Our thoughts must be with Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school girl shot on a school bus in the former Taliban stronghold of the Swat valley last week as a punishment for campaigning for the right of girls to an education. She became known for her blog for the BBC highlighting atrocities under the Taliban, who terrorised the Swat valley from 2007 until an army offensive in 2009. We hope she recovers from her gunshot wound, but it is chilling to hear that the Taliban are still determined to achieve her death if she recovers. I also think about her companion on the bus who was wounded with the gunfire as well.
Monthly Meeting: Tuesday 6 November Open to the public – All interested people are welcome – bring a friend
The History of Evolutionary Ideas
Why did it take more than 2000 years from when the first evolutionary ideas were mooted, to develop a fully viable theory of evolution? Come along to hear about some of the people involved and their ideas, the wrong turnings and those who stood in the way of scientific progress.
*** Please note the change of day and venue ***
All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend..
Refreshments and nibbles provided
Come, share your views, and learn from others
Venue for meeting:
Arthur Street Entrance, Thistle Hall, 293-295 Cuba Street (upper Cuba Street, Wellington.
We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.30 pm
The venue and date have changed because the Department of Conversation staff have closed Turnbull House for earthquake strengthening and it will not be available for at least 2 years.
We have been fortunate to find Thistle Hall at such short notice. The room, however, has proved a little small so we welcome suggestions for other venues.
Radio Access: Humanist Outlook, 10.30 am, 783 kHz Wellington, on Saturday 13 October, 10 November, and 8 December 2012, 5 January 2013, and 2 February.
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 www.accessradio.org.nz to listen or to download as a pod cast after the event.
Previous October Meeting: It was interesting to hear an international jurist speaking about Human Rights around the world.
In a video recorded in Melbourne in April this year, Geoffrey Robertson delivering the inaugural Christopher Hitchens Memorial Lecture discussed topics that included: financial support by American evangelicals for the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, an army that carries out atrocities and indulges in the sexual enslavement of children; the endemic abuse of boys by catholic priests with the protection of the church; the bogus statehood of the Vatican; the bogus claims of persecution by some religious groups in an attempt to suppress non-theistic alternatives to religion; the dubious and inequitable tax exemption for religions; the persecution of non-believers and atheists in Moslem countries, and the execution of up to 30,000 atheists in Iran. A lively discussion followed.
AGM 2012 The following people were elected President: Mark Fletcher, Vice-President: Iain Middleton, Secretary: Gaylene Middleton, Treasurer: Lachman Prasad, Committee: Kent Stevens, Rochelle Forester, Pamela Mace.
Thanks: We thank Kent for the seven years that he has spent as Treasurer.
Subscriptions 2012-2013: Thank you to those conscientious members who have paid their subscriptions for the 2011-2012 year. Subscriptions for the 2012-2013 year are now due. A hard copy of this newsletter with a subscription renewal form has been posted to all members. A renewal form is also attached to this newsletter. Subscription rates for 2012-2013 are the same as for 2011-2012 year. Please check your records and if you have not paid for the previous year please pay arrears. Please return the form with your name and address on it with your payment. An email giving details of how to renew your subscription using internet banking will be sent to all members with an email address shortly.
Female Genital Mutilation: A recent news item on Morning Report Radio NZ, publicised a survey done by the Department of Gynaecology, Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia, (Australian & New Zealand Journal Obstetrics & Gynaecology. 2012 Sep 23 ) investigating whether FGM/C procedures are being performed in Australia and New Zealand, where legislation has been passed banning the practice. Electronic surveys were distributed via e-mail to obstetric practitioners in Australia and New Zealand between November 2010 and February 2011. There was a response rate of 18.5%. Anecdotal evidence was cited that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is being performed in Australia and New Zealand. 21.2% of respondents had been asked to re-suture following delivery, and 11 respondents had done so at least once. Two respondents had been asked to perform genital surgery on a baby, girl or young woman. The paper concluded that there is no conclusive evidence of FGM being performed in Australia and New Zealand, either from direct reports or children presenting with complications, although re-suturing post-delivery is occurring. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is most likely that people other than registered health practitioners are performing FGM. Morning Report spoke to Professor Ajay Rane who said that there were to be prosecutions in New South Wales and that he felt that this investigation revealed the tip of an iceberg.
