Kia Ora. We were dismayed to hear the news that Gulalai Ismail, human rights activist and Humanist International Board member, has been forced into hiding after demanding action over the notorious rape and murder of an 11 year old girl. Gulalai has been charged with sedition under anti-terrorism laws after taking part in protests to highlight the reportedly ineffectual response of the authorities to the killing last month of Farishta Mohmand, whose body was found in woodland near the family’s home in Islamabad. Babu Gogineni has also highlighted a horrific crime in Telugu land, India where a baby was abducted, raped and killed. Several Telugu people living in Kuwait were also disturbed by this crime and called for a public meeting via social Media to publicly express their protest and demand that the culprit should be punished immediately. However, in the Middle East, organizing such meetings is not allowed. But 50 people gathered and 25 were arrested by the Police. In our country of New Zealand, Humanists, Rationalists, and social activists do not face such consequences when working for the betterment of the community and country. Are we truly aware of our privilege and good fortune?  On a more positive note, in Turkey the ruling AK Party has lost control of Istanbul after a re-run of the city’s mayoral election. This is not good news for President Erdogan. The new mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, is from the secular Republican People’s Party and his supporters have been holding up banners with pictures of Atatürk on them. Kemal Atatürk was the charismatic leader who modernized Turkey into the secular, industrial nation the world knew before President Erdogan.

Humanist Catch-Up Monday July 1 @ 6.30pm until 9.00pm

Matariki Gathering

Traditionally Matariki is a time to remember those who have died in the past year. But it is also a happy event – crops have been harvested and seafood and birds collected and stored for later use. With plenty of food in the storehouses, Matariki is a time for singing, dancing and feasting. While at our Humanist Catch-up we may not sing and dance we can still feast, courtesy of the Thistle Inn menu, and discuss current and ongoing issues. A question to discuss has been messaged through our Facebook page:

“Somebody has just said to me that atheism is a form of prejudice, e.g. racist because religion is important to whanau and Pasifika. I can’t find any articles online to help me respond. If you know of anything, that would be much appreciated. Thank you.”  Atheism is a form of prejudice ??? Come and help us formulate an answer.

You may also have a favourite quote or youtube clip to initiate discussion. Please bring. Or another curly question to test us.

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

§  Wellington Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St in the George Room

Adam Gopnik: A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism 2019

Peter Clemerson has alerted us to this recently published book and has provided the following review. Another reviewer Gabino Iglesias writing in Review May 15 2019 compares this book to Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World (1991)which made complicated philosophical concepts easier to digest. Adam Gopnik’s A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism, Iglesias ,says does the same thing with liberalism —“ but for politically engaged adults.”

Reactions to Donald Trump’s elections seem to have varied from exultation via shock to dejection, but Adam Gopnk’s was to write a book for his daughter to lift her from despondency. Gopnik, a writer for the New Yorker, book author and essayist par excellence, has now added to his oeuvre a book that all liberal Humanists would wish they were capable of writing themselves. A Thousand Small Sanities is a credo, a portrayal of Liberalism as he sees it. It provides an elegant summary of the values and political behaviour that Liberalism necessitates, in polished and powerful prose that the reader can not but find captivating, even intoxicating.

The book consists of four chapters: a description of Liberalism and all that follows from it, an articulation of the ideologies of the Right and a lucid repudiation of them, an equivalent chapter describing the ideologies of the left and their disavowal, and finally a shorter cri-de-coeur to all readers to stick with Liberalism in all its variants, despite criticisms that might persuade some to abandon it.

Gopnik’s thinking has been shaped by such well-known philosophers and social critics as Montesquieu, J. S. Mill, Jeremy Bentham, Thomas Paine and even Charles Darwin, but he introduces others less well-known such as the Americans Frederick Douglas, a black ex-slave abolitionist, and Bayard Rustin, a black gay anti-segregationist. Other people given prominence are the novelist George Elliot and her husband George Lewis and Harriet Taylor, John Stewart Mill’s companion and latterly his wife, and according to Gopnik, his intellectual equal.

Liberalism insists upon an endless examination of society to identify unfairness, a pluralist search based upon free inquiry and debate, motivated by empathy for its victims. Although Gopnik does not specify the many agents of societal change, society is portrayed as endlessly mutating and such continuous alteration is a never-ending source of newly identifiable injustice and unfairness. The unfairness and, in extreme cases, iniquities in turn demand reforms. Reform, being itself a source of change, thus gives rise to the need for further reform. It never ends. “Incremental cautious reform is likely to get more things right than any other kind” (p. 26). Avoidance of the pitfall of the law of unintended consequences is paramount. Each reform may produce some detrimental effects but they will not be the catastrophes of the Right and Left. A process of continuous incremental improvement results.

