Upcoming HAAM Events
Stealing Reason: Christianity’s Theft of Human Values
Our own Pat Morrow will talk about Christian apologetic claims regarding the scientific revolution and slavery. His presentation will demonstrate that progress is not due to any gods, but rather to human effort. Details here.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Saturday, May 26th, Red Top Inn, 219 St Mary’s Road, 9:30 AM
Our monthly casual get-together. Everyone’s welcome. Details here.
Save the Dates
June 15-17 – Outreach at the Summer in the City Festival (Steinbach)
June 23rd – Summer Solstice Party
Details for all upcoming HAAM events are on our Events page.
Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events
Interbelief Reasoning Dialogue: “What Weaponizes Beliefs?”
Thursday, 3 May, St James Assiniboia Public Library (note change of date)
Presented by the Winnipeg Circle of Reason.
Advance Care Planning – what you need to know
Saturday, May 12th, St Boniface Public Library, 1:30 PM.
Learn more about your rights as a patient, and how to increase the chances of your wishes being respected in a health crisis and/or at the end of life. Registration required. More information here.
Winnipeg Pride Parade
Sunday, June 3rd, Manitoba Legislative Building.
Rally at 10 AM and parade at 11.
More information and links to all these non-HAAM events are on our Community Events page.
Charity of the Month
Just in time for Mothers Day! They say you can’t spoil a baby – but let’s try.
You Can’t Spoil a Baby has been providing baby supplies to Manitoba families in need since 2011. Its goal is to show families that they are valued by their community by providing them with no-strings-attached gifts to help them care for their baby.
YCSAB is run 100% by volunteers. The concept is simple:
Donors can either contribute their once-loved baby items to one of YCSAB’s more than 40 drop-off spots for volunteers to combine into gifts, or follow guidelines provided by YCSAB to make and deliver their own gift using items they collect. Each gift includes items that will help a family through their baby’s first year – a set of newborn to 18 month baby clothes, one ‘big-ticket’ item (like a crib, stroller, or exersaucer), a few other helpful accessories (like feeding, bathing and diapering supplies, blankets, and toys), and a big sibling gift if the family has other children.
Families who need assistance need to apply for a gift early in pregnancy (the wait list is close to 6 months). Most of the expectant parents who apply do not have friends or family to give them baby items, are single parents or young couples living on Income Assistance, are newcomers to Canada who are starting over, are leaving abusive relationships, or have had a series of tough breaks and need help. In addition to the gift of baby clothes and baby items, YCSAB provides families with an online list of local resources to help with the high costs of raising children.
YCSAB accepts money as well as gently used baby items that help with the first two years of life. Their highest need items are always sleepers/pajamas in sizes 6-18 months. Used items are encouraged to promote reuse, but they won’t turn away new ones. A list of accepted items can be found on their website. Please check it carefully, as some items must comply with safety regulations. You can bring your donations to our meeting. If you have very large items, or cannot make it to the meeting, let us know and we’ll arrange for pickup and/or transport of your items.
Donations for the Charity of the Month will be collected at the meeting. Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the ‘Donate’ button. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
Call to Action
There’s a new petition to the House of Commons urging the government to re-examine the ban against gay men donating blood.
The current law makes anyone (male or female), who has had sex with a man who has had sex with another man within the last year ineligible to donate. Obviously, this is a sensitive issue and there is a lot more to the law than just politics. Blood donation regulations need to be evidence-based, in order to protect us all. That’s why the screening for prospective donors includes questions about drug use, travel history, tattoos, and whether their job involves caring for monkeys.
But when it comes to sexual practices, the law focuses on demographics instead of behaviors – banning ALL gay men, even those in monogamous, long-term relationships, from donating blood. On the other hand, straight people are not excluded from donating regardless of the number of sexual partners they have had – as long as the donor believes that all those partners are also straight. Doesn’t this seem illogical?
The rationale for the current guidelines and the history behind them are clearly explained on the Canadian Blood Services’ website here and here. In summary, the rules used to be much stricter – a lifetime ban on gay men donating blood was in place until 2013. Since then, CBS has gradually been relaxing the standards as more data is obtained. The current one-year ban was initiated in 2016. Of course, we all want to avoid another fiasco like the tainted blood scandal of the 80’s and 90’s that made people sick, cost millions of dollars, and diminished confidence in the safety of Canada’s blood supply.
But it would make more sense to screen all donors for at-risk practices instead of just banning a whole group of people, and it appears that CBS is gradually moving in that direction. Recently, donors were given a survey asking if they would be willing to answer more detailed questions about their sexual practices as part of donor screening, or whether such intimate questions would discourage them from donating at all.
