Upcoming HAAM Events
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
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
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.
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.
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!”
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.
A Biblical Challenge
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.
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.
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?
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.”
“…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?
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.
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
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
- 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
- Had a bad experience in church/religion or with a pastor/clergy member
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
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
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
- Rehabilitate injured, sick and orphaned wildlife for their return back to the wild, and
- 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.
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.
The Humanism of Star Trek
Saturday, November 19th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Avenue, 5:30 – 8:30 PM
Secular Parents’ Book Club Meeting
Thursday, November 24th, 7 – 9 PM, location TBA
Winter Solstice Party
Saturday December 17th, Heritage-Victoria Community Club, 950 Sturgeon Road, 5:30 PM
For more information on these 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.
Prayer at City Hall Update
Tony Governo has filed a formal complaint about the prayers at city council meetings with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. He recently learned that his complaint has been registered. This means that it will be served on the Respondent (the City). They will be asked to provide a reply within 30 days. Then the complaint will be investigated, which could take 8-10 months from the time it is assigned. The investigator then makes a recommendation to the Board. The Board then decides to dismiss or take to next stage.
Tony was recently interviewed by CTV News about the threats he received on social media after his complaint. And also in October, Edmonton’s city council decided to comply with the Supreme Court ruling and ended the practice of opening their meetings with prayer. After contemplating a ‘moment of reflection’ instead, they ultimately decided that it made more sense to just skip the whole thing and just get down to business. Wouldn’t it be nice if Winnipeg could do the same?
If you have not previously read about this issue, you can catch up here.
Openly Secular Day is Tuesday, November 15th
Are you openly secular? Not everyone is – and not everyone can be. Too many people cannot reveal that they no longer believe, for fear of negative repercussions from their family, business/employment, friends, or community. But if we’re ever going to reduce the stigma of being a non-believer, and dispel the notion that atheists believe in ‘nothing’, more people have to come out of the closet.
The mission of the Openly Secular Campaign is to decrease discrimination and increase acceptance of atheists and Humanists by encouraging as many people as possible to let others know that they are non-religious. November 15th is Openly Secular Day, and it’s no accident that the date is just around the beginning of the holiday season – a time when so many people get together with family and friends. The goal on that day is to have as many people as possible ‘come out’ to just one other person. If you can do this, check out their website for more information and resources, and to take the ‘One Person Pledge’.
October event recap
October was a busy month! Our evening showing of the film A Better Life: An Exploration of Joy and Meaning in a World Without God was truly inspirational. President Donna Harris opened with a brief presentation about what Humanism is and how it differs from atheism. A big thank-you goes to Kumaran Reddy for recording it for us.
For a number of people, it was their first HAAM event, and one of those new people won our door prize – a copy of the book version of A Better Life. If you were unable to attend that evening, it is possible to view the film at home for a small fee. Check it out here.
If you couldn’t make it to our meeting to learn about the Humanist Outreach program in Uganda, and HAAM’s support of a secular school there, you missed a great evening. You can read news coverage of the meeting here.
Watch this short (2 minute) video message from Robert Bwambale of Kasese Humanist School.
Here is our sponsored student, John Bogere, saying hello to us.
Religious Exercises in Schools?
Just a reminder – Section 84(8) of the Manitoba Public Schools Act reads “If a petition asking for religious exercises, signed by the parents or guardians of 75% of the pupils in the case of a school having fewer than 80 pupils or by the parents or guardians of at least 60 pupils in the case of a school having an enrolment of 80 or more pupils, is presented to the school board, religious exercises shall be conducted for the children of those parents or guardians in that school year.”
This petition must come from the parents/community, NOT the school. The Minister of Education has ruled that public schools must be non-sectarian and that staff at the school cannot participate in recruiting students for prayer groups by contacting parents or sending home permission slips to be signed. It has come to our attention that some schools are still doing this, and one school division recently ended the practice simply because a parent brought it to the attention of the superintendent.