In his castigation of the ‘unicorns’ of the Right and Left, Gopnik draws attention to their reliance upon a few big ideas. For the Right it is a clannish devotion to community, defined in the words of the “rightist” French philosopher Alain to Benoist; “Communities are constituted and maintain themselves on the basis of who belongs to them. Membership is all that is required. There is a vertical reciprocity of rights and duties, contributions and distribution, obedience and assistance, and horizontal reciprocity of gifts, fraternities, friendship and love” (p. 122). However, membership, defined by common history, common language and often common religion, also identifies non-members, who become the excluded, the enemies, the Untermensch. That way lay the camps. We see something of this in the threatened democracies of eastern Europe today as elected leaders give way to othering and progressively disestablish the means by which they promoted themselves into positions of leadership. The Right’s emphasis is not on flexible values and continuous change but on social order and stability, on a national community that proudly shares a mythology. To the consternation and puzzlement of Liberals, such pride has sometimes proved to be more powerful at the ballot box than economic self-interest. The less well educated will vote for a popular imperialism which can trump class interest and give meaning to the lives of those who can find it nowhere else.

The Left also despises Liberalism’s devotion to reform but only because it impedes the only corrective to the iniquities of the present, revolution. The leftist assault on tradition and the past is breathtakingly absolute. “Only revolutionary change can bring justice and equality to a criminally unjust world” (p. 145). Bourgeois liberalism is intrinsically and incurably exploitative and inequitable. Free societies always mean free-market societies and they never sponsor more than predatory capitalism. Inequalities always emerge, creating ever greater injustice and despair. To which, Liberalism responds with an examination of history, of the successes of the past 200 years of reform and the terrors and slaughters of the revolutions. Today, with the worst of the past injustices ameliorated, according to some, by reform, the cause célèbre of the dissatisfied left has moved on to cultural matters. New forms of oppression can be found among social minorities, with the now triumphant term ‘intersectionality’ referring to those minorities where the identities of oppression overlap, the black lesbian being an example sometimes invoked by mocking critics as the archetype. In repudiating this movement, Liberals, according to Gopnik, must draw attention to the essentialising implicit in the targeting of those in these super-imposed categories, as if they were all of a piece, to be treated identically with no consideration given to their unique circumstances and unique personal qualities.

The final chapter, a short one, brings us back to Liberalism and its appeal to pluralism and respect for difference. In the eyes of critics, it has become passive and privatised. It must become passionate again. A motif occurring throughout the book is the series of semi-clandestine meetings John Stewart Mill and Harriet Taylor held at the rhinoceros cage at London Zoo, prior to their marriage. For Gopnik, Liberalism is a plodding, ungainly, ponderous and somewhat ugly process more like a rhinoceros than the unicorns of the Right and Left. The most casual examination of history suggests we must energetically champion the rhinoceros’ effectiveness despite its lumbering

Colin Woodhouse: Colin spoke at our May 2019 Humanist Catch-Up and below is an article Colin has had published and is reprinted with permission from Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand vol 25 no 5 June 2019. We have had a number of people indicate their interest in training for secular chaplaincy work. Humanist NZ is at a preliminary stage with this initiative and we will update as progress develops.

Chaplaincy for the non-religious.

New Zealand is increasingly secular. It’s time hospital chaplaincy services reflected patients’ changing needs.

The population of New Zealand is changing – and not just because there are more of us, including many new immigrants, or because people are living longer. The other great change is that fewer people are religious and New Zealand is increasingly secular.

Nurses recognise the importance of holistic care, part of which is religious, spiritual or pastoral support, but are we delivering this properly? As a nurse and humanist, I firmly believe we’re not.

The 2013 census showed 42 per cent of the population were not religious.1 The data also showed the proportion of Christians had decreased. The religious groups that had increased were Sikh, Muslim and Hindu, reflecting the immigration of people from Asia. Independent research done last year by the faithbased Wilberforce Foundation showed the non-religious proportion of the population had increased to 55 per cent.2 The 2018 census data isn’t available yet.

Hospital chaplaincy is the responsibility of the Interchurch Council for Hospital Chaplaincy (ICHC). ICHC has held a contract with the Ministry of Health to provide chaplaincy services to district health boards since 1993. The council comprises representatives from nine Christian churches. It can hardly be argued this fairly recognises the differing beliefs of the religious population, never mind the spiritual feelings of the non-religious.

Chaplains are usually ordained Christians, who have undergone additional training to work as chaplains. They provide support for people of all religions or no religion. Working alongside the salaried chaplains are volunteer lay people. These volunteers, too, have been trained to speak with believers and nonbelievers. All hospital chaplaincy services have contact lists of people available to talk with those from specific Christian denominations, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons. There will also be contacts for other religions, such as Islam or Judaism. So why isn’t there one for the non-religious?

The chaplains and their co-working volunteers are trained to speak with people of no religion. I have no doubt many of these people have done so, and it has been of help to the patients involved. However, there is no service offered for those who are not religious and do not want to talk with a religious person about their spiritual needs, feelings or goals. An example of this is a homosexual man who feels that, throughout his adult life, the church has condemned and opposed him.3 There is no expectation that people who are Hindu, Buddhist or Baha’i should talk with a Christian chaplain. Similarly, there should be no expectation that the non-religious should only speak with a religious person at a time of need.