The survey question asked: Please state how comfortable you would be answering questions on these topics in order to donate blood or plasma:
– Saying the number of partners you have had in the last 6 months
– Saying if you have had ANAL sex with anyone in the last 6 months
– Saying if you used a condom every time you had sex in the last 6 months
– Saying if you used the internet or social media (eg Facebook or Tinder) to seek a partner for sexual intercourse in the last 6 months)
– And several more similar questions
The answer choices were ‘completely comfortable’, ‘somewhat comfortable’, ‘somewhat uncomfortable’, ‘completely uncomfortable’, and ‘this would stop me from donating’.
If having to answer these questions deters some people from donating, wouldn’t it stand to reason that most of those who are deterred are those who participate in high-risk behaviors? And wouldn’t that be a good thing? It’s interesting to think about.
If you support encouraging CBS to focus on behaviors rather than on demographics in their donor screening, please sign the petition. It’s open for signature until July 17th.
And if you ARE currently eligible to donate, please do. HAAM is a member of CBS Partners for Life program. Learn more about it here, and sign up now!
Your Health Care – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
According to the Health Care Directives Act of Manitoba, a health care directive (HCD) is a legal document that must be respected by your medical team in the event that you can’t speak for yourself. Also, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that all competent adult Canadians have the right to refuse or discontinue treatment.
But did you know that both your HCD and your right to refuse treatment can be ignored by your medical team under certain circumstances? For example, you might have comfort in the fact that you’ve written down and signed your wish not to be resuscitated, in the event that you collapse and someone calls an ambulance. However, what paramedics have told us is that not only will they not take the time to stop and read a HCD when treating a patient in an emergency, but they also can’t respect your request. That’s because they can’t verify your signature, your state of mind, or your competency when you signed it. To be considered valid, a DNR (do not resuscitate) order must be obtained from and signed by your doctor (and even then, there is still some uncertainty about whether it will be followed). And once the patient arrives at the hospital, and let’s say regains consciousness, the patient’s request to refuse treatment could be ignored by staff until a psychiatrist confirms the patient’s competence. So even if it’s your worst fear to wake up in hospital hooked up to machines, that could be exactly what happens in spite of your best efforts to communicate your wishes.
What can I do about this?
So what can you do to prevent such a situation from happening? Well, first of all, do you HAVE a signed HCD in the first place? If not, you can download one for free from End of Life Planning Canada (via DWD Winnipeg chapter), make sure you’ve chosen a proxy who is willing to get LOUD if your wishes are not being respected. Neither of these will likely help with the paramedics, but they will certainly help once you arrive at the hospital. Second, do you have a card in your wallet that states who your proxy is and where to find your HCD? And finally, have you discussed your end-of-life wishes with all of your friends and family? The more backup you have, the safer it will be (legally) for medical staff to respect your proxy’s instructions.
What about MAID?
It is currently not legal to list Medical Assistance in Dying as one of your requests in your health care directive, since your HCD only comes into effect if you can’t communicate, and you can’t have assistance to die unless you’re able to consent when the time comes to administer the drugs. The DWD Canada blog states
“In 2016, an Ipsos Reid poll of 2,530 Canadians found a surprisingly strong level of support for allowing MAID in our HCDs, with no statistically significant regional variations. Approval was high among supporters of the three leading federal parties, especially supporters of the New Democratic Party (84%) and the Liberal Party of Canada (83%). Three out of four Conservative supporters (74%) were in favour, too. 78% of Catholics and 73% of Protestant Christians support allowing Canadians with a grievous and irremediable illness to make advance requests for physician-assisted dying. Sample sizes for people of other faiths weren’t large enough to allow for statistically significant comparisons.
Other poll questions presented different possible scenarios involving advance consent for assisted dying. About eight in 10 (82%) Canadians said they would support physician-assisted dying for patients who have a scheduled assisted death, and were competent at the time of the request, but who lose competence before the request can be carried out (for example, in the case of a patient who falls into a coma just days before the scheduled provision of aid in dying). Seven in 10 (71%) Canadians would support allowing a patient without a diagnosis for a grievous and irremediable illness to make an advance request for physician-assisted dying that would be honoured if certain pre-stated conditions were met.”
If you’d like to be fully informed and complete your HCD, join us for our next workshop on Advance Care Planning, May 12th at the St Boniface Library at 1:30 PM. Become an empowered patient! For more information, and to register (required), contact DWD Winnipeg Chapter. – Cheri Frazer
Event Review – Debate: Morality
In April I attended the Feakes vs. Kay morality debate held at Winnipeg’s New Life Sanctuary Church. Darren Kay is a local Humanist writer with an interest in the big questions. John Feakes is the pastor of the aforementioned church. He’s a Young Earth Creationist with a master’s degree in theology from the Columbia Evangelical Seminary (readers are free to look that one up).
