In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published via other venues that we think HumanistFreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following articles and studies were located on the APA website and in several online publications.
Self-referencing affects perceptions of workplace discrimination against atheists.
Cantone, J. A., Walls, V., & Rutter, T. (2022). Self-referencing affects perceptions of workplace discrimination against atheists. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/rel0000466
The number of self-identified atheists and nonreligious individuals is increasing, yet research examining discrimination toward atheists in the workplace remains rare. The present study expands prior work on religious hostile work environment complaints to one involving an atheist employee alleging discrimination. In the present study, 234 students and community members (gender: 133 women, 93 men, 6 nonbinary/transgender, 2 unreported; religious status: 126 religiously affiliated; 75 “none”; 10 atheist; 6 agnostic; 17 unreported) were recruited to complete an online legal decision-making study. Participants read the complaint of an atheist employee alleging that an Evangelical Christian supervisor’s proselytizing constituted discrimination. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions varying the complainant’s gender (male; female) and student status (student; worker) to examine the role of similarity. Participants completed legal measures from both the objective perspective required by the law and their own subjective perspective to examine the role of self-referencing. Participants’ subjective ratings of whether the conduct would constitute discrimination if it happened to them generally affected their objective ratings of whether the atheist employee had been discriminated against. Religious status similarity, as well as gender, affected participants’ legal ratings. In particular, nonreligious, atheist, and agnostic participants were more likely to see the conduct as discrimination, while Evangelical Christian participants were less likely. Results show that self-referencing and similarity affect how people perceive workplace discrimination faced by atheists. Recommendations for future research and workplace trainings are discussed. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)
Being agnostic, not atheist: Personality, cognitive, and ideological differences.
Karim, M., & Saroglou, V. (2022). Being agnostic, not atheist: Personality, cognitive, and ideological differences. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/rel0000461
Why do several nonreligious people self-identify as agnostic and not as atheist? Beside epistemological differences regarding what is knowledgeable, we hypothesized that such a preference reflects (a) personality dispositions, that is, prosocial orientation, open-mindedness, but also neuroticism, (b) cognitive preferences, that is, lower analytic thinking, and (c) ideological inclinations, that is, openness to spirituality. In a secularized European country (Belgium), we surveyed participants who self-identified as Christian, agnostic, or atheist (total N = 551). Compared to atheists, agnostics were more neurotic, but also more prosocially oriented and spiritual, and less dogmatic.Strong self-identification as atheist, but not as agnostic, was positively related to analytic thinking and emotional stability but also dogmatism. Nevertheless, spiritual inclinations among both agnostics and atheists reflected low dogmatism and high prosocial orientation, and, additionally, among agnostics, social and cognitive curiosity. From a personality perspective, agnostics compose a distinct psychological category and are not just closet atheists. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)
Explaining anti-atheist discrimination in the workplace: The role of intergroup threat.
Rios, K., Halper, L. R., & Scheitle, C. P. (2021). Explaining anti-atheist discrimination in the workplace: The role of intergroup threat. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/rel0000326
Based on the common ingroup identity model and Intergroup Threat Theory, as well as the fact that atheists are among the most stigmatized groups in the U.S., the present experiments tested whether and why people would be less willing to accommodate atheist (relative to Christian, Jewish, or Muslim) employees’ religion-related requests in the workplace. In three studies, participants responded to vignettes depicting an employee who requested to express his/her religious beliefs (or lack thereof) at work—for example, by displaying a quote at his/her cubicle or wearing a pin with a religious (or non-religious) symbol. As predicted, participants were especially unlikely to honor the atheist employees’ requests; this effect was driven by participants’ perceptions that the atheist employees posed a symbolic threat (i.e., were trying to impose their beliefs onto others; Studies 2–3) and, to a lesser extent, a realistic threat (i.e., jeopardized the organization’s economic status and resources; Study 3) in the workplace. Though the effects of participant religiosity were inconsistent across studies, the tendency for reluctance to accommodate the atheist employees’ requests was slightly stronger among religious than non-religious participants. Implications for how anti-atheist bias at work arises and can be mitigated are discussed. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)
In the early 1990s the Humanist Association of Canada (HAC) created an on-line open discussion forum for people who believed in the free and open exchange of ideas and were committed to respecting the dignity of each individual. This forum moved to Facebook shortly after 2005, and the discussion group’s membership grew to more than 1,500. Then, in 2015 a re-branded Humanist Canada unveiled its new professionally designed Facebook page. Only board members could initiate posts on this new platform (although this right was eventually taken away from them as well). The old HAC listserve was allowed to continue. Although it was basically self-monitoring, board secretary Michel Virard was named administrator and I was named as one of three moderators. This article is about how this discussion group came to be viewed “problematic,” and was terminated.
The major part of my time as a volunteer Humanist Canada board member at the time was to research the need for ceremony in the lives of humanists (Robertson, 2017b). As a consequence, I was invited to participate in a HAC thread initiated by the Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba on the need for humanist ceremonies. As expected, the discussion was cordial, informative and productive. I returned to the discussion group site in 2019, but this time the language was anything but cordial. Some members were calling on the moderators to ban others they called “racists,” “alt-right,” “white supremacists,” and “anti-humanists.” I read the offending posts. No one had advocated racism, white supremacy or even conservative politics. Earlier, white academic activists who used such language to support what some called “cancel culture” had appropriated the term “woke” from black culture to imply those that did not share their views were “not awake.” I told these Woke to keep the discussion civil. A couple of weeks later I found the former victims giving as good as they got, so I admonished them all. Over time non-Woke stopped participating. With no debate, the only new threads on the old site were pleas for donations from a humanist school in Uganda that was, at the time, partially funded through Humanist Canada. To stimulate discussion, I posted an article by a police officer (Wilson, 2020) arguing against the then current campaign to defund the police. I invited comments, but as a moderator offered no opinion. One commentator stated that articles published in Quillette Magazine should not appear in a humanist forum. I set up a separate thread to discuss whether we should censor articles based on their magazine of origin.
Several articles from Quillette were posted but none promoted an ideology of racism, sexism or hate, and I refused to impugn motives based on some subjectively held notion of “dog-whistling.” One participant repeatedly expressed insult over my refusal to share my own views on the RCMP officer’s article. I agreed to do so, but under my own name outside of the moderator role. The resultant exchange was reasoned and civil.
Two posts in a different discussion thread implied, without evidence, that humanist Steven Pinker was associated with pedophilia. I viewed this as promoting hatred against an individual, and in the role of moderator, I deleted the posts. During the subsequent discussion, I informed one of the posters that he could appeal my decision to the site administrator, but he replied that he would approach “Martin,” the Humanist Canada president, instead.
During the ensuing months the HAC site generated more comments than the official Humanist Canada page despite having one third the members, and discussions were mostly civil. Then, in early August 2020, another moderator who had only recently become involved, cancelled a participant’s right to post under circumstances I challenged. The moderator explained:
The reason I blocked Ullrich Fischer form (sic) the HAC site had nothing to do with the nature of the content he was posting, but for targeting another member for harassment by systematically going through her previous comments on previous posts and replying to each one. (Sassan Sanei, e-mail, Aug. 6/20)
Ullrich had posted “five or six” replies to separate posts mostly responding to comments the other member had posted to him. For example, she had advised “Please don’t post alt-right material to a Humanist Group” to which he had responded, “Please don’t define as alt-right everything which disagrees with you about anything.” I restored Ullrich’s privileges because due process had not been followed. I explained that we could create a rule limiting the number of posts a member could make, but in fairness we would need to communicate such a rule to everyone in advance, and no one should be cancelled after a first offense. I also pointed out that the alleged “victim” here had called yet another member a “terrible human being” and had sent that member a private message calling her a “condescending bitch,” so if anyone should be cancelled it should be this alleged victim. Sassan then apologized to Ullrich admitting:
It was wrong of me to do that without informing you why the action was taken, giving you an opportunity to respond, or discussing it with other moderators. I’m sorry, and I promise you it will not happen again.
Sassan took exception to my use of the term “Woke.” While the term had been appropriated from U.S. black culture, he explained the word was now used as a slur directed against the appropriators. I agreed to use an alternate term “Identitarian Left” instead.
In early September I deleted four posts that consisted of name calling, swearing or belittling of people. In keeping with our protocol, I notified the other moderators. Sassan re-instated two of the posts explaining in an email, “The idea of a safe space does not extend to non-victimized or non-marginalized persons.” One member whose post remained deleted after calling another “a racist piece of shit,” declared that I, the moderator, favoured “raping and torturing children.” When asked for evidence, he posted that I had deleted the incriminating posts.
At a meeting that included the Humanist Canada president, Sassan and me, it was decided to remove all reference to Humanist Canada in the old discussion group as the discussions were “hurting our brand.” I thought it odd that the site administrator had not been invited to this meeting. Nonetheless, the Identitarian Left still insisted that anything stated on the site represented Humanist Canada policy. In keeping with the discussion at our meeting, I posted:
This is not the official webpage of Humanist Canada and the opinions expressed here do not conform to any official statement or position. This is an open discussion group for humanists with a wide variety of opinions and perspectives. We ask that participants to this forum talk to each other respectfully.
One poster became so offended by this statement that he called on the president, Martin Frith, “to do something with me.” In the meantime, Sassan suspended comments on a thread in support of ex-Muslims who had become humanists, and he suspended the person who started the thread for the next 30 days with the ominous warning “if another admin approves (his posts) I will remove them.” As it had become apparent that the two moderators were following different rules, I decided to bring it to the Humanist Canada board for resolution. I proposed that Sassan and I each resign to be replaced by a former Humanist Canada treasurer who could be seen as a neutral moderator using the following rules:
No racist, sexist or hate speech permitted;
Bullying including name-calling is not permitted;
Posts that contain racist, sexist or hate speech or otherwise exhibit bullying will be removed;
Participants who have posts removed will be advised of the reason for the removal;
Persistent abuse of the rules will result in an individual losing their posting privileges.
