Included in this newsletter are short summations of our recent conference. We hope to publish these talks. If a member is available to help with this process, your aid would be very welcome. After the labour of producing a summation, I think ANSA, HSNZ, and NZARH, will have produced a very powerful document.
October monthly meeting: Monday 6 October Election 08 – Religion and Politics.
There will be a discussion on how religion influences politics in New Zealand and America.
We are familiar with the large impact that the Exclusive Brethren had on the last election, but there are also other fundamentalist organisations such as Family First and the Maxim Institute that try to influence politics. Sarah Palin and Bill English’s anti-abortion stance are examined to see how they may alter policies.
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]
· Last Meeting
Vincent Gray gave and account of the life of Charles Bradlaugh.
· AGM 2008
· The 2008 AGM of HSNZ will held at Turnbull House Sunday 19 October 10.00 am with a break at 11.00 am to listen to the Radio Access broadcast. Nominations are now open for Council Positions.
Constitutional Changes. The Humanist Society of New Zealand has long-standing charitable status but now requires registration with the Charities Commission to retain this status. Constitutional changes to meet the requirements of the Charities Commission were approved at the 2007 AGM and the new 2007 Constitution registered with the Incorporated Societies. The Charities Commission agreed with all the Constitutional changes made but has asked for additional changes to meet registration requirements to ensure that the funds of the society are not used for other purposes. These changes will be discussed at the AGM and put to the AGM for approval.
Motion proposed for the AGM: Proposed: Jeff Hunt, Seconded: Joan McCracken.
“I move that the HSNZ apply to NZARH to be the Wellington branch of that society by initially joining all its financial members and discuss the issue at ensuing AGMs until the idea is either abandoned or fully implemented.”
· Email discussion group:
Operating on Yahoo at http://groups.yahoo.comlgroup/nzhumanism .
Join the group to contribute to the discussion?
· Radio Access: 11 am 783 kHz Sunday 19 October and every fourth Sunday after that.
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.
· Conference: 2008 Conference: New Zealand and Australia’s Secular Heritage and its Future
This conference held on the 30th August was a collaborative effort between the Humanist Society of New Zealand (HSNZ), the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (NZARH), and the Australian National Secular Association (ANSA), was both informative and enjoyable. We appreciated the assistance of NZARH members Helen Breeze who video taped the Conference, John Murphy who assisted with the lecture theatre technical systems used during the day and John Shaw who helped with the financial side of conference arrangements. NZARH and the New Zealand Humanist Charitable Trust provided financial support. The audio can be accessed via the NZARH web site www.nzarh.org.nz . The conference concept was the inspiration of Max Wallace of ANSA. HSNZ did the groundwork and detailed organisation required to ensure the conference proceeded. Kent Stevens, Mark Fletcher, Jeff Hunt, and Lachman Prasad provided valuable help on the day.
Bill Hastings Opening Address. Bill opened with a very witty address, emphasising that a viable and effective secular state must consider all citizens including both religious and non-religious communities. He revived memories of Brian Edwards interviewing the anti-pornography campaigner Patricia Bartlett on his popular Saturday morning National Radio programme several years ago, and his quick reply that everyone knew that Patricia had the best garden in Auckland. Patricia, a former nun and celibate, had just admitted to using gardening as an antidote when she found some of the pornographic material she had read in the course of her campaigning “arousing”.
Nicky Hager The effects of religion on New Zealand Politics” Nicky described the techniques that fundamentalist Right Wing church groups are adopting from America and Australia. Moral issues, e.g. homosexuality, civil union relationships, anti-smacking, are raised as a short-term ploy to sway a majority of popular opinion. This is used to force emotive referenda tied to elections, which effectively distracts people from other more serious issues of health, education, and privatisation. Nicky mentioned Marilyn Maddox’s book God Under Howard, which details this process in Australia. Marilyn has spoken on this issue at a Humanist seminar several years ago.
Dr. Bill Cooke Is New Zealand a “Christian Nation?” Dr Cooke answered this question with a resounding NO. He illustrated his comprehensive lecture with arguments developed over the years by many eminent people and illustrations from our colonial history. Few of the original arrivals in New Zealand were of a pious nature. Their intent was not the establishment of an official church, for they were adventurers, opportunists, whalers, ex-whalers, runaways, and escaped convicts. From 1840, when administrators began to consider religious matters they did not want to provide a public platform for religion as they knew from their European history and experience the problems that sectarian strife can cause. The claim for foundation on Christian principles usually means that our democracy is a legacy of Christian thought. However, the origins of democracy belong with Ancient Greece several centuries before the emergence of the Christian Church.
