Kia ora: Our year has opened with a cataclysm. Cyclone Gabrielle has changed our landscape forever. In Wellington I have watched News broadcasts with incredulity, the raw energy of nature escaping our human constraints. Our thoughts are with the many who experienced this fury at first hand and have lost so much. My brother, Robert, drove south, through the Volcanic Plateau, a few days after the Cyclone and was aghast at the scale of the forest destruction. He penned these words expressing the despair, we echo, that more care is not taken to value our environment.

Whale oil might symbolise our time

The Destruction of a majestic species

The boon. Baleen stays for the ladies elite

Fine oil for industry, oil for the lantern…

The adoption of the concept, the Whale

Created to supply the demands of Men

The absurd destruction of majesty beast

They contained something we wanted.

Though we profit from destruction, without consent.

Yet worse, blithely unaware

The acronym for progress

Just cause for blind destruction.

One generation findeth a resource

Exploitation depletes the resource

Succeeding generations berate

The wanton destruction of the past

So, we shift our focus. Pay lip service to healing

the past abuses and carry on.

We talk of sustainable interaction

How can that be?

Everything we consume ends

In shit, cemetery or sea

Apart from the mountains of refuse

Forming the pinnacles Man doesn’t see

March monthly meeting:

Monday Meeting 6 March 6.30 pm

Discussion of ancient and modern free speech.

DR JAMES KIERSTEAD

James is Senior Lecturer in Classics at Victoria University of Wellington, where his research focuses on ancient Greek democracy. James holds a BA in Classics from Oxford, an MA in Ancient History from the University of London, an MA in Political Science from Stanford, and a PhD in Classics from Stanford.

He is also the co-host (with Michael Johnston) of Free Kiwis!, a podcast dedicated to free speech in a New Zealand context, and he can be found on Twitter @Kleisthenes2.

James will lead a discussion of ancient and modern free speech and asks us to read an article “TWO CONCEPTS OF FREE SPEECH, FROM CLASSICAL ATHENS TO TODAY’S CAMPUS” in preparation for the discussion.

The article can be found at link https://antigonejournal.com/2021/04/two-concepts-of-free-speech/

James is also keen to discuss the thorny topic of why the Athenians executed Socrates – for more on this, see (or listen to!), before our meeting, the following episode of the Free Speech Union’s podcast.’

https://podcasts.apple.com/nz/podcast/episode-30-dr-kierstead-on-ancient-greek-values-free/id1467711438?i=1000489387820

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

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

2023 Census Campaign

Census Day March 7

A series of posters are displayed at 27 locations in Auckland, 19 locations in Wellington and 16 locations in Christchurch.

Are you a non-religious person? Many people in New Zealand today are proud to be non-religious, and want to be counted as such. The only way to achieve this is to mark ‘No Religion’ on the census form.

Some non-religious people also like to be known as Humanist, Rationalist, Atheist, Freethinker or Secularist, or by another title. However, if you do use any of these titles to describe yourself on the census form, you will be counted as religious under the category of: “Other Religions, Beliefs and Philosophies”.

Were you born into a religion but now see yourself as non-religious? The only way for you to be recognised as non-religious in the census is to mark ‘no religion’.

Five good reasons to mark ’No Religion’

1.   Let’s get it right – The New Zealand Census is only held every five years, and it collects important data on our nation. It’s critical that we get it right.

2.   Fairness in public funding – when religious organisations are attributed more support than they actually have, they receive an unfair amount of public funding.

3.   Fairness in voice and influence – incorrect data also gives religious organisations a stronger voice and more influence than they actually deserve.

4.   Let’s be honest – New Zealanders deserve honest answers about the views we hold towards religion.

5.   Do it for you – Marking ‘No Religion’ in this year’s census can be a moment of personal clarity and liberation for you.

The current census data does not accurately reflect our country’s religious views

This is because a large number of New Zealanders mark that they belong to a religion in the census, when in fact they no longer really practise or hold those beliefs.

Census data is used by members of parliament, government, and many other organisations to inform a wide range of important decisions, from the amount of public funding religious organisations receive, to the voice and influence religion is given in public affairs and media.

The next New Zealand Census will be held on Tuesday 7 March 2023, and we need it to accurately reflect what New Zealanders truly believe.

So, when you come to the question on religion, this is your chance to think carefully and decide whether you still see yourself as religious.

If you don’t see yourself as religious anymore, mark ‘No Religion’.

Are you still religious?

This census, you’ll be asked whether you hold religious beliefs, and it’s an important chance for you to think carefully about whether you still do.

If you’re no longer religious, mark ‘No Religion’ in the census.

Human Rights (Incitement on Ground of Religious Belief) Amendment Bill – Humanist Submission and update

On 8 February 2023, Prime Minister Chis Hipkins stated that the Hate speech amending legislation is to be withdrawn to allow the law commission to take a closer look at the wider issue.

