Humanist Perspectives: issue 160: Letters from our Readers

letters from our readers
“Our Cause”
by Norman White

This letter to the editor, from one of our readers, is a response to Gary Bauslaugh’s editorial Belief & the Need to Rethink Humanism which appeared in issue 158.

Gary’s article has given me much food for thought. For some days I have been pondering his words wondering why I still had a sense that we need to dig deeper. In this letter I am putting aside the discussion on Belief Systems for the purpose of concentrating on what I believe should be “Our Cause”.

What are the main issues facing the inhabitants of this planet?

  1. The global eco-system: We have sufficient scientific evidence to suggest that if we continue carrying on our lives in the same fashion as we do now – the planet will be in dire straits within a few generations.
  2. Poverty: We have direct evidence in parts of the world where education for both sexes has changed their lives and given them greater opportunities.
  3. Health: We have seen the positive effects in communities and countries where health initiatives are in place.

I could continue with the many other areas of improvement on the state of the world, all brought about by people in positions of power whether at the UN, International and National programs as well as the many local initiatives in force. We have observed in all instances that people make the difference whether inspired by a god or by their own thoughtfulness, compassion and recognition of the reality that faces the important needs of human beings on this earth. We recognize that this planet has its own life and at times devastates areas over which we have no control.

Perhaps instead of attempting to define a role by separating ourselves from others we should consider how we may become part of the positive elements in making our world a better place for all who live on it.

Surely when we review the problems facing us we can see the need is so much greater than the setting up of divisions within our various societies.

Why concentrate on the word Secular or Humanist when in fact we could be applying whatever rational knowledge that exists, and by participating wherever we can as thoughtful and caring human beings. We could be the motivators during public discussions by introducing as much factual information as we can, using relevant documentation against the factoids and non-rational positions being presented.

Thoughtful discussion surely is a goal of any aspiring democracy. The words secular and atheist, regrettably, have within them connotations that bring fear to many people — these words eat into their very deeply-held beliefs. Using the word “thoughtful” has a better chance by eliciting positive discussions for political and societal issues to be clarified and acted on.

Statistics indicate there are many who attach themselves to a particular religion who are non-believers: moderates accepting the concept of guidance rather than dogma in their relationship with their religion. Of the many people who are members of churches, temples and mosques many non-religious have joined to establish their place within a community for useful personal and family recognition reasons. Amongst these two groups we will find allies in our activities to bring about better societies and living conditions for more inhabitants of this earth. Many are well aware that natural disasters occur for natural reasons and not due to an activity of a god. We need to show by example that only humans can make the changes necessary to improve lives, that other people pray for.

I think that if we remain “issue-related” rather than “secular” or “anti-religious” as our prime thrust we can bring about the desired society we cherish by allying ourselves with those groups already doing something of value. Does it really matter whether a person’s source for action is god-inspired or from a deep sense of human compassion and understanding of the factors involved?

For the present we need to join with others already doing that which is addressing one or more aspects of local, national or international need. As individual members of Humanist Associations we can make our name known as representatives of humanist organizations working as participants in societal issues, showing by our actions that we are aware of and wish to be part of these activities.

We can assist the many voluntary organizations through our own humanist charitable sources (to obtain charitable receipts) and this way show financial support for worthwhile projects for publicity purposes.

At a later date when we gain substantial membership we will have the accreditation to participate as recognized leaders on the world scene.

Norman White
Vancouver, BC

Gary Bauslaugh replies

Thanks to Norman too for his thoughtful reply, and I agree with his idea that humanists should focus on good deeds, rather than emphasizing differences with other people. I continue to think, though, that it a crucially important task to continue to make a strong case for the secularization of public life. In fact I think there is no more important task for humanists. And it is a case that all reasonable people can respond to, whether or not they have religious belief. It is case that can help form a bond with moderate people of belief.

Why not just focus, instead, on doing good deeds? It seems to me that there is an imminent threat, throughout the world to this central democratic value of separation of church and state. It is not just in Muslim countries, but also is widespread in North America as well. In the United States, which constitutionally requires separation, there is a very strong and apparently growing movement to define the country as a Christian one. There are signs of this in Canada too. And even where there is not an overt challenge to the idea of separation, religious influence can be seen in all sorts of ways in the public sphere. The fight against gay rights, the opposition to sex education, the opposition to a humane euthanasia and assisted suicide law, the attempts to block the right to choose, the attacks on teaching evolution, and many other such issues, are mostly driven by efforts to impose religious perspectives on the public business.

It does not matter, as Norman says, if good works are god-inspired. We should have no quarrel there. It does matter, though, when god-inspired people attempt to impose their arbitrary values on the rest of society.