Kia ora:

Kia ora: The end of 2008 is rushing towards us. 2009 will be a year for remembering Darwin and all that his thought has produced. In 2009 we will know how the global monetary crisis works out, who will be the president of the USA, which political party will govern our country, and the price of petrol. Will Destiny Church transform itself into an Urban Maori Authority?

November Monthly Meeting Monday 3 November

Darwin

Speakers will talk about the proposed Charles Darwin Theatre production in 2009 and the Royal Society Biology conference in Christchurch on Darwin’s birthday in 2009.

Venue for meeting: Turnbull House, Wellington.

We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm.

Any thoughts and musings you may wish to convey are very welcome. Send to Kent at [email protected]

The final Meeting for 2008 will be: on Monday 1 December will be a social gathering to end the year.

· AGM 2008

The following were elected to Council positions:

President: Iain Middleton, Vice-President and Treasurer: Kent Stevens, Secretary: Gaylene Middleton. Council members: Mark Fletcher, Rochelle Forester, Lachman Prasad. We are delighted to welcome Rochelle and Lachman to our Council. We thank Leigh Coleman for his contribution during his time with us.

Subscriptions for the 2008-2009 year are now due. Subscription rates remain unchanged. A subscription form in pdf format is attached to this email and an individual form has been posted to all members.

Minor Constitutional changes to meet the requirements of the charities Commission were approved at the AGM.

The motion to join members to the New Zealand Rationalists and Humanists was discussed and rejected.

Science Express @ Te Papa

On the first Thursday of every month Te Papa hosts a science discussion on current and controversial topics.

The speaker this month, will be Vicky Hyde, the “Chair Entity” of New Zealand Skeptics. She will talk on:

Why Critical Thinking is Critical to Your Health and Happiness.

Venue: Espresso Café, Level 4, Te Papa. Free Entry. From 6.30 pm to 8.00 pm Note that this will be Thursday 6 November 2008.

· A Peek at 2009:

Rochelle Forrester now has her book, with an historical focus, with a publisher. We look forward to a Book Launch. The Skeptics Conference for 2009 is to be in Wellington. The conference is usually held on the last weekend of September.

· Radio Access: 11 am 783 kHz Sunday 16 November.

If you are outside the Wellington radiobroadcast area, go to www.accessradio.org.nz to listen or to download a pod cast after the event.

· Email discussion group:

Operating on Yahoo at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nzhumanism/ .

Join the group to contribute to the discussion?

· From Indian Skeptic July 2008

Taslima Nasrin

Why I am a Secular Humanist

I was born in a Muslim family. My mother made me read the Koran every morning, to pray namaz, and to fast during Ramadan. While I was growing up, I was taken by my mother to a pir, a religious cult leader respected by Muslims. He had his own group, who believed in a genie and superstitions. The pit declared that women who laughed in front of men and went out of the house had been taken over by the genie and they were brutally beaten by the pir so that the genie would leave. He gave a scary description of hell. Whoever visited him gave money.

The pir was surrounded by young women who massaged his body and served him whatever he needed. One day in my presence, he declared that kayamout, the destruction day of the Earth was coming soon, and that there was no need for women to marry. They should sacrifice their lives for Allah. I was horrified to see all the torture he did to get rid of the genie and to listen to the description of hell and waiting for keyamout. But it did not come.

The pir used to treat sick people by uttering sura and beating them. Water was declared holy and said to cure sick people. The sick became sicker after drinking the water. I was also treated by the pir, but I was not cured until my physician father treated me with scientific medicine.

I was encouraged by my father to get a secular education. I learned about the big bang, evolution, and the solar system and became suspicious about Allah’s six-day adventure to make the whole universe, the Adam and Eve story, and the stories of suns moving around the earth and mountains like nails to balance the Earth so that the Earth would not fall down. Then I studied the Koran instead of reading it without knowing the meaning.

The Koran, believed, by millions, supported slavery and inequalities among people – in other countries the equality of women had been established as a human right and the moon had already been won by men. In the Koran, men had the right to marry four times, divorce, have sex with female slaves, and beat their wives. Women were to hide their bodies because the female body is simply a sexual object. Women were not allowed to divorce their husbands, enjoy inheritance, or have their testimony in court considered as seriously as men’s. I found that Allah prescribed Muslims to hate non-Muslims and kill apostates.

