August 1991

Another growth phase!

Humanists of Utah is going through another growth phase.

For one thing, the newsletter has a new format. The old magazine-style legal pages had their charm, but this letter size is easier and cheaper to print. Besides, it is available in recycled paper, and the more we use of that, the better. We hope you approve.

For another thing, two months ago, we thought we’d have to pad our mailing list to get up to the 200 pieces required for bulk mail status. By now, we have over 200 genuine people’s addresses in our database.

It is essential that we make sure our financial base and our organizational structure keeps pace with this thunderous growth in numbers. That takes more insight than I can provide by myself.

That is why I have invited a group of people to participate in the decision-making. That group calls itself the Organizational Committee, and consists of:

  • Larry Christensen (Programs)
  • Stanley Ford (Publisher)
  • Bob Green
  • Kent Griffiths
  • Greg Hansen (Publicity)
  • Anna Hoagland (Treasurer)
  • Dick Layton
  • Nancy Moore
  • Ed Wilson
  • Flo Wineriter

This is not a Board yet, because a Board gets elected. At this point, the Humanists of Utah don’t know one another very well yet, and elections would consist of strangers voting for people they’ve never seen before. It is not a closed group, either: you are invited to join them.

–Anne Zeilstra
President, HoU

Advice for Beginning Doubters

At the June meeting of Humanists of Utah, a group of seasoned rebels against religious authority got together to pool their experiences. This article is a result of that gab session. However, it contains a fair sprinkling of my own additives, preservatives, flavors and colors. It may not square with the problems and solutions that you have encountered; your corrections and improvements will be appreciated. We’ll want this to be as concise and helpful as possible: when it is honed down to its final form, it could be our way to reach out to could-be-humanists.

So, you don’t feel comfortable with the religion that you have been involved with? You have come to the point where you want to talk with someone about what you have been thinking. But what if they think you are a creep?

It may not feel like it, but a lot of eople have been where you are now. Some of them got together some time ago to pool their experiences, and this is what they came up with.

In the first place, you are entirely correct in feeling apprehensive, because no matter how you slice it, it’s going to be tough. Nobody said challenging authorities was easy. If you want things easy, the easiest thing is to forget about your doubts, to stop thinking independently, and to rejoin the flock you have felt cut off from. Trouble is, your mind is not a computer. It is hard to turn it off once it gets started.

The second easiest thing is to keep your thoughts in your mind, and to just go through the motions in church. Someone who can keep his internal motivations separate from his external actions is usually called a hypocrite, (but only if he is found out). This is not so despicable an alternative: those who avert conflicts with the authorities are in the good company of Socrates (“I an atheist? I do what I do because the gods command me!”), Jesus (“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s …”), and Galilei (“And yet she turns”). But again, not everyone can do that. And hypocrisy exacts its own price, a kind of mentally cross-eyed outlook that can give you spiritual headaches.

Even if you decide that you are going to think and act independently, you may want to examine the extent of your rebellion. Do you doubt the existence of the god of your religion, or just the integrity of is ground personnel? If it’s the practicies of your fellow believers that you are questioning, then you may want to consider whether you can best improve things from within, or from outside of your church. If your doubts center on the religious dogmas themselves, then there is a lot of work to be done.

One part of the work goes on within yourself. It would be too bad if you stopped believing what you used to, without developing an alternative world view, some working hypotheses aobut what makes you and the world tick.

The other part of the work is to express that world view to others. Actually, the two parts reinforce one another: often we don’t really know what we think until we try to tell someone else.

So who are you going to talk to? It may seem hard to find someone who is willing to listen without prejudging you, and without passing your confidential information to others. But they do exist. If you cannot find them, try talking to the wall. And try to get to a point where you can talk about your thoughts and feelings sensibly, and calmly. You’ll need to be able to do that to get to the next point: talking to those who are close to you.

The tragedy is that the people you love most may be the hardest ones to open up to. That is because to them, that is no just a subject of intellectual discourse, but also a matter of trust and sharing. And in a religion, like the LDS church, where man and wife are a team who together work towards their salvation, it is tantamount to spiritual desertion. How you talk to people is very important.

A “let-me-tell-you-how-it-really-is” attitude will be counter productive: no one likes a preaching smart-aleck who makes fun of other people’s convictions. It is more honest to admit your doubts and questions, and in all modesty bring forward your alternative explanations.

