Kia ora: I have admiration for the young people of the USA advocating gun control after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting massacre in Florida. We must remember too, the amazing bravery of Lt-Col Arnaud Beltrame, who swapped himself for a woman hostage in the shooting at a supermarket in Carcassonne, France. In so doing he lost his life. Could we make such a sacrifice? And we certainly welcome Andrew Little’s intention to repeal NZ’s Blasphemy Law later this year as part of the Crimes Amendment Bill. We will most certainly make a submission when it goes before a Select Committee.

Monthly meeting: Monday April 9 @ 6.30pm

The Heretical Hori – Eru Hiko-Tahuri

Eru, who writes the Heretical Hori blog, will share his thoughts with us. ‘There are very few Māori who would admit to being atheist although many are “non religious.” I am one of those few. I told my story about becoming atheist in my e-book Māori Boy Atheist. So once I had let go of superstition how then do I navigate the Māori world where almost everything is permeated with notions of spirituality and religion. I don’t know how others have done this because there are so few of us so I can only speak about my experiences.’ This will be a most interesting discussion

All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.

NOTE change of date as the first Monday is a holiday break, Easter Monday

Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St in the George Room

2018 Humanist Conference and International Humanist & Ethical Union (IHEU) General Assembly 3-6 August

This is being held in Auckland with accompanying Wellington Event in Parliament at a date to be confirmed. There is possibly a change to being held preceding the Conference rather than post Conference. This gathering is a collaborative event with the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (NZARH)

Thank You NZ Humanist Charitable Trust!!  A grant of $5000 has been approved by the Trust to support this August national gathering of humanists and rationalists in NZ. We are very appreciative of this help to fund our international speakers. This Trust Fund is the legacy of Humanist Society of NZ member Eileen Bone who loved discourse on humanist values and issues.

Request for Sponsorship: An international event such as our August Humanist Conference requires sponsorship so that we can keep registration fees down. We invite interested persons to consider making a Conference donation. Any donation over $5 is tax refundable. A breakdown of donation spending will be provided. You donation will be acknowledged and it is hoped that a small function for contributors to meet our international and NZ speakers could be arranged. Donations can be made to our account:  bnz 02-0392-0094973-000 with the Reference ‘Conference and your name’. Pease also email [email protected] with your contact details.

Request for Homestay Accommodation: We are receiving enquiries from young people overseas wishing to attend the Humanist Conference. These young people could be assisted with homestay accommodation. Young humanists from some countries will need to apply for a NZ Visitor’s Visa as their country may not have visa waiver status. In such situations it is a prerequisite for applicants to have pre-arranged accommodation noted on their application. As the Visa processing time is 2 months it is necessary to begin Visa application now. If you are interested in helping with a homestay for a young Conference attendee please contact Gaylene :[email protected] Initial enquiries suggest that we may have a need for about 12 homestays.

Conference Venue:  Hotel Heritage Auckland is our Conference venue. This hotel is in downtown Auckland Hobson St and is set within the iconic Farmers Building which many may remember from childhood days.

Conference Website: a website detailing Conference and General Assembly information will be launched very soon.

Conference Dates and programme outline: We will begin with a social gathering Friday 3 August which will include a Humanist Quiz with the winning team of four receiving a collection of 4 signed A C Grayling books. Saturday 4 August will be the Humanist Conference with a dinner in the evening with Sunday 5 August, the General Assembly. All are welcome to attend the General Assembly to observe the inner workings of the IHEU. As previously mentioned there will be a Wellington event at Parliament where it is intended to launch the NZ Humanist Manifesto a collaborative document with NZARH. This timing of this event is not as yet finally determined. After this we will have dinner possibly at the James Cook Hotel on The Terrace. We hope that between the Auckland and Wellington events we will organise a short road trip either up or down the Island.

An International  Conference Speaker:

‘Imtiaz Shams is an Ex-Muslim who has been helping other apostates leave high control religious groups. In 2015, he co-founded Faith to Faithless, an organisation working to reduce the stigma faced by ‘apostates’ of all religions. It has been featured on the BBC and in Vice, the Guardian, and the Times, and has helped thousands find a place for themselves in a world that often dehumanises the non-religious.’

Speakers also include:. Gulalai Ismail, Human Rights Activist, Leo Igwe, Founder of Nigerian Humanists,  Andrew Copson IHEU & Chief Executive Humanist UK, David Silverman, President of the American Atheist Association Jackie Clark, Aunty in Charge, The Aunties

 

A HUMANIST STORY: the formation of the IHEU by Rosslyn Ives, President of the Victorian Humanist Society

The formation of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is a key event in the story of the modern humanist movement. It occurred in 1952 at a congress attended by over 200 delegates, held in Amsterdam. The delegates also decided to call their ethical, non-religious outlook ‘humanism’.

