Kia ora:

We are coming up to 2010, the first decade of the 21st century and Humanist Council members wish all our members the very best for the coming year. In Wellington, 2009 is ending with various Darwinian celebrations. Downstage Theatre has just finished its season of young writer Arthur Meek’s Collapsing Creation, so called because many of the key players in this revolution in human understanding of our beginnings that Darwin and his wife Emma interacted with are “collapsed” into just three characters who express the discussions and debates that took place all over the world. In addition, some forty years of debate are collapsed into just one day. An older character, John Roberts, represents Darwin’s teachers, mentors, and older friends. A younger character, Alfred Thomas represents Darwin’s younger compatriots, followers, and friends while many of the hobby breeders, farmers, and shipmates that Darwin listened to with keen interest become the gardener, Joseph Gardiner. Untangling the many individuals with varying views is a noetic exercise that some will enjoy. Many will recognise some of real people that Darwin knew as they are manifest and the origins of the words the playwright has put into his characters mouths. Others will find this exercise perplexing as there is some sacrifice of historical accuracy and some real characters that do not always fit well together as one person. Nevertheless, most have enjoyed the play.

Alongside the staging of the play were four very well attended lectures dealing with Darwinian topics. A delighted Downstage management intends to hold a similar lecture series next year.

The movie CREATION, based on the book Annie’s Box by Randal Keynes, who is Darwin’s great, great, nephew will be released this month. It deals with the anguish that Darwin experienced when his daughter Annie died. The New Scientist review, 23 Sep 09, says this film is “for you if you like things spelled out in gigantic sentimental letters.” However, it seems like an interesting outing for the Christmas/New Year period.

For holiday reading, Jeff Hunt suggests This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson (Headline Publishing 05). It is a long and extraordinarily good, historical novel dealing with Captain Fitzroy and Darwin, their ideas and actions. It takes in a wide sweep of early 19th century life and politics – missionaries, slavery, naval life, governorship of NZ, the trips of the Beagle and the resulting publications and controversies.

December monthly meeting: Monday 7 December, Social gathering at Reading Theatre Food Court, Courtney place, Wellington 7.30 pm

On the first Monday of December Wellington Humanists will meet at the Reading Food Court in the centre of Wellington’s entertainment district and share a meal from the wide range of food available and just enjoy one another’s company and free ranging discussion. You are invited to join us at there. We look forward to seeing you. Afterward, some may wish to see a film or attend other entertainment.

Last month’s meeting: Fred March, spoke on “the Human Nature of Religion and Science – an evolutionary odyssey”, a presentation originally given at the American Humanist Society Conference in Phoenix, Arizona on 6 June 2009. Fred March, who is president of the New Mexico Humanists, enjoyed talking to all who came to this very well attended meeting and the lively discussion that his presentation generated. In his wide ranging presentation, Fred developed the theme that religion can rise from parts of the human brain that have developed for other purposes.
We did appreciate that so many found the time to attend. This was a rare opportunity for New Zealanders to meet an overseas Humanist and Fred and Joan March said they enjoyed meeting so many New Zealand Humanists at the meeting and seeing so many younger faces in the audience.
Fred, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a writer who focuses on religion, its philosophy, psychology, and history. In The Bible through the eyes of its Authors was his first book, published in 2006. Fred graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and retired from a career in worldwide economic development, which provided the diversity of exposure to religious cultures that motivated his writing career.

Coming Event – Darwin Day Friday 12 February 2010: from 5.30 pm Kingsgate Hotel corner Hawkestone Street and Portland Tce, Wellington Dr Geoffrey Chambers who spoke to us at our 2009 Seminar is very happy to share this anniversary with us. Richard Dawkins began this celebration in 2006 and Kent Stevens has championed it as a celebration for our Society, as in February we have not yet ‘gotten bogged down’ with all the other demands of daily life. The Kingsgate has a very nice area with floor to ceiling windows where we could enjoy a convivial discussion with Dr Chambers in the late afternoon sunshine, after an informal meal in Kingsgate dining room. We will send out an invitation by email, with more details in late January/early February. Do contact me on 04 232 4497 if you would like to come.

Richard Dawkins visit to New Zealand / The ‘Rise of Atheism’ Convention: Before speaking at the ‘Rise of Atheism’ Convention in Melbourne, 12-14 March 2010 (see below for further details), Richard Dawkins, will be a speaker at the Readers and Writers Week in Wellington. Richard will speak at 6.30 pm Wednesday 10 March at the Wellington Town Hall. Cost for General Admission is $25 (there is a Friends of the Festival discount.) Book now.

