Questions Responded by Doug Thomas (39th WRC)
Questions Responded by Doug Thomas
President of Secular Connexion Séculière
Question 1: What Reference to you have for “Good without God”? What is good? – by Mitch Dixon
Answer: Actually we are using “good” in two senses: morally good, and comfortable.
From the secular humanist perspective, gods are creations of human beings since there is no evidence that such supernatural beings exist. For a historical perspective on this, read How Men Made God ( Karis Burkowski et al). Morally good without God is best described, for practical purposes, in the eight principles found at www.sofree.ca, or by studying many thinkers including Epicurus, who wrote the “Forty Principal Doctrines.” upon which our eight principles are based.
Good in the modern, colloquial,“comfortable” sense simply means that we do not feel the need to seek out any god or gods, but it does not preclude someone presenting real empirical evidence for supernatural beings. We are comfortable with the knowledge that we have one life to live and one legacy to leave, and the moral responsibility that this includes.
Question 2: If your religion was a stumbling block to establishing justice, with everyone feeling equal, would you give it up? – by Elaine Batt
Answer: Since we secular humanists do not have a religion (hierarchy, dogma, etc.) this question does not strictly apply to us. Our principles directly include equality as one of our basic tenets as in: Reason, Ethics, Dignity, Equality. Generally, secular humanists give up religion for the simple reason that they do not believe in god(s). Theism is the centre of all religions (is Buddhism a religion?) so we secular humanists think for ourselves and base justice on reason, compassion and what is good for the individual and society.
We constantly think about and debate such ideas as those behind Québec’s Bill 21 and attempt to achieve a balance between our own needs and those of our fellow earthlings.
Question 3: How are you getting or showing justice for the LGBT+ community? – by Darby
Answer: Many secular humanists are LGBT+ and secular humanism provides them with a safe place to be; that is, a community where they know they can find someone, LGBT+ or not, with whom they can talk. This is especially important for LGBT+ people who are non-believers. We also speak out against injustices, either systemic or social, that they encounter and call out people who deny them justice.
Of course, we are in a constant learning mode and appreciate members of the LGBT+ community informing us about shortcomings of our actions.
Question 4: As a Christian, I see many Churches closing and this concerns me. Is this the case for all the represented religions? Without Churches/Temples/Synagogues/Mosques etc, how do we pass on moral values such as justice? – by anonymous
Answer: Since secular humanists are not religious, we tend to look at churches closing as a symptom of changes in society. We don’t know whether people are discovering that they can be people of faith without the structure or religion or that they no longer believe in gods. There is a steady increase in the atheist percentage of the population in Canada (1914 – 11%, 2009 – 20%, both averages). It is worth noting that this increase has not translated directly into an increase in the percentage of the population who identify as secular humanists so maybe we have the same sociological problem as do religious institutions.
That said, we have no problem passing on moral values such as justice without a formal structure (church, religion) since this is done in our community through parents passing them on to their children and the secular humanist “village” taking responsibility for raising them. Religious activity as distinct from faith has nothing to offer in terms of justice. Secular humanists regard passing concepts of ethics and justice to the next generation as a basic requirement of one’s legacy.
Question 5: Why only male speakers representing religions conference (majority)? Only one female today? – by anonymous.
Answer: First, don’t blame the Ahmadiyya hosts. Each philosophy picks its own presenters. Some religions have a very patriarchal attitude to this; secular humanists do not. I was persuaded by the five women who sit on our board to present. The three males on the board had no choice but to acquiesce even though I have presented too many times at this conference. To date we have had two outstanding female presenters and would welcome more.
Question 6: For a person who is looking for a present-day example of Just Society, which societies would you direct their attention to? – by Brent P.
Answer: The Benelux countries (Netherlands, Belgium, etc.) and Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark) seem the best in terms of their lack of systemic discrimination against atheists, (Freedom of Thought Report, Humanists International, https://fot.humanists.international/).
Question 7: Why [does] faith preaching end up in ritualistic practices and very limited practice in life. All talk about ‘No thing is ours” but fail to let it go? – by Harjit
Answer: Faith preachers make the assumption that they have the truth because of their acceptance of whatever holy writings they follow without question. Ritualistic practices make participation easier for people who want a stable, predictable event or series of events to attend. Rituals provide a comfortable way to deal with issues that people find difficult to deal with or understand. Participating in these events, or accepting simplistic, predictable answers actually requires less energy (calories) than thinking through issues. This is well explained in Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.
Not all faith apologists are isolated from real life – note the involvement of the Christian representative in helping drug addicts survive.
Question 8: If all religions and philosophies love peace, why are there so many religious/theological wars? Often in the name of Justice? – by Bill Ratcliffe
Answer: Most faiths love peace as long as it is on their terms and primarily for their people. Essentially, each religion claims to hold the only real truth and that they are the only true followers of the only true god or religious leader (particularly if that leader is dead). They see justice only from their set of rules. If society follows those rules, then justice is served. This includes preservation of their social hierarchies, their social rules and their list of moral guidance. Since they are so convinced, they think that they are doing the world a favour by pushing their faith on others, even to the point of destroying people who do not accept their version of the truth.
Question 9:Let me first express my gratitude for the informative talk. (1) You properly articulated that Humanism is concerned with justice in this life, not postponing it for a life to come. How did you think this distinguishes Humanism from religious perspectives? To my understanding it the same reason we have messengers sent by God to man in this life. However, practically speaking, not all aspects of justice can be achieved here. God’s Judgment is ought to hold what has been missed here. (2) I do agree that hate speech cannot be viewed under any excuses. But don’t you think freedom of speeches in they interpreted today leads to far more hate speech? – by Hasan Doagoo
1). This distinguishes secular humanism from religions by recognizing that there is no justice in asking someone to suffer in this life in order to gain some kind of favour or reward in a subsequent life. You are working from the premise that there is a god or are gods, a premise the secular humanists do not accept. We may wish that there is some back up plan to cover justice that has been missed here, but there is no evidence of such an afterlife so we must focus on what we know for sure.
