October 2023

President’s Message

October is my favorite month, in my favorite season and is all things wonderful in my memories of growing up. Now that the heat has finally subsided and we are in a resting period before the holidays and winter, it is a  great time for reflection and pause.

In my reflections I have been very contemplative over how I present myself to the world.  How do I show up as a humanist, as a mother, as a friend, as a partner, as a citizen, as a leader…you get the picture.

It is easy to get lost in the noise and chaos of life and especially with the political climates we are exposed to, the general angst that is present, and the fast hustle and bustle that has become the tempo for many of our lives.

How do we quiet down without withdrawing from life? How do we hold firm in our convictions and beliefs without losing sense of self and becoming callus? How do you drive and experience your personal life in the style that you want? How do you thrive in all of this without losing peace? Our humanist values are interesting, in that they cover the entire spectrum of peace and fight. Not in the usual thought of those words, but more in alignment with keeping the greater good in mind. This is part of the beauty of who we are as humanists, you can choose at any moment how you want to present your humanistic values. There are times where I have not had the bandwidth to engage very heavily due to circumstances. I live my values always but participation was minimal. There are other times, where I have been heavy in the “good fight” and am very politically active, working toward our cause in helping others know about humanism and mentoring in the philosophies. Wherever you are in your life, you are in full control of how you present yourself to the world. Just to be clear, I am not talking about what others perceive… they are spectators to your life experience. Presenting yourself to the world is a conscious decision (actually many of them) on how you want to live, your values, your humor, your dress, your interactions/ relationships with others and your work.

Last month, we had our first official Humanist meeting at our new location: the Salt Lake City Downtown public library. Our very own Humanist chaplain, Jared Anderson, spoke on Incomparable Good at Inexcusable Cost. It was wonderful to see new faces and experience a room that is comfortable for us all. This month we will hear from Jen Dailey-Provost. She is speaking on “Medical Aid in Dying and Utah Politics”. As always, our meetings are open to the public and free of charge. Invite your family and friends. 

Dearest friends, the time is now to decide how you want to present yourself to the world. It is time to learn more about humanism and how important it is to helping heal the world and its people. One person at a time… even if that person is you. Educate yourself, determine that your individualism is valid and important, and look through eyes of reason to make decisions that will help you and those around you to live their best lives and for our world to literally be on the path to becoming a better place. 

I look forward to seeing you at the library this month for our meeting. My hope is that your fall season is a beautiful and much needed one filled with rest, tranquility and peace. You are strong. You are brave. You are valid. But most of all, you are unique and wonderful.  

Melanie White Curtis, President

Chaplain’s Corner

Incomparable Good as Inexcusable Cost

This past month I have had the chance to give two presentations that distill the past ten years of my life, and describe my passion questions that drive my purpose:

Is it possible to be world class, and remain well?

Is it possible to be world changing, and remain good?

Is it possible to be average, and remain motivated?

I’ve come to these questions after working at the extremes of human experience, studying social science and systems, especially the frustratingly powerful topic of religion. I actually presented down at BYU, on the topic of “Service in extremis: What ministry at the edge of life and death teaches us about wellness day to day”. I’ll share that one with you next month. And the motivation question stems from the problem that we are evolved to survive rather than thrive, so as soon as we stop fearing for our lives, we become complacent.

But first, I’d like to summarize the presentation I gave for our Humanists of Utah event at the Salt Lake Public Library. That presentation broached the question of world-changing institutions, and whether they can remain good. Short answer, no.

Religion is easy to complain about. It is easy to complain about things that we know well and dislike strongly. Or perhaps we’d like to believe that if we ignore religion, it will leave us alone. Unfortunately, that is not the case either. And then we have the puzzle of the fact that virtually all cultural institutions are functionally Humanist, which means that pretty much everyone is functionally humanist (say, all those who use currency, gain education, and are affiliated with governments, all humanist institutions), but precious few humans actually identify as Humanist. Howard Radest in What is Humanism and Why Does it Matter comments that too often, we Humanists are “non-joiners” and “non-givers”. So we have our work cut out for us if we want to do good in the world, which hopefully we do.

