introspection externally orchestrated by another. It is a search for truth, one’s inner truth.
Freud discovered the important real connection or relationship between neurosis and religion. Therapy for various neuroses can take one of two general paths: 1) correcting the exhibited behavior (social adjustment) or 2) correcting the underlying cause (through psychotherapy.)
Freud wrote some 35 books, including Moses and Monotheism and The Future of an Illusion.
Carl Justav Jung saw the unconscious as 1) a source of revelation and 2) a symbol for that which in religious language is “God.” In this view, the fact that we are subject to the dictates of our “unconscious” is a religious phenomenon. Our “individual unconscious” is just a small part of the “collective unconscious,” which permeates the entire universe. This “psychological theology” is brilliant but theistic.
Abraham Maslow concentrated on self-identity and self-actualization. He taught that each human who falls short of a full-blooming humanness subtracts from what could have been–should have been. He believed that most, if not all, evil could be attributed to human ignorance. In this framework he developed his hierarchy of basic needs.
Buddhists developed Tibetan Yoga and the Secret Doctrine almost 2500 years ago. They taught that certain sensations so resemble each other that they need to be studied to know what is actually happening. Examples include: desire vs. faithfulness, attachment vs. benevolence and compassion, cessation of thought vs. the Quiescence of Unlimited Mind (bliss), deceptive methods vs. prudence and charlatans vs. sages.
Erich Fromm defined religion as any system of thought and action shared by a group which gives the individual a frame of orientation and an object of devotion.
We discussed that when humans pray, they are basically attempting to put themselves in touch with their unconscious. In trying to understand the functions of the human mind, we are considering a 3-pound electrochemical meat organ. When damaged, “mindfulness” can be severely impaired. This fact is proof that mindfulness is directly dependent upon the condition of this meat organ, not some mysterious “out there” phenomenon. Although we know less about the brain than about some other organs, we humans are light-years ahead of our ancestors in knowledge about ourselves.
Strategic Plan Ready For Member Review
A committee of volunteers has finished drafting a strategic plan for Humanists of Utah and will submit its draft to the Board of Directors at its August meeting. The committee will recommend that the Board distribute copies of the draft to all members at the September general meeting, and that the October general meeting be devoted to discussing the plan, amending it as appropriate, and voting on its adoption.
The draft plan identifies six goals and a general plan of action under each goal. Six committees would be formed, one for each goal. If the draft plan is adopted at the October meeting, members will be invited to volunteer for one or more of the committees.
Please review the draft plan carefully when you receive your copy in September and consider seriously which committees best fit your time and talents.
I find myself growing increasingly uneasy with the frequent use of the word spirit in humanist writings. The president of the humanists of Georgia, Tom Malone, is currently exploring and defending the term as a legitimate humanist expression defining the inner essence of an individual. Khoren Arisian, a leading humanist in the Ethical Culture Society, writes about humanists as spiritual models and the Ethical Culture movement as a spiritual community. Jean Kotkin, executive director of the Humanist Institute, writes about the lack of spirituality in humanism and the need for a spiritual principle to energize the humanist movement.
I understand what all three of my friends and fellow humanists are advocating and I agree with their premises. However, I feel there are non-theistic, descriptive terms that will accurately communicate their messages. My objection to connecting the basic word spirit and the list of it derivatives, i.e., spiritual, spirituality, spiritualism, spiritualist, spiritualize, to humanism is the connotation of supernaturalism associated with them.
As a result of more than three-thousand years of religions using the word spirit dualistically to indicate a separate entity from the material body, it seems to me to be an exercise in futility for humanists to expect the word to have a non-theistic acceptance. We have the same problem in defensively using the words religion, mystery, holy and sacred.
Proponents say we cannot permit our adversaries to limit or define our humanist vocabulary. That may be a legitimate argument, but should we define our meaning of those words every time we use them or, on the other hand, expect our listeners and readers to automatically understand the meanings we intend? Why waste time, space and energy defending the humanist meanings when we could easily find a more meaningful and appropriate word that would clearly communicate our intended message. To quote Tom Flynn, senior editor of Free Inquiry, Why go on using a weasel word that can only sow confusion…?
And a Good Time Was Had By One and All!
That seemed to be the opinion of the 50 humanists who attended the summer social at the Riverboat on August 10, 1995. Before and during dinner Christopher Fair–the magician with a flair, table hopped and entertained the guests. After dinner Earl Wunderli and Anna Hoagland delighted the audience with their poetry. Christopher presented a most excellent magic and juggling show. After an imaginary trip around the Great Salt Lake, the Riverboat docked without one single case of sea sickness!
August 4, 1935 – October 9, 1995
Former Humanists of Utah Vice president Ron Healy died of natural causes on October 9, 1995. His body was cremated. A private memorial service remembered his sometimes troubled life.
Ron worked for many years in the optical business. He was a member of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City. He is survived by three children, Russell, Jennifer and, Kathryn.
We already miss him.
Strategic Initiative Preamble
The following is an extract from the Preamble and Goals sections of the formal document prepared for the membership.
We believe, like most people, that the world could be a better place. War, poverty, in-humaneness, and ignorance abound. Crime and hatred persist. Environmental degradation and overpopulation threaten the very survival of the human race.
In one sense, however, the world is becoming a better place. Experimental science, just a few centuries old, has discovered and is discovering vast amounts of reliable knowledge about us and our world. Democratic governments are spreading and protecting human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for more people than ever before.
In this sense the world is becoming more humanistic. Humanism is committed to human progress. It believes, based on the historical record, that the best means for discovering truth is through science, experience, and reason. Its fundamental moral value is the worth, freedom, and development of every human being.
As a chapter, our current strengths lie in our members, who we like to think are, as humanists, by definition intellectually and emotionally mature and well balanced; and in our positive philosophy, which stresses the development of all human beings to be the best they can be. We also have an excellent monthly journal and a tradition of free thought. We are committed to reason, experience, and following reality wherever it leads us.
We also have weaknesses as a chapter. We have a concentration of older people and need younger members, especially families. We have meager resources; our chapter is supported by modest annual dues from our membership. We have no meeting place of our own. We lack diversity. We have not developed the kind of meetings at which we get to know each other very well. And we have not had a training program for future leaders.
The Humanist Dilemma Regarding Pornography
Most people probably think of opposition to pornography as a right-wing cause grounded in religious fundamentalism or out-dated Victorian notions about sex and sexuality. What I’d like to do is to introduce you to a different anti-pornography position that is rooted in feminism. I will try to convince you that the pornography issue creates a serious ethical dilemma for humanists because it brings out a conflict between two of the basic moral tenets of humanism: a commitment to freedom of expression and a belief in the moral and civil equality of persons.
The view I’m going to discuss is espoused by Catherine MacKinnon, a lawyer and political scientist at the University of Michigan. MacKinnon maintains that pornography is not simply a form of expression, but is a political practice that constitutes a form of sex discrimination. Pornography, in her view, harms women by helping to create a social definition of women as subordinate to men, thereby preventing us from having a moral and civil status equal to men. On these grounds MacKinnon advocates the adoption of local anti-pornography ordinances that would enable women to sue for damages if they can show that a piece of pornography has harmed them.
There are two words that are conspicuously absent from the brief summary I just gave: “offense” and “censorship”. Here is why they are absent. First, the feminist anti-pornography position is based upon the premise that certain sexually explicit material harms women by making us morally and civilly subordinate to men. It is important to recognize that the harm that concerns MacKinnon has nothing to do with offense. Second, “censorship” is a word that properly applies to speech or expression. MacKinnon’s argument, as we will see, is that pornography is not exclusively speech, but is, in important respects, an action. Restricting pornography, in her view, is like restricting sexual harassment: even though sexual harassment is speech, it is regarded as discriminatory conduct. If prohibiting sexual harassment is not censorship (even though it restricts speech), then restricting pornography is not censorship.
MacKinnon’s argument that pornography is a kind of action is based on the notion that certain (though not all) sexually explicit materials themselves subordinate women. (Note that this claim differs from the more common assertion that pornography causes men to subordinate or discriminate against women.) MacKinnon supports her view by drawing analogies between certain types of pornography and various actions that involve speech. She claims that these types of pornography are similar to speech acts such as “help wanted-male” and “sleep with me and I’ll give you an A.” These utterances are regarded, both by common sense and by the law, as harmful actions rather than as forms of expression. In other words, these utterances, though instances of speech, are in and of themselves harmful. They don’t cause harm, they are harm. Pornography, MacKinnon claims, is a harm of this sort. Her argument for this contention, however, is inadequate. In attempting to support her analogies, she tends to fall back upon the more common claim that pornography causes harm to women. But this is just to conflate two logically distinct arguments.
Although MacKinnon’s argument is flawed, I believe it is still reasonable to conclude that certain pornography contributes to women’s subordinate civil and moral status by fostering sexist and misogynistic attitudes and conduct. Is this a sufficient reason for making pornography civilly actionable? In my view, no, though this is a reluctant “no.” If it is true that sexist and misogynistic speech contributes to women’s oppression, it seems rather arbitrary, to my mind, to concentrate exclusively on pornography. By targeting pornography, MacKinnon commits herself to the view that only sexually explicit misogynistic speech is so harmful to women’s status that it must be limited. This commitment, however, is generally not argued for.
–Cynthia Stark, Ph.D.
As a Christian Conservative Might View Humanists
The beautiful, oak stained, modern speakers, podium is finished and has been delivered. This attractive piece of furniture has a powerful built-in amplifier, large, top-quality speaker system, twin-tape deck, an unobtrusive microphone and a small, high intensity light to make it easy for presenters to see their script. The self contained unit is mounted on durable wheels for easy movement from the storage closet to Eliot Hall. Once in place, the wheels can be locked for stability.
Everyone attending our monthly meetings will now hear with clarity the interesting ideas of our presenters. The tape deck makes it possible to play music before and after our programs and to record high quality tapes of our guest speakers. The generous donations of 48 members made this project possible and the technical expertise of Lee Schuster made it a reality. The first official use of our new equipment will be at our next meeting, Thursday, November 9, 1995.
I believe that education is the only lever capable of raising mankind. If we wish to make the future of the Republic glorious we must educate the children of the present. The greatest blessing conferred by our Government is the free school. In importance it rises above everything else that the Government does. In its influence it is far greater.
The schoolhouse is infinitely more important than the church, and if all the money wasted in the building of churches could be devoted to education we should become a civilized people. Of course, to the extent that churches disseminate thought they are good, and to the extent that they provoke discussion they are of value, but the real object should be to become acquainted with nature–with the conditions of happiness–to the end that man may take advantage of the forces of nature. I believe in the schools for manual training, and that every child should be taught not only to think, but to do, and that the hand should be educated with the brain. The money expended on schools is the best investment made by the Government.
The schoolhouses in New York are not sufficient. Many of them are small, dark, unventilated, and unhealthy. They should be the finest public buildings in the city. It would be far better for the Episcopalians to build a university than a cathedral. Attached to all these schoolhouses there should be grounds for the children–places for air and sun-light. They should be given the best. They are the hope of the Republic and, in my judgment, of the world.
We need far more schoolhouses than we have, and while money is being wasted in a thousand directions, thousands of children are left to be educated in the gutter. It is far cheaper to build schoolhouses than prisons, and it is much better to have scholars than convicts.
The Kindergarten system should be adopted, especially for the young; attending school is then a pleasure–the children do not run away from school, but to school. We should educate the children not simply in mind, but educate their eyes and hands, and they should be taught something that will be of use, that will help them to make a living, that will give them independence, confidence–that is to say, character.
The cost of the schools is very little, and the cost of land–giving the children, as I said before, air and light–would amount to nothing.
There is another thing: Teachers are poorly paid. Only the best should be employed, and they should be well paid. Men and women of the highest character should have charge of the children, because there is a vast deal of education in association, and it is of the utmost importance that the children should associate with real gentlemen–that is to say, with real men; with real ladies–that is to say, with real women.
Every schoolhouse should be inviting, clean, well ventilated, attractive. The surroundings should be delightful. Children forced to school, learn but little. The schoolhouse should not be a prison or the teachers turnkeys.
I believe that the common school is the bread of life, and all should be commanded to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. It would have been far better to have expelled those who refused to eat.
The greatest danger to the Republic is ignorance. Intelligence is the foundation of free government.
N-Day: An Opinion
The rationale for N-Day is undeniable. Humanists everywhere need “visibility, publicity, and solidarity.” ASH president Jim Speiser expresses these concerns with passion and clarity.
My only problem is the chosen name for the day of celebration. I find the choice of a Boolean negative discouraging. Too many of us are defined, or allow ourselves to be defined, as what we are not: non-mormon, non-white, etc. The organizers of N-Day seem to realize this, the first thing they do is abbreviate “Non-belief” to “N”.
If the day is to truly be a celebration where “a mighty chorus of voices proclaim” our presence, our beliefs and our solidarity, wouldn’t it be much better to declare what we are instead of what we are not?
Please don’t misunderstand; I plan to celebrate October 8th. I hope it becomes an annual event. I just wish we were calling it “Day of Reason” or “Rational Day” or maybe even “Humanist Day”(?!)
Fables, Fantasies, and Fairytales
Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fairytale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, is as appealing and applicable today as it was in Denmark in the 1850’s. Somehow, we mortals get a sense of satisfaction seeing an arrogant leader exposed as a result of his own vanity.
Andersen had a knack for seeing through people and getting to the heart of matters, and his talent is reflected in his children’s stories, many of which teach valuable lessons that when learned early are able to stay as habits of the heart throughout life. For example, in the Emperor’s tale, he unveils the human susceptibility to be easily deceived, and our predisposition to social conformity. If we learn to recognize our inclinations early in life, then we will be able to catch and correct them sooner.
Andersen delightfully presents the innocence of a child as being an essential human quality for telling the truth. If we can learn to always reserve part of “our child within” for those times when we need to be open and honest, then perhaps we’d have a bit more integrity.
Another lesson pertains to the Emperor’s denial of being caught unattired, and proceeding on as if nothing had happened. We admire him for trying to maintain his dignity, but his facade is a reminder of some leaders today who refuse to face the truth out of fear, so they continue on with their own procession of myopic myths in order to maintain their positions of power and authority. From this we can learn to have periodic “reality checks” to see if we want to be part of a mythological problem, or be part of a different kind of solution.
What is it that attracts people of all ages to fables, fantasies, and fairytales? Feminist author Clarissa Estes believes, “Back in the recesses of our mind is a secret desire for life to arrange itself as a fairytale.” That’s probably why the movie, Sleepless in Seattle, became so popular. Stories with happy endings meet a human need–the need for hope, and the need to feel that the world can sometimes be a congenial place where everything works out well. Good stories also provide an indirect way to learn some of life’s lessons, because when we identify with certain characters, we get to discover our own truths, which can lead to positive changes. Reading tales can also compensate for our particular feelings of inadequacy and make us feel whole. We tend to fill in our own gaps with the good qualities of story characters when we identify with them. Who couldn’t identify with the charming spunk of Ann of Green Gables, or the unwavering integrity of Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Reading tales with challenges and noble ideas can also have a curative effect on us.
“Stories are the simplest and most accessible ingredient for healing.” (Estes) By vicariously stepping into a story character’s role, there’s a possibility of curing our own ailments, because we gain insight on how to change our own behavior. In a sense, reading can become “bibliotherapy.” Whether its learning to be more assertive, to control one’s temper, or to show respect for people’s feelings, we can still change our behavior.
Joseph Campbell, renowned professor of mythology, believed stories offer people of all ages models for living a good life, but that the models must be meaningful to have any positive effect. He felt our present moral order had to catch up with the moral necessities of life in the here and now. “The old time religion belongs to another age, another people, another set of human values, another universe. We need myths that will identify the individual not with his local group, but with the planet.” A good myth, or story, then, must not be provincial in nature, such as reflected in the belief of being “one of the chosen people,” or belonging to the “one and only true church” but must speak to the unity of all people and the wellness of the earth. The tales can be old or new, just so the plots have unifying motives and/or a global message.
