Terror and War: The USA in 2001
On Sept. 10, we were a nation indifferent to or irritated by religion. On Sept. 11, that all changed. There are no atheists in foxholes, or homelands under attack.
To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.
When you’re in this type of conflict, when you’re at war, civil liberties are treated differently.
–Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott
There’s nothing Christian about nuking Afghan civilians, nor spying on American students; just as there is nothing Muslim about hijacking planes and flying them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center or the Pentagon.
Yet US history has shown that, by appealing to their Christian identity, Americans will accept much that is contemptible, and confuse the ideological with the theological. With this mindset, “Hallelujah!” amounts to a war cry, and “Onward, Christian Soldiers” to a latter-day crusade. This is bad religion passed off as good.
WAR IS PEACE
–Government slogan in George Orwell’s 1984
Once lead this people into war, and they’ll forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance. To fight, you must be brutal and ruthless, and the spirit of ruthless brutality will enter into the very fiber of our national life, infecting Congress, the courts, the policeman on the beat, the man in the street.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
–William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”
Discussion Group Report
The Problem of Scientific Illiteracy
By Richard Layton
“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones,” says Richard Dawkins in his book, Unweaving the Rainbow. “Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly these unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds, it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.”
Fling your arms expansively wide to represent the span of all of evolution from its origin at your left fingertip to today at your right fingertip. All the way across your midline to well past your right shoulder, life consists of nothing but bacteria. Many-celled invertebrate life flowers somewhere around your right elbow. The dinosaurs originate in the middle of your right palm, and go extinct around your last finger joint. The whole story of Homo sapiens and our predecessor Homo erectus is contained in the thickness of one nail clipping. Everyone from the Sumerians, who were possibly the earliest civilized people, to the Beatles and Bill Clinton are blown away in the dust of one light stroke of a nail file.
“You must regard a particular instant, nine months before your birth, as the most decisive event in your personal fortune. It is the moment at which your consciousness suddenly became trillions of times more foreseeable than it was a split second before.”
We are also, Dawkins points out, lucky in another way. The universe is older than a hundred million centuries. Within a comparable time the sun will swell to a red giant and engulf the earth. Every century, when its time comes, is “the present century.” It seems that the present moves from the past to the future “like a tiny spotlight” inching its way along a gigantic ruler of time. Everything behind the spotlight is in the darkness of the dead past. Everything ahead of the spotlight is in the darkness of the unknown future. “The odds of your century being the one in the spotlight are the same as the odds that a penny, tossed down at random, will land on a particular ant crawling somewhere along the road from New York to San Francisco. In other words, it is overwhelmingly probable that you are dead.”
But you are in fact alive. Our planet is almost perfect for our kind of life: not too warm and not too cold, basking in kindly sunshine, softly watered; a gently spinning, green and gold harvest festival of a planet. Yes, there are deserts and slums and racking misery. But look at the competition. Compared with most planets, this is paradise, and parts of it are still paradise by any standards. Would a planet picked at random have these properties? The most optimistic calculation would put the chances it would at less than one in a million.
It is no accident that our kind of life finds itself on a planet whose conditions are right. If the planet were suitable for another kind of life, that other kind would have evolved here. Privileged, we are given the opportunity to understand why our eyes are open, and why they see what they do in the short time before they close forever.
This fact is the best answer to those “petty-minded Scrooges” who are always asking what is the use of science? It is said that Michael Faraday once answered one of them, “Sir, of what use is a new-born child?” He meant that a child may be of no use for the present but it has great potential for the future. Also, there must be some added value. At least a part of life should be devoted to living that life, not just working to stop it ending. For this we spend taxpayers’ money on the arts and conserve rare space and beautiful buildings.
Great poets might have been even greater if they had celebrated science. The same spirit of wonder that moved them inspires scientists. Dawkins asks, “Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? Isn’t it sad to go to your grave without wondering why you were born? Why are the startling discoveries and accomplishments of science so little appreciated and understood in modern life? Why are superstition and pseudoscience so widely believed in? Many consider science to be unpoetic and uninspiring of awe, reverence and wonder. They retreat into mysticism, being content to bask in the wonder and revel in a mystery we were not “meant” to understand. The scientist recognizes the mystery as profound but then works on it. But the “tingle of the spine” in the study of science has been hijacked by astrologers, clairvoyants, television psychics, and populist “dumbing-down” artists. One threat is hostility from academics sophisticated in fashionable disciplines. A voguish fad sees science as only one of many cultural myths, no more true nor valid than the myths of any other culture. And in the U.S. there is Kennewick Man, a skeleton discovered in Washington State in 1996, dated to older than 9,000 years. Intrigued by anatomical suggestions that he might be unrelated to typical Native Americans, anthropologists were preparing to do DNA tests when legal authorities seized the skeleton, intending to hand it over to representatives of local Indian tribes, who proposed to bury it and forbid all further study. Even if Kennewick man is related to American Indians, it is highly unlikely that his affinities lie within the same area 9,000 years later.
“Dumbing down” is a serious threat to scientific sensibility. Science Weeks and Science Fortnights betray an anxiety among scientists to be loved. “Funny hats and larky voices,” says Dawkins, proclaim that science is fun, fun, fun. Whacky ‘personalities’ perform explosions and funky tricks…I worry that to promote science as all fun and larky and easy is to store up trouble for the future.” Real science can be challenging; but like classical literature or playing the violin, worth the struggle. Dawkins is not belittling hands-on demonstrations, but rather is “attacking the kind of populist whoring that defiles the wonder of science.”
Discussion Group Report
Respect For Human Rights
By Richard Layton
“If I’m barely scratching out a living in East Tennessee, worried about having enough money to get my kids a decent education or to make the payments on a bigger house, what difference do these abuses taking place so far away make to me?” asked a talk show host on a National Public Radio station. It was an excellent question; and William F. Schultz, the director of Amnesty International and former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, responds to it in the July/August 2001 issue of UU World.
He says human rights campaigners are not well prepared to answer it.
Over the centuries, he says, human beings have devised different sets of standards by which to measure our obligations to one another. Almost 4,000 years ago the Babylonian king Hammurabi issued a set of laws to his people. It established fair wages, offered protection of property, and required charges to be proven at a trial. The Romans were probably the first to establish the concept of citizen’s rights, but the modern notion of rights derives from such seminal documents as the Magna Carta (1215), The English Bill of Rights (1689) , The U.S. Bill of Rights (1791), and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789). The problem with all these statements is that they applied to only one set of people, and given the presence of women and slaves, not even to all of that set, that is, not to all English, American or French people; although the French Declaration attempted to articulate rights that held for all humanity.
Remarkably, it took almost 4,000 years from the days of Hammurabi for the world to agree on a statement of rights that applied to everyone–even to one’s enemies!–simply because everybody is a human being. It took a world body (the United Nations), horrific carnage (the Holocaust of World War II), and an extraordinary woman (Eleanor Roosevelt), to carry it off; but in 1948 the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was a formidable achievement.
Still, the problem has been enforcing these rights. The only ones who have the power to enforce them, are the very powers–nation-states–that might be guilty of violating them.
What powers can be brought to bear to help bring about the implementation of the Universal Declaration? One that has been used is moral suasion, an appeal to a sense of decency and fair play. Another is the law. But these alone are not enough to win a major audience. “Compassion fatigue” has been a popular explanation for the apparent limits to people’s interest in foreign catastrophes. If the American public is to care about human rights violations around the world, Schultz believes, they must understand how these violations endanger their own interests. The validity of this assertion was brought home by the stunning impact of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which occurred shortly after his article was written.
When asked, before the attacks, whether what happens in Europe and Asia has any personal relevance, 55 percent of Americans said that events there have no impact on them. Such indifference was being reflected in the diminishing coverage U.S. media outlets were giving to international affairs. When asked by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations to describe what the United States should take as its most important foreign policy goals, only 39 percent of Americans named “Promoting and defending human rights in other countries.”
“The average American,” says Schultz, “is fuzzy about just how human rights violations affect the world around them…’Realism’ has largely dominated foreign policy thinking, and ‘realists have little truck with human rights.” Alan Tonelson, a “realist” of the Economic Strategy Institute says, “In the absence of such a rival [the Soviet Union], the state of human rights around the world does not have, and never has had, any demonstrable effect on U.S. national security.” George Kennan offers, “I would like to see our government gradually withdraw from its public advocacy of democracy and human rights.”
What realists fail to recognize is that, in far more cases than they allow, defending human rights is a prerequisite to protecting our national interest. Whether in war and peace, international trade, economic growth, the security of jobs, the state of our environment, the public health, the interdiction of drugs, or a host of other topics, there is a connection between Americans’ own interests and international human rights.
“By emphasizing morality to the exclusion of pragmatism,” argues Schultz, “we human rights advocates have allowed ourselves to be dismissed as idealists or ideologues, as either too mushy-headed in our thinking to be taken seriously or too rigid in our priorities to be trusted with power.” We have too often in the past twenty years ceded U.S. foreign policy to those in government and business who care the least about human rights.”
The commercialist argument, that the best way to ensure democracy and human rights is via economic growth, has caused endless debate, but businesses have traditionally seen human rights concerns to be inimical to theirs. “The truth is that not only can business be good for human rights, but human rights are good for business, and for labor,” declares Schultz. Does a democratic community of rights carry with is real, practical, bottom-line advantages for investors? The futures of many Americans are now entangled with international investments. More than $350 billion of our money is in mutual funds that invest overseas, at least $160 billion of our retirement funds are invested overseas, and more than $285 billion is invested in developing nations.
If the commercialist argument were accurate on its face, Singapore should be a human rights haven–also Malaysia, the past Indonesia of Suharto, apartheid-era South Africa, Pinochet’s Chile, or Nazi Germany, where at least 300 U.S. companies continued operations there even after the war had begun.
There is an even more fundamental reason why supporting human rights serves our national interest. Respect for human rights contributes mightily to political stability, and conducting business without stability is like playing Russian roulette… with all barrels loaded. Countries that abuse human rights are notoriously unstable, even when they appear as solid as rocks. When it comes to business interests, the “rule of law” encompasses three factors: combating corruption, providing transparent regulations for the conduct of business, and guaranteeing the fair enforcement of contracts.
We need to be unafraid to say, “Support human rights! They’re good for us!” The Zuni Indians say, “We dance for pleasure…and the good of the city.” “…we who care about our brothers’ and sisters’ rights,” Schultz proposes, “should not be hesitant to acknowledge that we do so for many reasons, not the least of which is the good of the city.”
Discussion Group Report
Sleeping With Extra-Terrestrials
By Richard Layton
“A rational society is one that values argument and considers virtually all points of view subject to debate. It promotes inquiry, experimentation, and empiricism, maintaining some faith in objectivity–which is not the same as certainty. The search for evidence is not the same as a search for indisputable proof. Rationalism is founded on skepticism–a commitment to testing all beliefs, including your own– and a capacity to tolerate doubt. People hungry for absolutes are more likely to choose supernaturalism or unadulterated emotionalism over any system of free inquiry. What is revealed to you in a moment of oneness with your Higher Power is absolutely reliable. What you know ‘in your heart’ is rarely open to question. What you manage to figure out, given the limits of your knowledge and intelligence, is more tentative.
“That fundamental religious beliefs are not generally subject to debate is part of their charm, and part of the reason alliances of church and state are so alarming. Public officials who are absolutely certain of their own rectitude are less likely to tolerate criticism or dissent than officials who are only relatively sure that their beliefs are true, and just.”
With this statement Wendy Kaminer opens her chapter, “The Therapeutic Assault on Reason and Rights” in her stimulating book, Sleeping with Extraterrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety. She asks, if religion soothes people, protects them from debilitating fears of death, and enables them to endure, does it matter if its stories aren’t true? To some extent we do judge religion, as we do therapy, by its effects. Major Western religious traditions are seen as essential sources of virtue, while the outré beliefs of small minority faiths are disparaged because of being associated with irritating behavior like chanting and panhandling, because of mental or emotional imbalance like the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide, because they attack traditional family life by encouraging members to break away from their families, and because outsiders question the apparent contentment of members. Cults are presumed to threaten society and harm individuals, but mainstream religions are presumed to improve individuals and support the social order. How do we judge religious beliefs that allegedly help individuals, at the expense of families, communities. or culture?
Rationalism, she says, requires control of the emotions and temperamental biases that help shape belief, but not their elimination: you take your convictions seriously and act on them as if they were true. But you acknowledge the possibility of being wrong. A rational society tolerates and even encourages dissent and freedom of expression. It values argument over resolution.
Kaminer argues that the therapeutic culture shaped by the recovery movement is profoundly irrational. “It seeks not truth in debate but in revelation. It values bolstering people’s self-esteem over challenging their ideas. It assesses proposed truths partly by the passion with which they are held and partly by their alleged therapeutic effect. True beliefs are those that help you ‘heal.’ “What is troubling about it is its celebration of victimization, hostility toward reason, and absurdly expansive notions of addiction and abuse. Countless thousands have testified it has saved them from the disease of codependency. One of its more destructive legacies has been the virtual sanctification of individual testimony of abuse. A decade ago a wave of accusations of incest supposedly experienced in childhood and recalled in adulthood, combined with bizarre tales of satanic ritual abuse and conspiracy theories, was in full swing in the United States. “Believe the women” and believe the children” were rallying cries for followers of recovery, including many feminists, who believed that incest and other forms of child abuse and family violence were practically ubiquitous. If you questioned a self-proclaimed victim, or tried to reason with her, and declined to believe her story was true, you were likely to be accused of collaborating in her abuse. Seventy percent of people surveyed by Redbook in 1994 believed in the existence of abusive satanic cults, even though police investigations and a government report found no evidence of the cults’ existence. Many believed “the FBI and the police ignore evidence because they don’t want to admit the cults exist.”
“The recovery movement valorized paranoia,” says Kaminer. The mere suspicion that your father had raped you provided entree into the community of survivors, where you were likely to be praised for your bravery in confronting your abuse, and cutting yourself off from family members who had conspired in it.” That children routinely buried their worst memories of abuse, which they recovered years later in therapy, was not an established scientific fact. Even common sense might question such a belief. Repressed memory therapy became a highly profitable industry, costing insurance companies (and ultimately consumers) hundreds of millions of dollars. Publishers sold millions of books about recovered memory. People actually were imprisoned when a rash of these accusations hit the courts in the 1980’s, only to have their convictions thrown out, in some cases only years later, when it was discovered that there was insufficient evidence for conviction and that a trial is primarily a search for facts, not idiosyncratic feeling realities. Multiple personality cases proliferated.
It is not Kaminer’s purpose to minimize the problem of abuse but to point out the irrationalism of the recovered-memory movement. “It is not reason but uninformed emotionalism that exhorts us never to question the account of self-proclaimed victims and leads…survey respondents to believe stories about satanic cults,” she says.
Kaminer posits the following as contributing factors in helping foster the recovery movement: 1. Supernaturalism, in the case of the notion of multiple personality disorder, which closely resembled possession and had strong links to spiritism and reincarnation. People who claim to have recovered memories of their past lives might feel inhabited by their own multiple prior selves. 2. Popular feminism. The belief that fathers routinely molested their daughters was the hysterical extension of feminism’s critique of the patriarchal family. The assumption that mothers aided and abetted their daughters’ abuse was based on the view of women as “enablers,” or codependents. The original enablers were women married to alcoholic men, who helped maintain the fiction of normal family life. Adults, taught to label themselves ”’adult children,” were encouraged to base their identities in early experiences of victimization, at the hands of their parents. With the help of their therapists, women were triumphing over their mothers, giving birth to themselves, and sometimes their alters.
Kaminer’s views are provocative, and like many views of human psychology and behavior are discussible and debatable.
Discussion Group Report
What a Tangled Web We Weave
When We Practice to Believe
By Richard Layton
The title of this article is taken from the title of a section in an article, “The Psychology of Biblicism,” by Robert M. Price in the May-June issue of The Humanist.
Price concludes that biblicism, that stance toward the Bible whereby a believer intends to obey whatever the text asserts and orders, isn’t theological in nature at all, but, rather is entirely psychological. An examination of certain inconsistencies in biblicism makes nonsense of its theological claims but are quite consistent with its psychological functions. Since biblicism does the job biblicists want it to do, they simply never see the problems in it.
What attracts many people to biblicism? Why the desperate need for a sure word from God? This need stems from a lack of confidence in the ability of the human to discover necessary truth by reason and observation alone. The old deists believed the creator had written the only revelation book human beings needed in the world: nature, not scripture. But biblicists are flustered by overchoice, being faced with too many options, each with plausible arguments and spokespersons. A religious claim that God has tossed confused humanity the Bible as a life preserver sounds pretty good. The problem is that there are just as many competing revelation claims vying for our faith, and one has no clue as to how to decide between them.
Biblicists hold an unexamined assumption, a picture of God as some sort of punitive theology professor who stands ready to flunk you if you write the wrong answers on your theology exam. The floor is going to open beneath your feet, and you are going to slide down the shaft to hell. This is a god who doesn’t excuse honest mistakes.
“What element of theology implies that God should be unfair, even peevish?” asks Price. “To think him so is to project a childish fear of retribution that can only stifle intellectual growth. Surely it is a legacy of retrograde education, whether religious or secular.” The need for a sure word from God may grow out of the kind of intellectual laziness posited by Ludwig Feuerbach. The belief in a divine revelation is all too convenient. Price thinks we may chalk the desire for “a sure word from God” to a low tolerance for ambiguity. Sometimes the scriptural text is ambiguous as a guide for the discovery of the “divine will.” The biblicist awards him- herself a license for dogmatism, which is intentional regardless of which conclusions one winds up embracing. The only question is which dogma one chooses to promote.
More liberal theologies often accommodate the possibility that the Bible writers might have contradicted each other. Paul and James disagree over whether faith is sufficient to save one’s soul, or whether faith must be realized through works. Such sources would consider neither Paul nor James as mouthpieces of revelation but, rather as sources of religious wisdom. The task would be not to submit to the teaching of one or the other but to draw upon both in forming one’s own tentative beliefs. Fundamentalists cannot even recognize that Paul and James contradict one another for fear of disqualifying both as mouthpieces of revelation. A statement is authoritative simply because it appears somewhere in the canon of scripture, all such texts being equally authoritative. Reading the text literally, however, reveals “apparent contradictions.” In this case fundamentalists abandon literalism and read between the lines, after all. They find themselves situated like proverbial donkeys between two haystacks: they must decide whether it is Paul or James who is to be taken literally and which is to be read in a looser way, as if he agreed with the other. They are interpreting the text they don’t like as if it said the same thing as the one they do.
“How can biblicists continue in such self-deception?,” Price asks. “Simply because their choice is automatic, determined in advance by their particular church’s tradition of interpretation.” This, too, is fatal, since the first principle of biblicists is “scripture alone.”
Such contradictions reveal the origin of biblicism to be essentially nontheological. If it were theological in origin, it would have more consistency. A survey of horoscope readers in Britain revealed that most of them admitted the predictions proved accurate less than half of the time. Astrology believers do not seek knowledge of the future but peace of mind for the night, permission to sleep well in the confidence of being forewarned and thus forearmed for the morrow. When the predictions, probably forgotten, turned out to be wrong tomorrow, it hardly mattered. But the night before, they felt they needed an edge, and their horoscope allowed them to think they had it. Even so with biblicists. What they want from the Bible isn’t so much a coherent system for divining infallible revelations but only the permission to dogmatize, whether the goal is to quiet their own fears or to push others around. The psychological process goes thus: “My opinion is true. The Bible teaches the truth. Therefore the Bible must teach my opinion.” “Friend, there is your view, and then there is God’s view.”
Today most fundamentalists reject evolution because it contradicts the Bible, but most of them believe that the sun orbits the earth, that the earth is round and that it orbits the sun, contrary to the Biblical description. They have been told that the ancient writers of the Bible miraculously knew what it took modern science centuries to learn about these phenomena. What makes the difference between whether one recognizes contradictions between the Bible and science or pretends the Bible has anticipated modern science? It is simply peer pressure, massive and permeating public opinion. The day will come when biblicists will reinterpret Genesis to teach evolution and will claim that God revealed it to the ancient scriptural writers ages before scientists supposedly discovered it.
Price suggests, “If one wishes to get anywhere when reasoning with fundamentalists and biblicists, …try to determine the emotional issues that attach believers to their beliefs. The beliefs are, I think, a function of certain psychological needs that would be better met in other ways. Until these…needs are identified and met in other ways, we will have no way of getting believers to budge from their beliefs, and we might not even have the right to do so.”
A Memoir On Homosexuality
July 2001 – Updated March 2011
A Gay Mormon’s Story
My father was a bishop for seven years, counselor in the stake presidency for seven years and stake president for seventeen years. My mother, a stay-at-home mom through my younger years, took great pride in her home and children, and she taught us by example to be good Latter-day Saints. My parents personified Mormonism; it defined them.
I have three older brothers, and when my mother was expecting me, she hoped the fourth would be a girl. Our ward, family and friends celebrated when my only sister was born four years later, and the family attention then shifted to her. When my older brothers reached their teen years and began to date girls, my mother’s attention focused on them. She monitored and supervised their behavior constantly. I think she found it unsettling when their sexuality emerged, and the same was true of my sister years later. I was a compliant child and tried hard to be a good boy. I dated infrequently and my behavior rarely upset my parents or attracted much attention. Therefore, my parents monitored my behavior less than they did my siblings, and my individuality developed more freely. I always felt loved in my family and my church community, but I seemed to slip through the family almost unnoticed.
I loved my church community. I enjoyed the endless round of church dinners, homespun skits and entertainment, road shows, picnics, Scouting adventures, and Relief Society bazaars. Ward members adored me as the fine son of the bishop and the stake president. I belonged to an extended family that loved and appreciated me. They praised me for my talks and excellent church attendance, earning individual awards for near 100% attendance through all of my teen years.
As school ended in the seventh grade, I made a new friend. Greg (most of the names in this memoir are fictitious) lived alone with his widowed mother, who worked all day to earn a living. Our parents encouraged the friendship; he was fatherless, and with his mother working, he was alone all day. I essentially moved in with him and I did not have to share a tiny bedroom at home with my big brother, who quite clearly disliked me. Greg went with my family on summer holiday trips and merged with my family as well. We fell into a close and intimate friendship. The relationship was sexual and I remember the beautiful feeling of waking in the morning snuggled next to him in his double bed with my arm wrapped around him. We were inseparable that summer.
When I turned thirteen in 1953, it seemed sexuality was everywhere, whether it was the gym locker room or the bass section of the junior high boy’s chorus. My teacher noticed that my voice had changed, and when she tested me, I was surprised that I could sing such low notes. She moved me to the bass section. I was awash in sexual feelings singing next to budding young men. Through my junior high school years, same-sex activity was common in our neighborhood, consisting only of mutual masturbation. The participants lived on my street, attended Boy Scouts and priesthood meeting and attended my school. I found it satisfying and relished it as an expression of my newly developing manhood and sexuality. It happened frequently in back yard tents, in basement bedrooms and on Scout camping trips. In retrospect, it astonishes me that parents and scout leaders never caught or suspected us. Perhaps, people in the 1950s believed homosexual behavior was uncommon, or occurred somewhere other than in our decent neighborhood. I doubt that boys nowadays, in our gay-aware age, and with constant interviews by the bishop, would get away with it. I am astonished now how I participated in this activity in a childlike, innocent and guilt-free way, although I admit that I was careful that no adult caught me.
At age fourteen, the bishop told us in teachers quorum meeting, for the first time in my life that masturbation was a sexual sin and all sexual sins were next to murder. I went away from that lesson with painful feelings of guilt and self-loathing; I felt that God abhorred me. I tried to stop masturbating, but I could not. I went to the library to research the topic. Obtaining books about sex required the permission of a stern, matronly librarian. She had locked them in a cupboard behind the checkout desk. Reliable information about sexuality was unavailable to me. Troubled by guilt and confusion, I made it a matter of earnest prayer. As I prayed beside my bed, a great calm came over me. It occurred to me that masturbation harmed no one, so why should anyone have objections. I felt less disturbed about masturbation from this time on.
As I began high school, the dynamics of my friend network began to change. Before that time, I had friendly sex with over a dozen boys my age, but their interests began to shift to girls and dating. It mystified me why they found girls so interesting. Certainly, I would not pursue girls. I had clear recollections of my mother and my older brothers wrangling over the issue, and I wanted to avoid that. In time, my group of friends shut me out. Hurt and bewildered, I wondered why they excluded me. I wonder now if they suspected my sexual orientation before I did.
I became a loner in high school. I rarely dated, and when I did, it was because a persistent girl asked me to attend the girl’s choice dance. Dating felt strange, unreal and uncomfortable. A friend had a steady girlfriend. He thought I was missing something important, so he arranged a double date. We parked somewhere overlooking the State Capitol dome. While my friend and his steady made out, I kissed a girl for the first and only time in high school. It felt strangely unnatural, empty and meaningless. I wanted to escape the situation.
I have a vivid recollection of the last day of school before Christmas vacation of my senior year. My route home took me through the decorated, darkened lobby of the high school with its shimmering Christmas tree. Couples in the shadows cuddled and kissed. When I arrived home, I closed the door to my room behind me, threw myself on the bed and wept. I did not have the words or concepts to understand why I felt disturbed.
I found no way to participate meaningfully in the school social scene. To compensate, I focused my energy on being a good student and a good boy. In my isolation, I had periods of depression. I now recognize the symptoms because I obtained treatment for clinical depression later in life. I believe my parents knew I was disturbed, but they never discussed this problem with me. I was an introverted person in an extroverted family; I perplexed them. I had a nebulous sense of being different-of feeling developmentally impeded. I suspect my family saw me as having a character flaw.
