Kia ora: A successful Conference collaboration between HSNZ and NZARH was enjoyed by participants. We have a photo above beginning our Conference week with welcoming Dr Leo Igwe to NZ with a small celebration at Café Olive, Cuba St. It was good to relax after the work involved in obtaining an NZ Visitor’s Visa for Leo. Leo had to provide so much detail – accounting for every month of his life. It was a similar experience for Kato Musaka and Viola Namyalo from Uganda. Gulalai Ismail had to provide photocopies from her passport of every entry and exit to the 200 countries that she has visited. We wish to express our gratitude to all who helped with obtaining the visas for our guests from non-visa waiver countries. There was our lawyer Yana Gild. Des Vize helped with behind the scenes advocacy with Members of Parliament. Sara Passmore rallied our forces magnificently at the 11th hour when all seemed lost with the declination for the second time of a Visa for Viola Namyalo. Peter Furness, from Australia, who supports Kato Musaka’s humanist work in Uganda emailed the Minister of Immigration on Kato’s behalf. There was a wonderful sequel to Kato receiving a NZ Visa as Peter and his partner Theo flew over from Australia to attend the Conference dinner to see Kato and then flew back home to Oz. We thank the Associate Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi for granting a Visa for Viola Namyalo. A powhiri was the perfect start to our conference proceedings, and we had a great time touring the North Island after the conference with our international speakers and delegates – as can be seen from the photos below. For those keen to repeat this experience, or if you missed this fantastic NZ event, then Finland is the IHEU destination for 2019. For 2020 it will be Miami, USA and in 2021 it is the magic of Kathmandu, Nepal.
Monthly meeting: Monday September 3 6.30pm til 9.00pm
Humanism and Pakistan
Rana, who is the Founder and Chief Executive of the Humanist Society of Pakistan, affiliated with IHEU will speak to us about Humanism in Pakistan. Rana is also South Asian Chair Person of (IHEYO) International Humanist Ethical Youth Organization. The Humanist Society of Pakistan: “aims to promote humanism, a progressive, democratic and secular life stance, without supernaturalism, affirming our ability and our responsibility to lead a meaningful and ethical life capable of contributing to the greater good of humanity.” This excellently expressed aim, reads so well with us. In NZ we are able to work towards this goal without impediment. However, circumstances in Pakistan are quite different. It can be dangerous to openly express a Humanist viewpoint. Because of his humanist activities and beliefs Rana has received death threats and is currently applying for asylum in NZ. On 20 July the IHEU posted an article informing international humanist communities that Gulalai Ismail, an IHEU Board member, also from Pakistan, is facing spurious legal action and accusations of blasphemy. The IHEU document Freedom of Thought gives a comprehensive report of the situation in Pakistan.
All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.
Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St in the Katherine Mansfield Room
2018 Humanist Society of NZ AGM: Notice is given that our 2018 AGM will be held on Monday 5 November, 6.30pm at the Thistle Inn. The AGM will replace our monthly meeting. We welcome your attendance as we look towards 2019 and another year of humanist activity in NZ. Would you consider joining our committee?
International Humanist Conference 4 August and IHEU General Assembly: the full report can be read at https://iheu.org/report-international-humanist-meetings-new-zealand/
In the public conference on Saturday organized by HSNZ and NZARH we heard from speakers including Te Henare on how “there’s no Māori word for ‘atheist’” and Eru Hiko-Tahuri, who blogs as Heretical Hori and wrote the book Māori Boy Atheist who explained how he is constantly met with the assumption that Māori will believe in gods and lead karakia.
Gulalai Ismal spoke on “How Humanism can help us counter violent extremism” and the threats faced by humanists and human rights activists in Pakistan. Andrew Copson spoke on the non-religious arguments against secularism and how they can be answered. David Hines and Tanya Jacobs from the Secular Education Network spoke on how “loopholes” in the school system allow publicly-funded schools, which are meant to be secular, to nominally “close” for periods during the school day to allow for religious instruction.
Further talks included Jackie Clark on her organization The Aunties, working with vulnerable women in New Zealand, Max Wallace and Kim Stainton on religion and secularization in the Pacific islands, Catherine Low with an introduction to “effective altruism”, and Imtiaz Shams from Faith to Faithless on how humanist groups can help individual “apostates”. Uttam Niraula from the Society for Humanism Nepal discussed rising Hindu conservativism and extremism in India and Nepal. Leo Igwe from Nigeria talked about how humanists in particular from wealthier countries need to use their position to address issues such as witchcraft accusations and other human rights violations, and not to cite their own fear of being called ‘racist’ or ‘culturally imperialist’ as reasons not to speak out.
