Kia ora:

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May monthly meeting: I Sometimes think that one area where Humanism could develop is in Personal Development or Self Reflection. I have long thought that in religious traditions, prayer and confessional rituals, are vehicles for this purpose – to consider and monitor one’s own behaviour. In the April/May 2007 issue of Free Inquiry there is an advertisement for a Centre for Inquiry weekend ( April 25-28, 2007) where one of a trio of courses was the application of the cognitive psychological principles of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) to your humanist activities and your daily life! This issue of Free Inquiry also has articles on The Rise of Primitive Christianity, 30-70 C.E. For those interested in the Jesus Seminar about which Professor Lloyd Geering talks, and is a member, there is an article about a new initiative the Jesus Project, where they propose the question: Did the historical Jesus even exist? If so, what can we know of him?

June monthly meeting: Monday 4 June: Evolutionary Psychology

A talk by Peter Clemerson

Drawing upon his current Evolutionary Psychology studies and the works of established and contemporary philosophers, Peter will provide a personal view of why we mostly behave quite morally towards people in our immediate communities but simultaneously tolerate the perpetration of evils towards others or even become perpetrators ourselves. Incorporating some elements of Buddhism, he will also endeavour to answer the question: “What does this contradiction mean for Humanists?”

Venue: Turnbull House, Wellington. We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm. We would love to see you at the meeting, but if you are unable to attend you may wish to convey your thoughts on this subject to Kent at [email protected]

Previous meeting: Those present at the meeting found the Brussels Declaration very much to our liking as there are still difficulties with the National Statement on Religious Diversity which discriminates against those outside “faith communities” and seemingly breaches the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the New Zealand Bill of Rights 1990, and the Human Rights Act 1993, yet is being promoted by the Race Relations Conciliator. The Brussels Declaration will be published in the next issue of the New Zealand Humanist.

Winter Solstice Celebration: Saturday 23 June from 4.00 pm. Mark and Lynette Fletcher have kindly welcomed us back to their home so do come to share this occasion. Bring your favourite food to share and a video, DVD or CD. Call Mark or Lynette phone (+64 4) 569 3711, for details.

Radio Access: Broadcast in Wellington New Zealand at 11 am NZST, 783 kHz, Sunday 3 June (2300 Hrs GMT or UT on Saturday 2 June). Radio broadcasts are every four weeks. The next broadcast will be on Sunday 1 July (30 June UT). Remember that outside Wellington this programme can be listened to via streaming on the Internet. The internet site is www.accessradio.org.nz. Click on Wellington Access Radio. At the home page click on the talk/link icon. Then on the Menu on the left hand side of the screen click on Radio, and with your sound up the radio is very audible. Broadband is not required to listen.

In the May newsletter I mentioned a review by Daniel Baird of Dawkins’s The God Delusion in the April 2007 issue of The Walrus.

Here is a summary of that review.

The God Delusion
review by Daniel Baird ( Summary ) Walrus April 2007

Dawkins comments on the atrocities committed in the name of religion, and denounces early religious training as a form of child abuse. The core assertion of The God Delusion is this “Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of…… gradual evolution.” Such a creative intelligence could not therefore, have actually created the world. Dawkins postulates the “anthropic principle”. We know life emerged on Earth, life will arise on other planets where conditions are favourable. The anthropic principle, like natural selection is an alternative to the design hypothesis. Reading The God Delusion one feels that Dawkins has no feeling for the impulse of faith. Dawkins does a disservice to some of the great minds of the last thousand years and more – Augustine, Aquinas and Maimonides, for instance. They can not be dismissed as childish, logical errors. Dawkins suggests we make atheism a dominant world view. He writes “The knowledge that we have only one life should make it all the more precious.” The issue isn’t the appreciation of our own minds and bodies, it is rather our experience of life and the world as having a higher, integral meaning – that is the gap, the fear, the isolating wound that faith and religion fill. Perhaps the reason the religious impulse has survived the Enlightenment and beyond is that we cannot otherwise read our experience of the world as substantive. Is God dying? Visit walrusmagazine.com for discussion and further readings on the subject.

Gaylene Middleton

BOOK NEWS

THE GOD DELUSION
by Richard Dawkins
Bantam Press, 2006, x + 406 pp, $35.

Reviewer: Dierk von Behrens

This latest book by leading intellectual, biologist, and philosopher Richard Dawkins is fearless, incisive, humorous, challenging, hard-hitting, passionate, yet scrupulously logical, and refreshingly persuasive. While a rejection of belief in God — on the grounds of irrationality and the enormous harm religions inflict — permeates Dawkins’s previous renowned works (including The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker), here his highly honed analytical skills focus fully on dissecting these belief systems or memeplexes, and illuminating the complex, pervasive, crippling and often deadly damage they do to individuals and communities.

