Kia ora:

Controversial philosopher, John Gray, is visiting New Zealand to speak at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, May 14 – 18 – Auckland members may be able to attend. His recent interview with Kim Hill made interesting listening. Background information was provided by email in New Zealand Humanist News #63 (see below). The Listener, May 3—9 2008, includes an article about John Gray’s thought. Personally, I find myself excited with his thesis that “the presumption that we can remake society is a holdover of Christian apocalyptic thinking”. As you know, I am an avid science fantasy reader where the dark shadow always returns. Others, such as AC Grayling writing for New Humanist, are concerned that be has attacked secular Humanists, not for what they believe, but for what he thinks they believe. For Wellington members, a discussion of his new book Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia at a monthly meeting would be very stimulating.

Monthly Meeting: Monday 5 May
Turnbull House, Wellington. From 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm. Any thoughts and musings you may wish to convey are very welcome. Send to Kent at KentStevens77(at)yahoo.com .
We will discuss – Humanism and the Internet Linas Jakucionis – Humanist Society member

Linas Writes: “The internet provides us with an inexpensive way to distribute information and entertainment. Humanist, skeptic and atheistic communities have embraced this media for spreading the word Sometimes presenting these ideas in an entertaining way has a much stronger impact than pages and pages of logical science. I will be presenting comic strips relating to our ideals. We may also touch topics related to blogging and podcasting and the general idea of entertainment for advancing humanism.”

Radio Access: 11 am 783 kHz Sunday. 4 May, 1 June Radio Access have now developed their website to enable listeners to listen to programmes already recorded. If you have missed our Humanist Access spot, then, go to www.accessradio.org.nz. The April broadcast was hosted by Jeff Hunt and Joan McCracken who talked among other things about the recent death of Arthur C Clark. Jeff and Joan are a superb combination. I do recommend that you listen in the future or track the April broadcast down via the Access Radio website.

Human Rights Film Festival: The Humanist Society of New Zealand is an official supporter of the Human Rights Film Festival.
Dates and venues are as Follows:
Wellington May 08-16 Paramount Theatre Adults: $14.00, Con. $12.00
Auckland May 15-23 Rialto Newmarket Adults: $15.50, Con. $11.00
Christchurch May 22-30 Regent on Worcester Adults: $14.00, Con, $11.00
Dunedin May 29-June 6 Rialto Dunedin Adults: $14.50, Con. $10.00
Details of the Feature Films appear below.
For further details see: http://www.humanrightsfilmfest.net.nz/
Feature Films: http://www.humanrightsfilmfest.net.nz/the-films/features/
Films: http://www.humanrightsfilmfest.net.nz/the-films/features/

New Zealand Humanist News (E-mail): For about eight years we have been producing a Humanist News bulletin at irregular intervals (about once a month) with items of interest to Humanists. Only available by email, it includes local and international news items and action alerts, International Humanist news including the IHEU email news bulletin, and additional background on current issues and events, local and international. If you have not provided your e-mail address and wish to receive this service then please let us know. The latest e-mail NZ Humanist News alerted members to the Radio New Zealand interview between Kim Hill and philosopher John Gray, and provided background information, links, and articles.

Email discussion group: Is operating on Yahoo at http://groups.yahoo.comlgroup/nzhumanism . Have you ventured into this group to contribute to the discussio?

Matariki and the Winter Solstice: Keep this in mind, information in June Newsletter.

Teaching about religion in Schools: This issue is again current and we would welcome other Humanist members who would be prepared to help with lobbying Parliament on this issue. Please contact Kent if you are interested. Kent’s e-mail address is further up in the newsletter. Mark Fletcher has offered to help with this concern. Other members who could join Mark are welcomed.

Book review Journey Through Darkness: Included with this newsletter is a book review by Jeff Hunt, Humanist Webmaster and Radio access host. I am delighted to include this contribution.

Books for sale: The Secular Trend in New Zealand by Jim Dakin $15.00 plus $4.50 postage & packaging. Focuses on the writings of Jim Dakin who supported the growth of a secular New Zealand. The Purple Economy by Max Wallace $35.00 plus $4.50 postage & packaging. An argument that democracies should be republics characterised by constitutional separations of church and state.

Gaylene Middleton

Human Rights Film Festival

This Festival has both Feature and Short Films.

