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