Dec 06

Mandela passes the torch to us

mandelawaveThe Malta Humanist Association wishes to show its appreciation for Nelson Mandela, a man whose life was a beautiful inspiration for millions. Rising from a time of cruel rule and harsh discrimination, he not only ended this discrimination, but rose above retribution and led a country through a difficult time of soul-searching, forgiveness and reconciliation, a force of healing that spread far beyond the borders of South Africa. His “retirement” was characterised by efforts to promote AIDS awareness and to combat war and poverty. Speaking about the African concept of Ubuntu, in which humanism plays an important role, Mandela said “It does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question is, are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve. These are the important things of life, and if one can do that you have done something very important that will be appreciated”. Mandela has now passed the torch of Ubuntu on to us.

Nov 11

Does Malta need sentencing guidelines?

One of the glaring problems that plague Malta's court system is the extreme inconsistency in sentencing. It's very common to have two crimes where the more serious crime gets a laughable slap on the wrist while the other, less serious crime gets a harsh sentence. We've had attempted murderers let off with a paltry €200 euro fine (later appealed and changed to a short prison term) while someone growing a small number of cannabis plants was given a shocking 11 year prison term. Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 07

Meeting with MEP Roberta Metsola

581898_125972350938918_180390777_nMHA committee members Raphael Vassallo and Ramon Casha had a meeting with MEP Roberta Metsola (PN/EPP) today. Roberta contacted us for a meeting while she was in Malta, after we got in touch concerning a European Parliament vote concerning freedom of religion. The meeting was very helpful to get to know each other and for us to explain our position on a number of issues that affect us as humanists.

As it happened, although our meeting was planned some time ago, it took place right before European Council President Hermann Von Rompuy was set to address the Maltese parliament over the recent events tied to immigration, and this was one of the topics we discussed. Other topics included discriminatory laws and practices in Malta, our plans to train celebrants and the issues concerning funerals for non-religious people, and our involvement in the development of an Ethics curriculum for schools.

Dr. Metsola invited us to stay in touch and keep her informed of our concerns, as there are more commonalities than differences between us.

Oct 25

Malta University Humanist Association set up

The Malta University Humanist Association was launched today at a meeting in the University common room during which a statute was approved and a committee selected. MUHA is an affiliate organisation of the Malta Humanist Association and will be run by students for students and staff.

The need has long been felt for a secular, humanist association at university, to represent students who are humanists, to provide some balance in view of the numerous religious organisations, and to encourage critical thinking. The university is a natural place for lively debates, for challenging the status quo, for applying reason to problems. The new association promises interesting times at Malta's highest educational institution.

University students interested can join this facebook group.

Sep 13

Id-Dikjarazzjoni ta’ Oxford dwar il-Libertà tal-Ħsieb u tal-Espressjoni

In English

Il-Kungress Dinji Umanista tal-2014, li seħħ f’Oxford mit-8 u l-11 t’ Awwissu 2014, adotta din id-dikjarazzjoni dwar il-Libertà tal-Ħsieb u tal-Espressjoni:

Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 27

Are you being Persecuted?

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Aug 24

What’s wrong with the Bible?

Abraham and Isaac Laurent de La Hire, 1650People sometimes ask me, how can I be moral without God? Of course, if someone needs the threat of punishment or the promise of reward in order to do what one should, that’s not really morality. Even a career criminal will walk by an opportunity to commit a crime if there’s a policeman watching. However, a much more pertinent question to me is, how does God provide morality? Think well before answering “The Bible”, because as far as moral guides go, it leaves much to be desired. I honestly believe the Bible to be an extremely immoral book.

Many people are familiar with the film The Ten Commandments by Cecil B. DeMille, which brought the story of Exodus to the silver screen - it was a major undertaking, with special effects that were ahead of their time. We see the story of Moses, his half-brother Rameses, and the previous Pharaoh’s daughter Nefertiri, whose jealous lust for Moses led her to harden Pharaoh Rameses’ heart against the Israelites repeatedly, causing God to punish the Egyptians over and over. There’s just one problem - this woman Nefertiri is absent from the Bible. It was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and then punished him along with all the Egyptians for having a hard heart. The film’s director, DeMille, apparently didn’t feel that the Biblical story was fair, so he invented a woman to take the blame. Oh, and when God decided to kill all the firstborn of Egypt, the film changed the story a little bit so that it turned out that Pharaoh himself chose what would happen to the Israelites, God merely deflected it back to the Egyptians, in an impersonal karma-like fashion. DeMille probably didn’t intend it this way, but essentially what he did was to judge God’s actions and find them immoral.

