Kia ora: The All Blacks decisively defeating the Welsh has been quite overshadowed by the EU Referendum result. It has been most interesting reading and listening to the political commentary over the last few days. We also have change, though not so momentous, with our Happy Humanist Logo. We have devised a ‘kiwi’ personalising with the Koru symbol which is so evocative with meanings of new life and peace. The unfurling of the frond conveys the idea of perpetual movement. As Humanists, it is good to constantly reflect on our thoughts and actions as we interact with each other and our environment. We thank Jolene Phipps a member of our Humanist Council for her initial design suggestion.

Monthly meeting: Monday 4 July 6.30 pm

A Personal Journey from Christianity to Atheism

Jason Carruth will discuss with us how he has moved through life with God to living without God. Jason lived life to the full for 20 years within a Christian community but his understanding changed. Jason writes about this on his webpage: thoughtcontrol.wordpress.com. This is an excerpt from this site:-“ Digging deeper, from a sociological and anthropological perspective, faith probably finds its earliest origins in the concept of “over-detecting agency.” In the early days of Homo sapiens, somewhere between 100,000 and 250,000 years ago, life was precarious and tough. In an environment where human beings were often prey, only separated from their predators by an opposable thumb and a higher level of wits, it was the cautious who would survive with greater regularity. This created a genetic train of events in which the tendency to read more into a situation than was necessarily warranted led to greater survival and reproduction which further spread these over-detecting genes. To simplify: those who believed lived and multiplied.”

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

Venue: The Old Bailey corner of Lambton Quay and Ballance Street, Wellington: NOT the Thistle Inn

  •    Member Subscription for 2016: Thank you to members who have renewed membership. Your support is much appreciated and helps lend weight to our campaigns. Visit our website humanist.nz/join if you are either renewing your membership or signing up for the first time.
  •    Visit of Alom Shaha, Humanist, science educator and author of The Young Atheist’s Handbook (2014) We are most fortunate to have Alom visiting Wellington for a Science Educators Conference. Alom Shaha was born in Bangladesh but grew up in south-east London. Growing up in a strict Muslim community, Alom learnt that religion was not to be questioned. Reciting the Qur’an without understanding what it meant was simply a part of life; as was obeying the imam and enduring beatings when failing to attend the local mosque. But Alom was more drawn to science and its power to illuminate. As a teen, he lived between two worlds: the home controlled by his authoritarian father, and a school alive with books and ideas. In the Foreword to the book, Jim Al-Khalili writes: “The Young Atheist’s Handbook a blend of memoir, philosophy and science, Alom explores the questions about faith and the afterlife. It is a book for anyone who wonders what they should believe and how they should live. It is for those who may need the facts and the ideas, as well as the courage, to break free from inherited beliefs. In his powerful narrative, Alom shows that it is possible to live a compassionate, fulfilling and meaningful life without God.”
  •       July 14: Alom Shaha will speak at a Public lecture at VK’s Comedy and Blues Bar, 60 Dixon St. Doors will open at 5.30pm for the talk from 6.00 pm until 7.30 pm. This evening will have a format similar to Café Scientifique with Alom sharing ideas on how to captivate audiences and communicate science. Current sponsors of this event are the Wellington Royal Society, Science in Society Group (VUW), the Humanist Society of NZ, and the NZ Skeptics.
  •       July 16: An invitation is extended to meet with Alom on Saturday 16 July for Brunch, 10am at the Olive Restaurant 170 Cuba St.(You will find us in the back room.)

Alom will also speak in Napier on the evening of July 16 before travelling north to Auckland.

  •       Upcoming Event: Wellington 27 September, Napier 28 September & Auckland 4 October (venues and times to be confirmed in later newsletters)

Film Screening: ‘A Better Life: An Exploration of Joy & Meaning in a World Without God’

There is no God. Now what? If this is the only life we have, how does that affect how we live our life, how we treat each other, and how we cope with death. As a follow-up to one of Kickstarter’s most successful publishing projects, photographer and filmmaker Chris Johnson introduces us to some of the many voices from his book. In this fascinating documentary — learn the stories behind the book in interviews with some of our greatest thinkers. Join Chris as he explores issues of joy & meaning and travels around the globe meeting people from all walks of life and backgrounds who challenge the false stereotypes of atheists as immoral and evil. From Daniel Dennett and A.C. Grayling, to Julia Sweeney and Robert Llewellyn —learn the various ways many atheists have left religion for a better life filled with love, compassion, hope, and wonder!

