I was contacted by a friend on facebook, who has contributed a guest post to the blog before, about advice for an article in response to attacks in the press concerning a humanist conference that had taken place in the ‘African nation. I offered to co-write the article, which was a nice easy write. Some things just write themselves! Here it is:
We recently had a conference for the atheists and humanists of Malawi, which was organised by ASH. Humanism was the main topic, and it seems there are a lot of us – judging by our growing Facebook and whatsapp groups.
But what is it exactly, and is it a threat to life in Malawi? But how can you be good and have purpose without God? These are the things the public needs to know.
Well, first things first, that is the basic principle of humanism – the leading of an ethical and fruitful life without a deity featuring in your worldview. We can be good; we are good, and we use reason to do it. Millions of people are good on a daily basis without needing a god to dictate what good must mean.
No, we don’t need a god to be good. And nor do we need a god to have purpose in our lives. How would you like it if we walked up to you on the street and said, “You know what, your purpose in this world is to be kabhaza man, and if you choose not to be one, we’ll send you to prison. Forever.”
In our minds, it is not a noble thing to have some other entity (whom we have never met, and even if it does exist, we are not sure which out of many it is) dictate to us our purpose, our meaning. Indeed, is it not much nobler to survey the world, to try to understand it, and to derive our purpose and meaning ourselves? To carve our meaning out of reality with our own, moral hands? Our meaning is ours to create, not ours to take on bended knees from an invisible dictator.
Humanism is a growing trend in many parts of the world. As we understand our universe ever more accurately, God is no longer needed to explain what we observe. Thunder and lightning is not the wrath of Mbona or Chiyamwaka. God has moved ever so further away until he (she or it) resides, if at all, as a mere abstract being, outside of our universe. And even then, we are now beginning to better understand the origins of our universe, as we do of our species.
As we lose the explanatory need for God, so to we realise that being good and having meaning no longer require God. In fact, the most peaceful countries on Earth are the least religious (and the most violent are the most religious). In philosophy, the three main competing moral philosophies (for the record, deontology, consequentialism and virtue ethics) do not require a god. Philosophers realise this, but the general public seem to want to hang on to this outdated idea with the most desperate of fingernail grips.
Humanists have empathy and we have the golden rule (Confucius thought it up 500 years before Jesus ever mentioned it). We too will treat others how we would like to be treated. You don’t need God to tell you that. We think that is humanity. It’s what makes us human.