Sassan’s response at the board meeting was to demand an apology from me for using the term “Identitarian Leftist!” The board decided to refer the matter to its social media committee. I reverted to using the term “Woke.”
Four new discussion group members identified as transgender. When Sassan posted a “trans rights are human rights” banner in the forum, one trans person accused him of appropriating trans issues to advance his organization. He replied that his post was necessary because many humanists had been posting “transphobic” and “hateful” statements. I had not seen any such statements, and I asked Sassan to produce them. He said he had deleted them, but as moderator, I had access to all deletions, and found none. Sassan subsequently deleted as “transphobic hate speech” an article written by a transwoman, that was critical of J.K. Rowling. I did not consider her call for dialogue to be hate speech, so I reposted it under my name. The initial discussion on this article was civil, but it was interrupted by an individual who called me a transphobe and a bigot without any arguments supporting those assertions. Ze also contacted me on my private messenger service with threats to have me removed as moderator. Ze subsequently posted, on the personal Facebook of another member, “You are completely uneducated. Ignorant. Privileged and bigoted.” As this individual had six similar posts removed earlier, I cancelled the member’s posting privileges. Sassan reinstated the person without contacting me. I cancelled the person again. I then discovered I was cancelled as moderator. I appealed to the site administrator but he had been cancelled too! The president suggested we sort this problem out at the social committee meeting he would schedule.
The dam burst. Transactivists and their allies attacked non-Woke with the same derision that had prompted me to become an active moderator the year earlier. Three participants defended me saying that they had searched my postings and did not find any posted by me that were anti-trans. Woke replied that I had removed the offending posts. One of the Woke organized a letter writing campaign. Sassan defended this behaviour stating, “The member(s) in question was (were) not harassing anybody. They were standing up and speaking out against the endless stream of hateful, transphobic commentary and bullying that has dominated the group in recent weeks.” No examples of such hateful, transphobic or bullying comments were given.
The HAC discussion group was shut down with the rationale that social media necessarily degenerates into such divisive name calling. I believed this was likely true at the time, but the New Enlightenment Project (NEP) established its own Facebook discussion forum in 2021, and it has proven to be a safe place in which humanists can have respectful, informative and civil conversations about controversial topics.
Sassan had not been authorized to terminate a moderator or the discussion group administrator. President Frith was determined to ensure that this matter would not be discussed by the Humanist Canada board, and he invited me to attend a “discussion group post-mortem.” After waiting for Martin who failed to attend, Sassan apologized for his actions to the cancelled administrator and myself. I thought he should apologize to the board because he had broken a board protocol, but the former administrator suggested that we should move on to educate humanists about the threat of Wokism.
This was my first direct experience observing Wokism in action. The Woke accused those who disagreed with them of being anti-humanist. People who said Canada’s first prime minister should not be blamed for things that happened well after his death were accused of favoring the torturing and raping of children. Feminists who want to ensure biological females have safe spaces were accused of wanting to deny transsexuals right to exist. Those who defended their positions were accused of harassment or bullying. There were thus two types of humanists represented: the Woke who viewed freedom of speech, science, logic and reason as “white, male ways of knowing” in opposition to their “anti-racist” narratives; and, those grounded in the Enlightenment view that we can learn about objective reality through careful observation, science, reason and logic. To these Enlightenment humanists, freedom of speech acts as an antidote to dogma and is a means of checking our own subjectively held biases. Those who coined the term “The Enlightenment” implied that those who disagreed with their approach were unenlightened, but in my book, The Evolved Self (Robertson, 2020), I argue that these values flow from the individualism inherent in having a self,and that this self is both cross-cultural and ancient. The Enlightenment was not about educating unenlightened people so much as removing cultural constraints on the powers of mind. From this lens, Wokism is a reactionary movement seeking to re-impose such constraints.
I came to the conclusion that Wokism is not a coherent ideology but amalgam of partially assimilated and conflicting belief systems (Robertson, 2021). It replaces the economic ruling class of Marxism with the racial designation “white.” It uses anti-Marxist postmodernism to “deconstruct” all beliefs with no rationale given as to why its own dogma is exempt from such deconstruction. Its attack on science and reason is copied from Martin Heidegger (1962), but it claims to be anti-fascist. It claims allegiance to social justice but ignores the egalitarian basis of the civil rights movement upon which social justice is built. The Woke claim to be anti-racist but promote the racialization of society through identity politics. They claim to be anti-capitalist while being embraced by the largest corporations in the world. They are convinced of their moral superiority, but are prepared to act unethically to defeat their opponents. These contradictions help explain the psychology of the people I observed.
Sassan had been extremely deferential to the transperson who accused him of using trans-issues to further an agenda. Sometimes referred to as “victim culture” (Campbell & Manning, 2014, 2016; Gabay et al., 2020; Haufman, 2020), Wokism establishes a hierarchy of identity groups with members of some groups presumed to have suffered greater victimization thereby acquiring greater moral entitlement. One would think that white males would be at the bottom of this hierarchy, but they are given a special role. Several times white males in the discussion group would state that they were “giving voice” to those “without voice.” This gives them a leadership position in which they engage in aggressive attacks on others as evidence of overcoming their own “whiteness.” On numerous occasions I observed Woke amending their posts after the discussion so as to make themselves appear more effective.
Like a secret cult, Wokism may not be named and attempts to name it are deemed to be “slurs.” The Woke would prefer to be known as “Left” or “Progressives;” yet we know there are many people who identify with the Left who embrace science, reason and free speech. We also know that progressivism is an Enlightenment doctrine that peoples’ lives can be improved incrementally. By this measure a leading progressive is Steven Pinker (2012, 2018), a humanist whom the Woke have repeatedly denounced.
Every cult needs some means of identifying authentic members, and the Woke do this through the inventive use of language. For example, the word “Latinx” is not used by Hispanic people and it is not used by Woke talking to Hispanic people. It is used by Woke talking through Hispanic people to other Woke. The word “systemic” is thrown in before words like “racism,” “sexism,” and “oppression,” but it is not used as an adjective because the Woke never explain how systems work to establish these problems. The word “problematic,” is used in preference to the word “problem” so as to appear more “systemic.” Similarly words like micro-aggression, intersectionality, and cisgender are not needed for communication, but signify that the user is Woke.
In the final analysis, Wokism is about power. The Woke have taken over universities, school boards, media, non-government organizations and government agencies for the purpose of creating more Woke. Although they were successful in disabling and shutting down an open humanist discussion group, the Woke were not finished with Humanist Canada. Enlightenment humanists need to recognize the challenge to our movement and to update our understandings in light of modern conditions.
Campbell, B., & Manning, J. (2016). Campus Culture Wars and the Sociology of Morality. Comparative Sociology, 15(2), 147-178.
Gabay, R., Hameiri, B., Rubel-Lifschitz, T., & Nadler, A. (2020). The tendency for interpersonal victimhood: The personality construct and its consequences. Personality and Individual Differences, 165, 110134. https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2020.110134
Haufman, S. B. (2020, June 29). Unraveling the Mindset of Victimhood: Focusing on grievances can be debilitating; social science points to a better way. Scientific American.
To all of Don’s many friends and family, HumanistFreedoms.com would like to express our most heartfelt condolences and sympathy. if you have memories or sentiments to share, please add them as comments or send an email and we’ll be proud to share them on this page.
Recollection by Eric Adriaans
A little over a week ago, I received an email message from an old friend that said simply, “Don died on Sunday. We’re all a bit shocked. I’ll let you know more soon.” Messages from old friends can be like that sometimes. There doesn’t really need to be more -every word carries its own freight of memory and significance. Old friends know how utterly, deeply felt and shared is the loss of a friend like Don Cullen.
I first met Don in the cramped and stuffy Toronto offices of Centre For Inquiry Canada (CFIC) at the corner of Yonge & College in the spring of 2014. I had recently joined the organization and wasn’t altogether certain whether I had gotten my myself and my career onto a pretty unusual path. Then Don popped-in for a visit, wearing what seemed to be a kind of trademark big-grin-avec-fishing-vest ensemble, and we chatted for quite a long time.
We chatted about the forming of CFIC and some of the other humanist organizations in Toronto and Canada; also about Don’s interests, career and memories. He told me about the Bohemian Embassy, about his poetry and about his deeply-felt and long-considered ideas about humanism and atheism. Don’s warmth, humour and intelligence were a welcome indication that I probably was on an unusual path – but there was wonderful company to be had. It was Don’s first of many gifts and lessons to me about humanism. It’s a gift I try to carry and share that gift of welcome and community with others.
I wasn’t aware at our first meeting, but Don was one of the people who helped to create CFIC. Later, I was able to obtain some recollections from him about this history and I want to recall some of that here.
In the late 1990’s, a vibrant American import name, Terri Hope, became coordinator of the Humanist Association of Toronto (HAT). Membership was growing and George Baker became a life member. George was a non-academic intellectual. Because of the Great Depression, he had left school in grade seven. Tests for air crew in the Royal Canadian Air Force proved George to be above average intelligence. It got him interested in great ideas. He read, attended lectures.
