The Humanist Society of New Zealand is a Member Organization of the International Humanist and Ethical Union

Kia ora: As I begin this newsletter, I am so conscious of the dearth of good news. For good news we have the Church of Scotland acknowledging  that Churchmen and women are modern-day witch hunters, witchcraft accusers and witch persecutors. This moral leadership sends a clear and powerful message to Churches and affiliates in Africa where Churches are part of the problem of witch-hunting. And three centuries later, the last of the Salem witches has been pardoned by Massachusetts, USA, lawmakers formally exonerating Elizabeth Johnson, clearing her name 329 years after she was convicted of witchcraft in 1693 and sentenced to death at the height of the Salem Witch Trials. Elizabeth was not executed, but neither was she officially pardoned like others wrongly accused of witchcraft. And then we begin a long recitation of the problems besetting our world: climate change, habitat destruction, the invasion of Ukraine with the probable execution of the surrendering last defenders of Maripol, another USA school shooting, now the 288th , of teachers and pupils in Texas, the sexual abuse of children in churches and state institutions, the treatment of woman in repressive religious societies, the forcing of women to wear the restricting burka by the Taliban with girls and young woman refused an education, the practice of Female Genital Mutilation, honour killings, child marriage, modern slavery, the sex trade, the persecution of persons of no religious belief, rampant blasphemy charges with the resulting mob violence, the ram raids and gang shootings in Auckland, the supply chain difficulties and inflation – consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, the increasing cost of living in Aotearoa New Zealand, and today the NBR Rich List 2022 announced today shows the top lister has a wealth of 12 billion, which includes an 11 billion increase this past year. The gap between rich and poor in our country is widening with not much sign of re-balancing this discrepancy.

“No, prayers aren’t nice and all” Prayers are dangerous

Prayers are a way for people to convince themselves they’ve something, when they’ve actually done nothing.

Prayers seem to absolve people of taking on the responsibility of demanding change.

Prayers pass the buck to an imaginary being.

Prayers ensure that the problem will persist”

Leaders of the world continue to invoke God. After the dreadful Texas shooting President Biden said “As a nation we have to ask, when in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby.” As Humanists we need to influence change with thought and rationality.

Monday meeting 13 June 2022 6.30pm

This month’s meeting will be held in person at our usual venue, Thistle Inn and online – see link below

Note the first Monday of the month is Queens’s Birthday weekend and meeting has been put back a week to Monday 13 June.

Humanists Australia: A New Start

Australian Humanists have been evaluating their organisational structure and have made a ‘new start’. Dr Heidi Nicholl has been appointed the Chief Executive Officer of Humanists Australia and at this month’s meeting Heidi will talk to us over Zoom. Heidi plans to visit New Zealand later in the year to meet up with the HNZ and NZARH communities.

Originating from the north of England, Melbourne based ethicist Heidi Nicholl became CEO of Humanists Australia in May 2021. Heidi has a first degree in zoology following which she worked for almost ten years conducting basic laboratory science. Ultimately, she became Manager of the Human Developmental Biology Resource (a foetal tissue bank) in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Following her PhD in Medical Ethics in 2008 Heidi split her time between teaching medical ethics at University College London medical school and lecturing in Healthcare Ethics at City University (plus some archery coaching and small business running!). She relocated from the UK to the US in 2013 for a four-year work period which included a period working as a Clinical Ethicist in a busy San Francisco hospital. A move to Australia in 2017 saw Heidi step into her first non-profit leadership role as CEO of Emerge Australia, supporting, advocating and educating people about myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).

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

Wellington Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St, Thorndon-upstairs

Humanists NZ – Palmerston North/Papaioea:. Their event, Festival of Ideas, will be postponed to a later date. To be in touch with this group information is on their Facebook page and Keith St-Clair may be emailed at


Humanists International have begun a ‘Postcard for Mubarak’ campaign as Mubarak Bala’s imprisonment begins a third year. Humanists International is encouraging supporters across the globe to send a message of solidarity to Mubarak and his family to give them strength for the challenge ahead as efforts continue to obtain his release. Letter writing guide lines and address to send messages to, can be found at following link Humanists International website. Humanist NZ have sent a postcard, and will send another. The messages are being collected by HI and will be sent on in batches. It is thought that messages from around the world will show the Kano prison authorities that this injustice is known far and wide.

