ISSUE: November 2002
Edited by Sharon Fratepietro and Sharon Strong
Dying with Dignity in the Age of AshcroftFaye Girsh from the national organization, The Hemlock Society USA, will tackle a profound and controversial subject at the next meeting of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry. On Sunday, November 17, at 4 p.m., she will talk about current end-of-life choices available to Americans. Ms. Girsh will discuss where Oregon's right-to-die law fits in: what it provides, how it has fared, and how it has been under attack by Attorney General Ashcroft. His interest raises questions about the future fate of assisted dying in this country. Ms. Girsh will talk about Hemlock's "Caring Friends" program as an alternative to physician assistance. Faye Girsh served as President of The Hemlock Society USA from 1996 to 2002 and is now Senior Vice President. She has been involved in the death with dignity movement since 1983. Ms. Girsh has been a clinical and forensic psychologist, and received her doctorate from Harvard University. She has taught at Morehouse College and the University of Chicago. The United States and California Supreme Courts have cited Ms. Girsh's research on the death penalty. She has spoken internationally, appeared on national TV, and has authored more than 30 articles on the right to die.
Chevrolet in Trouble with Humanists
The American Humanist Association (AHA) is urging a Humanist boycott of Chevrolet. Executive Director Tony Hileman explained, "On Nov. 1, Chevrolet will kick off its 16-city Come Together and Worship Tour, which is more an evangelical Christian revival tour than a commercially sponsored entertainment event.
"This sectarian marketing doesnŐt speak well for Chevy's interest in diversity," said Hileman. "I donŐt see Chevy sponsoring Jewish sales events in New York, Buddhist sales events in San Francisco, or Humanist sales events in Oregon."
The chief Chevy spokesperson said they "want to get the message out there with regards to Chevrolet and how we're so family oriented and have great values." Hileman predicted, "If Chevy thinks evangelical Christians have cornered the market on family values, they've made a costly blunder. We Humanists, along with millions of others, hear Chevy's message of exclusion loud and clear and will show our displeasure with our pocketbooks."
AHA President Edd Doerr noted, "We are fully aware that Chevrolet shares responsibility for being the title sponsor of this campaign with its parent company, General Motors. So we will be encouraging many supporters who are also GM shareholders to notify their representative GM board members about their feelings on this issue. While corporate board members may decide on their own to make personal donations to various churches and charities, this direct endorsement of sectarian religion by Chevy's marketing department and the GM board is a misuse of shareholder funds."
Humanists are not alone in their concern over Chevrolet's announced plans. Jewish organizations have spoken out against this blending of commerce and religion and Muslims and others are probably not far behind. The AHA will be calling on all excluded groups to come forward and voice their protest. Hileman concluded, "Chevrolet has a right to market in whatever legal ways it chooses and can certainly sell to whomever it wants, but Humanists and others have an equal right not to buy Chevy's automobiles or the sectarian program it is attaching to them."
Coalitions and Cooperation
By Herb Silverman
There has long been a need for national freethought organizations to cooperate and show their strength in numbers to amplify the voice of the nontheistic community in the United States. We must increase the visibility and respectability of nontheistic viewpoints within the larger culture, and protect and strengthen secular government as the best guarantee of freedom for all.
I am facilitator for two national coalitions, in which leaders of national freethought organizations meet periodically. The first is the Coalition for the Community of Reason (http://www.communityofreason.org/), consisting of ten national organizations. The second, newly formed, is the Secular Coalition for America (http://www.secular.org/). The Secular Coalition is a more activist lobbying organization. As resources allow, it will engage in political action initiatives and public relations opportunities. More about this in future newsletters!
Humanist Book Discussion Group
By Sharon Strong
Our November meeting will take place on Sunday the 24th at Barnes and Noble on Sam Rittenberg Blvd., 3:00-5:00 p.m. We will be discussing Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind by V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakesly. Dr. Ramachandran, a neuroscientist, explores the nature of human consciousness by looking at case studies of individuals with neurological deficits. Read about people who deny the reality of their own body parts, and have fun with your own blind spot. There are plenty of copies available in Barnes and Noble's Science section. Our discussion leader will be Warren McCarl.
In December we always do something a little different, since we won't be able to meet at Barnes and Noble that month (due to the frenetic holiday atmosphere). At our last meeting we agreed to read a selection of magazine articles for December. Anyone who feels so inclined is invited to make and bring to the November meeting about 10 copies of an article of interest to share. Sharon and Herb will be offering a piece by Philip Jenkins titled "The Next Christianity," which appeared in the October Atlantic Monthly.
Observations from Our Webmaster
By Alex Kasman
As Web master for the SHL (www.atheistalliance.org/lowcountry),
I receive a lot of e-mail from visitors to our Web site. I must admit, I
was rather surprised by the fact that very few of the people writing were
SHL members, and most in fact were not even from the Lowcountry. That is, I
suppose, part of the global aspect of the World Wide Web...someone browsing
the Internet from North Dakota is as likely to stumble upon the SHL Web
page as someone from North Charleston.
The messages I receive are diverse. Some are from people seeking to understand what "Humanism" is...one writer specifically asked me to contrast it with Randian Objectivism, which forced me to do a little bit of research before replying! Of course, some of the messages I receive as SHL Web master are from Christians seeking to debate or "save" me. Some are just brief messages that compliment the Web site or request that I add a posting to one of our "discussion groups. "
However, the most surprising and rewarding messages are those from people who have found needed strength in visiting our Web site. Many, but not all, are adolescents who feel isolated due to their lack of religious belief, and write to say that they were glad to have found our site and had a chance to read about other people like themselves. This is a public service that the SHL is providing to people around the country (and perhaps even around the world) that I had not fully appreciated before becoming the SHL Web master.