At that time, HAT had no home base. There was a phone number and an answering machine, a fax number and a website. Many HAT members wanted a store-front, a gathering place….a home. Proposals were made. George Baker was more than interested. Hard work and good luck had brought serious financial rewards and he wished to do something for Humanism.
I had presided over four incarnations of the Bohemian Embassy coffee house where Margaret Atwood, Ian & Sylvia Tyson, Al Purdy, Gordie Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Bill Coshy and many more performed. I arranged a meeting with George. He and I had already become acquainted with the Centre For Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Paul Kurtz, the founder, Tom Flynn and Joe Nickell had spoken at HAT events. I had attended talks in Amherst and CFI presented a 2-day conference at the Ramada Inn on Jarvis Street. They indicated a desire for a Toronto location and sought cooperation from HAT. Nothing resulted. Some say it was apathy among HAT members, fear of American domination or was it that CFI Los Angeles had drained the exchequer!
HAT members Ron Burns and Jim Cranwell joined George and me. Using the CFI model, we envisioned an umbrella organization with HAT, HAC and the Toronto Skeptics sharing the same roof. We needed a location. Feeling a need for more youthful participation, we wanted to be close to the University of Toronto and consulted Neil Wright Real Estate. he found us a location on Harbord Street. It needed a lot of work. George hired an architect. Plans were drawn up. A strike at City Hall delayed approval month after month. George, in his 80s, couldn’t stand the delays. He sold Harbord Street and got out.
Robert Buckman, an internationally famous oncologist had come to Toronto. He had a lot of TV exposure in Great Britain, had partnered with Monty Python’s John Cleese in several projects. He did several programs on TV Ontario. He had a high profile and he replaced Henry Morgantaler as President of HAC. HAT and HAC presented some events under Rob’s direction. Membership at HAT soared well over 200.
Quite separately, things were happening at U of T. It was decided to create a multi-faith Centre. Two students objected. Independently, Jenny Fiddes and Justin Trottier felt that a university should be secular, supporting no religion. Religion might support colleges but not the university. Where did atheists fit !?
George Baker and I heard about it and gave them a couple of hundred bucks for stamps and envelopes. I was on the HAT Board of Directors and proposed for Jenny and Justin to make presentations on the U of T campus. They were successful with considerable interest in Humanism and Atheism. George and I arranged a lunch at Bumpkins Restaurant with Justin, Jenny and Rob Buckman. Rob imagined a Humanist Drop-in Centre near the university. A meeting with Henry Morgantaler, Rob, Ron Burns, Jim Cranwell and me occurred and we decided we would do it. I contacted Mr. Wright and he found 216 Beverly Street.
The umbrella organization idea began to unfold. The skeptics were skeptical and decided not to participate. The Humanist Association of Canada wanted their headquarters to stay in Ottawa. A vote of HAT members was 100% for moving in and the organization was set up. The student team at U of T was enthusiastic….(more on the CFIC website)
It is eminently fitting to re-share one of Don’s own stories. Whether it was the forming and re-forming of the Bohemian Embassy or helping to shape humanist communities – Don seemed always, when I was with him, to be sharing a story. But also creating a stage for those around him to sing just as purely, laugh just as joyfully, think and feel just as deeply and shine just as brightly as he did.
Don was a wonderful human and a wonderful humanist.
Reflections by Richard Thain
I first met Don at a Humanist Association of Canada (HAC) conference almost four decades ago, and it was a pleasure knowing and associating with Don through HAC (now Humanist Canada), Humanist Association of Toronto, Centre for Inquiry Canada, etc.
As most of us know, Don was a creative dynamo, entertainer, writer, and Canadian cultural luminary. In addition to his professional work, Don found the time to support numerous secular humanist organizations. He regularly attended and contributed to humanist conferences, was a founder of Humanist Association of Toronto (HAT), and Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFIC). Don was an articulate and staunch supporter of all our humanist causes. One of the last conversations he had, before he died, was about how extremely upset he was over the recent news from the USA, regarding the overturning of the Roe (v) Wade decision.
In recent years, while visiting Toronto, I occasionally was able to join Don, Jim Cranwell, and other humanist, atheist friends, at their Friday afternoon social and discussion sessions. The conversations were always fascinating and enlightening, to say the least. On one such visit, he passed me his brilliant Quotesanon pamphlet. The pamphlet included a poem which he had written:
A Found Poem by Don Cullen
An eye for an eye
Makes the whole world blind. *
Only human kindness
Will save humankind. **
* Accredited to M.K. Gandhi
** Accredited to Bertrand Russell
Don Cullen was a thoughtful, generous, creative, and compassionate man. Last week we lost a wonderful friend – a great Canadian humanist.
Citations, References And Other Reading
Feature Image Courtesy: Dr. Richard Thain
The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.
The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has a new kind of chaplain. On May 18, 2022, Captain Marie-Claire Khadij became the CAF’s first-ever humanist chaplain.
Humanism is a worldview rooted in reason and science, human rights, compassion and social responsibility. Humanism says that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives.
Captain Khadij – currently posted with the Canadian Army’s 2nd Canadian Division at CFB Valcartier, Que. – entered the CAF as a chaplain in 2017, initially representing the Roman Catholic faith tradition. Over time, she found that humanism is more aligned with her values. She views spirituality as a search for meaning in life, which some do through religion while others, like herself, seek meaning through humanist values or secular ethics.
The humanist’s approach to spirituality is consistent with the vision held by the CAF’s Royal Canadian Chaplain Service (RCChS); it is a set of core values and beliefs that colour our view of the world, our understanding of the people around us, the events that occur, and how that influences our daily actions.
The addition of a humanist chaplain – with more expected in the future – provides another option for the moral and spiritual support of CAF members. Captain Khadij feels many CAF members will welcome the opportunity to speak to a humanist chaplain with no link to a particular religion.
“Relatively few members come to see chaplains for religious matters,” says Captain Khadij. “The majority of members come simply to speak with us and get support. Most members know that the religious or spiritual tradition of the chaplain does not change the kind of service they receive. Regardless of the chaplain, each member is welcomed, listened to and supported on their journey. And if they have specific faith questions, they can be referred to a chaplain of that specific tradition.”
While the addition of a humanist chaplain is new for the CAF, it’s not out of the ordinary for an existing chaplain to transition between religious or spiritual categories.
“Each year, there are a few faith or spiritual tradition changes within the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service (RCChS),” says Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-François Noël, acting director of recruiting and policies for the RCChS.
Humanist Canada has been actively engaged in establishing a system of accreditation for those who wish to become humanist chaplains. The Interfaith Committee on Canadian Military Chaplaincy (ICCMC) and the Office of the Chaplain General worked with Humanist Canada to enable and facilitate Captain Khadij’s recognition as a humanist chaplain, and is working with the organization to enable the future enrolment of more humanist chaplains.
In August of 2021, the Board of Directors of the former Ryerson University voted to change the name of the institution due to (as one CBC story phrases it) concerns about the man the institution is named for and his links to Canada’s residential schools.
According to www.ryerson.ca, “Names matter. They tell the world who we are and what we stand for. They communicate ideas, values and aspirations. They speak to the future even as they acknowledge the past. A new name offers an invitation to be more inclusive, to imagine novel ways of thinking and creating — to open ourselves to new possibilities. This is a new chapter for our university, informed by the pages that come before but open to the opportunities that lie ahead. Now is a time to recommit to the values that define us, to invite our community to gather around our shared mission and to shape a future in which everyone belongs.” So Ryerson University is now the Toronto Metropolitan University where “It’s the many collisions between peoples and perspectives that take place in a metropolitan setting that drive innovation. As such, our name is as much a marker of location as it is a statement of identity, one that’s befitting of a thoroughly urban university.” Collisions? OK. We can take that as food for thought.
Since questions of a dead legislator’s legacy is not only fair game for consideration (Ryerson/TMU has a 131-page document examining the life and legacy of their former namesake), it is the inspiration for baseball bats and crowbars to be taken to statuary (per featured image), perhaps it is reasonable and even to-be-encouraged that all areas of that legislator’s legacy be examined.
Consider, for example the Common School Act of 1850. As spacing.ca explains it: “The Common School Act of 1850 set into law what was already being practised (sic) by local communities throughout Ontario. The act permitted any group of five Black families to ask local school trustees to establish a separate school. The law also permitted the creation of separate schools for Roman Catholic and Protestant families.”
Here in 2022, as ideas of how to implement contemporary values of diversity and inclusivity collide with the legacy institutions, it seems odd that those who are concerned with updating our systems to reflect the values of the present and our aspirations for the future haven’t decided that a certain elephant in the room needs to be addressed. The public funding of Catholic school boards in Ontario is the single largest and least supportable example of segregation and systemic faith-based discrimination (faithism) in Canada.
By all means, let us rename, rebrand, renew. A better, more diverse and inclusive future is waiting.
The concept of systemic faithism may not be familiar to HumanistFreedoms.com readers, so as a kind of preamble to the focus of this article, consider this definition of systemic faithism as presented by the Government of Ontario’s own Ontario Human Rights Commission presented in its 2013 Human Rights and Creed Research and Consultation Report.:
Systemic faithism refers to the ways that cultural and societal norms, systems, structures and institutions directly or indirectly, consciously or unwittingly, promote, sustain or entrench differential (dis)advantage for individuals and groups based on their faith (understood broadly to include religious and non-religious belief systems). Systemic faithism can adversely affect both religious and non-religious persons, depending on the context, as discussed in the examples below. Some forms of systemic faithism can be actionable under the Code (e.g. those amounting to “systemic discrimination”), while others may not be (e.g. those taking broader cultural or societal forms). This section looks more closely at two dominant forms of systemic faithism in the current era, flowing from the “residually Christian” structuring of public culture and institutions, and from “closed secular” ideology and practice...Among the most obvious examples of residual Christianity in Ontario…public funding in Ontario of Roman Catholic separate schools, but not other religion-based schools.