The debate question was “How should we live our lives?”. It asks which is the better framework for forming an ethical morality – Christianity or secularism.
As far as the calibre of the debate, this was not Wilberforce versus Huxley. Part of the problem was the nature of the question. Feakes was tasked with arguing for the proposition that “Christianity is ethically superior to secularism” whereas Kay was tasked with the negative “Christianity is not ethically superior to secularism”. Taking the negative put Kay in the situation of having to disprove Feakes’s position and at the same time argue his own. In addition, neither position was clearly defined – whose version of Christianity? and what do we mean by secularism? Feakes did try to define secularism in his rapid-fire slideshow, by displaying every definition of it from many sources.
For me, the quality of any debate is in its opening statements and initial rebuttals. I found this debate quite formulaic and pre-scripted (or maybe I’ve just watched far too many of them). Feakes opened with the standard creationist shotgun debating technique (AKA the Gish Gallop). Kay did a good job of trying to explain the nature of secular morality, but with the limited time available I think some points were not as clear as they could’ve been, and were therefore missed by the folks who most needed to hear them.
In formal debate, after the opening arguments come the rebuttals. This is a chance for one to respond to the arguments that were just presented by one’s opponent. Great debaters such as Christopher Hitchens would often do their rebuttals from memory or with just a few notes. The rebuttal requires debaters to think on their feet, although on occasion, visual aids could be incorporated if one is familiar enough with their opponent’s points to anticipate them. However, in this debate, both sides used fully prepared PowerPoint presentations, which offered the odd spectacle of each of them rebutting arguments that their opponents had not presented. As a result, the rebuttals were disappointing. At some points the evening took on a lecture feel rather than a debate.
You can find the full video of the evening here on YouTube. It will help those unfamiliar with the moral argument to become better informed, but if you’re looking for the thrust and parry of a traditional debate, this may not be for you. – Pat Morrow
Library News – Interlibrary loans now available
The Eastman Humanist Community (EHC), based in Steinbach, is growing and now has its own small library. It makes sense to pool our resources – sharing is what Humanists do, right? So HAAM and the EHC have recently reached an agreement to allow inter-library loans between the two groups.
Our own HAAM library is now up to almost 250 items (books and DVD’s), available to all paid members. So check it out! But if we don’t have the book you are looking for, you are now welcome to check out the EHC’s library as well. If you find something there that you would like to borrow, contact HAAM. We will make arrangements with the EHC to obtain the item for you the next time someone from either group is traveling between Steinbach and Winnipeg.
Book of the Month – Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks
If you’re concerned about the current anti-intellectualism trend that is making people vulnerable to propaganda, advertising, and quackery in medicine, religion, and politics, then you’ll find this book encouraging.
Ben Goldacre writes in easy to understand language about the importance of learning to think critically when evaluating scientific claims, in order to separate promotional propaganda from reality. He covers research topics like placebos, double-blind studies, and sample sizes, so that you can recognize bad science when you see it.
Read about detox baths, ear candling, ‘whole brain learning’, homeopathy, the MMR vaccine scare, cosmetics, vitamin supplements, anti-oxidants, cognitive bias, the misuse of statistics, celebrity endorsements, and more. It’s an entertaining book for anyone interested in the practical uses – and abuses – of science.
All our library books and DVD’s are free to borrow for paid HAAM members.
Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this book.
The Humanism of Star Trek
Saturday, November 19th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Avenue, 5:30 – 8:30 PM
Secular Parents’ Book Club Meeting
Thursday, November 24th, 7 – 9 PM, location TBA
Winter Solstice Party
Saturday December 17th, Heritage-Victoria Community Club, 950 Sturgeon Road, 5:30 PM
For more information on these events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.
You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
Prayer at City Hall Update
Tony Governo has filed a formal complaint about the prayers at city council meetings with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. He recently learned that his complaint has been registered. This means that it will be served on the Respondent (the City). They will be asked to provide a reply within 30 days. Then the complaint will be investigated, which could take 8-10 months from the time it is assigned. The investigator then makes a recommendation to the Board. The Board then decides to dismiss or take to next stage.
Tony was recently interviewed by CTV News about the threats he received on social media after his complaint. And also in October, Edmonton’s city council decided to comply with the Supreme Court ruling and ended the practice of opening their meetings with prayer. After contemplating a ‘moment of reflection’ instead, they ultimately decided that it made more sense to just skip the whole thing and just get down to business. Wouldn’t it be nice if Winnipeg could do the same?