Leo Igwe, Lynda Tilley and all African humanists along with Humanists International are working on action to obtain Mubarak’s release.

At the 2018 HI General Assembly, Leo Igwe spokee to us at our Conference Parliamentary Welcome with prophetic words:

Being known as a Humanist or an atheist can mean social ostracisation at best, at worst death, in Africa. Secular liberal countries must do more for them…. It is important to state that Humanists and freethinkers are not asking for special treatment. Non-religious people want to live in a society that ensures equality, justice, freedom, and human rights for all individuals despite the religious belief or lack of it. They desire to live their lives free from fear and persecution like other human beings. Given this situation, Humanists everywhere are looking to countries for help in the realisation of this aspiration. With the growing population of non-religious persons worldwide, many countries are in a position to defend all Humanists at Risk. Countries should use their positions as member states of the Commonwealth, of the UN and other regional and international bodies to help end the persecution and discrimination against non-religious people across the world.”

At that time, in 2018, our NZ humanist community had little awareness of the growing plight of humanists and also Christians in Islamic societies. There has been a dreadful murder of a young Christian girl, Deborah Yakubu, in early May 2022, in Sokoto, Northern Nigeria. Deborah was accused of blasphemy through her student study group and was savagely beaten, tyres were placed on her broken body and set alight, burning Deborah to death while alive. The Guardian has a report of this heinous crime.

Hey atheists, can we just stop arguing?

J. H.  McKenna ‘OnlySky.Media-Secularism’

(This article was posted on our Facebook page and caused some comment. If you have thoughts you would like to share, please add to the Facebook comment- posted 28 May 2022)

J. H. McKenna (Ph.D.) has taught the history of atheism and other classes since 1999 at the University of California, where he has won teaching awards. He has published in academic journals and the LA Times, Huffington Post, and Patheos. He created ‘’ to feature his writing projects.


If you’re an atheist who’s constantly arguing, there are better ways to use your time and energy in the post-religious West.

Enough already.

How many times do we have to take public issue with some chapter and verse in the Bible? How many times do we have to contest a theological story and say it makes no sense? Animals upon an ark. Talking donkeys. God-men. Water into wine. Sacrificial deaths. Subterranean torture chambers of eternal duration.

It’s as if we continue over and over again to dispute the claim that that a radioactive arachnid has produced a Spider-Man. It sounds something like this:

“The first argument I have against the Spider-Man is that the spider would die of radioactive poisoning within a minute of exposure to radiation. Second, even if the spider did manage to bite a man before it died, radioactivity is not strictly contagious via spider fangs. Third, even if the man did become radioactive through the spider’s bite, there’s no way the man could develop an ability to spin webs from his fingertips.”

We don’t have to do this stuff anymore. In our current Western post-religious world, our services as argumentative atheists are no longer needed.

In the West, even in America, the culture is moving toward irreligion. Soon, the single largest ‘religious’ group in the USA will be non-religious secularists.

And argumentative atheists cannot really take credit for this irreligious revolution.

Most people don’t leave religion because they read an article or a book critiquing theism. And most irreligious people don’t remain irreligious because they’ve read an atheistic article or book. The causes of greater and greater irreligion are much larger than the contributions of argumentative atheists.

Instead, the movement away from religion involves massive cultural shifts with many moving parts.

Do you think the ancient Sumerian pantheon, reigning for a few thousands of years, became incredible because argumentative atheists publicly critiqued ancient Sumerian religion? Is that why we moderns no longer believe in Sumerian gods? Do you think the Egyptian pantheon, also reigning for a few thousand years, became incredible because an atheistic treatise brought it down?

No. Cultural shifts brought those religions down and made them utterly unbelievable to the masses.

The same thing may be happening today with our current religions. They’re wilting under myriad cultural manoeuvres.

