This speech was delivered by Thomas Fleckner at the First Asian Humanist convention in Cebu, The Philippines, on June 21 2013:
Being a humanist is actually more unsubtle and visible in our daily life than being an atheist. The reason why we don’t deal with and think about religion as atheists is because we are also humanists, or at least we care for our fellow humans.
Organized religion is responsible for many evils in the world, a lot of which come down to human behavior and the mindset of large organizations, but many of which are made far worse by the indoctrination, brainwash and influence of religion itself, be it through politics or direct action towards its members.
Supporting gay rights, being a feminist, being against the drug war, being for social support systems and changing the way the world treats the poor, all of these things are because we live our lives from a humanistic perspective, maybe even without thinking about it, for we often primarily point out the etymology of Atheism. Yet looking at these points, Atheism is the logical consequence when following Humanism, because religion does not support gay rights and women’s rights as equal rights for example.
And again, we would rather call ourselves Atheists than Humanists. So why do many choose to define themselves as parts of the Atheist movement, rather than the humanist movement?
This question or observation may be a small issue for some people, because of where some people dwell in, and I take into account the country where they stay in, where being an Atheist is often not accepted. Atheists face serious discrimination, people in my local Atheist groups fear they may lose their jobs if they come out. And what many Atheists face from their families, even families who aren’t extremely religious, is painful and can lead to lifelong disputes. Illogical statements, placing Atheism equal with Satanism is just one of the many stereotypical examples.
As a longtime participant in the gay rights movement, I have been taught that self-definition is incredibly important; it matters a great deal that you should be able to label yourself as gay or straight, male or female, Atheist or Agnostic. But when those labels automatically mean that you are going to be treated badly, it becomes an important political act to stand up and insist that you do not deserve the unequal treatment just because you are identified with a different label. I am an Atheist because I don’t believe in gods, and reject religion, and I also reject the unequal handling of my fellow humans. When I call myself an Atheist, and the consequence is being treated badly or unequally, that is where the abuse of Humanism comes in.
The desire to hold on to Atheism rather than use the word Humanism isn’t from a fundamental difference of goals and beliefs, but from a difference of self-definition. Some would prefer Atheism, because it’s more confrontational and embraces certain position that has a political touch, and it is more transparent in its opposition against beliefs represented by religion, as one of the root causes of many social injustices. Humanism is more than just secular, it is anti-religion.
Beyond that, Atheists are committed to pursue equality for themselves, a public acknowledgment of their existence, and a political voice for the godless. It’s not that Humanism doesn’t support equality for Atheists, but it is not the focus of Humanism.
With this, many have come to the point of combining both words and call it Atheist Humanist, knowing that Humanism, Secular Humanism, and Atheism have huge overlapping.
There is a difference between a self-defined Humanist doing something good for mankind and a self-defined Atheist doing it, simply because of the massive amount of stigma associated with Atheism by proving that Atheists care about other people and want to make the world a better place. One may daresay that Atheism is a way to bring the philosophy of Humanism more strongly to the fight for Atheist equality, and Atheism to support Humanism.
The problem with using the word Humanism as a single label is that religions would claim to follow Humanism too, even if that word only indicates the care and relationship with mankind and not with a god. Atheism is the political movement and Humanism is the daily life with each other. We could conclude that Humanism is the replacement of a god, when it comes to care, love, humanitarian acts, sacrifice or rewarding.
The dwellers within the eclipsed peninsula of Scandinavia are unsung evidences that one can be morally principled without religion so long as you have empathy, ethics, and conscience as a human being. For instance, killing people is an immoral act that lack of religion can hardly be attributed to; as it is incontestably obvious that killing people is not someone with high intellectual capacity can do. In a nutshell, people who recrudesce to becoming "good" do not have to seek religion, scout for divine intervention, and ask for forgiveness but to manage to overhaul their moral values, get out of the vacuum that reeks no purpose, comprehend that the consequences of their actions may or may not harm an individual, and set foot in the positive view of human life.