Prof. Helen Irving Australia’s foundations were definitely and deliberately not Christian. Meg Wallace read Helen’s paper. In recent political history, both Howard and Costello saw Australian society as having its roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Costello felt that the moral decay some see in society could only be resisted by adherence to the Christian faith. However, history shows that the early colonial government took great care to avoid sectarianism. State education was to be secular and the first prime minister of Australia thought the whole mode of government is to be secular. Incoming parliamentarians were able to take either a religious oath or a secular affirmation. In February 2004, why was there an advance screening in Parliament House of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ? On the official Government website for Australia’s National day of Thanksgiving an explanation begins “It is a day for us to pause as a nation to say thank you to God….”. This year, 2008, Mother’s Day was incorporated into the National Day of Thanksgiving. The recognition of mothers was discounted and turned into a religious celebration.
Dr. Max Wallace Clericalism in New Zealand. Dr. Wallace defined clericalism as the process of enmeshing religion with government. There is a conspiracy of silence surrounding the relationship between church and state. Concerns with church and state separation consistently fall beneath the political radar. From the British monarchies tax exemption status it has followed that churches are exempt from tax. The political will to obtain these tax exemptions has become a driving force of religions. Our governments have become soft theocracies, where, though the features of democracy are apparent, a symbolic association with religion is retained. France has come closest to minimising the effects of a soft theocracy, and is thus closest to the ideals of a secular democratic government. It is not the business of the state to advance the interests of religion at the expense of its citizens who have no sympathy with religion. How can we be secular when there is no law separating church and state? In 1601, British law allowed charitable status to be tax exempt. The spreading of God’s Word was seen as charity because of the intangible benefits that this brought to society. However, it is necessary to distinguish between the relief of poverty and the advancement of religion. In the founding of the United States, a first step of the government was the separation of church and state, but the tax-exempt status of religion was allowed. Returning to a consideration of the British monarchy, Prince Charles pays tax at a rate of 23%. Other persons in a similar bracket pay at a 40% rate. The money that is spent in upholding the traditional monarchy would be better spent on researching the world needs to survive the crises of our time. From the 17th C., tax exemption has become an extended daisy chain from the British monarchy to the churches and on into our 21st C. There has been no retraction of tax-exempt status for criminal activity, for example, in the situation of the paedophilia scandals of recent times. In the Australian situation, the general community may miss out on up to Aus $20 billion, because of tax exemption. In New Zealand, it is harder to discover figures but there are 9,700 tax-exempt charities. The work to relieve poverty that religions undertake, along with secular counterparts, is not devalued, and tax exemption is applicable in this circumstance. Why should secular citizens subsidise religious organisations, or allow religious organisations to run businesses that are able to undercut other businesses because of their tax-exempt status? Much of the information concerning these issues is surrounded by silence. We must seek to erase religion from government.
Iain Middleton Secular Education in New Zealand. Using 1995 League Tables for 35 Wellington secondary schools Iain showed that for both religious and state schools there is a very close correlation between the decile rating of the school and the school’s academic achievement. The decile rating is a measure of the income levels of the families of the students attending the school. Both religious and state schools conform to this rule and this explains why some schools are seen to perform better than others. Further investigation of child performance in schools was carried out in a longitudinal study, “Competent Children’s Project” in the Wellington region by Dr Cathy Wylie. This research has shown that there is a stronger correlation between the educational performance of children and the education of the mother than there is to parental incomes. Because higher education leads to higher incomes, decile rating is an indirect measure of parental education. Other factors such as the value parents place on education are also important.