Eileen Bone Trust: We wish to acknowledge and thank the Eileen Bone Trust for their continued financial support for Humanist Society activities during 2009/2010. We thank them for supporting our 2009 Seminar, providing some sponsorship for the 2010 Human Rights Festival and providing the annual Eileen Bone Humanist Trust Scholarship for a student from Naenae College to attend Victoria University.

Eileen Bone Humanist Trust Scholarship: This year’s award goes to Alycia Park, Naenae college’s 2009 Dux, She also received first in English, Graphics, and ICT, Excellence in Correspondence Economics, Merit in Statistics and Modelling and the I H Johnson Trophy.

Obituary: Ernst Beuzenberg, a Humanist member in Nelson died recently and in notifying us of her father’s death, his daughter told us that her father had always enjoyed our newsletters and email communications.

Atheist Bus Campaign: Behind the scenes, people have been working on this project. Simon Fisher spoke to us at our June 2009 meeting, of plans afoot. If you would like to help us with this project with financial assistance please send a cheque made out to Atheist Advertising to P.O. Box 3372 Wellington. The British Humanist Society who began this campaign, have given us permission to use their material and slogan “There’s probably no God so relax and enjoy life”. A NZ web site is being developed at www.nogod.org.nz where you will be able to donate online. With Richard Dawkins brief visit to Wellington in March 2010 it would be great if we could have the slogan on one or more buses. He was a major supporter of the campaign in the UK.

Radio Access: Change to Radio Access Programme time slot: Humanist Outlook is now broadcast on Saturday mornings at 10.30 am. This change has been made at Radio Access’s suggestion. Humanist Outlook, is broadcast from Wellington at 10.30 am on 783 kHz, every fourth Saturday. Future broadcasts are on Saturday 12 December, 9 January, 6 February, and 6 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?

Conceptual Art: A Canadian artist Brian Rushton Phillips wishes to share his atheism-inspired project, “Sticks & Stones” which can be viewed at http://www.rushtonphillips.com/sticks_and_stones.html . This is a response to the approximately 809 million people who have died in religious wars since civilization began. The possessive forms of the Abrahamic religions are spelt out with an alphabet constructed from battle-size sticks and stones and bloody punctuation points. The artist would love to hear your responses.

2009/2010 Subscriptions: subscriptions remain unchanged and are now due. Renewal forms were included with the newsletter posted to members last month. A pdf version is attached to this email and may also be used to renew your subscription but be certain to put your name and address on it.
All addresses have been checked with the Post Office online data base and some have been amended. Please check that your details are shown correctly and provide corrections as necessary.

The Rise of Atheism’ Convention: The Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc in partnership with Atheist Alliance International will be holding a Convention in Melbourne, 12-14 March 2010. International speakers will include Richard Dawkins, Peter Singer, Taslima Nasrin, and Max Wallace (who spoke at the 2008 Conference in Wellington.) Registrations for this conference are now open. Organisers are suggesting registering early as there has been a great deal of interest expressed in attending. To register go to www.atheistconvention.org.au and then click on Tickets (along top of page towards the right)

Gaylene Middleton

Letter to Human Rights Commission

The following letter has recently been sent to the Human Rights commission.

Dear Commissioner

The Humanist Society of New Zealand represents the interests of non-theistic people in New Zealand. We seek to build a more humane society based on human and other natural values . New Zealand census figures show tha approximately a third of the populatoni has no religious belief.

This letter is to provide feedback on the status report on human rights in New Zealand compiled by the Human Rights Commission. We will focus here on the section of the status report that relates to the right to the freedom of religion and belief.

The Humanist Society supports the report section on the right to freedom of religion and belief. We generally endorse this report section because it acknowledges that people have the right to hold atheistic or non-religious beliefs. Also, the report section does not favour religious individuals over non-religious individuals in either the section’s title or the section’s provisions. It is pleasing to see that the report section recognises that New Zealand is a secular country with no state religion.

The Humanist Society stresses that people have a right to safety independent of the beliefs that they profess. We hold that individuals should not be harmed or physically threatened because of their perceived blasphemy of a particular religion. Unfortunately, there are a number of people who have been wrongly treated for the alleged crime of blasphemy. Individuals who have been harmed for blaspheming against a particular religion include Theo van Gogh, Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Dr. Younis Sheikh. It is also important to remember the historical persecution of Galileo and Giordano Bruno for their separate crimes of heresy against an established religion.

