Last month, we asked HAAM members to submit their answers to these common questions. If you missed their submissions, you can catch up by reading Part 1 now. Most of the people who responded answered one or two questions – but Chad Froese tackled ALL of them. His answers were so amazing and insightful that they merit an article in themselves. So here they are. Enjoy!
As atheists become more numerous and visible, more believers have realized how little they know about us. I have personally been asked versions of these common questions quite a few times. In one-on-one conversations, it usually works best to ask clarifying questions, since many queries have a wide range of meanings, and sometimes have expected answers. Questions can also take people off pre-rehearsed scripts, denying the cheap thrill of a ‘gotcha’ moment and facilitating an honest conversation. Books can and have been written about each question, so without knowing the aims, knowledge base, or attention span of the questioner, these answers may be a good starting point.
- How much does it cost to become an atheist?
Your mileage may vary. The cost depends entirely upon the person’s personality, family, friends, church, town, state, country, and point in time. For many around the world – death. For people who live in the Bible belt of either the US or Canada – at least some family, friends, and (likely) livelihood. For most others I know – some friends and family, and a lifetime of uncomfortable conversations. For most of those, regardless of their situation – the pain of examining and giving up a childhood or even lifetime of deeply held beliefs. Few are willing to do the work, and many avoid the possibility, even though they secretly share the same troubling questions.
The benefit? Conscience. People live in misery with a guilty or unresolved conscience. People gladly sacrifice their lives to follow their conscience. The difference is hard to overstate. Many people call themselves freethinkers, which sums it up nicely – freedom to think, unconstrained by taboo. Most people’s lives don’t change a great deal, since they still live in the same broad location, culture, and time. But knowing this, they find their place in the universe; a new wonder for life, love, morality, and purpose.
- What is THE book on atheism?
There is no anti-Bible. There is no anti-Koran. You can make general statements about atheists, comparing them to the general public, but our differences are greater than our shared lack of belief in any god(s). Certain books by prominent atheists may be relatively popular in certain places and times, but we don’t share a common book — another feature of organized religion that we lack.
If you want to learn about atheism, read a book about atheism written by an atheist. When I wanted to know about day-age creationism, I followed the same advice and read works on the issue by old earth creationists. Keep in mind that what you read will not be representative of all atheists, but the more you read, the better the picture you’ll have. You can also engage atheists in conversation. Many organizations offer ways to Ask An Atheist, from personal chats or IMs to FAQs and YouTube videos.
- Are atheists afraid of the devil and hell?
Are Protestants afraid of passing through purgatory for not believing Catholic doctrine? Are Christians or Muslims afraid of going to Hades for not worshipping the Greek gods? It seems that most religious people don’t understand what it means for someone to lack belief in what they hold to be true. You can write a long list of all the things that any particular person doesn’t believe and therefore isn’t afraid of, but people generally focus only on the beliefs they currently hold–and have difficulty understanding that (and how) others aren’t affected the same way. The same holds true in politics; it’s easy to assume that people who hold different opinions are less intelligent, informed, moral, or honest.
In some cases, however, the complexity of human psychology shows up. Some ex-Christian atheists still feel that fear for a time, even though they know it is irrational. It often takes more time to untangle conditioning than to explore and dismantle indoctrination. Long-associated emotions can linger with certain smells, sounds, phrases, people, or situations that are no longer relevant. In times past, labels were given to strong negative forms of this reaction, like shell shock, which we now classify as post-traumatic stress disorder. Positive, less traumatic examples also exist – many ex-Christians still enjoy playing or listening to hymns despite the irrelevance of the archaic lyrics, because of the associated happy memories of community, childhood, or important religious celebrations.
- Where do atheists get their morals, if not from the Bible?
The idea that Christians get their morals from the Bible is another religious belief that atheists lack. Members of any large worldwide religion run the gamut in moral beliefs and behaviour, and every one of them will attribute their morality to their religion. From conservative to liberal, from sanctioned violence against women to supporting women’s shelters, from marching with Nazis to marching with Black Lives Matter, from committing genocide to providing disaster relief, religious people do it all, and they point to their religion to justify their actions and beliefs. Atheists don’t occupy quite as much of the spectrum, but our values and actions also span a great range.
We get most of our morals the same way religious people get the vast majority of theirs. Our morality generally reflects the culture, upbringing, social environment, politics, economic reality, country, time, and many other factors in which we live, constrained by our psychology, biology, and physical environment. We have no holy scriptures, so we have more freedom to re-examine those moral stances.
Many atheists would identify as Humanists, since atheism is about what one *doesn’t* believe, and humanism is about what one *does* believe. Humanism is a very broad set of philosophies, but it centres on affirming human abilities and responsibilities to lead ethical, purpose-filled lives that contribute to everyone else’s well-being.
- How did you become an atheist?
I grew up in a home in which reading was valued and questions were encouraged. The passion I had for my faith was lived out by developing a deep understanding and appreciation for theology, apologetics, and creation. Two of my guiding verses were Matthew 22:37, with an emphasis on the last word: “Love the Lord your God…with all your mind,” and 1 Peter 3:15b “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” My mother and I had constant conversations – sometimes arguments – about theology and science. I went to a Bible college with a high level of academic excellence, where I learned about the history of the Christian church and the canon of the Bible, Biblical interpretation, critical thinking, psychology, and cultural anthropology. Through this, my beliefs moved from that of an Evangelical Mennonite, to someone more comfortable in an Anglican church.
My wife and I were friends in college, and she went through her own crisis of faith, and came out trying to hold her belief in God together by sheer determination. We both worked hard to find answers to our questions and form a coherent, rational Christianity. At one point, I read a book by an atheist, Carl Sagan, finally encountering the arguments of an opponent in their own words. His premises were true, and his logic was unimpeachable, but I could not agree with his conclusions. I descended into depression for a while, at one point exclaiming to my wife that I wished God would show me some real evidence of his existence.
Finally, one day, I realized that I no longer believed god existed. I was shocked and dismayed that I had become the enemy – an atheist. I spent a great deal of time after that going back over all the apologetics and creationist literature and arguments I had previously believed, as well as their rebuttals from ex-Christians, echoing the works of philosophers, biologists, archaeologists, and Biblical scholars among others.
From there, it has been a journey of rediscovery, examining and appreciating the valuable parts of what I once believed, while carefully working out new positions on life, the universe, and everything. I have had to deal with anger at being misled by formerly trusted leaders, and mourning the loss of belief in the afterlife. I have had numerous difficult conversations with friends and family, losing some and gaining new common ground with others in the process. I began with anti-religious zeal, but eventually came to appreciate how much common ground I share with the believers who make up the majority of my social circle.
- If God did not create the universe, who did?
Why is it necessary for someone to create the universe? The reason humans tend to ascribe agency to everything is that we’re wired that way, not because there’s any good evidence for the universe’s creation by anything that could be described as a “whom.” Our ancestors benefitted from assuming that mysterious noises or movements were caused by another being, thus keeping them safe through precaution. Religions have simply amplified that mental shortcut into giving a simple explanation for something complex that was previously out of our ability to investigate.
We are quickly gaining more and more insight into the universe’s early days, which is opening up possibilities that sound like science fiction. The problem is that despite the many hypotheses about what started the universe’s expansion, we still have no idea what the answer will be. The honest answer to the question of why the universe exists is “we don’t know yet,” and anything else is wishful thinking. Humans have difficulty with that answer – with true mystery – which should push us to work harder towards discovering the truth.
- Why are atheists so angry?
Why does it matter that you see atheists express anger? Does someone’s anger devalue them and their arguments? Does it define them? Do you see atheists as less human, less intelligent, or less honest because of it? What makes you angry? Should others make similar judgments about you when you speak up against injustice?
Is anger a bad thing? There’s a lot to be angry about in this world – willful ignorance, dishonesty, corruption, injustice, selfishness, greed, prejudice, violence, etc. Most of the time, atheists share this anger with theists, because human suffering is a universal injustice. Anger is not a bad emotion. It is unpleasant, but like pain, we can respond by lashing out and hurting others, or by working to resolve the situation or change the attitude that is causing our anger.