If this is still happening at your child’s school, we would like to know about it. Please contact us.
Call to Action – Speak up about Operation Christmas Child
If you’re involved in a school or other organization that collects for Operation Christmas Child, there are some very good reasons NOT to participate – even if you’re Christian (and especially if you’re not).
Spread the word!
Book of the Month – Pale Blue Dot
With Star Trek as our meeting topic, this seems like a good month to feature a book about our place in the universe. We have a copy of Carl Sagan’s 1994 classic Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. The title is, of course, based on the famous photograph of the same name – a picture of the Earth from 4 billion miles away, taken by Voyager 1 in 1991 as it approached the outer limits of our solar system.
The book begins by examining the idea that humans think they are uniquely important in this vast universe. Sagan continues by exploring our solar system in detail, and discussing the possibility of life on other planets, suggesting that our very survival may depend on the wise use of other worlds. He argues that in order to save the human race, space colonization and terraforming (the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying the atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology of another planet or moon to make it habitable by Earth-like life) should be considered.
Watch this very moving tribute to Sagan and the Pale Blue Dot, produced by Seth Andrews (The Thinking Atheist). It’s only 5 minutes long.
Charity of the Month – The North Point Douglas Women’s Centre
The North Point Douglas Women’s Centre is just east of Main Street, near Dufferin Avenue. The address alone provides a wealth of information about the clients it serves. Its mission is to promote a safe, healthy, vibrant community for women and families, by offering programs designed to provide support, training, resources, and opportunities to women in the area. The centre arose out of a project sponsored by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg in 2000, to address problems caused by poverty and a lack of resources. Today it is a community hub where women and their families gather.
- A drop-in safe space with snacks, activities, computer and phone access, laundry facilities, and a clothing and household items collection
- Counselling and domestic violence recovery support
- A neighborhood oven for community baking and events
- Community safety programs
- Health, fitness, and nutrition programs
- Support and referrals for women dealing with stressors such as shelter, employment, emergency food and clothing, school, Child and Family Services involvement, legal help, Employment and Income Assistance disputes, daycare, etc.
What to Donate
Currently, the centre has a particular need for the following items that they go through very quickly
- Feminine hygiene products
- Baby formula
Please bring these items to the monthly meeting and we will deliver them to the centre. Of course, money likely wouldn’t be turned down, either. 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 message letting us know that the money is for the charity.
Partners for Life Update
Yay! HAAM members are now up to 15 donations for 2016! We have 11 members registered in the program, 7 of whom have donated at least once this year. We’re still just ahead of Steinbach Bible College, (with 13 donations), and there are almost 2 months to go! Let’s get a few more units in by New Year.
There’s no prize for donating blood – just bragging rights and the satisfaction that comes from knowing that Humanists are helping their fellow humans. So get out there and do it!
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 attend one of these mobile clinics in the Winnipeg area.
Here are two new points worth noting (thanks Janine Guinn):
- The recommended time between donations for women is being increased to 84 days, because of the ongoing risk of low hemoglobin. (The interval for men remains at 56 days.)
- If you book an appointment at least 48 hours ahead, you can now have your pre-donation health questions sent by email and complete them online before you go, saving a bunch of time.
Note that you must register with the Partners for Life program in order for your donation to be credited to HAAM. Click here for more information and instructions on how to sign up.
We Need You!
It’s time to start looking ahead again to the upcoming year. Please consider volunteering to serve on our executive! We need people who are enthusiastic about building a supportive community, promoting a secular society with fairness for all, and advocating for critical thinking in the larger world. If you can contribute ideas, energy, time, and/or effort, you’re welcome to join us! The more committed people we have, the more we can accomplish.
Meetings are usually held monthly, (dates and times determined by mutual availability), with online contact in between. Please consider volunteering, or accepting the offer to join if you are approached. Many hands make light work, and enable HAAM to offer more events and programs, and make a bigger difference to our members and community.