If you have not previously read about this issue, you can catch up here.
Openly Secular Day is Tuesday, November 15th
Are you openly secular? Not everyone is – and not everyone can be. Too many people cannot reveal that they no longer believe, for fear of negative repercussions from their family, business/employment, friends, or community. But if we’re ever going to reduce the stigma of being a non-believer, and dispel the notion that atheists believe in ‘nothing’, more people have to come out of the closet.
The mission of the Openly Secular Campaign is to decrease discrimination and increase acceptance of atheists and Humanists by encouraging as many people as possible to let others know that they are non-religious. November 15th is Openly Secular Day, and it’s no accident that the date is just around the beginning of the holiday season – a time when so many people get together with family and friends. The goal on that day is to have as many people as possible ‘come out’ to just one other person. If you can do this, check out their website for more information and resources, and to take the ‘One Person Pledge’.
October event recap
October was a busy month! Our evening showing of the film A Better Life: An Exploration of Joy and Meaning in a World Without God was truly inspirational. President Donna Harris opened with a brief presentation about what Humanism is and how it differs from atheism. A big thank-you goes to Kumaran Reddy for recording it for us.
For a number of people, it was their first HAAM event, and one of those new people won our door prize – a copy of the book version of A Better Life. If you were unable to attend that evening, it is possible to view the film at home for a small fee. Check it out here.
If you couldn’t make it to our meeting to learn about the Humanist Outreach program in Uganda, and HAAM’s support of a secular school there, you missed a great evening. You can read news coverage of the meeting here.
Watch this short (2 minute) video message from Robert Bwambale of Kasese Humanist School.
Here is our sponsored student, John Bogere, saying hello to us.
Religious Exercises in Schools?
Just a reminder – Section 84(8) of the Manitoba Public Schools Act reads “If a petition asking for religious exercises, signed by the parents or guardians of 75% of the pupils in the case of a school having fewer than 80 pupils or by the parents or guardians of at least 60 pupils in the case of a school having an enrolment of 80 or more pupils, is presented to the school board, religious exercises shall be conducted for the children of those parents or guardians in that school year.”
This petition must come from the parents/community, NOT the school. The Minister of Education has ruled that public schools must be non-sectarian and that staff at the school cannot participate in recruiting students for prayer groups by contacting parents or sending home permission slips to be signed. It has come to our attention that some schools are still doing this, and one school division recently ended the practice simply because a parent brought it to the attention of the superintendent.
If this is still happening at your child’s school, we would like to know about it. Please contact us.
Call to Action – Speak up about Operation Christmas Child
If you’re involved in a school or other organization that collects for Operation Christmas Child, there are some very good reasons NOT to participate – even if you’re Christian (and especially if you’re not).
Spread the word!
Book of the Month – Pale Blue Dot
With Star Trek as our meeting topic, this seems like a good month to feature a book about our place in the universe. We have a copy of Carl Sagan’s 1994 classic Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. The title is, of course, based on the famous photograph of the same name – a picture of the Earth from 4 billion miles away, taken by Voyager 1 in 1991 as it approached the outer limits of our solar system.
The book begins by examining the idea that humans think they are uniquely important in this vast universe. Sagan continues by exploring our solar system in detail, and discussing the possibility of life on other planets, suggesting that our very survival may depend on the wise use of other worlds. He argues that in order to save the human race, space colonization and terraforming (the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying the atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology of another planet or moon to make it habitable by Earth-like life) should be considered.
Watch this very moving tribute to Sagan and the Pale Blue Dot, produced by Seth Andrews (The Thinking Atheist). It’s only 5 minutes long.
Charity of the Month – The North Point Douglas Women’s Centre
The North Point Douglas Women’s Centre is just east of Main Street, near Dufferin Avenue. The address alone provides a wealth of information about the clients it serves. Its mission is to promote a safe, healthy, vibrant community for women and families, by offering programs designed to provide support, training, resources, and opportunities to women in the area. The centre arose out of a project sponsored by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg in 2000, to address problems caused by poverty and a lack of resources. Today it is a community hub where women and their families gather.
- A drop-in safe space with snacks, activities, computer and phone access, laundry facilities, and a clothing and household items collection
- Counselling and domestic violence recovery support
- A neighborhood oven for community baking and events
- Community safety programs
- Health, fitness, and nutrition programs
- Support and referrals for women dealing with stressors such as shelter, employment, emergency food and clothing, school, Child and Family Services involvement, legal help, Employment and Income Assistance disputes, daycare, etc.