The subject of our anger matters. Sometimes we feel it because we see people being hurt, and sometimes because others point out or threaten a privilege we’re used to exercising, one that others are denied. Atheists are among the many who see and are angered by the disproportional power and influence Christians exert in North America. Those who most benefit from this privilege, and yet are told every day to watch for persecution of their faith, view the loss of their privilege as oppression. Thus atheists appear irrationally angry, despite many others speaking the same truth.
- Do atheists have a soul?
If we’re referring to the supernatural belief in mind-body dualism, in which a soul is someone’s immaterial, immortal essence, then no; nobody has a soul. Humans have long had difficulty explaining the complexity of consciousness and the human mind. Greek philosophers like Plato proposed duality as an explanation, which was later developed by others like Descartes, and heavily influenced Christian theology. In the time since, we have discovered a great deal about the workings of the brain, such that a soul no longer makes sense, even if it is something we’d like to imagine. Chemical and physical changes to the brain affect one’s reasoning, emotions, memories, and personality. Diseases can completely change the person we love into someone who we don’t recognize, even someone whose soul seems to have departed. The concept of a soul is a magical idea, but ultimately a wishful one which cheapens the amazing function of our brains.
- Do atheists believe in nothing?
You have reached the limitation of labelling someone by what they *don’t* believe. The term atheist is useful in a world where most people believe in some type of god(s), but it really doesn’t tell you much about what fills their lives or their minds. If you want to know what someone thinks about an issue, ask. You may find out that someone is a pacifist, that someone else is a non-practicing Jew, or that I identify as a Secular Humanist. Most of us have no reason to reject the findings of science on cosmology, physics, biology, or medicine. Many of us identify as Humanists. Just like religious people, there are atheists marching with Nazis and atheists marching with Black Lives Matter. We have children, family, friends, coworkers, and sometimes fellow Humanist group members. We work, we play, we create, we love, and we die. We are human, and there is no human who has *no* thoughts about their world.
- If atheists don’t believe in God, what prevents atheists from raping, killing, and breaking the law?
Christians have been raping, killing, and breaking the law at a furious pace for a long time, and many are still doing so as I write this. It appears that belief in god isn’t stopping them. I have already written a bit about morality, but it bears restating that Christians are not more moral than atheists. Non-believers raise more compassionate children, we commit crimes at a lower rate, and countries in which religion is less prevalent are happier and more successful. Even within the US, states with higher rates of religiosity are poorer and more dysfunctional, including having significantly (up to 3 times) higher rates of teen pregnancy.
I have no desire to rape or kill anyone, and I assume the same is true for you. What does god have to do with that? The idea that superior morality is found in the Bible or in religious belief is something atheists simply don’t share.
Bonus question: What happens when you die?
To us, nothing. We lose consciousness and resume the dreamless sleep of nonexistence that we had before our brains developed. We live on through the impact we left on the world; in the lives we touched and the people we loved. We live on in the memories we write in other’s brains. As memories of us fade, our impact continues to spread like ripples in water, swelling out through the world for generations. With time, our nutrients will be returned to the earth and reused, to create or nourish new life to experience the universe.
If you talk to the religious in person, at an outreach or online, (or maybe they’re family), you’ll often hear the same questions over and over. A while back, I came across a list of 10 of these common questions on Facebook. What followed in the comment section was mostly snark and general ridicule, with very few people attempting to answer honestly. The few religious people in the comment section quickly exited.
Snark and ridicule have their place; I’ve used them myself. Sometimes these questions are asked as some sort of ‘gotcha’ by a religious believer or apologist trying to catch you in a contradiction or pose a question you can’t answer. Surprisingly, this particular set of questions was posted by a fellow atheist – a point lost on many of the commentators.
Yes, I know many of these questions induce maximum eye-rolling by Humanists, but it’s important to remember that many believers have never been exposed to secular thought (apart from what their pastors and priests tell them). For them, these are important and honest questions, critical to their understanding of who we are. In most cases they are worth a well-thought-out, kind, and empathetic answer.
Here is the list of questions, with answers from me and a few other members of HAAM and the Eastman Humanist Community. I invite you to formulate your own answers.
– Pat Morrow
- How much does it cost to become an atheist?
The flippant answer has often been “10% less than to be a Christian”, since we don’t have to tithe a portion of our income. But in truth, I think it’s probably a wash. Humanists donate to charities all the time. Their donations could amount to more than 10%, or less; where I think we come out ahead is that an atheist of limited financial means who is unable to donate doesn’t have the guilt. Also, we can feel free to give to the causes that are closest to our hearts, knowing that the money goes to the cause and not to the upkeep of a belief system.
On the other hand, the personal cost of atheism can be high. Atheists who have left cults, evangelical Christianity, and other fundamentalist religious groups often lose friends, family, jobs. They can be excommunicated or shunned. This can be devastating in the short term. In my experience, most eventually find new friends, partners, and sometimes family, but their greatest reward is that they become comfortable in their own skin. They discover the joy of knowing, not just believing. They don’t have to censor themselves, and they can talk about issues that were once considered taboo.
In short, the rewards outweigh the costs.
- What is THE book on atheism?
There isn’t one. There is nothing that codifies atheism, no book. Atheists are simply people who do not believe in gods. This is not to say that there aren’t works of literature that are important to us, such as those of Thomas Paine, Bertrand Russell, or Marcus Aurelius, or the latest well-thought-out ideas of any other fellow human being. Some of us discovered atheism through a critical examination of the Koran or the Bible. The books of atheism are very much the subjective opinions of each individual atheist.
- Are atheists afraid of the Devil and Hell?
Generally, no. It’s quite hard to fear something that we don’t believe exists. However, for people who have emerged from many years of religious belief, the fear of hell can linger, eventually fading like a bad dream.
- Where do atheists get their morals, if not from the bible?
Many great tomes throughout human history have been written on morality; far too many to even touch on here. Throughout most of modern history, it was professed that morality without religion is somehow morally bankrupt. Today we know this is not true. We observe moral behaviour in all kinds of social species – ducks, dogs, zebras, monkeys, elephants and yes, human beings. Morality is about the well-being of the individual as well as the group. It isn’t a set of standards that we are given, but one that has developed, and is developing, over time.
One just has to ask the question “how far would we get if person get if everyone’s moral system allowed for raping killing and stealing as a way to get ahead?” I suggest our species wouldn’t have even gotten started.
- How did you become an atheist?
The answer to this question will differ for every atheist you ask. There are a myriad of reasons.
Some have left oppressive religious cults.
Some see the damage done to humanity by religious beliefs.
Others saw the absurdity of faith and the inability of religion to answer life’s questions.
Yet others, like myself, have never believed, even at points in our lives when we tried really hard. For many of us, atheism is not a position you convert to. The term ‘atheist’ is just the label given to people who have discovered there is no reason to believe in gods.
- If God did not create the universe, who did?
To say that the universe was created assumes a creator. As atheists, we simply don’t find the evidence for a creator convincing, so we can’t make that assumption. A better question might be: How was the universe created, if it was created at all? Carl Sagan said:
“In many cultures it is customary to answer that God created the universe out of nothing. But this is mere temporizing. If we wish courageously to pursue the question, we must, of course ask next where God comes from? And if we decide this to be unanswerable, why not save a step and conclude that the universe has always existed?”
- Why are atheists so angry?
I don’t think that as a group we are angry, but if we are, the anger often stems from religion’s nature of asserting its rules, laws, and doctrine over others. One just has to look at the tens of thousands of often violent splits in Christianity, because of one denomination rejecting the doctrine of another denomination. This may help to illustrate the frustration felt by non-believers who reject the imposition of religious doctrines of others.
If this question is important to the reader, there is an entire book on the subject for further reading (available in our HAAM library). Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, by Greta Christina.
- Do atheists have a soul?
The amount of evidence for any kind of spirit, energy, or life force that continues on after we die is nil. Also, the absence of a clear definition of what a soul is would lead most atheists to believe that no, we don’t have a soul. But I do take some comfort in knowing that soul music will live on long after I’m dead.
This is a surprisingly common question asked of the HAAM folks who staff our outreach booth. It’s a question I’ve never understood. Barring mental illness, or possibly head trauma, how could anyone have no beliefs in anything?
