Archived Issue of the Separationist

You have loaded a back issue of The Separationist, the newsletter of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry.


ISSUE: October 2000

Edited by Dave Peterson


Contents:

Sunday, October 15 at 4:00 p.m.

Our speaker: Laura Mundschau Kasman

Topic: "Circumcision––More than a ritual?"

Laura Mundschau Kasman is a Research Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina. Before moving to Charleston in August 1999, she received B.S. and M.S. degrees in animal science from the University of Wisconsin and a Ph.D. in Virology from Harvard University and held various research positions with Biotech companies and in academia in Boston, Athens, GA and Berkeley, CA.

Laura's interest in the medical and social issues surrounding infant male circumcision began when she married into a Jewish family, became pregnant and recognized that her gut reaction was absolutely not to circumcise.

The removal of the foreskin of male humans has existed as a religious or social rite in diverse human cultures for more than 3000 years. In the past 150 years, western medicine has made numerous claims of circumcision's health benefits, and has largely converted the surgery from a cultural ritual to a purely medical procedure in the minds of many. However, whereas purported benefits of neonatal circumcision were publicized widely and repeatedly, arguments and data refuting the claims have gone largely unpublicized in the lay press, especially in the United States. A comparison of the rates of diseases attributed to the foreskin in Europe,where circumcision was largely abandoned by the medical establishment 50 years ago, and the United States, which continues to have a high rate of neonatal circumcision, demonstrates no clear benefits for the circumcised.On the contrary, many men suffer complications of their circumcisions as they enter adulthood. Research has shown that making new parents aware of the minimal health benefits has little impact on their decision to circumcise, indicating that their reasons for circumcision are based on social factors. To what extent, then, is our support of male circumcision in this country medically justifiable and to what extent is it a remnant of an ancient religious ritual?

After the meeting, all those who are interested will repair to a local restaurant for further discussion and camaraderie.

JAMES CAMPBELL ADDRESSES SHL...

At our last meeting, James Campbell, retired educator and NAACP activist, led a large audience in the discussion of another of his front burner concerns: Genetic alteration of plants and animals. The last category of course includes humans. He was not a naysayer to the idea but recognized that there were both an upside and a potential downside to much of the proposed manipulation. Taking as his text, Jeremy Rifkin's book, BIOTECH CENTURY: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World, Jim presented some of the problems. This grew out of a book discussion group he is leading at the Charleston County Main Library. SHL has signed on as a supporter of the discussion group, by the way.

One problem raised, as an example, concerned changing a person's genetic structure to remove a hereditary disposition for––say––diabetes.Who would get this advantage; only rich people? Would wide spread genetic modification create a sub-species with great advantages over the others? This is only one problem.

When Jim stated that he was a Marxist, a new element was thrown into the mix. The libertarians in the audience were especially eager to challenge some of his assumptions, although he wasn't really proposing solutions, only raising problems. All in all, it was a good start to the 2000-1 season.

Your Help Wanted...

By Sharon Fratepietro

Some of you may have heard about Herb Silverman’s effort to persuade the wide spectrum of national freethought organizations to form a coalition so that our collective voice will be more likely to be heard by the media, politicians and ordinary citizens. As a result of Herb’s efforts, the Coalition of the Community of Reason (CCR) was formed this year. (“Community of Reason” encompasses you and me and all other freethinkers, with the name providing a counter-message to the oft-mentioned “Community of Faith.”)

The national member organizations who have joined the Coalition include some you may belong to: The Atheist Alliance International, the American Humanist Association, the Council for Secular Humanism, the Campus Freethought Alliance, the Internet Infidels, and the Secular Student Alliance. The Coalition has invited other national groups to join, including the American Atheists, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and the Society for Humanistic Judaism, but so far they have declined. (If you belong to any of these non-joining organizations, and if you believe they should join the Coalition, please let them know your sentiments!)

The first joint project agreed to by the Coalition is to Publicize, Attract and Defend the Community of Reason. Known as the PAD project, the objective is to let the millions of Americans with no religious affiliation know our local and national freethought organizations exist. Three of the Coalition organizations are making enticing offers to local freethought groups to participate in the PAD project. They have sent suggested ad slicks, plus offers to rebate up to 10% of the advertising cost (up to a maximum of $200) to local groups who advertise their existence in their local press.