What to Donate
Currently, the centre has a particular need for the following items that they go through very quickly
- Feminine hygiene products
- Baby formula
Please bring these items to the monthly meeting and we will deliver them to the centre. Of course, money likely wouldn’t be turned down, either. Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal link on the right sidebar. Just include a message letting us know that the money is for the charity.
Partners for Life Update
Yay! HAAM members are now up to 15 donations for 2016! We have 11 members registered in the program, 7 of whom have donated at least once this year. We’re still just ahead of Steinbach Bible College, (with 13 donations), and there are almost 2 months to go! Let’s get a few more units in by New Year.
There’s no prize for donating blood – just bragging rights and the satisfaction that comes from knowing that Humanists are helping their fellow humans. So get out there and do it!
You can donate at the main clinic on William Ave (across from HSC) during their regular hours (Mon 10-2 and 3:30-7:30; Tues 1:30-7; and Wed-Sat 8-2), or attend one of these mobile clinics in the Winnipeg area.
Here are two new points worth noting (thanks Janine Guinn):
- The recommended time between donations for women is being increased to 84 days, because of the ongoing risk of low hemoglobin. (The interval for men remains at 56 days.)
- If you book an appointment at least 48 hours ahead, you can now have your pre-donation health questions sent by email and complete them online before you go, saving a bunch of time.
Note that you must register with the Partners for Life program in order for your donation to be credited to HAAM. Click here for more information and instructions on how to sign up.
We Need You!
It’s time to start looking ahead again to the upcoming year. Please consider volunteering to serve on our executive! We need people who are enthusiastic about building a supportive community, promoting a secular society with fairness for all, and advocating for critical thinking in the larger world. If you can contribute ideas, energy, time, and/or effort, you’re welcome to join us! The more committed people we have, the more we can accomplish.
Meetings are usually held monthly, (dates and times determined by mutual availability), with online contact in between. Please consider volunteering, or accepting the offer to join if you are approached. Many hands make light work, and enable HAAM to offer more events and programs, and make a bigger difference to our members and community.
Elections will be held at our AGM on January 14th – so you have some time to think about it or talk to members of our current executive if you have questions.
Outreach has been very busy since our last newsletter. Tony Governo and Tammy Blanchette have been out to speak to another high school class in southern Manitoba. I enjoyed meeting with a local hospital chaplain who is taking a class on world religions in an effort to become better at his job in spiritual care. His overall goal was to learn how to best to approach a “Humanist/atheist person” (his words) with regards to their spiritual care. It was a helluva starting point, but the ensuing discussion was interesting for two people who are, metaphorically speaking, from different planets.
A little later in October, Donna Harris and I (with Todd De Ryck along as an observer) spoke to a U of W class called “Crises in Faith” – an exploration of five major contemporary critiques of religion. We explained the usual atheism and Humanistic philosophy. The students’ questions were sometimes challenging, and as often happens when discussing philosophy, the conversation goes off in the strangest directions. We found ourselves having to explain why, when making societal decisions, both religious and non-religious people are welcome at the table of ideas, but religion itself shouldn’t and can’t be granted special privileges. I also found myself in the really odd position of explaining why the national socialism of the Nazis in the middle of the twentieth century was not a secular government. This is why we love outreach and especially visiting school classes; you really don’t know what someone will say next.
We’re looking forward to November and our visit to the newly formed Steinbach Humanist group; that should be fun. – Pat Morrow
When Good Intentions Cross Ethical Lines
- 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…
- How does Humanism differ from Unitarian Universalism?
- Our U of M Outreach proved a little unusual this year…
- Can saying the wrong thing land you in jail?
- and more…
- 2015 Year in Review and President’s Message
- Outreach Reports
- Which community leader doesn’t seem interested in speaking to our members?
- HAAM helps sponsor a refugee family
- and more…
- Our Charity of the Month program goes international
- Hospital chaplains
- Outreach report from a bible belt school
- Member reaction to our meeting about Aboriginal issues
- and more…
Addendum: For more on hospital chaplains and an update on the article in this newsletter, see Privacy Issues in Spiritual Care.
- 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
There are millions of posts on Facebook. Recently, I came across this post on a page simply called Atheism. It really hit home with me. It was written by Andrew Cutlip after a religious friend of his said non-believers don’t believe in anything except their own non-belief. Many of us have heard variations of this claim by religious believers. It angered him, but also got him thinking about how incredibly difficult it must be for a believer to be able to place themselves in our shoes.
It’s a beautiful short essay I felt needs to be shared. So without further ado, this is Andrew Cutlip’s guest post. ~ Pat Morrow
At times I hear some people wonder aloud, either honestly or rhetorically, about how hollow existence must be for an atheist. How not believing we have a divine creator or any hope for an afterlife must make our lives dismal and sad. How not having any handed-down meaning means we don’t have any meaning at all.
