Upcoming HAAM Events
Winter Solstice Party
Saturday, December 14th, Norwood Community 87 Walmer Street, 5:30 – 10:00 PM
Join us for some warmth and Yuletide cheer with your fellow HAAMsters. Everyone is welcome!
Make sure to read the ENTIRE EVENT POST so you’ll know what to bring.
Save the Dates
Monthly meeting and AGM – January 11th
Our meeting topic will be Leaving Faith Behind, with guest speaker Jeffrey Olsson, a former Anglican priest and member of the Clergy Project. Details will follow in the January newsletter.
There will be no HAAM and Eggs Brunch in December – next one is January 19th
Spring meeting dates 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.
HAAM operates on a calendar year, which means that all memberships will be coming up for renewal in January. Renew now to avoid the rush (and future reminders)!
If you are not already a paid member, join now and you won’t have to renew until Jan 2021 (offer open to first-time members only).
Memberships can be paid at any time using the secure link on our Join Us page, or in person at any event (in December, that will be at our Solstice party).
Annual fees start as low as $10 a year (for those on limited income), and $50 a year gets you a regular family membership. What other organization can you join for that little? We don’t ask people to tithe 10% of their income, like some other organizations do – just to contribute enough to keep the group going.
Note that memberships must be paid.in order to vote at our AGM in January.
Christmas Folklore for Non-believers
Around this time of year, anyone who has Christian family and/or friends on social media is bound to see at least one of the following tales shared in an article or a meme similar to those below. Their claims have even been published in children’s books, so they must be true, right?
Meme #1 Do candy canes symbolize the purity (white) and blood (red stripes) of Christ? Does their shape (a J, if you turn one upside down) stand for “Jesus”?
Meme #2 Does the popular (and seemingly secular) holiday song “The 12 Days of Christmas” contain hidden references to the tenets of Christianity?
Well, no… candy canes and seasonal songs (and most other Christmas traditions and symbols) have been around for quite a long time; these myths, not so much. They mainly arose around the mid-late 20th century in the minds of some creative apologists, and, not unlike a lot of other misinformation, spread rapidly with the proliferation of the internet. This is unsurprising when you consider that, as Christmas has become an increasingly secular holiday, defenders of the faith are looking for new ways to insert religion back into the celebrations and remain relevant.
The real origins of the candy cane and the 12 Days of Christmas, and the reasons why we know that these tales are not true, make fascinating reading. For example, did you know that the verse “5 golden rings” does not refer to jewelry at all, but to ring-necked birds, such as pheasants? Or that the first machine made to bend peppermint sticks into a cane shape was invented by a Catholic priest?
Read the real stories behind these modern myths on the Snopes website.
New web page for Kasese School
Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda was our Charity of the Month for November, but we support that school year-round.
We want people to know that there are secular alternatives for international aid, and that they can contribute at any time during the year. So we have added a separate page to our website, summarizing the work that the school does and what HAAM’s donations are used for.
Click here to view our new web page.
World Human Rights Day is December 10th
On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since then it has become the world’s most translated document, available in over 500 languages. That’s something to celebrate!
Unfortunately, many people are still unaware of their basic rights, while others are denied them. We should never take our hard-won freedoms for granted. Stand up for your fellow humans! Spread the word and let your family and friends know that you are celebrating World Human Rights Day.
Book of the Month – Atheist’s Guide to Christmas
The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is a compilation of stories about enjoying Christmas as a non-believer, from 42 atheist celebrities, comedians, scientists and writers. This collaboration was a charity fundraiser, with the full book advance and all royalties going to the UK HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust.
The contributions are organized into sections, including personal stories (“Hark the Herald Villagers Sing”); science (“How to understand Christmas”); advice (“How to stop worrying and enjoy Christmas” and “How to escape from Christmas”); philosophy (“If God existed, would he have a sense of humor?”); arts (“An atheist at the movies”); and more.
Some of the stories are funny, while others are inspirational or memorable, so you’re bound to find something that resonates with you. We don’t need to be Christian to enjoy the Christmas season; there are plenty of other ways to celebrate. Decorate, bake, sing, light up the tree, share gifts, and gather with family and friends.
So to all those who celebrate it (however you celebrate it) – Merry Christmas!
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.
Whatever you celebrate in December –
In a world where so much international charity comes with a heavy dose of proselytization, isn’t it special to be able to support an organization whose motto is “With science, we can progress”?
HAAM members have been supporting Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda since 2015. Many of us have been watching the progress of this school since its inception. An unlikely beacon of rational humanism in the heart of “kill the gays” country, Kasese Humanist Primary School gives us all hope that Uganda can recover from the poisonous influence of deadly American religious intolerance.
As the brainchild of Bwambale Robert Musubaho, KHPS was founded in 2011 by the Kasese United Humanist Association. This unique school, for boys and girls ages 3-14, receives help and support from Humanists in many countries. Its curriculum is science-based, but sports, music, and arts programs are also offered. Our donations support a variety of needs – textbooks, teachers’ salaries, building upkeep, uniforms, student field trips, science lab equipment, food for boarding students, tuition assistance for needy families, and even clinic medicines.
Since opening in 2011, the school has grown to three campuses and over 700 students. As of April 2019, enrollment is
Rukoki campus (Nursery, Primary & Secondary) – 249 students
Kahendero campus (Nursery & Primary) – 182 students
Bizoha Muhokya campus (Nursery & Primary) – 325 students
The school has a Child Sponsorship Program to assist with tuition for needy, bright, disadvantaged, and vulnerable children. Unfortunately, there are many children who have been orphaned or who come from disadvantaged homes and require sponsors in order to get an education. For us in Canada, it’s hard to imagine the difficulties some of these children face. Kasese School really needs our support to continue its work!
Since 2015, HAAM has been supporting a young student at the Bizoha campus by paying his annual school tuition. We are committed to sponsoring him for the full length of his schooling at KHPS. Every fall, we need to collect enough money to cover his tuition for the coming year. Anything extra goes to the general school fund.