Without developing an active imagination and hopeful fantasies, people of all ages might not have the strength to meet the dragons of life. “Good tales give our anxieties form and show us the ways to overcome our monsters. If our fear of being devoured takes the tangible form of a witch, it can be gotten rid of by burning her in the oven,” said child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. In other words, a child can learn to deal with the mean-spirited people in life by symbolically shutting them away until he or she can learn, through experience, more and productive ways to deal with troublesome characters.
Fairytales and other stories bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood. “Before a child can come to grips with reality, he must have some frame of reference to evaluate it.” (Bettelheim) Good books speak to a child’s mind, and in such a way he or she can understand. Stories offer beneficial emotional lessons which can shape brain circuits in more productive ways. Research also verifies that “adult brain circuits can change just as well as children’s.” (Daniel Goleman, 1995)
Childhood is especially a time when fantasies need to be nurtured because that’s when the creative venture begins. It’s also a time when life can be overpowering for some little ones. Good stories can be a respite for tenuous circumstances because they help reassure a child about a just and happy outcome. For example, a selfish Emperor (who might represent father) is publicly humbled; the wicked witch (mother?) gets shoved into an oven; The Wizard of Oz (an authority figure) is exposed as a charlatan; the ugly duckling (an insecure child) turns out to be attractive; and the sky in Chicken Little’s scary world really can’t fall.
Good tales can help people of all ages become mentally healthier and happier human beings, but childhood is the ideal time to begin telling or reading stories because that’s the time when children learn the most. Caregivers can facilitate the process early by creating an emotionally stable foundation which includes choosing good stories, and by asking the right questions about the stories. Bettelheim said, “Asking , ‘Is it true?’ is not as important as wondering with a child, ‘Do you think the monster was good or was he wicked?” This type of questioning will promote self-discovery and self-confidence. Leisurely helping children to think for themselves will eventually guide them toward a sense of reality and a mature adulthood which just might help them to “live happily ever after” or at least reasonably so.
Deity Doctrine Damns Mormons
In casual conversation with colleagues, I found myself defending the Mormons (I surprise myself sometimes), and their right to believe their version of the nature of God, and still be respected members of the community.
At issue was whether Mormons should be allowed to join a Denver-based consortium of Christian churches who work for humanitarian causes. As it turned out, the local LDS Church withdrew its application for membership in the consortium because the council was besieged with complaints that Mormons were not really Christians. Can you believe it? Even this infidel recognizes that Mormons are Christians.
Now, in order to understand why many Christians think this way, we first have to understand the difference between what each group believes the nature of God to be, and the main historical foundation upon which Mormons have rested their case.
The traditional Christian notion of the Godhead, which developed gradually over four centuries and through many human controversies, is that the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are of one essence, and the Son is of the same substance as the Father. This belief has become an absolute for most Christians and ingrained so deeply in their psyche that its an unquestionable tenet. The Mormon notion of the Godhead is more corporeal; the Father and the Son each has a separate body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; however, the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit that can dwell within us. Mormons believe this was an original truth that Jesus taught, but because of the people’s wickedness, this truth was taken from the earth until Joseph Smith restored it. Mormons also believe God once was a man, and that man may become as God through his own efforts. So, in place of the more traditional doctrine of the Trinity, Mormonism proclaims to believe in a finite, polytheistic (and polygamist) God. Obviously, this is too much for some Christian religions and amounts to radical heresy; hence, the rejection of the Mormons as being Christian.
So what’s the underlying message the Christian consortium is giving to Mormons? It’s not just, “My god’s better than your god,” but rather, “Your god doesn’t even exist, because my religion says so, therefore you can’t join our ranks, even if it’s to perform Christian acts of kindness.” Now that’s not only hypocrisy, but stupidity as well. Whatever happened to practicing Jesus’ philosophy exemplified in his parable, The Good Samaritan?
Of course, Mormons have their blind spots too! Joseph Smith did claim God told him that all creeds are wrong, and those who believe them are corrupt. And for years it was preached out of the Book of Mormon that the Catholic church was the “great and abominable.” These strong words coupled with peculiar doctrine obviously still rankle enough traditional Christians to make them want to keep their distance from the Mormons. And the LDS church’s recent track record doesn’t help either. For instance, the recent West High choir director’s display of arrogance in promoting his Mormon beliefs (and the obvious lack of disciplinary action by his Mormon superiors); and the LDS church’s fight to keep prayer in public schools, along with state support of its seminary program.
So maybe it’s “pay back time” for the Mormons, which is unfortunate, because just when many LDS members are starting to get involved in more global endeavors, the Christian gentiles retaliate with this kind of a “nee-ner.” Hopefully, in time, reason will prevail, and the two groups can work together, in spite of their deity doctrine differences. (By the way, why should it matter how a deity’s body is created? Aren’t there more pressing social issues to get concerned about today?)
So, what can we learn from this incident? I suggest that we don’t get caught up in feeling superior for any reason. It’s one thing to say “Humanism is best for me,” and another to say, “Humanism is best for everyone,” because it might not be. That’s an individual matter. What we can say, though, is “Humanism is a wonderful philosophy for me, and I will work toward educating others about it, when appropriate, so greater freedoms can be realized for everyone.”
Conspiracy of Goodness
I was impressed with Michael Werner’s lecture in March, and his premise that our moral sense is biological and not theistic in nature. His argument verifies the conclusion of researchers who conducted an eight year study of altruism by analyzing the human characteristics of those people who risked their lives to protect the Jews in Europe during World War II. Time Magazine (3/16/92) covered the researchers’ conclusions in the following brief summation of their article.
One researcher, Nechama Tec, drew the following conclusions that challenge the general public’s moral assumptions of people in general: “When you look at the ‘rescuers’ as a large group, you cannot put them into any of the categories that you are used to. They include both rich and poor, educated and barely literate, believers and atheists. But on closer examination, you see a series of interrelated human characteristics.” She found, for example, that many of the rescuers were individualists. Most people do what society demands at the moment. But because the rescuers were not as constrained by the expectations of the group, they were better able to act on their own. (Sounds like humanism to me!)
In addition, Tec found that many of the rescuers had a history of doing good deeds before the war. Some visited people in hospitals, others collected books for poor students, still others took care of stray animals. “They just got into the habit of doing good,” she says. Many rescuers also shared a sense of universalism. They saw the Jews not as Jews but as persecuted human beings. (Sounds like Unitarianism and Humanism to me!)
Perhaps, most astounding of all, the majority of rescuers believe that the gift of goodness can be passed on. “It is like flowers growing in a certain soil,” says Helena, age 71, who with her family secretly sheltered Jews in their home across the street from a police station. “Goodness is natural in every human being, but it must be nourished and cultivated.”
Malka Drucker, photographer and interviewer of 105 rescuers from 10 countries concludes, “You don’t have to be Mother Teresa. You don’t have to be a better person than you already are in order to do good. Turning the rescuers into paragons of perfection would let the rest of humanity off the hook.”
According to Michael Werner, these ordinary, human, compassionate acts stem from our biological need to survive. The “reciprocal altruism” he speaks of that becomes “emotionally satisfying” also gratifies our biological need for happiness.
I especially remember “Bridge on the River Kwai.” Alec Guinness played a strict British colonel who surrendered with his regiment to the Japanese in Burma in 1943. Guinness is given the responsibility to build an elaborate railroad bridge. He orders his regiment to work, and drives them relentlessly in the belief that the sense of purpose it gives them is essential to their morale.
Guinness becomes so caught up in building a superior British bridge that he loses sight of the Japanese purpose for building it-to move enemy troops and supplies. The project has become his only reality, as he and his men become oblivious to the war.
Unbeknownst to him, British paratroopers have planned to blow up the bridge just as the first enemy train crosses it. On the day of the detonation, Guinness proudly moves across his structure inspecting it with obvious satisfaction. He spots a wire leading from the bridge, so he quickly follows it and discovers a British soldier with a detonator. He struggles with the soldier to prevent him from setting off the charge. He is wounded and the British soldier is killed by an enemy bullet. Guinness suddenly regains his senses, sees the whole picture, and realizes he has aided the enemy. “My God, what have I done?” he asks himself.
This movie gives us a good example of a person making a paradigm shift. When Guinness was solely focused on building a splendid bridge, he lost sight of the larger picture, until new information came to him. His first reaction was to preserve his bridge because that’s what he was living for. But when he suddenly saw reality, he made a quick paradigm shift, even at the expense of destroying the structure that had given him a purpose for living.
Most of us are raised in the same paradigm as our parents. From early childhood on, our brain has been fed information, and as a result, constructs ideas about the world, and then uses these ideas to make sense of things. Conflict arises when we learn and grow, and realize that our paradigms don’t make sense to us any longer. So we begin to ask hard questions. On the one hand it can result in anguish because we find ourselves going against the sacred beliefs of our parents, friends, and relatives. But on the other hand, it can be exhilarating and liberating because we are discovering more of ourselves and expanding our prospects.
To grow into mature, well-balanced human beings, we must recognize that our paradigms are subjective, and may not be actual representations of reality, which means they could be incomplete or at worst, wrong. Then we must ask ourselves the question, “Now that I’ve been told all of these so-called truths, what really makes sense to me?” This is heavy thinking, and to stay with it takes faith, perseverance, critical thinking and a support system. And if we consistently give ourselves permission to think, to question, and trust in our inherent ability to make our decisions, our paradigms will become increasingly accurate, and consequently, we will make wiser decisions, and perhaps become happier human beings.
There also are fears associated with paradigm shifting because we are stepping into new territory where there are no clear-cut directions, nor authority figures to tell us what to do. We must rely on ourselves and not give into our irrational fears that tell us to return to the old ways. Returning to Plato’s metaphorical cave will only result in living life in the shadows of reality.
There is also danger in pursuing a new quest. It’s what Erich Fromm referred to as “escaping from freedom.” It happens when people, freed from their old authoritarian rule, step into a new paradigm of authoritarian rule where they become dependent and submissive again. Rather than advance to the positive freedoms based upon our uniqueness and individuality, they succumb to philosophies that chain their minds to doctrine and dogma again. The cults, patriarchal religions and fascism are good examples of philosophies that facilitate “escaping from freedom.”
In the vulnerable transition stage from one paradigm to another, it helps to realize that there will be times when we feel isolated and powerless, and might even say to ourselves, “My god, what have I done?” But if supportive friends are with us, then we will not fall prey to the paradigms that rob us of our individuality and autonomy. That’s why the Humanist paradigm of “Believe in Yourself” is so attractive. It encourages self-actualization and responsibility without an authoritarian power structure. Humanism doesn’t claim to have all the answers, it essentially tells us to find our own. And it promotes the idea that it’s okay to live with the ambiguities of life. Actually, the Humanist paradigm makes life more exciting and energizing.
Letter To The Editor
The tribulation that occurred at West High School’s graduation ceremony is a perfect example of why we need to separate church and state. Divisiveness and contention are the direct results when the two are mingled. To make deity the source of this contention is an insult to religion and human intelligence.
It would be well for the students (and faculty) at West High to have objective lessons on the meaning of the Bill of Rights so they could understand that freedom of religion does not mean using the machinery of the state to promote religious beliefs, nor does it mean to require students to sing and hear a steady diet of religious music (whatever brand it may be).
James Madison, author of our Constitution and phraser of the First Amendment, put it well when he said, “A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical religion, to social harmony and to political prosperity.”
The Meaning of Tolerance
Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and a resolute defender of religious liberty, was born of middle class parents in London in about 1603. He grew up in the Church of England, the most obvious option, since all over England it was the legally establish church, the official church, and the national church. It was a time when men and women were still being sent to the Tower of London for disobeying the crown; when dissenters were either driven from the kingdom, or burned at the stake.
As persecution and punishment intensified, many people left England and settled in the American colonies. Among these “Puritans” as they were called, were Roger and Mary Williams who arrived in 1631. Unlike other Puritans who wished to “reform” the corrupted Church of England, Williams had to separate himself completely, believing “it was not possible nor honorable to pledge loyalty to an institution that one intended to remake. My conscience was persuaded against the national church and ceremonies.”
Williams not only challenged other colonists who had not cut themselves cleanly from England’s church, he even questioned the right of the civil magistrates to enforce the purely religious rules. He believed in a total separation of powers between the church and civil government. He believed the Law of Moses belonged strictly to the realm of religion, not of civil authority, that the religious laws were matters for “individual conscience” not for the sheriff.
The Puritans in Boston disagreed with Williams and were agitated by his thoughts. They believed both civil and ecclesiastical government must rely upon a firm partnership to make Massachusetts work. Williams persisted in his liberal views believing that nations should not compel the religion of its people. He made a distinction between “Christendom” and “Christianity” the former being the polluting mixture of politics and religion, and the latter being a thirsting after righteousness. “Demanding that men accept a certain religion was” said Williams, “like requiring an unwilling spouse to enter into a forced bed.” In a book published in England, he called the alliance of church and state, “a bloody tenent of persecution.” Williams proclaimed the essential difference between the church and the state must never be confounded or muddled. When God’s people open “a gap in the hedge or ‘wall of separation’ between the Garden of the Church and theWilderness of the World, God hath ever broke down the wall itself and made his Garden a Wilderness, as at this day.” The only way to set things right was to carefully clean out the church garden and rebuild that wall around it. Williams was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635 for having “erroneous and very dangerous” opinions.
History confirms the fact that establishing a church within civil government leads to unrighteous dominion, and promotes feelings of arrogance and superiority from the clergy (and sometimes its church members) because they not only set themselves up as judges of human conscience but they assume the power to set their own moral agendas, and determine which religions are worthy of tolerating, and those which are not. To Roger Williams, “mere toleration” was not a worthy goal, only total “freedom of conscience” would suffice, and it had to be extended to all consciences, “Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or Antichristian.” He believed “true civility and Christianity may both flourish” in that state or kingdom which had the courage to guarantee liberty to “diverse and contrary consciences.” In other words, Williams believed both the church and the state could not only survive separately, but flourish as well, so long as every person could believe as their conscience dictated.
Forty-five years later, John Locke gave the world a nudge along its path toward freedom when he published his Letter on Toleration. His essay influenced the passage of England’s Toleration Act of 1689 which finally ended the persecution of Protestant dissenters. However, the Act only achieved partial “liberty of conscience” because the established church still exercised its power; the Act did not apply to Catholics, Unitarians, or Atheists, and it excluded dissenters from holding political office.
During the colonial period in Virginia, and up until the Constitution and Bill of Rights were adopted, tolerance was still defined by the dominant faith; for example: 1) The Episcopal church was the established church, and it tolerated the existence of a few other religions 2) Laws were established requiring church attendance 3) Citizens were punished for holding certain beliefs contrary to the Episcopal belief 4) Baptist preachers were stoned and jailed for preaching and publishing their religious sentiments 5) Forced tithes were collected by the civil powers, and 6) Males were required to take oaths of loyalty to various government officials. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
James Madison, author or our Constitution, was appalled by the injustices he observed in Virginia and felt that religious tolerance was only the “half way point on the road to freedom,” that it was an unacceptable principle for civil government to adopt because “there existed an assumption of superiority of the established sect.” One church would assume special privileges, which would result in favoritism at the expense of others. Madison argued (as did Roger Williams) that religion was totally outside the scope of civil authority, and a law compelling people to support it financially was a violation of the constitutional guarantee of “freedom of conscience.” He termed tax support “an establishment of religion and a violation of the individual taxpayer’s religious liberty.” As a result, he was instrumental in constructing the wording in the First Amendment, which prevents government from establishing religion. (William and Mary Quarterly, January 1951)
Obviously, the meaning of religious tolerance has evolved. The concept began as an attempt to end religious persecution and punishment by the national church, and today is thought of mainly as an attitude which “allows” some sort of “difference from the established standard.” This implies there still remains a superior-inferior relationship, and that the superior entity in the relationship is in control. It sets the rules for “community standards” and is many times made up of people in the dominant religion in a town or city.
