History of American Secularism
The Humanists of Utah have celebrated Thomas Paine Day in the past by holding a Thomas Paine Day in the fall of each year. This year due to Covid 19 restrictions the board has asked me to write an article about Thomas Paine in lieu of a meeting with a speaker. Thomas Paine is considered one of the founders of our nation. In this discussion I would like to include three other men associated with the formation of our country along with Thomas Paine: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams.
As background, it is important to note that the American revolution was in large part a strong reaction against the state-sponsored Church of England and the “divine right” of the English monarchy. The colonists were not fond of Kings or of their God-given right to be dictators.
Now, contrary to the belief of most Christians in America, the founders of our nation were not religious in the sense that they would have you believe. The four founding fathers I will discuss were all deists. A deist is not a theist or an atheist. Their ideology held that God might have created the world but after he created it, it could, and did, run by itself. After the initial creation event, the deists contended that God no longer intervened in any temporal events, concerned himself with the affairs of man, or answered any personal prayers. Deists rejected any religious dogma or claims that any religion or any scriptural book; the Torah, the Bible, The Quran, The Bhagavad Gita, or any other book contained God’s revealed words.
Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston in 1706. He had been brought up a pious Presbyterian. After reading many different books, he began to have doubts about religion by the age of fifteen. He wrote, “Of several points, as I found them disputed in different books that I read, I began to doubt revelation itself. Some books against deism fell into my hands, and it happened that they wrought an effect in me quite the contrary stop what was intended by them. The argument for deists…appeared to me to be much stronger than the refutations.”
Benjamin Franklin traveled to Europe. While in Scotland he stayed with the well-known agnostic philosopher David Hume. Hume’s works including “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” and “Dialogue Concerning Natural Religion” were widely read and deeply influential. Hume’s friends consider him a skeptic and his enemies considered him an atheist. Hume and Franklin became friends. On his return to America from Europe Franklin joined the earliest Masonic Lodge in America in 1734 and later became its president. In time he would become a strong influence on Thomas Paine.
Thomas Jefferson certainly qualified as a Deist if not an agnostic or atheist. This becomes clear from one of his most famous quotes.
“I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition, Christianity, one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon upon fables and mythologies.” He went on to say, “Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man…perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind…a mere contrivance for the clergy to filch wealth and power to themselves”.
Jefferson is known for writing his version of the Bible that kept all the teachings of Jesus intact but removed all the ‘miracles”. He believed that if we had a clean text of the Bible, one that included only the words of the real Jesus and not his miracles, it would help conquer bigotry and fanaticism.
Of the four men, John Adams was the least vociferous proponent of deism. Not as outspoken as the others, he did however carry on a long correspondence with Jefferson in which they mutually criticized religion. As the second president of the United States, Adams signed into law the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797. The treaty declared the government of the United States was not in any sense founded on Christianity. In one of his last letters to Jefferson, he mentions the historian Charles Francois Dupuis (1792-1809) who explained the story of Jesus as a “…classic myth, born at winter solstice, beset with difficulties, reborn from beneath the earth in spring.”
Thomas Paine (1737-1809) was an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary. His pamphlet “Common Sense” published in 1776 had a profound influence on the movement for independence in America. His pamphlet challenged the authority of the British government and the royal monarchy. The plain language that Paine used spoke to the common people of America and it was the first work to openly ask for independence from Great Britain. His 47-page pamphlet, proportionally the all-time best selling title in American history, was read by, or to every rebel in the American Revolution. After the American Revolution, the Revolutionary War, and the writing of our Constitution Paine traveled to France to participate in the French Revolution. He was very popular and was elected to the French National Convention. While in France he wrote his most famous work, “The Age of Reason”. The French revolution had a very turbulent and fractious ending, and he smuggled his book out of France in 1794 and barely left in time to save his neck.
President Jefferson invited Paine home and gave him passage on a national ship. Back home, his book, “The Age of Reason” was widely read and had a strong influence on a young nation based on a strong separation of church and state.
Paine did not spare word when it came to religion. He wrote, “Every national church or religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God…Each of the churches causes the others of unbelief, and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.”
He used the history of the Jews in his arguments: “The best evidence we now have respecting this affair of Jesus is the Jews. They are regularly descended from the people who lived in the times that this resurrection and ascension is said to have happened, and they say it is not true.” When asked about his religion Thomas Paine said, “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”
These deist founding fathers had a major influence in the writing of the United States Constitution. They carefully inserted a strong wall between church and state by way of the First Amendment of the Constitution. This constitutional amendment makes America the first fully secular nation ever conceived and brought forth upon this earth. As secular humanists we should be very proud of our country and its founders including Thomas Paine.
