Kia ora:
Four Humanist Society members travelled to Melbourne for the 2nd Atheist Convention 13-15 April. The 2010 Convention attracted 3,500 people, and this year 4,000 attended. The audience that filled the auditorium of the Melbourne Convention Centre was quite a sight. It did feel good to be among so many people of similar persuasion. If at all possible I do encourage you to consider attending the next convention. Or perhaps journey further afield to Oxford, England, in August 2014 for the IHEU (International Humanist & Ethical Union) Conference hosted by the British Humanist Association.

In Melbourne, the Friday evening opening was a time for laughter with speakers of a humorous ilk. Humour dominated again at the Conference dinner with Brian Dalton, aka Mr Deity, appearing – find him on YouTube! Saturday and Sunday delighted with thought provoking speakers. Very topical, our March meeting dealt with Stephen Hawking’s cosmology theories, was Lawrence Krauss (director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University) who spoke on the same question, how the universe can create itself, and A Universe from Nothing? In May, Lawrence Krauss will speak at the Auckland Readers and Writers Week and also hold a discussion with Professor Lloyd Geering. Dr Leslie Cannold, who was nominated Australian Humanist of the Year in 2011, spoke on Separating Church and State. Dr Cannold prepared her talk with Max Wallace, director of the Australian National Secular Association. There is a concern here akin to the Good News Clubs (see below) as Leslie quoted the CEO of Access Ministries, Yvonne Patterson, saying that “our greatest field for disciple making, Christian conversion and church growth is among our school children.” A very strong speaker was Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author of her memoir Infidel and recently Nomad, A Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilizations. Ayaan warned that radical Islam threatens how we live and think in the West. It was chilling to note the presence of her two body guards and Ayaan did not mingle with the Convention attendees as did other speakers. A. C. Grayling who has recently founded the New College of the Humanities, a private undergraduate college in London, was a very approachable person, he appeared always ready to speak with people. Grayling spoke on What next for Atheism?, and was positive telling us he thought things were trending in the right direction. He told us to take back possession of traits like compassion, inner beauty, inspiration as these do not belong solely to religion but are the good aspects of simply being human. And of course there were the Three Horsemen, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris, to whom it was wonderful to listen. There was sadness at the absence of the fourth Horsemen, Christopher Hitchens, to whom tribute was made on the Sunday afternoon.

  • Last Meeting:  An informative evening reflecting on the life and achievements of the late Christopher Hitchens and the development of his ideas and views on a range of topics was appreciated by those present. It was great to see video clips of Hitchens’ presenting his views on a number of subjects.

May monthly meeting: Monday 7 May

Open to the public – All interested people are welcome – bring a friend

The Scientific Discoveries of Ancient Greece &
what makes some societies more innovative than others?

A video presentation and discussion evening

Nikos Petousis, was born in 1936 in Athens, Greece. Nikos lived through WW2 and the Greek Civil War.
He endured bombing – seeing parts of bodies spread out in front of him, hunger – looking for food in the gutter, cold – walking barefoot through the snow, and poverty – five adults living in one room. Despite all that Nikos gained a place at an engineering school and graduated at the age of 19.
Nikos met a New Zealand soldier from Papakura, who offered to sponsor him to New Zealand. Nikos started the New Zealand Greek Society, helping other Greeks who had come to New Zealand. Nikos set up his own engineering firm fabricating and exporting machinery. When Nikos retired he accepted the position of Honorary Consul for Greece in Auckland and continues to foster relationships between our two countries. Nikos spoke at a NZ Skeptics Conference several years ago and has recently published a memoir From Athens to Papakura. Xlibris Publishing January 2012.

In 2009 Nikos prepared a video showing his impressions of Ancient Ionia that we will be shown as the introduction to a discussion on the blooming of Ancient Greek science and technology and the general question relating to the conditions a society needs to flourish intellectually.

Refreshments and nibbles provided
Come, share your views, and learn from others
Turnbull House, Bowen Street, Wellington.
We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm

Access Radio: Humanist Outlook, 10.30 am, 783 kHz Wellington, on Saturday 26 May, 23 June, 21 July and 18 August 2012.
Humanist Outlook is broadcast at 10:30 am on Access Radio, Wellington, 783 kHz, every fourth Saturday.

If you are outside the Wellington area, go to to listen or to download as a pod cast after the event.

2011- 2012 Subscriptions:
Thank you to those conscientious members who have paid their subscriptions for the 2011-2012 year.
Subscriptions were due following the AGM on 29th October 2011 and remain unchanged from the previous year.
A subscription renewal form was posted to members last year with a printed newsletter and an email giving details of how to renew your subscription using internet banking was sent on 27 January this year.

