September 2009

Seems like we are all over the campuses this week! Aside from the debates happening at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University, we will also have a member of our group speaking at St. Paul’s as well.

Dave Burton (aka: Humanist Dave) will be representing the HAO and the humanist world view on a panel featuring representatives of many religions, hosted by the Dialogue with Diversity (DwD) and Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution (CICR). The Question to the panel will be:

How Can All These World Religions Promote Peace?

  • Buddhism
  • Hinduism
  • Sikhism
  • Judaism
  • Christianity
  • Islam
  • Humanism

Here is a list of all the panelists:

  • Michael McIntyre
  • Shiv Jindal
  • Roman Mukerjee
  • Rula Odeh
  • Jonathan Wouk
  • Aisha Sherazi
  • Ravi Singh
  • Brenda Vellino
  • David Burton
  • Qais Ghanem (Moderator)

The event will take place on Wednesday, 23 September, 2009: 7:00 – 9:30 pm

Auditorium, 2nd floor, Guigues Hall – free admission
St Paul University, 223 Main St, Ottawa

Info: – (613) 265-4654
Part of the Third Ottawa Peace Festival, 2009:

This week there will be two campus debates happening over the age old question:

Is There a God?

Pastor Joe Boot will be presenting the Yes side of the argument and speaking on behalf of Campus for Christ. Professor Ronald De Sousa will be in the No corner, and speaking on behalf of the Humanist Association of Ottawa and the Carleton University Freethought group.

Here are the details for the two debates (it would be great to see a strong humanist,atheist,freethinking presence to give support):

Tuesday September 22.
The Ottawa University debate starts at 7:30
Location: Tabaret Lawn

Wednesday September 23.
Carleton University debate starts at 7:00
Location: Kailash Mital Theatre

Here is a little more detailed look at the two debaters:

Pastor Joe Boot (bio)

Professor Ronald De Sousa (bio)

As humanists, we are always trying to establish ourselves as good moral people with a strong and positive philosophical foundation. In the last few posts on this blog many have been echoing that it would be nice to get beyond the issue of secularism and atheism and instead try to move into higher level discussions on the larger and more important aspects of our philosophy.

I couldn’t agree more, but I can’t say that there is still not a PR battle raging at the very core of our philosophy that keeps pulling us back. Today I came across this promotional video for a campus campaign that various creationist groups are firing up led by Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort:

I am posting this because I actually think it does more for our point of view than it does for theirs. I thought it would be interesting to post this video here with another video (I have posted before) promoting the campaign for the other side of this debate right beside it to try and show the differences/similarities in tone and approach:

Try and put yourself in the shoes of different types of students from different upbringings and imagine how you would make sense of this. Leave any thoughts in the comments

I realize this is an age-old question for secular humanists, and the knee jerk reaction to the question is the answer: Both, stupid! But I think it would be interesting to know the priorities of the group, or at least those that spend time online.

This could be a long discussion, and much of the important debate is likely to come out as we go along, so let me be brief as devil’s advocate.

While the secular is what brought me to look at HAO (and HAC) over the years, it was the humanism that kept me near by. The advocacy for atheism is of interest philosophically, but less interesting as a practical measure in terms of everyday work.

Secularism and an insistence in the separation of church and state is not about preaching non-belief in a deity. Primarily it is about ensuring that non-believers (and other beliefs) have their democratic space and that public institutions do not advocate belief or non-belief. That is primarily a humanist and democratic project, not an “atheist” project.

Much of my work has been in the peace and disarmament area over the decades, or in global governance areas. During that time, I have found that there has been an ample contribution by both humanists and religious people that share common ground. In many cases the common ground has been virtually identical. I have never really had a conflict with a religious person working in these subject areas over a point of principle. (In fact the most recognizable and well-respected organization in the peace area in the country is Project Ploughshares, an ecumenical coalition of religious organizations.)

While on occasion, we might joke about philosophical positions, the discussion has always been civil and among friends.

So perhaps this subject is relevant in any discussion about merging HAO with another entity. Will the humanism be triumphant?

The most recent “Ask the Religious Experts” question strikes me as strange:

New Age religions or lifestyles tend to cater to the individual. Is something missing in the individual approach to religion?

I thought I would pose the question to our group not only to offer answers to the question asked, but to determine if it is even a fair question to ask. I am curious as to whether most new age lifestyles or religions are actually focused on the individual as the question claims. I am also skeptical of the second half of the question, because I think it could be argued that traditional religions are also very much centered around the individual as well. For example: many hardcore Christians in North America gravitate towards right wing political parties that espouse personal responsibility over social programs.

