Upon occasion, a work of art catches our full attention when we least expect it. Maybe that work of art is a magnificent garden, cultivated over decades by a single family with a harmonious vision and discovered down that one street you kept meaning to walk along. Maybe it’s a piece of music that gets into your head and heart so completely from the first time you heard it that it no longer seems to be separate. Or maybe it’s some other bit of human skill and design – some exquisite sculpture, poem, painting, building, guitar, novel, or what have you that stops everything else and occupies you fully.
The Director’s cut version that I’ve linked from Youtube says in the description box:
What is it that makes us human? Is it that we love, that we fight ? That we laugh ? Cry ? Our curiosity ? The quest for discovery ? Driven by these questions, filmmaker and artist Yann Arthus-Bertrand spent three years collecting real-life stories from 2,000 women and men in 60 countries. Working with a dedicated team of translators, journalists and cameramen, Yann captures deeply personal and emotional accounts of topics that unite us all; struggles with poverty, war, homophobia, and the future of our planet mixed with moments of love and happiness. The VOL.1 deals with the themes of love, women, work and poverty. In order to share this unique image bank everywhere and for everyone, HUMAN exist in several versions : A theatrical version (3h11), a TV version (2h11) and a 3 volumes version for the web
The film appears to have been funded by two foundations The Bettencourt Schueller Foundation whose website says that “from its earliest days, the Foundation’s action has been driven by one unwavering principle: contributing to the common good. Acting with complete freedom while remaining true to this principle, the Foundation focuses on three areas of commitment: life sciences, the arts and inclusive society” and The GoodPlanet Foundation which is an extension of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s artistic work and environmental commitment. GoodPlanet aims to make ecology and humanism acentral issue in order to encourage people to take concrete action for the Earth and its inhabitants. The GoodPlanet Foundation takes action in three main areas: environmental and solidarity field projects, educating people on sustainable development and helping companies and people develop an environmentally responsible approach.
What is the next wave of humanism? In our earlier examination, we argued that “contemporary humanists of the twenty-first century are concerned with applied humanism – the many ways that humanism is used for solving problems. The New Humanist says, ‘I am Extreme; I am Radical; I am Hardcore. I am Humanist.‘”….and it seems that the contemporary humanists are also saying “I am connected to my world. I care.”
In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published in other venues that we think humanistfreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following article was published on Manuel Garcia, Jr.’s personal website on April 11, 2021.
“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” Carl Gustav Jung 
Life is the actualization of potentialities embedded within the biochemical processes that form the mechanisms of genetics and evolution. Does life have a purpose, or is it entirely a statistically random fluke made possible by the astronomical number of possibilities available for the expression of molecular chemistry in the wide array of physical conditions interspersed throughout the vastness of space? To believe that life has a consciously intended purpose is to believe that life is an intentional creation by a conscious supernatural entity or entities. If so, what is that purpose?
We know that the most elementary organisms of proto-life, like the SARS-CoV-2 virus that infects people with the deadly COVID-19 disease, have no purpose beyond the mindless mechanical continuation of their genetic formats, by feeding their metabolisms through parasitism. But, what of more conscious organisms, like: plants, animals, us?
We humans pride ourselves as presumably having the most highly developed conscious minds of all life-forms on Planet Earth (though very deep ecologists and naturalists disagree with this presumptuousness). From this human-centric point of view, the various levels of consciousness of living organisms are all evolutionary adaptations enhancing the survivability of individuals, to thus enhance the likelihood of the propagation and continuation of their species as environmental conditions change.
For believers in the supernatural there is an imposed obligation, or supra-natural goal, or “higher purpose” to human consciousness, which can be most generally characterized as finding union with God. For non-believers, the fully conscious experience of being alive is the totality of that higher purpose. In either case, the realization of that purpose is to be had by the combination of human solidarity and nature conservation.
Homo sapiens are social animals, and their full development as individuals — their realization of purpose — requires social connection and connection with Nature.
TALES BY LIGHT
“Tales by Light”  is an Australian television series (in 3 seasons) about the use of photography and videography to tell stories visually so as to change society for the better: activism. Here, I am only writing about episodes from Season 3. By its very nature this series is visually “beautiful” — in terms of the technical perfection of the image composition, capture and presentation — even when abysmally grim and ugly situations are being shown in order to advance the complete story. This is about emotional punch delivered visually. And of course, incredibly happy bursts of emotion are delivered in the same way by the presentation of images of lushly colorful nature, and joyful and inspiring scenes of human warmth, kindness and sheer exuberance. The three stories (each given in two parts) that affected me were:
1, CHILDREN IN NEED: This story, by Simon Lister, is about the children of Dhaka, Bangladesh, who scrounge through the most disgusting, unsafe and unsanitary heaps of rubbish to find scraps of material that can be recycled locally — like plastic forks and containers — in the abysmal poverty of their society; or who do difficult work in unsafe and toxic conditions to support their families. There are millions of these kids in Bangladesh.
Many Bangladeshi kids work in primitive workshops with zero health and safety codes, procedures and equipment, for example to produce pans and bowls by hands pressing sheet metal against spinning mandrels, again with no protective shields from whirling machinery gears and belts right at hand; nor any proper ventilation and filtration to protect them from toxic metal dust, or fumes in workshops using solvents and chemicals.
The story of such child laborers in the poorest societies on Earth is being documented as part of a UNICEF program to bring world (rich world) attention to the problem of child labor, and to generate financial resources to then provide safe and sanitary spaces for such children to be able to get food, education, rest, shelter for the night off the streets, and the joyful companionship of other children. But, since the money these children gain from their difficult and hazardous work is always the lifeline for the support of their families, often of single mothers, such a labor force is considered “normal” in their societies, and lamentably economically essential for these individuals.
The ultimate “solution” for eliminating this heartbreaking situation would be a worldwide awakening to an actual commitment to species-wide human solidarity. That that idea becomes self-evident through the medium of photography testifies to its power as an art-form.