I can understand how someone who has never experienced what it’s like to be an atheist might not be able to wrap their mind around it, and those who suddenly find themselves in that position would be terrified of its implications.
After all, losing all notions of an afterlife means grieving for past loved ones all over again. We don’t afford ourselves the luxury of pretending at all, and so the loss of a loved one truly is a loss for us. We bear the full weight of someone’s passing, and also bear the burden of knowing that we too will have the same fate. So I can see why people might be perplexed to see atheists act out with so much passion for others and for life itself, with a mounting suspicion that this state surely must make us feel bitter, and not being able to see why we find life to be so sweet. What they can’t see is the redeeming value of what living with no illusions allows us.
These realizations show us how precious and important life and loving each other is, because of how fleeting it is. Just like how watching children grow up in the blink of an eye makes that brief period in their lives so special, this is how an atheist views life in general. We are unable to take our lives for granted or each other for granted. How many more times will you look up at the night sky and see a full moon surrounded by millions of stars? Maybe a hundred, or maybe a dozen. Maybe this will be your last time. How many times will you be moved by a song? How many more trips to new places will you be able to visit in your life? To be an atheist is to know that nothing in life, no matter how small, is trivial. Every smile you give and receive, every person you comfort, every single moment in life has so much more value. And this is where humanism emerges.
Every person we come across in life is someone we can learn from and feel privileged to know, since we are all together on this one planet, in this one particular moment in time. A humanist knows that our common humanity is the one thing we all can share and work toward upholding. And in the end, when we pass, we can do so knowing that we led a life that was full of love, full of caring for others like us, full of meaning that we created for ourselves. A humanist’s version of heaven is knowing that those we leave behind will remember us fondly and warmly.
Andrew Cutlip is an engineer, husband and father residing in Northern California.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines humanism as a “rationalist outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.” Humanism can be described as a godless philosophy based on reason and compassion.
A more in depth definition is one described by the BHA (British Humanist Association). The word humanist has come to mean someone who:
-trusts to the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (and is therefore an atheist or agnostic)
-makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals
-believes that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same.
If this sounds like you, congratulations, you’re a humanist.
Humanism is an open ended quest. It seeks to provide answers to life’s questions based on the best available knowledge and philosophy. But sometimes the best available knowledge still leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Humanist views are open to change and are constantly evolving. Humanists don’t expect the one, final, absolute truth to be revealed to them. On the contrary, they hold that all opinions are fallible and provisional, and that free inquiry and debate are essential to the process of learning and developing. Thus, humanists value tolerance, pluralism, and critical inquiry as positive and beneficial qualities in society.
The humanist reliance on science and common sense often means many people are humanists without realizing it! Hundreds of millions of people around the world agree with the humanist philosophy of living a happy and productive life, based on reason and compassion. These tacit humanists reach similar conclusions without meeting like-minded people or reading particular texts. They work out their humanist life stance independently by learning what science has discovered, by examining supernatural claims, and by sharing in our universal human values.
Humanism is a fairly new name for a very old philosophy. The basic principles of humanism – skepticism of supernatural claims and an emphasis on living a fulfilling and ethical life without religion – have been embraced by a wide variety of thinkers in different cultures for thousands of years. But not until the twentieth century did the word “humanism” become the common term for this worldview.
Throughout history, public expressions of humanist ideas have often been suppressed and destroyed, and, at other times, such ideas have probably been voiced only in private. Sometimes the strongest remaining indications of humanist thinking in a society are seen in the work of artists or in the arguments of apologists who are defending religious orthodoxy against the skeptics of the day. (An interesting example still quoted today is the Old Testament statement that “The fool hath said in his heart that there is no god” [Psalm 14]. This insult suggests that even in Bronze-age Jewish society, atheist thinking was prevalent enough to motivate religious teachers to attack it!)
Humanistic philosophy has a long history. Important humanist traditions include the great teachers and philosophical movements of Ancient China and India between two and three thousand years ago; the philosophies of classical Greece and Rome, which survived in the Muslim world during the European Dark Ages and Medieval period, finally returning to Europe in the Renaissance; and the flowering of scientific and humanist thought in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. The Lokayata movement in India -1000 BCE, criticized the Hindu religion of the day and developed a naturalistic philosophy of the cosmos.
Chinese philosophers, sixth century BCE, were also notable for their development of humanistic ethical philosophies. Their criticism of supernatural claims was often sly. The great Taoist teacher Lao Tse (early to middle of the sixth century BCE) indicated his skepticism about supernatural claims when he said, “If lightning is the anger of the gods, the gods are concerned mostly with trees.”
