Kia ora: Inequality has been pondered for centuries but we do not seem to find a solution and make it work. In 1606 Shakespeare wrote in King Lear ‘Distribution should undo excess, And each man have enough.’(Act 4, Scene 1) After the carnage of the First World War, Bertrand Russell wrote ‘The plan we are advocating amounts essentially to this: that a certain small income, sufficient for necessaries should be secured to all, whether they work or not…. When education is finished, no one should be compelled to work, and those who choose not to work should receive a bare livelihood, and be left completely free.’ These thoughts belong to the long tradition of a Universal Basic Income. Sir Thomas More with his novel Utopia (1516) is commonly seen as the first to picture a society with a basic income. If the UK Labour Party in 1920 had not rejected these ideas maybe we would have a very different society today. This interesting line of thought is extensively developed in Guy Standing’s new book Basic Income: And How We Can Make it Happen (2017)

Monthly meeting: Monday 12 June 6.30 pm

Note change of day to 2nd Monday 12 June, as 1st Monday is Queen’s Birthday Weekend

Leaving the faith of a family behind

Aaron Davies, born into and raised in the Jehovah’s Witness religion for 25 years, will be talking about his path out from the religious organisation. He will be discussing what compelled him to make such a big change in his life, focusing on the overwhelming evidence for biological evolution without theistic intervention. Other points of discussion include: How is something determined to be a fact in a modern scientific world? Is living a life without a God less satisfying and fulfilling? Is hope a beneficial trait to have and what factor does it play in decision making? What are the consequences for leaving such a powerful religion behind, and what effect does it have on mental health?

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

  •      Religion in Schools Legal Challenge: Tanya Jacob & David Hines Human Rights Appeal: Tanya and David, from the Secular Education Network (SEN) are campaigning to end religious discrimination in schools. Schools are becoming unwelcoming with Christian-only Bible lessons. This campaign wants to change the law so these will stop and there will be no religious songs and prayers in assemblies, no peer pressure on children or their parents to go against their beliefs. This campaign asks that religion be fairly and sensitively taught in Social Studies and other parts of the NZ Curriculum, including non-religious beliefs such as atheism, humanism and rationalism. A claim has been lodged at the Human Rights Review Tribunal, and Tanya and David are waiting for a date for their case to be heard. There is a Give-a-Little page where people may make donations towards legal costs. https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/tanyajacob-davidhines.
  •      Match Our Donation!! Your dollar donation could be TWO! We’ve pledged to match every dollar given to the ‘Religion in Schools’ legal challenge. To have your donation matched, DONATE TODAY and let us know how much we need to match by emailing [email protected], or on our Facebook wall. We promise to match every dollar donated up to $1000! Donate today to DOUBLE your contribution.
  •      The British Humanist Association (BHA) is now Humanist UK: The BHA have unveiled a new image, which is intended to give greater appeal and enhance their work for a tolerant world where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Extensive consultation with BHA supporters has found a new name and logo to give a totally new, friendly look that captures the essence of humanism: open, inclusive, energetic, and modern, with people and their stories placed first and foremost in all our broad and varied work. In their 120-year history, BHA has regenerated more than once. From a collection of 19th century ethical societies, they became the Ethical Union and then, in the 1960s, the British Humanist Association. The ideas and values they represent have a proud and long history.  The thinking and doing of humanists stretches back to the European Enlightenment and has its antecedents in the ancient cultures of Europe, China, India, and many other places. Today this way of thinking is the basic worldview of millions of people in the UK and globally. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, they ran soup kitchens and housing centres while fighting for the right to air non-religious views in public, chipping away at censorious Victorian culture. In the mid-twentieth century, they were at the centre of movements to reform the law on homosexuality, abortion, and the death penalty. As the BHA they also pioneered the concept of non-religious funerals and weddings. And since then they have continued to challenge creationism in classrooms, guarantee protections for minorities in the workplace and oppose harmful blasphemy laws.
  •      Third Global Atheist Convention, Reason to Hope. 9-11 February 2018 Melbourne Australia: Following The Rise of Atheism (2010) and A Celebration of Reason (2012), in 2018 the Atheist Foundation of Australia will host the third Global Atheist Convention. Tickets will go on sale June 2017: http://atheistconvention.org.au