As a result, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry may get rebates totaling $600 if we run ads publicizing our group. At the September 20 Executive Committee meeting, those present voted enthusiastically to do this in two ways: through ads in the regional sections of the Post & Courier (the regional sections were chosen because of lower cost than the full paper distribution area), and on the inside back cover (the “Back Board”) of the City Paper.

The City Paper ad will run for five weeks starting October 4. The cost for this series is only $100. However, the Post & Courier ad, which will be much larger and more noticeable, will cost a great deal more.

So here’s how you’re invited to help: Make a donation to defray the cost of the Post & Courier ad, in whatever amount you can comfortably contribute. You can write a check to the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry (be sure to mark it “For Advertising”) and turn it in to Wyman or Doris Hoten at the SHL meeting on October 15, or else mail it to the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, P.O. Box 32256, Charleston, SC 29417.

And don’t forget to pick up a free copy of the City Paper and look for our ad on the Back Board page.

A Few Words of Appreciation...

By Sharon Fratepietro

Too often we neglect to take time to notice or publicly recognize the efforts many people put into sustaining our Secular Humanist organization. One of many peo-ple who deserve recognition is Bill Upshur.

Bill was a founding member of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry. I can’t think of a meeting since the first one years ago when he hasn’t been present—in fact, if Bill doesn’t show up someday at a meeting, we had better fear for the worst! His reliable presence and thoughtful comments at our meetings and dinners at Vickery’s are always comforting to those of us who call him our friend.

Bill has volunteered to serve on the Executive Committee continually over the years, and he always shares the work cleaning our part of Highway 61 four times a year. He submits letters to the editor in our local press on freethought and civil liberties issues. Many people don’t know that Bill arranges for our meeting space and contributes the fee for it to the Unitarian Church each month. He is also the liaison for our monthly Humanist Book Discussion meetings at Barnes and Noble, and an articulate participant in our talks.

Bill has been a member of the Unitarian Church for a long time. He is a retired dentist, married to beautiful Jane Upshur, a retired pathologist, and they live on Johns Island and at Edisto Beach. Bill’s interests range from philosophy to science to building and flying his own airplane. He is a sterling example of someone retired from a vocation, but not from a love of learning and an ongoing search for truth.

Humanist Book Discussion...

You are welcome to join the Humanist Book Discussion on the first Sunday of each month from 3–5 p.m. We meet at Barnes & Noble in the shopping center at the corner of Hwy. 61 and Sam Rittenburg Blvd. in West Ashley. Barnes & Noble sells our chosen books at a discount, and you can find them in the section called "Staff Recommen-dations." Everyone is welcome to attend the discussions, whether or not you have read the entire book or any of it. The book for Sunday, November 5 is Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn. There will not be a discussion in December. On January 7 we will discuss Why Christianity Must Change or Die by Bishop John Spong (whom you may remember seeing profiled on 60 Minutes earlier this year).

RU AN UNTHINKING FUNDAMENTALIST?...

By Dave Peterson

The American Family Association, a militant, virulent right wing group headed by the Rev. Donald Wildmon, responded to the FDA approval of RU-486––the early term abortifacient––by publishing the following letter from one David P. Smith, M.D. They would like you to write him to show your support.

"RU-486 ?", asked the little one with a bright and cheery face. Her name is Amanda.

"No, I'm Chris", replied the new addition to the rapidly growing crowd.

"No, Chris, I mean are you here because of RU-486?", explained Amanda.

Chris, saddened by the reminder, admitted, "Yes, that's why I'm here. I was only getting started; my heart had just started beating. I was only 4 weeks old when she took it. I couldn't say anything to make her realize that this is me, Mom. I wanted to tell her that I was there, but now I'm here. She just didn't know what she was doing. I still love her even though she killed me."

Amanda, seeing the hurt in Chris' eyes, revealed to him his new home. "Chris, you know your Father is here. This is Heaven. Come and meet Him=2E He's the best Dad you could ever have. He'll wipe away all your tears=2E He loves you. He created you. He'll never leave you."