How is it that a provincial government is able to simultaneously identify, define and detail a form of systemic discrimination and continuously defend and perpetuate the abuse? It’s a puzzler.
The authors of upsetting.ca have decided to do their best to explore and communicate the lengthy and, well as the website says – upsetting history of ongoing privileging of a particular community within the provinces of Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan (a bit of rough math reveals that roughly half of all Canadians live in a jurisdiction that continues to ensconce and fund a major form of systemic discrimination).
Upsetting’s authors make their position clear: On the practical side, the Ontario public has never sanctioned the public funding of separate school systems for Roman Catholic citizens, just politicians. The RC school systems (French & English) were foisted upon Ontario through two dictatorial moves by politicians. Skullduggery (trickery, dishonesty) in the highest places has maintained them. Each post in this series will tell a different story in order to reveal all the events and the characters associated with them. Posts will be every Sunday evening, Tuesday evening, and Thursday evening for several weeks.
Perhaps you’re interested to investigate systemic faithism from a distinctly different angle? Have a listen to a podcastfrom York University’s Critical Spirituality in Leadership who say that they recognize that “neutral” or “secular” views often privilege agnostic or atheist traditions and worldviews (Ontario Human Rights Commission, n.d.) and are “residually and normatively Christian” (Seljak et. al, 2008). This leads to systemic faithism.. we consider Seljak et. al’s (2008) analysis of the close connections between religion, ethnicity and race in the Ontario context and caution that Christian privilege can result in anti-religious sentiment, ethno-religious alienation, polarization, and alienation, rooted in the belief that religious practices and identities are incompatible with Canadian identity and citizenship (OHRC, n.d.). This encourages the creation of religious “ghettoes” that may lead to religious radicalization and disengagement from Canadian public life (OHRC, n.d.). We heed Butler’s (2000) warning that spirituality may be commodified in modern schooling, reducing it to individual approaches instead of situating it in larger contexts of social struggle.
One of Canada’s leading secular humanist organizations, Centre For Inquiry Canada (CFIC) has launched a new podcast titled ThePodcast For Inquiry. The podcast appears to be available on the CFIC’s website as well as Spotify.
Leslie Rosenblood, the podcast’s host and a long-time member of the CFIC community in the Toronto area has walked through seven episodes (to date) of conversation about such topics as freedom of expression, the state of democracy in the world and Quebec’s Bill C-21.
In the most recent March 23, 2022) episode, Leslie speaks with James Turk, the Director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University about “the importance of free expression in a democratic society, the futility and counterproductive nature of censorship, and what limits on expression are reasonable and justified.”
We note that our friend and inspiration, Dr. Richard Thain’s experience of attempting to advertise in the City of Winnipeg, is featured during the conversation.
We hope CFIC continues to provide compelling and valuable insights into our most important humanist rights and freedoms.
Citations, References And Other Reading
The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.
The following article has been compiled from information provided by OPEN.
An application stating the current funding of Ontario separate schools violates s.15(1) of the Charter of Rights has been filed at the Ontario Superior Court and served on the Ontario government on behalf of One Public Education Now (OPEN) lawyers Adair Goldberg Bieber.
The two plaintiffs, a public high school teacher, and a parent of children in the French public school system, are founding members of OPEN (One Public Education Now). OPEN is a coalition of groups and individuals dedicated to challenging the current discriminatory funding of the schools of one religion.
Many people want to do something about this discriminatory funding of one religious school system, but don’t know what to do. Governments and political parties ignore letters, articles and petitions. But they can’t ignore lawsuits, and people can do something by contributing to our challenge. Our lawsuit is funded by the donations of many people and needs additional funding to continue our legal fight.
The Application states there have been sufficient changes since 1987 that the Reference re Bill 30 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that the Charter does not apply to the funding of Ontario separate schools should be re-examined.
Therefore, the only rights protected from Charter challenge are those that existed in 1867 and are protected by s.93(1); and the public funding of non-Catholics at separate schools and the public funding of Grades 11 and 12 at separate schools, neither of which existed in 1867, violate the equality sections of the Charter of Rights.
Not only is the public funding contrary to the Charter of Rights, but it wastes money in duplicate administration and unnecessary busing of students at a time when money is needed for, among other things, protecting the safety of teachers and students. Estimating the savings is difficult because so many of the costs are hidden but it has been estimated up to 1.6 billion dollars a year could be saved. So many people think separate schools are funded by residential property taxes, not realizing just 7% of separate school operational funding, and none of the capital funding, come from the property taxes of residential separate school supporters.
OPEN’s Positions Regarding Funding of Catholic School System in Ontario
Separate schools were started under historical circumstances that no longer exist; for example, there were fights between Protestants and Catholics in public schools and Ontario agreed to protect separate Catholic schools in return for Quebec protecting separate Protestant schools; these circumstances no longer apply
So much has changed since the 1987 Reference re Bill 30 Supreme Court of Canada decision, such as Quebec abolishing its funding of separate schools in 1997, that the ruling the Charter of Rights does not apply to the funding of Ontario separate schools, should be reconsidered
Separate schools are not paid for by separate school residential property taxes.
Capital funding is paid for entirely by general provincial revenues. In general, only 7% of operating revenues of separate schools come from residential property taxes; 15% comes from business property taxes; 70% comes from general provincial funding.
By contrast, 15% of public school funding comes from residential property taxes and only about 60% from general provincial funding.
The current system wastes money. Boards of Trustees, Superintendents of Education, Board offices and administrative staff, are duplicated.
We don’t have two fire services, one for Catholics and one for everyone else. Think of the waste if we did.
Students are bused to the closest public or separate school, instead of walking or being bused to the nearest publicly-supported public school.
Local community schools are being closed that could be kept open if all local students went to a public local school, not split between public and separate schools
Estimating the savings is difficult because so many of the costs are hidden but it has been estimated up to 1.6 billion dollars a year could be saved.
One third of Ontario publicly-funded teaching jobs are denied to the two-thirds of the population who are not Catholic even though all Ontario tax-payers pay for these schools.
Of course Catholics who want to can pay to send their children to religious schools, just as Anglicans, Baptists, Muslims and others do. What is unfair is the government, for outdated reasons, funding one religious group .
People have signed petitions, written articles, and sent letters and emails. But because all the major parties support the status quo, nothing changes.
In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published via other venues that we think humanistfreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following article was located on SAGE Open, an open-access publishing source. Dr. Robertson has kindly provided a brief opening paragraph for HumanistFreedoms.com. (Note that bold features are ours and may not coincide with any emphasis that Dr. Robertson might prefer.)
The Medicine Wheel Revisited: Reflections on Indigenization in Counseling and Education
Enlightenment humanism seeks universal values common to the human condition. For example, in humanism the dignity of the person is valued regardless of the race, creed, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity or geographic location of that person. Similarly, empirical scientific truth will apply to all individuals, irrespective of divinely given alternate “realities” that are subjectively held. In this article I argue that the methods of science and reason that makes such a naturalistic understanding possible are compatible with traditional aboriginal worldviews, but that each culture must ground the Enlightenment to its traditions for that culture to participate equally in the scientific revolution. I call this process of adapting new technologies to local cultures “indigenization.” I recommend a secular approach to indigenization relating modern conceptual thought to traditional cultures in a way that is consistent with traditional constructs. In this article, I use the ancient medicine wheels found on the Great Plains of North America to illustrate how this could be done.
This article is peer reviewed and was first published by SAGE Open as “open access.” It may be referenced: Robertson, LH. (2021) The Medicine Wheel Revisited: reflections on indigenization in counselling and education, Sage Open, 11(2) 1-11 DOI: 10.1177/21582440211015202
Indigenization involves relating traditional cultures to modern methods, concepts, and science to facilitate their use by those populations. Despite attempts to indigenize both the practice of counseling and the content of educational curricula, mental health and educational deficits in Amerindian communities have remained. This article suggests indigenization in the North American context is often based on a reified view of culture that discounts naturalistic and scientific approaches, and that this dynamic inhibits progressive cultural change at institutional and community levels. A secular approach to indigenization is proposed that relates modern conceptual thought to traditional cultures in a way that is consistent with traditional constructs. The medicine wheel, traditional to North American Great Plains cultures, is applied to counseling to illustrate how concepts found in aboriginal cultures could inform modern practice with wider applications to curriculum development. Related tensions involving interpretations of aboriginal spiritualities and modernity are discussed.
As Director of Lifeskills for the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College in Regina, Canada, during the 1980s, I would be asked, “Why do we (aboriginal people1) always have to become more like them (non-aboriginal people), why can’t they become more like us?” While modern North American cultures are constituted by the histories of their constituent peoples, including those aboriginal to the continent,2 these students were actually voicing alienation from a modern educational system that emphasizes mathematics, logical constancy, and chronological time delineated behavior—skills that were not indigenous to Canadian hunter-gathering societies. Attempts to rectify such alienation have included calls for the indigenization of curricula that are pictured as “western” or “European” (Barman et al., 1986; Louie et al., 2017).
Counseling is also pictured as Euro-American and unsupportive of aboriginal cultural traditions (McCormick, 1996; Poonwassie & Charter, 2001; Sojonky, 2010) with the result that some aboriginal students are unwilling to see nonnative counselors (Dolan, 1995). Indigenization in this context is a process whereby an imported psychology is transformed in ways that are appropriate to the local culture (Adair, 2006).3 Indigenization may be understood as the appropriation of technologies, practices, or systems of conceptual thought in ways that accord with the receiving culture.
