a.. Kia ora: Best wishes for all Humanists for 2006. The year began with an invitation for lain Middleton to present a Humanist perspective on Spirituality and Health at a meeting at Lower Hutt Hospital.

b.. March monthly meeting: Monday 6 March, 7.30 pm until 9 pm, Turnbull House, Wellington. All welcome. Topic: The visit of Dr. Nitschke to New Zealand. Frank Dungey, a Humanist member and representative of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand will speak on Dr. Nitschke’s recent visit. Kent Stevens will also present some research on recent developments in this area. These two presentations will be followed by a round the room discussion. Future meeting dates will be advised in the next newsletter.

c.. Summer Gathering: 29 January, an enjoyable lunch was shared by a number of Wellington Humanist members. We collected a few signatures for the registration of our Humanist Marriage Celebrants. 10 signatures are now required yearly for Celebrants to remain in office, with an 11th person required to have them verified by a JP. We will keep collecting throughout the year until we have the required number.

d.. Radio Access: 11 am 783 kHz DID YOU LISTEN via your computer on February 12th? If you didn’t, you missed a most interesting interview with Professor Alandorf, visiting Professor of Biology at Victoria University, celebrating Darwin Day. Is there a member out there who has the technical knowledge and time to create an audio file on the Humanist Web site so that the excellent programme that Jeff Hunt organizes can be accessed at another time. If so please make contact. Do listen for our next broadcast Sunday March 12 at 11 am.

e.. Interesting Figures: In a Google search the word Darwin will bring up 51.7 million hits. Compare this with the word Bible, 16 million hits; Marx, 20 million; Hitler, 26 million; and Freud, 10 million.

f.. Email discussion group: Is operating on Yahoo at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nzhumanism Have you registered to meet with other members via the web world of communication.

g.. Email News: Those people who have provided an email address receive additional email Humanist News bulletins and items of interest. If you would like to be on the mailing list, please email [email protected] . Remember to let us know if you change your email or postal address.

h.. Newsletter distribution: As mentioned in the December 2005 newsletter , and as a reminder for 2006, this issue will be sent by e-mail where possible. However a hard copy will be mailed out where we know members would like this. If you receive only an e-mail copy but wish for a hard copy, please let us know. Also, if you now have an e-mail address and would like to receive the newsletter only via e-mail let us know.

i.. And because it is still February the month of Darwin ‘s birthday a poem NOT FOR LOVE by Philip Appleman is reprinted from The Humanist Nov/Dec 2005

“Contemplate a tangled bank …” Charles Darwin
It is yes a green shimmer of beauty,
Of butterfly flashes of lemon,
image of butterfly The perfume of virginal roses,
And larks lifting lyrics to heaven
And yes the larks love butterflies (for breakfast)
Raccoons love meadowlarks (at midnight dinners)
Roses hug their neighbours (till they wither)
Nature breeds good nature (in her winners)
So Brahmins bless the beggars on the Ganges,
Commissars kiss virgins in Havana
Massahs guard their nigras in Montgomery
And realtors praise the trees in Indiana
Moral True love suffers long and is kind of
pathetically prone to be docile.
Darwin’s advice to the prone is:
Beware of becoming a fossil.

Gaylene Middleton

Coming Event

Victorian Humanists, and others, will host a conference in Melbourne on Separating Church and State.

The point of the gathering is to expose the best kept political secret that there is no such separation in Australia.

Possible speakers include: Associate Professor Helen Irving, University of Sydney; Professor Loane Skene, University of Melbourne; Dr Max Wallace of Australian National University; Roy Brown, President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union; other speakers from the United States, Britain and New Zealand. Phillip Adams has asked to be ‘pencilled in’ as facilitator.

Proposed dates 17 & 18 June 2006 at the Elisabeth Murdoch Lecture Theatre, University of Melbourne.

The theatre seats about 300.