I would like to give examples of Humanist driven Atheism in life, from just basic behaviours we may not even think about such till examples of people who have purposely used their Atheism in a Humanistic way to promote, educate or help.
During my stay in Africa, from 2002 till the year 2009, I was confronted with Islam and Christianity in a very extreme way of exercising. One West African country, Nigeria, where Christianity forms the majority of followers, one man stood out of the crowd.
Dr. Tai Solarin was born in 1922, Ikenne, Ogun State, in Western Nigeria. As a native Nigerian, he was educated in a Nigerian missionary school, served in Britain's Royal Air Force during World War II, and finished a bachelor's degree in history and geography at the University of Manchester, Great Britain, in 1952. Tai decided to come back to Nigeria, becoming a Principal of Molusi College from 1952 to 1955. Because Molusi's governing board forced him to open each school day with hymns and prayers, and take his students to church every Sunday, he strongly opposed these rites, leading him to resign from his job finally.
Without applying for a new employment, Tai Solarin started his own school in 1956, named the Mayflower School. Three years later, in 1959, he founded the Mayflower Junior School. Both schools were located in Ikenne, Ogun State, where he was born. His school became a success, and many graduates of the school are recognized as belonging to the best educated in Nigeria. Dr. Tai Solarin passed away at the age of 72 in 1994.
As an atheist and strong critic of irrationality and hypocrisy, Tai Solarin has some clear words for the religion enforced in his country (And please take the freedom to replace the word “Nigeria” with “Philippines” and the “Black man” with the “Asian or Filipino citizen”:
"Nigeria is dying today of religion, outrageous religious beliefs."
“Africans are taught by religion and superstition to fear too many things. Witches, angels, the Devil or Satan, thunder, lightning, nocturnal birds are all objects that generate fear."
"The worst bane of African non development is chronic dependence on the deity to solve all earthly problems."
Dr. Tai Solarin said: "Blacks hold onto their God just as the drunken man holds on to the street lamp post; for physical support only."
"To get the young Africans weaned from their almost congenital reliance on fate," he said, "they must be educated to stand on their feet."
Dr. Tai Solarin writes about his own moral and philosophical ideals, his true humanism: "I believe in man, by 'man' I mean man, woman and child. I believe that my duty to man is total service....outside man I owe none else any duties."
He asserts that "...anything that man wants to do must be done by man himself. Anywhere he wants to go, he must, himself, aggressively propel himself in that direction."
These are evidentially humanist ideals, representing secular humanists all over the world.
Tai teaches that prayer is useless, and that it is better to teach people how to solve their problems, and to give them the power and freedom to act. "I do not want to be seen giving alms to the poor," Dr. Tai Solarin once wrote, "I want to be seen teaching the poor how to live creatively by making use of his hands and feet."
Of course always peoples have tried to criticize secular humanism, and atheism in particular, for leaving people unhappy and lost without a moral guidance.
"I maintain great comfort and happiness living as a Humanist and Atheist, as my rewards are real, and come from my fellow humans."
Dr. Tai Solarin has always supported and shown as an example atheist humanitarians who reformed their countries, as Jewaharlal Nehru (first Prime Minister of independent India) and Kemal Ataturk (who led the formation of the secular republic in Turkey).
So, morality has to do with life and it's down to earth consideration. Morals don't come from an outside non-present being, but are formed within the communities.
Humanism is sympathy for humankind in itself, without having the urge to rely on a fictional book.
The morality of humans is constantly changing, and human morality is getting more humanist than ever. There was a time in fact when the purpose of human living is to propagate his gene, or race or tribe. And so the humans of the past are constantly at war with other humans of different groups or race. So the bible was a guideline for that example. And one of the activities being promoted in order to strengthen the tribe’s survival is promoting heterosexuality, and discouraging behaviors that limit population growth such as masturbation and homosexuality. Raping younger female humans of other tribes is promoted in the bible because such acts can strengthen the growth of their tribe. Slavery and genocide to humans belonging to other kingdoms and tribes are also encouraged in the bible.