‘The overwhelming majority of FRS (Fellows of the Royal Society), like the overwhelming majority of US Academicians, are atheists,’ he states (p. 102), backing up his claims with recent survey results.

While — with chapters entitled ‘The God Hypothesis’, ‘Arguments for God’s existence’, ‘The roots of religion’ and ‘The roots of morality: why are we good?’ — Dawkins ploughs old fields, he meticulously follows the various recently mapped intellectual contours, thus encouraging insights to penetrate our understanding and avoiding the erosive down-wash of boredom. In the last-mentioned of these chapters, for instance, four good Darwinian reasons are given for individuals to be altruistic, generous, or ‘moral’ towards each other. They are: genetic kinship, reciprocation, acquiring a reputation for generosity and kindness, and, possibly, ‘the particular additional benefit of conspicuous generosity as a way of buying unfakeable authentic advertising.’

The chapter, ‘Why there certainly is no God’, characterises his style. He says, ‘if God really did communicate with humans that fact would emphatically not lie outside science’. Later he continues ‘… a God who is capable of sending intelligible signals to millions of people simultaneously, and of receiving messages from all of them simultaneously, cannot be, whatever else he might be, simple. Such bandwidth!’ (p. 154)

In ‘The ‘Good’ Book and the changing moral Zeitgeist’ (spirit of the times), he describes two ways in which scripture might be a source of morals: by direct instruction, through the Ten Commandments for instance, or by example in which God or some other biblical character might serve as a role model. Both, strictly followed, ‘encourage a system of morals which any civilised modern person, whether religious or not, would find — I can put it no more gently —obnoxious.’ After illustrating by instances, he sums up his main purpose. It ‘has not been to show that we shouldn’t get our morals from scripture’, but ‘that we (and that includes most religious people) as a matter of fact don’t…’ Spine chilling is the account he gives of Israeli psychologist George Tamarin’s in- and out-group experiment with Israeli children (pp. 255—257), the results of which Dawkins summarises thus: ‘It was religion that made the difference between children condemning genocide or condoning it.’

In the chapter, ‘What’s wrong with religion?’ he quotes Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, an organisation for intimidating abortion providers, when referring to the latter’s doctors: ‘When I, or people like me, are running the country, you’d better flee, because we will find you, we will try you, and we’ll execute you …’ Born into the Second World War, having lived under Hitler for my first few years, conscious of the atrocities perpetrated then, I cannot recall language as inciting and bigotry-fomenting as Terry’s American Taliban statement (p.292):

I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good … Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism. Our goal must be simple. We must have a Christian nation built on God’s law, on the Ten Commandments. No apologies.

Later, after describing how an unsuccessful suicide bomber came to the brink of martyrdom, Dawkins sums up: ‘these people actually believe what they say they believe. The take-home message is that we should blame religion itself, not religious extremism — as though there were some kind of terrible perversion of real, decent religion. Voltaire got it right long ago: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”’

In ‘Childhood, Abuse and the escape from religion’ he cautions — regarding physical abuse — that, ‘we live in a time of hysteria about paedophilia, a mob psychology that calls to mind the Salem witch-hunts of 1692.’ Regarding mental abuse, on the other hand, this talented and empathetic author summarises graphic case studies with ‘I am persuaded that the phrase “child abuse” is no exaggeration when used to describe what teachers and priests are doing to children whom they encourage to believe in something like the punishment of unshriven mortal sins in eternal hell.’

‘Religion has at one time or another been thought to fill four main roles in human life: explanation, exhortation, consolation and inspiration,’ Dawkins claims in the final chapter. He continues that in the role of explanation ‘it is now completely superseded by science.’ By exhortation he means moral instruction, as related above. Regarding consolation he mentions anecdotal evidence from a nursing friend, who ‘has noticed over the years that the individuals who are most afraid of death are the religious ones’ (pp. 357—358), whereas ‘the truly adult view.., is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it’. (p. 360). As for inspiration, ‘this is a matter of taste or private judgement … rather than logic.’

This lucid, brilliantly argued polemic is set to become the religion-opposing classic of the new millennium. This clarion call for truth should find a place on every policy maker’s, politician’s, and voter’s desk, in every secondary and tertiary classroom! Heeding its many lessons would justify Richard Dawkins’s nomination for the Nobel peace prize.