One challenge is that with all the problems religion has, it actually does more good than pretty much any other cultural institution. Our society and survival depend on us being able to cooperate, and religion facilitates cooperation better than anything else. Two reasons for this are that religion gets in our head more than anything else (belief in god functions as internalized social norms), and religion is more comprehensive than anything else. Even if you are involved with the sports or military, you aren’t thinking about sports or military all the time. If you are religious, your religion impacts everything you do and even your thoughts. For better and worse, religion behaves as an accelerant to motivation and investment.

Religion helps humans manage their emotions. It provides structures to process guilt, to forgive the self and others. It organizes space and time. God functions as an attachment figure, loving and watching over us even when there is no one else. Prayer focuses us and allows us to tap into memory and wisdom. Religion helps us feel a sense of control in our lives and manage disappointment when we fail to attain it.

Importantly, religion also provides what could be called “prosthetic morality” as well as explanations for the tragedies of life. Questions of right and wrong prove impossibly complex, and even suboptimal ethics, packed over millennia and ready for consumption, fulfill important roles. And to return to my beginning point, for better and worse, religion can push us to heights and depths of human experience we otherwise would not attain. It engages our entire evolutionary brain to motivate us to action.

The runners up for most impactful cultural institutions are likely family, nationalism, and economics. The statistics for domestic violence and war are sobering, and irresponsible economic policies have sparked climate chaos and put civilization at risk. Mao (about 78 million) and Stalin (about 23 million) are responsible for more death than any other leader, and these atrocities were inflicted on their own people, caused by irresponsible economic modernization in order to increase personal status and power.

Religion comes with embedded morality, however faulty; economics has no such checks. In brief, if we are going to critique religion, and we should, we should critique all institutions.

I’m motivated by the saying “revolutionaries make poor plumbers,” a reminder that it is easier to tear down than build up. I’ve worked hard to become relentlessly constructive in my own life. So what do we do with all this? How do we grapple with the inexcusable costs and harms done by the humanist institutions we invest in?

In brief, we do better. We show up. We join the conversations and nurture our communities. We can work to improve ourselves as individuals, as Humanists, in relationship to religion, and as human beings. As Alain de Botton urges us, we Humanists can learn from religion to make our practice more rigorous. We can connect to our values and design rituals, using structure and support to motivate us to follow through on those values. We can get creative and use all our resources to raise the bar.

We can also be better Humanists by investing in and participating in worthwhile programs, projects, and institutions. I have found that the next right step is almost always a healthier version of what we are already doing. Whether it is work, a club, oror local library, we can make these best institutions even better.

And for those of us connected to religion (that’s all of us, even as Humanists), we can do what we can to encourage the healthy, pro-human, pro-wellness aspects of belief and practice.

By taking seriously the fact that all powerful institutions do good at great cost and inescapable tradeoffs, we increase both humility and motivation. We are humans and Humanists, but first and foremost, we are small parts of the powerful systems of which we are a part. I have found that the greatest good can be done by thoughtful, mindful members of large, powerful organizations. We are all connected to those organizations to different degrees (a key part of my motivation to join the military is because there is no more powerful cultural intersection than military Chaplaincy; that’s like cultural impact bingo). We can do better in our individual lives, our relationships, and our systems, becoming a sort of healthy virus that can increase well-being to a disproportionate degree.

Jared Anderson, Humanist Chaplain

Expanding Your Comfort Zone

None of us are born with a guidebook that provides explicit rules for thought and behavior that will enable us to navigate life successfully. To cope with the myriad of complexities to which all of humanity is subject, we each develop a set of habits and routines that ground us, their continuity assuring us that life is progressing normally. Most of us know, whether instinctively or by experience, that transformations can be uncomfortable, but we always learn and gain so much. Any initial discomfort we experience when expanding our comfort zones diminishes gradually as we both become accustomed to change and begin to understand that temporary discomfort is a small price to pay for the evolution of our soul.