And so, we must consider, what will we do as atheists who don’t argue with religion? How about we spin a new web? Retool. Say what we are for, not what we are against. When needed, we will address hurtful public policies for which religion is a mask but really arise from bad politics, bad sociology, and bad morality. We can more effectively oppose these hurtful outcomes if we don’t waste time trying to talk people out of their religion. That’s not how it works. Instead of devising yet another argument against belief, devise a strategy to defend what is of value, out here in the real world.

The world is glistering with secularity. That’s our optic, that’s our topic. Speak of anything other than religion. Write about anything except religion. Even as we deal with its real-world consequences, we don’t have to discuss religion itself anymore.

No more stale arguments riveted to the past. We have a hopeful, forward-looking worldview. We’re agents of the future. Let’s tell people what we’re thinking. It’ll be interesting no matter what we say.  

Religion will continue to persist, but we’ll shift our attitude about religion to one of discreet amusement, as if we’re watching cosplay at a Spider-Man convention, knowing that the fad may endure but it doesn’t deserve our full attention and energy.

Trial of Mubarak Bala: Tolerant Pluralism and Imperative of Islamic Reformation in Northern Nigeria  Leo Igwe

Unlike Ms Samuel, Bala has been a marked man since he renounced Islam in 2014. He defied a tradition which says that a person born into the Islamic religion, cannot renounce the faith. Bala left Islam, managed to escape from a mental hospital where he was sedated, and medicated at the instance of his family against apostasy and unbelief.

The conviction of Nigerian Humanist, Mubarak Bala, after a judicial process marked by irregularities jolted the civilized world. People of conscience had hoped that human rights would prevail; that after some dark nights of denial and disappearance, some light would shine at the end of the tunnel untwisting extremist imaginaries that had viciously beclouded and gripped the minds of Islamic theocrats in the region. Incidentally, this hope was misplaced and terribly dashed. Mubarak Bala was handed down an outrageous sentence, short of the death penalty, that is unprecedented in the history of secular court trials in Nigeria. Following Bala`s sentencing, the darkness fiercely thickened culminating in the brutal murder of a Christian woman, Deborah Samuel, also accused of blasphemy in Sokoto, in Northern Nigeria.

Unlike Ms Samuel, Bala has been a marked man since he renounced Islam in 2014. He defied a tradition which says that a person born into the Islamic religion, cannot renounce the faith. Bala left Islam, managed to escape from a mental hospital where he was sedated, and medicated at the instance of his family against apostasy and unbelief.

Bala has been on the watchlist of jihadists because of his exercise of freedom of religion and from religion, his assertion of freedom of expression posed a mortal threat to their power base. He became a pariah in Kano, where he was born. Kano is a city that is notorious for religious bloodletting and for attacking and extrajudicially killing alleged blasphemers.

Mubarak Bala, like Socrates of Athens, was accused of impiety and corruption of young Muslims because he was encouraging young Muslims to think, question and speak freely about Islam and its teachings. Bala became the rallying point for freethinking, rationalist, secularist, sceptical and atheist youths. But Islamists could not countenance this disruptive development, this sweeping wave of social awakening and enlightenment. They moved to stop, silence, resist and neutralize him and his cause. The Islamists hounded Bala out of Kano, where the parents lived. They could not allow him to physically meet with people of like mind. They monitored and censored his posts on social media, to ensure that his comments did not violate their faith sensibilities.

But even for the most commonsensical posts, Bala was accused and abused. Bala was maligned. Bala was indicted for offending the religious sentiments of Muslims. He was threatened and harassed online and offline by Islamists including Muslim state police and army officers.

On April 28 2020, the police arrested Mubarak Bala in Kaduna following a petition by some Islamist lawyers. They complained that he made posts on Facebook that insulted the prophet of Islam. In the petition, the lawyers enjoined the police to prosecute Bala to avoid a breakdown of law and order in the region. The petition was a covert warning to the police that if they did not arrest Bala, he would suffer the same fate as Deborah Samuel, and a Christian pastor, Shuaibu Yohana, who was murdered for blasphemy in September 2021. The police took Bala to Kano where the petition was lodged. They disappeared from him for several months. During this period they denied him access to his family members and lawyers. In April this year, a Muslim judge, in an attempt to placate Islamists convicted Bala. No Muslim leader condemned the sham trial and sentencing of Bala. The Muslim community largely saw Bala’s conviction as a well-deserved punishment, as justice served, not justice denied.