Elections will be held at our AGM on January 14th – so you have some time to think about it or talk to members of our current executive if you have questions.
Outreach has been very busy since our last newsletter. Tony Governo and Tammy Blanchette have been out to speak to another high school class in southern Manitoba. I enjoyed meeting with a local hospital chaplain who is taking a class on world religions in an effort to become better at his job in spiritual care. His overall goal was to learn how to best to approach a “Humanist/atheist person” (his words) with regards to their spiritual care. It was a helluva starting point, but the ensuing discussion was interesting for two people who are, metaphorically speaking, from different planets.
A little later in October, Donna Harris and I (with Todd De Ryck along as an observer) spoke to a U of W class called “Crises in Faith” – an exploration of five major contemporary critiques of religion. We explained the usual atheism and Humanistic philosophy. The students’ questions were sometimes challenging, and as often happens when discussing philosophy, the conversation goes off in the strangest directions. We found ourselves having to explain why, when making societal decisions, both religious and non-religious people are welcome at the table of ideas, but religion itself shouldn’t and can’t be granted special privileges. I also found myself in the really odd position of explaining why the national socialism of the Nazis in the middle of the twentieth century was not a secular government. This is why we love outreach and especially visiting school classes; you really don’t know what someone will say next.
We’re looking forward to November and our visit to the newly formed Steinbach Humanist group; that should be fun. – Pat Morrow
When Good Intentions Cross Ethical Lines
HAAM’s VP Pat Morrow recently contacted Southland Church (Steinbach) to express his concerns about their association with organizations whose conduct in Uganda is unethical. Below, he explains those concerns and then discusses Southland’s response.
An Ethical Question
When the actions of a person or organization include both good and bad, when does the good outweigh the bad? At what point does the bad become so intolerable that the person or organization is not worth associating with?
HAAM as an organization has existed for over 20 years, and during that time we’ve formed partnerships or associations with other organizations that mirror our beliefs and understanding of the world. We are also willing to end those partnerships if the actions of these organizations conflict with what Humanists understand as good, moral, and ethical behavior. However, this is often not so with religious groups, especially those practicing more evangelical/ fundamentalist types of religion.
According to the Hartford Institute, Southland Church in Steinbach is Manitoba’s second largest mega-church, with a weekly attendance of over 3000. Through Tupendane Africana (a mission of Southland Church) and Back to the Bible Truth Ministries, Southland Church (along with their partner churches in Africa) has done some good work in Uganda. They have sent shipping containers of farm equipment, printing presses, and other goods to the Christians of Uganda, and have helped build an orphanage and one of the largest commercial farms in the country. While spreading religion is not something Humanists would consider good, teaching people better farming practices and more efficient ways to feed themselves is.
But here’s the ethical rub: when should an organization step back and ask itself “is what we are doing really good?”
Setting aside the propensity of evangelicals/fundamentalists to support creationism, reject science, and promote ideas that are proven not to work (such as abstinence-only sex education), Southland is partnered with Back to the Bible Truth Ministries and its president, a man known as the Apostle Alex Mitala. Mitala is also past president of the National Fellowship of Born-again Pentecostal Churches (NFBPC) in Uganda, a coalition of 18,000 churches and one of the many virulent homophobic organizations in Africa. In order to understand just how ethically questionable this partnership is, a little background is necessary.
Uganda is one of the most religious and homophobic nations of modern times, due to the predominance of evangelical/fundamentalist religious beliefs, a sizable chunk of which are imported from the west.
Between 2009 and 2014, the Ugandan government attempted to pass the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which came to be known as the “kill the gays bill“. This bill would have allowed the death penalty for what they called “aggravated homosexuality”; in other words, you could be killed for being gay. The bill was written by government minister David Bahati and supported by a large coalition of churches and church leaders, including Martin Ssempa and Alex Mitala. Fortunately, in 2014 the penalty was amended to “life in prison for aggravated homosexuality”, but this change was due to immense international pressure, not because the churches suddenly changed their collective minds.
