Kia ora:

As 2008 passes into 2009, Humanist Society council members wish all our members the very best for the coming year. This is our final newsletter for 2008. The first newsletter for 2009 will be sent out during February 2009, before our monthly meetings begin again Monday 2 March 2009. There is an encouraging note as 2008 ends. Paula Bennett, the new Minister of Social Development suggested Monday 24 Nov 2008 on Nine to Noon, Radio NZ National, that new discussion needs to be held around the question of mothers being encouraged back into the workforce. Are mothers feeling pressure to return to the workforce before they and their children are ready?

December monthly meeting: Monday 1 December

Social gathering:
Reading Theatre Food Court, Courtney Place, Wellington 7.30 pm
You are invited to join us at the Food Court We looking forward to seeing you there.

2009 Darwin celebrations:
The Charles Darwin Theatre Project.
A play about Darwin is to be performed at Te Papa, Wellington at the beginning of 2009 and then will tour to other main cities. Enquires can be made through [email protected]

2009 BioEd Conference Christchurch 12 February – 16 February.
This conference dealing with many aspects of Darwinism is tempting but comes at a cost of $220/day. Information can be obtained from Susan Adams 06 350 5448 and [email protected]

Darwin Day, 12 February 2009, is 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth.

Eileen Bone Scholarship 2008:
Olivia Krakosky from Naenae College is the 2008 recipient. Olivia was Deputy Head Girl and Co Leader of the School Council during 2008, and she was School Dux and first in English, German, Geography and History. Olivia intends to study Law at Victoria University and also complete a B.A. in history.

Subscriptions:
for the 2008-2009 year are now due. Subscription rates remain unchanged. A subscription form in pdf format is attached to this email and an individual form has been posted to all members.

Radio Access:
11 am 783 kHz Sunday 14 December, 11 January 2009, 8 February, 8 March
If you are outside the Wellington radiobroadcast area, go to www.accessradio.org.nz to listen or to download a pod cast after the event.

Email discussion group:
Operating on Yahoo at http://groups.yahoo.comlgroup/nzhumanism .
Join the group to contribute to the discussion?

What have we been doing?

A brief overview of our activities during the last two or three years.

Marriage Celebrants: each year we are required by law to gather 10 signatures to re register our Humanist Marriage Celebrants, an 11th person is required to have the signatures witnessed by a JP. Independent Marriage Celebrants require just two signatures!

Submissions: have been sent in on the following issues, Civil Union Bill (supported), Stem cell research (supported), Abolishing Easter trading restrictions (supported), Organ Donor Bill (supported), School curriculum and values (expressed our stance), National Statement on Religious Diversity (expressed our stance), Child Discipline Bill – repeal of section 59 (supported), screening for the health of an embryo (supported).

Annual Humanist Seminars: Religion and Politics (2005), Stem cell research (2006), Climate Change (2007), and organising and hosting the New Zealand and Australia’s Secular Heritage Conference (2008).

Other Activities: Annual Eileen Bone University Scholarship, Sponsorship of Human Rights Film Festival, Major revision of the Societies Constitution and application to retain Charity Status, Monthly Meetings in Wellington, Monthly Newsletters, regular email news bulletins, other publications, Four weekly Radio Access Broadcast, and Maintaining our Web site.

Society without God,

What the Least Religious Nations can tell us about Contentment: Phil Zuckerman Published by NYU Press, 2008. Humanist Society member Peter Clemerson has brought this book to our attention, and it will be the subject of our March 2009 monthly meeting. Zuckerman has examined, life in Denmark and Sweden and compared it to life in the USA. Conservative American Christians argue that faith in God is the foundation of civil society. Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and A Letter to a Christian Nation thinks that Society Without God “reveals this to be nothing more than a well subscribed and strangely American delusion.” Zuckerman believes that “society without God is not only possible but it can be quite civil and pleasant.”