Finally, Joseph Bulbulia from the School of Humanities, University of Auckland, looked at the available evidence on the link between politics and religion showing that across the Pacific islands the rise of political power was usually associated with the rise of more demanding or controlling religious beliefs.
At the General Assembly:
Sara Passmore for HSNZ and Peter Harrison for NZARH formally launched Humanism 2020
The purpose of this document is to outline the areas of particular concern for humanists in New Zealand. The list is not exhaustive, but highlights our current areas of focus.
Humanists make sense of the world with logic, reason, and evidence. We support and use these ideas and values to make our own choices about how we live.
- rational thought
- scientific enquiry
- human rights
- treating others with warmth, understanding, and respect
- combining personal freedom with social responsibility.
We work on behalf of the millions of New Zealanders who are non-religious. We work to make their voices heard in public policy and discussions.
- Secular government, with separation of state and religion.
- Equality before the law, regardless of religion or belief.
- Human Rights for all, with the timely application and enforcement of Human Rights laws.
- Freedom of expression, with the right to express any opinion on matters of religion or belief.
- Freedom from discrimination or coercion on the grounds of a person’s religion or belief or other status.
- Planned parenthood, including the right to family planning and free, legal, and timely abortion on request.
- Secular, compulsory, and free education, without religious instruction or observance in all schools.
- Protection from harmful cultural practices.
- Voluntary euthanasia as an end of life choice.
- Charitable purpose defined as the relief of poverty, the advancement of education, or any other matter beneficial to the community, with the abolition of the advancement of religion as a charitable purpose.
- Equal taxation for all businesses, regardless of ownership.
- Evidence based medicine, with the elimination of government support for unproven and ineffective medicines.
- The right to travel, including the right of non-New Zealanders to visit New Zealand for legitimate purposes.
Ray Carr Award 2018:
The Ray Carr award is given for outstanding services to humanism in New Zealand. The award has been established in recognition of our first president, who in 1967 helped found HSNZ.
Previous recipients of this award are Ray Carr, Dr Jim Woolnough, Jim Dakin, Eric Grimes, Peggy Slater, Jack Shallcrass, Eileen Bone, Robert Miller, Maureen Hoy (Maureen our Secretary for many years, was a passionate advocate for the amendment to Section 59 of New Zealand‘s Crimes Act 1961 which removed the legal defence of “reasonable force” for parents prosecuted for assault on their children and is now enjoying retirement) Frank Dungey, (who still attends meetings was very active in the early days of the campaign for Voluntary Euthanasia, and is about to embark on another of his regular visits to the UK) and Carrick Lewis.
This year I am proud to recognise not one, but two people who have a lasting legacy on promoting humanism, ethics, secularism and human rights.
The first person has made an important contribution to our society for over 20 years in various roles on our council. In any organisation it is the diversity of thought that leads to better decision-making. The recipient has taught me the value of detail and diligence in forming policy and strategy. Iain Middleton has shown great strength in following his convictions. He is someone who has a firm ethical framework that shapes his decision-making. Although it hasn’t always been an easy path to arrive at consensus, his role as a researcher, historian, and critical friend means that we can be proud of any policy or position our society takes because we know they have been thoroughly tested. I’m proud to award Iain Middleton with the Ray Carr Award.
The second person I’d like to recognise for services to humanism is the real engine-room of our organisation. As secretary she has keep our organisation running, our members informed, and our social media growing.
Gaylene Middleton is someone I am sure you are all familiar with. She is a true connector, building and maintaining relationships with people all across the world. She thrives on organisation, and her ability to adapt and grow has meant that we’re now reaching more people than ever through social media, our mailing list, and our meetings and events.
Most recently, Gaylene has been instrumental in living her ethics through supporting our international colleagues to be able to travel to New Zealand to participate in our International Conference. Her kindness, as well as her determination has driven her to success, and I’d like everyone to join me in thanking her.
Dr LEO IGWE
Being Non-Religious in Africa- Why Secular Countries Must Help
This is the text of the passionate address that Leo delivered at the Wellington Parliamentary Welcome Function at the Beehive 30 July 2018
Being known as a humanist or an atheist can mean social ostracization at best, at worst death in Africa. Secular liberal countries must do more for them.
