Kia ora: Easter? Before Christianity, Easter was a spring festival symbolising new life. Christianity usurped the festival to represent the new life of the resurrection. In our Southern Hemisphere, Easter is an autumn rather than a spring festival. In a secular sense, why do I enjoy Easter in New Zealand? Because it gives some days ‘outside of time’ – I don’t have to meet the usual daily commitments. ANZAC always brings a wider reflection on the burden of belonging to often warring humankind. We saw the film Sarah’s Key, which dealt with the Vel d’Hiv in 1942, when the French Government, at the behest of Nazi Germany, rounded up the Jewish citizens of Paris and transported them to the German Death camps. Recently, I read a book Kiwi Freedom Fighters in WW II edited by Matthew Wright, Random House, 2010. One experience related by a Kiwi soldier in Greece, illustrates our flawed humanity. While being helped by a group to escape the enemy, betrayal occurred. Apparently, ‘it came to light that there were two organisations in Athens, both trying to do the same thing, but envious of one another’s accomplishments, and as a consequence one betrayed the other.’ All in the organised escape attempt were machine-gunned! The teller of the tale survived because he was overlooked and wasn’t with the party

May monthly meeting: Bishop John Shelby Spong Christian Humanist and Civil Rights Campaigner with a controversial view about the meaning of God.
Mark Fletcher will introduce Bishop Spong’s central thesis that popular and literal interpretations of Christian Scripture are no longer credible and not helpful for modern Christian communities. In 1999, the New York based Church of Humanism, founded in 1973, nominated Spong for Humanist of the Year. The Church of Humanism claims that they are the only religious organisation that affirms God as a fusion of naturalism and realism!
Date: Monday 2 May
Venue for meeting:Turnbull House, Bowen Street, Wellington. We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm

Last month’s meeting.

The Reformation led to increasing secularism and the Scottish Enlightenment, which produced the secular thinkers: David Hume, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and others. Adam Smith, in the Wealth of Nations, 1776, argued that the division of labour and increased productivity increased a nation’s wealth. In 1923, Max Weber retrospectively described this as the “Protestant Work Ethic”, which has now been secularised to “The Work Ethic”. Other factors influencing the relative wealth of nations were discussed briefly.

Radio Access:

Humanist Outlook, 10.30am, 783 kHz Wellington, on Saturday 30 April, 28 May, 25 June.

Humanist Outlook is broadcast at 10:30 am on Access Radio, Wellington, 783 kHz, and every fourth Saturday. If you are outside the Wellington area, go to to listen or to download as a pod cast after the event

Winter Solstice celebration:

Saturday 25 June from 5.00pm. More details in the next newsletter

NZ Humanist Society Subscriptions for 2010/2011:

Thank you for subscriptions received via both mail and internet banking.

Marriage Celebrants:

Peter Clemerson, a Wellington Humanist, may be contacted by phone (04) 938 5923 and by email [email protected] Pam Sikkema, an Auckland Humanist, may be contacted by phone (09) 570 4390.

Interesting article to follow up:

“The free will Delusion”, by Dan Jones, New Scientist, 16 April 2011. Space does not allow a short summary, but you may wish to find this article and read it.

In Cinemas 28 April, AGORA:

In the 4th Century CE, religious upheaval threatened the great Library of Alexandria. The brilliant astronomer, mathematician, and secular philosopher Hypatia (370-415), a developer of the astrolabe, fights to save the texts of the Ancient World but is killed by Christian extremists. The daughter of Theon, Hypatia was renowned for her beauty, eloquence, and learning. She collaborated with her father writing commentaries on mathematics before authoring several of her own that unfortunately do not survive. She became the head of the Neoplatonist school in Alexandria and attracted pupils from all over the Greek world, both pagan and Christian and people travelled great distances to attend her public lectures. Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria, resented Hypatia’s influence and it is generally believed that he was responsible for inciting the Christian mob that killed her.

Jesus The Cold Case:

Bryan Bruce’s New Zealand produced documentary based on his book of the same name was streamed on the internet on Good Friday. Unfortunately, TVNZ have the right to screen the documentary in New Zealand and this prevented streaming in New Zealand. We hope that TVNZ will screen this documentary soon. Try ringing them, or write, or email them, to ask when – it might encourage them to set a date.