The Feature Films:
· Walk to Beautiful – The award winning feature-length documentary A Walk to Beautiful tells the stories of five Ethiopian women who suffer from devastating childbirth injuries and embark on a journey to reclaim their lost dignity.
· Afghan Chronicles – Since the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan has been rebuilding itself and reviving democracy, and there is some freedom of expression. With its radio station and two magazines, one of them aimed at women, the press agency Killid Media is a real media phenomenon.
· Children of a Nation – Set amongst the chaos of youth gang fighting in 2006 that has turned tens of thousands of East Timorese families into IDPs (internally displaces people), an inspired East Timorese teacher develops a vision for the children in her school.
· The Dictator Hunter – For seven years, Reed Brody has been chasing one former dictator in particular: Hissene Habré, the former leader of Chad, who is charged with killing thousands of his own countrymen in the 1980s.
· Fighting The Silence: Sexual Violence Against Women In Congo – During the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s seven year war, more then 80,000 women and girls were raped. Fighting the Silence tells the story of ordinary women and men struggling to change their society: one that prefers to blame victims rather than prosecute rapists.
· Maquilapolis: City Of Factories – Carmen works the graveyard shift in one of Tijuana’s maquiladoras, the multinationally-owned factories that came to Mexico for its cheap labour. After making television components all night, Carmen comes home to a shack she built out of recycled garage doors, in a neighborhood with no sewage lines or electricity.
· A Minority Report: Kosovo Minorities Eight Years After – In June 1999, following the end of the three-months lasting NATO military campaign against Yugoslavia, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) was established. UNMIK was the first peace-building operation ever based on the idea of an UN administration fully governing a post-conflict territory.
· Now The People Have Awoken: Exploring Venezuela’s Revolution – Venezuela has been in Washington’s enemy list in recent years. It also sits atop the biggest oil reserves in the world and claims to promote a new socialism. What makes Venezuela tick?
· Occupation 101: Voices Of The Silenced Majority – A thought-provoking and powerful documentary film on the current and historical root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unlike any other film ever produced on the conflict.
· Western Sahara: Africa’s Last Colony – Shot over two years, the film follows the story of Amma Didi and her family as they prepare to be reunited with the daughter she was forced to leave behind 30 years ago when she fled the Moroccan occupation of her homeland.

Short Films:
· Bowling For Zimbabwe – The film follows the extraordinary lives of those enduring the current crises in Zimbabwe. For Itai a cricketing scholarship may be his only chance at a life beyond mere survival. He must play to win.
· Children Of The Golden Horse – Ten year old Jattae is a so called “Hilltriber“, one of over 100,000 members of ethnic minorities who are currently settled in the mountains of North Thailand. Like most of these people, Jattae’s family is living close to the subsistence level.
· Now We are Fearless – This moving documentary shows how untouchable and tribal South Indian women use collective action to successfully fight injustice and discrimination, and how their lives were changed by community development led by the Women’s Development Resource Centre.
· Indigenous Peoples And The United Nations: Volume 1 – A thirty-minute long documentary, to promote and raise-awareness on indigenous issues within the UN system to politicians and diplomats.
· Forbidden Rights – This short film looks at young people growing up in Palestine and covers their thoughts and feelings on subjects such as curfews, hobbies, punishments, and education.
· Mother and Wall – In this film, the wall is a metaphor for inhuman actions, infringement of freedom and the segregation of people.
· War and Waves: Sri Lanka’s Internally Displaced – In Sri Lanka, a natural disaster and ongoing conflict have displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

BOOK REVIEW – Journey Through Darkness

By Howard Brown
Reviewed by Jeff Hunt
ROMULUS PUBLISHING, Newark England
Copyright © Howard Brown 2008 journeythroughdarkness.com
A biography of a world kickboxing champion including his theological research, time in prison, personal relationships, and atheist ethics.

I came to this book as a hostile critic. I’d said I would review it and felt I ought to do so, but what do I care for a book by a black, English, kick-boxing champion who has spent a fair chunk of life in prison. To further discourage me the book is marketed at the level of an inmate prison story with sentimental overtones.

Now I care. It is a significant, thought provoking and entertaining piece of literature, potentially life changing and not far from masterpiece. Howard Brown is in fact well educated, but it is his honesty, integrity, and research ability that come through.

