on the cover:
Mormonism is firmly rooted in religious humanism, a belief in human potential and respect for individual conscience. Now religion and humanism clash at Mormon schools where feminists are purged from the faculty and intellectuals are excommunicated from the church.
This anthology includes essays by Mormon scholars Cecilia Konchar Farr just prior to her dismissal from Brigham Young University, Lavina Fielding Anderson following her excommunication, L. Jackson Newell on the environment and overpopulation; humanist scholars Bonnie Bullough on feminism, Robert Alley on his impressions of Mormonism, Gerald Larue on secular readings of scripture; and six others.
Paul Kurtz, editor of Free Inquiry, introduces the discussion with an overview of “Humanism and the Idea of freedom,” while American journalist Walter Lippmann provides an epilogue with “The Indispensable Opposition.”
Religion, Feminism, and Freedom of Conscience
A Mormon/Humanist Dialogue
Edited by George D. Smith
Prometheus Books, Buffalo
Signature Books, Salt Lake City
about the editor:
George D. Smith, a graduate of Stanford University, is editor of two previous volumes on Mormon themes: Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History and An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton.
epigraph: There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.—Victor Hugo
Cover design by Julie Easton.
Cover illustration by Carol Norby.
∞ Religion, Feminism, and Freedom of Conscience was printed on acid-free paper meeting the permanence of paper requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences. This book was composed, printed, and bound in the United States.
© 1994 by Prometheus Books (cloth). All rights reserved.
© 1994 by Signature Books, Inc. (paper). All rights reserved.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Religion, feminism, and freedom of conscience : a Mormon/humanist dialogue / edited by George D. Smith. p. cm.
1. Liberty of conscience – United States. 2. Freedom of religion–United States. 3. Mormon Church–Doctrines. 4. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–Doctrines. 5. Humanism 6. Feminist theory. 7. Academic freedom–United States. 8. Brigham Young University. 9. United States–Religion. I. Smith, George D.
BL2525.R4635 1994 94-8606 323.44’2–dc20 CIP
ISBN 0-87975-887-2 (Prometheus)
ISBN 1-56085-048-5 (Signature :pbk)
Editor’s Introduction [see below]
Overview: Humanism and the Idea of Freedom Paul Kurtz [see below]
Part I. Freedom of Conscience
01 – The September Six
02 – The Politics of Exclusivity
03 – Secular and Religious Interpretations of Scripture
04 – Freedom of Conscience: Individual Right or Social Responsibility?
Part II. Academic Freedom
05 – Academic Freedom at Brigham Young University: Free Inquiry in Religious Context
06 – A Humanist View of Religious Universities
07 – Academic Freedom Forever; However
08 – Tenure as a Tool F. Ross Peterson
09 – Religion and Academics at Brigham Young University: A Recent Historical Perspective
Part III. Feminism
10 – A Feminist Comparison of Mormonism and Humanism
11 – The Struggle to Emerge: Leaving Brigham Young University
12 – Dancing through the Doctrine: Observations on Religion and Feminism Cecelia Konchar Farr
13 – Epilogue: The Indispensable Opposition (1939) Walter Lippmann
by George D. Smith
[p.vii]On September 24, 1993, a gathering of secular humanists and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) met for three days in Salt Lake City, Utah, to discuss freedom of conscience as it applies to academic freedom and to expressions of feminism. For years both secular humanists and Mormons have endorsed freedom of conscience. What is open to debate is whether principles of what Mormons refer to as free agency apply to feminists and to teachers at Brigham Young University, which is owned by the Mormon church.
Freedom of conscience, the freedom of individuals to think and act as they believe, has been part of the social contract of societies which have sought to replace autocratic rule with various forms of self-government. Whereas dictatorial leaders might seek to direct the thoughts and activities of people within their domain of influence, documents such as the Magna Carta in England and the American Constitution sought to reserve for individuals certain rights, including the right to express their own beliefs and the freedom to act upon those beliefs.
The right, and some would assert, responsibility, of individuals to think, speak, write, and act as they consider to be appropriate and necessary—the right and responsibility to exercise their freedom of conscience—has played a significant role in democratic communities. Recent changes in Eastern Europe exemplify this process: where leadership could no longer enforce unpopular policy, revolution became irresistible. Institutions can and do change, sometimes peacefully, sometimes by revolution; the American people insisted on their freedom of conscience and broke away from the British Empire to become a nation.