(Editor's note: Our sincere thanks go to Alex Kasman for the work he does on the SHL Web site, despite an impossibly busy life as professor, mathematics researcher, writer, husband and father.)
Sunday, November 17: Dr. Faye Girsh, past President of The Hemlock Society USA, 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 24: Humanist Book Discussion Group, Barnes & Noble, 1812 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. (West Ashley), 3-5 p.m.
Saturday, November 22-24: Freedom from Religion Foundation Convention (San Diego).
In the spirit of cooperation, the Secular Humanists of
the Lowcountry has just affiliated with a fourth national organization, the
(www.atheists.org). I wouldn't be surprised if SHL leads the nation in
the number of national groups with whom we cooperate. Each of them lists us
on its Web site. The others include the American Humanist Association
(www.humanist.net), the Atheist Alliance International
(www.atheistalliance.org), and the Council for Secular Humanism
SHL on the March
By Sharon Fratepietro
Four SHL members marched among an estimated 2,000 godless on November 2 at the Godless Americans March on Washington, DC. Sponsored by the American Atheists organization, the event drew activists from around the country, including SHL members Sharon Strong, Kathie Ryan, Herb Silverman and Sharon Fratepietro. In addition, two College of Charleston students represented the Atheist-Humanist Alliance at the college.
The March was organized to protest the increasing infringement of religion in governmental affairs under the Bush administration.The day was cold and sunny, and the speeches at the rally after the march both passionate and rational about the need to keep religion separate from the state. Signs reading "Secular Humanists for a Secular America" and "What Schools Really Need Is a Moment of Science" competed with those of about 60 Christians, advising marchers to "Turn to Jesus or Burn in Hell."
Loudly cheered among the long list of rally speakers was Pledge of Allegiance challenger Michael Newdow, who led the group in the original pledge to "one nation, indivisible" minus the McCarthy-era addition of "under God." At one point, Kathleen Johnson, servicewoman and founder of Military Atheists & Freethinkers, invited all atheists who had been in foxholes to mount the stage; scores of men and women answered her invitation, accompanied by heartfelt calls of appreciation from the audience.
C-SPAN television videotaped the rally, and broadcast all 4 hours of the event on November 6.
The Divine Church of Gravity
The Separationist gets a rare glimpse at a bizarre cult
By Howard Elgison
Although they have their feet planted firmly on the ground, to the outside world gravity worshippers are viewed as a strange and unsettling group. They engage in ancient rituals that are shrouded in mystery and secrecy -- rituals that pre-date not only the dawn of civilization, but the Andy Griffith Show as well. (The classic black and white episodes, not the lame color ones.)
So when a representative of The Divine Church of Gravity contacted The Separationist and offered to give us an exclusive tour of their church, and an interview with their legendary leader, Don Gravitas, we jumped at the opportunity. When this reporter discussed the details with their representative, known to us only as "He Who Falls A Lot," (referred to in this article as "Hefal"), I had to ask him why they chose us for this honor. "Was it because of our reputation for exemplary journalistic standards," I asked?
"Actually no." he replied. "It was because y'all are even weirder than we are."
"Fair enough," I said and off we went. To protect their secrecy I was blindfolded for the car ride, but I'm fairly certain their church is located near the intersection of Rivers Avenue and Remount Road, which they consider to be the gravitational center of the universe, based on the fact that people spend most of their lives waiting there.
We finally arrived at the church and as we entered the grounds I was struck by the sight of the novices in the courtyard engaged in the sacred ritual known as "Dropping Stuff." Basically, this ritual involves dropping stuff into circles drawn on the ground. If successful, the novices extend a burnt offering, usually a possum with a side of red rice, to Don Gravitas.
As we proceeded down the courtyard to the main building, I noticed groups of practitioners dropping water balloons on each otherŐs heads from various heights. Hefal explained that as they become increasingly skilled in this ritual they rise higher in the church hierarchy. Eventually some of them reach the level of Drop Master whereupon they are sent on proselytizing missions that consist of dropping water balloons on the heads of unsuspecting people and then dragging them back to the church. Their skills approached that of Don Gravitas himself, who, it is said, can drop an orange pit into a half-inch circle from a supersonic aircraft flying at 35,000 feet. The man knows his gravity.
After traversing the courtyard we entered the temple where I saw the shrines for the four great figures of the church: Galileo, Newton, Einstein and David Letterman. The first three are revered for their pioneering work in describing the nature of gravity, and Letterman for his groundbreaking work in throwing various objects off tall buildings and watching them splatter.
I was then led into an inner room of the church, where I finally came face to face with Don Gravitas, who looked like he had taken a LOT of water balloons to the head. He said to me: "Sit down, my son, for I have grave news to tell you -- news that you must share with the entire world. You see, we are approaching the final days when gravity will disappear and anti-gravity will reign. People will simply fly off the face of the earth unless they purchase our anti-gravity salvation kits for just $16.95 plus shipping and handling."
I thanked him for this revelation and he gave me a complimentary salvation kit, which consists of one roll of double stick tape and a strip of Velcro. I took my leave and was escorted back through the hallowed grounds. As I dodged the water balloons I asked Hefal the question that had been burning in my mind: "Why in the world do you people worship gravity? Isn't it just a natural force?"
He stopped, thought for a second, then replied rather pointedly, "Would you mind keeping that to yourself? We've got a pretty sweet racket going here."
On Saturday, NOVEMBER 16, at 12:00 noon, SHL president Herb Silverman will give a Secular Humanist perspective at an anti-war rally protesting a potential U.S. attack on Iraq. The rally will be sponsored by the local organization Thinking People. The American Humanist Association and the Council for Secular Humanism have both issued statements opposing an attack on Iraq.
For more information, please visit our Homepage at LOWCOUNTRY.HUMANISTS.NET.