Opinions expressed on the BC Humanist Association's blog do not necessarily reflect those of the BCHA or the Board of Directors.
On May 17-20, 2018 I attended the 77th annual conference of the American Humanist Association in Las Vegas. As conferences go it was exceptional. One of the motivators as a BCHA member and also Humanist Canada supporters, this was the first AHA meeting I had ever attended, and was the opportunity to celebrate along with our great Canadian scientist and television personality, Dr David Suzuki, as he received the lifetime achievement award. He gave an exceptional talk on our need to limit reliance on fossil fuel‘s and other chemicals used in industry that are polluting our world leading to irreversible global warming.Read more
Over the past seven weeks, I've shared each of the fundamentals of Humanism as set out on our website. Today I want to conclude this series looking at the rest of the text of that declaration.
The Amsterdam Declaration 2002, which is how the BCHA defines Humanism, begins:
Humanism is the outcome of a long tradition of free thought that has inspired many of the world’s great thinkers and creative artists and gave rise to science itself.
"Freethought" is a term that's been used widely and for centuries to describe those atheists and deists who pushed for liberal democracy and a separation of church and state. More recently, as Jeet Heer notes in The New Republic, the term has been "hijacked by right-wing trolls" and hip-hop artist Kayne West. Heer goes on to discuss Susan Jacoby's valuable text Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism.
But as we've seen, Humanism is not just a challenge to the authority of the church or religion but a rounded ethical worldview that elevates human compassion and ingenuity. Which brings us to the conclusion of the Amsterdam Declaration:
Our primary task is to make human beings aware in the simplest terms of what Humanism can mean to them and what it commits them to. By utilising free inquiry, the power of science and creative imagination for the furtherance of peace and in the service of compassion, we have confidence that we have the means to solve the problems that confront us all. We call upon all who share this conviction to associate themselves with us in this endeavour.
And it's this statement, more than any other in the Declaration, that encapsulates what vision Humanism has for the world. We're not about attacking religion or worshipping science. Our goals are promoting peace and compassion. Our means are free and scientific inquiry and human creativity.
The simplest terms I've heard to describe Humanism come from James Croft who has said Humanism is simply "reason, compassion and hope."Read more
In a historic referendum, the Irish people have voted by a landslide to repeal the 8th amendment to the country’s constitution, allowing the government to legislate for abortion. The vote illustrates the monumental shift in attitudes towards women’s rights in Ireland. It’s also testament to the power of a grassroots mobilised campaign which enabled women to share 35 years worth of experiences of pregnancy under the 8th amendment.
High-profile cases such as that of Savita Halappanavar and Amanda Mellet resonated with the public conscience and the telling of thousands of everyday stories illustrated how many women have been affected by the 8th amendment. Groups such as Termination for Medical Reasons spoke of having to travel abroad to end pregnancies with foetal anomalies. Projects including In her Shoes and Not at Home have published stories of abortion travel and buying abortion pills to end pregnancies alone without support or aftercare. In our research (led by Dr Fiona Bloomer of Ulster University) on abortion as a workplace issue, women spoke of the silence and stigma surrounding abortion. They revealed the costs involved in having to travel, being able to afford or get leave from work, worries about confidentiality and access to follow-up treatment.Read more
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.Read more
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"?Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.
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.Read more
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.Read more
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).Read more