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.

Article: On being post-theological | Psychology Today

On being post-theological | Psychology Today
an essay by David Noise, President of the American Humanist Association.

"Of all the ways I've heard humanism described, one of the best was when someone referred to it as a post-theological lifestance. That is, humanism is best understood as a worldview that transcends theology altogether, as not just another alternative in the supermarket of American belief systems.

The "post-theological" concept requires a big-picture view. Since the term itself implies chronological stages, we should first take note that most animals can be accurately described as pre-theological. That is, most animals have never attained the brain capacity to contemplate deep, theological ideas. Even your pet dog, which is comparatively one of the smartest animals in the world, does not ponder many profound philosophical questions as he sits on your back porch.

The human animal, of course, unlike other animals, is not pre-theological. Since humans evolved from earlier primates, at some point in our development we left the pre-theological stage and entered the theological stage. This happened when our distant ancestors developed the brain capacity to ask and contemplate big questions. Where did I come from? What is this place, and how did it get here? What caused that thunder? Why has it not rained lately? What happens when we die? And so forth.

Importantly, we should realize that it takes a remarkably intelligent animal, with very impressive brain capabilities, to ask such deep, abstract questions. But we must also realize that, having asked such questions, our ancestors were not able to accurately answer them - and thus was born theology. (It's noteworthy that humans were not the first animal to exhibit theological thinking - there is evidence that our Neanderthal cousins had primitive beliefs and practices that we might consider religious.)

Struggling through life with such deep questions, seeing famine, disease and death all around, filled with fear and anxiety, our distant ancestors needed answers to these big questions. Therefore, lacking the scientific knowledge that could provide explanations, all human societies developed answers of their own. Though the explanations varied from one society to the next, the general notions of creation myths, supernatural entities, beliefs about death, etc., were common.

Not surprisingly, as the human animal moved from hunter-gatherer to more settled civilizations within just the last 10,000 years or so (a sliver of time on the larger scale of human development), institutions were constructed around the primitive theological ideas that had already been circulating for many millennia. And with the development of writing, those ancient myths and explanations could be more permanently memorialized. Thus was born the holy text.

So how does the concept of being post-theological fit in? Well, if humans entered the theological stage by developing the brain capacity to ask big questions, we can understand the post-theological stage as resulting from our acquiring enough knowledge to finally answer many of those questions.

Starting in just the last few hundred years (a miniscule sliver of time), the human animal has begun to answer many of the deep questions that our ancestors have been asking for many millennia. Surely we haven't answered all of them, but in the span of a few generations we have quickly filled in many of the gaps in knowledge, enough to give us a real sense of where humans fit within the space and time of the universe.

We don't need creation myths anymore, because we have a pretty good understanding of how the Earth formed and how life evolved. We also know that our planet is not the center of the universe - nor is our sun, nor is our galaxy. Though we can throw out numbers to describe the vastness and age of the universe, most of us are incapable of fully comprehending the true enormity of those numbers, yet we at least understand that each is staggering.

We know, for example, that scientists say the universe began with a Big Bang perhaps 13.7 billion years ago (give or take a few hundred million years); that our insignificant planet (more insignificant than we can imagine in the universal scheme) formed about 4.5 billion years ago; and that our species, homo sapiens, came into being little more than 200,000 years ago.

We don't know what, if anything, caused the Big Bang, but there is no evidence to suggest that it was some kind of "super-being with intent." In fact, we know that intent itself is something that comes from a brain, and that a brain is a product of (not a cause of) the natural world. Moreover, even less plausible is the notion that a "super-being with intent" has revealed Absolute Truth to ancient prophets, as many major world religions claim.

The post-theological individual is not deprived of the positive benefits that were derived from theology. From a naturalistic, post-theological standpoint, there is lots of room for awe, wonder, and profound thinking. As Carl Sagan said, each of us is stardust, so humans can be seen as a way that the universe observes itself. Little wonder that most humanists see Sagan as having more profundity and veracity than any biblical prophet.

