morality

July 2020 Newsletter

Event Updates

Winnipeg Pride Parade

This has been rescheduled for September 13th. We are looking forward to the celebration and showing our support for Winnipeg’s GSRD (Gender, Sexual, and Relationship Diverse) community. HAAM is entered as a walking group, and everyone is welcome to join us – so cross your fingers that it will proceed as planned.

HAAM and Eggs Brunches

We will resume our regularly monthly brunches only when it is safe to do so.

Stay connected

We can continue to interact, support each other, and maintain friendships online. If you are not a member of our private Facebook group, and would like to join it, contact us. It is open to anyone in Manitoba who identifies as a Humanist/atheist (i.e. you do not need to be a paid member of HAAM).

 

Check our Events calendar for the latest information on all upcoming HAAM events.

Like so many other organizations, HAAM’s activities have been dramatically disrupted by COVID-19. We will continue to rely on evidence-based information and follow the recommendations made by Shared Health Manitoba before deciding when to resume in-person meetings and events. We encourage you to visit our home page (haam.ca), our Facebook page, or Meetup for information and updates. 

Latest News

11 Questions for atheists – Part 2

Last month we published an article that included submissions from our members in answer to the following “FAQ’s for non-believers”:

1. How much does it cost to become an atheist?
2. What is THE book on atheism?
3. Are atheists afraid of the Devil and Hell?
4. Where do atheists get their morals, if not from the bible?
5. How did you become an atheist?
6. If God did not create the universe, who did?
7. Why are atheists so angry?
8. Do atheists have a soul?
9. Do atheists believe in nothing?
10. If atheists don’t believe in God, what prevents them from raping, killing, and breaking the law?
Bonus question – What happens when you die?

Chad Froese took his time and submitted answers to ALL of these questions. The experiences he gained during his own journey out of conservative Christianity make his responses particularly insightful.

Take the time to read them on our Perspectives page.

Can you donate blood?

Blood donation numbers are DOWN due to the pandemic – but sick and injured people still need blood! Canadian Blood Services is open for donations, and it’s safe to donate as long as you follow the health and safety guidelines.

Note the following changes due to COVID-19 – all donors require an appointment (no walk-ins); some donation centers are closed; masks are required; and no snacks will be provided. Of course, all this could change again. To get the latest information and updates, visit blood.ca before making your appointment.

If you are able to donate, please try to do so! And make sure that your donation is credited to HAAM’s Partners for Life team. Partners for Life is a friendly competition between community organizations to see how many donations their members contribute. HAAM’s annual pledge is 25 units, and already we are up to 18!

Instructions on how to join the HAAM Partners for Life team, as well as other useful information) are here.

How will the pandemic affect religiosity? Cast your vote!

So many people are ill or dead from the Coronavirus this year. So many people are spreading or catching it at religious services. So many people are praying for health or healing – to no avail. COVID-19 is proof positive that faith doesn’t protect people from harm and that prayer doesn’t work. So religiosity will decline in the next year, right?

But wait! All this uncertainty and upheaval due to the pandemic – people sick or dying, or out of work, the downturn in the economy, and unstable governments – causes anxiety and stress. And when times are tough, faith gives people hope. So religiosity will increase in the next year, right?

The first view, that religion will decline, is expressed in a rant by an atheist on YouTube who calls herself the Angry Aging Woman. The second view, that religion will increase, is espoused by Phil Zuckerman in an article for Psychology Today.

So which is it? We are all probably rooting for the YouTuber – but Zuckerman is a professor of sociology who actually studies secular culture. Is the expert correct? Will we see increases in church attendance over the next year?

Read the article and watch the video in the links above, then let us know who you think is correct.

We’ll publish the poll results in the August newsletter. Then we can follow the news over the next few months to see who turns out to be correct.

New Essay Contest

Calling all students! Humanist Canada is holding another essay contest, open to anyone age 16-19 as of September 2020. If you know a student who has some time over the summer, and is able to express their view(s) on some important social issue that relates to secularity and Humanism, let them know that they can earn up to $1000 (first prize) or $750 (second prize) simply for putting their opinions down on paper. Entry deadline is September 30th.

Visit Humanist Canada for all the details and rules.

The winning entry in the 2019 essay contest, called “The Necessity of a Universal Basic Income in Upholding Human Freedom”, is now up on the Humanist Canada website.

 

11 Questions for Atheists – Part 2

Last month, we asked HAAM members to submit their answers to these common questions. If you missed their submissions, you can catch up by reading Part 1 now. Most of the people who responded answered one or two questions – but Chad Froese tackled ALL of them. His answers were so amazing and insightful that they merit an article in themselves. So here they are. Enjoy!

——-

As atheists become more numerous and visible, more believers have realized how little they know about us. I have personally been asked versions of these common questions quite a few times. In one-on-one conversations, it usually works best to ask clarifying questions, since many queries have a wide range of meanings, and sometimes have expected answers. Questions can also take people off pre-rehearsed scripts, denying the cheap thrill of a ‘gotcha’ moment and facilitating an honest conversation. Books can and have been written about each question, so without knowing the aims, knowledge base, or attention span of the questioner, these answers may be a good starting point.

  1. How much does it cost to become an atheist?

Your mileage may vary. The cost depends entirely upon the person’s personality, family, friends, church, town, state, country, and point in time. For many around the world – death. For people who live in the Bible belt of either the US or Canada – at least some family, friends, and (likely) livelihood. For most others I know – some friends and family, and a lifetime of uncomfortable conversations. For most of those, regardless of their situation – the pain of examining and giving up a childhood or even lifetime of deeply held beliefs. Few are willing to do the work, and many avoid the possibility, even though they secretly share the same troubling questions.

The benefit? Conscience. People live in misery with a guilty or unresolved conscience. People gladly sacrifice their lives to follow their conscience. The difference is hard to overstate. Many people call themselves freethinkers, which sums it up nicely – freedom to think, unconstrained by taboo. Most people’s lives don’t change a great deal, since they still live in the same broad location, culture, and time. But knowing this, they find their place in the universe; a new wonder for life, love, morality, and purpose.

  1. What is THE book on atheism?

There is no anti-Bible. There is no anti-Koran. You can make general statements about atheists, comparing them to the general public, but our differences are greater than our shared lack of belief in any god(s). Certain books by prominent atheists may be relatively popular in certain places and times, but we don’t share a common book — another feature of organized religion that we lack.

If you want to learn about atheism, read a book about atheism written by an atheist. When I wanted to know about day-age creationism, I followed the same advice and read works on the issue by old earth creationists. Keep in mind that what you read will not be representative of all atheists, but the more you read, the better the picture you’ll have. You can also engage atheists in conversation. Many organizations offer ways to Ask An Atheist, from personal chats or IMs to FAQs and YouTube videos.

