Kia ora:

We have received notification of a NZ Diversity Discussion Forum on Religion and Schools to be held Monday 27 August 2.00 pm – 5.30 pm Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parnell, Auckland. There will be an introduction by Professor Paul Morris and panel discussions on teaching about religion and the new curriculum and religious instruction and observance in schools. We will be watching these developments with interest and concern.

August monthly meeting: Monday 6 August

Humanism in America

Dr Jerry Lieberman,

President of the Humanists of Florida Association

Venue: Turnbull House, Wellington. We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm. Jerry Lieberman will discuss Humanism with particular reference to Humanism in Florida, where his group is growing rapidly, and the USA and will answer questions. Come along and meet with Jerry and his wife, Gin. Jerry and Gin are making their first trip around NZ having arrived in Auckland and driven down to Wellington.

Social Occasion: For an experience of the flavour of Wellington we will take Jerry and Gin to a performance of Monarchy, The Musical, by the incomparable Paul Jenden and Gareth Farr at Circa Theatre, at 4 pm on Sunday 5 August and afterwards share a light dinner at Middleton’s, 17 Allen Tce, Tawa. Bookings have been made for a limited number. If you would like to join us at Circa and have not been rung, please make your own booking. You are welcome to join us for a meal with or without Circa. RSVP to Gaylene ph. 04 232 4497.

Previous meeting: Kent gave us a helpful dissection of Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation. In the July/August 2007 issue of New Humanist there are articles, which refer to the “new atheists-Dennett, Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens” They are at www.newhumanist.org.uk

Hiroshima Day 2007 Commemoration: Sunday 5 August 1.30 pm at the Hiroshima Peace Flame in the Botanic Gardens, Wellington. (If wet, in the Begonia House). This day is co-ordinated by Peace Council Aotearoa NZ Inc

Lunchtime lecture: Anwarul K Chowdhury, former UN Under-Secretary-General Human Security an Essential Element for Creating a Culture of peace 12.30 pm Thursday 9 August, Lecture Theatre 1, Rutherford House, Pipitea Campus, Victoria University.

Radio Access: 11 am 783 kHz Sunday 29 August. Radio broadcasts are every four weeks.

Remember that outside the Wellington area, or anywhere in the world, this programme can be listened to via streaming on the Internet. 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 . You can now listen to past broadcasts (From February this year only) or down load them as podcasts by going to: http://www.accessradio.org.nz/Humanist_Outlook.html

New Zealand Humanist Issue 158, July 2007 has been published and posted to members and subscribers. This issue features: Kent Stevens reporting on Reactions to Stem Cell research; No to State Religion in New Zealand; Max Wallace on The Purple Economy – how churches make tax free millions; Sunny Hundal on Free Speech for All; Roy Brown on A Secular Vision for Europe and the Brussels Declaration; Donald Sassoon describes the Hostile Takeover of Europe by the Church; Nepal is discussed in two articles: Babu Gogineni writes on the Birth of a Nation and Ganga Prasad Subedi discusses the Emergence of Religious Proselytization in his country; and Isabella Thomas discusses Cuba.
If you have not received your copy please email: [email protected]

More on Altruism: in the 30 June 2007 issue of New Scientist Altruism glimpsed in ‘helpful’ chimps. “True altruism – completely unselfish acts for somebody else’s benefit – was until recently considered uniquely human. When animals help, the theory went, they help relatives or they count on favours returned in the future. Felix Warneken and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany have found 12 out of 18 semi-wild chimps helped an unfamiliar human reach a stick. The chimps also helped an unrelated chimp to open a door. Though results need more investigation. Warneken says the lack of rewards suggests genuine concern.

From New Humanist July/August 2002 p 7: Popewatch. “They say that when you’re getting old it’s good to keep busy, and no one could accuse Pope Benedict XVI of failing to heed that advice. During his recent visit to Brazil he wisely declared that the indigenous populations of the Americas were “silently longing” for Christianity prior to the Spanish conquests, adding that Christianisation “did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture.” These would be the same indigenous populations that in some cases were virtually annihilated as a result of conquest.

Quotable Quote: “Whatever you are, be a good one.” Abraham Lincoln.

and Joke: What did the earth say to the earthquake? Sorry, my fault!

Gaylene Middleton

——————————————————————————

LEADING QUESTIONS

Nothing: Something to Believe In

A Talk with Nica Lalli

Writer Nica Lalli is an art educator working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art who also writes a weekly column in the Brooklyn Paper. She recently talked with D. J. Grothe, Associate Editor of FREE INQUIRY, about her acclaimed memoir of growing up nonreligious, Nothing: Something to Believe In.

FEE INQUIRY: Are you surprised that your book Is getting such great reviews?

NICA LALLI: I’m not, because there are a lot of people out there who lack belief in God like I do. I am not a chest-beating, angry atheist. I don’t have an axe to grind. I just want people to respect me. The positive reviews of the book show me that there is at least some respect for nonbelief out there.

FI: You’re not a theologian, scientist, or philosopher. Yet, in your book, you address the biggest questions of all, such as “Does God exist?” and “What is the meaning of life?” What are your qualifications to treat such big topics?

LALLI: My only qualification is that I am a human. I spend a lot of time wondering about why things are the way they are and why people believe what they believe. I don’t want anyone to pick up this book and think that they’re going to get a scientific argument against belief in God. I merely wanted to put my story out there as a person who has lived a pretty normal life. There are many things I believe in and that I hold dear but I just don’t believe in God. I wrote the book as an answer to those people who tend to demonize those of us who don’t believe and feel that we need to be saved, that we have a void that needs to be filled. This book speaks to that and says, “No, I don’t have a void.”

