Upcoming HAAM Events
Monthly meeting – Identity Politics
Saturday, March 14th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Avenue, 5:30 – 830 PM
We now pigeonhole ourselves as the religious, the right, the left, gun owners, social justice warriors, vegans etc. etc. Dr. Simon Potter discusses this pressing problem for society and provides historical evidence that the phenomenon is far from new. Details here.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, March 22nd, Smitty’s Fort Richmond, 2835 Pembina Hwy, 9:30 – 11:00 AM
This monthly casual get-together is a great way to meet and get to know your fellow HAAMsters.
New people are always welcome. Details here.
Save the Dates
Saturday, April 4th
Saturday, May 23rd
Summer Solstice Party
Sat, June 20th
Check our Events calendar for the latest information on all upcoming HAAM events.
Charity of the Month – Sunshine House
is a small community drop-in and resource organization focusing on inclusion and harm reduction in Winnipeg’s core. But one ‘rule’ that sets this drop-in apart from many others is that participants can come as they are; they are not expected to be “clean” or sober.
Sunshine House is open two afternoons a week, providing coffee and meals, conversation and activities, laundry and bathing facilities, and harm reduction supplies like syringes and condoms. Two evenings a week, the centre holds a program called “Like That”, where people exploring gender and/or sexual identity can gather for fun, skills building and recreation. On Sundays they serve a full brunch for $2.
The centre also advocates for managed alcohol programs and safe consumption spaces in Winnipeg. This is a small organization that could really use our support. Please help!
If you would like to contribute but cannot make it to the meeting, you can make a donation by credit card via the ‘Donate’ button in the sidebar. Just include a note that the money is for the charity of the month.
Tax receipts will be issues for donations over $10.
Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events
Brainy Brunch Breakfast
Members of the Eastman Humanist Community (Steinbach and area) get together for brunch on the first Sunday of every month, at 9:30 AM at Smitty’s in the Clearspring Centre.
HAAM members are welcome to join them.
For more information about the brunch, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Winnipeg chapter of Dying With Dignity Canada is growing, with new volunteers, an updated website, and new events planned.
Body Options (choices for disposal of your body after death) –
Saturday March 7th. This will the first topic in a series called “Death Matters”.
Advance Care Planning (the ins and outs of Health Care Directives and more) – The March 21st workshop is already full, but there will be at least one more planned for April / early May. Watch for announcements.
For details about these presentations, visit DWDWinnipeg.ca. Pre-registration is required for all events.
For the latest information on all upcoming non-HAAM events, visit our Community Events page.
Outreach report – ethics class
On January 24, two members of Eastman Humanist Community and I traveled to the Green Valley High School in Grunthal for a presentation on Atheism and Ethics. There were approximately 20 students in this class. I had anticipated that we were about to encounter an unsympathetic group of students, as Grunthal is located in a highly religious area of Manitoba.
I prepared a small number of questions. I asked the students to anonymously choose between two answers for each question. The results totally surprised me as I was expecting negative views about atheism.
– Question: Who would you consider to more trustworthy a) an atheist or b) a theist? The answers were split roughly 50% for atheists and 50% for theists.
– Question: Which characteristic would better describe an atheist a) angry or b) happy? Overwhelmingly the answer was b). One written comment was – “Happy, because they don’t have to follow strict guidelines in religious texts.”
The students were eager to engage in discussion. Some of them adopted traditional Christian views. Others expressed more progressive attitudes. Topics included sexism in the Bible, Christian and atheist positions on homosexuality, and where do ethics come from if there is no God. I was very impressed that many of the students were thinking about these issues and had developed their own opinions. Although I believe that a large majority of the students define themselves as Christians, I came away believing that religion does not have as strong a hold on them as I had anticipated.
This encounter reinforced my belief that the younger generations are open-minded and thinking critically. I hope that HAAM and the EHC will continue to engage in such presentations to school groups.
– Arthur Prystenski
Manitoba MP displays his religious privilege
Ted Falk is the Member of Parliament for the Manitoba constituency of Provencher, which is in the south-east corner of the province and includes our ‘Bible Belt’ area (the town of Steinbach and environs). Earlier this winter, he sent a sympathy card on government stationary to a family in that area who had experienced a loss.
Not everyone in the deceased’s family was comforted by the religious message expressed in the card, and photos of it were sent to HAAM. (click images to enlarge)
Due to fear of repercussions, both within the family and in the community, there was no formal complaint made about the card by the family members who were upset by it. However, HAAM exec member Arthur Prystenski has written a letter to Mr. Falk to let him know that not everyone appreciated this overt display of Christian privilege, and to remind him that he was elected to represent everyone in his riding, and that in future, he should keep such messages neutral and inclusive.
Here is Arthur’s letter (with personal details redacted). If any response is received, we will update this story in a future newsletter.
Abortion Caravan turns 50 this year
The Abortion Caravan of 1970 was Canada’s first national feminist protest – but if you’re younger than your mid-60’s, you’ve probably either never heard of it or don’t remember it. It’ll be in the news this spring, though, because pro-choice groups are planning events and campaigns across the country in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Caravan and the subsequent achievements for abortion rights in Canada, as well as to draw attention to the remaining barriers to access.
The original Caravan began with a group of young women from Vancouver who traveled to Ottawa, gaining support along the way. By the time they reached the capital on the Mothers’ Day weekend, carrying a black coffin ‘decorated’ with coat hangars, they were over 500 strong. They chained themselves to seats in the House of Commons and burned an effigy of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Their protest caused quite a stir!
At left is the original Caravan slogan that was plastered all over Ottawa prior to the Caravan’s arrival. Note that it contains no details. Last year, CBC’s Sunday Edition radio broadcast did an excellent show about the Caravan, including all sorts of clips from old news coverage, and interviewing some of the original participants. It’s just under 40 minutes long and well worth the listen.
Watch the news this spring for stories about the anniversary of the Caravan. If there are events in the Winnipeg area, we’ll be sure to share them. Let’s celebrate the progress of the last 50 years as we continue to support reproductive rights and look to the future.
Book of the Month – The European Dream
Our library includes more than just the usual books you’d expect on religion. We have a few books on related topics as well, including pop culture, psychology, and politics.
Here’s a book about the European Dream, written by Jeremy Rifkin in 2004. Back then, Rifkin posited that the European Union was already an economic superpower rivaling the US, and that it had the potential to become a full world superpower. He argued that, in contrast to the US model of dominance by military and economic strength, Europe gained world influence and respect through humanitarian and economic aid, and its embrace of multiculturalism and diplomacy. He argued that while the American Dream is in decline, the European Dream promises a more leisurely, healthy, prosperous, and sustainable way of life.
It’s interesting to consider these ideas in hindsight 15 years later. What did Rifkin get right? What did he get wrong? Are any of these dreams realistic? Did the Obama administration make any difference? Could the author have predicted Trump, and what, if anything, will improve after this year’s US election? What influence will Brexit have on Europe? And where does Canada fit into all this? Read what Rifkin had to say and make your own conclusions and predictions.
All our library books and DVD’s are free to borrow for paid HAAM members.
Visit the Library page to request to borrow a book or DVD, and we will make arrangements to get it to you.
Upcoming HAAM Events
Monthly Meeting – Stand Up for Science
Saturday, September 14th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Ave, 5:30 PM
We will be welcoming a guest speaker from Evidence for Democracy to talk to us about encouraging evidence-based decision-making in public policy and ways that we can combat misinformation and ‘fake news’.
If you value reason and science-based decision-making in government, then this is a meeting you won’t wanna miss.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, September 22nd, Smitty’s Polo Park, 1017 St James St, 9:30 AM
Meet and get to know your fellow HAAMsters.
New people are always welcome. Details here.
Save the Dates
HAAM and Eggs Brunch:
Check our Events calendar for the latest information on all upcoming events.
Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events
Global Climate Strike
Friday, September 27th, Manitoba Legislature, noon to 5 PM
Hosted by Manitoba Youth for Climate Action and Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition
Event details and more information on their Facebook Event page.
Links to Non-HAAM events of interest to our members can be found on the Community Events page.
‘Charity’ of the Month – Evidence for Democracy
Occasionally we make an exception to the usual criteria for our monthly charity fundraiser, and instead support a cause that carries out valuable work but is not a registered charity. Evidence for Democracy fits this category.
So what does E4D do? They promote the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making in Canada. They engage and empower the science community while cultivating public and political demand for evidence-based decision-making. They run campaigns about issues affecting science and public policy, and they educate Canadians about evidence-based decision-making. E4D’s goals include strong public policies based on science and evidence, engaged citizens, transparent, accountable government, and a culture that values science and evidence.
Organizations involved in activities that might be seen as political lobbying might not want to be registered as a charity, because that can impose restrictions on their work. E4D offers this explanation: “Evidence for Democracy is a federally registered non-profit organization. To ensure we can effectively advocate for transparent, evidence-based public policy decisions, we are not a charity and donations are not eligible for a tax credit.”