  1. Are atheists afraid of the devil and hell?

Are Protestants afraid of passing through purgatory for not believing Catholic doctrine? Are Christians or Muslims afraid of going to Hades for not worshipping the Greek gods? It seems that most religious people don’t understand what it means for someone to lack belief in what they hold to be true. You can write a long list of all the things that any particular person doesn’t believe and therefore isn’t afraid of, but people generally focus only on the beliefs they currently hold–and have difficulty understanding that (and how) others aren’t affected the same way. The same holds true in politics; it’s easy to assume that people who hold different opinions are less intelligent, informed, moral, or honest.

In some cases, however, the complexity of human psychology shows up. Some ex-Christian atheists still feel that fear for a time, even though they know it is irrational. It often takes more time to untangle conditioning than to explore and dismantle indoctrination. Long-associated emotions can linger with certain smells, sounds, phrases, people, or situations that are no longer relevant. In times past, labels were given to strong negative forms of this reaction, like shell shock, which we now classify as post-traumatic stress disorder. Positive, less traumatic examples also exist – many ex-Christians still enjoy playing or listening to hymns despite the irrelevance of the archaic lyrics, because of the associated happy memories of community, childhood, or important religious celebrations.

  1. Where do atheists get their morals, if not from the Bible?

The idea that Christians get their morals from the Bible is another religious belief that atheists lack. Members of any large worldwide religion run the gamut in moral beliefs and behaviour, and every one of them will attribute their morality to their religion. From conservative to liberal, from sanctioned violence against women to supporting women’s shelters, from marching with Nazis to marching with Black Lives Matter, from committing genocide to providing disaster relief, religious people do it all, and they point to their religion to justify their actions and beliefs. Atheists don’t occupy quite as much of the spectrum, but our values and actions also span a great range.

We get most of our morals the same way religious people get the vast majority of theirs. Our morality generally reflects the culture, upbringing, social environment, politics, economic reality, country, time, and many other factors in which we live, constrained by our psychology, biology, and physical environment. We have no holy scriptures, so we have more freedom to re-examine those moral stances.

Many atheists would identify as Humanists, since atheism is about what one *doesn’t* believe, and humanism is about what one *does* believe. Humanism is a very broad set of philosophies, but it centres on affirming human abilities and responsibilities to lead ethical, purpose-filled lives that contribute to everyone else’s well-being.

  1. How did you become an atheist?

I grew up in a home in which reading was valued and questions were encouraged. The passion I had for my faith was lived out by developing a deep understanding and appreciation for theology, apologetics, and creation. Two of my guiding verses were Matthew 22:37, with an emphasis on the last word: “Love the Lord your God…with all your mind,” and 1 Peter 3:15b “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” My mother and I had constant conversations – sometimes arguments – about theology and science. I went to a Bible college with a high level of academic excellence, where I learned about the history of the Christian church and the canon of the Bible, Biblical interpretation, critical thinking, psychology, and cultural anthropology. Through this, my beliefs moved from that of an Evangelical Mennonite, to someone more comfortable in an Anglican church.

My wife and I were friends in college, and she went through her own crisis of faith, and came out trying to hold her belief in God together by sheer determination. We both worked hard to find answers to our questions and form a coherent, rational Christianity. At one point, I read a book by an atheist, Carl Sagan, finally encountering the arguments of an opponent in their own words. His premises were true, and his logic was unimpeachable, but I could not agree with his conclusions. I descended into depression for a while, at one point exclaiming to my wife that I wished God would show me some real evidence of his existence.

Finally, one day, I realized that I no longer believed god existed. I was shocked and dismayed that I had become the enemy – an atheist. I spent a great deal of time after that going back over all the apologetics and creationist literature and arguments I had previously believed, as well as their rebuttals from ex-Christians, echoing the works of philosophers, biologists, archaeologists, and Biblical scholars among others.

From there, it has been a journey of rediscovery, examining and appreciating the valuable parts of what I once believed, while carefully working out new positions on life, the universe, and everything. I have had to deal with anger at being misled by formerly trusted leaders, and mourning the loss of belief in the afterlife. I have had numerous difficult conversations with friends and family, losing some and gaining new common ground with others in the process. I began with anti-religious zeal, but eventually came to appreciate how much common ground I share with the believers who make up the majority of my social circle.

  1. If God did not create the universe, who did?

Why is it necessary for someone to create the universe? The reason humans tend to ascribe agency to everything is that we’re wired that way, not because there’s any good evidence for the universe’s creation by anything that could be described as a “whom.” Our ancestors benefitted from assuming that mysterious noises or movements were caused by another being, thus keeping them safe through precaution. Religions have simply amplified that mental shortcut into giving a simple explanation for something complex that was previously out of our ability to investigate.

We are quickly gaining more and more insight into the universe’s early days, which is opening up possibilities that sound like science fiction. The problem is that despite the many hypotheses about what started the universe’s expansion, we still have no idea what the answer will be. The honest answer to the question of why the universe exists is “we don’t know yet,” and anything else is wishful thinking. Humans have difficulty with that answer – with true mystery – which should push us to work harder towards discovering the truth.

  1. Why are atheists so angry?

Why does it matter that you see atheists express anger? Does someone’s anger devalue them and their arguments? Does it define them? Do you see atheists as less human, less intelligent, or less honest because of it? What makes you angry? Should others make similar judgments about you when you speak up against injustice?

Is anger a bad thing? There’s a lot to be angry about in this world – willful ignorance, dishonesty, corruption, injustice, selfishness, greed, prejudice, violence, etc. Most of the time, atheists share this anger with theists, because human suffering is a universal injustice. Anger is not a bad emotion. It is unpleasant, but like pain, we can respond by lashing out and hurting others, or by working to resolve the situation or change the attitude that is causing our anger.

The subject of our anger matters. Sometimes we feel it because we see people being hurt, and sometimes because others point out or threaten a privilege we’re used to exercising, one that others are denied. Atheists are among the many who see and are angered by the disproportional power and influence Christians exert in North America. Those who most benefit from this privilege, and yet are told every day to watch for persecution of their faith, view the loss of their privilege as oppression. Thus atheists appear irrationally angry, despite many others speaking the same truth.

  1. Do atheists have a soul?

If we’re referring to the supernatural belief in mind-body dualism, in which a soul is someone’s immaterial, immortal essence, then no; nobody has a soul. Humans have long had difficulty explaining the complexity of consciousness and the human mind. Greek philosophers like Plato proposed duality as an explanation, which was later developed by others like Descartes, and heavily influenced Christian theology. In the time since, we have discovered a great deal about the workings of the brain, such that a soul no longer makes sense, even if it is something we’d like to imagine. Chemical and physical changes to the brain affect one’s reasoning, emotions, memories, and personality. Diseases can completely change the person we love into someone who we don’t recognize, even someone whose soul seems to have departed. The concept of a soul is a magical idea, but ultimately a wishful one which cheapens the amazing function of our brains.