So how far have we really come in terms of tolerance? We’re not burning people at the stake anymore, but those who are “different” are still being psychologically banished if they don’t go along with the status quo. Almost every day we read or hear about murders, acts of violence, or ostracism perpetuated on others because of race, religion, sex, political affiliation, or AIDS. In fact, AIDS has become an American object lesson in intolerance. “Children with AIDS have had school doors barred. Parents of such children have watched their homes burn. Women with AIDS are routinely seen, in even the nicest company, as ‘dirty women.’ Men with AIDS have died by the hundreds of thousands, and their only memorial so far is a traveling quilt they no longer need to stay warm.” (Mary Fisher, USA Weekend, 11-19-95)
And, Religious Intolerance is still being practiced in some cities under the guise of “community standards.” For example, Provo Mayor George Stewart has single-handedly shut down the public swimming pool on Sunday claiming “community standards” dictate his decision. He, however, left the public golf course open on Sunday because of behind-the-scenes, influential arm-twisting. We can only assume that “money talks,” and minorities without that kind of clout still suffer from discrimination and persecution.
It’s interesting to note that the United Nations has declared 1995 as the Year for Tolerance. Their definition is as follows: “Tolerance on the part of each and every one means an attitude devoid of arrogance in relations between the generations, the sexes, individuals and communities, and between the human race and nature.”
But its one thing to define tolerance as an attitude “devoid of arrogance,” but quite another to practice it. Despite our brilliance and capacity for setting lofty ideals, we fall short of reaching them because no matter how liberal we are, we still remain creatures of prejudice, temper, and the irrational. We still appraise the environment according to our own experience and cultural background. So, should we give up on the word tolerance and choose another? Or do we keep refining its definition to mean something more open-minded? Changing attitudes and behaviors is a slow and sometimes arduous process, yet the difficulty of the task must not be a reason to keep from trying. People have the capacity to change if they want to, and it’s a never-ending process. It takes becoming aware of their own ethnocentric behaviors and feelings. It also takes education, critical reflection, and effort. The results could be liberating for both individuals and societies.
Are Humanists Sadder But Wiser?
Depression is not one of my favorite subjects to write about. Nevertheless, it is an interesting one as it relates to belief in realism and research on mental health.
Amborse Bierce, a 19th century American writer, defined a pessimist as “a person who sees the world as it is.” His witty definition fits humanists to a tee. After all, we are a pretty realistic bunch who don’t believe in illusions. But, as we shall see in this synopsis of an article (Harvard Mental Health Letter, April, 1995), there is a potential hazard in disbelief.
According to mental health professionals, facing reality can have its drawbacks. For example, studies of people who were diagnosed with depression were found to be quite realistic about themselves. They were better than average at predicting events in their lives, especially misfortunes. They were more realistic about their capacity for control. They were also found to be more accurate judges of their own social competence than non-depressive people. They were better at evaluating the impression they make on others. The one area, however, where depressed people were not very realistic was their inability to make accurate judgments about others. Depressed people are highly self-focused-concerned with their thoughts, feelings, behavior and appearance rather than with the external world, so their judgment about others could be somewhat distorted.
Non-depressed people, on the other hand, are more likely to be excessively optimistic, to overestimate themselves, and to have an exaggerated sense of their ability to control events. Their magnified optimism, elated moods, and sense of well-being are attributed to their ability to be resilient under stress. They have a greater capacity for persistence, and a decreased vulnerability to illness. In short, non-depressed people appear to be better functioning and happier because of their personal illusions.
These studies contradict common sense, and theoretical assumptions that good mental health is associated with a high capacity to perceive and test reality. If depressed people already view themselves more realistically than non-depressed people, then their thought patterns hardly need correcting by cognitive therapy. Not so, say the experts. To get out of a depressed state, there is good evidence that depressed people could use some training in how to construct illusions.
What! Ask a humanist to construct illusions? Blasphemous! On the other hand, if we are the independent, free-thinkers we claim to be, then we should be open to the suggestions of esteemed social scientists, especially if their methods work. We could learn to develop normal, healthy personal illusions, just like our religious friends, only we’d realize we were doing it; and we wouldn’t go as far as they go in constructing our illusions. Actually, I’d feel more comfortable calling them “enhanced perceptions” rather than “illusions.”
Paul Kurtz wrote a wonderful therapeutic book called Exuberance wherein he suggests all kinds of optimistic ways Humanists can approach and appreciate life, from experiencing good food to good sex. It’s a prescriptive outline for positive thinking and for enhancing our everyday life.
Another therapy for depressed people, since they are so focused on themselves, is to become more involved with helping others. It could be as simple as calling a friend, making new acquaintances, attending social gatherings, writing a letter to the editor, or becoming involved in a social cause. Good mental health requires that we see and experience life as both a private and social event. Like the ad on TV says, “Reach out and touch someone.”
If realism and depression are significantly correlated, as the mental health professionals tell us, then Humanists should be especially aware of the maladaptive features so they can develop attitudes and behaviors that will enhance their well-being. The famous clinician, Sigmund Freud, wrote of this subject in his essay, “Mourning and Melancholia.”
When in his [the depressive’s] heightened self-criticism he describes himself as petty, egoistic, dishonest, lacing in independence, one whose sole aim has been to hide the weakness of his own nature, it may be, so far as we know, that he has come pretty near to understanding himself; we only wonder why a man has to be ill before he can be accessible to a truth of this kind.
We all reach a point sometimes when we’ve “had enough” of our existing state of affairs. We finally dislodge ourselves from passive acceptance-to action. We move from a static self-to a self that embraces a needed change.
This move away from passivity is prompted by an inner source of strength, usually gained in adolescence, but occurring at any age. Amazingly enough, the precise moment of change is vividly remembered and cherished.
Recently, we have seen the turning points of others reported in the news. One case is Janice Allred, the latest excommunicated member of the Mormon Church. She reached her “had enough” point when she bravely said to the media in a prepared speech, “I recognize the authority of church leaders to carry out their ecclesiastical duties. However I don’t accept their authority over my own spiritual feelings and judgment in making my personal decisions.” Allred’s statement and decision not to defer to their command to “keep silent” reflects a belief that her personal autonomy is more important than their authority over her.
Another woman in the news, Janet Alcantura, reported after enduring an abusive marriage for 20 years, “I had to separate my (Catholic) religion from what I knew was good for me.” Alcantura finally reached a point where she redefined the nature of authority by declaring herself as more important than her religion. She said she was still a spiritual person, but had evolved to a place where she couldn’t allow her church to rule over her own personal life anymore.
A young Jewish woman, 16-year old Rachel Bauchman from Salt Lake City’s West High School, filed a lawsuit this month alleging the choir director and school district were violating her civil rights by repeatedly “forcing me to sing Christian devotional music in class, which requires me to express Christian religious ideas.” When Rachel first complained about singing too many religious songs last year, her concerns were minimized and dismissed by the school (an unwise thing to do to a woman), so she decided to file a lawsuit because she felt her freedom of conscience was more important than the opinions and practices of the choir teacher, the school district, and the majority of the students.
It is interesting to note that all three women had emotionally moved from a state of passive acceptance to a position of action. Each had acquired a sense of personal self and autonomy, which gave them the confidence to challenge established ecclesiastical authority.
What are the conditions and forces that prompted these women to claim the power of their own minds? What can we as humanists learn from their strength to help others become freer thinkers?
The book, Women’s Ways of Knowing (1986, Belenky, et al) offers some answers to these questions. Interviews were conducted with a variety of 135 women who were asked profound questions like: What is truth? What is authority? To whom do I listen? What counts for me as evidence? How do I know what I know? After analyzing the answers, the authors described the best social conditions they felt will promote the development of self, voice and mind in both females and males. I paraphrase their conclusions:
The above conditions require that there be an active support system where nurturing, non-authoritarian families and communities help each other trust in their own senses, while giving them opportunities to learn and discover what works and what doesn’t. The conditions also require that people be respected as valuable members of a community. There need to be safety nets to help people through tough times.
If we understand the ways we best develop ourselves, our voices, and our minds, then we can design programs and build facilities that will help develop competent, capable, compassionate, free thinking individuals who will be oriented towards the great philosophy of humanism.
Letter To The Editor
The King Decrees
If I were king of Utah, I would devote progressively more of the public revenues each year to the care and education of our children and progressively less to law enforcement, criminal courts, prisons, and welfare.
By devoting more resources at the front end to the care and education of our children, I believe that not only would fewer resources be needed at the back end for law enforcement, criminal courts, prisons, and welfare, but fewer resources would be needed in total, since my would-be exchequer assures me that the ounce of prevention would cost much less than the pound of cure.
In one generation I could convert my kingdom into a democracy and rid myself of the cares of governing. By having cared for and educated my kingdom’s children, they would have grown up prepared for self-rule. They would be far-seeing enough to continue my practice of caring for and educating their children as the first priority of their society. They would understand that the moneys spent today for the care and education of their children are an investment that might not provide a measurable return for eighteen years or more. But they would know that as soon as they failed to make the investment, they would begin a downward spiral that might require another king to reverse, because a king could control his subjects while he prepared their children once again to govern themselves.
I would expect my kingdom-turned-democracy to satisfy both liberals and conservatives, men and women, majorities and minorities, and religionists and humanists, because everyone would be as self-sufficient as possible, crime would be reduced to the practical minimum, both individual freedom and personal responsibility would be enhanced, taxes would be as low as they could be, government would be optimized to its appropriate size, and we could afford to help those who still need help.
Discussion Group Report
Is America on the Wrong Track?
By Richard Layton
The November Utah Humanist study group discussion focused on the BYU commencement address given by James Q. Wilson, UCLA professor of political science and author of The Moral Sense.
He said, “The world I entered in 1952 was very different from the one you are entering in 1994. By almost any objective measure, it was a less just, more troubled world…
“And yet most Americans felt good about their country. Opinion polls showed that the great majority…had confidence in the leaders of government, business, and other institutions…young Americans expected that their lives would be better than those of their parents, and their children’s lives would be better than theirs…
“…we today are an unhappy people who have lost confidence in our political, business, religious, and other leaders, who believe that this nation is on the wrong track, who think that the federal government creates more problems than it solves, and who fear that future generations will be worse off than present ones…
“The reason, I think is that we have come to believe that the American Dreams works for Americans but not for America. The American Dream is this: if you get an education and work hard, you will improve your lot…But when Americans look, not at their own lives, but at America, they see a nation besieged by crime, drug abuse, illegitimate births, incessant public vulgarity, and innumerable lawsuits…
“How can this be? We did as we were told; we improved our lot. But somehow what worked for most individuals did not work for the nation as a whole. We prospered; our cities deteriorated. We raised our children to be decent citizens; some other children joined armed gangs…during the four decades since I graduated from college, the rate of violent crime has increased sevenfold…The divorce rate has more than doubled…the teen-age suicide rate has more than tripled.
“These unhappy trends did not occur because we were unwilling to spend money to prevent them. The amount of government money spent on the poor…increased seven-fold between 1960 and 1990 in constant dollars. Private charitable giving…increased more than three-fold…the extra money…did not purchase what we hoped it would–human happiness…
“But much of this problem is world-wide. Crime, although not violent crime, has been increasing rapidly in almost every industrial nation…
“We are seeing all about us in the entire Western world the working out of the defining experience of the West, the Enlightenment…that extraordinary period in the 18th century when man was emancipated from old tyrannies–from dead custom, hereditary monarchs, religious persecution, and ancient superstitions. It is the period that gave us science and human rights, that attacked human slavery and political absolutism, that made possible capitalism and progress…
“James Madison said that ‘republican government presupposes the existence of sufficient virtue among men for self-government’…But what if virtue would be lacking?…Nowhere did the Constitution authorize Washington to purchase virtue…
“The great clash of cultures that now afflicts the world is in no small measure…driven by the conviction of the Islamic world of the Middle East and much of the Confucian world of the Far East that the Western Enlightenment and the…culture that it spawned, are morally bankrupt…no less critical of the West are such places as Singapore that have a secular state, welcome technology and capitalism, and allow women to play a public role but insist that government must be the moral master of its people…Some people [including university intellectuals], challenge the legitimacy of Western culture and the…enlightenment here [in its heartland].
“Let me be clear: I take my place unhesitatingly with the West…our achievements in human dignity, personal freedom, and economic progress dwarf anything that has been accomplished by our rivals save perhaps in a few small city-states…The core value of the American Dream–that…every individual is responsible for what he or she does–will prevail because it will prove to be so useful and so consistent with everyday human existence.
“You can make a difference in all of the ways that are so important. The employee who gives an honest day’s work;…The craftsman who builds each house as if he were going to live in it…the neighbors who join together to patrol a neighborhood threatened by drug dealers…–these are the heroes of everyday live. May you join their ranks.”
(Sung to the Oscar Meyer Wiener Song)
How happy I am to be a Heathen Humanist,
Some say I’m really in need of a psychiatrist,
But my wondrous thoughts might be for them a catalyst,
On that enlightened day,
How happy I am to be a Heathen Humanist,
Discussion Group Report
Has Secularism Made America More Cynical?
By Richard Layton
The study group discussion in October centered on WNET interviews of Father Richard John Newhouse, Michael Lerner and Bill Moyers conducted by Peggy Noonan. Ms. Noonan began the discussion, “There is a growing sense of loss in this country which is shared in common by its people, a loss of faith, family, and freedom. Politicians really can’t get to our deepest problems, which are largely spiritual ones.”
Father Newhouse added, “When society takes God out of the public square, we lose something… If good and evil, right and wrong are simply things that I define and have no ontological reality outside of themselves, all of life becomes a will to power… Remove God from our lives, and all that is left is the will to power.”
Mr. Lerner continued, “Both the left and right have wronged religion in the past 50 years. The left has failed to understand the psychological, ethical, and spiritual dimension of human needs. It needs to recognize that human beings need more than material goods and individual rights; they need a story that connects them to a larger ethical and spiritual good. The right understands that principal and, because it does, it has been very effective in attracting people, but ironically it never challenges the way the economic and political spheres are basically spiritually and ethically corrupt.”
Mr. Moyers added, “The public is more cynical now than it used to be about its institutions and political realities. What’s happening is that the political realm has become very much removed from the realities of every day life. People are searching in their private lives to fulfill an inner yearning. Our great task is to find a story that embraces the plurality of our society, to re-create a consensus that will provide a common core; and we can’t do that if we’re shouting at each other. This consensus would come from religion, the search to satisfy the inner life. People are searching for a new moral or social order.”
Our group questioned some of the assumptions made by the interviewees. These commentators characterized secularists as having led us away from morality, when actually humanists place great emphasis upon the need for ethical behavior. Newhouse, Lerner and Moyers spoke as if the important “nuclear” values come from religion, but the evidence is strong that the reverse is true. Such values as compassion, justice, and honesty seem to have been appropriated in recent decades by religion from humanism. In previous epochs religion was more concerned with promoting and enforcing conformity and blind obedience to authority, often with physical cruelty and ostracism. Would the “consensus” of values being advocated by the speakers really mean a movement to conformist thinking? Who will decide what these values will be, the religious leaders?
The right to dissent is essential to the successful functioning of democracy. Perhaps the present cacophony in the public sphere is a sign that freedom of expression is active and alive. The idea that a greater consensus about national purpose in American life was more alive in earlier times than it is now may be an illusion; even during World War II there were large organized groups in America that supported Hitler’s objectives.
There does appear to be social decay in several aspects of American life: high rates of violent crime, family disintegration, irresponsible sex, and high drug usage. Poverty and over-crowding seem to be more accurate causes for these problems. The disheartenment and suffering which poverty brings to people raise serious questions about the morality of some aspects of our economic practices.
