ISSUE: December 2001
Edited by Sharon Fratepietro and Sharon Strong
December SHL Meeting
On Sunday, December 16, plan for potluck party time at Warren and Pat McCarl's house. (See directions and map attached.) We'll celebrate the winter solstice and any other seasonal sentiments with a purely social meeting. A freethought, bargain-book auction will supplement the good food, drink and conversation, so bring along any books you want to sell to benefit the SHL treasury. (All proceeds will go into the treasury.)
What to contribute besides books? Any food and/or beverage you like. Somehow it all seems to work out so every gets lots of choices in the six basic food groups--drinks, appetizers, salads, entrees, veggies and desserts.
So be there. Especially if you were not there last year, or, as in the case of a few we won't mention by name THIS year, any past year.
And please note there will be no meeting as usual in December at Gage Hall, but we will return there in January with another speaker and discussion.<
Letters to the Editor by SHL Members
On Nov. 1, the Charleston Post and Courier published the following letter by SHL member Herb Silverman
Once again a letter writer (to the Post and Courier, published on Oct. 18) expresses the view that we have "freedom of religion, not freedom from religion." He agrees with Councilman Tim Scott that the "Ten Commandments should be posted in every public building in the United States."
Permit me to ask a couple of basic questions. How can we have freedom OF religion without also having freedom FROM religion? Would you like to see posted in every public building in the United States a message from the Koran exhorting all to pray to Allah, or from the Gita, the book of Guru Granth Salub, or a passage from one of seven hundred other holy books? Neither would I.
As Americans, you and Councilman Scott are guaranteed the freedom to urge whatever religious views you want on others and to believe and practice any religion you choose. But you cannot use governmental power to promulgate your religion. The difference between Afghanistan (or Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia) and the U.S. is not that one is a Muslim nation and the other is a Christian nation. The difference is that one government is theocratic and the other is secular, meaning free of governmental religious encroachment.
If we wish to keep our religious freedom, based on individual and often distinct religious views, then we must resist those who would like to impose their beliefs on the rest of us. Posting the Ten Commandments in government buildings allies the government in an official way with two creeds, Judaism and Christianity, and sends an unmistakable message to Americans who hold other religions or no religion that they are second-class citizens. These include up to thirty million non-religious Americans, three to five million Muslims, and several million adherents of Eastern religions.
How can this ongoing controversy be resolved? I propose a simple solution that both honors our democratic principles and reminds us of the curbs on governmental abuse of power. Why don't we display our American Bill of Rights on public buildings? We would still be posting ten, and we Americans can all support and celebrate these ten.
Or can we?
On Nov. 6 SHL member Gill Krebs sent the following letter (as yet unpublished) to the Charleston Post and Courier
I am in full accord with Herb Silverman's letter (11/1) regarding the posting of the Ten Commandments in government buildings.
Since the Ten Commandments represent a specific religious belief, posting them would be in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Nowhere in the Constitution is there the mention of Christianity or God. In fact, in 1797, America made a treaty with Tripoli declaring that "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." This was written under the presidency of George Washington and approved by the Senate under John Adams.
The U.S. Constitution is a secular document. It begins, "We the people," and contains no mention of "God" or "Christianity." Its only references to religion are exclusionary, such as, "no religious test shall ever he required as a qualification to any office or public trust" (Art. VI), and "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" (First Amendment). The presidential oath of office, the only oath detailed in the Constitution, does not contain the phrase "so help me God" or any requirement to swear on a bible (Art. II, Sec. I).
If we are a Christian nation, why doesn't our Constitution say so? So if we are not a Christian nation, the posting of the Ten Commandments is against the Constitution.
An old trivia question is, "What four words have always appeared on every denomination of U.S. currency?" Most people will answer, "In God We Trust" which is incorrect. That phrase was absent from paper currency until 1956 when it was added. The correct answer is "United States of America." In addition, the phrase "under God" did not appear in the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954 when Congress inserted it. The original pledge was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy and contained the phrase, "my flag."
Mr. Silverman's suggestion to display the American Bill of Rights makes much more sense and meaning to all Americans regardless of their beliefs.
Humanist Book Discussion Group
By Sharon Strong
This month, we will be meeting at a different time and location. We will be gathering at SHL member Warren McCarlbHerb Silverman and Gill Krebss home at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, December 16, and we will be discussing Tales of the Rational, by former SHL guest speaker Massimo Pigliucci; the book can be ordered through amazon.com or Borders. And please remember that you are all welcome to sit in on the meeting, even if you havenbHerb Silverman and Gill Krebst had a chance to read the book.