2, PARADISE IN PERIL: This story, by Shawn Heinrichs, is of the conservation of the ocean biodiversity and habitat of the Raja Ampat Islands. Here, the art of photography is being used to present the story of the value of an amazing tropical coral reef and mangrove forest environment in New Guinea (Indonesia).
That story is told in two directions, first “upscale” to the societies of the wealthy industrialized and developed economies, to generate financial resources needed to establish locally manned, maintained, patrolled, owned — and in selected zones sustainably fished — marine reserves, and to ensure their continued operation and ongoing scientific study.
That story is also told “downscale,” in video presentations in their own language to the actual people living in the environments that are being protected, so that new generations of conservationists grow out of the youth of that indigenous population, now fired up with a greater understanding of the positive impact their healthy local environment has on their own lives as well as on the global environment.
The emotional impetus to these conservation efforts, both locally and remotely, is sparked by the visual impact of the photos and videos of the stunning and vibrant beauty of life moving in that magical submerged translucent habitat. The Raja Ampat Islands is one of the few places on Earth where all measures of biodiversity and ecological health are improving right now, even despite advancing global climate change; and this is entirely because of cooperative human intentionality.
3, PRESERVING INDIGENOUS CULTURE: This story by Dylan River, an Australian filmmaker with an Aboriginal grandmother, is of the recording for posterity of Aboriginal ways and languages slowly being lost with the passing away of elders, of the stories behind some of their ancient rock art, of ways of living off the land and sea while being intimately connected to the natural environment, and of community as the essence of being.
On a visit to Arnhem Land, Dylan is immersed into a welcoming ritual by the Yoingu people, whose spokesman at the event states that though Dylan is from far away he is “part of the family” as is everybody in spirit. The entirety of this brief and simple greeting conveys a fundamental truth that is more clearly and wisely stated, and lived by the Yoingu, than with any of the fatuous self-satisfied pronouncements by our many supposedly powerful and always hypocritical political leaders, who collectively oversee and exacerbate the poisonous fractiousness and sociological cannibalism of our national and world societies.
The basic truth here is that every human being “is something Nature is doing” — as Alan Watts put it — and that Nature is integral, it is a harmoniously self-entangling network of life. And that is what healthy human community should be.
I recommend this series to you because of its many simultaneous dimensions of beauty.
To my mind, the financial investments made by the executives of Canon Incorporated, National Geographic (a subscription television network in Australia and New Zealand that features documentaries, and is owned by The Walt Disney Company), and Netflix, to produce and broadcast this series were very worthy, even as I know there would necessarily also have been a component of profit motive in those investment decisions.
What is needed in our world is ever the same: more human solidarity and nature conservation. The wider broadcast of these three stories from the series Tales By Light could help awaken more people to that realization, or at a minimum give some comfort to those who already know.
Acknowledgment: Gretchen Hennig perceptively brought Tales by Light to my attention.
 “Our age has shifted all emphasis to the here and now, and thus brought about a daemonization of man and his world. The phenomenon of dictators and all the misery they have wrought springs from the fact that man has been robbed of transcendence by the shortsightedness of the super-intellectuals. Like them, he has fallen a victim to unconsciousness. But man’s task is the exact opposite: to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious. Neither should he persist in his unconsciousness, nor remain identical with the unconscious elements of his being, thus evading his destiny, which is to create more and more consciousness. As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. It may even be assumed that just as the unconscious affects us, so the increase in our consciousness affects the unconscious.”
Manuel Garcia, Jr. is a retired physicist who blogs at https://manuelgarciajr.com on “energy, nature, society,” like on global warming; plus idiosyncratic poetry. During his working career he designed many experiments in high power, high energy and explosive energy physics. His orientation is rationalist, leftist, Zen and humanist.
Since HumanistFreedoms.com began publication early in 2020, we have witnessed more…and more frequent…signs that humanists around the world are seeking a next wave of humanism. Twentieth century humanism is dead – long live twenty-first century humanism!
What will the next wave of humanism look like?
Is Hardcore Humanism An Answer?
Do an internet search for “Hardcore Humanism” and you will find a website and blog for Dr. Michael Friedman, PhD – a clinical psychologist who promotes ” a life philosophy, therapeutic modality and life coaching program that brings together the compassionate holistic approach of humanistic psychology with the scientific rigor of behavioral therapy. Humanistic psychology promotes unconditional positive regard – a basic belief that all people are good and have value – as they strive to achieve their life’s purpose and best self. With Hardcore Humanism, the Humanistic approach is optimized to include the hardcore work ethic and science-based approach of behavioral therapy. In other words, Hardcore Humanism means not only understanding and accepting yourself but also working in a methodical way to achieve your purpose and find fulfillment.”
Whether Friedman’s clinical approach is particularly novel or not, fundamental to his branding is the marriage of humanism to a commitment so staunch, so unwavering and elemental that it is “hardcore”. Friedman’s podcast and website currently has a wide selection of articles which feature connections between heavy metal and punk subcultures and and music.
Is There Room For A Radical Humanism?
On July 1, 2020 Counterpunch published an article by Julian Vigo calling for a “radical humanism” in response to current social and political events and trends. Despite the bold title, “A Call for Radical Humanism: the Left needs to return to Class Analyses of Power“, Vigo did not directly define “radical humanism”. Nor did Vigo clearly state why or how a proposed return to class analysis of power by The Left would fulfill a radical humanism. Over the course of the article, Vigo jumped instead to a kind of applied radical humanism without providing the reader with the benefit of a defined radical humanism.
Vigo’s article suggests that there are contemporary humanists who crave the presence of a form of humanism that has been absent from contemporary public life and politics.
An exploration of the term radical humanism must begin with definitions of the two root words, humanism and radicalism.
Humanism has a rich, complicated and nuanced history that we’re going to set aside as too vast to explore in a short article. If you’re reading this article, you probably have a reasonably well-informed perspective anyway. For the purposes of this inquiry, the term humanism denotes ethical perspectives which focus exclusively on human (and not supernatural or theistic) actions, interests, values and dignity.
