HAI e-Newsletter July 2014

e-Newsletter July 2014
In this issue:

First Sunday Meeting Report – June 1st
Alan Tuffery, in the Chair, welcomed everyone. The title for the meeting was ‘Humanism and
Literature’. Our choice of literature is personal to ourselves. In everyday life we deal with joy,
loneliness, the vagaries of relationships, death and other emotions. Our reading often reflects our
attempt to understand all of this.
Saying that literature is as wide a definition as you like – from graffiti to Milton’s Paradise Lost, Alan invited input from the meeting.
Owen Morton wants to give three literature awards. The ‘Flann O’Brien Award for Satire’ to Andrew Mueller. On the subject of Jehovah’s Witnesses it says: “Nobody has ever had their bath ruined by a knock on the door from an atheist”
Humanism literature is refreshing as it offers solutions ‘down here’ rather than from ‘up above’.
This is often reflected in science fiction as it rarely incorporates religious principles. However,
authors use ‘Mercism’ which has a comparable moral structure.
Many of the Russian authors were atheists. Tolstoy in his novel Anna Karenina dealt with atheism
through his character Levin. Similarly, Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov did a lot to
promote humanism. Pushkin, who was banished for expressing atheist views, is best known for
Eugene Onegin.
The Irish authors were discussed, the best known being Beckett, author of Waiting for Godot and
James Joyce, author of Ulysses. George Bernard Shaw’s works are sprinkled with atheist quotes,
the best known probably “I am an atheist thank God”.
A recommendation for children over twelve is the ‘Magic of Reality’ in which biologist Richard
Dawkins asks that they look for solutions in science rather than religion. C.S.Lewis slipped humanism
into ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ‘when he got the professor to say “why don’t they
teach logic at these schools?”
Many authors were poets too. Thomas Hardy found that he could express his atheist views better
in poetry than he could in his novels. The American Steven Crane, famous for The Red Badge of
Courage, wrote the following poem:
A man said to the universe:”Sir I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation”
Emily Dickinson was a poet whom many thought religious, but if you look at her verses carefully,
they mock people who are certain of their own salvation. Her poem ‘Going to Heaven’ includes the
lines: “Going to heaven – how dim it sounds”.
In The Naming of Parts by Henry Reed tells how bored recruits put together and name all the parts
of a rifle while outside “Japonica glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens”
Christianity inspired beautiful literature, Dante’s Inferno and the bible are examples. We can say
the bible is a great book of fiction or a history. A pre-christian comparison is the ‘Iliad’, a poem in
which Achilles gives his famous line about Hades “I’d rather be a slave on earth …than rule down
here over all the breathless dead”.
‘Quarantine’ by Jim Crace draws an analogy between the forty days Jesus spent in the desert to
the forty days quarantine required by most countries. It is the merchant, rather than the devil, who
tempts Jesus.
Report by Maeve Cooling

First Sunday Meeting – July 6th
The next First-Sunday Meeting takes place from 4pm to 6pm on Sunday July 6th at Buswell’s Hotel, Molesworth St, Dublin 2.
Judge Catherine McGuinness will speak on The End of Life Forum and Thinking Ahead
The forum was launched by President McAleese in 2009 to identify the issues that matter most at the end of life and has explored what people in Ireland believe about dying, death and bereavement
This will cover the role of hospital care  and how best to ensure that individual’s wishes are met, including the implementation of advance care directives. Additional issues include caring for lesbian, gay,  transgender and bisexual patients.
All are welcome to attend.
Judge Catherine McGuinness has  a distinguished record of public service and is currently a member of the Council of State, chair of Údarás NUI Gaillimh, patron of Irish Refugee Council and of Irish Fostercarers’ Association and chair of the End of Life Council

Contributions from Members
If you have constructive comments or feedback on this e-Newsletter, Board meetings, the organisation in general, and/or are able to contribute to the goals of the HAI in any way, please let us know.
And if you have news items, stories, or links you would like to share with other HAI members, please send them for possible inclusion in the e-Newsletter by the 27th of the month.
We would very much welcome your contributions!
The email address is [email protected]

