NZ Humanist Newsletter –
August 2004
    • Kia ora and hello: I heard an interesting observation on National Radio last week. A comment was made that people are replacing faith in religion with faith in medicine. In many publications there are always articles on how our quality of life can be changed with this food or that exercise. Instead of looking to God to improve life, many are seeking the answers in health and medicine.
    • Last Meeting: Caroline gave an interesting talk on Religious studies in NZ drawing on her experience with studies at Victoria and Massey Universities. Massey focuses on the phenomena of religion – the teachings, names and beliefs of religion. Victoria offers a critique of religion with discussion of religious issues and theories. There was an interesting discussion throughout on a number of issues including the defining characteristics of a cult. The meeting concluded that Humanism does not meet the criteria for a cult.
    • August monthly meeting: Monday 2 August, Turnbull House. Wellington. All welcome. 7.30 pm  Topic: International Humanism and a discussion on the Civil Union Bill. Committee members have been working on a submission which will be sent in by 6 August.
    • Radio Access:>  11 am 783 kHz Sunday 1 August. Jeff and Iain will be discussing International Humanism. Unfortunately this very listenable programme is not available outside Wellington. Jeff is saving recent programmes so that we can compile a CD which we will include with a magazine.
    • Visit our website. http://www.humanist.org.nz/index.html . Our website is updated and new material is added as resources permit.
    • Committee/ Council meeting: Sunday 1 July 10.45 AM at Caroline’s 1/21 Rolleston St, Mt Cook, Wellington.
    • AGM 2 2004    Date:   SUNDAY 19 SEPTEMBER
      Venue: Senior Citizen Lounge, Mezzanine Floor,   Wellington Public Library
      Time: 1.00 pm Afternoon programme:  Key Note Speaker, Dr Bob Brockie will address us at 1.30 pm. He will speak to us about two colourful off-the-planet Germans.  Ernest Haeckel, a biologist who invented the word ecology but also invented the science behind the Nazi policies of racial hygiene, and Rudolf Steiner who is the father of New Age philosophy and bio-dynamic farming theories.
      The AGM will follow the conclusion of this talk and discussion
      Nominations for Council members are welcomed. Each nomination shall be in writing, signed by the proposer and seconder and bear the written consent of the nominee.
    • Email discussion group. We would like to encourage communication with each other via e-mail. Jeff Hunt would enjoy communicating with you on a Humanist related subject of your interest. To join his discussion group e-mail Jeff at[email protected].
    • Obituary The Humanist Society notes with regret the accidental death on 10 July of Cynthia Shakespeare, Humanist and active Skeptic. She was known to many Wellington members of the Society and Skeptics throughout New Zealand. Cynthia is survived by William and Alison, Claire and Tony, Philip and Sarah, and grandchildren: William, Kieran, Ryan, Chelsea, and Malena.
    • Submissions: Submissions for the Civil Unions and Relationships Bills close on the 6th August.
      The Society regards these Bills as a Human Rights issue and pending final Council approval, the Society will be sending a submission supporting these Bills.  The Bills are a move toward treating people equally and removing discrimination against individuals.

Have you sent your submission? A submission does not need to be long and may be less than one page – short submissions, one page or less, are more likely to be read. Title it “Submission: Civil Unions And Relationships Bills” and say that you support the Bills or say what you think. You do not have to appear before the select committee but can say that you do want to appear if this is the case. Post your submission to:

Helena Strange
Justice and Electoral Committee Secretariat
Parliament House

You can also write to your local member of parliament, other members, cabinet members, etc. to let them know your opinion.

      • Snippets: from Beyond Fear: The Triumph of International Humanitarian Law by Mark Goldberg (age 23) winner of the 2004 HUMANIST Essay Contest. “The international courts of today have the potential to reduce needless human suffering. But beyond this basic role they serve a grander purpose: to test the limits of our imagination. An ever expanding body of humanitarian law will relegate ideologies of power and fear to history’s dustbin. To carry this torch of human progress is humanity in action.” The Humanist May/June 2004.
      • To make us laugh: “St Matthew was one of the 12 opossums.” ” What sort of lighting did Noah use? Floodlights”  ” Noah’s wife was Joan of Ark.”  ” Where do fish sleep?  On the seabed.”
Gaylene Middleton

Rosslyn Ives

A history of humanistic thought Part III

[Part I, which covered early strands of humanistic thinking from the ancient Greeks to the Renaissance, appeared in Australian Humanist No. 73 p. 9-11 and Part II which covered the spread of Freethinking to Recent times in Australian Humanist No 74, Winter 2004.]

Modern Organised Humanism

In the late 1940s many secularists, Rationalists, Humanists, and freethinkers began to exchange ideas about the need for a secular, ethical alternative to religion. In 1952, an International Congress of \91Humanism and Ethical Culture\92 was held in Amsterdam, sponsored by the British Ethical Union, the American Humanist Association, the American Ethical Union, the Dutch and Belgium Humanist Leagues, the Indian Radical Humanists and the Vienna Ethical Society. Julian Huxley an avowed Humanist who had been appointed in 1946 as the first director of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) presided. He opened with a long speech on \91evolutionary humanism\92, in which he espoused the idea of Humanism as a \91new religion.\92 After much discussion the Congress expressed its support for UNESCO, endorsed the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international conventions and concluded by founding the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). Huxley was elected President, Harold Blackham (British Ethical Union) Secretary, and Hector Hawton (South Place Ethical Society) drafted the first international Declaration on Humanism:

The Congress is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to the religions which claim to be based on revelation, on the one hand, and to totalitarian systems, on the other. The alternative offered as a third way out of the present crisis of civilisation is Humanism, which is not a new sect, but the outcome of a long tradition that has inspired many of the world\92s thinkers and creative artists and given rise to science itself Ethical Humanism unites all those who can no longer believe the various creeds and are willing to base their conviction on respect for man as a spiritual and moral being

[p.50, Humanism What\92s in the Word, Nicholas Walter. 1997]

The adoption of \91Humanism\92 to describe the secular ethical beliefs of a wide range of secular, freethinkers from a representative group of countries is significant. Whether a group have retained such words as \91Rationalist\92, \91Secular\92 and \91Atheist\92 in the names of their organisations, or changed their name, all recognise and use \91Humanist\92 and \91Humanism\92 as key terms.