Fellow Humanist Nathan Prokopowich answered the question this way:
Its not that we believe in nothing, it’s that we don’t have a belief in a deity. I personally believe in humanity – as much as it screws up, we have gotten very creative in fixing things too. The simple kindness of one person helping another for no other reason than to be kind is all the belief I need. But if you want to split hairs, I can witness an act of kindness, and perform and receive an act of kindness as well. So in that instance, it’s more empirical than a belief.
- If atheists don’t believe in God, what prevents them from raping, killing, and breaking the law?
This one was answered by members of the Eastman Humanist Community:
“What prevents atheists from raping, killing, and breaking the law is the same thing that prevents theists from doing so. The only difference is that theists attribute their lack of doing so to their god. Humans generally treat each other well because that’s what contributes to well-being. Treating each other well has nothing to do with a god, any god.
– Helen Friesen
I personally believe in the inherent goodness of people. There are scientific studies that have shown people actually want to be nice. We do not need to be threatened by some abhorrent afterlife to do good for our family, friends, neighbours, and yes, even strangers. Doing good does make us all feel warm and fuzzy inside. Kindness is its own reward; I do not need to prove myself to some “group” or deity.
– Johanna (last name withheld)
Bonus question: What happens when you die?
One HAAM member tackled this biggie:
That is probably the question I struggled most with on my journey to becoming an atheist.
Today, I believe that my body and mind will cease to exist. And then nothing. Many things will of course happen in the world, to my family, friends, and cats. Good things and bad things. And I will not be aware of any of those things. It was hard for me to accept (quite narcissistic in hindsight), that my beautiful mind, full of ideas, dreams and memories, my constant companion for as long as I can remember, will one day be gone. Hopefully at the time of my death and not before.
As a Christian, I was convinced that after death my consciousness would somehow continue in the afterlife, that I would be able to connect again with loved ones long gone, who would be, like me, some kind of conscious ghost.
I shed that belief only after learning more about dementia. How people suffering from dementia lose, bit by bit, their beautiful minds, until just the outside shells remain. I asked myself whether I believed that after the heart stops beating and the brain cells stop firing, there would be a magical reboot of the consciousness of the deceased. For me, the answer could only be “No”.
This also meant that I had to really let go of my loved ones and accept that they are truly gone forever.
This might sound all very bleak to a believer, but by shedding the delusion of an afterlife, I feel that I have become a better, kinder and more caring person who cherishes every moment spent with family, friends and cats.
– Caren (last name withheld)
For a different point of view, watch for Part 2 of this post – another complete set of answers to these same questions – coming up in our July newsletter.
Like so many other organizations, HAAM’s activities have been dramatically disrupted by COVID-19. We will continue to rely on evidence-based information and follow the recommendations made by Shared Health Manitoba before deciding when to resume in-person meetings and events. We encourage you to check this website (haam.ca), our Facebook page, or Meetup for information and updates.
There will be no in-person meeting in May. However, we can continue to interact, support each other, and maintain friendships online. If you are not a member of our private Facebook group, and would like to join it, contact us. It is open to anyone in Manitoba who identifies as a Humanist/atheist (i.e. you do not need to be a paid member of HAAM).
Summer Solstice party
This is/was scheduled for Saturday, June 20th. The City of Winnipeg has notified us that all group bookings at city parks are canceled up til the end of June, so we do not expect to go ahead with the picnic unless the health situation improves significantly between now and then. If distancing recommendations are relaxed, it may still be possible to have our party, or it may be rescheduled for later in the summer. Watch for further updates.
Morden Corn and Apple Festival
HAAM has held an Outreach booth at the Morden Corn and Apple Festival every summer since 2013. But sadly, this year’s festival has been canceled. We will miss it; both the fair and the Outreach booth are a lot of fun! … and it looks like there will be no Outreach events this year.
Winnipeg Pride Parade
This has been rescheduled for September 13th. We are looking forward to the celebration and showing our support for Winnipeg’s GSRD (Gender, Sexual, and Relationship Diverse) community. HAAM is entered as a walking group, and everyone is welcome to join us – so cross your fingers that by September things will be better.
HAAM and Eggs Brunches
We will resume our regularly monthly brunches only when it is safe to do so.
Check our Events calendar for the latest information on all upcoming HAAM events.
Check out these online events from CFI Canada’s ‘virtual chapter’.
The Centre for Inquiry (Canada) is holding several online presentations in May. These are free but registration is required to participate (via Zoom).
Thursday, May 7th – Discussion: Living without religion (social support)
Saturday, May 9th – Presentation: Conscientious objection in health professionals (i.e. refusing to do one’s job for religious reasons)
Sunday, May 17th – Presentation: Critical thinking about COVID-19
For more information about all these online events, and links to register, visit CFI’s MeetUp page.
Charity of the Month
Our Charity of the Month program will not resume until we are able to hold physical meetings again.
In the meantime, however, if you are able, consider supporting any of the many worthwhile local charities and community organizations that are struggling due to the pandemic. Many of them are being caught short because fundraising events have had to be canceled.
On our Charities page there is a list of charities that HAAM has supported over the past several years. Almost all of them desperately need assistance right now.
Words of encouragement from members of our executive
We are all enduring difficult times. COVID-19 has changed our lives, our jobs, our financial stability, our health, our social activities, our relationships, and many other things. We are struggling. As an atheist, I am extremely thankful to my religious/non-religious friends and family members who have reached out to me to support me in these difficult times. I have tried to reciprocate as best that I can.
I believe that we as atheists and Humanists must step up and extend a hand of friendship to people who are different from us. When we are faced with a common enemy, we should set aside out differences. Religion, politics, and other things that separate us must be put aside. As atheists, let us promote the oneness of humanity and our interdependency.
– Arthur Prystenski
Most of us have been fortunate to have lived in this stable, peaceful country our entire lives. So our current circumstances are essentially uncharted territory. I’ve noticed that this pandemic is bringing out both the worst in people, and the best. With that in mind, these times are showing us peoples’ true colors.
We’ve heard a lot about the worst. Stories about fundamentalist preachers who claimed that their god would protect them, but they still died from the virus. Protestors who wanted to end their state lockdowns because their “freedoms” were being attacked. People who hoarded toilet paper and hand sanitizer specifically to sell at a profit. Even people who don’t believe that COVID-19 is a real virus, but some Chinese conspiracy transmitted by 5G towers (!)
While these attitudes are indeed appalling, I’m happy to say that they don’t appear to represent the majority of people. Many more people are thinking about the impact of their actions on others. For example, the superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District stated emphatically that they won’t re-open schools just because of a government order; their first concern is the welfare of the children in their district.
Closer to home, the Canadian Mint is now making hand sanitizer, which is being distributed to the health care system. Other businesses have answered the call to make PPE such as gowns and masks. Our federal government has made it fairly easy for those who have been laid off to access emergency funding. (And our Prime Minister even took the time to reassure us that the Easter Bunny was still going to visit.) Locally, there are many stories about neighbours helping neighbours. Volunteer groups are forming to lend a hand wherever they’re needed. More people in my neighbourhood smile and say Hello during our regular walks. In our local Safeway, we’re beginning to laugh and joke at missing the one-way floor arrows, rather than frowning glumly and giving the other person the stink eye.
In the end, there is much to be thankful for, even now. The technology that lets us communicate instantly (internet, phones, etc.) has really been a lifesaver (with no divine intervention required, may I add). The advanced medical care that is available for those who need it. The scientists who are now working non-stop to develop a vaccine. And no matter what their original intent, most of these actions are pure Humanist. People are caring about the other people around them. Doing their part – their best – to help in any way that they can. Emphatically declaring that money is not their main concern (as opposed to certain politicians). Economy be damned – we’re going to look after everyone around us – especially the poorest and most vulnerable.
We don’t know what the future will be like, post-COVID 19, but it will hopefully result in our society being just a bit better. More people will realize the importance of science in our lives, and that the advice of experts is worth listening to. Perhaps some religious believers will wonder – just a little – why their god let so many good people die, and start to question their beliefs. Some anti-vaxxers may finally recognize the importance of a vaccine against our most deadly diseases. Our governments will give more importance to improving health care funding – in all areas.