News Bytes
From the Irish Times
Funding for shared education in Northern Ireland
Donald Clarke suggests if you don’t approve of the church, then don’t take part in its rituals
William Reville continues his campaign to present religion as science
Robert Grant of TCD argues that the “new atheists” are “dangerous” and “intellectually shallow”
From the National Secular Society in Britain
From the Huffington Post
From the Guardian
From the BBC

News from the Chaplaincy Director and the Committee
Over the past few months, and particularly following a First Sunday presentation on the Chaplaincy, the committee had a number of meetings to discuss the way forward. The issue of recognition by the HSE of the need to include those of secular views was high on the agenda.

Following a comprehensive submission made to the HSE by HAI Directors, a meeting was arranged with Deputy Eric Byrne TD. This meeting aimed to influence members of Government to support the proposal to gain access to hospitals and other institutions for our Chaplains. Our reception by the Deputy in Dáil Éireann was most encouraging.
In recent weeks an invitation was received from the Director of Advocacy to participate in a multi-faith committee chaired by the HSE. This meeting was attended by our Chairperson Siobhan Walls, accompanied by Willie Collins. The meeting was well attended and very positive towards the inclusion of other faith groups and those of secular beliefs in the process.

The plan is to continue to participate in this committee over the next 6-12 months when a process will be agreed in how Chaplaincy services can be provided in an appropriate way to all sectors of society.
We look forward to making progress in this regard.
Outdoor Wedding Ceremonies
As you may have heard in the media Humanist Association of Ireland celebrants will not be conducting wedding ceremonies outdoors until further notice. This is in response to a requirement, imposed on us by the General Register Office and by some local registrars, that all solemnisation ceremonies must take place indoors, in a building.
The Irish Times article that brought the story to public attention indicated that the HAI was taking legal action against the state – this is not the case though we are currently taking legal advice on the issue.

Local Humanist Groups
Síle Headen is interested in setting up a new local Humanist group for members in Laois, Offaly, Carlow, Kilkenny and Kildare.  If you are interested, please get in touch with Síle at 
[email protected] or 087 7704946.
A group of people interested in setting up a new local Humanist group in Cork have met twice recently.  Details of further meetings are on http://corkhumanists.weebly.com/ or you can contact Geraldine O’Neill on 086 812 8892.
North Coast Humanists meet every second Tuesday of the month at 6. 30 pm in the foyer of Lodge Hotel, Coleraine. New faces are welcome. For more information, contact: [email protected]  or 07818036404.
The Mid-West Humanists group includes people from Limerick, Clare, and Tipperary who meet on the third Wednesday of each month at 20:00 in Limerick – the Absolute Hotel, Sir Harrys Mall, Limerick. Meeting notice at www.midwesthumanists.com. For more information contact Peter O’Hara on 086 8155102 or email [email protected].
Serving Humanists in Galway and surrounding areas, Humanists West meet in Galway city on the last Sunday of each month. The meetings start at 12 noon at the OSLO Gastro Bar- Micro Brewery, 226 Upper Salthill.. For more information contact Garry O’Lochlainn on [email protected] or 087 2222726.

Irish Hospice Foundation Forum 2015 
The Irish Hospice Foundation has asked for ideas for their Forum 2015. The HAI has responded with a suggestion that the topic of assisted dying be included for discussion. We made a submission to the IHF a few years ago on this topic but it had never been on their agenda. We justify the need for discussion on the grounds that in the case where an individual judges his/her own continued life has no value, such as at a time of the last stages of a terminal disease, then within certain conditions his/her wishes to end suffering should be acted upon.
We pointed out that the topic is of considerable interest to many people yet has been long under-represented in end-of-life discussion. We believe a full and thoughtful consideration of this topic would inform those facing end-of-life decisions. In support of that objective we have offered to participate in the Forum.
Report by Nicolas Johnson