The “liberty” that the Constitutional framers sought to guarantee to American citizens was incorporated into the First Amendment of [p.viii]the Bill of Rights, which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
As a result of the overwhelming Mormon plurality in Utah and Congress’s concerns about religious domination, the Utah constitution not only incorporates the freedoms of the Bill of Rights, but also includes added protection in its Article I, Section 4:
The rights of conscience shall never be infringed. The state shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; … there shall be no union of Church and State, nor shall any church dominate the State, or interfere with its functions. No Public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or for the support of any ecclesiastical establishment …
The balance between freedom and authority has always been difficult. Jean-Jacques Rousseau felt that governments should have only limited rights to regulate the behavior of individuals who contract to be part of that society. Ultimately, the authority of leaders depends on the willingness of individuals in a society or organization to accept that authority. Governmental authority derives from people who support a state with taxes and agree to obey its laws; ecclesiastical authority derives from congregations who agree to follow its edicts and to support its leaders financially.
Following a long tradition which evolved from Roman jurisprudence and developed in British Common Law, American courts have continually adjudicated the boundaries between appropriate state authority and the rights of individuals. Tensions between group and individual rights expressed in the current essays have a long historical tradition.
Issues of conscience versus state and church authority were articulated by such rebels as Socrates, Jesus, and Galileo. Socrates was a fifth-century philosopher and teacher of Athens, scholar of geometry and astronomy, veteran of the Peloponnesian War, legislator, and father of three sons. He helped lay the philosophical foundations of western culture, although he wrote nothing; his ideas are reflected in [p.ix]Plato’s dialogues and the writings of Xenophon. Impressed with the providential order of nature, as he saw it, he applied universal definitions and divisions to nature and developed a system of inductive reasoning. Socrates defined the “soul” as character and intelligence; he reasoned that happiness depended on the goodness of one’s soul. When one “knows” true goodness, doing right is involuntary. Socrates followed this early argument for freedom of conscience to the point of political dissent, for which he was tried and condemned to death.
Jesus (Greek for Yeshua or Joshua) was the son of a Judean carpenter in a Roman colony at the edge of the empire. He became a teacher or rabbi and wandered through settlements in and around Galilee with twelve followers preaching religious reform, teaching by parable, and practicing healing. Jesus preached the redeeming love of God for every person regardless of social class. His attacks on hypocrisy and his indifference to wealth and status were well received by common people and opposed by the privileged. We would expect this reaction to any religious reformer who gathered the homeless and walked to the center of town assailing church leaders. Religious and political authorities alike accused him of being a revolutionary. Regarded by some as the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus was arrested by Roman soldiers, condemned as a blasphemer by the Sanhedrin—a Jewish council—and was crucified by the Roman procurator, Pontias Pilate. Christianity developed around belief in his resurrection from the dead.
Although, like Socrates, Jesus wrote nothing that is extant, various stories and narratives about him were written down and edited some time after his death. Among the writings considered by scholars to be most representative of what Jesus actually said are some of the parables. He taught that the letter of the law was an insufficient guide to ethical behavior; he rejected the legalistic actions of the Jewish Pharisees. Jesus was an advocate for the marginalized: heathens, Samaritans, publicans (tax collectors), and harlots. His parable of the Pharisee and the publican demonstrates his respect for humility over dogmatic obedience (Luke 18:10-14a). In his remarkable exercise of independent conscience which cost him his life, Jesus preached a universal message that offended the establishment of first-century Palestine.
[p.x]Galileo Galilei, an early seventeenth-century professor of mathematics at the University of Padua, Italy, was an astronomer and physicist whose discoveries contradicted the moral authority of the Christian church. Considered one of the founders of the experimental method, he developed the astronomical telescope with which he discovered the satellites of Jupiter and learned that the Milky Way was composed of stars. From his observations and analysis he affirmed the Copernican theory, that the planets revolve around the sun, similar to a long-ignored theory of the third-century B.C.E. Greek astronomer, Aristarchus.
