ISSUE: March 2003
Edited by Sharon Fratepietro and Sharon Strong
Secular Vs. Religious Humanism at March SHL MeetingSecular humanism and religious humanism—just two branches of one body of philosophical thought? We’ll explore that subject when Dr. Mason Olds speaks at the March 16 meeting of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry. The meeting will begin at at Gage Hall,
Dr. Olds’ topic will be "What is Religious Humanism?"
Dr. Olds received degrees
Since his retirement
to the Lowcountry, Dr. Olds occasionally teaches a course at the
An Invitation to a Unique InvocationAs you may know, Charleston City Council always opens its meetings with an Invocation. On Tuesday, March 25, SHL President Herb Silverman has been invited to give the Invocation. Please try to attend this historic event at 5:00PM. The meeting will be held in City Hall, on the corner of Broad and Meeting (the intersection known as the “Four Corners of the Law”).
Harriet Johnson's Unspeakable Conversations by Herb Silverman
I hope you all noticed the photo of SHL Member Harriet Johnson on the cover of the New York Times Magazine on February 16. Harriet wrote the issue’s main article, "Unspeakable Conversations," about her invitation by Peter Singer to speak at Princeton University. Some of you may recall that the two met here in Charleston when he spoke at an event cosponsored by the SHL at the College of Charleston. In the article, Harriet described me, and accurately called Sharon Fratepietro "a veteran activist for civil rights." She said about us, "Good people, I've always thought—now sharing a veggie pita with a proponent of genocide.” (A reference to Peter Singer.) Harriet also mentioned the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry in the article.
After the article appeared, readers reacted by posting more than 600 comments about it on the Web-based forum of the NY Times. Below is my comment, followed by Harriet's response to it.
“I am probably a minority of one in this interesting forum. I know, like, and have enormous respect for both Harriet McBryde Johnson and Peter Singer. In fact, I introduced them. In her article, Harriet said, "Herb is South Carolina's most famous atheist." Harriet, a member of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry here in Charleston, gave a wonderful presentation to our group. Atheism is one of the many things Harriet, Peter, and I have in common. We believe we have the ability to develop responsible moral and ethical codes without reference to supernatural forces; that we can use reason, science, and experience to better understand how to solve human problems; that our deeds should be more important than our creeds; and that our dogmas should never override our compassion for others. We may sometimes disagree, just as religionists do, but we are all active in promoting civil rights. Some responders in this forum demonized Peter because he an atheist, while others denigrated Harriet's reliance on logical thinking and tried to convert her. Both have heard these arguments countless times.
“As a requirement for publication of her article, Harriet had to supply documentation that I was an out-of-the-closet atheist, and my last name was even omitted. Does anyone think documentation would have been necessary had Harriet referred to me as a Methodist or a Presbyterian? Perhaps respect for freedom from religion is yet another unspeakable conversation worth having.”
Harriet Johnson responded:
“Re Atheism, Thanks, Herb [Silverman] for posting. Herb's last name was omitted not from editorial concern about "outing" him, but because the original version of my article had several more supporting characters, some of whom wanted a little anonymity, and I decided to treat them all the same as matter of style. But, yes, the editorial folks did want confirmation that it was OK to "reveal" this information—a mark that atheism isn't respectable.
To the many who ask how or why I am an atheist, the best answer I can give is, "Why not?" This sounds flip, but it is the answer from my point of view. I don't see a need for belief in a god. I don't see that it gets us anywhere. It doesn't settle fundamental questions of meaning, value, right, and wrong—it just reframes and structures how we talk about them. I just get along with unknowing on most of those big questions and try to live my life.”
Legal Briefings by Herb SilvermanThe Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a district court ruling last June that the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by public school students violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
In Judge Alfred Goodwin’s opinion, reciting the Pledge is unconstitutional because the state is "endorsing not just religion generally, but a monotheistic religion organized under God." Goodwin added that the pledge impermissibly sends a message to non-believers, or believers in non-Judeo-Christian religions, that they are outsiders. This ruling overturned the 1954 act of Congress modifying the Pledge to include the words "under God." The decision is expected to be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
Here are my top five choices, in no particular order, for modifying the pledge in a way that is both constitutional and more accurate.