Bob Green Resigns
I don’t know if I am happy or sad. Tonight it is necessary for me to announce my resignation as Vice-President and as Publisher and Editor of The Utah Humanist. I’m happy because with this chronic fatigue, I no longer have to do the work of publishing or editing. Sad, because for these last three years I have enjoyed it very much; it has been a rich and rewarding experience.
As I announced last year, I have been diagnosed with chronic low-grade lymphoma, which is usually not life-threatening. Chemotherapy treatments have not resulted in any measurable success. I have had lymphoma for many years and it just isn’t going to go away easily. It is life-threatening, and at the last consultation, the Oncologist made the usual suggestions.
However, I have a great deal of experience with this illness. I have been in this situation before, not quite this seriously, but enough that the measures I took before will most likely work again. I have to do what I have done in the past and stop all outside activity, reduce stress to a minimum, and concentrate on taking the best care of myself that I can. I have a wonderful support system, much better than in the past, and feel confident that with time the lymphoma will go back to its usual dormant state and I can have many good years ahead of me.
I want to express my appreciation to those I have worked with over the past four years for the many pleasant experiences we have shared and for the accomplishments we have worked together to bring about. I deeply regret having to leave the Board and the work of the journal.
We have come a long way from four years ago when the Board was meeting around Anne Zielstra’s student housing kitchen table. Of that group only Flo Wineriter, Anna Hoagland and I remain. With meetings then of 10 to 15 at the nearby day care center, the Chapter at present is a mature, stable group of humanists from whom the leadership can draw for support and participation.
If there is any one, single accomplishment I can point to with the greatest pride, it was my participation in the Committee chaired by Nancy Moore (one of the original group) which composed the Statements of Belief and Purpose. These are now, by the way, printed on the other side of the membership cards.
The Utah Humanist, however, has been my best accomplishment. We decided to publish a Journal, rather than a Newsletter, because of the need to define and explain humanism, which information was not available elsewhere. Lately, I haven’t been able to keep up to what I consider my “standard,” which is another reason why I must give it up. I especially want to thank my Assistant Editor, Willa Mae, who has acted as proof reader and copy editor. The excellence of the Journal is due to her diligence. She has also kept me from getting too radical, which I am wont to do from time to time. It is now up to someone else to continue the publication, in whatever form it takes. (Who knows, it may even be possible to improve on our work.)
And so, with a grateful heart that I have been able to participate in this great adventure, I must say goodbye to the responsibilities, and I’ll see you at the meetings.
The Man Who Inspired the United States War of Liberation
Hans Peterson recently presented a widely acclaimed one-hour drama of the life of Tom Paine on local PBS television stations. He is a well-known local radio personality. His presentation to The Humanists of Utah contained much of the same material.
Thomas Paine was one of the most admired and respected men in America in 1776. Twenty years later, he was one of the most hated and vilified men in the country.
What happened? He spoke his mind. Without hesitation, without spin, without polls, without compromise.
All of you know two things that Tom Paine wrote. The first I will share with you in just a moment. They are eight words that you hear once a year but probably don’t focus on the man who said it.
The man who gave our country its official name died alone, shunned and despised, in a seedy hotel in New York City.
During the Revolutionary War, almost every American soldier carried a copy of a pamphlet by Paine in his pocket. At George Washington’s orders, his officers would read these words by Thomas Paine to the soldiers before a battle:
Twenty years later, George Washington was silent as Paine awaited the executioner in a Paris dungeon.
During America’s struggle for freedom, John Adams said of Thomas Paine, “History will ascribe the revolution to him,” so powerful were Paine’s words in motivating the troops to fight on.
In this century, Teddy Roosevelt said, “He was a filthy, rotten, little atheist!” He was none of these. Who was he?
Thomas Paine was born in England in 1737. His mother was an Anglican. His father was a Quaker. His mother was years older than his father and considered her marriage to Tom’s father a few steps down the social ladder.
Tom’s father was a corset-maker and Tom was his apprentice. Now if you were 16, and your father was preparing you for a life of making women’s girdles, what would you do?
Tom ran away from home. He tried to join the crew of a ship known as The Terrible, commanded by, and this is true, Captain Death. That was the man’s name. Concerning the name of the ship, remember that 250 years ago the word Terrible implied strength and bravery, as in, “He fought a terribly good fight.”
Concerning the name of the Captain, God knows what a man was doing with the name Death. I can’t imagine that it was too inspiring to potential sailors.
Young Tom never found out. His father found him before the ship sailed and marched him home to three more years of corset making.
And in probably one of the least surprising bits of self-fulfilling prophecies, the ship on which Tom had tried to sail, very soon thereafter, sank, drowning the entire crew and their optimistically named Captain.
One of the men who influenced the young Tom Paine was John Wilkes, a printer and a publisher, who dared to tell the truth about the King and his sycophants.
John Wilkes once debated a frog of a man, known as Lord Sandwich. In this debate, Lord Sandwich said, “John Wilkes, you will either die on the scaffold or of venereal disease.” To which John Wilkes replied, “That, sir, depends, on whether I embrace your principles, or your mistress.”
In 1759, when he was 22, Tom Paine married Mary Lambert. He was devoted to her, and they talked often of their plans for the future, a family, a home, a career in which Tom would somehow use his gift for words and ideas.
But in less than a year, God took her from him. He was shattered and spent several years wandering from town to town, from job to job, until finally he became an excise officer, a tax collector.
The tax collectors were poorly paid, overworked, and hated by the citizens who looked upon them as representatives of the monarchy and the upper classes. In the coastal area where Paine was assigned, smuggling was routinely practiced by the shopkeepers of the area who fought against the high tariffs imposed by the crown. Many of Tom’s fellow tax collectors took bribes from the businessmen of the village. Paine would not.
In the first of many battles Tom Paine would do with the Crown, he wrote a pamphlet calling for better working conditions and more salary for the tax collectors.
At his own expense, he had printed thousands of copies of the pamphlet, took them to London, and handed them out to members of Parliament. The few who bothered to read his petition dismissed it and sent him away.
It was the beginning of a lifelong campaign on which Paine embarked to better the conditions of several countries who were treated not much better than the animals owned by the royalty.
Listen to Paine:
In his thirties, Tom had married a second time. To supplement his meager earnings as a tax collector, he and his wife ran a small shop. Neither the business or the marriage were successful. His wife left him. The shop went into bankruptcy. And the government fired him.
He was accused of taking bribes, drinking too much, and being away from his job, handing out pamphlets in London. He was on the run from debtors.
To fully appreciate his accomplishments in life, his contributions to the very origins of our country, it is necessary to consider his plight at this point in his life. How many of us could have made it through?
The life behind him cursed him. He wondered if he should have sailed with Captain Death and taken his chances. Why go on, to do what, drink himself into the gutter while the dandies drove by in their golden carriages?
Had it been winter, he could have hung his coat in the tavern and walked into the woods and said, Nice Try, Tom, and closed his eyes in the snow.
But it was Spring, and the trees and the flowers were coming back!
If there ever were a man whose middle name should have been resiliency, it was Thomas Paine.
When all seemed hopeless, when many a lessor man would have given up, Paine would not. He was introduced, in London, to a rather amazing man by the name of Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin had read Paines’ pamphlet and told him there was a place for him in America. Franklin gave Tom the money for the crossing and a letter of introduction.
Tom Paine almost died on the trip across the Atlantic, spending most of the trip in sickbed, racked with fever and dysentery. Once, when the Captain came to check on him, Tom asked, “Am I going to die?” To which the Captain replied, “Eventually.”
Arriving in America, Paine found this new continent exhilarating and adventurous. Commerce on the move, people speaking their minds, the rumors of revolution resounding from Boston to Charleston.
Thanks to Benjamin Franklin, Paine quickly found work as a magazine editor and writer in Philadelphia. Eager to join in the chorus of anti-royalty dissidents, Paine fired his fighting words back across the Atlantic with both barrels.
Tom’s growing notoriety was not only in the content of his messages. It was also his style. A self educated man, he refused to write in the flowery, classical prose used by most men of letters at that time. Paine preferred to slam the words down on the paper like a mug on the bar. Listen:
That was it. That was the name of the most famous, most important pamphlet ever written in the history of the world: Common Sense.
While the educated few debated the finer points of government and rebellion, the masses listened to the works of Thomas Paine and were inspired to pick up their muskets and demand their independence.
Not all of the citizens of this distant colony were in favor of separation from Mother England. No, many of the richest and most powerful men in Boston, New York and Philadelphia took Paine, Jefferson and Adams for radicals.
But when the King closed the land west of the Alleghenies to immigration, the reply of the radicals was quick and loud! “We will live where the seasons find us and we’ll not be paying taxes imposed in England on trade in America without representation.” The war was on!
Paine enlisted in the army as a private in the militia. It was agreed, however, that he was much more valuable with a pen than with a rifle. And thus it happened that he was with Washington at Valley Forge when the British had the rebels on the run.
General Howe’s 8,000 troops seemed certain to over-run this rag-tag army. Hundreds of volunteers in the American forces slipped away at night. Their uniforms were in tatters. Their pay was useless paper money. The food was meager and dwindling. Their wives were at home with their children, frightened, starving.
And then came the winter. The cold was numbing. The winter nights came early and lingered into windy, freezing dawns. It was on a black, frigid evening of unanimous discontent that Paine took up his pen: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
These eight simple words became the battle cry in the hearts and souls of the brave men and women who stood their ground, who refused to give up, who fought to the death, so that this greatest of all countries, dedicated to freedom, could be born.
It was of great satisfaction to Thomas Paine to have his words used as a rallying cry. It brought him great praise and elevated stature. It could have also brought him the rope!
Back in England, Lord North put Paine’s name of the top of a list of traitors to be hung after the American insurrection was put down.
Former shopkeeper Thomas Paine, who went bankrupt in England, was among a delegation sent to Paris to request a loan from the French to help the American war effort.
Reunited with his old friend Benjamin Franklin, Tom called on King Louis the 16th at Versailles. They pointed out to his Majesty how powerful England would be, were America to lose the war. They got their loan.
It is an odd scene to imagine: Thomas Paine, the writer who railed against the monarchy, the man whose words helped defeat the army of George of England, in polite petition to the King of France. A King whose life, eventually, he would attempt to save.
Back in America, Paine became involved in a minor scandal. He was boarding in the home of Mrs. Martha Daley, a beautiful widow in her early 30’s. Many of the former Tories who had been vexed verbally by Paine, and some of the powerful Quakers in Philadelphia, took this arrangement as proof of Tom’s immorality. John Adams even stated that Paine should have married Mrs. Daley and ended the whispers.
After the war was won, Tom grew weary of the arguments, the petty squabblers, the interminable propositions. He began to look again toward Europe. First, because he had received word that his parents were in dire straits. Second, because things were beginning to get interesting in France. The American Revolution had set in motion a world-wide awareness of citizens’ rights and the possibility of representative democracy.
Some of Paines’s detractors, and there were many, claimed that Tom was impatient with peace and prosperity and thrived on conflict and controversy. They enjoyed spreading the impression that Paine felt compelled to abandon America, enjoyed getting involved in the politics of other countries, and causing additional problems for the relationships between America and her possible allies.
How did Tom react to such criticisms? The same way a lion reacts when thrown a piece of meat. He fed on it. He loved it. He lived for it.
Returning to England he was too late to bid farewell to his father who had died. But became very close to his 91-year old mother. He did not seek out, or even see again, his second wife. But he felt, and wrote about, his solitary life.
Paine was just as much a man of science as he was a man of words. If he had not fallen into such ignominious disfavor, more of you would know that he invented the first iron bridge. Yes! It was hailed in the scientific academies of England and France.
Like most inventors he also had some duds. Paine thought that if gunpowder could be used as a weapon, it could be used to drive a motor. Nice idea, except that his motor exploded, nearly killing him.
He also thought he had invented a smokeless candle until his mother pointed out the smoke coming up from his–smokeless–candle.
While in England, Paine wrote a book titled “The Rights of Man.” It was intended as a rebuttal to the writings of Edmund Burke on the French revolution.
Among the other things he said was this: “Men and women have the right to any government they choose. If they want a king, let them say so and let them have a king. But if he becomes obnoxious, and he will, then let them throw him out.
“For a true government must be of the people, by the people and for the people.” Has a familiar ring to it, doesn’t it?
Consider the chutzpa of this man. Here he was in England, having just participated in, and been one of the loudest voices of, the American Revolution. The crown’s colony, a source of considerable income for England, had broken free and gone its own way.
And now, within the shadow of The Tower, he was telling the people of Britain they should be allowed to toss the king out if they saw fit.
It was as though Saddam Hussein had bought a condo in Miami Beach and become a commentator on the NBC Evening News.
Naturally, the King and his supporters were incensed. Their first campaign against the traitor pamphleteer was to have several false biographies of him written and published throughout England. Many of the lies about Paine, invented for these books, took hold and have endured.
His detractors in America also made sure the books became available in the new country. These books later became very useful to the anti-Paine movement in America.
In an effort to end his uncomfortable opposition to the throne, the government of England indicted Tom Paine for sedition.
In his usual bulldog manner, Tom wrote a letter to the government telling them that he was not guilty and that he looked forward to the trial. They were not amused.
One day, Tom was having lunch with William Blake, a famous intellectual and mystic of the day. Blake had received word from powerful friends that Paine was in great danger. He warned Paine: “Tom, do not go home or you are a dead man.” So Tom left that afternoon on the stage for Dover.
As he prepared to board the boat for France, the Customs Inspector called Paine over to his desk. He slowly inspected the contents of Paine’s luggage. He discovered a letter to Tom from George Washington.
Regardless of the problems Washington had caused for England, the Inspector was impressed by the letter from such a famous man, convincing him that Paine must be an important person, and so waved him through.
The irony here is that Washington should, however indirectly, save Paine’s life, when Washington’s inaction would latter contribute to Paine’s lifelong hatred of the first President of the United States.
Minutes after the boat pulled away from the dock, two horsemen arrived with a court order, instructing the Customs Inspector to take and hold a Mister Thomas Paine.
In France, Tom was received as a hero. His writings during the American Revolution were the blueprints for many of the leaders of the French Revolution.
In Calais, Paine was greeted by marching bands, cheering crowds, and the news that he had been elected a representative to the new French Government.
What seemed at the time to be a great and glorious tribute was, in fact, a title that would prove to be the most dangerous honor Tom Paine could have accepted.
In Paris, Paine participated daily in the new French government. He was considered a Father of freedom and was highly respected. Even Napoleon sought his advice.
The tide turned against him, however, when the French decided to execute King Louis the 16th. Tom was against capital punishment and pleaded with his fellow representatives:
Alas, they did not listen. Louis went to the guillotine like the thousands who were to follow in The Terror.
Because he had spoken for the life of the King, Paine was considered by many as an enemy. He awoke one day to find the power had shifted to a group that considered him bothersome at least, and dangerous at most.
And on Christmas Day, 1892, the French government “du jour” tried him for treason, found him guilty and sentenced him to death.
On the evening that he awaited with dread, Thomas Paine received the word that he was scheduled to be executed.
As the guards approached his door, Tom braced himself for the end. The guards came slowly.
But kept going. Past his cell.
The next morning he was staring at a miracle. Or an accident. Call it what you may. The mark on his cell door, indicating that he was to be taken, had been put on the door while it was swung open, flat against the wall in the outside corridor.
When the door was closed, the mark faced him on the inside of the cell. When the executioner came, he saw no mark and passed him by.
For ten months, Paine waited for America to come to his rescue. In vain. It would have taken only a brief note from George Washington, who was a hero to the French, to secure Paine’s freedom. But it was not forthcoming.
Historians explain that Washington received inaccurate and biased reports from his Minister to France, a man who hated and envied Tome Paine and was glad to see him in prison.
This was of little comfort to Paine, who nearly died from a bleeding ulcer.