‘Journey Through Darkness’ is a first person narrative of Brown’s life. A biography, theology, and personal discovery. There is no direct speech or overt plot beyond the man’s own life. It could be overwhelmingly boring but instead it moves with pace and variety and is driven by a masterstroke in that Brown doesn’t quite make it clear why he is in prison. It has something to do with drugs, but he is not a user and appears not to be a dealer, although he drops hints that he was talking to the wrong people at the wrong time.

With this as the major dramatic tool for its skeleton, he then tells us of prison life, family life, childhood, romantic relations both his own and the nature of them for inmates. Hopes, fears, prison life, failures, and successes. He is extraordinarily good at pacing these threads to keep us going through 336 pages.

Long before we grow tired of ‘Bigger’ – the street name for the latest ‘con’, – he takes us back to his wife and family and then we find ourselves organising classes for martial arts students. Often we return to the theological research that kept him involved through the long prison years. He shares with us his research on early religions that set up the myths that were to become Christianity. This research is to become a whole book eventually.

He has great art in showing up religious follies and its dishonesties without being patronising or antagonistic. It is the same skill he uses with inmates to give them moral guidance without judgement. We only have his word that he is the good guy, but if it is writing artifice, he’s good at that too.

Race relations are touched, calmly and as they come up and in the same philosophical vein. He seems genuinely puzzled that people can assume superiority because of race.

His views on woman are especially powerful. Despite an upbringing in a father dominated household and a career in professional fighting he says more than once that woman are the equal partners of men and sympathises with a wife he loves when she reluctantly queries the future of their marriage. He speaks of the female warders who lock him up with respect. It’s refreshing stuff.

Referring to the sad historic move towards paternal religions, leaving the goddesses behind and referring to the equality if not superiority of women he says:
“In the religious tales of all of the early worship systems this is well reflected. The male gods were haughty and impetuous in their behaviour, while the goddesses were denoted as thoughtful and compassionate, an accurate reflection of male and female relationships. It is to their own loss that any man would consider himself naturally smarter than his female counterpart.”

There are lots of good quotes in this book, but I am wary of using them because they seem too specific on any one topic. Having made a point he moves effortlessly on and a next equally powerful quote would suggest a different man, topic and book.

Most liberal educated people with a Rationalist, Atheist or Humanist background will have heard a lot of what is said and not learn a great deal new, although few of us have spent time in jail to test our ethical fortitude. But for us it is still a very good read. For someone coming to these ideas for the first time it is a painless introduction to some very valuable personal philosophy and research. To a young person at risk, but with an interest in martial arts or prison life or even life on the streets it could be a life saving moral guide.

For a multitude of reasons, I recommend that you read this and then leave it lying around as a source of facts and inspiration for others.

Jeff Hunt is a Wellington member of the Humanist Society of New Zealand.

FILM REVIEW – HAPPILY NEVER AFTER

Michael Ray Fitzgerald
No Country for Old Men. Written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. Distributed by Miramax Films and Paramount Vantage. 2007. 122 minutes.

The Coen brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men turns its back on Hollywood’s sappy happy-ending film formula. Of course, not all moviegoers seem to appreciate this.

The story begins in West Texas, where a local hunter, played by Josh Brolin, happens to come across a stash of millions of dollars at the scene of a drug deal gone bad. Brolin’s character naively thinks he can handle himself in the situation in which he suddenly emerges. Turning in his usual workmanlike performance, Tommy Lee Jones plays a Texas lawman who is struggling to protect Brolin. The dealers send a hit man, played by Javier Bardem, to find and collect the money Bardem is truly chilling as a sociopathic killer with nearly superhuman abilities.

The usual Hollywood assumption is that if the protagonist (in this case, Broun) dies, there’s no movie—how can you have an odyssey without Odysseus? But this isn’t the case in this movie, and without giving too much away I’ll venture to say that this plot development is the crux of the work.

I’ll also venture to predict that No Country for Old Men will not do well at the box office. It challenges people’s assumptions about story structure, order in the universe, and poetic justice.

As the film wound down, I was astonished at the reaction of a dozen or so members of the audience—they acted as if they’d been sucker-punched. Some hooted and hollered; a few left the theater obviously annoyed.

