Kia ora: Those of us who reside in Wellington were fortunate to have the opportunity to attend a 4 week lecture series by Lloyd Geering based on his recently published book Such is Life, A Close Encounter with Ecclesiastes. Noel Cheer acted as the voice of Ecclesiastes in dialogue with Lloyd Geering. In listening to the debate, we saw that Ecclesiastes, writing 23 centuries ago, was asking the same questions that we ask today. Professor Geering wove into his reflections the great expanse and depth of human thought that 23 centuries has further distilled. Before the final lecture Professor Geering was able to tell us that his book had been awarded the Ashton Wylie Charitable Trust Book Award for 2010. This award with a value of $10,000, goes to an outstanding writer who has made a significant contribution to the mind, body, spirit genre in literature. Our congratulations to Professor Geering.

September Monthly Meeting: Monday 6 September: How Did we become Humanists?
An open discussion, come prepared with a 5 minute reflection on what Humanism means to us and how we arrived at our decision to become Humanists.
Venue for meeting: Turnbull House, Bowen Street, Wellington.
We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm

· Advance notice for November monthly meeting:

His Honour, Judge Hastings, will share with us his reflections on his time as Chief Censor in New Zealand.

· Radio Access:

Humanist Outlook: Future broadcasts will be broadcast at 10.30am on 783 kHz Wellington, on Saturday: 18 September, 16 October, 13 November, and 11 December.

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.

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

· 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. We will report on progress as it occurs.

· Atheist Billboard campaign:
Some billboards still remain in position in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, and other locations for display are under consideration.
Three different Billboards feature the slogans: “In the Beginning, Man Created God”, “We are all Atheists about most Gods, Some of us just go one God further”, and “Good Without God? Over one million Kiwis are”, and all carry a secondary slogan: “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”.
It is not too late to donate. Your contribution will help bring these slogans to other centres. You can help give these signs exposure in smaller centres.
To contribute, send a cheque made out to “Atheist Advertising”, c/o Humanist Society of New Zealand, PO Box 3372, Wellington, or visit the No God website to make a donation on line. Donations are tax deductible.

· 2010 AGM and Seminar:
AGM: Sunday 31 October 10.30 am Turnbull House
Seminar: Sunday 31 October 1.30 pm Mezzanine Meeting Room Wellington Central Library
Bryan Bruce, presenter of the TV series “The Investigator”, and author of, Jesus The Cold Case has indicated his willingness to discuss with us his book Jesus The Cold Case. However, we are waiting for final confirmation from Bryan, as his schedule at present is very busy.

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.

· Marriage Celebrant:
We are delighted that Humanist member Peter Clemerson has indicated an interest in, and willingness to be registered as a Humanist Marriage Celebrant.

· Quote:
An extract follows, from Nicolas Winton, a 29 year old London Stockbroker, who journeyed to Prague in December 1938, where he saw the plight of the thousands of Jews, dissidents and Communists who had fled the Sudetenland in the aftermath of the Munich Agreement. He determined to try and save their children. In the 9 months before war was declared he was able to bring 664 Czech children to England. Into the Arms of Strangers, Stories of the Kindertransport by Mark Jonathon Harris and Deborah Oppenheimer, Bloomsbury Publishing, London 2000, is a memoir of the children and Nicolas who saved them. This book also tells of Norbert Wolhiem 25, who organised Kindertransports from Berlin. In 1943 Norbet, his wife, and 3 year old son were deported to Auschwitz where he was the only one of 70 relatives to survive.

“I don’t look back much on that period of the Kindertransport. It was a job that I did and it was a job which was completed as far as I could complete it. There was nothing else to be done. Maybe a lot more could have been done, but much more time would have been needed, much more help would have been needed from other countries, much more money would have been needed, much more organisation. We may say the same thing in a few years’ time about what’s happening now [in 2000] in Yugoslavia. Nobody learns anything, that’s the only thing that history teaches us”

· Best Lesson Learnt!

from Karen Fifield, Wellington Zoo Chief Executive: Follow your heart, not the money, and always be willing to help someone else succeed. The Dominion Post August 9 2010

Gaylene Middleton

EVE GARRARD ‘To Forgive, Divine’?
Some believers suggest that forgiveness has a special connection with religious belief

In a recent Thought for the Day broadcast on Radio 4 the Reverend Joel Edwards suggested that the power to forgive, with all its consequences of release and reconciliation, is God’s gift to us, and it enables us to be truly human. There’s nothing unreasonable about the Reverend Edwards holding this view – if I shared his religious beliefs then I too would probably think that forgiveness is God’s gift to us, because I’d think that all good things are God’s gift to us. But some believers go further than this, and suggest that forgiveness has a special connection with religious belief, perhaps only makes sense in a religious context – as Alexander Pope said, “To err is human, to forgive, divine”. This raises an important question about how we secularists, who have no religious commitments, are to think of forgiveness. It is indeed a concept of central importance to some religions, most notably Christianity – but does that mean that the irreligious can make no use of it at all? Or even if we can still grasp the concept, are we obliged to regard forgiveness as being of lesser or no value to us, just because it’s of such great value to at least some of the world’s major religions? Of course not.


