Kia ora: With the General Election in September, the Humanist Society of NZ and the Association of Rationalists and Humanists (NZARH) have collaborated to produce a Humanist Manifesto to state our shared position on issues confronting New Zealand society. An outline of the issues to be covered by the Manifesto is included with this newsletter. Your comments are welcomed. Please email [email protected].
This newsletter will develop a theme: Humanism and Politics. Is there a link between Humanism and politics? Is it time to encourage a link? Has there always been a link? Contributions from Mark Honeychurch, Karl Matthys and Iain Middleton explore this question. I astound myself by discovering that, over the past few years, my viewpoint has changed on this issue. I thought that a Humanist viewpoint was personal and private. But, in 2008 I read Phil Zuckerman’s book Society without God: What the least religious nations can tell us about contentment. In his research Phil Zuckerman develops the observation that when people experience security in their lives the need for religion drops away. I found myself with a formula. If we desire a secular society, free from the superstitions of religion, then Humanism must work to bring security to society. This implies political action. I have caught up late, as over the years, past Humanists understood this and worked to support issues such as Homosexual Law Reform, Abortion Law reform, Voluntary Euthanasia, the removable of section 59 of the Crimes Act to prevent the use of unreasonable force against children, Gay Marriage and at the moment the campaign continues to repeal section 123 (1) of Crimes Act and amend the Education Act to remove religious instruction from our schools.
Monthly meeting: Monday August 14 6.30 pm
Violence & the History of Inequality
From the Stone Age to the 21st Century
Note the change of day to Monday 14 August, as the venue is not available on the 1st Monday.
Shakespeare wrote in King Lear, “So distribution should undo excess, And each man have enough” The puzzle and problem of inequality remains to this day. Walter Scheidel has published a book The Great Leveler, Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the 21st Century. (2017). Walter suggests that history demonstrates to us that mass violence and catastrophe are the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality. Peter Clemerson will introduce this book to us and outline some of the ways that Scheidel describes how inequality is measured, particularly the Gini coefficient. We will watch a video of Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic, interviewing Walter Scheidel. http://www.skeptic.com/past-lectures/violence-and-the-history-of-inequality/ .
And finally, as the increasing economic inequality of the world is a matter of some concern to Humanists we will have a discussion among ourselves about our reactions to this thesis and consider if perhaps the ideas around a Universal Basic Income could be a bloodless approach to dealing with inequality. The ideas and current experiments in a Universal Basic Income are outlined in this link:
All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.
Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St in the George Room
Advance Notice for September meeting Monday 11 September (note: this is also the 2nd Monday as the venue is not available on the 1st Monday). Bernard Beckett, a teacher and a writer of New Zealand fiction for young adults, will speak to us about the teaching that he does with students on moral dilemmas and decision making. Bernard does this without reference to religion!
Advance Notice March 2018: Alom Shaha Mr Shaha’s Recipes for Wonder – Adventures in Science round the Kitchen table . This is a book written to encourage children to think and work like scientists. Learn about sound by making wine glasses sing, investigate chemical reactions by making vitamin-powered rockets, explore Newton’s Third law by making balloon driven cars. This is not a book just for children, but also for grown-ups who want to enthuse young people through science.
Universal Basic Income (UBI) with Professor Guy Standing – Co-hosted by Basic Income NZ (BINZ) and the Fabian Society. 31 August 6.30pm, Faculty of Education, University of Auckland Epsom Campus Lecture Theatre J1 Sue Bradford and Keith Rankin will make responses to Guy’s talk followed by a debate from the University of Auckland Debating Society on Universal vs Targeted Benefits.
- Mark Fletcher, Letter to the Editor, North and South, Spring 2016: The following letter from Mark Fletcher was deemed Letter of the Month by North And South.
“Dear Editor, Scott Lelievre (letters August 2016) argues that without Christianity there is no good reason to serve others. Well I know a few atheists who do not fit this silly notion. Two of them regularly donate blood, one works voluntarily to support mentally disabled people, some have worked voluntarily with refugee immigrants and some have made submissions to parliament in support of human rights legislation. I know of another atheist who left a considerable legacy to charitable causes in her will, including an annual scholarship to help an economically disadvantaged student attend university. They do this because they realise the value of living in a caring and just society, and they do not need a big brother god to tell them so. They can work this out for themselves.
