I Secularist Humanist Congress of Brazil

Leia em Português AQUI.
Authored and Translated by Sergio Viula

Medical Doctors Association of Rio Grande Sul (AMIRGS)
Av. Ipiranga, 5311 - Porto Alegre

September 8th - morning

I arrived to the building of the Medical Doctors Association of Rio Grande do Sul, revenue to the I 
Secular Humanist Congress of Brazil (CHS2012) and it felt like home. It was great meeting up some many beloved people with whom, until then, I had been in touch by the Internet alone

Ema Shirley, our charming master of ceremony

Eli Vieira and Åsa Heuser (president and vice-president, respectively)

Eli Vieira and Åsa Heuser opened the event, speaking about their experience with humanistic atheism. Eli focused on the achievements by LiHS (Secular Humanist League of Brazil). He also presented the surprisingly increasing rate of new members. 

LiHS is an associate member of 

Åsa delivered a touching speech about her path from Astrology to Atheism, including her grandparents and great-grandparents' atheist thinking and attitude, with special attention to Finland, her family's homeland. It was exciting to learn that a friend of the grandparents' and his wife were responsible for the celebration of the first civil marriage in Finland, it is, without the presence of a pastor or priest. Åsa's speech is available (in Portuguese) on her blog

Dr. Maria Berenice Dias

Later, Dr. Maria Berenice Dias, a retired judge who has promoted human rights, with special attention to LGBT people in Brazil, delivered a brilliant speech, combining technique and heart. She spoke principally about the Sexual Diversity Statute and civil rights in general. 

First moments early in the morning

Dr. Maria Berenice also addressed participants' questions and was enthusiastically applauded. She also joined LiHS, being immediately a declared member emeritus.

September 8th - afternoon

The afternoon activities were started by a panel composed by Alex Castro  and Marcia Cristina Barbosa, being moderated by our dearest Natasha Avital. Focusing on "gender,"  Marcia Cristina presented figures and facts about women's rare presence in the field of Physics and demonstrated how, gradually, they have been occupying that space usually dominated by men. 

Alex focused on the difficulty that people, who do not see themselves as part of any minority, usually gave so as to noticing prejudice and, as usual, the lack of rights for those minorities as far as the situation remains stable for them. He used his own experience in the USA as an example, since he had never faced racism in Rio, due to the fact that people used to see him as a white man. However, as soon as he arrived to the USA, he was discriminated as if he were "Hispanic." 

Alex also mentioned sexual minorities, but gave special attention to issues related to male and female genders, though. He also highlighted the relativity of race.

Prof. Renato Zamora Flores

After lunch in the companion of beautiful and intelligent people, we had the privilege to hear Professor Renato Zamora Flores, who spoke on the problem of domestic violence against children. His speech "Beating does not educate: The science of dis-education by violence" was highly informative and challenging.

Professor Flores briefly traced the genealogy of that mistaken idea that beating children is effective in education, emphasizing Jewish-Christian traditions about physical punishment, highlighting the fact that "mammal's typical behavior which protects and strokes the offspring came to be seen as the cause to child infirmities." One of his best quotes to summarize his thinking is: "If pain is not a good pedagogical instrument at school, why should it be one at home?"

The researcher and lecturer made his work freely available under request at: rzflores@ufrgs.br

Coffee break 

Dr. Marcos Rolim

After Professor Renato Zamora Flores' speech, Dr. Marcos Rolim assumed to the pulpit and spoke on public security and criminology. His lecture was called "Violence, fear and media." Dr. Rolim also has a site of his own: www.rolim.com.br. He worked on the numbers of violence, with special attention to the surprising fall in the number of homicides in Brazil, principally due to the decrease of violence in the state of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Minas Gerais, although it has been growing in other regions of the country. His book about guns and their influence on the increase of violence can be downloaded, totally free of charge, on: www.rolim.com.br.

Philosopher Desidério Murcho

Later, PortuguesePhilosopher Desidério Murcho, Professor of the Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto, approached "The meaning of life under a rationalist perspective." He also has a site (www.dmurcho.com), on which loads of material on Philosophy can be found. He approached Thomaz Nagel, Tolstoy, and Aristotle and quoted Fernando Pessoa.  The thought that may summarize his lecture might be put like this:

If it is conceptually impossible that value exists apart from the organism that values what it needs for its own functioning, then there is no point considering the value of life as being apart from life itself.