  1. Do atheists believe in nothing?

You have reached the limitation of labelling someone by what they *don’t* believe. The term atheist is useful in a world where most people believe in some type of god(s), but it really doesn’t tell you much about what fills their lives or their minds. If you want to know what someone thinks about an issue, ask. You may find out that someone is a pacifist, that someone else is a non-practicing Jew, or that I identify as a Secular Humanist. Most of us have no reason to reject the findings of science on cosmology, physics, biology, or medicine. Many of us identify as Humanists. Just like religious people, there are atheists marching with Nazis and atheists marching with Black Lives Matter. We have children, family, friends, coworkers, and sometimes fellow Humanist group members. We work, we play, we create, we love, and we die. We are human, and there is no human who has *no* thoughts about their world.

  1. If atheists don’t believe in God, what prevents atheists from raping, killing, and breaking the law?

Christians have been raping, killing, and breaking the law at a furious pace for a long time, and many are still doing so as I write this. It appears that belief in god isn’t stopping them. I have already written a bit about morality, but it bears restating that Christians are not more moral than atheists. Non-believers raise more compassionate children, we commit crimes at a lower rate, and countries in which religion is less prevalent are happier and more successful. Even within the US, states with higher rates of religiosity are poorer and more dysfunctional, including having significantly (up to 3 times) higher rates of teen pregnancy.

I have no desire to rape or kill anyone, and I assume the same is true for you. What does god have to do with that? The idea that superior morality is found in the Bible or in religious belief is something atheists simply don’t share.

Bonus question: What happens when you die?

To us, nothing. We lose consciousness and resume the dreamless sleep of nonexistence that we had before our brains developed. We live on through the impact we left on the world; in the lives we touched and the people we loved. We live on in the memories we write in other’s brains. As memories of us fade, our impact continues to spread like ripples in water, swelling out through the world for generations. With time, our nutrients will be returned to the earth and reused, to create or nourish new life to experience the universe.

June 2020 Newsletter

Event Updates

Summer Solstice Party

Saturday, June 20th, 5:30 PM, Kildonan Park

Our Summer Solstice Party is ON! But this will not be our usual Solstice party. There will be significant changes to keep everyone safe.

We’d love to see you there. But make sure to READ THE EVENT POST CAREFULLY 
for important details and instructions.

Can’t make it to the picnic?

Because of physical distancing recommendations, we are not offering rides to the park. We understand that some people will not be able to get there, or will not be comfortable joining us due to personal or health concerns.

If you would like to join us online from your home and say Hi to your HAAMster friends at the picnic, please contact us ahead of time. We hope to set up a Zoom meeting between 6:30 and 7:00 PM during the party. You do not need to have a Zoom account to join us this way. We will send you a link via email before the picnic. The link will work from a computer (PC or Mac), cell phone, or tablet.

Winnipeg Pride Parade

This has been rescheduled for September 13th. We are looking forward to the celebration and showing our support for Winnipeg’s GSRD (Gender, Sexual, and Relationship Diverse) community. HAAM is entered as a walking group, and everyone is welcome to join us – so cross your fingers that it will proceed as planned.

HAAM and Eggs Brunches

We will resume our regularly monthly brunches only when it is safe to do so.

Stay connected

We can continue to interact, support each other, and maintain friendships online. If you are not a member of our private Facebook group, and would like to join it, contact us. It is open to anyone in Manitoba who identifies as a Humanist/atheist (i.e. you do not need to be a paid member of HAAM).

 

Check our Events calendar for the latest information on all upcoming HAAM events.

Like so many other organizations, HAAM’s activities have been dramatically disrupted by COVID-19. We will continue to rely on evidence-based information and follow the recommendations made by Shared Health Manitoba before deciding when to resume in-person meetings and events. We encourage you to visit our home page (haam.ca), our Facebook page, or Meetup for information and updates. 

Check out these online events from CFI Canada

The ‘Virtual Branch’ of the Centre for Inquiry (Canada) continues to host online chats and support groups for atheists and Humanists.

In addition, they are hosting some interesting presentations with guest speakers.

Thursday, June 4th The Case Against Islamic Reform

Saturday, June 6thDifficult Conversations: Why Secularists Disagree on Bill 21. (This refers to the Quebec’s controversial law banning religious symbols.)

Thursday, June 11th Religion, Fake News, and Alternative Facts

Saturday, June 13thMedical Research in the Time of COVID-19 – Making Sense of Health Reporting

These events are all free, but registration is required to participate (via Zoom).
For more information, and links to register, visit CFI’s MeetUp page.

Latest News

Celebrate World Humanist Day

On June 21st, Humanist groups around the world celebrate with parties, conferences, and charitable activities. Read more about it at Humanists International (formerly the International Humanist and Ethical Union). Don’t miss this opportunity to spread the message about the positive values and ethics of Humanism.

 

11 Questions for atheists

The following list should probably be called “FAQ’s for non-believers”:

1. How much does it cost to become an atheist?
2. What is THE book on atheism?
3. Are atheists afraid of the Devil and Hell?
4. Where do atheists get their morals, if not from the bible?
5. How did you become an atheist?
6. If God did not create the universe, who did?
7. Why are atheists so angry?
8. Do atheists have a soul?
9. Do atheists believe in nothing?
10. If atheists don’t believe in God, what prevents them from raping, killing, and breaking the law?
Bonus question – What happens when you die?

Answers submitted by some of our members be found on the Perspectives page. But there are many other opinions and possible responses. Think about your own point of view before reading the article.

How should society move on post-pandemic?

As governments prepare recovery plans amidst the COVID-19 crisis, an informal alliance of over 150 Canadian groups, including the Canadian Labour Congress, Indigenous Climate Action, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and the Canadian Health Coalition, is demanding these plans move us toward a more equitable and sustainable future.

This coalition has proposed a set of 6 Principles to govern plans for a Just Recovery from the pandemic They are:

  1. Put people’s health and wellbeing first, no exceptions.
  2. Strengthen the social safety net and provide relief directly to people.
  3. Prioritize the needs of workers and communities.
  4. Build resilience to prevent future crises.
  5. Build solidarity and equity across communities, generations, and borders
  6. Uphold Indigenous Rights and Work in Partnership with Indigenous Peoples.

HAAM is pleased to announce that we have joined the growing number of groups endorsing these important principles. Read more about them at justrecoveryforall.ca, and make sure to share them on social media. On the Spread the Word page, you’ll find a toolkit to help you. It contains sample tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts, and access to the graphics for each of these platforms.

Let’s all work toward a Just Recovery for everyone. Thanks to Catherine Kreindler for finding this information and sharing it with our executive.

Video of the Month

There are so many great debates, speeches, and presentations available online these days of interest to Humanists. No one has time (even these days) to listen to them all. But sometimes our members run across one that really needs a wider audience, especially when its presenter is less well-known. We’ll try to feature some of these videos in our newsletters. (Submissions welcome!)