With my own conscience, I found religion ridiculous because it stops free thought, reason, and rationality. My father taught me to believe nothing without reason. I did that. I could not believe religion and I became an atheist. I started writing against religion and all the religious superstitions. I was attacked, verbally, physically. The outrage of the religious people was so big I had to leave my country.

I lived in one of the poorest countries in the world. I saw how poverty was glorified by religion and how the poor are exploited. It is said the poor are sent to the earth to prove their strong faith for Allah in their miserable life. I have not seen any religion teaching that calls for a cure for poverty. Instead, the rich are supposed to make Allah happy by giving some help (Mother Teresa’s type of help). The poor should remain poor in society and opportunists can use them to buy a ticket for heaven. I have my own conscience, which inspired me to support a society based on equality and rationality. Religion is the cause of fanaticism, bloodshed, hatred, racism, conflict. Humanism can only make people humane and make the world liveable.

Roar Johnsen

Separation of Government and Religion

We do not have separation of government and religion in Norway today. We still have a state church with specific privileges in society, having a firm hold over the mindset of the people in Norway – usually under the guise of “our cultural heritage”. More than 80 percent of the population are still nominally members of the state church, even if only less than 10 percent go to church regularly.

This situation – a lot of minorities and a church that wants to treat all people alike – is probably why some people have been fighting for the rights of religious minorities for almost two centuries. The Humanists fit well into this fighting tradition, and have succeeded in building an organisation based on a few main activities, with this fight as one of them. There are less than five million people living in Norway, but the Norwegian Humanist Association today has 73,000 members – or just below two percent of the population.

We have adopted a strategy that differentiates between long-term principles and short-term possibilities. It is not a formal strategy, but has in practice been used to address many important questions, which are presented below.

Over the years, some attempts have been made to change the Constitution so that the state church system would be abolished and the church would have to finance its own activities. None of these attempts have gained much support, so the Norwegian Humanist Association, which was founded in 1956, in the 1970s tried to get the same financial support for its members. First, they tried to change the Religious Societies law to include also non-religious life-stance societies, but did not succeed. If the Humanist group had called itself a religious society it would have been included, but the Humanists insisted on not being labelled as religious. Based on the international human rights instruments it was not difficult to argue for equal treatment of nonreligious convictions, but the politicians were reluctant to give the Humanists the same rights as religious groups. Therefore, a separate law was made in 1981, which gave secular life stance groups (which at the time were only the Humanists) the same financial support as the religious groups.

And later, when the Humanists were given the right to perform marriages, this was implemented as a change to the Marriages Law and not by changing the scope of the Religious Societies law or the law on financial support for life stance societies.

Life Stance Groups

And this is the situation we have today. We have three levels of life stance groups in Norway – the evangelicals with state church privileges, the other religious societies, and the non-religious life stance groups. And citizens who do not belong to any of these groups are not included at all, but the NHA tries to speak for them as well whenever possible.

We can clearly see that a dream of a completely secular society in Norway is still far away. And even if that is still the long-term goal of many Humanists, we have to fight for many small issues along the way towards that goal. Most of those fights are won based on the principle of equal treatment and non-discrimination by the government towards its citizens. One common law for all life stances would be a good step forward.

Humanist Ceremonies

So much for history and the legal battle. Another important activity for NHA is performing ceremonies. They are clearly Humanist ceremonies, but are offered to members and non-members alike, and members get a reduced price for the service.

Non-religious funerals have been accepted for quite a while, even before the NHA was started. Now, we have trained funeral officials that perform their job for a fee, even if the service is free of charge for members. Religious confirmation was mandatory until 1912, and more than 93 percent of the youth participated up to 1960. In 1951, Humanist confirmation was established in Norway, and now more than 10 000 youth participate each year. This is about 10 percent of the population in this age group, and religious confirmation has sunk to about 67 percent.

Baptism is still a strong tradition, even if it is no longer mandatory. In 1960 almost 97 percent of all children were still baptised – and thus became members of the state church. Today this number has sunk to about 74 percent. Celebrating a new baby is not foreign to Humanists, and a baby naming ceremony has been developed and is popular today. Humanists are clear that such a ceremony can well be a private affair within the family, but offers a ceremony with other parents a few times a year, around the country.

Marriages have been another area with a huge church dominance, but the government has offered civil marriage as an alternative for many years. The Humanists’ long term goal is that marriage should be a legal procedure performed by the government only, and that religious groups and others could give blessings and celebrate the marriage without the legal part. The civil marriage ceremony is a solemn, but simple ceremony, and does not allow the couple to bring many guests. We have tried to get the government to be more flexible and to make the civil marriage ceremony more attractive, but have had very little response. We, therefore, applied for a license to conduct marriages just as the religious communities, and got that a few years ago. We also wanted to perform same-sex marriages, and started with the partnership ceremony which is as similar to weddings as possible.

