ISSUE: September 2001
Edited by Sharon Fratepietro and Sharon Strong
A Few Words of Appreciation
For more reasons than we can probably remember, we want to state our great appreciation to long-time SHL members, Dave and Yvonne Peterson. These Beaufort residents have traveled the 3-hour roundtrip journey to our SHL gatherings and steering committee meetings almost since the first SHL meeting in 1994.
Dave and Yvonne moved to Beaufort from McClain, Virginia, upon retiring from the workforce ten years ago. Dave had been an engineer Qcivil, structural, and mechanical. Yvonne worked for 36 years as a CIA officer. But "retiring" is an ironic word to use in the Petersons' case. Both of them volunteer large amounts of time to many community organizations. Dave also holds an adjunct tutoring position in physics, engineering, mathematics and chemistry at the University of South Carolina in Beaufort (UCSB).
Dave served as editor of this monthly SHL newsletter for four years, right up until this very issue. And he was a one-man newsletter machine Qwriting, formatting, maintaining the mail list, and distributing "The Separationist." During this same period, he served as president and board member of the Friends of the Library in Beaufort; as Curriculum Chair for the Creative Retirement Center at UCSB; and as volunteer coordinator of the Disaster Reception Center Team for the United Way.
Yvonne also donates time every week to the United Way office and another day to the Friends of the Library. Her special enthusiasm goes to participating in the Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry, where she tutors women at the Beaufort Detention Center in math, English, plays, art Qanything to stimulate their interest. You may remember Yvonne as state president of the ACLU a few years ago.
The Petersons have been married for 41 years. As parents of a lesbian daughter and gay son, Dave and Yvonne contribute moral and financial support to related causes. Their daughter Samantha is Assistant Director of the Texas State Lesbian and Gay Lobby. Their son Eric in New York City is Director of the Big Apple Corps Concert Band, a gay and lesbian enterprise.
Despite the long distance from Beaufort to Charleston, the Petersons plan to continue coming to our SHL meetings as their interest in each program warrants. And that's good news for the rest of us Qwe would certainly miss their friendship and familiar faces if we did not see them from time to time. Thank you truly, Dave and Yvonne, for your many significant contributions to the SHL, and for your outstanding examples of applied humanism in your community.
Alpha Bah to Speak at SHL Meeting
College of Charleston history professor Alpha Bah will address the next Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry meeting on Sunday, September 16. Professor Bah will tell the story of his encounters with various religious groups while growing up in Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa. The title of his talk is "An African Muslim Faced with Christianity Through Western Education."
The meeting will start at 4 p.m. and take place at Gage Hall next door to the Unitarian Church at 4 Archdale St. in downtown Charleston. The public is welcome to attend the meeting, which will be followed by an optional dinner at Vickery's restaurant nearby.
Alpha Bah was born in Freetown in Sierra Leone, West Africa, of Guinean Muslim parents. Bah went to elementary and secondary schools at the Catholic Mission in Freetown, where the Irish Holy Ghost Fathers' main goal was to convert Africans to the Catholic faith.
Bah's family was one of few Muslim families living in the western part of the city. He grew up in a Christian neighborhood and participated in most Christian activities, since his peers were Christians. However, his family compound was an important site for Islamic activities in Freetown.
Bah spent two years at Cairo University in Egypt studying languages and literature, while attending an Arabic high school in the evening to study Arabic. He next studied at Howard University in Washington, DC. In 1978 he returned to Liberia, West Africa, as a professor of history and French at the University of Liberia, which was founded by Christian African American missionaries in the 19th century.
In 1985 Alpha Bah returned to the United States as a Senior Fulbright Scholar at the Villanova University in Philadelphia, where he taught the history of Islam in Africa and African history. He has been a member of the history faculty at the College of Charleston since 1986, where he heads the African studies minor program and leads delegations to West Africa. Bah also participates in many Lowcountry Gullah/Geechee activities.
