* Humanist Perspectives: issue 168, Spring 2009

Humanist Perspectives: issue 168, Spring 2009

Issue 168, Spring 2009

cover of issue 168


The Elephant in Your Child's Bed by Henry Beissel
Beissel explains how he lost faith in a God of Love. It was shaken by the horror of terrorist air raids on civilian populations during WW II. Investigating existential questions and the answer given by different religions, he came to the conclusion that not a shred of evidence supports the existence of any supernatural entity. At best, these religious explanations are nursery stories to provide a crutch for fearful people. if now that we have grown up we don't throw such illusions overboard and "replace them with ethical imperatives appropriate to our times, we shall surely perish by our own hands."

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The Protection of Canadian Sovereignty by Don Page
In this footnote to Murray Thomson's "militarism" article (HP #166, Autumn 2008, pp.6-14) argues that Thomson overlooks the need for Canada to defend its sovereignty, as is clearly demonstrated by the current disputes about territorial rights in the Arctic.

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The Bus to Everywhere by Julie Breeze
This is an account of the protest movement against public proselytizing by various religious groups. It started in London (UK) with an ad placed on public buses stating that THERE'S PROBABLY NO GOD: NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY LIFE. In the process of telling the story of how Humanists and Freethinkers succeeded in getting the Ottawa City Council to allow the same ad on OC Transport buses, Julie Breeze discusses the various problems the atheist campaign encountered in other cities in Canada and elsewhere in the world. She sees it as part of a growing movement of non-believers which has grown from 1% of Canada's population 40 years ago to at least 23% today.

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Symbolic Democracy by Morgan Duchesney
In this examination of the state of our democracy, Morgan Duchesney argues that "we have a democratic system that is designed to create the impression that the government is accountable to voters" while in reality "the desires of the majority of voters are intentionally marginalized and subtly dismissed in favor of the requirements of concentrated economic power like transnational corporations." He gives numerous examples in the actions of the government, including from the Prime Minister's Office, the House of Common's Standing Committee on Defense, the Canadian Federal Budget in 2004 and 2007, to the Creation of the Conservative Party. He concludes "that Canada and the U.S. are governed largely by a system of false or symbolic democracy" and this situation can only be changed if, as is the case in many countries in South America, the electorate insists on electing "governments that actually respond to voters' expressed desires with some degree of consistency."

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Beliefs for the 21st Century: A Humanist-Evolutionist Creed? by Denys Ford
This essay provides a condensed account of how life evolved over the last 3 billion years and how "ethical" behavior evolved alongside in support of the survival of different life forms. He shows that the guiding ethical principle "in primitive nomadic tribal life demanded cooperation rather than aggressive 'me-first' attitude." This was replaced "ten thousand years ago, when agriculture superseded hunting and gathering by the brutish dictates for the conquest and defense of land, and the employment of slave labour." Denys Ford argues that it is time to return to an ethic of cooperation which "needs to be a commitment to improve the journeys of all of us and our descendents."

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The Nazi Pope by William Harwood
In a withering attack on the Roman Catholic papacy that uncovers its age-old hypocrisy, William Harwood asks the question: Was criminal insanity a job requirement, or simply an advantage? He lists past popes who have been atheists, murderers, adulterers, tyrants and money-grabbers while preaching in public against these "sins". He charges John Paul II with increasing the number of pedophiliacs in the priesthood to 70% while "the future Benedict XVI, as Grand Inquisitor, ordered a worldwide cover-up", and takes the Church to task for banning such essential scientif developments as birth control and stem cell research.

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The End of Cosmology by Lawrence M. Krauss and Robert J. Scherrer
The authors, both distinguished American scientists, reflect on the fortuitous situation in which astronomy and astrophysics finds itself at this stage in the evolution of the universe. "A dramatic discovery almost a decade ago" has shown that the universe is not only expanding but the expansion "appears to be speeding up." Scientists attribute this fact to the activity of "dark energy", the consequences of which make the universe "a very inhospitable place" that "resembles an inside-out black hole, with matter and radiation trapped outside the horizon rather than inside it." The speeding-up of the expansion will mean that eventually all galaxies will disappear beyond the event horizon so that future astronomers could not longer observe the evolution of cosmic space and would therefore be unable to inquire into its origins and history. The question arises what "other fundamental aspects of the universe are unobservable today" that may in time become accessible and lead us to discover that "our current careful and apparently complete understanding of the universe is seriously wanting."

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A Poet's Voice: by Harold Rhenish
Seven poems represent the distinguished poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, translator, dramatist and editor, Harold Rhenish, who regards poetry as "a dance between body and intellect." The poems include reflections on "The Old Poet in Venice", as well as "Pillow Talk" and a "Root Cellar Song for Washboard and Cricket." Rhenish has twice won the Malahat Review Long Prize, the CBC Literary Prize and the George Ryga Prize. He lives in Campbell River on North Vancouver Island.

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Life, Culture and Religion by You-Sheng Li
These are comparative reflections on the nature of religion and its influence on civilization and culture as against civilizations which are more influenced by philosophy. You-Sheng recalls his childhood in China where once the beauty of the countryside inspired the awe and humility essential to ethical behavior. He suggests that it is time for Chinese society, now in the grip of Western-style commercialism, "to revert to the moderate philosophies of Taoism and Confucianism that shun greed and are based on compassion with love and respect for all humans."

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Does Secularism Imply Religious Neutrality? by David Rand
While "the secular State must be neutral in matters of religion," argues David Rand, "it cannot "remain neutral in the operation of its institutions. Indeed, it must reject any and all supernatural and pseudoscientific hypotheses as well as all religious dogma, in its institutional decision-making." He critically examines such assertions as Secularism is respectful of religious beliefs and Secularism has nothing to do with atheism, and declares that "far from being incompatible with secularism, non-belief, atheism and antireligious criticism are essential aspects of it."

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In Praise of Rational Discourse by John K. Nixon
This essay takes its cue from Voltaire's alleged maxim: I may disagree with what you have to say but I shall defend to the death your right to say it. John Nixon discusses the fact that dogmatic Christianity has curtailed freedom of expression for centuries and that only with Darwin's On the Origin of Species was a "major crack" made in this history of intolerance. Since then we have made steady progress until today "in most successful democracies freedom of expression, both spoken and written, is constitutionally guaranteed." He affirms his "faith in the future of mankind" so long as "reason prevails in discussions between humans on the major issues facing us."

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In addition, Humanist Perspectives, offers a lively "Letters-to-the-Editor" section as a thoughtful review of Clive Doucet's Urban Meltdown by Roy LaBerge.