I had devoured books about dinosaurs, planets, steam engines, atoms and earth history, but my sixth grade teacher helped me discover that I had a natural aptitude for science. He was young, handsome, trim and boyish with a large Adam’s apple and a booming deep voice. He was an excellent teacher who went on to become a professor of elementary science education. As many kids do, I fell in love with my teacher. Through my first years in school, I had struggled to keep up with the other students, but I found I could excel in science. I had discovered what would become my vocation.
Another keen interest, gardening, later merged with my science interest to focus on biology, the subject I taught in high school for 31 years. I caught a cold at age twelve, and stayed at home to recuperate. My mother came home from grocery shopping and threw a handful of colorful packets of flower seeds on my bed. She asked me if I would help her plant them when I was feeling better. She taught me all she knew about gardening, and I took it up enthusiastically, researching the subject and expanding my knowledge further. From the age of twelve until I moved away after graduating from college, I took full responsibility for the care and landscaping of our double-size yard. I became a successful gardener, and my parents would often thank me for making our home beautiful. This became an important source of validation by my parents, and I worked even harder. Many guests visited the home of President and Sister Teerlink, and the well-tended gardens brought many compliments. The schoolwork in winter and gardening in summer consumed my life and helped me submerge, sublimate and keep sexuality out of my own awareness. My mother commented many years later about my differences compared to my brothers. I stayed near home during my teen years, whereas my brothers were off somewhere away from home often involved in athletic activities and dating.
I had only a few sexual encounters with two friends in high school. Years later, they both came out as gay men. Mark, one of these friends, showed me a muscle magazine while we were walking home from school. He asked me if I liked the pictures of the men and I said yes. He grabbed the magazine back from me, folded it and jammed it into his coat pocket. My friend Mark was fickle, sometimes friendly, other times rejecting. Mark discovered my sexual orientation, and his own, yet I still did not get it. As friends, we drifted apart but I learned later that he escaped Zion to begin a career as an antique dealer in San Francisco. I discovered that the magazine shop near my father’s jewelry store stocked muscle magazines. I would secretly stop in for a quick look. As I gawked, I could feel my knees melting and my genitals swelling. The sound of rushing blood was audible in my ears and I felt faint. I never worked up the courage to buy one of those magazines.
I was a college freshman when I finally figured it out. While sitting in Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus, a new awareness exploded like a bomb in my head: I’m a homosexual! I’m unsure to this day, what ignited the explosion. Perhaps I reflected on how I checked out every male I passed while walking from one class to another. I did not have the faintest idea what this meant or what to do with this insight. I absorbed nothing from the lecture. By the next day, I succeeded in suppressing this knowledge by automatically not thinking about it. It all went away. Why had I not figured it out? Was it that I did not have the language or conceptual framework to understand my experience? I had heard of homosexuality. For example, I remember my older brother sitting on the couch with his arm around his girlfriend watching Liberace on TV and giggling about whether Liberace was queer. It never occurred to me that I might belong to the same human classification as Liberace, and I did not have flamboyant mannerisms like him. Moreover, I did not have the faintest idea what a person like Liberace might do out of the sight of his TV audience that put him in this category. Besides, my dad really liked Liberace. Why had I not concluded that my disinterest in girls pointed in the direction of homosexuality? Perhaps because I remembered my mother smiling at me over her ironing board as a boy and saying that someday I would become interested in girls. Perhaps I had been waiting for it to happen and it had not happened yet. As I now look over my life, the evidence that I was gay (a word I had never heard until my late twenties) was abundant.
At age twenty, my bishop interviewed me for a mission call. He was a wonderful man and we loved and respected each other. He discussed with me that it must be my choice to go on a mission. Did I have a choice? That thought had never crossed my mind. He requested that I take 24 hours to think about it and return with my answer. I left the interview in turmoil. I went home, closed my bedroom door and sobbed agonizingly into my pillow.
I had thoroughly enjoyed my two years of classes at the University of Utah. I developed a science-oriented worldview; I was decidedly disinterested in Mormonism and had zero enthusiasm to go tell others about it. The university experience enthralled me and I was happier than I had been in years; I thrived and excelled there and I did not want to leave. Only one positive reason to go on a mission popped into my mind: it might be nice to travel abroad and have close male companionship for two years. I thought through the consequences of telling my family and religious community that I had chosen not to go on a mission, and of facing my three brothers who had already served missions. I could not disappoint them nor could I live with the shame. I went back to my bishop, and lied to him that I wanted to serve a mission.
I had an appointment to be interviewed by a member of the First Council of Seventy. I heard he was a stickler for Mormon orthodoxy and I felt a bit anxious. In the interview, he asked me if I masturbated. This was the first time anyone asked this question in an interview. In previous interviews, they only asked if I was morally clean. I anticipated the questions I would be asked, so I looked him in the eye and lied. Tears came to his eyes and he had a tremor in his voice as he said, “I am overwhelmed by the purity and decency of the young men who have prepared themselves to go on missions in these glorious last days.” I left feeling perplexed. Years later I formulated the obvious question: where were his powers of discernment and the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
I arrived by train in the grimy, blackened, industrial city of Bradford, England, where I began my mission. No one met me at the station. I had a phone number and an address but no one answered the phone. I dared not take a taxi to the address for fear I would pass them on the way. I waited for two or three hours and I was feeling lost and abandoned. Then two American elders came striding down the platform. One of them put out his hand and broke into a beguiling grin showing a gap between his front teeth. His eyes crinkled and twinkled as he introduced himself as Elder Brown (fictitious name–years later, he served in the Presidency of the First Quorum of Seventy.) My anxiety vanished as I fell under his charm. Perhaps this missionary experience would be better than I thought! I later discovered he could enchant nearly everyone he met.
The growth of the North British Mission required the reorganization of the Bradford District, and several elders stayed at Elder Brown’s digs awaiting reassignment. 0 The next day while two of the other elders looked for digs in a nearby town, Elder Brown took me by bus to the town of Barnsley to baptize a family he had converted there. When we arrived at the elders’ digs in Barnsley, a strikingly handsome missionary answered the door. I had watched with guarded glances this same man for months in the reading room of the U of U Library where I studied. My knees nearly gave out. That evening after the baptism and celebration, we went to the unused living quarters in the local church meetinghouse. Lying in bed next to Elder Brown, I found it difficult to fall asleep. From his breathing, I was quite certain, he was asleep, but then he began to snuggle me and stroke my chest and abdomen. What a puzzling but interesting way to begin my mission! The night after that I experienced one of the few wet dreams, I ever had.
I met my new senior companion, who I did not find attractive or appealing, and we went to work in the town of Halifax. As I read and memorized the Bible scriptures used in the official lesson plan, the fuzzy ambiguity troubled me. I thought they poorly stated the concepts intended in the lesson plan. They were vague compared to scientific expository writing. It frustrated me that God did not explain his plan for mortals more clearly in the scriptures. My companion continually reminded me that understanding the scriptures required the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In time, my science worldview began to shift to one of faith. I believed that I had experienced the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. I bore testimony to the truth, but with less emotional conviction than other elders did.
After three months in the mission field, Elder Brown became my senior companion. The change delighted me, and his duties as supervising elder kept us busy. We did not tract much. Tracting is knocking on doors, having gospel discussions with people and leaving them tracts or pamphlets. We drove a rented van all over Yorkshire collecting herds of young boys to for baptism. They were the “converts” of the other missionaries in the district. The elders baptized them because of “The Baseball Program” which I will describe later. Elder Brown’s responsibilities included conducting baptismal services and providing transportation. Driving provided time for conversations. Elder Brown was a thoughtful person with depth and intelligence. We shared with each other our own developing worldview and personal philosophy. I cherished those discussions.
During this time, all of the missionaries traveled to the London temple. At the gathering Elder Brown greeted old friends and renewed acquaintances. I had made few friends by this time, so I mostly sat alone, totally absorbed within myself. My mind chattered with dissonant self-talk. My university courses provided a solid grounding in evolutionary biology, and I could not make it fit with the temple ceremony that re-enacted the Book of Genesis creation story. Through this confusion swirled impure thoughts about handsome young men dressed in white temple clothes. I expected to find peace in the temple, but my mind and heart were in turmoil. The long drive home from London exhausted me. I sat quietly in the van, absorbed in my thoughts. When at last we parted from the other missionaries, and walked through the dark, empty streets of Bradford toward our bus stop, Elder Brown had noticed my silence and despondence. He put a comforting arm around me, jostled me a bit and asked if I was OK. I had missed him and I was glad to have him back. Darkness concealed my tears. I had fallen in love with this beautiful man.
Sometime later, I decided to tell him something I had never told anyone. When I finally chose the moment, the words would not come out of my mouth. With effort, I spoke haltingly. The words sounded so foreign that it seemed a stranger had spoken them. The word homosexual reverberated through my head. Elder Brown’s face did not register disgust, fear or revulsion – only bafflement. It was difficult to restart the conversation. The intense feelings of attraction to Elder Brown made them hard to ignore, and it was time for a reality check. This was the motivation for my confession. I thought that sharing this secret with someone that I deeply trusted and revered was a good way to start the investigation. My intention was inquiry, not seduction.
Elder Brown worried that our mission president might send me home in shame and embarrassment, and he strongly felt that I did not deserve it. For this reason, he hesitated taking me to see him. Elder Brown was curious to hear about my inner experience as I cautiously disclosed thoughts and feelings. Looking back, his composure suggests he was secure in his own heterosexuality and very mature for his age. Neither of us could even begin to fathom why he had one inner reality and I had a different one. However, what should I do? This was the very reason I had disclosed my feelings.
A day or two later, with no answers forthcoming from either of us, Elder Brown made an appointment with the mission president. We rented a car and drove to the mission home in Manchester, where we met the president in his office. Before we took our seats he gruffly asked, “What is it: children…little boys…homosex?” He used this three-syllable substitution for the usual 5-syllable term. “The latter,” I said.
His lecture was short, almost list-like, and he recited it as if he gave this advice every day. This list approximates what he said; I lived my life by these rules afterwards.
When he had finished, he anointed my head with consecrated oil and gave me a kind and beautiful blessing. He asked God to grant me the power to withstand temptation. He promised me that the Lord would bless me abundantly if I would earnestly serve him as a missionary. He asked the Lord to free me of the confusion and conflict that was in my heart. I felt the burden of guilt lifted, the internal dissonance stilled and I experienced peace. In the interview, there was no condemnation for having homosexual thoughts or for being a homosexual person.
Two tired and silent elders drove through the darkness of New Year’s Eve. Somewhere between Manchester and Bradford, 1961 arrived. What a way to begin a New Year.
My mission president promptly transferred me to Liverpool. I felt lost and anxious in that huge metropolis. After one week to orient myself and become acquainted with contacts, the president assigned me a new junior companion. I felt ill prepared for the responsibility of becoming a senior companion, because I had only four months of missionary experience. Grieving from the separation from Elder Brown, I called him once by telephone. He advised me with firm kindness to pray, work and do the best I could. A few weeks after that, my companion became ill and required hospitalization. Soon I got a new companion fresh from Idaho.
I worked, prayed and grew. In time, the depression grief and anxiety lifted as my skills improved; the crushing weight of responsibility began to ease. I had always found the memorized lesson plan an encumbrance and I thought it made our lessons sound canned and phony. I found that in using my own words to explain the concepts, the lesson plan flowed easily and more authentically. I did not realize at the time that I was developing an interactive discussion style. I would use that skill later in life to earn a living as a schoolteacher.
I disliked “The Baseball Program.” It began in England and here are the instructions for doing it: Stride into a local park with a baseball and bat where boys are playing soccer, and show lots of Yankee machismo. Ask the boys if they would like to learn how to play American baseball, a sport practically unknown in England. The boys enthusiastically say yes. Teach the boys how to play baseball and build rapport with them. After the game, the elders invite the boys to a suitable place and give them the first missionary lesson. At the end of the lesson, ask the boys if they want to be baptized. Visit the parents and get permission to baptize them. Invite the parents to the baptism. Now that you have your foot in the door, teach the family the missionary lesson plan. Baptize the rest of the family.
Missionaries had spectacular success baptizing many boys using the baseball program. The numbers suggested that something miraculous was happening in England. Follow through with the second part, teaching and baptizing the rest of the family, was seldom successful. After my mission, I heard from a member who visited the U.S. that the names of these boys were quietly crossed off the membership list. They simply could not locate the boys a year or two after they were baptized. Most of the boys came from poor neighborhoods and slums where families were dysfunctional and transient
I did not have the macho Yankee persona to make the baseball program work. My poor skills playing softball made me look foolish. I endured harassment my entire mission for not following the program. The traveling elders told me that I should pray about it and the Lord would give witness to its importance. I stubbornly refused to do it, so my alternative was to tract.
My mission president never assigned a good-looking companion again and many of them had difficult, prickly personalities as well. My new companion fresh from Idaho was not handsome or charismatic. What I did not see on first encounter emerged as I became acquainted with him. He was very bright, memorized the lessons rapidly, and never once complained about working hard and tracting. As our friendship grew, I found him thoroughly lovable. We became a terrific team. We saw some success and baptized two families.
I remember once getting a newsletter from the mission home with a large cartoon of a hayseed farmer seated on a tractor plowing a field. The caption read, “Are you a tracter?” The ridicule hurt, but I continued my tracting, more determined than ever.
I managed to be celibate from masturbation for about the first two months of my mission. Our digs rarely had adequate bathroom facilities, so we went to a public facility for our weekly bath. For one shilling, we got a tub of hot water, clean towels and a private cubicle. I was rubbing myself dry when I triggered an ejaculation. I was horrified as semen spurted on the floor. Wracked with guilt, I became increasingly aware of my sexual urges after that time. Sexuality became so distracting that I could not concentrate on my work. I eventually made a deal with God. I did not ask him; I told him. I promised God I would do His work, but to keep my mind on the task, I would shoot my wad down the toilet once per week. In looking back, I am convinced that guilt drives much of the Lord’s work.
One morning while tracting our assigned area of Liverpool, we met a woman who invited us in. She was personable, educated, bright, and articulate. She called herself a Secular Humanist, and the conversation lasted well over an hour. It was not a dispute but a free exchange of ideas. When I left that home, I had the exhilarating feeling that it was the first time since I had left my university classes that my intellect had a breath of fresh air. Her view of reality made more sense than the beliefs I was proselytizing.
I spent about half of my mission in Scotland, the home of some of my ancestors. Thirteen months into my mission, I became the supervising elder (district leader) in Aberdeen, Scotland
We no longer rented vans; the church bought them for us. My companion and I became nearly full-time van drivers. Some of the elders served in an outlying town that took hours to drive to, pick up a van full of boys, return to Aberdeen, baptize them, grab fish and chips for all, return them, and then make our long trip back home.
I conducted all the baptismal services. One of the elders in my district was very successful and had baptisms nearly every week. He had been on the U of U gymnastic team and had developed a remarkable body. When he came from the baptismal water, his white clothing was transparent. I would lean against the wall because my knees felt so wobbly. It was such a strange paradox: a holy rite swirling with erotic feelings.
In the spring of 1962, we rode by bus from Aberdeen to the London Temple. Recovering from influenza, my body felt weak and heavy as lead. I sat next to the window and gazed at the luminous green fields of sprouting grain that contrasted vividly against the sky of dark clouds. The bus trip gave me time for deep reflection and thought. In six months, my mission would end; my future opened vision-like before me. I experienced a kind of epiphany. Two appealing roads beckoned to me, but both lead to forbidden places. One I labeled “homosexuality” and the other “intellectual apostasy.” I pondered whether I had the strength and the will power to prevail against the temptation to wander down those attractive roads.
Toward the end of my mission, I intercepted an interesting rumor. Apparently, a missionary whined about the difficulties of mission life to the mission president. He told the missionary that his problems were insignificant compared to a missionary who fell in love with his companion. I perked up my ears. I wondered, is this story about me? Were there others that shared my predicament? Even if this story had no foundation in fact, it suggested that I had a larger than average-size problem.
At the end of my two-year mission, I reported my mission in Sacrament Meeting, but the words, “It was the best experience of my life,” never escaped my lips. My mission had its happy, rewarding moments, but I did not enjoy knocking on doors to face repeated rejection. I was delighted to be free of the oppression of the mission rules and schedule. I returned to my university classes with exuberance and enthusiasm.
Soon after returning home, I broke one of my mission president’s dictums: I visited a counselor in the University of Utah’s Counseling Center. Advice from a friend, who once worked in the center, directed me to an excellent counselor. I was skeptical that counseling from “the Brethren” could provide any new insight.
In my first session, I uttered the word homosexual with difficulty. Disclosing my secret, that I had tightly locked away, was painful and humiliating at first. My counselor helped me become more comfortable, and my anxiety subsided. The counselor’s method of therapy encouraged me to determine my own goals and direction. I presented myself as a devout LDS person who wished to live in accordance to LDS principles. I raised three primary questions: Was I mentally ill? Was there a cure? Was it possible for me to marry as church beliefs commanded me to do?
Through my therapy, I learned I was not mentally ill, and that changing my sexual orientation was chasing an illusion. Learning this helped me avoid the wicked advice that other homosexual people received from the “Brethren” that they were to “knock on the door until their knuckles were bloody asking God for a miracle to change them.” I learned that I might not find marriage as satisfying as it is for heterosexuals, but marriage is possible. Most importantly, I learned that my same-sex feelings did not make me a disgusting person. When I chose teaching high school science for a career, I learned that my orientation should not bar me from doing this. Every teacher presumably has sexuality and students are off limits to all, so what is the big deal? My greatest regret about my counseling is that I did not stick with it. I should have met weekly whether I felt disturbed or not. There were times when my counselor would open a door just a small crack to reveal alternatives that lay beyond my moral strictures. I resolutely declined to push open those doors. Had I stayed with therapy, I may have reached a point of psychological maturity that would have prevented a great deal of grief and pain.
I remember my college years with affection. I loved the free, open and exhilarating discussion of ideas. My enthusiasm for learning and intellectual exploration took me in many directions; I enjoyed general education classes too. I have no happier recollection than sitting on the lawn under a shade tree on the beautiful U of U campus to discuss with a friend the ideas I was absorbing. My choice of biology as major had opened to me the grand vista of science and the raw beauty of wilderness and nature. I spent two summers instructing nature courses at Camp Steiner in the Uinta Mountains for the Boy Scouts of America. This work provided excellent experience for my teaching career. I met my friend Ted (fictitious name) there during my first year at Steiner before my mission, and our friendship lasted through my college years. He was more physically adventurous than I was, and he taught me hiking, backpacking, camping and the geology of Utah. I eagerly learned these skills and I relished the experience. I had a little blue Volkswagen bug that we treated like a Jeep, and in it, we explored Utah from one end to the other.
I fell in love with Ted, and to some degree, the feelings were reciprocal. He had startling blue eyes the color of wild flax flowers. Our friendship was never sexual. I yearned for it, but my instincts told me if I did, it would probably end the friendship, and I still had a strong moral sense that it was wrong. From this time forward, I always had a close male confidant, and these friendships nourished me and I deeply cherished them. Looking back, I wonder how I withstood the temptation to touch Ted as we spent the night in the wilderness together. I think I was born with strong impulse control. My experience suggests that homosexuality is not just about sex; it is about romantic love, companionship, and psychological intimacy as well. I obtained most of what I yearned for without breaking the rules. That friendship was delicious and priceless.
I dated very little during my college years. Nearly everyone asked incessantly whom I was dating and when I planned to marry. I responded icily that pursuing an education adequately occupied my time and energy. I hoped that my coldness would discourage them from asking again but the queries never stopped. A colleague badgered me to date his fiancés’ best friend and so I tried it. I broke it off after a few dates and she was hurt and puzzled. I told her that I did not think we had enough in common, and I did not think the relationship would work. I wanted to end the dating before she developed expectations of marriage.
I paid for my college tuition by working part time in the emergency room of LDS Hospital as an orderly. I could not have found a more satisfying part-time job. The nurses fussed over me endlessly and apparently found my shyness, innocence and naiveté appealing. At one Christmas party, I received a Playboy magazine. The intern on duty had drawn my name. Perhaps he thought the glossy photos would tempt me out of my conspicuous reserve about women. I did not open the magazine at the party but took it home with me. Later I looked it over and puzzled how some people found those pictures worth the price of the magazine.
I made a good friend at the hospital. Dan (fictitious name) was an audacious, flamboyant, funny, Dutch immigrant with a thick accent and he amused everybody. The first time he turned up in the ER, I was baffled with just who or what I was meeting. He was more than a person – he was a phenomenon. He was the person who did the male catheterization in the hospital. Part of my training was to learn this procedure. He would enter a hospital room and chirp, “Sir, can’t you make your water?” If the patient protested about having the procedure done, he would announce, “That’s fine, sir. I’ll come back when you are ready.” Inevitably, the time would come when they would plead for his return. After my first encounter I was thinking, presumably as most did, was he possibly queer? I do not believe even then that I had the word gay in my vocabulary. I believe I did not hear that word until my late twenties. In reference to Dan, I did not know the answer to the question until many years later that he too was gay.
I remember an important talk I had with Dan. I had just graduated from college and signed a contract to teach in Granite School District. With my education finished and my career beginning, a topic, which I had successfully kept at arm’s length, began to preoccupy me: marriage. I remember sitting on a giant rock in the grandeur of the mountains with Dan beside me as we munched a bag of cherries. I confided to him that I was 26 years old, and I should now shift my attention to getting married. I told him this obstacle seemed insurmountable to me, although I never told him exactly why. He was not the least bit enthusiastic about my marrying; he was clear that he had no intention to marry. Hearing my deep concern, he helped me find someone. A few weeks later Dan asked me if I could give a nurse a ride home from work. She had an English accent and I asked her where she came from. She said Bradford, England. “Bradford!” I shouted, “That is where I began my mission!” I also fell in love with Elder Brown in Bradford, but that must remain a secret. I felt an instant connection with this woman named Anna (fictitious name).
I asked her for a date and I came away from that evening with a clear idea that we were psychologically, intellectually, philosophically and religiously compatible. More importantly, for the first time in my life I felt a squeak of sexual arousal toward a woman. I introduced her to hiking in the mountains and she loved it. A couple of weeks after that she proposed marriage to me, and to my astonishment, I accepted. Soon after I was doing what my father, the jeweler, thought might never occur; I bought a diamond engagement ring from him. I presented it to her, right under the gaze of Joseph Smith’s statue on temple square.
I felt anxious about kissing her for the first time. I was back visiting my therapist getting instruction how to proceed with this courtship. He cautioned me not to expect bells and whistles but just to relax. I also asked if I should tell my fiancée that I was homosexual. He answered that if I did, the marriage would probably not work. We did not discuss the ethical question of carrying out this deception. Eventually, I was able to find some pleasure in kissing her.
From September until our marriage in June, I made a weekend trip to BYU, where Anna was studying English literature. I took Anna to her mother’s home in Salt Lake where she spent each night, but we spent most of the weekends together. Traveling to and from Provo gave us time to chat. The nine-month courtship gave us plenty of time to become well acquainted and I enjoyed the many things we did together. She opened the world of literature to me and I helped her discover the varied and beautiful landscapes of Utah.
In February 1967, something snapped as I attended priesthood meeting. We discussed a quotation from II Kings 2:23-24 in the Bible. It was about Elisha, the protégé of the prophet Elijah. The scripture says he was walking through a village, and a group of children mocked his baldhead. Elisha “cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare (mauled, from a modern translation) forty and two children.” I responded with exasperation. If this was the ethical behavior of God, I wanted no part of it! My Mormon belief system tumbled down that day with a thunderous crash. I had propped up that belief system for years and it had become a most unwieldy and unstable structure. When I got home I listed in my journal my core beliefs and values. I discovered that they remained intact in spite of the collapse of my faith. I could see that I had been constructing a belief and value system apart from my Mormon theology and faith. I found it a relief that my Mormon faith had collapsed.
I had kept a journal for years, and as I read those pages, I had written dozens of complaints. For example: Why did a Mormon Sacrament meeting stimulate and inspire me as much as sitting in a crowded, noisy airport terminal? Why did the church spend most of its energy cultivating power and maintaining its corporate structure, rather than following the commandment of Jesus to “feed my sheep”? Why did the church relegate blacks to second-class membership by refusing to give them the priesthood, and barring them from temple? Why did the church encourage large families when the Earth’s resources were finite, and Utah’s schools were bulging with more children than we could afford to educate properly? Why did church leaders not clarify their stand on organic evolution? Why did they not discuss the ecological destruction of the Earth’s environment? The long list of accumulating complaints and problems strained my faith to the breaking point.
I launched a thorough investigation into Mormonism. I told my friend, Ben (fictitious name), about my crisis of faith. I had just met him; we taught biology in the same school. Ben mentored me through my first year of teaching and his friendship became increasingly valuable. I told him about my crisis, and he confessed that he was an agnostic. Since he had done his own inquiry into Mormonism, he helped my project along by loaning me a copy of Fawn Brodie’s book, “No Man Knows My History.” The book is an expose of Joseph Smith that has withstood the test of time and the scrutiny of scholars. The world was never the same after that. I felt hoodwinked and I was pissed.
Ben suggested that I tell my fiancée about my changing beliefs. I did not do it. It paralleled the time when I had lied to my bishop about wanting to go on a mission. I had invested too much to back out now. My family was overjoyed that at last, I had found someone to marry and I could not disappoint them. I certainly did not want to tell them I had become a nonbeliever. I succeeded as closet homosexual, so surely I could hide my unbelief as well. I had been practicing deceit for a long time.