Today, the standard of morality is now different from the past. It is because humans have already evolved into a globalized community.
And since the goal of human living is no longer the survival of the tribes, the goal has changed to survival of the human race. And so the guidelines for human morality are all about protecting the human welfare in general.
Humanist values will protect the human welfare of each person regardless of race, citizenship, gender, age, sexuality, and gender identity. It also includes promoting and protecting human rights. Humanism therefore includes women rights, child rights, and minority rights like the protection of LGBT's.
Religion uses Humanism to get a friendlier face, ironing out the just mentioned acts. Many Atheists don't even think about Humanism as their label, but when asking peoples to name words they may think of representing Atheism, they are mostly connected to Humanism.
Examples are: care, protection, communication, secularism...
The same way Atheism rejects gods, Humanism does not require any gods. It is purely the interaction between people. God is simply a fancy add on supporting the greed of former leaders who themselves were incapable of having explanations for many things in the world.
Humanism has been hijacked by religion, because they know it can very well stand for its own. But as religion needs the connection of humans it was forced to balance the factors of humanism and a divine. Religions have set up schools, hospitals, old people’s houses and orphanages not for the purpose of humanity but to keep their mission going and being spread to the young to the old. Success, health, and care will be claimed as a work or god, although it is just the result of human actions.
Non-religious institutions of the same nature therefor base results purely on human care, science and hard work. The religious drive is the belief in a reward after life, whereby the Atheists motivation lays in humanity only.
Forgiveness is a human choice, but religions have misused this for their selfish purpose. This is followed by judgment. As the religious know, judgment can in fact only be spoken on earth, yet to escape their own injustice; they push all to a god.
Common vocabulary is: God knows; god forgives; forgive me god; god has forgiven you my son (a priest to a sinner). Politically the religions have escaped judgment by positioning themselves outside of this world. This imaginary construct has made them survive till today. But reality is different, and even not comforting.
If someone’s child is raped, and we should be honest, there is no forgiveness. If you kill my partner, there is no forgiveness. If you kill a gay man or lesbian woman, there is no forgiveness, as you deny nature and the colors of humanity and biological reality.
Religions claim an almighty god, who can do all. But till now that god has not succeeded in terminating what he hates ... Satan, LGBT's, and demons. And of course not, because what does not exist can't be defeated.
Humanism knows that there is good and bad, comfort and discomfort, and it recognizes natural facts as they are. We protect the weak, as we have developed the sense of care and love. The ones doing the opposite are just victims of their society or religion. To define good and bad doesn't require a deity; it requires our common sense, our feeling and instinct even.
Humanism in daily life:
As a child
When I lived in Belgium, I had a friend in the neighboring street. His name was Sandro. He belonged to a protestant family. His mother gave him away to his grandparents, as she had a new husband and, what came out after a while, was that she had an affair with her eldest son. Sandro told me about this, one day when he slept over. He was witnessing this though the key hole of the bathroom door. He was given nothing, so he had no toys. One day I decided to pack a box with Playmobile toys and carry them to his house. We act upon our feelings, our sympathy towards others, and I certainly didn't do this out of supernatural input.
As a young adult:
At the end of the 80's, and I was just out being a gay man, I was asked to come to the house of a friend, to help him with is furniture to be moved to another address. Upon arrival, I found nobody at home. As I didn't have a mobile phone at that time, I started throwing small stones at his window. It was a 6 story building, and each apartment had a balcony. As I was concentrating on aiming towards his bedroom window, I noticed the neighbor stepping onto his balcony, with a water can in his hand. The man was very slim, had long hair and was wearing a house gown. Looking from his balcony he spotted me, immediately waving at me, signaling me to come up. Without hesitation I did, and found myself in a dark apartment filled with books and clothes, a messy kitchen and pots with plants all over. “I am looking for my friend Stefan.” I told the man, still being unsure why I even went into his home. “I don't know.” he simply relied, yet kindly asked me to sit down. He swept some books and magazines from the table and brought me a cup of coffee.