Chris, now brightened with excitement, ran with Amanda to meet his Father=2E

This is the story that I think has been told millions of times over the last twelve years since the introduction of this popular means of medication-induced abortion, RU-486 or mifepristone (Mifeprex), and will be told countless more millions of times with the FDA approval recently of this "baby poison" (as it's called by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.) for the United States. Mifepristone blocks a hormone that is very important to the continuation of pregnancy and is for use during the first seven weeks of pregnancy. Women who take it must return to their doctor in two days to take a second drug which causes the embryo to be expelled and results in bleeding and cramping much the same as a miscarriage. Although FDA researchers say that serious bleeding occurs in only one percent of women and that complications are rare, a French study showed that 270 out of 950 women who used the drug required narcotics to control the pain and seven women required transfusions of blood.

If this were any other drug on the market, it would be taken off. This is a drug that is for elective use and not a required drug. The acceptability level of complications for a drug that is to be taken for elective use, or convenience, should be much lower than this. But, even if the rate of complications was nothing, the use and approval of use of this drug is just plain wrong. This drug is specifically for "early termination of a pregnancy" or, in laymen terms, for killing the baby as early as possible.

I'm just thankful that the Father is waiting for them with open arms and will be the parent to them that they never had the chance to have here on earth.

The AFA identifies Dr. Smith as a board-certified family physician in private practice in southwest Mississippi. He is the cohost of a weekly call-in radio program on the local WAQL 90.5 FM (American Family Radio) station entitled Healing Power Live. Dr. Smith is president and medical director of the Joseph B. Smith Memorial Medical Clinic...a ministry of the local American Family Association affiliate, Christians United AFA. If you would like to contact Dr. Smith, you can call him at 601-684-7771 or reach him through email at dpsmith @afo.net.

I was particularly struck by the inane dialogue that begins Smith's piece=2E Chris, the aborted embryo––at four weeks old, it's not yet a fetus––is transported to heaven as a child of perhaps nine or ten. Why this age? When I saw this I had just finished an article, "The Case Against Immortality", by Keith Augustine, which appeared in Skeptic (Vol.5 No.2), a quarterly publication of the Skeptics Society1. Augustine quotes W. T. Stace2:

"When an old man dies, what kind of consciousness is supposed to survive? Is it his consciousness as it was just before death, which may perhaps have become imbecile! Or is it the consciousness of his mature middle age! Or is it the infant mind that he had when he was a baby! The point of these questions is not that we do not know the answers...The point is that all possible answers are equally~ senseless...[W]ill the old man who dies suddenly revert to his middle years after death? And will the infant who dies suddenly become mature?"

Such questions do not seem to trouble, or even intrude on Dr. Smith's mind. I suppose if confronted he would say that it was a parable or fable. His last words, though, show that he really believes that the aborted "babies" will be children in heaven parented by God––Montessori writ large.

George Will, the ultimate sophist now writing for a large audience, had a piece a couple of weeks ago about an ad against "partial birth abortion." The ad used the same tactic of a talking fetus––this time in a comic strip. The ad was rejected by major media, and Will denounced censorship. I think the media have every right to reject material that is false advertising without being evidently so to the average reader. This is not a baby in a New Years day ad telling you to buy a used car from Krazy Kal. This is a baby pushing a distorted piece of propaganda. But I covered that last month.

Smith's comments on the medical pro-blems of RU-486 strike me as much ado over nothing. To say that 28% of women had to take a narcotic for pain means what?––that they took Tylenol C for dis-comfort. You'd think they had to be sedated with morphine given Smith's emphasis.

His idea that such an elective drug should not be on the market represents only an opinion formed by his anti-abortion stance. It is not as though the drug was to be the agent for elective removal of a freckle.

Dr. Smith is a good example of how a simple minded religious attitude can lead to what has correctly––in my view––been called fetus fetishism. But a lot of people are susceptible to the same; witness his remark that the story has been told millions of times. We rationalists have our work cut out to change that crowd's mind.

1 Skeptic, POB 338 Altadena,, CA 91001. (62)794-3119. Email: skepticmag@aol.com. www.skeptic.com

2 In P. Edward's introduction to Immortality, New York: Macmillan 1992.

Weighty Matters...

by Elesha Coffman,

associate editor of Christian History

(I included this article because to me it illustrates the problems that Christianity has historically been involved with because of its creedal positions and the way they were arrived at. It seems to me that God did a poor job of setting forth his word if it led to such arguments. Christian History, while having a definite bias, has some interesting articles, and it doesn’t truck with the urban legend material that makes much Christian writing fatuous. Ed.)

