Kia ora: On Wednesday 4 May 2005, a few days after completing the April/May newsletter, Jim Dakin, a past President of the Humanist Society, died. A dignified farewell and celebration of Jim’s life, led by our Celebrant Jeanne van Gorkom, was held in Old St Paul’s Cathedral, Wellington, on Thursday 12 May. Jim contributed to The NZ Humanist and initiated Humanist Society support for refugee families in the 1980s. A full obituary will be published in the next issue of The NZ Humanist. We send our condolences to Jim’s wife, Jean, and his family.

*  Last Meeting: An interesting discussion was held about John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Kent drew our attention to an article in Time Magazine, 2 May 2005. The new Pope thinks revealed Truth as certified by the Church cannot be changed or developed. Gaylene brought 2 articles from The Guardian Weekly April 15 2005, think before you emote, by Polly Toynbee

The Vatican is not a charming Monaco for tourists…. It is a modern, potent force for cruelty and hypocrisy. The Vatican’s deeper power is in its personal authority over 3 billion worshippers, which is strongest over the poorest most helpless devotees. With its ban on condoms to help prevent AIDS and the lie that the AIDS virus will pass through condoms, the church has caused the death of millions of catholics and others in areas dominated by Catholic missionaries in Africa and across the world… Lenin and John Paul II both put extreme ideology before human life and happiness, at unimaginable human cost…. Those who met Mother Teresa and John Paul II talk of an aura of love, power, listening, and intensity. But goodness is in doing good; good intent is no excuse for murderous error…..At the funeral was a convocation of mullahs, rabbis and all the other medieval faiths that increasingly conspire together against modernity.

And April 29 2005, Christian Europe RIP, by Timothy Garton Ash.

Athiests should welcome the election of Pope Benedict XVI. For this aged, scholarly, conservative, uncharismatic Bavarian theologian will surely hasten the de-christianisation of Europe that he aims to reverse… Can he inspire the young people the [way the ]last Pope’s exciting reinterprtetations of ancient doctrines[did]. In particular the Theology of the Body which sees sexuality as an emantion of divine love, has enormous potential to enthuse the young. Well says Ash “I shall be watching that space. ” In Benedicts XVI’s view, if becoming smaller is the price of remainig true to its basic principles, so be it. The church will be smaller but purer.

These articles may be read in full on the web. Go to and type in “Guardian Weekly.”

*  June Monthly Meeting: Monday 6 June 7.30 pm Turnbull House, Wellington. All welcome. Topic: Religion and Money. Come and bring any aspect you wish to discuss.

* Radio Access: 11 am 783 kHz Sunday 8 May. On last month’s programme Jeff and Joan paid tribute to Jim Dakin and read from his article in The NZ Humanist ‘Why I am a Humanist’. Two CD’s have been compiled of past programmes and are now available. This is an endeavor to make available the excellent material that Jeff and Joan produce in this monthly programme. If you are interested, please e-mail Jeff or write to the NZ Humanist Society.

* Winter Solstice 2005: Sunday 19 June. We will visit our commemorative trees on Wright’s Hill at 11am followed by a pot luck lunch at the Middleton’s from 1pm, 17 Allen Tce, Tawa. You are welcome to either or both, please phone 232 4497 for any changes due to weather on the day, or help with transport.

* Civil Union, 1 May: Kent and Gaylene attended the parade that followed after John Jolif’s and Des Smith’s Civil Union in the Council Chambers, across Civic Square to The Boatshed, Wellington. Kent and I were glad we were there. We took a congratulatory poster which was warmly received by all.

* Committee-Council Meetings: Sunday 6 June 10.45 am at Iain and Gaylene’s 17 Allen Tce, Tawa.

* Email discussion group: Is operating now on Yahoo at Have you registered to meet with other members via the world wide web?

* Quotable Quote: heard at a meeting… A friend’s father commented: “I hear that John Paul II had a vasectomy” daughter’s reply…”I think you mean a tracheotomy.”

Gaylene Middleton
Gaylene Middleton is secretary and newsletter editor



JULIAN BAGGINI holds back the tears for John Paul II

Friends, Roman Catholics, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury the Pope, not chastise him. The good famed men do lives after them, the evil is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with John Paul II.
John Paul created nearly 500 saints, more than any of his predecessors.