Although a member of the established church who had attended a monastery near Florence, Galileo could not deny what he knew: the earth revolves around the sun and is not the fixed center of the universe. When Dominican prelates denounced Galileo for blasphemy, he wrote to church authorities in Rome to remind them that, in the past, when the Bible conflicted with undeniable scientific truth, scripture had been interpreted allegorically. Quoting church dicta, he warned that it would be “a terrible detriment for the souls if people found themselves convinced by proof of something that it was made then a sin to believe.” Galileo went to Rome to persuade the Pope to lift the ban on Copernicus’s ideas. He was brought to trial before the Inquisition, interrogated, threatened with torture, and forced to recant. Although he spent the last eight years of his life under house arrest as punishment for having “held and taught” Copernican doctrine, he managed to finish his book New Sciences and smuggle it out to Protestants in the Netherlands. It was published in 1638, four years before Galileo died.
The struggles of Socrates, Jesus, and Galileo exemplify significant innovators of our civilization who expressed their freedom of conscience at great personal cost. The tradition of exercising freedom of conscience, of speaking truth to authority, was a primary theme of the Renaissance, when humanism was born. Often traced to the fourteenth-century Italian poet Petrarch, from whence it spread across western Europe, humanism elevated humanity’s relationship to God. Humanism advocated free will and the capacity to understand and control nature. The mysteries of the sun, moon, stars, planets, rain, lightning and thunder, and the seemingly endless [p.xi]systems of plants and animals were now examined analytically and treated as subjects for humankind to study and understand.
The Renaissance inspired widespread interest in knowledge from advanced cultures of the past. As Augustine had years earlier sought to combine ancient Greek thought with Hebrew scriptures in a Christian synthesis of Plato and Moses, scholars now widely searched for ancient documents. This thirst for understanding began to challenge subservient reliance on both the state and received tradition.
By the nineteenth century humanism incorporated the positivist thinking of August Comte, which produced a value system independent of a belief in God. However, twentieth-century theologians such as Karl Barth asserted that the Christian gospel was part of humanism in that it taught that each person is uniquely created in the image of God.
From its outset humanism emphasized a questioning attitude, objective analysis of perceived experience, and respect for the dignity of humankind. An intelligence capable of critical scrutiny and self-inquiry was a “free intelligence.” In his “Orations on the Dignity of Man,” Italian philosopher Pico della Mirandola asserted that humanity had been assigned no fixed limit by God but was free to seek its own level and create its own future. With this focus on human thought and analysis, humanism embraced freedom of conscience.
Although religious thinkers advocated some of its principles, humanists inevitably found themselves on a collision course with religion. Humanism led scholars to the secular realm of science and mathematics, and to the pagan literature of Greece and Rome. Studies in these areas effectively eroded the territory of faith. Intellectual individualism challenged the Catholic church’s presumption of universal authority. The church distrusted secular humanism because it entertained new ideas on their merits rather than judging them against a prescribed standard of belief.
While religious authority has often played a role in limiting freedom of conscience, many religious movements themselves could have been born only in a climate of freedom. The Mormon church arose and flourished in an atmosphere of toleration and freedom of conscience that the pluralistic society of nineteenth-century America provided. Mormon founder Joseph Smith and his early followers could not accept the principles of Christian churches practicing in [p.xii]New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois during the 1820s-40s. Specifically, these early Mormons rejected the doctrine of “original sin” by which errors of judgment attributed to biblical Adam impugned the dignity of all. Smith discarded the Christian notion that the Earth was created ex nihilo—out of nothing. Incorporating concepts of the Scientific Revolution, Smith believed that matter was eternal and that the earth must have been created out of existing elements in a cosmic reorganization. Furthermore, at a time when the biblical flat-earth scenario, with Heaven above and Hell below, had been rendered obsolete by Copernicus, Joseph Smith envisioned a creator living, not above sluice gates of rain in the “great dome,” but on a separate planet. He attributed to this creator a natural progression from the status of human being, complete with spouse, parents and grandparents. In fact, Smith thought that every human being had the potential to become a god and rule a personal planet.
