Kia Ora: 2018 is ending with the recent World War One Armistice 100 year commemorations on November 11, and on November 15 the opening of the Children’s Holocaust Memorial at the National Library. The Memorial honours the 1.5 million children killed during the Holocaust. Over one million buttons have been collected from around NZ and internationally to symbolise these lives lost. “The enduring lesson of the Holocaust for New Zealanders is a preparedness to stand up to discrimination and prejudice and the violation of human rights…in essence, to be an upstander not bystander” says Jeremy Smith, Chair of the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand. On one of the walls of the memorial is a quote from a young man Kim Malthe-Bruun, who wrote to his parents, the night before he was executed in Denmark by the Nazis, “…and I want you all to remember –that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one.” It is disturbing to see the formation of the Dominion Movement in NZ. On their website they write “In the face of ever-accelerating immigration, we are being made strangers in the country that our forefathers built” This seems to me to be a case of ’dreaming themselves back to times past’.As Humanists we stand for human decency and open mindedness, and not being prejudiced.
Monthly meeting: Monday December 3 6.30pm until 9.00pm
We’re looking for input from people for our submission to the Ministry of Education’s consultation about their new proposed Religious Instruction guidelines. Please come along and help us put together a solid submission, and bring a laptop if you can. We’ll also be celebrating the end of a productive year for the Humanists, and talking about the 70 year anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
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
Subscriptions 2019 Year: Subscriptions for 2019 are now due. Our subscription year runs January to December. The subscription rates are $35 per year or $20 if you are unwaged. Payment may be made by cheque or payment to our bank account: BNZ 02-0392-0094973-000. As a large proportion of our Society’s savings were used to fund the NZ Humanist Conference in August 2018 we would appreciate your subs to help us continue with our humanist projects.
From the AGM:
Name Change: It has been decided to informally change the Society’s name to Humanist NZ. This aligns with our website humanist.nz. In some situations people may prefer to use Humanist New Zealand as our country is not usually spoken as NZ, in the same way as the United Kingdom is called the UK.
Election of Officers: President: Jolene Phipps, Vice-President: Mark Honeychurch, Treasurer: Sara Passmore, Secretary: Gaylene Middleton, Council Committee: Iain Middleton, Pamela Mace, Lachman Prasad, Peter Clemerson, and Rana Amjad Sattar. We thank Sara Passmore for her three year term as President of our Society. Sara’s international experience with Humanist UK was an important factor in the success of the August NZ Humanist Conference and IHEU General Assembly. Thanks are also extended to Lachman Prasad for his four years work as Treasurer. We welcome Jolene Phipps as our new President. Jolene has speared headed the Facebook Page ‘Free Thinking Parents and is active with the Secular Education Network (SEN). Sara Passmore is our new Treasurer and we welcome back Iain Middleton, Pamela Mace and Lachman Prasad to the Council Committee. We also welcome Peter Clemerson and Rana Amjad Sattar to our committee. Peter has attended Humanist meeting for many years, maybe from 2005 and has given several talks at our monthly meetings including a talk on Phil Zuckerman’s Society Without God (2008). Rana Amjad Sattar has also spoken to us at the September 2018 monthly meeting. Amjad spoke about Humanism and Pakistan and the threats to being a humanist in his country. Because of a serious First Information Report (FIR) for Blasphemy against him Amjad has begun the process to apply for asylum in NZ.
Exploring the possibility of, and designing a strategy for, becoming one national NZ Humanist organisation: In early 2019 a survey will be sent to obtain the views and thoughts of members.
President’s Report from Sara Passmore
In the past year the Humanist Council has focussed on building our public and online profile, developing international and national relationships, and developing strong policy positions that ensure we’re able to react quickly when opportunities arise through the media.
I would like to acknowledge the work of the council over the past year, and thank them for volunteering their time and skills to work on behalf of the millions of New Zealanders who are not religious – making a genuine difference in public policy and debate. We’re motivated because we want New Zealand to be recognised as fair, rational, and compassionate.
In this report I will discuss how we work together towards this shared vision.
IHEU General Assembly, Parliamentary Reception and Humanist Conference
This year we were proud to host the International Humanist and Ethical Union General Assembly and Humanists from over 20 countries for a series of international events. The series kicked off with a successful parliamentary reception hosted by Hon Grant Robertson MP on the subject of Humanism, Secularism & Democracy. Over 60 people attended, including a number of MPs.
Over 130 people attended the Humanist Conference, with speakers from all over the world highlighting how our national campaigns can have international impact. We worked closely with New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, and would also like to thank the the Humanist Trust for their support. The events focussed on ending persecution against non-religious people around the world, as well as the discrimination they face in New Zealand. Throughout the event Twitter was active, with people all over the world participating in the programme. Videos of the conference are being launched as a series online via Facebook and YouTube
The Auckland Declaration Against The Politics of Division
The International Humanist and Ethical Union General Assembly Auckland passed the Auckland Declaration Against The Politics of Division. We joined forces to urge governments to resist consolidating power by demonizing minorities.