Earlier on in the Bible, Abraham heard a voice in his head telling him to kill his son. Without so much as asking “are you sure?”, Abraham tricked his son, took him to the mountain, tied him up and got ready to kill him. Thankfully a stranger (or “angel”) stopped him and convinced him that he had shown his devotion to God and didn’t need to kill his son after all. In 2001, Andrea Yates heard voices in her head telling her to kill her children. She took them to the bathroom and drowned all five of them. No stranger magically appeared to stop her. This happened again and again - Dana Hooper, Melanie Ruddell, Amber Hill, Sharon Dalson, Deanna Laney, these and others are names of mothers who killed their children after hearing voices in their head encouraging them to do so. In some cases, they believed that God was testing them, and they had to show the very same resolve and devotion as Abraham. They were tried in court, some were found guilty, some declared insane. Nobody praised their devotion and willingness to obey voices in their head unquestioningly, so why not apply the same standards to Abraham?

Becoming an atheist was not a sudden Eureka moment for me, it was a process of learning and understanding which included, amongst other things, a critical re-reading of the BIble. At the end I was forced to choose between believing that the Biblical god did not exist, or else that he was evil as well as illogical. I chose the former.

The Bible is full of shockingly immoral stories attributed to God. One particular characteristic is his vicious temper. Ok, so most people in the world had become evil - was it necessary to kill everyone by drowning them? And what about the animals? Were they evil too? This wholesale slaughter for the sins of a few repeats itself many times - Sodom and Gomorrah were supposedly destroyed - even to the very trees, God was very explicit that the trees had to be destroyed - for what a few had ostensibly done. The only one who was saved was a man who had just offered up his own daughters to be raped by a mob, and who impregnated both of them within a few days. In the Exodus story, the first born - even babies - paid the price for the hard-heartedness of the Pharaoh (whose heart had been hardened by God in the first place). This attitude is even reflected in the New Testament, where Jews are made to say that they accept upon themselves and all their descendants the responsibility for Jesus’ death - and which led to countless attacks against Jews because of this immoral idea of punishing children for the sins of their ancestors.

The story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt is often touted as an example of how the Bible abhors slavery - but if one keeps reading, among the first things that these Israelites did after escaping from slavery is to take slaves of their own from the other tribes they met - and they were bloodthirsty indeed. When they encountered the Midianites, the Israelite mob fell on the men and slaughtered them. When they returned to Moses, he was angry with them - for leaving the women and children alive. He sent them back telling them to kill every woman and every boy - and if they found any virgin girls, those they could keep for themselves. Imagine being enslaved, probably as a sex slave, by the very same man you’d seen killing your mother and father and baby brother. This is not a part of the story that you’re likely to hear in Sunday mass.

In the Bible you will find instructions about what price a man should expect when selling his daughter as a slave. It demands the death penalty for a woman who cheats on her husband, though a man could have as many wives, concubines and slaves as he wanted. And if a man rapes an (unmarried) girl and gets caught, he merely had to pay a price - thirty shekels - to the father and gets to marry the girl. I can’t imagine a girl being too thrilled at the prospect of marrying and spending her life with her rapist.

It’s pretty obvious to anyone who’s read the Bible that any society built upon Old Testament rules would be hellish, immoral and evil. Even Jesus himself often challenged what used to constitute God-mandated morality, such as in the story of the adulteress who was about to be stoned to death (another charming Biblical tradition). And yet, even in the New Testament, while there’s a marked improvement there’s still a lot of immorality. St. Paul makes it clear that women are meant to be submissive and inferior to men. Slaves, he said, should be content with their lot and serve their owners happily, as if they were serving God himself. No wonder the Romans encouraged this belief.

One of the first religious doubts that I remember having was when, at age 5 or 6 we were told that you had to be a Christian to get to heaven. I immediately asked, what about those kids in Africa for whom we’d been collecting tins of baked beans and other foods some time before - we were told that many of them had never heard of Jesus, and were also starving to death. Young though I was, I knew it was unjust that those kids should spend a short miserable life of hunger and disease, and then spend the rest of eternity in hell. I remember the teacher (Mrs Mifsud) consulting with someone else and then telling us don’t worry, they won’t go to hell, they’ll be in Limbo (the Limbo product line has since been discontinued). It wasn’t an entirely satisfactory answer but it shut me up at the time - and yet, the Bible does make it quite clear that the only way to heaven is via Jesus. He said so himself. Since one's belief is largely influenced by one's parents, society, peers etc, being a Catholic or any other faith depends on where you're born - something you did not choose. So, the idea that salvation (eternal reward or punishment) can in any way be bound to one's belief is inherently unjust and immoral.

