ISSUE: December 2002
Edited by Sharon Fratepietro and Sharon Strong
December Meeting: SHL's Annual Holiday Potluck!
Saturday, December 21, will be potluck party time at Warren and Pat McCarl's house. Starting at 5 p.m., we'll celebrate our friendship with a purely social meeting.
What to contribute? Any food and/or beverage you like. Somehow it all seems to work out so everyone gets lots of choices in the five basic food groups—appetizers, salads, entrees, veggies and desserts.
Also, as usual, bring along any re-sellable books you want to donate for our freethought, bargain-book auction, with Herb Silverman serving as persuasive auctioneer. (All proceeds will go into the SHL treasury, so plan to buy a book too, if possible.)
Do plan to be there. And we specially invite the people on our mailing list who rarely, if ever, come to a meeting, as well as past speakers who are not members.
Please note there will be no meeting in December at Gage Hall, but we will return there in January with another speaker and discussion.
Can a Humanist Be a Political Conservative?
by Max and Carole Cohen
When we joined SHL two years ago, we assumed a Humanist group would focus on philosophical issues related to the conflict of belief and unbelief—the evolution of free thought, science versus religion, cosmology, etc.—as well as contemporary interference with the separation of church and state. Several of the meetings and book discussions have met these expectations, but especially after the November meeting, we wondered if we had misread the sign on the door and wandered into an organization with an agenda that we as political conservatives cannot support.
Ms. Girsh was a superb speaker. There can be no argument about that. However, we wondered why she seemed surprised and disappointed that not everyone in the room belonged to NOW and the ACLU. Was she working on an assumption that all Humanists are liberals? Perhaps she got this impression from the member who invited everyone to an anti-war event (and thanks to Sharon Fratepietro for clarifying the member’s use of we). However this may be, it has caused us to question the focus of SHL.
Our conception of Humanism derives from its Renaissance beginnings, not from Corliss Lamont, whose Philosophy of Humanism is considered by some the definitive exploration of the subject. Lamont’s approval of the 1930’s Moscow purge trials (yes, we know he recanted later on) and his romantic view of a regime that equals that of Nazism in its horror do not bespeak a Humanist perspective.
Humanism is not a holy cause; it is a philosophical and metaphysical position. If we thought it was a holy cause, we would have no part of it. Holy causes, whether religious or political, are abhorrent to us. American political conservatism should not be confused with the Christian Right. We believe in individual freedom of thought and personal responsibility, concepts not amenable to either the extreme right or the left.
In our view, Humanism should be dedicated to the proposition that human intellect exists for the purpose of learning the ways of the natural world, a task for which it is well suited. If Humanism could teach this one lesson, it would contribute a priceless, unifying advancement in culture. Religion, focusing on the unnatural (or supernatural) world, simply confounds the mind and divides humanity into hundreds of often mutually antagonistic cults.
A Humanist organization should not be the captive of any political agenda.
SHL President Herb Silverman responds:
To answer your question, yes! Humanists can be political conservatives, and they are most welcome to join SHL. We have several Libertarian members, including one who was a candidate for Lieutenant Governor in South Carolina.
Since our first meeting in 1994, a wide range of speakers has covered a spectrum of religious and political thought at our meetings. Our members have generally enjoyed most, but not necessarily all, of our programs. May I suggest to you (and others, also) that you recommend speakers and topics for future programs.
You stated a legitimate, but not exclusive, view of Humanism. I think a story about Judaism also applies to Humanism. Members of a congregation were arguing about whether to stand or sit during a particular prayer. So they went to an elderly and learned Rabbi to settle the dispute. They asked if the tradition is to stand, and the Rabbi said "No." So then the tradition is to sit? The Rabbi again said "No." They told the Rabbi to please resolve the controversy because they keep arguing about it. "That," said the Rabbi, "is the tradition!"