Donations for E4D will be collected at the monthly meeting. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the ‘Donate’ button on our website. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the Evidence for Democracy. Note that for this month only, tax receipts will NOT be issued.
Calls to Action
Please take a minute to let your federal election candidates know that you want the next parliament to fix the flaws in Canada’s assisted dying (MAiD) law. Currently, advance requests for MAiD will not be carried out if the patient is not capable of providing consent at the time of the procedure, even if they have already been assessed and approved.
Our next Members of Parliament — no matter where they fall on the political spectrum — need to understand that they have a duty to uphold your end-of-life rights.
Dying With Dignity Canada has prepared an automated letter that makes it really easy to show your support. All you need to do is add your name and postal code and click ‘send’; it will be sent to every federal election candidate in your constituency.
Vote for Science
Let your federal election candidates know that you care about science and that you want them to support evidence-based policies and decision-making if they are elected to the next government. Scientific research benefits our health care, education, environment and economy.
Votescience.ca is a letter-writing campaign sponsored by a collaboration of Canadian scientific organizations to let politicians know that we care about science and want them to govern based on evidence and reason. It will only take you a minute to add your name and postal code to the form letter, and then copies will be sent to every federal election candidate in your constituency.
What do Humanists believe?
After our August newsletter was sent last month, we had one angry subscriber who canceled their subscription in response to the article supporting reproductive choice.
If you’re uncertain about what HAAM (as an organization) endorses, please visit our website to learn more. Under the About Us tab, you will find information about Humanism and what Humanists believe. You can also read our Philosophy, Mission Statement, and Position Statements, which were written by members of our exec and voted on by the membership at our AGM several years ago.
Humanists support evidence-based decision-making, empathy, compassion, and fairness. These values generally translate into support for human rights, education, and science, resulting in consensus among most Humanists on a number of social issues. Nevertheless, there is no absolute set of personal beliefs that define Humanism, and no ‘membership test’ required to join HAAM. And of course, our newsletter is public, so anyone can subscribe, whether they agree with our positions or not.
If you still have questions, or would like to discuss any of this, we’re happy to answer – just Contact Us.
Long-time HAAM member Olga Nahirniak died on Sunday August 4th at the age of 94. She had not attended meetings in recent years due to age and health, but she kept in touch by reading the newsletter, and she came to our Summer Solstice party last year (2018), where she can be seen sitting in the front row in a pink T-shirt in the group photo.
Helen Friesen, who knew Olga well, shared this tribute:
I was fortunate to see her and visit with her two weeks before her death at a function at the Unitarian Church. She had been in hospital for a while just before that, but she was in good spirits and enjoyed the afternoon with everybody.
Olga was a special and spunky lady. She had a no-nonsense attitude towards beliefs that didn’t make sense to her, among them being religious beliefs, and she didn’t hesitate to say so over the years.
I’ll remember her fondly.
Olga’s obituary can be seen at Ethical Death Care. Condolences were sent to her family on behalf of all of us at HAAM. She will be missed.
Venue update (again)
After holding three meetings at the University of Winnipeg in the spring, we received mixed reviews from members and had mixed success with the room. There were two main issues:
1. The location – On the plus side, it is central and easy to get to by bus. On the minus side, parking can be a challenge and some members expressed safety concerns about the area.
2. The room itself – On the plus side, the room is spacious, quiet, and private. On the minus side, we had major challenges with furnishings (once arriving to find that almost all the chairs and tables had been removed, and another time, that piles of boxes and paraphernalia from a previous meeting had been left in the room) and equipment (plugging in a coffee pot resulted in repeatedly blown fuses).
On reflection, the executive has decided to move our monthly meetings back to Canad Inns Polo Park for the fall. We will continue to keep an eye out for the ideal venue.
Our goal is to make our meetings accessible to everyone. If you are one of the people who found it easier to get to the U of W, and need a ride to Canad Inns, please let us know (email@example.com) and we will try to arrange one for you.
Book of the Month – The Greatest Show on Earth
This 2010 book by Richard Dawkins has become a classic. He was, after all, a professor of zoology long before he became better known for his outspoken atheist activism. So in this book explaining the process of evolution, he’s really in his element. Lay reviewers repeatedly describe Dawkins’s explanations as clear and easy to understand, with plenty of illustrations and examples throughout.
72% of reviewers on Amazon.com gave this book 5 stars; 5% gave it one star. Guess who those 5% of reviewers were? Hint: They described it as ‘pure fiction’, a ‘diatribe against religion’, and ‘an attempt to brainwash the reader’. Several of them recommended books by creationist authors instead.
This book covers all the questions and topics that people ask about evolution – including missing links and transitional fossils, dating methods, the meaning of the word ‘theory’, DNA, the age of the earth, micro vs. macro, the tree of life, vestigial organs, etc. We discuss all of these and more at our outreach booth in Morden every year.
If you’re not already familiar with these words and phrases, then you owe it to yourself to read Greatest Show on Earth. Dawkins really does make a complex subject understandable and even entertaining.
All our library books and DVD’s are free to borrow for paid HAAM members.
Visit the Library page to request to borrow a book or DVD, and we will make arrangements to get it to you.
It’s back-to-school time
Just a reminder: If you have children attending public school in Manitoba, and you have any questions or concerns about religious exercises or religious instruction, please read our Religion in Public Schools information page.
Every year, we get calls and letters from concerned parents, but most of your questions and concerns should be addressed on that page.
Please contact us if:
- You have questions that are NOT answered on that page,
- You have new information or updates that we should add to that page, or
- Your child is attending a school that is violating the guidelines and you would like advice or support.
Well that’s a wrap – another successful summer outreach completed. Thanks to all the volunteers who staffed the booth. We have uploaded a few photos to our website gallery. A report will follow in the October newsletter.
Upcoming HAAM Events
Monthly Meeting – Animal Attraction
Saturday, February 10th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 5:30 – 8:30 PM
February 12th is International Darwin Day, so we focus on science and nature at our February meetings.
This year’s meeting will be about sex. Click here for details and more information.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, February 25th, Original Pancake House (Polo Park), 1445 Portage Avenue, 9:30 AM
Join us for our regular Sunday morning brunch. Details here.
See complete event listings and details for all upcoming HAAM events on our Events page.
Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events
Matt Dillahunty’s Magic and Skepticism World Tour 2018
Sunday, 8 April 2018, Burton Cummings Theatre, 364 Smith St
For details on this and all upcoming non-HAAM events, visit our Community Events page.
Charity of the Month – CARE Cat Community Outreach Program
C.A.R.E. (Cat Advocacy Rescue & Education) is a non-profit organization made up of concerned animal lovers and veterinary professionals who work to alleviate the serious cat overpopulation by spaying and neutering cats. The program was founded in 2011 in response to the overwhelming number of stray and feral cats in the North End of Winnipeg. Since then, CARE has spayed/neutered more than 900 feral, stray, and low-income owned cats; over 700 at Machray Animal Hospital and the rest through the Winnipeg Humane Society’s SNAP (Subsidized Spay and Neuter Program).
In partnership with The Winnipeg Humane Society and Winnipeg Animal Services, CARE helps people get their cats fixed year-round. The funding for these surgeries comes from the FixIt Grant; money raised directly from cat licensing.
Winnipeg residents are essentially paying for these cats’ surgeries, so only cats within city limits qualify for the program. Through CARE, low-income families can get their kitty spayed or neutered, tattooed, licensed and vaccinated for only $5!!!!
HAAM member Heather McDonell is one of the veterinarians who works with CARE, and it was our Charity of the Month once before, way back in Sept 2013, so we’re happy to help them again. The group is always looking for additional donations, as well as volunteers to transport cats to and from the clinics, since most of the people the program serves can’t afford vehicles or taxis. CARE has no website, just social media, as this is a grassroots effort. Visit their Facebook page or call the office at 204-421-7297 to make an appointment or obtain more information.
Donations for the Charity of the Month will be collected at the meeting. Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal button. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
Film Fest Ideas Wanted
Our annual Film Fest will take place at the March 10th meeting, and we’re currently looking for films. Suggestions are welcome.
If you know of a film that your fellow Humanists might like (something funny, provocative, inspirational, or educational), let us know. Length can be anything from a couple of minutes to a full movie (but not a really long movie).
More details to follow in the March newsletter.
Seeking Secular Therapists
We have again had a request from someone seeking a counsellor or psychologist who does not invoke religion or suggest prayer during treatment. A while back, we started a list with the names of a few such professionals for future referrals – but we currently only have 3 names on it. There must be way more than 3 mental health professionals in Manitoba who don’t include religion as part of their practice.
There is no requirement that therapists be non-believers; only that they use evidence-based, secular treatment methods in their professional practice. We do not post their names publicly due to professional regulations and ethics.
If you are aware of a secular therapist whose name we can add to our list, please Contact Us. All correspondence will be kept strictly confidential. Note that providing a referral cannot be construed as an endorsement by HAAM.