There are some interesting statistical studies that cast light on Lelievre’s notion. The social scientists, Zuckerman and Paul, have shown that those western nations with relatively low crime rates, such as Denmark, Norway and Japan, also have relatively low rates of religiosity. In addition, data from the ‘Measure of America Project’ shows that those states with the highest rates of crime and other social problems, also tend to have the highest levels of religiosity. Texas is a good example. Of course these are correlations rather than causations but they certainly challenge Lelievre’s notion that Christianity is the prerequisite for a caring society.
The biblical virtues that Lelievre extols are, of course, cherry-picked, and if he studies his bible in more depth he will find that his loving god offers some rather nasty advice as well. The practice of slavery and beating of slaves comes to mind. Further, we do not have to look very far either currently or historically to find examples of Christians behaving badly.
Finally, Lelievre really does need to study evolution in more depth. Numerous studies have demonstrated the important roles that altruism and cooperation play in the process of evolution.” Mark Fletcher.
Thoughts on Humanism and Politics, Individual Perspectives
From Karl Matthys
The great political / economic disaster affecting mostly the middle and bottom layers of our society is the now 30 year old Neo Liberal economic philosophy which reduces many of us to being denizens of what Professor Guy Standing calls ‘The Precariat’.
The gradual decline in job availability, job security, income (in inflation adjusted terms), career prospect and consequently quality of life makes the ‘daily grind’ for many people stressful, exhausting and outright damaging to psyche and physical health. Obvious symptoms are homelessness, increasing lines at food banks and soup kitchens and of course the horrifying youth suicide rates in the more impoverished parts of the country.
The ruling political establishment seems oblivious to this and carries on with policies that are not unlike Marie-Antoinette’s recommendation that starving French peasants are given cake to alleviate the shortage of bread. Hopefully the guillotines of that era will remain in the museums. It is strongly recommended that our politicians wake up soon.
A now increasingly vocal, worldwide movement is clamouring for a re-distribution of both income and wealth. An Unconditional Universal Basic Income is called for, in New Zealand by BINZ, Basic Income New Zealand. Look into the enormous amount of information on the topic available on the Internet.
In our country the previous Prime Minister called the idea ‘stark raving mad’ or something similar, Labour (the erstwhile defenders of the common man but now ‘National light’) and the Greens have sniffed at UBI but put it in the ‘too hard’ basket.
New upstart The Opportunities party is in favour of UBI and proposes to get the ball rolling by giving all 18 to 23 year olds $200 per week. It is not enough but certainly puts the concept in full vision of the electorate. The only party of long standing, with a fully implemented UBI proposal, is the Democrats for Social Credit Party. This party not only proposes to lift the exploited and downtrodden ordinary New Zealander out of the economic quagmire with UBI. It also has workable proposals to finance Government and Infrastructure renewal and expansion from funds generated by ‘our own’ Reserve Bank rather than from commercial banks etc. These institutions actually just create such loan funds, by the old ‘double entry trick’, out of nowhere, pocketing the consequential substantial interest payments.
Consider the enormous savings to the taxpayer when public buildings, roads, all other infrastructure are built with interest free loans. Of course the present political establishment is not in favour of such a system. They or their family and friends profit hugely from the present system.
To conclude, give the future of our country, our children and grand children some serious thought. Vote for a much more Egalitarian, Humanist, society!
From Mark Honeychurch
It is generally accepted that New Zealand is, in theory, a “secular state” – a state where government limits itself to dealing with issues of a non-religious nature, and is not involved in promoting or favouring any religious group. In practice, however, this is not universally the case for New Zealand. Our country’s Christian roots mean that we still have some vestiges of religious privilege within the public sphere.
Humanists believe that the principle of secularism is the best way for a government to treat all its citizens fairly, regardless of their religious belief (or lack of belief). We would like to see politicians take the idea of secularism seriously, and strive to make sure that our laws align fully with this principle.
Who better to point out where government supports religious privilege than Humanists? As a non-religious group, we are well placed to be able to spot laws that afford privilege to religious groups and exclude people like us. With the percentage of non-religious people in this country increasing year on year, it becomes more and more important to ensure that we are not treated as second class citizens.
