Since the 1980s, many Humanists have celebrated World Humanism Day yesterday, the 21st June, but since Humanists, in general, are independent thinkers, it’s not surprising that some have questioned the need to have a special day. However, it’s a good excuse for me to talk about World Humanism.
The International Humanist & Ethical Union, based in London, was founded in Amsterdam in 1952 as an umbrella organisation for Humanist, atheist, rationalist, secularist, freethought and similar organisations worldwide. There are hundreds of Humanist groups in many countries, all committed to raising awareness of a human-centred scientific outlook and to challenging dogmatic religious claims, cultivating the use of critical intelligence, developing ethical values appropriate to our human condition and encouraging the ideals of tolerance and dissent, and of resolving differences rationally.
Humanist organisations are involved with a diverse range of activities, including defending democracy, protecting civil rights, providing sheltered housing for the elderly and helping the victims of religious and sexual intolerance and persecution. In countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands, hundreds of Humanist moral educators and counsellors are employed in schools, hospitals, prisons and the armed forces, as a non-religious alternative to a religious chaplaincy. In Asia, Humanists work for women’s emancipation and the eradication of superstition, while in Canada and Europe, they’ve fought for contraception and abortion rights. In Norway, and here the UK, we offer non-religious rites of passage (naming ceremonies, weddings and funerals) as a service, not just for the Humanist community, but for anyone who lives without religion. Around the world, Humanist groups fight for the separation of religion and state, promote a scientific, naturalistic world view, and fight for human rights – we’ve been strongly committed to the ideals of the UN since its inception, and Humanist values form the philosophical basis of human rights as formulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Organised Humanism is necessary to promote and preserve what many in this country assume is the norm, but which is denied to millions; the freedom to think, express ourselves and act independently while aiming for social justice, fundamental rights and the rule of civilised law. We don’t proselytise, but we’re doing our best to change the world.