I’m very happy to see the outpouring of appreciation for our unsung heroes of all stripes and industries, because we need each other to get by, and everybody’s contribution matters. And really, the only way we’re going to get through this is by helping each other.
– Donna Harris
Interested in being part of reconciliation?
Circles For Reconciliation is a local, grass-roots initiative started by U of M Dean Emeritus, Dr. Raymond Currie. Its aim is to establish trusting, meaningful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples as part of the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Dr. Currie worked with local Indigenous contributors to develop a 10-week sharing circle. Each Circle is made up of 10 (or so) participants, half Indigenous, half non-Indigenous. Each session consists of an opening, the reading of a different theme each week, then a discussion of the topic, followed by a closing protocol. You can read more about the structure of the circles at www.circlesforreconcilation.ca.
Usually, these circles happen face to face – all participants sitting in a group (a circle). However, with the current situation, Circles has gone high-tech! They are now offering several Circles using Zoom meetings. They are particularly looking for Indigenous participants, in part because the Indigenous community only makes up 5% of the Canadian population. If you’re interested at all, just check out their web page for more information.
Anxious about the pandemic?
If the constant news about COVID-19 has you worried, or if being quarantined is causing you stress, and you’re looking for ways to cope that don’t involve talking to an invisible friend in the sky, then psychologist Dr. Darrel Ray, president of Recovering from Religion, may be able help. Dr. Ray recently recorded a 40-minute video with some ‘words of wisdom’. These include advice about constructive ways to deal with the stress, reassurance that you’re not alone, and pointers about future issues to watch for. The video, called Corona Virus Pub, is on YouTube.
Do you have a plan in case of serious illness?
If you’ve never thought too much about preparing an Health Care Directive (HCD), or if you’ve thought about it but procrastinated, the current COVID-19 pandemic may have spurred you to think again and wish you had done it. One feature of this disease is that people can become very ill, very quickly – too quickly to allow time for discussion before a sedative is given and a tube is stuck down their throat. So right now, everyone should have a HCD – or at the very least, have thought about it and discussed their wishes with those close to them. Don’t leave your fate to chance!
The Winnipeg chapter of Dying With Dignity holds workshops to help people learn what they need to know in order to prepare an effective HCD – but of course, those workshops are all on hold due to the pandemic. Fortunately, there are online resources that can help. So now, while a lot of other events are canceled, is a good time to consider your wishes and let your family know what you would want, so they can make decisions for you if you become seriously ill.
Dying With Dignity Canada has a COVID-19 Updates web page. It contains links to important information about the disease itself, how this pandemic is impacting health care decision-making and end-of-life choices, and suggestions for conversations to have about these decisions. DWD also has all their Advance Care Planning (ACP) information available to read and download (free). In addition to the regular ACP booklet for Manitoba, there is a special COVID-19 edition. The special edition is an abbreviated version that allows people to create a simple HCD that can be used in all provinces. It covers the most important issues relevant to the coronavirus (breathing difficulties and ventilators), and covers the basic requirements of a Health Care Directive. If you use the COVID-19 edition to prepare your HCD, it is recommended that you update that later with the full version.
You may also want to check out a new advance care planning guide called Plan Well, created by a physician in Ontario. It has loads of information that can help you to decide what type and level of care is appropriate to your medical condition and personal values – like explanations of what goes on in an ICU, the survival rates of CPR in various circumstances, etc. It’s a great resource, so check it out! Keep in mind, though, that it is not specific to Manitoba.
If you have concerns about what care decisions or requests are appropriate for your circumstances, call your physician’s office to discuss them. Most clinics are doing telephone or virtual appointments. If you have questions about Health Care Directives, contact the Winnipeg chapter of Dying With Dignity.
Abortion Caravan anniversary celebrations
Like just about everything else this spring, the festivities that were being planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the abortion caravan to Parliament Hill have been disrupted due to the pandemic. Most of the physical events that were scheduled in cities across Canada have been canceled. However, you can still expect to see and hear news about this game-changing event in Canadian history, when a group of young women from Vancouver drove to Ottawa, gathering support along the way to protest the restrictive law.
Any time is a good time to stand up and voice your support for the right of a woman to control her own body, but this year, in the first two weeks of May, expect to see it in the news and on social media. Here is the Facebook event page.
Don’t forget about our library
HAAM’s Library is still OPEN! If you now have time to read (or watch a video), go ahead and send us your request. Pick-up or drop-off can be arranged in the Winnipeg area.
On our Library page, you can search by Title (use the ‘Book Table’), Author, or Subject. Once you find something you’d like to borrow, click the ‘Borrow Book’ button (on the Book Table), or the ‘Click here’ button on the Library page, to request the item.
All our library books and DVD’s are free to borrow for paid HAAM members.
Seen around town
Donna Harris took this photo of the window at her local Safeway store because she appreciated the happy sentiment.
We’re all in this mess together, so it’s nice to see our neighbors sharing messages of hope and support. In the words of Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC’s provincial health officer: “This is our time to be kind, to be calm, and to be safe.”
Upcoming HAAM Events
AGM and Monthly meeting – Leaving Faith Behind
Saturday, January 11th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Avenue
We will begin our meet-and-greet time early, at 4:30 PM, to accommodate the AGM at 5:00 PM. Dinner will be after the meeting, at around 6:00, followed by a brief regular meeting at about 6:45 and our speaker at 7:00.
Please come to the AGM! – we need your support and input as we plan for the coming year.
Our guest speaker at the meeting will be Jeffrey Olsson. Jeff will be talking about his personal journey out of religion. There will be plenty of time for Q & A, and we would love to hear your stories about leaving faith behind, as well as your questions.
More details in the Event Post.
We will be collecting hygiene products for our Charity of the Month at this meeting. Keep reading for details.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, January 19th, Original Pancake House, The Forks, 9:30 – 11:00 AM
This monthly casual get-together is a great way to meet and get to know your fellow HAAMsters.
Note the location – We move around the city every month.
New people are always welcome. More details in the Event Post.
Spring meetings are booked
Sat, February 8
Sat, March 14
Sat, April 4
Sat, May 23
Check our Events calendar for the latest information on all upcoming events.
Charity of the Month – West Central Women’s Resource Centre
The West Central Women’s Resource Centre is located on Ellice Avenue near Maryland, in the Spence neighborhood.
What resources does the centre offer? A better question might be – what doesn’t it offer? Here is a sampling of its services:
- Drop-in services – coffee, snacks, socialization, phones, computer access, showers, hygiene supplies, information, and referrals
- Food – coffee and tea always on, breakfast and lunch 3 days a week, dinner twice a week
- Childminding while parents are in the building
- Housing and income assistance for women experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity
- Indigenous programming – healing retreats, sharing circles, traditional activities like drumming and beading, teaching by community elders, ceremonies, and more
- Training and skill-building for employment
- Immigrant settlement services, including assistance with finding housing, child care, health care, language classes, employment, and community programs and services
On Wednesday afternoons, the centre hosts a ‘hygiene giveaway’. Every Wednesday – even when holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Day happen to fall on Wednesdays. Because if you need a shower and lack supplies, it really doesn’t matter what day it is. Think about that…
At our January meeting, we’ll be collecting supplies for that hygiene program. Please bring shampoo, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, pads and tampons, sunscreen, hand lotion, lip balm, and bug spray. They also need accessories like razors and nail clippers. New, unopened items only, and full sizes are preferred (i.e. not travel sizes or little bottles from hotel rooms).
Here’s a link to their full list of needs: Hygiene items needed
If you would like to contribute but cannot make it to the meeting, you can make a donation by credit card via the ‘Donate’ button on our website. Just include a note that the money is for hygiene supplies for the January charity.
Tax receipts will be issues for donations over $10.
Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events
Brainy Brunch Breakfast
Members of the Eastman Humanist Community (Steinbach and area) get together for brunch on the first Sunday of every month. They meet at 9:30 AM at Smitty’s Restaurant in the Clearspring Centre (145 Park Road W) in Steinbach.
They would welcome HAAM members who are interested in socializing with other Humanists and supporting and encouraging non-believers living in the Bible Belt.
For more information about the brunch, contact email@example.com.
For current information on all upcoming non-HAAM events, visit our Community Events page.