Smith went far afield from traditional Christianity and offended the sensibilities of neighbors. Illinois governor Thomas Ford listed the following causes of antagonism toward the Mormons: violations of freedom of the press, general religious views, polygamy, military strength, rumors of intent to destroy a nearby newspaper, Mormon alliance with native Americans, alleged coronation of Joseph Smith, vigilante bands, assertions that God had consecrated neighbors’ property to Mormons, and bloc voting which made Mormon approval necessary for politicians (History of Illinois , 2:166-76). Mormons were as different and undesirable to their mid-western neighbors as the Rajneesh was to Oregon or David Koresh to Texas. Mormons suffered what they considered to be deprivation of their rights, while their neighbors felt that their rights were threatened by the Mormons. However, it was internal dissent over the secret practice of polygamy in Illinois that, in large part, led to a chain of events which resulted in the death of the Mormon prophet and the expulsion of the Mormons from Illinois. Smith’s followers left the United States to take refuge in the Great Salt Lake Valley (in Mexican territory at that time) where they felt they would be able to exercise religious freedom.
Following their migration to Utah, the Mormons modified their doctrines to gain public acceptance. In 1890 the church abandoned polygamy in exchange for eventual statehood in 1896. As recently as [p.xiii]1978, another dissonant doctrine was terminated, the disfranchisement of blacks for some postulated curse attributed to wrongdoing in a pre-earth existence. Mormons no longer preach that the end of the world is near or that they will soon occupy their neighbors’ property and rule over them. But a century after freedom of conscience was invoked to form their radically new religion, the rhetoric of some Mormon leaders is ambivalent regarding the universality of such a right.
At a time when academic freedom is circumscribed by loyalty oaths and doctrinal hegemony at Brigham Young University, when Mormon scholars are excommunicated for discussing contradictions in historical documents, it is easy to forget that Mormon leaders have consistently embraced “free agency” as an essential principle of Mormon doctrine. Founder Joseph Smith said, “I teach the people correct principles and they govern themselves” (Journal of Discourses 10:57-58); also, “We are not disposed, had we the power, to deprive anyone of exercising … free independence of mind” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 49).
The importance of freedom is evidenced in Mormon scripture, which declares that freedom emanated from the mouth of God: “It is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is slothful and not a wise servant” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-28). Further, “Every man may act in doctrine and principle … according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:78). According to the Book of Mormon, one purpose of earth life is to allow eternal beings to make choices (2 Nephi 2:15-16). If forced to choose the right, a 1993 Mormon Sunday school lesson explained, we would not be able to demonstrate what we would choose for ourselves. The lesson suggested that the teacher put a cord around a child’s arms and ask if he or she felt free (Gospel Doctrine Sunday School manual , chap. 4, 18).
Jesus is often quoted in LDS sermons, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Early Mormon apostle Orson Pratt preached that “All beings having intelligence must have their agency. Laws must be given, suited and adapted to this agency; and when God sends inhabitants on various creations he [p.xiv]sends them on the great and grand principle of giving them an opportunity to exercise that agency (Essential Orson Pratt , 374). Brigham Young agreed that freedom is “a law of [human] existence, and the Lord cannot violate his own law; were he to do that he would cease to be God … this is a law which has existed from all eternity, and will continue to exist throughout all the eternities to come. Every intelligent being must have the power of choice” (Journal of Discourses 11:272). Latter-day Saint president Joseph F. Smith wrote, “The Almighty raised up [this nation] … to the end that those who are kept in bondage and serfdom may be brought to the enjoyment of the fullest freedom and liberty of conscience possible for intelligent man to exercise in the earth” (Gospel Doctrine , 409).
Some Mormons believe that political and religious liberty is critically important for the church today. Current LDS apostle Dallin Oaks has explained:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not attempt to isolate its members from alternate voices. Its approach, as counseled by the prophet Joseph Smith, is to teach correct principles and then leave its members to govern themselves by personal choices. Members of the church are free to participate or to listen to any alternate voices they choose, but church leaders should avoid official involvement directly or indirectly (Ensign, May 1989, 28).
Similarly, the current senior apostle of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve, Howard W. Hunter, reflected: “To fully understand this gift of agency and its inestimable worth, it is imperative that we understand that God’s chief way of acting is by persuasion and patience and long-suffering, not by coercion and stark confrontation” (Ensign, Nov. 1989, 18).
Elder Loren C. Dunn of the LDS First Council of the Seventy endorsed freedom of conscience with these words: “No one will force us to do what is right. We should be ‘in tune’ with the spirit, that is, listen to our conscience, and then ‘discipline ourselves'” (This I Know , 6-7). Apostle Boyd K. Packer was asked by the wife of a U.S. Army general how Mormons are able to control their youth. He responded, “We develop control by teaching freedom … A four-star general is nothing if not a disciplinarian. But when one understands [p.xv]the Gospel, it becomes very clear that the best control is self control” (Ensign, May 1983).