In New Zealand, before 1876, there was no nationwide state education system and each province organised its own education system. After the abolition of the provinces in November 1876, the 1877 Education Act provided for Free, Compulsory, and Secular education for all children between the ages of 7 to 13. Secularists supported this Act, but the Catholic Church decided to continue with their own schools without state support. Some Protestants argued for religious instruction in schools, but the form of this instruction could not be agreed upon. The concept of free, compulsory, and secular education had evolved in Scotland, over a period of some 400 years beginning with the Education Act of 1496. The 1496 Act made education compulsory for barons and wealthy property owners to ensure that justice was more responsive and properly administered. When religion was reformed, a programme was developed in 1561 to ensure that all people learnt to read for religious purposes and free education was to be provided to the poor. State assistance was provided for education from an early date and in 1872 the state took full responsibility, taking over the church schools to create a secular education system. Scottish immigrants placed a high value on education, supported education for all, and brought the concepts to New Zealand. New Zealand education was strongly influenced by the Scottish system, which emphasised breadth of education at the expense of depth. In contrast, the English, Welsh, and Irish emphasised depth of education at the expense of breadth. Almost immediately after the 1877 Act came into force in New Zealand, attempts were made to undermine its secular provisions. The story of New Zealand secular education and the struggle to keep it Free, Compulsory, and Secular has been continued in Jim Dakin’s book The Secular Trend in New Zealand and in articles in the New Zealand Humanist – see New Zealand Humanist 157, August 2006 “Jack Mulheron and the Defence of Secular Education” by Iain Middleton.
Prof. Lloyd Geering New Zealand’s Contribution to a Secular Global World. New Zealand is considered the first nation to have extricated itself from its Christian past. From its Latin roots secular means “this world in which we live”. It did not mean anti-Christian or anti-religious. Modern times have brought a greater knowledge of this world. The “otherworld” of Christianity has been disappearing as our world has expanded to all the millions of the galaxies. The secular process has turned our attention from “other-worlds” to our world. Our mental picture has changed from that of the three-tiered universe to a space-time continuum of astronomical proportions. Heaven has been incorporated into “this” world. George Holyoake, a secularist thinker in the 1800’s wanted to emancipate daily life from ecclesiastical control so that more could be done to promote social justice and equality of opportunity. New Zealand became secular because the rise of secularism in Britain coincided with the period of migration to New Zealand. It was the religious diversity of early New Zealand society that led to the development of a secular state. The Education Act of 1877, which determined that education was to be free, secular, and compulsory, resolved the question of religious differences. Secular society has evolved out of Christian society without any noticeable social revolution. Prof. Geering then asked the question: “Are we becoming a non religious society?” Among the definitions for religion in the Oxford Dictionary, the fifth and last definition says, “religion is an action which one feels bound to do.” The Latin root of the word religion means “to bind oneself to something.” What we bind ourselves to, is in fact our religion. The use of this definition does justice to the far-reaching cultural change that we call secularisation. From this perspective, Humanism may be seen to be a religion. A Humanist is bound to affirm and live out values which come out of the human condition. The feelings of awe which were once directed towards the “other worldly” Gods have been replaced by the awesomeness of “this world”, the mega world of our space-time continuum with its billions of galaxies and the micro world of microbiology and quantum physics. Prof. Geering concluded his talk with a discussion of the dangers of all forms of fundamentalism.
Lewis Holden Secularism and New Zealand Republicanism. Lewis began his talk with the assertion that the symbolism of the monarchy and New Zealand is broken. The monarchies archaic succession laws and religious and aristocratic symbolism are all at odds with our growing New Zealand identity. A New Zealand republic will reflect our national identity as a state where religion and government are separated. A recent survey has shown that 40 to 50% of New Zealanders support the monarchy, 30 to 40% support a republic, and 20% are undecided. There is an indication from this that people do not support the monarchy for religious reasons. If the monarchy is a figurehead who unites us all, then it is forgotten that the monarchy is symbolically the embodiment of one religion, the Anglican religion. Lewis asked, as had Max Wallace in his discussion: Why do we support a soft theocracy? Last year the Draft Statement on Religious Diversity declared that New Zealand has no official or established religion. This statement was assumed to be fact by the general public, but it revealed an underlying ignorance of New Zealand’s constitutional monarchy and all that its symbolism entails, namely the twin function of both Head of State and Religion. Some groups, Family First and Bishop Brian Tamaki, disagreed with the Draft statement, insisting that Christianity was the foundation of our nation, a position that Dr Bill Cooke refuted in his paper. Lewis observed that Queen’s Birthday Weekend is becoming more noted for the celebration of Matariki than the Queen’s birthday.