Male Genital Mutilation: The IHEU has addressed the UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL 18 September 2012 on the Ritual Circumcision of Male Children supporting the German court ruling, made on June 26 2012, outlawing non-therapeutic infant male circumcision, placing the rights of vulnerable children above the expression of adult beliefs. The IHEU has some sympathy with certain religious groups, but think it is wrong to describe this judgment as anti-Semitic as some Jewish voices are calling for an end to this practice, and there is an association Jews Against Circumcision. The IHEU thinks that powerful groups must not be permitted to impose their views on the vulnerable on ideological or theological grounds in contravention of international law.
American Atheists and the Presidential Election: From The Economist August 25 2012. Over the past seven years there has been a five-fold increase in people in the US who call themselves atheists. The Economist writer considers this may be due to ‘New Atheism’. Authors such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens have written bestselling books decrying religion and appealing to logic and science. At the Reason Rally early in 2012, Dawkins spoke to thousands of secularists on the Mall in Washington DC. He said “We are approaching a tipping point, where the number of people who have come out becomes so great that suddenly everyone will realise, ‘I can come out too’.” And so American Atheists are! At the Democratic Convention in North Carolina, convention goers were greeted by a billboard claiming ‘Christianity promotes hate’ and exalts ‘a useless saviour.’ A similar billboard mocking Mormonism was planned for the Republican Convention but no one would sell the American Atheists billboard space.
Evolutionary Psychology: This Continuing Education course at VUW is into its fourth week. The lectures are absorbing and cover a wide range of interesting topics which lead into Evolutionary Psychology from early human pre-history, the chemistry of DNA and protein synthesis, to brain anatomy, consciousness and free will. Contact Victoria University if you would like to come to the remaining talks. More details can be found at: http://cce.victoria.ac.nz/courses/11-evolutionary-psychology-a-beginners-guide.
In memory of all Humanist members who have died in recent years:
When I have died, just say that I am dead,
Not gone to meet that Lord or just passed on
Send me no waxen flowers to deck my bed
Remember me by laughter when I’m gone
I am content here on the spinning earth
Part of the cycling soils eternity
Where atoms part and join in bold rebirth
I ask no other immortality.
So let no pleading parson pray for me
Endow me with no posthumous Christian heart
Spread no bright halo of hypocrisy
The good and bad in me both have a part
So as I have loved the earth, the bush, the sky
Let kowhai blossoms on my coffin lie.
(reprinted from New Zealand Humanist 141, March 1999)
William (Bill) McLeod (1925-2012)
was a Wellington Humanist member died recently, aged 87, on Saturday 15 September. Bill was a previous Treasurer for our Society and continued to attend meeting and seminars whenever he could make it – we saw him quite recently at a monthly meeting.
Farewell Bill: We attended a memorial service organised by his friends – Bill’s parents and brothers died before him. The service was a warm and friendly occasion. Bill had requested a paupers funeral but his friends felt we all needed time together to say goodbye and share recollections. We were very happy to receive a copy of Bill’s memoirs from which I will share a few snippets. Bill’s father meet Bill’s mother, mother who was from Wales, during the first World War and brought her back to Wellington where Bill was born in 1925. Bill and his three brothers lived at 79 Kelburn Parade, where the Adam Concert Room of Victoria University’s Music department is now situated. Bill’s father was a sea captain so the family were fortunate during the Depression as his father remained employed. Both Bill’s brothers played cricket for Victoria University. Bill remembered that his mother rarely resorted to smacking, a ‘sharp remark always kept her son’s in tune.’ Bill experienced the force 7 earthquake that hit Wellington in 1942, though fortunately their house was not damaged. Bill studied for a BA at Victoria University, including Russian in his studies. Bill spoke fluent Russian maintaining a lifelong interest in Russia and also China. He travelled frequently to these countries in the 1950’s and 1960’s, during the ‘Cold War’, and because of this interest he was spied on by the SIS. Bill thought this was a huge joke as he was simply just interested in the culture of Russia and China. Bill worked for 29 years as a sub-editor with the Dominion Post. (I wonder what Bill would think of the Dominion Post’s new editorial policy.) As Bill’s friends said, Bill was a quiet man, known for many years as ‘Silent Sam’. He enjoyed socialising and could converse on most topics. Bill especially loved discussing politics and was staunchly ‘left wing’ all his life, but disapproved of the policies of Stalin and Mao, that led to death and suffering. Thank you Bill for leaving us your memories.
