Humanist Society of New Zealand (Inc.), PO Box 3372, Wellington, New Zealand – Registered Charity No. CC36074

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

Humanist Newsletter January, February, March 2018

Kia ora: New Year Greetings and welcome back to another year of Humanist activity. We began our year with a Darwin Day gathering with a Humanist guest, Peter Edmead from Cornwall, UK. Peter is a Humanist Pastoral Counsellor with Humanist UK. Peter feels that non-theistic people have a right to have an advocate who understands their position on myths, superstitions and imaginary beings. They have a right to non-theistic ethical humanist-orientated volunteer activists when in distress or in situations of difficulty or danger to their health or wellbeing. At present we do not provide such a service to non-religious people in NZ. If any NZ Humanist would like to explore such a volunteer capacity our Society would be glad to help formalise such an endeavour – please get in contact with us. Celebrating Darwin Day brings to mind that Darwin’s scientific contribution enables us to see that all life forms, including humans, are naturally evolved rather than specially created. We discussed empathy with Peter and it is most interesting that the brain centre for empathy lies just above the brain stem, indicating that it is a very ancient behaviour function. This has implications that suggest that ‘kind’ behaviour is not limited to humans, but belongs to the whole animal world. We are ‘Good without God.’ Our kindness has evolved from the very beginning of time.

Monthly meeting: Monday March 5, 6:30pm

A personal overview of Christian Science

Alexander Maxwell who lectures in history at Victoria University will speak to us about the Church of Christ Scientist. The Church of Christ, Scientist, popularly known as “Christian Science,” appeared in Boston during the nineteenth century, and is best known for its hostility to medicine. This talk introduces the founder of the Church, Mary Baker Eddy and the organization she founded. It then discusses Eddy’s theology as it appears in her main work, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” first published in 1875. The presentation ends with the speaker’s personal experiences growing up in a Christian Science family, and particularly as it concerned his brother’s clubbed foot. Alexander welcomes questions at the end of his talk.

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

Venue: Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St in the George Room

  •    Census 2018 Campaign                Census Date March 6

In December 2009 fundraising was started for the NZ Atheist Bus Campaign modelled on the UK campaign. In a couple of days a target of NZ $10,000 was reached. In under a week NZ$20,000 was raised. This would have provided signs for buses in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. However, the advertisements were rejected by the bus companies. After an unsuccessful claim of discrimination to the Human Rights Review Tribunal a billboard campaign was run instead. The remaining funds were held awaiting another opportunity. The 2018 Census seemed just this opportunity to put posters on buses encouraging people to MARK or SELECT NO RELIGION. A street Poster campaign was also devised.


Four slogans were chosen: ‘HAVE YOUR BELIEFS CHANGED?’,TAKE RELIGION OUT OF POLITICS’, ‘NO LONGER RELIGIOUS?’ and ‘GOOD WITHOUT GOD?’, with an additional suggestion of the 2018 CENSUS A GREAT TIME TO SAY SO


However history has repeated itself. First to go was the slogan GOOD WITHOUT GOD.  We were informed that this slogan was not acceptable. Then just days before the campaign was to run NZ BUS informed us that they would not run the posters as they now have a new policy of no religious advertising on their buses. But Phantom Advertising did go with our contract to put up street posters, identical to the bus posters, at locations in Auckland, Wellington  and Christchurch


Completing Your Census Form

As the ‘No religion’ affiliation is the fastest growing belief group in New Zealand, it is important to collect accurate census figures. In the last census over 40% of New Zealanders said they were not religious – it’s the largest single belief group. We are asking people “If your beliefs have changed, or religion does not play much of a role in your life, join the thousands of New Zealanders who are proud to say ‘No Religion’ in this March Census”.

We have developed a website to give additional information.

The Census will be available to complete online and also as a paper form.

There will be a drop-down or write-in box for people to indicate their religious adherence. If in this space people write atheist or humanist or secular or rationalist they will be classified as ‘Other Religions, Beliefs or Philosophies

The best strategy is to leave this drop-down or write-in box untouched.

Beneath this drop-down or write-in box will be a line for no religion with a small oval to be marked.


Only MARK (paper form) or SELECT (online form) this choice.

There has been much discussion and ‘disbelief’ on social media that marking atheist or humanist or secular or rationalist will result in being classified as ‘Other Religions, Beliefs or Philosophies’. It seems crazy, but this is the Department of Statistics directive.

Help get accurate figures for the fastest growing belief group in New Zealand by filling in your 2018 Census Form on 6 March by MARKING or SELECTING No Religion

IHEU  General Assembly  3 – 5 August  Auckland with Closing Event Wellington 6 August

Mark your calendar for this international event. Meet Andrew Copson and other Humanist UK and IHEU staff. Further information in April Newsletter

We are also fortunate to have Leo Igwe, whose article follows, join us for this gathering.

Why I am Not Religious   by Leo Lgwe reprinted from Free Inquiry   Feb/Mar  2018  Vol 38 No 2

Leo Igwe, founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement and founding director of the Center for Inquiry Nigeria, recently completed a doctorate degree in religious studies at the University of Bayreuth in Germany. He is the chair of the Humanist Association of Nigeria and recipient of the IHEU 2017 Distinguished Service to Humanism Award.

I am going to share with you the reasons why I do not believe in God and why I have devoted the past twenty years to campaigning against the harmful effects of religion and superstition.

Perhaps it may be helpful to tell you a bit about my background and how my upbringing contributed in shaping my attitude/disposition toward religion and supernatural beliefs.