Our past-president Jeff Olsson has again been busy cleaning off shelves, and he’s made another large donation to the HAAM library – books, this time. Jeff is well-read and has eclectic taste in subject matter. There’s something here for everyone – ethics and philosophy, astronomy and climate science, atheist humor, psychology and psychoanalysis, skepticism and counter-apologetics (defending non-belief), history and archaeology. Here are just a few of the books he donated:
-The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam (Ayaan Hirsi Ali)
-Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming
-Everything You Know About God Is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Religion
-God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales (Penn Jillette)
-God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer (Bart Ehrman)
-In Search of Time: Journeys Along a Curious Dimension
-Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History
-The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (Freud)
-Right to Die: A Neurosurgeon Speaks of Death with Candor
-Universe: A Journey from Earth to the Edge of the Cosmos
-Why I Am Not a Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith (Richard Carrier)
-Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time
Check out the complete list on our Library page. Thank you again, Jeff!
All our library books and DVD’s are free to borrow for paid HAAM members.
Call to Action – No Funding for Anti-choice, Anti-LGBTQ2+ Groups
Please add your voice in support of human rights
The BC Humanist Association has launched a petition in support of new application requirements for the Government of Canada’s Canada Summer Jobs program.
The program provides wage subsidies to employers to hire high school and post-secondary students. The new policy requires applicants to attest that neither the job nor the employer’s “core mandate” are contrary to human rights, including reproductive rights and the rights of transgender Canadians.
Until now, many churches, bible camps and other faith-based organizations could apply for funding under the program, some received tens of thousands of dollars in support to hire summer staff. Religious organizations are still eligible for the funding, but those groups must now affirm their support for safe access to abortion and LGBTQ2+ rights.
Unhappy with the change, some conservative faith groups are suing the government claiming religious discrimination.
While we’d hope to see an end to public funding going to religious organizations entirely, ensuring that public funds aren’t given to groups that work to undermine fundamental human rights is a positive step.
It’s important for the government to hear from Canadians who support these actions, not just the small but vocal lobby for the religious right.
Sign the petition: No funding for anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ2+ groups
We’ll submit the petition to the government by February 2, 2018, when applications close for the Canada Summer Jobs program.
In Humanism, Ian Bushfield
Executive Director BC Humanist Association
And while we’re on the subject…
Publicly Funded Groups Must Respect Human Rights
You won’t want to miss Pat Morrow’s analysis of the ‘kerfuffle’ that has developed as conservative religious groups protest their loss of permission to use public money to undermine the rights of others.
Click here to read Pat’s article.
Being an Ethical Omnivore
Those not in attendance for our January presentation missed out on a remarkable speaker, Dr. Charlene Berkvens, who singlehandedly runs her 80-acre farm in addition to working a full-time job as a veterinarian. An engaging and interesting guest speaker, the considerable amount of Q and A and group participation throughout attested both to the quality of her presentation and devotion to her life’s work.
Dr. Berkvens’ accomplishments and dedication to her passions of animal welfare and environmentally sustainable farming practices are truly inspiring, and take their mandate from the principles of permaculture (sustainable agriculture that renews natural resources and enriches local ecosystems) and the 5 Freedoms of Animal Welfare, which are:
1) Freedom from hunger and thirst
2) Freedom from discomfort
3) Freedom from pain, injury and disease
4) Freedom to behave normally (according to their species)
5) Freedom from fear and distress
By the end of Dr. Berkvens’ presentation, there was no room left for ambiguity. Animal welfare and sustainable farming practices are inextricably tied to human interests, in terms of both our health and that of the land. It will take the willingness of ethical consumers, who critically examine their choices, to drive change. In the end, cheap food is not really cheap. — Rob Daly
Learn more about Charlene’s farm – the Fostering Change Farm, by visiting its website or Facebook page. For those interested in supporting sustainable farms with their grocery dollars, Dr. Berkvens provided us with the following list of local food sources in Manitoba, along with links to some of the topics covered, after her presentation:
Direct Farm Manitoba – list of many local, direct marketing farmers in Manitoba as well as farmers’ markets, etc.
Harvest Moon Local Food Marketplace – sustainably produced, fair local foods directly from local farms
Bouchee Boucher – restaurant and butcher supporting local farmers
Feast Cafe Bistro – restaurant that supports local farmers and features local and First Nations foods
Stella’s – restaurant with some dishes using local food
Prairie 360 – restaurant with some dishes using local food
Prairie Box – business that delivers weekly fresh meals with local food
For more information on some of the ideas / concepts we discussed:
Polyface Farms (Joel Salatin)
I would also encourage folks to check out and support:
Fort Whyte Centre, Oak Hammock Marsh, The Forks, and Assiniboine Park are great places to enjoy wildlife and the environment in the Winnipeg area.
A few others to consider checking out include:
As well as the many, many beautiful provincial parks and of course, Riding Mountain National Park.
A Primer on Assisted Dying in Manitoba
Medical Assistance In Dying (MAID) has been legal in Canada for 18 months now, but the process and guidelines are poorly understood. Here’s what people need to know:
* Manitoba has one centralized MAID team that serves the entire province. Other provinces require that your doctor initiate the evaluation and application process. Here, if you have a terminal diagnosis or a disease that causes you enduring and increasing suffering, you are free to contact the MAID team yourself to discuss whether you might qualify and find out what the next steps are.
* MAID is not part of the palliative care program in Manitoba. If you are receiving palliative care and you mention that you might be interested in MAID, it doesn’t mean they’ll start the inquiry for you; it’s best to contact the MAID team yourself or to ask a friend or family member to help you make contact.
* You do NOT (and should not) have to wait until your body begins to fail before you apply. The application process takes a minimum of 2 weeks, and some patients wait so long that they end up missing the window of opportunity and suffering needlessly in death.
* After you make initial contact with the MAID team and they agree you might qualify, they arrange for your first assessment. The assessment team usually consists of a doctor, a nurse, and a social worker. The team interviews you and reviews your medical records. One part of that interview involves speaking with you alone to be sure you’re not being coerced into applying.
* An appointment is then arranged with the second assessment team, composed of a different doctor, nurse, and social worker. The two teams don’t communicate with each other about you (the patient) until after both assessments are finished.
* After both assessments are complete, the two assessment teams meet and compare notes. If they agree that you qualify, then they recommend that you fill in an application form for medical assistance in dying.
* The application form must be signed by the patient (or a proxy, if the patient is physically incapable of signing) in the presence of two independent witnesses. An independent witness is defined as someone who is over the age of 18, a Canadian citizen, not a beneficiary of the patient’s will, and not involved in the patient’s health care. These are the same requirements for serving as a proxy.
* Once the application form is filled out, a mandatory waiting period of 10 days begins. You are eligible to receive the service on day 11 after the application form was signed, assuming that in the meantime, the assessment teams have approved you for the service. Note that these 10 days must be “clear” days, meaning that you are mentally coherent; these ‘clear’ days do not have to be consecutive, however.
* A significant proportion of MAID applicants do not know two people who are not named in their will, not involved in their health care, and/or who would be appropriate for other reasons to serve as witnesses. Members of Humanist groups across Canada (including many members of HAAM), have been serving as witnesses. Most of these volunteer witnesses also belong to their local chapter of Dying with Dignity.
* On the day that you choose to die, you must be mentally coherent and capable of giving consent. Nobody else can give this consent on your behalf, and you cannot consent in advance.
* The process of assisting someone to die involves having the MAID provider insert two intravenous lines (one as backup), and deliver 4 drugs through those lines. In Manitoba, this is the only approved method used. The drugs put the patient into a deep sleep and then into a coma, and then cause the heart to stop.
* Most insurance companies accept the cause of death as being the underlying medical condition, but you should check with your insurance provider to be sure, since those who list the cause of death as suicide can withhold life insurance payments for 2 years after death.
For links to the MAID team, related legal information, and more, visit the Dying With Dignity Winnipeg Chapter’s website at https://dwdwinnipeg.weebly.com. —
— Cheri Frazer is co-coordinator of the Winnipeg Chapter of Dying with Dignity
2018 HAAM Executive
The following members were elected at our January AGM.
President: Donna Harris Vice President: Pat Morrow
Secretary: Name Withheld* Treasurer: Henry Kreindler
Members at Large: Tammy Blanchette, Rob Daly, Norm Goertzen, Tony Governo, Sherry Lyn Marginet, and Dorothy Stephens.
Welcome Rob Daly to the team!
For future reference, the list of executive members can always be found here.
Thanks to all who attended the AGM.
*Sadly, not everyone can safely identify publicly as non-religious.
Don’t forget to renew your membership! (click here)
Upcoming HAAM Events
How to be an Ethical Omnivore and our Annual General Meeting
Saturday, January 13th, Canad Inns Polo Park
We’ll be learning about animal welfare and ethics, sustainable agricultural practices, and environmentally friendly food choices.
