Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association

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Humanism, secularism and public policy

21 June 2005 • 469 words

"We are not concerned about whether any of our members believe in God or not. What we are concerned about is that such beliefs, when unsupported by ethical reasoning and evidence, should not affect public policies."

In the Sunday Newsday of 19.06.05, columnist Suzanne Sheppard outlined the basic tenets of the humanist perspective. She noted that humanists believe that moral and ethical codes should be derived by reason from the human condition; that humanists particularly oppose bigotry, hatred, discrimination, and intolerance; and that the specific political concerns of humanists include human rights; abolition of capital punishment; and the separation of church and state.

However, Ms Sheppard also claimed that humanists reject religion in all its forms. This may well be true of specific humanist groups in other countries. However, the Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association, although formed with all the above concerns in mind, is also a voice for religious moderates (as well as non-believers) in our society. At present, it is mostly the shrieks of fundamentalists which are heard on a variety of religious and social issues, yet there are many devout people who stand for the same values as humanists, but who never speak up.

We are not concerned about whether any of our members believe in God or not. What we are concerned about is that such beliefs, when unsupported by ethical reasoning and evidence, should not affect public policies. The death penalty is undoubtedly the best example of an issue cannot be defended on logical, empirical or moral grounds. Another issue is the introduction of abstinence-only programmes in the nation's schools, when the evidence shows that this approach has a extremely high failure rate. A third is the opposition to equal rights for women from fundamentalist religious spokespersons, who have criticised the Draft Gender Policy for things which don't even exist in the policy (such as same-sex marriages and five definitions of gender).

Most religious believers think that saying, "My holy texts say so-and-so" is a sufficient argument for any debate. But this ignores the limits of what any individual can know - belief, even passionate belief, is not knowledge. True knowledge, in the humanist view, can only be derived from reason, evidence and experimental proof, and that is why humanists hold that public policies should not be based on religious tenets. But this perspective is not peculiar to agnostics, atheists and non-theists - enlightened and progressive believers also share this view, as well as the values of tolerance and compassion which are the bedrock of humanism.

Ms Sheppard also notes that humanist ideas are based on free thought and rationalism, and asks whether T&T is ready for such a perspective. "I think not," she concludes. This displays remarkable contempt for the people of our society, for Ms Sheppard seems to be implying that brainwashing and superstition are the best methods of governing our country. We hope she is wrong, for without open minds and a reasoned approach we are surely condemned to descend even more deeply into social chaos.

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