2). Freedom of speech may or may not increase hate speech or literature, but since that freedom is an essential part of our democracy, it must be protected. I think ignorance and fear of the unknown are the greatest causes of hate speech and literature. With that in mind, the prosecution of people who utter hate speech or publish hate literature, must include an educational component. In other words, one who is convicted of either one should be provided, perhaps in a compulsory way, information about the subject of their hate and they should be expected to respect those who they have maligned as a prerequisite to returning fully to society.
Question 10: While faiths have idealistic Divine Morals/Ethic … to compare/guide human moral/eithic[sic]. Where does Humanism gets its standard of Morals/ethics to compare with?
Reason is a very important part of our development of ethics, especially when it is combined with compassion. Secular humanism is based on the works of many philosophers throughout the ages. Thales of Miletus (circa 600 BCE) is one of the earliest with his advice to “Be true to yourself” meaning in context that one must be comfortable with one’s philosophy rather than following one (Mythos in his culture) just to be accepted in society. There are many other Greek philosophers, but Epicurus (circa 320 BCE) stands out because over his lifetime he wrote “Forty Principal Doctrines” to guide people in living positive ethical lives. The list goes on with such philosophers as Thomas Huxley, Bertrand Russell, Robert Buckman, and such social leaders as June Callwood.
In addition, secular humanist look at religious lists of moral standards as just other examples of human generated lists since we regard all religions and their gods as human creations. We see all these lists, generated by human beings, atheist or theist, as flawed and debate what improvements must be made.
None of the ancient philosophers dealt with the immorality of slavery, for example, and none seem to deal with rape or equality of women with men, although Epicurus included women in his circle of philosophers in The Garden. These are issues we secular humanists regard as important areas of ethical and moral concern.
Question 11: What would [you] propose legislators implement in our society to make it more Just? – by Alex
Answer: At the moment in Canada, the most serious deficits in systemic justice are items like the Indian Act, section 319 (3b) of the Criminal Code of Canada, and our theist national anthem (see http://www.secularconnexion.ca/a-national-anthem-for-everyone/ for a non-theist version in both official languages).
In general, law makers must strive to avoid embedding favouritism toward religions in our laws and be sure that minorities are not singled out for special treatment. The Freedom of Report does a good job of noting Canada’s discrimination against atheists. (Freedom of Thought Report, Humanists International, https://fot.humanists.international/)
Question 12: What is one concrete action we can take to create a just society? (besides education) or What are your thoughts on differences/similarities of equality and equity? – by Margaret Emilia Locker
Answer: I asked attendees at the conference to contact every candidate in their ridings and to draw their attention to the injustice of Section 319(3b) of the Criminal Code of Canada. That is one concrete action. As individuals, we must speak out against injustice whenever we see it. This may mean writing your MP or MPP (this is like voting between elections – they do keep track of their constituents’ views).
This is but one instance where active participation in our democracy (formally and informally) is important.
Equity (pay, social, voice,) is an essential product of equality. How can one be equal to one’s peers if one is paid less for some reason if they are doing the same job at the same skill level?
Equality must apply in all aspects of life. Why is a hamster worth less than a horse, or a dandelion worth less than a rose? These inequalities are the result of the economic concerns of human beings. Understandably, some activities are of less value to society than others and these things shift. During the early 19th century, musicians were the highest paid members of the British Army, today, most musicians are underpaid. If someone is highly educated, we must respect their knowledge, but they are not “more equal” than the rest of us.
Question 13: How can parents best model/teach justice to their children in the home? By Hilary Diouf
Answer: First, the idea the parents must be important modellers/teachers of justice to their children is a good one. That means that parents must practise justice in their own home and with their home. They must show children that rules, decisions, and sanctions in the home are just, not arbitrary. Explaining why the rules are there and why decisions about enforcing those rules are made is vitally important in teaching one’s children about justice. Of course, those explanations have to be geared to the ability of the child to understand and integrate the ideas into their own thinking.
As children grow, they want more and more input into the household justice system and need to be guided to take responsibility for their actions. If they perceive that they will heard fairly, they will usually do so.
Parental example is absolutely crucial to modelling justice. Parents must interact with others in the community in a just, not arbitrary, way. Fairness does not blindly follow dogma, but uses pre-existing guidelines to generate justice through reason.
Question 14: Most religions teach about being guided by a Higher power – God etc. Where do you find your inner guidance and comfort? – By Annonymous
Answer: How does one use an external power to find one’s inner guidance and comfort? They come from one’s own ability to learn, analyze and think. We can be good without gods because we have the ability to observe what affects us and others and the ability to use reason to improve on what we are doing. We can also analyze our feelings about situations and our reactions to those situations so we can improve our actions; that is, make them more ethical and supportive of our fellow human beings and other animals and plants.
Yes, outside references to the thoughts of other human beings are useful as references for our own thoughts about situations. Secular humanists look at the thoughts of past thinkers as guidelines and consider carefully how we are going to live up to the examples of those past thinkers. We are also comfortable disagreeing with them when that is appropriate.
For example, Epicurus listed three things that give human beings pleasure: learning, knowing, and the pleasures of the senses. He made it clear that these things should be exercised in balance and in moderation. However, he did not mention charity – the pleasure of helping others without expecting reward*- so were I speaking to him I would challenge him on that omission.
*When secular humanists help someone, they ask that person to pay the help forward rather than expecting something in return. That way, the positive action goes out to others rather than just returning in a closed loop.