In Uganda today if you are LGBT and you are outed you could be beaten up or even killed. This is the legacy of the “kill the gays bill”. In 2010 one Ugandan newspaper ran an edition naming the top 100 “homos” in Uganda, with pictures and the caption “hang them”. More recently in 2014, another tabloid released an 200 additional names, which resulted in many gay Ugandans being killed, and others being driven into hiding where they remain to this day. This is the nature of life in Uganda. Religion has cheapened life; many of its adherents have sold out their humanity and made good, decent, loving, gay folks cheap and disposable.
Which brings me back to Southland.
The Manitoba Connection
Why would a church which claims the moral high ground of Jesus’s peace and love have such close ties to a man and organizations that advocate for a law that would see gay people put to death? I have a difficult time believing they didn’t know about it. Promoting the “kill the gays” bill by Uganda’s churches began around 2006. Southland has been involved with Mr. Mitala and his 18,000 churches in Uganda since 2007, and has had missionaries in the country on several occasions. Mitala himself has preached at Southland.
As a Humanist, my involvement with a man like Alex Mitala would be limited to attempting to change his mind and rid him of his harmful ideas. To engage with this “man of god” in any professional sense would be for me what Canadian General Roméo Dallaire described as “shaking hands with the devil”. Endorsement would be out of the question, but endorse him they did. Mitala even secured an endorsement from MLA Kelvin Goertzen, who is now Manitoba’s health minister. Goertzen endorsed Mitala on Southland’s website, and praised him in the legislature (see page 144 of this transcript). Since receiving my letter, Southland has removed most of the content from the Tupandane section of their website, but the page with Goertzen’s endorsement of Mitala can be viewed in archive here, and in this screenshot.
This is not to say the folks at Southland want to kill gay people. In fact, I would venture most don’t, but it does inspire us to ask – why partner with people who do? I can only conclude that the good folks at Southland are either ignorant of the situation in Uganda, apathetic, or worse, ok with it.
The ugliness of this form of Christianity is well supported by scripture. If Southland wants to take credit for the good works it does in Uganda through the organizations it supports (and so it should), then the church should also bear at least a modicum of responsibility for the damage that organizations like the NFBPC have done (and continue to do) to the LGBT community in Uganda. A community that to this day lives in fear and is largely in hiding.
It is time for good people everywhere, atheists and theists alike, to hold Southland Church to a higher moral standard and request that Southland Church sever all ties with organizations that would support the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act. We hope they will seek more moderate partner churches or NGOs for their charitable endeavors in Africa.
Kris Duerksen, the executive pastor of Southland Church, agreed to meet with me to discuss the concerns expressed in my letter. For the record, he stated that Southland does not support either the death penalty or life imprisonment for homosexuals. “Jesus tells us to love one another”, he said. But unfortunately, Pastor Duerksen can’t see (or doesn’t believe) that the evidence supports a different conclusion.
Southland Church feeds and clothes some 2000 orphans, according to Duerksen. Simple demographics would indicate that at least a few of those children will come to identify as gay, yet at least some of the people raising them think they deserve jail or death. This presents a problem for people who supposedly love everybody. Southland Church sends money, supplies, and farm equipment by the container load, the cost of which surely totals well into six figures, to Uganda; but Duerksen would have us believe that Southland has little to do with day-to-day operations once it arrives. Those are run by Alex Mitala and his churches – churches that apparently have a different theology, one that allows capitol punishment for gay people and the imprisonment of those who aid them.
The relationship between Alex Mitala and Southland Church has grown and developed over the last ten years, with many visits and exchanges between Southland and its mission. One would think that during that time, Southland’s leadership would have uncovered Mitala’s organizations’ support for the “kill the gays” bill. With the support of the NFBPC (of which Mitala was leader) for the Anti-Homosexuality Act being well-known; all the massive press attention given to the bill in both Uganda and internationally, and the massive pressure brought to bear by western countries to stop it, it seems logical that someone should have heard about it. But according to Duerksen, the issue never came up; it was never raised by Tupendane, Mitala, or any of the 3300 parishioners at Southland.