From Australian Humanist No. 85 AUTUMN 2007

Betty Nassaka – My Journey to Humanism

Betty Nassaka is the founder president of the Ugandan Humanist Effort to Save Women (UHESWO) which is affiliated to IHEU member organization the Ugandan Humanist Association (UHASSO). In this personal account she writes about how she developed a critical and independent mind in a country where religion and tradition dominate and rarely give women the opportunity to grow.

God would not guide me to behave well —I had to do it myself

What my Parents Taught Me

I grew up in a family that worships both God and gods. My father was killed in the war of liberation; my stepfather, who was a traditional healer, went to church with my mother on Sundays.

After noticing that most of my stepfather’s clients were victims of AIDS, I asked him one day why most of his clients would eventually die? He responded by asking me if he was God to be able to save their lives. On another occasion I questioned my mother on why she was going to church, and yet prayed to other gods too? She responded by asking if anyone was forcing me to go to church or to a shrine.

My parents were insensitive to my need to know and to understand. Whenever I asked them a question, I was rewarded by another question. So, I stopped asking them and, instead, started on the path of thinking for myself and looking for logical answers to the questions I had.

What God Taught Me

I prayed to God regularly when I was a kid. Instead of going to church on Sundays like the rest of the children, I was ordered to dig, and to collect firewood for the shrine. On Mondays, I was then punished for not attending Sunday school. I prayed to God to rescue me from garden work, which was a major problem for me at that age. He never helped me and I began hating him and cursing him for this. When I got tired of praying to God, I finally thought of something that would save me from digging. I began by surprising my mother by waking up very early, cleaning the house, preparing tea and washing the utensils. My mum was very happy and exempted me from working in the garden — so that I could concentrate on domestic work.

I realized soon that without depending on God I could find solutions by thinking and reasoning.

That didn’t yet stop me completely from praying to God. I prayed to God to stop Satan from tempting me to climb the old man’s mango tree. Result: I never stopped. I stopped only when I could think of a constructive alternative activity. That taught me that God would not guide me to behave well. I had to do it myself.

My mind kept asking inquisitive and critical questions. How strong were the gods? When I was fifteen years old, I wanted to check whether the gods in my stepfather’s grass-thatched shrines could prevent it from catching fire. When I tested, the shrines burnt as if they were soaked in paraffin. I tried to control the fire, but in vain. Funny enough, it seems the gods told my stepfather that the shrine was burnt by our neighbour. From then on, I stopped fearing the gods. I soon learnt that miracles, and all forms of the supernatural were really a myth.

Approaching Humanism

When I studied about evolution in my secondary school, I got a good opportunity to further enhance my spirit of scepticism. I learnt that a human being was an evolutionary product of nature; I developed rationalism during my practical work in chemistry, biology, and physics classes. The experiments posed a lot of puzzling questions: I asked my religious education teacher why he could not give scientific explanations for what he was teaching.

I gradually developed a critical and independent mind, and in 1997 I came in contact with the Ugandan Humanist Association. I was then at college and my science tutor Deo Ssekitooleko, together with other UHASSO members, conducted a seminar on human rights. During this seminar, they argued against corporal punishments and gave us some books with information on Humanism. After I completed college education, I kept in touch with Deo who sent me copies of Free Inquiry magazine. Through these books I discovered that religion was a product of human fantasy, fanaticism and unreason that exploit and enslave the weak and the ignorant.

It was in 2002 that I joined the Uganda Humanist Association-Youth (UHASSO Youth), which helped me to become more active in the humanist movement. Being active in UHASSO, I started looking at sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression. I began to look at reality in its entirety. Through free and critical inquiry, I am now aware that we should always pursue knowledge and learn about the universe, though we may never be able to answer all the questions about life.

I took my own destiny in my hands. Together with a few other women we decided to form the first Ugandan humanist association for women. And in 2006 we managed to launch the organisation.

UHESWO

The Ugandan Humanist Effort to Save Women (UHESWO) was inaugurated by Levi Fragell and Babu Gogineni on 17th June, 2006. It is founded to specifically attract more young Ugandan women to Humanism. I realized how important it was to address issues that affect women — surrounded as we are with the fact that the cultures and religions in Uganda are exploiting, oppressing, and cheating women mostly. UHESWO puts the human being at the centre with no regard to social status, life choice, creed or ethnicity. Advocacy for women’s rights and women’s welfare is the core of UHESWO and our formal aims are to:

• Educate women about Humanism and Scepticism.

• Advocate for human rights.

