HAI e-Newsletter June 2014

e-Newsletter June 2014
In this issue:

First Sunday Meeting Report – May 4th
Proinsias De Rossa, who was an MEP for 15 years, spoke to his theme of ‘The European Commission is not God — Why the Next European Commission President needs to be a Humanist’.
In the course of his address Proinsias pointed out that the EU has been a significant driver of advances in human rights generally, including the rights of those with a secular philosophy. For us as humanists, how the philosophical views  of the members of the European Parliament and the members of the Commission, and of its President in particular, affect decision-making are of critical importance. He emphasised the need for all European citizens to engage with the development of the EU mission and objectives and quoted the report of Italian MEP Roberto Gualtieri, which discussed the EU’s constitutional problems, on the need for the “… legitimacy of a political Union should not merely be based on input and output, on process and results, but also on a moral narrative, a compelling vision for the future“.
From its inception the EU has acknowledged the Christian heritage of Europe. However during the negotiations in the ‘European Convention on the future of Europe’ (2003-2004), from which the Lisbon Treaty was derived, and in spite of strong opposition, a reference to our ‘humanist heritage’ was also included in the Preamble. Other provisions refer to diversity, the right to no religion, tolerance etc.
In addition Article 17 (TFEU) along with Declaration 11 confirms that the Union equally respects the status under national law of philosophical and non-confessional organisations as well as religious associations and churches, while placing an obligation on the Commission to engage in dialogue with these bodies. The implementation of this article has not so far been very satisfactory largely because of the reluctance of those opposed to dialogue with secular organisations.
However, some complaints have been effective at the EU level. For example the Association Européenne de la Pensée Libre (Europe) complained in 2012 to the European Ombudsman that the representation on a committee on science and ethics (EGE) established by the Commission was not independent or pluralist; nine of the 15 members were theologians or clerics and mostly Roman Catholic. While the European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly declared in her judgement in February this year, that there was no ‘maladministration’ she nevertheless called on the European Commission to review how it selects members of this ethics committee and that: “At the time of the renewal of the composition of the EGE, the Commission could consider clarifying in the call for expression of interest that religious or personal beliefs are not taken into account for the selection and that ‘secular’ candidates are invited to apply”. This illustrates both the need for vigilance by Humanists, and that action can effect change.
Proinsias also pointed out that a disturbing development throughout Europe at the moment is the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, and especially the re-emergence of the use of religion as a marker of national identity. This ideology, driven by fear, is destructive of society and the opposite of how we need to respond to the loss of democratic control and accountability of supra-national economic forces.  He reminded us that the late President Mitterrand addressing the European Parliament (17/1/1995) foresaw the danger when he warned that we had to overcome our past, otherwise we would face the re-emergence of nationalism, and declared that “nationalism  is war”.
A further example of the growth of reactionary elements is their capacity in the European Parliament  to block the advancement of human rights when they recently helped defeat the Edite Estrela Report (December 2013).  Her report — on behalf of the Women’s’ Rights Committee of the EP — sought among other things to draw attention to the restriction on sexual health and reproductive rights in the EU, including in Ireland.
Prionsias concluded his talk by suggesting some ways in which the HAI could monitor the EU Parliament’s voting record and the Commission’s activities on issues which are important to the HAI, including the possibility of registering with the Department of the Taoiseach to participate in the dialogue process under Article 17 (TFEU).
The discussion was wide-ranging and expressed the view of many members present that the EU seems remote and complex and that there is a need for much more information; news organisations do not allocate sufficient resources to this task, and tend to focus on ‘conflict’ rather than on clarifying the issues being debated in the EP.
The meeting was chaired by Philip Byers, Board member with responsibility for Community, Finance and Education. Philip thanked Proinsias De Rossa for guiding us through the complexities of the EU and the generation of policy and its implementation, and presented him with a first-day cover of the new Darwin stamp. 
Report by Alan Tuffery

Humanist Chaplain at the National Famine Commemoration
Joe Armstrong, Humanist Chaplain and Celebrant, represented the HAI at the National Famine Memorial Day Commemoration in Strokestown, County Roscommon, on 11th May 2014.
Joe pictured with his wife, Ruth and An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny
This event was attended by the Minister for Arts and Chair of the National Famine Commemoration Committee as well as other politicians, several members of the clergy and An Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
A musical interlude followed the readings and prayers offered by the clergy. The programme then called for ‘Reflection by Mr. Joe Armstrong of the Humanist Association of Ireland.’ Joe read a poem entitled ‘Famine’ which he wrote specifically for this event. As soon as Joe had completed reading his poem, Enda Kenny made his address.
Joe’s participation was well received and he was complimented for his poem by several members of the clergy as well as by Enda Kenny himself. A job well done!
by Joe Armstrong
Famine. Famine. Can I imagine it?
Famine. Either a feast or a famine.
Feasts I know. But famine?
Work drying up, the closest I know. Money tight. Or doing a fast, perhaps.
But famine. Famine!
Hunger. I’ve been peckish for a meal. But everyday persistent aching hunger?
Hunger. Countrywide hunger. A nation on its knees.
Beggared. The shame of hunger. Unasked for. Not chosen.
Crops fail. Shock. Fear. Courage! We are strong.
Crops fail again. And again.
Soup kitchens. Food parcels. No money for rent.
Bodies shrink. Tall emaciated figures on Custom House Quay in Dublin: our ancestors.
Children dead.  Relatives dead. Neighbours dead.
The boat to England, America, anywhere away from this godforsaken land of hunger and famine.
Can we imagine it?
Report by Nic Johnson

21st Birthday Event Galway – October 11th-13th
A celebration of all that the HAI has achieved since 1993, the 21st Birthday Event is being organised by members of Humanists West. The theme is secular primary education and will feature talks and workshops.
You will receive an invitation with more details shortly, but in the meantime, please make sure to save the date, and to think about booking accommodation.
The Salthill Hotel, the venue for the conference, has quoted the following rates for bed and breakfast per night for the weekend of the conference:
€119 for a double/twin room
€89 for a single room.
Phone Number  091 522711.
Guests should ask for the Humanist Conference rate.
There are a number of B & Bs in the area and the average cost would be €70 per double room per night.
The B & Bs on Threadneedle Road are within walking distance of the Conference Venue, the Salthill Hotel.