Our president, Pat Morrow, will start off by recommending this presentation from Humanists UK about Morals Without Religion.

Here’s Pat’s description of the video:

Dr Alice Roberts is an English biological anthropologist, biologist, television science popularizer, and author. Since 2012 she has been Professor of the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham and is currently the president of Humanists UK. In this presentation she talks about another great Humanist , Margaret Knight, who in 1955 caused a firestorm of controversy on the BBC with her radio essays: Morals Without Religion.

This is not a video on philosophy, but an interesting talk about two women on different yet parallel journeys 65 years apart, whose detractors are using the same arguments. Well worth the watch.

Don’t forget about our library

HAAM’s Library is still OPEN! If you now have time to read (or watch a video), go ahead and send us your request. Pick-up or drop-off can be arranged in the Winnipeg area.

Visit our Library page to browse by title, author, or subject, then click the ‘borrow book’ link to request the item.

All our library books and DVD’s are free to borrow for paid HAAM members.

11 Questions for Atheists – Part 1

If you talk to the religious in person, at an outreach or online, (or maybe they’re family), you’ll often hear the same questions over and over. A while back, I came across a list of 10 of these common questions on Facebook. What followed in the comment section was mostly snark and general ridicule, with very few people attempting to answer honestly. The few religious people in the comment section quickly exited.

Snark and ridicule have their place; I’ve used them myself. Sometimes these questions are asked as some sort of ‘gotcha’ by a religious believer or apologist trying to catch you in a contradiction or pose a question you can’t answer. Surprisingly, this particular set of questions was posted by a fellow atheist – a point lost on many of the commentators.

Yes, I know many of these questions induce maximum eye-rolling by Humanists, but it’s important to remember that many believers have never been exposed to secular thought (apart from what their pastors and priests tell them). For them, these are important and honest questions, critical to their understanding of who we are. In most cases they are worth a well-thought-out, kind, and empathetic answer.

Here is the list of questions, with answers from me and a few other members of HAAM and the Eastman Humanist Community. I invite you to formulate your own answers.

– Pat Morrow

  1. How much does it cost to become an atheist?

The flippant answer has often been “10% less than to be a Christian”, since we don’t have to tithe a portion of our income. But in truth, I think it’s probably a wash. Humanists donate to charities all the time. Their donations could amount to more than 10%, or less; where I think we come out ahead is that an atheist of limited financial means who is unable to donate doesn’t have the guilt. Also, we can feel free to give to the causes that are closest to our hearts, knowing that the money goes to the cause and not to the upkeep of a belief system.

On the other hand, the personal cost of atheism can be high. Atheists who have left cults, evangelical Christianity, and other fundamentalist religious groups often lose friends, family, jobs. They can be excommunicated or shunned. This can be devastating in the short term. In my experience, most eventually find new friends, partners, and sometimes family, but their greatest reward is that they become comfortable in their own skin. They discover the joy of knowing, not just believing. They don’t have to censor themselves, and they can talk about issues that were once considered taboo.

In short, the rewards outweigh the costs.

  1. What is THE book on atheism?

There isn’t one. There is nothing that codifies atheism, no book. Atheists are simply people who do not believe in gods. This is not to say that there aren’t works of literature that are important to us, such as those of Thomas Paine, Bertrand Russell, or Marcus Aurelius, or the latest well-thought-out ideas of any other fellow human being. Some of us discovered atheism through a critical examination of the Koran or the Bible. The books of atheism are very much the subjective opinions of each individual atheist.

  1. Are atheists afraid of the Devil and Hell?

Generally, no. It’s quite hard to fear something that we don’t believe exists. However, for people who have emerged from many years of religious belief, the fear of hell can linger, eventually fading like a bad dream.

  1. Where do atheists get their morals, if not from the bible?

Many great tomes throughout human history have been written on morality; far too many to even touch on here. Throughout most of modern history, it was professed that morality without religion is somehow morally bankrupt. Today we know this is not true. We observe moral behaviour in all kinds of social species – ducks, dogs, zebras, monkeys, elephants and yes, human beings. Morality is about the well-being of the individual as well as the group. It isn’t a set of standards that we are given, but one that has developed, and is developing, over time.

One just has to ask the question “how far would we get if person get if everyone’s moral system allowed for raping killing and stealing as a way to get ahead?” I suggest our species wouldn’t have even gotten started.

  1. How did you become an atheist?

The answer to this question will differ for every atheist you ask. There are a myriad of reasons.
Some have left oppressive religious cults.
Some see the damage done to humanity by religious beliefs.
Others saw the absurdity of faith and the inability of religion to answer life’s questions.
Yet others, like myself, have never believed, even at points in our lives when we tried really hard. For many of us, atheism is not a position you convert to. The term ‘atheist’ is just the label given to people who have discovered there is no reason to believe in gods.

  1. If God did not create the universe, who did?

To say that the universe was created assumes a creator. As atheists, we simply don’t find the evidence for a creator convincing, so we can’t make that assumption. A better question might be: How was the universe created, if it was created at all? Carl Sagan said:

“In many cultures it is customary to answer that God created the universe out of nothing. But this is mere temporizing. If we wish courageously to pursue the question, we must, of course ask next where God comes from? And if we decide this to be unanswerable, why not save a step and conclude that the universe has always existed?”

  1. Why are atheists so angry?

I don’t think that as a group we are angry, but if we are, the anger often stems from religion’s nature of asserting its rules, laws, and doctrine over others. One just has to look at the tens of thousands of often violent splits in Christianity, because of one denomination rejecting the doctrine of another denomination. This may help to illustrate the frustration felt by non-believers who reject the imposition of religious doctrines of others.

If this question is important to the reader, there is an entire book on the subject for further reading (available in our HAAM library). Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, by Greta Christina.

  1. Do atheists have a soul?

The amount of evidence for any kind of spirit, energy, or life force that continues on after we die is nil. Also, the absence of a clear definition of what a soul is would lead most atheists to believe that no, we don’t have a soul. But I do take some comfort in knowing that soul music will live on long after I’m dead.

  1. Do atheists believe in nothing?

This is a surprisingly common question asked of the HAAM folks who staff our outreach booth. It’s a question I’ve never understood. Barring mental illness, or possibly head trauma, how could anyone have no beliefs in anything?

Fellow Humanist Nathan Prokopowich answered the question this way:

  Its not that we believe in nothing, it’s that we don’t have a belief in a deity. I personally believe in humanity – as much as it screws up, we have gotten very creative in fixing things too. The simple kindness of one person helping another for no other reason than to be kind is all the belief I need. But if you want to split hairs, I can witness an act of kindness, and perform and receive an act of kindness as well. So in that instance, it’s more empirical than a belief.

 

  1. If atheists don’t believe in God, what prevents them from raping, killing, and breaking the law?

This one was answered by members of the Eastman Humanist Community:

  “What prevents atheists from raping, killing, and breaking the law is the same thing that prevents theists from doing so. The only difference is that theists attribute their lack of doing so to their god. Humans generally treat each other well because that’s what contributes to well-being. Treating each other well has nothing to do with a god, any god.