• Oppose oppressive religions and cultures that keep women in bondage.

• Encourage moral excellence, positive relationships, and human dignity.

• Seek ways of solving problems of life with out the dogmatic authority of secular or religious institutions,

• Eradicate poverty amongst women.

We have already taken up initiatives which are new (see box item) in Ugandan society and we have been attracting the attention of other young women. We hope to help all of them on their journey to Humanism.

Betty Nassaka is the founding chairperson of UHESWO and closely works with a team of 28 other members who are all ladies between the age of 18—35.

God would not guide me to behave well —I had to do it myself.

From International Humanist News April 2007.

Betty Nassaka

UHESWO Supports Young Sex Workers

Illegal

Prostitution in Uganda is illegal. Since 2004, it has been discussed by parliament whether sex workers should have a legal status and whether their earnings should be taxed. Most members of parliament say that the prostitutes’ ‘immoral earnings’ are a shame in a nation whose motto is “For God and my country”. In this context, sex workers’ rights are not respected in Uganda and they have no one to defend them when they need support.

Most prostitutes in Kampala city are young women, most of them less than 35 years of age. They join the sex trade due to different problems like poverty, unemployment, and lack of enough education. Some are orphans and others are divorced. They reside in the slums of Kampala city where housing is very cheap. In the evening they travel to the city to work in the streets.

Visit to Bwayise

In the second-half of last-year, I, and a fellow UHESWO (Ugandan Humanist Effort to Save Women) member, Shamim, gathered courage and visited these women of our age-group in Bwayise, a suburb of Kampala city. We arrived early with the intention of discovering what they did during their free time. In fact everybody was busy. Some were breast-feeding their undernourished babies; others were chewing drugs while many of them were preparing themselves for the evening duty. We waited in a corner while two of them tried to gather their friends to meet us.

While waiting we almost choked on a strange smell — we turned around and saw three naked, carefree and beautiful young girls behind us. They were smoking pipes and making erotic gestures. They said this helped them get more customers. I was very scared and wanted to run away. But I steadied myself because I had to handle the challenge that I was facing as a young woman leader.

Painful Meeting

When they gathered, I talked to them very briefly. I had plans for a big talk, but seeing some of them naked and others chewing drugs, I thought that the girls were mad and not normal enough to listen to me. I told them: “My friends, you are being abused and criticized by many people, but you are human beings whose rights too must be respected. You have the right to make your own choices. On top of that, nobody was born a prostitute but circumstances can force one to be. You are still very young and you can still live healthy productive lives. Your life is very important and your job is full of risks. Hence, be careful. Use condoms”. I then distributed condoms to each of them.

I do not know what made them take to me. They spoke openly: most of them were Muslims and they never had a good education. Muslims do not take education of girls seriously. During the discussion, they shared with us their own experiences. These included being forced into unprotected sex by drug addicts. Indeed, some of them were pregnant and do not know the men responsible. Impotent men hurt them with sticks, which they used instead to penetrate them. Other men scared them with pistols, knives, and hammers, and cheated them of their earnings. Some stubborn men put on polythene bags instead of condoms. Sadly, the policemen were as dangerous as the impotent men. The police always arrested them and shamed them in public. They were regularly exposed in the newspapers and were therefore despised and discriminated by the community. By the time they completed outlining all their problems, tears were rolling down the cheeks of some of them. Some of these vulnerable people became prostitutes because they had no alternative.

UHESWO is planning to start rehabilitation education in future for these young women so that they can quit the sex trade and pursue healthy, productive and sustainable livelihoods. Meanwhile, to protect them from grave danger, the unfortunate women need condoms which are too expensive for them — they requested UHESWO to provide them with condoms if possible — they each need 35 condoms a week on an average.

Using Science and Reason

We have since organised a workshop on 13 January 2007 for the sex workers — the first-ever in Uganda. The workshop theme was Empowering Vulnerable Women through Science and Reason and it was sponsored by Humanist Action for Human Rights (founded by IHEU’s member organization the Humanist Association of Norway).

Our aim in organizing this workshop was to increase awareness among sex workers as regards HIV/AIDS, and the law regarding prostitution and rape. We aimed to counsel them so that gradually they could contemplate quitting prostitution. We also wanted to empower them with information about entrepreneurial skills so that they could think of life after prostitution.

The workshop, conducted in the LuGanda language (The Bantu language of the Buganda people; spoken in Uganda) as well as in English, attracted over 70 participants, including 42 prostitutes, 4 facilitators, 20 UHESWO members, and 4 invited guests.