Full meeting description and scheduled times for the speaker and the AGM are in the event post.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, January 28th, Perkins Restaurant, 1615 Regent Ave W, 9:30 AM
Join us! Details here.
See complete event listings and details for all upcoming HAAM events on our Events page.
Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events
Matt Dillahunty’s Magic and Skepticism World Tour 2018
Sunday, 8 April 2018, Burton Cummings Theatre, 364 Smith St
For details on this and all upcoming non-HAAM events, visit our Community Events page.
Charity of the Month – The Laurel Centre
The Laurel Centre (formerly The Women’s Post Treatment Centre) provides individual and group counselling to women who have experienced childhood and/or adolescent sexual abuse. Many adult women have mixed feelings about talking to anyone about their childhood – because it hurts too much. Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse often experience difficulties in later life, including depression, anxiety, drug and/or alcohol problems, gambling, or feelings of worthlessness, loneliness, isolation, or being ‘different’, ‘bad’ or ‘evil’. The Centre recognizes compulsive coping behaviours, including addictions, as being some of the long-term consequences of unresolved trauma.
95% of teenage prostitutes have been sexually abused. Check out the Did You Know? page of the centre’s website for more shocking statistics on the frequency and impact of childhood sexual abuse.
The Laurel Centre provides individual, group, youth, and couples counselling; outreach to at-risk and street youth; short-term crisis intervention; parenting classes for survivor moms; and awareness training for professionals dealing with sexual abuse.
The Centre receives approximately 75% of its funding from the Manitoba Government and The United Way of Winnipeg. Fundraising and donations are necessary to make up the rest, and ensure that the work of the centre can continue. Let’s do what we can to help.
Donations for the Charity of the Month will be collected at the meeting. Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the Paypal button. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
We took out holiday ads in both The Carillon (Steinbach) and the Pilipino Express (Winnipeg) newspapers. Even though we had to tone down the ad so it wasn’t “offensive” to religious sensibilities, it is a first for our group. We also placed an ad on Facebook, (click to enlarge) which reached over 7,300 people!
Tony Governo spearheaded our donation of blankets to the Main Street Project, made possible with donations that you have so generously given us.
I am so happy and thrilled to know you! Thanks to all of our members who support us by participating and coming out to our events, and to everyone on our executive team, who are all truly amazing. I wish each and every one of you the very best of all things in 2018. Happiness, health and, most especially, love. – Donna Harris
Partners for Life Update
HAAM members are awesome! 😍 For the first time ever, we met our annual pledge of 25 blood donations. In fact, we exceeded it, with 28!!! If you donated blood in 2017, give yourself a pat on the back, and think about all the lives you helped save.
If you weren’t part of this success, join the Canadian Blood Services’ Partners for Life program now and your 2018 blood donations will be credited to HAAM. Details about the program are here.
Show Me the Evidence
Believers take note – if you are presenting your beliefs to those who don’t already share them (atheists, agnostics, or members of any religion other than your own), you must be prepared to offer evidence for your claims. Expect to have your evidence critically examined before being accepted. If you cannot make your beliefs appear reasonable to an outsider, then perhaps you should re-examine them yourself. (The idea of applying the same skepticism to our own beliefs as we do to the beliefs of other faiths is known as the ‘outsider test for faith’. The phrase was coined by John W. Loftus in his book of the same name.)
HAAM’s Pat Morrow recently examined the evidence for God offered by a Christian apologist who visited one of our outreach booths. Did it pass the ‘outsider test’? Read the answer – and the full story – here.
Looking for a good movie or TV show to watch this winter? We’ve just added a whole bunch of ‘new’ DVD’s to the HAAM library. Past-president Jeff Olsson recently cleaned off some shelves and donated everything he’s finished watching. He had lots of good stuff, including:
– All 8 seasons of Penn and Teller’s Bullsh*t (TV series debunking pseudoscientific ideas, paranormal beliefs, and popular fads);
–Guns, Germs, and Steel (Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer-prize winning examination of why some civilizations have survived and conquered others, while others struggle);
–Expelled – No Intelligence Allowed (propaganda film in which Ben Stein claims that evolution is a scientific conspiracy to keep God out of laboratories and classrooms);
–Collision (documentary about the debates between atheist Christopher Hitchens and Christian apologist Douglas Wilson);
–An Inconvenient Truth (documentary about Al Gore’s campaign to educate citizens about global warming);
Check out the complete list on our Library page. Thank you, Jeff!
Humanists Helping the Homeless
Just in time for the cold weather, thanks to some generous donations, HAAM was able to donate 100 new blankets (from Ikea) to the Main Street Project. Executive members Dorothy Stephens, Tony Governo, and Sherry Lyn Marginet (in purple) were there to deliver the blankets. Thanks Tony for leading this project!
The Story Behind our Ad in The Carillon
The Carillon is a weekly newspaper published by Derksen Printers in Steinbach, Manitoba, focusing on local Southeastern Manitoba news. HAAM ran an ad for one week (in both the print and online editions) starting on December 7 – but it almost didn’t run at all.
We had inquired about a Christmas ad, and made preliminary arrangements (like the section of the paper we wanted it to appear in) back at the end of September. Yet when we submitted the final copy, which included the phrase “Go ahead and skip church!”, the publisher deemed it too provocative and declined to run it. We asked our contact at the paper, who had previously responded to our queries without delay, what was offensive about the ad, and whether The Carillon would entertain any other ad we’d propose. No response was received.
The Carillon is owned by The Winnipeg Free Press, so we decided to ask the VP of the WFP in charge of advertising why the ad had been rejected. The reply, provided by the publisher of The Carillon, stated that they would be “finished” if they were seen supporting such a message in their faith-based community, even if it was tongue-in-cheek. This prompted us to write to the Free Press one more time. We indicated that we know there are numerous humanis
ts, atheists, and agnostics living in the area. We explained that denying our ad would be a violation of Manitoba’s Human Rights Code (section 13-1: No person shall discriminate with respect to any service, accommodation, facility, good, right, licence, benefit, program or privilege available or accessible to the public or to a section of the public, unless bona fide and reasonable cause exists for the discrimination). We also added that perhaps the rejection of our ad would be a newsworthy item for some other news outlet.
We then received another response from the Free Press, doubling down on their position to reject the ad, and stating that a decision made in one of their markets may not be the same as one made in another market. However, the response ended with an encouragement to revise our message to be more amenable to The Carillon’s publisher.
With this in mind, we revised our message to simply say “This Christmas just be good for goodness’ sake! Happy Holidays from the Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba!” The Carillon then questioned why our name was being spelled out in the revised ad, when the original message had ended with just the HAAM logo in the bottom corner. We had to explain that the original message would have been provocative enough to prompt people to look us up, but the new message didn’t have that effect; hence, we wanted people to know who the message was from. The publisher accepted our rationale, explaining that he was only being cautious; since he would be the person who had to deal with any calls about it, he needed to understand the reason for the change.
All this trouble for just one small ad suggesting that people don’t need to attend church to be ‘good’. Change comes slowly in regions where religion has enjoyed many years of privilege.
To the best of our knowledge, there weren’t any complaints after the ad was published. But it must have provoked some curiosity about non-believers, because not long after, both HAAM and the Eastman Humanist Community were contacted by a reporter from The Carillon asking about the new Humanist group in the Bible Belt. That article ran in the December 29th edition. You can read it on their website here. – Tony Governo
Letter of Encouragement to Upcoming G7 Summit
Canada will be hosting the G7 conference in June 2018. In advance of the summit, a number of Canadian organizations are working to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights remain central to the Canada’s priorities. Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, CARE Canada, and the Climate Action Network – Canada collaborated to prepare a letter encouraging Prime Minister Trudeau to ensure that three specific issues remain squarely on the G7 agenda:
- supporting refugees, migrants and displaced peoples,
- tackling climate change and its impacts on poor and marginalized communities and
- ensuring the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all people.
These issues have often evaded consensus among G7 leaders, and recent trends suggest this will continue to be a challenge for Canada’s G7 Presidency. The letter calls on the government to not only defend progress achieved in recent years and decades on these issues, but also to create opportunity to address remaining gaps in the future.
Likeminded groups in Canada were invited to add their names to the major signatories, and HAAM was pleased to add its support on behalf of our members.
You can read the full text of the letter here.
Year in Review
At year-end we look back at all we’ve accomplished over the past 12 months – and it’s always amazing to see how much it adds up to. We’re a busy bunch! Here’s a quick list:
Meetings: Educational and/or inspiring topics included recovering from religion, evolution in Humanistic thought, an atheist comedy night, dying and rising gods before Jesus, solar energy, the historicity of Jesus, atheism in Canada, indigenous spirituality, and the limits of free speech.
Social events: We introduced the HAAM and Eggs brunch last January, and it has become a regular and favorite casual gathering. We also hosted a film festival, parties for the summer and winter solstices, and a bowling night. We celebrated a ghoulish Hallowe’en and attended the film premiere of Losing Our Religion.