It seems like only yesterday that I attended my first HAM meeting; my youngest was just out of high school and I was trying to figure out what this Humanist thing was about. Today I’m a Grampa and writing the year-end president’s message. Boy time does fly!
HAAM was founded as the Humanist Association of Manitoba (HAM) by Cecil Drummond Muldrew (1923 – 2004), a truly amazing individual who I wish I could’ve met. Cec (as he was known) is listed by the Manitoba Historical Society as one of our Memorable Manitobans. Cec was followed as president by Helen Friesen, Barrie Webster, Jeffrey Olsson and Donna Harris… Today’s HAAM is just the latest of several Humanist organizations in Manitoba going back to the 1920s, with the Winnipeg Rationalist Society, and later, Marshall J. Gauvin’s Winnipeg Humanist Society. So in my first year as president, I’ve had some pretty big shoes to fill.
HAAM has come a long way since it’s inception. Back then, meetings were generally just a few people getting together socially to talk about the issues of the day and what could be done. Today, HAAM has a solid membership base, and with the advent of social media, a broad range of supporters from around the province, the country, and even internationally. We have helped found Humanist groups in Eastern Manitoba, the Pembina Valley, and Brandon. Our outreaches have connected with thousands of people, with many folks discovering they were probably Humanists long before they knew what the word meant. We’ve been able to hook up people needing help with trained secular counselors and therapists. Our members have donated thousands of dollars to lesser known but vital local charities. Most notable among our charitable projects is, of course, Kasese Humanist Primary School in Kasese, Uganda, and our sponsored child Bogere John, who I am happy to announce completed his school year just last month and has advanced to grade two. All this wouldn’t be possible without our members and our small but dedicated group of volunteers.
But we could be doing more.
If we could expand out volunteer base, we would be able to expand our programming and charitable work. HAAM needs folks to help out with the day-to-day running of the organization as well as our special projects, of which we have several upcoming. So as we make our way into HAAM’s 24th year, I’m using my year-end president’s message to ask you, our members, to step up and help out.
We can’t do it without you.
Hope to see you at a meeting soon.
Free courses in Humanism
Humanism isn’t a synonym for atheism, and not all atheists are Humanists. If you’re not clear about the difference between Humanism and atheism, there is some basic information about Humanism on HAAM’s website. Our What is Humanism? page includes links to videos and further reading, and a free-to-download e-book about Humanism from Humanists UK.
The American Humanist Association recently announced online courses in Humanism. Their basic courses are free, and topics include science, psychology, politics, ethics, and more. Advanced courses require a fee, and include celebrant training for weddings and memorial services, Humanist parenting, feminism, and racial justice.
HAAM cannot endorse any of these courses without actually reading the content, but they look interesting and promising. If any of our readers sign up and take them, we’d love to hear your feedback.
Passages: Remembering a former HAAM member
Just in time for the New Year, as we reflect on the past and wonder what’s ahead in 2020, we have a heartwarming story about friendships made at HAAM, sent in by one of our members. Read it on the Perspectives page.
Call to Action – End of Life Choices should be a choice!
Tell Canada’s federal Justice Minister to remove the unconstitutional ‘reasonably foreseeable’ rule from Canada’s assisted dying law immediately. This clause has already been found unconstitutional in Quebec. Now it’s time for Parliament to restore the rights of suffering Canadians who are discriminated against under the federal assisted dying law.
Read more about this issue, and add your name, at dyingwithdignity.ca/revise-the-law.
Memberships are now due
HAAM’s mission is to build a secular community where non-believers can feel safe and supported. We stand up for progressive secular values and provide social connections for non-believers in Manitoba. Your membership fees enable HAAM to continue this mission.
HAAM has no paid staff. All the work that goes into keeping the group operating – like planning and hosting events, offering outreach programs, producing this newsletter and maintaining our website, posting and monitoring social media content, maintaining financial records, responding to questions and emails, etc – is done by volunteers. But every year, there are basic expenses we need to meet, like meeting space, equipment and supplies for events, printing and postage, and administration fees for our website, banking, and PayPal accounts.
If you have not already joined HAAM, please become a member today! Fees are affordable and include a ‘limited income’ option (as low as $10 a year) if applicable. Memberships can be renewed anytime by credit card using the ’Donate’ button, by cheque in the mail, or by cash or cheque at any event.
If you have already joined or renewed – thank you! We look forward to seeing you at our next event.
Remember that memberships must be paid before (or at) the AGM if you want to participate in the meeting.
Book of the Month – Living the Secular Life
Start the New Year off with something inspirational! Phil Zuckerman is a sociology professor who specializes in studying secular culture. He literally studies how and why people are ‘good without a god’.
The various chapters in Living the Secular Life – New Answers to Old Questions examine what non-religious people believe about, and how they deal with, universal human issues like morality, society and community, death and dying, child-rearing, and times of crises. Using both research and anecdotes, Zuckerman demonstrates that a secular life can be ethical and full of joy and wonder. Readers repeatedly report that they gained confidence, inspiration, and encouragement from this book, and that it’s a wonderful guide for living a happy, productive secular life.
All our library books and DVD’s are free to borrow for paid HAAM members.
Visit the Library page to request to borrow a book or DVD, and we will make arrangements to get it to you.
2019 in Review
Every year at this time we look back on all that HAAM members have enjoyed and accomplished over the last 12 months. A glance at the calendar for 2019 shows that HAAM members have been very busy – or at least, those who participated in all these activities were very busy. If you live in the Winnipeg area, and you didn’t participate – why not? Keep reading to see what you missed, and make it your New Year’s Resolution to get out and join us in the New Year!
Meetings – In addition to being social gatherings, our monthly meetings provide a forum for learning and discussing a wide variety of topics and social issues. This year, we tackled secular funerals, science in the public arena, community patrols, religion in public schools, gender identity, women’s rights, and the incompatibility of science and religion.
News – Our monthly newsletter covered the repeal of Canada’s blasphemy law (finally!), a Winnipeg newspaper ‘selling out’ to cover religious news, the legal challenge to prayers at city hall, religion in Manitoba courtrooms, and our president’s interview for Canadian Atheist.
Community – We gathered for Sunday brunch in every month except June and December. We chatted and opined with each other on social media, and shared blogs and personal stories. We mourned the loss of members past and present. We networked and socialized (in person and online) with secular folks from the Eastman Humanist Community and around the country. We experimented (unsuccessfully) with a new meeting venue.
Celebrations – We recognized Darwin Day (Feb), World Humanist Day (June), and World Human Rights Day (Dec). Many of our members attended or participated in local Pride festivals in the summer and celebrated secular versions of Thanksgiving and Christmas. We held parties for the Summer and Winter Solstices.
Activism – HAAM participated in campaigns to protect the rights of Canadians and promote progressive decision-making by those in government. We supported access to assisted dying, reproductive rights for women, science and evidence-based election candidates, and government action on climate change.
Education – On our website and in our newsletter, we shared news and information about Humanist values, religion in public schools, health care directives, organ donation, facts about abortion, and summer camps suitable for secular kids.
Library – HAAM has over 250 books (and a few DVDs) in our library, with a different one featured in each monthly newsletter. In 2019, the featured books covered apologetics, evolution, Humanism, secular holidays, religious parody, Christian fundamentalism, philosophy, anthropology, and pseudoscience.
Outreach – HAAM members spoke with dozens of visitors at summer fairs in Steinbach and Morden, and explained Humanism to a high school class in Grunthal and residents of senior’s home in Winnipeg. We also reached hundreds of followers and supporters online via Facebook, Twitter, and MeetUp.
Charities – HAAM doesn’t exist just as a social club. As Humanists, we care for other life on this planet. Over the past year, we supported lots of causes and organizations that help make this world a better place. Blood donations, health care for the vulnerable trans community, endangered owls, swimming lessons for immigrant children, community patrols in Winnipeg’s inner city, end-of-life choices, safe havens for at-risk youth, and of course, primary education for children in Uganda.
Here’s to 2020!
Upcoming HAAM Events
The Incompatibility of Science and Religion
Saturday, February 16th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Ave, 5:30 PM
Can science and faith to co-exist peacefully? We welcome scientist Dr. Simon Potter to talk about his experiences.