Radicalism on the other hand requires more exploration. Vigo’s article is not clear whether “radical humanism” is intended to suggest an extremist position or whether it is to indicate a form of humanist fundamentalism.
Whether Vigo intended a call for extremism or fundamentalism, or some combination of both, it seems that the call for radical humanism is a call for a stronger and more assertive wave of humanism that prioritizes a search for solutions to the root causes of the problems facing humanity over addressing their symptoms and a focus on substance rather than symbols addressing class.
In recent decades, it has been popular to characterize humanism as an ideology of “old white men”. This characterization has become so widely accepted that Roy Speckhardt, the most recent leader of American Humanist Associate recently resigned from the role stating that, “Being at the helm of such an organization as the AHA, whose mission is so critical to our times and whose influence far outstrips its size, was the greatest honor of my life, but I’ve decided it’s time for me to step down and make room for new leadership. It is my emphatic hope that my seat is filled with a Black or Brown humanist because our movement has gone too long without such diversity at the helm and this would open the door for the AHA to truly achieve its potential as a humanist and anti-racist institution.”
On March 13, 2021 we published “Humanists – Where Are You”by Jay Rene Shakur. The article is signed as “The New Humanist”. The question of who The New Humanist may be is vital to the future of humanism.
Shakur heads-up the website HipHopHumanism.Com. The website explores the connections between Hip Hop music and culture and humanism. There is an important similarity between Friedman’s linking of metal and punk subculture trends to humanism and Shakur’s work to do the same between Hip Hop and humanism. In either case, within the mirrored statements, “I am Hip Hop” and “I am Punk” or “I am Metal” there is also reflected a particular statement of who the New Humanist is and how they may be found. The New Humanist is part of wide-spread cultural identities as well as niche sub-cultures with values and aesthetics that are no longer exclusive to “the old white man” of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Another example of the contemporary urge toward an assertively-held contemporary humanism may be found in a new management book by Tom Peters titled “Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism“.
That the term humanism would be used as a primary component of a mainstream business-guru-genre book is evidence of just how widespread and essential humanism has become in mainstream culture. And the current appetite is not for yesterday’s average humanism. The appetite is for Extreme Humanism.
Where some parts of society have social sub-culture identities that form a vital connection to their humanism – others have professional sub-cultures. Business gurus and leaders like Peters are pursuing organizational excellence through humanism. The medical profession pursues better medicine through humanism by including humanism as a key-note speaking engagements or through patient relations initiatives. In January of 2021, PhD candidate Daniel Matthews-Ferrero published an article titled “Towards a Humanist Environmentalism” on Spiked where stating “if we are serious about overcoming the environmental challenges that are facing us, and coming up with social solutions to social problems, then humanism must be our starting point. Meanwhile, the technology industry has the Vienna Manifesto on Digital Humanism with an implicit focus on humanism.
Next Wave Humanism
Next Wave Humanism has already begun. It is an ideological building- block of a wide-variety of sub-cultures, professional perspectives, artistic approaches and adjacent ideological movements.
Earlier waves of humanism were pre-occupied with shifting ideological attention away-from supernaturalism and theology and toward humanity. Thanks to the successfully-waged ideological battles of yesterday, Next Wave Humanism is now far less-concerned with that fight. Contemporary humanists of the twenty-first century are concerned with applied humanism – the many ways that humanism is used for solving problems. The New Humanist says, “I am Extreme; I am Radical; I am Hardcore. I am Humanist.“
The following content is drawn directly from the WHR website. HumanistFreedoms.com makes no claim to copyright, authorship or accuracy of the mater. We recommend that you visit WHR to review and consider the World Happiness Report’s full 212-pages of observations and analysis.
This year’s report focuses on the effects of COVID-19 on happiness and how countries have differed in their success in reducing the deaths and maintaining connected and healthy societies. The effects of the pandemic on happiness, mental health, social connections, and the workplace are covered in Chapters 2, 5, 6, and 7 respectively. The choice of strategies for dealing with COVID-19 are covered in Chapters 2,3,4, and 8. The countries that performed best in minimising the direct death toll from COVID-19 were also able to do better on other fronts, including income, employment, and the mental and physical health of the rest of the population.
The rankings in Figure 2.1 of World Happiness Report 2021 use data that come from the Gallup World Poll surveys from 2018 to 2020. They are based on answers to the main life evaluation question asked in the poll. This is called the Cantril ladder: it asks respondents to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0. They are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale. The rankings are from nationally representative samples, for the years 2018-2020. They are based entirely on the survey scores, using the Gallup weights to make the estimates representative. The sub-bars in Figure 2.1 show the estimated extent to which each of six factors – levels of GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom, and corruption – are estimated to contribute to making life evaluations higher in each country than they are in Dystopia, a hypothetical country that has values equal to the world’s lowest national averages for each of the six factors (see FAQs: What is Dystopia?). The sub-bars have no impact on the total score reported for each country, but instead are just a way of explaining for each country the implications of the model estimated in Table 2.1. People often ask why some countries rank higher than others – the sub-bars (including the residuals, which show what is not explained) are an attempt to provide an answer to that question.
We use the most recent years in order to provide an up-to-date measure, and to measure changes over time. We combine data from the years 2018-2020 to make the sample size large enough to reduce the random sampling errors. (The horizontal lines at the right-hand end of each of the main bars show the 95% confidence interval for the estimate.) The typical annual sample for each country is 1,000 people. If a country had surveys in each year, then the sample size would be 3,000 people. However, there are many countries that have not had annual surveys, in which case the sample size is smaller than 3,000. Tables 1-3 of the online Statistical Appendix 1 show the sample size for each country in each year. Because of our interest in exploring how COVID-19 has influenced happiness for people in different countries and circumstances, we have done much of our analysis (as reported in Tables 2.2, 2.4, and 2.4).
