Saturday, 8 May 2010

Humanism, Politics and The Blank Pamphlet

This has been a bad election for Humanists. Two prominent members of the 110 strong All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (secretary of the group Paul Holmes and Evan Harris pictured above) lost their seats. Dr Evan Harris, a medical doctor, is particularly well known as an advocate of science and secularism. Unfortunately he lost his Oxford seat by a few hundred votes. I can only hope that he can find some way to continue being a strong advocate for Humanism in some other way. Indeed, Dr Harris is going to be a speaker at the upcoming Enquiry Conference in Birmingham in June, along with other notable Humanists such as A.C. Grayling and Andrew Copson.

I find it puzzling that I still come across the perception of Humanists depicted in the cartoon above. The assumption is that Humanism is like a religion with no core beliefs and values. Most Humanists don’t want to go door-to-door Jehovah’s Witness style to talk about their beliefs (though you will find the odd person who does). The truth is that we Humanists have very definite ideas about the open society, democracy, ethics, secularism, free speech, human rights and the value of science and education, even when we differ on other views such as taxation or the desirable size of government, which is why there are Humanists in most of the major parties (UKIP, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green). We have plenty of pamphlets and books and they are not blank, but our ideas are not dogmatic. Humanism is more of a method, involving the weighing of evidence when deciding on any matter. It’s about asking the question, “What sort of reasons do you have for holding the position you hold” or “What evidence is there that what you say is true”. It is a rejection of arguments based on authority or faith. It promotes engagement with political life through democratic processes; it does not dictate any party political allegiance.