November 2017

Origin ~ Book Report

Dan Brown’s most recent book is Origin, it is also the next in the series of the Robert Langdon novels; preceded by The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, Inferno, and The Lost Symbol. The common theme among these books is a questioning of organized religion, mostly Christianity, and especially Catholicism. Origin goes much further than the previous titles in what may be Brown’s personal search to ascertain the role of religion in life. Like previous titles Origin is constructed as a mystery where a renegade group tries to prevent new knowledge from displacing religious dogma in explaining the world we experience.

That said, Origin goes much further than previous efforts to present religion as a largely outdated way of thinking. Edmond Kirsch, the main character of this story is an outspoken atheist and a pioneer in technology. His hardware and software skills have made him a fortune via a company he built. We find out that Kirsch was a student in one of Professor Langdon’s classes and was heavily influenced by Langdon’s ideas.

The now wealthy and influential, Kirsch makes an announcement that he has discovered the answers to the two most important questions facing humanity: “Where did we come from?” and “Where are we going.” He arranged to make a live announcement of the “answers” that will be broadcast worldwide at a black tie, invitation only event. He begins the announcement with footage from a Professor Langdon lecture about the importance and meaning of symbols. As he prepares to launch his saved presentation he is struck between the eyes with a bullet and killed. The shot was fired by the classic Langdon-esque religious fanatic villain. So yes, the main character is killed early in the book, but this is a mystery that Langdon needs to solve.

Nobody else has access to the details of Kirsch’s discoveries; but Langdon is able to lift the custom made cellphone from the Kirsch’s lifeless body. With this device he can communicate with Winston, an artificial intelligence personal assistant that Kirsch created. We learn that Kirsch was heavily influenced by freethinkers like Richard Dawkins, Margaret Downey, and Daniel Dennett. The point is made that even though evolution has been demonstrated countless times that the real issue is “First Cause,”…the term Darwin used to describe this elusive moment of creation. Darwin proved that life has continuously evolved, but he could not figure out how the process started. In other words, Darwin’s theory describes the survival of the fittest, but not the arrival of the fittest. The legendary 1950s experiment by Stanley Miller and Harold Urey who tried to simulate earth conditions a few million years ago where a soup of chemicals was subjected to heat, and electrical shocks did not produce life, maybe a few amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, but not the hoped for appearance of life.

Like previous Dan Brown mysteries, the setting grabbed my attention. The action takes place in Barcelona, Spain and explores the work of architect Antoni Gaudi whose most famous work is the Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that was begun in 1882 and is still a work in progress to this day. There is also intrigue and romance because Edmond Kirsch is engaged to marry the crown prince of Spain and the king is on his death bed.

Unlike previous Langdon stories the villain is something less than superhuman and is thwarted relatively early in the story. The part of this novel I was most intrigued by is the resolution of the second question: Where are we going? It involves Darwinian evolution, Kirsch argues that an extremely rapid change in humans is coming. If he is correct, and it seems plausible to me that he might be, the possibility that our children and certainly our grandchildren will not be homo sapiens as we know them today.

I found this an intriguing novel and highly recommend it.

—Wayne Wilson

Here are some pictures of the cathedral that I took in 2013:

Exterior facade

Colorful interior columns and ceiling

Jesus seems to be parachuting towards the podium

On Past Judgements

Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone
—Joni Mitchell

In the 1976 Presidential election, I voted for John Anderson. I was then, and still am, a liberal. So, Gerald Ford was not a consideration, especially after he pardoned Nixon, which was unforgivable. But I didn’t trust Jimmy Carter, who claimed to be honest. I didn’t know much about the Sothern Baptist Convention but what I did know was that they opposed almost everything I supported. Carter was a Southern Baptist, so Carter was out. Four years later and I had changed my mind. I enthusiastically supporter Carter against Ronald Reagan, and over the years I have grown to appreciate Jimmy Carter more and more.

Carter turned out to be much more honest and thoughtful than the average politician. And he was open to change. He recently left the Southern Baptist Convention after 60 years because of their belief that women should be subservient to men.

Here are some examples of some prescient thoughts from then-President Jimmy Carter’s speeches:

  1. Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning.
  2. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group after another. You often see a balanced and fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends…
  3. Carter warned the nation against following the “path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest,” for “down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others”
  4. We have lost our way…because we have exalted “a mistaken idea of freedom”; our self-indulgence has led us to assert every right as absolute, every form of compromise or regulation as inimical to freedom, and…to elevate the very avatar of self-absorption to the highest office in the land.

—Pete Barkett
Northwest Humanist Monthly
October 2017


Editor’s Note: I too voted for Anderson in 1976 and switched to Carter in 1980. I think Carter will go down in history as one of the most moral politicians to ever serve; anywhere, anytime.

Traveling Local Humanist Leader

Chapter Treasurer Leona Blackbird traveled to Dayton, Tennessee this summer. She posed in front of a new statue of Clarence Darrow that was erected 7/17/17 at the Rhea County Courthouse where the (in)famous Scopes Monkey Trial took place.

President’s Message

I was thinking how it was odd that for the last several months, when I finally force myself to write my President’s message, there is a disaster of some sorts happening. First with Hurricanes, fires, the Las Vegas shooting, and now on Halloween a terrorist attach with a truck running down people in a bike and pedestrian lane in New York City. But I had to use skepticism to remind myself that what I’m doing in my life here in SLC has very little to do with what happening on the streets of New York. It has, however, been distracting and makes it hard to focus and changes my mood. But I really don’t want to talk about disasters.

What I was thinking about, before the Halloween incident was to say a few words about pejoratives and censorship.

Our previous President and co-founder Flo Winewriter advised us to always try to communicate with those we may disagree with a civil tongue. It’s good advice, if for no other reason than the fact that yelling and name calling rarely accomplish anything. But what do you do when your opponent uses your desire to be nice in conversation against you. Making it look like they won the argument because they are more aggressive and a louder mouth. I’ve heard it said that conservatives are fist pumpers and liberals are hand wringers.

This has become particularly common in our political discourse with President Trump constantly using pejoratives of the derogatory and belittling type. He seems to be unable to engage anyone who disagrees with him without turning it adversarial.

As a rather black humored joke I asked if the list of pejoratives that fit Trump was a big as the list of his lies. But I saw the folly in that as I realized that, while the list of pejoratives that fit Donald Trump is a long one, his lies create a tome that I suspect goes back to when he first uttered a sentence as a toddler.

On the somewhat related subject of censorship, I kind of chuckle and groan when I see the media censor a word like bullshit. With all the horror and coarse language, we see and hear in movies and on TV, it seems rather hypocritical to think we are protecting the public from something shocking by writing bullshit, bulls—t. Its more than hypocritical, it’s quite silly.

One more thing before I sign off. The idea that we should be in some way forced to honor or salute the flag, the pledge of allegiance to the flag or stand for the national anthem is absurd. I didn’t serve four years in the U.S. Air Force for a flag or a song or a pledge. I served for our country and its freedoms which include sitting or kneeling or any other form of protest including burning the flag.

For two of the four years I served I was a Security Police law enforcement Sargent who raised and lowered the base flag with pride. But I also understand that the flag means different things to our diverse population. I believe it was Malcolm X who said “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us.” And I remember seeing a Native American on TV say that the only salute he had for the U.S. flag was a middle finger. Pointing out that the U.S. government robbed them of their lands and attempted genocide, somewhat successfully, on Native Americans who were here first.

That’s all for now freethinkers. Let’s hope there’s no disasters for a while.

—Robert Lane
President, HoU