We married in the temple on the summer solstice. We chose not to have a reception but had a dinner party catered in my parents’ home in the early afternoon. We drove to a small, secluded cabin in the mountains that I had rented for our honeymoon. I went out to gather wood for an evening fire while Anna prepared a meal. Waves of anxiety flooded my mind as I fully realized that tonight I would sleep with a woman. I asked myself repeatedly, what have I done? It took courage to walk back in the cabin with the firewood. I could barely swallow the food my bride had prepared for me. Eventually we slipped into bed to consummate the marriage. I failed completely to become sexually aroused.
Anna amazed me with her gentle kindness. I suspect she had a premonition this might happen. Terror-stricken, I could not sleep. I contemplated the horror of having the marriage annulled. The next day Anna gently talked me through the anxiety, and with her compassion and understanding, the anxiety subsided. She attributed my problem to the rigid sexual attitudes that I absorbed from church and family, and that I had become overly reserved. We tried again. That evening I became barely aroused enough to consummate the marriage. Gradually my response improved and eventually we enjoyed sexual relations. Through that first year when she frequently gave me that “come hither” look my heart would sink-oh, please, not again, I said to myself.
I accomplished important things in 1968. I had begun my career, I married a woman I loved and respected, I financed a mortgage on a home with a big beautiful garden, and Anna became pregnant. I had arrived! I had demonstrated my manhood! I had joined the club! It was a year of maximum validation and approval from my friends and family. Unfortunately, the validation would soon end.
I could not bring off the closet disbeliever ruse very well. A hint of sarcasm about Mormonism began to seep out from behind my mask. Very gradually, I began to share with Anna my disbelief, and it disturbed her. She accused me of dishonesty and felt deeply hurt about my lack of sincerity before the wedding. Disclosing my changing beliefs damaged our mutual trust. Anna had a fine mind and eventually she processed the same evidence I had, and she drew similar conclusions to mine. Nevertheless, it took a long time to heal her mistrust of me and she grieved over her lost faith.
In the spring of 1967, I heard rumors that a scholar found the Book of Abraham papyri in a museum archive in New York City. The gist of the talk was that those documents would substantiate Joseph Smith’s reputation as a translator. I chuckled within myself over that one. I knew that Egyptologists, decades before, had decoded the facsimiles at the front of The Book of Abraham, and they had identified them as ordinary funeral incantations common in the Egyptian religion. Egyptologists determined there age at about 2,000 years old, and far removed in time and content from Abraham or the Book of Abraham. I thought to myself, “Oh my! What a can of worms they have opened by discovering the missing papyri!”
I made the Book of Abraham the keystone of my inquiry into Mormonism. I could not wait for my subscription of the journal Dialogue to arrive in the mail with the translation of the Joseph Smith Papyri by competent Egyptologists. I read everything I could lay my hands on. As I read it all, I was sure Mormonism would collapse under the weight of the evidence. Wrong!
Anna and I attended a seminar that filled the Institute of Religion chapel near the U of U campus. Mormon scholars presented outlandish hypotheses to explain the discrepancies. The defining moment for me came when Henry Eyring, the world famous chemist, said something to the effect that it did not matter if the translation turned out to be a laundry list; it would not affect his faith in the least. His work might be respectable within the realm of chemistry, but as soon as he moved beyond that, his intellectual integrity evaporated. His science required evidence but his Mormon faith did not. Anna had come to share my dismay with Mormonism. Charles M. Larson explores the Book of Abraham controversy in his book, By His Own Hand upon Papyrus. The conclusions parallel my own.
During this time anxious thoughts crept into my mind as silent as cat paws. The anxiety was attendant to questions I had been exploring. Does God exist? Does our consciousness survive death? Did life evolve through a natural process dependent only on the laws of nature? Is the universe indifferent to my existence? Are the terrible things that happen to some people purely accidental and not part of some cosmic plan? Is there no ultimate justice in the universe? Is human justice the only justice we will ever know? Does our fate rest on our own shoulder alone? Repeatedly meaning and purpose would dissolve. I felt lost and cast adrift. These questions would send most people scurrying back to their cozy church pews for pat answers. The only credible answers I could find to these questions were in the essays of Bertrand Russell, the renowned 20th century atheist and philosopher.
In 1968, I made an important discovery: the Unitarian Church. I attended regularly and each sermon addressed my concerns. The Rev. Hugh Gillilan, the minister at that time, helped me negotiate the deep existential waters previously discussed. Gradually new meanings assembled themselves and I no longer felt lost or cast adrift. From these sermons, I discovered that there is life after supernatural belief and probably it is the only truly authentic life.
My non-belief made church attendance and relations with my family increasingly problematic. I agonized for months about telling my parents. I finally got up the courage and I told them I no longer believed. Off course, they were heartbroken. A short time after that I removed my temple garments. Anna found this very upsetting because she linked them to our marriage commitments in the temple. Sometime later, while visiting my parent’s home, my mother was giving me a hug. She ran her fingers down the back of my opaque shirt searching for the hem of my garments. When she found no hem, she burst into tears. News of my disbelief spread through my family, and strained relationships to the breaking point. In the years following, a great gulf of alienation separated us. I had rejected their faith and in varying degrees, they rejected me in return. Over the years, there were rejections on both sides of that great dividing gulf. As I evaluate this family-fracturing experience, it is clear to me that Mormonism has great power to polarize people, to alienate people and to disrupt families. Why do they never address this phenomenon in their “family values” sermons?
Anna and I gradually made the transition out of Mormonism. We both considered our relationship with each other to be a good one and I clearly loved her and the children. Two beautiful daughters had been born to us and I took on parenting enthusiastically. Anna was unable to breast-feed the babies and so I did an equal number of night shifts until they could sleep the whole night. I found it very satisfying to hold them in cozy flannel and nurse them in the stillness of the middle of the night. I was awestruck by their delicate beauty. I believe I took a more active part in rearing my children than most fathers.
In 1974, after attending the Unitarian Church for several years, we decided to become members. As our children approached school age, we knew that other children would ask if they were Mormons, and membership in another church would provide a ready answer. We also felt a strong need for a religious community that would support the raising of our children in our chosen beliefs. Joining that church changed us from being passive attendees to active participants. That autumn there was a men’s consciousness raising group starting up at the church. Anna thought I had developed my intellect, but she considered me emotionally challenged and could use some help. Besides, I could make new friends. Well, I signed up. I had clearly walked down that forbidden “intellectual apostasy” road. Then there was that other road that lay hidden and suppressed.
Well, I sure did get my consciousness raised-no doubt about it! The first meeting dealt with the ground rules and objectives of the group. Although we had a trained psychologist for a facilitator, this was not a therapy group. Our group drew its inspiration from women’s consciousness raising groups. Their objectives were to help women discover that the roles they normally filled were often limiting. The group then empowered and supported women to discover and move into more satisfying roles.
The premise for the men’s group was similar to women’s consciousness raising groups. Male gender roles are particularly rigid and breaking through this barrier challenged us. The group process began at the first meeting as members shared feelings and experiences. At the beginning, I felt timid and shy. I tried to add a word or two but my mouth felt frozen shut. As the discussion proceeded, I became increasingly uncomfortable. It frightened me to tell other men how I felt. I had carefully kept my feelings locked away because there were many things I did not want people to know. That night when I returned home, Anna asked how it went. I told her, “I didn’t say shit.” “Well then,” she said, “Next time you should go back and say shit.”
I called the leader of the group and told him I was dropping out. He coaxed me gently and said, “There won’t be any confrontation or therapy or any heavy duty stuff. We are just going to share our lives, experiences and feelings.” The next week I returned and well into the meeting I loudly said, “Shit!” The talking stopped and everyone turned to look at me. They had noticed my non-participation, and they gently coaxed me to speak. They listened as I haltingly told them how frightened I was, and that this “feeling stuff” made me uncomfortable. They gently helped me take a few faltering steps. Gradually I learned that I made good use of my critical thinking and rational skills as I examined religion and Mormonism, and in that process I observed huge amounts of irrationality in the world, and saw that it had appalling consequences. I came to equate irrationality with feelings, and this had impaired my emotional life.
The group stretched my emotional capacity. It was hard work. I came home tense with my mind abuzz and I frequently had trouble sleeping afterward. A few weeks into the group, the inevitable happened. The topic of homosexuality came up. It had to. The fear of homosexuality grossly distorts and limits how men relate to each other, and we eventually explored this phenomenon thoroughly. That evening two men, out of the dozen or so participants, disclosed that they were attracted to the same sex. I was stunned and angry that this topic came up. I could never go where these men were going! I kept silent through most of the evening, with dissonant self-talk in my head. I heard little of discussion. The minutes ticked by and I debated, “should I or shouldn’t I?” Toward the end of the meeting, I croaked out the words. “I, too, am homosexual.”
I did not sleep that night. After Anna fell asleep, I got up, dressed, and stepped out into the October night. I paced the back lawn processing my thoughts. Painful emotions surfaced, and I crumpled next to the fence, wracked with agonizing sobs. I had bottled up so many disturbing feelings it was painful letting them out. I intuitively sensed that if I fully acknowledged my same-sex feelings it would undermine my marriage. Anna and I had weathered storms over the religion issue, but our marriage at that time was not only intact but also thriving.
I met with the men’s group weekly through the winter and spring. It was difficult matching my feelings with words and then getting those words out of my mouth. I found the men in the group loving and supportive. Because of this, talking about the feelings that had been wedged tightly within me for years became easier, and the trickle of words became a torrent. I discovered that I had many issues I needed to discuss. One of the participants of our group thought I was like a fragile, nervous little bird in a tree when I joined the group, and that I might fly away with the least provocation. It is amazing that I did not fly away.
What would my life be like had I not participated in the men’s group that winter? My hunch is that my heightened awareness would have eventually occurred anyway but more slowly. The Stonewall riot of 1969, in Greenwich Village, New York City, sparked a revolution for gay rights that fills the media constantly nowadays.
During that same winter, we told our home teachers that we had joined the Unitarian Church. The bishop, hearing this news, visited us. He said that joining another church was grounds for excommunication. I told him that this choice was a matter of conscience and he should do what his conscience required him to do. Soon a letter arrived from the stake president ordering me to a church court. This prospect upset Anna because she was at home most of the time with the children and the neighbors, and excommunication had the potential to affect relations with them.
I attended the trial and discovered that joining another church was not grounds for excommunication. The stake president then asked me the pivotal question: Do you sustain the general authorities? I answered no. That one word got me excommunicated. They did not ask me, did I love my neighbor? Did I fail to feed and clothe the needy? Did I fail to be hospitable to the stranger at my door? Do they ever excommunicate people for answering no to these questions? They did not summon Anna to trial. She held the same views and joined the same church. Perhaps they thought she was less important because she was a woman, a non-priesthood bearer and not a returned missionary. I did not fight the excommunication because it sent a clear message: I object to Mormonism, and I am not a child going through a foolish stage. The bishop announced my excommunication in sacrament meeting. After that, the neighborhood climate turned cold. We moved from that neighborhood about a year later. That spring, the excommunication and the emotional havoc it created was an important discussion topic for me in the men’s group.
Anna became depressed and suicidal. The excommunication certainly troubled her. However, something less tangible troubled her deeply: She sensed that I had changed in the last nine months. The issue of my increased homosexual awareness was behind that change, and was outside her knowledge. The marriage was in crisis again and the main issues were out of sight and nonnegotiable. She entered therapy with a competent psychiatrist who prescribed antidepressants.
I voraciously read scholarly literature on homosexuality during this time. In the 1970s as the gay revolution gathered momentum, I found reliable information available for the first time in my life, and I identified strongly with the message. Because of accumulating evidence, “The Psychiatric Diagnostic Manual” no longer listed homosexuality as a disorder, and my mission president’s dictums became meaningless because of the collapse of my Mormon faith. I worried someone might find my secret stash of gay literature. I read the books on the three evenings per week that Anna worked at the hospital. I would feed the children their supper, put them to bed and read. One summer morning, before the family was awake, I wrapped the stash of books in black plastic, waited until I could see the garbage truck approaching, then put them in the trash and I watched as they disappeared within the truck.
The revolution came about a decade too late for me. In hindsight, it is clear that all revolutions have casualties, and Anna and I were becoming two of them. I seriously deliberated on the possibility of divorce, but I loved my wife and children and I could not abandon them. How do I manage now in the light of this new awareness?
With counseling, Anna was able to deal with the issues related to excommunication, religion, alienation of extended family and neighbors. The move to a new neighborhood also gave us a fresh start. In this neighborhood, we did not bear the apostate label. We made friends with some very nice non-Mormons just across the street. I tried my very best to assure Anna that I still loved her and was committed to our marriage. We weathered another crisis, and the marriage survived and became functional again.
As I became more in touch with my feelings, new feelings never encountered before began to emerge. I came to experience what I named “the donut phenomenon.” I sensed a large, open, hollow within me, and that space needed an intimate relationship with a man to fill it. What I am describing is not about sex. I suspected that sexuality could certainly become part of this intimacy I yearned for, but it was much larger than sex. It was more what I had experienced with my previously mentioned male friends, all straight men. I was so grateful for their friendship. Two of them were not frightened of me when I told them I was gay. One of them parted my friendship as soon as I told him. I think they were remarkable men because they allowed closeness and did not keep me at arm’s length. I am sure they would kindly say “no” if I asked them for sex, but I did not do that. I hope I did not even hint at it. I just wanted to settle down together and share my whole life with one of them. Of course, they could not accommodate me in this way, and I never expected it of them. I had married a wonderful woman, but she could not fill that void within me. Why, why, why did the sex and gender of a person make such a difference? Mystery of mysteries! Was it some stupid little circuit in my brain?
While discussing the cause of homosexuality it is interesting to note that there appears to be evidence for a gay gene in my family pedigree. Dean Hammer, the Harvard trained geneticist, found evidence that a gene named Xq28 causes homosexuality in some gay males. The gene, carried on the X chromosome, passes from mother to son. I have three cousins on my mother’s side of the family that I am somewhat sure were gay. In the four cases, including me, the data perfectly fit the hypothesis. Investigators also have found that the probability that a male will be gay increases about 2% with each older male sibling. I have three older male siblings so the probability could be about 6%. Several research groups have verified this phenomenon, but the cause is unclear.
I deliberated long and hard about having sex with a man. As an adult, I had never experienced sex with a male. I experienced plenty of temptation and anguish over the matter of homosexuality but it was all fantasy. I eventually chose to break my marriage vows and tried it. I needed experience to find out if the real thing was as important as my fantasies made it out to be. I did not resort to highway stops, public parks, gay bars or public restrooms. I had an affair with another married gay man. We both had children and we were committed to raising them; we did not want to disturb each other’s marriage. Well, it could not and did not last. I could not stand the sneaking around and neither could he. I was coming to loath my dishonesty and deceit, but I did learn something from it: I had been missing something important through all these years.
Concealing my inward identity from the Anna, the person I intimately shared my life with, became increasingly difficult, and it consumed a lot of energy. Maintaining my façade became so wearisome that I was within millimeters of just blurting it out to her, but if I did that, I would have to accept the consequences of my behavior. I had a dream that gave me a poignant visualization of my dilemma. I dreamed I was embracing Anna through a set of metal bars that separated us. My hands, hidden from her view, touched her back, and they had enormous, vicious claws gently touching her skin poised to hurt her. If I pulled away, it would reveal my claws. If I continued to conceal my claws, it trapped us in a cage. The bars also separated us and it was an uncomfortable embrace.
I had kept a journal for years. Writing is cheap therapy and it helped me keep things in better perspective. Usually, I carefully returned it to a locked box. One day I accidentally left it out on the desk and Anna read it. Dr. Freud would probably have something to say about this accident. Another crisis struck us. The children had gone to bed and we cried and talked all night long. She was back to her therapist again. I was relieved that it was finally out in the open. I secretly hoped she would throw me out of the house, but she did not.
I cannot begin to describe the pain that the disclosure of my homosexuality caused my wife. I hope she will use her gift for writing to tell her side of the story. The discovery of my sexuality demolished the trust between us. She thought our marriage had been a sham and a fraud. She thought my homosexuality meant I was not attracted to her. I had been her mirror and now she discovered the image was counterfeit. Suddenly she felt unfeminine and ugly. She had experienced our lovemaking as affirmation, but now that was questionable. No woman should ever have this experience thrust upon her, and she had no choice in the matter.
Of course, I sensed Anna’s pain. Not only was the guilt difficult to bear, but also the uncomfortable scrutiny as she re-examined our relationship. She saw that I had planted the garden with vegetables and concluded I would be there to harvest them. I believe she sensed correctly that there was no one else in my life. In hindsight, this is when the marriage began to fail. My counselor at the university was right: The marriage is more likely to succeed if the straight spouse does not know that their spouse is gay, but this means the uninformed spouse will live in a world of illusion.
The children both attended school full time that fall. We planned from the beginning that Anna would someday finish her degree in English. I thought that her best gifts lay dormant ready for full development at the university. She read feminist literature for years and I got a book report on every book she read. I had become a “born again feminist.” I had always helped with household chores and I was better at it anyway, so I happily sent her off to school while I took on the household. I hoped that she could find compensatory validation and satisfaction in her schoolwork. I also hoped the hot focus of her attention would move away from the crisis that had no ready solution.
Anna did even better than I expected, and in a year or two, I became eclipsed by her brilliance. She earned a bachelor’s then a master’s degree in English literature. We debated whether she should teach high school. I knew from experience that teaching15-year-oldstudents is not easy, and I was doubtful she had that kind of stamina. From the beginning, I reminded her that her degree should make it possible to earn a paycheck in addition to the enjoyment of learning since our finances were modest. She had saved for years from her nursing work to pay her tuition. She had also won scholarships and teaching fellowships to finance her education. She eventually earned enough along the way to buy all the family birthday and Christmas gifts. She assured me that this investment of our limited resources would pay off and there were many kinds of writing jobs out there. Mostly she had her eye on a “cushy job” (as she called it) as an English professor. Years later, I learned that 120 applicants applied to the university English department for one job. Fat chance for her cushy job!
Watching my 40th birthday approaching was difficult for me. The fantasy of finding a gay lover and settling down together now had a powerful appeal. As 40 approached, I could hear the clock ticking. The older I got the more I doubted I could find a partner. I began to fantasize and hope that if Anna got a good job, we could financially afford to part ways.
Anna was off having a wonderful time at the university and I was getting weary of grocery shopping, making the meals, doing the laundry and cleaning the house. The feminists were right: It is not very stimulating work. Our new home was a two-story frame house and I painted it Wedgwood blue with white trim and shutters. It looked attractive with its emerald lawn, cut-leaf weeping birch and red and white petunias. We called it our Fourth of July house. I also grew a patch of vegetables that we canned and preserved. The frame house required constant painting and maintenance. Teaching freed my summers, but still, the work came to nag me rather than beckon me. I had taken on almost all of the household chores, as well as my usual maintenance and gardening work plus earning most of our income. I became the household drudge. Although I was not fully aware of it, I was paying my debt to Anna. Once again, guilt powered a great deal of work.
It started with waking two or three hours early in the morning. Gradually, the insomnia grew worse. Next, the world lost its color and interest. I came to call the feelings “the grim and gray.” As time went on, I lost the energy to do my work. After a day of teaching mostly fifteen-year-olds, I would prepare the evening meal (I had always insisted that our family would gather to share a meal and the news of the day), and I would do the cleanup chores. I called on my daughters to help out, but it often took as much energy to supervise and put them to work, as it did for me to do it myself. I would retreat to my bedroom (we and I had separate bedrooms by this time), close the door, turn out the lights and weep in the dark. I called this stage “the sad weepies.” I now know that my children very much missed me through this time. They experienced me as an absentee father.
The thoughts associated with the sadness were the tragedy of our marriage. Had either of us known, neither of us would have chosen this marriage. I felt hurt and angry with the Mormon Church. In addition to the many other complaints in this story, the church had stolen my sexuality. I am a forgiving person, but I cannot forgive the Mormon Church for the pain and suffering it has caused.
The next stage came with suicidal thoughts. I believe that suicide has a hostile element of wanting to hurt those around you. I could not intentionally hurt another person. I have unintentionally hurt some people as the result of making stupid choices or the difficult choices presented in ethical dilemmas. The thoughts were, “My life insurance is worth much more than I am, and this family would be better off without me.” On the other hand, I would think, “If I could slip out of life unnoticed, I would.” Of course, I could not slip out of life unnoticed, and so I stuck around. Anna saw the symptoms and recognized what they meant. She urged me to seek psychiatric treatment, and the doctor placed me on medication.
I responded well to antidepressant medication. The improvement made it possible to travel to England. Anna’s father invited us to spend seven weeks in the summer of 1980 in his home. Anna’s parents divorced before she and I married, but her father had remarried and lived in York. Anna’s father paid the airfare. The children met their grandfather, and we had a wonderful summer!
The antidepressant caused impotence, a common side effect of several antidepressants. Anna refused to believe that the antidepressants caused the impotence; she interpreted it as more evidence that I had rejected her. Our faltering sexual relationship was ending.
I learned a lot about depression. I learned an effective treatment procedure called “Rational Emotive Therapy” from books by Albert Ellis. After mastering the Ellis protocol, I was more assertive. I recognized the ways Janet manipulated me, and I refused to be a helpless victim. Most importantly, I felt I had adequately paid my debt to Anna in guilty feelings, and I stopped the guilt. This change of behavior had a negative effect on our relationship.
Increasingly, we lived parallel but separate lives. The marriage first turned sour, then toxic. Anna had a mysterious illness, possibly malingering, and then I learned that her Ph.D. project had stalled. She spent 11 long years, much of it away from the family, working toward a doctorate. Did she intuitively know that if she finished it and got a job, it would be parting time for us? She was not quite ready to separate. It perplexed me why her research and dissertation collapsed. One evening when Anna was particularly dour, I asked her, “If you had a million dollars would you divorce me?”
“Most probably,” she muttered. I knew it was no longer a question of should we divorce; it was a matter of negotiating the time and price.
We told the children we planned to divorce in September 1989. At the same time, I told them I was gay, and this was the reason for the divorce. I shouldered the blame, although Anna had done some very destructive things that I did not tell the children. My oldest daughter’s response was, “Dad, Mom has made you miserable for a long time. You should have divorced her years ago.” Her younger sister’s response was just the opposite. She thought our family was a bit eccentric but nearly perfect. She wept that our family was breaking up and she has never forgiven me for it. She does not believe to this day that being gay is sufficient reason for a divorce. She found the statistical evidence unconvincing that a straight person married to a gay spouse produces inherently unstable marriages.
My oldest daughter had already moved out of the house seeking her own independence; she graduated from Utah State University. Her younger sister was in her last year of high school. She won an excellent scholarship at Mills College, and left home that following year. She graduated from Mills College four years later. The time following the divorce was a tough time for her. My plan was to stay around through the next winter, see my daughter through her last year of high school, prepare the home for sale, divide the assets and then part ways. Anna would have no part of this plan. She could not stand to have me around if our relationship had died, and she insisted I leave. She also refused to sell the house. She said she had lost too much, and she could not lose this too. It meant she must cope with that maintenance-demanding house. I suspect she was conflicted and possibly believed that I would come back to her after living alone for a while.
My faithful friend Ben helped me pack up a few things in his truck, and I moved out on Halloween night, 1989. I moved into a pitiful little apartment, but I fixed it up over the next three years. In leaving the 21-year marriage, I dared not raise hope of finding a gay lover to live with. There certainly were no prospects on the scene. My objective was to see if leaving the marriage would end the pain. I had given a lot of effort to cultivating a friend network to support me through the transition, and they did so famously. The divorce was less damaging to me than the rest of the family. It fills me with sadness that the others did less well. My wife and youngest daughter were particularly hurt. Considering the unstable kind of marriage we had, it is amazing that the marriage lasted as long as it did. Some of my friends believe that I was masochistic to stay so long. The only answer I can give is that I needed to raise my children.
The divorce was amicable and uncontested and came into effect in April 1990. Over the next three years, the divorce accomplished what I hoped it would: It gave me peace. I discovered there is life after divorce, and that it is possible to live alone and still find a meaningful, productive and happy existence.
A year or two after my divorce, I read in the newspaper about Elder Brown’s appointment to the First Quorum of the Seventy (he later became a member of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy). He was the missionary I had fallen in love with over 30 years ago. I sent him a short note congratulating him, and I said I thought they had chosen a fine man. To my astonishment, I received a letter back inviting me to lunch. The lunch never worked out, but I did have a long conversation with him in his office. Much of our conversation dealt with our differences over Mormonism. He was paying an old debt to my parents. He had been a customer in their jewelry store, and they had told him of my disagreements with the LDS Church. They asked if he would talk to me about it because they knew I respected him.
We discussed homosexuality less. He said that attitudes in the church were changing in respect to the status of being a homosexual. That is, it was not a sin to have homosexual attraction or feelings. I said that I had never considered my feelings and attraction sinful or evil. President Brockbank more than 30 years ago said this is how Satan would tempt me and it is not sinful for being tempted, after all, everyone is tempted. I told him I applauded this change in attitude that he said was occurring. He still clearly believed that homosexual acts were sinful under all circumstances.
I asked Elder Brown about the issue that had affected my life the most. Did the LDS Church still counsel its gay young people to marry a straight spouse? He said that his own personal views had changed and that sometimes he advised them to marry and sometimes did not. He said that he asked them if their night dreams were mostly homosexual or heterosexual. If they were mostly heterosexual, he urged them to marry. It seems to me he is making some rather large presumptions about the nature of dreams. Had Elder Brown been my mission president, I may not have married. All of my night dreams have been homosexual.