And from this naturalistic, humanistic standpoint, there is plenty of room for a life of purpose and doing good. In fact, since this one life is our only certainty, the need to live in such a way is more compelling, certainly a better motivator than fear of eternal punishment from an angry mythological God.

With the need for theological explanations of the natural world eliminated, many good, ethical people simply see theology itself as unnecessary. Defenders of theology will play the morality card, suggesting that without supernatural beliefs we will become immoral. But alas, observations of the natural world have demonstrated that the inclination to live by rules and standards is common in social animals, including humans. Our capacity for morality is innate. Of course, our capacity for immoral behavior is well documented as well (even in the most religious of societies), so it's important that we create a social structure that encourages ethical behavior and the positive aspects of humanity.

Because religious institutions are so ingrained in our culture, they of course still offer social benefits to many. A church, mosque, or synagogue can be a place for community and charity, a place for ceremonies like weddings and funerals. To many, religious institutions offer tradition, cultural continuity, and perhaps a place to find peace of mind through ritual, meditation, and contemplation.

But more than ever, many now achieve these ends without institutions or beliefs grounded in supernatural theology, by instead utilizing humanist organizations, secular institutions, or other means to fill such needs. These people find peace, mindfulness, goodwill, community, ethics, perspective, and culture without the assistance of theology or religious institutions. These people are post-theological, and many of them are humanists".

HAT MONTHLY MEETING: March 12, OISE: The Muslim Queer Community

HAT MONTHLY MEETING:  Sat. March 12, 1:30-3-m
LOCATION:  OISE, 252 Bloor Street West, Room 5-160
SPEAKER:   Mr. El-Farouk Khaki of the Salaam Muslim Queer Community will be our guest speaker.

The Queer Muslim Community of Toronto is an organization dedicated to Muslims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual and/or transgender, as well as those questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, and their friends.

HAT Forum Saturday February 22 OISE 11am, "Prayer"

HAT FORUM, Saturday February 19, 2011, 11am - 1pm,
OISE, 252 Bloor Street West, Room 2-198
TOPIC:  Prayer and reason

What benefits do people get from prayer? Is it just begging?

Happy Darwin Day 2011!

Happy Darwin Day!
Don't forget the Monthly Members Meeting, 1:30pm this Saturday, for a special screening of  "Darwin, the Voyage the Shook the World".

Saturday, Feb. 12, 1:30pm - 3pm,
OISE, 252 Bloor Street W,  Room 2-212
“Darwin: The Voyage that Shook the World”  - a documentary and a discussion.

All welcome! 

News Comment: Bill Maher | Obama Not Christian

DARWIN DAY MEDIA BITE: When someone says they don’t think President Barack Obama is actually a Christian, the expectation would be that they think he’s secretly a Muslim. Not Bill Maher. On tonight’s Real Time, in the process of arguing that Obama’s not really a centrist politically, Maher also revealed that he doesn’t think Obama’s actually Christian, either, but rather a secular humanist
(comment: well, his mother was a secular humanist - we can hope! :-)

HAT Book Group: Sunday March 6, 11:30am, OISE:

HAT Book discussion group
DATE: Sunday, March 6th, at OISE, 252 Bloor Street W, from 11:00 am to 12:30pm.
BOOK: Last 2 parts of A fair country: telling truths about Canada by John Ralston Saul, 2008.

In this startlingly original vision of Canada, thinker John Ralston Saul unveils 3 founding myths. Saul argues that the famous "peace, order, and good government" that supposedly defines Canada is a distortion of the country's true nature. Every single document before the BNA Act, he points out, used the phrase "peace, welfare, and good government," demonstrating that the well-being of its citizenry was paramount. He also argues that Canada is a Metis nation, heavily influenced and shaped by aboriginal ideas: egalitarianism, a proper balance between individual and group, and a penchant for negotiation over violence are all aboriginal values that Canada absorbed. Another obstacle to progress, Saul argues, is that Canada has an increasingly ineffective elite, a colonial non-intellectual business elite that doesn't believe in Canada. It is critical that we recognize these aspects of the country in order to rethink its future.