Gwen Shamblin, founder of the popular Weigh Down diet, has already been compared to early church figures––the desert monks––because her ideas link physical hunger and spiritual hunger. Now she can be compared to another early church figure, Arius, because her Christology is getting her in trouble.

Shamblin, for those of you who haven't been following the coverage at ChristianityToday.com, writes in her doctrinal statement, "I believe that Jesus and God are two separate beings." She also objects to the term "trinity": "Our feeling is that the word 'trinity' implies equality in leadership, or shared Lordship. ... We feel that we grieve Jesus when we do not watch our words and their meaning--especially a word not found in either the Old or New Testament, writings that span centuries of God's inspired word." (Of course, "Bible" and "evangelism" aren't in the Scriptures, either, but that's another argument.)

Arius (ca. 250-ca. 336) disagreed with a different term, "homoousios," which is a Greek word meaning "of the same substance"--as in, Jesus is "of the same substance" as the Father. Arius preferred "homoiousios," "of similar substance" (making the proverbial one iota of difference). In song, he put it this way: "Yet the Son's substance is / Removed from the substance of the Father: / The Son is not equal to the Father, / Nor does he share the same substance."

At the 325 Council of Nicea, Arius's logic--if there's one God, but Jesus and God are separate beings, then Jesus must not be God--crashed into Athanasius's ideas of the Incarnation. Athanasius (ca. 296-373) shuddered to think that Jesus might not have been fully God, because to him that meant humanity was not really saved. As Athanasius wrote in his treatise De Incarnatione, "We ourselves were the motive of His incarnation; it was for our salvation that He loved man to the point of being born and of appearing in a human body." Athanasius's view won out, and the Nicene Creed describes Jesus as "Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father."

But Shamblin's problem with traditional trinitarian doctrine is less related to salvation than to subordination. The doctrine relates to her diet, she writes, because "if you do not understand that God is the clear authority and that Jesus was under God's authority, then you will not have a clear picture of what it means to be Christ like. Jesus suffered, obeyed, submitted, denied his will, and made it his food to do the will of the Father."

Subordination was a also big question at the Council of Nicea. Arians believed that as Jesus was subordinate to God, so the church (the kingdom of the Son) should be subordinate to the empire (seen at the time as the kingdom of the Father). The emperor could even be considered the bishop of the bishops. This view of church-state relations continued to have some influence in the Eastern Christian empire, based in Constantinople, even after the eighth century, when Arianism largely faded from the European scene.

Christians in the orthodox camp (not Eastern Orthodox, because we're talking about the fourth century) thoroughly disagreed. They believed that as Jesus was equal to the Father but operated differently, so the church and the empire were equal but operated in somewhat separate spheres--the closest thing to a "separation of church and state" idea in early church history. In practice, the bishops would defer to the emperor on worldly concerns like taxation and administration, but the emperor needed to recognize the bishops' authority in spiritual matters. The most famous example of the latter is Bishop Ambrose's refusal to let Emperor Theodosius I take Communion until he repented of a massacre he had ordered at Thessalonica in 390.

So what would a homoousios-based diet look like? I have no idea. I also don't know how much Arian-style doctrine Shamblin would accept, because all I have to go on is the statement at her Web site. But I bet they don't recite the Nicene Creed at her new Remnant Fellowship church.

* For more information on Arianism and other early church doctrinal debates, see J.N.D. Kelly's classic Early Christian Doctrines, Mark Noll's Turning Points (which I highly recommend), and Christian History issue 51: Heresy in the Early Church.

* An article and several links related to Shamblin and the Weigh Down program can be found at: http://www.christianityonline.com/ct/2000/137/53=2E0.html

DESlGN IN NATURE? HARDLY...

By Frank Farsad

(I have misplaced the original and so, unfortunately, cannot give Mr. Farsad’s group newsletter credit. Ed.)

One of the strongest arguments used by creationists is the notion of "design” in nature. A quick look around in nature would reveal adaptations of organisms, which though not harmful, raise serious questions as to why a "designer" would create such physical characteristics where better ones would clearly make more sense. I have compiled some of these imperfections for you to ponder.