Right: Our sponsored student reading The Day the Dinosaurs Died
Kasese is a town of just over 100,000 people, north of Lake George and at the foot of the Rwenzori Mountains in western Uganda. It’s a growing community, in part because of increasing tourism due to its proximity to two national parks. Industries include copper mining and cobalt production. Kasese serves as the headquarters for the district and boasts a hospital, an airport, and a small power station.
The surrounding predominantly religious community is sometimes hostile, but Humanist values are gradually catching on, with three other Humanist schools, two health clinics, and many businesses in the area founded on the Humanist model.
Our main fundraising drive for Kasese is annually in the fall, but donations are gratefully accepted at any time during the year. Just use the Donate button in the sidebar on this page (or scroll down if you’re using a mobile device), and include a note letting us know that the donation is for Kasese.
Tax receipts will be issued for donations over $10.
Please give generously.
We can’t fix the whole world, but we can make a difference in the life of these kids.
Upcoming HAAM Events
Child Evangelism Fellowship – Coming to a school near you? Or already there?
Saturday, October 5th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Avenue, 5:30 – 8:30 PM
We welcome guest speaker Nathan Prokopowich, who successfully fought to remove the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) from schools in his local division. CEF is a worldwide organization dedicated to proselytizing to children in public schools.
Putting an end to this organization’s dark message can be as easy as informing the school board about exactly what CEF teaches. So please join us for what will be an insightful and informative meeting.
Full event details are here.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, October 20th, Salisbury House, 255 St Anne’s Road, 9:30 – 11:00 AM
Our monthly casual get-together is a great way to meet and get to know your fellow HAAMsters.
New people are always welcome. Details here.
Save the Dates
Monthly meeting November 16th
HAAM and Eggs Brunch November 24th
Winter Solstice Party December 14th
Check our Events calendar for the latest information on all upcoming events.
Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events
Campaign Life Counter-Protest
Sunday, October 6th, Women’s Hospital (on Notre Dame), 2-3 PM
This is a Canada-wide event in response to a national anti-choice “Life Chain” event that day. In Manitoba, the protest is being organized by the Handmaids’ Local group. Visit their Facebook event page for the details.
Inquiring Minds: Dialogue on Death
Saturday, October 26th to Saturday, November 2nd, First Unitarian Universalist Church, 603 Wellington Crescent
This is a whole week of presentations beginning with a ‘resource fair’ on the 26th, so check their full event calendar for details. Topics include advance care planning, green burial options, how to talk about death, interfaith perspectives on death, how to plan a memorial service, understanding MAID (medical assistance in dying), and more. Note that some of the sessions require pre-registration.
Links to Non-HAAM events of interest to our members can be found on the Community Events page.
Charity of the Month – Kasese Humanist Primary School
Once a year, in the fall, our charitable donations support the Kasese Humanist Primary School in Kasese, Uganda. We have been sponsoring this little student, Bogere John, since the fall of 2015, so our first priority is to collect enough to pay his annual tuition fee. Anything that we collect above the amount needed to provide for him will be donated to the school itself, where it will go toward books, supplies, uniforms, lunches, and clinic medicines.
Kasese school serves over 700 students on 3 campuses. Bogere John attends the Bizoha campus, a nursery and primary school with about 325 kids. Unfortunately, there are many other children like him, who have been orphaned or come from disadvantaged homes and require sponsors in order to get an education. Kasese School really needs our support to continue its work!
In a world where so much international charity comes with a heavy dose of proselytization, isn’t it special to be able to support a school whose motto is “With science, we can progress”?
Donations for the Charity of the Month will be collected at the monthly meeting. Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the ‘Donate’ button on this page. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
We are part of a worldwide community
Don’t forget that there are associations of Humanists and atheists all over the world, and our numbers are growing. If you’re planning a trip and want to make some new friends, there are lots more non-believers out there who are just a mouse-click or phone call away.
Often you can find groups in other cities just by searching social media sites. But some of our HAAM members also have personal connections with other non-believers across the country and around the globe. So check with your fellow HAAMsters or contact our exec if you’re looking for a group or an individual elsewhere. Networking and sharing will help our community grow!
One of our members shared this experience:
I recently returned from a holiday in Newfoundland. I had never visited Newfoundland before and was thoroughly impressed by the friendliness and hospitality that I experienced. The beauty of the landscape and the unique culture is amazing. Prior to visiting, I sent a message to the website of Atheists of Newfoundland and was able to meet a member of this group for a beer and conversation. I greatly enjoyed my conversation with this person who shared with me his path to Atheism and his experience of living as an Atheist in Newfoundland. It was enlightening and enjoyable listening to him and his experiences. This conversation reinforced my belief of the importance of building a community of Atheists across Canada to share experiences and to offer support. I hope that Atheists from Newfoundland will visit Manitoba and encounter the friendship and camaraderie that I encountered.
Non-believers are thankful, too, but we direct our thanks toward the people whose efforts enrich our lives. Several years ago, the American Humanist Association created this image to illustrate that idea. We shared it before, but it’s so good, it’s worth repeating.
Have you been asked to say ‘grace’ at your Thanksgiving dinner?
If you need a ‘grace’ that’s suitable for everyone in your family (religious or not), the Humanist Association of Canada has some suggestions. Check them out.
Morden Outreach Report
This year, instead of the usual report from our intrepid President and Outreach coordinator, Pat Morrow, we have a personal story from a volunteer who sat in the booth for the first time. This volunteer is a relatively new HAAM member who came from Europe fairly recently and who needs to remain anonymous for professional reasons (i.e. they do not want to be ‘outed’ in the workplace as a non-believer or HAAM member).
You’ll find the report on our Perspectives page. When you read it you’ll see that this outreach was an experience to remember, for a number of reasons. Enjoy!
Book of the Month – The Creator and the Cosmos
The subtitle – How the Latest Scientific Discoveries Reveal God – gives away the genre. It’s a Christian apologetics book. This book was a gift from a visitor to our outreach booth at the Morden Corn and Apple Festival in August. The visitor who presented it to me at the booth was certain that I would change my mind about belief if only I would read Chapter 2, and so I promised him that I would do that.