One of those was Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, who backed Franco in Spain’s civil war, said Hitler would save Christianity from the menace of communism and founded Opus Dei, many of whose senior officials served Franco’s regime. But Blair says he was revered across people of all faiths and none, and Blair is an honourable man.

He also canonised Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, who was convicted of Nazi collaboration while Bishop of Zagreb in 1941. His guilt was not beyond reasonable doubt, but for John Paul it wasn’t even at issue. Yet Bush says he was a champion of human freedom , and Bush is an honourable man.

So too he canonised Padre Pio, who was suspected of sleeping with his parishioners and faking stigmata in his hands and feet. Again, his guilt was not beyond reasonable doubt, but his saintliness was at least as dubious. But Rowan Williams says John Paul was a leader of manifest holiness , and the archbishop of Canterbury is an honourable man.

John Paul said abortion was an abominable crime , and that even if it is the only way to save the life of a pregnant woman who contracts cancer, it should not be offered. He also said there should be no hesitation in pointing out that cancer can be the result of people’s behaviour including certain sexual behaviour. But Michael Howard says he was a very great spiritual leader , and Howard is an honourable man.

His Pontifical Council for the Family was condemned by the World Health Organisation for claiming the HIV virus can pass through condoms, hampering the fight against Aids in sub Saharan Africa. But Thatcher says the Pope was a valiant fighter for the truth , and Thatcher is an honourable woman.

He told India’s bishops to convert Hindus, since Christ is the way, the truth and the life. His plea offended millions of Indians who said he had interfered in their country’s affairs. Yet Cormac Murphy O’Connor says that he stood for something very profound, and the cardinal is an honourable man.

In his encyclical Evangelium vitae, he again argued his hard line against birth control, claiming that it did not help the poor, something countless development agencies do not accept. Yet Jacques Chirac says he was an enlightened and inspired priest , and Chirac is an honourable man.

Child sex abuse scandals have blighted his church, leaving many of his priests and bishops disgraced. He congratulated Father Marcial Macierl, founder of the order the Legion of Christ, for his intense, generous and fruitful priestly ministry , while Maciel and others in his order stood accused of child abuse, charges the Vatican still refuses to confirm it is even investigating. Yet Kofi Annan says he was a strong force for critical self evaluation by the Church itself , and Annan is an honourable man.

His church talked of an ideology of evil when the European Parliament moved to recognise homosexual unions. Yet Billy Graham says he was unquestionably the most influential voice for morality and peace in the world during the last 100 years , and the reverend is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what tributes speak, but here I am to say what I do know. Many did oppose him once, not without cause: What cause leads them then, to mourn for him? 0 judgement! Thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason. Bear with me our minds are in the coffin there with John Paul, and we must pause till they come back to us.

Julian Baggini is Editor of the Philosopher’s Magazine




The death of the old pope, and the appointment of the new one, has brought some pretty bizarre comment from all corners of the media (though if anybody has bettered the Sun’s ‘From Hitler Youth to Papa Ratzi’ headline, we’re yet to see it). Possibly the most bizarre comment came from the incredibly self-aggrandizing right-wing ‘geopolitical analyst’ Jack Wheeler, who puts forward the notion that the man previously known as Der Panzerkardinal (bear in mind, that’s what his fanclub calls him) will re-invigorate the church in Europe and convert the continent’s Muslims. In a column, Wheeler the film Princess Bride to show what lies ahead: One of my favourite scenes is when the hero is wounded and his friends drag his limp body to a Yiddish Wizard named Miracle Max, in hopes of saving him, writes Wheeler.

“It just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead,’ says the wizard. ‘There is a very big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.”

“What’s that?’ his friends ask. Max answers, ‘Go through his clothes and look for loose change.”

Wheeler explains that by electing Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the cardinals were bringing a ‘mostly dead’ European Christianity to the new pope for reviving. Considering rumours about the health of ‘God’s Rottweiler’, surely Wheeler’s got something the wrong way round here.

Meanwhile, Catholics and conspiracy theorists alike have been buzzing after the election of Pope Benedict XVI. Apparently, the election of Der Panzerkardinal fulfils the prophecy of 12th century Irish saint, Malachy. St Malachy had a gift for clairvoyance, as well as healing and levitation, apparently, which manifested itself in the prophecy of the succession of the popes. Two hundred and sixty-fifth pope Benedict XVI fulfils the criteria to be Malachy’s pope de gloria olivae, as the order of St Benedict is also known as the Olivetans.