Finally, I asked about the Tupendane website, and why it was pulled down shortly after I emailed Southland. Duerksen told me it was “down for updating”; the timing seems a little coincidental.
The Bottom Line
In the end, we’re back to the beginning. Southland is still stuck with the ethical and moral problem of supporting something they (and almost all Canadians) believe is abhorrent. But at least they can’t plead ignorance anymore. They will have to either fix the problem or choose to ignore it, because when you believe a book that tells you to love gay folks and at the same time put them to death, both options become equally acceptable.
In this issue:
- Report on another successful Outreach
- Secular group forming in Steinbach
- Blood drive update
- Back to school – beware of proselytization
- and more…
- Outreach report from our first Summer in the City
- Bigotry is a lifestyle choice
- Commenting on social media? Think twice!
- Is blasphemy a victimless crime? Stand up for free speech!
- and more…
- HAAM shows our Pride as we support the LGBTTQ community and stand up to bullying in Manitoba schools
- Does summer camp have to mean Bible camp? We look at what’s out there for our kids
- We’re gearing up for summer Outreach
- HAAM opposes attempts to reintroduce legislation that could affect access to abortion
and more… May Newsletter
- Our Outreach team discusses stories and hot-button social issues with high school students
- A new interfaith group springs up in Winnipeg – does it live up to its name?
- We’ll be considering the health of our local lakes at our next meeting
- And MORE…
In this issue:
- A Life Membership Presentation
- Conversations with Believers
- Outreach reports
- Update on medically assisted dying
- and more….
- 2015 Year in Review and President’s Message
- Outreach Reports
- Which community leader doesn’t seem interested in speaking to our members?
- HAAM helps sponsor a refugee family
- and more…
- Our Charity of the Month program goes international
- Hospital chaplains
- Outreach report from a bible belt school
- Member reaction to our meeting about Aboriginal issues
- and more…
Addendum: For more on hospital chaplains and an update on the article in this newsletter, see Privacy Issues in Spiritual Care.
In August we were busy with our big annual Outreach event. Read all about it, as well as the final preparations and latest updates on Reasonfest!
In this issue:
- We’re gearing up for our Summer Outreach in Morden and River City Reasonfest in September
- An apologist responds to Dr Arthur Schafer’s speech about the ethics of religion, and HAAM provides a rebuttal
- Updates on Outreach and Religion in Schools
- and more…
- Updates on the stories we’ve been following on religion in our public institutions,
- Details about all our upcoming events (including speakers who will be appearing at our River City Reasonfest conference in September), and
- A link to view the presentation on the Ethics of Religion if you missed it at our May meeting.
We’re busy – you’re busy. We’re cold – you’re cold. But it’s Winnipeg and we’re used to the winter weather, right? Find out what’s happening with the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba by reading our latest newsletter. Cheers!
But in the meantime, take a few minutes to read.
In our April 2014 Newsletter, you’ll find:
- The next Book Club selection for May.
- What happened when two of our members spoke to a high school class in Grunthal, MB.
- Which well-known author we’re speaking to at our April meeting.
Just click to read!
The Beautiful: People whose lives were changed by our presence, such as LGBT youth who found out they can turn to the Rainbow Resource Centre if/when they’re found out and get rejected by their families; atheists who felt alone and isolated but now know how to find us; and people who were genuinely afraid that we were there for destructive reasons but took the time anyway to truly listen, and who then embraced us and our message wholeheartedly.
Heading out to our second annual outreach booth in Morden this year, I was pretty jazzed up with anticipation at what the weekend would hold. Having participated last year, I was certainly not quite as anxious as I had been the previous summer. We had such a great experience the first time, and even though we had our share of people who weren’t too thrilled to see us, they were pretty evenly balanced with those who were happy to come over to the booth and give us a friendly greeting and grab our info.