WHR Figure 2.1 Part 3
At HumanistFreedoms.com we can’t help but wish for a comparative analysis of the WHR’s findings and the establishment of secular conditions around the globe.
Thomas Jefferson, writing to worried Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut in 1802, pledged that his administration would adhere to the “supreme will of the nation” on behalf of the rights of conscience and the free exercise of religion. The First Amendment, he said, had built “a wall of separation between Church & State.” America would have an impenetrable barrier to religious involvement in affairs of state.
One hundred and eighty years later, on April 17, 1982, Queen Elizabeth II gave royal assent to a new Canadian Constitution at a rainy outdoor ceremony in Ottawa. It contained a much heralded Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing “freedom of conscience and religion” while asserting that Canada was founded on “principles that recognize the supremacy of God.”
Both countries had set out to build secular and humanist societies. The United States, to all appearances, rejected any role for religion in its founding documents. Canada, in contrast, subjected itself – at least titularly – to God’s will. It guaranteed public funding of Roman Catholic schools and accepted the Queen’s role as head of state and “defender of the faith,” as symbolized by the Anglican Church.
Move forward to 2021 and a world slowly emerging from a global pandemic. What do we find? In the United States, relentless Christian evangelical attacks on secularism; in Canada, almost universal public acceptance for secular social policies. Arrived at free of religious interference, Canada guarantees, among other secular rights, freedom of choice (abortion rights), the right to medically assisted dying, medical and recreational use of marijuana, and a long-standing ban on capital punishment.
Ironically, the most contentious secular issue in Canada is not the defence of secularism, but whether the Province of Quebec has adopted too rigid a form of secularism through its ban on the wearing of religious symbols (i.e., the hijab) by public service workers in positions of authority. Civil libertarians see Quebec’s “Act Respecting the Laicity of the State” as an unreasonable curtailment of individual rights.
Around the world, secularism is under siege from religious forces ranging from populist Christian movements in Europe to extremist Islamic elements engaged in terrorist acts. Hindu nationalism in India has fractured a century of secular tolerance of Muslims and Hindus and China – ignoring its own secular constitution – is brutally suppressing its Uighur Muslim minority.
I gained a fuller appreciation of the ferocity of these attacks while researching Inventing Secularism, my biography of secularism’s founder, George Jacob Holyoake. The dangers I saw impelled me to add an epilogue identifying the actors and their strategies behind the assault on secularism which are now mounting around the world.
Thomas Jefferson’s proscription of religious involvement in affairs of state lasted until the mid -20th century. Then, Congress ordered the phrase “In God We Trust” to appear on U.S. currency and inserted “Under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance. The third Thursday in May was designated as a National Day of Prayer. A secularist organization, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, sees this contrivance for what it is: “… a vehicle for spreading religious misinformation and fundamentalist Christian doctrine under the aegis of the government – precisely what the framers [of the Constitution] were seeking to prohibit.”
These largely symbolic acts, while contrary to the principle that religion should have no place in lawmaking, stand today as minor irritants compared to the systematic attack on secularism that has been unfolding in U.S. courts and legislative bodies, and in countries around the world. The flow of public funds to U.S churches and faith groups through executive orders and court decisions, including an undetermined billions of dollars in COVID-19 relief intended for states and communities, is unprecedented in American history.
Under the guise of strengthening individual freedom, recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court have enabled local governments to fund and maintain public religious displays, provide access to public funding for certain religious schools, and allow service providers to discriminate among those whose lifestyles or religious principles they find disagreeable. From a humanist perspective, these actions amount to a reinterpretation of the religion clauses of the First Amendment – one prohibiting the “establishment” of a state religion and the other guaranteeing the “free exercise of faiths.”
As an example of anti-secular legislation by various U.S. states, a new Arkansas law would allow doctors, insurance companies, and employers to deny patients necessary healthcare on the basis of religious beliefs. “A person’s doctor or boss should not be able to use personal religious beliefs to dictate the healthcare their families can or cannot receive,” the watchdog group American Atheists said in a statement.
An air of optimism surrounded the first inter-faith meeting held by Pope Francis when he spent five days with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Havana in February, 2013. It was the first such meeting in the nearly thousand years since the Great Schism of 1054 split Christianity between Greek East and Roman West. The newly ordained Pontiff had brought a breath of liberalism to the Vatican and his ability to communicate church doctrine in simple, homespun ways was impressing Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Any expectation that Francis, as head of the oldest and arguably most influential Christian church would lead his 1.2 billion adherents to a new reality of modern life was quickly dashed. A thirty-point declaration out of Havana confirmed traditional teachings of both the Russian Orthodox and Roman churches. Most notably, the statement marked the Pontiff’s endorsement of a fresh crusade against secularism.
“The transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all references to God and his truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom,” the statement declared. It attacked the “very aggressive secularist ideology” that seeks to relegate religion “to the margins of public life.” It also declared that “Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots.”
Aside from alarming humanists, the declaration troubled some Catholics. Jon O’Brien, president of the Washington-based Catholics for Choice, said it misrepresented the true meaning of secularism. “A secular society is not one in which one religion or religious belief is in any way opposed, but one in which all citizens can practice as they see fit. In a secular society, we can have freedom of religion and freedom from religion.”
Since Havana, Pope Francis has stepped up his assaults on secularism. In 2017 he traveled to Egypt to meet President al-Sisi and defend a “vision of healthy secularism” that he would like to see accepted by Muslim countries. The Pontiff’s remarks made it evident that the trade-off for acceptance of his version of a neutered secularism would allow religion to dictate public policies on issues the Church regards itself and the Bible as sole arbiters. He pressed his attack in celebrating World Mission Day in 2019. “Rampant secularism”, he said, “when it becomes an aggressive cultural rejection of God’s active fatherhood in our history, is an obstacle to authentic human fraternity.”