I mentioned to Elder Brown that I had attended Affirmation, a support group for gay Mormons, at the time of my divorce, and I had become acquainted with many young LDS homosexual men. I suggested he could interview these people and those that qualified could then date his daughters. This topic of conversation stopped abruptly, and his face became expressionless. I presume he did not want to pursue this idea further. After a pause, I then attempted to convey to him the pain and difficulty of my marriage. I reminded him that our mission president and member of the First Quorum of Seventy, had clearly instructed me at age twenty that I should marry, and looking over my life experience, I thought it bad advice. To this, he did not respond either. We parted amicably.
I have changed the sequence of events here to make an important point. The Unitarian Universalist Association held General Assembly in Salt Lake City in June 2004. At this convention, a presentation of religious leaders addressed the topic of homosexuality. The panel consisted of: Bishop Tanner, Episcopal Church; Bishop Neidhour, Catholic Church; President Buehrens, Unitarian Universalist Association; and Elder Morrison, First Quorum of the Seventy, LDS Church.
Elder Morrison’s talk was a restatement of information available in LDS conference talks and publications and broke no new ground. When the presentation was over, I approached Elder Morrison and asked him this question: Does the LDS Church still advise its gay young people to marry? He denied that the church had ever given such advice. I countered with my own experience. Elder Morrison rudely left the room and gave no response.
Now I return to September 1992. A longtime friend introduced me to Paul Trane, a principal of an elementary school. The three of us spent a beautiful afternoon strolling through Red Butte Garden. Later, Paul and I went to dinner together. We talked for a long time and discovered we had many things in common. We both were gay, we went on LDS missions, we both had married, we both had children, he had once served as a bishop in an LDS ward, we both became disillusioned with Mormonism, our marriages had failed recently for similar reasons, and we were close to the same age. Wow! What’s more, I liked him from the very beginning!
Because we had escaped painful marriages, we cautiously approached a new relationship; we wanted to make sure that it would work for both of us. Over the next nine months, we enjoyed movies, concerts, plays, Unitarian Church services and dining out. He loved my cooking and I enjoyed preparing meals for us. We shared the joys, grief and the pain of our stories; the conversations had a healing effect and we began to feel completed and whole again. Paul was a bit apprehensive about camping, but as the spring weather arrived, we took camping trips together, and we loved it. It was particularly delicious to crawl into the tent and feel no constraints about touching this man. Amazingly, with a change of antidepressant medication, the sexuality that I thought had died years ago through my years of depression was alive and well. That big empty space in the center of me that I called the “doughnut hole,” was filled at last. We were in our 50’s and we had waited so very long for this to happen! We had fallen in love but this time we abolished the old constraints. We both asked this question: what would it be like if we still had youthful bodies?
As we drove to the Golden Spike Historical Monument on a summer day trip, I suggested we live together. As a cautious first step, we separately made lists of what we wanted and needed for a living together relationship. It also included the things we did not want. The next day, seated in folding chairs under a tree in Sugarhouse Park, we compared lists: They were nearly identical. We chose Paul’s apartment because it had two bedrooms and mine had one. His son had just moved out to go on a Mormon mission. We joined households and have been together ever since. A few years later, we bought a condominium together. In addition, we found a sympathetic lawyer, who drew up legal documents that made us as married as a gay couple could be in Utah.
In June 1999, Paul had a serious heart attack and promptly had heart surgery with six bypasses. I had a calm assurance through all of this that I would not lose him. We informed the nursing staff at LDS Hospital that we were a gay couple, and that our lawyer had drawn up various legal arrangements including power of attorney. Through the ten days of Paul’s treated at LDS Hospital, the entire staff treated us with acceptance and kindness. His doctors and the hospital staff included me in all medical decisions. They treated us with equal respect, just as any other couple. The world is changing. Paul’s health crisis came as a nasty shock and recovery was long and difficult. Through it all, it gave me enormous satisfaction to be at Paul’s side, and care for him through his recuperation.
Paul and I care about each other’s children; it is part of our relationship. Our children and siblings vary in their acceptance of us, but generally, we have seen a slow trend toward more inclusiveness. Our relationship with some kin varies from good to nonexistent because of our sexual orientation. Mostly we have created our own loving family through friendship. I have been an active member of First Unitarian Church for more than 30 years. My friends there have been kind and loyal through the divorce and coming out. When Paul turned up at church, they extended their love to him as well. They fully accept us as a gay couple.
Paul and I married more than once. The first time, we pronounced our vows in an aspen grove in the Wasatch Mountains. Only trees, flowers, sky and mountains witnessed this intimate ceremony. We were married along with more than 700 couples on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with father Abraham as our witness. It was part of the Millennial March on Washington. We waited until we had retired from Granite School District to exchange wedding bands. We returned to Red Butte Garden, the place where we had met. We pronounced our vows again, and then exchanged identical wedding bands, and we placed them on each other’s right hand. Just as we finished, our good friend Gary from First Unitarian Church came into view. We asked him if he would take our picture. He gladly obliged. He did not know that he took our wedding photograph. We have spent 14 wonderful years together and we hope to live together for a long time.
Over the past few years, I have observed the national debate on gay marriage in the news media, and Reactionary legislation such as The Defense of Marriage Act. As I observe this storm of words, I have only one question to ask. When Paul and I exchanged rings and vows, whose happy marriage did we damage?
In June 2008, we traveled to Ventura California to the second marriage of Paul’s daughter Barbara. It was the first time in many years that all of Paul’s family had all been together in one place. It was a very happy occasion and we enjoyed ourselves
I had never seen Yosemite National Park, so we visited it on our way home. Passing through the little town of Mariposa, California near the entrance to Yosemite, I noticed that it was the county seat, and I said to Paul that this might be a convenient place to ask if there were non-resident requirements for getting married. A moment later, we saw a sign directing us to the county courthouse and county offices. We stopped and inquired. The application process was very simple so, after deliberation we decided to pay the fees and do it. The County Clerk, a very pleasant woman, married us in a garden near a historic stone building nearby that dated back to the gold rush days. It was a lovely place for the ceremony. We had a picture taken of the event; we were dressed in t-shirts and shorts. We told the County Clerk that we had been together for 17 years. She commented that most of the gay couples she had married were in long-term relationships and were above middle age. We found a nice restaurant to celebrate the event then started our way home over the mountains and through Yosemite. We were married for about eleven hours until we crossed into Nevada where same sex marriages are not recognized. However, we are still married in the state of California.
Pale Blue Dot
Longtime readers of these pages may recall that I have previously reviewed five other books by Carl Sagan. It has been very difficult for me to choose a “favorite” work other than what I am currently reading. The thing I found most illuminating about Pale Blue Dot is that, contrary to what I previously believed, Sagan’s greatest talent may not have been his ability to explain science to the masses. His accomplishments as an astronomer in general and as a directing consultant with the American space agencies and projects are phenomenal.
My understanding of our Solar System was greatly enhanced by reading this book. Sagan was convinced that one of best ways, perhaps the only way, to preserve human life is to explore and populate other planets (specifically Mars), moons (Titan first), asteroids, and comets. He described how, with technology available today, it might be possible to terraform Mars. The cost for a single country or corporation is prohibitive, but working together globally is a recurrent theme for Sagan. Perhaps most imaginative is a plan to occupy comets in the Oort Cloud hopping from one to another where eventually it is speculated that our Solar System’s Oort Cloud would occasionally interact with a comet cloud of another star system and the chance to move into other solid planets.
The June edition of this newsletter contained a quote from this book written by Carl Sagan (Random House, 1994). Here are a couple more quotes in an attempt to whet your interest enough to obtain a copy for your personal reading:
And from the book’s conclusion:
The Pale Blue Dot
In 1989 both Voyager spacecraft had passed Neptune and Pluto. Carl Sagan wanted one last picture of Earth from “a hundred thousand times” as far away than the famous shots of Earth taken by astronauts from the moon during the Apollo series.
The result is stunning. In Sagan’s words, “Because of the reflection of sunlight off the spacecraft, the Earth seems to be sitting in a beam of light, as if there were some special significance to this small world. But it’s just an accident of geometry and optics. The Sun emits its radiation equitably in all directions. Had the picture been taken a little earlier or a little later there would have been no sunbeam highlighting the Earth.
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
“The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.”
A New Religious America
During the past 35-years the United States has become the world’s most religiously diverse nation. During that short period Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians, and varieties of Jews and Christians have flocked to our shores. Children from all these religions attend our public schools together while the parents work side by side in a variety of occupations. Why did this religious phenomenon suddenly occur? Can the United States remain the world’s most secular government and at the same time be the most religiously diverse? These questions may be the most important challenges we face in the twenty-first century. Diana L. Eck, professor of Comparative Religion at Harvard, offers some stimulating and provocative answers in her new book, A New Religious America, recently published by Harper Collins.
Letter to the Editor
A Plea For Peace
We are moved by the alarming news and crisis our country is facing. This is a great nation founded in the belief that “all men are created equal” and that we are the “land of the free.” May each of us have the strength to assist in every way possible to help and comfort those who are suffering, hurting, and in fear.
Our nation is one of justice and due process and we seek humbly for wisdom, constraint, and patience as we search to bring to justice those responsible for these acts of terrorism.
May we reach out to all those affected by this tragedy, providing refuge for those who lost security, strength to those who have been weakened, and peace to those in turmoil.
Letter to the Editor
I have read the last three anti-humanism, and Living With the Local Culture, articles with great interest. We need informative criticism of religion and cultural movements more than ever.
I wish to thank the editor for the quality of the newsletter, and his critical thinking editorials.
I also wish to respond to the “Stop ‘Anti-humanist’ Columns,” published in the May edition. Our newsletter is a place for our chapter members to know what is going on in our chapter. It is also a journal, and as a journal, it is a place to let all our members have a voice on issues relative to the philosophy and cultural movement that we call naturalistic humanism.
To ask for the articles to be stopped, in my opinion, is censorship. Mr. Garrard has brought to our newsletter a unique and professional style. He is informed in his opinions, whether we agree with them or not, whether we think that they should be voiced or not.
Uphold our democratic ideals, and support the voices of our membership, as that is what makes our membership strong. It is the advocacy of humanism, not the advocacy of the censoring “anti-humanists,” that is voiced with democracy.
P.S. I note that the Living With the Local Culture column was not published in the June edition. Please, don’t stop. If the Utah Humanists don’t have a critical voice in regards to Mormonism, who is left? The Utah Lighthouse Ministry? Though accurate in many details, they still color their judgments with Christianity, instead of objectivity. Let us at least make the mistake of coloring our judgment with humanism.
Discussion Group Report
Is The Time Ripe for a Progressive Revival?
By Richard Layton
“Where do we go from here?” asks Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., in his article, “A Question of Power,” in The American Prospect, April 23, 2001. An ambiguous and questionable election, a president who ignores the fact that he lost the popular vote by more than half a million, a cabinet of corporate retreads and right-wing ideologues, and a near statistical tie in Congress creates a tricky terrain on which to tread.
The Bush administration, Schlesinger goes on, “is already playing pro-business hardball, canceling workplace ergonomic standards, endorsing the pro-creditor bankruptcy bill, recanting the campaign pledge to force power plants to cut their emissions of carbon dioxide.” David Broder, hardly a left-wing commentator, writes, “…money interests prevailed over the public interest.” In the judiciary Mr. Bush may well pay off the religious right.
In economically contented times like the 1990’s class-and-interest politics recedes and cultural politics comes to the fore. Religion, morality, ethnicity, abortion, gun control, homosexuality, school prayer, capital punishment, and flag burning are issues that agitate the electorate. Both parties have succumbed to the cultural temptation–the Republicans to the evangelical right, the Democrats to the politically correct left. Perhaps, Schlesinger suggests, with economic troubles apparently ahead and an administration so firmly in the hands of the corporate community, the time has come for the revival of the Progressive tradition.
Progressivism sprang from the cities, while Populism was an agrarian movement. But Populists prepared the way by breaking with the basic Jeffersonian dogma that the government that governs least governs best. Fearful of the rising power of the large corporations, the Populists declared in 1892, “We believe that the powers of government–in other words, of the people–should be expanded…to the end that oppression, injustice, and poverty shall eventually cease in the land.”
The Progressive Era, the first decade of the twentieth century, took Jefferson head on. Regarding unaccountable corporate power as the great threat to democracy, President Theodore Roosevelt argued that “only the national government” could exercise the “needed control” over the economy. “This does not represent centralization,” he continued. “It represents merely the acknowledgement of the patent fact that centralization has already come in business. If this irresponsible outside power is to be controlled in the interest of the general public, it can be controlled in only one way–by giving adequate power of control to the one sovereignty capable of exercising such power–the National Government.”
Woodrow Wilson, too, abandoned Jeffersonian dogma. “Without the watchful interference, the resolute interference of the government, there can be no fair play between individuals and such powerful institutions as the trusts.” Franklin D. Roosevelt put it in 1933 that “The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the larger centers has owned the Government ever since the days of Andrew Jackson.”
“The heart of the Progressive tradition is opposition to corporate rule,” says Schlesinger. “The national government, the Progressives felt, was the key to the preservation of democracy. It was in particular the protector of the powerless. The Jeffersonian illusion was to say that local government was more responsive because it was ‘closer’ to the people. But local government has mostly been government by the locally powerful. The way the locally powerless have asserted their human and constitutional rights has been through appeal to the national government…national authority was essential to defend the rights of minorities and individuals against the aggressions of local minorities.” The national government has affirmed the Bill of Rights against local vigilantism. It has protected the public lands, forests and waterways from local greed. It has civilized industry, secured the rights of labor organizations, improved life in the countryside, and provided a decent living for the old. Above all, it has pressed for racial justice against local bigotry.
Herbert Hoover and Friedrich Hayek said that governments go totalitarian when governments acquire excessive power under the pretext of doing good for their citizens. This thesis is historical nonsense. Impotent democratic government, not unduly potent democratic government, has laid the foundation for totalitarianism. Fascist and communist regimes arose not because democratic government was too powerful but because it was too weak.
One wonders why Hoover and other enemies of the welfare state believed that government aid to corporations is wise and virtuous while government aid to farmers or workers or the unemployed or the elderly is vicious and leads to collectivism. It also seems odd that so many of those who denounce “statism” when it means social protection of the poor or prohibition of destructive business practices are at the same time the most zealous advocates of statism in the sinister sense of using the government to crack down on citizens thinking unpopular thoughts. They demand censorship, book banning, loyalty oaths, witch-hunts, expulsion of liberal professors, etc.
Public solicitude, it is said, corrupts the poor by depriving them of that economic insecurity that the well-off hold to be the essential stimulus to achievement. “The poor need most of all the spur of their poverty,” writes George Gilder, right-wing publicist. The affluent apply this argument more to the poor than to themselves. If the rich really believed in the salubrious effects of economic insecurity, they would favor a 100% inheritance tax so that their own children would not be deprived of this great moral benefit. But–we all know how the rich feel about that tax.
The record shows that the intervention of national authority has given a majority of Americans more personal dignity and liberty than they ever had before. The real inciters of class warfare are the CEOs who pay themselves more in a day than their workers make in a year. Laissez-faire zealots and market fundamentalists somehow don’t get it. They still don’t understand that it is precisely the intervention of the national government that has rescued capitalism from the dreaded Marxist fate. The unfettered market that conservatives worship systematically undermines the values conservatives hold dear: stability, morality, family, community, work, discipline, and delayed gratification. The greed and glitter of the marketplace, the exploitation of prurient appetites, the anything-goes psychology, the short-termism, the ease of fraud, the devil-take-the-hindmost ethos–all these are at war with professed conservative ideals.
Even premier capitalists are appalled by what runaway capitalism has wrought. Financier and philanthropist George Soros observes, “Although I have made a fortune in the financial markets, I now fear that the untrammeled intensification of laissez-faire capitalism and the spread of market values into all areas of life is endangering our open and democratic society.” The ”uninhibited pursuit of self-interest” produces “intolerable inequities and instability.”
“The untrammeled market is not likely to solve the problems that assail us,” asserts Schlesinger. “By itself the market will neither improve our schools nor protect our environment nor rebuild our infrastructure nor civilize our cities nor provide all our citizens with medical care nor protect consumers and investors from business deception nor achieve racial justice nor reduce the growing disparities in wealth and opportunity.”
“Governments,” Tocqueville wrote, “must apply themselves to restore to men that love of the future with which religion and the state of society no longer inspire them.”
“The great strength of democracy is its capacity for self-correction. The work of the Progressives is far from finished,” says Schlesinger.”
Discussion Group Report
Is the Capacity for Religion Hardwired into Our Brains?
By Richard Layton
“Einstein felt it. It’s what draws people to church, prayer, meditation, sacred dance and other rituals. Chances are you’ve felt something like it, too–in the mountains, by the sea, or perhaps while listening to a piece of music that’s especially close to your heart. In fact more than half of people report having had some sort of mystical or religious experience. For some, the experience is so intense it changes their life forever.
“But what is ‘it’? The presence of God? A glimpse of a higher plane of being? Or just the musical equivalent of deja vu, a trick the brain sometimes plays on your conscious self?”
With these questions the journal New Scientist (04/23/01) introduces its article “In Search of God.” It describes the work of scientists on the neurobiology of religion.
Andrew Newberg and Eugene d’Aquili studied religious experiences. They brought some skilled meditators who were willing to undergo brain imaging into the lab one at a time and had a technician inject an intravenous tube into one arm. Then each volunteer began to meditate normally, focusing intently on a single image, usually a religious symbol. The goal was to feel one’s everyday sense of self begin to dissolve, so that the person becomes one with the image. “It feels like a loss of boundary,” says Michael Baime, one of the meditators, who was also a researcher in the study.
Hidden in the next room, Newberg and d’Aquili waited. When the meditator felt the sense of oneness, he or she would tug on a string. The researchers then injected a radioactive tracer through the intravenous line. Then a scanner measured the distribution of the tracer to yield a snapshot of brain activity at the time of binding. The researchers found intense activity in the parts of the brain that regulate activity–a sign of the meditator’s deep concentration. During meditation, part of the parietal lobe, towards the top and rear of the brain, was much less active when the volunteers were merely sitting still. This was the exact region of the brain where the distinction between self and other originates. The left hemisphere side of this region deals with the individual’s sense of his or her own body image, while its right hemisphere equivalent handles its context–the space and time inhabited by the self. Maybe, reasoned the researchers, as the meditators developed the feeling of oneness, they gradually cut these areas off from the usual touch and position signals that help create the body image.
“When you look at people in meditation, they really do turn off their sensations to the outside world. Sights and sounds don’t disturb them any more,” says Newberg. Deprived of their usual grist, these regions no longer function normally, and the person feels the boundary between self and other begin to dissolve. As the spatial and temporal context also disappears, the person feels a sense of infinite space and eternity.
Besides this sense, these religious experiences also carry a hefty emotional charge, a feeling of awe and deep significance. Neuroscientists agree that this sensation originates in a region of the brain distinct from the parietal lobe: the “emotional brain,” or limbic system, deep within the temporal lobes on the sides of the brain. This system comes from way back in our evolution. Its function is to monitor our experiences and label especially significant events, such as the sight of your child’s face, with emotional tags to say, “This is important.” During an intense religious experience, researchers believe the limbic system becomes unusually active, tagging everything with special significance, as being characterized by great joy and harmony.
There is much evidence that the limbic system is important in such experiences. People who suffer epileptic seizures restricted to the limbic system, or the temporal lobes in general, sometimes report having profound experiences during their seizures. “This is similar to people undergoing religious conversion, who have a sense of seeing through their hollow selves or superficial reality to a deeper reality,” says Jeffrey Saver, a neurologist at UCLA. Epileptics have historically tended to be the people with the great mystical experiences. Neurosurgeons who stimulate the limbic system during open brain surgery say their patients occasionally report experiencing religious sensations. And Alzheimer’s disease, which is often marked by a loss of religious interest, tends to cripple the limbic system early on.
Michael Persinger of Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada, uses a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation to induce all sorts of surreal experiences in ordinary people. A weak magnetic field rotating in a particular pattern about the temporal lobes will cause four out of every five people to feel a spectral presence in the room with them. If a loved one has recently died, the experimental subject may feel that person has returned to see them. Religious types often identify the presence as God. “This is all in the laboratory, so you can imagine what would happen if the person is alone in their bed at night or in a church, where the context is so important,” Persinger says. His experiments show that mystical experiences consist of not only what we experience, but also how we interpret it.
“We are hardwired to have experiences from time to time that give us a sense of presence, and as primates we’re hardwired to categorize our experiences. And we crave social interaction and spatial proximity with others that are the same. If you have a God experience and the belief is that you have to kill someone who doesn’t believe as you do, you can see why the content from the culture is the really dangerous part.”
Skeptics of religion claim the brain’s hardwiring proves that God has no real existence, that it’s all in the brain. But Newberg isn’t so sure. “…if you’re a religious person,” he says, “it makes sense to design the brain so that we can have some sort of interaction.” He contends that reductionist science, powerful as it is, has its limitations. “Just as physicists cannot fully understand the electron as either a particle or a wave, but only as both at once, so we need both science and a more subjective, spiritual understanding in order to grasp the full nature of reality.” He is arguing from analogy here, and such a type of argument has its dangers. What does understanding the electron as a particle or a wave have to do with a professed need for a more subjective, spiritual understanding in grasping the nature of reality? The analogy does not seem to apply. I suggest that it may still be possible to gain a full understanding of “subjective” experience by further physiological study of the brain. It may still all be in the brain after all.
Discussion Group Report
Is Morality Possible Without God?
By Richard Layton
“We constantly hear the same refrain, that without God, morality is impossible,” says Paul Kurtz in his article, “The Common Moral Decencies: Essential Guidelines for Humanists,” in The Newsletter of the Secular Family Network, Winter 2000\01. “Religious folks everywhere tell us that moral conduct requires religious foundations: ‘If it is absent, anything goes!.'”
We deny this claim. Not all religious believers are moral and many or most humanists are. Kurtz points out that believers of different faiths have argued for or against monogamy, polygamy, divorce, suicide, slavery, women’s rights, democracy, or the divine right of kings. Some of the great humanists in history have made significant contributions to human welfare and have demonstrated in their own lives the principles of moral conduct.
Humanists ought to strive to be considerate of the needs and feelings of others. There can be a rational foundation for ethical conduct, and the humanist morality is rooted in both reason and compassion. Like Aristotle, we should encourage the moral development of character in our children.
Kurtz thinks our basic principles should be: 1) That each individual has only one life to live, and that he or she should live it fully. We should take personal responsibility for our individual destiny; should satisfy our creative potentialities in order to achieve a significant, satisfying, and happy life; should strive to attain levels of excellence within our own personal lives; and should cultivate critical thinking and the reflective attitude to evaluate our values. 2) That each person has equal dignity and value. 3) That we should develop an empathetic other-regarding attitude toward others. 4) That the second and third principles above apply first and foremost to the individuals we encounter immediately in our own family, school or workplace, and the face-to-face communities in which we interact, 5) That these ethical principles should be extended to the broader society in which we live and indeed to the entire planetary community. Still, our first responsibility is to the small communities in which we are daily engaged.
He suggests our obligation in principle to follow what he calls the common moral decencies: 1) integrity: to tell the truth, keep our promises, be sincere, and be honest; 2) trustworthiness: to express fidelity and loyalty to our friends and relatives and be dependable; 3) benevolence: to have good will toward others, never knowingly harm other persons nor seize their property, never force our sexual desires on others, and show beneficence toward others; 4) fairness: to express gratitude for past deeds performed on our behalf, be held accountable to others for any misdeeds we have done, try to abide by the principles of justice, be tolerant of others, and try to cooperate and negotiate our differences peacefully.
We should avoid, where we can, untruthfulness, infidelity, disloyalty, hatred, envy, resentment, and unfairness; and we should emphasize a positive moral attitude toward others. Why? Because we have internalized these principles; we see that they make eminent good sense and we judge them consequentially by their effectiveness within the community. “As humanists,” Kurtz proposes, “we are not decent because a church dictates such behavior or threatens to punish our sins or transgressions, but because we recognize morality’s rational basis.”
Discussion Group Report
Is Man/Nature Dualism Dead?
By Richard Layton
A passage in The Gay Science by Friedrich Nietzsche portrays a madman carrying a lantern in broad daylight and searching for God. This mirthless character declares that “God is dead,” and says that we have murdered him. What the philosopher meant was that the concept of God, the idea of God, was no longer alive and well. Seventeenth-century astronomy and eighteenth-century physics had undermined the belief in God’s existence. Nineteenth century geology and evolutionary biology delivered the coup de grace, says J. Baird Callicott in his essay, “The Role of Technology in the Evolving Concept of Nature,” in the book, Ethics and Environmental Policy, Frederick Ferre and Peter Hartell, editors.
Not one of the medieval philosophers expresses the least doubt that God exists, and most of them undertook to prove it. The early modern philosophers also took the existence of God for granted but reshaped him to suit their purposes. They transformed him into the designing engineer of a clockwork universe. God receded further and further into the background and finally faded from the scientific and philosophical scene altogether.
Now many contemporary environmentalists fear that nature is dead. One can no longer find any place on earth untrammeled by the works of man. Bodies of water are ubiquitously affected by acid rain, The permafrost in the former Arctic wilderness is everywhere contaminated with traces of toxic chemicals. There is a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica. And there is the greenhouse effect.