Bush Links Faith and Agenda In Speech to Broadcast Group
By Dana Milbank
NASHVILLE, Feb. 10 -- President Bush has addressed countless audiences as commander in chief. Today, he was introduced as "our friend and brother in Christ."
Appearing at the National Religious Broadcasters convention, before a backdrop that read "Advancing Christian Communications," the president was hailed as a man who "unapologetically proclaims his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." Bush, in a strikingly religious address even for a president long comfortable with such speech, cast the full range of his agenda -- foreign, domestic and economic -- in spiritual terms."I welcome faith," Bush said after he was greeted with rock star adulation. "I welcome faith to help solve the nation's deepest problems." Attendees called out "amen" as Bush spoke, and some waved rhythmically as they did during the hymns that preceded his speech.
About the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bush said: "We're being challenged. We're meeting those challenges because of our faith. . . . We carried our grief to the Lord Almighty in prayer." Bush assigned religion a role in the economy ("There are some needs that prosperity can never meet"), in a possible attack on Iraq ("Liberty is God's gift to every human being in the world"), and in coping with the Columbia space shuttle accident ("Faith assures us that death and suffering are not the final word").
Statements of faith are standard for presidents, and Bush, who found religion in the 1980s after a struggle with excessive drinking, thanked Jesus during the presidential primaries for changing his life. Still, the nation's modern secular leaders have generally been understated in their public expressions of faith, a tone set by Jimmy Carter, a born-again Christian. And Bush, through much of his presidency, has spoken of his faith subtly.
But with war in Iraq looming, and much of the world opposed to his position, the president in recent weeks has adopted a strongly devotional tone. In a series of speeches -- a pair of remembrances for the Columbia victims, last week's National Prayer Breakfast and today's address to the religious broadcasters -- Bush has far more openly embraced Christian theology. Today's speech brought the most thorough linkage yet between Bush's worldly policies and Christian faith -- including a pronouncement that an American attack on Iraq would be "in the highest moral traditions of our country."
On poverty programs, Bush observed that "welfare policy will not solve the deepest problems of the spirit. . . . You don't fix the crack on the wall until you fix the foundation." On justice programs, he said, "building more prisons will not substitute for responsibility and order in our souls. . . . That happens when someone puts an arm around a neighbor and says, 'God loves you, I love you, and you can count on us both.' " Turning to matters overseas, the president said America's enemies "hate the thought [that] . . . we can worship the Almighty God the way we see fit."
Bush advocated vouchers for drug addicts, "especially" for programs of a spiritual nature. He said religious charities should not "compromise their prophetic role." He addressed the faith of the religious broadcasters in the hall. "I am honored to be with so many of you all who have dedicated your lives to sharing the Good News," he said.
The gratitude was mutual. "We pray for you -- in fact, we pray for you daily," Glenn Plummer, the broadcasters' chairman, said in his introduction. "The United States of America has been blessed by God Himself to have George W. Bush as president."
In 1995, the group announced that President Bill Clinton was not invited to its meetings because of his views on abortion and homosexuality. By contrast, many attendees today said Bush was divinely chosen to lead the country during its trials. "At certain times and at certain hours in our country, God has had a certain man to hear his testimony," said Steve Clark, of Faith Baptist Tabernacle in Jamestown, Tenn.
Bush noted that the Christian pianist who performed for the broadcasters, Michael W. Smith, had played at the White House days earlier. During the program, which began with a Bush speech blending into Christian hymns, Karl Rove, Bush's top political aide, worked the crowd.
In recent speeches, Bush has read passages from Isaiah and from the hymn "How Great Thou Art." At last week's prayer breakfast, he said that when he is told by citizens that they are praying for him, he tells them "it is the greatest gift you can give anybody, is to pray on their behalf." Today, Bush thanked his listeners for their prayers, suggesting he would need them in the days ahead. "Let us pray for strength equal to our tasks," he said.
