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Opinions expressed on the BC Humanist Association's blog do not necessarily reflect those of the BCHA or the Board of Directors.


Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere - May 22, 2018 Newsletter

The final fundamental of Humanism says:

Humanism is a lifestance aiming at the maximum possible fulfillment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times. Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere.

This last point emphasizes the universal ambitions of Humanism. With our common humanity and shared evolutionary history, we recognize that the broad approach of Humanism - reason and ethics applied to improving the human condition - is not tied to any one culture, history or peoples.

Because of my background, the Humanism I most often talk about is broadly derived from the European enlightenment philosophers. There's nothing inherently restricting us to that approach, however, and in fact there are many Humanistic elements of moral traditions from around the world. For example, we see similar priorities and approaches in some of the Ancient Greek philosophers, the Confucian traditions, the interconnectedness of humans and nature of many North American indigenous traditions.

Drawing this fundamental into our work then, it's our contention that Humanism should be an appealing lifestance to everyone in our diverse province. It's why we're working with our members and the local groups that exist across the province and are constantly thinking about what Humanism means in a multicultural country. But we have a lot more work to do to continue to make sure Humanism is appealing and relevant to "everyone everywhere" in British Columbia.

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Humanism values artistic creativity - May 14, 2018 Newsletter

The sixth fundamental of Humanism says:

Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and recognizes the transforming power of art. Humanism affirms the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfillment.

Humanists and atheists are often stereotyped as overly academic, philosophical and scientific; almost Spock-like in our worship of logic over emotion.

But an important element of Humanism is recognizing the importance of art to the human condition. A life of pure "logic" denies an element of our humanity that allows us to connect empathetically with one another and that acts as a path to better understanding ourselves.

At times our Vancouver member's have arranged group trips to the theatre and we've included art created by our members in some of our silent auctions.

I am interested in more ways to engage this element in our work though. What would you like to see us do to better promote the "transforming power of art"?

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Learning from Bertrand Russell in today's tumultuous world

By Vivian Marie Lewis, McMaster University

They come from all over the world to see, touch and read the originals of tens of thousands of letters, to study boxes of drafts and revisions of his ideas and mathematical equations, to understand his complex personal relationships and to explore the commitment to peace and opposition to nuclear weapons that landed him in jail more than once.

Visitors love to look at the wiry thinker’s easy chair and imagine what he must have been pondering as he sat there.

These, together with a Nobel Prize for Literature, a desk, a tweed suit and a trademark pipe, were the belongings of Bertrand Russell, modern philosopher, social critic, mathematician and anti-war crusader who died in 1970 just a couple of years short of his 100th birthday on May 18.

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Humanism is an alternative to religion - May 7. 2018 Newlsetter

The fifth fundamental of Humanism says:

Humanism is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. The world’s major religions claim to be based on revelations fixed for all time, and many seek to impose their world-views on all of humanity. Humanism recognizes that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process of observation, evaluation and revision.

Humanism is not an anti-religious worldview. Rather, we challenge the claims and authority of religious orthodoxy, particularly when it conflicts with the values we've discussed over the past few weeks. I like to say we set our sights on the ways religion and religious worldviews are often privileged in our society.

More importantly though, this paragraph is framed in the positive. It mentions what Humanism isn't about - fixed revelation or dogma - but ends with what Humanism is about - providing an alternative based on the scientific method.

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Marx at 200: A revolutionary Humanist?

Editor's note: We're sharing this article not as an endorsement of Marxist thought or economics but to generate thought on Karl Marx's possible contributions to contemporary Humanism. The first Humanist Manifesto (1933) spoke of establishing "a socialized and cooperative economic order", while successors tempered such language after witnessing the rise of the Soviet Union. You can read past Humanist declarations here.

By Nigel Gibson, Emerson College

Thinking of the relevance of Karl Marx on the 200th anniversary of his birth on May 5, 1818, takes me back to a wonderful picture of him in Algeria. It was taken in his final year in 1882. Underneath the full white beard is that familiar glint in his eye. He is up to something.

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Personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility - Apr 30, 2018 Newsletter

The fourth Humanist fundamental contains a lot, so I'm going to break it down into a few parts. It begins:

Humanism insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility. Humanism ventures to build a world on the idea of the free person responsible to society, and recognizes our dependence on and responsibility for the natural world.