– Helen Friesen

  I personally believe in the inherent goodness of people. There are scientific studies that have shown people actually want to be nice. We do not need to be threatened by some abhorrent afterlife to do good for our family, friends, neighbours, and yes, even strangers. Doing good does make us all feel warm and fuzzy inside. Kindness is its own reward; I do not need to prove myself to some “group” or deity.

– Johanna (last name withheld)

Bonus question: What happens when you die?

One HAAM member tackled this biggie:

That is probably the question I struggled most with on my journey to becoming an atheist.

Today, I believe that my body and mind will cease to exist. And then nothing. Many things will of course happen in the world, to my family, friends, and cats. Good things and bad things. And I will not be aware of any of those things. It was hard for me to accept (quite narcissistic in hindsight), that my beautiful mind, full of ideas, dreams and memories, my constant companion for as long as I can remember, will one day be gone. Hopefully at the time of my death and not before.

 As a Christian, I was convinced that after death my consciousness would somehow continue in the afterlife, that I would be able to connect again with loved ones long gone, who would be, like me, some kind of conscious ghost.

I shed that belief only after learning more about dementia. How people suffering from dementia lose, bit by bit, their beautiful minds, until just the outside shells remain. I asked myself whether I believed that after the heart stops beating and the brain cells stop firing, there would be a magical reboot of the consciousness of the deceased. For me, the answer could only be “No”.

This also meant that I had to really let go of my loved ones and accept that they are truly gone forever.

This might sound all very bleak to a believer, but by shedding the delusion of an afterlife, I feel that I have become a better, kinder and more caring person who cherishes every moment spent with family, friends and cats.

– Caren (last name withheld)

For a different point of view, watch for Part 2 of this post – another complete set of answers to these same questions – coming up in our July newsletter.

September 2019 Newsletter

Upcoming HAAM Events

Monthly Meeting – Stand Up for Science

Saturday, September 14th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Ave, 5:30 PM

We will be welcoming a guest speaker from Evidence for Democracy to talk to us about encouraging evidence-based decision-making in public policy and ways that we can combat misinformation and ‘fake news’.

If you value reason and science-based decision-making in government, then this is a meeting you won’t wanna miss.

Details here.

HAAM and Eggs Brunch

Sunday, September 22nd, Smitty’s Polo Park, 1017 St James St, 9:30 AM

Meet and get to know your fellow HAAMsters.

New people are always welcome. Details here.

Save the Dates

Monthly meetings:

October 5th
November 16th

HAAM and Eggs Brunch:

October 20th
November 24th

Check our Events calendar for the latest information on all upcoming events.

Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events

Global Climate Strike

Friday, September 27th, Manitoba Legislature, noon to 5 PM

Hosted by Manitoba Youth for Climate Action and Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition
Event details and more information on their Facebook Event page.

Links to Non-HAAM events of interest to our members can be found on the Community Events page.

‘Charity’ of the Month – Evidence for Democracy

Occasionally we make an exception to the usual criteria for our monthly charity fundraiser, and instead support a cause that carries out valuable work but is not a registered charity. Evidence for Democracy fits this category.

So what does E4D do? They promote the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making in Canada. They engage and empower the science community while cultivating public and political demand for evidence-based decision-making. They run campaigns about issues affecting science and public policy, and they educate Canadians about evidence-based decision-making. E4D’s goals include strong public policies based on science and evidence, engaged citizens, transparent, accountable government, and a culture that values science and evidence.

Organizations involved in activities that might be seen as political lobbying might not want to be registered as a charity, because that can impose restrictions on their work. E4D offers this explanation: “Evidence for Democracy is a federally registered non-profit organization. To ensure we can effectively advocate for transparent, evidence-based public policy decisions, we are not a charity and donations are not eligible for a tax credit.”

Donations for E4D will be collected at the monthly meeting. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the ‘Donate’ button on our website. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the Evidence for Democracy. Note that for this month only, tax receipts will NOT be issued.

Calls to Action

Please take a minute to let your federal election candidates know that you want the next parliament to fix the flaws in Canada’s assisted dying (MAiD) law. Currently, advance requests for MAiD will not be carried out if the patient is not capable of providing consent at the time of the procedure, even if they have already been assessed and approved.

Our next Members of Parliament — no matter where they fall on the political spectrum — need to understand that they have a duty to uphold your end-of-life rights.

Dying With Dignity Canada has prepared an automated letter that makes it really easy to show your support. All you need to do is add your name and postal code and click ‘send’; it will be sent to every federal election candidate in your constituency.

Vote for Science

Let your federal election candidates know that you care about science and that you want them to support evidence-based policies and decision-making if they are elected to the next government. Scientific research benefits our health care, education, environment and economy.

Votescience.ca is a letter-writing campaign sponsored by a collaboration of Canadian scientific organizations to let politicians know that we care about science and want them to govern based on evidence and reason. It will only take you a minute to add your name and postal code to the form letter, and then copies will be sent to every federal election candidate in your constituency.

 

Latest News

What do Humanists believe?

After our August newsletter was sent last month, we had one angry subscriber who canceled their subscription in response to the article supporting reproductive choice.

If you’re uncertain about what HAAM (as an organization) endorses, please visit our website to learn more. Under the About Us tab, you will find information about Humanism and what Humanists believe. You can also read our Philosophy, Mission Statement, and Position Statements, which were written by members of our exec and voted on by the membership at our AGM several years ago.

Humanists support evidence-based decision-making, empathy, compassion, and fairness. These values generally translate into support for human rights, education, and science, resulting in consensus among most Humanists on a number of social issues. Nevertheless, there is no absolute set of personal beliefs that define Humanism, and no ‘membership test’ required to join HAAM. And of course, our newsletter is public, so anyone can subscribe, whether they agree with our positions or not.

If you still have questions, or would like to discuss any of this, we’re happy to answer – just Contact Us.

Passages

Long-time HAAM member Olga Nahirniak died on Sunday August 4th at the age of 94. She had not attended meetings in recent years due to age and health, but she kept in touch by reading the newsletter, and she came to our Summer Solstice party last year (2018), where she can be seen sitting in the front row in a pink T-shirt in the group photo.

Helen Friesen, who knew Olga well, shared this tribute:

  I was fortunate to see her and visit with her two weeks before her death at a function at the Unitarian Church. She had been in hospital for a while just before that, but she was in good spirits and enjoyed the afternoon with everybody.

  Olga was a special and spunky lady. She had a no-nonsense attitude towards beliefs that didn’t make sense to her, among them being religious beliefs, and she didn’t hesitate to say so over the years.

  I’ll remember her fondly.

Olga’s obituary can be seen at Ethical Death Care. Condolences were sent to her family on behalf of all of us at HAAM. She will be missed.

