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.

EVENT: Reminder, Innis Lecture, April 18

"Join Humanist Canada (HAC) on Saturday April 18 at Innis Town Hall at the University of Toronto campus for a lively and thought-provoking symposium on the evolution of ethics. Five prominent speakers, from both the Christian and Humanist communities, will discuss and debate some of the hottest issues today including: abortion; gender; homosexuality; animal rights; and biotechnology. Our panel of award-winning speakers includes: Christopher diCarlo (critical-thinking activist, professor of Philosophy of Science and Bioethics); Michael Coren (Christian writer, radio and TV host); George Dvorsky (futurist, transhumanist, animal rights activist); Tony Costa (public speaker, Campus for Christ); and Jean Saindon (professor of Natural Science and Technology).

Tickets are $15 for HC members, $25 for non-members, and $10 for students. Delicious appetizers, desserts, and drinks are included. Speaker profiles and registration details are on the Humanist Canada website at: Please register by April 15.

Article: FAC transit ads on TTC

Doug Thomas of SOFREE comments on the FAC ads.

A while ago the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) began to display ads placed by the Freethought Association of Canada (FAC) repeating those on the London, England transit system – “There Probably Is No God. Stop worrying and enjoy your Life.”

The TTC did not insist on the word probably, but FAC chose to include it because FAC felt a better debate would result. At the same time Humanist Canada (HC), aka the Humanist Association of Canada ran an ad saying, "We Can be Good Without God," in a high-traffic Toronto subway station.

Local fundamentalists reacted predictably. Apparently attacking non-believers is fine, but any glimmer of a positive presence from those same non-believers is not. According to Kathy Meidell, Executive Director of HC, they have received dozens of negative phone calls and emails mixed in with new inquiries about HC and applications for membership.

A panel discussion, regarding the ads, on TV Ontario’s (TVO) "The Agenda" was revealing. The pro participants included Justin Trottier, president of FAC, Dr. Robert Buckman, author of We Can Be Good Without God, and Greta Vosper, chairperson of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity.

Kathy Shaidle, conservative Catholic blogger (fivefeetoffury), and Dr. Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, responded on the con side. The pro side emphasized the notion of promoting dialogue and of moving nonbelievers more into the mainstream of ethical debates. The con side seemed to emphasize the fears of chaos threatened by such ads...

...So, the ads sparked debate. Religious fundamentalists have responded in predictable ways – fear and loathing. However, Trottier, Buckman and Vosper are correct; positive dialogue is occurring. One United Church responded with an ad of its own: "There probably is a God. Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life."

News: Anti-Gay Evangelist appointed to Immigration Board

Doug Cryer, former director of public policy for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, has been appointed to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).

Cryer's appointment has many people worried because of statements that he made publicly in 2006 on, where he said that the church has a right to say that homosexual behaviour is sinful, just as it can say that adultery is sinful. "It is part of God's teaching," he said, though he was also critical of a church that mass-mailed a homophobic pamphlet which included an article titled The Plague of this 21st Century: The Consequences of the Sin of Homosexuality (AIDS). "This kind of brochure helps to reinforce the negative stereotype of Christians," Cryer said at the time.

During his time at the Evangelical Fellowship, Cryer actively campaigned against same-sex marriage, arguing that it could have a "negative impact on children."...

(When) NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow submitted Access to Information (ATI) requests for the selection criteria, she was given pages of blacked-out notes that were unusable.

"He does not have any in-depth experience on any immigration and refugee issues," Chow says. "From his CV, he has no experience serving on the tribunal or connected with administrating the law, so I can't see how he would qualify to be an Immigration and Refugee Board member." Chow also suggests that Cryer's appointment is likely because he was a failed Conservative candidate, having run in the 2004 general election as the candidate for Wascana in Saskatchewan, and that he previously served as the legislative assistant to a Conservative MP.