1. Anteaters develop teeth during fetal development and lose them before birth.

2. Terrestrial salamanders develop gills and fins but only during fetal development.

3. Flightless birds possess hollow bones.

4. Cave-dwelling animals possess sightless eyes.

5. Male booby birds court females with nesting material, the female bird then throws the material away and lays her eggs on the bare ground.

6. Humans have tails during fetal development.

7. Some beetles have useless wings sealed beneath wing covers.

8. Whales posses pelvis and thigh bones.

9. Pythons and boa constrictors possess pelvis and tiny limbs.

10. Pandas have a sixth "digit" from a wrist bone.

11. Female platypus lack nipples. The mother "sweats" milk.

12. Nipples in human males have no function.

13. Female spotted hyenas have a penis through which sperm swim up.

14. The first offspring of a female hyena is stillborn.

15. Modern pigs have two toes that touch the ground while the others do not.

16. Some insects with wings can't fly.

17. Rabbits have such a poorly developed digestive system that they have to eat their own feces in order to extract all the nutrients that they need.

Sources: Steven J. Gould, Martin K Nickels, Leonard Krishtalka (from the Humanist Association of Los Angeles - 7-95) SHL

A COUPLE OF HUMOROUS ITEMS

NEWSPAPER READERS...

From Steve Bates, 1st yr. law student

The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country.

The New York Times is read by people who think they run the country.

The Washington Post is read by people who think they ought to run the country.

USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don't understand The Washington Post.

The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn't mind running the country, if they could spare the time.

The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country.

The New York Daily News is read by people who aren't too sure who's running the country.

The New York Post is read by people who don't care who's running the country, as long as they do something scandalous.

The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren't sure there is a country, or that anyone is running it.

The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country.

IDIOTS...

From the internet

IDIOTS IN SERVICE:

This week, all our phones went dead and I had to contact the phone repair people. They promised to be out between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. When I asked if they could give me a smaller time window, he asked, "Would you like us to call you before we come.” He also requested that we report future outages by email. (Does YOUR email work without a telephone line?).

IDIOT-AT WORK:

I was signing the receipt for my credit card purchase when the clerk noticed that I had never signed my name on the back of the credit card. She informed me that she could not complete the transaction unless the card was signed. When I asked why, she explained that it was necessary to compare the signature I had just signed on the receipt. So I signed the credit card in front of her. She carefully compared the signature to the one I had signed on the receipt. As luck would have it - they matched!

IDIOTS IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

I live in a semi-rural area. We recently had a new neighbor call the local township administrative office to request the removal of the Deer Crossing sign on our road. The reason: too many deer were being hit by cars and he no longer wanted them to cross there.

IDIOTS IN FOOD SERVICE:

My daughter went to a local Taco Bell and ordered a taco. She asked the individual behind the counter for "minimal lettuce." He said he was sorry, but they only had iceberg.

IDIOT SIGHTINGS:

Idiot Sighting #1:

I was at the airport, checking in at the gate when the airport employee asked, "Has anyone put anything in your baggage without your knowledge?" To which I replied, "If it was without my knowledge, how would I know?" He smiled and nodded knowingly, "That's why we ask=2E"

Idiot Sighting #2:

The stoplight on the corner buzzes when it is safe to cross the street. I was crossing with an intellectectually-challenged coworker of mine, when she asked if I knew what the buzzer was for. I explained that it signals blind people when the light is red. She responded, appalled, "What on earth are blind people doing driving?"

Idiot Sighting #3:

At a good-bye lunch for an old and dear coworker who is leaving the company due to "downsizing", our manager spoke up and said, "This is fun. We should have lunch like this more often.” Not another word was spoken. We just looked at each other with that deer in the headlights look.

Idiot Sighting #4:

I worked with an individual who plugged her power strip back into itself and for the life of her could not understand why her system would not turn on.

Idiot Sighting #5:

When my husband and I arrived at an automobile dealership to pick up our car, we were told that the keys had been locked in it. We went to the service department and found a mechanic working feverishly to unlock the driver's side door. As I watched from the passenger side, I instinctively tried the door handle and discovered that it was open. "Hey", I announced to the technician, "It's open. To which he replied, "I know––I already got that side.

NOW DON'T YOU FEEL BETTER? SHL


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