All Ireland Humanist Summer School 2014
This year’s theme is Humanism and Sexuality, and the speakers are Peter Tatchell, Roy Brown, Diana Brown and Tom Inglis.  The booking form is available on the  HAI website.  You will also find a booking form at the end of the July/August edition of Humanism Ireland magazine. The event will take place from 29th – 31st August.  Accommodation  must be booked by attendees themselves, and you are advised to book early as Carlingford is a very popular destination.
20.00   Informal Gathering at the Carlingford Arms
Saturday morning
09.15  Registration
10.00  Welcome from the Chair: Terry Moseley
10.10  Religion, Humanism and Morality: Roy Brown
10.30  Love and Sex: Tom Inglis
11.15  Q and A
11.30  Tea and coffee; sale of books, CDs DVDs
12.00  Gay Marriage as a Human Right: Peter Tatchell
12.45  Q and A
13.00  Lunch in the village
Saturday afternoon
14.30 Workshop: Devising a Humanist Ethic in Sex Education
19.30 Dinner in the Four Seasons Hotel (paid in advance)
Sunday morning
10.00 Who Owns Women? Diana Brown
10.45 Q and A
11.00 Tea and coffee
11.30 Panel Discussion on Humanism and Sexuality
01.00 Formal Close
Sunday afternoon
14.00 Talk by Alison Henderson and Wills McNeilly, followed by a walk up Slieve Foye