From 1952 to 1996, IHEU was based in Utrecht, The Netherlands. In 1997 the Headquarters of IHEU moved to London, with the appointment of Babu Gogineni as the Executive Director. There are now over 90 affiliates with the IHEU representing around 40 countries from all regions of the globe. In most countries formal Humanist membership is relatively small, but a different situation exists in both The Netherlands and Norway where Humanism is recognised as an equivalent life view to religion and accordingly receives State tax based funding. As a consequence Humanist membership in both these countries runs into tens of thousands.

Humanism in Australia

Australia of the twentieth and twentieth-first century is an exemplar of democratic, liberal humanism; founded in 1788, albeit as a penal colony of Britain, its history after European settlement post-dated most of the highly influential social and philosophical changes of Europe and America. Its unique combination of formative factors has resulted in one of the most secular, civilised and tolerant countries on the globe, disgraced only by its appalling treatment of its Indigenous peoples. Though the majority of Australians identify themselves as Christian, according to the five-yearly national Census\92, observance is weak and diminishing. Since settlement freethinkers and others secularists have been well tolerated, and few public figures make arguments for particular courses of action by invoking god or religious precepts. Unlike in the USA running for public office requires no declaration of religious commitment. Indeed holding non-religious views has been no bar to high office e.g. Sir Marcus Oliphant well known scientist as Governor of South Australia, Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister and, Bill Hayden as Governor General. And because the populace at large is liberal humanist the need to counter religious influence has not been as pressing as in other countries.

Since the 1850s there have been various publications and organisations bearing titles of Atheist, Freethinker, Humanist, Rationalist and Secular. These have promoted freedom of expression, the separation of church and state, the use of science and technology for the improved well­being of all humanity, secular education, and freedom of choice over personal matters. Freethinking activists in the in the 1800s included atheist Marcus Clarke (1846-1881) journalist and writer, author of For the Term of his Natural Life, freethinker Edward William Coles (1832-1918) of Coles Book Arcade and publisher of Coles Funny Picture Book, freethinker Louisa Lawson (1848-1920) feminist and editor, and rationalist David Syme (1827-1908) newspaper proprietor. Active in the first half of the 1900s include freethinker John Anderson (1893-1962) professor of philosophy University of Sydney, rationalist Sir John Barry (1903-1969) civil libertarian ands Justice of Supreme Court of Victoria, Unitarian William Bottomley (1882-1966) social reformer, pacifist and minister in Unitarian Church, atheist Sir Macfarlane Burnet (1899-1985) medical scientist, atheist Brian Fitzpatrick (1905-1965) civil libertarian and historian, rationalist John Langley (1889-1959) lecturer and editor, and freethinker John Shaw Neilson (1872-1942) poet. In the latter half of the 1900s innumerable Australian have openly declared themselves to be a Humanist or other variants of freethinker. Many of these have played an active role in the Humanist Societies around Australia either as members, speakers or patrons.

The first Australian Humanist Society was formed in New South Wales in 1960. This was followed in 1961 by the formation of the Humanist Society of Victoria, the Humanist Society of South Australia in 1962, the Humanist Society of Western Australia in 1965, and in 1967 the Humanist Society of Queensland by incorporation of the Queensland Rationalist Society. The Australian Humanists or Council of Australian Humanist Societies (CAHS) was formed in 1965 to co-ordinate Humanist activities nationally. An annual Convention is held at which delegates from all affiliated Societies discuss current issues of concern, exchange information, socialise and agree on joint actions including the appointment of an Australian Humanist of the Year. These have included Lionel Murphy (1983 Federal Attorney-General), Anne Levy (1986- politician), Phillip Adams (1987- radio journalist), Ian Lowe (1988- science communicator), Fred Hollows (1991 ophthalmologist), Bill Hayden (1996 Governor-General) and Eva Cox (1997 social policy analyst), Eric Bogle (2001 folk singer and song writer), and Donald Home (2002 writer and commentator).

A significant act by Lionel Murphy, in 1973, when Attorney-General in the Federal government, was to set in place a civil celebrant program. People not desiring a church marriage have long had the option of a registry office service. Murphy believed secular people should be given other options where pleasant surroundings, music, and poetry could be used in marriage ceremonies. The availability of civil celebrants has led to a steady increase in people choosing civil marriages. From around 8 per cent in 1973 to over 55 per cent in 2002, a trend demonstrating the growth of secularism in Australia. This has also coincided with a steady decline in regular church attendance, religious observance and clergy recruitment, contributing to Australia being one of the more secular western democracies.

Acknowledgment: Humanism entry in: The Encyclopedia of Unbelief – Prometheus Books 1985.

Drawn from a single biased question, Humanists have long urged that the Australian Bureau of Statistics, to change its method of collecting data on belief, to equally include the non-religious as well as the religious.