UK survey results

A recent survey by Humanists UK showed 62 per cent of the religious people who took part were in favour of non-religious pastoral support workers.4 The survey also showed that non-religious people felt far more likely to access pastoral and spiritual services if non-religious support workers were available.4 I intend repeating this survey in New Zealand.

The Netherlands has had non-religious pastoral support available in hospitals, universities, prisons and the armed forces since the late 1950s. About 70 per cent of Dutch people are not religious. The hospital chaplains are non-religious and offer pastoral and spiritual support to everyone. If a patient is religious, the appropriate religious person will be asked to come in to address the patient’s needs.

The United Kingdom now has three salaried non-religious pastoral care providers. Somewhat surprisingly, one of them is the chaplaincy and pastoral care service manager for a National Health Service hospital trust. Less surprisingly, she is from the Netherlands and has given me a great deal of information over the last nine months.5 In addition to the three paid staff, there are several hundred volunteer support workers.

New Zealand is changing in many ways and pastoral support provided to patients needs to change too. The system, as it stands, may be seen to be unconsciously discriminatory. I believe the failure to provide non-religious pastoral or spiritual support for non-religious people is a breach of the Human Rights Act 1993 Section 21(d). This failure also breaches the Health and Disability Commissioner’s code of rights 1(3).

When an increasing number of people are not religious, “hospitals can’t simply neglect them by providing religious chaplaincy and nothing else”. (Humanists UK 2019).

Colin Woodhouse, RN, PGDipHSci, works on a neurosciences ward at Christchurch Hospital. A member of Humanists NZ, he aims to write a thesis on this subject for a master’s in health sciences.


Humanists UK 2017

Humanists UK 2019

Savage, D. (2019). Non-religious pastoral care: A practical guide. London. Routledge.

Stats NZ (2014)

Wilberforce Foundation (2018)

Obituary : Vincent  Gray: 25 March1922- 14 June 2018 (96) & Mary Gray: 1 December 1923- 29 June 2018 (aged 94)

In the past year Vincent and Mary Grey, members of Humanist NZ departed this world, 15 days apart. Vincent and Mary were an indomitable couple. The onset of fragility in old age meant that we had not seen Vincent and Mary in recent years. But at Matariki it is good to remember them.

Vincent and Mary were an unlikely pair – a communist and the daughter of a US Naval officer – they met in post World War II Paris and lived all over the world. The last few months of their long lives were spent in adjacent rooms at the Bob Scott Retirement Home in Petone. The loss of Vincent on June 14 was a reality even Mary’s dementia was unable to protect her from. Their lives spanned continents, careers and political hurdles. They exchanged life in Europe for Wellington, where Vincent would pursue his career as a scientist and Mary in education.

Mary was born in Agana, on the US Pacific territory of Guam, in 1923, the youngest of four. She studied foreign languages at Oberlin College in Ohio and went to work as a bilingual secretary but, when she failed to be promoted because she was female, she accepted a scholarship to study languages at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1946. It was on a train journey to Vienna with friends that she met Vincent. Their budding relationship horrified Mary’s family. Vincent was a card-carrying communist having joined the party in England in 1941. Mary’s mother mobilised her to Vienna, where she worked for a year on the Marshall Plan – an American initiative offering economic assistance to help rebuild Western European economies after the war – in a futile attempt to cool off the romance. It didn’t work. Their affection for one another endured. They were married in the spring of 1949 at her brother’s home in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Both her sisters, married to naval officers, more or less disowned her. This was the McCarthy era, where the discovery of any communist sympathisers in the family had serious repercussions.

Vincent had begun life in Camberwell, south London. He was born in 1922, the eldest of four children. The family was of limited means but finances became much worse when his father died from septicaemia in 1934 when Vincent was 12. His academic prowess eventually led to a scholarship to study chemistry at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. After gaining his PhD, he went to the Institute Pasteur in Paris, where he continued to study chemistry by day, while by night he indulged his passion for jazz in a band with regular gigs in the Latin Quarter.

Their love of travel and a sense of adventure led to a radical move to the other side of the world when, in 1970, Vincent applied for a job in New Zealand as the first director of the Building Research Association (Branz). He flew out to start work in May 1970. The rest of the family packed up house, including a grand piano and 52 tea chests of books, and sailed on the P&O Liner Oriana.

Vincent, who wrote The Greenhouse Delusion, was adamant that there was no correlation whatsoever between carbon dioxide concentration and the temperature at the Earth’s surface. Mary was a true advocate for women’s rights and equality in the workplace. She was an active member of the NZ Family Planning Association

Right up till a few weeks before they died, the couple still shared an evening glass of red wine and some cheese –a ritual left over from their Parisian days. The full article may be read at–couple-die-15-days-apart