Humanist Literature Review
‘New Humanist’, a quarterly journal of ideas, science and culture from the UK’s Rationalist Association, is the T-bone steak of Humanist journals. It’s beautifully presented, meaty, and nourishing. It has a tremendous mix of articles.
One that caught my eye in the summer 2014 edition, is Without God, is there something missing in our lives? by Peter Watson. It looks at peculiar suggestions by Terry Eagleton, Roger Scruton and others that without religion we miss out on something. Happily, Watson agrees with me that we do not. How could not believing in leprechauns deprive one of anything? In fact, as Watson concludes, ‘there is something missing in our lives only if we think there is’. And he offers André Gide’s insight about the independence of things, the voluptuousness of objects, as all that there is – and that, indeed, is plenty. Gide, to whom touch was the most important of the senses, said: ‘Only individual thing exist…things in themselves hold forth, accessible to everyone, all that life has to offer.’  
There is also an interview with Peter Tatchell, who welcomes Britain’s new same-sex marriage act as a historic victory but which, he argues, isn’t quite equality. He finds shocking that the legislation has an explicit ban on the Church of England or the Church in Wales conducting same-sex marriages, which Tatchell sees as an attack on religious freedom. He is also campaigning for civil partnerships to be extended to heterosexual couples, which some see as more egalitarian and modern and free from the patriarchal burden of marriage.
‘Islam is not a race. It’s a belief system.’
Tatchell, who challenges discrimination against believers as well as challenging religious superstition and privilege, says that the term Islamophobia is often used to intimidate and silence valid criticisms. ‘That’s a de facto attack on free speech,’ he maintains. ‘I’m also highly critical of the frequent attempts to characterize criticism of Islam or various extremist groups as racist. Islam is not a race. It’s a belief system.’  
British PM’s faith ‘comes and goes’
A short article asks ‘Is Britain a Christian country?’ and notes that the British PM David Cameron wrote an article recently for the Church Times saying that it was. However the Church of England’s own figures state that 800,000 people attended church regularly in 2012 – half as many as went in 1968. And it quotes Cameron who had previously said of his own faith that it was ‘a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it comes and goes’.
Another article on the school girls kidnapped in Nigeria by Islamist extremists Boko Haram notes that the name of the group roughly translates to ‘Western education is forbidden’
Larking about on the Ark
A wonderful article about Noah’s Ark by Myra Zepf sees the terrible tale as: ‘A genocidal tale of epic proportions, designed to obliterate mankind and all living creatures, including babies, woolly mammoths and ickle bunny wabbits.’ She asks why the creator couldn’t have sent a plague to harm only the evil-doers, or shot a few precision-targeted bolts of lightning instead; and wonders why this tale of vengeful genocide has morphed into bedside reading for toddlers. However she suggests there are endless hours of fun to be had wondering how Noah built an ark half the length of the Titanic without saws, hammers or nails. And that ‘minor detail of how he collected the estimated 1,877,920 species from around the world, including penguins from Antarctica and kangaroos from Australia. And where did the floods, which were higher than Everest, drain to? She also revels in contemplation that Noah and his family had to be the human hosts for tapeworms, lice and scabies, and must have had malaria, dysentery, sleeping sickness and toxoplasmosis.
There’s a brilliant article too by Jonathan Rée which looks at Bertrand Russell, who died in 1970, aged 97. It looks at his privileged background, his mathematical brilliance, his denunciation of Christianity, his pacifism, his friendship, and falling out, with D.H.Lawrence and Wittgenstein, and his brief periods in prison.
Venomous racism underpinning colonialism
An excellent article by Kenan Malik looks at the origins of the First World War and shows shocking racism as at the heart of the colonial world structure in the years leading up to the war. Robert Knox in his 1850 book The Races of Man chillingly wrote: ‘Destined by the nature of their race to run, like all other animals, a certain limited course of existence, it matters little how their extinction is brought about.’ At the turn of the century, future US president Theodore Roosevelt wrote in The Winning of the West about the struggle between whites and the ‘scattered savage tribes, whose life was but a few degrees less meaningless, squalid and ferocious than that of wild beasts.’ Roosevelt insisted that the elimination of such peoples would be ‘for the benefit of civilisation and in the interests of mankind’, adding that it was ‘idle to apply to savages the rules of international morality that apply between stable and cultured communities.’
The London Times editorialized in 1910 that ‘The brown, black and yellow races of the world’ had to accept that ‘inequality is inevitable’ because of the ‘facts of race’.
Malik shows that racial ideology provided the ‘moral’ grounding for imperialist expansion, together with economic and political necessity. In the mid-nineteenth century Britain’s navy was as large as all other navies put together. Between 1874 and 1902, Britain added 4,750,000 square miles and 90 million people to her empire.
Malik notes of the Opium Wars that they were the nadir of British 19th-century gunboat diplomacy. When the Chinese Emperor cracked down on the British trade of opium, four months later the British gunboats arrived: ‘Britain launched a war in effect to enforce its right to be China’s pusher of choice.’
Yes, all of the above and much, much more in the summer edition of New Humanist
Another excellent publication is ‘Ethical Record: The Proceedings of the Conway Hall Ethical Society’. Its May 2014 edition has a superb record of a lecture by Paul S. Braterman, Professor Emeritus, University of Texas, on creationism, intelligent design and the assault on science.
Braterman opens by urging people to support the BHA campaign to combat creationism, including creationism in publicly funded schools in the UK. His lecture proceeds to show why such action is necessary, looking at documented efforts by creationists to present themselves as offering an equally plausible explanation of the universe to school children in State-funded schools.
He notes that there are different varieties of creationism, the most virulent being Young Earth creationism, based on biblical literalism. Then there is Old Earth creationism, which tries to reconcile biblical stories with reality by regarding ‘days’ of creation as indefinite periods. Third comes Intelligent Design. Fourth is epistemological creationism (we’re so brainy, we can’t be the result of natural selection). Fifth comes God of the Whole creationism: the deity made the universe and its laws. There are also others which don’t fit neatly into any of these categories and, observes Braterman, ‘individual creationists often move between these, making rational discussion difficult’.
How should we respond?
Braterman suggests we ask creationists whether they accept the fact of common descent and what age they assign to the earth. He urges us not to be complacent but he doesn’t favour debating with young earth creationists as it can lend them visibility. He is pleased that the Vatican has accepted the material fact of evolution and notes that the Church of England has formally apologised for its treatment of Darwin.
The Open Society, Journal of New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, March 2014, is mainly devoted to the issue of religion on schools, a situation we are very familiar with in Ireland.
Report by Joe Armstrong