The Humanist Association of Toronto provides a focus of activities and discussion for Humanists in the Toronto area. Please note: HAT events are open to the public, and views expressed do not necessarily represent the official views of the Humanist Association of Toronto. For all public statements, educational events, media enquiries, please contact the webeditor, who will forward your enquiry to our Spokesperson.
The Humanist Forum meets Saturday morning 11am-1pm
The Monthly Meeting the 2nd or 3rd Saturday at 1:30pm (TBD)
The Steering Committee meets 1st Wednesday, 7pm
The Book Group meets monthly.

OPINION: Religion, Ponzi Schemes, and tribalism

Two recent US news events shed more light on the sociological role of religion as tribal identity in contemporary society.
1) We know that Madoff flogged his ponzi scheme to Jewish investors, in Florida and worldwide, who trusted him. We now learn that "Sir Allen" Stanford and James Davis not only sold his 8 billion security fraud to Southern Christian leaders, but "Mr. Davis was also known as a deeply religious man, opening many Stanford Financial meetings with a prayer that Stanford executives would make the right investment decisions, according to another former financial adviser". It is pointed out that this is probably linked to the "Prosperity Gospel" proponents, such as Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen. (aka Lottery Ticket Christians - God wants you to drive a gold mercedes.)

2)But the god-fearing seem also spend quite a bit on ungodly things. A Harvard Business Study (analysing credit card receipts) determined more online porn is watched by conservative and religious states. "Some of the people who are most outraged turn out to be consumers of the very things they claimed to be outraged by," Edelman says.

Humanists often have interesting and intelligent discussions about the history of religion, philosophy, ethics and the enlightenment, and other ways to look at religion as a liberal art. But sometimes it's important to note that religion less an intellectual, moral guide, than it is merely a class-based tribal identity, useful for selling insurance, finding a business partner, marrying your children inside the tribe, and selling pesticide; most of the pesticide companies, as well as the MLM home-marketing companies are run by Mormons in Utah - and most of your sushi comes from the Moonies, btw. The massive competing Korean churches in Queens NY are known for their business networking events - with entertainment by the Korean gospel choirs singing black spirituals... This isn't any different than my Irish catholic relatives antics as ward bosses in 1890, of course.

Considering the Christian States addiction to online porn, despite their railing against the decline in 'moral values' among their liberal neighbors, it's useful to examine the treatment of women when you analyse tribal identity among religions. We know that the more conservative religious communities forbid access to sex ed and family planning (but not to Viagra!). This is often a technique to keep women "barefoot, uneducated and poor" - and HOME, of course.

A Chinese muslim was asked on a BBC documentary why the tribe did not apply for electricity, like the city across the river. He answered: "if our women see these things, they will leave us". A secular muslim friend once told me that the utility of hijab is "to save your sister for your second cousin - before anyone on the outside gets a chance". It seems to have worked for few hundred years, and keeps the property in the family, and the women at home. Tidy, that.

However, there are rumbles, even in the cultural/religious tangle of FGM. See this disturbing article on the movement in Sierra Leone to free women from Female Genital Mutilation - and the tribal revenge enacted upon the brave reformers.

Speaking for myself only (SFMO), - the webeditor.

NEWS: AHA: Summum decision will allow new lawsuits

In Wake of Summum, Humanists Will Target Ten Commandments Monuments

In the wake of today's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Pleasant Grove City v.Summum, 07-665, the American Humanist Association announced it has been given just what it needs to pursue the removal of 10 Commandments monuments on public property all over America.

"The unanimous decision of the Court is clear," said Bob Ritter, legal coordinator for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the AHA. "A permanent monument owned by a government entity and located in a public park is a form of government speech. Given this, such a monument isn't permitted to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And we humanists are ready to argue that 10 Commandments monuments in U.S. public parks are unconstitutional government
endorsements of religion."

Justice Samuel Alito, in his opinion on behalf of the majority, wrote: "government speech must comport with the Establishment Clause. The involvement of public officials in advocacy may be limited by law, regulation, or practice."

NEWS: Obama reverses US position on LBGT rights at UN

UN DISPATCHby Marc Goldberg.
In late December the United Nations General Assembly held a symbolic vote on a statement calling for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality. France spearheaded the resolution, which was a 13 point declaration "to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention." The statement received 60 votes in support, mostly from Europe and South America. Opposing the resolution, were the United States, the Holy See, and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. At the time, the Bush administration couched its objection to the measure in legal technicalities.

That was then, This is now: At the so-called "Durban Review Conference" on racism and xenophonia underway in Geneva, Europe again put forward language condemning “all forms of discrimination and all other human rights violations based on sexual orientation.” According to UN Watch, "The Czech Republic on behalf of the E.U., with the support of New Zealand, the United States, Colombia, Chili on behalf of the South American states, the Netherlands, Argentina and a few others, took the floor in support."

The efforts to include language on discrimination based on sexual orientation ended up failing for lack of support from non-western countries. Still, it's relieving to see that the United States is now back on the side of the enlightened on this issue of basic human rights. (No information on Canada's vote).