Peggy Slater (1914-2012)
Farewell Peggy: Peggy was born on 10 June 1914 and died 15 September 2012. Peggy was created an Honorary Life member of the Humanist Society on 15 October 2011. Peggy was a friend of fellow and now departed Humanist members Eileen Bone and Jim Dakin. Peggy was born in Melling, Lancashire and spent some of her early years in an orphanage. She migrated to New Zealand with her husband Viv in the 1950’s. Peggy and Viv had a deep love for each other and sadly Viv, died from cancer in March 1962, leaving Peggy to bring up their three children alone. Peggy joined the Wellington Humanist Fellowship in 1971 and along with present Wellington Humanist member, Frank Dungey, encouraged the group to hold regular meetings resulting in the Fellowship’s growth to 15 members, which ensured that the Fellowship was able to become a Branch of the Humanist Society. Peggy served as Vice-Chairperson from 1974 until 1979 and then as Chairperson from 1979 until 1984. During this time the Wellington branch decided to sponsor a family from Cambodia and over some years helped half a dozen Cambodian families to settle in Wellington. Peggy was the first Humanist Marriage Celebrant in Wellington and officiated at the wedding of one of the Cambodian families. In November 1983, the Wellington branch, in conjunction with the Workers Education Association, WEA, organised a public seminar, The Changing Beliefs of New Zealanders. Humanist annual public seminars have been held yearly ever since, most recently this last September when Professor Jim Flynn from Dunedin spoke to us. In 1984, the Humanist Outlook programme was produced for Wellington Access Radio. This programme, with contributions from various Humanist Society members over the years, is still being produced, on a four-weekly cycle and is aired on a Saturday morning at 10.30am. Peggy also made a huge contribution to the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, which had its origin in the Humanist Society. Peggy’s interest stemmed from watching the suffering of her husband Viv as he died from cancer. This subject was first discussed in 1975 at a Wellington branch meeting. Two years later Peggy, along with Frank Dungey, convened the first meeting of the VE Interest Group, which later became the VE Sub-Committee. This committee recommended that a separate society be launched. The news of this caused quite a media stir and Peggy debated this issue with Father Bonish on the Viewpoint programme chaired by Lindsay Perigo. The Voluntary Euthanasia Society was founded in October 1978, when Derek Humphrey visited New Zealand to promote his book Jean’s Way. Voluntary Euthanasia is currently the subject of a private members bill in Parliament. Peggy was also active in peace groups, along with fellow Humanist Maureen Hoy, and helped with her local Citizens Advice Bureau. Peggy was a member of MENSA and at Humanist monthly meetings was always a lively contributor with her sharp mind and quick wit. In her 80’s Peggy rejoined the Humanist Council, and after retiring continued to enjoy coming to meetings and social occasions Latterly, Peggy became frail and her attendance ceased. Peggy was a great walker and in the Society’s early days formed a walking group of Humanists, who on a Saturday, once a month would walk the many bush tracks in the Wellington area and discuss issues that were of interest. In her 90’s Peggy could still stride it out and manage to ascend the Turnbull House stairs. Peggy’s family arranged at Peggy’s prior request, a special celebration where family and friends were able to share fond memories and farewell our very special Peggy.