—Craig Wilkinson, MD
Board Member Humanists of Utah
I hope this finds you well and happy. We want to thank everyone who was able to come to the annual BBQ picnic earlier this month. We had a great time. It was intended to be our big launch back into the world of a bit of normalcy. We have plans of future events, meetings, and such. But due to the ever-changing nature of this pandemic, it is not to be yet. We, as a board, are watching very closely to the CDC recommendations and to our state health officials and what is happening here in our own communities. Currently, we are hesitant to “re-open” too quickly and risk putting folks in harm’s way. But, the good news is, we are not going dormant like happened last year. With all the heavy things we are witnessing and experiencing right now, as a people, it is hard sometimes to find bright spots, moments of happiness and clarity, and peace. So, instead of being able to congregate together in person, for now, we are going to be providing many different avenues for engagement. Lots of safe interaction, happy thoughts, good reading, and many virtual activities and speakers for you to connect with. We also have plans for safe activities in the near or not so near future. Again, we will be adhering to the guidelines presented to us and as always, you are free to use your best judgment, as well.
Friends, there is so much to be grateful for in these times of chaos and uncertainty. We are fighting a good fight. We are all in this together. We have strong values and morals to guide us. We have each other and this wonderful organization to lean to and draw strength from.
Humanist Philosophy in Perspective
Many have expressed interest in learning more about humanism, what it is and perhaps some of the history that got us where we are today. A great starting place is an article, “The Humanist Philosophy in Perspective,” from the American Humanist Association written by Fred Edwords who has been active in national humanism since at least 1990. https://americanhumanist.org/what-is-humanism/humanist-philosophy-perspective/
Our own HoU Website also has wealth of information and history surrounding humanism’s roots, core beliefs, and actions.
Brief History of Humanism
· Flo Wineriter, one of our most influential founders wrote this piece in 1993 (our chapter was founded in 1992): https://humanistsofutah.org/newsletter-archive/1993-newsletters/september-1993/#Humanism_A_Brief_History
Living and Dying – Humanism and US History
· In 2000 Wineriter opined on this subject again: https://humanistsofutah.org/newsletter-archive/2000-newsletters/october-2000/#Living_and_Dying_Humanism_and_US_History
The State of Humanist Organizations
· Richard Layton addressed this subject in his Discussion Group: https://humanistsofutah.org/newsletter-archive/2006-newsletters/april-2006/#The_State_of_Humanist_Organizations
I wish you: health, safety, and peace. I also am very excited to see you in all of the good news that is coming. Watch for it and plug into our FB page for daily goodies and information.
Pictures from the Picnic
Robert Ray Frahm passed away peacefully Saturday, August 7, 2021, in the home he shared with Sally Jo Fuller in Sandy.
He was born March 4, 1936, in Granger, Utah to Stella Petersen and William Frahm.
After attending Cypress High School, he spent two years in the US Army during the Cold War, stationed in Greenland. Robert was employed for 45 years by Kennecott-Rio Tinto. His occupation is listed as Powerplant Control Room Operator. Robert was always fascinated with the large machinery and operations at the plant. Robert’s passion was watching Formula One and motorcycle racing events and TV shows where older model cars were rebuilt to their original design. Classical music was always on his mind.
Robert was preceded in death by both of his parents and his “best cook” sister, Bette Barton.
He leaves behind a daughter, Kimberly Mitchell of SanTan Valley, Arizona and the following nieces and nephews: Richard G. Barton, Julie B. Rasmussen, Tina B. Aramaki, and Michael Barton. Robert also leaves behind his most caring friend and domestic partner, Sally Jo Fuller.
We wish to thank Bruce Bailey, our neighbor, who came to his assistance many times these past few months. Also, we wish to thank the George E. Wahlen VA Medical staff and Superior Home Care and Hospice for their care over the past few years.
Robert was a lifelong Atheist and Democrat and proud of it.
—Sally Jo Fuller
1931 ~ 2021
John Barnes was born in Kansas City, Missouri, September 15, 1931, but he grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming. In about 1950 he was called into the National Guard.
In 1956 on to the University of Wyoming where he majored in Business Management attaining his Bachelor of Science Degree after four years. During this time, he met and married Joyce who was attending the University of Colorado’s State Teachers College. They have two daughters who live in California and Montana.
After college, John was employed as a Data System Analyst for The Martin Company in Littleton, Colorado, for five years. Then moved to the Salt Lake area where he worked for Hercules Aerospace as a Data System Analyst for the next thirty years until retirement in 1989.
John and Joyce have done some traveling, but mostly enjoy the local cultural events in Salt Lake City by regularly attending the symphonies, ballets, operas, and theater productions. A great pastime in reading magazine publications, such as; Discover Magazine, National Geographic, The New Yorker, and The Bloomberg News Newspaper.
John has been a member of the Humanists of Utah for twenty years and a Board Member for three years. He says that joining HoU, he has enjoyed the company of developing intelligence of the members. As to his sense of humor which he shares liberally, he believes that he acquired it mostly on his own.