Calls to Action: In 2017, HAAM members were called upon to make their opinions known on a number of important issues through petitions and/or letter-writing campaigns. We spoke out against graphic anti-choice ads, supported sexual health and reproductive rights worldwide, demanded the repeal of Canada’s blasphemy law, protested government funding for anti-choice ‘crisis pregnancy centres’, fought against ‘faith-based’ healthcare, defended apostates worldwide, voiced our choice for assisted dying, and demanded fair secular government. Our members also expressed their Humanist values by donating blood, joining the Human Rights Hub, pledging organ donations, marching for science, and attending pride parades.
Timely topics: Our newsletters and articles covered religious violence, religion in public hospitals and schools, the struggles of refugees, religious trauma, the progress of our sponsored child in Uganda, and the origins of Xmas traditions.
Outreach: We have connections with other Humanist/atheist organizations across North America, and in 2017 we added a group in Houston, Texas. Our members attended and reported on religious conferences and presentations about Christian apologetics, faith vs. religion, tough questions from the Old Testament, the origin of human rights, and creation vs evolution. We hosted information booths at summer fairs in Steinbach and Morden, spoke to a world religions class in Grunthal, and launched a series of ads during the Christmas season.
Charities: In 2017 we supported Recovering from Religion, Wildlife Haven, Rainbow Resource Centre, Welcome Place, Women’s Health Clinic, the Island Lake forest fire relief fund, Kasese Humanist school (Uganda), the Christmas Cheer Board, and Koats for Kids.
Hats off to everyone who helped, participated, attended, and financially supported all these efforts! If you missed any of our 2017 happenings, and want to catch up, you can find the details in past newsletters. And make sure to join our activities in 2018!
We had a great time at the Solstice party!
More photos in the 2017 Gallery.
Just a reminder that 2018 memberships are now due. You can join or renew online, by mail, or in person at any meeting or event. Our fee structure includes a low-income option, if this applies to you.
Visit the Join Us page for membership information and online renewal.
Upcoming HAAM Events
Winter Solstice Party
December 23rd at the Belgian Club, 407 Provencher Blvd, 5:30 PM
Please bring an item for the potluck supper.
Optional – bring your favorite board game.
See complete event listings and details for all upcoming HAAM events on our Events page.
Charity of the Month – Koats for Kids
Koats for Kids is a United Way program that collects and distributes winter outerwear to needy families. They collect new or gently used winter jackets (clean with working zippers), ski pants, boots, hats, scarves, and mittens. All sizes are needed – from infant to toddler to youth.
Please bring your donations to our Winter Solstice Party! We’ll collect them up and drop them off at the depot.
Call to Action – Register Your Intent to be an Organ Donor
The Organ Donor Registry is now online!
Organ and tissue donation in Manitoba have gone high-tech. Paper ‘organ donor’ wallet cards are no longer considered adequate, because they are not recorded in any database and may not be available when needed. Instead, Manitoba Health now recommends that you register your wishes online to ensure that they will be known – if and when you ever qualify to donate.
Register your consent to donate at Sign Up for Life.ca. Your information will be recorded and stored in the secure Manitoba eHealth database. In the event of your death or imminent death, your decision will be shared with your family so that they can honor your wishes. Donation will not take place without your family’s consent.
How does it work?
You can register if you are 18 years of age or older and have a valid Manitoba Health Card. You can donate organs and tissues (heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, small bowel, stomach, corneas, heart valves, pericardium, bone, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and skin) for transplant. You can also indicate whether or not you would want your organs or tissues to be used for medical education or scientific research purposes.
Everyone can register to be a donor regardless of age, medical condition or sexual orientation. Your decision to register should not be based on whether YOU think you would be eligible or not. Eligibility is determined by the health care team after a patient’s death.
Thanks to Karen Donald for the tip!
Bill Favors Religion over Patient Rights
Having sat through a community hearing at the Manitoba Legislature on the issue of Bill 34, The Medical Assistance in Dying (Protection for Health Professionals and Others) Act on the evening of November 6th, I’d like to share some observations, comments, and take-away points from what was said. It should be noted that I learned about this hearing at the very last possible minute, and I’m uncertain as to whether the speakers were there by invitation or whether there had been an option for the public to sign up ahead of time to speak. As such, I can’t account for the small number of speakers calling for amendments, vs. the majority, who called for keeping the bill as is. Of the 16 speakers, only 3 (Dr. Alewyn Vorster, representing the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba; Mary J. Shariff, from the Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba; and Cory Ruf of Dying with Dignity Canada), advocated for amending the bill with clearer language that removes ambiguity, out of concern that a broad interpretation of the bill could result in denial of MAID information, referrals, and services to Manitoba patients.
Of the 13 speakers in favor of the bill as presented (two representatives from Catholic organizations, 10 doctors, and a private citizen), all cited personal religious beliefs as part of their presentations, in addition to many other arguments. Their most common arguments and concerns centered on personal religious conviction/conscience, the Hippocratic Oath, fear of health care professionals being required to make MAID referrals, reprisal should they refuse to do so, patient abandonment, assertions that medication is adequate to maintain comfort until “natural” death occurs, and the belief that “there is no crisis of access”. Most maintained that they wouldn’t do anything to block access to MAID services, and while all stated that they wouldn’t make a direct referral to the MAID team, most (with a couple of exceptions) were willing to refer patients to a third party who would.
Since When Do Institutions have Rights?
From what I learned during a previous conversation with my MLA, Andrew Micklefield (who was in attendance), and certainly from what was shared at this hearing, it’s clear that there is a disconnect between Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen’s statement, “We will protect the rights of institutions”, and the real-life ramifications of that statement for patients who are now forced into a potentially agonizing, painful, and certainly undignified transfer of service to another hospital if they opt for MAID while in a faith-based facility in Manitoba. As an example, to quote one speaker, Dr. Albert Chudley (a Professor of Pediatrics and Child Health, as well as Biochemistry and Medical Genetics, at the University of Manitoba, and who ironically professed to have taught clinical ethics), the bill “doesn’t diminish patient rights”, “transfer remains an option”, and “patients are not in pain”. Dr. Ann McKenzie, amidst stories of personal tragedy and appeals to the Hippocratic Oath, is of the opinion that vulnerable patients who choose MAID as an end of life option “lose time with family” and create trauma for those who remain.
Is there a duty to refer?
In conclusion, when asked by Andrew Swan, an opposition MLA who supports the bill, if the Health Minister would require health professionals to provide MAID referrals, Goertzen stated that he doesn’t believe health professionals (including nurses, pharmacists etc.) should be required to make referrals. The Minister said the government would “support the rights of institutions… not at the expense of access”; however, he did not acknowledge that failing to provide information and referral directly impacts that access. The provincial government is siding with publicly-funded, faith-based hospitals that are denying on-site access to MAID services, which is a violation of the Charter Rights of Manitobans. This bill sets the rights of religious institutions above patient dignity and humane end-of-life care.
All clauses of Bill 34 were passed, unamended. – Rob Daly
Is Christmas really a Christian Holiday?
If you celebrate and enjoy Christmas, don’t feel guilty about it. There’s no need to give it up just because you no longer view it as a religious holiday. Some of the following details may be disputable, because sources vary, and it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of customs and rituals that date back to antiquity and cross cultures. But this much is clear – Most of the traditions we associate with Christmas either originated in pre-Christian myths or have absolutely NOTHING to do with Christianity.
It’s all about the solstice
Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. Ancient astronomers were able to detect that after the solstice, the days became longer and the noonday sun rose higher in the sky. This was interpreted as a promise that warmth would return once more to the Earth. Numerous pre-Christian cultures and Pagan religions celebrated the return of the Sun and honored a birth or rebirth of one of their gods or goddesses on or near the solstice. These included Attis (Roman), Dionysus (Greek), Osiris (Egyptian), and Mithra (Persian). Saturnalia (the Festival of Saturn) was celebrated from December 17 to 23 throughout the Roman Empire. Many of these celebrations included fertility rituals and symbols intended to encourage Mother Earth to begin reproducing again.
In the late 3rd century the Roman Emperor Aurelian blended Saturnalia with the birth celebrations of savior gods from other religions into a single holy day (December 25th), so it was relatively easy to incorporate the celebration of Jesus’ birth.
These are Pagan? Really?
It’s no surprise, then, that quite a few of our modern Christmas traditions have Pagan roots. Here are a few examples:
Feasting and partying – Saturnalia was the liveliest of the ancient Roman festivals. The celebration included days off work, street parties, candles, gifts, and greenery. Saturn was the god of agriculture, so feasting was an appropriate way to celebrate the fruits of the harvest.
Mistletoe and Holly – Mistletoe was considered a magical plant and a fertility symbol by many ancient cultures, so people used to practice ‘fertility rituals’ underneath it; nowadays we usually just kiss. The complimentary colors of red and green represent male and female, and we still see them in the holly leaves with their red berries used in Christmas wreaths.