Bill McKibben in The End of Nature claims that it is the idea of nature that has ended, not nature itself. What is this idea? It is of nature as Other, as a world existing apart from us and our artifice. But Callicott says that nature is a distinctly modern notion, deeply rooted in ancient Western intellectual tradition, but that it is false and that its historical tenure has been pernicious. The first book of the Bible makes man in God’s image and gives man dominion over and charges him to subdue the earth and all its denizens. In ancient Greek philosophy humans are set apart from nature because we alone among the animals are supposed to be rational. Galileo, Descartes, Isaac Newton, and John Locke developed the idea that a conscious, rational soul is supposed to inhabit a purely mechanistic human body composed of atoms, each one of which is composed of a few simple, mathematically expressible features or properties. Nature became wholly object, and only man was a subject. As subjects, humans exist “in here” in our bodies, dispassively looking out on impassive nature, which is thoroughly alien to the enveloped and isolated essential self.
Today many consider our technological achievements grotesque; man seems to be a tyrant and nature the hapless victim. Yet many of these Jeremiahs still do not challenge the radical man-nature dichotomy. “A wilderness advocate,” argues Callicott, “lamenting man’s total reduction of nature to possession and a timber industry CEO gloating over it share the same underlying assumption that man is a case apart from the rest of nature.” In the self-congratulatory Age of Enlightenment, nature was generally believed to be a perfectly intelligible clockwork, and all nature’s moving parts were thought to be automata or mechanisms in miniature, except that a conscious, rational soul is supposed to inhabit the purely mechanistic human body. Also deeply ingrained was an essentially static sense of the “balance of nature,” a concept adapted from classical physics. Like a thermostat, ecosystems were represented as having a set point to which they return, through negative feedback mechanisms, if disturbed by drought, flood, fire or similar perturbations. If subjected to too frequent or intense disturbance, they are liable to break down, driven by runaway positive feedback mechanisms. Human activities, particularly industrial mining, agriculture, and logging, are prime examples of “unnatural” impacts on ecosystems that are too great for them to absorb and thus threaten to destroy them.
What is false about this modern picture of self-conscious rational man against an objective, essentially mechanistic nature? The idea that man is spiritually, or intellectually unique and discontinuous, with nature has a nearly three-thousand-year tenure in Western intellectual history, and because it is so self-congratulatory and self-serving, the view has not been readily or gladly surrendered, even by scientists and philosophers. It took more than a century for the philosophical implications of Darwin’s works to sink in. Darwin argued that there is a seamless continuity between gradually evolved man and our fellow voyagers in the odyssey of evolution. We are animals ourselves, precocious, but just big primates nevertheless. We are part of nature, not set apart from it. Human works are no less natural than those of termites or elephants. Chicago is no less a phenomenon of nature than the Great Barrier Reef. The transformations we effect in the natural realm are not necessarily destructive. We do not think the garden clearings of the Kayapo Indians in the Amazon Basin violate the naturalness of the forest, but we think the clearings of Euro-Brazilians do. This attitude suggests we regard only “modern man” and our ancient European and Asian antecedents to be truly human. By implication, “primitives” are just another kind of wildlife. Actually the extinctions coinciding with the arrival of the original Siberian immigrants to the Americas were of much greater magnitude than the extirpations by our Euro-American forebears. What happened to the two species of elephants, and to horses, camels, yaks, and other beasts that roamed the Western hemispheres before and after the Siberian big game hunters arrived? Indians in temperate latitudes regularly burned the countryside. North America’s Great Plains and most of the world’s grasslands are believed to be anthropogenic.
And the nature side of the man-nature dichotomy? We used to believe that, if we wished, we could replace native species with exotics and need fear no adverse systemic effects. But we have learned the hard way that nature functions more like an organism than a mechanism. Deliberately changing one component of an ecosystem often causes unanticipated unwelcome side effects throughout the whole. Also, it has been believed that nature, undisturbed by man, will remain stable, in “steady state.”
But nature is inherently dynamic, constantly changing and ultimately evolving. Even designated wilderness areas would not stay the same if they could be protected from all human modifications. What, then, is objectively wrong with urban sprawl, habitat fragmentation, oil slicks, global warming, or abrupt massive anthropogenic species extinction? Most people apparently prefer shopping malls and dog tracks to wetlands and old growth forests.
The key concept that saves environmental ethics from skepticism and cynicism is the concept of “ecosystem health.”
“The emerging postmodern model of nature is more organismic than mechanistic,” states Callicott. “Organisms proper are integrated wholes with systemic integrity.” And they change. Organisms are either objectively well or ill. Physicians and veterinarians can specify indices of organic health. But health is also intrinsically good. Except in unusual circumstances, one never prefers to be sick rather than well. A new theory of ecosystems called “hierarchy theory” may enable ecologists to specify norms of ecosystem health. With such a system we can pronounce changes that we impose on nature to be objectively good or bad. Good changes are those that do not impair ecosystem health. Bad changes cause ecosystem morbidity. The real difference between Kayapo and Euro-Brazilian slash and burn agriculture is not that one is natural and the other is not, but that one is symbiotic and sustainable while the other is not. The concept of ecosystem health enables us to envision ourselves as affecting nature as much to improve as to harm it. And we can benefit rather than harm the health of the whole of which we are a part. Callicott suggests that, if illiterate and unscientific peoples can perceptively and self-consciously reinstitute ways of living in and with nature without impairing ecosystem health, then a technologically sophisticated one can, too.
Nature is not dead, but the modern man/nature dualism and the mechanical concept of nature are dead. The new concept of nature is more organismic than mechanistic and includes man as, in Aldo Leopold’s words, “a plain member and citizen of the biotic community.”
“It is theoretically conceivable, therefore,” concludes Callicott, “that we may become good, law-abiding citizens of the natural world rather than brutal and ultimately self-defeating conquistadors. The new understanding of nature, human nature, and the growing public interest in holistic medicine and sustainable organic agriculture is evidence that a shift in the prevailing cultural worldview is already under way. Solar-electronic technologies have already shown themselves to be seductive. People want them. These technologies may inspire further application of the systemic ideas they embody; and our present unsustainable mechanistic civilization may evolve into a new, more sustainable, systemic confirmation, not only technically but socially, politically, and economically as well.”
Living with the Local Culture
“March 3, Edmunds-Tucker Act disincorporates LDS church, provides for confiscation of its assets and properties, dissolves Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company, disfranchises all Utah’s women, and dissolves Utah’s militia (“Nauvoo Legion”).”
“March 7, 300 protesters march to Church Office Building on Sunday, “demanding that the Church speak out in favor of civil rights for blacks.”
“March 15, in special meeting President McKay, second counselor N. Eldon Tanner, and apostles Joseph Fielding Smith and Mark E. Petersen agree to counter Ezra Taft Benson’s preaching of “John Birchism at stake conferences” and his efforts to align LDS church with John Birch Society during upcoming conference. As result Church News publishes Petersen’s unsigned editorial on 26 Mar., that LDS church has “nothing to do w ith Birchers…avoid extremes and extremists.” Apostle Harold B. Lee’s conference talk also attacks Birch Society and indicates that unnamed Benson is not in ‘harmony’ with his quorum.”
–D. Michael Quinn,
Antihumanism in Our Time
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the [White] Queen.
“When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. …”
Through the Looking Glass
A powerful movement is underway to place a “Biblical worldview” squarely in the courts, the White House, the academy…even in your home. It is not monolithic, it is not inhuman, it is not evil, but it is well funded and powerful and it will be heard. It condemns cosmology, evolution, gay rights abortion and the empirical foundations of science..
The spiritual father of this movement is, or was, an odd, charismatic and brilliant evangelical theologian named Francis A. Schaeffer. In mid-life, Schaeffer found himself caught between the strict apologetics of the Presbyterian Evangelicals and the sincere seekers of the 1960’s. To reconcile both, he established a retreat in Switzerland which proved to become a training ground for many of the leading lights in contemporary Protestant theology.
“Today’s humanists control nearly all media by dominating a few wire services and a handful of major television networks.”
Schaeffer focused on two issues in a novel way: the choice of worldviews, called Presuppositionalism, and the need for a “Second Reformation” to break the grip of humanism on western culture.
Christian apologists have occupied themselves for centuries with arguments for the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, and the inspired, if not inerrant, character of the Bible. This arguing from “evidences” of these things has been termed “evidentialism”; the presuppositionalists, instead, contend that concept precedes percept-that we choose what is true and what is real, and that the choice of the “Biblical worldview” is the only one which is consistent with reality, truth and happiness. This may appear to be an irrationally subjective stance, but it has come to be the most powerful new movement in Christian apologetics. Although Schaeffer borrowed the concept from Cornelius Van Till, Schaeffer popularized it.
The Decline of Western Culture
In his most popular work, How Then Should We Live? Schaeffer purports to document the decline of western civilization from the time of Thomas Aquinas, when churchmen departed from Biblical models of logic for those of the pagan Greeks and Romans. What followed was, according to Schaeffer, the contamination of the Catholic Church by “humanism” in the power of the pope and the ecclesiastical bureaucracy.
Little of the book dwells on theology, but instead catalogs the growing secular influence on art and literature and the general culture, culminating in the nihilism and existentialism, the Dadaism and Surrealism, of the twentieth century. Schaeffer claims that such humanistic thinking made Hitler and Stalin possible:
“Modern men, in the absence of absolutes, have polluted all aspects of morality, making standards completely hedonistic and relativistic.”
Although Schaeffer often referred to a “Biblical worldview” as the preferred alternative to humanism, he was unable to explain why the “Biblical worldview” has produced so many sects and denominations with a great variety of beliefs.
Schaeffer’s horror at the popularity of abortion after Roe v. Wade led him, along with C. Everett Koop, to produce a film, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? This work, and his books, seminars, and exchanges at his retreat, allowed Schaeffer to profoundly influence later fundamentalists such as Tim LaHaye, Randall Terry (of Operation Rescue) and Charles Colson. Schaeffer’s protégés would become the nucleus of the twenty first century Christian fundamentalism that we will examine next month. Almost twenty years after his death, they carry on a crusade against empirical science, mixing the incompatible methods of Presuppositionalism and Evidentialism in what they hope will be a “Second Reformation.”
Have you killed any kids lately?
No? You’re a humanist, aren’t you?
What’s this about? I suggest you read Mind Siege, by Tim LaHaye and David Noebel.
Once upon a time I would have laughed at this book. You see, Mind Siege devotes 354 pages to the claim that “Today’s wave of crime, pornography, promiscuity, venereal diseases, no-fault divorce, guilt-free sex education, out-of-wedlock births, abortion, homosexuality, bisexuality, AIDS, self-obsession, shattered dreams and broken hearts can be laid right at the door of Secular Humanism.”
Wait, there’s more:
“Today’s humanists control nearly all media by dominating a few wire services and a handful of major television networks.”
How about this:
“If the truth were told, we probably would all be shocked at the procommunist influence in Hollywood.”
Now that you’ve had a good giggle, consider this last quote:
“No humanist is fit to hold office.”
What keeps this book from being merely ridiculous and offensive is the fact that one of its authors (LaHaye) has sold over 30 million books. LaHaye is also one of the founders of the Council on National Policy, whose membership includes much of the leadership of the Republican party. LaHaye’s coauthor, David Noebel, is also a member of the CNP. Noebel’s Summit Ministries has trained thousands of high school and college age students in programs to combat humanism. Noebel is also the author of Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles (Paul wasn’t dead, just Red). I am not making this up!
Both LaHaye and Noebel are part of a growing, well-funded movement to attack what they see as a decline of Western thought and morals since the Middle Ages, when Thomas Aquinas mingled the logic of Aristotle with the theology of Paul.
Next month I will take you a little deeper into the strange land of the Anti-Humanists. Be prepared.
Oh, yes…and if there’s another school shooting before then? It’s your fault.
Letter to the Editor
Stop “Antihumanist” Columns
The last newsletter was great but I must disagree with the antihumanist column. What purpose does it serve? Our newsletter should inform its readers of the positive aspects of humanism, not as a review of those who think we are a threat to society. Let’s not give them a platform. You say there is more to come–I hope not. I sincerely believe it’s counterproductive.
Thank you, Rolf, for your thoughtful response.
My purpose in addressing the origins and activities of the ‘antihumanists’ is not to act as their advocate. They certainly have the media outlets and funding to promote their own causes. My purpose was to inform the chapter of the results of my studies into the actions of a small group of conservative Christian activists who attack humanism but are not representative of Christians or the American public at large. I feel strongly that this information should be shared.
The accusations of the ‘antihumanists’ are often left unanswered. I hope that situation will not continue.
I know, Rolf, that your view on what our response should be is shared by many others. I would be happy to print the various opinions of chapter members and others as to how humanists should respond to criticism.
Please send “Letters to the Editor” to Richard Garrard, P.O. Box 900212, Sandy, Utah 84090-0212 or via email.
The Pro-Choice Doctrine of the LDS Church
There is a point of dogma in the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which utterly escapes me: the ProChoice Doctrine.
According to the doctrine, gay and lesbian people were never born gay or lesbian. At some point, they obeyed the promptings of Satan and chose to be homosexual. Never mind medical science or empirical data; we’re talking about The Truth.
I know that I’m a bit forgetful, but I don’t remember the day when I made the big decision. And then, once I did ‘choose’ heterosexuality, apparently Satan tempted me with all kinds of images and impulses for choosing ‘rightly’. No wonder I’m confused! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Literally.
As if the ProChoice Doctrine weren’t, er, complicated enough, there’s the Doctrine of Matrimonial Crosscultural Nullification. This holds that, if a gay couple gets married, my heterosexual marriage is somehow diminished, polluted or otherwise compromised. Huh? If two gay or straight people get married, how does that affect me? Any more than if marriage occurs between two New Zealanders, three Certified Public Accountants, or even seven maids a milking. What is the connection to me? Hello?
In the words of former bishop and father of a gay son, David Hardy, in a letter to the Salt Lake Tribune, “I have come to understand that I know far fewer of the answers than I thought I knew, and am hopefully wiser for it. I have learned that when dogma and reality come face to face, one must invariably yield to the other.”
Living With the Local Culture
Extracted from The Mormon Hierarchy, Origins of Power
“Church members in various branches condemn the vision of three heavenly degrees as devilish because of its universalist rejection of heaven and hell. Brigham Young is among those who initially doubt the vision. Missionaries in the U.S. excommunicate these disbelievers for the next two years. This occurs again in England (1837-1839) when new converts learn of the ‘Three Degrees of Glory’ doctrine, later published by the LDS church as Doctrine and Covenants, section 76.”
“Nauvoo’s political convention nominates Smith and Rigdon as presidential and vice-presidential candidates and appoints delegates to campaign for their election in every state.”
“U.S. War Department orders army to suppress what U.S. president James Buchanan regards as Mormon treason and insurrection. One army officer writes on 10 June that Mormon ‘opposition to government cannot be overcome without the destruction of its cause, which involves the complete destruction of their life as a public body.'”
“Salt Lake City police arrest seventeen boys for ‘breaking the Sabbath’ by playing baseball on Sunday.”
“…at dedication of Manti temple, Wilford Woodruff says, ‘We are not going to stop the practice of plural marriage until the Coming of the Son of Man.’ During dedication some hear heavenly choir, while others see bright halos of light around apostles…”
Living With the Local Culture
“In his annual report for 1907, Salt Lake police chief Thomas Pitt recommended the creation of a separate district, or ‘stockade,’ surrounded by a high fence, where prostitutes could be confined, licensed, regulated by the police, and inspected on a regular basis by medical doctors.”
“In Utah the Klan was strongest in Salt Lake, Utah, and Carbon counties, where its members burned crosses, staged parades along Main street, threatened immigrant men who were seen with American women, and vandalized immigrant-owned businesses. The Utah Klan held its first state convention on Ensign Peak north of Salt Lake City, with burning crosses visible throughout the valley.”
“Because the Depression hit Salt Lake City and Utah so hard, federal programs were extensive in both cit and state. Per capita federal spending in Utah during the 1930s was ninth among the forty-eight states, the percentage of Utah workers on federal work relief projects was far above the national average, and for every dollar Utahns sent to the nation’s capital in taxes, the government returned at least seven, and by some estimates twenty, dollars through various federal programs.”
–John S. McCormick,
The following is a full transcript of Richard Teerlink’s June 14, 2001 presentation to Humanists of Utah general meeting on the subject of homosexuality.
It is an honor to make this presentation this evening. Attitudes about homosexuality have greatly polarized the Utah community, and so in that context this discussion is timely. As a gay man, I have always felt at home among the humanists, and I am confident to say that gay people are welcome here. Our purpose tonight is to provide you with information that I hope will be useful as we struggle together in the cultural war over homosexuality.
I believe that hearing and reading personal stories of gay and lesbian people is one of the most powerful tools in dealing with anti-gay prejudice. Many people who hold a strong bias against gay people have never had a conversation of depth with a gay person. Telling my story is difficult because I have been hiding this information for most of my life. This hiding served a purpose. Because of the stigmatization of homosexuals, I could have lost my job as a public high school teacher, or have been thoroughly rejected by my Mormon family and church.
I labeled myself homosexual when I was 19 and a freshman in college. I remember that moment with great vividness. As I look back, the evidence that I was gay was abundant and present through, and before, the age of puberty. Perhaps my naivete about myself was due to being a teenager in the 50’s when homosexuality was not in the news everyday as it is now. The realization that I was homosexual was disturbing and perplexing beyond words. I had no idea of what this meant for my life or what to do about it. By the next day, this new and disquieting awareness had vanished. Deep denial is not surprising since I had been raised in a devoutly Mormon family, and all forms of sexuality were forbidden to an unmarried young man.
I was called on a Mormon mission at age 20, and my homosexual feelings came into overpowering consciousness when I fell in love with my mission companion, who was a very attractive, intelligent and caring young man. As a kind of reality test, I decided to tell my companion about my same sex attraction. My straight companion was as puzzled and confused about it as I was. So off we went to the Mission President for advice.
My mission president dealt with it in a matter of fact way as if this might be an everyday occurrence. He told me that this is the way Satan would tempt me the rest of my life and that my eternal salvation depended on my ability to withstand this temptation. He asked me if I could get an erection and I answered yes. He then explained that that made me eligible for marriage which was also required for salvation. He then listed how I was to deal with this.
I was a conscientious and earnest missionary, and successfully finished my mission. But even in that time when my commitment to Mormonism was at its peak, I had doubts. In a moment of deep reflection I could see two roads that beckoned to me that I dared not travel. Both could lead me out of Mormonism. The first I labeled intellectual apostasy and the second I labeled homosexuality.
After my mission I returned to the University of Utah, and broke one of the directives given by my mission president: I visited a non-LDS Counselor. The therapy was Rogerian, self-directed counseling. I presented myself as a devout Mormon, and my concern was whether heterosexual marriage was an obtainable goal for me. I came away from therapy having learned these important things:
That I never expected to change my orientation saved me a great deal pain and suffering. I have met many gay men who had their self-esteem demolished because reparative therapy utterly failed. This should not be surprising when you know that the motivations and methods used in reparative therapy are primarily religious in nature.
In time I met my future wife and my counselor guided me through the courtship. I discussed with my counselor the ethics of concealing my sexual orientation from my future wife. He made it very clear that if I told her, the marriage would probably not work. And so it was that I was required to keep a monstrous secret from my soul mate.
The first major crisis in my marriage came when my faith in Mormonism collapsed. My parents blamed my University of Utah education. I was excommunicated from the Mormon Church for apostasy, which brought alienation from family and friends, but the marriage survived. The second major crisis occurred when my wife found out about my sexual orientation. I can not begin to describe how profoundly that discovery hurt her. The marriage then began a slow, but inevitable, decline which ended in divorce. When my siblings learned the reason the marriage failed, the alienation from them became nearly total. Fortunately I still have a relationship with my two daughters.
Three years after the divorce I met my partner Paul, and we have had a very satisfying relationship together since that time.
Through my entire career I never divulged my sexual orientation to my students, and so I don’t know how it feels personally to be an out teacher. Since then Wendy Weaver won her case in court, and was not fired because she was a lesbian; a small number of courageous teachers have stepped out of the closet. I have personally heard their stories. You have to be very brave to do this in Utah because of public opposition.
Changing directions now, I wish to spend the rest of my time this evening answering two questions: What causes a person to be gay, straight or bisexual and are gay people born that way or did they choose their orientation? I personally think these are important questions, because surveys indicate that when people become informed about the biology of sexual orientation, their opinions about gay people often change. My presentation will deal primarily with MALE HOMOSEXUALITY.
We can do a simple inquiry along these lines right here and now. I am going to ask you a question that gay people are asked all the time. That non-gay people seldom ask themselves this question is quite reveling in itself. Take a moment to reflect about when you personally discovered your own sexual orientation. More importantly did you make a conscious choice about it? It seems reasonable to me that if sexual orientation is a choice, we should all have recollections of having made that choice. How many days or weeks did you deliberate on “should I choose gay or straight?” I invite you to reflect and ponder how your own sexuality came into conscious awareness. My experience, and that of male homosexuals that I have spoken to, suggests that most human beings gradually awaken to their sexuality and that it is not a matter of choice.
Let’s do another simple inquiry. How many of you are left handed? Please raise your hand and let’s take note of the numbers here. How many are right-handed? Now, did you choose to be left or right-handed? How many of you believe that this trait is biologically determined? I maintain that there is a strong parallel between sexual orientation and handedness.
I would now like to explore what we know about the causes of sexual orientation.
A great deal of experimentation on rats and other laboratory animals has been done that illuminates the process that determines sexual orientation. Of course people are not rats and so we must be cautious in making generalizations that include humans. The evidence suggests that a brain structure called the hypothalamus is sexualized before birth and that this process usually produces individuals with heterosexual orientation. In a minority of cases this process is altered producing homosexual orientation.
It is widely known that the hypothalamus is the part of the brain where the sex drive is located. Simon Le Vay is particularly well known for his 1991 report in Science, which described a difference in the structure of the hypothalamus between gay and heterosexual men. He found that male homosexuals and females had a similar structure. Other researchers have not as yet duplicated his observations. His work has been criticized because all of the homosexual males in his sample had died of AIDS, and some believe that the difference in brain structure could have been the result of disease.
Dean Hamer and a team of scientists selected a group of 114 gay men in which 40 of the men had brothers that were also gay. Hammers team found an unexpectedly high rate of homosexuality among men on the mother’s side of the family. This pattern was consistent with the transmission of a gene carried on the X chromosome through the mother. A sophisticated genetic analysis showed that 33 out of 40 pairs of gay brothers shared DNA markers labeled Xq28 from one small region of the X chromosome, a far higher number than chance alone would predict. Although Hamer and his colleagues haven’t yet found the actual gay gene, they uncovered compelling evidence for its existence. This discovery inspired T-shirts sold in gay bookstores: Xq28 – Thanks for the genes mom. Other scientists have tried to replicate this experiment and have had poor success suggesting that the high correlation my have been true for Hamer’s sample, but not for subsequent samples.
It is becoming increasingly clear that sexual orientations correlates with birth order. A man with one or more elder brothers is more likely to be gay than a man with no siblings, only younger siblings, or with one or more elder sisters. This birth order effect is so strong that each additional elder brother increases the probability by roughly one third in that particular family. This translates to an increase of roughly 1% for each additional older male sibling when calculated to the population as a whole. The effect has now been reported in Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States, and in many different samples of people.
An important clue lies in the fact that there is no such birth-order effect for lesbians. There is something specific to occupying a womb that has already held other males, which increases the probability of homosexuality. The best explanation concerns a set of three active genes on the Y chromosome called the H – Y minor histocompatibility antigens. Ray Blanchard, one of those who studies the birth-order effect, argues that the H – Y antigens’ job is to switch on other genes in certain brain tissues thus sexualizing the brain. The problem is that the mother’s immune system can make antibodies that can destroy the antigens, and each additional male embryo increases the probability that her immune system will produce the destructive antibodies. This mechanism has been confirmed in mice and fruit flies, but not in humans.
So what causes a person to become gay, straight, or bisexual? At this point, the most widely held opinion among researchers in this field is that multiple causes such as genetic, hormonal, psychological and social are at work. In the last decade there has been a definite shift toward genetic and biological causes. Do we have an airtight case for this? NO. There is much scientific work yet to be done. I predict data produced by the human genome project will add new discoveries, because already many links between genes and behavior has already been found. In reality very little scientific research into homosexuality has been done. Many researchers don’t want to go anywhere near this topic, because their work automatically becomes contested, and their reputation becomes suspect because this topic is so controversial.
Switching now from biology to psychology I wish to mention an important study carried out by Richard Green at UCLA. Other investigators have obtained similar results. This study has become famously known as “The Sissy Boys” study. He found that there was a strong association between childhood gender nonconformity behavior and adult homosexuality. He identified 7 gender-differentiated traits such as does not engage in rough-and-tumble sports to having the social reputation of being a sissy. With the help of parents, teachers and pediatricians he identified a large group of these “sissy boys.” The remarkable thing is that over 80% of these boys self identified as being gay when they reached age 18, and it is probable that even more will self identify when they are age 30. There are very few childhood behaviors that predict adult outcome this well. It suggests that these behaviors develop early and have life long stability and immutability.
Ultimately the causes of homosexuality are irrelevant to the question of whether homosexuality is moral or immoral. From a humanist point of view as long as the participants are consenting adults that cause to harm to each other or to society, their sexual preferences are exactly that: their sexual preferences.
Private Property Rights and Land Use Regulations
On October 11, 2001, Professor Gene Carr addressed the Humanists of Utah on “Private Property Rights and Land Use Regulations.” Gene Carr has spent most of his adult life dealing with this problem. Currently he is the Community Development Advisor for the Center for Public Policy at the University of Utah. He has been an adjunct professor of urban planning at the University for twenty-years. He holds degrees in political science, architecture and a Master’s Degree in urban planning. He came to the U after serving three years as head of urban design for the city of Seattle and several years as executive director of the Idaho Falls Community Development Commission. He received the Outstanding Service Award from the Utah chapter of the American Planning Association just three years ago. He has fought many battles over the issues of Private Property Rights and Land Use Regulations.
