Thanks to all who posted on ‘Islam and Rationalism’. Here are some thoughts on Islam and Humanism. I see Humanism as being more concerned with the ethics of human coexistence and Rationalism being more concerned with the development of accurate understanding.
An underlying theme of many anti-Islam posts here has been a rejection of the idea of coexistence with Muslims. ‘Keep them out’ means just that. To my mind this strikes at the very essence of what it means to be a Humanist.
Humanism is predicated on optimism. People can recognise and respect others’ rights. People of different beliefs can live in the same country. We have more in common than what separates us. A society with freedom of thought, belief, speech and association can be achieved.
We are closer to this than ever in many parts of the world. We are also closer than ever to the elimination of terrible social ills that humans have sufferred for thousands of years: slavery, extreme poverty, epidemic diseases, painful death, mass infant mortality. We have scientific understanding of our part in this material universe ahead of anything we have ever had before. The ‘need’ for non-scientific explanations has been eliminated from many domains.
Diversity in society represents a triumph of Humanism. Non-diversity and emphasis on ‘purity’ of so-called ‘race’, or culture, or belief, or speech is a failure of Humanism.
The question for us is not ‘should we allow diversity’ but ‘how do we maintain our democratic and secular achievements while promoting diversity’?
In saying this I am recognising that promoting diversity has risks as well as benefits. Of course it does. Everything worthwhile does. To take a particularly distressing case, we should recognise the risk that female genital mutilation is a cultural (not religious) practice among some groups. Is it acceptable for people in those groups to immigrate? The Humanist answer I think is: ‘yes, but to be a part of our diverse society such practices cannot be allowed and we will act to stop them’. We do the same, or try to, with those who think sexual abuse of children is acceptable.
Equally it is good, I think, to oppose the arrival or continued residence of non-citizens who have views that are likely to lead to action against the existence of our free and democratic system. But it is not in line with Humanist principles to act against whole population groups on the basis on religious belief in general, or race, or national origin.
So yes, we should screen immigrants for attitudes or tendencies that threaten us. Of course. But we need to do this while recognising freedom of belief, speech and inquiry and opposing false and irrational generalisations. In particular we need to avoid assigning beliefs to people without evidence. We should not assume that because someone is Anglican and is aware of the Biblical story of Jericho that they advocate genocide. We should not say of a Muslim: ‘It is in the Koran, therefore you 1) agree with what I think it means; 2) agree with what it says; 3) take it literally and take nothing else into account’. To do so denies freedom of thought, discussion, inquiry and speech.
A Humanist should also advocate for greater freedoms in all countries and for greater communication. We, more than any other tendency in Human thought, understand the complexity of human society. So we encourage talk and cooperation, democracy and freedom. We protect freedoms where they exist and seek greater freedom where it is restricted. We do not say ‘it’s bad here so we’ll keep you out and let you do it there’. Rather we seek to promote freedom everywhere. This is the opposite of crass nationalism and racism.
And finally let me repeat my often-repeated call on this page for what I see as the Humanist value of moderation in the use of language. A Humanist is constantly aware that those with whom we disagree are people with the same rights as us. Abuse, false generalisation and the use of extreme language do not help advance the cause.