The status report acknowledges that religions have the ability to discriminate against women or people in a same sex relationship for the appointment of religious officials. This is a double standard where it is illegal to discriminate against for example a woman who wants to be a high court judge or a chief executive, while allowing religions to discriminate against the appointment of women to official positions. The Humanist Society would encourage people of different beliefs not to discriminate against women or people in a same sex relationship.

The Humanist Society affirms that New Zealand is a secular country which should not have the proselytisation or indoctrination of school children in a particular religion or belief by the state. We are also opposed to the teaching of creationism as part of the science curriculum, as to allow it would be for the government to endorse a particular religious viewpoint.

Kent Stevens,Vice President,

Humanist Society of New Zealand

Reports presented at the AGM

Below is the President’s report and the 2009 Seminar report from the 2009 AGM

Presidents Report – Annual General Meeting Agenda Sunday 10:30 am 25 October 2009

The year began on a positive note with the Humanist Society organising and hosting the successful conference on “New Zealand and Australia’s Secular History and its Future”, which was a tribute to the council members and others who contributed to making this happen. This was followed with an article in the International Humanist News giving a brief outline of our society and things that have been achieved during the period of our existence. The article has been very well received at the IHEU and by many overseas Humanist Societies who felt inspired by it. Also a high point at the end of 2008 was the news that our application for registration as a charity had been accepted and backdated. This was the culmination of several years work involving the council and constitutional changes and has benefits to those who donate to our Society.

During the year the Society has continued its services, including: holding regular monthly meetings on the first Monday evening each month, except January and February, in Turnbull House, producing a regular newsletter, 10 times a year, maintaining a four weekly radio broadcast and a website, and the production of a magazine. In addition we have continued our lobby work with letters to the Minister and a submission on Religious Education in Schools. This last submission, prepared largely by Kent Stevens and myself, has resulted in a letter thanking us for our input and informing us that improvements that we suggested have been incorporated into the final document. It must be emphasised that submission work is a vitally important function of the Humanist Society because we are often the only people speaking out for the rights of nonreligious people or giving a non-religious viewpoint.

The Eileen Bone award was made in November 2008 to this year’s winner, Olivia Krakosky, at Naenae college.

Unfortunately, work commitments and other issues have prevented the Society from achieving all that we might have liked to achieve during the year.

Wellington Meetings. We have held a very successful series of meetings during the year. The meetings have been well prepared, of good quality, of interest to the members and have been well attended. We started on 3rd November 2008 with a discussion on Darwin and Evolution to mark 150 years since Darwin first revealed his ideas on evolution. On 1st December 2008 members enjoyed a discussion over an evening meal at the Reading food court. On 2nd March 2009 we held another discussion, chaired by Kent Stevens, on “What Darwin did not know”. Hugh Young gave an interesting and well researched illustrated talk on male circumcision on 6th April. This was a forerunner for a talk that he gave at the Skeptics conference later in the year. On 4th May, Deborah Morris Travers spoke about Section 59 of the Crimes Act and the ramifications of the proposed referendum. Simon Fisher spoke about the Atheist Bus Campaign on the 1st June and on 6th July we watched some prominent philosophers and scientists give their views on religion. The last three meetings have been of excellent value with Mark Fletcher giving us details of the Kitzmiller case on the 3rd August, Lachman Prasad, on 7th September, gave a well prepared and interesting presentation on Indian Philosophy, and finally Peter Clemerson gave a well researched and equally interesting talk on Society without God. It has been pleasing to see the effort that the speakers have put into their background research, and the quality of the presentations. These meetings were well attended.

Solstice Gathering. Our winter solstice this year was held at the home of Mark and Lynette Fletcher on the 20th June. Those present enjoyed good food, good company, and a very pleasant evening, so we extend our thanks to Mark and Lynette for their hospitality.

Seminar: Following on from the success of last year’s conference we have another excellent seminar arranged for this afternoon, largely organised by Gaylene Middleton.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Kent for the work that he has done during the year as vice-president, and treasurer, letter writing, submission work, arranging meetings and various other activities, Gaylene for the many hours of work she has put in on the newsletter and other secretarial work, and thank the council members, Mark, Rochelle, and Lachman, for giving their time and their input at council meetings, and other work, it is very much valued, and thank everybody else who have helped with our meetings and Humanist activities, and all those who have attended meetings – it all helps to keep Humanism alive, and safeguard the rights of the non-religious and human rights in general.

Iain Middleton
President.