Questions Responded by Doug Thomas (32nd WRC)

Questions Responded by Doug Thomas

Representing Humanism (Atheists and Agnostics)

Question 1: According to Humanism there is a no God. But all the laws of the world are taken from the Holy Scriptures. How do you respond to that?

You are basing your question on an incorrect premise. Not all laws of the world come from Holy Scriptures, unless, for example, some Holy Scripture actually sets the speed limit on 401 as 100 kph. Certainly, religious texts influence the laws of our society, often unduly, but all laws are not taken from religious texts. If they were, separating church from state would be more difficult, but not impossible.

Question 2: What can we do to increase the involvement of women as political and spiritual leaders?

Making sure that women have the same access to education and human rights as men is a necessary first step (largely accomplished in Canada). Then, we need to ensure that opportunities to participate in society are equal and we need to proactively encourage women to take leadership. In saying “spiritual leaders,” I assume you include organizational leaders. In Humanism, we follow Epicurus’ example, set in his philosophical retreat, The Garden, by treating all human beings as equal regardless of gender or any other differentiating factors. Our democratic processes determine the person our members think is the best for the job of organizational leadership. We treat women as equals (3 of the 4 elected SOFREE ––executive are women, The SCS––executive currently has 2 each).

Question 3: If for a person, the state law conflicts with their religious law, then which law takes precedence?

If we are to have a multi-cultural society that treats all human beings equally and with respect, state law must take precedence in general society. Otherwise, chaos would be the norm. Our political ancestors created Canada so we could have a society that would survive economically and support the rights and freedom of all. The key, central basis for this is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada. Inside a religion (a dispute over kosher rules, for example), religious law would take precedence as long as it does not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Question 4: Can you support the “Laws of the Land” and still practice religious rituals? e.g. polygamy, circumcision, genital mutilations of women, child marriage, mandatory religious affliction (catholic teachers), use of Lord’s prayer and many more issues?

No, one cannot practise rituals that discriminate against people because of any differentiating factor especially when those rituals subjugate any person. Scriptures do not support some of the rituals you have mentioned. Those are social rules imposed and supported by male chauvinists. We [Secular] Humanists support and promote the concept of open secularism that would make it illegal to impose religious rituals on other people. This means that we are opposed to public funding or tax relief for any organization that breaks those rules. If one supports the practice of medieval religious rituals that conflict with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, one is not practising Canadian values.

Question 5: Would you take your chances? For example, if there is a God and there is a day of Judgment, would it not be better that we believe in God? This way we would be safe on both sides, that there be a God or no God.

You are repeating an old argument known as Pascal’s Wager, but as many have already pointed out, with thousands of gods, currently worshipped or gone out of favour, the wager is more like a lottery. What if the god(s) you ignore are really the ones that will make the judgement? Pascal’s Wager is an argument made by people who do not want to confront the reality that there is no evidence and no foreseeable possibility of evidence for the existence of any god(s). Would the god you propose like cynical hypocrites who hedge their bets with a Pascal Wager better than people who are honest?

Question 6: On what basis did you come to the conclusion that the definition of humanism is what you presented?

The definition I presented is not a conclusion. Given that we have evolved with the endorphin reflex intact (see answer 15), all human beings are humanists to some extent. I intended my comments as an explanation of how Secular Humanists approach moral matters compared to how believers approach those same matters. That explanation is based on the logic that if people turn some or all of that responsibility over to a god or gods, and says that what they are doing is following a divine plan, then they not accepting full responsibility for their actions. Atheists do not have any god to blame and so either accept responsibility or do not. Atheists who do not accept responsibility are no more humanist than absolute theists are.

Question 7: In your religion if abortion is actually murder, at what point does your religion condone retribution and what form?

Humanism is not a religion and does not prescribe dogma. The issue of abortion, or killing of any kind, often involves a dilemma. Murder, in humanist terms, would be the unnecessary killing of any human being. In reality, there are circumstances in which one must make a decision about what is the lesser evil. Since such a decision depends on individual circumstances, it can not be made by following dogma, enforced by society.

Question 8: How can you prove that God doesn’t exist?

No-one can. I don’t try. Thomas Huxley coined the term agnostic as a label for the philosophy that says it is impossible to test or even devise an empirical test for the existence of gods, demons or supernatural forces. As an agnostic, I don’t try to know the unknowable. Since post-modern atheists (e.g. Bertrand Russell) say that they don’t believe in god(s), agnostics are post-modern atheists since we do not believe, but require empirical evidence to consider something true. Thus, one would have to provide empirical evidence for the existence or non-existence of god(s) to convince us agnostics. Good luck with that.

Question 9: Who is a good leader? How can you justify a leader being objective and the same time being humble if there are the constitutional laws and sections that gives a ruler to apply force in some areas of the government?

A good leader, in the context of a democracy like Canada, would be a person who objectively carries out the will of the people whether that will is a part of a constitution designed to stabilize social rules or a part of legislation passed by the people or their representatives to solve contemporary problems. The people in such a democracy must always control the powers granted to such an elected leader.

Question 10: Why isn’t self-govern education being taught to the masses? How will self-govern-community affect a nation?

