A curious and committed group of HAAMsters attended the debate Human Rights: By Design or By Default at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in July. It was part of an apologetics conference, so they were greatly outnumbered by the 400+ Christian conference attendees.
It was worth going just to support and hear Dr. Christopher DiCarlo, representing the Humanist position.
Luke Delaney took on the challenging task of reviewing the evening. Here are his insightful comments.
Are ‘Design’ and ‘Default’ the only options?
Before we go any further, this title irked me a smidgen (or more), mostly because I knew who, or rather which organization (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Canada), came up with that title. It’s typical of the ‘design’ posse to assume that the antithesis of design is default or chance. But, well, I decided to bite the bullet, buy a ticket, and drive to Winnipeg to root for the ‘default’ side, like I always do, by ‘default’.
Driving up to the museum is always a treat; it’s a beautiful building, both architecturally and in what it stands for – human rights. In the hall, it was nice to see a substantial crowd and, alongside the two info tables for the speakers, a third for the heathens (HAAM). It was the setting for a great evening, with, hopefully, an intellectual discussion (this early on, I was clearly being quite optimistic).
After a musical performance by Don Amero, and the introductions, Dr. Andy Bannister took the stage for his presentation on the side of ‘design’.
Dr. Bannister, the director of the Solas Center for Public Christianity (Solas CPC) and a well-known Christian apologist, started off his presentation with a quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which appears in the first preamble of that document, “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.
While he agrees with ‘equal and inalienable’ rights, he questions the source of the word ‘inherent’, asking the question, what makes humans inherently equal? Before getting into his reason as to what makes humans equal, he sets up a list of ‘incorrect’ arguments for equal rights (assuming that those ARE arguments for secular human rights). This list includes, among others, the circular argument that ‘rights exist because they exist’ and ‘human rights are a human invention’. He then goes on to present his ‘apologist’ reasoning for equal human rights, quoting Genesis 1:27, ‘God created mankind in his image, male and female he created them’. This statement, he claims, solidifies the fact that all humans are equal and should be, hence, treated equally. Nothing circular in that argument – God said so because God said so because God said so.
Now, in my opinion, Andy could have very well stopped right there; what else is there to say, once you’ve determined how all humans are judged to be equal? His argument begins and ends at, because God (or more accurately, the Bible) says so. By presupposing that the Bible is the word of God, and that Genesis 1:27 is a direct quote from God, what else is there to argue or discuss for the side of human rights by design? Well, like all apologists, Andy goes on to explain why secular reasoning for equal human rights is wrong and inadequate.
The most echoed of his arguments is the species/human spheres assertion, which you can find in this ‘Short Answers‘ video from Solas CPC.
In short, to paraphrase Andy, he claims that, in the larger sphere of all the species that exist on Earth today, secularists have picked a smaller sphere (of humans) within that sphere and assigned rights to them. In other words, he was pointing his finger towards species-ism (the rights of one species are greater than the others), and also implying that this logic could give rise to smaller groups within the human sphere claiming to have special rights.
Here’s my rebuttal to that argument.
- The argument of species-ism does not favour one side over the other, when we talk of design vs default. Both sides are guilty of this, in fact design more than default, because God says in Genesis 9:2-3 that ‘everything that lives and moves will be your food…’. So, from a design perspective, why do animal rights count?
- That being said, from the perspective of the other side, the secular side, Andy mistakenly confuses the order of the spheres. We don’t look at all the species and then say, ‘human’s rights over others’; on the contrary, we start with human rights as the minimum and then slowly expand that sphere to include other species. This means that groups of humans cannot claim special rights that infringe on other humans. ALL human rights are included in the minimum.
The rest of Andy’s argument was spent just trying to drive this point home; that secularists don’t have a basis for considering all humans equal and thus have no sound reasoning for human rights. He spends the rest of his discussion quoting great minds like C.S. Lewis, Bertrand Russell, Martin Luther King Jr., Sam Harris, etc. to make his point that in the absence of any shared humanitarian values, the only answer is God-given value. What he fails to address, and for obvious reasons, is how God, in both the Old and New testament, allocates unequal value to groups of humans, which goes against his premise that God created all men equal.
Or By Default?
Dr. Christopher DiCarlo was next on stage with his presentation on the side of secular human rights, or the ‘default’ side. Dr. DiCarlo is an advisory fellow for the Centre for Inquiry Canada and a philosopher of science and ethics. He is also the founder of Critical Thinking Solutions and author of the bestseller ‘How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Asking the Right Questions’.
Dr. DiCarlo starts off by laying the foundation for the reliability of science and then segues into how science has provided us with an extremely high probability of our origin as a species. This leads to his trademark phrase of four words, We are all African! This is straight out of his article in the June/July 2010 publication of Free Inquiry (Volume 30 Number 4), published by the Council for Secular Humanism. (You can find a copy of that article here). Christopher’s premise is that, over generations, going back to early hominids, there is evidence that humans have always shown a strong kinship. We begin by looking after our immediate family, then expanding that circle to extended family, neighbours, local communities, fellow country people etc. He goes on to say that, if, using science, we can educate the world about the evidence showing that we, as a species, are all related, share a common ancestry, and evolved out of Africa (We are all African), then the case for a species-kinship writes itself. In his discussion, and in his article mentioned above, DiCarlo states:
We are all African. With these four words,
- We see a genetic coalescence of the human population.
- We are all humbled… Because we are connected in lineage by common ancestry, all human life is equally valuable.
- We are equal, for we have been liberated from any self-imposed ideas of importance or special designation.
- We see that racism is a human invention.
With the end of Christopher’s pitch, the evening moved into a Q & A between the two speakers. My memory fails me as to who went first, but Andy’s question to Christopher reiterated what he had said before – why humans and not animals? Perhaps to avoid giving Andy a lesson in basic logic and reason, Christopher merely said that, (to paraphrase) “We are in the museum of human rights, and today’s topic is about human rights, that’s why”. That promptly silenced Andy, and Christopher took the opportunity to question the morality of the Bible, the source of Andy’s claim for human rights. Christopher brought up verses from Exodus and Hebrews, and the story of Moses and his violent acts. Andy danced around the question, deflecting to the New Testament and Jesus and claiming that the Old Testament was written in a different time etc. He even attempted to accuse Christopher of antisemitism (for bringing up the subject of Moses and the Jews, especially in the human rights museum), which I found very unprofessional of him.
After that short round of back and forth, the microphone moved to the audience to allow attendees to ask questions of the speakers. Most of the questions directed to Andy got the same deflections and dancing around on topics about violence and the lack of mention of human rights in the Bible, both Old and New testament. One question got a very honest and rational response from Christopher. Going back to the beginning of his pitch, Christopher mentioned how interesting it would be if the speakers exchanged sides and had to argue for the opposite side. The question to him was, if the sides were indeed changed, what would be his argument about the violence in the Bible. His response was, (to paraphrase) “I would study the writings carefully and come to the reasonable conclusion that the Bible is not a good source of morality or human rights. I would be honest about that part”.
For me, that was a perfect ending to the evening. ‘Design’ did not offer a sound justification for its argument, and ‘default’ demonstrated clearly why it is indeed the default side.
The Theory of Evolution in Humanistic Thought
Saturday, February 11th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Ave, 5:30 – 8:30 PM
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Saturday, February 25th, 9:30 AM at the Original Pancake House in the Forks Market. Note the time change – we’re meeting an hour earlier to avoid the rush.
For more information on these and future events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.
You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
HAAM Condemns Religious Violence
The Humanists, Atheists, & Agnostics of Manitoba wholeheartedly condemn the violence that has devastated the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec. We strongly believe that no matter what our ethnic origins or our religious beliefs (or non-beliefs), we are all unique human beings, and none of us deserve to undergo such horrors.
The actions of the gunman do NOT represent the views of the vast majority of Canadians. Our sympathies go out to the family and friends of all the victims, as well as anyone who is now feeling unsafe in their own house of worship. We are thinking about you.
Meet Your Executive Team for 2017
The following board members were elected at our AGM in January:
President – Donna Harris Vice-president – Pat Morrow
Secretary – Rick Dondo Treasurer – Henry Kreindler
Members at Large:
Tammy Blanchette Norm Goertzen
Tony Governo Sherry Lyn Marginet
Dorothy Stephens Jim Taylor
New this year!
We will be adding two new ex-officio (non-voting) members to our executive, to liaise with our rural chapters.
Helen Friesen has stepped down from HAAM’s exec after 20 years (thank you Helen!), but will now represent the Eastman Humanist Community (Steinbach area). The rep for the Pembina Valley Secular Community (Morden-Winkler area) is yet to be decided (and will likely need to remain anonymous).
Charity of the Month
In keeping with February’s theme of evolution, it’s fitting that we help our fellow creatures, since we share so much of our DNA with them. Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre has been helping Manitoba wildlife since 1984.