NEWS: Red Cross makes it official - US Tortured at Guantanamo

US interrogators attached detainees to collars like dogs and used their leashes to slam them against walls, forced them to stand for days wearing only diapers, and tied detainees necks with towels and threw them against plywood walls, according to accounts in a secret 2007 report issued by the Red Cross to be printed in a New York magazine and leaked on Monday.

The report -- issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross and kept secret for the last two years -- is the first first-hand document to legally say the Bush Administration's harsh interrogation techniques "constituted torture." They strongly imply that CIA interrogators violated international law.

The Red Cross was the only organization to get access to high-value detainees that were transferred to Guantanamo Bay from secret prisons US in 2006. It contains accounts from the prisoners, who were held in different locations but offered remarkably uniform tales of abuse at the hands of US agents.

Techniques amounted to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," the report states. Such treatment is explicitly barred by the Geneva Conventions.

NEWS: CofHE reports Turkish Journal editor sacked for Darwin article

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports The editor of a scientific journal published by Turkey’s state-run Scientific and Technological Research Council has reportedly been removed from her post for commissioning a March cover story on Charles Darwin to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the naturalist’s birth. The council’s vice president, who is also a member of the magazine’s editorial board, “removed the story from the journal and put an article about climate change on the cover instead,” the Turkish daily newspaper Hürriyet reported.

Dozens of university students and professors protested the council’s action outside its Ankara headquarters today, the Associated Press reported. The country’s secularists suspect the governing party, which has its roots in political Islam, is seeking to raise the role of religion and promote the Muslim version of creationism.

Turkey occupies a “central position in the creationist movement” outside the United States, Hürriyet noted in an earlier article.

Turkey’s main, secular opposition party has filed a parliamentary motion over the apparent censorship, but Hürriyet reported that the research council’s president had “left the media’s questions largely unanswered.” —Aisha Labi

News: Non-religious population rises in US

The percentage of Americans claiming no religion, which jumped from 8.2 in 1990 to 14.2 in 2001, has now increased to 15 percent. Given the estimated growth of the American adult population since the last census from 207 million to 228 million, that reflects an additional 4.7 million "Nones." Northern New England has now taken over from the Pacific Northwest as the least religious section of the country, with Vermont, at 34 percent "Nones," leading all other states by a full 9 points.

"Many people thought our 2001 finding was an anomaly," Keysar said. We now know it wasn't. The 'Nones' are the only group to have grown in every state of the Union."

The percentage of Americans who call themselves Christians has dropped dramatically over the past two decades, and those who do are increasingly identifying themselves without traditional denomination labels, according to a major study of U.S. religion being released today. The "American Religious Identification Survey" is conducted by researchers at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. Conducted in 1990, 2001 and last year, it is one of the nation's largest major surveys of religion.

The survey of more than 54,000 people conducted between February and November of 2008 showed that the percentage of Americans identifying as Christians has dropped to 76 percent of the population, down from 86 percent in 1990. People calling themselves mainline Protestants, including Methodists and Lutherans, have dropped to 13 percent of the population, down from 19 percent in 1990.

Northern New England has surpassed the Pacific Northwest as the least religious section of the country; 34 percent of Vermont residents say they have "no religion." The report said that the country has a "growing non-religious or irreligious minority." Twenty-seven percent of those interviewed said they did not expect to have a religious funeral or service when they died, and 30 percent of people who had married said their service was not religious. Those questions weren't asked in previous surveys.

Interesting graphs via USA today

- So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, "the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion," the report concludes.

- Catholic strongholds in New England and the Midwest have faded as immigrants, retirees and young job-seekers have moved to the Sun Belt. While bishops from the Midwest to Massachusetts close down or consolidate historic parishes, those in the South are scrambling to serve increasing numbers of worshipers.

- Baptists, 15.8% of those surveyed, are down from 19.3% in 1990. Mainline Protestant denominations, once socially dominant, have seen sharp declines: The percentage of Methodists, for example, dropped from 8% to 5%.

- Jewish numbers showed a steady decline, from 1.8% in 1990 to 1.2% today. The percentage of Muslims, while still slim, has doubled, from 0.3% to 0.6%. Analysts within both groups suggest those numbers understate the groups' populations, though 'Cultural Jews' (non-religious) are included in the general Jewish numbers.

- nearly 2.8 million people now identify with dozens of new religious movements, calling themselves Wiccan, pagan or "Spiritualist," which the survey does not define.

Article: Chimp evidence animals can plan events

BBC: A male chimpanzee in a Swedish zoo planned hundreds of stone-throwing attacks on zoo visitors, according to researchers. Keepers at Furuvik Zoo found that the chimp collected and stored stones that he would later use as missiles.

Further, the chimp learned to recognise how and when parts of his concrete enclosure could be pulled apart to fashion further projectiles. The findings are reported in the journal Current Biology.

There has been scant evidence in previous research that animals can plan for future events. Crucial to the current study is the fact that Santino, a chimpanzee at the zoo in the city north of Stockholm, collected the stones in a calm state, prior to the zoo opening in the morning. The launching of the stones occurred hours later - during dominance displays to zoo visitors - with Santino in an "agitated" state.

...Dr Osvath embarked on the study after zoo staff discovered caches of stones in the section of the enclosure facing the public viewing area. Since the initial discovery in 1997, hundreds of the caches have been removed to protect visitors, to whom the caching and the aggressive displays seem strictly related; in the off season, Santino neither hoards the projectiles nor hurls them. Most interestingly, Santino seems to have learned how to spot weak parts of the concrete "boulders" in the centre of the enclosure... Santino was observed gently knocking on the "boulders", hitting harder to detach bits that were loosened and adding those to his stashes of ammunition.

There are a number of examples of complex behaviour in apes that suggest forms of consciousness...This suggests that Santino was anticipating a future mental state - an ability that has been difficult to definitively prove in animals, according to Mathias Osvath, a cognitive scientist from Lund University in Sweden and author of the new research.

News: Oxfam: Iraqi women lack basic services

Iraqi women 'lack basic services'; spiral of violence and poverty. BBC

This survey was released for International Women's Day

Women in Iraq still lack security and basic services, despite an overall drop in violence six years after the US-led invasion, aid agency Oxfam says. Reporting on a survey of about 1,700 women in five provinces taken last year, Oxfam described their plight as a "silent emergency". It suggested more than half the women had suffered from violence.

A quarter did not have daily access to water supplies, and more than three-quarters were not getting pensions. Last month, Iraq's minister for women resigned, saying the government was not taking the plight of women seriously.

Oxfam said: "Iraqi women are suffering a silent emergency', trapped in a downward spiral of poverty, desperation and personal insecurity despite an overall decrease in violence in the country." More than 20% of widows had been victims of domestic violence.

A third of all women surveyed said members of their families had died violently. Across the country, security improved in 2008, but most women still said that personal safety was their biggest concern. Almost half said health care provision was worse in 2008 than the two previous years, and almost half of respondents said they were getting poorer.

One widow, Nadia Hussein, told the BBC she found work as a housekeeper after her husband was killed, but the men tried to have sex with her. Her nephew also beat her regularly.

Women's rights campaigner Hana Adwar said the hardest thing was getting the widows to think that they deserve better. "The majority feel that this is the will of God, they have to obey the right of their families."

News: Vatican upholds 9-year old rape victim excommunication

Vatican defends Brazil excommunication
March 8, 2009, 6:40 am AAUPNews

[Happy International Women's Day - SNARK]

A senior Vatican cleric has defended the excommunication of the mother and doctors of a nine-year-old girl who had an abortion in Brazil after being raped by her stepfather

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Catholic church's Congregation for Bishops, told the daily La Stampa on Saturday that the twins the girl had been carrying had a right to live. "It is a sad case but the real problem is that the twins conceived were two innocent persons, who had the right to live and could not be eliminated," he said.

Re, who also heads the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, added: "Life must always be protected, the attack on the Brazilian church is unjustified."