If you mean government by the people, that is taught to the masses in our public school systems or any school system that follows the provincial curricula. For example, grade 10 students are required to take a half-credit in Civics (government) in Ontario high schools. However, the training is too little and too early and should really be a full, mandatory course in grade 12 or a series of age appropriate courses through high school.

Question 11: In your religion if the government is obviously corrupt, at what point is it OK to start a revolution? And to what level?

Again, Humanism is not a religion, but in a democracy, revolution–change–should be happening all the time. When one takes a case to the courts for judgement against the state, that is technically a revolution – at least a demand for change. One of the strengths of our democracy is that there are many mechanisms to control corruption. This is often a slow and painful process, but the mechanisms generally correct the worst offenses. One has to exercise all civil means, including civil disobedience, before one turns to rebellion (violent attacks on the government). We have had only one rebellion in Canada (Upper and Lower Canada, 1837-1840). It failed as a rebellion, but succeeded as a revolution when the British government saw the corruption in the existing provincial governments and corrected most of it.

Question 12: The Queen is head of the Church of Scotland and the Church of England and there is no connection in Canada with the Queen and Anglicans officially. Does she have the personal right to be Anglican?

This is really a question better answered by an Anglican. I don’t know if she could personally belong to the Anglican Church as well as the other two. However, if the Anglican Church accepts some kind of authority of its parent, the Church of England, the monarch is the Anglican Church leader as well. I have no idea about whether such a situation exists, but the connection between the monarchy and any church makes the monarchy unacceptable to me.

Question 13: Can you give me an example of a religious state (a theocracy) ever being a just state especially towards other religions?

I really can’t. Theocracies are, at best, tolerant and usually don’t achieve even that. The same is true of any ideological state. Stalin’s collectivism and Mao’s communism were just as bad as any theocracy in this sense. As benign as our theocratic monarchy is, it achieves only tolerance of philosophies different from that of the Church of England and that is not good enough.

Question 14: Do you believe that, regardless of whether God does or does not exist, SHOULD’nt a God exist?

Why should there be? Apparently, the people who have invented thousands of gods, most of which are now out of favour, think one or many should exist. However, the universe is not here for us human beings so our whims and wishes (or even serious psychological needs) do not mean reality should change just for us. We can be good without god(s).

Question 15: Who is (are) the founders of Humanism? What is being done to stop them from becoming prophet(s) and a religion from humanism?

Our pre-historic ancestors were DNA founders of humanism since helping each other was a trait that helped them survive long enough to become our ancestors. We still get a little shot of endorphin, an enzyme that induces pleasure, when we do something positive for someone else. Some historic humanist philosophers are Thales, Epicurus, Democritus, Thomas Huxley, and Bertrand Russell. Canadian freethinkers include Rob Buckman, Christopher di Carlo, Margaret Atwood, June Callwood, and others. Only the principles of logic and reason can prevent someone from calling these people prophets. Those principles would allow anyone to challenge Epicurus, for example, about why he did not include “helping others” as one of the sources of human pleasure. Secular Humanists are freethinkers or atheists first. Anyone who tried to preach humanism as a religion would find few followers among them, but those tax relief clauses are very attractive.

Question 16: Is it allowed in your religion (s) to disgrace other religion’s holy books and holy people?

Humanism does not have rules in the same sense that religions do. There is no rule to prevent a Humanist from disgracing holy books and holy people. Freedom of speech is a very important value so anti-blasphemy laws are non-starters. Reason tells us that insulting a religion’s holy books and people is really a negative waste of time and does not reflect the kind of respect for others to which Secular Humanists aspire. That said, we certainly reserve the right to question the content of all books whether people regard them as holy or not especially if someone tries to force them or ideas and rituals generated from them upon us.

Question 17: How can you get up in the morning knowing that this is all there is “Just this life” and nothing more. Does this not leave you in a state of sadness and hopelessness?

Au contraire! Life is a positive challenge to be met every day and a major component of that challenge is to gain pleasure through learning, knowing and helping others. The life-long challenge is to leave a legacy that people will remember and respect. We come from oblivion. Do you remember that as being unpleasant? We go to oblivion. Why would that be different from the oblivion we come from? As Epicurus pointed out, “Death is of no concern to us. When we are present, it is not. When it is present, we are not.”

Question 18: You favour a secular government, but what do to establish one and how? I do not understand!

In Canada, we have the constitutional mechanism to remove religion from the structure and symbols of our government. Technically, the federal government could pass legislation changing the constitution to remove the monarchy as our head of state and replace it with an elected governor general. Then, if the legislatures of seven out of ten provinces with a total population equalling or exceeding the majority of Canada’s population approve, our head of state would be an elected governor general. The details of that legislation would have to ensure that any governor general would have no political or religious connection. The key, however, is that such legislation will not be proposed or passed by any federal government unless we, the people insist on it through our election processes, petitions or even referenda. Our national symbols are somewhat easier since they exist because of simple legislation and regulations so the people need only convince our federal politicians to change the legislation. Our goal is to consciously construct a secular governmental system that has no religion imbedded in it so that we can all decide public policy that will benefit us all equally.


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