Santa Claus is partly based on myths that predate St Nicholas. The Norse god Odin is often pictured as an old man with a white beard and long cloak. Odin led a hunting party through the skies, riding an eight-legged horse. In winter, children would leave their boots near the chimney, filled with carrots or straw for the horse, and in return, Odin would leave a little gift in the boot. In Celtic Neopaganism, the Holly King and the Oak King fight a battle each summer and winter solstice, with each reigning half the year. Depictions of the Holly King often look remarkably like a sort of woodsy Santa Claus.
Caroling originated with the practice of wassailing – traveling through fields and orchards in the middle of winter, singing and shouting to drive away any spirits that might inhibit the growth of future crops.
Gift-giving – During Saturnalia, it was tradition to give children gifts of wax figures that represented the sacrifices made to Saturn to wish for a bountiful harvest.
Evergreens – Romans decorated their homes with bits of greenery during Saturnalia. Pines and firs were cherished as a symbol of life and rebirth in the depth of winter, and were traditionally hung around doorways and windows. Egyptians used palm fronds instead.
Fruitcake comes from Egypt. Once baked, it lasts a looooong time without going bad, so it was often placed as an offering on the tomb of a loved one.
The Yule log originates in Norway. The Norse believed that the sun was a giant wheel of fire which rolled away from the earth, and then began rolling back again on the winter solstice. To celebrate the return of the sun each year, they would light a Yule log and let it burn all night long. Once the log was burned in the hearth, the ashes were scattered about the house to protect the family within from hostile spirits.
Decorated trees – During Saturnalia, on the eve of the Midwinter Solstice, Roman priests would cut down a pine tree, decorate it, and carry it ceremonially to the temple celebrations. Pagan families would bring a live tree into the home so the wood spirits would have a place to keep warm in the cold winter months; food and treats were hung on the branches for the spirits to eat.
Most Humanists enjoy the various celebrations and traditions around the Winter Solstice, regardless of their origins. So
from all of us at HAAM – whatever you celebrate!
Countdown to 2018
Please support HAAM with your Membership
Membership renewal for 2018 is now open. Please note that HAAM operates on a calendar year, meaning that membership fees are due in January. First time members who join between October and December pay the full fee but their membership includes the upcoming year. If you are one of those brand new members, this notice does not apply to you. Everyone else needs to become a member or renew.
We count on membership revenues to support HAAM’s continuing work in creating community and providing a voice for non-believers. Fees are affordable and include a ‘limited income’ option if applicable. Please support the group that supports you! Memberships are payable anytime by credit card using the PayPal link on our website, by cheque in the mail, or by cash or cheque at any event. More information about membership and renewal is on our website.
If you plan to attend our AGM in January, dues MUST be paid in order to vote.
Get to know your fellow Humanists and help us develop a supportive community. Do you have a suggestion for a meeting topic or social event? An issue you’d like to discuss? A charity you think we should support? Do you have a talent to share? Can you help out with a specific task, project, or event? To keep our group active and interesting, we need YOUR input and help.
Watch for our New Ads
On Saturday, December 7th, HAAM will be running a seasonal ad in the local Steinbach newspaper, The Carillon. It will appear in both the print edition (on the front page of Section C), and in the online edition. We will also be running an ad on Facebook in December.
If you want a sneak preview, check out the banner image on our Facebook page.
Watch for our ads – and when you see them, please share them to spread the word!
Stressed Out About the Upcoming Holidays?
Do you live in a religious community, or with religious family members? Is the holiday season stressful for you because of it? Are family get-togethers uncomfortable? A little guide called Being Openly Secular During the Holidays might be helpful. Topics include managing stress, adhering to holiday traditions, and dealing with religious family. It also contains a secular grace and some links to further resources.
We also covered this topic in last year’s December newsletter.
Book of the Month – Salt Sugar Fat
Here’s a book that might give you pause before you dig into too much holiday party food – Salt Sugar Fat, by Michael Moss. After reading it, you probably won’t want to dig into quite so much holiday party food.
How much of our food comes from cardboard boxes, plastic packaging, fast food restaurants, take out, microwaves, lunch meats, processed cheese, cookies, candy bars, etc.? If you don’t know, or feel uneasy about the answer, you may not want to know.
Moss looks into labs where scientists calculate the “bliss point” of sugary beverages, unearths marketing techniques taken straight from tobacco company playbooks, and talks to concerned insiders who make startling confessions. Just as millions of “heavy users” are addicted to salt, sugar, and fat, so too are the companies that peddle them. You will never look at a nutrition label the same way again.
Get a head start on your New Year’s resolutions! If you read this book now, guaranteed you’ll be making different (and better) choices in 2018.
Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this book.
Is There a Right to be an A**hole?
At our (packed) November meeting, U of M professor Steve Lecce spoke about free speech. His awesome presentation was followed by a lively Q and A. If you couldn’t attend, you can now catch it on our YouTube channel.
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.
- 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…
At our May meeting, University of Manitoba philosophy Professor Arthur Schafer was asked whether it is ethical to try to talk people out of their religion if it gives them comfort. He answered the question decisively by emphatically stating that not only is it ethical to talk people out of superstitious beliefs; it is actually unethical to be religious.
In the excellent presentation that followed, Professor Schafer explained his answer in much more detail, but the gist of it is this: A populace that doesn’t think critically is a big risk to society. When people allow themselves to believe whatever makes them feel comfortable without examining and testing the evidence, they will be led to make decisions that are wildly irrational. False beliefs lead to actions based on those false beliefs, which in turn causes harm to ourselves and/or others. Poor decision making can occur in relation to all sorts of issues besides religion – medical treatment, politics and government, finances, lifestyle choices, and more. People who are gullible seldom limit their gullibility to one area or belief. However, in societies that experience prejudice and persecution, these attitudes are almost always based on false beliefs – usually based in religion.
Regarding the reasons that people turn to religion, Professor Schafer noted that it is most likely because they fear chaos and disorder, and seek security and comfort. However, there is much more disharmony in the universe than harmony, and certainly no evidence for an all-loving deity. Nevertheless, the fact that there is no intrinsic meaning in the universe doesn’t mean that we have no meaning in our lives; it’s up to us to create our own meaning. We have to learn to live with some uncertainty, and learn to make the best decisions we can based on the available evidence. We CAN live without illusions and old superstitions, even ones that give us comfort.
If you missed that meeting, the entire speech can be viewed here.
Response from a Christian:
Professor Schafer’s presentation prompted the following response from Michael Zwaagstra, a high school teacher and city councillor in Steinbach, Manitoba. It appeared in his weekly column “Think Again” in the local newspaper, The Carillon.
Earlier this year, someone sent me the YouTube link to a lecture given by Dr Arthur Schafer, an ethicist at the University of Manitoba. This lecture was delivered to the Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics of Manitoba (HAAM) at their May meeting, and was entitled “Is it unethical to talk someone out of their faith?”
Schafer began by saying that not only was it ethical to talk someone out of their faith, it was unethical to be religious at all. This was obviously a bold claim and I was curious to hear what evidence he had to back it up.
The examples he put forward were interesting. First, he described the Trudeau government’s decision to enact the War Measures Act in 1970 even though the evidence later revealed that this was an unnecessary intrusion of civil liberties. He then outlined the cases of two Aboriginal girls whose parents removed them from chemotherapy to pursue alternative treatments. One of those girls later died.
Schafer claimed that even though these two scenarios were very different from each other, they had one thing in common – belief in the absence of evidence. In other words, it is morally wrong to believe in something when the evidence does not support it. Since Schafer believes that religious faith lacks evidence, it is unethical to be religious.
It’s certainly a neat and tidy proposition when you put it that way. However, it suffers from two fatal flaws – an incorrect definition of faith, and unsubstantiated allegations about what the evidence actually shows. Let’s take a look at both in turn.
The Christian definition of faith can be found in Hebrews 11:1, which states “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. So while it is true that faith requires belief in something we have not yet seen, it is not correct to say we are expected to believe in things with no evidence. In fact, each of the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews had solid reasons to trust God.
For example, Moses was commended for leading the Israelites out of Egypt by faith. However, we also see quite clearly in Exodus 3 that God gave Moses good reasons to believe. From the burning bush to the staff that turned into a serpent, God provided Moses with plenty of evidence before sending him out to free the Israelites. So even though Moses needed faith to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, it was not a blind or irrational faith. It was built on a solid foundation.
The second major flaw with Schafer’s argument is that he incorrectly summarizes the evidence. To categorically state that there is no evidence for religious faith is not only an exaggeration, it is demonstrably false. From solid philosophical arguments for the existence of God to concrete archaeological evidence supporting the accuracy of the Bible, to a strong historical case for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there are many reasons to accept Christianity.
