Mon, 11 Mar 2024 Feature Article

We can do more and do better for humanism in this century

We can do more and do better for humanism in this century

I will commence a speaking tour of the United States this week. And I am looking forward to meeting friends and colleagues and renewing ties and partnerships. My tour will focus on one message and one message only: We can do more for humanism. We can do better for humanity. Yes, those who subscribe to the humanist outlook can do more, and make the world a better place, furthering the cause of reason and compassion. This message is not a slogan to attract attention but an invitation to all freethinking minds to rise to the challenge of promoting humanism and atheism in this 21st century. It is a wake-up call to all atheists, humanists, and freethinkers to relaunch their efforts to promote the values of humanity, rationality, and secularity. For an outlook that finds its fulfillment in this one life that we have, it is imperative that humanists full-heartedly embrace this challenge. While humanists, atheists, and freethinkers have made significant progress in past centuries, the progress has been in a section of the world. The progress has mainly been in the western part of the world.

The gains of humanism have been insignificant and invisible in Africa, where I come from because the forces of humanism and secularism have been unable to match the power and influence of religion, especially the imperialist faiths of Christianity and Islam.

Forces of theocracy, religious extremism, and nationalism pose a mortal threat to democracy and human rights, including the rights and humanity of nonbelievers. Blasphemy and apostasy laws are in force in many African countries. Religious politicians use them to deny the rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression of minority religious and belief groups.

In many countries, Christian and Islamic theocrats have hijacked the government. They promote religious indoctrination in schools, oppose secularism, and seek to enforce religious laws and doctrines as state laws. Christian and Islamic theocrats control the parliaments and use this pillar of democracy to uphold the will of their god, not the people. They pass obnoxious bills, further religious dogmas, and undermine the rights of women and LGBTIQ persons.

In Uganda and Nigeria, religious politicians have passed draconian laws against homosexuality and gay marriage. They fan the flames of hate and bigotry. In Ghana, Christian and Muslim parliamentarians sponsored a bill criminalizing same-sex relationships. They use their faith to justify and sanctify the persecution of sexual minorities. In Gambia, Islamic parliamentarians are trying to unban Female Genital Mutilation, arguing that the initiative was to "uphold religious purity and safeguard cultural norms and values".

I will draw attention to these and other threats to humanism and humanity. I will make an urgent case for more action and involvement of humanists and rationalists everywhere.

At this moment in history, humanists, skeptics, and freethinkers cannot afford to be complacent. They must be vigilant and resist the slow undoing of human and intellectual progress by religious fanatics. The threats of religious extremism and superstition-based abuses are real. They are not African or American. They are global. And in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, critical thinkers and rationalists must cooperate and synergize to confront these threats anywhere in the world.

My tour starts on the West Coast, where I will deliver a talk on Questionstorm: Why critical thinking matters for Africa. Critical thinking is an existential necessity in the contemporary world. This presentation will highlight the importance of inquiry-based learning and effort to foster critical thinking skills in schools in Nigeria. I will meet with two agencies in the US to discuss the advocacy against witch persecution in Africa. Witch hunting persists in Africa for many reasons. This violent campaign has continued due to misinterpretations and misrepresentations of the phenomenon by Western anthropologists and their African students. Witch hunting goes on in Africa because of inaction and a lack of political will to combat and eradicate this dark and destructive phenomenon. At these meetings, we will discuss efforts to tear down the wall of silence, and apathy, misinformation, disinformation, and misrepresentation that drive witch persecution and witch hunting in Africa. I will present to humanist and atheist groups in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Denver, and Clearwater. I will speak at the American Atheists convention in Philadelphia. At these events, I will articulate a new vision for atheism and humanism in Africa and the rest of the world. We cannot continue to do the same thing and expect a different result. This vision rests on changes in four critical areas: education, leadership, collaboration, and community. As I have stated in the talk:

"This century beckons on us to respond to the yearnings and aspirations of atheists and humanists with a renewed sense of vision and commitment. The pact enjoins us to do more and do better. With effective education, leadership, and collaboration, we would learn to trust and care for each other. We would connect, cooperate, and bond. The atheist/humanist movement will nurture that sense of solidarity too often missing, too often ignored but so much cherished. We will fulfill the need to belong and be loved that lurks in the hearts and minds of nontheists across the globe. Based on commitment to all and responsibility from all, we can do more and we can do better. Let us answer this call to duty, rally, and fuse our local energies to realize a more effective global atheist/humanist movement. Let us overcome the complacency that has limited us, and stop making excuses. Because this is our time. This is our chance. Let's seize this opportunity and forge a more effective solidarity, provide leadership, a sense of fellowship and community that befits an outlook that finds its plenitude in this one life that we have". Humanism in the 20th century was judged based on the progress made in the West. In this century, it is different, and it will be different. Humanism will be judged based on the progress made in the rest of the world.

That progress can only be realized, if humanists do more, and do better.

Leo Igwe is a board member of Humanists International