Venue update (again)

After holding three meetings at the University of Winnipeg in the spring, we received mixed reviews from members and had mixed success with the room. There were two main issues:

1. The location – On the plus side, it is central and easy to get to by bus. On the minus side, parking can be a challenge and some members expressed safety concerns about the area.

2. The room itself – On the plus side, the room is spacious, quiet, and private. On the minus side, we had major challenges with furnishings (once arriving to find that almost all the chairs and tables had been removed, and another time, that piles of boxes and paraphernalia from a previous meeting had been left in the room) and equipment (plugging in a coffee pot resulted in repeatedly blown fuses).

On reflection, the executive has decided to move our monthly meetings back to Canad Inns Polo Park for the fall. We will continue to keep an eye out for the ideal venue.

Our goal is to make our meetings accessible to everyone. If you are one of the people who found it easier to get to the U of W, and need a ride to Canad Inns, please let us know (info@haam.ca) and we will try to arrange one for you.

Book of the Month – The Greatest Show on Earth

This 2010 book by Richard Dawkins has become a classic. He was, after all, a professor of zoology long before he became better known for his outspoken atheist activism. So in this book explaining the process of evolution, he’s really in his element. Lay reviewers repeatedly describe Dawkins’s explanations as clear and easy to understand, with plenty of illustrations and examples throughout.

72% of reviewers on Amazon.com gave this book 5 stars; 5% gave it one star. Guess who those 5% of reviewers were? Hint: They described it as ‘pure fiction’, a ‘diatribe against religion’, and ‘an attempt to brainwash the reader’. Several of them recommended books by creationist authors instead.

This book covers all the questions and topics that people ask about evolution – including missing links and transitional fossils, dating methods, the meaning of the word ‘theory’, DNA, the age of the earth, micro vs. macro, the tree of life, vestigial organs, etc.  We discuss all of these and more at our outreach booth in Morden every year.

If you’re not already familiar with these words and phrases, then you owe it to yourself to read Greatest Show on Earth. Dawkins really does make a complex subject understandable and even entertaining.

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. 

It’s back-to-school time 

Just a reminder: If you have children attending public school in Manitoba, and you have any questions or concerns about religious exercises or religious instruction, please read our Religion in Public Schools information page.

Every year, we get calls and letters from concerned parents, but most of your questions and concerns should be addressed on that page.

Please contact us if:

  • You have questions that are NOT answered on that page,
  • You have new information or updates that we should add to that page, or
  • Your child is attending a school that is violating the guidelines and you would like advice or support.

Morden Outreach

Well that’s a wrap – another successful summer outreach completed. Thanks to all the volunteers who staffed the booth. We have uploaded a few photos to our website gallery. A report will follow in the October newsletter.

May 2018 Newsletter

Upcoming HAAM Events 

Stealing Reason: Christianity’s Theft of Human Values 

Saturday, May 12th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 5:30 – 8:30 PM 

Our own Pat Morrow will talk about Christian apologetic claims regarding the scientific revolution and slavery. His presentation will demonstrate that progress is not due to any gods, but rather to human effort.  Details here.

HAAM and Eggs Brunch 

Saturday, May 26th, Red Top Inn, 219 St Mary’s Road, 9:30 AM 

Our monthly casual get-together. Everyone’s welcome. Details here.

 

Save the Dates 

June 15-17 – Outreach at the Summer in the City Festival (Steinbach) 

June 23rdSummer Solstice Party 

 

Details for all upcoming HAAM events are on our Events page. 

Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events 

Interbelief Reasoning Dialogue: “What Weaponizes Beliefs?”

Thursday, 3 May, St James Assiniboia Public Library (note change of date)

Presented by the Winnipeg Circle of Reason.

Advance Care Planning – what you need to know

Saturday, May 12th, St Boniface Public Library, 1:30 PM.

Learn more about your rights as a patient, and how to increase the chances of your wishes being respected in a health crisis and/or at the end of life. Registration required. More information here.

Winnipeg Pride Parade 

Sunday, June 3rd, Manitoba Legislative Building.

Rally at 10 AM and parade at 11. 

 

More information and links to all these non-HAAM events are on our Community Events page. 

Charity of the Month  

Just in time for Mothers Day! They say you can’t spoil a baby – but let’s try.  

You Can’t Spoil a Baby has been providing baby supplies to Manitoba families in need since 2011. Its goal is to show families that they are valued by their community by providing them with no-strings-attached gifts to help them care for their baby. 

YCSAB is run 100% by volunteers. The concept is simple:  

Donors can either contribute their once-loved baby items to one of YCSAB’s more than 40 drop-off spots for volunteers to combine into gifts, or follow guidelines provided by YCSAB to make and deliver their own gift using items they collect. Each gift includes items that will help a family through their baby’s first year – a set of newborn to 18 month baby clothes, one ‘big-ticket’ item (like a crib, stroller, or exersaucer), a few other helpful accessories (like feeding, bathing and diapering supplies, blankets, and toys), and a big sibling gift if the family has other children.  

Families who need assistance need to apply for a gift early in pregnancy (the wait list is close to 6 months). Most of the expectant parents who apply do not have friends or family to give them baby items, are single parents or young couples living on Income Assistance, are newcomers to Canada who are starting over, are leaving abusive relationships, or have had a series of tough breaks and need help. In addition to the gift of baby clothes and baby items, YCSAB provides families with an online list of local resources to help with the high costs of raising children. 

YCSAB accepts money as well as gently used baby items that help with the first two years of life. Their highest need items are always sleepers/pajamas in sizes 6-18 months. Used items are encouraged to promote reuse, but they won’t turn away new ones. A list of accepted items can be found on their website. Please check it carefully, as some items must comply with safety regulations. You can bring your donations to our meeting. If you have very large items, or cannot make it to the meeting, let us know and we’ll arrange for pickup and/or transport of your items. 

Donations for the Charity of the Month will be collected at the meeting. Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the ‘Donate’ button. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity. 

Call to Action 

There’s a new petition to the House of Commons urging the government to re-examine the ban against gay men donating blood.  

The current law makes anyone (male or female), who has had sex with a man who has had sex with another man within the last year ineligible to donate. Obviously, this is a sensitive issue and there is a lot more to the law than just politics. Blood donation regulations need to be evidence-based, in order to protect us all. That’s why the screening for prospective donors includes questions about drug use, travel history, tattoos, and whether their job involves caring for monkeys.

But when it comes to sexual practices, the law focuses on demographics instead of behaviors – banning ALL gay men, even those in monogamous, long-term relationships, from donating blood. On the other hand, straight people are not excluded from donating regardless of the number of sexual partners they have had – as long as the donor believes that all those partners are also straight. Doesn’t this seem illogical?  

