Kia ora:

We are saddened at the recent death of Sir Paul Callaghan, an inspirational New Zealand scientist and communicator.

• Last Meeting:

Stephen Hawking’s discussion on the Universe at our March meeting, gave us much thought to grapple with as he explained how the laws of physics allow the universe to create itself without the need for a creator.

Eleanor Middleton shared with us her meeting with the Nepalese Humanists and has written a brief summary covering some of her talk.

“I grew up in a Humanist family in New Zealand, but just over a month ago I had the opportunity to see the impact of Humanism in other parts of the world when I visited Humanists in Kathmandu, Nepal. The Society for Humanism (SOCH) Nepal is a secular Humanist organization based in, Kathmandu. SOCH seeks to promote Humanism and a Humanist life stance in Nepal, in accordance with the 2002 Amsterdam Declaration. So, among motorcycle rides through the bustling streets of Kathmandu, witnessing the preparations for the Shivaratri festivitiesm (celebrating Lord Shiva), and lots of generous hospitality, I learnt about some of the projects that SOCH have been undertaking in Nepal since their establishment in 2005.

The main initial effort of SOCH was to advise on the drafting of a secular constitution after the formation of the Nepali Republic in 2006. In 2011, this dream became a reality as the new Nepali Constitution was drafted with a secular mindset. More recently, SOCH has also set up projects to improve living standards, promote secular and inclusive education, improve awareness of social and cultural ill-practices (kuriti), and provide anti-corruption initiatives. Fifty-six kuriti practices have been identified, among them being the Cult of the Living Goddess, where a young girl chosen for this role is abandoned with the onset of puberty. As a consequence of receiving no education and being perceived as bad luck to marry, these girls face an uncertain future as adults. Another practice requires that before marrying, young girls must prove their virginity by remaining silent when burnt on their knees and the soles of their feet.

The week I was in Nepal I was privileged to visit the new Humanist school recently established by SOCH in Kathmandu, Harvard International School. SOCH’s aim is to provide a school with a secular syllabus and westernized teaching style. They also hope to provide an international learning environment bringing in teachers from around the globe, and setting up student exchanges with other countries via the internet. It was most touching, meeting the students at Harvard International School. When SOCH representatives asked the students what sort of resources they wanted, one girl, about nine years of age, raised her hand requesting a library so they could read! Volunteers are welcomed and supported through an extensive micro-finance system.

More information is available at www.sochnepal.org. I found the leadership team of the Nepalese Humanist movement, inspirational.”

· March monthly meeting: Monday 2 April

Open to the public – All interested people are welcome – bring a friend

Christopher Hitchens – Moments of Debate

A night to remember the late Christopher Hitchens

See Christopher Hitchens caught by the camera and in debate.

A video presentation and discussion evening

“One reason I have always detested religion is its sly tendency to insinuate

the idea that the universe is designed with ‘you’ in mind, or, even worse,

that there is a divine plan into which one fits whether one knows it or not.

This kind of modesty is too arrogant for me.” Hitch 22 p.332

Refreshments and nibbles provided

Come, learn, and share your views

Venue for meeting: Turnbull House, Bowen Street, Wellington.

We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm

· Radio Access:

Humanist Outlook, 10.30 am, 783 kHz Wellington, on Saturday 31, March, 28 April, 26 May, & 23 June 2012.

Humanist Outlook is broadcast at 10:30 am on Access Radio, Wellington, 783 kHz, every fourth Saturday.

If you are outside the Wellington area, go to www.accessradio.org.nz to listen or to download as a pod cast after the event.

2011- 2012 Subscriptions:

Thank you to those conscientious members who have paid their subscriptions for the 2011-2012 year.

Subscriptions were due following the AGM on 29th October 2011 and remain unchanged from the previous year.

A subscription renewal form was posted to members last year with a printed newsletter and an email giving details of how to renew your subscription using internet banking was sent on 27 January this year.

Female Genital Mutilation

This practice is banned in NZ, and information can be found at www.fgm.co.nz. As mentioned in our last newsletter this is an issue that concerns us. At our March Council meeting a letter drafted by Peter Clemerson was considered and will be sent to relevant agencies expressing our concerns.