During Pope Francis’s reign, virulent attacks on secularism have emerged in the American Catholic press. The National Catholic Register, which describes itself as the most faithful Catholic news source in the United States, has blamed secularism for the crimes of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, declaring “Secularism in any of its guises is deadly.” Its article was headed ‘Beware the Stormtroopers of Secularism’ and was illustrated with a picture of Nazi troops in Poland taking a Catholic priest to his execution. Such hyperbole overlooks the fact that the Nazis defied secularist principles by persecuting a people based on their religious identity, while the Soviet campaign of atheism invaded the secularist right to freedom of religion.
This preoccupation with secularism is consistent with Pope Francis’s staunchly conservative theology, despite occasional flashes of liberality. Having cheerfully asserted that atheists should follow their conscience and can still go to heaven if they approach God “with a sincere and contrite heart,” Pope Francis also spoke tolerantly of same-sex relationships. “Who am I to judge?” he replied off-handedly in answer to a question about a gay priest. More recently, he has warned that priestly celibacy must be strictly adhered to and on other issues has reflected traditional Catholic views: opposition to abortion, birth control and gay marriage, denial of the right to assisted death, and restrictions on the role of women in the Church. Pope Francis has dealt with child sex abuse, a phenomenon endemic within the Catholic priesthood, by ending the edict imposing secrecy on anyone reporting sexual abuse, and has ordered church leaders to report sex abuse cases and sex abuse cover-ups.
In the United States, the deep strain of religiosity running through American politics has encouraged militant Christian evangelists in their determination to apply religious tests to civil legislation, and to gain public funding through means that violate the First Amendment. A 2020 survey by the respected Pew Institute had half of Americans (49%) saying the Bible should have at least “some influence” on U.S. laws, with more than a quarter (28%) holding the view that the Bible should take priority over the will of the people. Well known examples include denial of LGBTQ rights, restrictions to abortion, withdrawal of funding to organizations like Planned Parenthood, and cancellation of foreign aid to countries permitting family planning (a policy reversed by President Biden).
In such an environment, politicians are generally reluctant to express a commitment to humanist values. There are exceptions. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, declined to attend the 2020 National Prayer Breakfast and just over a dozen Democrats make up the Congressional Freethought Caucus. Its most recent recruit is Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, a Muslim. Its perhaps most notable member is Rep. Jared Huffman of California who has declared himself a “non-religious humanist.”
Between 2017 and 2021, President Donald Trump and members of his cabinet came down consistently in favor of evangelical political positions. According to Mat Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, a legal advisory organization, about ninety per cent of fundamentalist goals were achieved under the Trump administration. “He’s been the most pro-religious freedom and pro-life president in modern history,” Staver told the Associated Press.
“We will not let anyone push God from the public square,” President Trump declared. American states began to require schools to post the slogan In God We Trust on classroom walls. The State of Mississippi, in design of a new state flag, dictated it bear the same words.
These challenges to secularism were echoed in U.S. Attorney-General William Barr’s claim, made in a speech to the University of Notre Dame law school, that “militant secularists” were behind a “campaign to destroy the traditional moral order”.
Appointments to the Supreme Court by Republican presidents – in power for 24 years between 1981 and 2021 – have securely embedded conservative and pro-religious views on the nation’s highest judicial body. Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch, Brent Kavanagh and Amy Coney Barrett tilted the Court further to the right.
The United States faces anti-secularism on other fronts, including white Christian nationalist groups like the Proud Boys and the instigators of QAnon who participated in the January 6 putative insurrection in Washington, and neo-Nazi groups of the type that gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, to defend a Civil War monument and chant “Blood and Soil”, a Nazi rallying cry.
Secularists have welcomed the election of Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, as President. But they look with concern on his repeated invoking of God and prayer and his description of America as a nation “sustained by faith.” Such comments are seen as a contradiction to the separation of church and state and an expression of disrespect to the nearly one-third of Americans – atheists, agnostics and other non-religious – who hold dissenting views.
Blasphemy prosecutions abound across the Muslim world. They provide a convenient legal process that near-theocratic states employ to control dissent and repress humanist expression. The connection with secularism as known in the West may seem remote, but every charge of blasphemy is an offence to secularism and everything secularism stands for – democratic rule, human rights, religious freedom and freedom from religion, the exclusion of religion from public life, and government non-involvement in religious natters.
In Bangladesh, human rights advocate Rafida Bonya Ahmed and her husband were attacked by a machete-wielding gang enraged by his online anti-religious, secularist comments. Police stood by as he was murdered. Appearing before a U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs subcommittee, she identified 83 countries with blasphemy laws carrying penalties of fines, torture, imprisonment, and death.
While blasphemy – showing contempt or lack of reverence for God – is considered a major crime in Muslim countries, apostasy – abandoning the faith – is considered an even greater offence. Ten countries impose the penalty of death for apostasy.
An Asian nation beset by the disintegration of secularism is India, where the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has embarked on policies that repudiate the country’s long secularist tradition. The BJP’s policies are having the effect of turning religions that did not originate on Indian soil – notably Islam and Christianity – into alien essences. The most controversial is a Citizenship Act that provides for refugees who came to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal to be given expedited access to citizenship – providing they are not Muslims. A U.S. government commission on international religious freedom has called for punitive measures against India, citing a “drastic turn downward” in religious freedom.
Across Europe, secularism is under siege in many nations. In Poland, the ruling Law and Justice party has imposed a near-total ban on abortion, criminalized sex education in schools; and equated homosexuality with pedophilia. The German state of Bavaria mandated that government buildings display a crucifix to show the region’s “social and cultural identity.” In Hungary a populist government led by Viktor Orban has cracked down on the press and driven the Central European University, a research-focused institute founded by billionaire George Soros, out of the country.
Turkey, once the most secular of Muslim nations, has almost totally abandoned secularism under a government that has repudiated the policies of Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk”, who initiated modernization of the country in the 1920s. After jailing opponents and gaining control of most Turkish media, President Recep Erdogan has openly called for re-establishment of an Islamic state. In a dramatic move toward this goal, the historic Hagia Sophia, a secular museum since 1936, has been restored as a mosque. Within a month the mediaeval Church of the Holy Saviour, one of Istanbul’s most celebrated Byzantine buildings that has been a secular museum for more than 70 years, was also converted into a mosque.