The rationale for the current guidelines and the history behind them are clearly explained on the Canadian Blood Services’ website here and here. In summary, the rules used to be much stricter – a lifetime ban on gay men donating blood was in place until 2013. Since then, CBS has gradually been relaxing the standards as more data is obtained. The current one-year ban was initiated in 2016. Of course, we all want to avoid another fiasco like the tainted blood scandal of the 80’s and 90’s that made people sick, cost millions of dollars, and diminished confidence in the safety of Canada’s blood supply. 

But it would make more sense to screen all donors for at-risk practices instead of just banning a whole group of people, and it appears that CBS is gradually moving in that direction. Recently, donors were given a survey asking if they would be willing to answer more detailed questions about their sexual practices as part of donor screening, or whether such intimate questions would discourage them from donating at all.   

The survey question asked: Please state how comfortable you would be answering questions on these topics in order to donate blood or plasma: 

– Saying the number of partners you have had in the last 6 months 
– Saying if you have had ANAL sex with anyone in the last 6 months 
– Saying if you used a condom every time you had sex in the last 6 months 
– Saying if you used the internet or social media (eg Facebook or Tinder) to seek a partner for sexual intercourse in the last 6 months) 
– And several more similar questions 

The answer choices were ‘completely comfortable’, ‘somewhat comfortable’, ‘somewhat uncomfortable’, ‘completely uncomfortable’, and ‘this would stop me from donating’.  

If having to answer these questions deters some people from donating, wouldn’t it stand to reason that most of those who are deterred are those who participate in high-risk behaviors? And wouldn’t that be a good thing? It’s interesting to think about. 

If you support encouraging CBS to focus on behaviors rather than on demographics in their donor screening, please sign the petition. It’s open for signature until July 17th 

Click here to sign the petition. 

And if you ARE currently eligible to donate, please do. HAAM is a member of CBS Partners for Life program. Learn more about it here, and sign up now! 

Latest News 

Your Health Care – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

According to the Health Care Directives Act of Manitoba, a health care directive (HCD) is a legal document that must be respected by your medical team in the event that you can’t speak for yourself. Also, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that all competent adult Canadians have the right to refuse or discontinue treatment.

But did you know that both your HCD and your right to refuse treatment can be ignored by your medical team under certain circumstances? For example, you might have comfort in the fact that you’ve written down and signed your wish not to be resuscitated, in the event that you collapse and someone calls an ambulance. However, what paramedics have told us is that not only will they not take the time to stop and read a HCD when treating a patient in an emergency, but they also can’t respect your request. That’s because they can’t verify your signature, your state of mind, or your competency when you signed it. To be considered valid, a DNR (do not resuscitate) order must be obtained from and signed by your doctor (and even then, there is still some uncertainty about whether it will be followed). And once the patient arrives at the hospital, and let’s say regains consciousness, the patient’s request to refuse treatment could be ignored by staff until a psychiatrist confirms the patient’s competence. So even if it’s your worst fear to wake up in hospital hooked up to machines, that could be exactly what happens in spite of your best efforts to communicate your wishes.

What can I do about this?

So what can you do to prevent such a situation from happening? Well, first of all, do you HAVE a signed HCD in the first place? If not, you can download one for free from End of Life Planning Canada (via DWD Winnipeg chapter), make sure you’ve chosen a proxy who is willing to get LOUD if your wishes are not being respected. Neither of these will likely help with the paramedics, but they will certainly help once you arrive at the hospital. Second, do you have a card in your wallet that states who your proxy is and where to find your HCD? And finally, have you discussed your end-of-life wishes with all of your friends and family? The more backup you have, the safer it will be (legally) for medical staff to respect your proxy’s instructions.

What about MAID?

It is currently not legal to list Medical Assistance in Dying as one of your requests in your health care directive, since your HCD only comes into effect if you can’t communicate, and you can’t have assistance to die unless you’re able to consent when the time comes to administer the drugs. The DWD Canada blog states

“In 2016, an Ipsos Reid poll of 2,530 Canadians found a surprisingly strong level of support for allowing MAID in our HCDs, with no statistically significant regional variations. Approval was high among supporters of the three leading federal parties, especially supporters of the New Democratic Party (84%) and the Liberal Party of Canada (83%). Three out of four Conservative supporters (74%) were in favour, too. 78% of Catholics and 73% of Protestant Christians support allowing Canadians with a grievous and irremediable illness to make advance requests for physician-assisted dying. Sample sizes for people of other faiths weren’t large enough to allow for statistically significant comparisons.

Other poll questions presented different possible scenarios involving advance consent for assisted dying. About eight in 10 (82%) Canadians said they would support physician-assisted dying for patients who have a scheduled assisted death, and were competent at the time of the request, but who lose competence before the request can be carried out (for example, in the case of a patient who falls into a coma just days before the scheduled provision of aid in dying). Seven in 10 (71%) Canadians would support allowing a patient without a diagnosis for a grievous and irremediable illness to make an advance request for physician-assisted dying that would be honoured if certain pre-stated conditions were met.”

Learn more!

If you’d like to be fully informed and complete your HCD, join us for our next workshop on Advance Care Planning, May 12th at the St Boniface Library at 1:30 PM. Become an empowered patient! For more information, and to register (required), contact DWD Winnipeg Chapter.                                                          – Cheri Frazer

Event Review – Debate: Morality 

In April I attended the Feakes vs. Kay morality debate held at Winnipeg’s New Life Sanctuary Church. Darren Kay is a local Humanist writer with an interest in the big questions. John Feakes is the pastor of the aforementioned church. He’s a Young Earth Creationist with a master’s degree in theology from the Columbia Evangelical Seminary (readers are free to look that one up).  

The debate question was “How should we live our lives?”. It asks which is the better framework for forming an ethical morality – Christianity or secularism. 

As far as the calibre of the debate, this was not Wilberforce versus Huxley. Part of the problem was the nature of the question. Feakes was tasked with arguing for the proposition that “Christianity is ethically superior to secularism” whereas Kay was tasked with the negative “Christianity is not ethically superior to secularism”.  Taking the negative put Kay in the situation of having to disprove Feakes’s position and at the same time argue his own. In addition, neither position was clearly defined – whose version of Christianity? and what do we mean by secularism? Feakes did try to define secularism in his rapid-fire slideshow, by displaying every definition of it from many sources.  

For me, the quality of any debate is in its opening statements and initial rebuttals. I found this debate quite formulaic and pre-scripted (or maybe I’ve just watched far too many of them). Feakes opened with the standard creationist shotgun debating technique (AKA the Gish Gallop). Kay did a good job of trying to explain the nature of secular morality, but with the limited time available I think some points were not as clear as they could’ve been, and were therefore missed by the folks who most needed to hear them.  

In formal debate, after the opening arguments come the rebuttals. This is a chance for one to respond to the arguments that were just presented by one’s opponent. Great debaters such as Christopher Hitchens would often do their rebuttals from memory or with just a few notes.  The rebuttal requires debaters to think on their feet, although on occasion, visual aids could be incorporated if one is familiar enough with their opponent’s points to anticipate them. However, in this debate, both sides used fully prepared PowerPoint presentations, which offered the odd spectacle of each of them rebutting arguments that their opponents had not presented. As a result, the rebuttals were disappointing. At some points the evening took on a lecture feel rather than a debate. 

