A Time For Reflection
This August, the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s conference in New Zealand presents an opportunity to assess the state of humanism in the world, to take stock of the progress the movement has made towards promoting the humanist outlook globally. This meeting is an occasion for reflection, especially by those from parts of the world where humanism has yet to make significant impacts.
For the humanist movement to remain relevant in disadvantaged parts of the world, it must take a critical look at the current global structure. It must offer real answers to global inequalities. The humanist movement must advance ideas that narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, the lords and the subalterns.
The Crisis Is Man-Made
History is filled with attempts by past generations of humanists to foster universal values. How can our current generation confront the challenge of creating a more humanistic world? Put more pointedly, how can humanism help address the inequities around the globe? Structural inequalities within and between nations are at the root of the crises that bedevils the world. They underlie the anger and desperation that rage in many regions.
Wars in the Middle East, conflicts across Africa, and terrorist attacks in Europe are all aspects of the same phenomenon: a displacement of persons caused by global strife. Consequently, people are forced to migrate and flee their homes. Many migrants make hazardous journeys across deserts or ocean in search of a more secure life. The global structure that has orchestrated this uprooting of peoples requires change.
But it’s important to remember that these inequities are human-made. Aliens did not thrust the socio-economic order that fuels the current crisis on us. The global political and economic structures are created and sustained by human beings, interest groups and blocs. The crisis is our own making and will persist until these structures are dismantled and replaced with more egalitarian forms of socioeconomic organization.
Ignoring Inequality Will Sink Humanism
These dichotomies exist in most societies across the globe, calling global humanism into question. Urgent changes are needed, and humanists should advance towards restructuring the globe and enthroning a more realistic humanist ideology. But achieving the desired change towards a more egalitarian global society will not be an easy task. Established political forces have a vested interest in the structure of world as it is. These forces will not easily yield to change. Some would go to any length to undermine attempts to alter global power relations. This does not mean that the situation is hopeless, or that a real change cannot be achieved. History tells us that change comes at a price. Forces that hold humanity down have to be defied, resisted, and defeated. That is the humanist way, and that will be the humanist response to the current crisis.
So it is now left for the humanist movement to live up to its philosophy or betray it. The humanist constituency has to choose whether to align with the powers that be or the wretched of the earth; to muster Promethean courage and challenge the global power equation or ignore it. The onus is on the movement to propose measures and act in defiance of the global structural police and remain relevant. The movement can also choose to resign itself to injustice and oppression while losing its appeal to the sidelined and disadvantaged .The humanist movement can decide to be a bridge, providing a link to people in the forgotten corners of the world, those who have lost out in global power struggles and now live at the mercy of their conquerors and exploiters.
Religion As A Result of Inequality
The outlook that espouses the equal value of human beings cannot remain silent and indifferent in the face of these splits and fragmentations. It cannot turn a blind eye to the existential cracks, the discontents of broken world politics. This is because these structural inequalities constitute the subsoil for religious exploitation. They provide the raw materials that the religious minds use to waive supernatural narratives, holding the poor, oppressed and exploited hostage. Religions and superstitions try to compensate for the shortcomings, and the limitations in the world as it is. They espouse prophetic visions built around cultural personalities – the god-incarnates, saviors, and redeemers. They propose a paradise set apart from Earth, in a hereafter without all the temporal difficulties and mundane troubles of our world.
Structural inequities drive religions. The faithful go through life anticipating a perfect world after their release from this mortal sphere. Incidentally, divergent versions of this perfect world abound, each pitched in stiff competition for potential recruits. Thus places around the world with great inequality and deprivation demonstrated higher levels of religiosity.
It is thus left for this generation of humanists to respond to the inequities in the world, to provide solutions to what makes religion more appealing to the deprived. Contemporary humanists need to campaign for global restructuring. They need to devise mechanisms to counter the otherworldly ideologies and narratives that promote false hopes. A robust humanist response must address what makes mythical ideas more appealing to suffering people than evidence-based knowledge.
In a world more interdependent than at any other time in history, reducing global inequalities has become increasingly urgent. Addressing this task is critical to fostering a global humanism for the 21st century.
The International Humanist Movement was launched in Amsterdam in 1952 with the aim of providing an alternative to traditional religions and totalitarian regimes. Only the first aim remains relevant today. We must not be distracted by other issues.