When James Monroe became minister to France, he was shocked to learn of Paine’s incarceration. He wrote this letter to the French government: “Thomas Paine is one of America’s most distinguished patriots. The services he rendered his country in its struggle for freedom have implanted in the hearts of his fellow countrymen an eternal sense of gratitude. If there are no charges against him, please restore his liberty.”
Two days later, he was free.
At this point, had he gone home and lived the quiet life of a senior statesman and completed his goal of writing the history of the American revolution, perhaps there would be pictures of him in schoolrooms today and your children would have to memorize his birthday.
But, no. In addition to a lifelong bitterness toward George Washington, Paine also brought with him from prison a book titled “The Age of Reason”, his reflections on religion–and God.
In spite of the words of Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Paine was not an atheist. He was a deist, a person who believes in God, but who does not believe in organized religions and, most dramatically, does not believe that Jesus Christ was God.
In another cruel irony of Paine’s slide into the shadows of American history, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and many other early leaders of our country were also Deists. However, they chose not to discuss it publicly in books and “letters to the Editor.”
In Paine’s words, “I believe in God and I hope for happiness in a life beyond this one. I believe in the equality of man. I believe that religious duty consists of loving mercy, doing justice, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy. But–.”
These words turned a nation against him:
He was vilified from hundreds of pulpits throughout the Christian world. Former friends would cross the street whenever he approached.
“Sure, Tom, speak your mind, but go do it somewhere else!”
He received word from America that he was now hated. That he had lost his good name.
If there was any chance of any sympathy for him in America, it was diminished even further by the open letters he wrote to newspapers in Philadelphia and Boston, denouncing the new country’s President, George Washington.
One of these letters said: “It is my duty to report to the American people on the mismanagement and corruption of the new President’s administration. The man is unprincipled and selfish. He has no real friends for he can desert you with cold aloofness. The world will have to decide if he has abandoned all his principles, or did he ever have any?”
Well. This caused quite a stink. When Paine returned to America–he waited until Thomas Jefferson was President–he was a VERY unpopular person. He called on Jefferson at the White House and was received as the man who was the light in the darkest days of the Revolution.
There were many powerful people who criticized the new President for receiving Paine, but that mattered not to Jefferson, who did not forget the weight of the words Tom had written when all seemed hopeless.
When Paine returned to his home in Bordentown, New Jersey, he was denounced by all of the ministers in the region as an anti-Christ in league with the devil.
He continued to write letters to newspapers whenever the misdeeds of some government officials required his awakening the sleeping citizenry.
Many of his proposals were centuries ahead of his time. He denounced slavery as man’s wickedest invention. Because it was “common sense,” he fought early for equal rights for women.
Thomas Paine, in 1802, argued that elderly citizens should be given money on which to live when they could no longer work. He called it a Senior Security.
He believed it should be a crime to be cruel to animals.
And in an opinion that we would have done well to start working on, way back then, he suggested that divorce should be a rational procedure, with no prejudice to husband or wife.
He spent his final days alone, shunned, hated by most Americans for daring to dislike the Father of Their Country, and for having a different religious philosophy than their own. Thomas Paine dedicated his life to the birth of a nation where men were free to speak their minds, only to be dismissed by that nation when he expressed his beliefs in areas in which the young nation disagreed.
In the last years of his life, Tom existed in very humble surroundings. An unfair fate, when you realize that his pamphlets, “Common Sense” and “The American Crisis”, sold more copies than any other writings in America. He was not cheated from the considerable revenue from his writings. He simply gave all of his profits to the American Revolutionary Army.
His detractors were very thorough. For decades after his time, school boys in England and America would sing: “Poor Tom Paine, here he lies, nobody laughs and nobody cries. Where he’s gone, how he fares, nobody knows and nobody cares.”
Not only cruel, but very true. Today, nobody knows where his bones are.
Several months after he died, his bones were dug up and taken back to England–and put on display–in a circus. When it turned out that people were not interested, Tom Paine’s bones–were thrown away.
His earthly remains may have been discarded, but his words, his books, his ideals will exist forever. Allow me to conclude with some of his words:
Here then is the origin and rise of government, a thing rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world.
“For no matter how our eyes may be dazzled by show, or our ears deceived by sound–no matter how prejudice may warp our wills, or vested interest darken our understanding, the simple voices of nature and reason will say–do what is right.”
The Female Perspective in Relationships
Women define themselves in relation and in connection to other people more than men generally do. This interdependence in relation to others leads them to prefer a morality based upon caring, instead of an objective morality of justice based upon rules, principles, or standards. When women or men work from a morality of care, they are concerned with seeing others in their own contexts and understanding them in their own terms. Implicit in this morality is an expectation that relationships will be maintained or restored.
Those present at the meeting were divided into small groups of men and small groups of women, and these ideas were developed and discussed as they emerged from their cooperative experience. The groups worked with the moral dilemma contained in a the story adapted from Aesop Fables (as retold by A. McGovern, published by Scholastic Book Company, 1963).
The Porcupine and the Moles
From the start, the discussion in each group was an intimate exchange of ideas and feelings and people quickly became deeply involved with the issues. A majority of the groups, 6 out of 9, used a morality of care to resolve the moral dilemma, while only one group, a group of men, used a morality of justice for their solution. Two groups, one women’s and one men’s group, integrated both moralities for their solution.
An unexpected finding from the group experience was discovering that so many of the male participants shared the morality of care preferred by the women. We had a lively discussion about whether one morality was better than another, and whether it made a difference which one you used. I stated that both perspectives had an important place, but my bias was for the morality of care. One participant made a significant remark that choosing a morality of justice, instead of a morality of care, could have the effect of ending the relationship with the disputants. Most people seemed to agree that it was a better outcome if the problem was resolved and the relationship could be maintained.
The exchange of views among participants was exciting and stimulating. For those who want to pursue further reading in this subject, I would like to recommend the following resources which have been a rich source of inspiration and material for me:
–Page Speiser, LCSW
Freedom and Responsibility
The missing ingredient in American Liberalism is an emphasis on responsibility, according to Dr. Peter J. Van Hook, the presenter at the November meeting of Humanists of Utah. Dr. Van Hook, spoke to the question of “Why Can’t We Agree on Anything Anymore?” Van Hook explored briefly the Liberal philosophy of John Locke and our nation’s founders, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, etc., which put a premium on the freedom of the individual, a freedom from both secular and theistic authoritarianism. He then explored the communitarian agenda of Amitai Etzioni that maintains individual freedom must be tempered with the good of the community.
“Liberalism, with its definition of individual rights, was an attempt to define some way of living in society over against the authoritarianism of the monarchies of Locke’s day. When you get to the colonies, you have this same strain of Liberalism, that is, we are going to form a country that is not going to be authoritarian in character, it’s not going to have a monarch. Instead we are going to create a government that is bounded. I think that is an important term. Sometimes we talk about the separation of powers as those groups having power over against the other groups, the legislative, the judicial, the executive. Rather, one really needs to talk about bounded power. What it creates is a system that doesn’t work very quickly…I would offer to you tonight that it does work rather well. But you have to give it time and in the modern television age that’s the one thing we do not seem to have very much of.
“American society in the modern age has become a paragon of individualism. It’s what I would term, in its political life, a decayed Liberalism…What we have now is a society in which people seem to know their rights and privileges but they don’t seem to know their responsibilities.
“I submit that one of the things that excited so many people about Colin Powell is that they had a sense that he might be for something, and in his own way, a Liberal. And for the American ear that is still a very attractive thing.”
Dr. Van Hook explained that Etzioni’s theory of communitarianism, which recommends giving up some individual rights for the good of the community, sounds good in theory but in practice leads to authoritarianism. He cited the history of Germany in the 1920s and 30s as a classic example of the insidiousness of communitarianism. Van Hook said the better solution is that recommended by Harvard Philosopher John Rawl. In his major work, A Theory of Justice, “Rawl defines justice as fairness. This is something quite new in political philosophy; to simply say that to be just, that is to make things right, is simply to be fair, to have a broad notion of what the good is. He puts forword two principles of justice which are formed in an initial position of equality of persons. He says each person has an equal right to the most extensive scheme of basic liberties compatible, and this is the hitch, compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for all.”
A philosophical theory referring to cultural membership may offer a fairness solution, according to Van Hook. “What that allows us to do then is to say, from a Liberal perspective, that a group may pursue its collective life plan without being a threat or being threatened by the larger American liberal society. This holds out some promise for the kinds of (group) fights we are having now.
“What I’m putting forword tonight is an energetic, indeed an athletic, Liberalism which is for the rights of individuals while recognizing the distinctive character of certain communities of persons. How this is to be worked out in practice is, in my mind, entirely unclear. But we must begin.”
“We need to speak out and educate others that a non-theistic morality is not only possible, but inevitable.”, that was the thrust of AHA President Michael Werner’s presentation to the Third Annual Ed Wilson Memorial Lecture March 2nd at the Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City. His address, “Humanist Morality in a Post Modern World” emphasized the need to develop a positive image of humanism by living a moral and ethical life. He said morals and ethics should be at the heart of our response to those who do not understand us. “Humanist ethics,” said Werner, “is based on reason, compassion, responsibility and a belief in the worth and dignity of each human being.” He challenged Utah Humanists to promote humanism by working together to enhance community goodness and to acknowledge that humanist morality “has been time tested in the court of human lives.”
An Evolutionary Perspective on Competition and Cooperation
In Robert Wright’s: The Moral Animal
This is a truncated outline of a lecture presented by Kristen Hawkes, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology at the University of Utah, to the February 9, 1995 meeting of the Humanists of Utah.
I begin with a disclaimer: Mr. (Ron) Healy invited me to talk about the recent book by Robert Wright, The Moral Animal, with special attention to the issues of competition and cooperation from an evolutionary perspective. At the time I had just begun to read the book and didn’t suspect Wright of a moral tract. His lucid review of recent ideas and his engaging use of the life of Charles Darwin to illustrate them are a nice introduction to some of the most exciting work on human behavior that has emerged in the last few decades from developments in evolutionary biology. I recommend the book to you. It is well written and has the virtues of good scholarship. If you wish to follow up his assertions and generalizations, footnotes give the key references to get you started. But the book does end with an argument about what Wright sees to be moral implications of an evolutionary perspective. Now, this may be exactly the forum in which to debate such ideas. But I am not a moral philosopher. Since I don’t find Wright’s moral prophesies convincing, a focus on them would put me in the position of summarizing arguments about an area in which I can claim no special expertise, with which I don’t agree, only to then criticize my own summary. You would not get your money’s worth.
So please indulge instead a consideration of the conceptual tools provided by current evolutionary views of competition and cooperation (which are introduced in Wright’s book). Let me show you some of the ways these tools are useful for the task of investigating and explaining human behavioral variability over time and space. That way I can talk about things I actually work on.
Let’s begin with Darwin’s deceptively simple theory of evolution by natural selection. By the first half of the 19th century the evidence had accumulated in Darwin’s circle (some due to his own work) that the distribution of plants and animals in the living world was consistent with “descent with modification.” Variation over both time, in fossil sequences, and over space, in biogeographically diversity (neighboring populations being more alike and marked by barriers to migration) suggested ancestral relationships among distinct species. The question on the table was this: what process propelled and directed the changes?
Darwin says himself that his insight that natural selection was the process came on reading Malthus’ essay “On Population” in which Malthus lamented the fact that populations can increase faster than their food supplies. Darwin saw that this simple fact implied competition for scarce resources. And since (as cursory observation shows) individuals within any population vary and if any of this variation makes some individuals even slightly better able to solve the current problems of surviving and reproducing, then any heritable component of such variation must increase over time, out competing the heritable component of variants less able. As circumstances changed, the variants more suited would be favored. This process would result in an association between features and the circumstances in which they occur.
Darwin knew nothing of genes and the problem of inheritance was one he never solved. But in the first half of this century Mendelian inheritance and natural selection were joined in the synthetic theory of evolution. That provided the fundamental elements of modern evolutionary theory. It took some additional work on them before their promise was realized. Especially important developments in the study of animal behavior only took place in the 60’s and 70’s when G. C. Williams published Adaptation and Natural Selection: a critique of some current biological thought, William Hamilton explained the implications of kin selection, and John Maynard Smith developed the concept of Evolutionarily Stable Strategies. All this is recent enough that it is not surprising that applications of these ideas to questions of human behavior seems barely begun.
The result of these developments was a way of investigating the living world by constructing hypotheses about any particular puzzling feature on two central assumptions. First, natural selection is the process that has designed living organisms. Second, time and energy are always limited so that individuals must make tradeoffs in the face of constraints. The first is the basis for expecting individuals to do things likely to maximize their reproductive success or more generally their inclusive fitness–their relative contribution to descendant gene pools. Over evolutionary time characteristics spread and persist when the individuals with those characteristics are better at contributing genes to descendant generations. The second assumption is the basis for the use of economic logic. Tradeoffs are unavoidable. Everything has a cost. More spent on one thing means less to something else.
With these working assumptions researchers use models (sometimes quite simple ones) to investigate topics that include: why males and females behave differently; why the character and extent of those differences varies; why individuals do different things at different ages; why patterns of time allocation vary not only by sex and age but also by sex and/or wealth; why individuals use different resources from one time and place to another; why family arrangements take different shapes, why there is more sharing and help in some cases than others, over some things than others, with some associates than others. The theoretical foundation of behavioral ecology makes the answer to these questions in one research setting directly useful elsewhere. Not because it explains away the variation. Different cases show whether variables actually do co-vary in the ways expected. Work over the last few decades has, if anything, revealed more variation than previously guessed. But it reveals larger regularities within the variation not only among other animals but among people as well.
There are four important issues about competition and cooperation to clarify. I’ll briefly elaborate on each. First is the importance of distinguishing the interests of groups and the interests of their individual members. Second is the way that the “genes eye view” shows how individual fitness interests can overlap, but never perfectly–so that conflicts are expected even among the closest kin. Third the fitness interests of males and females differ with implications for conflicts both between and within the sexes. The fourth is an array of issues arising in the cooperation of distant kin. This last category includes models illustrating both the limits on cooperation and showing when it might be quite robust.
Each of these issues can be illustrated in recent work like mine on human behavioral variation within and among communities dependent on wild foods. Hunter-gatherers, without farming or herding, must solve the problems of life that faced people everywhere before the origins of agriculture. If we find that variation in the problems they face and the ways they solve them are systematically related to features of local ecology, and can be explained by applying the use of evolutionary models, we can use those relationships to provide hypotheses about variation in the past. I note some examples.
An evolutionary perspective focuses attention on fitness related costs and benefits to individuals. It allows us to construct and test hypotheses about variation in behavior. By appealing to a general theory about behavioral variability we can take our results to the archeological and paleontological record left by people in the past. And we can compare human behavior to the behavior of our closest living non-human relatives–the other primates, a comparison that increasingly shows how much more like us they are than once supposed.
If a moral implication must be drawn, consider this: evolutionary ecology offers some useful tools for exploring and explaining when and why people and perhaps some other primates are concerned about morality. As very social animals our associates can be a source of both large costs and also large benefits to each of us. But explaining why conflicts of interest always plague us, so that the behavior of individuals often follows a course that results in “irrational” group level outcomes, does not make the fundamental conflicts of interest go away.
The following article is a presentation our chapter president, Flo Wineriter, gave March 25, 1995 to his Humanist Institute class in New York City.
My presentation concerns the growth of Humanist influence in world affairs during the past 300-years and the intense competition for that influence by the fundamentalists of the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. My thoughts are in response to the book “Defenders of God” by Bruce B. Lawrence, published by Harper & Row in 1989. All quotations are from the soft-cover edition.
I will begin with the authors’ definitions.
“Fundamentalism is the affirmation of religious authority as holistic and absolute, admitting of neither criticism nor reduction; it is expressed through the collective demand that specific creedal and ethical dictates derived from scripture be publicly recognized and legally enforced.