The mutual heritage of freedom of conscience among Mormons and humanists provides common ground for dialogue. Although each group might not agree entirely on the meaning of religious and intellectual expression, they both understand and recognize the importance of freedom.
The present conflict in the Mormon community regarding academics and feminists is addressed in the essays contained in this volume. BYU faculty have been forbidden from participating in unapproved symposia and conferences. In 1992 Phi Beta Kappa for the third time in fifteen years denied permission to establish a chapter at BYU because its mission statement, which forbids academic work that contradicts fundamental church doctrines, is “problematic for an institution of higher learning where free inquiry should prevail” (Salt Lake Tribune, May 20, 1992). The 1995 accreditation process for BYU begins this year with self-evaluation by BYU administrators, and must be pursued with courage and integrity.
We hope that the Mormon community will recall its heritage as religious humanists, a heritage of freedom of conscience and expression that requires the community to find a way to listen to thoughtful dissenters and discuss differences with mutual respect. At the same time, secular humanists, with their tradition of tolerance and open-mindedness, will find that they have much in common and much to admire in the passion, honesty, and intellectual integrity of Mormons, as well as of people of other faiths who earnestly try to harmonize their religious and intellectual traditions.
Humanism and the Idea of Freedom
[p.xvii]This dialogue is historic, for as far as we are aware it is the first formal exchange of ideas by Mormons and humanists. In a pluralistic society, such as America, it is important that people from diverse religious and nonreligious traditions engage in debate to define differences and more meaningfully to discover common ground.
As a representative of humanism, I am often asked, What does the term “humanism,” or indeed “secular humanism,” mean? The latter term has been attacked by religious fundamentalists on the right for well over a decade. Can “humanism” be defined; or is it like Jell-O, as a friendly critic characterized it, in that it cannot be nailed to a tree or pinned down?
The term ‘humanism” means different things to different people. For some, it has been simply identified with the study of the “humanities.” For others, it has been used synonymously with “humanitarianism.” Its critics have condemned it as a mere form of “godless atheism.” Some have considered humanism to be a new religion, and others a new form of anti-religion. Yet even critics would not consider themselves “anti-humanist.” Like “democracy,” “socialism,” “peace,” “motherhood,” or “virtue,” humanism is all things to all men and women.
Is there any way out of this definitioneering impasse? Humanism is not “an ideal essence,” laid up in some Platonic heaven of abstract [p.xviii]meanings. On the contrary, in unraveling its meaning we see that it has been used to justify a set of ethical principles. And in this linguistic controversy there is a central idea that emerges strongly, the idea of freedom. Throughout its long tradition of usage the term “humanism” has embodied the sense of freedom. In particular, humanists have wished to defend the values of the free mind, free inquiry, and free thought.
Humanism has had a long, though checkered, career in human history. Indeed, it is one of the oldest and deepest intellectual traditions of Western civilization. From the great philosophers, scientists, poets, and artists of the Greek and Roman world, through the Renaissance, to the development of the New Science in the sixteenth century, the discovery of the New World, and the democratic revolutions of the modern era, the basic humanist value of liberty has inspired the noble deeds and passions of countless men and women.
The first principle of humanism, thus, is its commitment to the idea of freedom. But what does this mean? First, freedom of conscience within the inward domain of thought and belief; second, the free expression of ideas; and third, freedom of choice in the moral domain. These ideas have been central to American democracy and were among the most cherished of the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, affirmed his opposition to any tyranny over the human mind. And James Madison, chief architect of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, affirmed that government should make no law abridging freedom of speech or press, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. American democracy protects all forms of belief.
Humanism and libertarianism are thus indelibly intertwined. Humanists in the modem world have been the chief critics of the authoritarian or totalitarian state. John Stuart Mill, John Dewey, Karl Popper, Sidney Hook, and others have provided a powerful case in defense of democracy. Indeed, the first opponents of fascism and communism are humanist intellectuals who defend the open society.