Click here for details.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, February 24th, Perkins Restaurant, 1277 Henderson Hwy, 9:30 AM
Our monthly informal get-together. All welcome.
Click here for details.
Save the Dates
Monthly meeting – Video Night, Saturday March 9th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 5:30 PM. More info TBA.
Check our Events calendar for the latest information on all upcoming events.
Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events
Advance Care Plans (Health Care Directives)
Presented by members of the Dying with Dignity Winnipeg Chapter.
Next workshops in Winnipeg will be held on Saturdays at 10:30 AM –
February 16 at the Fort Garry Library, and April 13 at the Henderson Library.
There will also be a workshop in Steinbach on Saturday March 30 at 1:00 PM.
Click here for details and to register.
For up-to-date information on upcoming non-HAAM events, visit our Community Events page.
Charity of the Month
The Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program
Did you know that burrowing owls do NOT actually burrow? They get their name because they nest in burrows, but they cannot dig the burrows themselves. They rely on animals like badgers, foxes, gophers, and ground squirrels to dig burrows for them.
So what happens when land is cultivated and farmers exterminate ‘pests’ like foxes and gophers? You guessed it… There are fewer than a dozen pairs of burrowing owls left in Manitoba, and fewer than 800 left in all of Canada.
And yet a single family of burrowing owls can eat 1800 rodents and 7000 insects during a summer. Wouldn’t it be better to encourage the owls to flourish?
The Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program studies these owls, and in 2010, began reintroducing breeding pairs to southwestern Manitoba. The program also offers educational presentations to increase public awareness of the owls and the importance of grassland conservation, and works with landowners who have suitable habitat to encourage protection for the owls.
You can see burrowing owls in ‘person’ at the Assiniboine Park Zoo and Fort Whyte Alive.
Let’s give a hoot about our fellow creatures and help these beneficial little birds get re-established in our grasslands.
Donations for the Charity of the Month are accepted at any of our events. 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 on this page. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
Election results from our AGM
Meet your new HAAM executive for 2019:
President – Pat Morrow
Secretary – Cheri Frazer
Treasurer – Henry Kreindler
Members at Large are Tammy Blanchette, Norm Goertzen, Tony Governo, Donna Harris, Sherry Lyn Marginet, Arthur Prystenski, Caren Schramm, Dorothy Stephens, and one other who needs to remain anonymous.
Many thanks to Donna Harris for serving as President for the past 6 years! (And also for staying on as a member-at-large.) You’ll find a list of our executive (with photos) here.
Reminder – Humanist Canada Essay Contest
Don’t forget to encourage your favorite teenager to enter this competition. There is $4000 in total prize money. Open to all Canadian high school students. Entry deadline is March 1st. Complete contest details are available on the Humanist Canada website.
Partners for Life Report (blood donations)
We pledge 25 donations a year, and in 2018 we came SO close! At year end, we had 24.
Let’s get off to a great start to meet our goal this year! If you haven’t donated recently (or ever), do it now!
Click here for all the information you’ll need to get started. (Everyone is welcome to participate; you don’t have to be a paid HAAM member, just a supporter.)
February 12th is Charles Darwin’s 210th birthday, and International Darwin Day – a global celebration of science and humanity. Darwin Day inspires people throughout the world to reflect and act on the principles of intellectual bravery, perpetual curiosity and hunger for truth as embodied in Charles Darwin. More info, including educational resources, are at DarwinDay.org.
Today, more than ever, we need to stand up for science!
Spread the word! (click image to enlarge)
HAAM President interviewed for Canadian Atheist
One of Pat Morrow’s first assignments as our new president was an interview for the Canadian Atheist website. In addition to discussing his own beliefs and background, Pat took the opportunity to tell readers a little bit about HAAM.
“Everybody has issues and goals that are important to them and they all overlap. What’s important is we harness these passions and all work together. Not just inside our local organizations but all across the country.”
Awesome interview, Pat! Inspirational, positive, and insightful!
Make sure to read the whole interview.
Book of the Month: Why Evolution is True
If you’ve left conservative Christianity (or any other religion, for that matter), you may now accept evolution, but still not really understand how and why it’s true. Or maybe you understand the basics, but have a hard time explaining them and coming up with examples to demonstrate your points when challenged by a creationist. Then this book is for you! Author Jerry Coyne is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, where he specialized in evolutionary genetics – so he knows his stuff. Why Evolution is True provides a succinct summary of the facts supporting the theory of natural selection, and reviewers note that you don’t have to be a scientist to understand it.
Coyne explains the basics of evolution in just under 300 pages. He covers the geological and fossil history that corroborates it; how fossils came to be; missing links and transitional fossils; animal vestiges; embryonic development; bad design; bio-geographic separation; dimorphism; dead genes; genetic drift; sexual selection; and the evolution of the modern-day human. There’s also a great glossary of terms at the back.
Along the way, Coyne also discusses (and refutes) common creationist arguments, such as that `everything happens by chance’, and misinterpretation of dating methods.
Why Evolution is True has been called “one of the best current books on evolutionary theory”. It’s a clear look at a complex subject. You’ll want to have this material in your knowledge base.
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.
Meeting Venue Update (decisions, decisions…)
We’ll be back at Canad Inns Polo Park for our February and March meetings, since the U of W was booked for only one meeting as a trial of the venue. So what was the verdict?
On the plus side for the room at the U of W: it’s centrally located and on major bus routes, the meeting room is larger, it’s quiet and private, we can serve food and drinks, members can bring their own food and drinks (which makes attending more affordable), and noise level isn’t an issue.
On the minus side: parking isn’t as convenient, and the table set-up made it difficult to socialize and mingle.
On balance, there were more positives than negatives, so we’ve decided to try the U of W again, hopefully for our meetings in April and May. We plan to re-organize the tables to facilitate socializing, and maybe get a pot of coffee going… As with any major decision, we will never be able to please everyone 100%.
Stay tuned for updates. When meeting dates and locations are confirmed, they’ll be posted on our Events page.
Why doesn’t God make himself Known?
Good question. It was posed online to Peter Enns, who is a member of HAAM’s Steinbach offshoot, the Eastman Humanist Community.
You can read his answer on our Perspectives page. What would your answer be?
Upcoming HAAM Events
Details and complete listings for all our upcoming HAAM events are on the Events page.
Monday, November 13th, Chateau Bowling Lanes, 1145 Nairn Avenue, 7 PM
Monthly Meeting – Is there a Right to be an A**hole?
John Stuart Mill and the Limits of Expressive Liberty
Saturday, November 18th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Avenue, 5:30 PM
We will be collecting donations for the Christmas Cheer Board at this meeting.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, November 26th, Perkins Restaurant, 1277 Henderson Highway, 9:30 AM
Winter Solstice Party
December 23rd, the Belgian Club, 407 Provencher Blvd
Join us for a pot-luck dinner and Yuletide cheer, as we celebrate the end of the darkness and the return of the SUN! Everyone’s welcome, so invite your family and friends!
Further details will be in our December newsletter.
Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events
Folklore and Truth
November 27th, 6:30 – 8 PM. Hosted by the Winnipeg Circle of Reason.
For information on upcoming non-HAAM events, visit our Community Events page.
Charity of the Month – Christmas Cheer Board
Each year, around 5,000 volunteers help the Christmas Cheer Board to provide over 18,000 Christmas hampers to needy individuals and families. Recipients include those on income assistance, low-income families, pensioners, unemployed persons, and recent immigrants.
More than half of the food and toys are donated by individuals and companies, with the rest being purchased with donated funds.
At our November meeting, we’ll be collecting monetary donations to be used for hampers.
Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, as a secular holiday, or not at all, the end of December is a festive season in our community. Let’s help make the holiday season a merry time for everyone!
Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the Paypal button. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
Two months left till year-end! It’s our last chance to push towards our goal of 25 blood donations by HAAM members in 2017. As of mid-October, we had 18 donations… so we should be able to meet our goal. If you’re a regular donor, please try to get one more donation in by the end of the year.
If you’ve never donated before, or never asked to have your donations credited to HAAM, please join our Canadian Blood Services Partners for Life team and help us reach our goal. Let’s show that Humanists care enough to donate blood!
Laura Stephens donated at a clinic held on Thanksgiving Day and took this photo.