Things that you need to across:

I still love you

The people you love need to know that the new ideas you have been entertaining are not a way you have chosen to hurt them, but rather things that have been growing on you despite your affections.

I am rational, and in pursuit of happiness

My doubts are not a sickness that plagues me, or that I want cured, but a way to better understand reality.

I am still a moral person

Some people think that without scriptural commandments, people will start behaving like beasts. However, the fact is that non-religious reasoning arrives at a lot of rules of appropriate behavior that are similar to religious tenets. The difference is that here, you don’t follow the rules because you are told to, but because you can see they make sense.

Here are some things I am in favor of

Church-bashing only puts down the people you love. Rather than telling them why the church is no good, try and focus on more satisfying alternative explanations of reality.

Having people accept your intellectual evolution is not going to be easy. The more so because you are walking a thin line between dangers. On the one hand, it would be cruel to push too hard, to rob the people you love of their ability to believe what they have been happy with. On the other hand, there will be a lot of social and professional pressure on you to swallow your words. “Do it for the children,” “Do it for me,” “Don’t rock the boat.”

The basic conflict is not going to go away. In the end, either you accept divine authority, or you assert your individual intellectual independence. But before you reach that end, there’s a long travel ahead of you.

Move graciously.

–Anne Zeilstra

The Hospice Team

Last month, Flo Wineriter described what the clients of the Hospice movement see. This time he focuses on the inner workings.

Hospice care in Utah and in most areas takes place at home. There are Hospice Care facilities (in a few states and in other countries) where several terminal patients live, but generally, Hospice services are given in the home of the patient, and is provided by a team of people, professionals and lay care givers.

A Registered Nurse is the “captain” of the Hospice team. The RN consults with the patient and the family to determine goals and objectives: the physical needs of the patient and how those needs can be met. He or she keeps the family doctor informed of changes in the patient’s condition, and recommends the type and amount of pain control medications.

The RN also teaches the family “care giving techniques” and familiarizes them with signs of imminent death. Families are urged not to panic and call 911 when those signs of death appear. The reason for this caution is that emergency medical technicians are required by training and by law to do everything possible to restore and maintain life, and to get a patient to the hospital. Phoning 911 for a terminal patient is simply delaying death and subjecting the patient to unnecessary pain and agony, and is contrary to the goal of Hospice care.

For example: recently, a family panicked, and called 911. The patient was resuscitated, and rushed to the hospital. A tracheotomy was installed, and the patient was kept alive in a vegetative state for a few days until the patient’s personal physician could convince the hospital to remove the emergency life support system and let the patient die. The Hospice RN felt guilty because she had failed to sufficiently impress upon the family not to call the paramedics, and the family felt guilty for causing the patient to suffer unnecessarily.

Another member of the Hospice team is the social worker. He meets with the family to discuss insurance coverage, community resources, and family conflict resolutions. He also helps resolve psychological problems concerning the patient and family members.

A physical therapist is a member of the Hospice team, and helps the patient and family establish exercises that will enhance muscular condition.

Home Health Aids are available to come into the home and assist with bathing, bandage changes, feeding, toileting and any other health related activites.

Trained volunteers are members of the Hospice Team. They receive about 16 hours of training in human relations, learning how to listen to people and how to respond to expressed needs as well as unexpressed needs. Volunteers help patients accomplish their “wish list” of things they want to do during the final days of their life. Volunteers also provide respite time for the primary care giver: they take care of the patient for a few hours while the primary care giver goes shopping, visiting, to a show, out to dinner or just for a walk. They give the primary care giver some “time off” from the intensity of taking care of the patient. The final member of the Hospice Team is the oncologist, a medical doctor who specializes in the care of cancer patients. The Hospice Team oncologist may never see the patient, but acts in an advisory position when other team members have questions, and also acts as an intermediary between the Hospice Team and the patient’s personal doctor.

The entire Hospice Team meets every week to discuss the progress of each patient, to exchange information about patients and, most importantly, to give support to each other.

Caring for patients who are in the process of dying is uniquely intense. Hospice Team members get very involved and attached to their patients. Watching a patient deteriorate and die is a very emotional experience. One never gets hardened to it or crass. Consequently, team members need to express those feelings and concerns in a safe environment, and that is what takes place during the weekly team meetings.