- From Iain Middleton
Most of us desire a better society and Humanism gives us the framework to shape such a society. A society free of discrimination, where those who have ethical beliefs rather than religious beliefs, or those who just lack religious beliefs, are given equal rights and are guaranteed freedom of expression within justifiable limits. It is sad that twenty-seven years after the passing of the New Zealand Bill of Rights and twenty-four years after the passing of the Human Rights Act, New Zealand Acts still do not conform with the legislation. In New Zealand Acts of parliament and other Legislative Instruments there are still 75 mentions of the word “religion” and 230 of the word “religious”, and the vast majority of these Acts and Instruments discriminating in favour of religion.
Excerpts from the DRAFT Humanist Manifesto 2017
This Manifesto is currently being drafted by the Humanist Society and the NZARH.
Some of the material under consideration is outlined here:
We promote Humanism. We work on behalf of the millions of New Zealanders who are not religious to make sure their voices are heard in public policy and debate.
One of our Aims is to promote Humanist views on public ethical issues. We focus on those issues that are either important to humanists in particular or have high social importance, especially where others are actively promoting views opposed to humanist values or the humanist voice is excluded or weak. Humanists have always been at the forefront of promoting a rational, secular approach to ethical issues in public policy.
We are focused on developing and promoting expert and nuanced critique of issues including abortion and assisted dying, and on emerging contemporary issues, such as alternative and complementary medicine being funded by ACC.
If the government makes any new legislation it should not privilege religion.
Who are the humanists?
We are bringing non-religious New Zealanders together to develop their own views and an understanding of the world around them.
Humanists are people who shape their own lives in the here and now. We believe this is the only life we have. We make sense of the world through logic, reason, and evidence, and always seek to treat those around us with warmth, understanding, and respect.
We support ethics; giving the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others; the constructive use of rational thought and scientific enquiry; democracy and human rights; personal liberty combined with social responsibility; a secular world based on observation, evaluation, and revision.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948, Article 18 gives everyone the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes the freedom to change their religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest their religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is the instrument that put the UDHR into force. New Zealand signed the ICCPR on 12 November 1968 and the Covenant came into force on 28 March 1979 binding signatory countries. Amongst its provisions, Article 4 prohibits discrimination on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin, and Article 18 guarantees everyone the “right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of their choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest their religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”
To meet New Zealand’s obligations under the ICCPR, New Zealand enacted the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. The New Zealand Bill of Rights guarantees everyone the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, freedom of expression, the right to manifestation of religion and belief, and the right to freedom of association. However, the New Zealand Bill of Rights is subservient legislation that may be overridden by any other Act of parliament.
The Human Rights Act, which binds the crown, followed in1993. This Act prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. With the passing of this Act, the government gave itself until the year 2000 to examine and amend all legislation to ensure conformity with the Human Right Act – an exercise titled “Consistency 2000”. With a change of government, “Consistency 2000” was abandoned, but following another change of government it was resurrected and declared to be completed by Associate Minister of Justice Margaret Wilson when she introduced the Human Rights Amendment Bill in August 2000.
Amongst its other provisions, the Amendment Act amended other Acts to remove discrimination on the basis of disability, sex, marital status, and retirement age, but no amendments were made regarding religion or belief, despite some glaring examples of discrimination in legislation such as the blasphemy law, the provisions allowing religious instruction in schools, and tax advantages for religion. Since 2000, the government has continued to enact legislation and other regulations or instruments of government that clearly discriminate on the basis of religion or belief.
Issues under consideration for inclusion in the Manifesto follow:
In order to comply with New Zealand’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, all legislation and other instruments of government should be examined for conflicts with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993 regarding discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, and legislation enacted to remove all such conflicts and discrimination.
Repeal of blasphemy laws
Section 123 (1) of the Crimes Act 1961 prohibits blasphemous libel. This section, and subsections (2) and (4) which will become redundant with the repeal of subsection (1) must be repealed to conform to General Comment 34 of the United Nations Human Rights Committee that states that prohibitions of lack of respect for religion or other belief systems are incompatible with the ICCPR. In New Zealand, Section 123 (1) unduly limits freedom of expression and can incite public disorder when blasphemy is assumed to have occurred. Denigration of religion should also be removed from the Harmful Digital Communication Act 2015 by deleting the word “religion” from section 6 subsection (1) Principle 10.
Section 123 (3) of the Crimes Act protects against frivolous use of the law to prosecute those who criticise religion in good faith. It should be retained and amended to provide protection against frivolous prosecutions under other sections of the law.