Their mission is to
- Rehabilitate injured, sick and orphaned wildlife for their return back to the wild, and
- Educate about awareness, appreciation and peaceful coexistence with wildlife.
Rescue. Rehabilitate. Release.
Wildlife Haven is permitted to rehabilitate and care for injured, sick and orphaned birds, including raptors (eagles, hawks, owls, falcons); mammals, including rabbits, squirrels, bats, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats; and amphibians/reptiles (turtles, frogs, salamanders, snakes). People finding these animals can call for advice, or to arrange pick-up or drop-off of the animal to the centre. More info is available on their website.
Wildlife Haven also runs an educational program, featuring wildlife ambassadors such as owls, hawks and falcons, and reptiles and amphibians, suitable for schools, service clubs, community events, senior living centres, etc.
Volunteers started Wildlife Haven out of their backyards before moving to the University of Manitoba’s Glenlea Research Station in 1993. In 2008 it moved to a retired dairy barn in Île des Chênes, and in 2015, construction began on a permanent home with a wildlife rehabilitation hospital and education centre. Future plans include a waterfowl overwintering enclosure, a variety of outdoor wildlife enclosures, raptor flyways, a natural wetland pond, a prairie tall grass site and a fruit orchard for wildlife and humans to enjoy. Let’s support this valuable work!
Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal link on the right sidebar. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
HAAM Receives a Bequest
We recently received two whole boxes of books donated by a friend of Helen Friesen‘s who passed away last fall and left his entire collection to HAAM. His name was Hank Neufeld, and Helen says that “he was a very outspoken atheist and he had a lot of books”. She traveled to Swift Current, Saskatchewan to preside at his memorial service, and brought the books back with her.
This is an interesting collection, dating back many years. A number of the books are about religious persecution and politics, and several are polemics against the Catholic Church. Quite a few have historical value, and/or are about religious history. Some bear a stamp indicating that they once belonged to the now-defunct Society of Prairie Atheists in Biggar Sask.
Our sincere condolences go out to Hank’s widow, Joyce, and all of his family, along with a huge thank-you for this wonderful donation. You can find the list of new books on our Library page.
Outreach Report: World Religions Class
January brought us out to Green Valley School in Grunthal, Manitoba for what has become a biannual visit to Michael Zwaagstra’s high-school class. This was a first for me of sorts, as we usually meet with his Ethics class; this was our first time speaking to his World Religions class. It was also the first time I teamed up with fellow HAAM member Tammy Blanchette. I hope to see more of Tammy in outreach. When it came to the Q & A portion of the class, I often found myself thinking “Geez, I wish I’d thought to answer the question that way.” As has been mentioned in the past, we do these classes in pairs (just like the Mormons). This is not so much for mutual support or even safety, but because Humanism is a very diverse belief system – if you’re just beginning to understand it, it helps to hear different perspectives.
The demographic of the Grunthal area is Christian, and the students we have talked to over the past five years or so are exclusively Christian. Michael Zwaagstra himself is an excellent educator, and judging from his personal writings and the exchanges I have read and engaged in with him, he is an unabashed Christian. Knowing that, and after reading a previous syllabus from his class, I realize that these classes have a definite Christian bias. But I still have to offer kudos to Mr Zwaagstra, as he is giving young people the opportunity to meet many who don’t share their worldview. He has had Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and yes, Christians, come visit his classes. In the Manitoba school system there are a few other schools that offer a world religions-type class, but to my knowledge no one else brings in guest speakers who allow the students to, as they say, “get it from the horse’s mouth”. In today’s world, it’s imperative for each of us to understand at least the basics of each other’s beliefs, and it baffles my mind that more schools don’t make comparative religion a requirement. Mr. Zwaagstra and other educators are working to remedy that.
The class was about thirty students this time. Most every year they are asked to look into Humanism and check out our website before our visit. Much to my delight and surprise, this year they actually did (that has never happened before). Based on their questions, it seems that most of them stuck to just the website, which is unfortunate. Humanism has a deep, rich history to be explored. I would have preferred that they learn more about the humanistic ideas of the ancients, spanning the great societies of Greece, Rome, India, and the Far East. Or they could take a more modern approach and examine ever-evolving documents such as the Humanist Manifesto (I, II, and III). And of course, the Amsterdam Declaration of 2002, which covers the fundamental principles of Humanism today.
Over the few years I’ve been doing this, the classes seem to follow a pattern – Introduction, Presentation, and then a Q & A (to which no one ever wants to ask the first question). Once the first question is out there, the gates open, but this too follows a pattern – about 30% of the class asks 100% of the questions. I often wonder about the students who remain silent. Are they indoctrinated to the point that they think we are ‘of the devil?’ Are some of them closeted atheists who fear they might be outed if they ask the wrong question? I suppose it could be that some kids just don’t like asking questions, or possibly don’t even want to be there. But the latter I find hard to believe, since this is an elective course.
Tammy and I fielded all the usual questions – where we come from, the Big Bang theory, morality, and what we do in outreach. Since it seems they kept their research primarily to HAAM’s website, we spoke about some of the content of the site, such as a public exchange about faith and the historicity of the exodus between myself and Mr Zwaagstra. Some students had questions regarding the article I wrote about Southland Church’s connection to churches that support the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act (better known as the kill-the-gays bill). This was of special interest to a few of the students who attend Southland Church.
As these conversations go, they sometimes turn to the unusual. We talked about such concepts as speaking in tongues and being ‘slain in the spirit ‘. Both are backed by the ‘solid evidence’ of personal experience and what some believe is empirical evidence in the form of this Nightline video.
These parts of the discussion can be quite difficult, especially when talking to young people who have had these ideas reinforced for most, if not all, of their lives. This is why just talking about what we believe and why we believe it in outreach is so important. We’re under no illusions that we can change the minds of believers; it’s their right to believe what they choose. But through discussion and debate we can light the spark of critical thinking and rational thought. And that will create a better world for all of us.
HAAM Joins Human Rights Hub
We are now listed as a member organization on the new Human Rights Hub of Winnipeg. The Human Rights Hub provides a central space to coordinate and promote the events and activities of the many individuals and groups in Winnipeg taking action on human rights issues! Their website includes a calendar for human rights events; current employment and volunteer opportunities; profiles of Winnipeg organizations active in human rights issues; and a blog to learn what organizations are up to in our city. Check it out!
Our First Brunch was a Big Success!
What a lovely, bright morning at the Forks. It was Pat Morrow who said “I’m going to invite folks to a brunch. Doesn’t really matter if anyone shows up, I’ll be there.” Well, the night before the RSVPs totaled 22 people. By our count, 27 Humanists showed up at the Original Pancake House at the Forks! Pat had the wait staff scrambling to seat all of us.
It was a great opportunity for good food and good conversation. We had a mix of long term members, a few who we haven’t seen in a while, and some new faces as well! Grant and I sat by a young couple with their toddler. They were really kind and interesting. Let’s hope they come out to a regular meeting.
By a fluke/coincidence, we also met another new person, just because there wasn’t room left for her to sit! She was there to join another Meetup group, but they had no more seats at their table. She asked if she could sit with us and we all said sure!! Turns out, she’s one of “us”. And according to Mandy Wood, she was “amazing” and a pleasure to talk with. Click here for a photo of a few of the attendees.
We’ll definitely do a brunch again. Thank you to everyone who came out! And special thanks to Pat for organizing the morning. – Donna Harris
We’re Standing Up for Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights Worldwide
On January 23rd 2017, in one of his first acts as President, Donald Trump re-enacted the Global Gag Rule, prohibiting foreign NGOs receiving U.S. assistance related to family planning and reproductive health from using non-U.S. funding to provide abortion services, information, counseling, or referrals, and from engaging in advocacy for access to safe abortion services. Trump’s version of the Global Gag Rule is even more extreme than past administrations, and will extend to all global health assistance provided across US departments.
In response, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights drafted a public statement calling on the Government of Canada and other sexual and reproductive rights allies to increase development financing in this area and to champion these issues within diplomatic efforts. The statement will be shared with Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland.
HAAM has added its name to the list of signatories who support the statement.
Call to Action! Please write to your MP to add your individual support. Click here for a template letter.
Book of the Month
In The Bonobo and the Atheist, primatologist Frans de Waal relates personal accounts of his work with primate species. He has spent years studying the similarities and differences between primate social societies and our own, concentrating mostly on morality, empathy, sympathy, altruism and a few other behaviours that many mistakenly deem as solely human attributes.
As a result of these studies, De Waal argues that moral behavior does not begin and end with religion but is in fact a product of evolution. His research demonstrates that human kindness is a biological feature of our species and not something that has to be imposed on us by religious teaching.
Nevertheless, De Waal defends religion in this book, (even although he is an atheist himself), referring to it as cultural scaffolding that builds upon and enhances biologically innate moral rules. He appears to accept the view of science and religion as ‘non-overlapping magisteria’. This has resulted in some interesting critical reviews, particularly from non-believers who are angry with him for giving religion a pass.
Is De Waal too soft on religion, or are his critics just bitter, as De Waal’s defenders claim? Why not read it and decide for yourself? Find it in our Library.
HAAM Takes On Apologetics
Two of our members were recently interviewed by a Christian pastor who wants to understand the worldview of non-believers so that he can coach his parishioners to refute it. That experience makes for a very interesting report from Pat Morrow.
Are You Recovering from Religion?
Saturday, January 14th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Ave.
We will begin with our meet-and-greet time at 4:30 PM in order to accommodate the AGM at 5:00. Dinner will follow at 6:00, and then our regular meeting and speaker at 6:45.
Please join us for the AGM – and don’t forget to bring your donations for the Warm Winter Clothing Drive.
For more information on this and all our events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.
You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
Charity of the Month
In keeping with the meeting theme, our January charity is Recovering from Religion.
RfR exists to help those questioning or leaving their faith with support, resources, community, and most of all, hope. Many people have a difficult time rebuilding their lives after leaving religion. They feel isolated and alone, and struggle to put aside harmful ideas and emotions. Others suffer real-life consequences, such as marital discord, threats to employment, or a disappearing social circle. Some are even threatened that their kids will be taken away, and teens have been kicked out of their parents’ homes after admitting their unbelief.
RfR offers three main programs:
- The Hotline Project operates in the US and Canada to listen to people’s concerns and offer compassion and support.
- The Secular Therapy Project connects clients with evidence-based counsellors who will not invoke prayer as part of treatment.
- RfR also facilitates an expanding network of local and online peer support groups, including specialty groups for preachers’ kids and spouses in mixed marriages.
Our contributions will assist RfR to continue to expand their much-needed work.
Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal link on the right sidebar. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, January 29th, 10:30 AM at the Original Pancake House in the Forks Market.
Happy New Year, One and All! May we each have a happy and healthy 2017.
2016 was, for many people, a challenging year, on both a public and personal level. And I will admit that keeping a positive outlook has been difficult when we’ve been faced with example after example of the worst that humanity has to offer. It can bring us to the point of despair, full of uncertainty about the future, and all that negativity can eat away at one’s heart and “soul”. I share that sense of frustration that makes you just want to shout out loud at the computer or TV screen and yell “What the F*** are you thinking?” These have been tough times, indeed, for evidence-driven, rational thought. It’s impossible to reason with someone who thinks truth is only opinion.
But perhaps this is the time for us to sit down, take a deep breath, and step back. Take as big a news break as we can handle. Place more emphasis on positive news, rather than negative. No, we can’t change the entire world, not by ourselves. But we can make a difference, one step at a time, in our own corner of the world. Perhaps we can attend a rally, volunteer our time, help a neighbour – whatever we can take on.
To that end, I’d like all HAAM members to remember that we are a community, where we can be ourselves and enjoy the company of our fellow Humanists and atheists. This New Year, let’s try to spend more time enjoying that community. More conversation, more interaction, and more smiles.
It’s also beneficial for us to remind ourselves of how good our lives are. At times, we can lose sight of all our advantages – such as living in a society where openly admitting that we’re non-believers won’t land us in jail (or worse).
Sometimes I need to be reminded, but when I start thinking about it, I am so grateful for everything I have, especially our local Humanist community. It feels better to pull together rather than to focus on what’s missing. Let’s do more to support each other and our community this year. – Donna Harris
Update – Can You Help Us Help a Refugee Family?
Last month we asked if HAAM supporters would be interested in assisting with a refugee settlement project (see the December newsletter if you missed the details). So far two families have expressed interest in taking part, and they are currently obtaining more information. Is anyone else interested? Let us know if you are, and we’ll connect you up. It would be great to have more people involved.
Event Report: Write for Rights
On December 10, 2016, International Human Rights Day, HAAM marked the anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 by aligning our local efforts with a global campaign organized for several years now by Amnesty International Canada and its international parent. We did this with a modest and last-minute event held at the St James Library. It was one of over 2,000 registered events across Canada.
The purpose of the Write for Rights campaign is to mobilize millions of people around the world on International Human Rights Day. The campaign uses the power of letter-writing to influence world leaders to protect individuals or communities whose human rights have been denied.
We chose this activity largely based both on its potential impact on the respect for Human Rights and the fact that everyone can participate. You don’t need to have previous experience with Human Rights or Amnesty International to do so. HAAM and Amnesty always welcome all those who are keen to keep shining the light on Human Rights.
AI has experience demonstrating the fact that letter-writing works! Visit their Success Stories page for just a few examples. They have found that such letter-writing efforts have led to positive results in approximately one-third of the cases. But they’ve also learned that it takes persistence; some countries can be more responsive than others, and some high‑profile prisoners of conscience face repeat arrests.
Among the cases chosen from the thousands known to AI in the world, it was both notable and disturbing that the situation at the proposed “Site C Dam” in the Peace River Valley in Canada was chosen as a showcase for the event. You can find out more about all the cases and causes that were the focus of letters last year at the dedicated web site. That page also provides access to a wide range of resources that tell you more about the campaign and letter-writing events.
So far, 21,200+ letters were reported written in and sent from Canada, with more than 2.3 million actions worldwide in support of the campaign. Would YOU like to make a difference in how the world resolves these situations? If so, then it is still not too late to write a letter. Tell some friends!
We plan to hold a similar event in 2017 with more planning and preparation. We hope to see you there!
HAAM is pleased to report that our sponsored child at the Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda has completed his last year in the ‘baby’ class and received an excellent report card (click image to enlarge). HAAM has paid his tuition for the coming school year, when he will join the ‘middle’ school children.
Pat Morrow and Tammy Blanchette will be heading out to the Steinbach area to speak to another World Religions class about Humanism later this month. It’s a large class and we have been told that the students are eager for debate, so we expect it to be fascinating.
On the Horizon (events in the planning stages)
- Can Humanism Replace Religion?
- The Regressive Left – a Roadblock to Progress?
- Outreach training
Watch for dates and details TBA.
Speak out against objectionable Anti-Choice Ads
An anti-choice group is attempting to run graphic and offensive ads on transit buses in several Canadian cities. Please speak out against them now, or Winnipeg may be next.
Book of the Month
Since Dr Darrel Ray will be our January speaker, we have ordered his book The God Virus for our library. This book has 195 positive reviews on amazon.com – just check out the titles of the reviews to get a feel for its reception among ex-Christians: “This is a WOW! Book! Get ready for an epiphany!”; “Probably the best book on religion”; “I had a major Aha moment”; “This book is the vaccine!”; “Helped me see the light”; “Life-changing”; and a quite a few reviews that begin with “Must-read!”.
What makes this book so great? Ray explains the concept of religion metaphorically as a virus. Using this metaphor throughout the book, he describes how some of the strategies that religion uses to survive and propagate are very similar to actual, biological viruses. The virus metaphor is useful in explaining the psychology of religion and its practical effects on individuals and societies. The author speaks of the importance of “vectors” (priests, ministers, etc.) in propagating religious ideas, and how religious people and organizations will protect those “vectors” even in the case of crimes or abuses. He then goes on to discuss guilt, control, sexual repression, anxiety and neuroticism, and the influence of religion on life, culture, and politics.
This book really is a game-changer. The way that Ray explains the psychological effects of religion helps ex-believers realize that the emotional baggage they are carrying around has a real scientific basis and that they are really not crazy to feel the way they do. If you have left religion and still suffer from the emotional aftermath; if you feel betrayed or conned by childhood indoctrination; or if you wonder how you could have ever been so brainwashed – quit beating yourself up and read this book. It will validate your experience and help you to move forward.
Year in Review
2016 was quite a year – tumultuous for the world, and very busy and exciting for HAAM. Here’s just a brief recap what took place in our little corner of the universe (You can see pictures from many of these events in our photo gallery):
- At our monthly meetings, we learned about evolution, how to talk to believers, the Unitarian Universalist Church, the Humanism of Star Trek, protecting our lakes, secular parenting, the Ark Encounter in Kentucky, electric vehicles, and Humanist schools in Uganda.
- In our community, we celebrated Darwin Day, International Human Rights Day, and Openly Secular Day; formed a private support group for secular parents; launched a new Humanist group in Steinbach; awarded a Life Membership to Helen Friesen; learned a Humanist Grace; found Joy & Meaning in a World Without God; and commiserated with each other on social media about the American election results.
- Our Outreach crew were exceptionally busy, meeting the public at the U of M, the Steinbach Summer in the City Festival, and the Morden Corn and Apple Festival; and speaking to private groups at the Circle of Reason, the Pembina Valley Secular Community, and high school classes in the Bible Belt.
- We supported charitable causes as diverse as refugee sponsorship, the Lake Winnipeg Foundation, a secular summer camp, Pride Winnipeg, a Humanist school in Uganda, disadvantaged university students, an inner-city women’s centre, a safe neighborhood initiative, and the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre.
- We hosted a film fest, a spaghetti dinner, and movie nights. Our members toured the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, participated in the Winnipeg Pride Parade and the Steinbach Pride March, attended Regina’s Shift to Reason conference, and donated blood.
- On the web, our members opined about debating apologists, toxic comments on social media, the new Winnipeg Police Services’ chapel, spiritual care in public hospitals, a Manitoba church that has ties to violent anti-gay organizations, and the cognitive dissonance exhibited by religious scientists. We added more information and resources to our What is Humanism and Outreach pages, and developed another brochure for outreach events.
- New additions to our Library included Richard Dawkins’ autobiography Brief Candle in the Dark; Dan Barker’s inspirational book Life Driven Purpose; Seth Andrews’ lighthearted look at beliefs Sacred Cows, a reference book on world religions – The Religions Book; and our first entry in the ‘apologist’ category – One Heartbeat Away: Your Journey Into Eternity, by Mark Cahill.
- Our supporters stood up for Medical Aid in Dying, diversity and anti-bullying programs in Manitoba schools, reproductive choice, and inclusive, secular government; and we spoke out against blasphemy laws and proselytizing in public schools.
Whew! That’s a lot for one year! And we couldn’t have done it – and can’t continue to do it – without YOU! Another year is just beginning, and we need your SUPPORT, your MEMBERSHIP FEES, your IDEAS, your ENERGY, and your PARTICIPATION to make great things continue to happen.
All the details on how you can make friends, become involved, support evidence-based decision-making and secular government, and become part of our Humanist community are on our Join Us page – but if you still have questions, contact us!
Here’s to 2017! See you at the AGM!
(Note: Membership fees must be paid if you plan to participate/vote at the AGM).
Winter Solstice Party
Saturday, December 17th, Heritage-Victoria Community Club, 950 Sturgeon Rd, 5:30 pm – 9:30 PM
New! We now have a liquor permit for the party. Important details here.
And don’t forget to bring money or a food item for the Christmas Cheer Board.
Are You Recovering from Religion?
Saturday, January 14th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Avenue, 5:30 PM
We will begin with our meet-and-greet time at 4:30 PM in order to accommodate our AGM at 5:00. Dinner will follow at 6:00, and then our regular meeting and speaker at 6:45. Please join us for the AGM – we need your support and input as we plan for the coming year!
For more information on these events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.
You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
Celebrate Human Rights!
December 10th often goes by unnoticed in Canada. With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it seems to pass with no mention. But it’s a special day, a day that was 2500 years in the making*. December 10th is International Human Rights Day. On this day, we celebrate the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – a document so important that its 30 articles are woven into our Canadian Constitution. You can read the full text of the UDHR here.
The UDHR was established by resolution in the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, and ever since that auspicious day it has stood as the first major stride forward in ensuring that the rights of every human across the globe are protected. The UDHR is far superior to, and more moral in every way than any religious text. Developed after the carnage of World War II by people from all backgrounds, it remains a document to which our species must aspire.
Many of us in Canada have enjoyed these rights for so long we couldn’t imagine our lives without them; others simply take them for granted. This year’s slogan for International Human Rights Day is “Stand up for someone’s rights today“, and with recent developments in our political climate, the message couldn’t be more timely. So this December 10th, take some time to appreciate what we have and the effect that this resolution has had on your world and your life. Look around your community and see its effects on a local scale. We all must understand that universal human rights are a gift for us, and to us, and they must be protected by us.
Here are two easy ways to promote human rights:
- Watch and share this 10-minute video.
2. Explain the UDHR to young people.
Let’s reaffirm our common humanity. Wherever we are, we can make a real difference by stepping up to defend the rights of those at risk of discrimination or violence.
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home…” Eleanor Roosevelt
*About 2500 years ago, Cyrus the Great conquered most of the Middle East (and then some). Up until that time, defeated soldiers in battle were typically either killed or enslaved. Cyrus offered the losers a different deal – they would not be taken into slavery (personal freedom), and they would be allowed to keep their religion (freedom of religion), provided they remained peaceful. In many cases he repatriated the dispossessed back to their homelands (freedom of citizenship). Many of these new rules were recorded on the Cyrus Cylinder, which is considered to be the first declaration of human rights.
Can You Help Us Help a Refugee Family?
At our last meeting, we listened to a short presentation from Maysoun Darweesh, from the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council. A former refugee herself, Maysoun is now helping current refugees (mainly from Syria) adjust to life here in Manitoba.
Maysoun explained that refugees arrive in Canada in two ways –
Some families are directly sponsored by groups (usually churches) who commit to supporting and providing for the them until they get established. This requires a substantial commitment of both time and money from the sponsors, as refugees require food, clothing, and shelter, and most need to learn English and settle in before finding they can find a job and become independent of the sponsoring organization.
The second way that refugees arrive is through government sponsorship. In this case, basic necessities are provided by the government, but the family has no direct, personal connection to a Canadian family or group that can help them with all the other things they need to learn. Because of the large influx of refugees in the last year, quite a few families in Winnipeg arrived this way.
Government sponsored refugees have a harder time becoming comfortable in their new environment because they don’t have friends to practice their English with, or to ask questions of, in the hours between their scheduled English and other settlement classes. They go home to their apartments and speak their own language, and many hesitate to venture out alone into the world of shopping malls and entertainment complexes they don’t understand.
To help these people, the MIIC has developed the Host Matching Program – a modified form of sponsorship that doesn’t require a financial commitment. It’s practical for small groups like ours who would like to help but don’t have the financial resources required for private sponsorship.
The program involves matching a government-sponsored immigrant family with supportive Canadians who are willing to help them settle in. These people do not need money or food. They need Canadian friends. They need someone to speak English with, answer their questions, go with them to Tim Hortons or the bowling alley, or the beach or toboggan hill, and teach them about Canadian pastimes, customs, culture, and relationships.
What is required of the sponsors? In order to take this project on, HAAM would need a core group of 3 or 4 people, or a couple of families, who are willing to sign up for the program and go through the screening and orientation process (including child abuse and criminal record checks, which are free). Once that’s set up, other families and friends can become involved as additional supporters. Most of the families in need of sponsors live in or near the downtown area.
Maysoun’s presentation met with a positive response and a great deal of informal support, and our HAAM exec would like to pursue it, but we need people to come forward and commit to it before proceeding. If you are interested, please let us know.
Is the Holiday Season Stressful in Your Family?
If you struggle to deal with your religious extended family, and the prospect of getting together with them over the upcoming holiday season is a major source of stress, you might find some helpful advice in a post called “Coping With Religious Family Over the Holidays” on the website Journey Free – Recovering from Harmful Religion.
The author is Dr Marlene Winell, a psychologist dedicated to helping people transition out of harmful religions, recover from trauma, and rebuild their lives. She has been working in religious recovery for over 25 years and originated the term ‘Religious Trauma Syndrome‘. She is also the author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. (Editor’s note: This was one of the first books I read after leaving my church in the early 90’s, and it was immensely helpful. We don’t have it in our HAAM library, but the Winnipeg Public Library has a copy; probably the same copy I borrowed over 20 years ago. D.S.).
You’ll find some more good advice from Libby Anne, an ex-evangelical Christian who blogs at Love, Joy, Feminism. She addressed a recent post to those facing Trump-supporting family members at holiday gatherings, but the advice applies to more than just political differences. Check it out.
And if all else fails, look for some humor. Here’s a Religious Family Bingo card you can play.
Books of the Month
Thanks to some generous members, we have two new books! Catherine Kreindler has donated a copy of Thinking, Fast and Slow (a study of critical thinking skills and cognitive biases), and Joan (last name withheld) gave us her copy of A Brief Candle in the Dark.
Thinking, Fast and Slow is a best-selling book by Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics laureate Daniel Kahneman. The book’s central thesis is that there is a dichotomy between two modes of thought: fast, instinctive and emotional versus slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The book discusses the cognitive biases associated with each type of thinking. From framing choices to people’s tendency to substitute a difficult question for one which is easy-to-answer, the author highlights several decades of academic research which suggests that people place too much confidence in human judgement. Surprise, surprise.
Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science is the second volume of the autobiographical memoir by Richard Dawkins. It covers the second half of his life, after the publication of The Selfish Gene (also in our HAAM library) in 1976. In this book, Dawkins discusses his scientific work, travels and conferences, his Royal Institution Christmas Lecture (Growing Up in the Universe, in 1991), his work as Professor for the Public Understanding of Science in Oxford, and his documentaries (such as The Root of All Evil?), as well as his personal life and his books.
New Brochure Aimed at Creationists
If you’ve read any of the reports from our Outreach booths in Morden, you already know that we get a lot of visitors who subscribe to Creationism (aka Intelligent Design). But this year, there were more than usual – buoyed, no doubt, by the presence of a new trailer devoted to materials from Answers in Genesis (the group that built the Ark Encounter theme park in Kentucky). Their people swarmed our booth in unprecedented numbers, asking nonsensical questions and spouting scientific impossibilities and general misinformation.
One area of misinformation and confusion stood out among the rest – few (if any) of these Creationists understand the difference between Cosmology, Abiogenesis, and Evolution. In fairness, that’s probably not uncommon; even among those of us who don’t believe the claims of Creationists, a lot may have never considered the difference or given it much thought.
The answer is really quite simple: Cosmology is the study of the origin of the universe; the branch of astronomy that includes Big Bang Theory. Abiogenesis is the natural process of life arising from non-living matter, or more simply – how did life originate? Evolution is the change in characteristics of living organisms over time, or, in the vernacular, how did we arise from monkeys? Abiogenesis deals with how life began; Evolution deals with changes in life that already exists; and neither of these subjects is related to how the earth came to be in the first place.
But do you think we could explain that to Creationists? Not a chance! They persisted in asking who created the world, and who created life, and where do people come from if there is no Creator; followed by their conclusion of “Tada! If you don’t know, then evolution is false!” When we pointed out the errors in that logic, they simply moved on to another question or topic. We might as well have tried to nail Jell-O to a wall.
For visitors to our booth who are actually seeking information, or who are at least curious enough to want to know what we have to say, our executive has prepared a number of brochures covering the most frequently asked questions we receive. A quick look reveals that they fall into two categories – Humanism/atheism, and science/evolution. (In case you’re wondering why there is a whole pamphlet devoted to trees, it written specifically to address the most commonly cited claim we hear for evidence of a Creator – “look at the trees!”)
But until now we had no brochure about the origins of life (as opposed to evolution). Spending three days wrangling creationists in Morden inspired Rick Dondo to research the topic and write one. It’s available on our website, and will be on the table at our next Outreach – if any creationists care to actually read it.
Calling All Secular Parents!
Beginning in the New Year, our secular parents’ coordinator, Tammy Blanchette, will be considering different ways to connect families. Distance, busy schedules, and babysitting make it difficult to get together, so online chats, family excursions, or spur-of-the-moment outings (sometimes weather-dependent) may be options. Not all of these will be planned with enough notice to make the monthly newsletter, and some will not be advertised publicly. If you are a secular parent who would like to be included when events are planned, please let us know and we’ll make sure you are notified.
Event Review: God and the Galaxies – A Jesuit perspective from the Vatican Observatory
Rick Dondo recently attended this lecture given by Jesuit priest and astronomer Dr. Richard D’Souza at St Paul’s College. He hoped to be treated to images of the night sky and some scientific explanations of them. That turned out to be hardly the case, but the evening was interesting nonetheless.
If you’re curious about how religious scientists try to overcome cognitive dissonance and reconcile their supernatural beliefs with their scientific endeavors, you’ll find his observations fascinating.
It’s Time to Plan for 2017
We’re almost at the end of another year, and plans are underway for the next. HAAM exists to create a supportive and welcoming community for non-believers. Make sure you’re a part of it! Here’s what you can do to help.
1. Renew your membership. We’re no different than any other organization – we need an operating budget just to exist. Whether you’re able to make our meetings or not, if you participate in our online community, and support our advocacy for a just and secular society, our outreach programs, and our general Mission and Position statements, then please help us to continue to our work. Our membership fees are reasonable – and haven’t increased in several years. Note that there is a limited-income option for as low as $10 a year, and you can renew online.
2. Consider volunteering – either by joining our Executive as a member-at-large; or if that’s too much right now, just help out with a specific task, project, or event. Many hands make light work. The number and type of events and programs we offer depends directly on the number of people willing to participate in the planning. Let us know if you can help.
3. Come out and get to know your fellow Humanists! The strength of any community is its members. The one thing that religion does really well is create a social support network; there’s no reason we can’t do the same (but without the superstition and dogma). Don’t be shy! We’re looking forward to meeting you!
You’ve probably seen in the news that Tony Governo has taken the next step in his fight to end religious prayers at Winnipeg City Council meetings. (If you haven’t followed this story from the beginning, see City Flouts Supreme Court Ruling on Prayer.)
In September, Tony received the following response to his letter to Winnipeg’s mayor and City Council:
Dear Mr. Governo:
Thank you for taking the time to contact me about your concerns regarding the invocation undertaken by City Council and your interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling.
Council has examined this issue in early 2015. Our Legal Services Department assisted in the interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling and its impact on our Council practice. All Members of Council were consulted on the matter.
It was determined that the prayer and practice be amended to ensure compliance with the Supreme Court ruling. At meetings of Council, each Councillor, in a monthly rotation, would be given the opportunity to recite a new non-denominational invocation, or an invocation of their choosing, including a meditation or moment of silence.
Notably, the non-denominational invocation does not reference the words “God” or “The Lord”. The invocation is:
As we gather here today as members of City Council;
We seek to be ever mindful of opportunities to render our
service to fellow citizens and to our community;
Keeping in mind always, the enduring values of life and
exerting our efforts in those areas and on those things
upon which future generations can build with confidence;
We recognize that we are meeting on Treaty One land,
The traditional homeland of the Metis nation;
Let us continue to strive to make a better world.
Councillors are free to say what they feel is appropriate. Often Councillors read a prayer from different religions, in tribute and recognition of their ward citizens’ many faiths, or recite words of wisdom from philosophical traditions, again often recognizing the ethnic diversity of their wards. By following this open practice, Councillors are honouring the multi-ethnic diversity of our great City and are not bound by any one religion. By ensuring inclusivity; that we recognize all religions and faiths, and maintaining neutrality, Council has ensured that it is in compliance with the Supreme Court ruling.
City Councillor, Old Kildonan
Speaker of Council
You may be wondering what’s so offensive about this nondenominational invocation, and the answer is nothing, as long as it’s not referred to as a prayer. But not all the councillors read this type of secular invocation, as we explained previously. And from Councillor Sharma’s response, it seems that our city government has no plans to change their guidelines and restrict overtly religious prayers anytime soon, so Tony approached the media to express his concerns. The story appeared on the CTV, CBC, and the Winnipeg Free Press websites.
Predictably, Christians claimed persecution, flooding the comments sections of news and social media sites with their assertions that
- Tony is trying to abolish Christianity
- there are bigger issues and he should find something better to do
- opening the meetings with a prayer is tradition
- everyone should respect their religious beliefs
- while atheists are whining about this minor First World problem, Christians are thanklessly doing the hard work of trying to provide love, comfort and supplies to the Third World
- Canada is a predominantly Christian country and our laws are based on biblical values
- if people don’t want to listen to the prayer, they can just don earphones or leave the room.
Some of the commenters were at least civil, although misguided or just plain wrong; some offered a trite “I’ll pray for you”; and others spewed nothing but vitriol and hatred.
These people are completely missing the point. The prayer is unnecessary; city council should simply open their meetings and get down to business. Any councillor or spectator who wants to pray can do so on their own time in private before the meeting – the same as countless employees at other workplaces across Canada. Government meetings are public, and the government must serve everybody, so nobody should have to feel the need to leave the room.
A number of HAAM members who shared and/or supported Tony’s complaint were forced to defend or explain the rationale behind it. Here are a couple who did that very well. First, Bob Russell received his own share of hatred and vitriol, after posting the following on his social media page.
The Supreme Court has already ruled against a municipality in Quebec regarding public prayer. In that case, the prayer was a Roman Catholic prayer. Non-denominational means only that it is not Christian, Muslim, Jewish, etc… but it still usually makes reference to “God”, either explicitly or implied. Regardless of how nebulous the reference is, or how seemingly benign the prayers are, it is still a religious practice that should have no place in a secular government that is supposed to represent all the people and not just those who are religious.
An option tried in the US is to have prayers from different religions on a shared and rotating basis. This all sounds good, but in practice, many officials have walked out of meetings rather than listen to prayers said by Muslims, Hindus, and (Gawd help us) Satanists and Wiccans. Christians have packed the public gallery to sing hymns and drown out prayers from these people. So much for respecting one another’s beliefs.
There is a place for prayer but it should not be in government. Comparing prayer at City Council to prayer before a meal in a restaurant fails to clear the first hurdle because a restaurant is not taxpayer funded nor a government agency. You can say your prayers in a restaurant as long as you are not disrupting other patrons. I see it all the time and have yet to see anyone take offence at it – atheist or believer. I would wager that if someone does take offence, it will be another person of faith and not an unbeliever. To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, we can always rely on the faithful to burn each other’s churches.
And nothing at all prevents any councillor or employee from praying quietly to themselves at any time of the day they wish to. They can even meet before the start of official business or their shift to pray all they want to.
The secularization of government is a good and necessary thing. By not promoting religion – any religion – the state does, in fact, protect religious belief. Or should we have an official state religion that excludes all other religious and non-religious people? That has been the case in the past here, and still the practice continues today in many parts of the world.
Secular government will eventually become a reality. Religious beliefs have no role in official government business. Many people are informed and influenced by their religious beliefs, and the results can be both good and very bad as we well know. Secular government opens the door to allowing people of all beliefs, or no religious belief, to have a full role in the affairs of the city, province and country without discrimination – overt or implied.
After publishing Tony’s story, the Winnipeg Free Press received several letters to the editor critical of the story. Here is Pat Morrow’s response to them:
I applaud Tony Governo for his efforts and putting himself out there for all who value the benefits of a secular government. Not many have witnessed the comments and the text messages calling him a clown or crybaby and worse. For Tony and others active in the secular movement, this is water off a duck’s back. And it begs the question: where are the rational arguments promoting prayer and city Council meetings?
Amongst the “rebuttals” to Tony’s efforts is a letter making the claim that his mental anguish over religion in government is a “First World problem”. The ignorance and irony is thick with this one, as undoubtedly the individuals who make this claim enjoy the benefits and privilege of living in a secular society. The separation of religion and government can’t be traced directly to those benefits. One doesn’t have to look very far back in history to see the damage done when religion is partnered with government. History is full of examples, such as Indian residential schools and the Magdalene laundries. Even today, separate school boards in Ontario and Alberta are wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in the duplication of services, simply by maintaining the archaic idea of public religious education.
As we look around the world, the evidence is overwhelming – secular, democratic societies score higher on every measure of societal heath, including general happiness, higher life expectancy, lower rates of STI’s, lower infant mortality rates, and the list goes on. No society ever advanced because it became more religious.
So when someone calls this a First World problem, they are mistaken. Separation of church and state is a benefit and privilege that should be zealously guarded world-wide. It guarantees protection for all religions and beliefs systems and has no affect on people’s individual rights to practice their own religion.
As for the non sequitur claim that Christians have been doing the “thankless” charitable heavy lifting in the Third World for the last several decades, I say “get down off the cross.” Would the writer like a list of the many thousands of NGOs, secular, non-Christian religious, and Humanist organizations that are doing charitable work in the Third World?
City politicians have homes, offices, hallways, and churches to pray in. Council Chamber is designated for running the business of the City of Winnipeg – not a place to feature one’s personal religion, beliefs, or new age woo woo. My personal beliefs are not a part of my employment; I just get to work. I’m asking the city to do the same.
Tony plans to proceed with a complaint to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. Stay tuned for further updates.
In April 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Christian prayers at city council meetings in Saguenay, Quebec were unconstitutional. The ruling makes it clear that, in order to promote and respect the rights of all citizens, governments must maintain neutrality with regard to religion.
The following excerpts from the ruling illustrate the concept of neutrality very well (you can read the full ruling here).
-  “… State neutrality means … that the state must neither encourage nor discourage any form of religious conviction whatsoever. If the state adheres to a form of religious expression under the guise of cultural or historical reality or heritage, it breaches its duty of neutrality… “
-  “… state neutrality is assured when the state neither favours nor hinders any particular religious belief, that is, when it shows respect for all postures towards religion, including that of having no religious beliefs whatsoever, while taking into account the competing constitutional rights of the individuals affected.”
-  “… abstaining does not amount to taking a stand in favour of atheism or agnosticism. The difference, which, although subtle, is important, can be illustrated easily. A practice according to which a municipality’s officials, rather than reciting a prayer, solemnly declared that the council’s deliberations were based on a denial of God would be just as unacceptable. The state’s duty of neutrality would preclude such a position, the effect of which would be to exclude all those who believe in the existence of a deity.”
-  “… there is a distinction between unbelief and true neutrality. True neutrality presupposes abstention, but it does not amount to a stand favouring one view over another. No such inference can be drawn from the state’s silence. In this regard, I will say that the benevolent neutrality to which the Court of Appeal referred is not really compatible with the concept of true neutrality…”
-  “…The purpose of neutrality is instead to ensure that the state is, and appears to be, open to all points of view regardless of their spiritual basis. Far from requiring separation, true neutrality requires that the state neither favour nor hinder any religion, and that it abstain from taking any position on this subject. Even if a religious practice engaged in by the state is “inclusive”, it may nevertheless exclude non-believers…”
As a result of this decision, cities across Canada, including Winnipeg, reviewed their practices of opening meetings with prayers. While some of those cities subsequently terminated the practice after the review, Winnipeg did not.
After seeking advice from the city’s legal department, Mayor Brian Bowman stated “[t]he preliminary analysis is that what we are doing is likely permissible.” Bowman noted that local City Hall prayers tend to be non-denominational and not overtly religious. And so, amid some controversy, the councillors continue to recite a prayer of their choosing.
One Person’s Action
A year later, in the summer of 2016, HAAM executive member Tony Governo took a look at what’s currently happening at City Hall in Winnipeg and wrote to his councillor asking the following questions:
- Are prayers still being recited at city hall?
- If so, do you take your turn at reciting a prayer?
- Do you always recite the same prayer?
- What kind of prayer do you recite?
- Can you provide a copy of the prayer(s) you have recited?
- Has there been discussion about ending this practice at city hall?
- Would you recite a “prayer” provided by one of your constituents?
As it turns out, Tony’s Councillor, Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre) is on record as having read a ‘prayer’ that could not really be termed a prayer at all, but would more appropriately be called a Humanist invocation, and he commended her for that. But other councillors have recited quite a variety of prayers, some of them still overtly religious.
About half of the councillors recite the following ‘generic prayer’ (a previous version of it, before the Supreme Court ruling, contained the words ‘pray’ and ‘amen’):
“As we gather here today as members of city council, we seek to be ever mindful of opportunities to render our service to fellow citizens and to our community, keeping in mind always, the enduring values of life and exerting our efforts in those areas and on those things upon which future generations can build with confidence. Let us continue to strive to make a better world.”
So far, so good. But a little research turned up several councillors who mentioned a ‘god’ or ‘spirit’, with varying levels of religiosity. Some examples:
- Councillor Gillingham (St James) opened a prayer with “Lord…”
- Councillor Eadie (Mynarski) referred to a “Spiritual guide…”
- Councillor Pagtakhan (Point Douglas) called upon an “All-inclusive God…”
- Councillor Mayes (St Vital) has read prayers from various religions
- Councillor Schreyer (Elmwood) sang a Nigerian prayer
- Councillor Dobson (St Charles) began with “We pray” and ended with “Amen”
- Councillor Lukes (South Winnipeg) prayed for guidance from an unnamed guide
- Councillor Wyatt (Transcona) recited the Lord’s Prayer, and
- Councillor Browaty (North Kildonan) opened a meeting with “O eternal almighty God, from whom all power and wisdom come. We are assembled here before thee to frame such laws as may tend to the welfare and prosperity of our city. Grant, o merciful God, we pray thee, that we may desire only that which is in accordance with thy will, that we may seek it with wisdom, know it with certainty and accomplish it perfectly, for the glory and honour of thy name and for the welfare of all thy people. Amen.”
While the first few examples above skirt the intent of the Supreme Court ruling to varying degrees, the last two prayers blatantly violate it.
What Can You Do?
If the continuing practice of allowing overtly religious prayers at Winnipeg’s City Hall concerns you, please write to the mayor and your city councillor to call for an end to invocation prayers at meetings. Or, as an alternative to ending the practice altogether, ask your councillor to recite a prayer of your choosing, and submit a suggestion that is compatible with Humanism. (There are some great examples here.)
Below is a sample letter that you can use as a starting point to write to your councillor if you’re not exactly sure what to say. Just copy and paste it; then adapt the wording to fit your own opinion or circumstances as desired.
Dear Mayor Bowman, Ms. Sharma (Chairperson – Governance Committee of Council), and members of City Council:
As a constituent of the City of Winnipeg, I am writing to call for an end to invocation prayers at the City of Winnipeg council meetings in accordance with last year’s Supreme Court ruling, posted here: https://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/2015/2015scc16/2015scc16.html.
I commend the councillors who have recited invocations from varied religions, as well as Humanism. I would only hope that they continue to recite these types of invocations, if the City continues with the practice.
While it is true that some councillors do read a generic prayer without the mention of a deity (a prayer nonetheless), others do not. A number of councillors cite “God” or “Lord”, which I can only assume is the Christian god; other councillors have mentioned a spiritual guide, alternated among prayers from religious, or asked for guidance, although it is uncertain from whom.
After a review of the Supreme Court ruling by its legal department, Winnipeg City Council decided that it would continue reciting prayers. In reviewing those recited since the ruling, it would appear that the City is trying to be benevolently neutral. However, the Court stated that benevolent neutrality is not compatible with true neutrality, which is what governments should be practicing.
I submit to you the following excerpts from the Supreme Court ruling to support my call for the end of invocation prayers at the City of Winnipeg council meetings:
 “… State neutrality means … that the state must neither encourage nor discourage any form of religious conviction whatsoever. If the state adheres to a form of religious expression under the guise of cultural or historical reality or heritage, it breaches its duty of neutrality… “
 “… state neutrality is assured when the state neither favours nor hinders any particular religious belief, that is, when it shows respect for all postures towards religion, including that of having no religious beliefs whatsoever, while taking into account the competing constitutional rights of the individuals affected.”
 “… abstaining does not amount to taking a stand in favour of atheism or agnosticism. The difference, which, although subtle, is important, can be illustrated easily. A practice according to which a municipality’s officials, rather than reciting a prayer, solemnly declared that the council’s deliberations were based on a denial of God would be just as unacceptable. The state’s duty of neutrality would preclude such a position, the effect of which would be to exclude all those who believe in the existence of a deity.”
 “… there is a distinction between unbelief and true neutrality. True neutrality presupposes abstention, but it does not amount to a stand favouring one view over another. No such inference can be drawn from the state’s silence. In this regard, I will say that the benevolent neutrality to which the Court of Appeal referred is not really compatible with the concept of true neutrality…”
 “…The purpose of neutrality is instead to ensure that the state is, and appears to be, open to all points of view regardless of their spiritual basis. Far from requiring separation, true neutrality requires that the state neither favour nor hinder any religion, and that it abstain from taking any position on this subject. Even if a religious practice engaged in by the state is “inclusive”, it may nevertheless exclude non-believers…”
Optional: If you are still in favour of using some kind of invocation at the beginning of Council meetings, would you consider reciting one of my choosing, that would reflect my Humanist values and beliefs. I would be happy to suggest one.
I will continue to follow this issue and await your response.
If you are not sure who your city councillor is, you can find out here.
With your help perhaps we can persuade the City to abide by the Supreme Court ruling.
Update: Click here for the next installment in this story.
- 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…
- Medical aid in dying becomes legal
- Perspective on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
- New Outreach plans
- Summer reading suggestions
- and more…
There has been no shortage of controversy in both the mainstream and social media networks lately over Syrian refugees. Canada has committed to accepting 25,000 of them over the next few months. This has prompted criticism – and worse – from every kind of fear-mongerer, racist, and xenophobe. Meanwhile, desperate people are trying to escape terrorism and get to safety. Look at this heartbreaking image from a news article about where refugee children sleep.
In spite of that, posts like this one are appearing on social media pages:
I see the posts against allowing the refugees and I see the posts condemning those people who don’t want the refugees. Here’s the problem with the refugee’s – it only takes 1 member of ISIS to hide among them and be allowed in. Only 1. To live in a free country means to preserve that freedom, at all costs. To some I know that sounds so savage and uncaring, but it’s my country too. My free & safe country and I believe that it should be protected at all costs.
One of HAAM’s executive responded to that post:
Terrorists are already here, and Canada will likely be attacked at some point whether we help suffering people or whether we don’t. My values as a humanist don’t allow me to say “I’ve got mine, so screw you” to people whose kids are being bombed and shot at and starved (or drowned in their desperate escape attempts) by the same extremists who attacked Paris. The world needs more courage in the time of ISIS, not less. If I or my loved ones die in the service of humanism, so be it. I believe your bible says in Leviticus, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbour’s blood is shed.”
“First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.”
-Martin Niemöller, 1946
Reply from the original post:
I think I come at it from a different, more – for lack of a better word, selfish – angle, and I hate that it makes me look selfish, that it makes me look uncaring and unyielding because I am not. The freedom of Canada is becoming more and more diluted the more we accept others’ values, beliefs and mores over the ones that created the country. While I agree that evolution is evolution – change has to occur in order to have progress; truth be told, many of the beliefs and values of those entering Canada are not in tune with that freedom, and more and more those holding those beliefs are asking to be more and more recognized. Sharia law for instance – it’s practiced here on our free land and my fear is that one day it will actually be recognized. To accept more and more beliefs that are completely anti-freedom (those beliefs and values that fly in the face of freedom like women’s rights, gay rights, and humanitarian rights) well, that is a slippery slope. Freedom comes with the responsibility of preserving it. How do we preserve it? Right now in Canada we have some of the highest child poverty rates among 1st world nations, cities with no family physicians available so thousands of people have to rely on a ‘walk in’ system, wait lists for surgeries that extend into months, sub-par education and education facilities, failing infrastructure in most major urban centers, a CPP that arguably won’t exist in 20-30 years, an aging population that health care will not keep up with, unaffordable housing in most major urban centers – how do we cope with that while allowing thousands upon thousands of refugees in? I know it’s selfish of me, I hate that it is… but I don’t know how to blend these issues so that they make sense.
A final response from our exec:
Ah, so people in Canada have the “freedom” to be exactly like you are. And it’s OK to let innocent bystanders from a war zone suffer and die by the thousands because they might want to come here and cause you inconvenience with their differences. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not OK with allowing what I consider to be backward and horrid practices here, like ‘honour’ killings or gender segregation, but I certainly am not harmed by having the necessary conversations about them. And that’s a different topic from giving necessary aid to humans in desperate need. We already have hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Canada (among many other groups) and we’re OK. Having challenging conversations about how we build our society together doesn’t deserve to be in the same sphere of conversation as whether we should save people from genocide. We can afford to be inconvenienced by crumbling roads and dwindling CPP as the worst problems of our mismanaged wealth; people can’t survive *at all* in a genocide. It’s a no-brainer.
This attitude isn’t new
Sad to say that historically, fear and rejection of newcomers is nothing new. Anne Frank might be a 75 year old woman living in the US today if her family had been able to get out of Germany in the 1930’s. Dr Seuss, who later wrote children’s books, drew this political cartoon in 1938, and it still rings true today.
“Foreigners’ weren’t always so welcome here in Manitoba, either, decades ago, as history shows.
Ideas do not always deserve respect, but people do
It can sometimes be difficult to separate out criticism of ideologies from bigotry against entire groups of people. But separate them we must, because the lives of innocent victims are at stake. Here is an example of a meme that’s been circulated lately on social media. It illustrates the kind of conflict that develops when people confuse the two.
HAAM member Dorothy Stephens shared this response:
I’ve seen this in my newsfeed a few times lately and I feel the need to address point #2.
Promotion and acceptance of irrational and superstitious beliefs is NOT okay.
People deserve respect. Ideas and ideologies do NOT automatically deserve respect. Ideas should be open to debate in the public sphere, where they must earn respect based on their own merits.
Religious ideologies – ALL of them – fail in this regard, because religion itself is not based on evidence or rational thinking. Perhaps many Christians have forgotten that it wasn’t so long ago their own religion was burning witches at the stake. There are plenty of evangelical leaders today who are just as fervent about their own brand of theocracy as Muslim leaders are about theirs. The level of violence hasn’t been equaled – yet – but the potential is there (for an example, look up Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill).
At best, religious thinking leads people to make decisions without sufficient evidence, and which are therefore often not in their own, or society’s, best interests. On a personal or local level, such bad decision making leads to individuals taking comfort in the supernatural rather than seeking legitimate treatment for ailments like mental illness, PTSD, or addictions; and children being denied proper health care and education. On a societal level, it leads to poor policy decisions on issues like global warming, denial of basic human rights to minority groups like the LGBT community, and, at the extreme end, terrorist attacks. I will continue to call out nonsense and irrational thinking when I see it, and I’m not apologizing for that.
Speaking out against irrational ideas, however, is NOT the same thing as attacking individual people. Unfortunately, every new terrorist attack brings out the xenophobes – the anti-immigration rants, the racists, the gun-toting right-wing nut-jobs. Adding this kind of hatred and intolerance to an already violent situation only makes the atmosphere more toxic and the situation more desperate for the victims.
Refugees are fleeing the same terrorists that the rest of the world is fighting, and most have no place to return to. As fellow human beings we need to offer assistance and place to stay. Have we already forgotten the lessons of WWII?
If you are still concerned about accepting Syrian refugees, read this.
- We welcome Niigaan Sinclair to our next meeting to discuss aboriginal issues and concerns
- Photos of River City Reasonfest
- What do lard and warm socks have in common? Our Charity of the Month needs both items
- HAAM welcomes the Centre for Inquiry to Manitoba
- The niqab – yes or no? One of our members weighs in
Note: The following article expresses the views of the author and may not represent the views of all HAAM members.
I have no use for any religion – to me, Islam and Christianity are on equal playing fields. I think both are equally dangerous, and both have done tremendous harm to humanity. Without going too far into church history (and I could go back to the early days and start from there; it’s rife with bloodshed and evil), I’m going to point to the last 100 years – the very recent treatment of Aboriginals in Canada. The massacre and genocide of so many native children was directly done in the name of God. And that was mainstream Christianity – we’re not even talking about extremism. Present day, there are still extremist groups that are violent and dangerous. They’re not as profiled as often as Muslim religions are, but they exist, and they’re doing huge amounts of damage. I address this recent phenomenon as “Islamophobia” because that’s what it’s called, but it’s really not fear/hatred of the religion – it’s actually pure racism. If there were this level of hatred/fear/mistrust against Caucasians called “Christianityphobia”, I would definitely have the same reaction. Racism, however it’s disguised, is NEVER OK.
Christians like to complain that there’s hatred for Christianity, but what it really is, is disagreement, and calling out the fact that Christians have been using their privilege to wield their power and beliefs on everyone else. Historically, Christians have enjoyed an imbalance of power in Canadian society, and that imbalance is now being straightened out, which means that the privilege/power is being lost. Naturally, that’s uncomfortable, and I can understand how it feels like persecution/hatred, but it’s not. It’s just leveling out the playing field for everyone. If you’re Christian, nobody is challenging your right to believe and worship as you would like. Nobody is telling you to go back to your home country unless you completely assimilate and become like the majority of Canadian society. Nobody is telling you to remove important symbols of your faith on your private property because the rest of us don’t like it. We’re just saying that it’s no longer ok to force your beliefs on the rest of us – that is all.
And now, my favorite part. I read an article about Muslim woman saying that the niqab isn’t a part of Islam, and this is where it hits close to home for me. I was raised in an extremist Christian cult called the Church of God Restoration, which for this purpose I’m going to compare to the ISIS branch of Islam. (Not saying that we went about killing people with guns, although if we could have gotten away with it, we probably would have…) So. This article is comparable to a mainstream Mennonite woman writing something similar about her religion. No, the head covering isn’t a part of her mainstream Mennonite religion, and she doesn’t think that the Bible says she needs to wear it. For Hutterite, Holdeman, Conservative Mennonite, etc. etc. etc. women, however, the head covering absolutely IS a part of their religion. They have rock solid backing in their interpretation of the Bible for wearing it, and to force them to take it off would be humiliating and violating beyond belief. Yes, the rest of us may look at those women with pity, thinking that they’re oppressed by men, and we would be partly right. That form of religion is absolutely subjugating the women, and awarding them less status than men.
But, having been inside a similar circle, I sympathize. Yes, I may have been oppressed and in bondage – no arguments there. HOWEVER, the clothes that I wore were my safety, my way of obeying God, and my way of fitting in in my culture. It was MY CHOICE to wear those clothes, and if someone had told me that I had to put on a pair of jeans and a tank top… gosh, I’m hyperventilating just thinking about it. I don’t think I can even start to describe the panic and violation I would have felt at that. Some strange person, from outside my group (so I already would have had no trust, because I didn’t trust anyone on the outside) was telling me that what I was wearing was wrong, that the men in my group were forcing me to wear it, and now they (the men outside of my group) are telling me that I CANNOT legally wear it? That would have traumatized me beyond belief, and I would never, ever have trusted an “outsider” again. It was MY CHOICE to wear those clothes, and it had to be MY CHOICE to take them off. Even that was brutal; even though I reasoned my way through it, and had good reasons for putting on 3/4 length sleeves or pants, I still felt naked and evil. It’s a part of who these women are- they have deeply held beliefs, which we may think are wrong, but it’s not for us to force them to change. We have to respect their choices, just as we would want ours to be respected. If a political party were to attack Christianity, telling Mennonite women that they had to take their head coverings off, I would have exactly the same reaction as I have to this. It’s a violation of personal beliefs and choice, and that is never OK. As individuals, we need to have the freedom to worship (or not) as we please, to dress as we feel as our religion dictates, etc. I believe in equality, but I fail to see how a white male telling a Muslim woman what she can’t wear is any better than a Muslim man telling her what she has to wear.
Of course, if a woman’s identity needs to be verified, we need mechanisms in place that allow that, absolutely, but we have to do so in a way that that is not humiliating her, and does not violate her personal security or beliefs. Back to the parallel of me in the Church of God Restoration. One of my greatest fears was that my bun (with the dozens of hairpins I used to keep it secure) would set off the machines at airport security, and I would be forced to take down my hair in front of a bunch of men. That was the height of immodesty, and would have reduced me to unbearable tears of shame. Nothing ever happened, but if it had, the compassionate thing would have been for a female security guard to take me into a secluded room for me to take my hair down, thus sparing me from the humiliation of having men see my hair. Whether we agree or not, the thought of exposing her face to strange men is incomprehensible to a Muslim woman who wears a niqab.
I may fiercely disagree with religion, but I will always fight for your right to believe and practice it. That is what makes us Canadians- we have the freedom to choose. The way to go about this is to educate and empower women to make choices for themselves. Period. If their choice right now includes wearing a niqab, then that is their right. In time, as they’re exposed to different schools of thought and education, they may or may not decide to ditch it. Again, that needs to be THEIR CHOICE. Nobody can make it for them. Period.
– Gloria Froese
For the record, as a statement of our values, we at HAAM wholeheartedly denounce the violence wrought in Paris, France, by terrorists who attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo. This cold-blooded act of murder is offensive to our beliefs and is causing us much heartache and grief. Our sympathies go out to all of those impacted by this tragedy.
There is no guarantee in the world that, as adults, we will never be insulted, offended, or hurt by the actions of others. We can protest, exchange insults, write letters, start a law suit, or take any number of other actions in response. Violence, however, is not an acceptable reaction. Acts of terrorism are especially heinous, being anonymous.
While we may not be fans of the brand of satire practised by Charlie Hebdo, we still assert and agree with their right to freedom of speech.
Right now, we may feel helpless, wondering what action we can take; what can we do to help stop these kinds of events. At HAAM, as a positive action we have decided to support the Centre for Inquiry and Humanist Canada in their efforts to repeal Canada’s archaic and useless blasphemy laws.
In conclusion, we would like to just remind those reading of the names of the twelve victims. May their loss not be in vain.
- Frédéric Boisseau, 42, building maintenance worker
- Franck Brinsolaro, 49, Protection Service police officer
- Cabu (Jean Cabut), 76, cartoonist
- Elsa Cayat, 54, psychoanalyst and columnist of Jewish religion
- Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier), 47, cartoonist, columnist, and editor-in-chief
- Philippe Honoré, 74, cartoonist
- Bernard Maris, 68, economist, editor, and columnist
- Ahmed Merabet, 42, a Muslim police officer of Algerian descent
- Mustapha Ourrad, 60, copy editor, Muslim French-Algerian
- Michel Renaud, 69, guest at the meeting
- Tignous (Bernard Verlhac), 57, cartoonist.
- Georges Wolinski, 80, cartoonist born in Tunisia of Jewish descent
- Our buses are still roaming the city streets, but they won’t be around much longer! Find out who won a prize for the first picture submitted.
- A.C. Grayling was a hit with HAAM. Find out about his visit to Winnipeg.
- Learn more about what Arthur Schafer has to say on the topic of dying with dignity.
- And much more…
Go ahead! Click and read the October newsletter!
At our May Meeting, we’re talking about some good news related to Climate Change! Come on out and hear Curt Hull from the Climate Change Connection.
Plus… why is Diana Goods spurning a declaration of love? Find out!
Image (r) Our panelists at our April Bill 18 Public Discussion. From l. to r., Chad Smith, Jeff Olsson, Sharon Wilson, Jim Rondeau and Donn Short.
The April Newsletter! No regular meeting this month! Instead, we’re hosting a Public Discussion on Manitoba Bill 18, the Anti-Bullying legislation. Also in this month’s issue: Why Sage House is a valuable resource. Pat Morrow tells us to be “out” as an atheist. And more! (picture is from the March 28th Bill 18 rally).
Bill 18 is anti-bullying legislation, introduced by the provincial Education Minister, Nancy Allen, which modifies the Public Schools Act (Safe and Inclusive Schools). In part, it expands the definition of bullying to include cyber-bullying, through such activities as text messaging, instant messaging and social media.
It requires that school boards establish a respect for human diversity policy, which must accommodate “student activity that promotes the school environment as being inclusive of all pupils, including student activities and organizations that use the name “gay-straight alliance”.”
There has been a lot of objection to the bill, primarily voiced from some more conservative religious groups. The objections have included vague misconceptions and misperceptions over what the bill would accomplish. Arguments have been put forth from these groups, attempting to present the objections in terms of definitions being too vague or too broad, but the main objection being that it is an attack on the religious freedom of faith-based schools.
They have interpreted the bill to mean that it requires them to put aside their religious convictions regarding their belief in the sinfulness of homosexuality by allowing groups like gay-straight alliances to exist in their schools. They appear to feel that this is equal to “promoting” homosexuality. This is not to paint all religious groups with the same brush, as we recognize that some more accepting, inclusive religious organizations and faith traditions have spoken up in support of the bill, but unfortunately the ones opposed have been getting the lion’s share of the media attention.
We believe that all people, especially students, should be respected and protected, no matter what their sexual orientation. In this case in particular, the rights of the individual should take precedence over the right to religious freedom.