EVENT: Humanist Canada lectures at Innis April 18

Humanist Canada is launching its first lecture series this spring in the form of an exciting bicentennial Darwin Day celebration! This special event will be in the form of a debate series with speakers discussing such hot topics such as ethics, sexuality, genetic engineering, and immortality, as they relate to science, humanity, faith, and morality. The event will take place at Innis Hall at the University of Toronto campus at 6:30 pm SATURDAY APRIL 18, 2009

The debaters are Dr Christopher diCarlo and Michael Coren and the speakers include: Dr Jean Saindon, Assistant Professor, Division of Natural Science & Philosophy and George Dvorsky, board director at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, who speaks on the scientific, political and social issues surrounding human biotechnology. Full details and registration information coming soon!

EVENT: Justin Trottier and the Bus Campaign

Saturday March 14, 2009 1:30 pm OISE Room 4 - 414 Monthly HAT Meeting presents
Justin Trottier - The Bus Campaign
We are pleased to welcome Justin Trottier, Executive Director for the Centre for Inquiry Canada, who will join us to talk about The Bus Campaign: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life".

How and where did this campaign start? How did it come to Canada? What cities are involved? What kind of reactions, positive and negative, has the campaign generated? Is this in fact a form of "preaching?" Is this a good use of humanist money? Come and share your questions and comments.

ARTICLE: Kepler Mission launches Mar. 5

From Chris Bowers, at OPENLEFT. "At 10:48 p.m. eastern, on Thursday, March 5th. It is a new satellite called The Kepler mission, which is NASA's first major attempt to find Earth-like planets around stars other than our own. By continually monitoring the light produced by 100,000 stars in a distant area of the galaxy, and by utilizing the transit method of extrasolar planet detection, functionally it is a poll that will provide us with a statistically sound sampling of solar systems in our galaxy. Specifically, the Kepler mission aims to accomplish all of the following:

Determine how many terrestrial and larger planets there are in or near the habitable zone of a wide variety of spectral types of stars

**Determine the range of sizes and shapes of the orbits of these planets
Estimate how many planets there are in multiple-star systems
**Determine the range of orbit size, brightness, size, mass and density of short-period giant planets
**Identify additional members of each discovered planetary system using other techniques
**Determine the properties of those stars that harbor planetary systems

While Kepler will not be monitoring stars within even 1,000 light years of our own, and thus won't be detecting any Earth-like planets with which we could ever hope to communicate, it will let us know what we can expect to find in all solar systems other than our own, including those systems closest to us...

After Kepler, the search for nearby exoplanets will really heat up with projects like The James Webb Space Telescope and the EU's Darwin Mission. It honestly seems possible that we will know, within the next twenty years, whether or not there are Earth-like planets in any neighboring solar systems. If there are intelligent civilizations on any of those planets, it is unlikely that any of us will be alive to take part in conversations with that civilization. Still, this is an amazing feat, and at least one reason to be excited about the future."

Happy Birthday, Charles!

Happy 200th Birthday!
(and happy birthday to my son-in-law Alan in Toronto - who is the same age as Darwin in the picture). Here is the YOUNG Darwin, of Beagle voyage age - we so often see the older Darwin in pictures. Let's offer encouragement and hope to young scientists and thinkers and rationalists and humanists of TODAY - that they have the curiousity, and courage, and support of all of us, on their own voyages to make the world a better place for all -- and that "social Darwinism" is not used as an excuse for abandoning the quest for a more humane and sustainable planet for all its habitants - bi-pedal, opposable thumbed - and otherwise endowed. (Mary, speaking for me only, or SFMO). Happy Birthday!

Manhattan Court recognizes Canadian Gay Marriage

"The potential impact of this first decision by an elected New York surrogate recognizing a same-sex marriage contracted out-of-state is huge". GayCityNews

New York County Surrogate Kristin Booth Glen issued a decision on January 26 recognizing the Canadian same-sex marriage of J. Craig Leiby and the late H. Kenneth Ranftle.

Contrary to a ruling issued last year by Queens County Surrogate Robert Nahman, who expressed doubt about whether a Canadian same-sex marriage would be recognized in a New York probate proceeding in the absence of a ruling on the question by the Appellate Division for the 2nd Department, in which Queens County is located, Surrogate Glen expressed no such reservation, even though the there is similarly no ruling yet by the Appellate Division for the 1st Department, which includes Manhattan.

Rather, applying established principles of New York marriage recognition law and citing the 4th Department's decision from last February 1 in Martinez v. County of Monroe, Glen concluded, "Mr. Leiby is decedent's surviving spouse and sole distributee," so there was no need for formal notification of Ranftle's surviving siblings about the pending probate proceeding regarding the will he left. Glen signed the probate decree, allowing Ranftle's last will and testament to go into effect.

In last year's Martinez case, an Appellate Division panel unanimously ruled that Monroe Community College must recognize the Canadian marriage of one of its employees and accord her lesbian spouse health benefits.

Under the state's Estates, Powers and Trusts Law, a surviving spouse of someone who dies without a will automatically inherits the entire estate, if the deceased had no children. If there are surviving children, they receive half of the estate, the spouse the other half.