Chapter 2 is titled My Skeptical Inquiry. It’s not very long (only 4 ½ pages). In it, the author describes how, as a child, he became intensely interested in astronomy and physics, and when he grew up he obtained degrees in both fields. All the while he was in awe of nature and continued to wonder who or what could have been responsible for it all. From there, he jumps to the cosmological argument for god: “If the universe arose out of a big bang, it must have had a beginning. If it had a beginning, it must have a Beginner. From that point on, I never doubted God’s existence.”
The chapter continues with Ross explaining that he searched for the truth in several unnamed ‘holy books’ but did not find it until he picked up a Bible. He describes the Bible as “simple, direct, and specific”, and states that in Genesis, he found a “journal-like record of earth’s initial conditions” that was “elegant and scientifically accurate”. I’ll stop quoting the book there. In the rest of the chapter – and the rest of the book – he continues to interpret and manipulate the facts to fit his firmly-held beliefs.
I am not an scientist and will not attempt to review the rest of the book. But if you’re curious, the late Victor Stenger, a particle physicist, wrote an excellent review of a previous edition way back in 1998. You can read Stenger’s critique of the actual science here. Suffice to say that Stenger called it “the latest coat of varnish on the long-decrepit argument from design”. His whole review is fascinating, even if (like me) you know next to nothing about physics or astronomy.
I’ll bring the book to the October meeting and then add it to the HAAM library. Take a look for yourself and see what you think!
All our library books and DVD’s are free to borrow for paid HAAM members.
Visit the Library page to request to borrow a book or DVD, and we will make arrangements to get it to you.
Upcoming HAAM Events
Details and complete listings for all our upcoming HAAM events are on our Events page.
Monthly Meeting – Finding Humanist Thought in Indigenous Beliefs
Saturday, October 14th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Avenue, 5:30 PM
In the spirit of the season, we’re going to decorate the room up a bit for Hallowe’en. You’re welcome to come in costume (optional).
Spooky Night at Six Pines
Friday, October 20th, Six Pines (just north of Winnipeg), 7:30 PM
Note that this event is intended for ages 15+.
Make sure to read the event details before attending.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, October 22nd, Smitty’s Restaurant, 2835 Pembina Highway (Fort Richmond), 9:30 AM
Newbies Welcome! Details here.
Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events
Beyond the “Creation vs Evolution” Debate
October 12th at 7 PM and October 13th at 10 AM and 7 PM. Click for locations.
For details on all upcoming non-HAAM events, visit our Community Events page.
Charity of the Month – Kasese Humanist Primary School
HAAM sponsors a child in Uganda by paying his annual school tuition. Our little boy is called Bogere John, and 2018 will be our third year of sponsorship. He’s a bright little kid, and smart, but he’s an orphan, and he’s had a difficult year.
His spring report card showed that in some subjects he performed only ‘fair’, while other subjects had no mark and were recorded as ‘missed’. This was in sharp contrast to his report card from the previous year, in which all subjects were good or excellent. In a letter, School Director Bwambale M Robert explained that in the middle of the term the boy got “some serious malaria and he had to miss some lessons at the school”, which was a “key factor for his sliding”.
Robert continued – “He however recovered and he is now fine. Normally in most people’s home, the health and hygiene conditions in some of our children and families is not all that fine, this becomes a root cause of some illnesses of our children… My teachers remain committed to ensuring Bogere gets back to his feet and normalize to the better and excel with his studies.” Robert also noted that Bogere’s guardian is “also not well, health-wise”.
Our executive recently received a copy of Bogere’s second term report card, and we are pleased to note that he is catching up in some subjects, although he still struggles with others. Good for him for keeping at it! For us in Canada, it’s hard to imagine the difficulties some children face to get an education.
We will be collecting for little Bogere John’s 2018 school tuition fees at our October meeting. Any extra money we collect above his tuition requirements will go to help the school itself. Please give generously!
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 on our website. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
HAAM is looking for a new librarian.
Job Description and Requirements:
- Be a regular, paid member of HAAM who attends most meetings.
- Store and look after HAAM’s collection of just over 200 books and DVD’s. They come with their own bookshelf (it’s about 3’ wide X 6’ tall).
- Bring a selection of books to each meeting.
- Keep track of books as they are signed out and returned.
This is a great opportunity for someone who likes to read. The lucky volunteer will have access to ALL of our books almost ALL of the time. (To see what’s in the collection, visit our Library page.) It’s not necessary to attend every meeting; usually arrangements can be made to send books with another HAAM member if the librarian is absent.
A big thanks to Chad and Gloria Froese who have been looking after our library for over 2 years. Work-related travel and a young family is making it difficult for them to attend many meetings, but they continue to store the books until we find someone willing to take on this responsibility. Please contact us if you’re interested.
Ideas Needed – Help Us Build Community
A group of HAAM members attended the Canadian premiere of “Losing Our Religion” at Cinematheque in September. It’s a very well-made documentary about pastors struggling when they lose their faith – especially while they’re still preaching. (More info here.) If you missed the screening, or weren’t able to be there, it will air on CBC Docs (the documentary channel) in Canada on Sunday evening October 15th, with an encore showing on Wednesday evening October 18th. Check listings for local times.
Several of the peopled interviewed for the film mentioned the importance of community. We can all definitely appreciate that sentiment. It’s in part why we join HAAM and come out to the meetings. And probably the main thing people miss when they leave religion.
The producers included scenes of people taking part in the Sunday Assembly, which just seemed to come together on a whim. And they also interviewed the founder of the Houston Oasis, which is a similar freethought group. These groups host meetings which are slightly more “church-y” in feeling than our HAAM meetings, but they also include things like coffee and live music.
It’s got me thinking – about how to grow our membership and build community, and about being able to create different types of get-togethers. That just doesn’t seem possible in our current meeting space. Should we forego the meeting rooms? Perhaps give up the meal in favor of a better space? What do YOU think? Is it time for us to look for a new home? Let us know!
Donna Harris, President
New Reasonfest Videos
Our YouTube channel is gradually taking off as we have recently added two more videos. They are from our 2015 conference River City Reasonfest, which some of you may have attended. The playlist from that conference now includes:
Greta Christina – Comforting Thoughts about Death that have Nothing to do with God
Eric Adriaans – Canada’s Blasphemy Laws and Human Rights
Tracie Harris – Is Religion Good for Families?