Pr. Marcio Retamero (right) and Sergio Viula

Just after that long, but productive day, we left for the Skeptics in the Pub. Topic: Ufology.

Daniel Oliveira (right) coordinated the event whose issue was "Ufology"

The PowerPoint presentation was rich and great fun!

Kentaro Mori (left) and Jorge Quillefeldt (right)

An audience literally abducted by the lecturers (lol)

September 9th - morning

Sergio Viula, Marcio Retamero and Sílvia Mara

The first panel of the day was about Secularism and Religious Tolerance. The three guests were: Sílvia Mara, from an Afro-Brazilian tradition called Umbanda;Marcio Retamero, a pastor with an inclusive church, member of the Metropolitan Community Church, named Comunidade Betel in Rio de Janeiro; and Sergio Viula, ex-pastor, administrator of the blog Fora do Armário and president of the LGBT Council of LiHS.

The panel revolved around the idea that secularist humanism is a space of pluralistic aquaintance in contrast to the very many totalitarisms. That was the core of Sergio Viula's discourse. 

Marcio Retamero highlighted the risks of a theocracy in 20 years' time if Brazilian politicians keep prostituting themselves with fundamentalist sectors, ignoring the very laicist principles that should guide our republic. He also spotlighted the fundamental role of liberal Christians, Atheists, Agnostics and Humanist Skepticals.

Silvia Mara spoke about Umbanda as a multicultural space that combines influences from Catholics, Spiritists and African religions, being able to integrate people of different 'races' and sexualities.

Jorge Quillefeldt

After the panel, Professor Jorge Quillefeldt spoke about Science and Humanism. His speech, rich in historical and scientific information, inspired the audience, spotlighting that Humanism is often in opposition to the non-secular power represented by the clergy, who will resort to the sword and the spear whenever they cannot afford to impose their dogmas through preaching, as we have witnessed historically.

Among the several thinkers he talked about, Brazilian Anísio Teixeira was highly recommended. To learn more about Anísio Teixeira and his contributions to Science and other fields, check: Anísio Teixeira.

Another thinker was highlighted is Bertrand Russell. I take the liberty to suggest an excellent text by Russell: Why I am not a Christian.

Among several online initiatives, Professor Jorge Quillefeldt keeps a blog that is great fun to read, but also rich in scientific and skeptical content (in Portuguese). It is called Ácido Cético and it is worth visiting.

Professor Quillefeldt closed his lecture with two brilliant quotes. One of them by Bertrand Russell: 

"Three passions have governed my life: The longings for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of [humankind]."

September 9th - afternoon

Carlos Diaz, president of the Atheist Alliance International (AAI), organization which sponsored up to 100 students' enrollment fees to the CHS2012 (LiHS), gave us a touching report on AAI's actions against prejudice and persecution launched against atheists worldwide, with special attention to Alexander Aan's case, after he simply said on his Facebook profile that God does not exist. Diaz also spoke about the case involving two cartoonists who are being persecuted in Tunisia. 

Carlos Diaz emphasized that AAI has been providing lawyers' support and fighting for the rights of those persecuted for being atheists, secularists, free-thinkers, also seeking political asylum when necessary.

All in all, AAI seeks to mobilize atheists and free-thinkers all over the world to press on governments of other countries in which legislation allows or orders punishment and persecution against those who do not adopt a religion or belief in the existence of one or more gods. Among the projects sponsored by AAI, there is the development of a worldwide census of atheists, as well as accurate figures of persecution and discrimination based on prejudice against atheism, including those related to death.

Contact with Carlos Diaz can be made at: president@atheistalliance.org.

Carlos Diaz

After that, Professor Francisco Mauro Salzano, a geneticist with a Doctor's degree by USP and a PHD from Michigan University, currently working with UFRGS (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul), spoke on "Where did we come from and where are we going to? What does genetics and human evolution can say about human nature?" The lecture approached anatomic-functional differences, as well as social organization, cognition and culture. Professor Salzano also considered the optimistic and the pessimistic views of the future of mankind.

Professor Francisco Mauro Salzano

The afternoon panel was brilliantly composed by Daniel Oliveira, moderator; Horácio Dottori, Carlos Orsi and Kentaro Mori. The teasing question was "Is skepticism arrogant?"