“Modernism is the search for individual autonomy driven by a set of socially encoded values emphasizing change over continuity; quantity over quality; efficient production, power, and profit over sympathy for traditional values or vocations, in both the public and private spheres.”
I believe the terms Modernism and Humanism are interchangeable terms defining current attitudes that have developed from The Enlightenment.
It seems to me the central point of controversy between Fundamentalist and Humanist is authoritarianism and the role of religion in politics and government. The fundamentalists of the three Abrahamic religions feel it is their mission to establish earthly theocracies in preparation for the arrival of a messiah. They use political influence to enact government laws and regulations that will give their creedal beliefs the force of secular law thereby forcing everyone to live according their moral precepts.
“All fundamentalists, whether they be Christian, Islamic, or Jewish, agree that the leadership of certain extraordinary individuals is decisive for the collective good.
The success of the fundamentalist campaign would destroy secular democracy and establish a theocracy. Humanists have a responsibility to keep a public spotlight focused on the goals of fundamentalism to prevent a loss by default of the freedoms’ people have gained under the Enlightenment leadership of the past 300-years.
“Fundamentalist fought internal foes. Their leaders separated from mainline Protestant denominations, specifically Presbyterianism and the American Baptist Convention. They protested creeping rationalism within the church. They founded their own churches in order to maintain doctrinal purity and also to point out the defilement of those from whom they separated. “Expound and expose” was their clarion cry. According to one of its leading proponents, “Historic fundamentalism is the literal exposition of all the affirmations and attitudes of the Bible and the militant exposure of all non-Biblical affirmations and attitudes.”
Fundamentalist success would destroy the rights of self-expression, freedom of choice, equality, justice, the pursuit of individual fulfillment and the powers of the individual as advocated by Voltaire, Hume, John Locke, Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin, etc. Fundamentalist success would return us to the authoritarian days of the Holy Roman Empire when Kings enforced the will of Popes.
“The oft told story of Judaism in the twentieth century pits the Jewish people against a host of inimical forces. Those are the headline stories. They ignore the other story of Jewish resistance to assimilation and secularization. That resistance has become an internal struggle. It does not pit Jews against the outside world but Jews against other Jews. It is a fight for the soul of Judaism. It is a fight to prove that Jews are not merely a special race with a piece of territory but a divine instrument with a universal mission.
“Almost all Jews would be offended by such a narrow definition of Jewish identity. It is for this reason that groups advocating such views have been called ‘extremist,’ ‘ultra orthodox,’ or ‘fundamentalist.’
The belief differences between fundamentalists and humanists revolve around the source of basic core values and are not resolvable. Fundamentalists believe human values are divinely instituted while humanists believe they result from the evolution of experience.
Fundamentalists believe a supernatural entity will reward or punish individuals according to their adherence to those values while humanists believe consequences are the result of the natural law of cause and effect. Fundamentalists believe they have a duty and an obligation to enforce those divine values while Humanist believe they have only the responsibility to promote desirable values and examine probable consequences.
“We are required to focus on our Islamic duties, first to apply the Law of God (the shari’a) and the Word of God. And there can be no doubt that the first battleground of jihad is the removing of those shackles of unbelief that constrain us and substituting for them an Islamic order….”Abd As-Salam Faraj.
Fundamentalists have a concept of being a chosen people, directed by divinity to establish god’s kingdom on this earth and prepare for the day of a messiah to rule. Humanists believe in the equality of all races, that no one is inferior nor superior, that all are created equal, that everyone has basic rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “Like their American Protestant counterparts, Sunni Islamic fundamentalists want to take over the system rather than over-throw it. The outcome is no different for Muslims than for Jews and Christians.”
Humanism gives respectability to the philosophy of non-theism and moral support to those who are willing to question deity concepts and take personal responsibility for their actions without the promises or threats of after-death consequences. Humanism, a moral code built on respect for ourselves and others, needs no other-world threats or rewards to make life meaningful and desirable. Making this world a better place for everyone is sufficient incentive for understanding and supporting the ethics of Humanism.
The irresolvable differences of core beliefs indicate that it is useless to seek areas of commonalty. Perhaps the most we can hope for is an atmosphere of tolerance. Even that poses a danger to Humanism because if fundamentalists are successful in their drive for power they would eradicate humanism while the dominance of Humanist power permits fundamentalist freedom of expression and the freedom to try to become theocratic dictators.
Understanding this paradox gives us a more clear understanding of what Voltaire meant when he said “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
Discussion Group Report
Evolution vs. Creationism
By Richard Layton
The second part of the PBS program on evolution and creationism was presented and discussed.
Creationists depict the theory of evolution as directly opposed to the Bible and thus as representing a rebellion against God. A private educational institution that is a leading advocate of creationism is the Christian Liberties (sic) Academy. It teaches that instruction in evolution produces a “different kind of citizen,” who advocates a relativistic morality rather than the absolute moral principles set down by God. This viewpoint, it says, has led to the moral decline in our nation. A Christian morality is superior because it holds the individual responsible to God for his actions.
Space exploration provides a considerable amount of evidence supporting evolution. The supporting data are recorded in the new Biological Sciences Study by the National Science Foundation.
Some ways of debunking creationism are:
Creationism garners most of its support from suburbs and small towns. It can be difficult for people to take an objective, rational look at evolution because there is not an inherent offer of salvation.
Science education is in serious trouble in the United States. College science professors are not impressing upon their students, particularly those training to be high school teachers, the crucial role evolution plays in the interrelationship of all the sciences. The natural consequence is that secondary school teachers in general are not doing an adequate job of introducing evolution to our youth.
Philip Johnson of the University of California at Berkeley criticized evolution scientists by saying they bring and then conceal their own philosophical assumptions to the discussion of science. Their motivation, according to Johnson, is a fear of losing power over science. He claims to be raising theistic questions, for example, can we get along without a creator?
Leonard Kristallen points out that scientific discovery has shown that humans are not the center of the universe and that all life is based upon a common genetic code. Evolution provides answers to biological questions from paleontology to anatomy. Simple observation reveals change, and humans, like all other forms of life, will eventually become extinct unless cultural adaptations work to ensure survival. Science, too, changes; it is an enterprise to explain how and why the universe is constructed.
Creationism is culturally, religiously, and morally racist, since it teaches that only the Christian interpretations can be true. It holds that death did not exist before Adam and Eve but is a result of the Fall of Man. If death had existed previously, there would be no need for redemption. Death, then, is a sin that has to be punished and expiated.
Why I Do Not Believe in Evolution
You have no doubt seen the “Darwin Fish” and recognized it as a fun parody of the ubiquitous “Christian Fish.” The second proclaims, “I believe in Christ and his gospel.” Does this imply that the former means, “I believe in Darwin and his Origin of Species?”
As a former professor of zoology and high school teacher of biology, I certainly use evolution as an explanation for the origin of life on earth and the development of humankind. I don’t believe it, but I use it. Do these two clauses seem to be in conflict with each other? In the world of science, they aren’t.
It is a simple truth that science, when employed beyond its surface features, does not produce believers of its practitioners. Do scientists really believe in atoms? Do they believe that the California fault system is a function of plate tectonics? Stated as plainly and simply as is possible, the answer is, “NO!”
Take the case of the atom. In the fifth century BCE, the Greek philosopher Democritus stated, on the basis of logic, that he believed that all matter could be subdivided into smaller and smaller parts until it reached some final indivisible part; this part he termed the atom. Democritus indeed had a philosophically based belief in atoms. Later, others started to demonstrate through measurements in chemical reactions some real physical substantiation for the existence of such structures. More and more information began accumulating, allowing science to explain one important part of the universe, the chemical behavior of matter.
Scientists’ explanation of accruing physical evidence has developed into what is known as the Theory of Atomic Structure. The theory is not a belief system, it is a tool. Its component propositions are not taken on faith, like religious tenets. Atomic theory is more analogous to a hammer than a religion. That is, atomic theory is a tool that is employed to do a task, such as explain how chemicals interact with each other. In my teaching lifetime, I have had to relearn the answer to “what is an atom like?” several times. As more evidence is gained, the conception of atomic structure improves and major changes are made to the theory. So it is with allscientific theories.
Idea One: Scientific theories are tools, not belief systems. It is incorrect (and misleading to others less well informed) to state something like “I believe in the Theory of Evolution.”
Idea Two: Science progresses by tossing out or modifying the old. One must be prepared to accept new tools (theories) the moment new evidence overwhelms the old.
Parts of the Theory of Evolution Through Natural Selection consist of broad statements that are so clearly documented in evidence that there is no disagreement within the scientific community as to their validity. More than 99% of all biologists agree with this portion of the theory, leading us to call these “scientific facts.”
There is no doubt that evolution occurs. The theoretical construct of how is currently ascribed to natural selection. There have been other theories to explain evolution. For example, in the 19th century Lamarck proposed evolution through use and disuse of organs called the Theory of Acquired Characteristics. At the moment there are no strong theories competing with natural selection, although there are alternate, competing versions of natural selection-for example, punctuated evolution versus steady stream evolution. (There is a political movement to foster a competing “theory of scientific creationism,” but this is a religious conception masquerading as science.) Therefore it is a verity that biologists of all sorts all over the world use the Theory of Evolution Through Natural Selection as a tool to explain the inter-relationships of life on Earth.
Idea Three: Evolution, or change of life through time, is a scientific fact.
Idea Four: The predominant theory of how evolution works is the Theory of Natural Selection.
Idea Five: The current Theory of Evolution through Natural Selection is a tool that will be discarded the moment science comes up with a better theory.
Back to that Darwin Fish on our cars. It is (or should be) a nifty symbol that there are people who prefer scientific explanations to religious ones. It may open up social opportunities to enlighten others on how scientific explanations differ from those that must be taken on faith.
Discussion Group Report
Ethical Implications of Genetic Engineering
By Richard Layton
Societies have always been tempted to apply their knowledge of heredity to eugenics, the genetic improvement of the human species. In Nazi Germany, eugenic theories aimed at purifying the national pedigree were dramatically put in motion. In 1934, 56,000 citizens characterized as “genetically unfit” were sterilized by the German government. Among them were victims of various mental diseases and persons identified–on the basis of sexual orientation, for example–as “social deviants.” Millions of healthy Jews, gypsies and other ethnic and religious minorities were systematically murdered. Even in the United States, 20,000 people, categorized as feebleminded, alcoholic, epileptic, sexually deviant and mentally ill, had been forcibly sterilized by January 1935.
David Suzuki and Peter Knudtson, in Genetics: The Clash Between the New Genetics and Human Values, say, “as we approach undreamed-of powers to manipulate the very blueprint of life, we must remember the lessons from the history of science and technology. With all of the best intentions, we still encounter unexpected costs in engineering life.” Results are in many cases a mixed bag with unexpected undesirable costs accompanying beneficial results. For example, geneticists have discovered that sickle cell anemia arises from error in a single gene and is transmitted from parent to offspring as a recessive characteristic. However, this gene also increases people’s chances of surviving malaria.
Ronald Dworkin of Oxford University, author of Life’s Dominion: An Argument About Abortion, Euthanasia and Individual Freedom, opines that parents may be tempted to use abortion as a technique for choosing the kind of children they wish to have. If a mother is told that her fetus is carrying a gene that will doom it to an early death from cancer it is understandable if she decides to have an abortion; but what of parents who want children of a particular sex? or blond children? And what about producing children in order to harvest their organs for transplants, something we have already seen in one case? What about women producing babies for sale?
People around the world seem to value the sanctity of life intrinsically. Dworkin suggests that this value is true. He disagrees with the postmodernist belief that morality is subjective and relativistic, that the individual conscience is the legislative tribunal that creates right and wrong. “On the contrary, exercising individual conscience wouldn’t even be an issue if everyone had his own truth. What would it matter how one acted in the world? Conscience is measured against truth; it is not its own truth.”
Once the battle was religious collectivism vs. the individual, then political collectivism vs. the individual. Now we are entering a time when the biggest social and political issues are again religious. “It seems we left behind our concern with the religious imagination when we entered modernity, only to find it again on the other side of that issue.”
Being a Teacher
One of the worst ways to show our kids what they are worth is with a grade on a report card. Please don’t get me wrong, I want my kids to succeed. I want them to make good grades, have proficient study habits, and do their homework. Poor teachers stop there, I want more. There isn’t enough room on a report card to fit all the things I want to teach my kids.
For example, one year my 6th graders studying current events became aware of a blood shortage in our area. There was a report of a 4-year old boy named Matthew who had used more than 200 transfusions before he was two months old. Matthew’s picture was on a Blood Donor Poster; he still needed regular transfusions. My students were touched by his little face. They had a million questions about what was wrong with him and what they could do to help. They wanted to know all about Blood Drives and how they work. I didn’t have all the answers so I selected some kids to form a committee, handed them a phone book and sent them to the office to call the blood bank and get all the information. They returned, shared all that they had learned, and calmly announced that they had scheduled our school for a blood drive and volunteered me to be in charge–little Dickens! I called back and somewhat reluctantly set up what I was told was the first blood drive ever sponsored by an elementary school.
You cannot believe how motivated children can be at the prospect of seeing their teachers bleed. I captured that enthusiasm and assigned an all out marketing and advertising campaign to every kid in the school. They were told of the importance of signing up parents and teachers for our blood drive that was coming to the Media Center. They went in committees from room to room with information about health risks, procedures for donating blood and how the blood would be used. They role played various methods of intimidation and begging techniques that could be used should their parents try to “just say no.”
One teacher believed that he could get AIDS from giving blood. Another, who has the rarest blood type, had never given blood because she believed that since it is so rare, no one ever needed it. (She is now called every eight weeks and will never forgive us.) One little 2nd grader believed that like a heart or liver donor, a blood donor had to die before giving blood. She was a little worried about even taking a pledge from her mom or dad, however, she had no problem getting a promise from her older brother. Apparently he was someone she could spare in a pinch!
We had our blood drive in the Media Center. We all dressed up as Vampires and acted as escorts, receptionists, baby sitters and passed out refreshments. At the end of the day, 98 people had come in to donate. At 6 or 7 in the evening, some of the students had stayed behind to help me cleanup our room that had served as the child care center for parents facing the needle. One of my students–a young man known for being totally unremarkable, quite average and certainly nothing special–came up to me and changed my life and the way I assess the success of my kids. “Mrs. Eskelsen,” he said, “how many lives do you think we saved today?”
I had to step out into the hall, because I knew I was going to cry. I was totally ashamed of myself, I had always judged this “average, nothing special kid with poor study habits” on his academic performance. He has a much higher, more correct estimation of his worth. He is someone who saves lives. He is someone important. I promised myself that I would never again short change one of my students in that way. It is a perk of my profession that teachers sometimes become better people because of the lessons we learn from our students, from our boys and girls.
If we are wise enough to learn the lessons, our children will show us what to teach them. Consider the little boy pestering his dad who only wanted to read the newspaper. The boy kept asking questions and bothering his father. Dad looked down at the coffee table and saw a National Geographic magazine opened to a map of the world. He ripped out the map and tore it into little pieces. “Let’s play a game,” he said to his son, “you take this puzzle and tape it back together, and you can’t talk until it is all done.”
The father settled back to enjoy his couple of hours of peace and quiet when, in a remarkably short time, the boy returned with the map restored perfectly. The astonished parent said, “How in the world did you get that done so fast?” The young man replied, “See, there is a picture of a kid on the back and if you put the kid together just right, the world just takes care of itself!”
Teach kids their power and their duty and we will raise a generation that understands and accepts that power and duty and yes, the world will take care of itself!
Dr. C. Wallace Dalley
1923 – 1995
Humanists of Utah member Wallace Dalley died at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle from unexpected complications during cancer therapy. Wally was born and raised in Idaho, earning valedictorian honors in both high school and the University of Idaho. He received his Medical Doctorate from the University of Utah in 1947.