England and France also have been affected by the strains of anti-secularism. The two countries have taken different historic paths to secularism but both have suffered terrorist attacks – notably the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan Concert bombings in Paris and a London subway bombing and an attack on a Manchester concert venue in which 22 people were killed. These events traumatized people in both countries, although the victims were far fewer than the 3,000 who died in New York on September 11, 2001.
Secularists in the United Kingdom accept, reluctantly, the role of the Queen as head of its established church, but wage an unrelenting campaign to remove religious control from state-funded schools. They also oppose the appointment of the 26 Church of England bishops who sit in the House of Lords, pointing out that Iran is the only other state where the clergy are represented as of right.
Attacks on secularism, if not vigorously opposed, will lead inevitably to a world of less freedom and more oppression. A more positive alternative has been articulated by George Jacob Holyoake, the English social reformer who invented the term secularism in 1851. Writing in his groundbreaking Principles of Secularism, he saw it a duty to promote “the immediate and material welfare of humanity … amid whatever diversity of opinion may subsist in a Secular Society.” This is the challenge secularism still must meet, if it is to withstand the attacks of resurgent religious forces throughout the world.
Ray Argyle is author of Inventing Secularism: The Radical Life of George JacobHolyoake, published by McFarland & Co, USA.. He lives in Kingston, Ontario.
In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published in other venues that we think humanistfreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following article was published by The Arnold P. Gold Foundation.
The Canadian Conference on Medical Education (CCME) 2021 will take place from Saturday, April 17-Tuesday April 20, bringing 4 full days of CCME content! Each day will bring you one of our 4 plenary sessions, 4 major sessions, live workshops, asynchronous oral sessions, and constant access to our poster sessions.
The Conference program will feature interactive workshops, pre-recorded oral sessions followed by live Q&As and poster presentations that are grouped into themes. Each theme covers current and emerging issues in medical education, varying from diversity and equity, Covid-19, health & wellness, continuing professional development to faculty development, teaching & learning, curriculum, professionalism, postgraduate affairs and more. With CCME 2021 organized around many different tracks of educational content, attendees will find ample opportunities for learning, networking and collaboration.
Given the current global situation, CCME has chosen to move from an in-person conference to a virtual one. Join the conference from anywhere in the world, from the comfort of your home for an inspirational program and impactful networking opportunities. This year, the conference theme is Making Waves: Exploring the Waters of Medical Education. Register Here
Together with the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC), the Gold Foundation for Humanistic Healthcare, Canada is pleased to announce the recipient of the 2021 AFMC-Gold Humanism Award and Lecture: Dr. Marie-Ève Goyer, a leader in caring for people with addiction and an exemplar of humanism in healthcare.
Dr. Goyer is a family physician at the new Notre-Dame Hospital in the Addiction and Urban Medicine Department. She is Assistant Medical Chief of Specific Services in Homelessness, Addiction and Mental Health at CIUSSS Centre-Sud-de-l’île-de-Montréal and Scientific Director of the Clinical and Organizational Support Team in Addiction and Homelessness at the Institut universitaire sur les dépendances.
“Dr. Goyer has been an exceptional leader of humanism during the opioid crisis, during an era of surprising difficulty, caring for her patients with both deep empathy and innovative, practical solutions. As a medical educator, she multiples her success by helping illuminate humanistic values for her students,” said Dr. Richard I. Levin, President and CEO of The Arnold P. Gold Foundation. “We are delighted to join with AFMC to honor her contributions.”
The AFMC Gold Humanism Award and Lecture was created in 2018 by both organizations to emphasize, reinforce and enhance the importance of humanistic qualities among medical school students and faculty. The nominations are open to physicians, nurses and other members of the health care team who practice in Canada or practitioners and researchers in health professions education.
“We are thrilled to honour Dr. Marie-Ève Goyer as this year’s AFMC-Gold Humanism Award winner,” said Dr. Geneviève Moineau, President and CEO of the AFMC. “Dr. Goyer inspires compassion and creates a humanistic learning environment, which motivates students and residents to get involved with underserved populations.”
Dr. Goyer participated in the implementation of the supervised injection services and the PROFAN naloxone program in Montreal and is responsible for the implementation of the first service for the treatment of opioid dependence via injectable medication. She is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Montreal as well as professor for the graduate microprogram in clinical addictology at the University of Sherbrooke. She is a medical advisor to the director of the Ministry of Health for the province of Quebec’s addiction and homelessness services.
She holds a Master’s degree in Community Health from the University of Montreal and the CFPC’s Certificate in Additional Competence in Addiction Medicine.
In his nomination of Dr. Goyer, Dr. Patrick Cossette, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, Université de Montréal, wrote: “As evidenced by her patients, Dr. Goyer inspires benevolence and compassion towards fragile populations. Fostering cooperation among many professionals, she knows how to create a humanistic learning environment and motivate current and future physicians to get involved with underserved communities. Community care, adapted access to opioid addiction treatment, and the experience of users facing low-threshold services are examples of her daily work, reflecting a humanistic practice environment.”
In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published in other venues that we think humanistfreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following article was published by San Francisco Bayview.
According to hiphophumanism.com, “Hip Hop Humanism is a not a new form of Humanism. It has always been a part of Hip Hop. Why? Throughout the years Hip Hop as brought all types of people together. It has been a platform for the people to express themselves through art and skill. Telling their stories, our stories and the stories that we refuse to be ignored. We embrace all Humanist, because we want humanity better for us all, not for all of us except… It is an all inclusive culture initiative that uses art to speak to the self that rational ideas can be reached. We believe the creative aspect of Human beings is the essence of our humanity. It is the secret weapon of our consciousness. We may be rational intelligent and morally structured beings, but we are primarily sentiment beings so where we feel, laugh, cry, dance and love lays the greatest opportunity for making Human connections. It is the realm of the creative self where we find meaning, while rationality and integrity are the traits more equipped to address the search for purpose.….” (learn more on hiphophumanism.com)
By: Jay Rene Shakur
Humanists – Where Are You?
Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports the maximization of individual liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. It advocates the extension of participatory democracy and the expansion of the open society, standing for human rights and social justice. Free of supernaturalism, it recognizes human beings as a part of nature and holds that values – be they religious, ethical, social or political – have their source in human experience and culture. Humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny. – from The Humanist Magazine
When I first heard about humanism, I wanted to research everything about it. I’m not the type of person to just jump on the bandwagon. I like to know what I’m getting myself into and know it well enough that I can support it wholeheartedly.
The more I learned about humanism and what it stood for, I realized that I was a natural humanist from birth.
From as long as I can remember I cared about other humans just because I cared. It didn’t matter what they looked like or where they came from, I always had a heart for humanity and for the care of others.
As I continued to think more about it, I realized that hip-hop music artists who first began the craft were also humanists. They often talked about their neighborhood and giving back to it and they wanted to uplift people and give them knowledge and support for the simple fact that we were all brothers and sisters of the human race.
When I started Hip-Hop Humanism, it was based on what I believed humanism to be – supporting the betterment of humans as a whole as well as individually.
I wanted to give back in any way that I could by creating grassroots programs for children and promoting hip-hop artists that were about positivity and uplifting the human race.
And it continued to grow. It grew into social justice and rightfully so. As a humanist I feel totally inclined to get involved in what is going on in America. It was surprising to me, however, that when I looked to my left and right, I was the only humanist there.
I expected to see humanists more involved, not only on the ground protesting but through literature of some kind, making some noticeable contribution.
Now, if this literature exists, I have yet to see it and I would love to. However, as much as the humanist stands for, I expected to see all of us out here in the forefront. I expected to see humanism as a major leader and household name in the fight for social justice.
For what is going on in the United States, why wouldn’t humanists be the ones to really help aid this problem?
As humanists we aren’t in it because of a person’s race or their gender. It doesn’t matter their class or how much money they have in the bank. What matters is that they are human.
As humanists we care about our fellow man, woman and child and do our part simply for them. It’s compassion and it’s love. It is human decency.
Reflecting on the ultimate demise of many Black Panthers, Bobby Seale sums up the goals of the party, goals which speak to a universal humanist agenda:
“We need activists who cross all ethnic and religious backgrounds and color lines who will establish civil and human rights for all, including the right to an ecologically balanced, pollution-free environment. We must create a world of decent human relationships where revolutionary humanism is grounded in democratic human rights for every person on earth. Those were the political revolutionary objectives of my old Black Panther Party. They must now belong to the youth of today,” said Bobby Seale, quoted by Anthony B. Pinn in “Anybody there? Reflections on African American Humanism,” published in 1997 by the UU Humanist Association.
Why have I seen no humanists out here? Where is everyone?
Did I learn to believe that humanism is something that it isn’t? Has everyone forgotten?
Or maybe I am supposed to take the lead and make it become what it’s supposed to have already been.
The support of the humanist thought is needed in the social justice fight. We are everywhere – from all occupations and walks of life.
Who more to understand the plight of mankind and care about it with no agenda but for the upliftment of humans for humans? That’s what I understand humanists to be.
Was I wrong? Well, if I was wrong, dear old humanist, please be prepared for a revamp of what we do.
On February 18, 2021 NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on the surface of Mars. Perseverance is the largest, most advanced rover NASA has sent to another world. It travelled 472 million kilometers over 203 days and the intact landing was broadcast live via the internet for anyone with an internet connection to witness.
Humanity is deep into exploration of another planet. If that doesn’t whet your appetite to know more about the possibilities of planetary exploration and planetary biology – including all of the philosophical and metaphysical implications they bring…we’re not sure what will!
In 2020, Sarah Steward Johnson‘s publishers released The Sirens of Mars – Search for Life on Another World. At a little-over 200 pages in hardcover, the publisher’s categorize the book as “biography and memoir” given the frequent inclusion of personal anecdotes and reflections of the author’s life and relationship to the subject.
Sarah Stewart Johnson is an assistant professor of planetary science at Georgetown University. A former Rhodes Scholar and White House Fellow, she received her PhD from MIT and has worked on NASA’s Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers. She is also a visiting scientist with the Planetary Environments Lab at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Stewart Johnson’s writing style is very approachable and relatable. It is a meaningful and worthwhile trend that scientists publish books which reflect their individual humanity as well as the humanistic principles that are deeply embedded in the work that they do.
The book includes a history of Mars exploration beginning with Plato, Galileo and Isaac Newton through to both NASA’s and Russia’s programs as well as informative glimpses of the science behind one of humanity’s most astounding projects. The book is aimed at a broad and general audience but it isn’t a “picture book”, so if you’re looking to be inspired by photos of the red planet, the internet is a better source.
At the end of the book, Stewart Johnson writes, “In writing this book, I’ve come to understand better the meaning I find in searching for life. I’ve also come to appreciate all the people who came down this path before me and the astonishing lives they led, as well as the remarkable colleagues with whom I have the privilege of working today. In my final acknowledgements, I wish to extend my gratitude to all of those people, throughout the generations and across the disciplines, who have created and continue to deepen this field. If we find life on Mars, we will have done it together. In the meantime, we have this great human project, and we have one another.”
The book is worth the time and resources you may spend in its acquisition and study.
In a 2015 article on gartner.com, Christy Pettey wrote an important article titled Embracing Digital Humanism. The article states, ” By 2020, our planet will be home to 30 billion things with embedded intelligence combined with nearly 8 billion smart devices. That means by 2020, there will be a ratio of approximately six intelligent devices/things for every human on the planet. In a world of digital business, IT leaders will need to orchestrate all these new devices, new data streams and new experiences to create value. But what principles will these IT leaders apply? The emerging digital world requires human-centric digital leadership.” That last sentence is an important concept to have formulated and launched and bears significant attention and therefore repetition:
The emerging digital world requires human-centric digital leadership.