Look, the sentencing of Mubarak Bala shames us all, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It is an indictment of our collective conscience and casts a huge shadow over the quest for African renaissance and enlightenment. African enlightenment cannot be realized if Africans cannot freely question ideas or criticize religious claims without fear of being attacked, killed or imprisoned. The conviction of Bala underscores the urgency of an Islamic reformation and intellectual awakening of Muslim youths from their religious slumber. It confirms the widespread notion that Islam, as practised in Northern Nigeria, is intolerant, and thrives on coercion and intimidation. The religion of Islam does not stand for peace as many Muslims claim because the imprisonment of Mubarak Bala for making Facebook posts that were critical of the prophet of Islam and other horrific treatment of alleged blasphemers constitute acts of war against non-Muslims. In Northern Nigeria, Muslims have prosecuted violent campaigns against Christians and Muslims who belong to other traditions. They kill and are ready to murder anyone who is believed to have insulted their prophet and religion. If by any stretch of religious imagination, peace applies to Islam as practised in northern Nigeria, it is peace in a graveyard of lives, rights and liberties of Muslim minorities as well as non-Muslims. And this situation must change.

Muslims must realize that it is in the interest of their religion and the Ummah to shun extremism and tolerate supposed blasphemous statements wherever they are in the majority because Muslims could easily be accused, attacked or indicted for blasphemy in places where they are in the minority. Muslims should know that a person`s religious sense is another`s religious nonsense; that Muhammad is only a prophet for Muslims, and a prophet of Islam, not other religions. Muslims should not expect people who profess other religions and beliefs to respect and revere Prophet Muhammad. There are millions of Nigerians who do not recognize Muhammad as a prophet or as a messenger from God. In many places across Nigeria and the world, Muslims are in the minority and Islam is a fringe faith.

n such places, Muslims could be accused of blasphemy for reciting the Shahada, which is a fundamental article of faith in Islam. In non-muslim societies, the Shahada is seen as insulting, provocative and disparaging of other gods and prophets. And if non-Muslims tolerate this article of faith that disparages their faiths and beliefs, why shouldn’t Muslims tolerate views and expressions of non-Muslims that are critical or supposedly disparaging of the Islamic faith or prophet?

With the way Muslims react to supposed blasphemies, Christians could accuse Muslims of blasphemy for declaring that God (Allah) has no son and that Jesus is not the son of God but the son of a wo/man. If Muslims want to be tolerated when they disparage Christianity, the Christian son of God and other deities, they should learn to tolerate those who hold views that supposedly insult Islam including those that defame the prophet or desecrate the Quran. Muslims should learn to live in harmony with non-Muslims or non-believers who regard Muhammad as a non-prophet, a terrorist, a paedophile, rapist, war criminal or a con artist. After all, those who hold these views are infidels according to the teachings of Islam and these notions are consistent with their state of unbelief.

So the way that Islam is practised in Northern Nigeria must change as vividly demonstrated in the trial and sentencing of Mubarak Bala and other reactions to blasphemy allegations in the region. The mainstay of Islam in Northern Nigeria has become radicalism, intolerance and bigotry. The Islamic religion is practised in a way that young Muslims who value their religion more than human life have become the face of the religion in the region. And this is unfortunate. Islam in Northern Nigeria needs to be reformed and transformed. Muslims need to embrace mainstream tolerant pluralism and humanity.

Otherwise, there would be no peace in the country.

2022 Humanists International General Assembly

The 2022 Humanists International General Assembly will take place in Glasgow from Friday 3rd June until Sunday 5th of June. The event will be organised in collaboration with Humanist Society Scotland.

The event will take place at the Sir Charles Wilson Building which forms part of the University of Glasgow. The weekend will feature a range of cultural and intellectual experiences, including the International Humanist Conference 2022 – read more at following links and register for the conference on Humanists Society Scotland’s website.