Evolution vs. Creation – Christianity Tries to Stay Relevant
In October, Denis O. Lamoureux, a professor of Science and Religion from the University of Alberta, was in Manitoba to present a lecture called Beyond the “Creation vs. Evolution” Debate.
The purpose of the lecture was to demonstrate that science and religion are really NOT incompatible. It included such topics as the definition of atheism, religious views on Adam and Eve, how many scientists believe in God, the speaker’s own conversion to Christianity from atheism, and the claims of Richard Dawkins.
Did Lamoureux prove his point? Are science and religion compatible? Pat Morrow attended the lecture and reviewed it. Read his entertaining and thoughtful evaluation on our Perspectives page.
HAAM’s library is moving! In response to our ad for a new librarian, we had two volunteers who stepped up to the plate. Thanks to Laura Stephens and Adriana Sedlak for volunteering! They will share the position and ensure that a few books are brought to each meeting.
If you’re looking for a specific book or author, or a book on a specific topic, you can view our entire collection online. If you see a book or video you would like to borrow, just contact HAAM to request to have it brought to a meeting.
It’s Time to Plan for Next Year
HAAM’s executive committee is recruiting new members for 2018. We need enthusiastic people who can help us to achieve our goals of building a supportive secular community and promoting critical thinking in the larger world.
The executive committee plans and organizes our events (monthly meetings, social activities, outreach, etc.), guides policies and decisions, and plans for the future of the organization. We would love to offer more events and programs, but we need people to help out. Please consider volunteering, or accepting the offer to join if you are approached. Executive meetings are usually held monthly, but a lot of our communication and planning also takes place online, in between meetings.
Elections will be held at our AGM on January 13th, 2018. The positions of Secretary and Treasurer are up for re-election this year. We are also looking for members-at-large to help out as needed. To be eligible to serve on the executive, you must have been a HAAM member for at least 6 months prior to the election.
If you want to get in on the action, or if you are considering it and have questions, please contact us.
Book of the Month – The Better Angels of our Nature
With all the depressing / fake news lately, maybe this is a good time to read a book that will inspire some optimism. The world we live in is not as bad as we think – or at least, it’s not as bad as it used to be. Don’t believe that? Then you really need to read Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of our Nature. At over 800 pages, it’s a long read – but hey, winter’s coming; time to settle down in the evening with a great book.
Pinker asserts that violence has been in decline over millennia, and that the present is probably the most peaceful time in history. The decline in violence is found in many domains, including military conflict, homicide, genocide, torture, criminal justice, and treatment of children, homosexuals, animals and racial and ethnic minorities.
The book covers the historical trends related to the decline of violence, psychological systems that can lead to violence, and motives that can lead people away from violence. But Pinker also notes that the level of violence is not down to zero, and warns that the decline is not guaranteed to continue.
Bill Gates declared this as his favorite book of the last decade, and the most inspiring book he’s ever read. So what are you waiting for?
Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this book.
HAAM Celebrates Halloween!
Karen and David Donald really got into the spirit of the season for our October meeting! Quite a few of our members came in costume. You’ll find more costumed HAAM members on our Gallery page.
Film Screening: A Better Life
Wednesday, October 12th, Millenium Library, 6-9 PM
International Outreach: Humanist ‘Missionaries’ in Uganda
Saturday, October 15th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 5:30 PM
Book Club Meeting – Secular Parenting
Wednesday, November 24th, 7 PM, location TBA
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.
Humanists Celebrate Thanksgiving, Too!
Do you celebrate Thanksgiving without thinking too much about who you’re thanking, now that you have left religion? Do you struggle to explain the holiday to children?
The very name of the holiday implies giving thanks, but if you no longer believe in a god – or never did – you might need to pause for a moment to think about who the recipient(s) of your thanks might be.
Humanists have just a much reason to be thankful as anyone else – and real people to thank. We can be thankful to each other for family and friendship, thankful to the people who grew and prepared the feast, and thankful to nature for all that it has provided.
If your family gathering includes a traditional Grace and you’d like to switch it out for something a little more inclusive without disrupting the peace, there are lots of options. Here’s one example:
We are grateful to the men and women who planted the crops, cultivated the fields and who gathered in the harvest.
We thank those who prepared this fine meal and also those who will serve it to us.
Yet amid this plenty may we not forget the many of our brothers and sisters, and especially their children, in our own country and elsewhere, who do not share in our good fortune, who are hungry, cold, sick and troubled by the bitter burden of poverty, the curse of war, and the despair of hopelessness.
So may our enjoyment be graced by understanding and tempered by humility.
Let us be kind to one another and to all those with whom we share this brief existence.
Privacy Issues in Spiritual Care
Who gets access to patient information?
It has come to our attention that some hospital patients are still being subjected to prayer and proselytization without their consent. Much of this is informal, mainly in the form of well-intentioned but misguided remarks made by visitors and staff; but some of it falls under the guise of ‘spiritual care’. We wrote about this before in our November 2015 newsletter – and now need to correct/clarify that article. Strictly speaking, it’s not hospital chaplains who are no longer allowed to visit patients without their consent – it’s community clergy who are restricted.
Traditionally, community clergy have considered hospital visits a part of their ministry to the sick, and many churches hold weekly services for patients in their local hospital’s chapel. Up until a few years ago, a priest could just stop at the hospital’s information desk and get a printed list of all the patients who identify with his denomination, so that he could ‘pop in’ for a visit or invite them to the service. And that is what’s no longer allowed. Visiting clergy no longer get access to patient names unless the patients consent to have their names released – and so they are asked about this on admission. (The WRHA policy on this is here.) But this restriction applies only to community clergy – not ‘spiritual care’ employees (hospital chaplains). In practice, if patients don’t state a religion on admission, or say that they don’t want their name on the clergy list, spiritual care staff don’t usually visit. But because spiritual care workers are employees of the hospital, they are considered part of the health care team, so they can be consulted or gain access to patient charts in the same way as members of any other discipline (e.g. social workers or physiotherapists).
What’s a ‘Spiritual Care Provider’?
‘Spiritual Care Provider’, or ‘Spiritual Health Care Practitioner’, is the new name for ‘hospital chaplain’. The term is more inclusive than ‘chaplain’, because it encompasses multiple faith/belief systems, in some cases even Humanism and atheism. But let’s face it – ‘spiritual care providers’ in Manitoba – and across North America – are overwhelmingly Christian clergy. In cosmopolitan cities, it’s quite likely that there are staff who will serve people of various faiths and beliefs, including Humanism, but in a small rural community, or anywhere in a Bible Belt area – good luck with that.
The Role of PHIA in Spiritual Care
When Manitoba passed the Personal Health Information Act in 1997 (current version is here), the privileges of all these religious practitioners (both hospital chaplains and community clergy) became restricted. Community clergy were no longer allowed access to patient information without consent, but the role of hospital chaplains was a little less clear. Initially they were technically out of the loop, too – but a 2004 amendment added them back in. According to a letter of explanation regarding that amendment, the term ‘health’ was redefined as being sound in ‘mind, body, and spirit’ – so spiritual care providers are back on the health care team, and health care ‘expressly includes spiritual care’. The letter goes on to state that since PHIA restricts the collection of personal health information to only that which is required to carry out care, patient information should be released to spiritual care providers only if the patient requests the service, or if a referral is made (emphasis ours).
What does this mean for Humanists?
It’s that last part (about referrals) that has some HAAM members concerned. The intent of the amendment to PHIA is that as with any other health care service offered by a health care facility, spiritual care will be provided pursuant to a referral or request. But often, referrals are made without asking or notifying the patient. Usually this is just routine. Most patients with fractures, for example, get a referral to physiotherapy, and the doctor may not even think to mention it. When the therapist shows up, the patient doesn’t question it, either – it’s an expected part of care. Likewise, a nurse who hears a patient expressing concerns over family, finances, or employment while in hospital may call the social worker to assist – again, perhaps forgetting or not even thinking to inform the patient ahead of time. But what happens when a patient expresses sadness, loss of hope for the future, or grief over a poor prognosis? Oftentimes, staff ask a spiritual care provider to come and offer support. That’s where, as stated in last November’s newsletter article, a certified mental health professional or counselor might be a better choice than a chaplain – but there are usually none available, because hospitals employ chaplains instead of counselors. So a well-meaning staff member refers the patient to the spiritual care department – again, sometimes without their knowledge or consent. Staff in a predominantly religious community, or who are religious themselves, may not even think of this as controversial – they believe that the referral is appropriate and that they are helping. And so a chaplain appears at the beside.