Civil Union & Marriage Celebrants:

We are delighted that Peter Clemerson our Wellington Marriage Celebrant is now also registered as a Civil Union Celebrant. Peter may be contacted by phone (04) 938 5923 and by email [email protected]

Our society has two marriage celebrants very happy to help celebrate and solemnise a marriage, perform a Naming Ceremony for a new baby or lead a funeral for a person who would like a non religious ceremony. In Auckland our celebrant is Pamela Sikkema, who can be contacted by phone (09) 570 4390, and in Wellington Peter Clemerson, who can be contacted by phone (04) 938 5923 and by email [email protected]

Good News Clubs:

Jeff Hunt our webmaster has passed on a very recent communication from a concerned member of the public who has become aware of this activity in NZ. He has written:

“I am very worried about the spread of Christian Fundamentalism into NZ state schools. You may be aware of a recent book by Katherine Stewart titled “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children” (ISBN-13978-1-58648-843-7) published earlier this year. In it, Ms Stewart exposes The Good News Club as a product of the Child Evangelism Fellowship, whose motivation is not to provide bible study but rather to convert by stealth young children into right-wing fundamentalist Christianity. The goal appears to be to establish innocuous-looking clubs within schools, entwine the club into as many of the school activities as possible, get kids involved by providing free cakes and sweets, etc., and get kids whose parents have consented to try to get their friends to also join the club, sometimes with inducements to those recruiting the most of their friends.”

I have included an article from the Victorian Humanist reporting on how they are bringing secular ethical education to Australian school children.

North Shore Discussion Group:

North Shore discussion Group: Warren Atkins, a North Shore Humanist hosts a discussion group on a casual basis in this area. Warren may be contacted for more information on 09 410 3580. Warren is also an author and artist with a website www.warrenkarno.com for you to explore.

Gisborne Lunar Society:

The Gisborne Lunar Society meets once a month on the Sunday nearest the full moon at 11am. Contact John Marks on 06 867 9768 or Kevin Hyde 06 868 5253.

Gaylene Middleton

· NZ Humanist Society Subscriptions for 2011/2012: Subscription rates for this year remain unchanged.

1. Invoices were posted to members and an email sent to members and email subscribers giving details of how to pay for the August 2011 to August 2012 year.

A reminder notice was also included with the New Zealand Humanist magazine for those who have not paid.

2. If you have not yet paid for the previous year, 2010-11 year, your payment will be appreciated.

2. If you have already paid for the 2011-12 year, please do not pay again.

3. If you have not paid yet, your payment will be appreciated.

There are three ways to pay:

1. Internet banking: is available for those who wish to use it. Details were provided in an email on 27th January 2012.

Please ensure that you include your name and other required details as outlined in the email.

2. Direct Credit: direct credit the bank account detailed in the email of 27th January 2012.

Please ensure that you include your name and other required details as outlined in the email.

3. Mail: post a cheque with the return slip – be certain to provide us with relevant details.

Victorian Humanist – STEPHEN STUART

Principal world-views with ethics

This Society has been striving to get Humanistic ideas into State schools for six years now. Back in 1973 HSV proposed to the Russell Committee on Religious Education that volunteer religious instruction be abolished and replaced with professionally taught ethics and comparative religion. The Education & Training Reform Act 2006 at last enabled State schools to teach general religious education (GRE), but it has yet to bear fruit. At some stage the modern world must be acknowledge by including non-‘religious’ world-views such as Humanism. We are concerned that control of the curriculum should stay in-(secular) educational, not religious hands. While influential groups jostle in the current climate of school reform, Humanists would do well to tread warily. Your Committee would value your feedback as our policy develops.

The Religions, Ethics & Education Network Australia (REENA) was formed by religious educators (see Anna Halafoff, AH No. 103, Spring 2011), and this year HSV joined it by invitation. We agreed about the need for professional teaching of GRE, without partisanship, as cultural history. They favoured the Toledo Guiding Principles on Teaching About Religions and Beliefs in Public Schools (www.osce.org/node/27217), which emphasize freedom of religion or belief (R or B) as a universal right.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 says:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

So there’s a freedom to hold one’s religion or belief and to manifest it. It’s the person, not the religion or belief, that is protected from adverse discrimination. Humanists are protected under the first clause of Article 18, but we might take issue with some of the rest.