—Sally Jo Fuller
Addendum – obit published in the Salt Lake Tribune:
John passed away August 25, 2021, in Salt Lake City, Utah of complications from COVID-19. Even though he was vaccinated, a combination of an underlying aspiration pneumonia and waiting too long to seek care proved too much for his body to recover. John was born to Leona and Sam Barnes in Jackson, Missouri. When he was around five years old, his parents moved him and his younger brother, Sam Jr. to Cheyenne, Wyoming. The boys grew up in Cheyenne, getting into brotherly mischief involving late night escapades, firecrackers and general rowdiness befitting two best friends, born exactly five years apart. John met the love of his life, Joyce Colburn in the late 1940’s while they were both in college. After getting married, they moved to Portales, New Mexico where John served as a mechanic in the Air National Guard, repairing planes used in the Korean War. Sidenote: he fudged his age in order to join the Guard! In Portales their first daughter, Ariel was born in 1952. After returning to Laramie to finish his degree, John and his family moved to Littleton, Colorado where he worked for Thiokol. In 1958, during a terrible blizzard, his second daughter Barb was born. Barb had a birth defect and needed to be rushed to a Denver hospital, but all the ambulances were out in the storm. So, John rushed his newborn baby, incubator and all, and the pediatrician to the hospital in his car for her to have emergency surgery. In 1961 John and his family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah after a job transfer to Hercules. He and Joyce proceeded to put down deep roots in Holladay, a suburb of Salt Lake. John enjoyed a long career as a systems analyst with Hercules. He was very involved in Toastmasters, was an avid skier, and competed in handball well into his late 70’s. John also became an accomplished private pilot, and enjoyed his time at Skypark in Bountiful, Utah as well as flying his family to visit relatives in Wyoming and Michigan. He also supported Ariel in obtaining her student pilot license before she could legally drive a car by herself. He also taught both daughters how to drive a manual shift on the floor or column, as well as how to change tires, oil and spark plugs. John and Joyce were devoted patrons of Salt Lake’s performing arts, supporting Ballet West, JazzSLC (GAM), Pioneer Theatre and the SL Acting Company. They were founding members of the Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, only missing when illness prevented them from attending. Additionally, John was a member of the Humanist Society and the Unitarian Church. John also had a strong artistic streak, including painting, photography, woodwork, carpentry and stained glass. A devoted reader of anything to do with history or politics, John remained informed and able to converse about anything from European issues to local history, national events and politics. (Thank you Frost’s Books and Wellers). Following a terribly botched hip replacement surgery resulting in the loss of use of his right foot and ankle, John had to give up his home and connections with his valued wonderful neighbors. The silver lining was being able to move to Parklane independent living apartments where he made many friends and enjoyed all aspects of the community. To the dismay of many, he continued to drive, with his left leg and foot, however he did so without ever having a serious accident! (Don’t try this at home folks) While he did drive through the “old neighborhood” almost daily, he also found new ways to socialize, including stopping in at his local mechanic’s shop almost daily (thank you Slaugh’s Car Care) and being the liquor store runner for friends at Parklane. Preceding John into the greater realms of Love were his wife Joyce, his parents, brother Sam, and granddaughter Renee. He is survived by daughters Ariel Owen a retired educator (Walnut Creek, CA), Barb Barnes a conflict resolution facilitator (Helena, MT) Granddaughter Autumn Barnes, a podcast producer (Missoula, MT), Sister in-law Anita Barnes, Nephew John Barnes (Glore), Brother/Sister in-law Frank and Charlotte Colburn, Nephew Mark Colburn (Brenda), Nieces Cate Colburn-Smith (Chris) and Anne Colburn-Ehrhart (Tim) and de facto cousin Malin Foster (Cody, WY). The family wishes to extend deeply heartfelt appreciation to: The wonderful people living in and working at the Parklane community, Wendy Flath P.T. extraordinaire, Amanda Lambert now a family friend and our “boots on the ground” in SLC, Envision Home Health, Fred Gotleib MD a practical and wise physician, the amazing physicians and nurses at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center ICU who made this dreadful time one of healing, compassion and above and beyond care, especially Dr. Sara Scott, Dr. Justine Ly, Nurses Chad, Nick, Cheyenne, Jamie and Emily. We also are incredibly grateful to all of his friends including Sue and David, Margo and Bob, Chad and Mu, Cosette and Barb, Janet, Jud and Adele, Brad and Ryan, Scott, and their wonderful neighborhood family in Holladay. In his last days, John was full of gratitude and the grace of final farewells. Truly it can be said that his tender heart was fully restored as his last words were “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.” Please be sure to tell a corny joke in his honor and consider making a donation to: The Junior League of SLC: 526 East 300 South SLC, UT 84102.
Published by The Salt Lake Tribune from Sep. 1 to Sep. 6, 2021.