Please register your interest in attending by E-mail to [email protected]

You will be advised of the fairly modest charge involved to help cover the cost of the conference and there will also be a fee to attend the optional conference dinner.

More details will follow in next Australian Humanist as arrangements are finalised.

Is it time for humanists to start holding services. or is that just what we can do without?

We all need rituals, says Dave Belden

So someone buttonholes me – or you – and asks: ‘You Humanists live fuller, richer lives, do you? Fulfil your potential? If I become a humanist, just hypothetically you understand, I mean I’m not planning to or anything, but if I did, I mean, would it cheer me up?’

Humanists have already met the philosophical challenges set by religion. They know that morality and meaning do not require God. But where’s the juice? Rationalist argument alone gets boring. To build a good society you need vibrant connections. Where’s the sensuous, the spiritual, the feeling, the awe and joy in being a humanist?

We are a tribal species. We need communal rituals, songs to sing together, not alone in our rooms. We need ways to care for each other, inspire each other, develop ethics and teach them to our children, through stories, plays, rituals, dances and music. Yes, you can find all these things in separate places – museums, theatre, evening classes. Why not in a single, Humanist place?

In the 19th century some Humanists started functional alternatives to religion. Ethical culture societies were founded. Why did they not thrive, as churches do?

Was it because an overly rational approach to life can be cool, even chilly; dry, and narrowly dismissive of metaphor, story, ritual; judgmental in a superior moralistic way to all those benighted beings who are still stuck in their irrational modes? I want my agnostic religion to be warm, juicy, broad, and celebratory.

It was having a kid that made me realise I wanted a community. In our rural American backwater, christian radio has the strongest signal and we heard troubling tales of homophobic, racist, anti-Semitic attitudes at the local school. Where were we going to find a youth group of like-minded humanistic liberals? We found a Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregation. Highly suspicious and group-phobic, I was surprised to find I liked it for myself. There’s a mixture of belief and non-belief there, but no creedal litmus test for membership.

Religion can add much to the purely rational without becoming irrational. For example, a scientific approach on its own will teach you there is no sharp disconnect between humans and the rest of life. But that understanding may not change or deepen your life unless you let it seep into your bones. You might meditate on it, immerse yourself in nature, feel your connection to other living beings, create rituals and songs, experience awe and gratitude, humility, joy, despair, or power in face of the mystery of life.

Even atheists may call these experiences ‘spiritual’ since spirit can just mean ‘breath’. ‘Religion’ just means organising it. Make up new words if you insist.

Perhaps secular religion is only likely to develop in societies like the US, where god-religion is strong, and even sceptics know the value of a good congregation: they just want it god-free and god-optional. But in atomized modern England where, as in the US, commerce is strong, money corrupts politics and the left has lost its way, how, do you build up ethical communities? And how do you avoid them ending up just as dogmatic and overbearing as any church?

Fear not. Groups do not inevitably become cults, or take away your individuality. They say that if you want to run a Unitarian Universalist family out of your neighbourhood, you burn a question mark on their front lawn. Doubt itself can be sacred.

But doubt can’t be all that is sacred or we’d be so doubtful we couldn’t get up in the morning. A humanistic religion informed by science, like the Ethical Culture movement or the Unitarians, is glued together by ethical values and a shared sense of wonder at being alive at all in such a universe as this. These groups can provide many of the functions of a useful religion: ethical teaching and practice; mutual help; social and political action; shared rituals for life passages and regular inspiration; shared meals; art, poetry, song, and meditation; small groups for psychological support and philosophical investigations; and all within one community so that connections between individuals become ever deeper and more multi-faceted.

This is one way. I am not saying humanism should be this, only that it’s one way to try.

Dave Belden is a writer and UK activist.
[from New Humanist Nov/Dec 05, along with counter argument by A. C. Graylng, following.]

We have all the rituals we need, counters A. C. Grayling

A rose might indeed smell as sweet by any other name, but names matter nevertheless, and it especially matters that the terms ‘humanism’ and ‘religion’ should have clear definitions so that temptations to describe the former as a species of the latter can be avoided.