Carr described meeting with mayors of small towns over their kitchen tables to advise them of the complexities of zoning regulations; receiving threats and harassing hate mail over his stands for the Land Use Act; and the disappointment of former Governor Calvin Rampton in failing to enact the law.
Utah has a contradictory history, according to Carr. On the one hand are the utopian visions of Joseph Smith in conceiving the City of Zion; the masterful planning and execution, under Brigham Young, of Smith’s ideal; and on the other hand there is the decline in Utah’s planning objectives ever since. Many ultraconservative Utah politicians have tried to present land use planning as Marxist totalitarianism, in defiance of the Mormon founders’ example.
Professor Carr described the importance of planning and preparation for the legal implications of zoning ordinances. He also provided a relevant and concise history of land use, including a controversial land use decision under the Taft Supreme Court which stands as the constitutional basis for such planning ever since.
Holy Terror! Religiously Inspired Terrorism
Professor Carl Yaeger discussed terrorism in general and religiously motivated terrorism in particular at the April meeting of Humanists of Utah. He began his remarks by defining terrorism as the “calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain political, religious, or ideological goals through destruction, intimidation, and coercion. Terrorism involves a criminal act that is often symbolic and intended to influence an audience beyond the immediate victims.”
Organized terrorism with religious motivations is frequently the most destructive form because its perpetrators are on a mission from God and do not care who gets hurt. Politically motivated terrorism, in contrast, is often more cautious with target selection because the terrorist need to be mindful of public opinion.
Currently a significant portion of terrorist acts are committed by radical Moslems. Professor Yaeger was quick to point out that 95%+ of the violent acts are perpetrated by the Shi’ite branch of Islam. This group is much smaller than the majority Suni branch. Among the Shi’ites only a small percent are violent. Most Islamic adherents are gentle caring people.
Christian terrorists in this country belong to many sects. Among the more well know are the Skinheads, the Ku Klux Klan, etc. Many followers of these sects believe that Adolph Hitler was a prophet of sorts. Timothy McVeigh had The Turner Diaries, which is considered to be a “Bible” by many members of the racist right wing white supremacists.
This movement attracts many people who seem to be otherwise very normal. During the week they are soccer parents, members of the PTA, etc. But when the weekend comes they don their survival gear and head into the woods where large stockpiles of weapons are cached, collected, and even made.
A lively discussion followed the formal presentation. This is an uncomfortable subject with many twists.
Tony Hileman Visits Humanists of Utah
The evening of February 8, 2001 was a welcome bright spot in the cold dark winter: a gathering of humanists to enjoy each other’s company and hear a presentation on “A Humanist World.”
Tony Hileman, Executive Director of the American Humanist Association, spent the day with local journalists and chapter board members before meeting the general membership at a banquet at Distinctive Catering.
Mr. Hileman asked that we imagine “A Humanist World.” Here follow some excerpts of his remarks.
“Consider that 1) Human life is of supreme worth. The very basic foundation of humanism is the insistence that we are each an end unto ourselves and not a means toward something else. We humanists are impelled by a sense of the moral worth of all human beings.
“Consider that 2) Freedom and expression of thought and inquiry. We tend to take this somewhat for granted in our country, and perhaps think at times that we have achieved this humanist aim. But we must be ever vigilant.
“Consider that 3) The enrichment of human experience. A humanist world would simply be a world in which the sole ends of endeavor would be those of human enlightenment and human betterment.
“It is the radical claim of humanism that we can live rich full lives while believing only in this natural existence. It is the even more radical claim of humanism that such lives are the most satisfying lives because they are lived meaningfully through the joys and challenges of working together to transform the world.
“And it is my most radical claim that we who chose to already live in a humanist world.
“Humanism is not the mainstream and likely never will be. But I do not accept it as a mere tributary of the mainstream of our culture. I believe humanism to be the undercurrent of progressive thought carrying us forward. We humanists can claim credit for a significant share of the world’s progress.
“It is we humanists who have believed so long and so passionately in humanity’s ability to improve itself. They call us nonbelievers. I’m not a nonbeliever. I believe in our ability to change the world, to create, through the way we lead our lives, the mind shift that will continue to carry us forward. It is they, on the other side of the theistic divide, who do not believe in our ability to intentionally create a global change that alters the way we act toward one another.”
Mr. Hileman joined in a question-and-answer session with attendees after the presentation and visited with chapter members.
Romantic Love: Myths and Realities
Professor Deen Chatterjee provided a philosopher’s tour of the myths and realities of romantic love at the May general meeting of the Humanists of Utah.
With many humorous asides, Dr. Chatterjee described the evolution of romantic love from the Greeks, through the early Christians, the courtly love of the Middle Ages, and even the views of Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther. Then he shared his thoughts on the wonderful nature of romantic love.
Plato viewed romantic love as a type of disease; a wise person could not be under its spell. A contemporary of Plato, Aristophanes, taught that humans were once combinations of male and female, until Zeus split them apart. Forever more the halves will be searching for each other, seeking completeness. This contributes to the strange idea that there is a unique other person somewhere, for everyone; and that life will be lonely and incomplete without a romantic partner.
The idea of romantic love being “forever” comes from Christian/Platonic views on the unchanging nature of idealized things. Christianity had difficulty with romantic love competing with the love of Christ. Romantic love was also viewed as sensual, impure, love for its own sake-and thus a threat to the virtuous life governed by the love of God and his son. During the Middle Ages, romantic love came to be associated with illicit liaisons or in its “Platonic” form as worship from afar.
Even the modern era is ambivalent about romantic love. Today we view it as a necessity for happiness, which perhaps is a cultural assumption that should be re-examined. Happiness is possible without such relationships. In our commodity/consumer culture, everything is meant to be bought and sold. In a reaction to materialism and commercialism, we try to find something sacred in love. If we make it too sacred, it loses its nature and force and is more of a burden than a celebration. In modern life, it is a way to access spontaneity. It’s a scary thing and an attractive thing, magical and mystical.
Professor Chatterjee asserted that “Romantic love is not a goal, it is a process; it is not a thing, it is a form of loving.” It can be a celebration of individual autonomy and freedom. It is not based on a supernatural force; there is a moral, ethical element which asserts itself against the vulgar deflation of romantic love.
Romantic love recognizes the individual; requires equality; and makes possible the shared self. Romantic love starts with a desire, but requires reciprocity to continue. It also cannot survive on illusion.
There is a profound difference between fantasy and illusion:
“Fantasy is good for us, requires creativity and imagination; illusion is not the same, illusion is unreal. Illusions hurt us.”
The professor urged us to free ourselves from the illusions of romantic love and enjoy it in all of its delicious reality.
Homosexuality: Biology, Psychology, and Human Rights
Chapter members Richard Teerlink and Paul Trane presented what was called the most “intimate” public lecture in the history of Humanists of Utah. Dick and Paul are both retired public educators who admitted their homosexual orientation to themselves and the world late in their careers. Both were active Mormons with wives and children when they finally realized that no amount of reparative therapy was going to change their innate sexual orientation.
Dick presented a short biographical sketch in which he related a discussion with his mission president about his same sex attraction. His mission president gave him this advice:
For many years Dick suffered feelings of guilt and pain. Finally, he lost his faith in Mormonism and decided to be what he is. He became alienated and remains separated from much of his family. “Fortunately, I still have a relationship with my two daughters,” Dick says. Three years after his divorce he met his partner Paul with whom he has shared a happy and satisfying relationship for the past 10 years. Click here for a full transcript of Richard’s presentation.
Paul also gave a short history of his life. He talked of his early years in a rural Lehi, Utah home living with his extended family. He noted that while he was growing up that even though he had both boys and girls as friends, he “…felt totally alone and isolated. I thought that I was the only boy in the world that had these feelings and desires.” He was the classical example of a “sissy boy” that nobody wanted on their team and was told as much, and sent home crying on several occasions. Paul suffered periods of deep depression and had many suicidal thoughts.
Since coming out, Dick and Paul, still educators at heart, have devoted much time and energy into helping teens struggling with their sexual identities. They presented literature to the group describing the so-called Gay Agenda. The main points are: 1. Basic protections against discrimination, 2. Freedom from Government intrusion into their intimate lives, 3. The expectation of physical safety and protection from hate motivated crimes, 4. Recognition of family relationships, 5. Right to parent, 6. Access to Health Care, 7. Schools that care for and protect all of their students, 8. Fair chance for every child, and 9. Human Rights for all.
Dick presented research evidence suggesting that male homosexuality is biologically determined. For example, Dean Hammer discovered that homosexuality in some men may be caused by a gene on the X chromosome in a region labeled Xq28. Richard Pillard observed that when an identical twin is gay, the probability that his identical twin is also gay is 50%. Ray Blanchard has noted that there is a birth-order effect in Male Homosexuality. For every older male sibling a boy has, the probability he will be gay increases substantially. The likely hormonal interaction that causes this effect is not well understood.
During the discussion that followed there was a lot of emphasis on the genetic results until Professor Deen Chatterjee made the point that, from a strictly moral point-of-view, it does not matter whether homosexuality is a result of Nature or of Nurture. As long as the participants are consenting adults that cause no harm to each other or to society, their sexual preferences are exactly that: their sexual preferences.
What Does Love Have To Do With It?
The Role of Chemical Signaling
In Our Choice of Partners
Stephen Downes, of The University of Utah Department of Philosophy gave the following presentation to the Humanists of Utah in December 2000
I am going to address the issue of our self understanding, and the philosopher’s variant on this, how we explain human behavior. The question I want us to consider is whether biological discoveries force us to change our approach to explaining human behavior.
Some philosophers want to integrate the findings of science with our philosophical understanding, while others resist the findings of science. This is not a new debate. Long before Dewey proposed that Darwin mattered, David Hume had championed Newton as the most important philosopher. Like Dewey, I think that Darwin matters, and so let’s briefly consider what he said. In his Descent of Man in 1871, Darwin argued that natural selection was the chief force responsible for producing human traits. From Descent of Man (2nd. Edition, 1874).
We have now seen that man is variable in body and mind; and that the variations are induced, either directly or indirectly, by the same general causes, and obey the same general laws, as with the lower animals. Man has spread widely over the face of the earth, and must have been exposed, during his incessant migration, to the most diversified conditions.
The early progenitors of man must also have tended, like all other animals, to have increased beyond their means of subsistence. They must, therefore, occasionally have been exposed to a struggle for existence, and consequently to the rigid law of natural selection.
If, then, the progenitors of man inhabiting any district, especially one undergoing some changes in its conditions, were divided into two equal bodies, the one half which included all the individuals best adapted by their powers of movement for gaining subsistence, or for defending themselves, would on average survive in greater numbers, and procreate more offspring than the other less well endowed half (48-9).
This argument did not only apply to our bodily traits but also our minds: “We may easily underrate the mental powers of the higher animals, and especially of man, when we compare their actions founded on the memory of past events, on foresight, reason, and imagination, with exactly similar actions instinctively performed by the lower animals; in this latter case the capacity of performing such actions has been gained, step by step, through the variability of the mental organs and natural selection, without any conscious intelligence on the part of the animal during each successive generation” (70).
Darwin argues that we can see that the lower animals have mental powers and behavioral traits that we also display: happiness, bad temper, problem solving behavior and so on. Each of these is accompanied by the same physiological changes in us and the lower animals. Fear, for example, comes along with sweating and increased pulse rate. He argues that our mental traits are derived from those of our precursors and honed by natural selection.
Given this, we should expect to find all manner of biological underpinnings to our behavior. On its face this is not disturbing: our digestive system is a biological system, many features of which we share with other animals and much of our eating behavior can be understood in biological terms. But what about our more sophisticated behavior, behavior that we largely account for in terms of our mental lives. Does this also have an underlying biological explanation? Let’s now look at some recent findings in biology that have implications for our self-understanding
The following short story is made up. Any similarities between the characters and people you know is accidental. It is inspired by a recent trip to Sydney, Australia, our fellow Olympic hosts.
Joan and Keith both take the Manley ferry to Sydney every morning on their way to work. Most days it is a beautiful boat ride and provides welcome fresh air before a day in the office. They do not know each other, until one day they notice each other. They start chatting that morning. Look out for each other on future days. They start dating, move in together and eventually marry. Why? Let’s look at two answers to this question each derived from different general explanatory accounts of human behavior.
First story, a familiar story (Folk Psychology): Joan is initially attracted to Keith, because he is smart and funny, takes her seriously and laughs at her jokes. She has always wanted a partner who could be a trusted friend and believes that Keith fits that bill. Keith is attracted to Joan, because she is smart and sexy. He believes that Joan is just his type; she seems like the right person for him. All their friends say that they met in such a romantic way that they were sure to stay together. They stay together because they love and respect each other, and their initial beliefs about each others ‘qualities are reinforced over the years.
Second story, not so familiar (Chemical Signaling): Joan is attracted to Keith, because she picks up on his direct chemical signaling that indicates that his genes at his MHC locus (major histocompatibility locus) are a good match with Joan’s.
Their offspring will be healthy, because they will have a good assortment of genes at the MHC locus. Keith registers Joan’s chemical signaling that indicates that her MHC locus is a good match for his for the same reasons. I am sure that we have all heard the first explanation, but what is going on in the second one? Here is some of the background.
Many animals rely on chemical signaling. They communicate with one another via chemical systems that are species specific and can often only be detected by one or other sex. Odors, for example, can be a variation on the theme of attractive plumage in some animals’ mating behavior. A female may be more strongly attracted to a male with a certain repertoire of odors, just as a female peacock is more strongly attracted to a male with a fine suit of feathers. Some chemicals involved in signaling are released and detected as odors and others are pheromones. These are odorless chemicals that are known to have specific effects on animal behavior; in vertebrates they are detected by the vomeronasal organ. Chemical signaling plays a role in a wide range of animal behaviors.
Wayne Potts and his collaborators at the University of Utah have done work with house mice that supports some very interesting hypotheses about the role of chemical signaling in mouse reproductive behavior. Specifically, they have established that female mice “might be able to use a male’s odor to obtain disease-resistance genes for their offspring by mating with males carrying dissimilar MHC genes” (Penn & Potts, 1998: 394). The MHC genes Potts and Penn refer to are the major histocompatibility genes. These genes code for important immune response mechanisms, and the more heterozygous this gene complex is the wider array of antigens the immune system can recognize. (I follow Penn and Potts’ (1999) simplification and use the term “MHC locus” from now on.) Think of the situation like this — MHC locus illustration — Now what has all this got to do with us? For many years biologists and psychologists assumed that our odor detection capacities were inferior to most other animals, and researchers also dismissed the idea that there could be human pheromones. Now there is a fair amount of support for the existence of human pheromones and surprising evidence of the role of odors in guiding human pair bonding behavior. This is what is of interest for us today.
Studies have shown that both men and women prefer the odor of MHC dissimilar individuals and further that we tend to marry individuals expressing dissimilar MHC genes (Penn & Potts, 1998). Some of the studies used to elicit these results are called tee-shirt tests. Women are asked to smell tee-shirts that have been worn by different men under specially controlled conditions. Their responses to the relative attractiveness of the odor of the tee-shirts is recorded. Subject’s MHC loci are sequenced and hence conclusions can be drawn about the relations between MHC incompatibility and odor preferences. There are several surprising predictions and results about human pair bonding derived from the chemical signaling approach. For example, the approach predicts a higher rate of divorce or separation for couples when the women stops taking the contraceptive pill, if the couple got together when the woman was taking the contraceptive pill. This prediction is derived from the fact that contraceptives can mask the olfactory signal associated with the MHC loci that women prefer. If they made their decision to partner up whilst taking the pill, they are more likely to have ended up with MHC similar individuals. The theory predicts that these women will tend to reject MHC similar mates, as they are less viable parents for their children. Results of MHC sequencing also indicate that people in long lasting marriages are far more likely to be MHC incompatible. And so back to Keith and Joan. They were MHC compatible and lived happily ever after.
For the sake of argument, let’s not quibble with the experimental work. Let’s assume that it is valid. Many people find these results quite disturbing. When confronted with these results I imagine people thinking “Will our relationship break up when my partner stops taking the pill?” “Will our kids be generally unhealthy as a result of our MHC loci being too compatible?” “Is it worth persisting with a failing relationship or would that be a pointless battle against recalcitrant genes?”
Joking aside, should these results give us pause? If so, what is the proper response to them? I will just point to a few possible directions that could be taken.
I said earlier that the issue at stake is our self understanding, and the philosophical spin on this, which is how we explain others’ behavior. First, let’s see why philosophers connect these two points. Here is the idea: I understand others by assuming, at least to a good approximation, that they are like me. They have minds and their minds work in ways similar to mine. To understand others and to explain what they do, I appeal to the kinds of mental states I have. Hence the familiar story about Keith and Joan. They have desires, ambitions and needs and we understand how they behave in terms of these mental states. The mental states are used in our explanation. We are now confronted with some questions. For example, what is the best explanation of Keith and Joan’s behavior? Let’s go back to Darwin for a minute. Darwin developed his views that our mental traits are evolved, and that we share them with other creatures against the background of the criticisms of his contemporaries. One of his most prominent critics was Alfred Wallace. Wallace also proposed evolution by natural selection but backed off from applying the principle to humans, and particularly to human mental traits. Darwin expresses his frustration with Wallace in the Descent of Man: ‘I cannot … understand how it is that Mr. Wallace maintains that “natural selection could only have endowed the savage with a brain little superior to that of an ape”‘ (49).
Darwin’s critics ranged from his friends and fellow travelers, in support of evolution, like Wallace, to theologians and moral theorists. For the most part critics were skeptical that higher mental attributes such as moral sense had any basis in evolution. They argued that once communities had developed to a certain level of sophistication, surely the community itself would provide the direction for intellectual and moral development. Also Wallace argued that what humans required for survival may well be provided by natural selection, but that their highly developed intellectual abilities would have to be accounted for in some other way. The motivation for some criticism was religious or spiritual. Wallace and others began to think that some higher force was necessary to account for the development of our higher faculties.
There are analogous responses to biological accounts of our behavior now. Let’s leave worries based on religion to one side. Many argue that biological explanations of our complex behavior cannot possibly take the place of our familiar explanations in terms of our mental life and its implications. The challenge takes many forms. For example, we could ask, “Surely you do not want to say that none of us fall in love?” or worse still “Surely love is not just a chemically based attraction that we share with mice and other creatures?”
The challenges are each given different names by philosophers. We love “isms”. The idea that the biological account supercedes the mental one is called eliminativism. One of the implications of scientific advances could be that the new scientific explanation completely replaces the old explanation, in this case in terms of desires and so on. There is no such thing as love; science has shown this. The idea that the biological explanation provides a basis for our previous explanation is called reductionism. Love just is chemical attraction; science has shown this.
I am not sure that either of these responses is the right way to go. This is how I think things stand: On experimental and evolutionary grounds, I am prepared to believe that we have various sophisticated chemical signaling systems. Should we have such systems, there is no reason that we should have any conscious access to their operations and workings. Think, for example, of the digestive system again. We have something of a relationship with the goings on in our guts, but at best we are observers of the passing show. We may stand in a similar type of relation to our chemical signaling systems. They may play some role in directing our behavior and we characterize that behavior in the only terms we know: I believe, I want, I like, I desire, or even I love. Now as Darwin argued there are evolutionary stories about why this is the way that we do things, but we have made far less headway in delivering those. Questions such as, “Where does cognition come from?”, “where does language come from?” and “why do humans have both higher cognition and language in larger doses than any other species?” are still awaiting full answers. Answering these questions may help us more readily understand why we explain our own behavior in terms of beliefs and desires and not chemical signals. But answering these questions will not get rid of the fact that we do communicate, to some extent, via chemical signals, and that this kind of signaling provides part of the explanation for the strength of our intimate bonds.
Creation Myths of the Middle East
On January 11th, 2001, Dr. Ewa Wasilewska, professor of anthropology, presented to the chapter a talk on “Creation Myths of the Middle East.” Dr. Wasilewska teaches numerous courses on the ancient and modern Middle East and Central Asia at the University of Utah. She has conducted archaeological and anthropological fieldwork in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Turkey, and has traveled extensively through Central Asia and the Middle East, as a consultant, cultural and applied anthropologist. She is also a freelance writer and photojournalist.
Dr. Wasilewska began by posing the question, “What is religion?” Religion can be reduced to rituals and beliefs. Beliefs include myths. In order to have myths and religion, communication is required. It is likely that people had to speak before they could have religion, but it is not definitely known when human speech began — perhaps 30 to 40,000 years ago. The Neanderthal artifacts (such as flowers in graves) are not conclusive.
Myths probably began with language. We know that, around 3400 B.C.E., when writing was invented, myths were fully developed. Writing first began in Mesopotamia, what is now known as southern Iraq (the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers), by the Sumerians. The creation myths of Sumeria were documented thousands of years before the Bible, and it is clear that the biblical authors borrowed heavily from the older texts Of the Sumerians, Babylonians and the Egyptians in creating the stories of Genesis.
The Sumerians, Egyptians and the Hittites produced creation myths that hardly mentioned humans. The invention of monotheism changed that. Monotheism accommodated a greater role for humans, but the Bible still retains the residue of polytheism in references to Elohim, a Hebrew term for “gods”.
The Genesis stories may be divided into the Yahwistic and priestly accounts. The Yahwistic passages date from around 1000 B.C.E., while the priestly passages are more recent, from circa 500 B.C.E..
Dr. Wasilewska indicated a consensus of Middle Eastern scholars believe that the ‘paradise’ of the Sumerians, Dilmun, has been discovered in Bahrain, on the East Persian Gulf. She also described a Sumerian story of the “Lady of the Rib,” which is a likely basis for the biblical account of Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib.
For a full description of the creation myths of the Middle East, readers are referred to Dr. Wasilewska’s book, Creation Myths of the Middle East, published by Jennifer Kingsley Press.
Resurrecting Utah Democrats
Salt Lake County Councilman Joe Hatch addressed the July General Meeting of the Humanists of Utah on the prospect of a miracle: the “resurrection” of the Utah Democratic Party. Councilman Hatch shared statistics and strategies, models and memories from art and science of campaigning.
Things are not as dismal as they seem for Utah Democrats-if they could only move 5% of the Republicans to the Democratic party, and another 5% of the Republicans to the Independents, “Democrats could be competitive.”
According to Hatch, there are at present three models of how the Democratic Party can gain in numbers in Utah:
The Councilman discussed the merits and limitations of each of the models and its prescription for success. After all of the models were considered, his recommendation is for the Democratic Party to concentrate on economic issues. He recounted the election of 1932, when LDS Church leadership was very vocal against the direction of the “New Deal” proposed by candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In spite of the direction from the Brethren, Utahns turned out to vote in overwhelming numbers for FDR and his programs.
This bit of history illustrates that it is in the area of economic justice, Joe Hatch claims, that the Democrats will have the greatest appeal to active Latter-day Saints.
Hatch also disputes the idea that there is direct LDS Church domination of the state’s government. “It’s more a matter of the culture.” He cautions would-be hecklers of the LDS Church: “The one thing you must not do is publicly embarrass the LDS Church. If you do, the community will turn against you.” He recommends a conciliatory approach in the spirit of compromise.
“They are pragmatic men,” he said.
The Councilman left the Humanists with a picture of Realpolitik in Utah, but also with the hope for a strategy for a new progressive movement.
Rocky Anderson Addresses the Humanists of Utah
On March 8, 2001, the Humanists of Utah were addressed by the most progressive mayor in the history of Salt Lake City, Ross “Rocky” Anderson.
The mayor was introduced by veteran chapter member, Rolf Kay, who provided a brief biography: Ross Anderson was born in Logan, Utah in 1951, received a Bachelor’s degree magna cum laude in Philosophy from the University of Utah, a law degree from the National Law Center at George Washington University, and was elected mayor of Salt Lake City, taking office on 4 January 2000.
Mayor Anderson looked out at the very full Eliot Hall and smiled. “It’s heartening to see this many humanists in Salt Lake City.”
Rocky began his discussion of the challenges of being the CEO of Utah’s largest city by referring to the need for inclusiveness. “We need to value the strength that diversity can bring to our community.”
He spoke of the need for gathering places, such as the town square and the new library: “We need to create more gathering places to bring communities together.”
The mayor mentioned the challenge of listening and responding, a problem addressed through various interactions with the residents. At present there are Saturday mornings with the Mayor, often at local small businesses; News and Community conferences, attended by City department heads: and one-on-one meetings.
Rocky also described taking unpopular stands. He has committed himself to studying the issues, which led to the termination of the participation of Salt Lake City in the DARE program. His research had revealed that DARE-despite its popularity, “sacred cow” status, and the investment of over $700 million over the life of the program-was a failure. He consulted data from the Center for Drug Abuse Prevention, the Department of Education and the Surgeon General. He relied upon the research in his decision. “This isn’t religion. This is supposed to be science here.” He even compared DARE’s inadequacy to Utah’s sex education programs, referring to them as “sexless sex education.”
Despite the difficulties, Rocky loves being the mayor of Salt Lake City, valuing it even above the Congressional seat he once campaigned for.
“You have to have passion for this kind of work. I know I have the heart and passion for this job.”
The mayor concluded his talk to a standing ovation. A lively question and answer session followed.