P Z Myers – Evolution is More Complicated than you Think
Special thanks to Paul Morrow for working so hard producing and editing these videos. Check out our channel!
Call to Action – Support Fair, Secular Government
The Freedom of Thought Report is an annual survey on discrimination and persecution against non-religious people in countries around the world. It is published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union each year on December 10th, International Human Rights Day. The full report (over 500 pages) covers every country in the world.
You might not think of Canada as being a country with a significant number of human rights concerns, but the 2016 report notes several issues (details here).
- Recognition of the supremacy of God in the constitution and the national anthem, which, although largely symbolic, has been used to argue for allowing religion or prayer in government offices.
- Granting automatic charitable status to organizations that promote religion, while requiring secular organizations to commit to community services to attain charity status. Also, allowing religious groups the right to maintain a building fund, but requiring secular organizations to apply for such a fund and then adhere to the conditions laid down by the Charities Directorate of the CRA.
- Partially or fully funding religious schools, many of which discriminate on religious grounds in hiring and in accepting students. In some provinces, the government provides funding to Catholic schools but denies such funding to any other religion or belief.
- Court rulings that allow sincerely held religious beliefs to prevail over freely contracted obligations (i.e. allowing people to back out of signed contracts on the basis of religious convictions).
- The continued presence of a blasphemy law in the Criminal Code. (This law is one of many set to be repealed in a current review, but it is not yet officially dead.)
- Exemptions in the Criminal Code (Section 319 3b) regarding the public incitement of hatred of identifiable groups (i.e. publishing hate literature) if the opinions expressed are based on religious belief or a religious text.
In response, an e-petition (E-1264) has been registered with the House of Commons asking the federal government to investigate the systemic discrimination against non-believers in Canadian laws and regulations.
This isn’t just a formality – it’s more important than you might think. Consider that parliamentary committees hear only from witnesses that their members invite. Since they are religious, they invite religious people. Others are asked to write submissions. For example, the Canadian Heritage Committee has heard from more than five Muslim groups regarding religious discrimination, but no Humanist groups regarding the same topic.
Please sign the petition.
Add your voice to the growing number Canadians who want fair, secular government for all!
For an idea of how Canada compares on a global scale, check this ‘freedom map’.
Color scale, from most free to most oppressed, is green-yellow-orange-red-brown. Find more maps and details here.
Book of the Month – Just Pretend
Dan Barker is the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (and a former evangelical). In this little book (only 72 pages long), he describes gods and religion to children from an atheist perspective, and explains why adults would believe in any religion at all. He refers to religions collectively as just another myth; a sort of ‘Santa Claus for grown-ups’. Because of the Santa Claus analogy, this book is not suitable for children who haven’t yet outgrown belief in a literal Santa. Its target age range would probably be 8-11 year old kids.
The book is clearly aimed at the children of families with non-believing parents. If this describes your family, and you are looking for a book to help your child understand what religion is all about, this might be a great choice. It is probably most useful as a starting point for discussion – read it along with your child and answer their questions.
It may not be appropriate for all families, depending on how much religious ideology your child has already been exposed to, and your own ideas about teaching religion and religious tolerance. Read it yourself first before deciding.
Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this book.
October through to the New Year is always a big time for charities and fund-raisers, both in the schools and in the community. There are SO many groups and causes out there – but are they all worth supporting? Before contributing, take a few minutes to learn about the charity that’s asking for your money, time, or endorsement. Read its mission statement to make sure it reflects your own values and beliefs. Some well-known, established charities make promoting religion a primary goal, component and/or requirement of their work. That’s fine if it’s what you want to support, but most of us in the Humanist community do not.
One group that operates in some Manitoba schools (and communities) is Samaritan’s Purse, which runs a shoebox donation program called Operation Christmas Child. If your child brings a note home from school asking you to support this charity, make sure to read our Religion in Schools page first to learn about its real mission.
There are plenty of charities that could use our support that are run by secular and/or religious organizations who do not evangelize the groups they serve. For some suggestions, have a look at the list of charities that HAAM has supported over the past few years.
Are You Recovering from Religion?
Saturday, January 14th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Ave.
We will begin with our meet-and-greet time at 4:30 PM in order to accommodate the AGM at 5:00. Dinner will follow at 6:00, and then our regular meeting and speaker at 6:45.
Please join us for the AGM – and don’t forget to bring your donations for the Warm Winter Clothing Drive.
For more information on this and all our events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.
You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
Charity of the Month
In keeping with the meeting theme, our January charity is Recovering from Religion.
RfR exists to help those questioning or leaving their faith with support, resources, community, and most of all, hope. Many people have a difficult time rebuilding their lives after leaving religion. They feel isolated and alone, and struggle to put aside harmful ideas and emotions. Others suffer real-life consequences, such as marital discord, threats to employment, or a disappearing social circle. Some are even threatened that their kids will be taken away, and teens have been kicked out of their parents’ homes after admitting their unbelief.
RfR offers three main programs:
- The Hotline Project operates in the US and Canada to listen to people’s concerns and offer compassion and support.
- The Secular Therapy Project connects clients with evidence-based counsellors who will not invoke prayer as part of treatment.
- RfR also facilitates an expanding network of local and online peer support groups, including specialty groups for preachers’ kids and spouses in mixed marriages.
Our contributions will assist RfR to continue to expand their much-needed work.
Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal link on the right sidebar. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, January 29th, 10:30 AM at the Original Pancake House in the Forks Market.
Happy New Year, One and All! May we each have a happy and healthy 2017.
2016 was, for many people, a challenging year, on both a public and personal level. And I will admit that keeping a positive outlook has been difficult when we’ve been faced with example after example of the worst that humanity has to offer. It can bring us to the point of despair, full of uncertainty about the future, and all that negativity can eat away at one’s heart and “soul”. I share that sense of frustration that makes you just want to shout out loud at the computer or TV screen and yell “What the F*** are you thinking?” These have been tough times, indeed, for evidence-driven, rational thought. It’s impossible to reason with someone who thinks truth is only opinion.