Today IHEU has over 140 affiliated member societies, representing most regions of the world. Australian humanists connect to IHEU through the affiliation of the Council of Australian Humanist Societies or CAHS.

The events leading up to the formation of IHEU need to be set in the context of the influential changes that had been occurring in the 100 or so years prior to 1952. These changes, particularly as they relate to ideas about the place of humans in the scheme of things, were themselves built on earlier ideas.

Changes from the 1800s onwards

From the 1800s the changes that were shaping the developed and industrialised countries began to accelerate. Large scale manufacturing drew people from rural areas into urban centres. The invention of the steam engine led to greater mechanization of agriculture and manufacturing, along with a cheap method of mass transport, via an expanding network of railways.

Levels of literacy rose due to more widespread access to schooling. Improvements in paper manufacturing and printing greatly expanded the availability of cheap printed material e.g. books, newspapers, magazines and pamphlets. Coupled with cheap postal services this proliferation of printed material enabled the spread of ideas. People were also moving around more and venturing further afield as railway lines were being continually extended. Leisure attractions developed, many in the mountains or at beach locations, giving all classes of people holiday options.

The nineteenth century continued the rapid expansion of scientific knowledge. Of perennial interest was information about ‘newly discovered’ plants and animals collected during exploratory travels around the globe. When these ‘journeys of discovery’ were written up or specimens put on display, they attracted great public interest as they revealed the vast variety of unfamiliar life forms inhabiting different regions of the globe, including previously unknown societies of humans.

With the establishment of geology as a science and a growing realisation that fossils were the remains of early ancestors of living species, it became very apparent that the Earth was far older than had previously been supposed. And after Charles Darwin published his ground breaking book

On the Origin of Species in 1859, an evidence-backed explanation for the great variety of life forms was popularised. Such evolutionary ideas about the natural origins for life forms, including humans, inevitably led to critical examinations of religious origin stories.

Christians wanting to find scientific evidence for events described in the Bible, engaged in archaeological investigations, especially in the Middle East. These ‘digs’ motivated by genuine attempts to verify Biblical stories, usually yielded more questions than answers. Such inconclusive results turned many previously committed Christians into sceptics and non-believers; while the spread of the ambiguous findings gave more ammunition to those who had already turned away from religion i.e. the early independent thinkers.

In the second half of the 1800s the growing number of individuals who had rejected religious ideas began to form groups, typically named freethought, secular or ethical. Most were in Western Europe and North America, but also in Australia. Some of these groups amalgamated into umbrella bodies such as the World Union of Freethinkers (WUFT) founded in 1880 and the International Ethical Union (IEU) founded in 1896.

By the end of the 1800s advances in science and technology seemed to be pointing to a very promising future for humankind. So, what could go wrong? Well, quite a lot! For the twentieth century saw a massive loss of lives and destruction during two world wars and the great depression. And even though the majority of people fighting in the two world wars were nominally Christian, a frequently raised question was, ‘why had religion failed to provide an ethical bulwark against the worst excesses of such bloodshed and extremes of poverty of the depression?’ And further the League of Nations set up after WWI to maintain peace between nations had failed dismally.

Formation of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)

As the inhuman horrors perpetuated during World War II became widely known, e.g. the deliberate killing of particular groups such as Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and the disabled, quite a few people talked openly about the Western nations being morally bankrupt.

Many idealists considered that the best way to address the issue of ‘moral bankruptcy’ was to put forward an alternative ethical framework to the main religions. Those most active on this project typically identified themselves as either humanist or ethicist. They began actively lobbying for a new international ethical body.

Some of the same people were also involved the formation of a ‘new’ intergovernmental body namely the United Nations, a replacement for the failed League of Nations. When the UN was formed in 1945 to act on world peace and development, several well-known humanists were appointed to key positions. These included Julian Huxley, the first head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, John Boyd Orr, the first head of the Food and Agri-cultural Organisation and G. Brock Chisholm, first head of the World Health Organisation.

During the war-torn, first half of the twentieth century most the freethought groups ceased to function. However, many individual members maintained contact with each other. A key issue these people discussed was the urgent need to set up a brand new international organisation, as a much needed step towards offering an ethical alternative to religion. After several failed attempts in the years immediately after WWII, eventually five organisations cooperated to organise the successfully 1952 congress in Amsterdam.

This congress was held between August 22 and 27, when over 200 delegates, mainly from the five sponsoring organisations, namely the American Ethical Union, the American Humanist Association, the British Ethical Union, the Vienna Ethical Society and the Dutch Humanist League, met in Amsterdam. Also attending were representatives of groups from France, Germany and Belgium, along with visitors from Australia, Austria, Finland and Japan. Over five days those in attendance discussed the formation of a new international body, and heard prominent speakers on a range of topics. In order to be able to join and work together a core concern was to identify shared common ground on the meaning of words and ideas.