What is often overlooked in this debate is that liberty may be endangered by other powerful institutions in society which de facto tend to limit the inward domain of conscience, freedom of expression, and moral freedom. I have in mind many established churches, temples, or mosques which may seek to deny the most fundamental [p.xix]of all human rights: primacy of conscience and the right to believe or not to believe. This is especially evident in Muslim countries today, where there is no separation between church and state, and theocracies repress human freedom. In the name of Allah, Salman Rushdie (an avowed secular humanist) was condemned to death by Iranians as a blasphemer; no one is permitted to dissent from prevailing Islamic doctrines. Extremist Muslim fundamentalists do not simply excommunicate; they seek to execute! In the history of religious persecution, the Roman Catholic Inquisition no doubt stands out as an infamous illustration of the worst-case scenario. But even where there is separation of church and state, churches may have powerful influences on adherents, demanding absolute obedience. The threat of excommunication, the censorship of publications, or the limits imposed on professors are unfortunate illustrations of the power of some churches seeking to enforce discipline in a community. Does a church in a free society have a legal fight to do that? Does it have a moral right, particularly in a pluralistic democracy? A similar question can be asked of powerful economic forces: the coercive sanctions imposed by a corporation or a company town on its employees, or perhaps a union on its members.
In his famous work On Liberty John Stuart Mill presents a set of arguments as to why the rights of the minority need to be respected, including the fights of heretics, dissenters, or iconoclasts. For Mill, the real question is, How do you deal with the tyranny of the majority? Namely, if a majority of people in the community fervently believe that something is true, do they have a fight to exercise coercion, whether subtle or overt, in order to demand conformity to the prevailing orthodoxy? Mill argues that people who deny freedom imply that they are infallible and/or that they have a monopoly of truth or virtue. But who can say with assurance that his or her beliefs have reached their final formulation, and that they alone have the Absolute truth? Is not truth a product of the give-and-take of a free marketplace of ideas, and does it not depend on criticism and response to that criticism if it is to prevail? One should always leave open the possibility that one may be mistaken. Surely the very premise of democracy is that we have something to learn from those who disagree with us. But, says Mill, even if we believe we have the Absolute truth, not to allow it to be contested by dissenters would [p.xx]mean that it would degenerate into a mere habit of thought. It would lose all conviction and vitality for succeeding generations—unless it were allowed to be challenged. Those who deny freedom of inquiry perhaps mask a hidden fear that if there were really an open debate, they would lose in the end. The censor or inquisitor thus seeks to unfairly impose his or her views by insisting on conformity by everyone.
The point is, quasi-public institutions, such as the Church, Corporation, University, or even public opinion, may be as powerful as the government, and individuals should have the right to dissent in the face of such power. Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of freedom of conscience, free expression, and free inquiry is that these freedoms will, in the long run, contribute to the public good and to the progressive development of knowledge, for they allow for the emergence of creativity and the uncovering of new dimensions of truth. By closing the parameters of dissent, the quest for knowledge is restricted. Given the great problems that humankind constantly faces, it is essential that new avenues for the discovery of knowledge be encouraged.
The most awesome attack on freedom in our time was in Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist societies. During the long night of communism, a reign of intellectual terror prevailed, and anyone who disagreed with or defied the doctrine of dialectical materialism was severely punished. If Salman Rushdie stands as the symbol today of the status of freedom in the Islamic world, so Andrei Sakharov, who was a great exponent of secular humanist ideals, symbolizes the yearning for freedom in former Soviet society.
Permit me to apply the idea of freedom very briefly to three areas that we will explore during this dialogue. First, to the question of academic freedom in the university; second, to the scientific investigation of religion; and third, to the area of women’s rights.
The university is a unique institution in society, for it has a double function. On the one hand, it is interested in transmitting to students the best knowledge available within civilization and in cultivating an appreciation for the quest for knowledge. This is known as [p.xxi]Lernfreiheit; that is, it is the right of students to learn and to be able to engage in free inquiry. Students at a university are thus placed in contact with the best minds and the best literature in many domains of human experience and knowledge. They have a right to cultural freedom without censorship or prohibition. The university, however, is especially unique because it is the primary institution committed not only to teaching but to research. Here we need to distinguish the college from the multiversity. What is preeminent is that the university is not only a repository of wisdom and truth in all the fields of human endeavor, but that it provides fertile soil where professors and researchers can come together and explore cooperatively the quest for knowledge. This is what Lernfreiheit presupposes, as its basic principle, academic freedom. Thus universities seek to appoint to their faculties the best qualified minds who are competent in their fields and recognized by peers. A university must give to its faculty the freedom to pursue research, to reach conclusions which, on the basis of their considered judgments, seem to be true, and this entails the right to speak out and publish the results. Any effort by the corporate body to censor or to prohibit this is to deny Lernfreiheit, and this is a betrayal of the very idea of the university itself. Academic freedom has a long and distinguished career, and the great universities—from Oxford, Cambridge, the Sorbonne to Harvard, Stanford, and state universities—respect this right. This not only applies to secular, but increasingly to religious institutions as well.