But perhaps this is the time for us to sit down, take a deep breath, and step back. Take as big a news break as we can handle. Place more emphasis on positive news, rather than negative. No, we can’t change the entire world, not by ourselves. But we can make a difference, one step at a time, in our own corner of the world. Perhaps we can attend a rally, volunteer our time, help a neighbour – whatever we can take on.
To that end, I’d like all HAAM members to remember that we are a community, where we can be ourselves and enjoy the company of our fellow Humanists and atheists. This New Year, let’s try to spend more time enjoying that community. More conversation, more interaction, and more smiles.
It’s also beneficial for us to remind ourselves of how good our lives are. At times, we can lose sight of all our advantages – such as living in a society where openly admitting that we’re non-believers won’t land us in jail (or worse).
Sometimes I need to be reminded, but when I start thinking about it, I am so grateful for everything I have, especially our local Humanist community. It feels better to pull together rather than to focus on what’s missing. Let’s do more to support each other and our community this year. – Donna Harris
Update – Can You Help Us Help a Refugee Family?
Last month we asked if HAAM supporters would be interested in assisting with a refugee settlement project (see the December newsletter if you missed the details). So far two families have expressed interest in taking part, and they are currently obtaining more information. Is anyone else interested? Let us know if you are, and we’ll connect you up. It would be great to have more people involved.
Event Report: Write for Rights
On December 10, 2016, International Human Rights Day, HAAM marked the anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 by aligning our local efforts with a global campaign organized for several years now by Amnesty International Canada and its international parent. We did this with a modest and last-minute event held at the St James Library. It was one of over 2,000 registered events across Canada.
The purpose of the Write for Rights campaign is to mobilize millions of people around the world on International Human Rights Day. The campaign uses the power of letter-writing to influence world leaders to protect individuals or communities whose human rights have been denied.
We chose this activity largely based both on its potential impact on the respect for Human Rights and the fact that everyone can participate. You don’t need to have previous experience with Human Rights or Amnesty International to do so. HAAM and Amnesty always welcome all those who are keen to keep shining the light on Human Rights.
AI has experience demonstrating the fact that letter-writing works! Visit their Success Stories page for just a few examples. They have found that such letter-writing efforts have led to positive results in approximately one-third of the cases. But they’ve also learned that it takes persistence; some countries can be more responsive than others, and some high‑profile prisoners of conscience face repeat arrests.
Among the cases chosen from the thousands known to AI in the world, it was both notable and disturbing that the situation at the proposed “Site C Dam” in the Peace River Valley in Canada was chosen as a showcase for the event. You can find out more about all the cases and causes that were the focus of letters last year at the dedicated web site. That page also provides access to a wide range of resources that tell you more about the campaign and letter-writing events.
So far, 21,200+ letters were reported written in and sent from Canada, with more than 2.3 million actions worldwide in support of the campaign. Would YOU like to make a difference in how the world resolves these situations? If so, then it is still not too late to write a letter. Tell some friends!
We plan to hold a similar event in 2017 with more planning and preparation. We hope to see you there!
HAAM is pleased to report that our sponsored child at the Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda has completed his last year in the ‘baby’ class and received an excellent report card (click image to enlarge). HAAM has paid his tuition for the coming school year, when he will join the ‘middle’ school children.
Pat Morrow and Tammy Blanchette will be heading out to the Steinbach area to speak to another World Religions class about Humanism later this month. It’s a large class and we have been told that the students are eager for debate, so we expect it to be fascinating.
On the Horizon (events in the planning stages)
- Can Humanism Replace Religion?
- The Regressive Left – a Roadblock to Progress?
- Outreach training
Watch for dates and details TBA.
Speak out against objectionable Anti-Choice Ads
An anti-choice group is attempting to run graphic and offensive ads on transit buses in several Canadian cities. Please speak out against them now, or Winnipeg may be next.
Book of the Month
Since Dr Darrel Ray will be our January speaker, we have ordered his book The God Virus for our library. This book has 195 positive reviews on amazon.com – just check out the titles of the reviews to get a feel for its reception among ex-Christians: “This is a WOW! Book! Get ready for an epiphany!”; “Probably the best book on religion”; “I had a major Aha moment”; “This book is the vaccine!”; “Helped me see the light”; “Life-changing”; and a quite a few reviews that begin with “Must-read!”.
What makes this book so great? Ray explains the concept of religion metaphorically as a virus. Using this metaphor throughout the book, he describes how some of the strategies that religion uses to survive and propagate are very similar to actual, biological viruses. The virus metaphor is useful in explaining the psychology of religion and its practical effects on individuals and societies. The author speaks of the importance of “vectors” (priests, ministers, etc.) in propagating religious ideas, and how religious people and organizations will protect those “vectors” even in the case of crimes or abuses. He then goes on to discuss guilt, control, sexual repression, anxiety and neuroticism, and the influence of religion on life, culture, and politics.
This book really is a game-changer. The way that Ray explains the psychological effects of religion helps ex-believers realize that the emotional baggage they are carrying around has a real scientific basis and that they are really not crazy to feel the way they do. If you have left religion and still suffer from the emotional aftermath; if you feel betrayed or conned by childhood indoctrination; or if you wonder how you could have ever been so brainwashed – quit beating yourself up and read this book. It will validate your experience and help you to move forward.
Year in Review
2016 was quite a year – tumultuous for the world, and very busy and exciting for HAAM. Here’s just a brief recap what took place in our little corner of the universe (You can see pictures from many of these events in our photo gallery):
- At our monthly meetings, we learned about evolution, how to talk to believers, the Unitarian Universalist Church, the Humanism of Star Trek, protecting our lakes, secular parenting, the Ark Encounter in Kentucky, electric vehicles, and Humanist schools in Uganda.
- In our community, we celebrated Darwin Day, International Human Rights Day, and Openly Secular Day; formed a private support group for secular parents; launched a new Humanist group in Steinbach; awarded a Life Membership to Helen Friesen; learned a Humanist Grace; found Joy & Meaning in a World Without God; and commiserated with each other on social media about the American election results.
- Our Outreach crew were exceptionally busy, meeting the public at the U of M, the Steinbach Summer in the City Festival, and the Morden Corn and Apple Festival; and speaking to private groups at the Circle of Reason, the Pembina Valley Secular Community, and high school classes in the Bible Belt.