SHL members Amy Horwitz and Jim Campbell recently offered the SHL a great idea we couldn't refuse. It's to collaborate with other local organizations in holding public forums for political candidates in order to address a wider variety of issues than usual. While this idea would be worthy for most elections, the occasion at hand is the Charleston City Council election in November for even-numbered districts.
There will be two forums:
Each participating organization has been allowed to submit one question ahead of time to Amy and Jim. They then sent those questions in writing to the candidates, who will answer them at the forums along with questions from the audience.
Our SHL group, after a hurried e-mail consultation with available steering committee members, came up with this question: "As you know, the City Council starts meetings with a prayer. Since you will represent all your constituents, not just religious believers, will you attempt to convince the rest of the Council to periodically allow non-believers like the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry to give the invocation?"
All co-sponsors are invited to come early (6:30 p.m.) to a brief reception to meet and mingle with each other and the candidates. There will also be a literature table for co-sponsors and candidates.
Next Humanist Book Group Meeting 9/23
By Sharon Strong
The next Humanist Book Group meeting will take place at the Barnes and Noble bookstore on
Sam Rittenberg Blvd. (as usual) on Sunday, September 23, 3:00-5:00 p.m. (recall that we decided last spring to start meeting on fourth Sundays).
I will be facilitating a discussion of Karen Armstrong's A History of God, available to buy in the Religion section at Barnes and Noble. (They are no longer offering it to us at a discount in the "Staff Recommends" section.)
In case you want to get an early start on October's book selection, it will be Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, and at our September book discussion we can decide what we'll want to
read for November. Bring your ideas!
Letters by SHL Members to the Editor
The following was sent to the editor of the Charleston Post and Courier, but has not yet been printed.
I was startled to see as the Post and Courier's "Thought for today" (6/19/01) the following by 18th century novelist and cleric Laurence Sterne: "Free thinkers are generally those who do not think at all."
Freethinker today usually means atheist or agnostic, but it still has the meaning it did in Sterne's time; i.e., "One who refuses to submit his reason to control of authority in matters of religious belief." (OED) Now Sterne was an orthodox cleric in the Anglican churchQthe official church of EnglandQand, as such, would not look favorably on those who would not submit to its authority.
I find it hard to believe that such an 18th century, European position is worthy of the attention of your readers as thought of the day. I suspect, though, that the chooser of the quotation had in mind the more modern meaning and meant it as a slap at today's freethinkers. Everyone is entitled to his opinion as they say, but surely in the name of comity you could refrain from the gratuitous ideological insult to many of your readers.
Perhaps, in the name of "fairness" you can run as a future thought Mark Twain's comment that "God is a malicious thug." The response to that ought to give you some indication that barbed religious criticism has no place in your "inspirational" offerings.
From David Peterson
A Muslim medical professor has been sentenced to death after a Pakistani court convicted him of blasphemy.
Mohammed Younus Shaikh, a physiology professor at the Capital Homoeopathic College in Islamabad, was arrested last October after being accused by his students of making sacrilegious remarks about the Prophet Muhammad during a lecture. (Ed.: None of the complainants to the police were eyewitnesses to the alleged offence.)
I Under PakistanUs blasphemy law the death sentence is mandatory for those found guilty of making remarks against Islam or Muhammad. Human rights groups say that the law has been misused by Islamic zealots to persecute religious minorities and liberal Muslims. Many accused of the offence have been killed by zealots even after being acquitted. So far none has been hanged by order of a court. Hundreds of people, mostly non-Muslims, are facing trial on blasphemy charges.
The remarks attributed to Dr Shaikh were made during a physiology lecture in which he was said to have discussed practices prevalent in pre-Islamic, 7th-century Arabia. According to the charge framed by the police, the professor had stated that Muhammad was a nonMuslim until the age of 40; that he was not circumcised until then; and that his parents were not Muslims.
IPolice arrested the professor after a complaint filed by a leader of a Islamic religious group who was said to have been approached by some students of the college. Local Islamic zealots demanded the death penalty and vowed to kill the professor if the court acquitted him.
