Kia ora: We all know that at 4:35 AM on 4th September, Christchurch experienced the terrible shock of a 7.1 earthquake centered very close to the city causing some $4,000,000,000 of damage, and that this was followed by almost 1,200 aftershocks to date. Our first thoughts were for our Christchurch Humanist members and the people of Christchurch. We have spoken to some of our members and others who experienced the earthquake in Christchurch and empathise with them and those in surrounding areas, particularly those people who are now without homes, work, or the basics that we have come to take for granted like a working sewer system.

Monthly meeting: Monday 4 October – Venue: Turnbull House, Wellington. We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm
No God Ads with Simon Fisher: Simon Fisher will present to us the session he gave at the Skeptics conference earlier this year. Hear all about the No-God advertising campaign.

2010 AGM and Seminar AGM: Sunday 31 October 10.30 am Turnbull House
Please contact us with any items you would like us to consider. It would be great if you would give some thought to joining us on our committee. The more members we have means that more may be accomplished.

Annual Seminar: Reflections on Censorship presented by His Honour Judge Hastings Sunday 31 October 1.30 pm-4.00pm – Mezzanine Meeting Room Wellington Central Library
Bill Hastings was until recently the long standing Chief Censor of New Zealand. Some background to the Humanist position on pornography and censorship is given in an article reprinted with this newsletter from the American Humanist Association publication The Humanist Sept/Oct 2010.

Unfortunately our original speaker, Bryan Bruce, presenter of the TV series The Investigator, and author of, Jesus The Cold Case, as advertised in our September newsletter, is unable to discuss his book with us. Bryan is hopeful that he may be available to speak to us next year when a TV documentary on the book will be released.

Lloyd Geering at Science Express @ Te Papa: Level 4 Espresso Cafe 6.30pm-8.00pm Thursday 7 October.
Christian fundamentalists reject evolution and militant evolutionists reject religion. Catholic priest Teilhard de Chardin embraced both. How did he do it? Has religion promoted the evolution of human culture or is it a superstitious obstacle to evolution?

The inaugural national conference on voluntary euthanasia and assisted dying, organised by Dignity NZ Trust, will be held in Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre on 14 and 15 October. International delegates from the bi-annual conference of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies to be held in Melbourne in early October will be in attendance. Directing trustee of Dignity NZ trust is Lesley Martin, the former intensive care nurse who served half of a 15 month prison sentence in 2004 for the attempted murder of her terminally ill mother by means of a morphine overdose in 1999. Her arrest and prosecution followed publication of her book “To Die Like a Dog”

Radio Access: Humanist Outlook: Future broadcasts will be broadcast at 10.30am on 783 kHz Wellington, on Saturday: 16 October, 13 November, 11 December, and 8 January.
If you are outside the Wellington radio broadcast area, go to to listen or to download a pod cast after the event.
Please note the new time slot. Humanist Outlook is now broadcast 10:30 am on Saturday mornings from Wellington on 783 kHz every fourth Saturday.

Atheist Bus campaign:
A Decision has been received from Te Tari Whakatau Take Tika Tangata – The Office of Human Rights Proceedings. The Office advises that in their view the law supports our position and there is a prima facie case of discrimination on the grounds of ethical belief. The Office is prepared to take up our case against the Bus Company who refused to display the Atheist Campaign slogans on their buses. After consultation, and considering the issues, we have written to the Office of Human Rights Proceedings and accepted their offer. Due to other commitments, they expect to take up our case in the first half of 2011.

Atheist Billboard campaign:
One billboard in Wellington remains in position. Other locations for display are under consideration. The most popular places to relocate the billboards are Napier/Hastings, Hamilton, Nelson, and South Auckland. If you wish to express your opinion then visit where you may make a donation towards relocation costs and indicate your location preference.

On the 20 August, the Advertising Standards Authority released its ruling to a complaint by an A. Renault regarding the Billboards. The Chairman ruled as follows: “The relevant provisions were Basic Principle 4 and Rules 5 and 11 of the Code of Ethics. The Chairman noted the Complainant’s sincere concerns. However, the Chairman confirmed that Rule 11 of the Code of Ethics made provision for the presentation of robust expressions of opinion from named and identified organisations, saying it was “an essential and desirable part of the functioning of a democratic society”. In the Chairman’s view this applied to the advertisements before her and there was no apparent breach of the Advertising Codes. The Chairman ruled that there were no grounds to for the complaint to proceed.”

Submission on the Review of Immigration Policies available to Religious Workers:
Our submission has been received along with more than 70 other submissions. Submissions are now being collated to form a policy paper for consideration by The Cabinet early next year.

Issues – Melissa Bollman
Shifting Positions
Humanist Perspectives on Porn

PRIOR TO THE sexual revolution of the 1960s, pornographic material was kept private amid a culture that labeled it too risqué for the public eye. With the mass production of magazines like Playboy and Penthouse, porn’s increasing visibility elicited outrage from the more conservative members of society. Twenty years later, pornography became a full-blown civil rights issue.

The 1980s gave rise to some of the most vitriolic critiques that had ever been aimed at the subject. While moral objections to pornography were nothing new, it was only starting in the ‘80s that many outraged feminists and humanists willingly teamed up with the religious right to oppose what both considered to be a truly sick and disturbing trend in adult entertainment.

Not surprisingly, the creation of this unlikely coalition put the allied humanists in a very awkward position. How could they, as strong proponents of social equality and sexual freedom, ever justify siding with the kinds of people who took their philosophy from an overtly misogynistic and homophobic text? It was a controversial move that provoked much debate within the humanist community.

For one, humanists were typically pornography’s sympathizers and not its assailants. Unlike the members of the so-called moral majority, who objected to porn mainly because it showed people fornicating in a slew of “unacceptable” ways, humanists found nothing inherently obscene about the graphic depiction of sex. They certainly weren’t appalled by the act itself—provided that it was consensual—and couldn’t point to any reason why sexually explicit material deserved to be labelled, automatically, as indecent. Moreover, many humanists believed that pornographers, like anyone else, deserved the right to freely express whatever they wished, regardless of how uncomfortable it made people feel.

On the other hand, some porn appeared much too appalling to tolerate on the basis of free speech. The ‘80s snuff films in particular seemed to defiantly overstep the boundaries of what ought to be marketed as sexy. From an ethical standpoint, what these movies glorified—the raping and killing of women—was absolutely disgusting to anyone who believed that human life deserved to be treated with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, the rise of these films was just one of several new manifestations of moral decay. Another was the questionable content of popular men’s magazines; the June 1978 cover of Hustler, for example, featured a crude clip-art collage of a woman being fed face-first into a meat grinder. The violence and misogyny present in such images led some feminists to believe pornography was something that deserved to be banned, quickly and permanently.

However, not all humanists agreed with them. While none condoned the sexual violence expressed in certain types of pornography, some were more hesitant about placing their trust in legislation to bring about its end. The outspoken sexologist Sol Gordon, as an adamant opponent of censorship, pointed out that a causal relationship between exposure to pornography and effects on attitudes might be shown, but that no one could show such a relationship between exposure and behavior. “Anything we ban,” he added, “we make readily available…haven’t we learned the lesson?” Besides, he argued, the legal restrictions the feminists were proposing could easily be twisted and used against them—it could be their writings on sex and their beloved pro-feminist erotica that the obscenity censors would target first. (Consequently, he turned out to be right; immediately following a 1992 Canadian court ruling declaring pornography an obscenity subject to government regulation, two LGBT bookstores were raided, and their “offensive” lesbian erotica was seized.)

By 1985 the conflict over pornography was nearing its climax. Although humanists generally agreed that something had to be done to fix the social ills porn promoted, they nonetheless couldn’t reach a consensus on what exactly this was. With neither the anti-porn feminists nor the civil libertarians backing down from their respectively entrenched positions, the American Humanist Association held a panel discussion (subsequently published in the Humanist) at their annual conference in 1985 in hopes that a healthy debate would lead to a compromise. But to the dismay of the strongly anti-porn humanists, a definitive answer never emerged. Instead, the issue continued to remain at an impasse, epitomized in panel host Cleo Kocol’s statement that “neither the Feminist Caucus nor the American Humanist Association has an official opinion [concerning pornography].”