Stop Press: Paul Kurtz (21 December 1925 – 20 October 2012)
We are sorry to here that Paul Kurtz has died at the age of 87. Paul Kurtz, who has sometimes been called “Mr Humanism”, is the author of some 50 books, translated into more than 60 languages, and over 400 articles. His books include: The Transcendental Temptation, Forbidden Fruit: The Ethics of Secularism, The Courage to Become, and Multi-Secularism: A New Agenda. Paul Kurtz founded, Prometheus Books, in 1969, and was the founder and past chairman of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP)), the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Center for Inquiry. He embraced the term “secular humanism”, invented by Christians as a derogatory term, and promoted it as a something positive that all Humanists could endorse.
Some Thoughts on the “Death with Dignity” Bill
This article by Peggy Slater was originally published in 1995 and is reproduced here in her memory.
It was a great disappointment that the Michael Laws Voluntary Euthanasia Bill was thrown out. Even more discouraging were some of the arguments put forward for rejecting the Bill.
The essence of the “Death With Dignity” Bill (not a good name) was “Choice” – primarily for the patient, but also for the Doctor. There were some bizarre opinions set forth, which had little relevance to the Bill. A suggestion put forward more than once in the debate in the House was that the Bill was a licence to kill. Even a cursory reading of the Bill would disprove that allegation. There were many safeguards written into it, and had the Bill been allowed to go forward to a Select Committee it could have been re-written (which was needed), more detailed safeguards could have been included in it, and provision could well have been made for monitoring its application. No doubt those people who most loudly inveigh against the whole idea of voluntary euthanasia will still be alive when it is enacted, and will be in a position to counteract any possible abuse. In all the aeons of time since the universe began, in all the illimitable reaches of space, we on this minor planet of a minor galaxy have, for one brief moment of that time, the inestimable privilege of life – to see, hear, touch, experience, learn about the extraordinary universe we live in, and the extraordinary people we meet.
And then there is the catch cry “we mustn’t play God”. Why not? People play god all the time – doctors when they treat the lives of their patients, judges when they advise a jury or pass sentence, parents when they have children, teachers when they laud or condemn their students, developers when they alter the character of a land’s topography, scientists when they explore and analyse the cosmos. We all at one time or another play God, angel or devil. We can make our own heaven or hell on earth, sometimes for other than ourselves. What’s so special about playing God? If we can ease the life of our fellow man in extremis, is that not a loving, humane and charitable thing to do? What abuse of such a Bill can be worse than the suffering endured at present by people who, being unable to use their lives any longer, and having no prospect of anything but pain or distress, are unable to opt out themselves, or to obtain medical assistance to do so. And is it not part of a Doctor’s vocation, when he can no longer relieve, to give comfort when it is urgently sought? So many death notices used to say “… after a long illness bravely born”. We ease the pains of birth; why is it deemed immoral to ease the pains of death?
And why is death itself regarded so fearfully? Everything in existence is born, grows old and dies – from the Earth we dwell on to the flowers in our garden. Good thing, really, else we’d have standing room only, and there would be no renewal. One might have thought that Christians of all people would have no fear of death in the belief that what follows will be better. In all the aeons of time since the universe began, in all the illimitable reaches of space, we on this minor planet of a minor galaxy have, for one brief moment of that time, the inestimable privilege of life – to see, hear, touch, experience, learn about the extraordinary universe we live in, and the extraordinary people we meet. It seems to me sinful not to make the most, to do the best, with what we have.
But when inexorable death is near, with whatever distress may attend that end, is it not inhuman to decree that the distress should continue to the bitter end, rather than allow peaceful release to those who earnestly wish it.?
Peggy Slater was a Wellington Member, former national councillor and former chairman of the Wellington Branch of the Humanist Society of New Zealand. She is a founding member, acting President and former President of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. She received the Ray Carr award for outstanding services to Humanism in New Zealand in 1993.
Reproduced from New Zealand Humanist 127 September 1995
My Time to go
My time to go
My spirit is still
strong and full
Its frail cover
(Tell the Pope)
There are others
to carry on
Would you nurture
the dead flowers
in a vase,
When others are growing
– and need your tending
Life has been rich
-and will be so again