  •       Bangladeshi Situation: The situation of minority groups in Bangladesh, atheists and Hindus, is dire, as radical Islamists threaten lives and kill innocent people in barbaric machete attacks. We are in contact with one of the Bangladeshi atheist bloggers who left Bangladesh because of threats to his life. Without an income he is now facing seemingly impossible barriers to re-locate his family to a third country. We would like to help with the associated costs for this huge task? If you are able to make a donation to help, money can be deposited in our Humanist Society of NZ bank account BNZ 02-0392-0094973-000. Please include your name and the code PR in the Reference fields. We would also appreciate it, if you would send us an email with your details to [email protected]
  •       Secular Education Network (SEN) UPDATE: The Judge presiding at Jeff McClintock’s Appeal case suggested that the case be re-defined. The reshaped case could have SEN replace Jeff and become a general case against religious instruction in schools. The focus would then become the repealing of the Nelson Clause in the Education Act.

2016 Humanism: Next steps for the movement ‘The Humanist’ May/June 2016

Rebecca Hale (president of the American Humanist Association, AHA)  & Jenny Lalmanson (AHA vice-president)

THE RISING TIDE OF NONRELIGIOUS people in the United States is accompanied by an intense focus on the “New Atheism,” which, rightly or wrongly, is critiqued as being not vocal enough or downright anti-progressive when it comes to social justice issues like women’s rights, racial equality, and the environment. Those familiar with the movement understand that when one declares themselves to be an “atheist,” they’re simply saying that they don’t believe in any gods; it doesn’t naturally imply a commitment to any particular social contract, whereas “humanist” means something additional. Atheism is what we don’t believe; humanism is what we do believe.

Humanists are cultural progressives. When you make decisions based on rationality and scientific research, with an added dose of empathy, the effective answers to the issues of our day are the progressive answers. Science-based sex education is proven to be more effective than abstinence-based sex education. A strong middle class is best for a stable, resilient economy. Healthcare for all extends quality of life and strengthens economies. The civil rights of all must be protected because the only justification for seeing women and racial minority groups as inferior comes from bronze-age holy books and other outdated ideas. People who support progressive ideals most often do so because they see positive results and understand cause and effect.

While atheists and humanists reject the existence of any gods for lack of evidence, atheism and humanism are not synonymous. Many atheists and humanists are good people, but atheism in and of itself is not supported by an ethical system to guide behaviour. Not all those who don’t believe in a god have fully moved past societal prejudices and old programming—and not all have cultivated empathy in a way that engenders compassion for others and builds a sense of egalitarianism.

Those who criticize the nontheistic movement for not being more engaged with progressive issues may have valid points about our need to do more, but they may also be falling into the trap of thinking that all flavours of nontheist are indeed the same—that “atheist” and “humanist” are synonyms. Statistically, the majority of us are progressives who eschew bigotry, economic injustice, and unbridled destruction of the environment. The majority of atheists and other nontheists hold humanist values even if they don’t use that word to self-identify. Those nontheists who don’t embrace humanist values can sometimes generate the most noise within the larger community.

We humanists are certainly doing our share of “good.” We just aren’t often visible. Over the decades those of us who fit the secular “progressive activist” label have joined, contributed to, and worked within the organizations that focus on each of our particular interests: the Sierra Club, Black Lives Matter, Greenpeace, the National Organization for Women, the National Council of La Raza, Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign, and many more. We participate in peace rallies, gay pride parades, and civil rights marches. We join protests like Occupy Wall Street. The list goes on. We are there doing the work but may be unrecognized for our secularism, for our humanism.

Our next step as a movement, especially within the American Humanist Association (AHA) is to achieve acceptance, which can be an uphill battle in the face of historical discrimination against nontheists. For example, a few years ago the Stiefel Freethought Foundation wanted to make a substantial donation to the American Cancer Society. Those humanist funds were apparently rejected because the American Cancer Society didn’t want to be associated with “atheists.” Somehow it’s seen as a threat if we receive recognition as contributors to good deeds and humanitarian efforts. It’s a challenge to some peoples’ faith when we demonstrate that you can be good without a god, showing that belief in the divine is unnecessary to being a good person. Believe if you want to, but it’s not a requirement for goodness, just as being a believer is not a guarantee of good behaviour.