Believe me, it is a moving experience to sit with a nurse, a social worker, a doctor, and another volunteer and watch tears flow as they discuss one patient after another. A Hospice Team meeting is different from any other meeting in the medical profession.

Follow-Up Service

Hospice care continues after the death of a patient. Often the RN is the first person called by the family when a patient dies. My wife is a Hospice RN, and she is called and leaves home at all hours of the night to go to the home of the deceased, and help with contacting the mortuary and preparing the body for the arrival of the mortuary people.

Hospice Team members often attend viewings and funerals to give solace and support to family members.

Bereavement volunteers contact the family members by mail within a few days of the death and provide them with a pamphlet explaining the grieving process. At the end of 30 days the bereavement volunteer contacts the family to determine if they are having unusual grief problems, and to offer help in contacting community resources.

Hospice provides an eight week bereavement counseling group that helps mourners understand their grief and come to terms with the changes in their lives. The bereavement volunteer then contacts the family again at 90 days after the patient’s death, with follow-up calls at six and twelve months after death.

All this work centers on the Hospice mission:

To provide terminally ill persons thoughtful, considerate care that helps them find comfort and meaning during the final days of their lives.

–Flo Wineriter

The Bill of Rights: A Protection for the Minority

Nancy’s Corner

The story so far: the letter of the laws of both of churches and states forbids the intrusion of one in the other’s domain. Also, the spirit of the Constitution is aimed at the same end. How about the amendments to the Constitution?

The Bill of Rights was written to protect the minority from encroachment by the majority. The First Amendment states that the government cannot establish, promote, or prohibit the free exercise of religion. In a civil rights issue, the principle of majority rule does not apply. The issue must be decided by the courts, because the tendency of the majority is to oppress. The Supreme Court will decide whether prayer is a form of free speech, and therefore acceptable at graduation, or is an act of worship and therefore unconstitutional because it entangles church with state.

A Change of Tradition

Those who favor prayer at graduation stand by the fact that prayers have been part of the traditional ceremony for years. Traditions can be satisfying and stabilizing practices for people if they are meaningful, inoffensive, and egalitarian for all concerned. But even traditions need to be examined and changed when they no longer meet those criteria. Slavery was once a tradition as well as the unequal treatment of women. But because these traditional laws resulted in the unjust treatment of its citizens, they were changed.

Religion, periodically, also changes its traditions. Just last year, revision in the Mormon temple ceremonies were made by LDS church officials because some of the old traditional rites were found to be offensive to women and other religions. This change from tradition reflects insight and a greater sensitivity to people and therefore is more liberating and meaningful for its church members as a whole.

Prayer is a profound and private form of religious worship involving a person or a particular community of like people who have the same belief system. Therefore such prayers ought to take place where they are accepted and understood by all members of the group or audience.

Schools should be a place where students all live together as a solid group of Americans leaving religious differences outside. Denominational prayers, especially offered by the same religion, tends to nullify the equality of the students which the Consitution seeks to establish, because they reveal one viewpoint, and they have the effect of state sanction.

When prayer creates community dissension, or is felt as a coercive practice, then it is time we change our tradition and keep prayers exclusively in our hearts, our homes, and our places of worship.

–Nancy Moore

Escape From Freedom

~Book Review~

Escape From Freedom by Eric Fromm is an oldie but a goodie classic philosophical book about modern man freeing himself from the bonds of society–any society. Man, in breaking away from his social structure, encounters isolation, and he is confronted with a decision to either escape from the burden of his freedom into new dependencies and submission, or to advance to the full realization of positive freedom which is based on the uniqueness and individuality of man.

In Chapter 7, Fromm speaks of “Spontaneous Activity” as being the one way in which man can overcome the feeling of aloneness without sacrificing the integrity of his self.

In the spontaneous realization of the self, man unites himself anew with the world – with man, nature and himself. Love is the foremost component of such spontaneity; not love as the dissolution of the self in another person, not love as the possession of another person, but love as spontaneous affirmation of others, as the union of the individual with others on the basis of the preservation of the individual self.

–Nancy Moore

(Now, we liberated girls know that when Eric Fromm speaks of “Man” he means us also. After all, he wrote the book in 1941!)