This is in line with our recommendations in the submission we made on 2 February, expressing concern that only religion was to be added to hate speech legislation, without considering other marginalised groups, the need for equal protection to nonfaith-based groups (non-religion), or how this could criminalise discussion in good faith of religion (become a blasphemy law “by the back door”)

The Humanist Society does not condone hate speech or any form of incitement to hatred or violence against any individual who may be discriminated against.

We expressed our concern that the bill may violate the provisions of the ICCPR and New Zealand’s obligations under International Law by separating religious belief from freedom of thought, conscience and religion by giving preferential treatment to religious belief.

You can read our full submission at: https://humanist.nz/news/human-rights-incitement-on-ground-of-religious-belief-amendment-bill-humanist-submission-and-update/

Humanist NZ is concerned that the addition of religion is a returning to a Blasphemy Law which was repealed in New Zealand in 2019. The inclusion of religious communities is excluding communities of people with no belief in a supernatural god.

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UDHR, Article 18 states: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

In the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ICCPR, Article 18 states: Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance. practice and teaching.

In the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990, Article 13 states: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and to hold opinions without interference.

Communities of Religion and Communities of Belief cannot be separated out under any circumstances.  To protect Religion is to also protect Belief.

Society without God Phil Zuckerman published 2008 and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou published 1969

At a monthly meeting in 2009 Peter Clemerson brought Phil Zuckerman’s research written up in Society without God to our attention. Zuckerman’s thesis was that as people experience contentment and wellbeing in their lives, the desire for a belief in God decreases. Recently, I was reading a novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou published 1969, twenty-nine years earlier than Society without God and came across the following dialogue:

‘I find it interesting that the meanest life, the poorest existence, is attributed to God’s will, but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begin to ascend the material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at a commensurate speed.’ The very same thesis as Phil Zuckerman.

Mubarak Bala, Humanist Society of Nigeria, now detained in prison for 1033 days-2 years and 303 days.

As we returned from the summer holiday break and students returned to school, Mubarak had been illegally detained for 1001 days. Now as we begin our Humanist monthly meetings the days stretch to 1033 days. And the end of April 2023 will be the third year of detention-1095 days away from his wife and young son. Mubarak is being detained as a political prisoner. Nigerian elections are presently being held. It is to be hoped a change in government might bring Mubarak’s release.

Like You, Like Me: The Striking Case of Mubarak Bala by Terungwa James Nguhar

Heroes are celebrated around the world, because we as humans, by default, understand the concept and practicality of justice and fairness. We derive satisfaction from perceiving order. 

Our real life heroes are not as superficial and larger-than-life as the heroes in theatre and drama. These are concerned individuals who cannot stand mediocrity and unfairness, hence their tendency to speak out vehemently. Just like every other human, our heroes have moments of weakness, pain and fallibility that we all can relate with. And without our communal assistance and support for them, they stand to be threatened by our ever-aggressive and power-drunk oppressors. 

In a similar fashion, in April of 2020, the president of Humanist Association of Nigeria (HAN), Mubarak Bala, was arrested on charges of blasphemy. Being accused and arrested for a crime is one thing; being tried by a court of law is another. For a year and 9 months, Mubarak Bala did not have the privilege to be tried by a court of law, nor did he have noteworthy contacts with even his immediate family. This is not the first time that Mubarak Bala would be abused on account of his disagreement with and criticism of (primarily Islam, but generally) organized religion. In 2014, he was forcefully committed to a mental health facility when he first openly voiced out his disassociation from Islam and disbelief in the god-factor. I would presume that the hostility he received was a desperate measure to deny him listenership by questioning his sanity in the first place; but it could also have been in a bid to try and contain an obvious threat to Islam and the “Islamic radicalization agenda” which he was castigating. Largely, on social media, from that time up to even today, Mubarak Bala has received even death threats from Islamic fanatics and loyalists. But is Mubarak Bala alone in his personal convictions and trials? 

For the many other Nigerian secularists and I (and there has been a fairly growing number over the years), there is an avid appreciation of Bala’s frustrations. I particularly could talk about my bumpy ride with religion, and the trauma and anxiety that my experiences have left me with, especially due to my being a multifaceted social minority. I have witnessed it all first, second and third hand from exclusion, to demonizing, to extortion and even horrid exorcist exercises. Even as a secularist today, my critique of my experiences in religion would always be dismissed by the average religious Nigerian, and I understand that I am in a toxic relationship whereby I would constantly get singled out and demonized once my worldviews and opinions are known. But this is not just my shared experience with Mubarak Bala. In the age of social media, Nigerian atheists are empowered and speaking out, each story unique to the teller, but there is largely a shared understanding; the sentiment that organized religion is bad influence to the spirit of society. While the religious would disagree vehemently at face value, in reality, in a lot of ways, there is a point of agreement between the theist and atheist in Nigeria.