Good News Club:
Free Inquiry, April/May 2012, has a review by Edd Doerr, president of Americans for Religious Liberty and a past president of the American Humanist Association, of the book by Katherine Stewart The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, which was mentioned in the April 2012 Newsletter. Katherine Stewart is exposing the serious attack that is being made against public education and church-state separation. Edd Doerr wrote about this concern in 1984 with two articles published in the journal of Americans for Religious Liberty Voice of Reason and The Humanist. He wrote that Congress’s 1984 Equal Access Act supported by Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and other religious Right groups, was a severe threat to free secular education. Now thirty years later this is happening. As mentioned above there is concern in Australia, and now a foothold in our own country.

North Shore discussion Group: Warren Atkins, a North Shore Humanist hosts a discussion group on a casual basis in this area. Warren may be contacted for more information on 09 410 3580. Warren is also an author and artist with a website for you to explore.

Gisborne Lunar Society:
The Gisborne Lunar Society meets once a month on the Sunday nearest the full moon at 11am. Contact John Marks on 06 867 9768 or Kevin Hyde 06 868 5253.

Quotable Quote:
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” Theodore Roosevelt 1858-1919,  26th United State President 1901-09.

Gaylene Middleton


International Humanist News


image of Levi Fragell

Do call yourself Humanist

During all the years I have been active in the international humanist movement I have strongly recommended my friends in secular, rationalist and freethought groups to use the word humanism as the name of their lifestance. I do not mean that they should not organize groups for secularism, rationalism and freethought – all these are important aspects of humanism and well worth to fight for. But in our movement we need to realize that we may lose our right to the word humanism if we do not use it, or dilute our identity with additional expressions – like ethical humanism, secular humanism, radical humanism etc.

The British humanist Harry Stopes-Roe and I saw the need for a clearer international profile in the 1980’s, and drafted together the “eight letter statement”, which says: “All humanists, nationally and internationally, should always use the one word humanism as the name of humanism: no added adjective…” The statement was endorsed by humanist leaders like Harold Blackham, Corliss Lamont and Rob Tielman.

It is obvious that the word humanism is used also for attitudes and activities that not are meant to describe a particular non-religious lifestance. Many call themselves humanists just because they take interest in human values or the welfare of fellow humans. But from my point of view it is too pessimistic to conclude that since the word is used in different ways, we have lost our right to use it as a family name for all those groups that are organized in International Humanist and Ethical Union. Almost all international dictionaries explain the word humanism as a non-religious lifestance. Here are some examples:

Collins dictionary:            “The rejection of religion in favour of the advancement of humanity by its own efforts.”
Chambers dictionary:     “Any system which puts human interests and the mind of man paramount, rejecting the supernatural, belief in god etc.”

Still I get worried when I realize the following: Searching Google on Internet 7 years ago, I found 456,000 listings of the word humanism. I looked up the first 30 of them. 22 out of 30 dealt with the non-religious lifestance humanism. Today there are more than 900,000 listings, and the lifestance humanism is just one of several variants. Are we on the way to losing our international identity? If so, it is our responsibility, and we should make this problem a major challenge.

Humanism has not been organized as a world movement more than 60 years, but those who gathered in Amsterdam in 1952 to establish the International Humanist and Ethical Union were highly respected personalities like the congress president Sir Julian Huxley, people from top positions in UN, scientists, philosophers and writers. There were long discussions about the priorities of a humanist organisation, but not about the fact that humanism was a secular lifestance!

Another question connected to our identity and our role on the world scene is the following: After these 60 years, hasn’t the time come for humanism to expand geographically, to establish an alternative to religions, failing ideologies and irrational thought systems on new continents? I myself do think that humanism will be the answer for many areas in Asia and Africa, some of the former Soviet republics, Central and South America etc. The growth of science and knowledge will challenge the fundamentalist religions and call for the rationality and tolerance of the humanist positions. The increasing use of electronic media will make it easier than before to be informed about this alternative – that never will be distributed by missionaries and preachers, but by honest and serious dialogues between people of equal status and standing.

These potentials for humanism bring me back to my introduction, that also will be my conclusion: People out there must see were and who the humanists are, our message must be recognised as humanism – a lifestance with a positive alternative to irrationalism, fundamentalism, totalitarianism and racism, and they must learn how to contact us. Humanists should not hide themselves in closed clubs, but be the first to wave their banners, march for freedom in private and public life, fight injustice, expose the cheaters and the frauds in science as well as in religion, claim equal rights, protest against violence in family life as well as in social, communal and ethnic crises. How can we have influence as groups and organisations if the Humanists do not organize as humanists. For International Humanist and Ethical Union as well as our national groups on all continents, the main responsibility is to reach out to all these people, tell them that we exist, that we are willing to support them — and that we invite them to take active part in the global humanist project, the establishment of a common alternative to inhumane religions and ideologies.

Levi Fragell, former president, IHEU

Reproduced from International Humanist News March 2012 Free Inquiry – OP-ED

image of Ophelia Benson

The Trouble with Gods

It could have been a good idea, the invention of gods. It could have been a way of solidifying thoughts about how humans could be better than they are. It’s an impressive and touching thing about us that we realize we’re not good enough. Gods (or God) could have been a helpful or even inspiring way to conceptualize The Better.