Abortion Then and Now

by Dame Margaret Sparrow (Victoria University Press) 2010: Dame Margaret’s book chronicles 40 years of change. The Humanist Society and the part that prominent Humanist Society members played in the formation of the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRANZ) and legislative reform is discussed. Names mentioned include: Wayne Facer; Dr James Woolnough (1915-1992), HSNZ President 1979-80; Dr Bryon Mann; and Ray Carr. Early Wellington supporters of ALRANZ, not mentioned in the book, included Eileen Bone, Frank Dungey, and Iain Middleton.

IHEU World Congress 2011, Oslo, Norway:

The 18th World Congress will be held in Oslo, Norway between 12 & 14 August 2011. There is a link to the Congress from the IHEU website

Sathya Sai Baba

Sathyanarayana Raju (23 November 1926 – 24 April 2011), was probably the most successful of India’s god men of the last 100 years. At the age of 13, while recovering from a scorpion sting, Sathya announced on the 23 May 1940, “I am Sai Baba”, a reference to Sai Baba of Shirdi. He proclaimed himself to be a reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi—an Indian Holy man famous in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Maharashtra state who died eight years before Sathya was born. Sathya is said to have attracted over 6 million followers world wide through the use of very simple conjuring tricks, supposedly materialising holy ash and trinkets from thin air to impress the gullible. His following came mostly from the expanding upper middle class in India who made him extremely wealthy. He attracted political protection through his gifts to politicians. On one occasion an assistant was caught on camera handing him a diamond necklace that he then materialised in order to give it as a gift to a visiting politician. Gold watches that he materialised and handed to other visitors were found to have been manufactured by the Titan watch company in India and traced through the serial numbers to a bulk purchase by a politician. There were reports of the watches being stored in his chambers. Some of the wealth that he accumulated was used to establish schools, hospitals, and universities. There were many controversies surrounding Sai Baba, as he liked to be known, including a profligacy for young boys that he is said to have sexually assaulted. Most of the boys were selected from a school that he had established. An incident where three men were shot to death in his chambers, and the unexplained death of young western women who visited his ashram, were never fully investigated by police. Despite TV documentaries made by the BBC, and in Denmark, exposing him, and valent attempts by Indian Sceptics, Rationalists, and Humanists to expose him, he survived with the political protection that he had secured. In the end, Sai Baba was to prove himself wrong. He had predicted that he would live in good health until his sudden death at age 96, but his health deteriorated significantly from 2005 (age 79) and he died in poor health age 84! He has also predicted that he will be reincarnated again in eight years!

Nine Lives:

In search of the Sacred in Modern India by William Dalrymple, Bloomsbury, 2009. Space is short, but here are a couple of interesting paragraphs from the story and thoughts of a Sufi in the chapter: The Red Fairy. “Behind the violence (the dynamiting of the shrine of the 17th century Pashto poet-saint Rahman Baba, by Pakistani Taliban in 2009) lies a theological conflict that has divided the Islamic world for centuries. Rahman Baba believed in the importance of the use of music, poetry, and dance, as a path for remembering and reaching God. But this use of poetry and music, and the way the Sufis welcome women into their shrines, are some of the aspects of Sufi practice that have attracted the wrath of modern Wahhabis and their clerics.” “The mullahs are always trying to fight a jihad with their swords, without realising that the real jihad is within, fighting yourself, achieving victory over the hell that evil can create in the human heart. Don’t kill infidels, kill your own ego.”

A Vietnamese Buddhist Parable of Heaven and Hell:

Imagine two tables laden with food, diners at both tables are provided with extra long chopsticks. Those at one table have learnt to cooperate with each other and feed each other across the table, this is Heaven. At the other table diners are still trying to feed themselves, of course the chopstick length prevents the food reaching their mouths, this is Hell.

NZ Humanist Society Subscriptions for 2010/2011:

Subscription rates for this year remain unchanged and invoices have been posted to members and a pdf copy is attached to this email for the August 2010 to August 2011 year.

This year, we are introducing internet banking for members who wish to use this facility. Details were provided by a separate email

Gaylene Middleton

Christopher Hitchens

Egypt: Islamism Meets Realism

I don’t think that a single newspaper or magazine article on Egypt has ever failed to mention the presence, in the wings of Egyptian politics, of the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s one of those learned references that is de rigueur for every commentator and analyst. Yet it was notable, as both the Egyptian and the Tunisian regimes began to crumble in January, that the local branches and equivalents of the Brotherhood seemed to be as thunderstruck as everyone else. True, some have suggested that the Islamists are playing a longer game and waiting for an opportunity to seize control—as, under vastly different circumstances, they managed to do in Iran after the revolution of 1979.