The row was triggered by the termination on Wednesday of twin foetuses carried by a nine-year-old allegedly raped by her stepfather in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco.

The regional archbishop, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, pronounced excommunication for the mother for authorising the operation and doctors who carried it out for fear that the slim girl would not survive carrying the foetuses to term. "God's law is above any human law. So when a human law ... is contrary to God's law, this human law has no value," Cardoso had said.

He also said the accused stepfather would not be expelled from the church. Although the man allegedly committed "a heinous crime ... the abortion - the elimination of an innocent life - was more serious".

News: TorontoSun cover the HAC Subway Campaign

Humanists See light at the end of tunnel" - Toronto Sun

Nice to have a little even-handed publicity - and to be called a philosophy rather than something subversive

"First atheist bus ads, now humanist subway posters.
Transportation advertising in Toronto is getting another dose of philosophy for riders to chew on with Humanist Canada's new poster at the Queen's Park subway station.

The poster states, "You can be good without God," and directs people to the organization's website.

"Our slogan does not support or oppose any religion or theology," said Humanist Canada president Pat O'Brien in a press release. "Humanism is neither a religion nor a theology and the fact that a person can live a moral life, without deferring to any deity, has been recognized and accepted by religious and secular communities."

Since it was put up last week, the poster has drawn both positive and negative reaction, he said. "We're all about free speech and I think all the ideas out there should be available for people to look at so they can make an informed decision," O'Brien said, adding the same posters were rejected in Halifax and Vancouver last month.

Event: Humanist Film Series, April - May

Sunday March 22, 3:00-6:00: monthly film screening and discussion.
Film: Contact
Location: Center for Inquiry Ontario, 216 Beverley St.
Jody Foster plays an astronomer who has been a lifelong atheist finds signals sent by intelligent life from another planet. The resulting events bring her into conflict with influential religious figures.

Sunday April 19, 3:00-6:00: monthly film screening and discussion
Film: The Milagro Beanfield War
Location: Center for Inquiry Ontario, 216 Beverley St.
A conflict over water between local people and a big developer blows up in a small New Mexico town.

Film series sponsored by HAT. Free admission, open to all.

Article: Christian Salt (not Lot's wife)

RESAPTOWN, Md. - You've heard of kosher salt? Now there's a Christian variety.

Retired barber Joe Godlewski says he was inspired by television chefs who repeatedly recommended kosher salt in recipes.

"I said, 'What the heck's the matter with Christian salt?'" Godlewski said, sipping a beer in the living room of his home in unincorporated Cresaptown, a western Maryland mountain community. By next week, his trademarked Blessed Christians Salt will be available at Ingredients Corporation of America.

It's sea salt that's been blessed by an Episcopal priest, ICA President Damon S. Arney said Wednesday. He said the company also hopes to market the salt through Christian bookstores and as a fundraising tool for religious groups.

Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, kosher administrator for the Chicago Rabbinical Council, said marketing Christian salt as an alternative to kosher salt reflects, at best, ignorance about Jewish dietary laws. He said all salt is inherently kosher because it occurs naturally and requires little or no processing...Chefs often favor kosher salt because it's crunchy and easy to pinch.

Godlewski said his salt, packaged in containers bearing bright red crosses, has at least as much flavor and beneficial minerals as kosher salt - and it's for a good cause. "The fact is, it helps Christians and Christian charities," he said. "This is about keeping Christianity in front of the public so that it doesn't die. I want to keep Christianity on the table, in the household, however I can do it."

If the salt takes off, Godlewski plans an entire line of Christian-branded foods, including rye bread, bagels and pickles. Food industry consultant Richard Hohman, of Tampa, Fla., said Christian branding is a clever idea that could do well in the Bible Belt.

But Christine Johnson, managing editor of the trade journal Christian Retailing in Lake Mary, Fla., said marketing channels are limited. Although Christian scripture candy and Christian fortune cookies have won shelf space in some Christian bookstores, "there's a very, very small market for Christian-type foods," she said
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.