J. Mark Horst, who has a radio ministry in Breezewood, Pa., said faith is what makes Bush propose seemingly unreachable goals and defy odds to reach them. "As Christians, we're commanded to be of strong courage," Horst said. "He's taking what he reads in the Word and saying, 'This is what I believe, and I'm going to go for it.' "
Copyright 2003 The Washington Post Company
Humanist Book Discussion Group by Sharon StrongOur March meeting will take place on the fourth Sunday of the month, March 23, in the Barnes and Noble bookstore at 1812 Sam Rittenberg Blvd., 3:00-5:00 p.m. This month we will be considering a new and all too timely book, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges. The author, a long-time war correspondent, takes a hard look at why we find organized armed conflict so compelling. Mike Epstein will be the discussion leader. The book is available at the West Ashley Barnes and Noble.
Your news item "U.S. diplomats clash on family-planning pact" (P&C 12/15)
points out the disturbing position being taken by the Bush administration in
regard to international population control programs.
I am both "pro life" and "pro choice." As an advocate of the best possible
life for all the inhabitants of our planet, I recognize that a yearly population increase of 90 million humans cannot continue indefinitely without catastrophic consequences for the entire planet. And if pregnancy termination were not a universal practice (illegal or not) the annual population increase would be closer to 150 million humans.
Those responsible for trying to have the United States withdraw its share of the funding for international population control, because some of that funding might be used for pregnancy terminations, are actually contributing to increased abortion rates. When poor and impoverished women are denied access to family planning, a good many practice non-medical pregnancy termination as their only practical option.
"Pro lifers" should be greatly concerned with the fact that illegal, non-medical abortion is the leading cause of death of women of childbearing age. If "Pro lifers" were to be successful in making abortion illegal in the United States, tens of thousands of American women would be added to this tragedy.
I have visited most of the Caribbean, Mexico and parts of Central and South America. Most of these areas are vastly overpopulated and contain some of
the worst slum areas imaginable. Many of the more fortunate residents of these regions have either already migrated to the U.S., or are planning to do so at the earliest opportunity. Just how long the U.S. will continue to absorb the human overflow from these badly overpopulated nations is anyone's guess, but, as many of us know, anti-immigration movements (both legal and illegal) are an increasing part of the political dialogue.
Overpopulation in Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East, is also a
menace to world peace. World War III, if and when it happens, will be likely to begin in one of these regions. Family planning and population control offer the only realistic ways of avoiding this horror. Those opposed to international population control must consider this reality before continuing with their ill-advised efforts to force women to stay pregnant against their will.
Your readers should contact their congressmen and senators and ask them to insist that President Bush reconsider his anti-population control agenda. As the organization "Zero Population Control" reminds us, "Whatever your cause, it's a lost cause, without population control."
The Jan. 14 story on John Ashcroft's speech to a religious group reported he complained that the government has discriminated against religious groups. He is quoted as saying, "Out of fear, ignorance and occasional bigotry, faith-based groups have been prohibited from competing for federal funding on a level playing field with secular groups."
The government should certainly discriminate against religious groups and not empower them to use our tax dollars to promote their own personal religious beliefs on those that are in need. Ashcroft puts his finger on one of the destructive aspects of faith when he claims that "through faith all things are possible." That is true, but only in a fantasy world.
People can believe almost anything. Faith is the acceptance of an idea in the absence of evidence or logical demonstration.
To believe that all things are possible in the real world is simply irrational. Rational thinking is based on evidence, facts, consistency and respect for the accumulated, integrated body of what is already known. Evidence and facts can produce a diversity of opinion, but critical study and experimentation will lead to understanding the problem.
Faith is not based on perceptual concrete facts, anything goes. The only way that disputes or disagreements can be overcome is to fight or form another faith-based group.
It is hard to find an idea that is so absurd that someone won't believe it, as John Ashcroft has demonstrated.
SHL CalendarSunday, March 16: Dr. Mason Olds, professor emeritus of Religion and Philosophy at Springfield College in Massachusetts, speaks at the SHL monthly meeting. At Gage Hall, 4 Archdale St., downtown Charleston, 4:00 p.m. Followed by optional dinner at Vickery's.
Sunday, March 23: Humanist Book Discussion Group, Barnes & Noble, 1812 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. (West Ashley), 3-5 p.m.
Tuesday, March 25: SHL President Herb Silverman will offer the Invocation at the Charleston City Council meeting, 5:00 p.m., in City Hall, on the corner of Broad and Meeting Streets.