Zuckerman had thought that humans all over the globe were “getting religion”. However when visiting Denmark and Sweden, Zuckerman observed that their societies boast some of the lowest rates of violent crime in the world, excellent education, strong economies, free health care, and egalitarian social policies. How can this be? Drawing on his own research and prominent sociological theories Zuckerman suggests some interesting answers. In an article by Zuckerman on The Huffington Post (24 Nov 2008) there is the comment, “If God punishes societies that violate his commandments and rewards those that do, this just isn’t apparent by looking at the state of the world today. The sociological fact is that the most irreligious nations right now are among the most successful, humane, moral, and free, while the most religious nations tend to be among the most destitute, chaotic, crime-ridden, and undemocratic”. It is thought that after reading this book we can conduct a similar investigation into our NZ society. If you are interested in helping with this project please contact us. Come to the March meeting!

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/phil-zuckerman/the-religious-support-beh_b_145180.html

Gaylene Middleton

Darwin Lectures

This year, the Royal Society of NZ presented a series of six public lectures by eminent New Zealand scientists relating to Charles Darwin and evolution. The lectures played on New Zealand National Radio at 4 pm each Sunday from Sunday 24 August onwards. For details of the lectures and to download them as pod casts go to:http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/the_darwin_lectures

E=mc2 Lectures

To mark the centenary of Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, the Royal Society in association with Radio New Zealand broadcast a series of seven lectures in May-June 2005 known as the e=mc2 lectures. These interesting lectures may be downloaded as pod casts from:

http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/theemc2lectures

Humanist Society of New Zealand

President’s Report 2008

A number of people have been visibly involved in communicating a humanist message to the world. These people include lain Middleton, Gaylene Middleton, Jeff Hunt and myself. Other people expressing a humanist viewpoint were Rochelle Forrester, Linas Jakucionis, Joan McCracken, Nigel Kearney and Vincent Gray.

The 2008 Secular Conference had a range of significant speakers defending the principal that New Zealand is a secular country. Among the speakers were Lloyd Geering, Nicky Hager, and Bill Hastings. This conference was basically hosted by the Humanist Society in Wellington. The conference was also a joint effort between the Humanist Society, the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, and the National Secular Association of Australia. A special thank you goes to Iain and Gaylene Middleton who did a large amount of the conference organising work.

The Humanist Society wrote a letter to the Minister of Education concerning proposals to teach religion in state schools. We stated our concern that teaching does not involve proselytising or indoctrination. We voiced our opposition to the teaching of Intelligent Design as part of the science curriculum. We stipulated that if religion is to be taught in school then non-religion should also be taught.

The 2007 Humanist’s seminar had scientist David Wratt presenting climate change issues to the general public. David Wratt has worked with the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC and Al Gore were joint winners of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

We have provided another Eileen Bone Scholarship for young people studying a degree at Victoria University. With support from the Humanist Charitable Trust we will continue to sponsor this scholarship.

The Humanist Society with assistance from the Humanist Charitable Trust also financially supported the Human Rights Film Festival.

On behalf of the Humanist Society, I attended the National Interfaith Forum that was held within parliament. I stressed that people without faith need to also be considered. I discussed how that we are concerned about the safety of individuals whatever their beliefs might be.

In my term as president of this Society I have always based policy decisions around what the majority of humanists wanted or believed. This has meant supporting civil unions and stem cell research. I prepared a seminar on global warming because that was what the majority of humanists and scientists believed in, without suppressing contrary opinions. I represented a section of humanists who strongly believed in repeal of Section 59 without committing the entire Society to this viewpoint.

We look forward to the 2009 bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth. This prominent biologist was also a noted agnostic.

Kent Stevens

Max Wallace: ‘No To Pope’ – Activists undermine Ratzinger’s World Youth Day

The week long Catholic event was held in Sydney from 15 July 2008.

A combination of events served to act as a check on the Catholic extravaganza which had the advantage of massive media coverage. This included part sponsorship by the Daily Telegraph, the Murdoch empire’s morning tabloid newspaper which saw no contradiction in sponsoring a news event.

The first thing that went wrong for the church was heavy handed regulations introduced by a Catholic member of the Executive of the New South Wales parliament shortly before World Youth Day was due to commence. These were introduced after the parliament had closed for the winter recess. They banned any citizen from ‘annoying’ Catholic pilgrims during their stay. Their introduction in this way meant the new regulations could not be debated in parliament.