 

From our Facebook Page www.facebook.com/HumanistNZ/: On our Humanist Society Facebook page we post articles of secular, atheist and humanist interest. We also endeavour to post relevant NZ news about secular issues. We update progress in the ‘removing religion in schools’ debate and most recently the Blasphemy debate, where for a few exciting days it seemed that NZ’s antiquated  Blasphemy Law might be repealed. We also advise of upcoming events that may be of interest and sometimes some humour pops up! Below is an article from our page posted in March:

‘We need critical reflection individually as well as in the company of others’

Q&A with Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen

By JP O’Malley  New Humanist March 2017

Amartya Sen is professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard University. In 1998 he won the Nobel Prize in Economics. Much of his work has focused on poverty, specifically looking at new methods to predict and fight famines. An expanded edition of his 1970 classic Collective Choice and Social Welfare is published by Penguin.

Your reissued book explores the idea of “social choice”. What does that mean?

People live together in societies. For taking social decisions the views of the individuals constituting a society have to be put together. The interests and values of different people have to be combined to form a coherent idea of what a society wants. However, since a society is not a person, it cannot be described as wanting something in the way that a human being might want, say, a glass of water. So when we think about social choice, we need to ask: in what sense – in the discipline of language – can we sensibly talk about a society wanting one thing or another? How can we think about society choosing between alternatives, taking note of and reflecting the views of the members of the society regarding those alternatives?

How might we benefit from thinking in this way?

It makes us reflect analytically, and it also takes us to questions of priority. We may plausibly proceed to ask: what are the principles that democracy must sensibly pursue, emphasise and adhere to, and do this without contradiction? It ends up being, at least in part, a critical and constructive exercise about what democracy should be about.

What is the best way to think about poverty?

Income should not be the only factor to be considered. More broadly, poverty can be seen as deprivation of our capability to do things that we have reason to value as essential for a minimally decent life, such as being well-nourished, free from avoidable morbidity and premature mortality, being literate and numerate, being able to take part in the life of the society, and so on. Income influences all these things, but it is not the only factor that influences these capabilities. Of course, in battling poverty in some extreme form, income may be the first thing to look at. For example, in a famine where people are dying because they do not have money to buy food, it may make sense to tackle the problem by giving people an income, or of course food. But if you are trying to assess poverty more generally, you may find that income gives you misleading signals.

Presumably this can be also applied to the West?

Yes, the need for moving the idea of poverty away from exclusive concentration on income to the deprivation of human capability yields a very general approach – it is not regionally confined. But in making a particular diagnosis of the extent of poverty in a particular society, we must take into account the exact circumstances of the people we are talking about and the society in which they live. The relevant circumstances vary widely across the world. For example, if you have a comparatively low income in a rich country – even though your income is quite high by international standards – you may suffer from absolute deprivation, because you may have difficulty in taking part in community activities. Consider a family in New York or London today whose income is high enough in terms of most people in, say, Kenya or India, but not adequately high for them to afford having a television or subscribe to commonly watched channels. The children of that family may have problems in “hanging out” with other school children. The capability to be part of the community demands a larger income in New York or London than in Nairobi or Patna.

You argue that values are just as important as self-interest in the decision-making process humans tend to make in an economy.

The pursuit of self-interest has a role there, but human values also include questions like: what are the right goals to pursue, and what are the right rules of behaviour? Many people are clearly influenced by their concerns for others. That might vary from person to person. But there is certainly no evidence at all to indicate that people always pursue only their own interest to the exclusion of all other objectives and goals.

Will most people live within whatever political structure is put in front of them?

That may inescapably happen – we may not be able to reorganise the entire society in which we live. But we have to keep questioning what we have reason to reject. I’m very much in favour of public discussions, and asking questions: including uncomfortable ones. When certain uncomfortable questions are not asked, and people continue to follow a given tradition uncritically, unreasonable practices may survive in a way that does not make sense. We have seen that historically. For example, the foot-binding of Chinese young girls, which prevailed for a long, long time, was never explicitly chosen by the society. But when that was the standard practice, people lived with it. Eventually, however, when there was a revolt against it, people gathered together to say they would not allow their daughters to be foot-bound. And once the numbers came up to 40 or 50 per cent, there was a dramatic snowball effect of the practice disappearing altogether. There are a lot of unreasonable things in society – particularly around gender – which survive because we accept and tolerate them without disputing their rationale. We need critical reflection, individually as well as in the company of others. Public reasoning is important.