“I will die soon. “The man whispered. I was shocked and insecure at the same time. “..... But I have one wish. I want to see the flowers grow for a last time on my balcony.” It was November, and in Germany, the flowers start growing back in March. The man had AIDS in its end phase, and he was so plain in reaching out to me. I looked around the house ... I saw pictures of him during better times, and a wall of remembrance. “These are my dead friends.” he said. They all had died of AIDS. Suddenly outside I heard Stefan's voice. I got up and told the man that I had to go, as I had promised my friend to help him. “I know....” the man said. “I just wanted a flower to be in my home, as I can't go outside anymore, and I don't know if I will make it till March.” The man strokes his hand over my head and smiled. A week later I decided to return to the man. I had bought a big flower in a pot for him. I thought about his words not reaching March, and winter was at the door step. When I arrived, I went to the house and entered the building. When I reached the door of the man’s apartment there was a sign: “Under renovation”
I panicked, and banged on the neighboring door. A woman opened the door, and when I asked about the man living opposite her, she just shook her head. “He died two days ago.” she said. “What happened?” I asked her. She replied that the man was brought to hospital five days ago. She was in the stairway, cleaning the steps as he was carried passed her. He had a smile on his face: “I thought I never would see a new flower till March, but I did.” I now knew he meant flower as an expression for a person. I gave the flower I bought to the woman.
As a middle-aged adult:
A befriended taxi said: "I was appointed to an address where I should pick up a passenger. When I arrived I horned loudly. After a few minutes of waiting, and I was about to drive away, I instead walked to the door and knocked.
"Just a minute", an elderly voice answered. After a while, the door opened, and a small woman around 90 years appeared.
At her side was a small suitcase. The apartment looked empty, as if no one had lived there for years.
"Would you carry my bag to the car?" she asked me. I put the suitcase in the trunk and then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly to the Taxi. She thanked me, and I told her: "No problem."
"Oh, you're such a good boy.” she said. As we sat in the taxi, she gave me an address and asked, "Can you take me through the city? It's not the shortest way, but please. I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice." I looked at her through the mirror. Her eyes were shining. "I have no family," she continued in a softer voice. "The doctor says I do not have very long."
When I heard that, I just had to turn off the meter. “So let's go.” I said
For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as a secretary. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived as a couple. Sometimes she asked me to drive slowly staring into the darkness, saying nothing.
After two hours she said: "I'm tired. It is time “We drove silently to the address she had given me. It was a low building, and two nurses came to the taxi. They were worried and watched every move. The woman was clearly expected.
I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase and placed it in front of the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.
"How much do I owe you?" she asked me.
"Nothing," I said.
"But you must earn their livelihood," she replied.
"There are other passengers," I responded.
Without thinking a moment, I leaned over to her and gave her a warm hug. She squeezed me tightly. "You have given an old woman a little moment of joy," she said. "Thank you."
I slowly walked towards my taxi. Behind me, a door shut. The sound of a complete life.
The taxi driver didn't get any more passengers that day, but he was happy, having done something important in life, being human, being real, being rewarding.
Only certain countries are lucky and privileged to be secular. But be it so, many countries are slowly changing towards less religiousness and the real separation of religion and state (church and state), needed in a secular system.
As Atheism has, up till recent times, been more a movement of individuals, nowadays it has risen to an organized form, and being accepted by smaller to even large groups in society, forming, if not as majority, an influential minority. As self-conscious humans, “I think, thus I am”, many of us still prefer to live in illusions that comfort us, thus being a slave of religion and it's gods and representatives, rather than to face truth and it’s not often pleasing consequences, but gaining the ultimate of freedom in mind, and a non-restricted life, following the basic universal human rules and rights, rules that don't require any religion or superstition.