- We supported charitable causes as diverse as refugee sponsorship, the Lake Winnipeg Foundation, a secular summer camp, Pride Winnipeg, a Humanist school in Uganda, disadvantaged university students, an inner-city women’s centre, a safe neighborhood initiative, and the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre.
- We hosted a film fest, a spaghetti dinner, and movie nights. Our members toured the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, participated in the Winnipeg Pride Parade and the Steinbach Pride March, attended Regina’s Shift to Reason conference, and donated blood.
- On the web, our members opined about debating apologists, toxic comments on social media, the new Winnipeg Police Services’ chapel, spiritual care in public hospitals, a Manitoba church that has ties to violent anti-gay organizations, and the cognitive dissonance exhibited by religious scientists. We added more information and resources to our What is Humanism and Outreach pages, and developed another brochure for outreach events.
- New additions to our Library included Richard Dawkins’ autobiography Brief Candle in the Dark; Dan Barker’s inspirational book Life Driven Purpose; Seth Andrews’ lighthearted look at beliefs Sacred Cows, a reference book on world religions – The Religions Book; and our first entry in the ‘apologist’ category – One Heartbeat Away: Your Journey Into Eternity, by Mark Cahill.
- Our supporters stood up for Medical Aid in Dying, diversity and anti-bullying programs in Manitoba schools, reproductive choice, and inclusive, secular government; and we spoke out against blasphemy laws and proselytizing in public schools.
Whew! That’s a lot for one year! And we couldn’t have done it – and can’t continue to do it – without YOU! Another year is just beginning, and we need your SUPPORT, your MEMBERSHIP FEES, your IDEAS, your ENERGY, and your PARTICIPATION to make great things continue to happen.
All the details on how you can make friends, become involved, support evidence-based decision-making and secular government, and become part of our Humanist community are on our Join Us page – but if you still have questions, contact us!
Here’s to 2017! See you at the AGM!
(Note: Membership fees must be paid if you plan to participate/vote at the AGM).
The Humanism of Star Trek
Saturday, November 19th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Avenue, 5:30 – 8:30 PM
Secular Parents’ Book Club Meeting
Thursday, November 24th, 7 – 9 PM, location TBA
Winter Solstice Party
Saturday December 17th, Heritage-Victoria Community Club, 950 Sturgeon Road, 5:30 PM
For more information on these events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.
You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
Prayer at City Hall Update
Tony Governo has filed a formal complaint about the prayers at city council meetings with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. He recently learned that his complaint has been registered. This means that it will be served on the Respondent (the City). They will be asked to provide a reply within 30 days. Then the complaint will be investigated, which could take 8-10 months from the time it is assigned. The investigator then makes a recommendation to the Board. The Board then decides to dismiss or take to next stage.
Tony was recently interviewed by CTV News about the threats he received on social media after his complaint. And also in October, Edmonton’s city council decided to comply with the Supreme Court ruling and ended the practice of opening their meetings with prayer. After contemplating a ‘moment of reflection’ instead, they ultimately decided that it made more sense to just skip the whole thing and just get down to business. Wouldn’t it be nice if Winnipeg could do the same?
If you have not previously read about this issue, you can catch up here.
Openly Secular Day is Tuesday, November 15th
Are you openly secular? Not everyone is – and not everyone can be. Too many people cannot reveal that they no longer believe, for fear of negative repercussions from their family, business/employment, friends, or community. But if we’re ever going to reduce the stigma of being a non-believer, and dispel the notion that atheists believe in ‘nothing’, more people have to come out of the closet.
The mission of the Openly Secular Campaign is to decrease discrimination and increase acceptance of atheists and Humanists by encouraging as many people as possible to let others know that they are non-religious. November 15th is Openly Secular Day, and it’s no accident that the date is just around the beginning of the holiday season – a time when so many people get together with family and friends. The goal on that day is to have as many people as possible ‘come out’ to just one other person. If you can do this, check out their website for more information and resources, and to take the ‘One Person Pledge’.
October event recap
October was a busy month! Our evening showing of the film A Better Life: An Exploration of Joy and Meaning in a World Without God was truly inspirational. President Donna Harris opened with a brief presentation about what Humanism is and how it differs from atheism. A big thank-you goes to Kumaran Reddy for recording it for us.
For a number of people, it was their first HAAM event, and one of those new people won our door prize – a copy of the book version of A Better Life. If you were unable to attend that evening, it is possible to view the film at home for a small fee. Check it out here.
If you couldn’t make it to our meeting to learn about the Humanist Outreach program in Uganda, and HAAM’s support of a secular school there, you missed a great evening. You can read news coverage of the meeting here.
Watch this short (2 minute) video message from Robert Bwambale of Kasese Humanist School.
Here is our sponsored student, John Bogere, saying hello to us.
Religious Exercises in Schools?
Just a reminder – Section 84(8) of the Manitoba Public Schools Act reads “If a petition asking for religious exercises, signed by the parents or guardians of 75% of the pupils in the case of a school having fewer than 80 pupils or by the parents or guardians of at least 60 pupils in the case of a school having an enrolment of 80 or more pupils, is presented to the school board, religious exercises shall be conducted for the children of those parents or guardians in that school year.”
This petition must come from the parents/community, NOT the school. The Minister of Education has ruled that public schools must be non-sectarian and that staff at the school cannot participate in recruiting students for prayer groups by contacting parents or sending home permission slips to be signed. It has come to our attention that some schools are still doing this, and one school division recently ended the practice simply because a parent brought it to the attention of the superintendent.
If this is still happening at your child’s school, we would like to know about it. Please contact us.
Call to Action – Speak up about Operation Christmas Child
If you’re involved in a school or other organization that collects for Operation Christmas Child, there are some very good reasons NOT to participate – even if you’re Christian (and especially if you’re not).
Spread the word!
Book of the Month – Pale Blue Dot
With Star Trek as our meeting topic, this seems like a good month to feature a book about our place in the universe. We have a copy of Carl Sagan’s 1994 classic Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. The title is, of course, based on the famous photograph of the same name – a picture of the Earth from 4 billion miles away, taken by Voyager 1 in 1991 as it approached the outer limits of our solar system.