The Humanist Book Discussion Group will resume its usual schedule in January. That month, we will be meeting again at the Barnes and Noble bookstore on Sam Rittenberg Blvd. on the fourth Sunday of the month, January 27, from 3:00-5:00 p.m. Gwen Smythe will be facilitating a discussion of Ethics for the New Millennium by the Dalai Lama (youbHerb Silverman and Gill Krebsll find the book in Barnes and NoblebHerb Silverman and Gill Krebss "Eastern Religion" section).
Answering Questions About Science and Religion
By Dave Peterson, SHL member
November 9-11 found Yvonne and me in Atlanta at the Center for Inquiry conference on "Science and Religion: Are They compatible?"
The CFI is a joint effort between the Council for Secular Humanism, with which our Secular Humanist of the Lowcountry group is affiliated and the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). Humanist philosopher Paul Kurtz, who still plays a leadership role in each, started both groups. It was our first conference sponsored by either group. Many old friends were there, e.g., Ed Buckner and Massimo Pigliucci, who have both spoken to SHL several times.
This conference was one of the most high powered events we've attended. Speakers included Wole Soyinka, 1986 Nobel Prize winner for literature; Antony Flew, one of the 20th century's most distinguished humanist philosophers; Quentin Smith, a young and talented successor to Flew (he is the editor of Philo, the journal of the Society of Humanist Philosophers); and Steven Pinker, popular author and Director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). One of my favorite people also spoke, Eugenie C. Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education--she is a leader in the fight to keep creationism out of the schools. Another prominent guest was Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium and the popular columnist of Universe for Natural History magazine.
It is impossible for me to more than briefly summarize any of the discussions. Tapes are available for $129 from the Center for Inquiry (call 716-636-7571 in Buffalo, New York) and the papers will be published at a later date. Let me just hit a few highlights.
Paul Kurtz got things started with some thoughts on the topic subject in a forum called "Setting the Stage." He felt that while in general science and religion are incompatible, religion does have a place in the world because of its ability to lead to evocative insights and works of the imagination. This is all to the good because religion is going to be around for a long time. The forum was followed by a discussion of whether souls exist. The answer, no, was backed by strong, sophisticated evidence.
A discussion of evolutionary biology and religious belief had Steven Pinker and Susan Blackmore arguing over details while agreeing in principle. Eugenie Scott moderated, and I was impressed by her ability to espouse an atheist position and keep it completely separate from the issue of evolution (she works all the time with such people as Ken Miller, staunch evolution defender and Roman Catholic) without compromising her principles in any way. She is also one heck of an articulate speaker.
A review of the popular mass media subject, "Prayer at a Distance: Medically Effective?" demonstrated that all the studies to date on the issue were woefully deficient in their methodology and/or analysis. For example, control groups tended to be non-existent (though always promised for the next round of experiments if the "problems" could be worked out).
A session on religious spiritualism and science had the estimable Joe Nickel, senior research fellow for CSICOP, regaling us with stories and photos of his work as an undercover investigator of spiritualist doings. Catch him if you get the chance--he's a very funny guy.
The last session I attended was on "New Cosmologies and Religion." Owen Gingerich, who I understand is a Christian, and Senior Astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysics Laboratory, and also professor of astronomy and the history of science at Harvard, began the discussion. He made an agreeable but pointed observation that this was indeed a highly skewed crowd to be discussing the compatibility of science and religion. He gave a sophisticated talk, but to this observer it boiled down to a statement that what we don't know may admit of a supreme being. Victor Stenger, recently retired professor of astrophysics at the University of Hawaii, and a well known writer in defense of atheism, proceeded to tell us how something could come from nothing without violating physical laws. I found Stenger convincing, though admittedly my knowledge of advanced physics is limited. Gingerich probably was asking, "Who put the nothing there?" But I'm being unfair to him; he is a sophisticated thinker with a courteous manner.
If you ever get a chance to go to a conference like this, jump at the chance. You'll be truly stimulated.
Wisdom from Columnist Molly Ivins
(Commenting on Oct. 23, 2001, re Texas Gov. Rick Perry's prayer in school campaign)
The majority does not rule anyone's faith. If we wanted the state to coerce faith, we would have voted for the Taliban.
As is obvious to all but those of the most limited intelligence and the governor, by the time you get the Catholics, Jews, Episcopalians, Methodists, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, Church of Christers, Buddhists, Sikhs, New Agers and the County Line Salt of the Earth Church of the Predestinarian Faith to sign off on one prayer, it begins: "to Whom It May Concern, If There Is a Whom."