As fall is now upon us, my thoughts are heavily moved to gratitude, family and friends, and the pending end to this year. It has been a busy one for sure, personally. But it seems that life is moving faster these days despite efforts to slow us down. This said, I am happy to announce we will be starting to meet in person again next month and will be picking up our fun activities. The November newsletter will announce next month’s meeting and location. We will also be doing a records update soon to refresh all of your contact information. We respect your privacy and your info will not be used for any other purpose other than to send our content to you.
With the holidays fast approaching and all the hustle and bustle that accompanies them, be sure to take time for yourself to study, learn, and do what makes you feel happy and while. It is important to remember who YOU are in your life, what it is that you stand for and how you present yourself in your life. There is no one else who is just like you. There is no perfect answer, aside from what YOU decide. And it is absolutely okay to not know all the answers while you are figuring it out.
We hope October is an amazing month for you on your journey. We are excited to see you all very soon. I personally cannot wait!
You are seen. You are heard. We are here. Let’s go out and have fun!
Human(ist)s in the World
You’d think focusing on reality would be obvious, but as it turns out, most humans default to commitment to fantasy or delusion. Most of us sacrifice ourselves to our stories about how we want the world to be or how we wish the world was or how we wish our lives were, or how we wish we were.
Christianity and other religions sometimes encourage adherents to be “in the world but not of the world” (inspired by John 15, for example). This idealistic tension can have benefits, but it also can encourage avoidance and denial. A primary function of religion is to overlay fantasy onto reality, in part to facilitate emotional regulation and cooperation (all of civilization is also fantasy, but that’s a topic for another time).
As humans and humanists, we are stuck in the world, stuck in reality. There is nowhere else to be.
The problem is the world kind of sucks. More precisely, humans are easily overwhelmed and all of us are embedded in corrupt institutions. I want to share more about my experience as a humanist going through Divinity School. More on that later. For my Constructive Theology final, we used the framing “saved from”, “saved to”, and “saved how”. My “saved from” was “Humans suck, and institutions are corrupt”. My “saved to” was “human thriving and institutional transformation,” and my “saved how” was “pivots, tipping points, and infecting systems” (happy to share the whole paper with anyone who requests it. And as always, I’m happy to continue the conversation if you want to email me).
All of us want to be good. We want to be healthy. But we also live in a largely toxic, exploitative environment. I call the current predominant worldview a “consumerist death cult” because our top global priority is the illusion of economic growth at any cost, even the cost of civilization itself.
This is why I believe that Fortitude is the foundation for all virtue, ethics, and character. We need the emotional endurance to acknowledge and engage with our reality. One of the framings that has brought me the most clarity is to discern the “idea of the thing” vs. the “reality of the thing.”
When people ask me how I handle dealing with death and tragedy in my Chaplain job, I tell them that all the hard and sad things are happening already, whether or not I am looking. Since all the hard sad things are already happening, I might as well help. I realize that I have the luxury of being trained and paid to help people, but I believe this remains a perspective we all can adopt to our benefit.
Let’s get back to reality. So how do we thrive in reality, thrive in this world, which is all we have? In my experience as a Chaplain, one of the hardest things to do in life is to be honest to ourselves. As the show “The Good Place” cleverly illustrates, all of us are complicit in deeply problematic and harmful systems (I highly recommend Michael Schur’s audiobook How to be Perfect, which explores the ethical philosophy underlying the show. The audiobook is the best way to experience it.)
Next, we have to resist the temptation to engage in surface level performance. This is what I most want you to remember from this column, back to this idea vs reality of things (a major reason our culture is so messed up is because those who make the decisions aren’t the ones implementing the decisions, who aren’t the ones primarily impacted by the decisions.)
Two quick provocative but hopefully constructive examples: anti-racism and veganism. Being aware of social power dynamics and systemic injustice and historical oppression are all very good, needed things. Vegetarianism and particularly reforming animal agriculture could do a tremendous amount to literally save the world, or at least our place in it.
That said, these two areas are particularly vulnerable to dogmatism, getting lost in ideas rather than constructively engaging in reality. I highly recommend John McWhorter’s “Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America.” It’s important to acknowledge that though the “Black Lives Matter” movement has impacted cultural conversation in needed ways, most white participation remained at the level of social status motivated performance, or virtue signaling. It is easier to attend a rally than to do the hard daily work of examining our own biases and remaining humble in our own relationships.
Now, on to veganism (I suppose I could tackle CrossFit in a future column). I myself cook and eat mostly whole food plant based (more of a privilege than it should be,) and often cook vegan. I remain flexible mostly for social reasons; I don’t want my diet to be divisive. My older three children have been vegetarians their entire lives. Identifying as vegan is seductive because it enables us to feel superior and less complicit, which can lead us to avoid the deeper issues relating to health and sustainability.