Section 77 of the Education Act 1964 requires that teaching in a state primary school shall be entirely of a secular character. We should, however, repeal sections 78, 78A, and 79 of the Act. Sections 78 authorise a School Committee to close any class or classes at a school, or the school as a whole, at any time or times of the school day for any period or periods up to 60 minutes in any week but not more than 20 hours in any school year for the purposes of religious instruction given by voluntary instructors. Section 78A allows for the hours of religious instruction at a school to be extended without limit by the Minister when requested by a majority of parents at a school. Section 79 allows parents to opt their children out of attendance at these classes but does not require that schools notify parents that religious instruction is to take place or is taking place. Often these religious instruction classes are presented as values or ethics classes and parents are not informed of their true nature as religious instruction classes run by volunteers without teacher training or police vetting or supervision by a trained teacher. Often, children who opt out are subject to discrimination, and are stigmatised or ostracised by other children at the school or told by teachers to carry out tasks such as picking up rubbish or other activities that are usually seen as punishment. In addition to repealing sections 78, 78A, and 79 we should extend the secular provisions of section 77 to include state secondary schools. We should also amend Part 7 of the Education Act 1989 to permit the monitoring of schools by the Ministry of Education to address religious bias in the classroom, and to ensure that any teaching about religion should include fair teaching about diverse religions and non-religious beliefs.
We need to ensure that the Human Rights Commission supports freedom of religion and belief and a public education system that conforms to the Human Rights Act 1993 and ensure that schools do not discriminate against children on the basis of their religion or belief. We call for adequate funding of the Human Rights Tribunal to ensure that Human Rights cases are heard within a reasonable period of time to ensure that Human Rights are upheld in New Zealand.
We should support the End of Life Choice Bill to give people the right to live their lives with dignity and to choose to end their lives at a time of their choosing to avoid prolonged and pointless suffering.
Right to Abortion
We support the right of women to choose to have early and safe abortions free from coercion of any kind. Early abortions are a safe medical procedure. At present, to obtain an abortion a woman must prove that the continuance of the pregnancy would result in serious danger (not being danger normally attendant upon childbirth) to her life, or to her physical or mental health; or that there is a risk of the fetus being handicapped in the event of continuation of the pregnancy. Two certified medical practitioners must deem the abortion medically necessary or justified for it to be legal. In 2016, 252 “not justified abortion” certificates were issued. The delays involved in obtaining approval add to the difficulties a woman faces.
End Tax advantages for religion
We support an end to the recognition of the advancement of religion as a charitable purpose. In order to create an even handed tax regime, all businesses owned by religious organisations should be subject to the same taxes as other private or publicly owned organisations. Tax law should be examined to find any undue advantages given to religion and any such advantages removed.
Stop Government Support of unproven and ineffective medicines
Alternative therapies are healthcare therapies that have either not been shown to work (unproven therapies) or have been shown not to work (ineffective therapies). Unproven therapies that have been around for a long time, without good evidence of efficacy having been shown already, are unlikely to have medical utility.
What are the harms? Many alternative therapies come with a real risk of direct harm to people’s health. Use of alternative therapies can lead to patients avoiding proper, proven, medical care, which will usually be detrimental to their health, and harm them financially. The state, and taxpayers, are harmed when the state pays for alternative therapies. Health literacy is damaged when people place unwarranted faith in alternative therapies for their healthcare needs. ACC funding of acupuncture, chiropractic and osteopathy was over $60 million in the 2015/2016 year. There is NZQA accreditation of courses on alternative therapies; ineffective policing of the Medicines Act, and the slow progress of the Natural Health Products Bill. Water fluoridation decision is currently left in the hands of local councils. Alternative therapies are legitimised via the Healthcare Practitioners Competence Assurance Act and there is charity registration of organisations promoting alternative therapies, with historic grandfathering of homeopathic and other unproven products as registered medicines.
How can we change the legislation? Alternative therapies should not be supported or promoted in any way. We should cease funding therapies that are not evidence based, such as acupuncture, chiropractic, and osteopathy. This would require an amendment to the Accident Compensation Act 2001. There should be no accreditation for any health related courses where the course material has not been shown to be based in fact. This would entail removal of the NZQA Subject Area for Qualifications titled “Complementary Therapies”.
Peter Harrison, President of the NZARH, has been creating some images to illustrate key points in the manifesto. These images can be seen on the NZARH and Humanist Society Facebook pages: