Kia ora: In the 1730’s in his Essay on Man Alexander Pope wrote ‘Hope springs eternal’ – an aspiration so applicable at the moment. A friend in Nepal told us that every day, Nepali people wake with the hope that the blockade at their country’s border with India has been lifted so that supplies of medicines and cooking and transport fuel can resume. Here we wake with hopes that solutions have been found for the many international crises at the moment – the flight from Syria’s Civil War, that ISIS has abandoned its murderous path, that Climate Change science has found the Solution. As I begin this final newsletter for 2015 I wonder what will have transpired between now and February when I begin the 2016 newsletter round. What will be the consequence of Turkey shooting down the Russian war plane?

Monthly meeting: Monday 7 December 6.30 pm

The 2015 NZ Humanist Year – your recollections & comments

Join us for our final meeting for the year – a mostly social gathering with some time to share personal thoughts and comments on NZ Humanism 2015.

@ Southern Cross Garden Bar Restaurant 39 Abel Smith St, Te Aro Wellington

Please note CHANGE OF VENUE and TIME (we are still looking for a venue which suits us)

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

October & November meetings summary

Is there any link between mainstream Islam and jihadi groups like ISIS? After the recent Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris everyone is wading into the debate, confident in their opinions. The Humanist Society of New Zealand recently held two talks on the topic of Islam that helped to shed some light on this pertinent issue. Islam is an Abrahamic faith, considered by Muslims as the continuation of the same message revealed by Abraham and Jesus. This connection with Christianity can lead to some misleading assumptions. The main one being that Islam is practised in a similar way as Christianity is currently practised in Western societies. In contrast, research shows that Islam tends to play a far more central role in the life of Muslims, who therefore, in general, are more conservative. The most important difference between Islam and Christianity lies in way the religious texts are viewed by their believers. So while it is true that ‘the Bible also has violent passages’ most mainstream Christians are not obliged to take every word of the Bible literally. In comparison Muslim are required to accept the Quran as the literal, uncorrupted word of god. Progressive and liberal Muslims have a difficult task ahead of them as they try to humanise the troubling parts of the Quran. Questioning the fallibility of the Quran leads to alienation from wider Muslim communities and even death threats and violence. As we try to make sense of the horrific acts of Islamic violence and terrorism being carried out around the world, it is essential that we start by admitting where our gaps in knowledge lie. When researching Islam it is important not to accept the official apologetics without critical thought, and to help us do this we need to be including the voices of the progressive Muslims, and apostates. These people have unique perspectives and valuable insight on the challenges of modernising Islamic thinking. They also need our moral support. So while in the aftermath of any Islamist terrorist attack we need to be weary of a backlash of bigotry against Muslims in western societies, we cannot give Islamic Ideology a free pass.

Darwin’s Birthday Friday 12 February 2016

We will begin our New Year with a social gathering at the Southern Cross Garden Bar at 6.30pm. What will have transpired by then? But we can have a quiz on our evolutionary knowledge bring a question to stump us! Co-incidentally, the 24th November was the 156th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of the Species in 1859, and the 25th November marked the 100th anniversary of the day when 35-year old Albert Einstein presented a series of equations known as the General Theory of Relativity to the Prussian Academy of Sciences.

Carols: an Ancient Heritage

But before then, if you reside in Auckland, reclaim an ancient heritage. Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but they were not Christmas Carols. They were pagan songs, sung at the Winter Solstice celebrations as people danced round stone circles. The word Carol originally meant dance or a song of praise and joy. Early Christians took over the pagan solstice celebrations for Christmas and gave people Christian songs to sing instead of pagan ones.

An invitation from Auckland couple, Nickee and Richard who have migrated to Humanism

Do you like singing the old Xmas carols but hate the usual praying and preaching side-dish? We are looking for other like-minded folk for an evening of DIY carols by candlelight, preferably in the week before Xmas. Absolutely, no added religion, just the music. Please email Nickee:

‘In memory of Eileen Bone’ Naenae College Eileen Bone Scholarship:

We thank the Humanist Charitable Trust for continuing to fund this scholarship to go towards the cost of attending Victoria University. This year’s recipient is Rahma Siraj. Rahma has written to us outlining her Victoria University studies. ’I came to New Zealand as a refugee from Eritrea with my mother and sisters when I was a year old and have lived in the Lower Hutt area ever since. I have 3 older sisters aged between 22 to 25 years and one younger sister aged 14. This year at Naenae College I studied Biology, Chemistry, English, Mathematics with Statistics and History and next year I will go to Victoria University and to do a conjoined degree in BA (History) and Law. I am very excited about next year and am looking forward to beginning this next step in my education. I thank the Eileen Bone Foundation for this scholarship. I plan to use the scholarship to buy text books and to help with my travel costs to and from Lower Hutt.’

Rosemary McLeod Column Dominion Post 19 November 2015

In this column, Rosemary wrote:

“We have become too superior for the Christian festivals that have marked the year for centuries, and cringey about possibly offending people from other religions by observing our own. If Christmas has to be called Holidays, why have the big spend-fest every summer, and why give presents if we’re not remembering the Three Wise Men? It’s the same with Easter, once a great Christian festival too. That tradition says someone died to atone for humanity’s sins, a belief no crazier than what many people now cling to. Yet some schools and kindergartens think, along with some vocal parents, that any knowledge of Christian beliefs at all is harmful. This when so many kids have access to the dark spaces of the internet? ……I’d like to hear from people of other faiths why – and if – they think we should abandon our traditions because they don’t share them.”

Between them, Peter Clemerson and Sara Passmore wrote a reply to Rosemary’s request but for some unknown reason it was not published! This was the reply:

“In response to Rosemary’s McLeod’s invitation in yesterday’s Dominion Post (19 Nov) to hear from people of other faiths if they think she and other Christians should abandon their traditions because they are not shared – I’d like to offer my own perspective. There are 1.4 million New Zealanders who have no religion and an overwhelming majority of them are not calling for the end of traditions. And there are Christians like Jehovah’s Witnesses who do not celebrate Christmas. Rosemary presents a very narrow view of Christianity, religion and belief in New Zealand, and as a non-religious New Zealander I think there is room to accommodate all of us. In a multicultural country and a secular democracy it is important to reflect on our shared beliefs and values, and not adopt an ‘us and them’ mentality. If we want an inclusive society then let’s embrace all the traditions and celebrations that make our shared human experience more meaningful, more enjoyable, and more relevant to a diverse, inclusive, and joyous society!”

Further background:  Professor Phil Zuckerman writes in The Secular Life Surviving without Gods or Gurus'(2014) “Religion – or so the age-old hypothesis goes – is… a necessary glue for keeping society together. And conversely, secularism is a danger to societal well-being. It is an interesting hypothesis. Perpetually-touted. And wrong.” Phil Zuckerman’s research shows that the more religious a state or country, the worse its societal indicators of well-being. All religions place obstacles in the way of providing an empathetic response to humanity’s problems because they insist on promoting rules of behaviour that were invented thousands of year ago in times of relative ignorance and in the absence of empathy. We will not find the answers in other faiths. The answers come from us.

2018 IHEU General Assembly

We are delighted to announce that the IHEU General Assembly for 2018 is to be held in New Zealand. Persons interested in joining the planning committee are most welcome. Contact:

News from the SOCH Nepal Humanist School in Kathmandu

The school has been able to build 3 single level prefabricated classrooms as the main school building has earthquake damage and parents are not happy for their children to use the upper level classrooms. However this has reduced space in the outside area and so lunchtimes are staggered to accommodate the students. The school is now facing the difficulties caused by the prolonged Nepal- India border dispute. Fuel supplies for cooking and transportation are only available on the Black Market and at exorbitant prices. Wood is now being used for heating and cooking. Many schools are closed because of the lack of transport but the Humanist School remains open because students are mainly local. Food prices have increased 30-40% and many people are out of work. Medical supplies are extremely depleted. There are very few tourists which badly impacts on people’s livelihoods. Earthquake relief is badly hampered with no fuel supplies and the Himalayan winter is approaching. SOCH would like to build 3 more classrooms but their funds are limited. We have been appealing for funds to help provide classrooms and wish to thank Marta and Hugh McKenzie, Maureen Hoy, Karl Matthys and the Rationalist Association of New South Wales, Australia for donations received. The students we are supporting with scholarships are doing well and we will be receiving news of their progress shortly. Seven students are supported by Judy and Paul Woolman, Graham Hill, Lorraine Butler, Rochelle Forrester, Gaylene Middleton and the Humanist Society Council. Please consider making a donation to our fund. Education for the young people of Nepal is even more vital as the economic effects of the border blockade are serious. Every donation helps, large or small. Please make your donation to a dedicated Nepal Account BNZ 02-0392-0094973-001 and email your payment details to Donations will receive a receipt for tax rebate purposes.

Unofficial blockade of Nepal by India – Humanist Movement Nepal’s “Worldwide Appeal”

We have received this letter by Suresh Shainju from the Humanist Movement Nepal, a recently formed Woman’s Humanist group in Panauti, 36km south east of Kathmandu.