As thinking humans we tend to doubt, but also tend to be lazy, choosing rather to follow the main stream, without asking questions, or getting into inner or outer troubles, but if we are just one certain step ahead, open enough to see the beauty in truth, rather than the never reachable beauty of the supernatural, superstition and the illusion, we will realize that fear or hope, planted into our infantile brains as children, are just a product of human imagination and invention.
As Atheists, and when have come out with it, our life style is not restricted to being “good without a god” and to oppose religion. There are several topics we should be facing and standing for, in open debates, or when being challenged by the religious, starting inside the circle of our friends and acquaintances and family. Next to the classical push towards the separation of church (religion) and state, we should know about the rights of believers and non-believes within the educational system, the ethical section, the gender and LGBT identity, the concept of life and death, and the most important right for knowledge without restrictions and direction. Opinion must be formed within ourselves and not be pre-defined from outside. Up till now, religious issues dealt with critically, especially from politics, are still a too often seen taboo.
As Atheists and Humanists, we should encourage the dialog with all age groups in society, and especially the young peoples, who are often forcefully pushed into a religion, without them knowing about the alternative of reason through Atheism. Atheists should find and seek dialog with intellectuals, different social groups, NGO's and politicians.
Atheists should understand our global world, and not be restricted to nationalism, but face globalism, which mainly shows through immigration and our ability to travel and meet travelers. Our backgrounds are different, and so it is no longer enough to know the circle we originated from, but we should know where others have come from.
Atheism comes with many aspects, and next to the most hated and loved topic about the acceptance and rejection of gods and superstitions, Atheism stands for secularism, humanity, gender and LGBT equality and an uninfluenced access to knowledge. Most peoples, religious included will agree on most points, and so it's often just the embracing of a goddess and its political and social role in society that diverts.
As Atheists, we should present ourselves as a role model without a goddess, someone else can observe as happy living peoples, including their ups and downs.
Atheists don't fear a god, to not commit a crime, but Atheists don't commit a crime because we don't want that crime to be committed to us. We don't love an imaginary figure, as there is no need to do so, but there is the need to share love between all humans living. We must show the lies and the suffering religion has caused, and should not fear confrontation, as our confrontation is verbal, and not violent. Atheists should also point out, that thousands of year’s religious influence has failed humanity, by turning peoples head away from the few claimed miracles, but face them to the millions of deaths and sufferings caused by these organizations and its doctrines.
Religious lobbyists are yet still too many in politics and the private sector, having built up wealth, by having the privilege of being allowed to pile up tax free money, over hundreds and even thousands of years. We have the duty voice all this injustice out.
Blasphemy is an absurd installment, because as where the religious feel discriminated or insulted, the non-religious may feel the same, when religious representatives badly mouth about Atheists, LGBT's and women. The invention of blasphemy, and it's punishment behind it, is non-democratic and inhumane, just protecting the religious organization, but not all humans in general.
With all this said, it is very important for humans to have non-religious organizations and presentations they can approach. All Atheists and Agnostics occupied in such, should give their best part, be it even small, to make Atheism visible in society, and not invisible. Invisible Atheism is what the religious body likes to see. This stands for equality for LGBT's and women. Atheists are not Anti-Christ’s, not a sin and not a blasphemy, as all this vocabulary are religious inventions, and not universal terms, and even conditions. Being present and active, will force the press to write and broadcast about Atheism, although some Medias are restricted by their influence of religions, as they are even sometimes shareholders in those companies. But there are enough independent Media companies around, and the Internet is the most used and free Media. Having good functioning networks, enable Atheists to share and give up to date information.
If Atheism can leave the path of being stated a demonic opposition to religion, but just reflect what it is; the respectful dealing with humans, the acceptance of all couloirs like gender and sexual orientation, and the usage of truth and reason for a broad education without barriers, then doctrines, brain washing and religious lies will on the longer run have less and no more chance.
By Thomas Fleckner