Gender Neutral Marriage Law

Now, there will soon be a gender-neutral marriage law in Norway. This will allow us to offer the same service to couples of same sex as well as opposite sex. The same right will, of course, be given to the religious groups, but they will not want to use that right. And now, some of the leaders in the state church have started to talk of leaving the legal marriage to the government, and restricting the church’s role to blessing the newlymarried couple.

Fight Against Religious Education

Some people may be aware of the Norwegian Humanists’ fight against religious education in schools. Traditionally, the church has regarded the schools as an instrument that is performing religious education for them, supported by the second article of the Constitution. This has been modified over the years, but many religious teachers have been able to continue practicing prayer in class if they wanted. Twenty years ago, an alternative class was introduced, offering pupils the possibility to choose life stance education instead of the traditional Christianity classes. This was a good alternative for Humanists, and was chosen by many Muslim pupils as well. It worked fairly well in many schools for some years, and participation grew steadily. Then a new government minister focused on the fact that this arrangement seemed to segregate classes, and in the name of integration, he managed to introduce a new topic of religious education in 1997 that was supposed to be factual and not give room for preaching. The new topic was made mandatory for all pupils, and the old alternative disappeared. And the practice of preaching by some of the teachers continued.

Some parents, with the financial help of the Norwegian Humanist Association, took the case to court, and lost all the way including the Supreme Court. However, both the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights found otherwise. The topic cannot be said to be objective, critical and pluralistic, and some further changes will have to be made to the topic this summer.

It would of course be preferable to have the public schools teach philosophy and ethics, and some history of religion in the history classes. This is politically very difficult to achieve, but the demand for equal treatment of all the pupils, regardless of their life stance, whether religious or not, has gained some sympathy, and helps take the debate forward.

Many Humanists in Norway would prefer our society to be truly secular, where religions and other life stances are equally accepted in society. Or even that all religion should disappear. But this will not be possible for many years to come. Meanwhile, we argue for equal rights of all citizens, whether Humanists, Christians or Muslims.

This will create a multicultural society,

where religions and life stances are accepted,

affect the society to a certain degree,

and are supported by the government –

with equal treatment as the guiding principle.

After many years of debate, there is now a political agreement in Norway to change the Constitution. The new second article will state that Norway is built on the “heritage from Christianity and Humanism” – whatever that means. The changes will loosen the ties between the state and the church, but won’t mean a clean cut. However, the principle of equal treatment of all life stances will now be explicitly included. We hope that this will provide a basis for a revision of the different laws for the different religious and non-religious life stance groups, and the General Assembly of the Norwegian Humanist Association last weekend passed a resolution asking the government to develop a more coherent policy in this area.

While we wait for this, we can be amused by the fact that the current proposed text is very similar to the one that Denmark introduced in 1849. So, if Napoleon had won, we could have been spared almost two centuries of religious discrimination by the government.

(Text of the Presentation at the IHEU World Humanist Congress in Washington on 6 June 2008.)

Reproduced from International Humanist News August 2008

*Roar Johnsen is a vice president of International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), and past president of the Norwegian Humanist Association.

Adopt a Dalit Village

Dalits are the people formerly known as untouchables. They have been historically excluded from human society, and were deprived of the most basic opportunities. This discrimination affects every aspect of life: health, housing, education, work, marriage, social interaction. For most Dalits, there is no opportunity to escape from caste-imposed discrimination. Tens of millions of Dalits are trapped in debt bondage.

The largest population of Dalits is in India, where Hinduism and the caste system are traditionally associated with the evil practice of untouchability. Their access to modern medical care is almost non-existent; they are exploited as vote banks with little hope of improvement, and they are targets for religious conversion. Rampant superstition, the practice of internal untouchability and desperate poverty are the hallmarks of most Dalit communities.

What can YOU do to help? Adopt a Dalit village! Join hands with IHEU and adopt a Dalit village. It will cost just £2,000 or ¤ 3,000 or $4,000 a year to make a positive difference to the lives of nearly a thousand Dalit men, women and children. That is just $4 a year per person. The details of this scheme and how your money will be used are available at www.iheu.org/dalitfaq.

Reproduced from International Humanist News August 2008