I am enthusiastically supportive of living as healthy and ethical lives as possible. I do think we need to remain humble, curious, and open, and make sure that the way we think of ourselves does not get in the way of facing the reality of how we move through the world. I believe that we all can commit to a form of redeemed reality, where we fully engage with the world as it is, as a first step in working to make it better.
—Chaplain Jared Anderson
A week or so ago I started thinking of what to write about for the newsletter. I have some scraps of paper that I make notes on from time to time. Often, they are something from the news that I think I might want to include in my submission. But as I begin writing this article, I’m also watching this Category 4 hurricane named Ian start to come ashore near Tampa, Florida or there abouts. For me, a massive storm like this has a way of bringing back to focus issues like climate change and other on the ground issues, so to speak.
Right now, most of the news stations are focused on the storm, politics are gone, and the disaster is shown to us who are safe and far from the storm. But no one storm is proof of climate change or proof that there is no climate change. As a geographer I understand that climate is always changing. The questions are many, but we now know that humans do have an impact on the environment. Good old Mother Nature will get our attention as extremes become more widespread.
I think I have admitted that I watch too much news and it obviously can increase one’s anxiety. So, I have forced myself to watch less and get back to doing some reading. But I still like to stay informed, so I had to shake my head when I saw that the new PM of Italy is part of the rebirth of the Mussolini Fascism. I had to say to myself,” Are you shitting me, are we going to have to fight World War II again?
Anyway, back to my doing more reading. I have gone back to reading a few of my favorite science fiction novels and authors. One that is at the top of any top ten list I might make is Rama. (reviews on our website at: https://humanistsofutah.org/newsletter-archive/2014-newsletters/december-2014/?highlight=Rama#Rama_Series_Arthur_C_Clark_Book_Report) Rama is actually a series of books about an alien ship big enough to have cities inside with room to spare. But more than that it is about the character Nicole De Jardins life from being raised in France and the Ivory, to becoming an astronaut who eventually becomes stranded on this alien spaceship. Three of the four nearly five-hundred-page books follow her life and the lives of a few others aboard this ship as it travels to the Node where many of these ships go back and forth throughout the galaxy sampling life forms and have been bringing them back to the Node to study for millions of years. Some of my other favorites that I may revisit include Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series (reviewed on our website at: https://humanistsofutah.org/newsletter-archive/1996-newsletters/august-1996/?highlight=Foundation%20series#The_Foundation_Series_by_Isaac_Asimov) and Robert A. Heinlein’s books that feature His character Lazarus Long, Like, Time Enough for Love.
I usually write my article at the last minute before Wayne’s deadline. But this month I started early. So, I was able to take a break for a few days. Hurricane Ian has finished cutting a huge swath of death destruction across Florida and Conservatives are still trying to destroy democracy. But I want to continue writing about what I am doing other than watching too much news.
Along with reading I have been going through my collection of music for what I call message songs. I have been collecting albums and then CD’s since I was an adolescent. I have about four hundred albums and probably three hundred CD’s, so there a lot to pick from. I decided to include the lyrics of a message song now and then in my articles. One of my favorite Rock and Roll groups is named Rush. There drummer’s name was Neal Peart. Some of the songs he wrote the lyrics to were called part I, II, III and IV of fear. The song “Witch Hunt,” is part III of fear. It was copyrighted in 1981, but unfortunately, its message is still relevant today. Here are the lyrics from the album Moving Pictures.
The night is black
The air is thick, and still
The vigilantes gather on
The lonely torchlit hill
Features are distorted in the flickering light
The faces are twisted and grotesque
Silent and stern in the sweltering night
The mob moves demons possessed
Quiet in conscience, calm in their right—
Confident their ways are best
The righteous rise
With burning eyes
Of hatred and ill-will
Madmen fed on fear and lies
To beat, and burn, and kill
They say there are strangers, who threaten us
In or immigrants and infidels
They say there is strangeness, too dangerous
In our theaters and bookstore shelves
Those who know what’s best for us—
Must rise and save us from ourselves
Quick to judge
Quick to anger
slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice
Walk hand in hand
HoU Board Member
Letter to the Editor
I read September Newsletter, filled with so much praise for wealthy white men who enslaved people and lived as wealthy settler-colonialists during the ‘beginning years’ of our United States of America, without mentioning any of the more problematic aspects of who they were, the lives they lived, and the many harmful policies they enacted. I just wanted to submit a …. hmmmm …. piece of clarification/contestation? Or perhaps a challenge to the perspective of ‘honoring’ our ‘founding fathers,’ mixed with an optimistic view of how our past is continuously intertwined with current events:
Notes on James Madison, Past and Present:
“Lizzo Plays New Notes on James Madison’s Crystal Flute from 1813” — NYT, 09/28/22
In addition to being hailed as the “Father of the Constitution,” the fourth President of the United States (from 1809-1817), James Madison also played pivotal roles in drafting and promoting the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights, and served as a close advisor to our nation’s first president, George Washington. Both men were born into wealthy, slave-holding planter families in Virginia—and neither of them freed any of the enslaved people they inherited or purchased during their lifetimes, or in their wills.