Authoritarian institutions fear new ideas; they persecute intellectuals; and they seek to deny tenure to their professors. Is there a necessary contradiction between an ecclesiastical institution and a university such that an ecclesiastical institution need not permit Lernfreiheit? If this is the case, then a viable university no longer can be said to exist, and the university has become a place for indoctrination, a seminary; it is not receptive to the quest for truth, nor does it respect the right of dissent. Humanists, of course, will not compromise on this point. To declare an institution a university entails academic freedom untrammeled by the threats of a Grand Inquisitor.
The second theme that we will focus on in this dialogue is the question of what should be the extent or limits placed on freedom of inquiry in regard to religious doctrines. It is again the conviction of the humanist that every domain of human interest, whether [p.xxii]economics or politics, the social sciences, natural, or biological sciences, history, literature, philosophy, the arts, or religion, should be amenable to critical investigation. This means that there should be no blocks placed on free inquiry. It means that the Koran, the Bible, or the Book of Mormon should be read like any other book, using the best tools of scientific, linguistic, and scholarly research, and that any claims made in these books can be examined critically and evaluated cognitively.
Now there are those who are opposed to this, and who believe that this kind of free inquiry would endanger faith, upset dogma, imperil the body of church doctrines. That may or may not be the case. Surely, if one has little hope that an analysis of belief will survive critical scrutiny, or if one believes that questioning beliefs will lead to their destruction, then so much the worse for the beliefs. If we are truly convinced that our beliefs are true, we ought to permit them to be challenged. And that is why in the area of biblical or Koranic or Mormon criticism, the most advanced tools of scientific, historical, and scholarly analysis should be employed.
The third area for discussion in this dialogue is the question of human rights: to what extent should they be extended to women? Are not women equal in dignity and value? Do not the interests and needs of women deserve equal consideration with those of men? Or should the role of women in various institutions of society be relegated to a submissive position? It is clear that patriarchal attitudes have long dominated our social institutions. The battle of the suffragist movement for the vote gave women political equality. Similarly for the great battles in the economy and in the university today where there is a need to allow women to achieve positions of responsibility. The real question is, Do not the same considerations apply to religious institutions? There are some religions today that believe that women should serve in the pulpit to the same extent as men; that the viewpoints of women are entitled to be heard; that their freedoms should be protected and encouraged; other religions deny this. Is God the Father a male and is sexist language tolerable in a religious context? Humanists agree with the feminist indictment, and indeed many outstanding leaders of the feminist movement worldwide have been humanists, such as Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Simone [p.xxiii]de Beauvoir. Hence, the cause of women for liberation is continuous with the cause of freedom.
The concluding point I wish to raise briefly is the commitment of humanists to reason. Humanists believe that it is essential that we encourage the tools of critical thinking in society. Belief should not simply be a question of faith or dogma, emotion or intuition, custom or authority, but should be guided by informed judgment, an appeal to evidence and logic, and tested in practice. Humanists maintain that there are areas of reliable knowledge that we share, and that truth is not established by authoritative declaration but by objective justification.
Thus the idea of freedom as a humanist value is concomitant with the idea of reason, and humanism may also be defined by its commitment to a method of rational inquiry. It is our conviction that we ought to engage in a dialogue with those with whom we disagree, and that we ought not to seek to impose our views on others by power or force, but we ought to listen in a fair and impartial way to claims made in the free marketplace of ideas, and that we ought to try to work out the best we can what seems most likely true on the basis of cooperative, rational inquiry. This is what the following Mormon/humanist dialogue is all about.
Paul Kurtz is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at State University of New York at Buffalo and editor of Free Inquiry magazine.