Despite the diversity of humanist viewpoints being offered at this time, there was at least one point on which all were in agreement, namely, that porn both perpetuated and reflected a culture of filth and malaise, that it was, ultimately, a symptom of a sick society. This quintessentially negative stance had, for humanists, been in vogue ever since Sarah J. McCarthy’s 1980 exegesis, “Pornography, Rape, and the Cult of Macho,” painted pornography as sexual propaganda transforming unspeakable violence against women into something socially permissible. Even so, her article was met with less than resounding acclaim when it was published in the Humanist. The comments of at least one dissatisfied subscriber were published in the following issue’s Readers Forum:

McCarthy’s article substituted assertion for evidence, was confused in aim, and overly dependent on speculation…[I]n all likelihood, the extravagant nonsense that is seen in ‘pornography’ is but another manifestation of the same underlying psychosocial dynamics that have produced ever more bizarre expressions of political and religious beliefs and a host of aberrant lifestyles in contemporary society.

Indeed, this reader’s reaction wasn’t surprising, because he was echoing the convictions of an earlier era when humanists were more concerned about the damage being done by a domineering society than with pornography’s alleged harms. Not only was pornography generally tamer and undoubtedly less violent back in the 1960s, the type of criticism it provoked was far removed from feminist complaints that it subjugated women—the greater concern at that time was that it might turn people on to “deviant” and “antisocial” sexual practices including auto-eroticism, sadomasochism, and homosexuality. Thus, rather than condemning it, sociologist and proto-gay rights activist Edward Sagarin had praised porn, “the socially disapproved appeal to the libido,” for its ability to stimulate controversy along with sexual appetites. He believed that both were healthy in a society that had only recently begun to break free from a stifling culture of repression. As he indicated in his 1969 article, “An Essay on Obscenity and Pornography: Pardon Me Sir, But Your Asterisk is Missing” (the first ever about the subject to be published in the Humanist):

Pornography…acts as a force demanding greater self-reflection from within society, creating a counter-culture to the staid, puritanical, and taken-for-granted world. It is a call for sexual re-evaluation, and that means it is a force against stagnation and conservatism.

Fast-forward back to the deadlock surrounding the ‘80s, and it’s obvious that the humanists themselves were also in need of some revolutionary thinking. A much-needed revitalization of humanist thought on pornography arrived in the ‘90s, courtesy of the third-wave feminists. They were quick to dismiss the one-dimensional view of the institution of pornography, in which men pulled all the strings and women were relegated to the role of helpless victim. As third-waver Kimberly Klinger explained in a 2003 edition of the Humanist, pornography isn’t just “degrading sexual imagery made by men, for men.” Women, she argued, also have the right to “enjoy sexual images without violence or negativity.”

In light of these shifting perspectives, one of the main proposals made by humanists was to decriminalize the sex industry. During this time it was recognized that women didn’t always become porn stars out of resigned desperation; interviews with female adult entertainers and prostitutes revealed that some found their line of work legitimate, enjoyable, and even empowering. But this did not automatically persuade all humanists that the danger had been eradicated from the sex industry. In 1995 and later in 2003 Alice Leuchtag put forth valid counter-arguments that sex trafficking, sex tourism, and other forms of sexual slavery were serious human rights violations that warranted legal action. Her well-researched pieces on both porn and prostitution caused humanists to think twice before advocating the complete decriminalization of sex work. A more moderate approach calling for its “destigmatization” is what is more widely accepted today.

Forty years have passed since the first Humanist article on pornography surfaced, and the topic continues to remain relevant as the sex industry continues to evolve. Thanks to the Internet, porn has taken on new forms and generated even more controversy. In June the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICCAN) green-lighted the development of the long-debated .xxx domain, designed specifically to house on-line adult entertainment. Christian groups oppose the .xxx domain for fear it will legitimize pornography, while porn sites oppose because they say it will open them up to government censorship. (In all likelihood they’re more worried about lost revenue from the so-called accidental search discovery they enjoy on .com sites.) As the debate unfolds, the same questions that have dogged humanists for decades—how should we interpret pornography? What is the humanist stance?—will again resurface and some will reluctantly find themselves, as they were in the ‘80s, on the same side as religious conservatives. As always they are questions humanists must answer for themselves.

Melissa Bollman studies philosophy and environmental policy at McDaniel College in Westminster; Maryland. She completed an editorial internship at the American Humanist Association this past summer.

Republished from THE HUMANIST September – October 2010