Archived Issue of the Separationist

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ISSUE: November 2001

Edited by Sharon Fratepietro and Sharon Strong


Religion Editor to Speak at SHL Meeting

Charleston Post and Courier Religion Editor Dave Munday will address the next Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry meeting on Sunday, November 18.

The way daily newspapers handle religion has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. Munday will talk about "Covering Religion at a Daily Newspaper." He will also take the opportunity to hear observations and questions from the audience.

Munday started working for The Post and Courier in 1981 and became religion editor in 1998. He was previously a copy editor and business reporter at the paper.

He was born in 1953 in Parkersburg, W.Va., and brought up and educated in an evangelical Christian framework. He graduated in 1971 from Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana, with a major in Bible and minors in philosophy and New Testament Greek. He had planned to go on to seminary and enter the ministry but decided after graduation that was not his temperament. Before moving to Charleston in 1981, he worked for a couple of weekly newspapers and book publishers. He is presently unaffiliated with any particular church or organization.

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.

God and Smallpox By Herb Silverman "If God had decreed from all eternity that a certain person should die of smallpox, it would be a frightful sin to avoid and annul that decree by the trick of vaccination." So said Timothy Dwight, President of Yale University. He was President of Yale from 1795 to 1817, and spoke passionately against the new medical invention developed by Edward Jenner called vaccination.

At the time, this was not considered a particularly extremist view. Vaccination and inoculation, though highly successful, were condemned by Protestant and Catholic leaders alike. Edward Massey, an English theologian, published a thesis in 1772 entitled "The Dangerous and Sinful Practice of Inoculation." In Boston, clergymen and devout physicians formed an Anti-vaccination Society, declaring that "the law of God prohibits the practice." Some even proposed that those who gave inoculations should be tried for attempted murder.

In this age of Bioterrorism, we can no longer feel safe from smallpox, a disfiguring and deadly disease that we thought had been eradicated. Yet we can still reflect on the humanistic strides we have made. Even fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson do not speak against thwarting God's will through the sin of inoculation. Science and humanism are winning, though not as rapidly as we would like to see.

I don't know if fundamentalism will be around 200 years from now. But if it is, I expect the never-changing word of God will continue to undergo significant changes. Scientific discoveries and humanistic practices will be incorporated (kicking and screaming, perhaps) into a theological worldview. Fundamentalists today do not say that God changed His mind and no longer supports slavery or condemns medical interventions that can save lives. They simply find interpretations of their holy book that are the opposite of those accepted by previous generations. It isn't hard to do. One need only focus on a particular verse and ignore a contradictory verse elsewhere.

As humanists, we are committed to reason, science, and experience to solve human problems. We do not understand how some people can believe in a deity whose need to be worshipped takes priority over the needs of human beings. But I am optimistic enough to believe that the desires of this deity in future generations will continue to change as we learn new strategies for making this world a better place to live. While I hope fewer people will feel the need to worship a deity, I hope that those who do will worship a more humanistic one.

Reply to Letter by an SHL Member

Last month The Separationist printed a letter written by SHL member Dave Peterson and published in the Savannah Morning News. In that letter he posed the question, in reference to the attacks on Sept. 11, If God is both willing and able to take away evil, why does He not remove it? Dave conjectured that the existence of evil provides proof of the non-existence of God.

By return mail Dave received the following comment:

Dear Peterson's (sic),

Greetings from American Family Association! I think you mean God answered the prayers of the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way. You see, they have worked for decades to get God out of our schools and government, and to destroy any mention of him in our nation. Perhaps, just perhaps, God said, "Okay, let's see how you do without me."

Randy Sharp

Director, Special Projects

American Family Association

SHL member Bill Upshur sent the following letter to the Charleston Post and Courier. So far it has gone unpublished.

Dear Editor:

The people of our country reacted with confusion, bewilderment, dismay, grief, horror, fear, anger and rage to the devastating terrorist attacks on September 11th of this year. These emotional responses are understandable.

If we want to understand what is happening in our country it will help to examine some of our basic assumptions. Although environmentally influenced, genetics is probably basically involved in the determination and formation of all personality types. It takes an unusual personality type to be involved in suicidal terrorism. It must be someone with an uncompromising, irrational, extremist, and fanatic approach to some aspects of life.

Most of the organized religions claim absolute knowledge about a supernatural or supranatural God. Belief in this God, they find, gives them meaning and direction in life, and this God wants people to act in certain ways. Many claim that all of the religions are worshiping the same God, but disagree on who has the special information from this God and who speaks to the world with what God wants or demands of humanity. When someone acts shamefully because of the belief that they have in some religion, other members of that religion proclaim it a perversion of their true religion, or that they are not real or true followers of Islam or Christ or God.

These supernatural religious positions, although ambiguous, are felt to be exact, absolute, and certain. There is no room for negotiations and compromise. There is an inability or the lack of resolve to test and verify the truth of the claims of the religious leaders.

The difficulty to compromise the dogmas of these organized religions tends to cause confusion, misunderstanding, alienation, injustice, bigotry, and another ground for hatred. This is a perfect place for the fundamentalist fanatics who think that their interpretations of their supernatural beliefs are the one true way for all the world. They feel that their absoluteness and certainty gives them the right on their side and any means, even lying, repression, violence, or their own deaths are all right if you are serving the true supernatural God. They believe that they will not really die, but will be rewarded by God for their actions in some supernatural spiritual realm.