Swidler (1986) redefined culture as excluding change to technology and material artifacts while including “beliefs, ritual practices, art forms, and ceremonies, as well as informal cultural practices such as language, gossip, stories, and rituals of daily life” (p. 273). Although technologies and artifacts per se may not be part of culture, the ways that they are used and interpretive significance given them would be. In this article, cultures are held to be fluid concepts consisting of generally shared experiences or generic representations that may be called cultural schemas common to populations linked by tradition (Quinn, 2011). As counseling and education can effect change in the mental schemas held by clients and students, the acquisition of the knowledge, attitudes, and skills required by them to participate successfully in modern economies will inevitably lead to change in their family and community cultures. The alternate view that cultures are defined entities as opposed to fluid concepts leads to at least two important corollaries: (a) a person could have incompletely or inadequately learned a culture with which he or she identifies or is otherwise assigned making that person a less worthy representative; and (b) speakers from a defined culture may make knowledge claims that are at variance with those made by speakers from other cultures but are nonetheless of greater truth for the represented cultural group. Representative of this perspective on culture, a peer reviewer of an earlier version of this manuscript asked whether the author was aboriginal and writing from an indigenous perspective. Had I identified as a person with aboriginal ancestry, I could still have been accused, under this paradigm, of not taking an “aboriginal perspective.” Such a static and defined view of culture is similar to a religiously held dogma in that deviations from a prescribed belief system are proscribed.
The goal of this article is to suggest a paradigm of dynamic cultural change compatible with secular enlightenment that is rooted in cultures indigenous to North America. Using the concept of the medicine wheel as a metaphor for traditional cultural knowledge generally, it is argued that the practice of indigenization in counseling and curriculum development will contribute to progressive change. World views based on a static or essentialist view of culture, it will be argued, have impeded participation in the modern economy by aboriginal peoples.4 It is suggested that historical and interpretive factors used in advancing the essentialist view are in need of reexamination. We begin by establishing a case for such a reframe.
Stalled Education: Colonization and “Indian Control”
Education is an important value in human cultures. Goulet and Goulet (2014) identified three forms of the teaching-learning process conceptualized in the indigenous Cree language: “kiskinaumegahin (teaching another), kiskinaumasowin (teaching oneself), and kiskinaumatowin (teaching each other)” (p. 65). While teaching as a profession was necessitated by the increased complexities of modern civilization and falls within the rubric of “teaching another,” the introduction of such education to students aboriginal to Canada had disastrous consequences. The Canadian government contracted with five churches to provide education with the goal of assimilating indigenous students into the colonial economy5 with the churches responsible for operating costs. The churches planned to cover these costs by generating income through industrial production. For example, schools on the Canadian prairies typically taught farming and animal husbandry with students providing manual labor half days. When these “industrial schools” failed to generate sufficient revenues, many students suffered from malnutrition and dis- ease. Furthermore, examples of physical and sexual abuse Indian Residential Schools were widespread (Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2006; Barman et al., 1986). While such experiences contributed to a negative view of education among many indigenous people, it is important to also consider that this view was not universally held. When the Canadian government attempted to end the residential school program in 1969,6 the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) successfully lobbied to keep the schools open in their province. Hired by FSIN as part of this process, educational consultants Robertson and Redman (1988) were told the Indian residential school system was to be maintained because (a) the quality of residential school education was considered superior to that offered by on-reserve day schools and (b) the schools effectively provided an alternative to the apprehension of children in dysfunctional families by child welfare agencies.7
Schools have also been viewed as a vehicle for cultural preservation. In a 1972 policy document, the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB) declared, “The present school system is culturally alien to native students . . . School curricula in federal and provincial/territorial schools should recognize Indian culture, values, customs, languages and the Indian contribution to Canadian development” (“Indian control of Indian education,” 1972, p. 9). Prototypically, the Plains Indians Cultural Survival School was established in Calgary, Canada, with 50% of its curriculum consisting of cultural components, including “bustle-making, hide-tanning, drumming, Indian dances, native languages, tepee-making and visits with native elders” (Friesen, 1983, p. 54). This model emphasizing indigenous cultural restoration coupled with local control at primary, secondary, technical and university levels has been replicated across Canada.
This level of indigenization did not result in improved academic achievement. Richards (2014) found that aboriginal students have a significantly higher incompletion rate in band-run reserve-based secondary schools (58%) than in provincial schools (30%). Those who do graduate may not have the literacy skills implied by their grade level. During my experience as an educational psychologist with a northern community college servicing a largely (80%) aboriginal population, I found that graduates of band-run schools often obtained scores 3 to 7 years below grade level on standardized tests of reading and mathematical achievement. A study of Grade 3, 6, and 9 Albertans found that 50% of aboriginal students were not achieving at grade level (Richards & Scott, 2009).
This educational achievement gap cannot be totally attributed to shortfalls in funding. In their comparative study, Richards and Scott (2009) found that federal funding for First Nations schools exceeded the average per student funding provided by provincial governments by more than $4,000 CAD.8 The achievement gap in education could be partly explained by conflicting expectations between educational authorities and local communities. At the university level, Robertson et al. (2015) documented examples of indigenous students whose educational success was considered secondary to the culturally sanctioned demands of their families. Students in counseling described themselves as “caught between two worlds” with the implication that their formal education was considered secondary in one of those worlds.
Another explanation for the education gap between aboriginal, particularly Amerindian, and non-aboriginal students is that the increase in aboriginal cultural content has brought with it a concomitant assumption that traditional “aboriginal ways of knowing” are equivalent to modern conceptual thought. But as Widdowson and Howard (2013) warned, “Because hunting and gathering/horticultural societies lack a culture of literacy, incorporating aboriginal traditions will not facilitate the values, skills, and attitudes that aboriginal people will need to obtain a scientific understanding of the world” (p. 303).9 As a considerable body of research emphasizes the necessity for cultural grounding in learning (Banks, 2001; Hutcheon, 1999; Petersson et al., 2007), a suggestion that cultural teaching may retard learning requires further examination.
Anyone bereft of culture would not have the constructs, the mental scaffolds, upon which to organize and understand experience. Indeed, such a person would not have the language to describe that experience. This is not how cultural loss is usually presented. A more essentialized view is that culture is a “thing” that exists independent of a body of people but can be possessed by them (Waldram, 2004). In such a view, modern science and mathematics may be presented as European, colonialist, or “western.” However, extending the definition used by Swidler (1986), modern conceptual thoughts, especially as found in science and advanced mathematics such as statistics, are not, in themselves, cultural, thus freeing each culture to appropriate scientific, mathematical, and concomitant critical thinking abilities in the course of their own evolution. The evolution of Euro-American cultures from their medieval roots included (a) scientific discoveries rendering old faith-based teachings obsolete and (b) cross-cultural contact contributing to a globalization of their (Euro-American) world view. As a result of this evolution, any school curriculum that taught a geocentric model of the universe or the inherent superiority of European races would not be tolerated. Nonetheless, a continuity of descent marks this education as “European” to students within the Euro- American tradition. The indigenization of curricula within Amerindian traditions requires a similar descent, and such a cultural descent has also been recommended in counseling (Chandler & Lalonde, 1998; Poonwassie & Charter, 2001).
The use of multisensory presentations, democratization of grading, and the use of oral storytelling has been commended as representing indigenization of methodologies in the Canadian context (Louie et al., 2017). All of these techniques had been previously commended by non-aboriginal educators in non-aboriginal settings (McCown et al., 1996; Nelson & Michaelis, 1980; Postman & Weingartner, 1969); therefore, the marker of aboriginality could not have been found in the method but in the content. The development of active listening and critical thinking skills may be enhanced by cross-cultural content grounded in the student’s own culture, but if the purpose of teaching cultural content is to inculcate the student in a particular belief system or worldview, then that would serve to thwart the development of such critical thinking abilities.
While the reification of culture may have the effect of closing minds to new knowledge, it is also possible to view education as a process of opening minds to new possibilities with debates about culture and multiculturalism at the heart of education as a meaningful project (Robertson et al., 2020). If we view all cultures as aggregates evolved from historical and contemporary appropriation, then each participant in the cultural project becomes an authorized speaker capable of investing in culture in creative ways with applications dependent on context and purpose. Under this paradigm, education has the potential to be transformative (Robertson & Conrad, 2016) with individual self-definition enhanced and expanded from a menu of possibilities of increasing size and scope.
Ethical Issues in Education and Counseling Associated With Cultural Reification
While it has been suggested that education and mental health gaps facing Amerindian peoples in Canada may be attributed to cultural insensitivity and even racism on the part of providers (Barman et al., 1986; Chandler & Lalonde, 1998; Louie et al., 2017), a lack of receptivity to services perceived as “western” or “Euro-Canadian” by indigenous students may also explain such deficiencies. It is argued here that the reification of a set of beliefs about aboriginal spirituality creates resistance to learning modern concepts and that such reification is counterproductive in a quest for cultural continuity. In this example, the Medicine Wheel, as a sacred and unvarying ontological dictum is unhelpful, but the medicine wheel concept as an epistemological understanding may serve as a bridge for connecting culture to technological and scientific development. The medicine wheel has been used in various forms to build identity (Mussel, 2005), adult lifeskills development (Lavalley & Wilson, 2006), and adult basic education (Clarke et al., 1998), and such usage suggests the compatibility of the medicine wheel concept with science and reason. Before building on this theme, we need to consider the process of reification.