The book begins by examining the idea that humans think they are uniquely important in this vast universe. Sagan continues by exploring our solar system in detail, and discussing the possibility of life on other planets, suggesting that our very survival may depend on the wise use of other worlds. He argues that in order to save the human race, space colonization and terraforming (the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying the atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology of another planet or moon to make it habitable by Earth-like life) should be considered.
Watch this very moving tribute to Sagan and the Pale Blue Dot, produced by Seth Andrews (The Thinking Atheist). It’s only 5 minutes long.
Charity of the Month – The North Point Douglas Women’s Centre
The North Point Douglas Women’s Centre is just east of Main Street, near Dufferin Avenue. The address alone provides a wealth of information about the clients it serves. Its mission is to promote a safe, healthy, vibrant community for women and families, by offering programs designed to provide support, training, resources, and opportunities to women in the area. The centre arose out of a project sponsored by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg in 2000, to address problems caused by poverty and a lack of resources. Today it is a community hub where women and their families gather.
- A drop-in safe space with snacks, activities, computer and phone access, laundry facilities, and a clothing and household items collection
- Counselling and domestic violence recovery support
- A neighborhood oven for community baking and events
- Community safety programs
- Health, fitness, and nutrition programs
- Support and referrals for women dealing with stressors such as shelter, employment, emergency food and clothing, school, Child and Family Services involvement, legal help, Employment and Income Assistance disputes, daycare, etc.
What to Donate
Currently, the centre has a particular need for the following items that they go through very quickly
- Feminine hygiene products
- Baby formula
Please bring these items to the monthly meeting and we will deliver them to the centre. Of course, money likely wouldn’t be turned down, either. Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal link on the right sidebar. Just include a message letting us know that the money is for the charity.
Partners for Life Update
Yay! HAAM members are now up to 15 donations for 2016! We have 11 members registered in the program, 7 of whom have donated at least once this year. We’re still just ahead of Steinbach Bible College, (with 13 donations), and there are almost 2 months to go! Let’s get a few more units in by New Year.
There’s no prize for donating blood – just bragging rights and the satisfaction that comes from knowing that Humanists are helping their fellow humans. So get out there and do it!
You can donate at the main clinic on William Ave (across from HSC) during their regular hours (Mon 10-2 and 3:30-7:30; Tues 1:30-7; and Wed-Sat 8-2), or attend one of these mobile clinics in the Winnipeg area.
Here are two new points worth noting (thanks Janine Guinn):
- The recommended time between donations for women is being increased to 84 days, because of the ongoing risk of low hemoglobin. (The interval for men remains at 56 days.)
- If you book an appointment at least 48 hours ahead, you can now have your pre-donation health questions sent by email and complete them online before you go, saving a bunch of time.
Note that you must register with the Partners for Life program in order for your donation to be credited to HAAM. Click here for more information and instructions on how to sign up.
We Need You!
It’s time to start looking ahead again to the upcoming year. Please consider volunteering to serve on our executive! We need people who are enthusiastic about building a supportive community, promoting a secular society with fairness for all, and advocating for critical thinking in the larger world. If you can contribute ideas, energy, time, and/or effort, you’re welcome to join us! The more committed people we have, the more we can accomplish.
Meetings are usually held monthly, (dates and times determined by mutual availability), with online contact in between. Please consider volunteering, or accepting the offer to join if you are approached. Many hands make light work, and enable HAAM to offer more events and programs, and make a bigger difference to our members and community.
Elections will be held at our AGM on January 14th – so you have some time to think about it or talk to members of our current executive if you have questions.
Outreach has been very busy since our last newsletter. Tony Governo and Tammy Blanchette have been out to speak to another high school class in southern Manitoba. I enjoyed meeting with a local hospital chaplain who is taking a class on world religions in an effort to become better at his job in spiritual care. His overall goal was to learn how to best to approach a “Humanist/atheist person” (his words) with regards to their spiritual care. It was a helluva starting point, but the ensuing discussion was interesting for two people who are, metaphorically speaking, from different planets.
A little later in October, Donna Harris and I (with Todd De Ryck along as an observer) spoke to a U of W class called “Crises in Faith” – an exploration of five major contemporary critiques of religion. We explained the usual atheism and Humanistic philosophy. The students’ questions were sometimes challenging, and as often happens when discussing philosophy, the conversation goes off in the strangest directions. We found ourselves having to explain why, when making societal decisions, both religious and non-religious people are welcome at the table of ideas, but religion itself shouldn’t and can’t be granted special privileges. I also found myself in the really odd position of explaining why the national socialism of the Nazis in the middle of the twentieth century was not a secular government. This is why we love outreach and especially visiting school classes; you really don’t know what someone will say next.
We’re looking forward to November and our visit to the newly formed Steinbach Humanist group; that should be fun. – Pat Morrow
When Good Intentions Cross Ethical Lines
HAAM’s VP Pat Morrow recently contacted Southland Church (Steinbach) to express his concerns about their association with organizations whose conduct in Uganda is unethical. Below, he explains those concerns and then discusses Southland’s response.
An Ethical Question
When the actions of a person or organization include both good and bad, when does the good outweigh the bad? At what point does the bad become so intolerable that the person or organization is not worth associating with?
HAAM as an organization has existed for over 20 years, and during that time we’ve formed partnerships or associations with other organizations that mirror our beliefs and understanding of the world. We are also willing to end those partnerships if the actions of these organizations conflict with what Humanists understand as good, moral, and ethical behavior. However, this is often not so with religious groups, especially those practicing more evangelical/ fundamentalist types of religion.
According to the Hartford Institute, Southland Church in Steinbach is Manitoba’s second largest mega-church, with a weekly attendance of over 3000. Through Tupendane Africana (a mission of Southland Church) and Back to the Bible Truth Ministries, Southland Church (along with their partner churches in Africa) has done some good work in Uganda. They have sent shipping containers of farm equipment, printing presses, and other goods to the Christians of Uganda, and have helped build an orphanage and one of the largest commercial farms in the country. While spreading religion is not something Humanists would consider good, teaching people better farming practices and more efficient ways to feed themselves is.
But here’s the ethical rub: when should an organization step back and ask itself “is what we are doing really good?”