The most famous of these teachers is Confucius. The Confucians tried to replace traditional religious beliefs with an ethical system focused on responsibility to family and society. About the same time humanistic thought was beginning to flourish in ancient Greece and Rome. Pythagoras, Aristotle, Socrates, and Epicurus were some of the great thinkers of that time. Epicurus suggested that two things prevent people from trying to live a full and happy life: fear of the gods and fear of an afterlife. But the materialist philosophy of the Atomists removed the fear of the supernatural and the fear of death. Socrates, or what is known as the Socratic Method can be seen as profoundly humanistic in the way it encourages untrammeled inquiry that is open to all parties. The great religious prophets of human history claimed to bring “God’s truth” and absolute commandments; whereas Socrates is famous for saying he knew nothing and brought not answers, but a method of questioning.
As we have seen, humanism has no country or culture of origin, nor did it spring from any political view. Humanism is simply a product of us, the human animal and our willingness to be honest with ourselves.
What does humanism offer?
Your beliefs inform your actions; that is to say, what you believe very much informs how you behave. Untrue beliefs often give us answers that are untrue. The result can be bad answers and behaviour. All the while the people engaged in this behavior think they’re doing the right thing for the right reasons. We all have an interest to make sure beliefs are true, or as true as possible. Humanism offers a way to get to those truths.
Humanism offers a way rid ourselves of the things that separate us – like the in-group out-group mentality of religion and politics. If we are to make the rules that govern us, we have to make sure those rules apply equally to all people, not just ones of a certain gender, religion or creed. The rights of the individual are paramount, however they must be tempered with empathy and compassion as well as a responsibility to each other. Humanism offers a realization that we have a responsibility to our natural environment as well, our responsibility to our fellow humans who exist now and the ones who will come in future generations. Humanism takes into account the bigger picture for the success of our species.
Humanism offers and endorses the scientific method as the best tool to understand the universe around us. The value we have placed on it is well founded. Without it, we simply wouldn’t have the world we have today, with all of its modern comforts and conveniences.
Finally, humanism seeks to maximize human happiness and understanding. It can free us from what Christopher Hitchens called the “mind forged manacles” of religion and supernatural belief and that truly is a benefit to all of us.
Compiled and adapted from various sources by Pat Morrow
Upcoming this month: our Annual General Meeting, a book club, a multi-faith panel discussion… and more!
Our own Diana Goods (pic on right) will be participating in a public Panel Discussion. You can show your support by attending!
Click the link below to read…
Religion is dying. It has been a slow and long and sometimes painful death, and it will continue for some time. It started a very long time ago with great thinkers like Democritus and Epicurus, continued later with reformers like Martin Luther, who I’m sure will be familiar to many. The Age of Reason gave us names such as Baruch Spinoza, John Locke, Isaac Newton and Thomas Hobbes. These men, along with others, enabled our species to truly start understanding the world around us. Their works helped loosen the grip of the church and began our long march to better societal systems. No longer would we have to resort to the supernatural. Slowly, we opened to a new truth, an empirical truth, a real truth. One that could be discovered using the tools of science.
During this long, slow and painful death religion has come a long way as well. I would venture to say most of the world religions don’t believe their scriptures as they once did. This is easily demonstrated. Just try to find a Christian who endorses slavery as the Abrahamic faiths did not even two hundred years ago. Lightning bolts, volcanoes and droughts are no longer evidence of angry gods. Physical and mental illness are no longer the realm of demonic possession, spirits or jinns. Reason, science and critical thinking have given us a better understanding of these things. Our understanding of the world around us has propelled us to the point where we are the dominant species on this planet. A role that we are, in some respects, ill prepared for.
There are portions of the population who opt for the comfort of un-falsifiable beliefs, as they turn their heads away from the beauty and harshness that is reality.
Science doesn’t care about your personal hang ups or biases, even your supernatural beliefs. It is simply a tool to better understand what actually exists. That understanding has brought us great advancements in medicine, life expectancy and every modern convenience we enjoy. Unfortunately, it has also given us many new and horrible ways to kill each other on a massive scale.
One of the greatest fears is as religion dies, the un-falsifiable belief systems will be harnessed to this technology with dire consequences. In the Middle East we have one religion bent on the destruction of another. One has weapons of mass destruction, the other is eager to obtain them. Faith against Faith is unfortunately all too common in our world. For me it is hard to fathom that in this day and age a large portion of our planet could be reduced to a cinder by someone claiming he did it on direct revelation from his god.
Some may feel the fear of mass death may be not so much of a worry. They may say “We’re smarter than that.” I hope they’re right but as religion dies there are other ways it’s harming us.