The challenge that I set for myself this year was to try to make each encounter, even with the hard core religious, into something positive. I was also hoping to stay away from getting into any type of long fruitless conversations about evolution, or engage with people for any length of time who showed a propensity for spouting bible verses instead of arguments. Lofty goals considering where we were headed.
I knew that we were unlikely to deconvert anybody, and with our focus on promoting our group, and giving hope to people who may have already left religion behind, I was determined to demonstrate that we are a community with positive values, so my first step was trying to find a way to make that connection with people that might make them want to find out more.
I thought about what humanism means to me and what common values my humanist worldview entails that might help to make those connections. It’s difficult to distill the values of humanism into one sentence, but in brief it encompasses a worldview that employs evidence-based rational thought informed by critical thinking and our human capacities for empathy and compassion. For me, not having a particularly strong background in science (although after the last few years devouring it, I understand a lot more than I ever thought I could), I knew that I wouldn’t have much success arguing the finer points of evolution or the cosmological argument.
My goal instead was to connect with people based on appealing to their compassion and empathy. Sometimes this involved making them uncomfortable, for example, most of the believers that I spoke with believed in some kind of hell and when their views were explored, they had to admit that as an unbeliever, this was my ultimate destination. I could see that this thinking created a dilemma for them, even after only having spoken to me for a few minutes. Choice or not, they had to admit that the God they worshipped set up this scenario in the first place, and even if He never intended it for me, I would be partaking of its exquisite torments anyway. All because I didn’t believe? While I can’t say that I had any immediate success or on the spot deconversions, I’m pretty sure that more than a few at least were forced to confront the reality that God had set it up so that their own compassion and empathy were at odds with His plan.
I also tried to do what I could to introduce them to the idea of critical thinking, exploring how we know what we know, how we decide what is reliable evidence and to the idea that there is a whole world out there. One creationist who was promoting a very inaccurate video agreed to spend an equal amount of time reading at Talk Origins if I watched this video. With some others, I tried the approach of speaking about what gives our lives meaning and explored the idea that just because I’m pretty sure that my life is over when my brain ceases to function, it doesn’t have to follow that my life is meaningless. Sometimes an ice cream cone is enjoyable, even if it’s not a never-ending ice cream cone.
In all, I feel that the weekend was well spent. We connected with a lot of people, gave hope to many who were feeling isolated and alone, and maybe helped some others to take another look at what they believed.
The Morden Corn and Apple Festival was a real eye-opener for me. Here’s why:
I grew up in suburban Winnipeg in the ’60s where I attended a liberal Protestant church. In public school we studied evolution in science class. I knew nothing of fundamentalist Christians until I was well into adulthood. I never considered what it would be like to inhabit their worldview, nor had I ever imagined living in a religious community and not feeling part of it.
Spending 12 hours in our HAAM outreach booth watching, chatting, and debating, I had plenty of time to contemplate these situations. We received some looks of disapproval, but everyone was calm and respectful. I thought about how lucky we are in Canada where public displays of disagreement do not generally incite riots.
This was the first time I have ever met fundamentalist Christians in real life. Some were anxious to defend their faith and condemn us, while others seemed genuinely curious about our beliefs. (No doubt it was a new experience for them, too.) Some stayed only a few minutes, others for an hour or more. A few just picked up a pamphlet and hurried away. The ones who stayed seemed like intelligent and thoughtful people. They sincerely believed what they were telling us, and provided complex and detailed information to support their arguments. Then they were genuinely puzzled when we countered their claims with contradictory evidence. From these encounters it became apparent to me that belief systems have little relation to IQ and much more relation to education and experience. These people have lived in sheltered communities where their beliefs have not, until now, been challenged. Clearly, if we want to encourage critical thinking and rational decision-making, a supportive educational approach will be more effective than insults.