Do you see a lack of public reflection anywhere in the world now?

There are a lot of examples of that. Take the issue of medical care for all in the US. Europe has a commitment there that America seems to lack. But the situation may change if people examine the importance of having a national health service. Even President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has been attacked very widely – led by Republican politicians, including President Trump – without adequate examination of what it does and why it is needed. The ridiculing of Obamacare is mostly based on the fact that people have not reflected sufficiently about the subject to know what it is Obamacare does and why. Public reasoning can be much more fact-oriented here. Many people who agreed with Trump on the vilification of Obamacare didn’t even understand that their own health insurance might disappear if Trump’s policies are put into action.

NZ Blasphemy Law Repeal – Hopes Raised and then Dashed

Early in May Stephen Fry burst into the media with reports that a complaint of blasphemy had been made against him after an interview on Irish broadcaster RTE in February 2015. Among other comments Stephen Fry said ‘Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?’ This charge was eventually dropped as Police admitted that there was a lack of ‘outraged people. Later on, there was a suggestion that this complaint was made to draw attention to Blasphemy Law and its absurdity.

Co-incidentally in NZ, Parliament was considering a proposition to remove whole Acts that no longer had any meaning for present day life. The catch here is that this proposition was for ‘whole’ Acts. Our NZ Blasphemy Law is part of an Act-Section 123 of the Crimes Act (1961)

It was startling to hear some politicians, notably our Prime Minister Bill English declare that they did not know that NZ had a Blasphemy Law. To their credit Chris Hipkins ( Labour) and David Seymour (Act) saw the opportunity to perhaps repeal this outdated law by attaching to the proposition already under consideration in Parliament.

In secular circles in NZ there was great excitement that maybe after many years of lobbying by both our Humanist Society and the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (NZARH) to repeal the NZ Blasphemy Law, there could, at last, be success.

On our Facebook page there was much interest about Stephen Fry’s charge and the resulting NZ developments. Articles posted reaching more than 2000 people. A letter writing campaign to MP’s was initiated and press statements released. These may be read on our website https://humanist.nz/news/release/repealblasphemy/ and https://humanist.nz/news/release/blasphemylawtostay/

We were quoted in reports by the media: Mark Honeychurch, our Vice-President was quoted in a Stuff article the blasphemy law was an embarrassment for New Zealand’s global reputation, and meant it had no credibility when criticising theocracies such as Saudi Arabia, which severely punished people for blaspheming. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/92323066/surprise-as-public-figures-told-new-zealand-still-has-antiblasphemy-laws

Sara Passmore, our President was quoted in another –‘Sara Passmore said many countries were repealing blasphemy laws and it was time New Zealand followed.”Now that the investigation [against Fry] has been dropped because the Irish police have failed to find enough outraged people, it is clear that any blasphemy law has no place in modern society.”

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/92367396/the-end-is-nigh-mps-look-to-quickly-ditch-new-zealands-antiblasphemy-law

The amendment to repeal the NZ Blasphemy Law was defeated. As this was the first Statutes Repeal Bill for almost a hundred years it might be just as long before the next one.

Our President, Sara Passmore, says, ‘This is a clear vote against human rights in New Zealand. It shows we have an illusion of a secular government, with politicians choosing personal beliefs over freedom and tolerance.

By refusing to remove the blasphemy law from our Crimes Act, the Government is saying we are not free to criticise and challenge all ideas. This decision was backwards, and not in line with international trends. We think people, not ideas, should be protected

The Humanist Society of New Zealand, which represents the 41% of people in the country who are not religious, says that even blasphemy laws such as New Zealand’s that are not used can cause harm, because they legitimise human rights abuses in countries that use their blasphemy laws to persecute citizens.

We ask – why retain a law if it is not intended to be used? Today is a sad day for freedom of speech in New Zealand.’

The defeat of this amendment to the Statutes Repeal Bill was a great opportunity missed.