There was immediate outrage in the media. The regulations were a public relations disaster for the church and the government. Information obtained at the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) meeting in Washington in June concerning government grants to World Youth Day in Germany and Canada, helped fan the media fire. The Greens in the NSW parliament researched the matter and it was realized that Australian governments, federal and state, had paid the Catholic Church four times what Germany and Canada had paid for World Youth Day in their countries. This was published in a Sunday newspaper.

Usually conservative radio commentators then gave unprecedented time to critics of the regulations and the government. Talk back radio and letters to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) were overwhelmingly against the government and the greed of the church.

Two university students from the No To Pope Coalition, Rachel Evans and Amber Pike, took the NSW government to the Federal Court with legal assistance from the NSW Civil Liberties Council. The court ruled that the ‘annoying’ clause of the regulations was an unconstitutional breach of a citizen’s right to freedom of speech. This was a significant victory which allowed protestors to air their opinions against the Pope and the Vatican’s policies.

While this was happening the Australian New Zealand Secular Association (ANZSA) conference was held in the Theatrette of the NSW Parliament to describe and discuss how Christianity in Australia and New Zealand has declined in all recent censuses. Rachel Evans joined the afternoon panel discussion. The SMH ran the information (‘Jesus romps home on the donkey vote’) as part of its World Youth Day reporting. This led to three radio interviews broadcast across Australia where the point was made that World Youth Day would not arrest the decline in young people leaving the church.

After the Pope arrived the No To Pope Coalition sent over 300 letters to Catholic schools in Sydney where the ‘pilgrims’ were staying welcoming them to Australia. The letter contained four condoms and advised the pilgrims the Pope’s policy on contraception was wrong and they should practice safe sex during their stay.

The next major problem for the church was the return of the Foster family from Britain to confront the church during World Youth Day. The Fosters’ two daughters, while attending primary school, had been raped by a Catholic priest in Melbourne some years previously. They were aged about five and six at the time. The church had offered the Fosters $50,000 in compensation which the family refused saying they would take legal action for greater compensation. The church then fought the case in the courts for eight years denying a responsibility they had previously accepted. The tragic outcome of the rapes and the long court case was that one daughter later in life turned to drugs and eventually committed suicide. The other turned to alcohol and was involved in a serious traffic accident leaving her paralysed and requiring constant care.

The Fosters were met at Sydney airport by child abuse activists from Broken Rites who had been brought from Melbourne by the Sydney activists. The case received Australia wide and international attention from that moment and for a while World Youth Day was replaced on the front page of the SMH by the Fosters’ dreadful case and their plea for a private audience with the Pope.

On the second last day of the week, after much activism, a demonstration was held and about 1,500 protestors listened to speeches from Broken Rites, abused citizens and other No To Pope activists before marching to confront the pilgrims on their walk to the Pope’s final mass. The day was a success and only one person, an Australian pilgrim, was arrested, which made the regulations passed by the government look ridiculous.

In order to placate critics of the church’s response to child sexual abuse, the Pope made a ‘crocodile tears’ statement condemning the abuse. Then the church held a private meeting with hand-picked victims in a vain attempt to counter the bad press the church was receiving. Of course, the Pope would not meet the Fosters. The meeting with hand-picked victims was a transparent sham. It has only caused to reconfirm the activism and cooperation of those who have been brought together by his visit.

A final word: we have never seen an occasion like this in Australia before with over 200,000, mostly young people, in a city for a religious event. Their faces revealed their naivety and gullibility. Friendly and innocent as they were, there was an echo of Germany in the 1930s. This was truly Ratzinger Youth Day.

Postscript: Sydney Morning Herald of 20-21 September reported that the Catholic Church was trading on exemptions under Freedom of Information legislation to prevent full disclosure of the finances concerning World Youth Day. See M. Moore, ‘Pope visit too sensitive to talk about’, p.38.

Dr Max Wallace, Humanist activist, author of The Purple Economy and spokesperson for the ANZSA.
Reproduced from Australian Humanist No. 92 Summer 08 p.14