Our culture would benefit from a greater recognition of humanism and the role it plays within the nontheistic movement. The American Humanist Association defines humanism as follows: Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism or other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfilment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Unpacking that statement a bit, several points become evident, not just about what humanists don’t believe, but what we do believe. Humanists hold progressive views about society and daily living. Humanists don’t believe in gods. Humanists believe that humans are capable of living meaningful, ethical lives. Humanists believe in our human power to change the world for the better. We also believe in our responsibility to use the abilities we have for the betterment of ourselves and our world.

When writers and thinkers began discussing the “New Atheism” as an alternative to existing establishments, the focus was on rejecting religious belief, criticizing irrational thinking, and debunking outrageous claims. What was sometimes lost was a sense of why it’s important to do these things: magical thinking writ large impairs a community’s best thinking. Standards for ethical behaviour were too often absent from much of the dialogue within New Atheism. The rights of those historically subjugated and the moral standards for interpersonal behaviour were left to individual conscience.

The American Humanist Association’s humanism is an alternative, re-energized for achieving social justice and renewed in our passion for every person’s right to self-actualization and dignity. The focus of the recent strategic planning efforts undertaken by the AHA board of directors isn’t on telling the world the positive things we believe, but on showing it through our actions and through our achievements.

While we’ll never stand silent in the face of threats to the rights of nontheists to articulate our views freely, as a movement we’re reaching the critical mass where we can now accompany our historical individual activism with organizational action. By working hand-in-hand to improve the lives of our fellow human beings, and by actively working to increase the dignity afforded each one of us, we strive for a society in which humanist views are widely available and publicly respected. New Atheists are great at exposing more people to the idea that living without a god is possible. It’s up to us humanists and our allies to make sure that we create a desirable, fair, and just world to live in.

A book to add to a must read list

Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion by Susan Jacoby (New York: Pantheon 2016)

Beginning with Saul blinded by the light on the road to Damascus, Strange Gods, offers a provocative and original exploration of the cultural, economic and political forces driving religious conversion in the Western world. Most histories and personal accounts of religious conversion have been written by believers in the supernatural, who understandably view changes of faith mainly in terms of their spiritual origins and significance. Susan Jacoby, by contrast, explores the natural, earthly needs, fears, and longings that have played a critical role in individual and mass conversions throughout western history. She places conversions within specific political and social contexts ranging from the force imposed by the Inquisition to mixed marriages—as important in the early Christian era as they are in what 21st-century Americans call our “religious marketplace.”

Moving through time, continents, and cultures, in a narrative dealing with the mass and often-compulsory conversion of American slaves to Christianity, as well as with the better-known story of forced conversion of Jews and Muslims by the Spanish Inquisition and repression of Christians, atheists, and Muslim dissenters by violent Islamic theocrats today, the author emphasized the existence of a grey area between outright force and conversion for social advantage. The story also includes conversions to authoritarian secular ideologies, notably Stalinism Communism, that resemble traditional evidence-proof faith in their absolute truth claims and use of force to impose ideological uniformity.

The reader will encounter such disparate converts as the church father Augustine of Hippo, who converted to Christianity from paganism in the fourth century; Solomon ha-Levi, a 14th-century rabbi who became a Roman Catholic bishop and adviser to a pope as well as Castilian kings; the great 18th-century German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who regretted having been baptized a Lutheran though he also rejected Judaism; Edith Stein, a German Jew who converted to Catholicism, became a nun, and died at Auschwitz in 1942 because, for the Nazis, no formal conversion could wipe out the stain of Jewish birth; the heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, who scandalized Americans in the 1960s by converting to Islam; former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who waited until he left office to announce his conversion from the Church of England to Roman Catholicism; and former House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich, who embraced a new religious denomination each time he married a new wife.

As an atheist, Susan Jacoby believes that complete freedom to choose any religion—or no religion at all—is the great achievement of the post-Enlightenment world and is inseparable from political liberty. At a time when freedom of religious choice, for believers and nonbelievers, is under renewed attack in many parts of the world—from regions controlled by radical Islamists to Russia and China—this message could not be more timely.