Human rights groups have criticised the conviction, saying that the professor is a victim of extremism and zealotry. Well-respected in the medical profession, Dr Shaikh has practised medicine in Pakistan and Ireland and has been an active member of the South Asia Peace MovementI.
According to some students and teachers at the college, Dr Shaikh is a devout Muslim who prays regularly and has a thorough knowledge of the Koran. In a recent interview he declared from his prison cell that he was a deeply religious man and could not even imagine blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad and that his remarks had been taken out of context.
IThe blasphemy law has been used by mullahs and Islamic zealots who are striving to establish a Taleban-style government in Pakistan. Most legal experts maintain that the law is vague and defective.
The bigotry and intolerance that is ravaging Pakistani society has become a matter of a deep concern to some Pakistani Muslims. "The law ostensibly designed to ensure respect for the Holy Prophet of Islam has become, in the hands of unscrupulous men, a weapon of oppression and even a weapon for settling petty scores," I. A. Rehman, director of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said.
Even the mentally ill have not been spared by the zealots.
Editor's note: I first heard about this story from Babu Gogineni's
speech at the Secular Students' Conference in Columbus, Ohio in
August. Babu heads the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU),
which has launched a major effort, along with Amnesty International and
other human rights groups, to save Dr. Shaikh. At the time of this writing,
Dr. Shaikh was appealing his sentence to a higher court. You can help by
going to the following Web site and signing a petition on his behalf: http://www.iheu.org/Shaikh/petition/index.html
News from Home
If you tuned into local radio station WTMA on August 6, you might have heard an unexpected but familiar voiceQthat of SHL member Herb Silverman. That's because a radio debate on the topic "Does God Exist?" took place from 1-4 PM on the Nancy Wolf show.
Herb debated Rev. Ray Comfort, evangelist and author of over 30 books, including "Hell's Best Kept Secret." Substitute talk show host Pastor Dan House moderated. Questions from callers were taken, including several from SHL members. In the last hour, Pastor House and Kyle Oden, State Director of American Atheists, joined the show for a panel discussion.
The day after the debate, Herb received the following gracious email from Pastor Dan House: "Thank you so much for doing the show. Response has been overwhelming. I will also forward some of the emails WTMA received in response as Nancy forwards them my way. Your point of view was expressed very eloquently in my opinion and your exegesis of the scriptures, while lacking contextual relevance from my perspective, was clever and personally entertaining."
The SHL Calendar
(See stories elsewhere in the newsletter for details on each event.)
Sunday, September 16: Alpha Ba speaks at the SHL monthly meeting. At Gage Hall, 4 Archdale St., downtown Charleston, 4 p.m. Followed by optional dinner at Vickery's.
Wednesday, September 19: Charleston City Council candidate's forum jointly sponsored by SHL and other local organizations. At the Public Library on Calhoun St., downtown Charleston, 7-9 p.m.
Sunday, September 23: Humanist Book Discussion, Barnes & Noble, 1812 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. (West Ashley), 3-5 p.m.
Saturday, September 29: SHL Highway 61 cleanup, 9 a.m.
Time for an SHL Cleanup
By Gill Krebs
The final 2001 Adopt-A-Highway pickup will be on September 29. If it rains on that day, weUll pick up on October 6 starting at 9:00 a.m..
We really need more people to invest a couple of hours on this community service. The more people there are, the shorter the time to clean up the highway. Our pickup area is Highway 61 starting two miles past Bees Ferry Road and ending two miles beyond that. The start is at Drayton Hall and ends a little past Magnolia Gardens. The Highway Department supplies everything we need: orange bags for the trash, orange vests and pointy sticks, but no gloves - so bring your own work or garden gloves. The clean up shouldn't take more than a few hours, and it's a good opportunity for us to carry on our usual interesting conversations while we work.
We'll meet at the small parking lot just across the street from the main Drayton Hall parking lot on Hwy 61 to pick the supplies and head out. Please call me at 763-4505 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you plan to help with the pickup. We can arrange for you to ride with someone if that's a need. We need more bodies -- live ones, that is.