He worked as a psychiatrist at the VA Hospital in Salt Lake, as Director of the Northern Unit of the Utah State Hospital, and Clinical Director of the Weber County Comprehensive Mental Health Center in Ogden.
Wally was an active member of many organizations; his obituary in the Salt Lake Tribune listed Humanists of Utah among 10 affiliations he was associated with. He also listed us as one of the suggested recipients of donations in lieu of flowers at his death. Thank you, Wally, we miss you.
The family would greatly appreciate receiving any recollections, reminiscences or photos of Wally for a book of remembrances.
Discussion Group Report
Do Humans Have an Innate Moral Sense?
By Richard Layton
Since they were first published, newspapers have been filled with accounts of murder and mayhem, political terror and human atrocities. Differences in religious belief, color of skin, and lineage have precipitated riots, repression, and genocide. Almost any boundary drawn on the earth can become a cause for war. Warlords fight for booty while children starve.
Contemplating this litany of tragedy, one might become persuaded to Thomas Hobbes’ opinion that in their natural state, human beings engage in a war of all against all, being worse than beasts. They are not content, like beasts, with only sufficient food and sex, but strive to outdo each other in every aspect of life, seeking power and wealth, pride and fame, beyond reasonable measure.
In his book The Moral Sense, James Q. Wilson rejects this Hobbesian view, as well as that of most modern great philosophical theories of human behavior, which give little weight to the possibility that humans are endowed with a moral sense. Commonly two errors are made in understanding the human condition: assuming that culture is everything and assuming that it is nothing.
“People,” Wilson argues, “have a natural moral sense…formed out of the interaction of their innate dispositions with their earliest familial experiences.” People from an early age judge themselves and often try to live by the judgments they make. Children often discuss concepts such as fairness. Most of us do not break the law most of the time, not simply for fear of being caught, but also because our conscience forbids our doing wrong. We honor promises, play games by the rules, respect the rights and claims of others, work at our jobs even when the boss isn’t looking, wait our turn in line, cooperate with others to achieve a common goal, are courteous to strangers, leave tips for waitresses, help people in distress, and join campaigns that benefit others but not ourselves, partially out of fear of retribution but also out of a sense of duty, a desire to please, a belief in fairness, and sympathy. Children, no matter how burdensome, are not abandoned in large numbers. Incest is universally tabooed. Although infanticide, cannibalism, and killing the aged has been practiced, these customs have been readily abandoned by every primitive people to whom colonial governments have offered improved technology, modern medicine, and communal peace enforced by disinterested constables.
In fact, when people act fairly or sympathetically, it is rarely because they have engaged in much systematic reasoning (that society will be better off as a consequence). Much of the time our inclination towards fair play or our sympathy for the plight of others are immediate and instinctive, a reflex of our emotions more than an act of our intellect, and in those cases in which we do deliberate, our deliberation begins, not with philosophical premises, but with feelings–in short, with a moral sense.
There is, however, often a war within the individual between his or her moral sense and more selfish inclinations, and although some individuals allow the latter to predominate, most frequently demonstrate the former in their behavior.
The human inclination towards a moral sense encourages a family and community loyalty that has served to ensure the survival of the species during the process of organic evolution.
The Study Group Discussion dealt with evidence from other sources, some of which seem to support Wilson’s hypothesis. It was observed that Japan, with its low crime rate and finely honed sense of personal courtesy in interpersonal relationships, serves as a living refutation of Christian Fundamentalist claims that a nation must be Christian in order to be decent.
The Origin of Humankind
What is consciousness? What is it for? What is its function? These questions and several more observations concerning the uniqueness of Homo sapiens are explored with clarity by Richard Leakey in his recent book The Origin of Humankind. The son of the renowned Louis and Mary Leakey writes for the lay-person without compromising his unquestioned authority as a paleontologist. In less than 160 pages he covers the fascinating 2.5 million years of human evolution, it social organization, culture, personal behavior and the development of consciousness.
Whatever your level of interest, education and background, you’ll be rewarded for the time spent reading this book and, in the vernacular of our local culture, “Your testimony of humanism will be strengthened.”
The Moral Sense
In The Moral Sense author James Q. Wilson makes a good case for humans having an innate sense of moral values that is a genetical result of evolution. Wilson defines moral sense as an intuitive or directly felt belief about how one ought to act when one is free to act voluntarily. He contends this sense is fragile and needs nurturing but does give us a reasonable reference for human sympathy, fairness, self-control and duty. Wilson’s research indicates this moral sense is present in all ages of all races. He wrote the book in hopes of helping humans to magnify the better side of their nature.
With the current religious emphasis on divinely inspired family values, I recommend reading this book to develop a sound basis for discussing evolutionary acquired human values.
Thoughts on the End of Life
I wish to express my appreciation to all those who have written and orally communicated their care and concern over my health. That and their comments regarding my contributions to the Chapter and humanism was most rewarding and makes my enforced absence much easier to bear.
My health has not significantly changed in the past months. The oncologist states that my lymphoma and I seem to be reaching an “accommodation” with each other, which he regards as positive. It comes down to a matter of life style, and I am presently learning how to live within the imposed limits.
On my recent 68th birthday, I received a Shambhala Pocket Classic book entitled: The Way of Myth, Talking with Joseph Campbell, by Fraser Boa. In the introduction, Boa quotes Campbell’s feelings about his place in life two years before his death (1987) which has given me inspiration and guidance. I include it because it just might help others who also find themselves in this “end of life” state. The quote reads:
“…in my own life I am now looking back and I can tell you that there’s a wonderful moment that comes when you realize, ‘I’m not striving for anything.’ What I’m doing now is not a means of achieving something later. After a certain age, there’s not a future, and suddenly the present becomes rich and it becomes a thing in itself which you are now experiencing.”
Discussion Group Report
The Bible Says So
By Richard Layton
The Utah Humanists’ Study Group this month heard a taped presentation by humanist comedian Henry Scampini. The excerpts that follow refer to some of the milder “pornography” in the Bible. Rawer stuff can be found by the “original” authors cited below:
When David was a young man, he went up on the roof to look around; and he saw Bathsheba bathing herself; and he said, “Wow, I’d like to bath Sheba.” So he maneuvered to have her husband killed, and then he married her and had a son, Solomon. When David died, his son Solomon, became king, and he married Abashag. His older brother, Adonijah, wanted her, and he had his brother killed so that he could marry her. Solomon’s songs in the Psalms were written for her.
When I was a kid, this was absolutely the funniest thing in the Bible. This was hysterical:
Why do we still have old-time religion? Because we don’t have anything else to replace it, and it’s up to the humanists to find a replacement. All religion is silly. It’s the world’s oldest scam. It’s the rape of the mind and I laugh that I may not weep. But be of good cheer. The day will come when priests will marry, the pope will be a nun, Jews will eat ham, and Muslims will pray standing up. The day will come when no one under 21 will be allowed to read the barbaric book of inspired ignorance called the Holy Bible.
I would like to thank my writers, Ezekiel and Isaiah.
Be of good cheer. At long last our time is coming, and the truth will prevail!
On Being Human
Edward O. Wilson, Harvard Professor and winner of two Pulitzer prizes, says Homo sapiens have a physical, an intellectual, and an emotional stake in maintaining a healthy earthly environment. On page 348 of his 1992 publication “The Diversity of Life,” Wilson writes: “Human advance is determined not by reason alone but by emotions peculiar to our species, aided and tempered by reason. What makes us people and not computers is emotion. We have little grasp of our true nature, of what it is to be human and therefore where our descendants might someday wish we had directed Spaceship Earth. Our troubles, as Vercors said in You Shall Know Them, arise from the fact that we do not know what we are and cannot agree on what we want to be. The primary cause of this intellectual failure is ignorance of our origins. We did not arrive on this planet as aliens. Humanity is part of nature, a species that evolved among other species. The more closely we identify ourselves with the rest of life, the more quickly we will be able to discover the sources of human sensibility and acquire the knowledge on which an enduring ethic, a sense of preferred direction, can be built.”
A chapter discussion group has been organized and meets the first Thursday of the month. Member Richard Layton has agreed to be the director of the group and looks forward to 90-minute monthly discussions regarding a variety of subjects important to Humanists. The first discussion revolved around the basic Philosophy of Humanism as defined by Dr. Corliss Lamont. The April 6th subject will be the “human unconscious,” how it is acquired and how it affects our daily lives. All chapter members are welcome. The group meets in Eliot Hall of the Unitarian Church at 7:30pm.
Letter to the Editor
The following is in response to Nancy’s Corner published last month. Editorial letters on any subject are welcome.
I was struck by an incongruity in the August issue of The Utah Humanist. Nancy’s Corner synopsized an article in the Harvard Mental Health Letter to the effect that “realism and depression are significantly correlated,” and yet the Happy Humanist symbol appeared more than a dozen times in the same issue. Are we trying to convince ourselves that we’re happy?
Since I don’t have the Harvard Mental Health Letter itself, I can only rely on Nancy’s synopsis of it, which raises many more questions than it answers. But as I read her article, she did not say that realists are likely to be depressed, but only that depressed people are likely to be realists. There’s a big difference. Men are not likely to be criminals, but criminals are likely to be men.
–Earl M. Wunderli
Humanism and Science
“God and immortality, the central dogmas of the Christian religion, find no support in science.”
Until the last 200 years very few people were interested in scientific research. This probably explains why it was easy for religions to influence the majority of the world’s population. There is ample evidence that since the dawn of thinking people have wondered where they came from, why they are here, and what is going to happen to them. There were no scientific answers available because there was little research, and what limited scientific knowledge was developed was controlled by religious rulers and withheld from the general populace. The only answers to the mysteries of life came from religions and were designed to keep people in ignorance and psychological bondage.
Some understanding of the scientific method and at least a basic knowledge of the various fields of science is important to becoming an effective humanist. Atheism, the denial of a belief in god, and agnosticism, the lack of knowledge about god, are both negative philosophical attitudes based primarily on a non-belief system. Humanism is a positive philosophical attitude based on a belief in the scientific method. A humanist believes that accurate scientific research has provided convincing evidence that animate and inanimate objects exist naturally. Even humanists without a formal education in basic science believe that scientific research is a valuable tool for discovering truth and put their faith in scientific evidence. For persons who are humanists by faith to become humanists by knowledge requires that they become familiar with the scientific method. Once they have that understanding, they would gain a stronger feeling of scientific accuracy with personal in-depth studies in the various fields of science. Consequently, the more a humanist understands science, the stronger will be their conviction of the humanist philosophy. Organized humanism can best ensure its future growth by encouraging the teaching of the sciences in all grades of public education. School children should be taught the art of reasoning and learn the basis of the scientific method of inquiry as early as possible. A person taught the scientific method will be less vulnerable to the many philosophies based on supernaturalism. Then, as adults, they would also be more apt to intelligently question even the assumptions and conclusions of scientists. It seems reasonable to assume that one educated in the details of evolution is less likely to accept the claims of creation; one educated in the orderly process of astronomy is less likely to believe the claims of astrology; one educated in the natural systems of the human body is less likely to believe the claims of a supernatural influence.
It is important for humanists to have knowledge of science so they can be more effective in countering the claims of religion; to understand the natural process in order to counter the arguments of the unnatural; to recognize the monism functioning of life in order to confront the advocates of dualism.
The exciting progress of scientific research and the various forms of popular communications are making the scientific attitude more acceptable and could lead to a higher percentage of the world’s people coming to accept the humanist explanation of the animate and the inanimate.
Science is the foundational structure of humanism, and consequently the growth of humanism is dependent upon the growth of public recognition, understanding and acceptance of scientific knowledge.
National Non-belief Day
An exciting event is in the planning stages. Sunday, October 8 of this year has been set aside for the first National Proclaim Non-belief Day or N-Day. On this day, it is hoped that a mighty chorus of voices, all proclaiming their disbelief of gods and religion, will be heard across the country, as thousands of atheists, agnostics, and other freethinkers join to celebrate non-belief.
The day will mark the start of National Freethought Week, which runs October 12 – 19, 1995. (Although we have chosen to “kick off” National Freethought Week with N-Day, the two events are administered separately.) N-Day exists for several purposes:
N-Day is a project that started with our group, Arizona Secular Humanists, which is loosely affiliated with CODESH. But we do not wish to be “in charge” of N-Day. We are asking atheist, agnostic, non-belief, humanist and other freethought groups around the country to join with us in organizing the first National Proclaim Non-belief Day, to make it as successful as possible. It is important that we show a united front, so that we are perceived as the cohesive and dynamic movement that we must become.
Chapter Approves Strategic Plan
The October 12 meeting of Humanists of Utah was devoted to a review and discussion of the proposed Strategic Plan that was distributed to all members in September. The Plan was developed over the summer by a committee of volunteers consisting of Norman Carsey, Curtis Dowdle, Hugh Gillilan, Willa Mae Helmick, Nancy Moore, Jewel Snow, Flo Wineriter, and Earl Wunderli. A large turnout of members reflected a keen interest in the Plan.
Following the review and discussion, the members voted unanimously to adopt the Plan. Six standing committees will now develop and implement action plans to achieve the six goals listed in the Plan. Members have just begun to sign up to work on one or more of the committees. The initial volunteers are as follows:
Other members are encouraged to volunteer for one or more of these committees. Volunteers should contact Earl Wunderli who is coordinating the formation and operation of the committees. When the committees are formed and the chairpersons named, Wunderli will hold a meeting of all chairpersons to share ideas about committee operations.
James Madison: Father of the Constitution
The Grass-Roots News is the official publication of The Chapter Assembly–the organization of AHA chapters. This article is extracted from the March 1995 edition of GRN
James Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution. In large part we owe our religious freedom under the Constitution to Madison. He was born March 16, 1751 in Virginia and grew up in the Piedmont areas as did his friend of later years, Thomas Jefferson. A diligent student, he completed his college education in less than three years at the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton University.
The religious persecution prevalent in Colonial America profoundly disturbed Madison. At the age of 23, he wrote to his friend William Bradford, “The diabolical Hell conceived principle of persecution rages among some and to their eternal Infamy the Clergy can furnish their quota of Imps for such business. This vexes me the most of anything whatever.” Three months later he again wrote Bradford, “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect.”
James Madison came to the fore during the drafting of Virginia’s Constitution when his own wording making freedom of religion a right was substituted for George Mason’s which merely guaranteed toleration of religious differences.
Madison, while serving in the Virginia House of Delegates, wrote A Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments in reply to Patrick Henry’s proposal for an assessment to support religious ministers or teachers. This document formed the intellectual basis for the First Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion.
In urging the adoption of the Federal Constitution, Madison stated, “Freedom arises from a multiplicity of sects, which pervades America, and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society.” He wanted authority to stem from the general legislature rather than from the states individually because one religion could predominate and oppress within a state but America as a whole was too diverse in religious belief to allow one to become dominant.
In his later years Madison wrote, “The danger of silent accumulations and encroachments by Ecclesiastical Bodies have not sufficiently engaged attention in the US.” He disliked the establishment of the chaplainship to Congress as well as to the military as “a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles.”
Madison deserves our admiration and much credit for the religious safeguards we enjoy today. We must keep ever vigilant against those who wish to tear down the Wall of Separation between Church and State that Madison helped to establish.
Making Life Worth Living
This was the title of a Letter to the Editor published in the Salt Lake Tribune on February 21, 1995. It was a very interesting letter from Jon D. Green of the Humanities Department of Brigham Young University. The purpose of the letter was to encourage support for Public Television, The National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In the letter, Professor Green refers to himself and others in the Humanities as “humanists.” Now this seems to affect some people, because these self-called “humanists” are obviously also “theists.” Personally, I will be glad to acknowledge their right to the title, but to differentiate them from other “humanists” (secular, religious, non-theist, naturalistic, etc.) it is perhaps best to call them “Humanities Humanists.” I can do this because for many years I also was a “Humanities Humanist.” After all, the Humanities are the product of what humankind has done with its human-ness, and cannot be ignored by any thinking person.