FI: So you didn’t just write the book to tell these beautiful and funny stories about your childhood when you discovered you were “nothing.” ‘You also want to tell people that it is alright to not believe in God. Do you think its time for others to come out as nonbelievers?

LALLI: I read Richard Dawkins’s the god delusion and also Sam Harris’s books. They were the first books that I read where I said “Wow, there are a lot of people out there who are like me.” In the beginning of the Dawkins’s book, he calls on nonbelievers to come out. I am not sure we need to become a marching army of nonbelievers, but I do agree that we have to stop being ashamed of ourselves and that we need to start having confidence in our nonbelief. This was something very difficult for me early on as a woman without God in her life.

When others start talking about what church they go to or what religion they are, saying “I’m nothing, I don’t have a religion, I don’t believe in God” is no longer a scary thing for me.

“….. we have to stop being ashamed of ourselves and that we need to

start having confidence in our nonbelief ”

FI: When did you first discover you were “nothing”?

LALLI: When I was a child and my friend Michelle was having her First Communion. I wanted to get a dress like she got. So I asked my parents. “What are we? What do we believe in? I mean, are we Catholic? Look, all my friends are something. Stephanie is a Unitarian. Susie is a Jew, Michelle is Catholic, and Lucy is Presbyterian. So I just want to know. What am I? My parents told me that we are nothing.

“Life is so full and meaningful that you don’t need to believe in something like the supernatural or the afterlife.”

FI: So, as a child, you reasoned that, if everyone as a religion, that if everyone is something, you should be something, too. But now you say that being nothing isn’t actually being nothing, it is being something. What?

LALLI: I spent a lot of my childhood worrying about being nothing-that there might be a part of my life that needed to be filled. But I actually ended up embracing being nothing, and doing that made being nothing become everything. Life is so full and meaningful that you don’t need to believe in something like the supernatural or the afterlife. People add to our lives and make them rich. So I do have a lot of beliefs- based on humanity The word nothing lets me feel comfortable within all of that, without having to sign on to an “ism.” I don’t really have a manifesto. I just have a life that I live and that I try to enjoy and share. f i

To hear more of D. J. Grothe’s talk with Lalli, go to www.pointofinquiry.org . – EDS.

free inquiry http://www.secularhumanism.org

——————————————————————————

THINKERS

Jean MESLIER

Colin Brewer on a priest who left a deathbed bombshell

JEAN MESLIER (1664-1729) was a priest in the tiny Ardennes parish of Etrépigny. Although virtually unknown in his native France and in the UK (a brief extract from his work in Margaret Knight’s Humanist Anthology published in 1961, is one of the few mentions of Meslier in the English language), his Memoire (or Testament) amounted to a stunning declaration of unbelief. In effect, he told his former parishioners: “I never believed any of that religious nonsense. There’s no God, there’s no afterlife, and the church helps tyrants like Louis XIV to keep you poor and exploited. You’re on your own, but stand up to the bastards and you might just create a fairer world.”

Meslier’s basic thesis was expanded over several hundred hand written pages, whose very survival seems remarkable. Fortunately, he meticulously transcribed three copies which, with letters to his unsuspecting clerical neighbours, were found by his deathbed. In 1729 the establishment could be brutal in its treatment of heretics, and Meslier did not feel like dying for his views: “I did not wish to burn until after my death.” However, he did not care what the furious authorities did with his corpse once the Memoire became known: “They can fricassee it,” he wrote, “and eat it, with whatever sauce they like”. Unable to burn him alive, they buried him in an unmarked grave, but not before his manuscripts had entered the lively world of illicit reproductions. One of them soon reached Voltaire, who distributed hundreds of copies to his friends.

Standing at 97 chapters long, the Memoire does not hold back on its deconstruction of Christianity and attack on the hierarchy of the Church. For Meslier the books of the Bible were the flawed, even fraudulent, works of those who wrote and copied them, of the same standing as “stories of fairies and our old novels”, while Jesus was an “arch-fanatic equally mad, out of his mind, unhappy rogue, a man of the abyss, vile and despicable.” The idea of the Holy Trinity seemed absurd to Meslier, who equates it to paganism, as was the notion of the host as the body of Christ – “an idol of paste and flour”.

Historians argue about who was the first overt, post-Classical atheist but Meslier was arguably the first to put his name to an incontrovertibly atheist document. That this important event is largely unrecognised (Meslier was absent from both Richard Dawkins’ and Jonathan Miller’s recent TV series on atheism) is due partly to Voltaire who published, in 1761, a grossly distorted “Extract” that portrayed Meslier as a fellow-deist and entirely suppressed Meslier’s anti-monarchist, proto-communist opinions. It seems too that the famous “last priest” aphorism, long attributed to Denis Diderot, flowed first from the pen of Meslier. The Memoire was almost forgotten until a Dutch humanist published 500 copies in 1864. The definitive, annotated French edition did not appear until 1970. Only fragmentary English translations exist.

The Memoire gives us a sense of the love Meslier had for his congregation, and his guilt for misleading them and failing to reveal his true feelings: “How I suffered when I had to preach to you those pious lies that I detest in my heart. What remorse your credulity caused me! A thousand times I was on the point of breaking out publicly and opening your eyes, but a fear stronger than myself held me back, and forced me to keep silence until my death.” In life Jean Meslier may have chosen “to live tranquilly’s but in death he was ready to launch his attack on the tenets of Christianity. Dismissing religion as cruel, fanatical, false, and absurd, he leaves a message for the congregation he clearly loved so much: “I hope, my friends, that I have given you a sufficient protection against these follies.

DR COLIN BREWER is co-producer of the play The Lost Priest, an exploration of the life of Jean Meslier.

From New Humanist July/August 2007