The Gay Agenda
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
The BOTTOM Line January 15-28, 1999 Palm Springs, California
Right-wing extremists often refer to “the gay agenda” in the most menacing terms, as if it threatened everything that Americans hold dear, and as if there were something “wrong” or “dangerous” about a group of Americans campaigning for fair play, justice, and equal treatment. In fact like many other Americans, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities do have an agenda of public policy goals. These include planks that many Americans take for granted in a democratic society, but they also include planks that would extend fairness, equality, and compassion to everyone. Here are some of our basic goals:
1) BASIC PROTECTIONS AGAINST DISCRIMINATION
2) FREEDOM FROM GOVERNMENT INTRUSION INTO OUR INTIMATE LIVES
3) THE EXPECTATION OF PHYSICAL SAFETY AND PROTECTION FROM HATE MOTIVATED CRIME
4) THE RECOGNITION OF OUR FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS
5) THE RIGHT TO PARENT
6) ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE
7) SCHOOLS THAT CARE FOR AND PROTECT ALL OF THEIR STUDENTS
8) A FAIR CHANCE FOR EVERY CHILD
9) HUMAN RIGHTS FOR ALL
The Gods of War
God Bless America.
God is Great.
These are the mantras from opposing sides in a war of words, a clash of ideologies suddenly turned bloody.
Tonight at Six: The forces of Good against the forces of Evil.
Why not? It’s great for ratings. It’s the kind of comic book view of the universe that is easily marketed to the impatient consumers of the image and the sound bite.
And, it is nothing new. Many of us remember the “Evil Empire” of the Reagan years, the war against the “Godless Communism” of the Cold War. What about “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord?” and so on, righteous slaughtering in the name of Jehovah, Jesus, Muhammad, the People or the State: all gods of one sort or another.
But there is good religion and bad religion, even as there is easy patriotism and hard patriotism.
Good religion values life. It expects much of humanity, and forgives much. It takes the long view. It stresses compassion, love, justice. Although it may involve symbols, it never confuses the manipulation of symbols with the lives of individuals.
Much the same can be said of patriotism. It’s easy to wave or pledge allegiance to the flag, to sing “God Bless America.” It’s not so easy to pledge allegiance to the Constitution, to pluralism in the face of conformity, to the rule of reason in the face of horror and loss.
The Gods of War are cruel gods. They must be forever consuming someone, or they lose their power. The spectacle is truly awesome to those not in the storm of fire and metal and sudden death. The gruesome rite of holy war so easily becomes a rallying cry, a war story, another symbol to incite even more death.
The bloodstained survivors don’t remember symbols. They remember their dead. They remember the inhuman fury from above.
When people are faced with the incomprehensible, language often fails them. At such times, mantras are some comfort. I have no problem with this.
A humanist, however, without scripture or prayer wheel or rosary, can only take refuge in hope: that the peacemakers will be heard, that the spiraling madness will expend itself and that sanity will finally return.
Anti-humanism, Politics, and Science
“We must not confuse the Kingdom of God with our country. To say it another way: ‘We should not wrap Christianity in our national flag.’
“None of this, however, changes the fact that the United States was founded upon a Christian consensus, nor that we today should bring Judeo-Christian principles into play in regard to government.”
-Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1981), pp. 120-121.
When Francis Schaeffer died in 1984, American evangelical Christians had many reasons to be demoralized. The “born again” president whom conservative Christians had hoped for was a disappointment. Not only was Jimmy Carter a liberal, but he freely admitted his faults as a human being. The next political savior of the evangelicals, Ronald Reagan, did not seem as eager to mount an assault on the secular state as his theocratic supporters. What was the Christian right to do?
During the Carter-Reagan years, a politically aggressive group of Christians banded together: Their leaders were Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, Cal Thomas and Phyllis Schlafly. They founded the Moral Majority and the Council for National Policy, the Concerned Women of America and the Eagle Forum. They helped Paul Weyrich form the Free Congress Foundation. With funding from the Coors and Scaife and other fortunes, they poured money into conservative Christian think tanks, in the process forging bonds with the embryonic Focus on the Family of James Dobson and the Family Research Council of Gary Bauer.
These groups grew restless during the years of George H. W. Bush, but during the “wicked” Clinton years, they were energized and organized into a formidable force; and today, their favored candidate occupies the White House.
So what is the next objective? According to the Discovery Institute, it is the “renewal of science and culture.” The Discovery Institute is a powerful new force of the Christian Right, with ties to American Spectator owner George Gilder and Charles Colson of Watergate and prison ministry fame. The Center for Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC), a Discovery organization, is assailing the teaching of evolution and modern cosmology, pressing instead for the teaching of “Intelligent Design Theory” (IDT). On May 10, 2000, a presentation by IDT proponents was made to select members of the U.S. Congress. Arguments for the teaching of “creation science” alongside “secular science” have been made by a Senate Majority leader and the Majority Whip of the House of Representatives.
As the administration of George W. Bush promotes “faith-based” services without empirical evidence, what will be next? Will we witness “faith-based” sociology, psychology, astronomy, biology and law?
Will the 21st century bring a “Second Reformation?”
The Militarization of Space
In the beginning were the V-2s. Before rockets rose upon pillars of fire and smoke to assail the stars, they were weapons. Hitler’s scientists envisioned V-2s and their descendants arcing across the Atlantic to rain destruction on New York and Washington D.C. and bring the United States to its knees. After the war, the U.S. military raced to spirit away as many Third Reich missile scientists as they could, even sheltering them from prosecution during the Nuremberg trials.
German aeronautical engineers combined with American physicists in places like White Sands, New Mexico, to usher in the darkest days of the Cold War. The days of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) and Dr. Strangelove had arrived.
Now, in the 21st century, after the widely proclaimed ending of the cold war, the fledgling President of the United States urges us to embark upon the militarization of space. New antiballistic satellites with particle beam weapons are proposed, although essential technologies do not exist. Historic agreements and practices of long standing are to be dismissed. The entreaties of allies are to be ignored. The past fiascoes of “Star Wars” and SDI are deemed irrelevant.
The colonization of the nearby solar system, let alone other star systems, may be centuries away; for now, the most productive activities in near space are the development of space stations and lunar bases, and the dispatching of sophisticated probes into the galaxy. We have so much to learn about the universe, and about ourselves. To spread the destruction of human conflicts beyond our planet would be a grave mistake.
Let space be the place where our great journey begins, not where it ends.
To the Muslims, he was the Messenger; to the Jews, a heretic and charlatan; to the Christians, the Son of God. In these postmodern times, Jesus belongs also to the sociologists, the historians, the scientists who speculate on the transmission of culture; to the electronic media, to the distributor of religious products, to the politicians.
Why do the questions persist: Did Jesus ever live, or was he invented? Why are there no contemporary accounts? What are the secular views of Jesus? How did the central concepts of Christianity evolve, and continue to evolve today?
Jesus the Man
There are no contemporary accounts. There are no firsthand portraits, no credible autobiographies or remains. Some historians conclude that Jesus never existed, that he was a synthesis of older gods and myths, shaped to meet the needs of an oppressed people in their struggle for survival and independence.
For those who lean towards the existence of Jesus, the questions multiply. The gospels, those portions of the New Testament purported to be written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, may not be very reliable. They were composed at a later date by people who probably were not the four apostles and who may have had no firsthand information of Jesus.
Historians have tried to carefully peel away the veneers of poetry, politics and propaganda to arrive at the bare truths of the Jesus story. From the writings of Renan and Schweitzer in the 19th and early 20th century to the scholars of the Jesus Seminar in the 1990’s, naturalistic explanations have continued to refine the secular view of Christian history.
Secular historians, such as Burton Mack, carefully develop a context for the inception of Christianity. That context includes the political, economic and cultural environment which incubated the movement for generations before it spread like wildfire throughout the world.
The image of Jesus which emerges from the current generation of naturalistic historians is that of a Jewish man, fairly orthodox, tending to be rather zealous, yet not violent. He prophesies and performs miracles. not unlike a shaman or a guru; indeed, some of the Talmudic commentaries regarding Jesus describe him as knowing the magical arts of the Egyptians. He may have been influenced by the Essenes, by the Qumran community, by the teachings of Hillel.
Jesus the Christ
With the death of Jesus came the birth of the Christ. It was left to a man who never met Jesus, Paul — an early Christian convert and Roman citizen — to lay the basic foundations of Christianity. Paul taught much more than the sayings or actions of Jesus; Paul told a meaningful story about Jesus, complete with a language and imagery that would fuse with pagan symbols and concepts over the coming centuries until it spread across the entire planet. The deification and theologizing of Jesus had begun. No longer was Jesus to be seen as a man; he was the Son of Man, and a host of other titles: the Savior, the Redeemer, the King of Kings, and the truly heretical title among the Jews, that of the Son of God.
The conversion of Jesus into a mystical abstraction allowed for an explosion of apologetics. As the early Christian churches developed creeds, schisms took place. Competing theologies led to purges, as the Gnostics and other heretics were driven from the Body of Christ.
Generations later the followers of Jesus, refined and energized by persecution, finally won over the Roman empire. Even after that empire fell, the war for souls continued. Within a thousand years after the fall of Rome, Christianity had spread over Europe, Africa and Asia, and would soon reach across the ocean to the New World. In that time the church had become many churches, had endured reforms, created monastic orders, established universities, copied and destroyed countless books, financed breathtaking art and bloody crusades.
The meek Jesus had become a weapon of the powerful, but he was still confined within the limits of the church and the cathedral, the ministrations of the priests, the Latin liturgy, the traditions of centuries. All of that would change with the invention of the printing press.
Jesus the Software
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
With the death of Jesus, the Word that became flesh was back to being the Word. The most sacred duty of Christians was to spread the Word, through the “Good News” of the gospel.
The Bible was printed and exploded across the literate world. Christians who could read began to consider Christianity without the filter of the clergy. A major result of this Reformation was the shift of authority, at least for many believers, from the Church to the Word. The struggle between ecclesiastical authority and scripture continues to the present. It may be that new groups tend to rely more on revelation and scripture as they emerge, rather than upon authority, which accumulates as the weight of the institution — its traditions, assets and experiences — increases.
What explains the power and longevity of Jesus long after so many other religious figures have faded?
Viewed from one perspective, Christianity was successful in becoming a medium for the transmission of concepts and control or influence of behavior. The Word was accompanied by instructions for understanding and applying the Word.
We are witnessing, not just Jesus as an institution, but even Jesus as software. In a more or less metaphorical sense, religious instruction resembles programming. It is usually downloaded from a group of family or friends and internalized by the recipient by modifying emotional and cognitive processes. The Jesus application had to run on an operating system of Biblicism, and, once it became patched and strengthened, it was robust enough to handle the additional processing required by a sect. If the installation in an individual is done well, and maintained frequently, the program will run without ceasing and will then replicate itself. “What would Jesus do?” is a classic example of the internalized program in action.
Proponents of the controversial theory of memetics describe Christianity as a “meme-plex” of self-replicating units of cultural information which has evolved into a powerful, living entity.
It is possible to view Christianity (and other major religions of maturity) as the product of a sort of cultural “natural selection.” The analogy can certainly be abused, but the parallels are striking. Concepts of Christ may serve to improve the comfort and even survivability of believers, at least until the believer can transmit the beliefs to another. Religions which promote large families increase the probability for transmission of the religion itself. Those groups which teach abstinence for all believers (such as the Shakers) are at a great disadvantage when competing with their more fertile rivals.
What can a secularist learn from the Jesus story and the Jesus experience?
For one, that there is little to be gained in persisting in questioning the physical reality of the man Jesus. The historicity of Jesus does not appear to be as important as having the experience of Jesus. Religious ritual is theater; theater is designed to evoke strong emotions in the audience. Emotions are the core of the religious experience, whether a feeling of oneness with God, a feeling of shame and contrition, a sense of being seized by a divine spirit, or even the experience of evil.
So, whether or not Jesus ever lived, ever existed, he does now. His dwelling place is with the various other gods and demigods, old and new, in a virtual heaven that spans cyberspace and literature. Every believer has their Jesus, the one who mirrors them. To the soldier, he is a holy warrior; to a mother, a devoted son; to a working man, he is a carpenter; to the preacher, he is the greatest story ever told…
The Bioethical Challenge
Abortion. Bionics. Cloning. Embryonic stem cells. Euthanasia. Gay rights. Genetic engineering. Organ harvesting. Sex selection.
This is a short list from a much longer one: the bioethical land mines left behind by our explosive, accelerating technology. Denial won’t help. Relying on the traditional views of the sacred and skeptical-scriptures and secular law-will not help.
The degree of confusion was brought home recently, when conservative LDS Senator Orrin Hatch found himself under fire from the Religious Right because he advocated further research using embryonic stem cells.
Unfortunately, the religious rhetoric often is impenetrable. In the July 20 Utah County Journal, columnist Grace Conlon asks, “Shouldn’t we be relying on a higher authority to call the shots on which couples become parents and which do not? Surely human judgment on this cannot compare with what the Almighty has planned for us.” And, “With the increasing numbers of orphaned and deserted youngsters all around the world, perhaps Heavenly Father, in His omnipotent wisdom, has planned for childless couples to take up this calling. If He doesn’t send children to some of us, there must be a good reason. Are we to second-guess Him?”
My dear Ms. Conlon, you may have noticed that we don’t all have the same “Him”; and, frankly, we all “play God” whenever we breed flowers, livestock…and ourselves. Life and death is in our hands. It is up to us. Now what? We are left with our compassion and our honesty and our ability to learn. The science fiction future is here, now; turning away in terror from things undreamed of in the Bible gets us nowhere.
Discussion Group Report
By Richard Layton
On September 1, 1983, Korean Airlines Flight 007–bound for Seoul–strayed inadvertently into Soviet airspace. Two Soviet fighter planes were scrambled to intercept it, and one fired an air-to-air missile that ripped through the airliner’s fuselage and sent it plummeting into the Sea of Okhotsk. 269 people were killed. The Soviets believed they had every right to stop the Flight of an unidentified airplane that had strayed into their airspace.
The pilots’ flight plan had told them that, if the plane is on course, then the radar would show only water. For at least 25 minutes the pilots could see that the radar was showing the land mass of the Kamchatka Peninsula, but the crew did not draw what appears to be the obvious conclusion. They maintained their heading. Perhaps they were suffering from mental fatigue.
The same breakdown of logic might have been behind the meltdown at Chernobyl. Published research, says Michael Brooks in his article, “Fooled Again,” in New Scientist magazine of December 9, 2000, claims that these failures in reasoning are a common occurrence, arising whenever we are faced with scenarios that include “falsity”–things that may not be true. According to Phillip Johnson-Laird of Princeton University, we also encounter the same logical meltdowns in events both serious and trivial throughout our lives Perhaps you have experienced this breakdown while hiking or driving with the aid of a map. If you are on course, the landscape you see corresponds to the features the map tells you to expect. If you get off-course, figuring out the way back to the right road gets much more difficult. You have to deal with false situations. Attempting to compare what you didn’t see with what you should have seen leads you into confusion. Eventually you give up on the logical situation and head onwards. When you see something that relates to the map, working out your whereabouts becomes trivial. That’s because it’s easier to deal with a true scenario than a false one.
Johnson-Laird says we often don’t think by following logical rules of deduction; we usually employ shortcuts that save us a lot of time and effort. These shortcuts are our everyday mode of thinking, and they can lead us into making foolish mistakes. To illustrate how we make these mistakes, he constructs deceptively innocent puzzles like the following: Only one of the following statements about a particular hand of cards is true: 1) There is a king in the hand, or an ace, or both. 2) There is a queen in the hand, or an ace, or both. 3) There is a jack in the hand, or a ten, or both. Is it possible that there is an ace in the hand?
When he tested this puzzle with Princeton students, 99 percent of them got it wrong. If there is an ace, then the first two statements are true. But the puzzle states that only one statement is true. So an ace is not possible.
The reason for the extraordinary degree of error, he says is that there is limited space in what researchers call “working memory,” the low-capacity short-term memory that supports language, arithmetic and reasoning. To save time, space and effort, we leave vital information off the ‘drawings” of the mental models of a situation.
Ruth Byrne of Dublin University is investigating how mental models are involved with emotions such as regret and guilt. These emotions require a deliberate effort to model falsity: they rely on considering possible alternatives to the real-life consequences of events. “You couldn’t explain an emotion like regret unless you were keeping in mind the way a situation turned out and comparing this with an alternative where it could have turned differently,” Byrne says. Such counterfactual thinking might also be the root of creativity, she adds. Imagination and daydreaming involve creating these partially false situations and working through the outcomes of their models.
Humanists of Utah Celebrate 10th Anniversary
The Humanists of Utah chapter was granted its charter from the American Humanist Association on May 9. 1991. This was just six months after a small group of people first met to discuss the possibility of forming a Utah Humanist Chapter.
In November of 1990 the founder of the American Humanist Association, Edwin H. Wilson, met with eight people at the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City to explore a chapter formation. Reverend Wilson, a former minister at the Salt Lake City Unitarian Society, had retired from the ministry and his leadership positions in the AHA and was living in Salt Lake City at Friendship Manor. Following Rev. Wilson’s explanation of Humanism, those in attendance voted unanimously to pursue the formation of a Utah chapter and six months later, May 9, 1991 received notification from the American Humanist Association that a chapter charter has been approved.
During the ten years of its existence, almost 200 people have joined the chapter and more than 800 people have attended meetings and requested information about Humanism.
What’s going on here? In recent editorials, and in legal action in federal court, the Salt Lake Tribune has claimed that the Deseret News is attempting to seize control of the Tribune. the News, and its owner, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, denied the claim.
No doubt we will hear much more about this development. It is being reported widely outside of our state–the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Associated Press all have carried stories. On the heels of the Main Street controversy, the allegations that the LDS church is engineering a virtual journalistic monopoly in Utah presents a public relations challenge to the church, especially as the eyes of the world turn to Utah as the host of the 2002 Olympics.
Although the LDS church claims 70 percent of the Utah citizens are Mormon, it is significant that the secular Tribune is preferred two to one over the sacred News. This may be a function of distribution–the advantage of a morning versus an afternoon paper–but it could also be that Utah readers prefer a more independent voice. It is worth noting that newspapers have figured prominently in the history of the LDS church. Before the Deseret News, the Latter-day Saints relied heavily upon such church papers as the Times and Seasons, and Millennial Star. The printing press was a powerful tool of political activism. Indeed, the murder of Joseph Smith may be seen as the culmination of events which involved the church’s destruction of a rival, and critical, press in Nauvoo, Illinois. As mayor of Nauvoo, Joseph Smith ordered the destruction of the press of the Nauvoo Expositor after publication of a single issue. The Nauvoo Expositor’s reports which so incited the fury of the Mormons were exposes of the secret practice, and teaching, of polygamy, and of the coronation of Smith as King of the secret Council of Fifty. Although Smith denied both allegations, both were true.
We can only hope that the LDS church leadership has learned more tolerance in the intervening years. If not, perhaps a public outcry and a boycott of corporate partners and owners of the Deseret Newswould convey the message: We are a people who cherish the First Amendment; we remember our history.
Letter From The Editor
Utah humanists are peculiar people. They espouse a naturalistic worldview in the most theocratic state in America. Is this masochism?
Utah humanists are often either UU émigrés from afar or ex-Mormons. The former are usually surprised to discover the power and pervasiveness of the LDS church in Utah affairs. The latter are very conscious of this influence and typically separated from the church only after a long period of disillusionment.
I was raised agnostic, converted as a teenager and resigned in my 40s. In an ethnic sense it could be argued that I am still a Mormon. My ancestors were pioneers in Utah in the 1850s, practiced polygamy, and were even involved peripherally in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Many of my predecessors were buried in their temple clothes. I was baptized, held the priesthood, attended “the Lord’s University,” stood in the prayer circles, and blessed and ate and drank the bread and water of the sacrament. Somewhere in my head I keep the hymns and the jargon of the Latter-day Saints. This is my personal history, pieces of my unique puzzle.
When I write about the LDS church and its members, I can find in myself empathy and outrage, admiration and horror. Perhaps many of you feel the same way.
And so I often find myself debating whether I should criticize LDS proclamations, policies or practices. A question about the Mormons becomes a question about me. Am I being anti-Mormon? Am I too deferential? Should I be trying harder to see the humanism in Mormonism? Will I offend my LDS friends, family members, co-workers, etc.?
I will probably always struggle with these questions, but they no longer silence me. Mormons and humanists can and will coexist. If it is fair for Gordon B. Hinckley to denounce nonbelievers, and for tens of thousands of LDS missionaries to condemn all beliefs that are not of their faith. The Latter-day Saints must expect that they will not escape criticism. But the criticism of rational, empathetic people will not undo the good that Mormons have done in the past or will do in the future. We do not live in parallel universes; we share the same world, although we may see it very differently.
Differences can lead to discussion and discussion to understanding and even acceptance, if not approval.
It is not too much to hope for.
Politics and Humanism
All through the Middle East where three world religions began, a war rages.
It is a seemingly endless battle of ethnic groups, of religions, of nationalities. No matter that the Israelis and Palestinians are cousins; they are also bitter enemies.
The United States should understand this. The Civil War left hundreds of thousands of Americans dead. An escalation of political, economic and cultural conflicts built, over generations, to a crescendo of violence. In recent years, disturbing echoes of that terrible time are sounding again. The polarization between North and South, secular and religious, black and white, rural and urban, is increasing. Why is this happening? What can we do about it?
Humanism and politics are rarely mentioned together. I think that is a mistake. We have a very great interest in the governments of our country, because we highly value human rights. We aspire to be the most humane of the “isms” but we often distrust parties and movements.
And with good reason. Many of us are refugees from religions and cultures that were all too happy to exercise social and psychological control. We are often painfully aware of the real histories of the icons and the saviors and the heroes. We habitually question authority. We reject voter guides.
This does not mean we should only be spectators. We have a voice and we must speak. We need to be heard. And we will be.
What I must remind myself, as talk of culture war increases, as partisan rhetoric builds, is that we are individuals first. When I recall the many people who have been good to me, I recognize that they were all colors and creeds and genders. What united them was their desire to make someone else’s life better. That is the common ground we can all share. That could be a beginning.
Message to Middle East, and to Anywhere, USA: Let the killing and the hate stop. Life is too short, and the world too small, for such nonsense.
Journey to Humanism
I was a senior at Skyline High School when I began to question my faith as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints.
I was addicted to Isaac Asimov, having read his Foundation series. The only thing I could relate his books to were Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series that I had watched avidly as a child, and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: Space Odyssey. However, with exposure to these authors, conflict was inevitable. In January of 1992, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction released its February issue. In it was Isaac Asimov’s last article for the magazine before his death: “Of Human Folly.”
For the first time in my life, the idea that personal revelation was no different from superstition, that the belief in God itself was a myth, hit me. My first reaction was not fear of death, or a feeling of dread that I would not live again. My first thought was, “What will people think of me? What will my family think of me?” So strong was this fear, this amazingly potent anxiety, that I spent the next four years of my life trying to reason my way out of it.
I bought many books on Mormonism, mostly church institute manuals, and Deseret Book publications. I spent countless hours in the library, literally spending most of my time there. I found Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible.
During these searches in the library, I also came across The Humanist magazine, having just been placed there, unbeknownst to me, by the newly formed Humanists of Utah. Isaac Asimov was listed as part of the editorial advisory staff, and president of the American Humanist Association. My mother caught me at it, and told me I shouldn’t read magazines like that. My father expressed concern at my purchase of Guide to the Bible, saying that he feared I was relying on the book when I should be relying on the advice of church authorities. At nineteen, I had just broken up with my first girl friend. College was shaky. My father wasn’t sure he could pay my way, and felt that I wasn’t working hard enough for the sacrifice it would take. The contradictions of my readings weighed heavy on my mind, but heavier weighed the social pressures of going on a mission. I finally bent, reasoning that a mission would be a good way to gain the “spiritual understanding” (testimony) necessary to overcome my skepticisms.
On a LDS mission, however, my skepticisms were only amplified. The more I taught Mormon doctrine the more it seemed like fantasy. Exposed to the doctrines in a way that required relying on them to their fullest extent, I found that they failed me miserably. It was then that I remembered The Humanist magazine I had found in the library. In July or August of 1995, I traded all of my Institute Manuals for a beat up copy of The Philosophy of Humanism. I devoured it twice, getting up at 5 each morning so that my companion wouldn’t ask what I was reading. For the remainder of my mission I was a heretic, but the thought of the social repercussions of going home early, and the commitment to completing a task I had started (a responsibility that my father and grandfather had engrained into me), pushed me through to the end of my mission. I committed to investigating both humanism and Mormonism fully when I returned from my mission that December. In July of 1996, I moved from home. Once out from under the eyes of my parents, and the people I had grown up with, I never went to church again. There were only four exceptions: two funerals, a missionary home coming, and a date. The date was an inactive member of the church, but the relationship finally ended at the beginning of November 1996, only a few days after I had joined the American Humanist Association. I still wonder if that was the basis for our breaking up.
I attended meetings of the Humanists of Utah, beginning with a board meeting in July of 1997, formally joining in June of 1997 (I had been taking the newsletter since March on a trial subscription). At that time I made the first suggestions to Wayne Wilson, then editor of The Utah Humanist, about a website he had put up for the Humanists of Utah. It was not long after that I took over the project, registered the humanistsofutah.org name, and was elected to the Board to fulfill it.
“The universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values. [This] does not deny the possibility of realities as yet undiscovered, but it does insist that the way to determine the existence and value of any and all realities is by means of intelligent inquiry and by the assessment of their relation to human needs. Religion must formulate its hopes and plans in the light of the scientific spirit and method.”
This has since been the approach I have taken in everything I do, from computers to religion, from the work place to inter-personal relationships.