Four years ago this month, I was introduced to the Humanist Manifesto and concluded that in the 40 years of being a student of the Humanities, I had become what is called a humanist. For the next several months I processed a change in the content of my belief system. I had to eliminate the cognitive dissonance between what I had learned from the Humanities (including naturalistic evolution) and Mormon doctrines such as theism, sin, guilt, and salvation. These concepts had become less meaningful through the years although I attended church regularly. In this mind altering process, I began to experience the exhilaration of becoming “free” in the sense of no longer being bound by dogma. I had achieved a union between knowledge and belief. It was a truly remarkable experience, this freedom, and I don’t want to lose it.
However, I have observed that many non-theist humanists are as dogmatic in their non-theism as theists are in their theism, and I don’t want part of either. My humanism remains rooted in the Humanities, and my non-theism is minor, almost forgotten. I have no need to reinforce or re-justify it; I like the freedom from dogmatism of either kind.
Further on in his letter, Professor Green explains his objective in teaching the Humanities. I find his explanation very meaningful. Because of my illness, I am experiencing the winding down of my life, and I look for purpose and meaning. It is not surprising for two “Humanities Humanists” to find our objectives are the same. I want to include his explanation, and finish with the Statements of Belief and Purpose of the Humanists of Utah, which I helped compose. I see no difference between the two. Professor Green writes:
Successful engagement in those things Socrates called “the Good, the True and the Beautiful” will ensure significant enhancement to the life of man, so that, as Thoreau wrote, we can “learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn,” and not as he also wrote, to discover when we die “that we have not lived.”
The Right Hand of God
The cover story of the May 15, 1995 issue of Time Magazine, “The Right Hand of God,” detailed the success of Ralph Reed in his Christian Coalition crusade to dominate the GOP and take over U.S. politics.
The “Christian Coalition” effort to control the Republican Party and the U.S. Congress is a frightening warning of the insidious movement to establish a ‘theocracy’ in this nation. Apparently Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan and Cal Thomas are using youthful Ralph Reed to ‘establish the Kingdom of God on this the American continent.’ Their crusade to ‘restore family values’ is really sloganeering for ‘establishing religious values’ to replace the ‘human values’ of our constitutional democracy. Citizens who support this theocratic movement should review that great era of the Holy Roman Empire when Christianity ruled with inquisitions and religious crusades. They should also review the repressive Christian government of Spain that killed every Jew that refused to convert to Christianity. To balance the historical picture, study the history of nations that repressed religious freedom such as the 75-years of human suffering in the U.S.S.R.
The great strength of the United States is the separation of religion and politics. Religions have the responsibility of influencing voluntary individual moral and ethical values. Our political structure is responsible for creating the mandatory legal values of society. Religion and politics are influential competitors but neither have the right to interfere with the internal operations of the other. This competition promotes the growth of human freedom from both religious and secular oppression. Domination by either restricts freedom of thought and freedom of expression.
Imagine the protests that would arise from the right-hand-of-god-organizations if political parties tried to influence religion with the same intensity religions are infiltrating our body politic! Our political leaders should make it clear, as did Barry Goldwater, that religious involvement with partisan politics is reprehensible.
Ed Wilson Remembered
The Third Annual Edwin H. Wilson Memorial Lecture will be held on Thursday, March 2, 1995, and the President of the American Humanist Association (AHA), Michael Werner of Chicago, is the featured speaker. The title of his lecture is “Humanist Morality in a Post-Modern World.” The program will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Chapel of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City.
Ed Wilson was the founder, Executive Director, and guiding spirit of the American Humanist Association (AHA) for most of its existence; served as Unitarian minister in Salt Lake City from 1946 to 1949; in 1991, established the local Chapter of the AHA, the Humanists of Utah; and was responsible for beginning its Journal, The Utah Humanist. He died on March 26th, 1993, and this lecture series was established in 1992 to honor his accomplishments.
Bette Chambers, past President of AHA, advisor to several AHA Presidents, and a long time personal friend of Mr. Wilson, dedicated the following remarks to his memory:
Chapter members should note that the lecture takes place on the first Thursday of March, not the usual 2nd Thursday, a change necessary to obtain this excellent speaker. This is the premier event of the year for the Chapter, and all members are urged to attend to hear the President of our parent organization who will present a message of importance to all humanists.
Something to Think About
If we could at this very moment shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 leaving all of the existing human ratios the same, it would look like this:
50% of the world’s wealth would be in the hands of only 6 people–and all 6 would be US citizens
When considering our world from such an incredibly compressed perspective, the need for both tolerance and understanding becomes glaringly apparent.
A Penny Saved…
Each year I send you a letter reminding you when your membership is up for renewal. You can continue to receive three more newsletters during a grace period before receiving a final letter asking for a financial commitment to humanism in general and Humanists of Utah in particular.
These letters, counting the envelope and extra postage, cost the chapter about 40 cents for each mailing. You can save the chapter a few cents by checking your mailing label or the new phone directory for your expiration date and sending in your check a month early. Those with an expiration date of the current month will receive a letter/bill with their copy of The Utah Humanist. If your membership is expiring in the next month or two, please write out a check and mail it to:
before the next issue of the newsletter.
You’ll save the chapter (yourself) some money that can be better spent promoting humanism!
On Sunday, October 8, 1995 Humanists of Utah participated in the first annual N-Day (Non-Belief Day) by having four members appear on talk radio. Bob Lesh, Sunday afternoon host on K-TALK Radio, devoted his entire two-hour program to a discussion of humanism. Members Earl Wunderli and Anna Hoagland were interviewed from 3:00 PM until 4:00 PM followed by an hour of discussion with Marie Springer and Flo Wineriter, 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM. The host asked serious questions about humanism that gave the guests an opportunity to explain its historical development, our present philosophy and our local activities.
Several listeners called to discuss their support or opposition to humanism or to seek information concerning specific ideas about humanism. One subject receiving considerable interest was the accusation of some fundamentalists that humanism is amoral, has a strong influence in public education, undermines authority and is responsible for the breakdown of the social fabric of our nation! Our members assured listeners that humanism puts a great deal of emphasis on human values and individuals taking personal responsibility for living moral lives. They also pointed out that humanism supports democracy and opposes theocracy; supports education and opposes indoctrination; supports religious freedom but opposes mixing religion and government.
Our members told the program host and listeners that the major social and educational threat humanism poses is its insistence upon the use of the scientific method to discover truths rather than the blind acceptance of dogmatic beliefs imposed by both secular authorities and religious myths.
Old Time Religion
Kurt Vonnegut has “invented” several religions. Here is a prayer offered by a minister of the “Church of God the Utterly Indifferent” from the novel Sirens of Titan.
O Lord Most High, Creator of the Cosmos, Spinner of Galaxies, Soul of Electromagnetic Waves, Inhaler and Exhaler of Inconceivable Volumes of Vacuum, Spitter of Fire and Rock, Trifler with Millennia–what could we do for Thee that Thou couldst not do for Thyself one octillion times better?
What could we do or say that could possibly interest Thee?
Oh, Mankind, rejoice in the apathy of our Creator, for it makes us free and truthful and dignified at last. No longer can a fool like Malachi Constant point to a ridiculous accident of good luck and say, “Somebody up there likes me.” And no longer can a tyrant say, “God wants this or that to happen, and anybody who doesn’t help this or that to happen is against God.”
O Lord Most High, what a glorious weapon is Thy Apathy, for we have unsheathed it, have thrust and slashed mightily with it, and the claptrap that has so often enslaved us or driven us into the madhouse lies slain!
The American Dream Renewed
July is American History month, a time to read about the positive role our nation has played in human evolution. I highly recommend The American Dream Renewed, written by Edward L. Ericson, for a positive portrayal of the essence of who we are. The author, a leader of the Ethical Culture movement and humanism, says “the American nation has crossed a cultural divide, becoming in fact an incipient ‘world people’, the first major example of comprehensively global people hood to emerge in history.” In just 174 pages Ericson covers the essential historical events that have produced a nation of pluralisms: religious, political, economic and racial pluralism that makes us the template for advancing civilization. To quote the author: “Some cynics would reduce the American dream to the mindless pursuit of material goods, to the drive to ‘get ahead’ without regard for the larger human consequences. But those who know the soul of America in depth recognize this portrayal as a travesty. The secret of America lies in the yearning of the human heart for freedom, justice, and equality…They are the essence of the dream that has made America.”
It was just a couple of weeks ago that President Clinton, in an effort to charge up his campaign bid for the next election, promised to lead Americans out of their “funk.” Most Americans misunderstood that remark, certainly not the first time that has happened to Bill Clinton. For the last while Clinton has been back peddling, trying to undo the possible damage of an association between his view of America’s funk and Jimmy Carter’s assessment of America’s malaise. Carter was going to lift us out of our malaise, and instead that remark sealed his political coffin. Americans don’t elect leaders to change their psychological state; we elect officials to represent our personal self-interests.
I kind of like the term “funk,” and agree that our nation is deeply entrenched in a funk, and that if anyone is going to liberate us from this debilitating funk, it will have to be a political leader, preferably our nation’s president.
Funk is a good term, and probably the only term a president can use in describing the spiritual pulse of our nation without sounding too cynical or preachy. Linda Hirshman, a law professor out of Chicago, describes the current American spirit as a “self-seeking amorality.” Now, a president may think that, but he can’t saythat.
Nor can a president say the stuff that Pope John Paul II has been stating in his masses about being open to immigrants and the poor–if I were Governor Pete Wilson, I’d take the papal remarks very personally and might even consider repenting. If I were Newt Gingrich, I’d figure the pope’s remarks were another good reason to hate Catholics.
The religious admonitions to which the pope has called us have been clearly stated in secular lingo as well by David Price, a political science professor at Duke. Says Price, “Life in modern society requires us to extend the rules and obligations of civil society to people whom we will never personally know.” Those words in fact define Price’s requirements of a democracy.
So what did Clinton mean by “funk?” I think it is a kind of paralysis in society created by clashing views of morality. The conservative revolution proclaims morality as a way of tending the superficial: prayer in school, banning books, eliminating rights for those who are different in skin color, nationality, or sexual orientation.
Clinton declares morality a matter of how society treats its citizens. Issues of fairness and justice come into play, as well as answering the question: Is it safe to be different from the majority? What does a civilized society mean?
“American Funk” suggests to me an attempt to move our nation away from the liberal/conservative polarity, the left/right spectrum so divisive and attempt to redefine the challenge to our nation more neutrally, that our task is revitalizing civil society. That is, to stop feeling helpless and cynical as opposing ideologies clash on big government, states rights, taxes, deficit reduction, etc. and begin to own up to the fact that something is desperately wrong with our society. We need a renewal of national purpose and a renewal of values which will nurture a civil society.
Once we all thought naively that the universe was expanding outward from a note hit by Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. Love beads would line the path to a utopian society. That was long before the World Trade Towers was bombed; long before Oklahoma City; long before the magnum-carrying camouflage-wearing right wing militias; long before the frightening voices of radio talk show hosts began to convince Americans that minorities and homosexuals and feminists and immigrants wanted to take away what they had worked so hard for. Hate became a legitimate politics and America’s long quest for community came to a grinding halt because of the incessant demands of self-interest.
The white anger, the black jubilation at the OJ Simpson jury’s verdict speaks of a deep-seated racism defying any rational system of justice. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Chairman of the African American Studies at Harvard said, “Blacks were cheering against 100 years of lynch law.”
I guess that is what is meant by the term, “playing the race card.” Even Justice Clarence Thomas played that race card when facing an all white judiciary committee at his confirmation hearing. He used the word “lynching” which brought history right to the moment at hand.
The New York Times alluded to an ethic among black women: “You never go against your men. You don’t want to give the whites any more ammunition.” Did we know before OJ just how divided the races were?
Ben Stein, a Los Angeles lawyer, made a chilling comment: “When OJ gets off, the whites will riot the way whites do: leave the cities, go to Idaho or Arizona, vote for Gingrich, and punish blacks by closing their day care programs and cutting off their Medicaid.”
What is the larger moral purpose of American life? A very simplified view reveals liberals trying to build an alliance between the middle class and the poor, while conservatives aim to forge a coalition between the middle class and the rich. Isn’t it obvious why the conservatives are winning? Their appeal is great: we’ll cut your taxes by cutting services to the poor.
But along come some Democrats every once in a while, like a Jimmy Carter who says we’re in this malaise caused by excessive self-interest. Americans wanted to deny that and showed Carter the door. Then along comes Clinton who says we are in a funk–a dangerous assessment for any politician to make. But I think what Carter and Clinton were trying to articulate is that people have not only material needs, economic concerns, self-interests for acquiring more things…but these two leaders addressed the spiritual needs of people. Funk is a spiritual term. Isn’t there a yearning to transcend self-interest and create a different kind of world?
The larger moral purpose of America which we are currently trying to define at the polls, revolves around either creating a community of caring, or perpetuating the growing love affair with individualism. In a world of shrinking resources and growing sense of apocalypse, the me-first ethic appeals to the immediate emotional concerns and biases of most Americans.
Thus we face an erosion of trust, an erosion on connectedness with others. I believe it was John Kennedy who was the last politician to get away with raising the specter of sacrifice: where individuals were asked what they were willing to sacrifice for the good of the community. Now there is so much terror of the other: the person of color, the immigrant, the homosexual, that we seek communities which preserve the narrow focus of ourselves.
The moral purpose of American life is honoring a commitment to a community larger than the specific community in which we live. It is a moral commitment to people we will never personally know.
Why make this commitment? In the lingo of conservative religion, to acknowledge the infinite preciousness of every human being created in the image of god. In the lingo of humanism and liberal religion: to affirm and promote the inherent dignity of every person, justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.
–Reverend Tom Goldsmith
AHA Conference Report
“We should start thinking and acting like a mass movement rather than a fringe group,” is the wise advice of the secretary of the AHA Board of directors, Carol Wintermute. Her sage observation was made at the semi-annual board meeting in Phoenix May 18 during a discussion of the growing public acceptance and practice of basic Humanist philosophy. The board was preparing a response to the Christian Coalition “Contract with the American Family” that had been released with much fanfare in the nation’s capitol the preceding day.
The AHA responded with a document that calls this ‘contract’ a full-blown assault on the American constitutional principle of separation of church and state. It will divide Americans along religious lines and will intrude government into the business of the family and religious institutions. If adopted by Congress, it will undermine our rights of conscience and weaken our democratic public school systems. The AHA board-approved document recognizes our country’s rich pluralism and that students have never lost their right to engage in voluntary personal private prayer, and calls for the continued respect of religious neutrality in our public schools.
In response to other points of the Christian Coalition Contract, the AHA board urges that public funding of education be limited to secular public schools; continued respect for Roe vs. Wade; the support of a family environment that is nurturing and nonabusive; and the continued federal support of the arts, humanities and public broadcasting.
The AHA statement was released to leading media sources. Discussion during preparation of the response statement revealed that many of the goals of Humanist Manifestos 1 & 2 have become public policy during the past 50-years, leading Wintermute to make her observation that we are no longer engaged in a fringe group but rather a mass movement.
Membership meeting participants of the 54th Annual conference learned that AHA membership increased by 215 the past year while circulation of The Humanist increased by 3,884. A study indicates the greatest source of new members is The Humanist read in public libraries so AHA is concentrating on getting our magazine in the reading racks of several more libraries.
Finances continue to be a challenge. The loss of $45,000, resulting from the death of a major donor, will force budget restraints and creative fund raising. The editor of The Humanist reports continuing efforts to modernize the format to make it more attractive and to improve the contents to make it more relevant to the humanist lifestyle.
The membership unanimously approved a resolution establishing a blue-ribbon committee to develop a statement deploring genital mutilation.
ABC’s of Humanism