Being a non-religious person comes with many risks and challenges. In many nations across Africa and the world, those who identify openly as atheists or agnostics are unable to stand for any public office or hold any political positions because non religiosity is socially and politically disabling. Public expression of humanist and freethinking views goes against social convention sand norms. It violates laws and breaks the taboo that requires individuals with no faith or those who question the notion of God or Allah to keep their atheism, skeptical thought or lack of religious belief secret and private.
Across Africa, thousands, tens of thousands and in fact millions of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers are harassed and persecuted for their views. Atheists are treated with disdain. Their existence and rights are denied with impunity. This is especially the case in Muslim majority countries where sharia law is in force or in places where Islam is the actual or official state religion.
In Muslim majority countries people who have no faith are described as infidels and as such systematically denied their human rights. An ex muslim from northern Nigeria said this regarding the plight of those who leave Islam: “social networks and relationships shrink. Family members could disown the person. If he or she openly criticised Islam or refused to observe its tenets, the person could be tagged a heretic and subjected to various maltreatments”. Atheists and humanists risk being betrayed and abandoned by family members who may consign them to a mental hospital for leaving the religion, as in the case of Mubarak Bala of Nigeria. Disbelief in God or Allah has social and political costs and consequences including: “Ostracism, severance of family ties, threat to life, loss of job, exile, loss of property, denial of the rights to inheritance, harassment, and blackmail”. A popular muslim woman from Nigeria told me some years ago: “I will have nothing to do with any of my children who leaves Islam”.
This is an opinion that is widely shared in the region. Apart from these social sanctions, humanists and freethinkers are executed by the state or by non-state actors because of their views and opinions. Under sharia law, apostasy and blasphemy are offences punishable by death. These criminal provisions are weapons that Islamic religious establishments in particular use to target non-religious persons and suppress atheism, religious dissent and disbelief.
Therefore, for atheists and religious dissenters in the region everyday life is an exercise in risk analysis and in constant assessment and reassessment of their safety and security. The life of an atheist is filled with anxieties and uncertainties. Atheists are unsure whether they will be dead or alive; whether they will end up in the grave or in the prison as a result of their atheism or lack of belief. Atheists are uncertain as to how their friends, family members and the society at large will perceive and react to their irreligious or non-religious viewpoints.
It is important to state that humanists and freethinkers are not asking for a special treatment. Non-religious people want to live in a society that ensures equality, justice, freedom and human rights for all individuals despite the religious belief or lack of it. They desire to live their lives free from fear and persecution like other human beings. Given this situation, humanists everywhere are looking to countries for help in the realization of this aspiration. With the growing population of non-religious persons worldwide, many countries are in the position to defend all humanists at risk. Countries should use their positions as member states of the Commonwealth, of the UN and other regional and international bodies to help end the persecution and discrimination against non-religious people across the world.
Let me conclude by pointing out something that happened in New Zealand in 1995. The Commonwealth Heads of Government met in this pacific nation. And at the meeting, they decided to suspend Nigeria following the execution of the Nigerian environmentalist, Ken Saro Wiwa and other minority rights activists. That decision was impactful and helped bring an end to the military rule of then Nigerian dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha and the restoration of democracy in the country.
Countries that have come through this phase in social evolution, and have successfully managed to quell ancient notions of punishment for disbelief, cannot afford to turn its back as atheists and secularists are attacked and killed in Nigeria, Mauritania, Zambia, South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and Indonesia. All nations that value human rights cannot look the other way while non-religious persons are being treated as terrorists and criminals in these countries.’
As in the case of Ken Saro Wiwa, the resolutions that parliamentarians pass in their various houses can make a significant difference in the lives of humanists who are persecuted worldwide. The decisions that politicians take can positively reflect on the challenges that non-religious persons are facing in distant places. So many countries can make a positive difference in the lives of all humanists at risk. States have the power to change the situation of non religious persons for the better. Countries should use their power to protect all humanists at risk and end all forms of religious persecution and oppression. Countries should act now in defence of the human rights and freedom of atheists and freethinkers worldwide.
The following resolution was endorsed at the 2018 IHEU General Assembly as Humanists condemn the “politics of division” resurgent in many parts of the world
Auckland Declaration Against the Politics of Division
The right of all people to participate in the government of their society has been a foundation of human freedom and happiness wherever it has existed. We are fortunate to live in a world in which, through the efforts of humanists as well as religious believers, democracy is widely recognised as being the most just, rational, and effective form of governance available to humanity. Today, more people than ever before have the ability to shape the political direction of the community in which they live.
However, wherever there is democracy, there is always the risk of its abuse by demagogues, who seek to exploit the genuine grievances of sections of the population by misdirecting blame onto unpopular minorities, which may include pre-existing and competing political groups who are maligned as “elites”. Demagogues frequently employ intolerant forms of nationalism as well as other forms of prejudice and hatred. Their rhetoric appeals to negative emotions rather than to empathy and reason.
This politics of division is resurgent in many parts of the world. It is exemplified in a new generation of so-called “strong men” politicians, who purport to stand up for popular interests, but who are eager to diminish human rights and disregard minorities in order to gain and retain power for their own ends. They are a present threat to human dignity, the rule of law, human rights, and freedom globally.
Against this tendency, we affirm:
The best ethical foundation from which to approach the problems of today’s world and the future of us all is to try to see humanity as one global community. The greatest achievements of human progress and solidarity can be won by rejecting the politics of xenophobia and tribalism and instead working together for the common good.
Democracy is much more than a periodic opportunity to vote. For democracy to flourish it must be underpinned by the rule of law and the principle of equality under the law for all. Respect for human rights as defined in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, including the right to freedom of expression, should be a minimum standard for all democracies. The human rights of minorities, not just majorities, must be upheld and protected. Freedom of expression must include the right to openly criticize political parties, leaders, and policies. As well as voting positively for representatives, democracy must respect the value of a free press and include systems of transparency, accountability, and the capacity for the people to criticise and peacefully replace failing and unpopular governments.
Democracies can thrive only in a culture of open debate. Debate and rational inquiry should seek to settle disagreements in a peaceful and tolerant manner.
Today’s problems are more complex than ever before. Any politician claiming to have easy answers to them must be subjected to great scrutiny.
Across the world the speed of human progress is accelerating but the fruits of human progress are not being evenly enjoyed. Infant mortality is declining, life expectancy and income are increasing but many are still in poverty in a world of plenty. Too often, human rights are violated, there is insecurity, and in many countries there are new threats to economic stability, the environment, and social protection. These problems should be addressed by individuals, non-government organizations, governments, and international organizations.
We reject the politics of division and call on all politicians and citizens to reject the over-simplified policy-making and rhetoric which characterize it and to recognise the damage to humanity that divisive politics can cause.
We commit ourselves to addressing the social causes of the politics of division: social inequality, a lack of respect for human rights, popular misconceptions about the nature of democracy, and a lack of global solidarity; and we call upon our member organizations and all humanists to join us in this work.
We urge humanists internationally to uphold and advocate the values of democracy, rule of law, equality, and human rights, and to identify and resist the politics of division wherever they see it in their own nations and internationally.
This resolution focuses on the demagogic tendency, “resurgent in many parts of the world… exemplified in a new generation of so-called “strong men” politicians, who purport to stand up for popular interests, but who are eager to diminish human rights and disregard minorities in order to gain and retain power for their own ends.” Such leaders are “a present threat to human dignity, the rule of law, human rights, and freedom globally.”
Humanists have been particularly concerned about trends in Russia, the United States, China, India, Hungary, Poland, the Philippines, and Turkey.
Welcoming the resolution, Sara Passmore, our President, said “I’m delighted that this resolution has been approved here in New Zealand. This is a country that is working hard to redress historical injustices.
“Even so, we have an increasingly divided population, with a false narrative of persecution dominating headlines to the detriment of genuine discussion about human rights. I hope that these efforts in New Zealand would serve as something of a model: as the Auckland Declaration says, we must proactively resist the tendency to divide and demonize human beings.”
Introducing the resolution at the IHEU General Assembly, president of the IHEU, Andrew Copson, said, “I think it’s fairly safe to say that around the world, demagogues of various stripes have been on the rise in recent years. In Turkey, the Philippines, even the United States, there are serious threats to human rights – and perhaps now even to the very value of truth itself. … Almost everywhere there is some discussion of “fake news”, “alternative facts” and the pros and cons of free media; there is a rising dissent against universal human rights; and — this is the main focus of our resolution — a concerted attempt from many quarters to divide humanity. …”the Politics of Division” refers to the committed attempt to drive wedges between human beings, whether it’s ethnic majorities against minorities, indigenous-born against immigrants, attacking refugees, or singling out people by race, religion or belief, sex, sexuality, gender identity, or any other arbitrary characteristic under which people are demonized.
“I do believe this is happening more – and in more countries where in previous decades we might have thought that such division was being resisted. … I believe it is imperative that as humanists we have some response to these anti-Enlightenment, anti-human trends, and I commend the resolution to you.”