What is ‘belief? The word is absurdly vague. To distinguish it from a whimsical belief or a mad belief (e.g. that one is above the law), it must be something like ‘conscientious belief. If we substitute the more general term ‘world-view’, it trumps ‘religion’, as far as belief goes. But the clause goes on to confer a freedom ‘to manifest’. Why should your R or B or world-view be freer to manifest than, say, your private collection of pornography is? Manifestations should be free among consenting adults, and in the case of children being taught, we expect informed consent from their guardians. On the other hand, a black ban on manifestations would be a wowser law.

So Toledo stands for teaching children about religion and conscientious beliefs, in a human-rights framework (the rights of the believers, at least, if not of the children). Atheists would surely want to add another purpose, wishing not to validate all religions but to invalidate them. That suggests a sociological framework, bringing to bear sceptical or critical thinking. As David Miller is fond of saying, if the power relations in an early council of the Christian church had been slightly different, we would today have a totally different set of cultural paradigms. (A ‘butterfly effect’ of memes!) The generation brought up with the comparative religions of The Golden Bough, by James George Frazer (12 volumes, 1890-1915), was happily emancipated from the mystique of religion.

We consider there is a particular need for guidance, in the primary years, in how to think about ethical questions rather than answers. In Humanist Applied Ethics with volunteer tutors, children can begin to learn that values and purpose are the rewards of deliberative action, and that they themselves can be good without god. We approve of a draft course on Ethical Behaviour which was prepared this year by The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) for the national school curriculum; it was properly secular in tone. (See September VH.)

REENA’s statement of principles (www.reena.org.au) avers,

all REENA members are committed to working together with [ACARA] to ensure that studies about religions and ethics are adequately developed — in consultation -with religious and humanist educators and scholars — and provided within the new National Curriculum. ACARA has welcomed our offer of assistance and there is every indication, that studies of diverse religions and ethics will be included throughout the entire new National Curriculum, where appropriate. [Emphasis added.]

Here we sense a danger of combining religion with ethics. We regard ethics as free of religion and imagine them as separate subjects, both of them being elective since parents have the prior stake in such matters. But we fear that’s not going to happen. REENA appears to favour the system in Quebec, where an ‘ethics and religious culture’ curriculum is compulsory. Its academic goals are to instil the three competencies of reflecting on ethical questions, understanding the ‘phenomenon’ of religion, and engaging in dialog. That sounds fine, if the teachers maintain secular neutrality. We’re not sure whether the method of the community of inquiry (see: museumvictoria.com.au/education/community-of-inquiry ), which is well suited to ethics and philosophy-in-schools, would be appropriate to GRE. We may have to compromise our ideals. AH

Stephen Stuart is president of the Humanist Society of Victoria.

Reproduced from Victorian Humanist Volume 50 No, 10 November 2011 www.victorianhumanist.com

Australian Humanist

RUDI ANDERS

Inflexible minds

I often wonder why we humans become enslaved to the customs, tastes and beliefs of our formative years. The pliable human brain becomes rigid as we get older. Even if we do change religion, habit or ideology, we can be controlled by the new one. Early European settlers in Australia imposed their values on Aborigines and even preferred familiar, dull, European sparrows to bright Australian birds.

It is frustrating that humans become too stuck in the past to make changes that are necessary and urgent. Logical arguments seem to have little effect. Advertisers, politicians, and evangelists manipulate with flattery, fear and greed. One of the tricks used by people who want power or money is to make us feel members of a select group: brand loyalty, nationalism and Exclusive Brethren are obvious examples.

It seems to me that logical, rational thinking is essential but not enough. Logical thinking with wrong or incomplete information results in nonsense. Getting facts straight is the first step. A major relevant fact is psychological makeup. If I see a truck coming, I don’t need lessons in logic to know not to cross the road. If I observe that national pride has led to terrible wars, do I abandon pride in my country? It seems not. We use our magnificent, complex human brains to invent excuses why national pride is not egocentric but virtuous. Most countries have at some time in their history been driven by national pride to invade other countries. When the Netherlands were liberated from Germany I saw people in the streets with orange bits of ribbon to demonstrate their national pride. They didn’t see that national pride for the Netherlands was the same emotion as national pride for Germany. Beliefs and action often depend more on which group we want to belong to than on thinking. Conclusions are there before any thinking.