The evidence for Christianity may not convince skeptics like Schafer. Even one of Jesus’ own disciples, Thomas, refused to believe that Jesus rose from the dead until he saw him in person (John 20:24-29). However, by doing so Thomas rejected a significant amount of eyewitness testimony from the other disciples that was corroborated by an empty tomb. In other words, he chose not to accept the evidence that was available to him.
It takes faith to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. But that does not mean there is no evidence that it happened.
Thus, Schafer is wrong to conclude that faith is unethical. To the contrary, it makes sense to have it.
Rebuttal from HAAM:
HAAM’s Vice President and Outreach coordinator, Pat Morrow, provided this rebuttal in a letter to the editor which was also printed in The Carillon:
Depending on who you talk to, there are many different definitions of faith. In Mr. Zwaagstra’s column “Think Again”, he offers us a definition of faith from Hebrews 11:1, and he agrees that faith is belief without seeing but not belief without evidence. This is simply a distinction without a difference.
Mr. Zwaagstra offers the story of Exodus from the Bible as evidence. Dr. William Dever (ret) and Dr. Israel Finkelstein (University of Tel Aviv) are just two of many, many Biblical and Middle East archaeologists who, after exhaustive research, consider the Exodus never to have happened and the story to be an entirely fictional narrative. Archaeologists have been coming to the desert since the 19th Century and have simply found no evidence of the biblical Exodus. It seems that Mr Zwaagstra has demonstrated that Dr Schafer’s definition of faith coincides with the Bible’s definition of faith, since he believes the story of the Exodus without evidence.
Zwaagstra mentions the “solid philosophical arguments for the existence of God” and “the concrete archaeological evidence that supports the accuracy of the Bible”. He must be privy to arguments that I am not aware of, as without fail, all the major arguments for the existence of God since the time before Aquinas have fallen apart under the weight of their own built-in logical fallacies. As far as concrete evidence and accuracy is concerned, there is none that would prove the bible to be true to any great degree. I wonder if Mr. Zwaagstra gives as much weight to the archaeological and historical evidence that demonstrates many of the stories of the Bible are completely inaccurate and couldn’t have happened.
In the end, not only is faith belief without evidence, it is also belief in spite of evidence. Faith is not a path to truth – in fact it very often gets in the way of truth. Faith is what we rely on when we have no good evidence. And that is why it is, as Dr Schafer explained, not ethical.
Second Response from Mr Zwaagstra:
After Pat’s letter appeared, Zwaagstra responded again in his next weekly column:
Looks like my previous column got the attention of the Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics of Manitoba (HAAM). In a letter to the editor last week, HAAM’s vice-president, Patrick Morrow, challenged my definition of faith and said there is no difference between belief without seeing and belief without evidence. In his words, “This is simply a distinction without a difference.”
However, there is a very big difference indeed. Suppose for a moment that the resurrection of Jesus initially appears to all of the disciples except for one – Thomas. Since Thomas had not yet seen Jesus, he needed faith in order to believe in the resurrection. But does this mean there was no evidence available?
No, it doesn’t. Thomas had eyewitness testimony from his fellow disciples as well as independent confirmation from several women who also followed Jesus. He had an empty tomb he could visit and specific predictions from Jesus himself that he would rise from the dead. Thus, while Thomas needed faith in order to believe, it most certainly was not a blind faith. There was plenty of evidence for him to consider.
To take a more contemporary example, anyone who has attended a wedding has seen faith in action. The bride and groom pledge to be faithful to each other until death, and, by all accounts, believe that the other person will keep this promise. This is a leap of faith since neither the bride nor the groom has actually seen how the other person will live for the rest of their lives.
But that doesn’t mean it is blind faith. Assuming the bride and groom dated before their wedding, they spent time getting to know each other before deciding to get married. In other words, they gathered a lot of evidence and it helped them determine whether or not to put their faith in that person. In contrast, blind faith would be two random people getting married without knowing a single thing about each other – generally not a good strategy.
Now I recognize that Morrow and other members of HAAM believe there is no evidence for the reliability of the Bible. Obviously I disagree with them. As a case in point, Morrow says there is no evidence for the biblical account of the Exodus and he cites two archaeologists who hold the same view. He then concludes that I am exercising blind faith by believing in the story of the Exodus.
What Morrow doesn’t mention is that scholars are split on this issue. Some advocate for an early Exodus date (c. 1446 BC), some argue for a later date (c. 1250 BC), while others believe the Exodus never happened at all. Morrow selectively references two archaeologists who happen to agree with his position and leaves the false impression that the scholarly debate is over. It isn’t.
Incidentally, Morrow provides a good example of faith in his letter. He trusts the word of two archaeologists who say there is no evidence to support the story of the Exodus. Now I suspect that Morrow has not personally reviewed every piece of evidence that these archaeologists examined. Instead, he has faith in what these archaeologists have written, despite not seeing all the evidence himself.
The reality is that all people, even members of HAAM, exercise faith at times. We cannot make many decisions in life without it. Instead of condemning all faith as unethical, HAAM members would do better to recognize the difference between reasonable faith and blind faith.
Not all faith is the same. On this point at least, we should be able to agree.
Second Rebuttal from Pat:
I could agree with Mr Zwaagstra that not all faith is the same. In fact, in talking to the religious, I’ve found that the definitions of faith are about as varied as religious believers. Faith as described by Mr Zwaagstra in Hebrews 11:1 is “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV).
If seeing is a form of evidence, than that makes the biblical definition of faith, belief without evidence. In the world outside of the more, shall we say, devout believers of any religion, faith with evidence is not faith – it’s evidence.
Of course not all evidence is the same. On the high-value end we have empirical or scientific evidence; evidence that can be demonstrated and tested. On the other end of the scale we have evidence that is hearsay or stories of a personal nature. Often this evidence is so weak that we give it a different label – anecdote. Anecdotes may or may not have a seed of truth to them; however teasing out this truth is often impossible and renders the anecdote essentially useless as a source of evidence for evaluating truth claims.
Mr Zwaagstra offers us yet another biblical anecdote to demonstrate that faith is belief with evidence, and in doing so he displays the exact opposite. Outside the Bible there are no contemporaneous extra-biblical written accounts that could offer any evidence that this Jesus figure ever existed, let alone that he was resurrected. Even if the Bible could be considered an account of the resurrection, the stories were written later, and we have no originals, just copies of copies, and they contain many points of contradiction. Zwaagstra believes those stories without good evidence; that is to say, he believes on faith.
The doubting Thomas story is an interesting choice. Maybe Thomas understood that the empty tomb was not evidence of the resurrection, but evidence only of an empty tomb. He wasn’t swayed by the personal testimonies of the other disciples. He waited for the evidence, then tested it before believing. A true skeptic?
Zwaagstra’s second or modern example doesn’t get much better. The couple getting married obviously would have a history together, over time developing a bond of trustworthy of a life-long union. Maybe this couple has witnessed other successful lifelong unions. This would not make their marriage a leap of faith, but rather a reasonable expectation based on evidence. Of course, for the couple that have never met, marrying would be a true leap of faith. In this, Zwaagstra and I are in agreement.
It’s unfortunate that in the last half of his letter, Mr Zwaagstra has to resort using equivocation and generally misrepresenting my argument. I “say” there is no evidence for the Exodus and confine my argument to the scientific pursuit of archaeology, its scholarship and what it has to say about the Exodus. It is the general archaeological consensus that there is simply no empirical evidence that the Exodus ever occurred. I can furnish him with plenty more names of archeologists if he likes. I suggest he read “The Bible Unearthed” by noted archaeologists Finkelstein & Silberman. Or check out Dr Baruch Halpern – Talmudic scholar, archaeologist, and Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia. His lecture on the Exodus can be found here:
There are also many other problems with the story itself, such as how it doesn’t fit into Egyptian history (or reality for that matter).
I can assure Mr Zwaagstra that anyone basing their beliefs about the Exodus on just two renowned biblical archaeologists would be rather silly and is a gross misrepresentation of my argument. He claims that scholars are split on the date of the Exodus, or even if it happened, implying that there is a division within the archaeological community. This is simply incorrect; the multiple dates offered for the Exodus are unscientific and largely (if not totally) theological, with just a smattering of historical markers to make them interesting. Theological evidence is of little value due to its unfalsifiable nature. To test this, one just has to ask a Christian the value of theological evidence offered by Hindus, Muslims, or Sikhs.
Finally, Zwaagstra insists that we all have faith and that we “cannot make many decisions in life without it”. I would disagree. As Humanists and rationalists, we base our decisions and our beliefs on the best evidence we can find, not on faith. Faith is something most Humanists seek to rid themselves of. Apologists can call faith what they like – reasonable, justified, strong, or blind – but one doesn’t have to look far to see results of faith based thinking; it can cause the faithful to fly aircraft into buildings or believe ancient myths as truth. And that is why faith – belief without evidence – remains unethical.
- 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.
Spring is sprung! And HAAM is buzzing with activity. Registration is now open for HAAM’s very first conference…. River City Reasonfest, September 19 and 20, 2015. Buy your tickets now for the low, early bird rate of only $99 for the entire weekend. http://rivercityreasonfest.org/
In this issue: upcoming events including the Pride Parade, our Solstice Party, and a Summer Book Club; a special announcement will be forthcoming from our Humanist Celebrant; updates on religion in public schools and in the workplace; and more!
For many religious people there is comfort in the belief that moral questions have all been answered by their holy books. I can see the appeal of rules and structure, in that following a recipe will lead to the desired outcome. It must be nice for them to be able to open a book and find a specific commandment to suit the situation. From my perspective, life as a religious person must be similar to a trip to Ikea, walking a one-way path with every problem a flat-packed box of building materials and a set of instructions on how to solve it. Even in difficult situations where there is no clear answer, the fallback position is that even though they may not know the correct answer, there is a god who does and at some point, in the afterlife they will know it as well.
Of course, for those of us on the outside of religion we can see that this certainty is misplaced. The evidence for this is the many different religious beliefs and practices even from those who are reading from the same book of instructions. It’s unlikely that in any church, mosque or synagogue that we would find even two believers who have identical views on all moral questions. In addition, it’s a surprisingly pleasant coincidence for the believers that they seem to find a god who agrees with all of their own moral positions. How convenient is that?
For atheists though, morality is not quite so simple. We understand that there is no instruction book and so we look elsewhere for a foundation to build our lives on. For many of us, we recognize that atheism itself is nothing more than a lack of belief in god and so we must go elsewhere for guidance. Whether we identify as atheists, skeptics, or humanists, one thing that we all seem to have in common is a commitment to following the evidence where it leads us. We acknowledge that using science has the best track record for discovering what is true about the world and so we put our trust in science to help us discover those truths.
Science has been wonderful for helping us to answer many questions. Particularly in the types of questions that hinge on finding out hard facts. It’s a no-brainer for us to accept that evolution is a fact, that disease is not cured by prayer. These are the easy questions. And on these types of questions, the atheist community is pretty much united in our positions once sufficient evidence has been examined.
But when it comes to questions of morality, of how we should live, science is not always so helpful. At the very least, not always so certain. When we discuss issues around politics, economics, equality, or justice, sometimes it seems as if the atheist community is just as divided as the People’s Front of Judea. Many of us would identify as believing that a diversity of views is a good thing. In theory, anyway, much more difficult in practise. When questions arise that involve our values, or our identities, it’s very hard to examine the issues objectively, when we personally are the objects of examination.
It’s not that science has nothing to say about these moral questions, as there are domains of science that ask these questions and try to find answers, but the sciences that are best suited to address these questions, are often considered the “softer sciences”, such as sociology or psychology, that don’t seem to get the same level of respect as the sciences that give us more concrete answers. These are the types of sciences that can give us answers about the very issues that seem to cloud discussions of morality or ethics. For example there are studies conducted that demonstrate our human tendencies toward confirmation bias that serve to reinforce what we already think is true. This is quite easy to agree with in theory, even more so, when attributing this tendency to the other person, not so easy to accept when we turn it to ourselves.
Among many atheists that I know, another common value that seems to unite them, that doesn’t seem to be as prevalent in the religious community, is the acceptance of not knowing the answer. When it comes to questions such as how the universe began, or what happens after we die, we seem to be fairly comfortable with accepting that we don’t know, and quite possibly may never know. But when it comes to moral questions, we aren’t as comfortable with ambivalent positions.
With the recent horrific murders of the employees of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that occurred in Paris, murders committed for the imaginary sin of blasphemy, the atheist community responded with vociferous condemnation of the attacks. But even in their unified position, it appears that the devil is in the details, as arguments went back and forth over questions regarding how to show solidarity for contentious free speech. Talking about a fundamental human right and our responsibilities to each other requires us to examine our values, things that are held very personally and intertwined with our identity and our own perspective, not easily looked at with the same objective rationality that we are accustomed to using with other types of questions. And yet we feel compelled to take a position, even when the answer is not so clear.
A few years ago, Sam Harris wrote a book called “The Moral Landscape” in which he put forward a case for using science to help us answer moral questions. These questions, about human wants and needs, happiness and suffering, have traditionally not been something that appeared amenable to scientific inquiry. Morality has historically been in the unique position of being so complex as to keep the philosophers busy for ages and yet also been so easily solved by each one of us as we negotiate living together in community, convinced that we have the right answers. For myself, I believe that Harris is right, that as we explore the frontiers of neuroscience, adding to the work done in other fields of inquiry in psychology, sociology and biology, and with the commitment to following the evidence where it leads, that we will get closer to the answers that we seek. The only instruction manual that we will have is the one we write ourselves.
– Diana Goods
Recently, some of the members of the HAAM executive were having a discussion about how we, as a group, could encourage and promote more activities related to giving back to our communities, volunteerism and charitable works. Last year HAAM started an informal process of highlighting a charity of the month and doing something to promote the activities of the charity. Our promotion included activities such as collecting donations for Agape Table, D’Arcy’s ARC and volunteering as a group and individually for Lunches With Love, making healthy lunches to help some of the homeless people in our community. I personally have been quite enthusiastic about having these opportunities to put my humanist values into practice and I believe others in the group feel the same way.
This topic, though, made me consider some issues related to charitable giving in general. I think that most of us like to believe that we are doing good when we give to a charity, and I have seen many people will bring this up when trying to argue with religionists about being good without God, often citing work done by non-religious organizations like the Red Cross, or charitable organizations founded by non-believers like Bill Gates.
There is no doubt that giving and volunteering is a worthwhile thing to do, a concrete way to put our humanist values into practise and one that has its own rewards built right in. Most of us would probably agree that it just plain feels good to help. Being empathetic and compassionate is built into us and we recognize the rational utilitarian aspect of the golden rule. We help others in the hopes that they will help us when we need it. Everyone wins.
But does everyone really win? I have a good friend who will argue quite vociferously against the concept of the charity model really being effective at changing anything in the status quo. That it is a big waste of resources to rely on individual giving to actually fix anything. For example giving to a food bank does nothing to address the grave inequalities that create the need for it in the first place. That what we need is better government, tax supported programs that actually provide the people in need with enough money to buy food in the first place. That supporting these charities only props up an unfair system that keeps the disadvantaged down, while allowing the privileged to feel good about helping one day and then the next day to complain that their taxes are too high. And don’t get her going about the big business feel of some charities, like breast cancer research, that somehow selling a bunch of pink crap manufactured in countries with atrocious records on workers’ rights is a good thing. Countries where it’s not unlikely that the woman making that pink T-shirt can’t get the time off work to go and have a mammogram. While I offer these arguments as examples that my friend uses, I admit that I am sympathetic to them as well.
Another issue regarding the charity model relates to the issue of deserving and undeserving recipients. For example, I have noticed that it is much easier to give to those who we see as not being responsible for their own circumstances. People are often very motivated to help animals, seen as innocent, children with cancer, or to donate to disaster relief caused by some horrific natural disaster. But helping out a drug-addicted homeless person who doesn’t show a proper amount of gratitude? Not so much.
Looking at these two example of charitable giving with a critical eye, I have to wonder what role religious influence plays in this. First, regarding creating a more fair and equal society. Despite protestations to the contrary from those who see their religion as an inspiration to work towards social justice, I don’t actually see any concept of fairness or equality actually being taught consistently in the Bible. This is probably a reflection of the time that it was written, when there was no concept of democratic rule, basic equality or human rights. But for those who think it was divinely inspired, I would hope for something better from the Lord of the universe than quotes like this found in Matthew 26:11 “The poor you will have with you always, but you will not always have me”. What a way to inspire people to not actually look at root causes or solutions. But a great message to encourage tithing.
The second example of people being more inclined to help those that they perceive as innocent, I think draws even more parallels with themes in the Bible. Concepts that are held up as worthy and honourable include innocence and purity. Jesus was seen as the perfect sacrifice because he was innocent of sin. Keeping yourself sheltered and ignorant of the world is seen as a desirable path for many in this mind set. People are divided into saved and unsaved. Commit one sin or ten, damnation follows. There is not a lot of nuance in the core message. The idea of suffering being the result of sin, something you must have brought on yourself is actually a very common answer to be found to the problem of pain. It shows little recognition for the complexities of life, or for the recognition that sometimes chance, circumstance and degree of privilege play a bigger role than we realize in where we end up.
I am not drawing any definite conclusions here regarding religion being the ultimate cause of why we act this way. It is entirely possible that humans already have a built in tendency to find ways to “other” one another. It could be that religion simply latched on to a natural tendency. At any rate, at the least it offers reinforcement for these ideas. When religious people are convinced that the Bible is the last word on everything, and the ultimate answer to all of our problems, it stops us from using our compassion and creativity to find other ways. I think we can do better than that.
– Diana Goods