Eric Lomax and his wife Patricia meet Takashi Nagase (centre), the Japanese soldier who tortured Lomax when he was a POW working on the Kwai bridge

Many of our morally loaded concepts have religious origins (the most obvious one perhaps being “evil”). But that doesn’t prevent such concepts being meaningful in a secular context: consider for example the religiously freighted concept of atonement, and then think how readily all of us, believers and unbelievers alike, can understand that a man who was involved in the hideous torture of prisoners during the Second World War might spend the rest of his life trying to atone for this by seeking out the places where many of them died and trying to make memorials to them (see The Railway Man by Eric Lomax).

We may disagree about the value of what he did, but we won’t have a problem with understanding it as a case of attempted atonement for the horrors that he had committed. Similarly with forgiveness: we can understand what’s involved in it, and in the light of that understanding we can, if we want to, choose to overcome our hatred towards wrongdoers, and decide to wish them well (whatever that amounts to), without making any appeal to religion. Indeed our reason for forgiveness may be partly due to our lack of religious belief: if we don’t choose to break the cycle of hatred, there isn’t going to be anybody else to do it for us.

Religious and irreligious thinkers may well have different views about whether forgiveness is always a good thing, or about when exactly it’s called for, just as they may have different views about which acts or persons count as evil; but such disagreements can be found as much between different religious groups as between religious and secular thinkers.

There are good reasons, good secular reasons, for forgiving wrongdoers, just as there are good religious reasons too; what makes the issue of forgiveness a complicated one is that there are also good reasons, both secular and religious, for refusing to forgive. Which reasons win out, and in what circumstances, is a matter of intense debate, and though the arguments that convince religious believers may sometimes be different from those that persuade unbelievers, they’re talking to each other about the same phenomenon.

The question of whether we should treat those who have wronged us with the hostility their actions deserve, or whether we should, out of something like human solidarity, offer wrongdoers a kindness and forbearance that they certainly haven’t earned, can be just as important for those who think that humanity is alone in the universe as it is for those who are committed to the existence of a supernatural creator.

EVE GARRARD is Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Philosophy, University of Manchester. Forgiveness, by EVE GARRARD and DAVID MCNAUGHTON, is published by Acumen

Reproduced from: New Humanist SEPTEMBER OCTOBER 2010

Books interview – God, science and the soul

The quality of the controversy has been allowed to degenerate to the level of parody

Marilynne Robinson Who has won the Pulitzer and Orange prizes for her fiction, and been called the greatest writer of prose in the English language. With her new book she enters the God debate. We talk to the author of Absence of Mind

Q: Why did you feel it was important to join the “God debate” now?

When I was invited to give the Terry Lectures at Yale, which are meant to deal with issues of science and religion, I took the opportunity to express the dissatisfaction I feel with the entire debate, as it has developed over the last decade or two. It should now be described as a quarrel, the adversaries being atheism and religion. There have been distinguished and important voices on both sides. But the quality of the controversy has been allowed to degenerate to the level of parody. At best, the disputants are still doing something quintessentially human -pondering the nature of being, of the cosmos, of human circumstance. More typically they are dealing in spleen and hokum. Rather than elevating the conversation they are muddling and debasing it. As a university professor I see the consequences of all this in the thinking and writing of my students. Their generation has been short-changed in many ways, and this loss of the integrity of the culture of ideas is one more deprivation.

Q You are critical of the New Atheists-what is wrong with their arguments?

I object to their claim to the authority of science, when the kind of “science” and argument they employ has hardly advanced since Herbert Spencer-who was a much better writer than any of them, by the way. One need only compare any actual contemporary scientific periodical with anyone of these books to see how full they are of the must of the century before last The extrapolation from untestable assertion to global pronouncement which is so characteristic a feature of this school is as far from scientific as anything could be. The reasoning in general is often deeply flawed. And insofar as they refer to history- or to religion, format matter – they are usually misinformed or lacking information altogether.

Q But are you prepared to acknowledge the harm organised religion has done?

Any great human enterprise has heights and (in the invidious sense) depths. Science has Einstein, and it has the individual who won the Nobel Prize in 1949 for the work he had done to promote the lobotomising of mental patients. Religion is indeed associated with war and atrocity, and so is science. And government and nation and ethnicity and economics. In all probability, none of these is ever uniquely to blame, or entirely without guilt The list of what science has contributed to making the threat of war always more terrible would be long indeed, and the destabilising effects great indeed. It is a classic instance of the reductionism that is so characteristic of this debate, to speak as if this ancient crime and affliction of humankind had only one cause. True, the institutions of religion have endorsed the whole range of crimes and have provoked atrocities in the name of faith. Both religion in the best sense and science in the best sense are often betrayed and exploited on account of their power, or are corrupted by it. The question at the centre of each of them – how is reality to be understood? – is untouched by the abuses to which they are subject. And this is where the focus of conversation should be. Good faith, like good science, is active wonder. Reverence for life.

Q You use the word “soul” in your book. What do you mean by this?

There is a very primary self, a companion self one answers to, intimate and aloof, keeper of loyalties, bearer of loneliness and sorrow, faithful despite neglect and offence, more passion-ate lover of everything one loves, the unaccountable presence of joy in quiet and solitude. Soul is one name for this self within the self, which I believe is a universal human possession.

MARILYNNE ROBINSON teaches at the Iowa Writers Workshop. She will join Jonathan Ree, Roger Scruton and Laurie Taylor to discuss the future of the God debate at the RSA in London on 21 September 2010. See New Humanist for details

Reproduced from: New Humanist SEPTEMBER OCTOBER 2010