The Cree elder advised, “If you have even a little (aboriginal ancestry) then you can choose to be either Indian or white, but you cannot be both.”10 Such a view conflates race with culture with the implication that culture is a quantifiable thing that is subject to choice only if one is of mixed ancestry, and even then only as a binary “either or” proposition. In such an essentialist view, cultural assimilation may be equated with genocide (Swidrovich, 2004; Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski, 2004). While effective teaching and counseling necessarily relates to the worldview of the student or client, the essentialist view holds that if the individual does not sufficiently know or identify with their ascribed culture, then he or she has lost some- thing and is judged to be unhealthy (Robertson, 2011b). “Loss of culture” by those who can trace at least part of their genetic ancestry to those aboriginal to North America has been blamed for a host of social problems with cultural restoration frequently framed as “healing” (Brave Heart, 2003; McCormick, 1996; Robertson, 2014a).
The process of cultural restoration is not always appreciated. Elders in one northern community said they recognized that their community had not always been Christian, but efforts to teach them Aboriginal Spirituality11 based on southern (plains buffalo culture) normative beliefs12 felt oppressive (Robertson, 2015). Such conflict between Aboriginal Spirituality and Christianity has not been uncommon (Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2006). Swidler (1986) explained that during “unsettled times,” ideologies become highly articulated and directive “because they model patterns of action that do not ‘come naturally’” (p. 284).
Religious belief, as defined here, begins when a source is considered authoritatively omnipotent. For example, a Saulteaux elder expressed the concern that “white” schools teach his grandchildren Earth goes around the sun, but his elders taught him the reverse (Scott & Nippi, 2004). If the views of these long-deceased elders were taken as revealed truths not subject to material evidence, then these views were held religiously. Such religiously held views may conflict with scientific teachings in educational settings. For example, Ontario philosopher Christopher DiCarlo faced a university disciplinary hearing after two students complained his suggestion of a common human African ancestry was insensitive to an Amerindian teaching that aboriginal people were placed on the American continents by a “Creator” (Kaill, 2005). While notions of a geocentric universe and a creator-god are also indigenous to European cultures, cultural accommodations have been made, allowing teachers to reference science even in non-science courses. Teaching religiously held belief as fact (or an alternative factum) in education classes can be offensive to people with a scientific worldview. One participant in a workshop on Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition for staff at a northern community college commented, Our provincial Department of Higher Education and Manpower has no more business teaching Native Spirituality—with the intent of conversion—than it has teaching Tibetan Buddhism . . . Imagine what towering indignation would have been engendered had (the instructor) been a Catholic and she had asked us to burn incense, to partake in Holy Sacraments, to confess our sins, and tied problem-solving to the four points of the Cross. (Robertson, 2011a, pp. 99–100)
The “four points of the Cross” in this example is an allusion to the four parts of the Medicine Wheel reproduced in Figure 1. This medicine wheel has been capitalized, referenced in the singular, and described as a sacred part of Aboriginal Spirituality (Dyck, 1998; Sanderson, 2010).
The quadrants represent what are thought of as the four dimensions essential for life balance: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. This medicine wheel may be expanded to include four seasons, directions, races, and periods of life overlayed on the basic medicine wheel with each item in a set of four presented in separate quadrants. Holism is then defined as must be represented in the life of the individual for that person to be healthy.
Figure 1. The standard medicine wheel identified with Aboriginal Spirituality.
The division of the circle into four quadrants makes mathematical sense if it is used to represent two variables—one on each of the x- and y-axis, but the use of the number four in this medicine wheel is arbitrary. For example, the notion that there are four races – red, yellow, black, and white – does not conform to scientific understandings of the concept (Miele, 2002; Pinker, 2002; Templeton, 1998) and may have been appropriated from the Christian children’s song Jesus Loves Me. While it may be generally thought that there are four seasons, the traditional Woodland Cree had six. The representation of four life stages, including child, teenager, adult, and elder, must be a recent application to the medicine wheel because the concept of “teenager” is a modern European invention.
There is no direct translation for the English word mental in languages aboriginal to Canada. For example, the Cree word/phrase Kiskwew (literally, “s/he is crazy”) is used to represent the term in that language to the angst of practicing mental health workers. It can be inferred that whoever first added the word mental to the Medicine Wheel was probably thinking in a European language, and then sought to translate the concept into an aboriginal language. As the wheel was not indigenous to aboriginal North American cultures, the very term medicine wheel must be viewed as a cultural appropriation. Widdowson and Howard (2013) questioned whether the concept itself could be used to advance critical thinking, the dissemination of abstract ideas, or the organization of complex information into constituent parts:
While it appears that the Medicine Wheel . . . offers a more systematic pedagogical technique (as compared to concrete conceptualizations in hunter-gatherer societies), this turns out to be a mirage. The “constituent parts” that emerge from the “breaking down of complex situations” are arbitrarily constructed, the only basis for which is a spiritual belief about the significance of the number four. (p. 294)
The teaching of this Medicine Wheel along with other beliefs associated with Aboriginal Spirituality presents an ethical dilemma for professionals who believe education involves teaching analytic skills concomitant with opening young minds to multiple possibilities. Psychotherapists and counselors who assume the construction of an aboriginal self is based on Aboriginal Spirituality potentially do disservice to aboriginal clients whose worldviews are constructed differently. It will be argued that there is a much older concept of the medicine wheel that is amenable to both modern education and counseling that is client-centered.
Using the Lens of Diversity to Understand the Stone Medicine Wheels of the Plains
There have been tens of thousands of circular structures dotting the Great Plains of North America with most identified as “tipi rings”—stones used to hold the flaps of a tipi in place. Some rings do not fit this explanation. After restricting the definition to include only those circular stone structures too large to be a tipi ring having a central stone cairn, one or more concentric stone circles, and/or two or more stone lines radiating outward from the center, Brumley (1988) estimated that there were between 100 to 200 stone medicine wheels on the plains. Two medicine wheels (one near the Bow River in southern Alberta and another at Medicine Mountain, Wyoming) are divided into 28 pie- shaped parts (Grinnell, 1922). It has been suggested that medicine wheels in Wisconsin (Bender, 2008), Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Wyoming (Freeman, 2009) are aligned with astrological phenomena, but this suggestion remains controversial (Vogt, 2015). Restricting the definition to include only those structures divided into four (or multiples of the number four) would exclude these medicine wheels from the classification.
In estimating there to be more than 340 medicine wheels, Robertson (2014b) included circular structures too large to be tipi rings that are not divided at all, and those that are divided without reference to a central hub or spokes as with, for example, parallel lines. An example of such a medicine wheel can be found at the Tie Creek site in eastern Manitoba, Canada (Steinbring & Muller, 2012). This site includes a triangle centering a large circle of stones connected by a complex of lines to other petroforms, including a large winged bird. It would be curious to deny that this is a “medicine wheel” while conferring the title on other structures that have potentially less obvious interpretive and ceremonial significance. An equally important consideration is that the act of taking a modern definition of the term medicine wheel and applying it to ancient stone structures (albeit loosely to figures divided in ways that are not multiples of the number four) restricts the interpretive possibilities that may be attached to such structures, thereby potentially minimizing the traditional cultural wisdom contained therein. It is argued here that the traditional spirituality of the aboriginal inhabitants of North America employed flexible teachings having a pragmatic character.
Figure 2. The generic medicine wheel of Roberts et al. (1998).
This flexible and pragmatic interpretation of the medicine wheel concept may be applied to counseling.
Using the Medicine Wheel Concept in Counseling
Adlerians traditionally eschew the medical model in favor of a psychotherapy focussed on educating the client in new behaviors that better meet individual goals (Christensen & Marchant, 1993; Morris, 1993/2004). In comparing the holism of the aboriginal medicine wheel with that of Individual (Adlerian) Psychology, Roberts et al. (1998) acknowledged, “A wide variety of medicine wheels exist and no one claims a particular official symbol” (p. 137). Nonetheless, they produced what they called a “generic” medicine wheel reproduced in Figure 2. The reference to four directions in this figure suggests wholeness, but the attachment of the qualities of power, uniqueness, vision, and connectedness to specific directions appears to be arbitrary. The quality of individual uniqueness is not often attributed to collectivist cultures; however, the sense that we are unique individual beings is necessary to exercise personal decision-making and forward planning (Damon & Hart, 1988; Robertson, 2020).
I taught an undergraduate university class on contemporary native health issues in which students were invited to create their own personal medicine wheel. While many drew a wheel with four divisions, the number of spokes ranged from 0 to 18. One aboriginal person drew a series of concentric circles with herself surrounded by family, community, “helpers” (meaning outside agencies such as educators and counselors), and “white” society. Another student used spokes to divide a circle into categories representing vision, compassion, family, work, education, language (Cree), planning, doing, love, nature, and God. Although it might be possible to reduce such a self-characterization to four more general categories, doing so serves to constrain the individual’s meaning and relational experience.
If counseling were to be viewed as advice giving, then it would be expected that the advice so given would be informed by the cultural background of the counselor. Alternatively, the counselor could learn and reference a set of values appropriate for the individual based on his or her assigned cultural designation. Either stance is prescriptive with the direction of client-change determined by forces external to the client. Traditionally, professional counselors and psychotherapists use more client-centered approaches with advice giving minimized.