This blockade is having the following effects on Nepal’s ordinary people in their everyday lives:

  • Fuel for transportation and gas for cooking are in short supply and this can be seen all over Nepal.
  • Only 15% of the total vehicles available are operating.
  • Many means of transportation are stuck because of the lack of fuel.
  • Basic and much needed medicine and food supplies have become too dear because of their scarcity.
  • All of the industries in Nepal are halted because of the scarcity of fuel, raw materials and lack of transportation.
  • Millions of Nepalese are losing their jobs.
  • Showing the cause of the Madhesh strikes inside Nepal, and in otherwise peaceful border areas too, the supplies have been decreased by India.
  • Unofficially, the import facilities which are provided to Nepal by the UN as a landlocked country are illegally blocked.
  • Most domestic flights have been grounded because of fuel shortages.
  • On the roads, supplies are halted as can be seen in the Madhesh crisis with India playing an unofficial roles to create blockades and against humanist activities here in Nepal.
  • All sectors of life in Nepal are negatively affected, including tourism, healthcare, the economy, the environment which is now being badly damaged.

We can find above and other effects of physical and mental sufferings because of the stoppages which effects can be seen all over Nepal.

In a peaceful manner, in the parliaments of the UK and Germany, the issues of this blockade need to be raised the more. They were also raised in a human right meeting in Geneva. In this regards, #back of India and #Get Well Soon India, and like trends here in Nepal are being organized informally .We are told that some humanist members in India are also creating social pressures against this blockade.

Now the humanist movement Nepal is planning to announce a world wide appeal and a letter writing competition under the title: ‘Letter To Narendra Modi’. The competition is organized as a nationwide competition for the students of 8, 9 & 10 graders and collected letters will be sent to the Indian Government.

It is also requested that the humanist members around the world start their own movement against this blockade if they want to co-operate. In considering the above, leaders, lawyers, civilians, Humanist Movement members and other bodies are appealed to, that they play a peaceful and non violent role to stop this inhuman activity.

What is at the heart of this Blockade? Some comment on this crisis suggests that India not only supports the concerns the Madhesi people have with the newly promulgated Nepal Constitution of 20 September 2015 but would also prefer  Nepal to either reinstate itself as a Hindu nation or drop the word “secular” from its charter. But in the final Constitution draft Nepal’s lawmakers did not do this.” It would seem that this dispute joins the separation of church and state debate.

Basic Income NZ (BINZ)

Following the Future Directions Conference in February 2015 this organisation has been set up to work towards introducing a ‘basic income’. Some thoughts on how this may benefit NZ’ers are below

Situations where a Universal Basic Income would benefit New Zealanders.

As the concept of a Universal Basic Income grows in strength, it would be useful to document specific situations in NZ where the UBI would enhance the lives of people.

Recently there have been two situations which have been punitive in nature. In one instance persons with cancer must continually produce evidence that they are ill in order to continue to receive a benefit. They must also fulfil requirements for getting back into work. Similarly persons receiving child support payments who do not fulfil looking for work requirements or attending training sessions will have their child support payments cut. There can be quite valid reasons why requirements are not meet.

One of the definitions of the UBI as outlined in Guy Standing’s A Precariat Charter, From Denizens to Citizens (2014), Article 25 is that ‘the UBI is to be provided unconditionally without behavioural rules’

These two examples show how our government is setting punitive behavioural rules.

If persons in the above situations were able to receive a Universal Basic Income then they obtain control with dignity over the difficulties that so often way lay life.

In a Radio NZ, Nine to Noon discussion on the child care issue it was mentioned that the government aims to have 98% of children in childcare. This is a devaluing of the nurturing work of women in families. Recently health measures have been announced to help curb obesity in children. All children are to be screened before 5 years of age and placed on a programme if the child’s weight is deemed to be on the obesity scale. This is not only punitive, but also, fear inducing, for both mothers and children. In The Precariat, the new dangerous class (2011) Guy Standing writes

‘If children are deprived of care due to the demands of labour and other work, the long term costs may include children growing up deprived of socialisation values that come from inter-generational transfer of knowledge, experience and simple closeness.’ (Chapter 5, section ‘Work for reproduction’) With a Universal Basic Income, mothers could, if they so wish, remain at home to care for their children in these important formative years.

The Salvation Army’s report ‘Invisible in the Supercity’ published 18 November 2015 details how there are children sleeping outside in cars, garages and under bridges. The report has found that the children’s families often do not know where to go for help. In his book Basic Income A Transformative Policy for India (2015) Guy Standing writes about the ‘scarcity mindset’:

’Those who lack a key commodity apparently react differently from those who do not experience a sense of scarcity…. This ‘scarcity mindset’ has effects which determine behaviour and attitudes in a debilitating way. It shortens a person’s planning horizons and narrows their perspective, effectively blocking out consideration of options. Scarcity colonizes the mind. It generates a mindset that helps to perpetuate the scarcity, for people cannot psychologically prepare themselves for launching initiatives or taking entrepreneurial risks.’(Chapter 3, section The Lauderdale paradox and the ‘scarcity mindset’)  A Universal Basic Income could relieve this ‘scarcity mindset’ and empower people to take charge of their lives and not be dependent on a controlling bureaucracy.

Bangladeshi Bloggers

The plight of the Bangladeshi bloggers is still on our agenda, but this is a very difficult and fraught issue.

Gaylene Middleton