After this pope, according to St Malachy at least, there will only be one more: Peter the Roman, who, it is said, will reign during tribulations that will include the destruction of Rome. You should probably book that city break while you still can, then.



Rotten to the core

After the free for all of sentimentality that reigned from John Paul II’s faltering on Easter Sunday, through his demise and funeral, right up to the emergence of white smoke from a Vatican chimney, we can now settle back into our regular pattern. There’s an old European man in white robes in a palace in Italy telling us all how immoral we are. Plus ça change…

In the days after Joesph Ratzinger’s magical transformation into Benedict XVI, many wails were wailed and teeth gnashed over the new pontiff’s legendary ‘conservatism’. The new pope was anti-gay, anti-women, anti-contraception, anti-liberation theology and even, albeit briefly, an anti-tank gunner. Further evidence of this conservatism came about when Benedict was quickly confronted with the Spanish government’s decision to grant legal status to gay marriage. The pope’s response, stating that this was iniquitous and that Spanish Catholics should be prepared to pay the highest price, including the loss of a job rather than facilitate the law, was rightly seen by many as an insidious interference in the affairs of Spain, and a deeply reactionary position to take.

But, in the wake of the extravagant praise of his late predecessor, it has become all too easy to imagine the new pope as a conservative autocrat who does not reflect the thinking of the Church.

He isn’t. This is no small minded elderly church apparatchik, keeping the papal throne warm for the great reformer to come. Nor is he a representative of a faction of the church hierarchy that is on its last legs. Benedict XVI was elected by his fellow cardinals because to them he represents a pure, moral, intellectual and spiritual brand of Catholic doctrine. And in Catholic terms they are right. He is as clear thinking and intelligent a pope as one could imagine. And a very, very good Catholic.

The issue isn’t whether or not the head of Catholicism is palatable to secularists. It is Catholicism itself that is unpalatable. The Catholic Church is not here to bend to the will of others. It will not condone abortions because others think it should, or ordain women priests because it might win over a few broadsheet columnists Therefore, the goal of secularists should not be a more caring, compassionate church. The goal should be a church that may still hold its views, but not its power. As ever, education and debate light the route to progress.



Papal misguidance

The recent death of Pope John Paul II will have been greeted by Humanists with the sadness that we would accord the death of any human being. Indeed, ‘no man is an island, entire unto itself’, as John Donne reminded us long ago; we are a social species and the tolling of the death-bell should concern us all.

But the orgy of lavish rituals and displays which are disrupting our TV programming should surely give even devout Catholics pause for thought. The price of the red and scarlet robes worn by just one cardinal would perhaps be enough to feed an African village for a week. Is not Jesus of Nazareth reported to have protested at the use even of ‘whited sepulchres’?, Not to mention his angry criticism of the general lavishness and hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his day. He certainly didn’t seem to value pomp and circumstance at all.

And where did all that ostentatious wealth, now so blatantly displayed, come from incrementally over all the centuries? Some of it came from the confiscation of estates of thousands of wrongfully accused witches who had been burnt at the stake; some from the accumulation of tithes, including one-tenth of the precious harvests; some from the sale of indulgences (forgiveness of sins) and some from the pitiful offerings of poor peasants given under priestly duress. Summarising, one could say that the treasure currently on display was mostly acquired by intimidation, fraud, and corruption.

Pundits have been lavish in their praise of John Paul as an outstanding and exceptional moral leader. In fact, his ethical teaching simply took the form of mindlessly repeating the messages of a rule book written centuries before the modern population explosion, the so-called sexual revolution of the nineteen sixties or the deadly onset of the AIDS epidemic. Blind to such developments, amongst other things, he has condemned effective birth control, abortion, and the use of condoms despite the obvious efficacy of such means in tackling these modern problems. His powerful assertion of so-called ‘conservativism’ has had a baneful impact on human welfare generally and, if a leader of greater sagacity can fill his shoes, the world will be much better for his death. Everybody knows these things but few media pundits dare to say so.

Laadan Fletcher, Karrinup WA

Australian Humanist No. 78 Winter 2005 p.11