Counselors concerned with issues of identity within the field of psychology typically attempt to create a shared holistic understanding of the selves of their clients (Adler, 1927/1957; Dryden et al., 2001; Epstein, 1994) with client- directed self-change based on new information or alternative preferred narratives (Hermans, 2006; Robertson, 2016; Strong & Zeman, 2005). The role of the counselor is to assist in information gathering and the generation of alternative interpretations. While the use of a reified Medicine Wheel both constrains the presentation of the self and externalizes the direction of change, it is argued here that the use of the medicine wheel concept is both in keeping with aboriginal tradition and consistent with a nondirective view of counseling. Counselors may use the concept of the medicine wheel without teaching any one form as correct. Examples of different medicine wheels could be presented so as to capture the idea of diversity along with the common theme of holism. These unique medicine wheels would reflect individual values, behaviors, and world views, and the act of self-reflection may promote self-understanding with the decision to initiate change in keeping with the principle that the client is the expert on himself.
Both aboriginal and western counseling accepts client individuality within a social context and decision-making based on client choice. In a qualitative analysis of the writings of 17 schools of psychology and the transcripts of an equal number of interviewed Inuit elders, Korhonen (2002) found universal acceptance of such client-centeredness in problem definition, goal-setting, and choice of interventions. Positive psychologists (Dahlsgaard et al., 2005; Hart & Sasso, 2011; Seligman et al., 2005) have reported cross-cultural success by inviting clients to define for themselves terms like happiness and meaning and to cognitively plan, within their contexts, ways of meeting those objectives. While Christopher and Hickinbottom (2008) argued that using such an ethic privileges the individual to make decisions for the benefit of his or herself (thus giving apparent support to an individualist perspective), I replied (Robertson, 2017) that the capacity for individual volition implied in such tasks as forward planning is itself cross-cultural, and that the capacity for logical thought, including the assumption of an objective reality, flows from a cross-culturally informed cognitive self. This understanding of the self as a volitional, rational, and reflective entity both unites modern schools of psychotherapy and resonates with the self as found in collectivist societies (Robertson, 2020). If the client is viewed as self-actualizing, then he or she effectively becomes a culture of one and each counseling relationship becomes a cross-cultural exploration. In such a paradigm, aboriginal identity development can be supported without presuppositions as to what that identity will entail. While the Medicine Wheel pictured in Figure 1 makes such presuppositions as to how an aboriginal self should look, the medicine wheel in Figure 3 illustrates how the different schools of psychology gain an understanding of the self that is embedded in each “culture of one.”
Figure 3 was prepared by recognizing a continuum between physical and mental states of the individual on the x-axis and a continuum between active and passive states on the y-axis. The intersection of the two axes creates four quadrants labeled: cognitive, emotive, physiological, and behavioral. Various therapies were situated on those quad- rants based on their primary focus. Given a holistic perspective, it is anticipated that intervention directed at any one quadrant will necessarily create change in the other three. Thus, a client with attention deficit disorder could be given stimulant medication with the expected result that the medication will influence subsequent emotions, cognitions, and behavior. Similarly, a behavioral plan directed at the same condition would be expected to produce changes in the other three quadrants. Of course, some therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, may address two or more quadrants directly as part of their methodology. Counselors can use this medicine wheel to explain to clients the process and expected results of therapy while building a holistic picture of the client’s self (Robertson, 2020).
If we view traditional indigenous cultures as holistic (Poonwassie & Charter, 2001; Sanderson, 2010), then distinctions between modern constructs such as education and counseling may be seen as arbitrary. As we have seen, education in the modern era can be transformative of the self while counseling as practiced by many psychotherapists is often educational. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that practices and conceptualizations predating the modern era in any given culture would transcend modern categorical boundaries. It has been argued here that such transcendence is a potentiality of the ancient itineration of the medicine wheel. As culture does not include technology or artifacts (Swidler, 1986), modern scientific and mathematical laws also transcend culture. Thus, while the Age of Enlightenment leading to the modern explosion of knowledge began in Europe, thus rendering the term western science an accurate description of the locale of that knowledge explosion during one historical epoch, the corollary that there are other culturally bound “ways of knowing” that are equally efficacious serves to defeat both the educational objective (Robertson et al., 2020) and the psychotherapeutic objective of developing “mind” (Robertson, 2017). It
Figure 3. An application of the aboriginal concept of the medicine wheel to the practice of counseling psychology situating various therapies in quadrants defined by two axes: physical/mental and active/passive.
is the function of culture, then, to relate to science, technology, mathematics, and existing artifacts in some ways. The challenge then is not to replace “western science” with “cultural wisdom” but to link the knowledge therein to indigenous cultures. By facilitating a meaningful appropriation of the techniques by which new knowledge may be learned, aboriginal people will generate new knowledge. We are aided by the belief that aboriginal spirituality is not a religion but a variety of life stances that are open to change based on evidence and reason.
This article began with the suggestion that curricular indigenization to Amerindian cultures will necessarily involve the rooting of modern conceptual thought to earlier cultural constructs in a process of directed evolution. Figure 3 demonstrated how the medicine wheel can be used to illustrate modern conceptual thought in counseling and psychotherapy. Just as it is possible to use the concept of the medicine wheel without attempting to enforce a particular world view, other themes in aboriginal spirituality may be referenced without reifying a particular set of practices and beliefs. Berry (1999) found that a relationship with the land such as being able to hunt, trap, fish, and go berry picking was generally important to the spirits of Inuit, Amerindian, and Metis peoples. It is not necessary to script a particular way of interacting with the land. For example, Robertson (2015) reported on a successful community development program that included Christian indigenous elders taking youth out into the Precambrian Boreal Forest of northern Canada to learn survival skills. In the author’s private practice as a counseling psychologist, it is sometimes suggested that clients consider spending time on family “traplines,” an area traditionally used by a family for the purpose of trapping fur-bearing animals. What the clients do on their trapline that is therapeutic is individualized.
From a holistic perspective, both the student counseling services and curriculum offered by an educational institution are part of a common institutional culture. The indigenization of one cannot be successfully accomplished in isolation. While this article drew on an exemplar involving counseling practice, it is an exemplar with implications for curriculum development. Both involve opening minds to new possibilities. The individual agency implied by such education is not incompatible with cultural grounding:
A relativist position that all cultural tenets are of equal truth or value serves to nullify the cognitive revolution; however, the capacity to take an objective stance can be applied to the interpretive understanding of textual and oral tradition. We hold that it is possible to be inclusive of cultures even if their basic texts are contradictory, provided the process is of being challenged by tradition and working to adopt it in the manner appropriate to one’s own historical circumstance and in preparation for the pluralistic situation of living with other people. (Robertson et al., 2020, pp. 22–23)
The challenge discussed here involves the application of the medicine wheel concept to modern knowledge. As has been noted, the reified Medicine Wheel has already been used to illustrate the concept of race, but inaccurately. It is common in anthropology to note that genetic interchange through population movements over the last hundreds of thousands of years has ensured that there are no human sub- species or races (Lewontin, 2006; Livingstone, 1993; Templeton, 1998). The notion that there is only one race (the human race) could be illustrated by a wheel without divisions. Discussion of the more traditional view that there are three races, Mongoloid, Caucasoid, and Negroid (Nei & Roychoudhury, 1974; Rushton & Ankney, 1993), could be illustrated by dividing the wheel into three with major sub- divisions (e.g., most South Asians and Middle Eastern people are classified as Caucasoid in this system) noted within their respective places in the wheel. The more nuanced view that there are seven races (Edwards, 2003; Miele, 2002) could be similarly illustrated. Boundaries between racial categories could be made diffuse to indicate that racial demarcation is largely arbitrary with no one characteristic common to any race.
It has been customary to think of the medicine wheel as representing four directions, but in a three-dimensional world, there are six. The directions of “up” and “down” could be illustrated by adding a line, perpendicular to the two-dimensional directions, at the center of the wheel. The resultant “medicine sphere” could be used to illustrate numerous three-dimensional concepts in nature. The addition of movement to this sphere could be used to illustrate the fourth dimension of time and some of the effects of relativity. It is contended that linking such modern concepts with historical processes will aid in the internalization of both.
The ultimate objective of both counseling and education is the development of informed logical and critical thought allowing the individual to seek an objective stance relative to received tradition. Failure to ground such skills in indigenous cultures will make their transmission feel assimilationist and foreign. This article has explored the use of the concept of the medicine wheel as one bridge linking indigeneity with modernity. It is hoped that this exemplar will con- tribute to the development and use of other markers of aboriginality in education and counseling.
This article received support from Humanist Canada.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author- ship, and/or publication of this article.
In this article, the terms aboriginal and indigenous are used to reference people, things, and ideas that were commonly pres- ent prior to colonization or modernity. The terms are not capi- talized when used as adjectives but are capitalized when used as part of a proper noun. The reason for this convention will become apparent in the subsequent discussion distinguishing between Aboriginal Spirituality and the more generic “aborigi- nal spiritualities.”
Much that was indigenous to the Americas, such as foods (potatoes, corn, bison, beans, and turkeys), pharmaceuticals (aspirin, coca, peyote, and quinine), industrial products (rub- ber), clothing (moccasins), transportation (canoes, toboggans), and habit-forming substances (tobacco, chewing gum), have been appropriated into the general culture.
Adair (2006) was talking specifically about a need for a psy- chology indigenous to Canada and not a psychology indig- enous to people aboriginal to Canada.
Half a century ago, an indigenous Cree lawyer (Wuttunee, 1971) predicted policies of cultural reification pursued by Amerindian leaders of the day would result in impoverished communities dependent on increasing levels of govern- ment largess. That prediction has been realized (Helin, 2011; Richards & Scott, 2009).
This was actually the second European colonization of the North West with the first involving participation in the fur trade by its aboriginal inhabitants in a direct relationship with Britain. Canadian expansion involved the development of the North West as an agricultural and industrial hinterland (see Innis, 1930/1970; Ray, 1974; Robertson, 2015).