But there’s a flaw at the heart of the idea: humans are the ones conceptualizing the gods, so their ideas of what is better are the products of flawed humans, not those of a perfect being. We can’t lift ourselves up by yanking on our own feet.

Humans are competitive, territorial-aggressive, possessive primates who conceive of the good the way other such, animals do. Gods can be models for self-improvement, but they can also be models of various brands of thug: monarchs, dictators, tyrants, crime bosses, warlords. They can never be securely free from the potential for thug-dom. One of the perfections of “God” is power: God is omnipotent. Once God is conceptualized that way, it becomes impossible to separate its higher, better, transcendent qualities from its ability to push humans around.

It may be that competitive, aggressive, possessive primates can’t invent gods or a god that don’t become dictators because it’s just not in us to do without hierarchy and the principle of subordination. A cursory glance at our history seems to suggest that. If that’s the case, then a god is a disastrous thing for us to invent because it has supernatural total power with no accountability. Even if we conceive of that god as perfectly good, the good in question is still our all-too-human idea of “good,” and we can’t be trusted with it.

The idea seems aspirational and inspirational, but it also reinforces the idea of a hierarchy or a Great Chain of Being. We would probably have the idea of hierarchy anyway, but a perfect being at the summit gives it a sanctified prestige that shields it from skepticism and rebellion. The hierarchy becomes holy, sacred, divine; egalitarianism becomes blasphemy.

The fact that the perfect being is conceptualized rather than experienced works to entrench this notion because it means that God’s rules can’t be updated and that they are delivered through intermediaries. In one way, the flimsiness of this is obvious, as if a neighborhood bully should tell us, “I have a secret invisible boss who says you have to give me 10 percent of your property.” In that form we would at least recognize what was afoot. But in another way, the flimsiness is just what keeps the racket going. If God were physically there, able to receive delegations and deliver annual sermons in the manner of the pope, it would be possible to petition or just plain revolt. Since God is not there, we can’t petition. We can’t deal with the monarch/dictator directly but only with the dictator’s self-declared representatives, the priests and mullahs and rabbis. The representatives are all that we have ever dealt with, all the way back through history.

Christianity claims that God has appeared, though only for one thirty-three-year sliver of time,  twenty centuries ago, which is not noticeably different from being secret/invisible now. The priesthood naturally doesn’t admit this: the pope underlined the “one appearance is a great favor” interpretation in his 2011 Christmas Eve homily:

The reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to Titus that we have just heard begins solemnly with the word “apparuit,” which then comes back again in the reading at the Dawn Mass: apparuit: “there has appeared.” This is a programmatic word, by which the Church seeks to express synthetically the essence of Christmas. Formerly, people had spoken of God and formed human-images of him in all sorts of different ways. God himself had spoken in many and various ways to mankind (cf. Heb 1:1 Mass during the Day). But now something new has happened: he has appeared. He has revealed himself. He has emerged from the inaccessible light in which he dwells. He himself has come into our midst. This was the great joy of Christmas for the early Church: God has appeared. No longer is he merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of him on the basis of mere words. He has “appeared.”

“… Humans are the ones conceptualizing the gods, so their ideas of what is better are the products of flawed humans, not those of a perfect being. We can’t lift ourselves up by yanking on our own feet.”

God has appeared, according to the pope and his colleagues, but that was then and this is now; now we just have to take the clerics’ word for it that they are speaking for him. To fail to do so is to lack faith, and to lack faith is a crime against this god who isn’t about to appear again. Centuries of repetition have worked to immunize this claim from skepticism, but it is indistinguishable from a fraud set up by a dynasty of tyrants, which makes it impossible to see it as genuinely “good.”

A good (benevolent, loving, helpful) deity simply wouldn’t arrange things this way. A good deity would not consider obedience to an all-powerful absent dictator a virtue—or if it would, if that is what such a deity means by “good,” then it’s better to be bad.

We have to judge the good according to our own terms because we don’t have access to any others. It’s no use saying “God is mysterious and we don’t understand so we must obey the priests and mullahs on faith,” because that simply negates the only faculty we have for evaluating morality, which is our shared cumulative interactive judgment.

It seems to me that “God” has a stark choice. If it wants to be an authoritative or even just a helpful guide, it has to stay in contact—real contact, not pretend contact through other humans who simply say they know what God wants. Or, if it wants to stay hidden, it has to give up the authoritative role. It can’t do both and still claim to be supremely good. An out-of-contact boss god just hands us over to arbitrary human power; it’s the sanctification of human thuggery.

It’s long past time for human beings to recognize that. FI

Ophelia Benson is the editor of the website Butterflies and Wheels and the coauthor (With Jeremy Stangroom) of Why Truth Matters: and The Dictionary-of Fashionable Nonsense (both Continuum, 2006).

Reproduced from FREE INQUIRY APRIL/MAY 2012