An alternative way of thinking about this occurs to me. Consider the immensity of Egypt’s problems. It has millions more educated people than it can find work for and an enormous class of peasants and laborers whose existence is a daily struggle for mere survival. Egypt depends enormously for its economic viability on being able to offer hospitality to Western tourists (which is why Mubarak’s earlier crackdown on Muslim fanatics who attacked visitors to the Pyramids and the Valley of the Kings was widely popular). The peace treaty with Israel is resented by many citizens, but no serious person believes that Egypt could even hope to fight another war with the Jewish state. One in ten Egyptians is a Christian. Egypt’s immediate southern neighbor, Sudan, has just seen the secession of a huge swath of its territory, led by Africans who want to escape a brutal Islamic regime. This by no means exhausts the complexities.

The slogan of the Muslim Brother-hood—in effect its only slogan—is “Islam Is the Solution.” I certainly regard this slogan as a sinister one, in that it expresses the totalitarian idea that one religion really is “the solution” in all matters, whether public or private. But, when measured against the realities, one can’t help noticing that it is also a rather pathetic slogan. In what respect is Islam (in its Sunni version, just for now) “the solution” to any of the problems I’ve just listed? Is it possible that, with a part of themselves, the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood actually understand this and are thus slightly reluctant to take on the responsibility of running this vast nation and society?

Of course, if experience was a teacher, then the appeal of Islamist propaganda would necessarily be much less than it really is. Probably the most outstanding instance of state failure on record is that of Pakistan, which attempted to make religion into the very definition of nationality and has suffered ever since from every form of regionalism and tribalism (including the secession of Bangladesh after a horrific Muslim-on-Muslim slaughter in 1971) as well as staggering corruption, deep poverty, and military dictatorship. These problems do not stop many Pakistanis from demanding that the country become more theocratic rather than less. In neighboring Afghanistan, too, there are people willing to commit murder in order to increase the already strong grip of fundamentalism on a chronically backward society. Religion in general suffers from the absence of a self-critical faculty and from the dismal belief that faith is a virtue in itself and only needs to be redoubled and intensified: these deformities are seen ‘ at their most vividly repulsive when harnessed to jihad.

It is notable that as the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes crumbled, the Muslim Brotherhood seemed as thunderstruck as everyone else.

So we can certainly expect to see people in Egypt, their foreheads bruised with piety, yelling that all will be well if only Sharia can be enforced. But one also senses that many Egyptians, accustomed enough by the experience of a fake democracy and a pseudo-modernity to demand the real thing, are immune to such appeals. If you drew a graph of the Muslim world that showed a ranking by prosperity and at least partial democracy, it would match the degree of openness of the different countries to secular influence. Bosnia, Albania, Tunisia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Turkey (these in no especial order) are relatively flourishing. Something similar could be said of the autonomous Kurdish area in Iraq. Whereas religious absolutism, whether in power or in its so-called insurgent form, has beggared an extremely wealthy country (Iran), come close to ruining a potentially wealthy country (Iraq), and reduced Afghanistan and Somalia to a level of chaos and misery that almost defies description.

If one were really cynical, it might be tempting to say: let the Islamists try to run the show and prove to the world that they are not up to the job. But as Iran has demonstrated, that would be irresponsible and cruel because it would condemn countless people to be used up in an experiment in failure. Moreover, theocratic systems do not blame themselves when their countries slide into civil war, poverty, and stagnation. Instead, they blame the machinations of Jews and Crusaders and export their uneducated but brainwashed young zealots to spread violence elsewhere.

But this dire effect need not all be one way. The rising generation has had a chance to make comparisons and to consider alternatives. For at least the first few weeks — up” until the time of this writing — the citizens of Cairo showed a really admirable solidity and maturity, both in their civic conduct and in their demands. The air was not rent with screams about the greatness of God or the need for war with infidels. This suggests to me that the initiative does not lie with those who stupidly proclaim that all solutions are to be found in one book. FI

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author of God ls Not Great. His memoir, Hitch-22, was published last year by Twelve/Hachette Books.

Reproduced from FREE INQUIRY APRIL / MAY 2011

Humanism at Large

Rosslyn Ives

Pagan origins of Easter

For most New Zealanders and Australians, Easter is a long weekend with a commercial push to purchase and consume chocolate eggs and bunnies. These symbols of fertility and the Easter connection with human sacrifice, as in the supposed death and resurrection of Jesus, link us to much earlier human times.

The symbolic importance of eggs can be traced back to into the mists of human history, for the role they play in many creative myths all over the world. In these myths mountains, animals, trees, and even humans emerge from eggs. Sometimes, such mythic eggs appear miraculously, often after women or female deities were said to have laid them.

Although eggs, in rituals or as gifts, have been dyed many colours, by far the most common colour is red. Red eggs feature widely in folk tales and ancient customs. In China the birth of a male child was hailed with red eggs. An old Korean folk tale features a red egg as the actual vehicle as well as the emblem of renewed life as part of a miraculous birth. In France an offering of red eggs was said to guarantee bountiful crops.

It is not surprising that eggs associated with renewed health and life are the colour of blood. Humans have long known that loss of blood often accompanies death. Blood was believed to be the vital life-giving force.

Blood sacrifice, as in war, and blood generally, spreads its significance and images through the legends and history of all lands. Humans have believed from the earliest times in history that the life of their community, the fertility of crops and people, depended on renewed energy supplied by ceremonies involving blood.

For example temples throughout Europe and all round the Mediterranean were places for animal sacrifice. On special days blood ran from the altars in rivers. Likewise in the Americas the Aztecs killed thousands of people, often young and in their prime, to appease their savage God. And from the Aboriginal people of NE Arnhem Land comes a chant used in their turtle increase ceremony:

The long-necked turtle floats/home/jj/websites/humanist/newsletters/may11.html

In the blood red sea of the dreaming,

Casting the age-old brown shadow

On the sand below.

In pre-christian times most pagan religions in the Mediterranean area had a major seasonal day of religious celebration at or following the spring equinox. Cybele, the Phrygian fertility goddess, had a consort, Attis, who was believed to have been born via a virgin birth. Attis was believed to have died and been resurrected each year during the period March 22 to 25. This widely believed myth is an element in spring equinox celebrations.

Wherever Christian worship of Jesus and pagan worship of Attis were active in the same geographical area in ancient times, Christians used to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus on the same date. As a consequence pagans and Christians used to quarrel bitterly about which of their gods was the true prototype and which the imitation. The idea of the sacrifice of a person of high standing for the sake of the common good is a very ancient belief.

Many religious historians and liberal theologians believe that the death and resurrection legends were first associated with Attis, many centuries before the birth of Jesus. They were simply grafted on to stories of Jesus’ life in order to make Christian theology more acceptable to pagans. Others suggest that many of the events in Jesus’[ life that were recorded in the gospels were lifted from the life of Krishna, the second person of the Hindu Trinity.

Alternatively, some ancient Christians had another explanation; they claimed that Satan had created counterfeit deities in advance of the coming of Christ in order to confuse humanity!

It is fairly obvious that in the early centuries of the first millennium, the powerful Roman religious authorities, with the backing of the Roman Empire, simply co-opted the rites and practices of pagan religions, re-labelled them as ‘Christian’.

The actual word ‘Easte’’ is considered to be derived from an Anglo-Saxon fertility goddess Eastre (also Eostre or Ostara). Eastre worship appeared to be common in both Western Europe and Britain, and some scholars suggest that Eastre may have been derived from the Goddess of Dawn who is found in various forms many cultures.

The folklore traditions in Germany testify to a traditional Easter festival or Ostarun. According to legend, Eostre the Spring goddess saved a bird, whose wings were frozen from the harsh winter by turning it into a hare. This was a magical hare that laid eggs. In fact Eostre was nearly always accompanied in legend by a hare. This old legend seems the most likely origin of the ‘Easter bunny’, though we can’t dismiss the association of rabbits, as very successful breeders, with fertility.

Humanists are happy to enjoy an Easter break and eat chocolate eggs and rabbits, all in moderation. The Humanist view is that all the stories and myths of our forebears are part of the overall human story. They may not be factually true, but they do contribute to who we are today. By interweaving these with the findings of history, archaeology, anthropology and other science based studies, we are given an enriched understanding of what an amazing path human have travelled.