Now, is it more important to us, today, to remember James Madison as: one of the organizers of the Constitutional Convention; one of the authors, alongside Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, of the Federalist Papers; the Secretary of State, under our third president Thomas Jefferson (another wealthy plantation owner and slaveholder—who regularly raped one slave in particular, Sally Hemmings, the half-sister of his late wife, beginning when she was only 14 years old,) who supervised the Louisiana Purchase; or perhaps as the enslaver of over 100 humans over the course of his life, who also directly influenced the agreement known as the “Three Fifths Compromise,” giving greater political power to slaveholders. I prefer to see our “Founding Fathers” as the settler-colonialists and upholders of white supremacy that they were, and to acknowledge the reality that this country we now call the United States of America was ‘created,’ developed, founded, and built by genocidal, racist men born into positions of power and privilege enabling them to murder, displace, and/or enslave millions of people around them, directly and indirectly.
The more we learn about who they were, how they were raised, the lives they led, and the beliefs and values they held as they were founding this country, the more I believe we can put into a more honest context all of their actions—not only those we have been taught for the past few generations to admire.
HoU Chapter Member
Our history lessons are colored by glamorizing people and events that we deem important. The same stories told from a different perspectives read differently. Therefore, it is important to review history and learn details of what happened and why.
The context of the founding of the USA was in period of time known as the Enlightenment; a time, like the Renascence, when humans described the world around them and took responsibility instead of blaming god(s). I would like to think that if the men being discussed here were living today that they, and their female comrades, would likely be leading the movements cited by Elaine. The were forward thinkers and indeed the fruits of their work resulted in the creation of the Great American Experiment.
Elaine’s objections are valid today and now, but maybe not so much in the late 18th century. She is correct to point out their shortcomings, after all they were, like us, human and saw and addressed societal weakness that they saw and felt. They certainly were not perfect, but then neither am I and am certain that you have shortcomings too.
The purpose to study them is not only to honor their achievements but by recognizing their shortcomings learn to avoid those issues in the future.
Knowledge is supreme.
HoU Chapter Member
Some Good News
These are trying times for Secular Humanists, as well as anyone else who favors the rule of law, the scientific method, separation of church and state, and other humanist principles. For just one example, the Supreme Court is currently (and for the foreseeable future), stocked with religious fanatics who have already gutted reproductive health care for women, and have set their sights on marriage equality, the right to use contraceptives and other fundamental rights. Zeus knows what other 21st century rights they’ll get rid of order to achieve their goal of sending us all back to the 19th century. But a short time ago I received a small dollop of hope that I’d like to share with you.
On Sunday August 21, I went to the SHSNY Sunday Brunch and Conversation at the Globe. Just before noon, in walked a young man and a young woman (I’d guess they were each about 20) who were looking around shyly, as if this was the first time they’d been to a SHSNY event, which indeed it was. I wanted them to feel welcome and at home, so I sat down with them to chat. I told them about SHSNY and the things we believe (and don’t believe) in, including the fact that pretty much all of us are atheists.
Then I braced for their reaction. I’m from an era where stating my atheism feels like a dangerous act. Even people who are not particularly religious expect some kind of vague deity belief in others, and I’ve been the recipient of both shock and anger when expressing my non-theist views. Now comes the good part. These two young people Maybe even more importantly, they expressed surprise that I had been concerned about how they would react to my lack of religious beliefs. People their age, they told me, have all sorts of religious (and non-religious) beliefs, and so, to them, meeting a person who is a non-believer is to be expected and is cause for neither alarm nor pre-judgment.
And that, I think, is good news!
PIQUE, September 2022
HoU Chapter Opportunities
Our Chapter needs volunteers to serve on the Board of Directors. Specifically, Leona Blackbird, who has been chapter secretary for as long as anyone can remember, needs to retire, and hand the reins over to someone before she dies. Not that she is expected to die soon, but she would like to see a smooth transition of our financial records. The job requires a good understanding of Microsoft Excel, ability to access bank accounts online, and work with the State to maintain our Non-Profit status. Her feet may look small, but her shoes are huge.
Wayne Wilson is in much the same position as Leona. His responsibilities include maintaining a Microsoft Access database of our membership records. He also edits, prints, posts to our website WordPress database, and mails/emails out the monthly newsletter. This position has evolved quite a bit in the past 20 years. It started out an MS DOS WordPerfect merge file to send the monthly newsletters out. He moved the database to FoxPro and then to Access. Somewhere in there he got a website up and running; it is currently in it’s fourth iteration. The point here is that the need to distribute a monthly newsletter is what needs to be done and whoever assumes this responsibility will have wide latitude on how to get it accomplished. Like Leona, Wayne would like to ensure a smooth transition by working with the new resource. It is also worth mentioning that the duties have been split between two people for several stretches of time.
If you are interested please contact any Board Member