Crimes Amendment Bill (Blasphemy repeal) – presenting oral evidence
In May we made a submission on the Crimes Amendment Bill, which is seeking to repeal Section 123 of the New Zealand Crimes Act  and in June we presented oral evidence to the Select Committee. We’ve long campaigned to end blasphemy laws in New Zealand and internationally. In our submission we stated that such laws are out of place in a modern secular and multicultural society. New Zealand is now one of a very small number of western countries with an archaic, medieval, and anachronistic law against blasphemous libel and an even smaller minority with a prison sentence for this dubious offence. In the 2018 Freedom of Thought Report, published by International Humanists, New Zealand was ranked in the most severe discrimination category for freedom of expression. We’re continuing to monitor the progress of the Bill through Parliament. I’m grateful to the work of our council member Iain Middleton for his diligence in reviewing legislation to inform this campaign.
End of Life Choices – presenting oral evidence
We’re continued to support changes to New Zealand law to allow physician assisted dying under certain circumstances with appropriate safeguards. In January we made a submission in support of the End of Life Choices Bill and followed up by presenting evidence to the Select Committee.
This is the second time in recent years that we’ve made a submission to Parliament on this topic.
Again, we stated that being able to die, with dignity, in a manner of our choosing must be understood to be a fundamental human right. I would like to acknowledge the work of Humanists UK in laying the groundwork for us in developing our position on this issue.
In February we launched a nationwide posters campaign calling for New Zealanders who don’t practice a religion to identify as not religious in the Census held on 6 March. A series of posters appeared in street advertising for two weeks in all the major centres. Unfortunately, the planned bus advertising was pulled at the last minute by the bus company. However, thousands of people saw street posters, engaged in our social media campaign, and saw newspaper adverts and articles on the campaign.
Ending religious instruction in state primary schools
We’ve continued to support the campaign of the Secular Education Network (SEN) to end religious instruction in state primary schools. SEN has mounted legal challenges to end discrimination in schools and protect children’s human rights, and they have raise the issue in the national media and made it a household topic of conversation. This year we agreed to match donations up to $1000 to SEN. I’m grateful to our council member Jolene Phipps for her commitment to raising awareness of SEN and amplifying their work.
Meetings and member events
We have held monthly meetings on a variety of topics throughout the year, as well as special events and demonstrations. Some key highlights include hosting an informal pub chat with AC Grayling, counter-protesting the call for reintroducing Jesus into the parliamentary prayer, an event on humanism in Pakistan with someone who has fled the country after being accused of blasphemy, and hearing from Heretical Hori about being a Māori atheist. I would like to thank Mark Honeychurch, Pamela Mace, Aaron Davies, and Lachman Prasad for all their work in ensuring our events are lively and engaging. At the NZ Humanist Conference the Ray Carr Award for services to Humanism in was presented to Iain and Gaylene Middleton
Digital engagement and membership
We’re a small membership organisation with fewer than 30 paid members. We’ve deliberately not chased members in recent years, in part because we haven’t had the resources to maintain membership, but also because we’re financially secure and aim to represent the views of a much broader group than paid-up members.
Instead, we’ve significantly grown our online audience, with 1194 people liking us on Facebook and our email list growing to 399 subscribers. This digital audience growth could not have been accomplished without the tireless work of our secretary Gaylene Middleton.
This is only a small snapshot of what we’ve achieved in the past year. I am incredibly grateful to the council for all the support, guidance and good humour.
Eileen Bone Scholarship for study at Victoria University 2019: This year’s recipient from Naenae College where Eileen taught English for many years is Tiaki Huria. Tiaki has sent us the following outline of his hopes and dreams.
‘I will likely be studying pure maths and philosophy, possibly as a double major. I have high hopes for my university education, and hope to one day gain a doctorate in either maths or philosophy, with the ultimate goal of becoming a professor. Things like engineering and applied science never appealed to me, as I have always been more interested in the theoretical side of things. Studying at Naenae College has been fun, but meeting new people and learning more advanced things will be a welcome change of scenery. It was a completely unexpected surprise to win the scholarship, but a welcome one at that. I look forward to what the future holds.’
Obituary – Pamela Marion Sikkema 19 Oct 1934 /29 Oct 2018. : Pamela has long been a HSNZ member and has been a Humanist Marriage Celebrant since 1981. In 1977 HSNZ was the first new approved Organisation for marriage Celebrants under the Marriage Amendment Act 1976. In January 2012 Pamela hosted a gathering of Auckland HSNZ members at her home. Pamela’s late husband Eem Sikkema was also instrumental in forming HSNZ in 1967.We extend our condolences to Pamela’s family.