You may find the spiritual care provider helpful, or not, depending on his or her beliefs, preparation, and skills, and your needs and personal preferences. Most of these ‘chaplains’ are genuinely caring people, used to conversing with all kinds of different folks, and their mandate is to provide support to all patients who need or want their services, regardless of belief system. You can read a description of the ‘competencies’ required to be a spiritual care provider in Manitoba here. It’s a pretty broad field, and the document implies that almost any ‘spiritual practice’, including reiki, therapeutic touch, and other forms of woo, is legitimate.
What can I do?
The bottom line, of course, is that just like any other treatment or test, patients can refuse spiritual care – but they would have to know to do so, and in particular, they would have to know to tell staff that they don’t want chaplains to have access to their personal information. Or, alternatively, they would have to know enough to ask (or demand) a Humanist – or at least a person who is flexible enough to include Humanism as part of their repertoire of worldviews – as their spiritual care provider.
As with any other aspect of health care, it’s not always easy to request or decline a treatment when you’re ill – that’s what Advance Care Plans are for. So the same guidelines apply to spiritual care requests that apply to ACP’s. Put your requests in writing ahead of time, and the written document will speak for you if and when you can’t. Patients who are admitted acutely ill or unconscious are not asked on admission about their religion, so their family might answer for them, or the spiritual care worker may pop in at some point just to see if he can be of service. If you want to avoid this, here are some suggestions:
- Make sure your family knows your wishes about spiritual care (if they are willing to honor them).
- Make your health care proxy aware of your wishes about spiritual care as well as health care.
- Write your requests on a card and put it in your wallet along with your Manitoba Health card, Advance Care Plan, and Organ Donor cards (you do have those, right?). ID is one of the first things that emergency responders look for when they are called to a scene.
- Add a note about your spiritual care preferences to your Advance Care Plan and ERIK kit and have those readily available, stuck on your fridge with a magnet.
Charity of the Month
In October we’ll be raising funds for John Bogere’s annual tuition and the Kasese Humanist Primary School.
Book of the Month: One Heartbeat Away
This month’s featured book is a little different. For starters, it was a gift – from a very earnest, soft-spoken young woman who pressed it upon our volunteers at the Outreach table in Morden last month. No small gift from a total stranger; it sells for $15 on Amazon.ca. But she was very insistent, and so we accepted it to add to our library.
The book is One Heartbeat Away – Your Journey Into Eternity, by Mark Cahill. And why was our visitor so insistent that we accept it? Because to her, it’s a very special book. It’s the book that will guide us to the Truth. She agrees with the author’s assertion that “once you know the truth about the Bible, creation vs. evolution, heaven and hell, sin, and the cross, there is only one logical decision to make”. Cahill claims that he has evidence for biblical truth and that it will compel the lost to come to Jesus Christ for salvation.
This book answers the question “What do you think will happen to you when you die?” by describing the most often cited ‘evidence’ in favor of the Christian answer to that question. Cahill describes experiences recalled by people who have been resuscitated while dying, as well as those who experienced hell while dying, and he mourns the terrible loss that occurs every time that a soul is lost to God.
What qualifies Cahill to make such a claims? Is he a biblical scholar like Hector Avalos? A psychologist like Michael Shermer? A neuroscientist like Sam Harris? None of the above… Here’s an excerpt from the author’s biography on amazon.com: “Mark Cahill has a business degree from Auburn University, where he was an honorable mention Academic All-American in basketball. He has worked in the business world at IBM and in various management positions, and he taught high school for four years.”
If you have escaped a fundamentalist form of Christianity, you probably won’t want to read this book – and don’t need to. You already have a pretty good idea of what it says. But if you grew up secular, or in a liberal Christian denomination, and you’re looking for some insight into the fundamentalism, this book will be enlightening. Or hey – if you’re open-minded and willing to see if it convinces you, check it out! And if you find Jesus and convert, be sure to let us know.
You can borrow this book, or any of the others in our library, at the October meeting. Check here to see a complete list of the books in our library. If you find one you’d like to read, you can reserve it online and we’ll have it for you at our next meeting.
Harmonizing Humanists are Recruiting!
Who’s interested in singing for fun? HAAM has a small group of singers who perform at events when we can get enough people together and prepare something suitable. Repertoire varies – almost any genre goes, and may include traditional religious music with parody lyrics, or anything that might be entertaining or inspirational to a secular audience.
Our next gig will be (hopefully) at the Winter Solstice Party. Because we only get together sporadically to rehearse, we are hoping to get some people who read music and can learn most of it on their own. But we need people to support the melody line, too. If you like to sing and can stay on the notes, we’ll find a part for you!
Here’s a great opportunity for anyone who misses singing in their old church choir! If you are interested, contact HAAM.
City Hall Prayers Violate Rights
As we finish celebrating one solstice, we look forward to the next (which will be nice and warm, just like in the picture of the Duck Pond in Winnipeg)
The newsletter may be a trifle late, but the year started right on time! If 2015 is anything like 2014 was, we’re in for a busy year! So get reading….
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.
I have long been fascinated with the evolutionary history of humans. The discoveries made by anthropologists and archaeologists are of great interest to me as I seek to learn more about where we come from and the amazing journey we have made. With each new fossil discovery, another puzzle piece is added to the picture of this journey.
One particular story that captivated my imagination when I first heard about it was the discovery of the Laetoli footprints, found by Mary Leakey’s team in Tanzania in 1976. The famous Laetoli footprints, discovered in a layer dated to 3.6 million years ago, show the footsteps taken by 2 or possibly 3 bipedal individuals as they walked in a freshly deposited layer of fine ash from a nearby volcano. An incredibly lucky set of circumstances allowed this fragile evidence of some of our remote ancestors to survive.
The footprints were likely made by some australopithecus afarensis individuals, as fossils of these type have also been discovered nearby in similarly dated layers. Analysis done on the footprints show 2 individuals, one larger than the other, with a possible third walking in the footsteps of the larger one. Some analysis points to the smaller of the 2 appearing to be burdened on one side, perhaps carrying an infant. It is easy to imagine this as a family group taking a stroll. Of course, this family portrait that I see may just be sentimental conjecture on my part, but as an armchair anthropologist, I’m allowed to fantasize all I want.
At the very least, what the evidence does tell us is that 3.6 million years ago, some early primate had already developed the ability to walk upright. Another piece of the puzzle carefully fitted into place, another step on the journey illuminated.
One day recently, I was googling for images of these footprints, and to my surprise, instead of the ancient images I was looking for, I got thousands of hits for a different set of footprints. Pages and pages of images for the well-known poem “Footprints in the Sand” I am sure many are familiar with this poem which describes a dream someone is having of a conversation with God. He is looking back over his life represented by footsteps on a beach and wonders why during his most troubled times, there appears to be only one set. The reply is that, at those times, he was being carried by God.
I have to admit, even when I was a believer, I never cared for this poem. I found it to be an inadequate answer to suffering and God’s reply sounded kind of arrogant. Now that I no longer believe in God, I find it sad that people find inspiration from this poem. When I think about all of the suffering that occurs in this life, ranging from the everyday ups and downs we all experience to the truly horrific things that happen to some people, many of them praying to God for help that does not come, I fail to see what comfort there can be found in a God whose presence is undetectable. Maybe it helps some people to feel that God is with them in their suffering, and I am sure that there are many who would argue that they can feel his loving arms around them. I need a bit more reality than that. As a parent, there were many times when I carried my child. She felt my arms around her and heard my words of comfort. In this poem, God seems to me like a negligent parent.
But back to the real footprints. I can imagine all I want about the ancient family that I see in those footprints. These are stories that I invent to fill in the missing spaces in the puzzle of our history. But I can no longer be satisfied with the imaginary footprints of an undetectable God. The real comfort and companionship of my fellow humans is what I need and it’s enough.
– Diana Goods
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