Pettey then continued by providing a definition of digital humanism as “the notion that people are the central focus in the manifestation of digital businesses and digital workplaces.” As we will see, the concept has broadened since 2015, but this was an important conceptual milestone for humanism and for humanity. For those interested in the ethical and philosophical advancement of humanist ideas, digital humanism is a significant developing field for exploration.
Before we get to the manifesto, let’s also detour to Martin Recke’s article on the NEXT website wherein Recke suggests that digital humanism “stands for the shift away from computer-literate people to people-literate technology.” Recke also provides some useful differentiation between digital humanism and digital humanities; the latter seems to be most easily reduced to humanities practiced and/or studied via digital technologies and media.
Recke finished his primer on digital humanism by writing “Seen this way, Digital Humanism refers to the age-old concern to put humankind, in all its aspects, at the centre of our work. The early, 14th century humanists started a cultural revolution that peaked in the Renaissance era. Maybe it is time for a new cultural revolution, a new Renaissance. Or is it already happening?“
And now we arrive a Vienna, May 2019 when the Vienna Manifesto for Digital Humanism was published. Below, we reproduce the manifesto as we found it on the Dighum website. The bolded text is original to the Dighum site while the underlined text is our emphasis.
Are you a current or aspiring digital humanism journalist, academic or professional? We want your articles on humanistfreedoms.com.
“The system is failing” – stated by the founder of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee – emphasizes that while digitalization opens unprecedented opportunities, it also raises serious concerns: the monopolization of the Web, the rise of extremist opinions and behavior orchestrated by social media, the formation of filter bubbles and echo chambers as islands of disjoint truths, the loss of privacy, and the spread of digital surveillance. Digital technologies are disrupting societies and questioning our understanding of what it means to be human. The stakes are high and the challenge of building a just and democratic society with humans at the center of technological progress needs to be addressed with determination as well as scientific ingenuity. Technological innovation demands social innovation, and social innovation requires broad societal engagement.
This manifesto is a call to deliberate and to act on current and future technological development. We encourage our academic communities, as well as industrial leaders, politicians, policy makers, and professional societies all around the globe, to actively participate in policy formation. Our demands are the result of an emerging process that unites scientists and practitioners across fields and topics, brought together by concerns and hopes for the future. We are aware of our joint responsibility for the current situation and the future – both as professionals and citizens.
Today, we experience the co-evolution of technology and humankind. The flood of data, algorithms, and computational power is disrupting the very fabric of society by changing human interactions, societal institutions, economies, and political structures. Science and the humanities are not exempt. This disruption simultaneously creates and threatens jobs, produces and destroys wealth, and improves and damages our ecology. It shifts power structures, thereby blurring the human and the machine.
The quest is for enlightenment and humanism. The capability to automate human cognitive activities is a revolutionary aspect of computer science / informatics. For many tasks, machines surpass already what humans can accomplish in speed, precision, and even analytic deduction. The time is right to bring together humanistic ideals with critical thoughts about technological progress. We therefore link this manifesto to the intellectual tradition of humanism and similar movements striving for an enlightened humanity.
Like all technologies, digital technologies do not emerge from nowhere. They are shaped by implicit and explicit choices and thus incorporate a set of values, norms, economic interests, and assumptions about how the world around us is or should be. Many of these choices remain hidden in software programs implementing algorithms that remain invisible. In line with the renowned Vienna Circle and its contributions to modern thinking, we want to espouse critical rational reasoning and the interdisciplinarity needed to shape the future.
We must shape technologies in accordance with human values and needs, instead of allowing technologies to shape humans. Our task is not only to rein in the downsides of information and communication technologies, but to encourage human-centered innovation. We call for a Digital Humanism that describes, analyzes, and, most importantly, influences the complex interplay of technology and humankind, for a better society and life, fully respecting universal human rights.
In conclusion, we proclaim the following core principles:
Digital technologies should be designed to promote democracy and inclusion. This will require special efforts to overcome current inequalities and to use the emancipatory potential of digital technologies to make our societies more inclusive.
Privacy and freedom of speech are essential values for democracy and should be at the center of our activities. Therefore, artifacts such as social media or online platforms need to be altered to better safeguard the free expression of opinion, the dissemination of information, and the protection of privacy.
Effective regulations, rules and laws, based on a broad public discourse, must be established. They should ensure prediction accuracy, fairness and equality, accountability, and transparency of software programs and algorithms.
Regulators need to intervene with tech monopolies. It is necessary to restore market competitiveness as tech monopolies concentrate market power and stifle innovation. Governments should not leave all decisions to markets.
Decisions with consequences that have the potential to affect individual or collective human rights must continue to be made by humans. Decision makers must be responsible and accountable for their decisions. Automated decision making systems should only support human decision making, not replace it.
Scientific approaches crossing different disciplines are a prerequisite for tackling the challenges ahead. Technological disciplines such as computer science / informatics must collaborate with social sciences, humanities, and other sciences, breaking disciplinary silos.
Universities are the place where new knowledge is produced and critical thought is cultivated. Hence, they have a special responsibility and have to be aware of that.
Academic and industrial researchers must engage openly with wider society and reflect upon their approaches. This needs to be embedded in the practice of producing new knowledge and technologies, while at the same time defending the freedom of thought and science.
Practitioners everywhere ought to acknowledge their shared responsibility for the impact of information technologies. They need to understand that no technology is neutral and be sensitized to see both potential benefits and possible downsides.
A vision is needed for new educational curricula, combining knowledge from the humanities, the social sciences, and engineering studies. In the age of automated decision making and AI, creativity and attention to human aspects are crucial to the education of future engineers and technologists.
Education on computer science / informatics and its societal impact must start as early as possible. Students should learn to combine information-technology skills with awareness of the ethical and societal issues at stake.
We are at a crossroads to the future; we must go into action and take the right direction!