Then there are those who live in Bible belt communities and are questioning their faith or have already left it. Some of their stories were heart wrenching. They spoke of the fear of job loss, of not being invited to friends’ homes, of divided family loyalties, even being excluded from activities in a senior’s residence, because they do not attend church or the ‘right’ church. But most vulnerable are the young people. More than one scribbled down our name but dared not take any pamphlets for fear of being caught. We were able to direct them toward online support and resources and reassure them that indeed, they are ‘not alone’.
Lastly, I surprised myself on two counts. First, I was worried about keeping my cool when listening to ridiculous arguments, but I found that speaking face to face promotes more empathy and respect than commenting on the internet. Second, I was worried that I would become tongue-tied, but it wasn’t really that difficult, and no one expects to have all the answers.
I’m glad I went; it was fun. And if I sent at least one person to Google to fact-check, or helped one person feel less alone, it was totally worth it.
“Business” was brisk at our booth at the Morden Corn & Apple Festival August 22nd to 25th. I have never been a good debater, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching and listening to fellow HAAM members do an excellent job.
I think all of us agree that we were there for the non-believers who are still in the closet. However, we are probably approached at the booth by more believers than non-believers, and so these are the people we end up talking to, and debating.
The non-believers ran the gamut of angry to kind. Last year there was one man so angry he was almost red in the face, looking like he wanted to punch us. I personally didn’t see anybody that angry this year, but apparently there was at least one woman who wanted to see if we could be prevented from entering the town.
One couple studied our sign, said something to each other, then studied the sign again, then walked away with the woman shaking her head and crossing herself. One man came to talk to us briefly. He said he’d read about us in the Winnipeg Free Press, then said, “For those who DO believe, I hope they treat you with respect.”
Most believers who approach us don’t necessarily want to debate. Most seem to think that we’ll understand the error of our thinking by simply telling us how wrong we are. One senior couple warned us fervently that we simply must make amends with God/Jesus because once we die, IT’S TOO LATE! IT’S TOO LATE! While reprimanding us the man backed off as though he didn’t want to hear any response from us all the while shaking his head with disapproval saying more than once that he would pray for us. The woman stayed at the booth for a few seconds longer to try to drive her message home.
I grew up in a Mennonite family, school, community, and church and so am very familiar with the religious. But some of the people we talked with were so fanatical in their beliefs that it confounded even me. I remember always believing in evolution. I can’t remember which teacher taught evolution in the school I attended, because all my teachers were Mennonites and zealous believers. But one of them did, and I never gave it a second thought. And so when I come across believers who simply don’t accept evolution, as one young man did who debated with Pat at length, I’m puzzled. This man, flanked by his three little children, one of whom called Pat stupid at one point, to which the father chuckled slightly, insisted that it has to take a lot of faith on our part to believe in evolution. A lot more faith than it takes to believe in God, he said. But when he broached the subject of Noah and the flood, and why that was a perfectly plausible cause of such wonders as the Grand Canyon and an explanation as to how the earth can be changed in a very short time (like 6,000 years), I asked him if he believed the story of the flood and he said yes. I said, “Really!” and asked him how he thinks all these animals were gathered from around the world. He said, “Faith in God”.
I told this young man that I once heard two people on the radio try to draw a moral from the story of Job. God and the devil having a tete-atete at the top of a mountain with God telling the devil about his good and faithful servant, Job. The devil says it’s no wonder Job is faithful because God has given him everything he wants and/or needs. God tells the devil he can go take things away from Job and do what he wants to him, just don’t kill him, and he’ll see. Job will still be faithful. The devil kills Job’s entire family and his servants, takes away his wealth, and covers his body with painful sores. And don’t you know it, Job is still faithful. So God won the bet. I had never heard the story told in this way and couldn’t believe that this is the way it went, so I read it for myself, and found out that that’s exactly the way it goes! I asked him how anybody can draw any kind of moral from a horrific story like that. This man wasn’t shocked. His comment was something like, “But do you remember what Job said in the end?” Job apparently had positive things to say because God gave him a new family and even more wealth than he had before. Pat tried to point out that God had killed Job’s children and you can’t replace your children with different children. (I’m paraphrasing, Pat.) The only thing this man said was, yes, he didn’t know what God had in mind when he did that, but this was said from the point of view that God must have had a plan, and so it’s okay.