As previously stated, Humanism seeks the greatest possible freedom for every individual compatible with the rights of others. This new clause puts an onus on each individual, however, to also work toward the betterment of society - and also the environment.

In this way, Humanism rejects hyper-individualistic ideologies that would say every person is an island. Rather, we recognize that without any supernatural element to intervene, it's up to each of us to try to make the world a better place for all.

We must be advocates for the values we support - ethics, science, democracy and human rights (which we've set out over the past few weeks).

Humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creed upon its adherents.

We further recognize that the principles we've been discussing are not immutable, capital-T Truths given to us from on high but rather agreed points that describe a common worldview. Even within that, there's plenty of room for disagreement (as anyone who's attended a Humanist meeting can attest!) and our worldview is continually evolving. One need only to look at how many different declarations and manifestos there have been over the years to see how difficult it can be to describe an undogmatic worldview.

It is thus committed to education free from indoctrination.

Finally, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, we recognize the right of children to a good education. For us, this means that each person has the right to learn to think for themselves and the state should not provide, or fund, faith-based education.

Taken together, this principle underscores our efforts to build communities that can affect social change, our work on Human Rights and our Secular Schools campaign.

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Humanism supports democracy and human rights - Apr 23, 2018 Newsletter

The third Humanist fundamental is:

Humanism supports democracy and human rights. Humanism aims at the fullest possible development of every human being. It holds that democracy and human development are matters of right. The principles of democracy and human rights can be applied to many human relationships and are not restricted to methods of government.

In addition to speaking out for the rights of atheists and Humanists, we have spoken out in favour of LGBTQ+ equality, the rights of sex workers and more generally in support of the proposed Human Rights Commission.

Our democratic commitment extends throughout our governing structure. In a few weeks, we'll be holding our Annual General Meeting (details below) when members elect new directors to our board. We've further recently launched a new members' site to allow our members to submit policy suggestions and to host Humanist events in their community. It's also why we held a debate on BC's upcoming referendum on proportional representation at our Sunday meeting yesterday (look for the podcast later this week if you missed it).

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Can we die?

By Jocelyn Downie, Dalhousie University and Jennifer Chandler, University of Ottawa

More than 2,000 people have died with the help of a doctor since Canada’s new medical assistance in dying law, Bill C-14, received royal assent on June 17, 2016.

This legislation has, however, come under sustained criticism for its ambiguity. When it was first introduced, concerns were immediately expressed about the eligibility criterion that “natural death has become reasonably foreseeable.”

This phrase “reasonably foreseeable” was deemed by many to be unfamiliar and unclear for physicians and their regulators. It has led to confusion and a variety of interpretations among providers and assessors of medical assistance in dying (MAiD).

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Human is rational - Apr 16, 2018 Newsletter

Last week I shared the first of our fundamentals of Humanism and how it is expressed in our work. Here's the second fundamental.

2. Humanism is rational. It seeks to use science creatively, not destructively. Humanists believe that the solutions to the world’s problems lie in human thought and action rather than divine intervention. Humanism advocates the application of the methods of science and free inquiry to the problems of human welfare. But Humanists also believe that the application of science and technology must be tempered by human values. Science gives us the means but human values must propose the ends.

Importantly, Humanism recognizes that reason isn't an end in itself but rather a means to improve human welfare. This reflects back on the first principle that humanism is ethical.

This past weekend was the second March for Science. I spoke at last year's event as part of this commitment to science and human values. We have also spoken out against creationism and pseudoscience, supported efforts for clinical trial transparency and the importance of science in public policy.

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A university president apologizes for academia’s role in residential schools

Banner: Barney Williams Jr, a residential school survivor, hugs Santa Ono, president of the University of British Columbia, during the opening of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at Vancouver, on April 9. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ben Nelms

By Santa Ono, University of British Columbia

Earlier this month, I stood before hundreds of people gathered at the University of British Columbia and publicly apologized for the role my university played in perpetuating the Canada’s Indian residential school system, which caused harm to Indigenous people for more than a century.

Many survivors of residential schools were in the audience. As president of UBC, I was privileged to extend this apology to them along with an explanation to my university colleagues as to why the apology was necessary. My remarks were followed by those of two former residential school students and other Indigenous community respondents.

The Indian residential schools operated for more than a century as a partnership between the Canadian government and major Christian churches, with the last school closing only in 1996. For much of that time, Indigenous children were forcibly removed to schools that sought to break their ties to their families, communities and culture.

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