I was born into a religious Catholic family in a rural village in southeastern Nigeria. I served as an altar boy when I was in primary school, helping the priest at the local church. I did my high school and part of my tertiary education in Catholic seminaries where I also worked as a teacher. My parents were traditional religionists. Like most people of their generation, they switched religions while growing up. My father told me that he embraced Christianity because that was the only way he could get a formal education. The same applied to my mother, who dropped out after primary school.

Professing Christianity guaranteed access not only to education but also to employment and health care. It also ensured success in business and politics. So people in my community tried to identify as Christians. I say they tried to present themselves as Christians because I know that most of them, if not all, retained their traditional religious beliefs, which they observed mainly at night or when they faced serious problems such as terminal diseases.

So I grew up in an environment that was and still is religiously diverse, where people professed different faiths and worshipped different gods at different times.

For some time, I pondered the relevance of the various religions and gods that millions of persons in my country professed to believe in, perhaps not surprisingly given the numerous and persistent challenges such as hunger, poverty, unemployment, insecurity, and diseases that people faced on a daily basis.

I lost count of the places where people worshipped gods or spirits—in the open market, at the football field, at motor parks, along the highway, on the hills or in the forests, in uncompleted buildings, beside streams and rivers, in buses, cars, and airplanes, in huts and mansions, even in laboratories and libraries. Nigerians could use any place for prayer or for fellowship.

In addition, Nigerians used their life savings to construct expensive buildings, magnificent churches and mosques, which they called houses of gods—all while they languished in poverty. Let us not forget, these were actually places where spirits, not human beings, were supposed to “live.” In some parts of Nigeria, building mosques was a state project, lauded as a judicious way of using the state’s limited financial allocations. Meanwhile, many of those who contributed to building these houses of God had no decent apartments of their own. They lived in huts, slums, and shanties. Some were homeless or lived on the streets!

In fact, I was puzzled at what people described as a god or as materials that had divine powers. They included cowry shells; pieces of stone, cloth, rocks, and metal; wooden, plastic, or waxed materials; carved items; wine, wafers, oil, or kola nuts; even a handkerchief.

People kept bones of dead animals and sometimes skulls of humans, pouches containing dead insects, or smelly decayed dried human or animal body parts in special corners in their rooms, under their pillows, in their pockets, around their waists. Many Nigerians, including the educated, believed without question that these items could make their businesses flourish, get them to succeed in politics, and protect them from dangers, death, and disease.

I wondered at what point these objects and artifacts became abodes of the divine or channels for the spirits.

I was often shocked by what people did in the name of worshipping God or professing a religion. I saw priests and priestesses pray, talking to material objects as if they were human beings—actually, superhuman beings.

Medicine men and women, prophets and prophetesses, stared at wafers, dry kola nuts, pieces of chalk, or some wine; they held carved images or other artifacts, calling them “Father,” “Grandfather,” “Almighty,” “Alpha and Omega,” or “the one who speaks and it is final,” singing praises to inanimate objects.

Sometimes people looked up to the empty skies and made gestures toward the heavens as if they were addressing someone who was actively paying attention. In the process, they behaved as if they were engaged in a serious conversation or as if slightly drunk, talking, murmuring, singing and laughing, soliloquizing. People uttered meaningless syllables, mere gibberish, and you know what? They called it speaking in tongues or “speaking the heavenly language,” as if by calling what could pass as a symptom of mental disturbance by some other name they transformed it into the mark of a sound mind.

Millions of people spent valuable hours every day, week, month, and year—time they might have devoted to productive ventures—talking to different gods, expecting miracles and divine intervention in their lives.

Nigerians killed fellow Nigerians for “desecrating” religious objects or materials such as the holy books. So religion could really be a force for harm, division, and destruction. I came to understand that extremely religious people could be dangerous! They gave us the holy wars and human ritual sacrifice. Those who were ready to kill their own children or who actually killed other human beings in pursuit of some imagined will or directive from God were praised and presented as role models, not as vicious characters!

Religions encouraged hate, lies, mischief, violence, and impunity, preaching respect for peddlers of falsehoods and absurdities.

All this is why, in 1996, I started the Nigerian Humanist Movement to highlight these dark and destructive roles of religion and superstition. I started the movement to draw attention to the debasement of human lives and violations of human rights in the name of God, faith, and tradition, and to take on religious extremists including witch- and demon-hunters.

Fortunately, in the past two decades our campaign has gained some momentum within Nigeria and beyond. We have worked to promote humanism as an alternative to dogmatic religions and superstitious beliefs. Along the way we have provided a sense of community to nonbelievers, atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers. People whom others call infidels, apostates, and blasphemers have received support in a way that has never been the case in the history of the region. For instance, in 2014, Nigerian humanists launched a campaign that led to the release of Mubarak Bala, who had been sent to a psychiatric hospital by his family after he renounced Islam.

We have also extended support to victims of witchcraft-accusation and ritual-related abuse. Humanists have worked to rescue children who were abandoned in Nigeria due to witchcraft. In a country where religion and politics often mix, the Nigerian Humanist Movement has campaigned vigorously for the realization of a secular, tolerant, and democratic society.

However, the humanist campaign has not been without challenges. I have been arrested, detained, and beaten up by those who opposed my work. I have been attacked and robbed by a mob of witch-believers. People have threatened my life and those of my family members. I have been the target of blackmail, litigation, and character assassination.

But my “spirit” is unbroken. My head is unbowed. The campaign of promoting humanist values goes on. That is why, in the months and years ahead, I plan to continue working and partnering with groups and individual activists to extend this message of reason, intellectual awakening, and enlightenment to other parts of Africa and beyond!