You can find the full video of the evening here on YouTube. It will help those unfamiliar with the moral argument to become better informed, but if you’re looking for the thrust and parry of a traditional debate, this may not be for you.                                                                                                        Pat Morrow  

Library News – Interlibrary loans now available

The Eastman Humanist Community (EHC), based in Steinbach, is growing and now has its own small library. It makes sense to pool our resources – sharing is what Humanists do, right? So HAAM and the EHC have recently reached an agreement to allow inter-library loans between the two groups.

Our own HAAM library is now up to almost 250 items (books and DVD’s), available to all paid members. So check it out!  But if we don’t have the book you are looking for, you are now welcome to check out the EHC’s library as well. If you find something there that you would like to borrow, contact HAAM. We will make arrangements with the EHC to obtain the item for you the next time someone from either group is traveling between Steinbach and Winnipeg.

Book of the Month Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks 

If you’re concerned about the current anti-intellectualism trend that is making people vulnerable to propaganda, advertising, and quackery in medicine, religion, and politics, then you’ll find this book encouraging.  

Ben Goldacre writes in easy to understand language about the importance of learning to think critically when evaluating scientific claims, in order to separate promotional propaganda from reality. He covers research topics like placebos, double-blind studies, and sample sizes, so that you can recognize bad science when you see it.  

Read about detox baths, ear candling, ‘whole brain learning’, homeopathy, the MMR vaccine scare, cosmetics, vitamin supplements, anti-oxidants, cognitive bias, the misuse of statistics, celebrity endorsements, and more. It’s an entertaining book for anyone interested in the practical uses – and abuses – of science.  

All our library books and DVD’s are free to borrow for paid HAAM members. 
Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this book. 

HAAM President Donna Harris onstage with Matt Dillahunty during his recent visit. What an awesome show!

 

 

Messy Muddled Morality

 

For many religiousnothing-written-in-stone-relative-morality people there is comfort in the belief that moral questions have all been answered by their holy books. I can see the appeal of rules and structure, in that following a recipe will lead to the desired outcome. It must be nice for them to be able to open a book and find a specific commandment to suit the situation. From my perspective, life as a religious person must be similar to a trip to Ikea, walking a one-way path with every problem a flat-packed box of building materials and a set of instructions on how to solve it. Even in difficult situations where there is no clear answer, the fallback position is that even though they may not know the correct answer, there is a god who does and at some point, in the afterlife they will know it as well.

Of course, for those of us on the outside of religion we can see that this certainty is misplaced. The evidence for this is the many different religious beliefs and practices even from those who are reading from the same book of instructions. It’s unlikely that in any church, mosque or synagogue that we would find even two believers who have identical views on all moral questions. In addition, it’s a surprisingly pleasant coincidence for the believers that they seem to find a god who agrees with all of their own moral positions. How convenient is that?

For atheists though, morality is not quite so simple. We understand that there is no instruction book and so we look elsewhere for a foundation to build our lives on. For many of us, we recognize that atheism itself is nothing more than a lack of belief in god and so we must go elsewhere for guidance. Whether we identify as atheists, skeptics, or humanists, one thing that we all seem to have in common is a commitment to following the evidence where it leads us. We acknowledge that using science has the best track record for discovering what is true about the world and so we put our trust in science to help us discover those truths.

Science has been wonderful for helping us to answer many questions. Particularly in the types of questions that hinge on finding out hard facts. It’s a no-brainer for us to accept that evolution is a fact, that disease is not cured by prayer. These are the easy questions. And on these types of questions, the atheist community is pretty much united in our positions once sufficient evidence has been examined.

But when it comes to questions of morality, of how we should live, science is not always so helpful. At the very least, not always so certain. When we discuss issues around politics, economics, equality, or justice, sometimes it seems as if the atheist community is just as divided as the People’s Front of Judea. Many of us would identify as believing that a diversity of views is a good thing. In theory, anyway, much more difficult in practise. When questions arise that involve our values, or our identities, it’s very hard to examine the issues objectively, when we personally are the objects of examination.

It’s not that science has nothing to say about these moral questions, as there are domains of science that ask these questions and try to find answers, but the sciences that are best suited to address these questions, are often considered the “softer sciences”, such as sociology or psychology, that don’t seem to get the same level of respect as the sciences that give us more concrete answers. These are the types of sciences that can give us answers about the very issues that seem to cloud discussions of morality or ethics. For example there are studies conducted that demonstrate our human tendencies toward confirmation bias that serve to reinforce what we already think is true. This is quite easy to agree with in theory, even more so, when attributing this tendency to the other person, not so easy to accept when we turn it to ourselves.

Among many atheists that I know, another common value that seems to unite them, that doesn’t seem to be as prevalent in the religious community, is the acceptance of not knowing the answer. When it comes to questions such as how the universe began, or what happens after we die, we seem to be fairly comfortable with accepting that we don’t know, and quite possibly may never know. But when it comes to moral questions, we aren’t as comfortable with ambivalent positions.

With the recent horrific murders of the employees of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that occurred in Paris, murders committed for the imaginary sin of blasphemy, the atheist community responded with vociferous condemnation of the attacks. But even in their unified position, it appears that the devil is in the details, as arguments went back and forth over questions regarding how to show solidarity for contentious free speech. Talking about a fundamental human right and our responsibilities to each other requires us to examine our values, things that are held very personally and intertwined with our identity and our own perspective, not easily looked at with the same objective rationality that we are accustomed to using with other types of questions. And yet we feel compelled to take a position, even when the answer is not so clear.

A few years ago, Sam Harris wrote a book called “The Moral Landscape” in which he put forward a case for using science to help us answer moral questions. These questions, about human wants and needs, happiness and suffering, have traditionally not been something that appeared amenable to scientific inquiry. Morality has historically been in the unique position of being so complex as to keep the philosophers busy for ages and yet also been so easily solved by each one of us as we negotiate living together in community, convinced that we have the right answers. For myself, I believe that Harris is right, that as we explore the frontiers of neuroscience, adding to the work done in other fields of inquiry in psychology, sociology and biology, and with the commitment to following the evidence where it leads, that we will get closer to the answers that we seek. The only instruction manual that we will have is the one we write ourselves.

– Diana Goods

 

December 2013 Newsletter

round tableIn this issue:

  • Winter Solstice Party!
  • What’s so important about Secular Morality?  It was discussed at our Round Table event (pic. at right)
  • Our November meeting was truly inspirational.  Read all about it!
EHC-logo
Save the Dates!

HAAM and Eggs Brunches

on hold due to COVID-19

Other Upcoming Events

For community events of interest to HAAM members, click here.

Sign up for our Newsletter