Discussions about ideas and words continued over several days. Despite language differences, the two key words all agree expressed their shared non-religious views, were ‘humanist’ and ‘ethical’, hence the eventually chosen name of International Humanist and Ethical Union. It was also agreed that ‘humanism’ would be the preferred name for the ethical outlook these non-religious people shared.

The core aims of the congress were summed up by Jaap van Praag of the Dutch Humanist League and chairman of the Organizing Committee as:

First, to draft a conception of humanism on an international level and second to establish permanent relations between humanist and ethical groups all over the world.

He then added:If we are convinced of the necessity to shape humanism and ethical culture as a positive constructive philosophy of life, we cannot do without an international institution that answers this conviction.

In other words two core aims were to agree on what is meant by humanism, and agree to form an international ethical organisation.

On Tuesday 26 August, five resolutions were adopted. The first was to form the organisation called IHEU. The second resolution was to apply for NGO status at UNESCO, and pledged IHEUs allegiance to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and several UN Conventions. Resolutions three and four addressed the world population problem, while the final resolution described the fundamentals of ‘modern, ethical Humanism’. This fifth resolution became known as the Amsterdam Declaration. This document was widely circulated leading to many existing groups affiliating with IHEU. It also stimulated the formation of many ‘new’ humanist societies around the world, who then affiliated with IHEU. This was the case in Australia with the formation of the Humanist Society of NSW formed in 1960, followed by the Humanist Society of Victoria in 1961. In the next few years Humanist Societies were set up in most of the other states. In 1965 these state-based societies agreed to form a national body that would affiliate to IHEU. This body was called the Council of Australian Humanist Societies (CAHS) and it has been continually affiliated with IHEU since 1965.

What has IHEU achieved?

Some might say that IHEU has not achieved as much as its founders had hoped for. But the shift that is required from a largely religion-orientated society to one where an ethical, humanist outlook has a secure foothold requires significant changes in thinking and in the words people use.In the meanwhile we need to remember some important achievements that include IHEU’s contribution as an inter-national NGO with Special Consultative Status with the United Nations in New York, Vienna and Geneva where representatives take part at the Human Rights Councils and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. IHEU also has General Consultative Status at UNICEF (New York) and the Council of Europe (Strasbourg) and maintain operational relations with UNESCO (Paris) and observer status at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. At the UN in New York, the IHEU representation follows the work of the General Assemble and some of the committees, as well as taking active part in the NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion and Belief. All these commitments are regularly reported to affiliated members of IHEU via its website and in Annual Reports.In 2002 when at IHEU’s 50th anniversary was celebrated with a Congress in Amsterdam, a new statement was drafted. Known as the Amsterdam Declaration 2002 it was warmly endorsed by the 800+ delegates, representing affiliated groups from around the world. (Copies available from CAHS and its website).

Concluding comment

And although much has been achieved over the past 65 years, much more needs to be done to embed humanism, as a worthwhile ethical outlook, in the thinking of the general public. Firstly we need to more vigorously present ourselves as advocates for a non-religious, ethical outlook. Secondly we need to broaden our areas of concern to fully embrace environmental issues like human-caused global warming, climate change and loss of biodiversity. Thirdly we need to revive as an urgent matter, over population. These then are some of the challenges for those active in a humanist group in Australia, in a world where gross distortions of democracy can deliver the Brexit vote in the UK and a Trump presidency in the US.

The Amsterdam Declaration 1. Humanism is democratic it aims at the fullest possible development of every human being. It holds that this is a matter of right.2. It seeks to use science creatively, not destructively.3. Humanism is ethical. It affirms the dignity of man* and the right of the individual to the greatest possible freedom of development compatible with the rights of others. There is a danger that in seeking to utilize scientific knowledge in a complex society individual freedom may be threatened by the very impersonal machine that has been created to save it. Ethical Humanism, therefore, rejects totalitarian attempts to perfect the machine in order to obtain immediate gains at the cost of human values.4. It insists that personal liberty is an end that must be combined with social responsibility in order that it shall not be sacrificed to the improvement of material conditions.5. It is a way of life, aiming at the maximum possible fulfilment, through the cultivation of ethical and creative living. It can be a way of life for everyone everywhere if the individual is capable of the responses required by the changing social order. The primary task of humanism to-day is to make men* aware in the simplest terms of what humanism can mean to them and what it commits them to. By utilizing in this context and for purposes of peace the new power which science has given us, humanists have confidence that the present crisis can be surmounted. Liberated from the fear the energies of man* will be available for a self-realization to which it is impossible to foresee the limit.

* the use of male gender terms to stand for all of humanity remained common until the 1960s and 70s