This was the second time the Canadian government attempted to end the Indian Residential Schools program. An earlier attempt to do so in 1907 was reversed subsequent to a successful lobby by western churches and Amerindian chiefs (Woods, 2012).
During the 1960s, the provincial authorities reluctantly took over responsibility for Indian child welfare, but they did not have sufficient foster or adoptive parents of indigenous ancestry to meet the child welfare need. The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) viewed student place- ment at residential schools preferable to “adopting out” to non-aboriginal parents. A two-step process resulted in the transfer of authority for these schools to those Indian bands that contributed to the student population with Indian authori- ties first administering the physical plant. This development was not divorced from child welfare. As Director of the Health and Social Development Commission for FSIN, the author oversaw the development of a document titled “Indian Control of Indian Child Welfare” that paralleled the earlier docu- ment “Indian Control of Indian Education.” Indian Child and Family Service (ICFS) agencies were developed on each band replacing provincial child welfare services during the 1990s. While, officially, the last Indian Residential School in Canada closed in 1996, in 1999 the author completed psychologi- cal assessments of students at a facility offering a residential school program identical to its earlier mandate, but it was now called a “child welfare” facility. The ICFS agencies in northern Saskatchewan had given themselves each a quota of children to be sent to this institution that was still popularly known as the Prince Albert Residential School.
When provincial funding for school districts with fewer than 1,000 students was compared with federal per capita funding, the per capita advantage enjoyed by Amerindian educational authorities shrank to $2,547.
Working from a critical postmodernist perspective, Strong (2002) declared science to be a “white, male way of knowing” and that “truth” is something arrived at through the “discourse of knowledgeable people” (p. 3). In advocating the use of the reified Medicine Wheel, Dyck (1998) declared that “western science” was devoid of spirituality and creativity, and that people recognized as knowledgeable in presenting traditional teachings should be recognized as authoritative . In contrast, science is a process of learning about an independent reality by reducing subjective bias by using hypothesis testing (Bhaskar, 1975; Bloom & Weisberg, 2007), or as Wilson (1999) said, “Science . . . is the organized, systematic enterprise that gath- ers knowledge about the world and condenses the knowledge into testable laws and principles” (p. 58). The idea that there is an objective reality that may be discerned through careful observation predates Europe’s “scientific revolution” by about 2 millennia and is cross cultural (Robertson, 2020). Therefore, the idea that people from so-called collectivist cultures cannot be objective is suspect.
This is from personal communication with Cree elder Ernest Tootoosis, Poundmaker Indian Reserve, 1971. This advice has since been repeated to me by several aboriginal elders and is aligned with the Iroquoian “Two Row Wampum” teaching that the “Redman” and the “Whiteman” will paddle in separate (but parallel) canoes and that if someone tries to have a foot in both canoes, “there will be a high wind and the boats will separate and the person that has his feet in each of the boats shall fall between the boats . . .” (Onkehonweh as cited in Widdowson, 2013, p. 341). Other elders may have different understandings.
In this article, “Aboriginal Spirituality” (upper case) is a proper noun referencing a faith-based belief system (see Robertson, 2014b). The term aboriginal spirituality when lowercased ref- erences older beliefs that included supernatural attribution, but was nonetheless evidence based and thus open to change.
During the early 19th century, many Cree bands, in alli- ance with a Siouxian people called the Assiniboine, invaded the northern plains of North America. These “Plains Cree” adopted many Siouxian “buffalo culture” practices such as powwows, sun dances, and horse dances. The Cree remaining in the woodlands did not adopt these practices but, as Poliandri (2011) and Waldram (2014) have noted, Great Plains cultural practices have become increasingly identified with Aboriginal Spirituality across North America.
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In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find organizations and activities that we think humanistfreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The “New Enlightenment Project” caught our eye (particularly the blog section of the organization’s website which features a growing library of articles and discussion) and we asked this new organization’s President, Dr. Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson to tell us more. (Note that bold features are ours and may not coincide with any emphasis that Dr. Robertson might prefer.)
1) What is the New Enlightenment Project and why did you (the organizers) create it?
The New Enlightenment Project was established with three objectives. First, we aim to provide education on the enduring qualities of reason and compassion which define humanism. Second, we affirm that the application of humanist values that flow from a stance firmly rooted in reason and compassion will necessarily change over time. One forum for accomplishing this, for example, is provided by Humanists International and their initiative to amend the Amsterdam Declaration of 2002. This process of updating is part of the “new” in the “New Enlightenment.” Third, since there is no deity that can give us the final word, we must depend on each other honing our knowledge through open discussion and free debate. We provide that forum.
2) How will NEP be different from other humanist-branded organizations? What will NEP do that others aren’t already doing?
The NEP is inclusive. We recognize that there is a wide range of opinion within humanism and that humanists often have differences in focus. But we also believe that we need a venue where humanists can have difficult conversations about controversial topics. Humanist Canada had such an open discussion group which they shut down last year. They then engaged in discussions with the Centre for Inquiry – Canada about creating a joint open discussion forum, but they have been unable to create such a forum. In the meantime, NEP has created two such forums, one on our website and one on Facebook, and these forums are open to everyone. To our knowledge, we are the only humanist organization in Canada providing this opportunity, and we invite all humanist organizations to embrace this initiative.
3) What does NEP see as the top priorities for humanism and humanists now and in the coming years? Within Canada? Globally?
There are many contemporary issues of concern. One of our top priorities is to come to terms with indigeneity in a postcolonial world. There are those who consider themselves to be allies of the descendants of the colonized who call science and reason “Western” and who promote “other ways of knowing.” When you think about it, this position is quite racist. It is saying that science and reason belong to Europeans and their decedents. Further, it is patronizing to suggest that faith based “other ways of knowing” is somehow equivalent to the enlightenment afforded by empirically verified research. Humanists need to come to terms with how these fundamental values can relate to traditional indigenous cultures. To help accomplish this the NEP participates in an Aboriginal Circle aimed at combining aborigineity and humanism.
There are other injustices that are worth fighting against. For example, with the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan we are witnessing the re-imposition of Medieval practices that include beheadings and the use of amputation to enforce religiously based authoritarian laws. We are part of a coalition of humanist groups raising public awareness and lobbying for government recognition and support of humanists, atheists and apostates as refugees. While this hearkens back to the original Enlightenment that concerned itself with replacing feudal structures, we must contend with modern economic forces that can also bring injustice.
I think humanists also need to also celebrate the achievements our movement has helped produce. Secularism is on the rise. We have achieved fantastic gains in combating racism and sexism. We need to continue to fight injustice while being wary of beliefs that are anti-scientific and discourage open inquiry. Compassion, which is an essential part of humanism, must be extended to all.
4) What does NEP see as the greatest threats to humanism and humanists now and in the coming years? Within Canada? Globally?
Humanism is under attack. It was always thus. We recognize the primacy of human reason in generating knowledge about knowledge about reality. Religionists have maintained that human reason is faulty and we need guidance from a deity. Totalitarians like Martin Heidegger have argued that science and reason are faulty and we need guidance from a great leader or Fuehrer as to ultimate “truths.”
In Canada we have become quite effective in fending off the attacks of religious fundamentalists. Globally, however, we have to deal with religiously infused authoritarian regimes, particularly in the Muslim world, who harass, jail and even execute atheists. Our defence of these humanists and apostates is hampered by the attitude of some North Americans who should be our secular allies but who provide deference to Muslim authoritarianism under the notion that these authoritarians represent victims of oppression.
In Canada, humanists are facing attacks from these people who identify themselves as secularists as well as from religious fundamentalists. In an article that was published earlier by Humanist Freedoms I identified these secularists as the Woke. These Woke operate from the premise that objective knowledge is impossible and that even science and reason are “white, male ways of knowing.” We have been slow to recognize and respond to their challenge. The NEP aims to take up their challenge.
5) HumanistFreedoms.com attempts to present a portrait of contemporary humanism and humanists in its articles; how does New Enlightenment Project, an organization whose name seems to be focused on the past, relate to contemporary issues and reflect a contemporary humanism?
The Age of Reason never really ended and is responsible for the scientific explosion we still see today, but there are attempts to make it seem old, passe. But without the grounding provided by the Enlightenment, humanism ceases to be humanism. Respecting the dignity of the individual is impossible if the individual is denied. If there is no individual who can reason, then all knowledge must be granted by a deity or some analogous ideological structure. If there is no objective reality, then science, empiricism and reason are empty culturally sanctioned performances. Put succinctly, humanism is grounded on the idea that there is a reality that exists outside of ourselves and we can come to know that reality through careful observation.
The Enlightenment affirmed a capacity that was already present in the individual. In my book The Evolved Self, I trace the modern structure of the self that balances both individualism and collectivism back 3,000 years. Steven Pinker, in his new book Rationality states that the capacity to reason is much, much older than that, and while this is certainly correct, the self that did the reasoning and put meaning to the process has evolved. A new self that was volitional, continuous and uniquely felt evolved from the old, but it was almost immediately constrained by organized religions. The Enlightenment released those bonds for increasing numbers of mankind, and we have been living the Enlightenment ever since.
But social, political and cultural contexts continually change. We have problems such as global warming, overpopulation and globalization that were not present 400 years ago. While the original Enlightenment was concerned with replacing feudalism, the New Enlightenment must concern itself with recent global capitalism in the digital age and the rise of a new Woke educated aristocracy. The New Enlightenment uses the capacities that are already inherent in the self to amend and update humanism making it very contemporary. Those who would deny those capacities would return us to the Dark Ages.