Does anyone have any thoughts on individualism and how it manifests itself differently when comparing religious people to secular humanists? Are the religious actually less individualistic than humanists and other new age groups?

From CRIPE, via Richard Thain, a letter to the editor printed in the Brantford (Ontario) Expositor:

School’s back in. Again, this year, my children will not be attending the closest publicly funded elementary school to our home. Instead, I will be loading them up in the car and driving them about one mile to the next closest school; a school which teaches exactly the same curriculum. Why? An ancient constitutional anomaly, written during a time when slavery still existed and when women could not vote, gives the Catholic school system in Ontario the absolute legal right to discriminate in admissions to elementary schools and in employment of teachers at all levels based solely on one’s religious beliefs.

In our case, the local Catholic board chose to deny admission to my children because of this. In some cases, if you are lucky enough to apply at an under-enrolled school, your non-Catholic children may be accepted because of the blessed enrolment grants that come with them. We all carry the same tax burden, but two thirds of Ontarians can legally be discriminated against because of their religion. Shame!

During our daily drive to school, we see numerous school buses. Many of these buses are transporting kids past one publicly funded elementary school in their neighbourhood to another one outside their neighbourhood. We are being asked to “save the planet” with pointless policies such as idling bylaws while this environmental travesty is allowed to continue. Shame!

It doesn’t need to be like this. With a simple bilateral agreement with Ottawa, Ontario can amend that section of the constitution that gives Catholic people in Ontario a separate publicly education system. With a single secular school system in place, thousands of school busses would be gone from the roads, tens of thousands of kids (including mine) would be walking to school, and, by ministry estimates, hundreds of millions of dollars a year would be saved.

Shame on all of us for allowing this to continue.

Peter W. Jones


The picture above is a statue located in Toronto in the gardens of a Czechoslovakian community center, designed to commemorate those that suffered under the Russian communist rule. I decided to scour the net to try an find a picture of it after reading this article in the Ottawa Citizen:

NCC board approves monument to victims of communism

Apparently the NCC has approved a proposal to build a statue in Ottawa that aims to represent the same issue. Many involved in the proposal are confused at the acceptance of the proposal due to an ongoing debate as to what it is to represent specifically. The key questions that are being struggled with are:

Is the statue, to represent and commemorate:

  1. People that suffered under communist rule?
  2. People that suffered under totalitarianism?
  3. Canada as a refuge for people fleeing oppressive regimes?
  4. All of the above?

Communism may be seen as a system that has led to atrocities in the past, but it is still a political viewpoint that is acceptable to have in Canada. We have a Marxist/Leninist Party in this country that is active. It has been pointed out that a national version of this statue undermines their party unfairly. It is particularly lame that the Citizen refers to this statue as:

…to commemorate the victims of some kind of communism.

This wording seems inappropriately vague. A national monument focused on victims of Communism should refer to the specific communist regimes directly as opposed to in general. One commenter wisely pointed out that communism is actually an economic system, not a political one. It is this problem that has lead the discussion towards the thing that actually facilitates the oppression we are all opposed to: totalitarianism.

The problem with turning to totalitarianism is that it is not exclusive to communist systems. Many have suffered under fascist rule, and many under theocratic rule. Canada has made itself available as refuge for people coming from all of these scenarios. Would it be acceptable to have a statue in the capital that symbolized the oppression of people under totalitarian Islamic theocracies? I ask you to imagine the uproar that would ensue over such a thing. Taking it even further, it would not be false to say that in the past that Christianity was also the source of totalitarian oppression making this slope even more slippery.

Designs for the national version of this statue have not yet been presented. Once the exact purpose of the statue is determined a competition will be held, and the best design will be selected.

I would like to submit humbly that I would not like to see it inspired by the Toronto statue. While the Toronto statue has been erected in a particular community park, I do not think it would be appropriate for use in conveying a national position.

The Toronto statue is inspired by the image of Christ on the cross. While the intention was likely metaphorical, I feel that this seems to imply that Christianity is the force that helped people overcome this oppression by fighting it or providing the refuge from it. This is very gracious to the christian, but unfortunately, most secular citizens of Canada also strongly oppose totalitarianism, and have also played a large role in combating it. Many other Canadians from faith backgrounds other than Christianity have also done the same. I think a national version of the Toronto statue would be more than inappropriate, it would be insulting.

Commemorating 100 million people that perished is a cause worth pursuing, but a national statue built to represent it will inevitably send two messages. The first will be one of sympathy and compassion for those that suffered, and the other is a vilification of those that oppressed. It is crucial that the first message illustrates the compassion of all Canadians, and that the second message be aimed at the right villain, regardless how specific or abstract that villain might end up being.

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