News Bytes
From the Irish Times
Eileen Gamble tells us what it is like to come out as a lesbian teacher in the classroom
From the National Secular Society in Britain
From the Wall Street Journal
Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes about the Islamist war on women’s rights

Taking a Stand: Saturday 7th June
HAI member, Brendan Maher’s information stand at the GPO is going strong with positive reaction from people on the street. You’ll find Brendan and other HAI members outside the GPO on the first Saturday of every month from 12 – 2 pm. The stand gives information on secularism, humanism and atheism.  If you’re around Dublin city centre this Saturday, 7th, be sure to drop by and say ‘Hello!’

Chaplaincy news
The Humanist Chaplaincy was contacted by Prof. Fiona Timmins, Associate Professor, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin to request a meeting with us. Fiona was aware of the HAI’s work in the area through an HAI member and wanted to engage in discussions about the Humanist views on
spirituality; Fiona has responsibility for the ‘Spirituality Interest Group (SIG)’ at Trinity School of Nursing.
Nic Johnson and Ann James attended a talk on ‘Meaning of Spirit in Viktor Frankel’s Logotherapy’ by Stephen Costello, Director of the Institute of Logotherapy in Ireland, at Fiona’s invitation. They had already met with Fiona and agreed to present a talk on spirituality and Humanism (working title: “What are the ‘spiritual’ needs of patients who are not religious”?) as part of the Tell me about series of talks. Nic and Ann will also present a shorter version to the SIG in September. It is hoped that further awareness, understanding and respect for the views, rights and expectations of those with no religion, whether Humanist, atheist, agnostic or simply ‘leave-me-aloneist’, will be an outcome, as well as mutual understanding all round.
The interest and growth of potential for Humanist chaplaincy continues.

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 0781803640.
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.

A Brief History of Failed Prophecies
A Brief History of Failed Prophecies‘ is a brilliant article by David V Barrett. In just five concise pages, this wonderful lecture/article torpedoes so many nonsensical ‘prophecies’ out of the water. Written with a deadpan pragmatic style, it could be regarded as the last word on supposed prophets and prophesies from any source.

Martin Luther expected Jesus’ return 300 years after his (Luther’s) time – but 1830-1850 came and went: no Jesus. John Wesley predicted 1836. Unsurprisingly, he too was wrong. According to Barrett, even Sir Isaac Newton got in on the predicting lark, expecting the Last Judgement would come in 1948 or 2060.

Pity the poor old Jehovah’s Witnesses, regular predictors of the end. Their founder, Charles Taze Russell, predicted 1874. Subsequently his followers predicted 1914, 1925, 1941 and 1975. Russell’s successor, Joseph Rutherford, bellowed in 1920: ‘Millions now living will never die!’ – another red hot prophesy running out of steam.

Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons, predicted Jesus’ return in 1832. And Barrett assembles many more crackpot theories of the End.

And of course the early Christians, such as saint Paul, believed that Jesus would return in his own day, and hence his advocacy of celibacy: what was the point of marrying when the End of Time was expected any day. Perhaps someone might whisper that to the pope and ‘allow’ his celibate clerics to wed.

Barrett has an astute summation of the excuses offered by failed prophets about theirs or their heroes’ prophesies, including ‘we never said that‘ to ‘god in his mercy stayed his hand‘ to ‘people’s faith was not strong enough‘ to ‘we got our calculations wrong – he’s coming next year’.

A brilliant article.
A Brief History of Failed Prophecies‘  was a lecture to the Ethical Society, delivered on 12 January 2014 and published in the most recent edition of the ‘Ethical Record: The Proceedings of the Conway Hall Ethical Society’, Vol. 119 No.4 April 2014.
Other articles include a provocative one entitled ‘Godless and broke: making secular groups less middle class,’ by Alex Gabriel; and an interesting deconversion experience ‘From Fundamentalist Christian to Agnostic Atheist‘ by James Peter Jandu.Literature review by Joe Armstong

Publication of Bill to Eliminate Discrimination against People with Disabilities
Senator Katherine Zappone’s new Bill, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2014, was published on 13th May.The purpose of the Bill is to reform the sexual offenses law to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities and ensure that people with disabilities have the same freedom to consent to sexual activity as people without disabilities while also providing protection from sexual abuse.

The Bill repeals the existing discriminatory law that criminalizes sexual activity of people who are mentally impaired unless they are married to one another (section 5, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993).

This Bill was created in response to a call to action by self-advocates/Disabled People’s Organisations, and was researched by Doctors Eilionoir Flynn, Anna Arsteinkerslake of the Centre for Disability and Law at NUIG and Dr Brian Hunt in consultation with self-advocates.

For the first time in Ireland, an accessible Summary in every day language has been published by Senator Zappone to accompany the Bill’s formal publication. You can download a copy from Senator Zappone’s website and also find links there to the Bill and Explanatory Memorandum 

Contributions from Members
If you have news items, stories, or links you would like to share with other HAI members in this e-Newsletter, please send them to [email protected] for possible inclusion by the 27th of the month.
Humanist Association of Ireland  •  34B Royal Terrace West  •  Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin Ireland