Some succumb to such temptations because they would like humanism to be a movement with a credo that would sustain communities of like-minded folk, making it a substitute version of church membership. But humanism is not such a thing, and religion is a quite different thing.

Humanism is a general outlook based on two allied premises, which allow considerable latitude to what follows from them. The premises are, first, that there are no supernatural entities or agencies in the universe, and second, that ethics must be based on facts about human nature and circumstances.

There can be much debate about what the human good is, ranging from philosophical abstractions to practical politics; but it is distinctively humanist only if it eschews efforts to decide these matters by invoking the notion of supernatural powers whose purposes and desires dictate what the human good should be.

Religion, by contrast, is premised on belief in the existence of supernatural agencies, and moreover ones that in some way matter to the human good. In typical cases it is supposed that the supernatural agencies have a personal interest in the conformity of human beings to their purposes; and such religions further suppose that human petition or blandishment can alter those supernatural purposes by prayer and sacrifice. But unless an outlook premises the existence and (usually) interest of supernatural beings, and demands a response to their existence, it is not a religion and should not be called one.

Neither Buddhism in its original Theravada form, nor Confucianism, are therefore religions; they are atheistic in the quite literal sense of this term. They are philosophies. This apples also to Stoicism, once the outlook of most educated people in the classical world.

The Stoics had a notion of reason as the ordering principle of the world, which those anxious to impute theistic leanings to them interpret as a deity in the Judaeo-Christian sense. But it was no such thing; it was a principle of rational structure, to which ethical endeavour – so they argued – should fit itself. The Stoics did not ‘worship’ or petition it; they did not think of it as conscious or purposive in any way; which is what would have been needed for it to qualify as a deity.

The theatre and rituals of religion answer a need many people have for communal celebrations of significant moments in life and death. Humanist groups can offer non-religious versions of some of these observances.

But it is a failure of imagination not to see that when people go to art galleries or concerts, enjoy gardening and country walks, or have dinner with friends, they are expressing themselves aesthetically and socially in the same (and arguably better) way as people who come together in church congregations.

When illiterate peasants gathered from their dispersed farms every Sunday in church, it gave them a dose of communality, theatre and, in the form of graphic murals, not infrequently about punishments in hell, art. Human resources have expanded since, and people can choose their own ways of satisfying the needs once met by that limited and propagandistic ration.

Humanism, though, is not even a philosophy, for it has no teachings beyond its two minimal premises, and obliges us to do nothing other than think for ourselves. Since it does not constitute a body of doctrine, a sequence of arguments, an adumbration of principles, or a code of living, and requires no belief in anything beyond what empirical evidence defeasibly and revisably requires, it is as far from being a religion as anything could be, for a religion is all these things and more.

Religious folk try to turn the tables on people of a humanistic outlook by charging them with ‘faith’ in science and reason. Faith, they seem to have forgotten, is what you have despite facts and reason. The point of the Doubting Thomas story, remember, is that it is more blessed to believe without evidence than with it, as Kierkegaard likewise later insisted with his ‘leap of faith’ doctrine.

No such leaps are required to ‘believe in’ science and reason. Science is always open to challenge and refutation, faith is not; reason must be rigorously tested by its own lights, faith rejoices in unreason. Once again, a humanistic outlook is as far from sharing the characteristics of religion as it can be. By definition, in short, humanism is not religion, any more than religion is or can be a form of humanism.

A. C. Grayling is Professor of Philosophy at Birbeck College, University of London

* You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they come from and refuse to tell you where they are going.

* Horse sense is the thing horses have that keeps them from betting on people.

* I have enough money to last me for the rest of my life – unless I buy something.

* Our grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was 60. She is 97 today – and we don’t know where the hell she is.

* Racial prejudice is a pigment of the imagination.

Gleaned from Halina Strnad
Australian Humanist No. 81 AUTUMN 2006 11