Howard Suber discusses the psychology of happy endings in his book The Power of Film. My main question, however, is not, Why do audiences need happy endings? but, Why do we need endings at all? Many of McCarthy’s, Raymond Carver’s, and Albert Camus’ stories, like reality do not have endings. But audiences—at least most American audiences—seem to feel cheated if they are not given some kind of resolution. They need closure.

Is their reaction cultural or archetypal? Are we, as Westerners, conditioned to require resolution in storytelling, or is this a universal need? The topic of narrative structure is a serious issue in my field of media history What does history consist of, and how do we tell the tale? Call me a cynic, but my assessment is that historical studies only “begin” when writers and journalists take note of certain events and “end” when we stop paying attention. The same is true of any story.

Like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, No Country for Old Men is a little too real, which raises another question:
Why do we need art that mirrors reality? Most artists seem to aspire to rectify reality, not represent it, while most viewers seem to want to escape it. This turns out to be a rather convenient symbiosis, particularly in Hollywood.

An even deeper issue concerns our society’s concept of poetic justice. The audience I sat with waited on the edge of their seats for two hours and didn’t get any Americans like to believe that there is a cosmic justice that—eventually at least—redeems or punishes every deed.

But is there truly any justice in this universe, or does it only exist in our sto­ries? Judging from television, for one example, an ordinary viewer might assume that the cops always catch the bad guys, yet Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics show that about six thousand murders per year go unsolved in the United States. We like to think, “Cheaters never prosper,” yet most white-collar crimes are never reported.

These seem to me biblical notions. So it should come as no surprise to see Bible Belt residents become annoyed by a movie that suggests their basic view of reality is probably flawed, that most if not all events happen for no good reason, that most of us are in constant danger (not from murderers or terrorists, but from cars running red lights), and that the old cliché “Might makes right” is a fact of life. Their cognitive dissonance seems to boil down to a struggle between accepting that most things happen for no reason at all and the belief that everything is under some sort of cosmic control. Most seem to have a childlike need to believe that some father figure or some omnipotent spirit is in charge—and watching out for them.

Apparently the mere suggestion that violence, often random, rules this world— and that evil people easily triumph over good—comes as a challenge to the American notion that if we are good, we have a right to expect God to protect us. Again, this is a biblical notion.

Most people—not just Americans and not just religious folks—simply can’t stomach the idea that we may be careening through space in a gigantic bus with no driver. Or, if there is a driver, he or she is asleep at the wheel. As the brothers Coen show, we may be as good as gold or as tough as nails, but there are times when this God of Cosmic Justice doesn’t seem to be protecting us (or maybe the stars aren’t with us). There are only so many conclusions we can infer. I list them below

The Top Ten Reasons Why Bad Things Happen to Good People—and to Movie Protagonists
1. God works in mysterious if not perverse ways, which we can never understand.
2. He isn’t listening because we aren’t good enough.
3. He didn’t hear us because we didn’t pray hard enough.
4. He is calling us home so that we can be with all the good people in heaven.
5. He is a psychopath, just like my enemies.
6. He, She, or It isn’t there.
7. This talisman is defective or fake.
8. Beware the Ides of March.
9. Today just isn’t my day
10. There ain’t no reason.
No Country for Old Men pulls back scabs most of us don’t want to look under. It makes us squirm and think thoughts we don’t want to think. I would agree that it is probably not healthy to dwell too much on such thoughts. Denial isn’t always a bad thing.

In his book, Suber mentions that movies play much the same role in our culture as religion. “Like religion, people go to the movies not to see the world as it really is, but to see a world that compensates for the one they know” But some people still occasionally create art for art’s sake. And yes, some people do need art that reflects reality. FI

Michael Ray Fitzgerald is a Ph.D. student in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He has written for many publications, including Left Curve and Utne.
From Free Inquiry February/March 2008 http://www.secularhumanism.org

Why God never received a PhD

1. He had only one major publication.
2. It was in Hebrew.
3. It had no references.
4. It wasn’t published in a refereed journal.
5. Some doubt he wrote it by himself.
6. It may be true that he created the world, but what has he done since then?
7. His co-operative efforts have been quite limited.
8. The scientific community has had a hard time replicating his results.
9. He never applied to the Ethics Board for permission to use human subjects.
10. When subjects didn’t behave as predicted, he deleted them from the sample.
11. Some say he had his son teach the class.
12. His office hours were infrequent and usually held on a mountain top.