There are some 4200 different religions being practiced in the world today. Everything from magic crystals, animism, paganism to the big monotheistic Abrahamic faiths. Many of these religions have fragmented further into thousands of sects, all believing that they have the right answers either because of divine revelation or an extensive study of ancient stories. According to the world Christian encyclopedia, Christianity alone has some 33,000 different denominations. All of them believing they have cornered the market on the truth. One has to wonder why a god who has a message for us would make such a muddled mess of getting his point across.
All of these belief systems have one thing in common and that is faith. With faith you can believe your religion is the religion of peace. The very same scriptures read by another believer can tell him to behead the infidel. Some holy books inform their believers that gay men and women should be killed or jailed. At the same, time other believers consider the same people to be valuable members of society who should enjoy all the same rights as others. For the believer any position is justifiable when taken on faith, and that’s the danger.
There is another aspect of faith: not just the belief without evidence, but belief in spite of the evidence.
If we just confine our scope to North America, today we have faith-based belief systems such as intelligent design and young earth creationism. A wholly asinine and dishonest system of thought that is presently growing a generation of scientific illiterates, dumbing down the population and leaving our children less equipped to deal with the realities of modern life.
In the state of Texas, a state dominated by fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity, religion has influenced their schools to teach abstinence-only sex education. It’s interesting to note that Texas comes in second in the United States for the amount of unwanted pregnancies and is first for repeat unwanted pregnancies.
Texas’s fundamentalist Christian ideas of abstinence-only education, defunding family planning clinics, its war on reproductive rights, and limiting access to contraception will result in what the Texas State Health Commission calls a “baby boom” of 24,000 unplanned pregnancies for 2014-15. Most of those will be young, undereducated unwed mothers. Many of them will be forced into using social services to get by, thus becoming a burden to the taxpayer. The kicker is we know how to fix this. Proper education of young adults about contraception, sex, and sexually transmitted diseases brings down the rate of abortions, unwanted pregnancies and STDs, and that’s a simple fact.
I would say my greatest fear would be the damage religion can do as it slowly fades away. Time and time again we see that faith-based ideas don’t work and very often increase the harm to others at great cost. But there are ideas that do work.
Evolution has enabled us to grow larger brains, and we have slowly begun to realize that in order to remedy human problems there must be real human solutions. Appeals to the divine, the nonexistent, just won’t work anymore (not that they ever really have). Answers informed by faith are completely ineffective and often harmful. The inability of religion to solve problems has forced us to find those solutions on our own, and our ability to find these answers brings us to the hope Humanists have for the future.
Wherever a society brings in basic human rights, education, the empowerment of women and a reasonable social safety net, supernatural beliefs decrease. Humanism discards the concept that an idea is good simply because someone has thought it divinely inspired. Ideas must stand on their own merit. They must be scrutinized by reason and tested by science. As we look around the world, time and time again we find that the societies that are more humanistic, atheistic and secular score higher by every measure of societal health.
A 2005 meta study by Gregory S. Paul on religion and societal health revealed that religion does not lead to a healthier society. The study demonstrated that Western democracies (secular, less religious societies) score higher in life expectancy and lower in rate of sexually transmitted disease, lower in unwanted pregnancy rates, lower incarceration rates, lower child mortality rates…the list goes on. This study may not demonstrate that religion is necessarily bad for society, but it does show that religion and faith-based belief systems may make us feel better but are ill-equipped to give useful answers to real problems. As Sam Harris stated in his book The End of Faith, “no society has ever advanced by becoming more religious”, and for most thinking human beings this has become axiomatic.
What gives me hope? As a society we are becoming less violent. It may come as a surprise to many, but it’s true. Author and psychologist Stephen Pinker lays out in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature a very good case for how our societies are becoming more peaceful and less violent, contrary to what many believe or have been taught by their religious leaders. Fortunately Armageddon is cancelled due to lack of interest.
What gives me hope? Human rights. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is far superior in every way and more moral than any religious text today. Developed and discussed by people from all backgrounds more than 50 years ago, it remains a document that our species needs to aspire to.
What gives me hope? The goodness of human beings. The increase of the percentage of the population who believe that we are not born with a black mark on our heart. The ones who understand we have no debt to pay for “Original Sin”. The ones who have quit shopping for redemption and started shopping for knowledge in the ultimate big box store we call the universe.
– Pat Morrow
It’s Super Secular September in Manitoba!!
- Our transit advertising hits the streets of Winnipeg
- We announce our Bus Photo Contest
- Volunteers venture out to Morden and live to tell the tale! (that’s Dorothy and Diana in the pic to the right)
- We still have great events happening this month, so read on!