DARWIN: 5 minute JOOST video

Joost is like Youtube. Here is a simple 5 minute video about Darwin from the "Need to Know" channel, that you can send to your friends on Darwin Day - or any time.

Also - check the blog Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary at the left - they publish a section of Darwin's diary each day on the same date as the diary.

EVENT: Oswego, NY New Darwin Oratorio Feb 6

World premiere of 'Origin' - a new oratorio on Darwin, by composer Richard Einhorn -- known to some Humanists as the blogger from the progressive American blog, Digby's Hullabaloo

The Origin, his new oratorio about the life and work of Charles Darwin, will have its world premiere at SUNY Oswego on Feb 6/7 in time for the 200th anniversary of the famed figure’s birth.

Texts for The Origin is drawn mostly from the published writings, notebooks and letters of Darwin, with a brief appearance by his wife, Emma. The words were compiled and arranged by poet Catherine Barnett and Einhorn.

You can read about the progress of the Oratorio, and see some musical clips on Digbysblog and Artswego As WCNY is involved, we may eventually be able to see the work on PBS.

Here is an excellent post by Einhorn on Darwin.

Conducted by Dr. Julie Pretzat, the multimedia production features Kitka, a Balkan vocal ensemble, soprano Jacqueline Horner of Anonymous 4, tenor Todd Graber, bass Eric Johnson and SUNY Oswego’s College Choir, College-Community Orchestra and Festival Chorus. Evocative video images by New York City filmmaker Bill Morrison will create the visual backdrop for the action.

EVENT: Writing Workshop with Don Cullen

Don Cullen is initiating a writing workshop, to begin in March (dates pending). If you are interested, please call Don at 416-533-6192. Participants will be asked to submit one page samples of poetry, short fiction, or essays with a Humanist perspective.

EVENT: Book Club Discussion "Things Fall Apart"

The next Humanist Book Discussion Group meets on March 1 from 11:00 to 12:30 at OISE (Room TBA - for info, email WebAdmin

We will be discussing the classic African novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe: It is a short book and there are many copies available at the Toronto Public Library. "Achebe's masterpiece tells the story of Okonkwo, strongman of an Ibo village in Nigeria, as he witnesses the destruction of his culture and the loss of his own place within it."

News: Order to take off niqab pits law against religion

The Star
A judge has ordered a Toronto woman to testify without her niqab at a sexual assault trial – raising the thorny issue of whether Muslim women should be allowed to appear as witnesses wearing a veil that covers everything but the eyes. The issue is a collision of two rights, pitting religious freedom against the right of a defendant to face an accuser in open court.

The case could be precedent setting because it doesn't appear there is any Canadian case law addressing the question of Muslim women in the courtroom. In Canada, home to about 580,000 Muslims, the case will be closely watched, amid fears about Muslim women coming forward in criminal cases.

In October, Ontario Court Justice Norris Weisman reached his "admittedly difficult decision" to force the complainant to testify with her face bared after finding her "religious belief is not that strong ... and that it is, as she says, a matter of comfort," he wrote in his ruling.

EVENTS: CFI events for February

FEB BOOK CLUB: ORIGIN OF SPECIES BY CHARLES DARWIN. Monday (NOT Thursday), February 9th, at 7:00 - 9:00 pm. We will focus only on the first half (chpts 1-7)

FILM SCREENING, FEATURING INHERIT THE WIND (1960) Thursday, February 12th, 7:00 - 9:00 pm

Friday, February 13th, 7:00 - 9:30 pm
THE PHILOSOPHY & SCIENCE OF THE MATRIX: PART 2, ON SCIENCE Saturday, February 14th, 5:00 - 7:00 pm
A Transhumanist Association Meetup. Everyone is welcome.

Saturday, February 14th, 7:00 - 9:00 pm. Is this the future of life?

Sunday, February 15th 2009 at 11:00 am - 4:00pm
Location: Gladstone Hotel 1214 Queen St West, Toronto, In the main hall.
NOTE: The art will be on display at the Centre for Inquiry Monday, Feb 16 - Friday, Feb 20 (1-9pm) and Saturday (1-5pm). Please call ahead 416-971-5676.
An exhibition that engages and explores the fringes and outsider perspectives of those beyond and on the borders of spirituality and religion.

The third Saturday of each month, 1:00-5:00pm, continuing Feb 21 Forum: 1:00 - 2:30 pm. This is an informal event for discussion and socializing. Film begins at 3:00pm. Currently screening Penn & Teller's Bullsh!t and Myth Busters.

These events are open to the public, and sponsored by the Center For Inquiry at 216 Beverly Street. Note: there are fees for some programs.
HAT meetings are free and open to members and the public. Call (416) 966-1361 for location information. ___________________________________________________
The Humanist Forum meets Saturday morning 11am-1pm.
The Monthly Meeting, is usually the second Saturday at 1:30pm; specifics should be found on this blog.
The Steering Committee meets the first Wednesday of each month, at 7pm.
The Book Group usually meets on the first Saturday afternoon of the month.