As I write this in October of 2001, it is exactly five years from the time I made the decision to join the American Humanist Association. Philosophically, I have come a long way from that time. This has only increased my dedication to the humanist philosophy as expressed in Humanist Manifesto II. I don’t regret having become a humanist. In fact, I don’t think I could think of being anything else. I’m a humanist, and that’s as good as it gets.
Discussion Group Report
By Richard Layton
Recently the Salt Lake Tribune and the Associated Press Managing Editors sponsored a “Credibility Roundtable” on the coverage of religion. Various leaders from religions, the civic sector and news media were invited to attend. Following are a few excerpts from the discussion as reported in the Tribune:
SHELLEY THOMAS, Moderator: …how many of you think this statement is true: society as a whole is more religious than the population of your average newsroom?
ALONZO WATSON, JR.: People in the newspaper business probably get a broader scientific base to begin with. And as a result there’s some built-in skepticism that is natural and needed…
GEORGE NIEDERAUER, bishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake: I think it’s true of media generally. Michael Medved…was writing a regular column on movie reviews. One time he stumbled on an interesting question at a Hollywood party. He asked a producer why there wasn’t more reflection of people going to church, and religious practice, why it was usually crazies who believed in God in movies. And he said, “Well, because most people don’t go to church”…Medved was inspired to say, “Well how many people do you think in America, on an average Sunday, are in church?” And the fellow said, “About 1 percent.” And so he started deliberately asking people in Hollywood the same question. He never got anyone to guess higher than 5 percent. The actual figure is about 40.
THOMAS: Statistics from a Freedom Forum study that was done a few years ago said: “90 percent of Americans say they believe in a higher power, 80 percent say they pray regularly, 70 per cent identify with a religious group and 40 percent attend services in a given week.”
KAT SNOW, news director, KUER public radio: A religion believes that it has the only answer. If a media story raises another possible answer or a different point of view, the people in that faith might feel that somehow it was a disservice, that we are not portraying accurately their viewpoint…To the extent that journalism can broadsweep everything, big brush strokes and quick summaries, then we do a disservice…To cover [religion] fairly, you have to give it extra space and extra time, to honor the depth that it has within people’s lives.
BILL BEACHAM, chief of bureau, Associated Press: My experience has been in coverage of religion that we don’t cover beliefs necessarily…What we cover basically is issues, separation of church and state, the Main Street story, this type of thing. The issues that that churches and religions or governments bring on themselves we cover…I’ve lived all over the United States, I’ve never seen a community as unique as this is. When you have an 800-pound gorilla, it needs to be covered.
J.D. WILLIAMS, political science professor, U of U: I suggest two criteria [of fairness]. One I will call the newsworthy test and the second one the public interest test…[Newsworthy subjects were] when the Baptists held their convention here two summers ago and indicated wives ought to submit themselves to their husbands in righteousness,… polygamists and incest…. [and President Kimball’s] revelation with regard to blacks and the priesthood in the LDS Church. [Appropriate subjects regarding the public interest were] closing streets in Salt Lake City…and LDS interference in the 1954 reapportion of the legislature, a grab for power that was blatant and needed to be covered in depth…There is a traditional and well-regarded role of journalism that seems to be fading a little bit in our capitalistic competitive environment, and that’s that journalism traditionally had a responsibility not just to cover what people wanted, but what they should know. In this community people should know that there are more than just three or four churches. That there is a diversity, and a wealth of diversity in this community, and it deserves coverage.
GAYLE RUZICKA, president, Utah Eagle forum: It’s not just that we have the “predominant religion” that overpowers the legislature as far as their religious beliefs. It is this way across the nation for religious people. Partly it is our passions.We believe in something passionately enough to go out and get elected. The family is the most passionate issue we deal with….And so when we have an issue that deals with the family, as you go to the legislature you will find…those committee rooms absolutely packed.
ADAM BRADSHAW, news director, KTVX: Let me say, having been around the country at many television stations…the appetite for religious coverage of any faith in this market is the highest I’ve ever seen…The issue of covering controversy in religion is very difficult because there are people of various faiths who think there are not two sides to every story. And we as journalists are always taught to go to the middle…Yet when we do present both sides, we are often criticized.
BRYAN SHIFFER, news director, KUTV: I have been in this market a long time and would offer that the issue of fairness in covering religion in this town has dramatically increased. That has a lot to do with the fairly recent openness of the LDS Church. There was a time when getting a statement and trying to deal with an issue fairly with the LDS Church was a very difficult situation, and it caused some animosity in the press…I look at fairness in religion [coverage] as this: If it’s a religious and social issue, it’s fair game…Issues of faith we do not question. We will explain them. We will try to explain them fairly. We try to get it right. But we do not question faith.
MARILYN WELLES, atheist, Wasatch Front Unitarian Fellowship and a member of Humanists of Utah: Speaking both as an atheist and as someone new to Utah, I find astonishing the amount of coverage of religion…to an atheist it sounds like people shuffling for market share, arguing over which is the best toothpaste. We really don’t care if you want to print a lot of that…A theology [is] like someone’s sex life, is only interesting to them or people in their own church. I don’t care about people’s theology or people’s sex life…We are also interested in the public parts of religions. Some of the best music in any city is put on by religious choirs, sponsored by religions. It’s a fund raiser or it’s for the benefit of the community, we atheists [support it]…because they help the community.
JOHN FLOREZ: former deputy asst. secretary, U.S. Dept of Labor: We get too uptight in this community about religion…Also, we underestimate the public. The public knows…We can make our own decisions.
TOM BARBERI: KALL talk show host:…ownership does mean an awful lot. And to say there’s fairness in this marketplace with ownership…is ignoring the truth. The LDS Church owns the Deseret News, owns KSL Radio, owns KSL Television. To think that there are not discussions going on in the upper floors of those buildings as to how this story is going to play with the person who signs my paycheck is foolish. You talk about diversity. We have diversity. We have 70 per cent of the population who are LDS. We have a very small minority of other things…And you talk about “perception is reality.” If you have a legislature that is 85 or 90 percent belonging to the same church, if you have a supreme court that 100 percent belongs to a specific church, if you have various organizations or boards which all the members belong to one church, to say there is diversity of thought is kidding yourselves…I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I’m just talking about reality. The reality is that the 800-pound gorilla does weigh more than 800 pounds.
RON THORNBURG, managing editor, Standard Examiner: The thing that I find rather unique about life in Utah is the defensiveness of many of the LDS members when there is the least bit of…items in the news that could be interpreted as criticism of their faith.
PAMELA ATKINSON, vice president, mission services, International Health Care: And if one of the major goals of the media is to educate the public, they can do a much fairer job in religion education by writing articles…on the variety of religions that are in the state of Utah.
Creatures of Habitat
Mark Hengesbaugh is a local author who happens to be married to a good friend of my wife. He recently published a new bookCreatures of Habitat (Utah State University Press) that serves as a field guide to non-game animals located in the Great Basin area.
The book is notable for its readable style, while it contains a great deal of useful information, the tone is light and chatty. But don’t let the readable nature of the text fool you. There is a wealth of valuable information between the covers of this book including concepts such as a keystone species. Prairie dogs are one such creature; if and when they fail there is a domino effect among other animals and plants. “Biologists have identified more than 170 species that rely on prairie dog towns in some way.”
Mark notes that we should use the best methods of science to determine when and where to either build or protect. Far from a knee-jerk environmentalist, Mark notes that hunters have spent more time and money than most groups protecting wildlife habitat. Finally, the book’s conclusion notes that, “Native plants and animals are only expressions of natural landscapes; as these places disappear so do the creatures that inhabit them…Blaming others allows individuals to shrug off personal responsibility and continue on a comfortable course.”
The book can be purchased directly from Utah State University or, as I found, from amazon.com.
Discussion Group Report
A Brief History of Time
By Richard Layton
Stephen Hawking, in his book A Brief History of Time, addresses the question in the title of this article. He asks, “…are we perhaps just chasing a mirage?” There seem to be three possibilities: ” 1) There really is a complete unified theory, which we will some day discover if we are smart enough. 2) There is no ultimate theory of the universe, just an infinite sequence of theories that describe the universe more and more accurately. 3) There is no theory of the universe; events cannot be predicted beyond a certain extent but occur in a random and arbitrary manner.”
Some would argue for the third possibility on the grounds that, if there were a complete set of laws, that would infringe God’s freedom to change his mind and intervene in the world. St Augustine said the idea of a God that might want to change his mind is a fallacy of imagining God as a being existing in time: time is a property only of the universe that God created.
With the advent of quantum mechanics in the world, we have come to recognize that events cannot be predicted with complete accuracy. But that there is always a degree of uncertainty. One could ascribe this randomness to the intervention of God, but it would be a very strange kind of intervention, for there is no evidence that it is directed toward any purpose. Indeed, if it were, it would by definition not be random. “We have,” Hawking states, “effectively removed the third possibility above by redefining the goal of science: our aim is to formulate a set of laws that enables us to predict events only up to the limit set by the uncertainty principle.
“The second possibility, that there is an infinite sequence of more and more refined theories, is in agreement with all our experience so far. On many occasions we have increased the sensitivity of our measurements or made a new class of observations, only to discover new phenomena that were not predicted by the existing theory, and to account for these we have had to develop a more advanced theory…We might indeed expect to find several new layers of structure more basic than the quarks and electrons that we now regard as “elementary” particles.
“However it seems that gravity may provide a limit to this sequence of ‘boxes within boxes’…Thus it does seem that the sequence of more and more refined theories should have some limit as we go to higher and higher energies, so that there should be some ultimate theory of the universe…I think that there is a good chance that the study of the early universe and the requirements of mathematical consistency will lead us to a complete unified theory within the lifetime of some of us who are around today, always presuming we don’t blow ourselves up first.”
This book is Hawking’s first for the non-specialist. Carl Sagan describes it as holding “rewards of many kinds for the lay audience…In this book,” he says, “are lucid revelations in the frontiers of physics, astronomy. cosmology, and courage.
“This is also a book about God…or perhaps about the absence of God. The word God fills these pages. Hawking embarks on a quest to answer Einstein’s famous question about whether God had any choice in creating the universe. Hawking is attempting, as he explicitly states, to understand the mind of God. And this makes all the more unexpected the conclusion of the effort, at least so far: a universe with no edge in space, no beginning or end of time, and nothing for a creator to do.”
Happy Birthday PC
Much fanfare has recently appeared in the media about the 20th birthday of the Personal Computer. Most of what I have read is reminiscent of the great strides made in making computers more powerful, smaller, and cheaper. PC Magazine, in the September 4, 2001 edition, takes a different approach. They interview several futurists and ask the question, “What will the PC be like in 20 more years.”
Peter Schwartz, academically trained as a rocket scientist, is “one of the rare professional futurists who doesn’t exude the ripe scent of charlatanism.” Schwartz says, “The biggest political challenge in this new century is the conflict between the secular and the sacred-between secular societies and religious societies. And it’s one that science and technology will only exacerbate. Cloning, life extension, genetic manipulation, super intelligence, sentient robots-this stuff has a way of really freaking people out, because it touches on fundamental issues of human identity. What is a human? Are we God-endowed or just chemicals? If I succeed in growing a cell out of chemicals, what does that say about God? If I can manufacture an iris or something even more beautiful, what does that say about God? These are the sorts of questions we’ll confront. The issues will be profound.”
If Mr. Schwartz’s predictions are correct, I believe that there will be a place for humanists in leadership of acceptance of new technology while looking at moral implications and making decisions that will affect us all. The magazine is currently on store shelves everywhere or on-line at: http://www.pcmag.com.
A Bill of Rights for Unbelievers
The freedoms of thought and expression count among our most fundamental and cherished rights, and promote both individual welfare and the common good in a democratic state. Historically, however, unbelievers such as secular humanists, atheists, agnostics, rationalists, and freethinkers have faced prejudice, intolerance, and discrimination for their opinions and discoveries.
In the firm conviction that the principle of Church-State separation guarantees the equal rights of the religious and non-religious, we the Campus Freethought Alliance, on this 12th Day of July, 1998, hereby present the following Bill of Rights for Unbelievers.
Unbelievers shall have the right to:
Billions and Billions:
Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium
Billions and Billions by Carl Sagan, Ballantine Books, 1997, is the last book that Carl Sagan wrote before succumbing to myelodysplasia, a rare disease of the bone marrow. In fact, the final chapter designated an epilogue, was written by his wife Ann Druyan after his death.
One of the most interesting points in the book is Sagan’s claim that he never used the phrase, “billions and billions,” which is, as he notes “too imprecise.” The first few chapters of the book discuss large numbers. He teaches the reader not only the history of numbers but about very large numbers and the difficulty in trying to comprehend cosmic vastness.
The second section of the book tackles the issue of environmental responsibility in general and global warming in particular. Sagan recounts two ancient Greek myths to discuss our modern plight. Croesus asked the Oracle of Delphi what would happen if he invaded Persia. The response was that he would destroy a mighty empire. Only when his own empire was destroyed did it occur to him that the question he asked was incomplete. Current policymakers consult the oracles of think tanks, universities, etc. and often get answers to more than the questions they ask. Sagan writes “policymakers need-more than ever before-to understand science and technology. (In response to this need the Republican Congress has foolishly abolished its own Office of Technology Assessment.)”
The second myth is that of Cassandra whom Apollo granted the gift of prophecy to with a return promise of favors. When she reneged, the angered Apollo caused all of her prophecies to be disbelieved. Many of our policymakers simply refuse to believe dire predictions. “The job of the policymaker is to steer a prudent course between these two shoals,” says Sagan.
On the subject of global warming Sagan takes the stand that the chemicals we are dumping into the environment will be around for hundreds of years and it is therefore prudent to expect the worst. If the dire predictions are true it is going to take time and money to make corrections. We simply cannot afford to wait until it is too late to reverse our current trend and to develop a means to clean up our messes.
The book continues to discuss a wide range of social issues ranging from political systems to abortion. Sagan obviously knows that he is dying prematurely and his last commentary is what he truly believed. Consider this quotation:
I highly recommend this book to all of my friends, but especially to my humanist friends.
Elevator Definitions of Humanism
At the latest meeting of the AHA board the challenge of developing short definitions of Humanism was discussed. All Humanists could use a short answer at times to the question “What is Humanism?”
Board members decided to solicit one line answers that could be used on elevators and other public places where lengthy conversations are not appropriate. Here are a few ideas generated so far. If you have suggestions pass them along to me.
New Looks for the Utah Humanist
The times, they are a-changin’.
So is The Utah Humanist. We hope to make both the format and content more interesting, more relevant than ever.
Look for new articles, features, improved graphics, and more information on Utah’s freethought community. And, as always, we welcome articles, letters and suggestions (see the Meetings and Contacts page for submission information).
This issue even includes a “centerfold!” Take a peek at something that just might be getting censored these days: the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, also known as “The Bill of Rights.” Rights? Privacy? Are these important to you? Keep your copy of the Bill of Rights handy. You’re going to need it.
While this is an expanded issue (the print edition), we’re not yet sure if we’ll stick with the larger format. Your input would help us.
We also encourage you to visit the Humanists of Utah website. Webmaster Wayne Wilson is redesigning the site to have a consistent look and feel Of course, your comments are always welcome.
Finally, this is not exactly our “Christmas issue,” so don’t expect the usual … er … sugar plum fairy tales. Jesus is a pretty important guy in our society, and there are many interesting points of view and stories about him. Enough said.
Be aware. Be informed. Be happy.
And a merry Solstice to all.
Humanist Education Initiative
The new millennium will be marked by a major new initiative to bring humanist education to the general public. The Institute for Humanist Studies (IHS) is very pleased to announce the Continuum of Humanist Education (COHE), a new Internet-based distance education program to be introduced in 2001. This comprehensive “e-learning” project will provide authoritative, engaging, and highly individualized humanistic education opportunities at an unprecedented range of interest levels, from brief “infotainment” for the mildly curious to in-depth college-level courses for more serious students. The IHS-COHE will also serve an extraordinarily wide range of students, from high school age upwards. Because IHS is dedicated to education not profit, the IHS-COHE courses will be provided free or at much lower costs than other on-line alternatives! This flagship IHS program is being designed to take full advantage of the revolutionary new opportunities for educational outreach provided by the Internet.
By using IHS’s interactive websites, COHE students will be able to take courses, network with fellow students, mentors, and faculty, and have their coursework evaluated by experts, all from the comfort of their own homes or offices. The Internet will also enable the COHE to be world-wide in both its faculty and students, and serve the needs of humanists and humanist organizations on a truly global scale. Commitments to work with the COHE have already been obtained from faculty and student groups in the U.S. and abroad, and many more are expected to follow. In line with the Institute’s emphasis on humanist cooperation, the Institute will also promote and cooperate with the educational programs of other humanist organizations.
Dr. Reid Johnson, a well known higher education consultant and humanist educator, will be Director of the IHS-COHE Program, and is committed to having at least a dozen new courses on-line this year. Prospective faculty, students, and other supporters or interested parties are encouraged to get more information on the COHE by contacting Dr. Johnson, IHS Director of Educational Services, at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Future announcements will mark significant milestones in the development and implementation of the COHE, as well as other humanistic innovations by the IHS.
Living With the Local Culture
10 YEARS AGO
February 16, Arizona Republic publishes analysis of decades of talks by Seventy’s president Paul H. Dunn who has misrepresented his military and baseball careers in order to tell “faith-promoting” stories to LDS youth and young adults.
20 YEARS AGO
January 24, New York Times reports conversion to LDS Church of Eldridge Cleaver, former Black Panther radical of 1960s. He is first nationally prominent African-American to convert to Mormonism. In 1995 he publicly reaffirms his faith in Mormonism, although he no longer actively attends LDS services.
–D. Michael Quinn,
Letter to Senator Leahy
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy
August 10, 2001
Dear Senator Leahy,
I write to you as the Executive Director of the American Humanist Association, the oldest and largest organization promoting Humanism in the United States. Claiming the support of leaders like Kurt Vonnegut, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Stephen Jay Gould, who was 2001’s Humanist of the Year, the AHA is dedicated to ensuring a voice for those with a positive moral outlook which embraces all of humanity, but does not happen to be based on a belief in a higher power.
On behalf of the AHA I thank you for your recent use of the secular oath when swearing in nominees and others who testify in front of the Committee on the Judiciary.
Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions goes too far in asserting that the Senate should require witnesses to add, “so help me God” to their oaths when presenting testimony. I am particularly troubled to hear that Senator Sessions may embark on an effort to make such language a part of the Senate rules. The Constitution itself does not require such religious wording, providing only for an “oath or affirmation.” Further, the Supreme Court ruled in 1961 in Torcaso vs. Clerk Watkins that a state could not require a belief in a deity as a condition for exercising public office.
Several Christian denominations do not approve of oaths; and neither theists nor non-theists should be required to say anything incompatible with their conscientious beliefs. Religious belief or expression should never be coerced. While Senator Sessions is correct in asserting that non-theists are in the minority in this country, we hope you and other responsive leaders in our nation’s capital will continue to stand-up for the millions of Americans, theists and non-theists alike, who object to government mandated religious expression.
The Day That Counts
Are you one of the 27 million? That’s how many people in America describe themselves as Atheists, Agnostics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists — people who are non-religious, or have serious doubts about religious deities, teaching and practices. Now, federal and state faith-based initiatives would impose a Religion Tax, and compel us to open our wallets and purses in order to fund faith-based social programs across the country.
It’s time that we “closed ranks” and let our voices be heard on this important public policy issue. Up to now, the “debate” over public funding of faith-based programs has been monopolized by religious groups who quibble over details, and often ignore the important constitutional and public policy issues involved.
Some are eager for public funding, but only if other religious groups are excluded. Others have no problem confiscating our tax money for their creed-based outreaches, and worry only about government “entanglement” and possible financial accountability. There are 27 million of us, however. That’s more people than are counted as members of most leading religious denominations in the United States. Isn’t it time that Congress and the White House paid attention to US? That’s why we are launching a new campaign, THE DAY THAT COUNTS. on July 10, 2001, we invite representatives from the nation’s atheist, freethinker and humanist groups to speak out at a press conference in Washington, DC, and send a message to the White House and Capitol Hill — we oppose public funding of faith-based social programs! on July 17, 2001, we ask that letters, phone calls and faxes flood Congressional and Senate offices in our nation’s capital expressing opposition to the faith-based initiative! While American Atheists has organized THE DAY THAT COUNTS campaign, we invite other atheist, freethought and humanist groups to join us in Washington, DC on July 10, and lend their names in endorsing this effort.
We also invite individual atheists, freethinkers and other persons-of-no-belief to endorse this action, and “sign” our statement of support. For more information on THE DAY THAT COUNTS campaign, visit our website. Join us as America’s nonbelievers speak out to make their opinions count on Capitol Hill.
Rules for Mixing Politics and Religion
The following “rules” for mixing religion and politics are from the Web site of the People for the American Way.
Government and Religion:
Rule One: Religious Doctrine Alone is Not an Acceptable Basis for Government Policy.
Rule Two: There Can Be No Religious Test for Public Office, Nor Religious Test for Participation in the Political Process.
Church and State:
Rule Three: Public Officials Have Every Right to Express their Private Piety, and No Right at All to Use their Office to Proselytize Others.
Rule Four: Government Has a Right to Demand that Religious Institutions Comply with Reasonable Regulation and Social Policy.
Rule Five: Religious Institutions May Sometimes Cooperate with Government in Programs Supporting the Common Good.
Rule Six: Government Institutions Must Show Neither Official Approval or Disapproval of Religion
Religion and Religious Views in the Public Square:
Rule Seven: Political Discourse Should Respect Religious Differences.
Rule Eight: Political Figures Should Not Claim to Represent a Monolithic Religious Constituency, and the Media and Others Should Not Attribute Such a Constituency to Them.
Rule Nine: It is Legitimate to Discuss the Moral Dimension of Public Issues.
Rule Ten: Political Discussion of Morality is Best Applied to the Common Good, Not to Private Conduct.
Rule Eleven: No One Should Claim or Suggest that They Speak for God on Matters of Public Policy.
Rule Twelve: Religion Should Not Be Used as a Political Club.
Discussion Group Report
Are Souls Real?
By Richard Layton
Jerome W. Elbert, a retired physics professor from the University of Utah, in his book, Are Souls Real? presents a provocative theory of human motivation. He describes it in a chapter with the same title as the present article. Following is a summary:
Once there was no consciousness on Earth. There were animals which had no consciousness; their actions were instinctive responses. As time went by, they became capable of improving their responses by learning from their experiences. When the capabilities of their brains became advanced, they began to combine information coming from various senses, and constructed mental images of what was happening in the world outside their bodies. Gradually consciousness came into being.
The new conscious part of its nervous system can be called the New System. But the organism still had the old instinctive part, which consisted of automatic behaviors inherited from its ancestors. That part can be called the Old System. The New System could use its sensory data and knowledge from previous experience to form a mental picture of its current situation. Then it could evaluate various options and make informed decisions about what action to take. The NS was flexible in matching responses to the perceived situation, while the old system could trigger only its built-in responses. This meant that many actions requiring flexible responses to complex situations in the external world were brought under control of the NS, while the OS kept control of routine functions, like breathing, operating outside of consciousness.
The NS’s extra flexibility increased the evolutionary fitness of the organism by making possible choices that were more appropriate for specific situations. To accomplish this the conscious organism needed goals and values to help it select options that would enhance its chances of surviving and reproducing. This was done by transferring the values of the OS to the NS. During previous eons the OS had gone through a painful trial-and error design process and had developed a suitable repertoire of standard responses that helped the organism’s ancestors survive. The practical wisdom embodied in the OS was passed on to the NS through the transfer of value signals.
The neurons that triggered the OS standard responses sent their value signals to the NS to tell it what to do. But the NS did not use these signals in the same way as the OS. Instead, in the NS the OS signals were compared with other signals generated by the NS, and a decision would be made.
Where did the NS get the criteria it used to judge the relative merit of the different possibilities? Options based on standard OS responses were evaluated using the value signals sent from the OS. Options suggested by the NS were assigned merit according to their innate or attached values. Directly or indirectly, all of the value signals were produced by the preexisting mechanisms for generating values in the OS. Thus the OS values played extremely important roles in controlling the conscious decisions of the NS. Even the subconscious process by which attention selected the most important information streaming from the outside world needed criteria for evaluating what is important. This evaluation was ultimately based on the OS values.
“Even today our brains probably operate under something like this scenario,” explains Elbert. “The OS is the limbic-brain system; the NS is the thalamocortical system.”
Above I have given you an introduction to the basic elements of Elbert’s theory. The rest of his chapter is an elaboration on these elements, but space limitations for my article does not allow me to describe the elaboration adequately. Let me, then, summarize some points that Elbert advocates in his elaborative schema (1. We come to have subjective feelings that are aligned with the values favored by natural selection, (2. The value signals of which we are conscious are our feelings, (3. A value signal seems like a sort of mental force that tends to control the decision-making process.
Elbert concludes, “The picture of motives and conclusions painted here suggests a particular view of human nature. It implies that it is misleading to claim we are basically rational. Although we have a much higher ability to reason than other animals, reasoning does not control our everyday decisions. Typically we use reasoning as a tool to help us decide whether a proposed course of action would achieve what we want it to do. The basic goals do not result from the reasoning process. What really counts is whether potential choices are in harmony with our basic evolutionary values. Although our complicated thought processes may hide our fundamental motivations, subconscious mechanisms inherited from our animal ancestors motivate our behavior and determine our decisions.
“The conclusion that mechanisms within the brain determine our choices indicates a conflict between the picture of decision making given here and some common ideas about free will,” says Elbert.
What about it, humanists, do you agree?