Except of course the spotlight of scrutiny shines on the religion that such a religious person were to be affiliated to, every Nigerian would agree that religion has done our social, economic and political lives a huge disservice, and even tarnished our reputation. No Nigerian is new to this, and the Nigerian secularist is caught in-between this mess, in that, by default, every religious person questions the authenticity of all other religions in the world except one. The Atheist’s crime is that he does not hold favour for ANY! 

Inter-religious and intra-religious conflicts & disagreements in Nigeria range from the subtle ones like hate preaching and street fights to the more  fatal, most prominently today, the Boko Haram. Most terrifying for me of these conflicts is that for each, there are offenders who burn with passion in the belief that whatever insensitivity, senselessness and outrageous level of violence dispensed for their religion ought to be considered morally and legally valid, as long as it is claimed to be “ordered by god”. These are people who are completely ignorant of the highly questionable origins of their religious books and messages, and who would most probably go into attack mode if such were elaborated for them.

Of all these, there will be the “progressives” among the religious who still hold enough conscience to understand the truth that the hate and violence of their ilk is barbaric. The “progressive” Christian, for example, identifies as feminist. The “progressive” Muslim admits that there are bad Muslims, but would not admit that these “bad Muslims” are religiously motivated. It is disappointing that these ones never have the confidence to tell their radical counterparts this revelation that they (the radicals) are not Muslim enough; probably out  of the fear of ostracism, but I also believe, due to an attachment to  the privileges of belonging. The privilege to be automatically perceived as morally upright just for professing an allegiance to a deity is very real and enjoyed by the religious majority; it is also very abused by them. It would be tempting for anyone to prefer to hold onto that privilege of being an offender, instead of choosing honesty and automatically becoming the offended/profiled for hate. Mubarak Bala chose not to patronize the majority offenders, and the consequences of his decision is his current suffering and tribulations by them. But then, why should any person, at birth, be damned to this level of misfortune? 

Right at birth, the deities to believe in are determined by our parents for us without our consent. Why should we have to endure persecution in religion, and even for leaving religion? Why should our stories be considered offensive if they are true? Why should Mubarak be tagged a blasphemer and put at the mercy of the bloodthirsty because he prefers not to repeat their version of “truth”, nor repeat their vicious cycles of terror and propaganda? We do not have a problem with a person or people’s personal beliefs, but with the tendency of such insensible, unverifiable beliefs to become the basis upon which societal laws are made and other members of society have to suffer tribulations. And this is why we question the logic of converting kids to religions, especially since these converts will be accused of blasphemy if they hold disagreement with the tenets of these societally-endorsed cults. 

Religion in Nigeria has gained a certain influence in the social order that gives it certain trust,  powers, privileges, and rights which, over the years, her administrators  have always abused and gone scot-free of. Every time I think of Mubarak Bala, I do not just see a man, or a hero or an atheist. I see a man who is all of these, and with the potential to be more. I see a human with feelings, like me. I see a man whose wife and baby do not deserve the distance they have to endure daily due to his incarceration. I see a respectable man, because I understand it is not easy to have been a part of a treacherous agenda and abandoned those few but tangible privileges of belonging to fight for truth and justice. We do not have to benefit if the foundations of our benefits are based on treachery. Most importantly, I see Mubarak as someone like me, a secularist, being tortured, humiliated and abused; and make no mistake, this is definitely supposed to serve as an example and a deterrent for me, for us.

Currently, Mubarak Bala has been tried in court on February 1st, 2022. According to Humanists International, “Today’s court appearance represents the first time Bala has appeared in court in the 644 days in which he has been detained. During the session, Bala denied all charges. A ruling on Bala’s petition for bail is expected in the coming months as the case proceeds to trial.”  {https://humanists.international/2022/02/nigeria-mubarak-bala-appears-in-court-for-first-time-in-644-days/} 

I have an immense appreciation for our hope and steadfastness so far, and the efforts to sensitize about his plight and fight for his release. I also urge Nigerians and the whole wide world to take a stand against injustice and speak out for truth and freedom of speech.  If it happens to one person, it can happen to any other person for any reason. Our oppressors should not be assured of our fear and tendency to let things slide. There is no effort that is too insignificant, and each of us is a hero waiting to exhibit our potential. Together, we shall keep making changes to a society that the next generation shall inherit. 

Gathering on Darwin Day 12 February at Stonehenge, Wairarapa.

A pleasant day was spent at the Stonehenge site with a late lunch at a Carterton Café. I had always been under the misapprehension that the Wairarapa site was a replica of Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain in Britain. It is not a replica but has been constructed using the calculations that determine all the ‘stone circles’ which our ancestors used to explore the world, using the shadow cast by the sun and the movement of the stars. I was always puzzled why the pattern trace of the constellations bore no resemblance to their names. The names indicated that the appearance of a particular set of stars meant events in the seasonal calendar were occurring.