Your current comfort zone did, at one time, serve a purpose in your life. But it is representative of behaviors and patterns of thought that empowered you to cope with challenges of days past.

Now this comfort zone does little to facilitate the growth you wish to achieve in the present. Leaving your comfort zone behind through personal expansion of any kind can prepare you to take the larger leaps of faith that will, in time, help you refine your purpose. Work your way outward at your own pace, and try not to let your discomfort interfere with your resolve. With the passage of each well-earned triumph, you will have grown and your comfort zone will have expanded to accommodate this evolution.

Whether your comfort zone is living with your parents, or perhaps being too shy to socialize, or maybe it’s not realizing your spirit self—whatever it is, start small, and you will discover that venturing beyond the limited comfort zone you now cling to is not as stressful an experience as you imagined it might be. And the joy you feel upon challenging yourself in this way will nearly always outweigh your discomfort. As you continue to expand your comfort zone to include new ideas, activities, goals, and experiences, you will see that you are capable of stimulating change and coping with the fresh challenges that accompany it.      -DailyOm

Melanie-White Curtis, President

Favorite Season

I’ve always enjoyed living where the four seasons are distinct from each other.  As a teenager I used to love winter mostly because I skied a lot and winter camped after snowshoeing in the Uintah mountains. It wasn’t until I was an adult growing a garden that I started enjoying spring. As a youth spring was the end of the ski season and a time when my allergies were the worst.  Summer is ok, but the unbearable heat of mid-summer doesn’t appeal much.  At this point in my life Fall has become my favorite season.  I live in Holladay right up at the foot of Mount Olympus on the Wasatch front.  At this time of year, we can watch the colors change, with the yellows, oranges, reds and the dark greens of the pine trees. Add the colors of the rocks and the ruggedness of the peak with an occasional dusting from an early snowfall makes for a sublime view.  Fall is also the time that my efforts growing veggies is paying off.  The harvest from my several tomato plants is more than we can eat, so I make three varieties of spaghetti sauce, salsa and soup to freeze.  Plus, in the fall you can BBQ outside without being BBQed yourself by the sun.  The only problem with fall is that it can be rather short if winter decides to show up a little early.  (Ed note: Fall is the perfect season…if only it wasn’t followed by winter!)

In recent times I’ve been easing myself back from board member duties as have other longtime board members.  I have been on the board for well over twenty years, with 13 years as president.  Having said that, I want to give a shout out to the rest of the board member new and old. The pandemic kind of knocked many things off kilter a bit. But the board is doing a good job getting things up and running by getting our schedule filled in and venues reserved. 

It’s been a number of years since we had regular discussion group meetings, but it was one of the things I enjoyed most about our chapter.  While having one monthly as we use to may be too often, perhaps three or four times a year might be doable.  I think it’s a nice addition to the meetings with speakers.

That’s about it for now.  I hope you’re enjoying the fall season as much as I am. Hope to see you soon.

Robert Lane, Board Member

Brain Help

You can play a part in the science of improving brain health!  The Brain Health Project at the University of Texas at Dallas is enrolling adult volunteers of all ages for a long term project.  Volunteers access brain training at their own pace, and take scheduled assessments to determine changes over time.  Check it out:


Get Involved!

Plan a Service Project

Plan and organize a HoU service project!  Do you know of an organization that needs help?

Give members, family and friends an opportunity to contribute.  If you are interested in planning or working on a service project, Email


Join a Discussion Group

Start a discussion group on contemporary topics like criminal justice, unhoused people, body autonomy, local climate change, (no religion or politics!) informed by a selected podcast series, film, fiction or non-fiction book.  Be part of a monthly virtual group to share, meet and hear other members.  Email wwison@humanistsofutah.org

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Suggest a Speaker

Bring a topic to the HoU meeting.  Email


HoU Board Office

Play a role in promoting humanism in Utah by serving as a board member.  Email wwilson@xmission.com

Many Thanks, Wayne!

Wayne Wilson has been the Utah Humanist editor and publisher {as well as a lot of other positions) for 12 years and has done a great job in a demanding role.  Wayne is moving onward to other ways to serve.

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