Setting aside the propensity of evangelicals/fundamentalists to support creationism, reject science, and promote ideas that are proven not to work (such as abstinence-only sex education), Southland is partnered with Back to the Bible Truth Ministries and its president, a man known as the Apostle Alex Mitala. Mitala is also past president of the National Fellowship of Born-again Pentecostal Churches (NFBPC) in Uganda, a coalition of 18,000 churches and one of the many virulent homophobic organizations in Africa. In order to understand just how ethically questionable this partnership is, a little background is necessary.
Uganda is one of the most religious and homophobic nations of modern times, due to the predominance of evangelical/fundamentalist religious beliefs, a sizable chunk of which are imported from the west.
Between 2009 and 2014, the Ugandan government attempted to pass the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which came to be known as the “kill the gays bill“. This bill would have allowed the death penalty for what they called “aggravated homosexuality”; in other words, you could be killed for being gay. The bill was written by government minister David Bahati and supported by a large coalition of churches and church leaders, including Martin Ssempa and Alex Mitala. Fortunately, in 2014 the penalty was amended to “life in prison for aggravated homosexuality”, but this change was due to immense international pressure, not because the churches suddenly changed their collective minds.
In Uganda today if you are LGBT and you are outed you could be beaten up or even killed. This is the legacy of the “kill the gays bill”. In 2010 one Ugandan newspaper ran an edition naming the top 100 “homos” in Uganda, with pictures and the caption “hang them”. More recently in 2014, another tabloid released an 200 additional names, which resulted in many gay Ugandans being killed, and others being driven into hiding where they remain to this day. This is the nature of life in Uganda. Religion has cheapened life; many of its adherents have sold out their humanity and made good, decent, loving, gay folks cheap and disposable.
Which brings me back to Southland.
The Manitoba Connection
Why would a church which claims the moral high ground of Jesus’s peace and love have such close ties to a man and organizations that advocate for a law that would see gay people put to death? I have a difficult time believing they didn’t know about it. Promoting the “kill the gays” bill by Uganda’s churches began around 2006. Southland has been involved with Mr. Mitala and his 18,000 churches in Uganda since 2007, and has had missionaries in the country on several occasions. Mitala himself has preached at Southland.
As a Humanist, my involvement with a man like Alex Mitala would be limited to attempting to change his mind and rid him of his harmful ideas. To engage with this “man of god” in any professional sense would be for me what Canadian General Roméo Dallaire described as “shaking hands with the devil”. Endorsement would be out of the question, but endorse him they did. Mitala even secured an endorsement from MLA Kelvin Goertzen, who is now Manitoba’s health minister. Goertzen endorsed Mitala on Southland’s website, and praised him in the legislature (see page 144 of this transcript). Since receiving my letter, Southland has removed most of the content from the Tupandane section of their website, but the page with Goertzen’s endorsement of Mitala can be viewed in archive here, and in this screenshot.
This is not to say the folks at Southland want to kill gay people. In fact, I would venture most don’t, but it does inspire us to ask – why partner with people who do? I can only conclude that the good folks at Southland are either ignorant of the situation in Uganda, apathetic, or worse, ok with it.
The ugliness of this form of Christianity is well supported by scripture. If Southland wants to take credit for the good works it does in Uganda through the organizations it supports (and so it should), then the church should also bear at least a modicum of responsibility for the damage that organizations like the NFBPC have done (and continue to do) to the LGBT community in Uganda. A community that to this day lives in fear and is largely in hiding.
It is time for good people everywhere, atheists and theists alike, to hold Southland Church to a higher moral standard and request that Southland Church sever all ties with organizations that would support the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act. We hope they will seek more moderate partner churches or NGOs for their charitable endeavors in Africa.
Kris Duerksen, the executive pastor of Southland Church, agreed to meet with me to discuss the concerns expressed in my letter. For the record, he stated that Southland does not support either the death penalty or life imprisonment for homosexuals. “Jesus tells us to love one another”, he said. But unfortunately, Pastor Duerksen can’t see (or doesn’t believe) that the evidence supports a different conclusion.
Southland Church feeds and clothes some 2000 orphans, according to Duerksen. Simple demographics would indicate that at least a few of those children will come to identify as gay, yet at least some of the people raising them think they deserve jail or death. This presents a problem for people who supposedly love everybody. Southland Church sends money, supplies, and farm equipment by the container load, the cost of which surely totals well into six figures, to Uganda; but Duerksen would have us believe that Southland has little to do with day-to-day operations once it arrives. Those are run by Alex Mitala and his churches – churches that apparently have a different theology, one that allows capitol punishment for gay people and the imprisonment of those who aid them.
The relationship between Alex Mitala and Southland Church has grown and developed over the last ten years, with many visits and exchanges between Southland and its mission. One would think that during that time, Southland’s leadership would have uncovered Mitala’s organizations’ support for the “kill the gays” bill. With the support of the NFBPC (of which Mitala was leader) for the Anti-Homosexuality Act being well-known; all the massive press attention given to the bill in both Uganda and internationally, and the massive pressure brought to bear by western countries to stop it, it seems logical that someone should have heard about it. But according to Duerksen, the issue never came up; it was never raised by Tupendane, Mitala, or any of the 3300 parishioners at Southland.
Finally, I asked about the Tupendane website, and why it was pulled down shortly after I emailed Southland. Duerksen told me it was “down for updating”; the timing seems a little coincidental.
The Bottom Line
In the end, we’re back to the beginning. Southland is still stuck with the ethical and moral problem of supporting something they (and almost all Canadians) believe is abhorrent. But at least they can’t plead ignorance anymore. They will have to either fix the problem or choose to ignore it, because when you believe a book that tells you to love gay folks and at the same time put them to death, both options become equally acceptable.
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
In this issue:
- A Life Membership Presentation
- Conversations with Believers
- Outreach reports
- Update on medically assisted dying
- and more….
- Our Charity of the Month program goes international
- Hospital chaplains
- Outreach report from a bible belt school
- Member reaction to our meeting about Aboriginal issues
- and more…
Addendum: For more on hospital chaplains and an update on the article in this newsletter, see Privacy Issues in Spiritual Care.