Please bring your choices for our next book (possibly a work of fiction) to this meeting

HAT Forum, Sat Feb 12, 11am-1pm. Questioning Egypt

HAT FORUM: Sat. Feb 12, 11am-1pm.
LOCATION: OISE, 252 Bloor Street W, Room 2-198
TOPIC: Questioning Egypt

What are our "National interests" in the situation in Egypt and the surrounding Arab world?
What might be our personal hopes for the region?
How could we encourage an alignment of these interests and progress towards their achievement?

Event: Panel Discussion on Free Expression, Pen Canada, Feb 25

Event:What We Talk About When We Talk About Hate
A panel discussion about hate speech, censorship, and free expression.
Moderated by Steve Paikin of TVO's The Agenda.
Date:  February 25, 7pm Tickets $10 at the door.
Location:  Toronto Reference Library Atrium, 789 Yonge St.

Literature: What is Stephen Harper Reading project ends with 100th book

The Saskatoon author Yann Martel, who was sending the prime minister a new book every two weeks is ending the project dubbed 'What is Stephen Harper Reading?'
In the four years of his campaign he had shipped 100 books for Harper to read, and he said that was a good number to end on.  Mr. Martel paid for the books and the shipping himself.  He wrote and enclosed a personal letter with each book. However, Stephen Harper did not respond to him, even once.
You can see the list of books and all the letters on Mr. Martel's website - and it might make a good list for a book club discussion project.

Darwin Week: Watch BBC's Darwin's Dangerous Idea online

Hosted by BBC political commentator, Andrew Marr, this three-part series  celebrates the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of  Species and examines the dramatic impact that Darwin’s work has had on  religious, scientific, political and social debates. (all 11 segments are posted on this Youtube channel, in 10 minutes sequences)   See the Gravitationalist channel for the other segments..


Thursday February 10, 2011, 5 - 7pm; OISE, 252 Bloor Street W, UT Library
Refreshments Provided, Wheelchair Accessible

This forum aims to address the ongoing tensions surrounding religion and LGBTQ sexualities in schools and society. The need for such a forum has been magnified by the tragic suicides and increased bullying of queer youth as well as the debates over establishing gay student organizations and offering sex education curriculum in schools. These events have prompted many to look at the ways in which institutions of education and faith can play a stronger role in creating more supportive and affirming spaces for LGBTQ youth, adults, and families.

Confirmed Panelists
Paul Marai - Trustee; Halton Catholic District School Board
Jen Gilbert - Associate Professor, Faculty of Education; York University
Tyler Pennock - Aboriginal Recruitment Officer; University of Toronto
Suhail Abualsameed - Coordinator, Salaam, Queer Muslim Community
Scott McGrath - Chair, Annex Shul

- thanks for info from HAT member Doug!

What If?.. lecture series | Hart House Feb 1- Mar 15

What If?... | Hart House
Thru February and March, Hart House presents 'What if…?, a provocative series of prompts intended to generate conversation, ignite discussion and question our deepest values and sense of self, culture and the environment.

'What If… ?”' is modeled in part after Northwestern University's student initiative Ask Big Questions, a website launched to explore campus culture at its core through 'big questions.' Every two weeks throughout February and March, Hart House invites students and the campus community to gather in the Map Room Studio and join live conversations on CIUT. This is your chance to explore 'What if…?' in the context of conscious conversation, thoughtful and challenging discussion and mind-opening dialogue. Free pizza lunch will follow.

Feb 1, 12-1 p.m.: ‘Nature is our best hope?’ featuring Dennis Patrick O Hara
Feb 15, 12-1 p.m.: ‘All strangers could be our friends?’ featuring Lucy Fromowitz
Feb 28, 12-1 p.m.: ‘There was no fear’ featuring Professor Mark Kingwell
Mar 15, 12-1 p.m.: ‘Technology didn't shape our lives?’ (Guests to be confirmed)

note to Humanists: Feb 28 is Prof. Mark Kingwell, philosophy professor, atheist, author (A Civil Tongue: Justice, Dialogue, and the Politics of Pluralism), former chair of Popular Culture at the ROM - etc.
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.