What these things tell me is that not only is the Bible a very poor choice when it comes to morality, but that people have since time immemorial been using their own sense of justice and morality, and not the Bible. The Bible is only used to provide verses to support one’s moral positions after the moral choices have been made. It’s a thick enough book to provide verses to support any position, including contradictory ones, if you know where to look.

So, let us accept the fact that it is humanity, not divinity, that is the source of all morality. Wherever attempts are made to base morality strictly on some code more than a few decades old, the result is invariably brutal and barbaric, because we’d have come a long way since then. Our ideas of morality have improved. We’ve discarded certain old prejudices and understood them for what they are. We’ve expanded our empathy for fellow humans and even other sentient beings - and all this is an ongoing process. Any attempts to anchor morality and prevent it from changing automatically turns it into immorality.

Jul 17

Meeting with Minister Helena Dalli

20130717_135325Raphael Vassallo and Ramon Casha had a very constructive meeting today with the Hon. Helena Dalli, Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties.

After an introduction about our organisation and our aims, we spoke about a number of topics including our plans to train humanist celebrants for weddings and funerals, and discussed state recognition for these celebrants, including in the forthcoming civil unions bill. Another important topic was the lack of facilities for non-religious funerals, and the legal uncertainty on the status of family-owned graves in church cemeteries. We also discussed our plans to have our own premises, and ways in which the ministry could help us in this.

The Minister was very understanding of the situations discussed and receptive to our proposal. We agreed on a number of ways we can continue to work together and agreed to keep in touch.

Jun 24

MHA at Pride 2013

MHA was present at this year's Pride Parade organised by the Malta Gay Rights Movement. Participation was good, and there were encouraging messages from all three political parties. Claudette Baldacchino (PN)'s private members bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the constitutional clauses on non-discrimation is a very welcome step, while the government promise to introduce civil union by the end of the year would be a major milestone, although MHA agrees that, as long as there is a distinction between civil union and marriage there will be no equality.

MHA spokesperson Ramon Casha gave a short speech in which he noted these positive steps with satisfaction while appealing to everyone to lend their support to people in parts of the world where human rights abuses are rampant. These international efforts do have an effect - the efforts to introduce the death penalty for gay people in Uganda has been shelved repeatedly as individuals, groups and even governments became the voices of those who could not speak for fear of their own safety.IMG_1295 IMG_1353 IMG_5988 IMG_6003

Jun 19

WORLD HUMANIST DAY 2013

PRESS RELEASE - WORLD HUMANIST DAY - 21 JUNE

As humanists around the world prepare to celebrate World Humanist Day on the summer solstice - 21st June - the World Humanist Conference held last month in Romania served to remind all of the long road ahead in improving the human rights situation, while guarding against the backsliding that is being observed in many regions, often fuelled by the economic crisis or religious extremism.

Fortunately this is not the case in Malta, where the MHA is pleased to report a number of very significant steps forward in the direction of full separation between Church and State: notably, great advancements in the recognition of minority rights, as well as broad political consensus to revise an existing 1993 agreement that ceded jurisdiction over Malta’s marriage laws to the Vatican.

But the situation is less rosy in other parts of the world. Two of the most worrying trends that are being seen today are suppression of religious or political dissent, and attacks on the LGBT community. Reports of such issues were communicated at the Humanist conference, notably from several Eastern European and African countries.

In Bangladesh, several atheist bloggers have been arrested at the request of Islamist leaders and calls are being made for their execution. In Nigeria, a new anti-gay law has been passed that criminalises any public display of affection between same-sex couples and threatens 10 years in jail for this, while Uganda is set to enact a law that threatens gay people with the death penalty. In Zimbabwe, support workers are arrested and tortured for refusing to reveal the names of LGBT people, while Russia has just passed two laws that criminalise voicing support for equality for gay people. In all cases, this hatred is fuelled by religious extremism.

Closer to home, there have been violent crackdowns on peaceful anti-government protests in Turkey: a situation that now threatens to escalate into full-scale civil violence. The MHA joins other human rights organizations in condemning the violence and appealing to the Turkish government to desist from further repression of its own people, and to engage in dialogue instead.

Humanism stands for equal rights for all, including ethnic and religious minorities and people with a different sexual orientation or identity. When basic matters such as freedom of expression and freedom of religion or access to civil services are denied to a minority, it is an attack on all society.

Members of the Malta Humanist Association will be observing World Humanist Day this evening with a social event at City of London Bar. The general public is invited to join. We will also be joining other organisations tomorrow for Malta Gay Rights Movement’s pride march in favour of equal rights for everyone.

For more information about humanism and the Malta Humanist Association, visit our website (www.maltahumanist.org) or Facebook page.

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