Another fear I found that is very real in Christians is that this life may be the only one we have. This same man asked what we expect happens to us when we die. He wanted to know, do we really believe that that’s it. When we said yes, he expressed his astonishment and said he thought that was so sad. The fear that this is the only life we have is one I don’t remember having had at any point of my religiously affected life, and so this too surprised me. I always thought that Christians spew a lot of rhetoric, but they don’t really believe what they say. I guess I was wrong. I was always afraid I’d go to hell because I never really thought I was devout enough, and He says clearly that the lukewarm He will spit out. I was never sure that I’d go to heaven like these people are. One woman said she KNOWS she’s going to heaven after she dies. I said she can’t be sure about that because what if Islam is the right religion. She didn’t seem to hear that at all, but simply repeated that she KNOWS she’s going to heaven.
Finally, there was the 17 year old girl who talked with us for quite some time about being a nonbeliever in a religious home, although her parents were obviously not fundamentalists, which was good to hear. It was such a pleasure to listen to her talk and hear the intelligence coming from such a young person. And it brought home to me again that that’s why we were there. To let people like her know, she’s not alone.
On Sunday after the disapproving church crowd walked past our booth, an older man in his mid ’70s came strolling up, put his hand on a chair, and asked if he could sit down. He said he was hoping to sit and talk for a while. I mentally prepared for the usual “Do you know Jesus?” or “if you just read such and such passage of the gospel it will all make sense.” It wasn’t going to be that kind of visit.
He said his name was Josh (changed to protect privacy). Josh started asking questions about the definitions of atheism, agnosticism, and humanism. I spoke of how humanism is really just the philosophy of being good without God, how humanists greatly value science, democracy, human empathy, compassion, and how humanists believe human problems have human answers, no gods required. He then asked me if I had ever believed. I told him I tried once in my teens, but it just didn’t take.
It was then he leaned over and said, “I don’t believe in God either, especially the religious stuff; but I really want to believe in God.” He would go on to mention this need to believe several times in our conversation.
Josh went on to tell me a little about his life. He was brought up in a very strict Mennonite household. Around the age of 20 he decided he wanted to see what was out there, and so he did, much to his father’s dismay. He moved away, studied myriad subjects, and by the time school was finished he had lost his faith. “I guess I learned too much,” he said.
“Do you ever wonder about what comes after?” he asked; “like an afterlife?” “No, not really” I replied.
I told him about when my mother died a few years ago and how it would’ve been really nice to think of her in a better place, but my reasoning wouldn’t allow that. And that made things difficult for a time. I thought if I could remember the words of Marcus Aurelius and the verse that gave me so much peace at that time, it might help him out too.
Were the beliefs of Josh’s youth coming back? Was he fearing the afterlife? Hell? After talking to a friend I think what Josh dislikes is what we all think about from time to time: the permanence of death.
Now in his ’70s he’s thinking of his own mortality. The 50+ years of reason are running headlong into the 20 years of religious indoctrination of his youth. The result is beginning to give him some real discomfort and pain. Maybe he is hoping for that comfort of knowing the answers that supernatural belief so often gives its practitioners. A comfort I have never experienced.
As I drove home I was kicking myself for not seeing it when I was talking to him. I thought to myself, we have members who could handle something like this a lot better than I could. Maybe we could have set him up with a counsellor or someone to talk to. I really thought I was just engaging a nice man who wanted to have a chat about life and the big questions. Not a man looking for answers to ease his pain.
Josh, if you take our card out of your pocket and happen along this little article, these are the words that gave me, and give me so much comfort when I’ve had questions like yours. I hope you find peace, wherever that may be. I’m sorry I couldn’t have been more help.
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” -Marcus Aurelius