From the left to the right: Kentaro Mori, Carlos Orsi, Daniel Oliveira and Horácio Dattori

Astrophysicist Horácio Dottori said that skepticals take what people say so seriously that they go for confirmation of what is said. Dr. Dottori approached problems created by man himself, spotlighting that problems we create can often be managed or solved by ourselves. Differently from an asteroid in route of collision with the Earth, in which case we would  not be able to avoid its destruction.

Journalist Carlos Orsi, was one of the pioneers in the journalistic use of the Internet in Brazil. He used to work with Agência Estado and highlighted that "reason does not exist in the vacuum, but operates based on pre-existing beliefs." That's why, he considers that person beliefs play a central role and, therefore, deserve a skeptical approach.

Kentaro Mori, skeptical who is extremely engaged, responsible for the site www.ceticismoaberto.com.br, launched in 2001, said that, with more than 61 million page visits, the site has attracted more people than the mystic ones, which are usually seen as the most popular ones.  

Kentaro made it clear that modern skepticism deals with rational skepticism and the enquiring doubt, adopting the scientific method. He spoke of several occasions when ufologists, parapsychologists and spiritualists were challenged to offer what they would consider the most emblematic cases from the point of view of the supernatural so that they could be seriously examined and, if confirmed, demonstrate that their assertions were true. All of the people contacted declined the offer. So far, no acceptable proof of the veracity of the supernatural phenomena has ever been given, although ufology is 50 years old and parapsychology is 100. 

Kentaro closed his participation by saying that open skepticism aims at two goals:

1. Educating people about the need of skepticism and critical thinking in our society;

2. Investigating pseudo-scientific and paranormal allegations in general.

It is worth visiting the site (in Portuguese): www.ceticismoaberto.com.br

Teacher Marina Reidel

Marina Reidel, transsexual teacher about to get a Master's degree in education and working with the Secretary of Education of Rio Grande do Sul State, spoke about here experience with the replacement of religion with ethics in a public school of Porto Alegre (capital of Rio Grande do Sul - RS), when she took the job eight years ago.

Marina also spoke about the work of the Secretary of Human Rights and of the Transvestites and Transsexuals Associaion of RS in the Central Penitentiary of Porto Alegre, where transgender prisoners used to be beaten by other prisoners, having recently achieved the right to abide in a wing specially created for them, which has proved to work very well as it became the most effectively administrated one. Currently, there are 40 transvestites under detention among more than 5,000 men in the Central Penitentiary of Porto Alegre.

According to Marina Reidel, there are more de 1,400,000 transvestites and transsexuals in Brazil. However, most of them have not managed to graduate from fundamental school, due to sexual and gender discrimination. That is a serious problem which has to be fought by inclusive policies and training of teachers so as to empower them to deal with sexual and gender diversity - office which Marina has currently dedicated herself to.

Thiago Neves (Kronus, the Magician)

Thiago Neves, who works as a professional magician and with  James Randi Foundation, well-known organization which offers a one-million prize to anyone who effectively demonstrates any paranormal or supernatural powers, gave us an exciting speech. His personal site (in Portuguese) can be accessed HERE.

Thiago Neves spoke about skepticism, especially applied to denouncing religious or paranormal charlatanism. He would have taken part in the panel about skepticism in the afternoon, but his flight from Maranhão, where he was at work, delayed and he couldn't make it on time, but it was really great hearing his speech. 

Dr. Francisco Marshall

The last lecture of the Congress was delivered by Dr. Francisco Marshall, professor at UFRGS, who presented historical atheism, showing a panorama with the development of atheist thinking. He approached religious, ethical, philosophical, moral, social, cultural and other aspects of human thinking, with special attention to the Greek thinking based on heteronomy, which means attributing the origin of norms to someone else, usually a divinity, in contrast with the concept of autonomy, which regards man as responsible for his own knowledge - idea adopted by the Greek philosophers. 

He also approached the concept of isonomy, which means equality among all autonomous individuals - which came to be the genesis of classical democracy.

The autonomous thought is, therefore, fundamental, as it disposes of importation of heteronomous norms and moralities.

It would be impossible to register everything here, but all the panels and speeches will be made available on video very soon. LiHS is working on that in order to make the CHS2012 go beyond the conference center. So, wait and see. ;)


The I Secularist Humanist Congress of Brazil was organized by LiHS with the sponsorship of HIVOS, IHEU, AAI and the suport of O Bule Voador, Studio Clio, Sociedade Racionalista and Coletivo Ácido Cético.