Our "tradition" goes further. We even argue about what we should call ourselves: Humanist, secular humanist, atheist, agnostic, freethinker, skeptic, naturalist, rationalist, etc. SHL has thrived for all these years because we respect (and even enjoy) our differences. We sometimes focus on these differences, but still recognize how much we have in common. A preferred activity for SHL members may be attending talks, discussing books, socializing, going to dinner, doing political or social activism, or reading the newsletter. There are opportunities to partake in as many or as few of these activities as you like. I think SHL has also been a successful organization because our members seem to genuinely like each other and welcome newcomers. I am looking forward to seeing both of you and many others at our Winter Solstice pot luck party. Herb
Humanist Book Discussion Group
By Sharon Strong
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 October meeting we agreed to read a selection of magazine articles for December. Our reading list now consists of the following:
1) "Bush and Iraq" by Anthony Lewis—the URL for this is http://www.nybooks.com/articles/15790. For those wishing to explore the "Bush & Iraq" theme more, see a series of three articles, written by Larry Chin, titled "The deep politics of regime removal in Iraq: Overt conquest and covert operations." All three parts are available at the Web site http://www.globalresearch.ca and the first part can be accessed directly at http://www.onlinejournal.com/Special_Reports/Chin102402/chin102402.html
2) "The Next Christianity" by Philip Jenkins—from the October 2002 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.
3) "Intolerance: The Bestseller" by Gershom Gorenberg—from the September 23, 2002, issue of The American Prospect.
I have hard copies of articles (2) and (3) that I can mail to you; contact me via phone or e-mail (see page 1 for details) and leave me your name and address.
We will meet at Warren McCarl’s home at 3:30 on December 21, just
prior to our annual potluck. See you there!
Saturday, December 21: Humanist Book Discussion Group, Warren and Pat McCarl’s home, 3:30-5 p.m.
Saturday, December 21: SHL annual potluck, at Warren and Pat McCarl’s home, 5:00 p.m.
Should Fraud Laws Stop at the Church Door?
By Bill Van Druten
Collecting scads of money on the basis of a promise of life after death would be fraud by a fish oil salesman or chiropractor. But most every church offers some kind of eternal life package.
Some say that you are guaranteed to attend heaven in your own personal body. And that is valid even if you have been blown up or eaten by shark or badly rotted in the ground. Seems untidy to me.
But here is a problem. When you recognize that churches deny each other's eternal life claims you can tell that something is fishy. Church A says that it has the only true formula for life after death and churches B, C and D are false because they deny A's formula and have different ones of their own. But each of them stands on its dignity and declares that other people's churches are cults and liars.
Those others are doing fraud, evidently. This is the snaggy part. If churchy authority is good for claims to eternal life, then that authority is good for invalidation of each other's claims. Then there aren't any left. Ill say that over again so it can sink in good. Churches invalidate each other, so there is a scam here somewhere.
Why hasn't some consumer mag covered this important question for us? Is there life after death and which church is in charge? Or is the religion industry just selling holy fish oil? I'll tell you what I think. I think we are just going to be plain dead and that is not as bad as some of the options churches are offering us.
(William van Druten, MD, is a retired psychiatrist living in Duluth, Minnesota. Bill founded the Lake Superior Freethinkers. He started a coalition that was able to protect two hospitals from Catholic domination. His formula for Catholic hospital mergers is: Provide restricted medical care for consenting Catholics, but provide modern, scientific care for all others.)
The Skeptic Friends Network
By Tim Householder (Boron10)
The Skeptic Friends Network is a Web page devoted to skepticism on nearly all subjects. Founded by my dad (Kil -- short for Kilgore Trout) and a friend of his from Seattle (@tomic), we grew out of a small group who used to meet and talk on the "Atheists and Agnostics" chatroom in AOL in the mid 1990's. The page contains several essays (the Kil Reports), some interesting fan mail, and a very active discussion forum. The forum has over 600 registered users, around 50 regulars, and about 10 moderators, including myself, the illustrious moderator of the Religion forum!
(Editor's note: Tim Householder, stationed in Charleston with the Navy, has attended recent SHL meetings and contributed substantially to the Humanist Book Discussions at Barnes and Noble for several months. However, the bad news is that in January the Navy will send him to a new base in Saratoga Springs, New York. The good news is that those of us who have enjoyed knowing Tim can continue to keep in touch with him via the Religion forum of the Skeptic Friends Network.)