This is how I think it works. It is fashionable to talk about identity – who am I – finding my roots – my self-image. We are proud of our identity. Opinions and beliefs become part of identity, so a challenge to opinion becomes a challenge to identity and honour. People become so attached to their self-image they can’t change their belief and won’t even listen to new evidence.

Paradoxically, we try to achieve identity by attaching to some group: nation, tradition, sport, family, religion or profession. I would have thought that an independent person would not depend on other people for their identity. Belonging to a group can give a feeling of importance and security, but belonging to one group means separating from the rest of humanity. History shows that people have less compassion for members of another group or culture, which can lead to ethnic cleansing. Surely it is desirable to have friendship, compassion and respect regardless of member¬ship of any kind of group or doctrine. Conforming to a tradition or belief system is giving up autonomy. Another paradox is that forming groups like nations or tribes to feel secure leads to war and consequently less security.

If I identify with being Australian I can’t adopt the more rational American spelling. A friend of mine wouldn’t join a project only because the other participants were left-wing. I have heard people explain that the reason for their belief is that they belong to this religion or that tradition. For example, someone might say, ‘I am a Christian, therefore I believe the New Testament is true’. That is back-to-front thinking. Logically it should be, ‘If I find the New Testament to be true, I become a Christian.’ I always feel uncomfortable with putting labels on myself or anyone else. People are more complex than any label can cover.

Another way to gain identity is psychologically to attach to objects, such as the latest version of a cool brand, or I am proud of my house and TV because they are bigger than yours. We could sit in comfort closer to a smaller TV, in a smaller room which would need less heating and cleaning and fewer hours work to pay for. Excessive consumption is an identity problem with environmental consequences. Excessive consumption and the human population explosion, combined with modem technology, rob future generations of productive farmland and other necessities, and also doom animal and plant species to extinction. We are heading for a cliff but don’t change direction. The unsustainable belief that more bathrooms, more travel, and the latest fashions are the only way to get satisfaction is reinforced by clever and subtle advertising.

Identity and pride are two sides of the same coin. Pride distorts objectivity. To be rational and sceptical is necessary, but to be proud of being a rational and sceptical person introduces an egocentric element that is emotional and not rational. The unexamined life is blinkered. Motives can be a subconscious or an elusive semiconscious process. The human animal commonly believes what satisfies rather than what is true. People are very good at believing what they want to believe Self-knowledge is essential for rational thinking, and self-knowledge includes being aware of motives. This is why I like to catch myself in the act of self-deception. I sometimes notice myself running away from a fleeting unwanted thought. When I face the thought I didn’t want to know about I have a feeling of release and freedom.

My impression from most of the media and politicians is that polarisation, competition and possession are the only values in our society. Fortunately, almost all the people I meet in daily life are more thoughtful.

Self-image, conscious and subconscious, is very complex and largely the result of the influence of parents, school, friends, books and culture, and then we attach personal pride. Identity is actually mostly a bundle of memories put in my brain by other people and not the result of free will. If I have a role-model I am a copy.

I don’t think the challenge is to control self-image, but rather to become aware of how attachment to identity distorts thinking. Insight and awareness rather than will-power produce real change.

Pride implies comparing people with each other. Even little kids are graded. Pride also leads to the considerable pain and guilt of not achieving. Competition is often stressed more than co-operation. Pride in personal achievement, possessions, a nation or other group is a powerful motivating force, but I think it is destructive in the long run. Without all the resources used for showing off and wielding power, we could have a much shorter working week and leave more resources for needy people.

Better motivators are curiosity, beauty, compassion, humour, love of truth, friendship and adventure, to name a few. We are always climbing ladders, progressing, ceaselessly striving to be richer and more successful than others. I think that is undignified behaviour. I wonder if human beings need to be like that. AH

Rudi Anders, thinker, creative writer and HSV member.

Reproduced from Australian Humanist No. 104 Summer 2011