American politicians may stroke their constituency with "God Bless America," but the supernatural "God" has a down side and has been and can be a curse on humanity.

Bill Upshur

Humanist Book Discussion

The next Humanist Book Discussion Group meeting will take place at the Barnes and Noble bookstore on Sam Rittenberg Blvd. (as usual) on Sunday, November 25 from 3:00-5:00 p.m. Loretta Haskell will be facilitating a discussion of Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism by the controversial Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong. (you;ll find the book in the "Religion" section under "Christianity"). Was St. Paul really gay? Join us and find out!

In December only, be aware that we will be meeting at a different time and location. We will be gathering at SHL member Warren McCarlb's home at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, December 16, and we will be discussing Tales of the Rational, SHL former guest speaker Massimo Pigliucci's collection of thought-provoking essays on such issues as the limits of science, the meaning of skepticism, and the pitfalls of creationism. Tales of the Rational is published by a small press and is not available through our Barnes and Noble store, so you will need to order it individually in advance. You can try, or you can try to order it directly from the publisher (contact me for further information). And please remember that you are all welcome to sit in on the meeting, even if you haven't read the book.

The U.S. Dept. of Faith Speaks

Through Howard Elgison

Attention All Americans: The following is a vitally important bulletin from the US Department of Faith

According to newly appointed Secretary of Faith, Mr. William Bennett, our Muslim enemies have a decided advantage in the vital area of strategic prayer. As everyone knows, or should know by now, Muslims are called to prayer five times a day. In contrast, American Christians pray, on average 1.55 times per day. Assuming the average length of prayer is the same for both Muslims and Xtians, this means that our enemies have a 3.22 to 1 advantage in total prayer time. This means of course, that they have a 3.22 to 1 advantage in God access time.

This prayer-gap is potentially devastating to our war effort. Consequently, all Americans are directed to pray at least six times per day, and if possible to program themselves to pray in their sleep. (Note: Adolescents who are still experiencing nocturnal emissions are excused from this latter directive.)

To ensure that this program is being properly carried out, officers of the Prayer Police will be making random checks of homes, schools and business establishments. Those who are caught not praying will be arrested as traitors and sent to prayer re-education camps.

While it is ultimately up to each individual to decide on his/her own prayer, Mr. Bennett has recommended that everyone recite the following prayer at least once per day: "Heavenly father, we pray that in your infinite mercy and wisdom, you guide our bombs and our missiles to their appointed targets that they may strike our enemies and turn them into smoldering hulks of molten flesh and charred bones. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior."

Thank you for you cooperation in this matter--and remember, God and your government are watching you.

God Bless America. Or Else!

Thoughts for a Unity Prayer Service

By Jacqueline Collins

Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church

Charleston, South Carolina

(Editor's note: Last Sept. 23, Jacqueline Collins participated in an ecumenical community "prayer service" arranged to respond to the attacks on Sept. 11. Readers may recall that last month, The Separationist printed the remarks made on that occasion by SHL president Herb Silverman on behalf of the Humanists in Charleston.)

We have gathered here from the fragmented world of our everyday lives. We have come together in search of wholeness. In each of our communities, we use different words, diverse symbols. We differ in temperaments, and yet we are dedicated to one destiny. Creeds and convictions divide us but we share a common quest. We know that we all belong to the Tree of Life that sustains us all.

There is a story of two neighbors feuding over a piece of land. Finally, one of them engages a carpenter to build a tall fence. Instead, the carpenter builds a bridge. By his action the carpenter moved the two neighbors from hostility, the building of fences, to hospitality, the building of bridges. But this is only a first step. Once we cross over the bridge, to be hospitable, we must offer a free space within ourselves where we can discover each other and become friends.

This is a difficult endeavor. We have to give ourselves permission to take risks and make mistakes around others. We have to be generous toward others when they make mistakes about us and our people. We have to create within ourselves the ability to listen to people with whom we disagree.

We have to accept other convictions beside ours. Listening is not the same as agreeing. It is through this sustained effort that we will find solidarity and unity of purpose, unity in our respect for one another.

Let us cultivate boundless goodwill. Let us not deceive another or despise any being in any states. Let us not wish another harm in anger or ill will. May we wish for every person's happiness and may we envy none. May we be patient. May we affirm the dignity of every person. May we labor in hope for the dawning of a new day without hatred, violence and injustice.

We are come together today to acknowledge a common source of life, and the universal language of the here. Our presence here is a commitment to welcome the stranger, and to accept our differences so we can be in solidarity with one another, and united by our human hunger for creating a world of peace and justice, and may this solidarity and unity be a tribute to those who lost their lives on September 11.

The SHL Calendar

Sunday, November 18: Charleston Post and Courier Religion Editor Dave Munday speaks at the SHL monthly meeting. At Gage Hall, 4 Archdale St., downtown Charleston, 4 p.m. Followed by optional dinner at Vickery's.

Sunday, November 25: Humanist Book Discussion Group, Barnes & Noble, 1812 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. (West Ashley), 3-5 p.m.

Sunday, December 16: Annual SHL potluck at SHL member Warren McCarl's home, 4 PM. Humanist Book Discussion Group to meet at Warren's at 3 p.m. Look for directions in December's Separationist.

For more information, please visit our Homepage at LOWCOUNTRY.HUMANISTS.NET.