Religion in Schools Campaign: The legal case supported by the Secular Education Network is proceeding and the High Court will call a management conference sometime in November or December. Then the Judge will set a date for the High Court hearing.
HSNZ and IHEU connection for 50 Years: HSNZ became an associate member of the IHEU in 1968. In the early 2000’s HSNZ was involved with negotiations to formulate a fee structure that enabled HSNZ to become a full member of the IHEU. In 2002 the IHEU celebrated 50 years from 1952 till 2002.A commemorative booklet was produced which included an article by Babu Gogineni. Babu writes a superb essay and so will close the year with the beginning of this essay and open 2019 with its continuation.
Humanism and ketchup, or the future of Humanism The Humanist elephant
What is Humanism exactly, what does it mean in the modern world, and in what sense can it be meaningful in this new century—and more importantly, how does it resemble ketchup? These are the questions I wish to address. In the classic story, five blind men gave five different descriptions of the elephant. Here is my version of the Humanist elephant, but with eyes wide open!
I believe that our Humanism is a living philosophy of freedom and democracy (Tarkunde); in fact my own entry into organized humanism came via an interest in human rights and democracy. My atheism is an important part of my identity, but that is not what propelled me into Humanist activism. In social life I believe that our commitment to human dignity should lead to opposing all that makes the human an instrument to serve a ‘higher’ purpose: God, nation, religion, community, class, caste or creed. Our attachment to reason and to reasonableness should become the means to tackle human problems. Our scepticism—for we are sceptics, I believe, not cynics—should help us look critically at our world and help us improve it for ourselves and for others. I believe that our social commitment should be to ever expand the frontiers of responsible human freedom.
Of course, Humanism is both a social as well as a personal philosophy. As the personal philosophy of the human being, Humanism tries to help answer the great questions of life. We try to find out what this world is about, what we are doing here, and how best to lead a life which is both personally satisfying and socially useful. It is also true that we try to give meaning to our own lives because we see no set purpose other than that which we give to it. Here we are trying to answer some of the questions that traditionally religion has attempted to answer. But philosophy is not theology and Humanism is not religion. The essential difference is that while we might be engaged by those same questions as religion, our interest is not in religion’s eternal answers—for us what is permanent are these questions. It is the pursuit of truth that is most important to us, not its possession (Venkatadri). Humanism is nothing if it is not a continuous interrogation about our universe and our place in it.
Humanism and natural selection
Our naturalistic understanding of the universe, our valuing of the scientific spirit, our concept of the morally autonomous being, our loyalty to the democratic culture, our desire to re-build the world, our sense of responsibility to fellow human beings and to the rest of nature, our understanding of the true nature of beauty, and our appreciation of the fine arts and refined culture: all this ties up into a life stance—a life stance deserving to be adopted by the world. This hope was eloquently articulated in the 1970s when the Humanist Manifesto II started off with the grand declaration that the next century—this one—can be and should be a Humanist century. Sadly, we are not yet in that Humanist century. There is today a confederacy of irrationalism—of religion allied with the tribal values of nation—and a widespread disregard for human values which is regressing us into our social memory of intolerance and of inconsiderateness to fellow human beings.
Three hundred years ago the beacon lights of the world were our spiritual ancestors. Name a social reformer a few centuries ago, and it is very likely that this was a Humanist—our spiritual ancestors were articulators of inspiring visions for the world and leaders of people—not merely heads of organizations, as is the case today. Today the world is not being remade in the Humanist image anymore. I suggest we lost this battle because by a steady process of self-elimination we have pushed ourselves out of the mainstream of human activities, through our endless discussions about religion and God: famously diagnosed by a fellow humanist as ‘paralysis by analysis’.
It appears to me that at times we Humanists do not even preach what the other side practises! To be back on track, we need to reconnect to the grand Humanist tradition. For inspiration, let us remember one of our spiritual ancestors, Thomas Paine. When Benjamin Franklin said: ‘Where there is freedom, there is my country’, Thomas Paine so nobly retorted: ‘Where there is none, there is mine’. That is where we should be: where there is a deficit of freedom, so that we can fight for it and achieve it. Are modern-day Humanists at the barricades then? No. The warning to organized Humanism is very clear: there is no reason why Humanism should triumph in the present-day world if we continue to be how we are—after all, we believe in Darwin’s natural selection! If Humanism will not mean a better life for people, if it will not make a difference in their lives, why should it appeal to anyone?
TO BE CONTINUED March 2019
The article can be found on page 106 at: