Dorothy Stephens

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November 2017 Newsletter

Upcoming HAAM Events

Details and complete listings for all our upcoming HAAM events are on the Events page.

Bowling Extravaganza

Monday, November 13th, Chateau Bowling Lanes, 1145 Nairn Avenue, 7 PM

Details here.

 

Monthly Meeting – Is there a Right to be an A**hole?

John Stuart Mill and the Limits of Expressive Liberty

Saturday, November 18th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Avenue, 5:30 PM

Details here.

We will be collecting donations for the Christmas Cheer Board at this meeting.

HAAM and Eggs Brunch

Sunday, November 26th, Perkins Restaurant, 1277 Henderson Highway, 9:30 AM

Details here.

 

Winter Solstice Party

December 23rd, the Belgian Club, 407 Provencher Blvd

Join us for a pot-luck dinner and Yuletide cheer, as we celebrate the end of the darkness and the return of the SUN! Everyone’s welcome, so invite your family and friends!

Further details will be in our December newsletter.

 

Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events

Folklore and Truth

November 27th, 6:30 – 8 PM. Hosted by the Winnipeg Circle of Reason.

Details here.

For information on upcoming non-HAAM events, visit our Community Events page.

 

Charity of the Month – Christmas Cheer Board

Each year, around 5,000 volunteers help the Christmas Cheer Board to provide over 18,000 Christmas hampers to needy individuals and families. Recipients include those on income assistance, low-income families, pensioners, unemployed persons, and recent immigrants.

More than half of the food and toys are donated by individuals and companies, with the rest being purchased with donated funds.

At our November meeting, we’ll be collecting monetary donations to be used for hampers.

Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, as a secular holiday, or not at all, the end of December is a festive season in our community. Let’s help make the holiday season a merry time for everyone!

Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the Paypal button. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.

Latest News

Partners for Life Update

Two months left till year-end! It’s our last chance to push towards our goal of 25 blood donations by HAAM members in 2017. As of mid-October, we had 18 donations… so we should be able to meet our goal. If you’re a regular donor, please try to get one more donation in by the end of the year.

If you’ve never donated before, or never asked to have your donations credited to HAAM, please join our Canadian Blood Services Partners for Life team and help us reach our goal. Let’s show that Humanists care enough to donate blood!

Laura Stephens donated at a clinic held on Thanksgiving Day and took this photo.

Information about Partners for Life, and instructions for how to register, are here. And as always, if you have questions or difficulty with the registration, contact us.

Evolution vs. Creation – Christianity Tries to Stay Relevant

In October, Denis O. Lamoureux, a professor of Science and Religion from the University of Alberta, was in Manitoba to present a lecture called Beyond the “Creation vs. Evolution” Debate.

The purpose of the lecture was to demonstrate that science and religion are really NOT incompatible. It included such topics as the definition of atheism, religious views on Adam and Eve, how many scientists believe in God, the speaker’s own conversion to Christianity from atheism, and the claims of Richard Dawkins.

Did Lamoureux prove his point? Are science and religion compatible? Pat Morrow attended the lecture and reviewed it. Read his entertaining and thoughtful evaluation on our Perspectives page.

Library News

HAAM’s library is moving! In response to our ad for a new librarian, we had two volunteers who stepped up to the plate. Thanks to Laura Stephens and Adriana Sedlak for volunteering! They will share the position and ensure that a few books are brought to each meeting.

If you’re looking for a specific book or author, or a book on a specific topic, you can view our entire collection online. If you see a book or video you would like to borrow, just contact HAAM to request to have it brought to a meeting.

It’s Time to Plan for Next Year

HAAM’s executive committee is recruiting new members for 2018. We need enthusiastic people who can help us to achieve our goals of building a supportive secular community and promoting critical thinking in the larger world.

The executive committee plans and organizes our events (monthly meetings, social activities, outreach, etc.), guides policies and decisions, and plans for the future of the organization. We would love to offer more events and programs, but we need people to help out. Please consider volunteering, or accepting the offer to join if you are approached. Executive meetings are usually held monthly, but a lot of our communication and planning also takes place online, in between meetings.

Elections will be held at our AGM on January 13th, 2018. The positions of Secretary and Treasurer are up for re-election this year. We are also looking for members-at-large to help out as needed. To be eligible to serve on the executive, you must have been a HAAM member for at least 6 months prior to the election.

If you want to get in on the action, or if you are considering it and have questions, please contact us.

Book of the Month The Better Angels of our Nature

With all the depressing / fake news lately, maybe this is a good time to read a book that will inspire some optimism. The world we live in is not as bad as we think – or at least, it’s not as bad as it used to be. Don’t believe that? Then you really need to read Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of our Nature. At over 800 pages, it’s a long read – but hey, winter’s coming; time to settle down in the evening with a great book.

Pinker asserts that violence has been in decline over millennia, and that the present is probably the most peaceful time in history. The decline in violence is found in many domains, including military conflict, homicide, genocide, torture, criminal justice, and treatment of children, homosexuals, animals and racial and ethnic minorities.

The book covers the historical trends related to the decline of violence, psychological systems that can lead to violence, and motives that can lead people away from violence. But Pinker also notes that the level of violence is not down to zero, and warns that the decline is not guaranteed to continue.

Bill Gates declared this as his favorite book of the last decade, and the most inspiring book he’s ever read. So what are you waiting for?

Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this book.

HAAM Celebrates Halloween!

Karen and David Donald really got into the spirit of the season for our October meeting! Quite a few of our members came in costume. You’ll find more costumed HAAM members on our Gallery page.

Thanks to Rob Daly, the meeting room looked ghoulishly awesome, too! Here are just a couple of the decorations he brought.

Evolution vs. Creation – Christianity Tries to Stay Relevant

What the Heck is ‘Evolutionary Creationism’?

At the beginning of the documentary Losing Our Religion, philosopher Daniel Dennett says “Religion Is going through a profound revolutionary period and we’re right in the middle of it”. I agree, and I think this is happening on many fronts and in many religions. Just recently, I had a front row seat to view a small part of this revolution. I attended a lecture titled Beyond the ‘Evolution vs Creation’ Debate, hosted by the Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation, at the U of M.

The speaker was Dr. Denis O. Lamoureux, who holds three doctoral degrees (in dentistry, theology, and biology). No one who attended could forget that, as he brought the point up several times in his lecture. He’s a self-admitted Bible-believing, born-again, Evangelical Christian. He is also an evolutionary creationist, which, as he stated during his talk, “sounds like an oxymoron” (probably because it is). Evolutionary creationism is defined by Dr. Lamoureux as the claim that “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created the universe and life through an ordained, sustained, and design-reflecting evolutionary process”.

Dr. Lamoureux explained that the lecture he was presenting that evening is one he gives to his first-year university (theology?) students. It is specifically designed to help Christians who struggle with the concept of evolution. That point that would become blatantly obvious during the course of the evening. We were given handouts to follow along.

A Few Definitions

Before we go much further, we need to review some of the definitions included in Dr. Lamoureux’s handout. Curiously, I found some of them just accurate enough to support his argument.

Dichotomy Division of an issue into two simple positions
Caused by ‘black-and-white’ & ‘either/or’ thinking
Secular Humanism Belief that humans alone determine morals
Conflation Sloppy blending of distinct ideas into one simple idea
Teleology Belief the world has plan & purpose
Dysteleology Belief the world has NO plan & purpose
Evolution Scientific theory that natural processes over billions of years produced all living organisms, including humans
Creation Belief that the world is the product of the Creator

A False Dichotomy?

Lamoureux began with the problem of conflict between science and religion that he believes many people become stuck in, and he spent the bulk of the lecture attempting to explain how this is a false dichotomy. He didn’t clearly define either religion or science, other than to state that one tells the how, the other tells us the who. Nor did he define another popular word used throughout the lecture – faith. This would have been a helpful clarification; instead, this oversight allowed him conflate all three into one sloppy mess. If one were to believe the ideas put forward in this lecture, every idea is faith-based to varying degrees – religion, science, even atheism – thus validating his assertion that the religion vs. science debate is a false dichotomy.

But science vs. religion is NOT a false dichotomy. Science is a process used by humans to give them an accurate picture of the universe. Data (evidence) from this process contributes to the body of knowledge that we also call science. With that knowledge, we can build a better mousetrap, or a better, more moral society. Religion, on the other hand, is a belief system based on assertions, moral proclamations, and faith. Faith, as defined in the Bible, is belief without evidence.

 

Science in the Bible

click to enlarge

I think Dr. Lamoureux understands that religion and science are very different things. To his credit, he stated several times during the course of the lecture that the Bible is not a book of science. But then he confused the issue by claiming that the Biblical model of a three-tier universe (with waters below, a flat circular earth, and more water above, held in the sky by the firmament) can be considered “ancient science”, when in fact it’s not science at all but ignorance.  The writers of the Bible knew nothing of hydrology, geology, or the laws of planetary motion. For them, the earth was a flat circle, because that’s what it looked like. The ocean was blue and so was the sky. Water fell from the sky so there must be an ocean up there. Such beliefs were considered common sense at the time, but they were not based on science. The authors of those passages didn’t test their observations or engage the scientific method. Opinion and navel gazing are not science.

I can see why Dr. Lamoureux developed this lecture for Christians struggling with evolution, because when you believe you have the one true religion, you’re stuck in a simple either/or position. Many Christians find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to choose either reality or superstition. Dr. Lamoureux tries to remedy this cognitive dissonance by blending reality and superstition – often with absurd results.

Does this look like it was well-designed?

click to enlarge

One of the possible solutions Lamoureux offers is that evolution is teleological (with a plan and purpose). He gives no evidence for this, of course. I believe that evolution is dysteleological (without plan or purpose), as this seems to be where the evidence leads. One just has to look at the laryngeal nerve in a giraffe, and see how it makes a 15 foot round trip from the brain, down the neck into the chest cavity, and back up to the larynx. From a design point of view, this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever – but it makes perfect sense when one understands evolutionary biology. There are thousands of other examples which demonstrate that if there is any divine design, plan, or purpose to biological evolution, the designer is confused (or just an idiot).

 

Are Scientists Still ‘Keeping the Faith?’

Lamoureux frequently made statements like “This scientist believes in God and he’s a Christian” or “That theologian believes in evolution”. I suppose that was for the benefit of the crowd of Christian attendees, but really, science doesn’t care what you believe. I wasn’t surprised at Lamoureux’s Christian bias; he made it clear that he’s a Christian and that the lecture was intended to help Christians. However, I was surprised at the lack of effort spent on attempting to understand science vs. the time devoted to explaining theology. He did finally get to some science… kinda. He cited a study which he claims shows that 40% of leading American scientists believe in a personal God. The study (Larson and Witham, 1997) was published in the journal Nature. I was unable to read the original article as it is stuck behind a $200 pay wall. However, I was able to garner information from one secular source and the many, many Christian sources that reference this study, and they generally concur.

The study was titled “Scientists are still keeping the faith”. Larson sent out 1,000 surveys to randomly chosen scientists listed in the index of “American Men and Women of Science”, a database of more than 120,000 leading scientists in the USA and Canada. The report of the study indicates that “more than 600” of the surveys were returned; since we don’t know the exact number, we’ll go halfway between 600 and 700 and say that 650 were returned, for a response rate of approximately 0.54% of the 120,000 scientists the study defines as leading. So Dr. Lamoureux is basing his claim that 40% of leading American scientists believe in a personal god, on a 20 year old study with a less than 1% sample of said scientists.

Personally, I would feel less than honest, extrapolating to that extent using an old study with such a small sample, and without knowing more about the methodology (perhaps religious scientists were more likely to respond?). But I can see where faith would help one to believe it.

Does any of this even matter?

During the talk, I found myself wondering “What’s the point of bringing up so many scientists?” The theme of the lecture was science vs. religion, not scientists vs. religion. Science is the best process for discovering what is true about the natural world, and it is a self-correcting method that consistently gives us accurate, reliable results. This is in contrast to religion, a faith-based process that relies on the unfalsifiable to assert a ‘truth’ that could mean anything. What people believe on faith has little or nothing to do with testing what we can know though reason, evidence and experimentation. If this lecture taught us anything, it is that human beings are quite adept at compartmentalization and carrying two or more contradictory beliefs with little discomfort.

Personal Testimony

Another sizable part of the evening was spent listening to Dr. Lamoureux speak about his personal journey. This was also where the presentation started to take on the feel of a standard Christian apologetics conference. Like many apologists, throughout his lecture he used Richard Dawkins as a yardstick to measure all atheists by, and to represent what they believe. Which I suppose might not be so bad, except that he often got what Richard Dawkins believes, wrong.

We heard how young Dr. Lamoureux left Christianity and became an atheist, just like Richard Dawkins. In his own words, “by 1977, I was Richard Dawkins“. His journey to atheism started in his early university at dental school. He relayed the story of how he treated women badly (“If anyone was to treat my sister the way I treated women, I would phone up my three brothers and go see this guy”). Then there were the drugs and parties that left him feeling his life was vacuous, empty, and unclean. He found Jesus while in the army, and apparently sealed the deal by reading the Book of John. He later discovered young earth creationism, but in 1994 settled on his present theological position as an evolutionary creationist.

Nothing New Here

Lamoureux’s story is remarkably similar to other apologists who relate stories of when they were atheists – all their stories carry the same account of immorality and emptiness. This is not to doubt his own account of his life, but his testimony is so common that one could turn its major points into a checklist (and some of us do!). It would be my suggestion that Lamoureux’s ill-treatment of women and feelings of emptiness were not due to his atheism, but possibly that he was simply a misogynistic asshole in his younger years.

The Q & A

A good Q & A can add greatly to the substance of the presentation. Through unscripted answers, one can get a feel for who the presenter is and the quality of their argument. Points that I like to consider in a Q & A are

  • are the questions answered directly?
  • Is a question sidestepped or given a long rambling answer?
  • are concepts explained clearly, or are they obfuscated?

A Historical Adam and Eve?

The first question asked was about Dr. Lamoureux’s stance on Adam and Eve, since we know from genetics, geology, anthropology and other sciences that we did not all come from a single man and woman. (The geologic record shows that there were millions of animal species long before the first humans showed up. If Adam and Eve had been on the planet at the time of creation, human bones should be discovered alongside stegosaurus and trilobites.) Dr. Lamoureux never did answer the question, but he offered several possibilities, none of which he actually committed to endorsing. It’s worth noting that, as a scientist, he still even mentions some of these possibilities, since science has already demonstrated that the Biblical Adam and Eve never existed.

1 Adam and Eve have no connection to evolution.

2 God picks two pre-humans (Australopithecines? Homo habilis?) and instills spiritual characteristics, moral culpability and the Spirit of God

3 Many Adams and many Eves evolved, whole populations of them!

4 The Genesis 2 story is an allegory containing “spiritual truths”, and didn’t actually happen.

It is noteworthy that the only one of these possibilities for which there is evidence either way is the first one. He does suggest a book called Four Views on the Historical Adam to further explain this conundrum, if readers feel so inclined.

Is anyone here a physics major?

We also we heard the standard question “how could the eye evolve” and other similar topics, which I felt that someone with a PhD in biology could have answered quite a bit better. Then we had the still-popular Second Law of Thermodynamics question, asked by an Evangelical high school teacher (for Pete’s sake!). I was saddened to find that Lamoureux, with all his experience and education, was unable to give any answer beyond asserting that evolution doesn’t violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Since this this such a common creationist argument, I will offer an explanation.

 Creationist argument: The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy (disorder) increases over time. The development of complex plant and animal life from inanimate chemicals requires an increase in order, which violates this law. Therefore, a complex system of life requires a Creator or designer. **Insert chosen god here**

Scientific response: This law only applies to an isolated system, where no energy or matter leaves or enters. The earth is not an isolated system – it is an open system. It receives outside heat and light from sun, allowing life to arise and fueling simple organisms so that they can become more complex. Maybe the ancient Egyptians were right – it’s not the son that is God but the sun is God?

There’s a simple, short explanation of this argument and response in the following video clip.

Misrepresenting an entire Community

Probably the most disappointing part of Dr. Lamoureux’s lecture was his misrepresentation of the atheist / Humanist / secular community – our community. This is where when he went full Christian apologist, and distorted what most of us believe. The misrepresentation starts very early on in the lecture; if you look under the last column (dysteleological evolution) on his handout, he makes some blatantly false assumptions. I’m sure if we searched hard enough we could find an atheist or Humanist who fits Lamoureux’s description, but it would be near impossible. I don’t claim to be a spokesperson for all Humanists, but I can provide a better explanation of our beliefs than the what’s in the pigeonhole that Lamoureux, with his kindergarten-level understanding of atheism, puts us in.

Wrong Assumptions

Here are some of Dr. Lamoureux’s assumptions about what atheists believe. I won’t touch on all of his points, just the more problematic ones.

1 There is no plan or purpose to the universe. He’s quite correct on this point – basic elements, noble gases, and rocks have no minds so they cannot form purpose. However, when those elements and noble gases come together to form life, those life forms (such as animals), can form a plan and purpose.

2 Design is a delusion. Nope, we see the appearance of design in many things. We just don’t believe it requires an intelligent designer.

3 The universe and life developed through natural processes and blind chance. Despite Lamoureux’s conflation of Big Bang cosmology and abiogenesis, he’s wrong on both counts. Random chance may play a part, but we simply don’t know how it all started.

We know that abiogenesis (the beginning of life) must have started with simple chemicals. Elements bond together, so it may be that given the right conditions, the development of life is the inevitable consequence of chemistry. If that’s the case, then life will develop wherever those conditions exist in the universe, making this a natural process – not blind chance. There could be thousands of planets with life of some sort; we just haven’t discovered them yet.

Defining Atheism

Throughout the lecture, Lamoureux referred to atheism as a world view. I pressed him on this point during the Q & A, as atheism is not, and has never has been, a worldview. According to Lamoureux, he tells his students that atheism is a claim that there is no God, and that it’s a claim based on faith. He asserts that atheism is a metaphysical claim, the same as his Christian faith. This is an incorrect accusation, based on what is known as ‘strawman apologetics’. In an attempt to shift the burden of proof, he completes this misrepresentation by asserting that Richard Dawkins holds this view. I pointed out that Dawkins does not state decisively that god does not exist, and that Dawkins lays out his views quite clearly in his book The God Delusion (page 50).

Lamoureux then went on to explain to me – an atheist – what the word ‘atheist’ means. “’a’ meaning ‘no’, and ‘theist’ meaning ‘God’”, he said; in other words, he defines atheism as the assertion that there is no god. His definition is just correct enough to support his claim. However, the prefix ‘a’ can mean ‘without’ as well as ‘no’, so the word ‘atheism’ only refers to lack of belief in god(s), not necessarily a declaration that there aren’t any. Matt Dillahunty does an excellent job of explaining this on the Atheist Experience TV show.

Other definitions that might be helpful

Atheism: godless, without a god; from the ancient Greek ἄθεος (átheos). Derived from the prefix ‘a’ (without), and ‘theos’ (god). This is the definition HAAM uses in our outreach.

Theism: belief in the existence of a god or gods. Merriam Webster (MW)

Atheism: lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods (MW)

Atheist: A person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods. (Oxford English Dictionary, dictionary.com, and others)

When we see the way that the Greek prefix ‘a’ used in other words, the fallaciousness of Dr. Lamoureux’s argument becomes apparent. The word asymmetrical (not symmetrical) does not imply that symmetry does not exist, nor does the word atypical (not typical) mean that typicality does not exist. I would ask Dr. Lamoureux – does apolitical (not political) mean there is no such thing as politics?

Taking the High Road

Unfortunately, even after explaining that one can’t make a world view out of a singular disbelief; after demonstrating (and having him agree) that atheists can have fundamentally opposing worldviews; and after demonstrating that Richard Dawkins, the poster child he uses for atheism, doesn’t hold the beliefs the beliefs that Lamoureux claims he does – Lamoureux continues to use his own definition of an atheist.

Despite this obvious dishonesty, we as Humanists will continue to do our best to take the high road and engage with religious people based on what they do believe, rather than what someone may assert that they do (or don’t) believe. Who knows, maybe Dr. Lamoureux will invite me to his church and we can dance and “take up snakes” together – oh wait…

The March of Progress

Dr. Lamoureux opened his lecture with a lengthy quote from Thomas Henry Huxley, known as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’. The quotation was used to demonstrate that Huxley was stuck in a false dichotomy between science vs. faith, when he was really just describing the real dichotomy between science and superstition. A portion of the quote really resonated with me – “…history records that whenever science and orthodoxy have been fairly opposed, the latter has been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed if not annihilated; scotched, if not slain.”

One just has to look at the various arguments put forward by holy men over the last thousand years. As science has progressed, one by one they have all had to bow to the nature of reality. As scientific discoveries stack up, it has always been religion that has eventually had to adjust to new knowledge; never in human history has it been the other way.

Religion loses every time

Religion, especially conservative Christianity, is losing the battle on every front, and has been for a long time – consider interracial marriage (1950’s/60’s) women’s rights and contraception (60’s/70’s) abortion (70’s), gay rights (80’s), marriage equality (2000’s), or the right to an assisted death (2010’s.) Religion’s loss of the power it once had means that it can no longer dictate what is right, what is true, and what is moral. Religious leaders spend much of their time trying to reconcile their supernatural beliefs with scientific reality.

In this lecture I heard a self-proclaimed Evangelical, conservative, born-again Christian state that Genesis is probably allegory, Adam and Eve may not have existed, and the concept of original sin may be a just ‘spiritual truth’. Talk about being “forced to retire”! Some of the basic tenets of Christianity, which people were tortured and killed over for millennia, are now just fluffy ‘spiritual truths’, to be interpreted freely. Indeed, this religion is going through some profound changes.

Conclusion

Many religious people, especially in conservative and Evangelical Christianity communities, have come to understand that to remain relevant in the modern world, their unfalsifiable supernatural beliefs need to adapt to what can be empirically demonstrated. For me, this was the take-home point of the evening. Despite the shortcomings of this lecture, I really hope that Christians will continue the conversation. I will share the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation’s work with the many young earth creationists we encounter during our outreach efforts. If they can reason a few more folks out of believing in a literal Bible; if they can get believers to dump science denial and accept the realities of the natural world; if they can help to render Christianity less harmful – then they will accomplish a great deal in making it a better world for all of us.

Honest dialogue is needed

Finally, a few words of warning to those who engage in spreading misinformation and disinformation about non-believers. Atheist and Humanist organizations are filled with former Christians as well as apostates from other religions. Many of those people join partly because they investigate atheism and Humanism on their own, and find out they have been lied to about our community. Atheist, Humanist, and similar organizations are growing. If we want to ever be able to have an honest dialogue and an open exchange of ideas, religious organizations, apologists, and folks like Dr. Lamoureux need to stop misrepresenting who we are and what we believe. Until they’re able to do that, they will simply perpetuate the stereotype of Christians who engage in lying for Jesus.

Pat Morrow

October 2017 Newsletter

Upcoming HAAM Events

Details and complete listings for all our upcoming HAAM events are on our Events page.

Monthly Meeting – Finding Humanist Thought in Indigenous Beliefs

Saturday, October 14th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Avenue, 5:30 PM

Details here.

In the spirit of the season, we’re going to decorate the room up a bit for Hallowe’en. You’re welcome to come in costume (optional).

 

Spooky Night at Six Pines

Friday, October 20th, Six Pines (just north of Winnipeg), 7:30 PM

Note that this event is intended for ages 15+.

Make sure to read the event details before attending. 

 

HAAM and Eggs Brunch

Sunday, October 22nd, Smitty’s Restaurant, 2835 Pembina Highway (Fort Richmond), 9:30 AM

Newbies Welcome! Details here.

 

Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events

Beyond the “Creation vs Evolution” Debate

October 12th at 7 PM and October 13th at 10 AM and 7 PM. Click for locations.

 

 

For details on all upcoming non-HAAM events, visit our Community Events page.

Latest News

Charity of the Month – Kasese Humanist Primary School

HAAM sponsors a child in Uganda by paying his annual school tuition. Our little boy is called Bogere John, and 2018 will be our third year of sponsorship. He’s a bright little kid, and smart, but he’s an orphan, and he’s had a difficult year.

His spring report card showed that in some subjects he performed only ‘fair’, while other subjects had no mark and were recorded as ‘missed’. This was in sharp contrast to his report card from the previous year, in which all subjects were good or excellent. In a letter, School Director Bwambale M Robert explained that in the middle of the term the boy got “some serious malaria and he had to miss some lessons at the school”, which was a “key factor for his sliding”.

Robert continued – “He however recovered and he is now fine. Normally in most people’s home, the health and hygiene conditions in some of our children and families is not all that fine, this becomes a root cause of some illnesses of our children… My teachers remain committed to ensuring Bogere gets back to his feet and normalize to the better and excel with his studies.” Robert also noted that Bogere’s guardian is “also not well, health-wise”.

Our executive recently received a copy of Bogere’s second term report card, and we are pleased to note that he is catching up in some subjects, although he still struggles with others. Good for him for keeping at it! For us in Canada, it’s hard to imagine the difficulties some children face to get an education.

We will be collecting for little Bogere John’s 2018 school tuition fees at our October meeting. Any extra money we collect above his tuition requirements will go to help the school itself. Please give generously!

Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the Paypal button on our website. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.

Help Wanted!

HAAM is looking for a new librarian.

Job Description and Requirements:

  • Be a regular, paid member of HAAM who attends most meetings.
  • Store and look after HAAM’s collection of just over 200 books and DVD’s. They come with their own bookshelf (it’s about 3’ wide X 6’ tall).
  • Bring a selection of books to each meeting.
  • Keep track of books as they are signed out and returned.

This is a great opportunity for someone who likes to read. The lucky volunteer will have access to ALL of our books almost ALL of the time. (To see what’s in the collection, visit our Library page.) It’s not necessary to attend every meeting; usually arrangements can be made to send books with another HAAM member if the librarian is absent.

A big thanks to Chad and Gloria Froese who have been looking after our library for over 2 years. Work-related travel and a young family is making it difficult for them to attend many meetings, but they continue to store the books until we find someone willing to take on this responsibility. Please contact us if you’re interested.

Ideas Needed – Help Us Build Community

A group of HAAM members attended the Canadian premiere of “Losing Our Religion” at Cinematheque in September. It’s a very well-made documentary about pastors struggling when they lose their faith – especially while they’re still preaching. (More info here.) If you missed the screening, or weren’t able to be there, it will air on CBC Docs (the documentary channel) in Canada on Sunday evening October 15th, with an encore showing on Wednesday evening October 18th. Check listings for local times.

Several of the peopled interviewed for the film mentioned the importance of community. We can all definitely appreciate that sentiment. It’s in part why we join HAAM and come out to the meetings. And probably the main thing people miss when they leave religion.

The producers included scenes of people taking part in the Sunday Assembly, which just seemed to come together on a whim. And they also interviewed the founder of the Houston Oasis, which is a similar freethought group. These groups host meetings which are slightly more “church-y” in feeling than our HAAM meetings, but they also include things like coffee and live music.

It’s got me thinking – about how to grow our membership and build community, and about being able to create different types of get-togethers. That just doesn’t seem possible in our current meeting space. Should we forego the meeting rooms? Perhaps give up the meal in favor of a better space? What do YOU think? Is it time for us to look for a new home? Let us know!

Donna Harris, President

New Reasonfest Videos

Our YouTube channel is gradually taking off as we have recently added two more videos. They are from our 2015 conference River City Reasonfest, which some of you may have attended. The playlist from that conference now includes:

Greta Christina – Comforting Thoughts about Death that have Nothing to do with God

Eric Adriaans – Canada’s Blasphemy Laws and Human Rights

Tracie Harris – Is Religion Good for Families?

P Z Myers – Evolution is More Complicated than you Think

Special thanks to Paul Morrow for working so hard producing and editing these videos. Check out our channel!

Call to Action – Support Fair, Secular Government

The Freedom of Thought Report is an annual survey on discrimination and persecution against non-religious people in countries around the world. It is published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union each year on December 10th, International Human Rights Day. The full report (over 500 pages) covers every country in the world.

You might not think of Canada as being a country with a significant number of human rights concerns, but the 2016 report notes several issues (details here).

These include:

  • Recognition of the supremacy of God in the constitution and the national anthem, which, although largely symbolic, has been used to argue for allowing religion or prayer in government offices.
  • Granting automatic charitable status to organizations that promote religion, while requiring secular organizations to commit to community services to attain charity status. Also, allowing religious groups the right to maintain a building fund, but requiring secular organizations to apply for such a fund and then adhere to the conditions laid down by the Charities Directorate of the CRA.
  • Partially or fully funding religious schools, many of which discriminate on religious grounds in hiring and in accepting students. In some provinces, the government provides funding to Catholic schools but denies such funding to any other religion or belief.
  • Court rulings that allow sincerely held religious beliefs to prevail over freely contracted obligations (i.e. allowing people to back out of signed contracts on the basis of religious convictions).
  • The continued presence of a blasphemy law in the Criminal Code. (This law is one of many set to be repealed in a current review, but it is not yet officially dead.)
  • Exemptions in the Criminal Code (Section 319 3b) regarding the public incitement of hatred of identifiable groups (i.e. publishing hate literature) if the opinions expressed are based on religious belief or a religious text.

In response, an e-petition (E-1264) has been registered with the House of Commons asking the federal government to investigate the systemic discrimination against non-believers in Canadian laws and regulations.

This isn’t just a formality – it’s more important than you might think. Consider that parliamentary committees hear only from witnesses that their members invite. Since they are religious, they invite religious people. Others are asked to write submissions. For example, the Canadian Heritage Committee has heard from more than five Muslim groups regarding religious discrimination, but no Humanist groups regarding the same topic.

Please sign the petition.

Add your voice to the growing number Canadians who want fair, secular government for all!

For an idea of how Canada compares on a global scale, check this ‘freedom map’.

Color scale, from most free to most oppressed, is green-yellow-orange-red-brown. Find more maps and details here.

Book of the Month Just Pretend

Dan Barker is the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (and a former evangelical). In this little book (only 72 pages long), he describes gods and religion to children from an atheist perspective, and explains why adults would believe in any religion at all. He refers to religions collectively as just another myth; a sort of ‘Santa Claus for grown-ups’. Because of the Santa Claus analogy, this book is not suitable for children who haven’t yet outgrown belief in a literal Santa. Its target age range would probably be 8-11 year old kids.

The book is clearly aimed at the children of families with non-believing parents. If this describes your family, and you are looking for a book to help your child understand what religion is all about, this might be a great choice. It is probably most useful as a starting point for discussion – read it along with your child and answer their questions.

It may not be appropriate for all families, depending on how much religious ideology your child has already been exposed to, and your own ideas about teaching religion and religious tolerance. Read it yourself first before deciding.

Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this book.

Charity Checkup

October through to the New Year is always a big time for charities and fund-raisers, both in the schools and in the community. There are SO many groups and causes out there – but are they all worth supporting? Before contributing, take a few minutes to learn about the charity that’s asking for your money, time, or endorsement. Read its mission statement to make sure it reflects your own values and beliefs. Some well-known, established charities make promoting religion a primary goal, component and/or requirement of their work. That’s fine if it’s what you want to support, but most of us in the Humanist community do not.

One group that operates in some Manitoba schools (and communities) is Samaritan’s Purse, which runs a shoebox donation program called Operation Christmas Child. If your child brings a note home from school asking you to support this charity, make sure to read our Religion in Schools page first to learn about its real mission.

There are plenty of charities that could use our support that are run by secular and/or religious organizations who do not evangelize the groups they serve. For some suggestions, have a look at the list of charities that HAAM has supported over the past few years.

Canadian law discriminates against non-believers – Speak Out!

The Freedom of Thought Report is an annual survey on discrimination and persecution against non-religious people in countries around the world. It is published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union each year on 10 December, International Human Rights Day. The full report (over 500 pages) covers every country in the world. 

You might not think of Canada as being a country with a significant number of human rights concerns, but the 2016 report notes several issues (details here).  

These include: 

  • Recognition of the supremacy of God in the constitution and the national anthem, which, although largely symbolic, has been used to argue for allowing religion or prayer in government offices. 
  • Granting automatic charitable status to organizations that promote religion, while requiring secular organizations to commit to community services to attain charity status. Also, allowing religious groups the right to maintain a building fund, but requiring secular organizations to apply for such a fund and then adhere to the conditions laid down by the Charities Directorate of the CRA.
  • Partially or fully funding religious schools, many of which discriminate on religious grounds in hiring and in accepting students. In some provinces, the government provides funding to Catholic schools but denies such funding to any other religion or belief.  
  • Court rulings that allow sincerely held religious beliefs to prevail over freely contracted obligations (i.e. allowing people to back out of signed contracts on the basis of religious convictions). 
  • The continued presence of a blasphemy law in the Criminal Code. (This law is one of many set to be repealed in a current review, but it is not yet officially dead.) 
  • Exemptions in the Criminal Code (Section 319 3b) regarding the public incitement of hatred of identifiable groups (i.e. publishing hate literature) if the opinions expressed are based on religious belief or a religious text. 

In response, an e-petition (E-1264) has been registered with the House of Commons asking the federal government to investigate the systemic discrimination against non-believers in Canadian laws and regulations. 

This isn’t just a formality – it’s more important than you might think. Consider that parliamentary committees hear only from witnesses that their members invite. Since they are religious, they invite religious people. Others are asked to write submissions. For example, the Canadian Heritage Committee has heard from more than five Muslim groups regarding religious discrimination, but no Humanist groups regarding the same topic.

Please sign the petition.  

Add your voice to the growing number Canadians who want fair, secular government for all!

For an idea of how Canada compares on a global scale, check this ‘freedom map’. Color scale, from most free to most oppressed, is green-yellow-orange-red-brown. More maps and details here. 

September 2017 Newsletter

September HAAM Events

Monthly Meeting – A History of Atheism in Canada

Saturday September 9th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Ave, 5:30 PM

Complete event listings and details for all this and all upcoming HAAM events are on our Events page.

 

 

You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.

Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events

Advance Care Planning

Thursday September 21st, The Reh-Fit Centre, 1390 Taylor Avenue, 1:00 – 3:30 PM

Who will speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself? Advance registration is required.

 

 

Public Lecture – Refugees and Immigrants

Wednesday, Sept 27th, Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre, Morden, 7 – 9 PM

 

 

 

For details on these and more upcoming non-HAAM events, visit our Community Events page.

Latest News

Solar Eclipse 2017 – A traumatic event for some of our members

Sometimes HAAM members get asked why we publicly challenge religion and why we are so angry about it. The following Facebook status, posted on the day of the recent solar eclipse, perfectly illustrates the answer. We fight because, unfortunately, the type of anguish expressed in this post is common among survivors of childhood religious indoctrination (brainwashing). Instilling this level of fear in children whose minds have not yet developed the ability to think critically about what they are being taught is psychological abuse. We frequently hear similar stories in person from many of our members. Decades later, the PTSD remains.

The post is copied and pasted to protect the privacy of the HAAM member who shared it. The event described occurred almost 30 years ago.

I vividly remember seeing a partial eclipse as a child (not sure when?) and the terror I felt because we were reading the Bible and singing, “When the skies of heaven shall fall and the moon shall be turned into blood, the sons of God shall arise, Zion awake.”

I’m sitting here remembering and feeling how terrified I was as a child because it could have been the end of the world, as we were told, and I was told that meant that I would be tortured for my faith. I can still see the pictures of people being tortured, and being told that would happen to me to try to get me to deny Christ – stretching, ripping off nails, gouging out eyes and ripping out intestines. I saw these AS A CHILD. Was told it would happen to me AS A CHILD.

I’m feeling sick and I’m shaking with the memory, and how it makes me feel today. It is irrational to feel fear as what I really feel is amazement at seeing a partial eclipse. But brainwashing goes deep, and this is the first time I’m thinking about this and feeling it as an adult. I’m feeling the lasting trauma of emotional abuse and how it shaped my mind. This is so sick. *tears*

A google search for the quoted line (“when the skies of heaven shall fall…”) turned up several hymns containing those or similar lyrics. One version is this (not the exact hymn that our HAAM member sang as a child):

Awake Zion, awake

Awake and trim your lamps

For the stars of heaven shall fall

And the moon shall turn into blood

And the son of man shall appear

Zion awake

As to which Bible verse these lyrics are based on, there are over a dozen verses that refer to the darkening of the sun, moon, stars, or some combination of these. Three specifically mention the moon turning blood red – an obvious reference to an eclipse.

  • Joel 2:31 The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
  • Acts 2:20 The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
  • Revelation 6:12-13 The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth.

Seriously, there are only two conclusions we can draw from these verses.

1 The writer of Acts (ostensibly Luke, but in fact, scholars don’t really know who wrote Luke and Acts, although they know the same person wrote both books) plagiarized the book of Joel.

2 People living 2,000 years ago didn’t understand what an eclipse was.

Are apologists still peddling this fear and nonsense today? You betcha! (see book cover, right) And as long as they do, Humanists will continue to promote science, reason, and critical thinking as the best ways to understand the world. This is the only way we can ever hope to diminish the kind of fear and ignorance that leads to otherwise loving families scaring innocent children out of their wits and traumatizing them for life.

Calls to Action

End Violence Against Apostates in Malaysia

Members of an atheist group in Malaysia are facing death threats and government-sponsored “re-education” after their photos were seen in a Facebook post. Click here for the story, and a sample letter that you can write to urge an end to the intolerance of apostasy.

 

 

‘Voice Your Choice’ on Assisted Dying

The federal government is studying the possible impacts of allowing medical assistance in dying (MAID) for three groups of Canadians who don’t currently qualify:

  • Those who will be excluded unless the law is changed to allow for advance requests;
  • Individuals whose primary medical condition is a mental illness; and
  • Mature minors.

Dying With Dignity is seeking submissions from Canadians who have personal concerns or stories to tell about how the current restrictions on MAID have already unfairly restricted (or may, in future, restrict) choices in dying for themselves or someone they know.

Click here for more information about this campaign. Deadline for submissions is September 15th.

If you don’t have a personal story to tell right now, but still want to add your voice to those of others who support advance requests for assisted dying, click here.

Charity of the Month – Island Lake Relief Fund

Once again, wildfires in northern Manitoba have forced the evacuation of several communities in the Island Lake area (northeast). As many as 5,000 people have been flown out of the Wasagamack, St. Theresa Point, and Garden Hill First Nations. They are staying in temporary accommodations and emergency shelters in Winnipeg, Brandon, and Portage. Many left home with little or no possessions, and are relying on charities for assistance while they are away.

CBC news posted images of the devastation, like the scene shown here. Click for more photos.

Here’s how HAAM members can help:

If you have needed items to donate, you can take them directly to one of the following locations. (Please do not bring them to the HAAM meeting.)

  • The Island Lake Tribal Council, at 338 Broadway, is accepting diapers, water, baby formula, condensed milk and other toiletries. They don’t need any more clothes or blankets.
  • The Ma Mawi Chi Itata Centre, at 445 King St., is accepting donations of clean clothing (especially men’s clothing), non-perishable food, diapers, kids’ toys, and hygiene products.

If you are able to make a financial contribution:

The Me-Dian Credit Union (formerly the Metis Credit Union of Manitoba) has started an Island Lake Relief Fund. It’s accepting donations to help with short-term costs for the evacuees. We will be collecting donations at our September 9th HAAM meeting and forwarding them to this fund.

Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the Paypal button on this page. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.

The Jesus Stick

Sanded wood with tapered ends, and a small leather lace with five plastic beads tied onto it. That’s the Jesus Stick that was handed out by the hundreds at the Morden Corn and Apple Festival this year. These walking sticks are supposed to symbolize your walk with Jesus. Now normally I wouldn’t bother with booths like this; it’s not my habit to visit Christian booths just to annoy people. However, we had several Christians come by our HAAM booth and mention that we really need to hear their message. So myself and fellow Humanist Laura Stephens, not wanting to decline the invite, decided we’d go over and get ourselves a Jesus stick.

They’re not completely free. When you get to the booth, you stand in line with others until you hear their message, and only after you listen to the message, do they cough up a stick. So with that in mind, I thought when I got to the front of the line “maybe I’ll make this guy work for it a little”. Both Laura and I offered full disclosure when we walked up – we told the fella were Humanists and atheists, and had been encouraged by Christians with sticks to hear their message. So here is the message about the five beads on the stick (click to enlarge photo):

Gold

The first bead is gold and symbolizes heaven and God’s plan for you. After the fellow explained the first bead, and how heaven is a paradise, I asked him “suppose I accept all this and get saved, how am I supposed to enjoy paradise when my kids are burning in hell because they’re atheists too?” All the fellow could do was to quote some scripture that, to me, seemed to indicate that everybody gets in to heaven. Then he moved on to the next bead.

Black

Black symbolizes the sin of man in the world, our fall from grace, and how the wages of sin is death… but that you could be saved from this because God sent his son, the “sinless Jesus”, to pay our debt. So I asked the fella “if Jesus was completely sinless, how come the New Testament said ‘slaves obey your earthly masters’? It seems to me that the Bible was endorsing slavery and the ownership of other people, and that would, in my books, be a sin.” His answer was a Bible story from Philemon, where Paul sends a runaway slave back to his master. This was somehow supposed to demonstrate that Jesus didn’t support slavery. So I asked “how on earth does sending a slave back to his master demonstrate that anything has changed?” His answer – “because the slave had turned into a Christian” – was even more baffling. And he was on to the next bead.

Red

Red symbolizes the blood of Jesus and his death on the cross, his resurrection, and his payment for our sins. Later Laura mentioned to me that at this part of his spiel she really wanted to say “resurrected? So he really only gave up a long weekend?”… I wish she had, as I’m sure the fella’s reaction would’ve been priceless. I took a pause in his speech to ask him why he would think that human sacrifice could pay for someone else’s crimes (that they didn’t actually commit), and why anyone would think a human sacrifice is good. Any good and moral person who was alive at the time would have done everything in their power to stop the slow torture of another human being. His comeback for that was a nervous (or possibly uncomfortable) smile, and he replied “it was a different time and Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. He gave his life for you”.

White

The white bead symbolizes purity and the need to repent and ask for forgiveness. I mentioned to him that this is one of the big differences for us as Humanists. When we do wrong, we try to right those wrongs ourselves and ask for forgiveness from those we have wronged. It seems to me that asking for forgiveness from a supernatural God is the easy way out. To which our Christian potential stick-giver could only a muster a somewhat subdued “ahuh”.

Green

Green symbolizes growing in Christ. I let him have this one; after all it was his booth and he had suffered enough. It didn’t escape Laura’s attention that the fella gave us our sticks and let us go before getting to the second card. The second card (shown at right, click to enlarge) is where he explains how and what to pray to ask Jesus to come into our hearts. This was a bummer, ‘cause I had all kinds of questions about prayer.

Maybe next year.                                                                                                                                          – Pat Morrow    

Check out our Gallery for photos of the Morden Outreach.

Book of the Month – The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason

Victor J. Stenger grew up in a Catholic working-class neighborhood in New Jersey. He earned a PhD in physics in 1963 and enjoyed a long and successful career in particle physics. He was also a long-time and well-known advocate of skepticism, philosophical naturalism, and atheism; a fierce critic of intelligent design and pseudoscience (even being once sued by Uri Geller for questioning Geller’s psychic powers); and a public speaker and debater, taking on apologists like John Lennox and William Lane Craig.

Stenger didn’t mince words in his criticism of religion. His statement about religion flying people into buildings is often quoted online. He argued that absence of evidence for God is, indeed, evidence of absence, when the evidence should be there and is not.

Stenger’s 2009 book The New Atheism is a well-argued defense of non-belief. He summarizes the main points made by the New Atheists (Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett), and offers up a few more arguments of his own. Along the way, Stenger also discusses his critics’ arguments — and offers excellent rebuttals to them. This book is an great primer for godless newbies; it’s not overly philosophical, and it provides easy-to-understand arguments to use if you’re ever in a religious debate.

Stenger died in 2014 at the age of 79. His soul doesn’t live on, but his written works continue to encourage others to take a stand for science and reason. The 2009 lecture based on this book at the time of its release is on YouTube.

Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this book.

HAAM and Eggs Brunch

Our informal weekend brunches are a great way to get to know your fellow Humanists. Here’s a photo of our September brunch in the cafe at Assiniboine Park.

Our next brunch will be on Sunday, October 22nd, but we haven’t chosen a location yet. We’ve been rotating locations around the city for variety, and so that the same people don’t always have to drive across town. Do you have a favorite place to suggest for a future brunch?  Let us know.

 

 

 

Did You Miss the Evening with Richard Carrier?

We had a packed – almost ‘standing room only’ room for Dr. Carrier’s speech on the historicity of Jesus and the origins of Christianity. If you were unable to attend, you can now catch it on our YouTube channel.

Call to Action – Defend Apostates in Malaysia

Members of an atheist group in Malaysia are facing threats and government-sponsored “re-education” after their photos were seen in a Facebook post. Recently, a government official urged citizens to “vehemently” hunt down the young atheists whose pictures appeared in the post. They were members of the Atheist Republic whose founder, Armin Navabi, has provided a service to over a million subscribers who find inspiration and connection through his posts and encouragement. In a world where non-believers too often find themselves isolated and silenced, Navabi has created something extraordinary. The young Malaysians in the photo had gathered to celebrate the connection freedom from religion too often removes. They are now in great peril.

In response to this story, Gretta Vosper, a United Church minister in Toronto, and an atheist (yes, you read that right), wrote a letter to the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of International Affairs, and her local MP urging them to speak out against this dangerous situation in time to stave off the kind of bloodbaths that have stained the streets of Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. She shared it publicly on her blog so that others could copy and adapt her letter and add their voices to hers in calling for tolerance and responsible leadership.

Vosper’s original letter can be read here.

Below is an adapted version (removing Vosper’s personal references) that any of us can copy and send. (Of course, you can always add your own personal comments.)

Chrystia Freeland’s email address is chrystia.freeland@international.gc.ca

Please also send a copy to your own federal MP. You can find your Canadian Member of Parliament here.


Dear Ms. Freeland,

I write with deep concern for atheists and secular humanists in Malaysia. Recently, whether intentionally or otherwise, one of Malaysia’s Government Ministers, Shahidan Kassim, who is reported to be close to the Malaysian Prime Minister, incited extremists to violence against atheists, secular humanists, and ex-Muslims by challenging Malaysians to hunt them down “vehemently” and return them to the Islamic faith.

The statement from the government official was in reaction to a photograph of several young people who are members of a Facebook group, The Atheist Republic. They had gathered together to meet one another and build friendships. It was a casual and friendly gathering and, as so often happens when joy is present, photographs were taken and posted to social media. This photograph of the happy gathering of atheists in Malaysia will be used to imperil their lives and to “hunt them down vehemently” as Minister Kassim has urged Malaysian citizens to do. All their lives are now in grave danger.

The founder of the Facebook group is Armin Navabi, copied on this letter. He is an ex-Muslim who lives in British Columbia. Subsequent to the posting of the photograph, Armin has been the subject of threats, including a call for his beheading. Others have called for the burning alive of the members of The Atheist Republic pictured in the photograph.

In 2013, Bangladesh, despite its status as a secular state, refused to placate extremists calling for the execution of secular humanists, instead choosing to label them atheists and further incite hatred against them. In 2015, Avijit Roy was murdered by machete-wielding attackers while in Dhaka for a book fair. The editor and publisher of Avijit’s book, The Philosophy of Atheism, were both subsequently murdered. Avijit’s co-author, Raihan Abir, is a good friend. He was recognized as a refugee by the Canadian government in 2015. He and his family are now helping grow Canada and make it a better place.

We cannot stand idly by and watch Malaysia become another Bangladesh, indifferent to or even supportive of the murder of atheists and secular humanists. Canada has had a long and friendly relationship with Malaysia, dating back to the earliest days of that country’s founding. We continue to build on our sixty-year history and share our Canadian values within our relationship. Those values include the protection of marginalized groups and advocacy for religious freedoms. The right to refuse religion, the freedom from religion must be just as strongly defended as the right to believe.

I urge you to reach out to Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, and remind him of his democratic obligations to protect all Malaysians, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. I urge you also to request that he publicly and swiftly denounce the words of Minister Kassim before they are used to spread fear, sanction violence, or lead to the murder of innocent civilians.

Thank you for continuing to be a voice for responsible leadership around the world.

Yours truly,

 

August 2017 Newsletter

Upcoming HAAM Events

See our Events page for the details on these and all our HAAM events.

An Evening with Richard Carrier

Did Christianity really begin without a Jesus?

Saturday August 19th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Ave, 7 – 9 PM

Note that space is limited! Click here to register in advance.

Admission is free for paid HAAM members. Non-members $5 at the door.

Outreach at the Morden Corn and Apple Festival

Friday August 25th – Sunday August 27th, Stephen Street, Morden Manitoba

Friday and Saturday 10 AM to 10 PM; Sunday noon to 5:30 PM

 

 HAAM and Eggs Brunch

Sunday September 3rd, The Park Café (in Assiniboine Park beside the duck pond), 9:30 AM.

 

 

Monthly Meeting – A History of Atheism in Canada

Saturday, September 9th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 5:30 PM

 

 

Latest News

It’s that time of year again! We’re planning for the upcoming season.

Is there a topic you’d like to learn about, or a speaker you’d like to hear at an upcoming meeting? An issue you’d like to discuss at a Round Table? A book you’d like to read or present at a Book Club? A video you think would be great for next year’s Film Fest? A community event you think our members might be interested in? An opportunity for outreach? A fun activity that would benefit the community? A charity that we should support? An event you can help out with?

We welcome our members’ ideas and involvement. Contact us with your suggestions – or even better, come to any event and talk to an executive member about it in person.

 

Do Human Rights come from God?

 A curious and committed group of HAAMsters attended the debate Human Rights – By Design or By Default at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in July. It was part of an apologetics conference hosted by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, so they were greatly outnumbered by the 400+ Christian conference attendees.

It was worth going just to support and hear Dr. Christopher DiCarlo, representing the Humanist position. Luke Delaney took on the challenging task of reviewing the evening, and he has some insightful comments. You can read his take on the evening here.

Book of the Month

For this month’s featured book, we turn to the category of Skepticism and Pseudoscience. Encouraging people to think critically about their beliefs is always a major focus of our outreach activities – and we expect that this summer in Morden will be no exception.

But the need for critical thinking applies not only to religion but to many other facets of life, and Guy P. Harrison addresses quite a number of these in his book 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True. He believes that “our world could be a little better – and a lot less crazy – if more people simply understood how science works and appreciated the protective value of skeptical thinking in everyday life.” Amen to that.

Read about psychics, the faked moon landing, TV preachers asking for money, homeopathy, bigfoot, Holocaust deniers, alternative medicine, ghosts, the power of prayer, the Bermuda triangle… Each section is only 5-10 pages; perfect for reading a bit at a time over the rest of the summer.

You can listen to an interview with the author here.

Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this book.

Charity of the Month

For over 4 years HAAM has been supporting a charitable cause or group at each of our monthly meetings. In total, we have supported almost 40 different agencies, including food banks, shelters and resources for marginalized populations, animal rescues, environmental projects, children’s camps, science education, social/peer support groups, and international aid.

Why do we support a Charity of the Month? Because we are not just atheists; we are Humanists. The mere absence of a god belief does not make someone a good person – one’s actions do. Humanism includes caring about the welfare and well-being of others, supporting human rights, valuing education, respecting the environment, and generally trying to make this world a better place.

A number of popular memes mock the futility of prayer as a means of solving human problems. “I’ll pray for you” accomplishes nothing in the real world. But consider the implication of those memes – if prayer is useless, then some other action is required. HAAM’s Charity of the Month program gives us opportunities to ‘put our money where our mouth is’.

We support 9 or 10 charities per year, via a donation box at meetings. Loose change or small bills are always welcome – it all adds up. But if you can’t make it to the meeting, you can also contribute via PayPal using the ‘donate’ button on our website (just include a message about where the money is to go).

Tax receipts are issued for donations of $10 or more. So making a small donation each month will get you a nice little tax deduction at the end of the year, plus the satisfaction of having helped support a variety of worthwhile community projects and causes.

Watch for our Charity of the Month program to resume in September. We welcome suggestions for future charities that meet our criteria. More information, including a list of all the organizations we have supported, is on our Charities page.

Summer Solstice party – better late than never

Our rained-out Solstice party, rescheduled as a summer barbecue, was almost rained out for a second time! Thankfully, the rain let up in late afternoon before we got there, which makes us luckier than the folks from the apostolic church who rented the site earlier in the day.

Rob Daly was our master BBQ chef this year for the first time. After dinner, Pat Morrow (left in photo) presented him with a copy of one of our new outreach posters, featuring Rob’s words of wisdom about living a ‘godless’ life.

It reads:

A godless life is one without needless guilt; it’s taking responsibility for one’s own mistakes.

It’s a life where one’s actions are deemed ‘good’ by their benefit and ‘bad’ by their harm, and are evaluated not by the product of bronze age penmanship, but by the application of critical thought and reason.

It’s a life where the only intolerance is directed toward ignorance and the suffering it causes.

A godless life is where education and a broadened understanding of the human condition are seen as ideals to strive for.

Considering the weather and date, we had a great turnout. There are more photos on our gallery page.

Event Review – Human Rights: By Design or By Default?

  A curious and committed group of HAAMsters attended the debate Human Rights: By Design or By Default at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in July. It was part of an apologetics conference, so they were greatly outnumbered by the 400+ Christian conference attendees.

It was worth going just to support and hear Dr. Christopher DiCarlo, representing the Humanist position.

Luke Delaney took on the challenging task of reviewing the evening. Here are his insightful comments.

Are ‘Design’ and ‘Default’ the only options?

Before we go any further, this title irked me a smidgen (or more), mostly because I knew who, or rather which organization (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Canada), came up with that title. It’s typical of the ‘design’ posse to assume that the antithesis of design is default or chance. But, well, I decided to bite the bullet, buy a ticket, and drive to Winnipeg to root for the ‘default’ side, like I always do, by ‘default’.

Driving up to the museum is always a treat; it’s a beautiful building, both architecturally and in what it stands for – human rights. In the hall, it was nice to see a substantial crowd and, alongside the two info tables for the speakers, a third for the heathens (HAAM). It was the setting for a great evening, with, hopefully, an intellectual discussion (this early on, I was clearly being quite optimistic).

By Design?

After a musical performance by Don Amero, and the introductions, Dr. Andy Bannister took the stage for his presentation on the side of ‘design’.

Dr. Bannister, the director of the Solas Center for Public Christianity (Solas CPC) and a well-known Christian apologist, started off his presentation with a quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which appears in the first preamble of that document, “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.

While he agrees with ‘equal and inalienable’ rights, he questions the source of the word ‘inherent’, asking the question, what makes humans inherently equal? Before getting into his reason as to what makes humans equal, he sets up a list of ‘incorrect’ arguments for equal rights (assuming that those ARE arguments for secular human rights). This list includes, among others, the circular argument that ‘rights exist because they exist’ and ‘human rights are a human invention’. He then goes on to present his ‘apologist’ reasoning for equal human rights, quoting Genesis 1:27, ‘God created mankind in his image, male and female he created them’. This statement, he claims, solidifies the fact that all humans are equal and should be, hence, treated equally. Nothing circular in that argument – God said so because God said so because God said so.

Now, in my opinion, Andy could have very well stopped right there; what else is there to say, once you’ve determined how all humans are judged to be equal? His argument begins and ends at, because God (or more accurately, the Bible) says so. By presupposing that the Bible is the word of God, and that Genesis 1:27 is a direct quote from God, what else is there to argue or discuss for the side of human rights by design? Well, like all apologists, Andy goes on to explain why secular reasoning for equal human rights is wrong and inadequate.

The most echoed of his arguments is the species/human spheres assertion, which you can find in this ‘Short Answers‘ video from Solas CPC.

In short, to paraphrase Andy, he claims that, in the larger sphere of all the species that exist on Earth today, secularists have picked a smaller sphere (of humans) within that sphere and assigned rights to them. In other words, he was pointing his finger towards species-ism (the rights of one species are greater than the others), and also implying that this logic could give rise to smaller groups within the human sphere claiming to have special rights.

Here’s my rebuttal to that argument.

  • The argument of species-ism does not favour one side over the other, when we talk of design vs default. Both sides are guilty of this, in fact design more than default, because God says in Genesis 9:2-3 that ‘everything that lives and moves will be your food…’. So, from a design perspective, why do animal rights count?
  • That being said, from the perspective of the other side, the secular side, Andy mistakenly confuses the order of the spheres. We don’t look at all the species and then say, ‘human’s rights over others’; on the contrary, we start with human rights as the minimum and then slowly expand that sphere to include other species. This means that groups of humans cannot claim special rights that infringe on other humans. ALL human rights are included in the minimum.

The rest of Andy’s argument was spent just trying to drive this point home; that secularists don’t have a basis for considering all humans equal and thus have no sound reasoning for human rights. He spends the rest of his discussion quoting great minds like C.S. Lewis, Bertrand Russell, Martin Luther King Jr., Sam Harris, etc. to make his point that in the absence of any shared humanitarian values, the only answer is God-given value. What he fails to address, and for obvious reasons, is how God, in both the Old and New testament, allocates unequal value to groups of humans, which goes against his premise that God created all men equal.

Or By Default?

Dr. Christopher DiCarlo was next on stage with his presentation on the side of secular human rights, or the ‘default’ side. Dr. DiCarlo is an advisory fellow for the Centre for Inquiry Canada and a philosopher of science and ethics. He is also the founder of Critical Thinking Solutions and author of the bestseller ‘How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Asking the Right Questions’.

Dr. DiCarlo starts off by laying the foundation for the reliability of science and then segues into how science has provided us with an extremely high probability of our origin as a species. This leads to his trademark phrase of four words, We are all African! This is straight out of his article in the June/July 2010 publication of Free Inquiry (Volume 30 Number 4), published by the Council for Secular Humanism. (You can find a copy of that article here). Christopher’s premise is that, over generations, going back to early hominids, there is evidence that humans have always shown a strong kinship. We begin by looking after our immediate family, then expanding that circle to extended family, neighbours, local communities, fellow country people etc. He goes on to say that, if, using science, we can educate the world about the evidence showing that we, as a species, are all related, share a common ancestry, and evolved out of Africa (We are all African), then the case for a species-kinship writes itself. In his discussion, and in his article mentioned above, DiCarlo states:

We are all African. With these four words,

  • We see a genetic coalescence of the human population.
  • We are all humbled… Because we are connected in lineage by common ancestry, all human life is equally valuable.
  • We are equal, for we have been liberated from any self-imposed ideas of importance or special designation.
  • We see that racism is a human invention.

Discussion

With the end of Christopher’s pitch, the evening moved into a Q & A between the two speakers. My memory fails me as to who went first, but Andy’s question to Christopher reiterated what he had said before – why humans and not animals? Perhaps to avoid giving Andy a lesson in basic logic and reason, Christopher merely said that, (to paraphrase) “We are in the museum of human rights, and today’s topic is about human rights, that’s why”. That promptly silenced Andy, and Christopher took the opportunity to question the morality of the Bible, the source of Andy’s claim for human rights. Christopher brought up verses from Exodus and Hebrews, and the story of Moses and his violent acts. Andy danced around the question, deflecting to the New Testament and Jesus and claiming that the Old Testament was written in a different time etc. He even attempted to accuse Christopher of antisemitism (for bringing up the subject of Moses and the Jews, especially in the human rights museum), which I found very unprofessional of him.

After that short round of back and forth, the microphone moved to the audience to allow attendees to ask questions of the speakers. Most of the questions directed to Andy got the same deflections and dancing around on topics about violence and the lack of mention of human rights in the Bible, both Old and New testament. One question got a very honest and rational response from Christopher. Going back to the beginning of his pitch, Christopher mentioned how interesting it would be if the speakers exchanged sides and had to argue for the opposite side. The question to him was, if the sides were indeed changed, what would be his argument about the violence in the Bible. His response was, (to paraphrase) “I would study the writings carefully and come to the reasonable conclusion that the Bible is not a good source of morality or human rights. I would be honest about that part”.

Conclusion

For me, that was a perfect ending to the evening. ‘Design’ did not offer a sound justification for its argument, and ‘default’ demonstrated clearly why it is indeed the default side.

 

 

 

July 2017 Newsletter

Upcoming HAAM Events

Summer Barbecue

Saturday, July 22nd, Assiniboine Park, 6:30 PM (Note the time)

 

 

An Evening with Richard Carrier

Saturday August 19th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 7 PM    

 

 

Camping Weekend

Date TBA, Birds Hill Park

 

And don’t forget about our Outreach at the Morden Corn and Apple Festival August 25-27.

Details for all upcoming HAAM events are on our Events page, or click the name of the event on the right sidebar.

Save the Dates

Our fall monthly meetings will be September 9th, October 14th, and November 18th, and our winter Solstice Party is booked for December 23rd. Details TBA.

Mark your calendars now so you won’t miss anything!

July Community (non-HAAM) Events

Human Rights – By Design or By Default

Thursday, July 13th, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, 7:15 PM

(click poster to enlarge)

   

Steinbach Pride March for Equality

Saturday, July 15th, 11 AM

 

For details on these upcoming community events, visit our new Community Events page.

Latest News

Guide to Religion in Manitoba Schools

Every year, we hear concerns from parents wanting to know how to handle a situation in their child’s school related to religion. Usually the concern involves questions regarding the legality of a current practice, or complaints from parents who already know that their local school is flouting the law.

To help clarify the issues surrounding religion in Manitoba’s public schools, and provide parents with current information about what is – and is not – allowed, we have added a new web page to our site under the Resources tab. Check it out! And please provide us with your feedback so that we can add additional information to the page.

Tough Questions from the Old Testament

An encounter with a Christian apologist at our outreach booth at the Summer in the City Festival in Steinbach in June led one of our members to watch a sermon examining the character of the god of the Old Testament. Read highlights of that sermon, and our atheist’s commentary, on our Perspectives page.

 

 

Our name in lights at Canadian Blood Services.
Click to enlarge.

Partners for Life Update

Just a reminder that if you can donate blood, please do! Summer is always a busy time for the blood banks, and Canadian Blood Services is already short. HAAM is part of the Partners for Life program, a friendly competition among businesses, schools, and community groups to show how generous their members can be. We know that Humanists are good people who donate blood! Our goal for 2017 is 25 donations, and as of the end of June we have 13, so we’re on track to meet it. Yay!

If you aren’t registered with Partners for Life, the instructions are here (or see link in right sidebar). And if you have already donated this year and weren’t registered, don’t worry. Just sign up now, and all your donations in 2017 will count toward HAAM’s total.

Steinbach Outreach Report

An Eye-Opening Weekend

Another summer outreach season is upon us. Here at HAAM we always look forward to it, but especially so this year, because for the first time, we were joined by three brand-new volunteers from the Eastman Humanist Community (EHC) in Steinbach. I would like to thank these people, especially since, being their first time doing something like this, they really didn’t know what to expect. I think I can speak for all when I say that it was a very eye-opening experience for them. A couple of comments they made that I found humorous were “That sign is causing some serious chiropractic neck adjustments” (referring to folks whose eyes read our front banner in disbelief as their feet kept moving). And later “This sign is like catnip for some Christians”.  (See our 2017 Event photos for a picture of it.) After the outreach, I asked one of them for his reflections on the weekend, and he had this to say:

“During my few hours there, hundreds of people took note of the booth but most were unwilling or too shy to approach. Of those who did, it was interesting the variety of comments we received. A good number indicated that they were Christians and asked questions like:

  • Where do your morals come from if you don’t have God?
  • So when you die you think that there’s nothing – you just cease to exist? and
  • What caused the big bang? Wouldn’t it be easier to admit that God made it?

Most encouraging, were the 25+ people who were excited to see us and who took our contact information. If only half come out to our next meeting, we’ll have to re-arrange our space to accommodate them!

A pleasant surprise were the several ‘gentle’ Christians who came by and said things like: ‘I’m sorry for the hostility you folks must be getting’ or ‘I agree with many of the things you stand for; this place needs you.’

It will be interesting to see the ripples that come from this weekend!”

The Ripple Effect

I think the ripples he refers to are threefold:

  • First, the impact our outreach will have on the growth of the EHC.
  • Second would be the effect on our new volunteers. A second volunteer, who, from what I was able to observe, knows just about everybody in Steinbach, had many longtime friends and acquaintances of his stop by. Some seemed surprised that he was “with this group”; others saw him in the booth and just kept walking. His non-belief was previously no big secret, but I do have to admire a man who is willing to out himself so publicly.
  • Third, the effect on the community. For those unfamiliar with Steinbach, the city has deep religious roots, which in the last few years have been challenged by its growth and the diversity that comes with that. Anecdote: One of our members was having a yard sale a block or two from the festival when a trio of senior ladies walked up. She asked the trio if they had been to the festival. With no further prompting one of them replied “Yes, … do you know there are atheists there!” Yup, the ripples will be interesting.

A Conversation Worth Having

For me, the best conversations seem to take place near closing time, and often with younger believers. This is pure conjecture on my part, but I think folks like that see our booth and want to talk, but it takes all weekend for them to work up the courage. I suppose in the last hours of the festival they decide: now or never. That seemed to be the case on Sunday.

Our booth was approached by a young man and a couple of his supporters, or what I prefer to call listeners. The young man was well-spoken but not rehearsed, and I do mean that as a compliment. Many visitors show up with memorized apologetic arguments; they parrot what they’ve heard but really can’t go beyond what they’ve memorized. This young man from Steinbach Christian High School asked honest non-leading questions, with a genuine interest in who we were and why we don’t believe in God.

The conversation started with the usual clearing up of misconceptions and misrepresentations about Humanism, atheism and agnosticism. In outreach this has become standard practice when engaging someone who has the limited worldview of a Christian education. I explained that Humanism isn’t a religion as there is no supernatural belief, no holy books, and no dogma. I went on to explain the fundamental differences between Humanism and many forms of Christianity, such as:

  • Humanists believe we are a product of this planet, not that the planet (or the universe for that matter) was created for us.
  • Generally, Humanists are passionate about their epistemology (the study of knowledge and belief); we can’t accept an idea on faith alone – we really need to know that our beliefs are true.
  • Christianity demands obedience to God; to love and serve God is considered a good thing. With Humanism, doubting and questioning everything is considered a good thing.

Finally, I explained to him that as Humanists, we believe that science and the scientific method are the best ways to tell fact from fiction, which is why most, if not all, Humanists today are atheists. To which he exclaimed that “science doesn’t disprove God, so how do atheists say there is no god?” After running through the argument (again) that generally atheists don’t claim there is no God, I did try to explain to them the concept of a strong atheism (the assertion that God does not exist).

Certain concepts of gods can’t exist because they are logically incoherent. I offered the student the simple example of an all-loving god who allows the creation that he loves to go to a place of eternal torment/torture that he created. This god can’t logically exist (unless we bastardize the definition of love into meaninglessness). I then asked him for his definition of love and he started to go into the free will argument that love is allowing choice. I completely agree that allowing choice is part of love; however for me, a better definition of love is what we find in 1 Corinthians 13 “(Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude…”) I said that if we are going to define torturing someone forever as being kind, we will have to redefine that word, too. (It seems that God is violating his own holy word.)

By now I could tell the student was getting a little flustered, so I listened to his description of the free will argument, which was pretty good for being off-the-cuff. When he got to the part where God cannot make himself known to us by appearing in person because it will take away our free will, I asked him, “Does Satan have free will?”, to which he gave me a nod in agreement. I continued “But Satan has intimate knowledge of God. If I have the story straight, Satan used to work for God and saw him in person, but yet Satan still has free will. If seeing God in the flesh (so to speak) does not affect Satan’s free will, why would it affect ours?”

His flustered look was starting to become real stress, so we switched to book recommendations. He recommended C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and asked me if I had read it. I told him I had not, but that I have read many other books and articles about Lewis’s arguments. I recommended The Trouble With Religion by Sophie Dulesh; she takes a mighty whack at deconstructing Lewis’s ideas in chapter one, so he doesn’t have to read the whole book.

We continued for a while about the good bits and the bad bits of Christianity, and how we can find many of the good bits of Christianity in many other religions, which both pre-date and post-date Christianity. I could tell that this young man really cared about what he believed in, and I think he really began to understand some of the immorality and absurdity of the Christian religion. Of course, what he does with this information is entirely up to him, and I wish him luck on whatever path he chooses. But from his body language, facial expressions, and the way he asked questions, I feel this was a conversation very much worth having. For me, it was one conversation that made the entire weekend worthwhile.                                        – Pat Morrow

The Conversation Worth Having (Christopher Hitchens)

Demand an End to “Faith-Based” Health Care

Religiously-affiliated health care institutions are denying patients access to Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) in Canada because of the beliefs of the religious boards controlling their policies. This is infringing on the ability of patients in those facilities to access a legal procedure, resulting in seriously ill and dying patients being subjected to prolonged suffering. Partisan policy should have no place in publicly-funded institutions that are required to serve all Manitobans.

Our website has all the information you need to get up to speed on this issue, including links to recent news articles for more background information. You will also find a sample letter that you can send to the hospital and government representatives, along with contact information for them.

Please add your voice to support the growing number of Manitobans who believe that government should remain neutral on matters of religion and that no religion should receive preferential treatment over another religion, or the lack of religion.

This is OUR publicly funded health care system, and we need to hold our elected representatives responsible for ensuring that it serves everyone. Demand better!

Book Film of the Month

Heart of the Beholder is a 2005 drama film written and directed by Ken Tipton, based on Tipton’s own experience as the owner of a chain of videocassette rental stores in the 1980’s. Tipton and his family had opened the first videocassette rental stores in St. Louis in 1980; their business was largely destroyed by a campaign of Christian fundamentalists who objected to the chain’s carrying Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ for rental.

Heart of the Beholder features Michael Dorn (Worf from Star Trek) and a very early performance by Chloe Grace Moretz as a child actress.  It won “Best Feature Film” awards at several film festivals. Critical comments included “It is in many ways a politically charged film as it touches on issues of freedom of speech, religious beliefs and all-out fanaticism”.  Here is the original trailer.

Thanks to Karen and David Donald for the donation.

Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this DVD.

 

Tough Questions from the Old Testament

A Biblical Challenge

Kris Duerksen

During a conversation with a Christian at our outreach booth in Steinbach, I cited Numbers 31 (in particular verses 7-11 and 17-18) as an example of Yahweh’s cruelty in the Old Testament. She informed me that the pastor at her church had explained away all the concerns about that chapter in a recent sermon. When I challenged her to help me understand the context in which such passages could be considered worthy of a loving god, she declined, stating that she could not remember the details of his sermon but that I should watch it on the church’s website and learn for myself.

So I did. It’s Sermon #5 of a series by Pastor Kris Duerksen of Southland Church in Steinbach, addressing “tough questions” in the Old Testament. I listened to all of it, and then the first section of Sermon #6. The Bible passages examined in this series of sermons used to be largely ignored by Christian churches, but that’s no longer possible because they are now being posted and discussed all over the internet.

Introduction

In the introductions to these two sermons, Duerksen stated that certain Bible passages have become the subjects of “attacks on our faith” from people outside the church, and also, increasingly, the topics of struggles with their faith expressed by those inside the church. He mentioned that “if you look online you’ll find all kinds of stuff…”, and acknowledged that much of the OT is “disturbing”, but that non-believers are “taking it out of context”. He and other members of his congregation have heard people claim that the god of the Old Testament is genocidal, cruel, and misogynistic. (I wonder where they heard that?) He expressed the hope that after this sermon series, members of his church will have “total confidence” that their god is a good god, “even if it doesn’t convince an atheist”. Methinks Christians are becoming a little defensive.

The Questions

Here are a few of the highlights of what I heard. My comments follow in italics. But it’s worth listening for yourself and forming your own judgements.

June 4th 2017 – Is the God of the Old Testament Genocidal?

Watch or listen to the sermon here.

Pastor Duerksen began by discussing memes found on social media urging people to read their Bibles, adding “this is the kind of stuff that’s out there”.

Yup, it sure is. That’s why he’s now in the position of having to defend this horrible book.

He then stated “The OT does not in any way promote slavery.”

Are you kidding me? 

“…probably the most offensive passage in the entire OT… (is) Numbers chapter 31. I personally know of someone who has actually left the faith, and blamed Numbers 31.”

I would actually argue that Numbers 31 is only one of many offensive passages in the OT. How about the story of Jeptha’s daughter (Judges 11:29-40)? But OK, Numbers 31 is right up there.

Duerksen continued “God authored this book through his holy spirit and he wasn’t embarrassed to have these things in there…”. Then he began his defence, stating “there is no one-line answer for a passage like this… It is a piece of a much bigger story… If you take a piece out of the middle of a story, you can make it say anything you want.” He illustrated that with a humorous but irrelevant example, and then asked his audience to look at the arc of the storyline. “The main character is God – what’s his goal?”

The context of this story, according to Duerksen, is not just the chapter or the Book of Numbers, but the entire Bible. The story arc begins in Genesis 12 with God’s covenant with Abraham. Duerksen asserted that God created the nation of Israel because he wanted to bless and save all the families of the earth, and God’s promise including granting the Israelites the land of Canaan, so it had to be cleared to make way for them. He continued with “Through the nation of Israel will come Jesus, who will save all the people of the earth who accept his name.” He stated that “God is absolutely determined to make this promise come true.” Then he jumped ahead to the conclusion of the story in Revelation 7:9-10, with people from all nations standing before the Lord. Promise fulfilled. So obviously God loves every ethnic group and is committed to saving and blessing them.

Now that I see the context in which apologists view this story, it does make more sense to me. But that doesn’t make it any less violent or cruel. Duerksen is using the excuse that the end justifies the means. Really? That defence has been used by a lot of ambitious, ruthless, tyrants… like Yahweh. Who cares how many people you harm or kill in your quest for power and control? As long as you achieve your goal in the end, they are just ‘collateral damage’.

The thing is, the massacre described in Numbers 31 has nothing to do with God needing to clear the land of Canaan for the Israelites. Midian isn’t even part of Canaan. The bloodbath in this chapter is the result of Yahweh’s petty grievance against the Midianites described in Numbers 25. So Duerksen is creating a red herring in this sermon, directing his parishioners away from the real cause of the genocide.

Other troubling issues – Duerksen excuses the genocide of the Canaanites in the OT because at the end, in Revelation, they will be rewarded in the next life. As if their lives on this earth didn’t really matter – that’s sick. And did you catch that Jesus will save only those who accept his name? That sure leaves a lot of people out – not just those who reject him, but those who never heard of him and those who died before he arrived on earth.

Duerksen went on to explain the circumstances surrounding the genocide of the Canaanites. He claimed that Yahweh’s goal was to drive them out, not exterminate them. His goal was merely the destruction of their culture. According to Duerksen, none of the Canaanites actually had to leave – as long as they forsook their “debauched”, “demonic” gods.

Wow – assimilate or die. Forced religious conversion. That’s been tried a few times before. In fact, it’s well-documented here in North America. How well did Canada’s Indian residential schools work out?

The reason god did such big miracles/plagues in Egypt was so that the Canaanites would hear about him and either turn to him and recognize him as god, or be afraid and leave without fighting.

That’s just egotistical posturing. I’m not impressed. And anyway, why would an omnipotent, loving god need to resort to that?

The Israelites didn’t battle everybody and anybody. Yahweh just needed a parcel of land, not an empire. There were 7 specific nations (all Canaanite tribes) that God said they were supposed to conquer. (Deuteronomy 7:1) “They were never given a blank check – go and fight any nation you see.”

Oh, well – that makes it OK then. Those people were expendable. What’s a few children or families one way or another in the grand scheme of things?

God told the Israelites to make no covenant and show no mercy. The Canaanite culture had to be destroyed because it had become “utterly grotesque and vile”; they worshipped the demonic god Molech, and practiced child torture and sacrifice. “God wouldn’t tolerate it.” Duerksen then mentioned that Leviticus 18 lists other bad cultural practices that God doesn’t like.

Not that I’m condoning child sacrifice, but it was practiced in numerous other ancient cultures, and to the best of our knowledge, Yahweh didn’t intervene. Of course, he was only interested in that little parcel of land in the Middle East. I guess he didn’t care about those ‘other’ children. But hey, there’s plenty of other child abuse in the Bible, most of it endorsed or even commanded by Yahweh.

And Leviticus 18, with all those ‘bad cultural practices’ that God hates? They’re all about sex. How does that relate to today’s sermon topic? Why didn’t Duerksen cite some of God’s other dislikes, for example shellfish (Leviticus 11:9-12), or clothes made from mixed fibers (Leviticus 19:19)? Do we still need to observe those rules, too?

“Even with the Canaanites, god has always been merciful and patient and good.”… “God gave them a long time – until Canaanite culture became so corrupt that nothing else could be done.” Then Duerksen asked: What about cultural tolerance? “Us Canadians are already OK with them killing 100,000 babies a year. So we’re already big on ‘just be nice’, and let people do whatever they wanna do.” Maybe the Canaanites could’ve just moved next door and the Israelites could have tolerated them.

Whaddya mean, nothing could be done? Couldn’t an all-powerful God have helped the people without exterminating them? And how did a discussion of multiculturalism and tolerance suddenly become about abortion???

Moreover, if the Canaanites were really so bad that nothing could be done, the command to kill everyone might make sense – but then the instruction in verse 18 to the soldiers to keep all the virgins (or young women) for themselves would not. How could little baby boys be more corrupt than teenage girls? And what would the Israelites do with all those girls anyway? The implication is pretty obvious, and yet Duerksen never even mentioned this verse in his sermon.

“You will never solve things like terrorism with good legislation or wise behavior, because behind it are demonic principalities.”… “The reason there is evil in this world is not just because people are bad, it’s because there are powerful forces of evil at work.” Duerksen believes that Satan is trying to enslave mankind. He said that the reason Yahweh has to be so extreme is because Satan is working against him, trying to thwart his plan of salvation.

Duerksen concluded by claiming that we’ve lost our perspective on sin. “Niceness has become our god in Canada… We are not, at base, nice; we are, at base, wicked, and in desperately need of a savior.”

The only terrorist in this story is God – the entity Duerksen is defending! He’s justifying violence, terrorism, and genocide. My take home messages from this sermon –

  • The end justifies the means.
  • Cultural genocide is OK.
  • It’s OK to kill people who don’t believe as you do.
  • Invisible evil lurks everywhere, like a monster in the closet.
  • We’re all wicked and broken.

June 11th 2017 – Does God Hate Women?

Watch or listen to the sermon here.

In the first 18 minutes of this sermon, Pastor Duerksen launched into a defense of Exodus 21, which discusses “the laws for selling your daughters as slaves”.

He began by noting that the passage was written in vastly different time and culture, and that one can’t look at in light of society in Canada in 2017. He went on to state that “slavery” as discussed here doesn’t really mean slavery the way we define it today; rather it meant voluntary, indentured servitude, and it was beneficial to those who were not able to provide for themselves. Further, he explained that the girl in this chapter was really being sold as a wife, not a slave; which was OK in that society because women couldn’t support themselves, and couldn’t own land, so their Dads need to marry them off to ensure that they were protected and cared for.

It seems that the people who claim that OT passages can’t be interpreted in 21st century terms are the same ones who claim that God’s word in other passages (like Leviticus 20:13) is immortal and unchanging. Sorry, one can’t have it both ways.

It’s pretty clear from other passages in the Bible that slavery wasn’t just ‘indentured servitude’. And why is it OK to sell your daughter as long as it’s only as a wife, not a slave? Couldn’t Yahweh have just acted to improve the status of women, instead of allowing them to be bought and sold?

Duerksen clarified that of course, this was not an ideal society; that “the system was broken” because of original sin. God was “forced” to work within the broken system, by introducing these laws to protect women. One of them, as he described it, was that “once you’ve paid for a woman”, if you don’t respect and provide for her, she may return home to her father and you will not get your money back (v 11). But it was the culture that treated women harshly, not god – and god therefore had to create laws to protect them within that culture.

Pastor Duerksen justifies the deplorable conditions of life and the treatment of women in Biblical times by claiming that society is ‘broken’ due to original sin. But is it fair for people to be punished for the sins of their ancestors? The Bible itself cannot even decide. Furthermore, if this were true, then society would still be broken – and yet for most of the world, conditions have improved significantly.

And even if a society was ‘broken’ and imperfect, why should that prevent God from healing or improving it? Why should an all-powerful, omnipotent deity be ‘forced’ to work within a broken system? (How could he be ‘forced’ to do anything?) Why couldn’t he just set things right?

The next portion of Duerksen’s sermon went on to discuss rape, as described in Deuteronomy 22. But I quit.

Final Thoughts

These two excerpts from this series of sermons don’t even begin to unpack all the evils of the OT. For example, the rest of Exodus 21 covers the rules for owning slaves and how to beat them. There was more about slavery in Sermon #2 if you want to hear Pastor Duerksen try to make his case for it. I might listen… but then again I might not. I’ve heard enough, and I’ve already read the entire Bible. (My notes about that experience are here.)

So much for a just and merciful god. There is just no end to the mental gymnastics that apologists will resort to in order to defend the indefensible. And it’s easy for pastors to get away with making misleading claims when they never allow themselves to be directly challenged. Sermons never include a Q and A, and the church’s website doesn’t allow online comments. I wonder why?

Dorothy Stephens

 

Demand an End to “Faith-Based” Health Care

Why is Religion Controlling Access to Medical Care?

You’ve probably heard and read about the situation at St Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, where a Catholic-controlled board of directors was ‘stacked’ in order to vote down a proposal to allow Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) on the premises. This is a serious concern, especially since St Boniface Hospital is only one of a number of ‘faith-based’ health care facilities in Manitoba and across Canada that are restricting access to legal services. So far, the provincial government has shown no inclination to step in. It’s time for the majority of Canadians who support MAID to speak up and demand that something change.

Important points about MAID

No health care worker is required to participate

In Manitoba, MAID is the responsibility of a specialized team of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and social workers who travel from site to site carrying out interviews and examinations with patients who request an assisted death. They subsequently carry out the procedure on site. Health care workers in those facilities are not expected to participate in the assisted death of patients in their care. Indeed, they specifically have the right remove themselves from the area based on conscientious objection to the procedure. Individual people have rights – but buildings don’t. What faith-based institutions are doing is refusing to allow the procedure to take place on their premises – even if their own staff are not involved.

Patients cannot choose their hospital

In our publicly-funded health care system, patients frequently do not have the opportunity to choose the hospital in which they are treated. Many services are consolidated at certain sites and not offered at others – so even if a patient presents to the emergency room at the hospital of their choice, they could end up being transferred to another. Ambulances are directed to hospitals according to both service and bed availability, so in an emergency, the patient has no say whatsoever. This means that all publicly-funded hospitals must be able and willing to accommodate all patients.

This is not a criticism of the hospital or its staff

Neither HAAM nor anyone in the media is criticizing the staff or the care provided at St Boniface Hospital. The staff there are dedicated professionals who provide excellent care, and the majority of them support their patients’ right to make their own health care decisions. Indeed, several staff members have bravely spoken out publicly to advocate for their patients’ comfort and autonomy. The issue at stake is the control of hospital policy by a religious board of directors. There is no place for that in a public hospital, and the board should be removed.

Not happy with the current situation?

Speak up about it! Here’s a sample letter that you can use to make your views known. Copy and send as is, or edit and personalize it. Or phone instead if you wish, and use this letter for talking points.

Contact information follows at the end. 

I’m writing you today as a concerned citizen regarding the issue of publicly-funded, faith-based hospitals denying tax-paying Canadians the right to Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID). I’m sure you agree that Canada has, is, and will continue to be defined as a Cultural Mosaic. This term represents what is at the very strength and heart of our nation – namely our diversity represented by people of many cultures and faiths, and increasingly those who choose no faith at all.

I am asking that you take action to ensure that this defining characteristic is not rendered meaningless and continually violated by the partisan agreement signed by the Manitoba government in 1996 allowing faith-based facilities to “maintain their respective mission, vision and culture” to the detriment of patient care. In this agreement, our government showed deference to one faith over others, and empowered the Catholic Health Corporation to supersede the right of choice for dying patients of all or no faiths, in clear violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

  • Section 2(a) of the Charter grants: freedom of conscience and religion.
  • Section 7 of the Charter grants: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
  • Section 12 of the Charter grants: Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

While the Charter guarantees the rights of individuals to religious freedom, it does not guarantee that right to publicly-funded institutions. By continuing to honor this agreement, the Manitoba government is allowing publicly-funded faith-based hospitals to violate the rights and freedoms of every qualifying patient who would choose to receive MAID, by denying them the liberty to make this end-of-life choice, and subjecting them to cruelty via prolonged suffering. I see nothing in the Charter, and quite the opposite, that gives the Catholic Health Corporation the right or authority to impose its religious views on Canadians, or to withhold services on that basis as a public entity, and in so doing, deny freedom of conscience to its patients.

I am asking that steps be taken by this government to enforce our Charter rights and revoke this agreement on those grounds. Further, I ask that steps be taken to make the regional health authorities responsible for the oversight of health care in the province so that all Manitobans have equal access to all health care options, regardless of their own religious or cultural affiliation or that espoused by the health care facility, in keeping with the non-partisan spirit of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I am asking you to support the individual’s right of conscience in making end-of-life decisions that will preserve their dignity and prevent the cruelty of unnecessary suffering.

I look forward to hearing what you and your government are prepared to do to resolve what is an unconscionable state of affairs in our hospitals.

Suggested recipients

Manitoba government

Manitoba premier Brian Pallister: premier@leg.gov.mb.ca or 204-945-3714

Minister of Health, Kevin Goertzen: minhsal@leg.gov.mb.ca or 204-945-3731

Send a copy to your own MLA: Find your MLA here and then click on his/her name here for contact info.

Federal Goverment

Since assisted dying falls under federal jurisdiction, contact the federal government as well.

Minister of Health Jane Philpott: Jane.Philpott@parl.gc.ca or 613-992-3640

Send a copy to your own MP: Find your MP here

St Boniface Hospital

And of course, don’t forget to tell St Boniface Hospital exactly what you think of their board’s shenanigans.

info@stbhf.org or 204-237-2067

June 2017 Newsletter

June HAAM Events

HAAM and Eggs Breakfast

Sunday, June 4th, Smitty’s Restaurant, 580 Pembina Hwy (at Grant), 8:30 AM. Note the change of time.

 

Outreach at the Summer in the City Festival

Friday June 16th to Sunday June 18th, Steinbach, Manitoba.

 

 

Summer Solstice Party and BBQ

Saturday, June 24th, 5:30 PM, Assiniboine Park

 

There are MORE HAAM events coming up later this summer! See them all on our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.

You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.

June Community (non-HAAM) Events

Winnipeg Pride Parade

Sunday June 4th  Both the time (11 AM) and the route have changed this year.

 

For details on this and MORE upcoming community events this summer, visit our new Community Events page.

Latest News

Coming this August – An Evening with Richard Carrier

Author and historian Richard Carrier will be touring Canada this summer, and HAAM is very excited to be hosting an evening with him on Saturday August 19th.

Richard has a Ph.D. in the history of philosophy from Columbia University, and is a published philosopher and historian, specializing in contemporary philosophy of naturalism, and in Greco-Roman philosophy, science, and religion, and the origins of Christianity. He blogs regularly, lectures for community groups worldwide, and teaches courses online. He is the author of many books including Sense and Goodness without God, On the Historicity of Jesus, Why I Am Not a Christian, Not the Impossible Faith, and Proving History, as well as chapters in several anthologies and articles in academic journals. For more about Dr. Carrier and his work see www.richardcarrier.info

Richard will be speaking to us on the topic Did Christianity Really Begin without a Jesus? At the Intersection of Skepticism and History. If you’ve heard or read his work before, you already know that Richard is not convinced that there ever was an actual historical person named Jesus. The whole of Christianity could be based on nothing more than myth! Come and hear him explain his position and ask questions about it.

If you want to check out some of Richard’s work before meeting him in person, you can borrow his book Sense and Goodness Without God from our HAAM library, or watch one of his many videos on YouTube.

  This event is still in the planning stage. Further details will be announced as they are finalized. Check the event post on our website for updates.

Meet Another Humanist!

Pamela Johnson is the latest to add her profile to our Meet the Humanist web page. If you’ve been to one of our regular meetings, you’ll be familiar with the beautiful teapot that she painted for us.

The Meet the Humanist page is our opportunity to let the world know that non-believers are just regular people, and to let closeted atheists know that they are not alone. We’re always looking for more people to add their stories. (You can remain anonymous if you wish.) Contact us if you’d like to share your story.

Atheism in Canada Has a History? Who Knew?

I had the pleasure of driving out to Morden last week to hear Peter Cantelon and his Diversitas group host, as usual, another excellent talk. This month’s presentation was given by the University of Manitoba’s Dr. Elliot Hanowski on the history of non-belief in Canada. This was a very eye-opening and informative evening; I was taken aback by the incredibly rich and vibrant history of Canadian and Manitoban secular, atheist, and Humanist groups. It is a part of Canadian culture that I, and many others, are sorely unaware of!

Dr. Hanowski whisked us though the early history of non-belief, beginning with Greece, Rome, and the Middle Ages, but the main focus of his talk essentially began at the beginning of the Enlightenment Era. We learned about such famous figures as Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, and Denis Diderot. Of course the bulk of the time was spent addressing the title topic – non-belief in Canada. What I also found interesting was to learn that so many non-believers were at the vanguard of social changes like the liberalization of the abortion and contraception laws, and the introduction of universal healthcare.

Dr. Hanowski described the large migration of non-religious settlers to BC and the long history of secular/freethought groups in early and modern Quebec. In one nineteenth century case, the wife of a secularist and Catholic Church critic asked to have her husband buried in the graveyard of a local Catholic church. It took five years and multiple court cases, but in the end she won, and was allowed to bury him in the church yard. In attendance at the funeral were some 2500 British soldiers and police, to prevent a near riot! The church members were later able to make themselves feel better by having the bishop come out and de-consecrate the small bit of ground where the heretic was buried.

In Manitoba, we heard about early twentieth-century secular movements such as the Rationalist Society, and Winnipegger Marshall J. Gauvin, who would attend priests’ sermons one week then critique them the next. He routinely had 300-600 people attend his lectures, and once debated a fundamentalist preacher to an audience of 3000.

Dr. Hanowski is a member of ISHASH (The International Society for Historians of Atheism, Secularism, and Humanism). This organization is a collection of academics dedicated to learning more about the history of us – the non-believers, Humanists, atheists, and freethinkers.

I have just barely touched on Dr. Hanowski’s entertaining and enlightening talk here, and there’s a reason for that. If you missed it, have no fear. Details still need to be worked out, but Dr. Hanowski has agreed to join us for an evening in the fall. So keep your eyes open and your calendars clear as our new meeting season picks up again in September.

You won’t want to miss this one!                                                                                                              – Pat Morrow

We’re Gearing Up for Summer Outreach

June marks the beginning of our summer outreach season. We’re all looking forward to Steinbach’s Summer in the City Festival, and we have will have a new banner at the booth to promote Humanism.

Last year was a challenging outreach, and this year we expect more of the same. But this time we will have help from some of the newly-formed Eastman Humanist Community. A few of their intrepid members will join us at the booth talking with believers and non-believers alike.

Summer in the City promises some great entertainment, with Tom Cochrane on the main stage Saturday evening. But Sunday’s performances will feature entirely Christian artists, since ‘Worship in the City’ will now become an all-day event.

Any way you slice it, this is going to be an interesting weekend! So please join us! If you’re a HAAM member, please consider helping out at the booth. Everyone who attends the festival is welcome to just pop by for a visit and say Hi.

See you out there!

Most of us read a lot of depressing news these days about issues that matter to us as Humanists. Do you get discouraged, or even avoid the news, because you feel like there’s nothing you can do about it?

Sometimes there are actions we can take, however small, to make our voices heard. Usually these involve writing to politicians or signing petitions. Please take the few minutes to make your opinion count!

New! Stop Government Funding of ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centres’

Please help us stop government funding of anti-choice groups. Here is a sample letter that you can send to Manitoba government Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition. Opinion aside, it just doesn’t make sense for governments to fund organizations that oppose legal services. Let’s make our voices heard!

Update on Canada’s Blasphemy Law

The map below shows countries that still had penalties for blasphemy in 2016 (click to enlarge). Shamefully, Canada is still on the list.

A recent Call to Action asked HAAM supporters to write to their MP’s demanding the repeal of Canada’s outdated blasphemy law. A number of us did. Here is the response one of our members received from her MP:

  Thank you for writing to me about Bill C-39 and changes to blasphemy laws. I apologize for the delay in my response.

  As you know, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, is currently in the process of reforming our justice system to make it more fair, relevant and accessible. This reform involves modernizing the Criminal Code. Given that the last broad review of the criminal justice system occurred in the 1980s, an in-depth examination of how the system is currently working will assist in identifying gaps to ensure a comprehensive and modern justice system. To fulfil this commitment, the Minister is undertaking a program of consultation and engagement with stakeholders through a series of regional roundtables across the country.

  While Bill C-39 does not touch on blasphemy laws specifically, I would like to note that the Minister has referred to Bill C-39 as a first step in a larger review that will span her entire mandate. To that end, the Minister continues to act on her mandate to review our criminal justice system in a comprehensive way.

 Thank you again for writing to me about changes to blasphemy laws. If you have any further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me again.      

  Sincerely,

  Dan Vandal

It’s not exactly a promise, but at least it’s an acknowledgement. Maybe it’s a start. At least her letter put the issue on one MP’s radar. We need to continue to urge the government to include the blasphemy law in that ‘larger review’ they mention.

It’s not too late to add your own voice to those who have already written. There’s more information and a link to a sample (pre-written) letter on the home page of our HAAM website. All you have to do is copy, paste, and send.

Current Calls to Action are always posted on the Home Page of our website. The only way we’ll ever make a difference is to stand up and be counted!

BOOK OF THE MONTH – Being Gay is Disgusting

Yes, that really is the title of the book. Actually, the full title is Being Gay is Disgusting – or, God Loves the Smell of Burning Fat. It’s been over 3 years since author Edward Falzon visited Winnipeg while on tour, promoting his book. So there are lots of new people in HAAM who may not have heard of it. Don’t let the title put you off – it’s intended for shock value. The book is really just an entertaining and painless way to become familiar with the first five books of the Old Testament. And yes, the well-known verses condemning homosexuality are in there, along with lots of other prohibitions that are probably less familiar.

I thought, when I first got this book, that it would be a severely abridged version of the ‘real’ Bible, but no. Edward has all the information in there, even the boring genealogies (but they’re in chart form instead of endless passages of ‘begats’). None of the sordid details are omitted, either; he only updated the language to make reading the Bible understandable and fun. It’s a great way for the ‘unchurched’, or those who have never read the Bible, to get to know what’s in there. I referred to it regularly when I read the Old Testament as part of HAAM’s Atheist Bible Study project. (Editor’s note: If you didn’t read along with us back then, you can still do it now – the reading guide and my notes are all posted at that link.) One of the best features of the book is Edward’s hilarious and insightful footnotes!

Here’s an excerpt from the book (with its corresponding footnote):

Genesis 14 – Big War, Abram Kicks Butt

  So anyway, there were five kings, including the kings of both Sodom and Gomorrah, who had all been subject to a king called Kedorlaomer (“Ked” to his mates). After twelve years of this, they all rebelled. In the 14th year, King Ked teamed up with three other kings and destroyed no less than four territories, plus two more on the way home.

  So the five other kings went down to the Dead Sea, which was full of slime pits, and waged war on Ked and his friends.28 They lost. Badly. When the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled to the hills, some of their men fell into the slime pits. The victors took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah and went home. They also took Abram’s nephew, Lot, who was living in Sodom at the time.

   28You know, at this point in the Bible, only about 370 years have passed since Noah’s flood. I’ve always wondered how there can be nine kings and a Pharaoh, each with their own civilians, servants, slaves, and livestock, created from the eight people on the ark. I still haven’t worked it out – I’ll keep you posted.

The long days of summer are a great time to sit outside and read a book. Wouldn’t it be fun to be caught at the beach with a title like this? A sure conversation starter…

We have a couple of copies in our library (click here to borrow), and a few leftovers from Edward’s promotional tour to sell at $15 each, if you’d like your very own (contact us).                                                                             – Dorothy Stephens

 

May 2017 Newsletter

Upcoming HAAM Events

Solar Energy 101

Saturday, May 13th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Ave, 5:30 PM

 

 

Introduction to Outreach

Thursday May 25th, Sir William Stephenson Library, 765 Keewatin St, 6:30 – 8:30 PM

 

 

HAAM and Eggs Brunch

Sunday, June 4th, Smitty’s Restaurant, 580 Pembina Hwy (at Grant), 9:30 AM.

 

For more information on these and all our upcoming events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.

You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.

Upcoming Community (non-HAAM) Events

Winnipeg Comedy Showcase

Friday, May 19th, Park Theatre, 698 Osborne St, 9 PM

 

Public Lecture – Secular/Atheist Movements in Canada

Wednesday, May 24th, Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre, Morden MB, 7 PM

Winnipeg Pride Parade

                                         Sunday June 4th

For details on these and more upcoming community events, visit our new Community Events page.

Latest News

We’re Gearing Up for Summer Outreach

HAAM’s Outreach booth will be heading out into Manitoba’s Bible Belt again this summer. We’ll have volunteers at Steinbach’s Summer in the City Festival in June, and at the Morden Corn and Apple Festival in August. (Check our Events page for details.)

The main purpose of outreach is to connect with nonbelievers who may not know that there is a large community here for them. We also promote Humanism and encourage questioning and critical thinking.  We love to engage in conversations with people about what they believe and why they believe it, and we welcome questions about Humanism and atheism. Conversation topics usually include the Bible, morality, science (especially evolution), LGBTTQ issues, and anything else on our visitors’ minds.

We need lots of manpower to staff these booths for each of these 3-day festivals, as they are always busy. Please consider joining us and helping out. It’s an interesting and rewarding experience, and a great learning opportunity. Outreach helps build bridges to understanding other worldviews, and it’s a great way to get to know some of your fellow HAAM members as we sit at the booth together.

If you have never done any outreach before, it can sound more intimidating than it really is. Talking to people in person is generally much more respectful than exchanges on social media. Shifts can be as short as 2-3 hours if that’s all the time you can spare, or up to 12 hours if you’re available for the whole day. That’s not as long as it sounds; the time passes VERY quickly once you get involved in a deep conversation.

To help prepare, we’re holding an information session for new Outreach volunteers on Thursday May 25th. Everyone is welcome! But if you want to volunteer and can’t attend, let us know and we’ll work something else out. Even if you are not interested in or are unsure about participating in Outreach, this session may help you to navigate difficult conversations with religious family and friends. There’s also lots more information about outreach on this website. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us! Or just show up at the May meeting and ask in person. Outreach coordinator Pat Morrow (or any of our other experienced Outreach people) will be happy to chat with you.

Speaking of Outreach – Updated Brochures Available

Just in time for the annual summer outreach season, all of our informational brochures have been revised and updated. These are the little pamphlets that we print to hand out to curious visitors at our booth. For some of these people, it is literally the first time they have encountered a real, live non-believer. It’s great for them to have something tangible to pick up and peruse later.

New! We’ve recently added a brochure explaining the meaning of common scientific terms. What’s the difference between a fact, a law, a hypothesis, and a theory (or are they all basically the same thing)? Don’t know for sure? Most of the visitors at our booth don’t, either – that’s why they disparagingly refer to evolution as ‘just a theory’. This little pamphlet should help with the confusion.

All of these brochures are also available on our website. If you, or someone you know, is curious, you can always direct them there, where the brochures can be viewed online (or you can print your own copies to hand out if you wish).

The list of titles reflects the most common topics we get asked about – Humanism, Atheism, and (most common of all) Where do you get your morals from? And then of course, evolution and science, with trees commonly pointed out as proof of creation. (That’s the reason we have an entire brochure dedicated to trees.)

Take a look – and go ahead and share!

Enjoy our April meeting? Want to hear more?

The video clip that was shown was taken from this presentation, Disproving Gods with History and Science, by Richard Carrier. Carrier has a PhD in ancient history, and his whole speech (39 minutes) is well worth the listen. He contends that a historical Jesus never existed, and that the biblical character is based on a compilation of myths.

The secular scholar with the opposing viewpoint (that an historical Jesus did exist, even though he wasn’t divine), also mentioned at the meeting, is Bart Ehrman. Ehrman is a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina and a former fundamentalist Christian. Here’s a clip of him reading from his book Did Jesus Exist?

There’s lots more to this debate, and it may never be settled – but it’s fascinating.

Breaking News – We’ve just heard that Richard Carrier is planning to tour Canada this summer. If he stops in Winnipeg, we’ll be sure to let you know. Stay tuned!

Charity of the Month – Women’s Health Clinic

For over 30 years, the Women’s Health Clinic (WHC) has provided support to women in the areas of prenatal and postpartum care and counselling, newborn care and parenting, nutrition and eating disorders, birth control and unplanned pregnancy, abortion services, sexual health educator training, and general mental health counselling. Most services are offered free or on a pay-what-you-can basis.

The clinic’s Pregnancy Prevention and Safer Sex (PPaSS) program provides supplies to those who can’t afford them otherwise. The program currently offers copper IUDs, condoms, birth control pills, dental dams, and emergency contraception. Unfortunately, due to its high cost, the clinic is not able to offer the hormone-based IUD (Mirena).

The PPaSS program is largely funded through donations from clients and community members, and demand typically exceeds supply. Donations help more people access the supplies they need to care for their sexual and reproductive health.

WHC tries to make sure that everyone who wants an abortion can access one. While the surgical abortion procedure is covered through Manitoba Health, other related expenses often make it challenging for northern and rural Manitobans to access abortion services in Winnipeg. The clinic always welcomes and appreciates donations to WHC’s Client Emergency Fund to help cover costs for travel and accommodations. When necessary, they are also willing to negotiate the fee for clients who aren’t covered by Manitoba Health and don’t have other health coverage. In their commitment to improving access to abortion, they will not turn someone away who is unable to pay for the procedure.

WHC has not yet begun to offer Mifegymiso (the abortion pill, also called medical abortion). The cost isn’t currently covered by Manitoba Health and clients must pay $350. The clinic is committed to working with the government to make medical abortion an accessible healthcare service for more Manitobans.

Support for sexual healthcare and reproductive choice are key values for most Humanists. Our donation will be directed towards the PPaSS program. Let’s do what we can to help women in our community.

Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal link on the right sidebar. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.

March for Science

A few hearty souls from HAAM braved the cool weather to participate in the Winnipeg March For Science on April 22nd. Despite the snow, those who attended were treated to several great speakers.

Right now, science is under attack from several directions, and it needs our help. Those of us who understand that science is the best way we have to know the world around us, need to speak up and remind our leaders and elected officials of the need for evidence-based policies. If we each speak up and let our beliefs be known, perhaps we can influence those in power to make real change.                                                                    – Donna Harris

 

More photos in our Gallery.

 

 

Book of the Month

Spring is here, so read something fun! How about Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things, by Richard Wiseman. Light reading – but not mindless reading. Wiseman sounds like a fascinating character; he has a PhD in psychology and is also a practicing magician. He conducts research into unusual areas of psychology, or as he calls it, the ‘backwaters of the mind’, including deception, luck, and the paranormal. He also has a very entertaining YouTube channel. Here’s a sample, (only 2 minutes long, and amazing – how does he do that?).

In his book, Wiseman explores the quirky science of everyday life and the oddities of human behavior, like the tell-tale signs that give away a liar, the secret science behind speed-dating and personal ads, and what a person’s sense of humor reveals about the innermost workings of his or her mind. How strange is the human mind? Read this book and you’ll find out!

Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this book.

New Community Events Page

You may have noticed that we have a new, separate page on our website for ‘Community Events‘. This is to distinguish our HAAM events from those of other organizations that we encourage our supporters to attend or participate in.

If you are aware of an event that you think our readers might like to know about, please contact us with the details. We will share it, subject to approval from the executive. Consideration will be given to events that are consistent with our Mission and Position Statements, (and to events that warrant our attention and interest because they directly oppose our Mission and Position Statements).

Film Festival Recap

If you could not attend the Prairie Infidel Film Fest and are interested in finding the films, here they are.

Rubai (2013), 12 min – As her classmates prepare for their First Holy Communion, Rubai announces that she is an atheist and refuses to participate.

Deathbed: the Musical (2011), 6 min – An old man sits in a nursing home, waiting to die. A devoutly religious man, he firmly believes he will receive his due reward in the afterlife. While reflecting on his own virtues and thinking of the world to come, a nurse, nearing the end of a long, arduous shift, brings his breakfast.

Bacon & God’s Wrath (2015), 9 min – An elderly Jewish woman tastes bacon for the first time.

The Man From Earth (2007), 1 h, 27 min – An impromptu goodbye party for Professor John Oldman becomes a mysterious interrogation after the retiring scholar reveals to his colleagues he has a longer and stranger past than they can imagine. This movie is available on Hoopla, which is free to anyone with a Winnipeg Public Library card.

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 2017 Newsletter

Upcoming HAAM Events

Dying and Rising Gods Before Jesus

Saturday, April 8th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Avenue, 5:30 – 8:30 PM.

 

 

HAAM and Eggs Brunch

Saturday, April 29th, Perkins Restaurant, 2142 McPhillips St (just south of Garden City Shopping Centre), 9:30 AM

 

For details on these and more upcoming events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.

Upcoming Community (non-HAAM) Events

March for Science

Saturday, April 22nd, Manitoba Legislature, 1 PM

 

 

Future Community Events

Friday, May 19th Winnipeg Comedy Showcase, with our own Rollin Penner

Wednesday, May 24th – Public Lecture – Secular/Atheist Movements in Canada

For details on these and more upcoming community events, visit our new Community Events page. 

Latest News

Ask An Atheist Day 

The official date is Thursday April 20th, but during the month of April, we are inviting anyone to ask us anything, anytime – so go ahead and think up your toughest questions! Details are on the home page of our website.

If you are ‘out’ as an atheist, and would like to participate in this event as an individual, feel free to use one of the following images (created by the Secular Student Alliance) on social media to encourage your friends to ask you their questions. (Or you can refer people to the HAAM website if you don’t want to answer yourself.)

Profile Pic

Profile Pic

Facebook banner

 

Click images to enlarge and download.

 

 

Can Faith and Science Co-Exist?

According to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines (any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no), the answer would obviously be ‘no’. But that’s not the opinion of Dr. Patrick Franklin, a professor of theology who gave a lecture on the subject in March.

HAAM’s Pat Morrow drove out to Morden to listen. Pat’s report on the evening’s discussion mentions Bible verses, creationists, Richard Dawkins, pedophile priests, the garden of Eden, Galileo, and an ode to flowers. How do these all tie in together? Read his fascinating and informative account here. It appears on our Perspectives page.

 

Charity of the Month in Action

The Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre was our Charity of the Month in September 2014. Back then, they were raising money to replace their old van, and promised that donations of $250 or more would be recognized with a decal on the new van as an indication of that sponsorship. HAAM members came through with the required amount, but we never saw the result until recently.

When Pat Morrow was in Morden for the Diversitas Lecture held at the museum, he noticed the new van in the parking lot and snapped this photo (click to enlarge). That’s great advertising for HAAM – and a nice little reminder, especially in a Bible Belt town, that non-believers can be charitable, too.

Call to ActionDemand that Canada’s Blasphemy Law be Repealed

The crime of blasphemous libel (Criminal Code Section 296) is still on the books in Canada. It was the subject of a petition in 2016. In the government’s response to that petition, on January 30, 2017, Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould indicated that the blasphemy law would be reviewed along with other outdated laws as part of a broad review of the justice system.

Now that review is underway. Government Bill C-39, an act to repeal provisions and remove passages of the Criminal Code that have been ruled unconstitutional (‘zombie laws’), is currently before the House of Commons. It addresses such varied issues as duelling, abortion, practicing witchcraft, and water-skiing – but nothing about blasphemy. Why not?

The current “zombie law” bill may be the best opportunity to advance secular human rights Canadian secularists are likely to see. Don’t let it pass! Write to your Member of Parliament and demand the repeal of Canada’s blasphemy law.

Click here for a sample letter that you can use or edit if you wish.

Opinion – Why Do Refugees Cross the Border? (and why should we help them?)

I’m thinking right now about all the Facebook memes and comments posted about people’s individual struggles in life. How we don’t really know what people are going through, what battles or demons they may be fighting; you know the ones.

Do these memes only apply to us? You and I who are lucky enough to have been born in Canada; you and I who see the world only through the lens of Facebook; you and I with our first world problems; you and I who have never lived in war-torn countries; you and I who have never had to fear for our lives, and especially the lives of our children; you and I who are not fleeing discriminatory policies and outright hatred from the government of a country that once used to be a beacon of hope. We do not know the individual stories of these people until we actually hear and assess them. The fact that they are coming from the USA right now is the result of the policies of the vile Trump administration.

Canada is a rich country that can afford to accommodate immigrants and refugees as well as do more to look after our own homeless and poverty stricken people. It is not an either/or issue for me. It is only a matter of political and collective will.

I am a descendant of people who came to Canada under what was then an open-door policy based on race and ethnicity. My people, for the most part, were not refugees; they were economic migrants – looking for a better life for themselves and their children. Knowing this, I for one have a hard time slamming the door in the face of newcomers, especially if it means turning back desperate asylum-seekers and children at the border.

Immigrants and refugees cost us money on arrival, but once established, they pay rich dividends that far exceed their initial cost to Canada. If it’s the cost of supporting refugees that concerns us, I can only imagine the billions of dollars and vast infrastructure needed to really seal off and secure our borders if we wish to stop people walking across.

As far as the lengthy wait for immigrants who pursue the application process, for the most part these people and their children are not in any physical danger. Canada has a problematic legal immigration process that favours people who are well off. That needs to be changed.

So, yeah, what about all these silly memes about our personal struggles… while we sit in our comfortably warm homes, and live and work in a safe country.                                                                                                                          – Bob Russell

Charity of the Month – Welcome Place

Welcome Place

The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council (MIIC) had its beginnings in the years following WWII, when “displaced persons” had to declare their religious affiliation to enter the country. Back then, each denomination sought to help their own people integrate into Canada. Over time, as common goals and interests emerged, these groups began to work together, eventually becoming the MIIC. For nearly 70 years, MIIC has welcomed, reunited, and settled refugee families from all over the world.

Today, MIIC’s services include:

  • Assistance with settlement
  • Information about and orientation to life in Canada
  • Referrals to community services like English classes, employment counseling, financial and legal support, etc.
  • Interpretation/translation, counseling, advocacy and support
  • Information about Provincial and Federal Government services such as healthcare and social services
  • Life skills training
  • Orientation to neighborhoods and transportation (like public transit and climate information)
  • Personal financial help (like budgeting, shopping, and banking)
  • Education about emergency preparedness (like child safety, fire, food, pedestrian, winter)

Newly arrived government-assisted refugees are temporarily housed at Welcome Place Residence (521 Bannatyne Ave, in photo), in self-contained and furnished apartments with access to on-site support. Except that this year, Welcome Place is full and struggling to keep up with the demands for its accommodations and services, due mainly to the influx of asylum-seekers escaping the USA. By early March, they had already assisted almost 200 new refugees, including pregnant women and unaccompanied minors.

To try to meet this increasing demand, MIIC launched a new fund-raising campaign in March, called #Open Your Hearts – A Celebration of Humanity. Their goal is to raise $300,000.00. Every little bit helps – can we help them reach their goal?

  Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal link on the right sidebar. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.

Book of the Month

Among the donated books added to our library last month is a little gem entitled The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors; Or, Christianity Before Christ, by Kersey Graves. Since many people will be celebrating Easter this month, a book that examines ‘heathen gods’ that predate Christ sounds fascinating. But get this – it was written in 1875! That’s not a typo; even way back then, there were skeptics and freethinkers.

Graves asserted that Jesus was not an actual person, but a creation largely based on earlier stories of deities. This book was a forerunner to the increasingly popular Christ-as-a-myth theories, and its ideas have been used in the documentaries The God Who Wasn’t There, The Pagan Christ, Zeitgeist: The Movie, and Religulous.

The gods discussed in this book include those from Egypt, India, Syria, Mexico, Tibet, and Babylon, and all share at least some of the following traits we associate with Jesus, including miraculous or virgin births, being born on December 25, having stars point to their birthplaces, being visited by shepherds and magi as infants, fleeing from death as children, spending time in the desert, having disciples, performing miracles, being crucified, descending into hell, appearing as resurrections or apparitions, and ascending into heaven.

Graves’ ideas have since been critiqued and refined by modern scholars like Richard Carrier, but why not take a look at the ‘original’ Jesus-myth book just for fun? Visit our library page if you would like to borrow it.

Event Review: Can Faith and Science Coexist?

Diversitas is a series of community presentations held in Morden, Manitoba, designed to educate and inform people about the diversity of humanity. On March 22, the topic was “Can Faith and Science Coexist?”, and the guest speaker was Dr. Patrick Franklin (PhD, McMaster Divinity College), Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, and a member of an organization called the Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation.

The event was well attended, with most of the seats filled at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre’s Aquasaur Theatre. The title of Dr. Franklin’s presentation was: “Is Christian Faith Obsolete in a Scientific Age? In his opening remarks, he added other questions, such as “Is God belief obsolete?“, and “Is religion obsolete?“. He mentioned that we would spend some time discussing the Old Testament, and presented a few verses which he thought best demonstrated that Christianity is not in conflict with science. A lot to cover in a 45-minute talk.

For those unfamiliar, the study of conflict between faith and science has a name – conflict thesis, which is a very old idea and well documented.  First proposed in the early 1800’s, author and politician Andrew Dickson White took a mighty scholarly whack at it in his two volume set A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. It was published in 1896, and although a product of its time, is still a good read – especially in light of more than a hundred years of scientific advancement and the slow decline of churches’ power. (It’s available for free download from Project Gutenberg.)

Dr. Franklin began his talk with a quote from Richard Dawkins:

One can’t be an intelligent, scientific thinker and still hold traditional religious beliefs.”

Although I have been unable to confirm that this as an actual quote from Dr. Dawkins, for the sake of argument we will assume that it is true.

Dr. Franklin described a study in which it was found that 35% of scientists believe religion is in conflict with science, and he then made the assertion that this means 65% scientists believe there is no conflict. Unless the question was asked directly (“Do you believe there is no conflict?“), this seems to be a false dichotomy to me. Another study, by sociologist Elaine Ecklund, in her book Science vs. Religion, showed that, of American scientists interviewed, 34% were atheist, 30% were agnostic, 28% had varying degrees of confidence in God, and 8% believed in some higher power. Ecklund then went on to postulate the reasons for this high percentage of atheism and agnosticism amongst scientists. These three reasons rose to the top:

Scientists who are not religious

  1. Were not raised in a religious home – children raised in a materialistic, non-religious households were more apt to be curious and gravitate to learning about the natural world
  2. Had a bad experience in church/religion or with a pastor/clergy member
  3. Disapprove of the idea of God

Dr. Franklin thought these reasons were interesting because they show that, by and large, the high number of atheists in the sciences is not due to science itself, but to many of the same reasons that other people are atheists. I would tend to agree; however, I have a different take on these points.

  1. Yes, children who grow up as freethinkers and not indoctrinated into religion will be more curious and gravitate to seeking out their own answers – but this is a good thing. Don’t indoctrinate your children and they will learn more.
  2. Yes, people have bad experiences in church and with clergy; not a week goes by that I don’t see a story in my newsfeed about another priest diddling little boys, or embezzling money; and of course there are those who need money to paint their private jets. I think this point says more about the authoritarian nature of religion, and how its true colours become exposed in a modern freethinking society. It’s a no-brainer that many people don’t want any part of it.
  3. As for disapproving of the idea of God – well of course, if you’re of a scientific-thinking mind, you seek out answers and explanations; ones that are demonstrably true and useful. The idea of God is “disliked” because it is none of these.

Dr. Franklin then went on to present a list of some 15 scientists, complete with mentions of what they do/did; all, of course, Christian. Everybody from Nicholaus Copernicus and Isaac Newton to Alister McGrath (and some he knows personally).  It is worth noting here that even though professional scientists may be theists, this does not demonstrate the compatibility of science and religion, but simply that a person may hold contradictory beliefs. During that segment it was interesting to note that Dr. Franklin was quick to point out which scientists on his list were evangelicals (his denomination), which prompted a member of the United Church I spoke to later to say “the way he was talking, you would think all Christians who are scientists are evangelical”, which was exactly what I was thinking.

So where does that leave us so far? Dr. Franklin believes the evidence shows that the statement “One can’t be an intelligent scientific thinker and still hold traditional religious beliefs” is just wrong. On the surface it looks like he is correct; however, if we dig a little deeper we find that scientists who are religious or spiritual leave their religion or spirituality at the door when walking into the lab. In the lab they are not testing their hypotheses by faith, while in church they are not looking at religious claims using the scientific method. Some do attempt to test religious claims, but they often end up believing things that are not part of traditional religious beliefs.

Dr. Franklin believes the scientific evidence for climate change, genetics, geology, the age of the earth and what science can tell us about the natural world. He is very much a scientific thinker, and for this I give him great credit. But when it came to the Q & A portion of the talk, I asked him a question that went like this – “Through our understanding of genetics, paleontology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, geology, and other sciences, we know that at no time in the past was the human population down to just two. There was no genetic bottleneck that would show that there was an Adam or an Eve.  If Adam and Eve aren’t possible, then there was no garden of Eden; no Original Sin; no need for Jesus, human sacrifice, or redemption; and essentially no need for Christianity. How do you make your scientific understanding comport with your supernatural Christian beliefs?” The question was sidestepped.  Dr. Franklin did suggest a couple of books I could read (Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science, and The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins), and mentioned the possibility that Adam and Eve were some sort of king and queen of a tribe or population of about 10,000, many, many years ago (it was all very vague). The thing is, through the science of genetics, paleoclimatology, archeology, and geology, we know that our human population was reduced to about 10,000 individuals as early as 70,000 years ago. Due to climate change, humanity was almost wiped off the face of the planet, gone extinct like so many other species. What’s funny is that apparently, some of this information was discovered through Christian theology shortly after it was discovered by science… it’s a miracle!!!

In my view, Dr. Franklin is the embodiment of the Dawkins quote. He is a scientific thinker who is unable to hold onto traditional religious belief – in this case the traditional belief that one man named Adam and one woman named Eve started it all. The next day, I received a links from Dr. Franklin to his blog and ten more resources on the subject… I was hoping he would just answer the question.

The next section of his talk was about how science is limited, how the scientific world view can’t provide ‘comprehensive knowledge’, and how scientific reductionism is a harmful and vast oversimplification of reality. This is an argument that is usually trotted out by the slimiest of Christian apologists; unfortunately, it seems to have gone mainstream.

I think the reason this argument bothers me so much is that it’s an attempt to discredit science by faulting it for doing what it is designed to do. The perception of beauty is not a scientific question; nor is what music someone finds pleasing to the ear a scientific question. The concept of ‘comprehensive knowledge’ is just a smokescreen, as later, apologists will try to wedge God, Jesus, and spirituality into ‘comprehensive knowledge’. They will argue that science reduces concepts such as love and beauty to mere biochemical reactions (which they are). But that’s what science does – reduce concepts to their simplest form in order to better understand the whole. This process actually results in real knowledge, and for me, more knowledge increases the appreciation of beauty. As the great physicist Richard P. Feynman said, ”Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars – mere globs of gas atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more?…” (full quote here). See also Feynman’s Ode to the Flower

Finally, near the end of his talk, Dr. Franklin spoke of God’s two books. One was, of course, scripture; the other was the metaphorical book of nature, or what we can learn from nature. To illustrate how these two books go hand-in-hand, he offered Psalm 19. These poetic lines in the Bible describe the beauty of the natural world, and Dr. Franklin believes that this Psalm tells Christians they should learn more about the natural world and how well science goes with Christianity. Admirable, but I listened carefully to see how he was going to juggle the verses. He read beautifully verse 1 through 5, skipped 6 (this was not an oversight, as he said “skipping ahead to 7”), and then moved onto 7, 8, and 9.

I, too, know Psalm 19, but for different reasons. This is verse that he skipped:

In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth. (NIV)

Verse 6 clearly states that the sun orbits the earth (“makes its circuit”). It is one of many verses that was used by the Catholic Church to justify the charge of heresy against Galileo, his imprisonment, the re-canting of his scientific work, and his eventual house arrest. If you understand church history, this verse becomes one of the best examples of how Christianity has retarded scientific progress.

Unfortunately, the Q & A was dominated by a sizeable contingent of YEC’s (Young Earth Creationists). Dr. Franklin handled himself admirably as he explained why “creation science” is not science, and of course he answered the all-important question “If we evolved from apes, why are there still apes“? After it was all over, I was hoping to chat for a couple of minutes with Dr. Franklin; however that was not in the cards. I did thank him and shook his hand. As I left, I could see that he was surrounded by a whole lot of creationists and some United Church members, having a discussion about Adam and Eve’s kids, incest, and the origin of the human species. I didn’t hang around to listen.

Regarding the question from the start of the evening, Is Christian faith obsolete in a scientific age?, I would have to say yes – to everybody except, it seems, Christians. As for the conflict between religion and science, it will always be there. I will leave you with a quote from Joshua Cuevas’ excellent article in last years New Humanist:

  “Ultimately, there is no conflict between religious claims and science. The conflict is in the mind of the theist who desperately attempts to preserve his or her belief system.”

– Pat Morrow

Sample letter regarding Canada’s blasphemy law

Feel free to use this sample letter to write to your MP and demand that Canada’s blasphemy law be repealed.

Edit as you wish.

Click here to find contact information for your Member of Parliament.

Dear (name of MP),

Blasphemy is currently regarded as the act of showing contempt (or failing to display reverence and respect) for religious symbols or persons.  It is well known that in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan, faith-based governments, radical militarized organizations and even individuals use the concept of blasphemy to justify violent implementation of their dogmatic ideologies – they silence criticism or commentary through lawful and unlawful justifications that blasphemy hurts their religious sentiments.  Blasphemy laws are also used to settle petty scores between individuals – with the most common victims being relatively powerless and poor individuals.

While Canadians express shock and horror at the chaotic violence of terrorism, the systemic violence of states, and the sublimated violence demonstrated by individual acts of bigotry – we must ask if Canada is taking a principled position regarding the concept of blasphemy and the fundamental human right to free speech. PEOPLE deserve respect, but ideas and ideologies should be open for discussion – and criticism – in a free and democratic society.

In 2016, a petition was submitted to the Canadian Government demanding that Canada’s blasphemous libel law (Criminal Code Section 296) be repealed. In the government’s response to that petition, on January 30, 2017, Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould indicated that the blasphemy law would be reviewed along with other outdated laws as part of a broad review of the justice system.

Now that review is underway, with Government Bill C-39 currently before the House of Commons. It addresses such varied issues as duelling, abortion, practicing witchcraft, and water-skiing – but nothing about blasphemy. Why not?

This outdated and ill-advised law MUST be repealed in order to protect our fundamental right to free speech.

Sincerely,

Name and address

 

March 2017 Newsletter

Upcoming Events

Atheist Comedy Night

Saturday, March 11th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 5:30 – 8:30 PM

 

 

 

HAAM and Eggs Brunch

Sunday, March 19th, 10:00 AM at the Perkins restaurant in Madison Square (305 Madison at Ness, just west of Polo Park).

 

 

2017 Atheist Film Festival

Saturday, April 1st, Millennium Library (Carol Shields Auditorium, 2nd floor)

Doors open 2:45 pm. Films start at 3 pm.

 

 

For more information on these and future events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.

You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.

Latest News

Meet our new family members!

click to enlarge

Following the presentation by Maysoun Darweesh of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council (MIIC) at our meeting in November, my wife Carmen and I have become hosts for a family of new Canadians. They are from the city of Idlib (in red on map), in the Idlib Governorate in Syria, located just 59 km southwest of Aleppo. They arrived in Canada on January 1, 2016.

We applied to and were accepted for the MIIC’s “Host Matching Program”. We will be their newest and, as it turns out, their first Canadian friends! Khaled and Asmahan are parents to three lovely young children ranging in age from 18 months to 8 years old. Khaled was most recently a truck driver at home, but considers himself a construction worker. Asmahan is mainly a stay-at-home mother, but she has some serious bead working, knitting, and crocheting skills that we will be able to tell you more about after we get to know them better.

Their area in Syria and their city saw some of the earliest fighting in the Syrian Civil War. Much of their town has been destroyed in the conflict, including ruins dating from thousands of years ago. My heart goes out to them, already, just for this. Their eldest, a daughter, is in grade 3 at her local school. She wants to be a doctor, a teacher or a paleontologist (she is in her dinosaur phase!). She is very bright and her English is already surprisingly good. The middle child, a boy, attends kindergarten, is shy, and we only saw him get animated after we had been together for about an hour and a half. Their youngest child, another girl, slept most of the time we were together, but we saw her playing with her siblings as well.

Both parents come from large families. Khaled is the youngest of ten, while Asmahan is third youngest of 12. While their surviving parents seem to be still residing in Idlib, their siblings are dispersed across the region, Europe, and now, North America. Their story is not unusual in this respect. They are able to maintain some contact by phone and over the Internet.

During the thirteen months they have been in Canada, they have had no sustained contact with anyone here. We will become their family, since it seems they have none left in Syria, either. I am expecting many people to be called upon to help as needs become apparent. Khaled has applied for a special program at RRC that will give him special instruction in both English and in construction. It will also place him afterward! If he can get into that program, it will be a big step to making this family self-sufficient. Asmahan could sell some of her crafts. I am hoping to help her make those connections. Both parents are studying English at the Seven Oaks Adult ESL school. They have a vehicle, which they do not use very much, and Asmahan is learning to drive.

Our discussions led to us to understand that they already appreciate the secular nature of life in Canada. They were subjected to various kinds of discrimination in their homeland and in Lebanon. They also saw its effects on others. While they are nominally Muslim, I expect the Humanist aspect of our world view will appeal to them as they come to understand how we come to be so accepting of our differences.

We expect to get the family out to do some normal family things, like tobogganing and skating. Other ideas will come as we get to know them better. As far as we can tell, they have never even been to the zoo! It takes a village to support a family, and I know HAAM members are already stepping up to help. I would like to hear from anyone reading this article who would like to be included in the work required to acclimate this young family to their new permanent home.

P.S., They all love cats! That means our Ringo will have more family to contend with now.

Please let us know if you are interested in helping this family.                                                                                     – Rick Dondo

Does Your Advance Care Plan Include Spiritual Care?

With the recent legalization of assisted dying (now commonly known as MAID – medical aid in dying), you may have seen in the news lately that some publicly-funded health care facilities are refusing to allow MAID on their premises because of their religious affiliation. This has led to questions from our members about the influence of religion in public hospitals. Most of us don’t get to choose which hospital we are taken to when we are ill – so how do you feel about being admitted to a faith-based facility?

Just as an ACP (Advance Care Plan) provides for your wishes to be respected in regards to medical care and treatment, perhaps it’s also worthwhile to make your wishes regarding ‘spiritual care’ clearly known if you feel strongly about that. It’s pretty simple to do this. Your Manitoba Health card must be presented whenever you require medical treatment. So if you have an ACP, or any other wishes or requests, just note that in writing and keep it with your Manitoba Health card.

A sample card is shown here (click images to enlarge).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dying With Dignity used to mail out these cards out with ACP packages. They don’t mail cards anymore, but you can easily make a similar one yourself and include the same information – the names of people to call in an emergency to make medical decisions for you, the name and phone number of your family physician, your signature, and the location of your ACP if you have one. On the back of this one it says “I am an atheist. If I am hospitalized, I do not want any clergy or chaplain visits”, followed by initials.

Making sure your wishes are known and clearly stated can save a lot of grief and hassle later.

  We have written about spiritual care in hospitals before – check the October 2016 newsletter if you missed the articles.

Charity of the Month

    It’s been several years since the Rainbow Resource Centre was our Charity of the Month, so it’s overdue – and their current need couldn’t be greater. Recent and ongoing political upheaval in the USA is leading members of the LGBTTQ community there to seek asylum in Canada, and as a result, RRC is overwhelmed with calls for information and counselling.

RRC was busy enough even before this latest crisis. Since its inception as the ‘Campus Gay Club’ at the U of M in the early 1970’s, it has been a leader and important resource for the gay and lesbian community, providing community services, education, outreach and political awareness, and activism.

RRC offers support to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Two-Spirit, Intersex, Queer, Questioning and Ally (LGBTTQ*) population of Manitoba and North Western Ontario through counselling and peer support groups; provides education and training for schools, school divisions, and GSA’s (gay-straight alliances); hosts events, workshops, and social activities for clients of all ages; and houses and coordinates a wealth of resources, including a library, a toll-free phone line, and links to LGBTTQ-friendly crisis centres, legal aid, peer support groups, health care, and more.

RRC depends on donations to help keep all these operations going for the long haul, and now to assist refugees as well. Please lend your support to this worthy cause!

 Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal link on the right sidebar. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.

Partners for Life Update

Have you donated blood yet this year? Canadian Blood Services’ Partners for Life program is a friendly competition among organizations, schools, and businesses to encourage their members to donate blood. We just got our participation report for 2016, and HAAM did really well, especially since we didn’t even promote it until mid-summer. Fourteen HAAM members have enrolled in the program, and those members gave a total of 19 units of blood, or 76% of our goal of 25 units.

Can we reach that goal this year? There have been 3 donations already in 2017, so we should easily be able to get to 25, if

  1. Those 14 members each donate twice, and/or
  2. A few more HAAM members sign up.

All the information you need is here on our website. There’s also a handy link to that info on the right sidebar of our Home Page for future reference.

By donating blood, you can not only save someone’s life (enough reward in itself, right?), but show the world that Humanists are good people (who donate blood).

Upcoming clinics: You can donate at the main clinic on William Ave (across from HSC) during their regular hours (Mon 10-2 and 3:30-7:30; Tues 1:30-7; and Wed-Sat 8-2). Or check the list of mobile clinics at the top of any page on the CBS website.

Video Links from our Darwin Day meeting

If you weren’t at our February meeting, you missed a great presentation by Pat Morrow about how the advancement of science contributes to a Humanistic worldview. At the end, several people in the audience asked for links to the short videos he showed about evolution. Here they are:

The first three are from a video series called Genetics and Evolution, by Stated Clearly.

The last video was a clip of a speech by Richard Dawkins comparing the worldview of someone whose religious belief prevents him from accepting reality to someone whose commitment to truth requires him to reject a long-held belief when new evidence against it is presented.

If you are interested in learning more, there are links to additional videos and other resources, including the complete Genetics and Evolution video series, on our Exploring Nonbelief web page. Check it out!

P.S. If you weren’t at the meeting to get a piece of Darwin’s birthday cake, you can at least see a photo of it in our Gallery.

Book of the Month

   It’s comedy month, so here’s something fun. Not all of the books in our library are serious and educational; we also have a few about popular culture, including Me of Little Faith by comedian Lewis Black. Raised as a non-practicing Jew, Black noticed unsettling parallels between religious rapture and drug-induced visions while attending college in the 1960’s, and since then has turned an increasingly skeptical eye toward the politicians and televangelists who don the cloak of religious rectitude to mask their own moral hypocrisy. The more than two dozen short essays in this book include hilarious experiences with rabbis, Mormons, gurus, and psychics. Black pokes fun at every religious figure and issue he can – the Catholic Church, Mormons, people who commit suicide in the name of faith, Jews, and of course Jesus and God. Find it in our Library.

 

Outreach Report from Houston Atheists

I worked on this newsletter while on vacation in Roatan, Honduras. Here’s a little personal note about that trip.

We booked our flights, via Chicago and Houston, long before we had any inkling of Trump becoming president, so we experienced a lot of anxiety about traveling to the US when the time finally came. I spent an hour before we left deleting all the memes, news articles, and videos I had shared on Facebook mocking Trump and criticizing the US government – just in case my phone or laptop was searched. But we passed through airport security without a hitch, except for my husband being asked for his Social Insurance Number. He did remember most of it, after a couple of attempts; what might the customs officer have asked or done if he had not? I felt guilty, in solidarity with everyone who is not white, about not being stopped and searched.

  We spent our layover day in Houston at the Museum of Natural Sciences, figuring that if we were going to spend any tourist dollars in Texas, they might as well be directed toward science and education. The museum’s paleontology exhibit is comprehensive and about the size of a football field. I saw Tiktaalik! (in photo) There were references to evolution in almost every display, and the museum was packed with school children on tours. I heard a guide state that they get 600,000 kids a year through there on school field trips. That just doesn’t jive with what we hear about scientific ignorance and rampant creationism.

In the evening we joined a group of people from the Houston Atheists at a pub. There were about a dozen attendees, so we spent an interesting couple of hours comparing notes about our groups’ activities and ideas. They are a loosely-knit organization that mainly uses Meet-Up to advertise small social gatherings at various venues around the city. Not surprisingly, their main focus right now is political activism and separation of church and state issues. One of their members is a high school teacher, so he was able to shed some light on the religion-in-schools issues we read so much about in the media. He said there’s a huge urban-rural split (sound familiar?) in worldviews, with most of the anti-science attitude and push for creationism coming from outside the major cities. He also explained that there is a huge discrepancy in the quality of the education among public schools, depending mainly on the socio-economic level and ethnicity of the communities they serve; but that generally, what we read about represents the egregious infractions of a small minority.

Overall, we experienced no trouble on our one day in Texas; but like several members of the Houston Atheists warned – venture outside the city limits and it’ll be a different story. Not one I’m particularly yearning to read.

One final note – I was asked to toss in a fish picture, so here’s a photo of a seahorse from Roatan. They’re a rare and special sight, and we saw several. Fun fact – when seahorses mate, the female deposits the eggs into a pouch on the male’s abdomen. His body swells and he incubates the eggs until they hatch. Now doesn’t that sound like ‘intelligent design’?       – Dorothy Stephens

HAAM Takes On Apologetics – Part 2

Two of our members were recently interviewed by a pastor for a church conference designed to teach Christians how to defend their faith to non-believers.

In Part 2 of his report, Pat Morrow describes his weekend at that conference. Both parts of his report appear on our Perspectives page. You can read Part 2 here.

HAAM Takes on Apologetics – Part 2

If you missed Part 1, go back and start there first.

Welcome to Christian Apologetics

Fellow HAAM member Tony Governo and I were invited to the recent apologetics conference held at Riverwood Church after being interviewed in preparation for it. The title of the conference was “(Un)Apologetic” and its sub heading was “Rational, Gracious, True.” I will say our hosts were gracious, so, as I was about to find out, one out of three isn’t bad.

The parking lot was filling up fast even though I got there early, and just inside the doors it was shoulder to shoulder at the registration desk as people figured out what line they were supposed to be in. The fella beside me nodded in greeting, and I offered a “good morning”, to which he replied “hey, aren’t you the atheist guy from last week?” (referring to the Apologetics video in which I had appeared the previous Sunday). I replied yes, and gave a proper introduction. He thanked me for coming even though I was probably “out of my comfort zone”, to which I responded “actually no, I speak to religious people all the time, though the web and our organization’s outreach programs; and besides, Christians haven’t burnt one of us at the stake in over 200 years, so I feel quite safe”. He laughed.

So began my first Christian apologetics conference. I picked up a cappuccino and strolled over to the book table. Lots of books on apologetics and Christian living, and lots of authors I hadn’t heard of, which is not unusual; even if one pays attention to apologetics, the Christian publishing industry is prolific. In North America there are just under a hundred exclusively Christian publishers pumping out books. One name stood out for me, though – Paul Copan – only because he’s one of those apologists who defends the moral character of the god of the Old Testament. Defenders of genocide stick out in my mind and turn the stomachs of humanists. I picked up his book When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Every Day Apologetics. I opened it to a random page and saw the following: “Lesbianism, though more complex, is often motivated by seeking protection from unsafe men – often because of sexual abuse or witnessing domestic violence.” Eeuw! This is standard apologetic thinking, and it gets worse from there – but not worth the $18 to see just how bad. It was time to refresh my coffee, meet Tony, and head in.

The conference was led by apologists Steve Kim, who holds a masters in Christian apologetics from Biola University, and Dan Rutherford, a pastor/author who gives lectures on apologetics but currently works as the manager of marketing and business development at Fast Air. They use a Ravi Zacharias/William Lane Craig style of apologetics. For those who are not familiar with that, it just means lots of words with not much substance; the basic principles of logic are co-opted when useful and discarded when not.

The conference centered around these two apologists and 4 questions.

1.Why is God hiding? Or maybe he doesn’t really exist?

2.Doesn’t science disprove God?

3. The Bible is full of myths, mistakes and contradictions! Then how can anyone trust the Bible?

4. There are 4200 different religions! How can Christians claim that their way is the only way to God?

A Few Basics about Apologetics

Before we get started on these questions, there are certain points that should be mentioned for the benefit of folks who are unfamiliar with this type of Christian apologetics.

Apologetics is not meant to change the mind of a nonbeliever; instead it’s an attempt to reinforce supernatural belief in those who already believe. No one becomes convinced of the existence of God by the ontological argument, the teleological argument, or the transcendental argument. In my opinion, Christian apologetics is wasted on the rational thinker if conversion is the goal. We can see the gaping holes in their reasoning and arguments, but to be clear, we see these holes not because we are any smarter, but because of how we approach the subject. Humanists/atheists/sceptics approach apologetics with a critical eye and a hope to understand, whereas religious believers are looking for information that will reinforce their preconceived ideas of what is true. For the believer, adding a healthy dose of conformation bias to Christian apologetics seems reasonable and reinforces their beliefs.

Apologists very often work with incorrect assumptions about us (atheists and Humanists).

  • First, they believe that atheism is the active rejection of their God; for them, atheism is an assertion, or a blanket statement that God does not exist. This is strange to me because I have never encountered an atheist who holds this position. (Atheism is merely a lack of belief in gods or the rejection of theistic claims.) This tactic is simply an attempt to shift the burden of proof, because in order for many forms of apologetics to work, shifting of the burden of proof is necessary.
  • Second, they believe that atheism is also a philosophy, although I don’t know where they get this idea from; and when you ask them what the philosophy of atheism is, they can’t tell you.
  • Third, they also assert that atheism is a religion – or at the very least, a worldview.
  • Finally, the most important concept that one has to understand to truly grasp Christian apologetics is: The Bible is true (except when it’s not), and this is based on each individual’s interpretation of Scripture. Some get it right, some not, and there’s no empirical way to tell the difference…

With those explanations out of the way, welcome to apologetics.

Speeches from the Apologists

 Question 1: “Is God hiding? Maybe he doesn’t exist?” – Apologist Steve Kim

Probably one of the most powerful arguments for atheism is divine hiddenness. Steve Kim saves this primary question to the last 10 minutes of his 40-minute talk. Most of his time is spent offering personal testimony, and explaining how the Big Bang theory proves Genesis, and quite a bit of time is spent on William Lane Craig’s Kalam cosmological argument. Various other arguments get a mention, such as the ontological argument and the argument from design.  In the rationalist community we often refer to these arguments as P.R.A.T.T. (Points Refuted A Thousand Times).  I won’t cover them here but if one is interested in looking up the arguments (and learning why they fail), the Iron Chariots website is an excellent resource.

In the last ten minutes, we finally get to the primary question “Why is god hidden?” Kim breaks it down to three points:

  1. Somehow seeing god would take away our free will. God will not mess with our free will because that would turn us into automatons (or some such thing). Because of his beauty we will have no choice but to serve him. (Christians assume that free will is given to them by god, but they don’t define it, nor can they demonstrate what they mean by it. Humanists and atheists, on the other hand, are generally determinists. We believe that free will doesn’t exist except in a very limited sense, because that’s all we have evidence for.)

  I’ve always found this a strange counter to the problem of divine hiddenness, since God made himself known to several characters in the Old Testament. Lucifer himself has personal knowledge of God “in the flesh” so to speak, and it didn’t seem to affect his free will. Unless of course we are to make the assumption that God is controlling Lucifer?

  1. This one was surprising – God is hidden because, to quote apologist Steve Kim directly, “if your heart is already hardened, it may be impossible for God to turn you around”. This one begs many questions. All people are not saveable? There are things that are impossible for god? Kim ends this point by using Richard Dawkins as an example of a man who has chosen to go to hell.
  2. Even if god showed himself, many would still not love him. Kim relates the story of Moses coming down the mountain with the Ten Commandments. After everything God did to free the Israelites, they rejected him and built themselves a golden calf; a false god. All I could think of after Kim made the point was: why would I want to worship a god with such low self-esteem issues?

  Kim finishes up by telling us how God has already revealed himself through his invisible attributes, infinite power, and general and special revelations though scripture. And he proves his point thoroughly by using scripture. If our readers are wondering what that means, in the real world we give it a name; we call it nonsense.

Question 2: “Doesn’t science disprove God?” – Apologist Dan Rutherford

I found this question rather strange, as I’ve not heard any one make the claim that it does.  A much better question, in my opinion, would be “Does Science disprove the claims of the bible?” But hey, not my conference. I suppose it is easier for an apologist to answer the question if you ask a question that nobody is asking.

The wording of this whole talk was cringe-worthy; it was full of half-truths, blind assertions, and incomplete information, such as:

  • Modern science was started by Christianity, and many scientists are devout Christians (we heard this throughout the conference whenever the topic of science came up).
  • Absolutely no mention of the religious oppression of rational thought throughout history – Copernicus hiding his manuscripts of Heliocentric theory from the church, Galileo’s imprisonment, Giordano Bruno’s burning at the stake, none of it.

The actual talk had very little to do with the question presented; most of the time was spent trying to demonstrate the compatibility of religion and science. I really hope this speech will be posted publicly; it is so bad that it would make an excellent teaching aid for counter-apologetics.

It’s not without its humour though. In an attempt to discredit Richard Dawkins’ definition of faith, Rutherford offers his own definition – “Faith is an evidence-based commitment established on the empirical and experiential realities, such as history, testimony, revelation, and inference”. Richard Dawkins’ definition of faith comes directly from common usage and the Bible (Hebrews 11:1) – “Faith is belief without evidence; very often belief in spite of the evidence”. The humor comes a little later, when Rutherford cautions the audience not to use ideas that are “unbiblical”; rather ironic, since Rutherford’s definition of faith can be found nowhere in the Bible. For more on biblical faith and how it’s used by Christians, I recommend this excellent article by Aron Ra.

Question 3: The Bible is full of myths, mistakes and contradictions! Then how can anyone trust the Bible?

and

Question 4: There are 4200 different religions! How can Christians claim there is the only way to God? 

The last two sessions were simply a combination of apologetics and a Sunday sermon, grounded in circular reasoning and weak-to-nonexistent evidence. This took the form as arguments such as:

  • We know that some of the places and characters in the bible existed; therefore, its true.
  • We know that Jesus rose because they found the tomb empty.

The last talk, by professional apologist Steve Kim, mostly compared Christianity to other religions, discussed the supposed historical accuracy of the gospels, and ended with an emotional and graphic description of Jesus having his flesh ripped open by a cat ‘o nine tails and full details of crucifixion.

Now crucifixion, as the ancient Romans practiced it, is grotesque, and represents the pinnacle of human cruelty. If you’ve read about it in historical records, you can’t help but be emotionally moved. I would actually not recommend reading accurate historical accounts of this torture process if you have a weak stomach. Apologist Steve Kim used a graphic account of this torture to elicit an emotional response in the congregation, in order to sell his religion and make it seem more real. I found that despicable and at the same time ironic, as Christians the world over celebrate this slow torture and agonizing death as a good thing.

Panel “Discussion”

One part of the conference I was really looking forward to was what they called a “panel” (not to be confused with a discussion, as there was little of that). It was about a half an hour long and consisted of myself and four other panelists: a Sikh, a Buddhist, a Jew, and a Muslim. Each panelist had previously been sent a list of 10 questions that may or may not all be covered, so that they could prepare. During the briefing immediately before the panel, this was reduced to two questions, one of which wasn’t even in the original 10. It was also explained that we had a minute (an actual minute) to introduce ourselves and explain the core of our religion. I did suggest that a minute was cutting it quite thin, and corrected Dennis as I have had to do every time he brought it up … Humanism is not a religion.

Dennis explained that there would be a rapid-fire round of yes/no questions, but no Q & A afterward. Of course, from a humanist perspective, I found the questions fairly easy to answer. However, they were not easy for the other folks on the panel. The question “does your religion offer salvation” is not a yes/no answer for the Sikh, Buddhist, or Jew, and even the Muslim put her hand up half way. The final question, which was the same for all of us, was “How does your religion help us going forward?” This question was incredibly vague, and I had to ask for clarification. I must say it give me great pleasure to tell Dennis on stage that again, Humanism is not a religion.

Impressions and Conclusions

Overall, Tony and I found that this apologetics conference was kind of what we expected – self-serving and predictable. At various points during the conference we found we knew the answers, including the apologetics arguments they were going to use, before they used them. If they had allowed liquor, Tony and I could’ve made an awesome drinking game out of it. I guess if I had to choose the one thing that bothered me the most, it was the feeling of disingenuousness. I do realize that the purpose of these conferences is to equip religious believers to defend the faith; however, what they’re being equipped with is neither rational, gracious, nor true. Many of the folks I spoke to during the breaks, much to my delight, could see the missteps and the logical fallacies in the apologists’ arguments. Of course, there are still plenty of credulous people in the crowd ready and willing to believe. I don’t believe that apologetics helps the average Joe in the pew understand his religion any better; it’s probably closer to a form of mental masturbation for the true believer. In fact, not being honest with parishioners may be a detriment to their religious belief in the long term.

Two odd points to note. First, during the conference there was no mention of Humanism other than on the panel (discussion), and I was the one to mention it. A Humanist appeared in one of their videos and on their panel. But neither apologist touched Humanism with a 10-foot pole.

Lastly, I’ve come to the conclusion that apologists, at least at this conference, either hate Richard Dawkins or think he is the pope of atheism. His name came up a lot, in quotes from his books and films. Keep in mind that the two apologists spoke four times for 40 minutes each time, and in that time Dawkins cropped up either by mention or direct quote 23 times (yes, I counted). Contrast that with quotes from other atheists – Lawrence Krauss, and Bertram Russell got one quote each, and Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris got a mention each.

In the end, I can’t speak for Tony, but this will be probably be my first and last apologetics conference. If it is ever the case that I’m invited to another, I’m going to have to ask for equal time.

Final Thoughts

(Un)Apologetic was an effort for Riverwood Church to explore a “robust defense” of their faith. It consisted of the conference and a series of six videos which have just been completed. If there was ever any doubt that apologetics suffers from internal conflict, it was revealed for all to hear in the words of the speakers as they contradicted each other.

As explained in Question 2 (above), apologist Dan Rutherford claims that faith is based on evidence and reality. But in the last two minutes of the final video (Evil and Suffering), Riverwood’s pastor, Todd Petkau, states (paraphrased) “After logic, reason, theories, and evidence, we still need faith”.

It seems that Pastor Petkau has a different definition of faith than apologist Dan Rutherford. Petkau’s faith appears to be based on something other than reason and evidence. Looks more like belief without evidence.

Pastor Petkau ends the series with the question “Is Jesus enough for you?” As a Humanist, I can honestly say no. We can do so much better.

– Pat Morrow

February 2017 Newsletter

Upcoming Events

The Theory of Evolution in Humanistic Thought

Saturday, February 11th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Ave, 5:30 – 8:30 PM

HAAM and Eggs Brunch

Saturday, February 25th, 9:30 AM at the Original Pancake House in the Forks Market. Note the time change – we’re meeting an hour earlier to avoid the rush.

For more information on these and future events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.

You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.

Latest News

HAAM Condemns Religious Violence

The Humanists, Atheists, & Agnostics of Manitoba wholeheartedly condemn the violence that has devastated the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec. We strongly believe that no matter what our ethnic origins or our religious beliefs (or non-beliefs), we are all unique human beings, and none of us deserve to undergo such horrors.

The actions of the gunman do NOT represent the views of the vast majority of Canadians. Our sympathies go out to the family and friends of all the victims, as well as anyone who is now feeling unsafe in their own house of worship. We are thinking about you.

Meet Your Executive Team for 2017

The following board members were elected at our AGM in January:

President – Donna Harris                                                                      Vice-president – Pat Morrow

Secretary – Rick Dondo                                                                         Treasurer – Henry Kreindler

Members at Large:

Tammy Blanchette                                                                                  Norm Goertzen

Tony Governo                                                                                           Sherry Lyn Marginet

Dorothy Stephens                                                                                   Jim Taylor

Mandy Wood

Welcome Mandy!

New this year!

We will be adding two new ex-officio (non-voting) members to our executive, to liaise with our rural chapters.

Helen Friesen has stepped down from HAAM’s exec after 20 years (thank you Helen!), but will now represent the Eastman Humanist Community (Steinbach area). The rep for the Pembina Valley Secular Community (Morden-Winkler area) is yet to be decided (and will likely need to remain anonymous).

Charity of the Month

In keeping with February’s theme of evolution, it’s fitting that we help our fellow creatures, since we share so much of our DNA with them. Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre has been helping Manitoba wildlife since 1984.

Their mission is to

  1. Rehabilitate injured, sick and orphaned wildlife for their return back to the wild, and
  2. Educate about awareness, appreciation and peaceful coexistence with wildlife.

Rescue. Rehabilitate. Release.

Wildlife Haven is permitted to rehabilitate and care for injured, sick and orphaned birds, including raptors (eagles, hawks, owls, falcons); mammals, including rabbits, squirrels, bats, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats; and amphibians/reptiles (turtles, frogs, salamanders, snakes). People finding these animals can call for advice, or to arrange pick-up or drop-off of the animal to the centre. More info is available on their website.

Wildlife Haven also runs an educational program, featuring wildlife ambassadors such as owls, hawks and falcons, and reptiles and amphibians, suitable for schools, service clubs, community events, senior living centres, etc.

Volunteers started Wildlife Haven out of their backyards before moving to the University of Manitoba’s Glenlea Research Station in 1993. In 2008 it moved to a retired dairy barn in Île des Chênes, and in 2015, construction began on a permanent home with a wildlife rehabilitation hospital and education centre. Future plans include a waterfowl overwintering enclosure, a variety of outdoor wildlife enclosures, raptor flyways, a natural wetland pond, a prairie tall grass site and a fruit orchard for wildlife and humans to enjoy. Let’s support this valuable work!

Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal link on the right sidebar. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.

HAAM Receives a Bequest

We recently received two whole boxes of books donated by a friend of Helen Friesen‘s who passed away last fall and left his entire collection to HAAM. His name was Hank Neufeld, and Helen says that “he was a very outspoken atheist and he had a lot of books”. She traveled to Swift Current, Saskatchewan to preside at his memorial service, and brought the books back with her.

This is an interesting collection, dating back many years. A number of the books are about religious persecution and politics, and several are polemics against the Catholic Church. Quite a few have historical value, and/or are about religious history. Some bear a stamp indicating that they once belonged to the now-defunct Society of Prairie Atheists in Biggar Sask.

Our sincere condolences go out to Hank’s widow, Joyce, and all of his family, along with a huge thank-you for this wonderful donation. You can find the list of new books on our Library page.

Outreach Report: World Religions Class

January brought us out to Green Valley School in Grunthal, Manitoba for what has become a biannual visit to Michael Zwaagstra’s high-school class. This was a first for me of sorts, as we usually meet with his Ethics class; this was our first time speaking to his World Religions class. It was also the first time I teamed up with fellow HAAM member Tammy Blanchette. I hope to see more of Tammy in outreach. When it came to the Q & A portion of the class, I often found myself thinking “Geez, I wish I’d thought to answer the question that way.” As has been mentioned in the past, we do these classes in pairs (just like the Mormons). This is not so much for mutual support or even safety, but because Humanism is a very diverse belief system – if you’re just beginning to understand it, it helps to hear different perspectives.
The demographic of the Grunthal area is Christian, and the students we have talked to over the past five years or so are exclusively Christian. Michael Zwaagstra himself is an excellent educator, and judging from his personal writings and the exchanges I have read and engaged in with him, he is an unabashed Christian. Knowing that, and after reading a previous syllabus from his class, I realize that these classes have a definite Christian bias. But I still have to offer kudos to Mr Zwaagstra, as he is giving young people the opportunity to meet many who don’t share their worldview. He has had Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and yes, Christians, come visit his classes. In the Manitoba school system there are a few other schools that offer a world religions-type class, but to my knowledge no one else brings in guest speakers who allow the students to, as they say, “get it from the horse’s mouth”.  In today’s world, it’s imperative for each of us to understand at least the basics of each other’s beliefs, and it baffles my mind that more schools don’t make comparative religion a requirement. Mr. Zwaagstra and other educators are working to remedy that.
The class was about thirty students this time. Most every year they are asked to look into Humanism and check out our website before our visit. Much to my delight and surprise, this year they actually did (that has never happened before). Based on their questions, it seems that most of them stuck to just the website, which is unfortunate. Humanism has a deep, rich history to be explored. I would have preferred that they learn more about the humanistic ideas of the ancients, spanning the great societies of Greece, Rome, India, and the Far East. Or they could take a more modern approach and examine ever-evolving documents such as the Humanist Manifesto (I, II, and III). And of course, the Amsterdam Declaration of 2002, which covers the fundamental principles of Humanism today.
Over the few years I’ve been doing this, the classes seem to follow a pattern – Introduction, Presentation, and then a Q & A (to which no one ever wants to ask the first question). Once the first question is out there, the gates open, but this too follows a pattern – about 30% of the class asks 100% of the questions. I often wonder about the students who remain silent. Are they indoctrinated to the point that they think we are ‘of the devil?’ Are some of them closeted atheists who fear they might be outed if they ask the wrong question? I suppose it could be that some kids just don’t like asking questions, or possibly don’t even want to be there. But the latter I find hard to believe, since this is an elective course.

Tammy and I fielded all the usual questions – where we come from, the Big Bang theory, morality, and what we do in outreach. Since it seems they kept their research primarily to HAAM’s website, we spoke about some of the content of the site, such as a public exchange about faith and the historicity of the exodus between myself and Mr Zwaagstra. Some students had questions regarding the article I wrote about Southland Church’s connection to churches that support the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act (better known as the kill-the-gays bill). This was of special interest to a few of the students who attend Southland Church.

As these conversations go, they sometimes turn to the unusual. We talked about such concepts as speaking in tongues and being ‘slain in the spirit ‘. Both are backed by the ‘solid evidence’ of personal experience and what some believe is empirical evidence in the form of this Nightline video.

These parts of the discussion can be quite difficult, especially when talking to young people who have had these ideas reinforced for most, if not all, of their lives. This is why just talking about what we believe and why we believe it in outreach is so important. We’re under no illusions that we can change the minds of believers; it’s their right to believe what they choose. But through discussion and debate we can light the spark of critical thinking and rational thought. And that will create a better world for all of us.

In Brief

HAAM Joins Human Rights Hub

We are now listed as a member organization on the new Human Rights Hub of Winnipeg. The Human Rights Hub provides a central space to coordinate and promote the events and activities of the many individuals and groups in Winnipeg taking action on human rights issues! Their website includes a calendar for human rights events; current employment and volunteer opportunities; profiles of Winnipeg organizations active in human rights issues; and a blog to learn what organizations are up to in our city. Check it out!

Our First Brunch was a Big Success!

What a lovely, bright morning at the Forks. It was Pat Morrow who said “I’m going to invite folks to a brunch.  Doesn’t really matter if anyone shows up, I’ll be there.” Well, the night before the RSVPs totaled 22 people. By our count, 27 Humanists showed up at the Original Pancake House at the Forks! Pat had the wait staff scrambling to seat all of us.

It was a great opportunity for good food and good conversation.  We had a mix of long term members, a few who we haven’t seen in a while, and some new faces as well!  Grant and I sat by a young couple with their toddler. They were really kind and interesting. Let’s hope they come out to a regular meeting.

By a fluke/coincidence, we also met another new person, just because there wasn’t room left for her to sit!  She was there to join another Meetup group, but they had no more seats at their table. She asked if she could sit with us and we all said sure!! Turns out, she’s one of “us”. And according to Mandy Wood, she was “amazing” and a pleasure to talk with. Click here for a photo of a few of the attendees.

We’ll definitely do a brunch again. Thank you to everyone who came out! And special thanks to Pat for organizing the morning.                                                                                                                                                              – Donna Harris

We’re Standing Up for Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights Worldwide

On January 23rd 2017, in one of his first acts as President, Donald Trump re-enacted the Global Gag Rule, prohibiting foreign NGOs receiving U.S. assistance related to family planning and reproductive health from using non-U.S. funding to provide abortion services, information, counseling, or referrals, and from engaging in advocacy for access to safe abortion services. Trump’s version of the Global Gag Rule is even more extreme than past administrations, and will extend to all global health assistance provided across US departments.

In response, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights drafted a public statement calling on the Government of Canada and other sexual and reproductive rights allies to increase development financing in this area and to champion these issues within diplomatic efforts. The statement will be shared with Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland.

HAAM has added its name to the list of signatories who support the statement.

Call to Action! Please write to your MP to add your individual support. Click here for a template letter.

Book of the Month

In The Bonobo and the Atheist, primatologist Frans de Waal relates personal accounts of his work with primate species. He has spent years studying the similarities and differences between primate social societies and our own, concentrating mostly on morality, empathy, sympathy, altruism and a few other behaviours that many mistakenly deem as solely human attributes.

As a result of these studies, De Waal argues that moral behavior does not begin and end with religion but is in fact a product of evolution. His research demonstrates that human kindness is a biological feature of our species and not something that has to be imposed on us by religious teaching.

Nevertheless, De Waal defends religion in this book, (even although he is an atheist himself), referring to it as cultural scaffolding that builds upon and enhances biologically innate moral rules. He appears to accept the view of science and religion as ‘non-overlapping magisteria’. This has resulted in some interesting critical reviews, particularly from non-believers who are angry with him for giving religion a pass.

Is De Waal too soft on religion, or are his critics just bitter, as De Waal’s defenders claim? Why not read it and decide for yourself? Find it in our Library.

HAAM Takes On Apologetics

Two of our members were recently interviewed by a Christian pastor who wants to understand the worldview of non-believers so that he can coach his parishioners to refute it. That experience makes for a very interesting report from Pat Morrow.

His article appears on our Perspectives page. You can read it here.

HAAM Takes On Apologetics – Part 1

Invitation to an Apologetics Conference

HAAM was recently contacted by Pastor Dennis Maione of the Riverwood Church Community. He was looking to interview Humanists/atheists with the idea of coming to a better understanding of what we believe, and exposing his fellow Christians to ideas that may be foreign to them. Or, as he put it in his letter:

Many of the people who go to my church have little to no significant contact with people who do not share their beliefs; and if they do, there is rarely open dialogue between them. So I am looking for people who would be willing to talk on camera (one-on-one interviews with me) about the foundations of their view of the world.”

Sunday service at Riverwood Church, in an old firehall

To me that sounded pretty good; as a Humanist actively involved in outreach, open dialogue with people who don’t think the same as me is something I enjoy and right up my alley.  Tony Governo also offered to participate, so we did separate one-on-one interviews. My interview would take place at Pastor Maione’s coffee shop, and it would be simply a discussion with no debate – again, right up my alley. Truly a conversation worth having.

I figured something was amiss when the coffee shop turned out to be a church with a coffee shop in it – part of the Riverwood Church Community. While reading through their website, I made a mental note that they have an apologetics conference coming up… Hmmm. So I met with Dennis at Riverwood and found that they were shooting for a conference and video series called (Un)apologetic. To be fair, he did give me the final yes or no on how the video would be used, but fostering a better understanding is quite different from appearing in a video promoting Christianity. Thing is, if they had been straight up I would’ve done the interview anyway! But at least now I know that this really wasn’t about open dialogue and a better understanding; it was about defending the faith with apologetics, specifically Christian apologetics. I went ahead with the interview.

For those unfamiliar, the word apologetics derives from the Greek word apologia or apologize – to speak in defence. Now everybody at some point engages in apologetics; speaking in defence of one’s worldview is a right closely tied in with freedom of speech. However religious apologetics is a different kettle of fish. Most forms of Christian apologetics are grounded in what’s known as confirmation bias (including the evidence that agrees with your view and discounting or ignoring the evidence that doesn’t). It also relies on logical fallacies such as the strawman argument (misrepresenting someone’s argument to make it easier to attack). Obfuscation is also popular, but at its worst, Christian apologetics just makes shit up.

Case in point:  The first video of the (Un)apologetic series “Where did we (and everything) come from“, hosted by Pastor Todd Petkau, is about he origins of the universe. At the nine-minute mark we finally get to Big Bang cosmology. If you have even a basic grasp of physics, the pastor’s explanation of Big Bang theory will make you cringe. The pastor then asks: Where did the Big Bang came from? This is a question much studied by cosmologists, physicists and astronomers. For the answer he offers video clips from some of the world’s leading scientists – Richard Dawkins (PhD in evolutionary biology), Peter Atkins (PhD in chemistry), and Lewis Wolpert (PhD in developmental biology). See the problem? If one has hemorrhoids, one does not consult a dentist.

The most dishonest and frankly humorous part of this apologetic video is a clip cut from a William Lane Craig vs Lewis Wolpert debate in 2007. At 20:30, with proper set up and clever editing, Wolpert is made to look as though he is offering the idea that the creator of the universe is a computer. Wolpert then gives this computer all the same attributes that Craig ascribes to his creator god; to which Craig complains that these attributes are impossible – not coherent and a contradiction in terms. In effect, Wolpert just had Craig agree that the attributes of his own God are nonsense. How this clip got by the producers of the apologetics video, I have no idea. The apologetics video then continues to drag on for quite some time, misrepresenting evolutionary theory, atheism, and humanistic moral theory. (If you would like to look at the original debate that the Wolpert clip is mined from, and view it in context, you can find it here, with the relevant part at 1:16:15 to 1:19:00. In that clip you will find that Dr Wolpert does give his very honest opinion about what started the universe – he simply doesn’t know.)

The second apologetics video “How can you worship a God that commits genocide” is pretty bad, too. I know – I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to watch it in Riverwood Church. And I came to a full understanding of the reason why church services never have Q & A. In this second video you will learn that genocide really isn’t genocide (we’re not using the word correctly), that parts of the Old Testament are hyperbole (but we’re not told which ones), and my favourite – that the wars to wipe out the Midianites, Amalekites, and Canaanites were not genocide; they were Israel’s armies engaging fixed military positions. He offers the fallacious idea that these were soldier-to-soldier battles, when we know that Yahweh commands the death of every man, women, child, and in some battles even the livestock.  (“Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.Numbers 31:15-18 See also 1 Samuel 15:3). Does this sound like a strictly military engagement? I suppose Pastor Petkau is counting on his parishioners not actually reading the Bible. You can watch the second apologetics video here.

You might be asking yourself why the hell Tony and I would take part in the project if apologetics is this weak and frankly dishonest. Well, any exposure atheists and Humanists can get with religious believers dispels some of the myths they have of us. The video in question will be produced by Dennis Maione, the gentleman who interviewed me, and we have some creative control so I’m fairly comfortable with that. Finally, many of the folks who will be taking the apologetics course will swallow the information (and misinformation) hook, line, and sinker – without ever talking to people who think differently than they do. Participating in these interviews has given us a chance to talk to these folks where they are most comfortable, since the kind folks over at Riverwood were nice enough to give Tony and I free tickets to their (Un)apologetic conference February 3-5th… So in a nutshell, the Vice President and one of the lead outreach members of a provincial Humanist/atheist organization are going to a three-day apologetics conference along with 200+ evangelical Christians – and they know we’re coming.

I, for one, am looking forward to talking to a professional Christian apologist. I just hope there’s a bar.

Pat Morrow

Continued in HAAM Takes on Apologetics – Part 2

Pat’s and Tony’s original uncut interviews can be seen here

 

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