Takeaways from the 2018 HAPI General Assembly

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Humanist Alliance Philippines, International (HAPI) is still on cloud nine since the success of its 2018 General Assembly in Bacolod, Negros Occidental. From the heart-warming interpretation by student-beneficiaries of Secular Humanist Advocacy Development and Education (SHADE) program and the colorful performance by Masskara Festival dancers to the benefit art exhibition by RebelBlood painters, there are so much to miss about the so-called “Triple Treat in Bacolod”.

Learning from local and foreign Humanists alike was the main agenda, with resource speakers coming from the United Kingdom, the United States and national chapters outside of Metro Manila. So, following are some major takeaways from the 2018 HAPI General Assembly.

Millennials for Humanism

With Millennials (born in the 1980s until 2000) revering human rights more than anything else, there is a noticeable yet sometimes unconscious abandonment of hope for religion. Young adults are increasingly moving towards a secular culture, identifying themselves either as “spiritual but not religious” or “neither spiritual nor religious”. This dramatic change in beliefs and self-identification has been attributed to the civil rights revolutions of the 20th century. There is an on-going desire to leave behind hierarchical understandings of religion towards a more socially liberal one. This life stance has attracted criticism, creating a notion that Millennials are narcissistic, lazy and lack a sense of morality—a distorted characterization that leaves out the fact that this controversial generation has displayed the most mutual respect and acceptance of difference ever in human history.

Fewer Millennials in churches, however, does not mean that they don’t like authoritative institutions in general. Millennials like moralistic institutions; they flee from institutions suffering from moral hypocrisy or harboring unfair prejudices. Their confidence in institutions with high moral standards is helping push the world trend towards inclusive Humanism and away from denominational orthodoxy. Millennials are fast deciding which institutions deserve their allegiance and energy. And churches have already noticed the generational differences.

Digital Humanism discussed by Clarence Ruelos

Digital Humanism

The Center for Inquiry fostering a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry and Humanist values has been a notable mission in the digital world for over 25 years. According to their recent study, if Humanism wants to be more appealing to diverse interests and generations today, Humanism must:

  • stop worrying whether it looks religious or churchly, since it must be supportive, principled, communitarian, and offer group projects for the social good
  • have plausible answers for the ethical, metaphysical, existential questions
  • not merely encourage non-believers to be content to be privately stoic in a personal disdain for religion
  • be poised to join alliances with religious groups where common moral and civic aims can be advanced by group effort
  • continue to criticize religion where it deserves moral rebuke, but it must be prepared to defend its own moral vision
  • tolerate pluralism and diversity, so long as it also avoids internal contradiction
  • not afford the risk of appearing angry, prejudiced, divisive, and more interested in tearing down than building up
  • not afford the risk of forming coalitions only with anti-religious organizations simply to celebrate being “smarter”
  • not afford the risk of forming coalitions only with anti-religious organizations to fight what religious organizations want

Humanist Ceremonies

Naming, wedding and funeral ceremonies for non-religious people are a thing in the United Kingdom. They are offered throughout England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Each ceremony is unique, appropriate and personal, administered by a trained and accredited Humanist celebrant. With over 400 celebrants qualified by Humanists UK (formerly known as British Humanist Association), a ceremony that marks a major life event without the usual divine and supernatural tones is possible.

Humanist Ceremonies, however, are not new. In fact, Humanists UK members have been conducting Humanist funerals as long ago as the 1890s. Humanist ceremonies are not unusual either since half of Britain’s population say they are not religious, and only a third of weddings happen in churches for example.

Humanist naming ceremonies can be held wherever the parents want and whenever the parents are ready. They focus on the individual child (and siblings during joint namings), the child’s personality, and the friends and family who surround the child. A typical naming ceremony may include spoken poetry, parental promises to the child, the appointment of “guideparents” and perhaps a symbolic action such as planting a tree or signing a certificate.

Humanist wedding ceremonies are more flexible and personal than civil weddings in a way that there is no set script. Instead, each wedding is tailored to meet the particular couple’s requirements such as the right tone, words and music. Although Humanist weddings are not yet recognized in law in England and Wales, couples often go to the register office to take care of the legal formalities in the days before or after their wedding.

Humanist funeral ceremonies offer a personal and fitting way to say goodbye to those who have lived without religion. While the ceremonies still express sadness at the loss, they bring people together to celebrate the life lived. Funeral celebrants are sensitive and empathetic but focused on providing a funeral ceremony that will be most fitting for the circumstances. They are familiar with cremation and burial procedures as well as other funeral directors.

Problems and Critical Thinking

It is critical to learn how to think critically. Humanism teaches humans to be flexible, rational, compassionate and responsible towards being the most ethical beings, while critical thinking acknowledges all that is good and can be improved. To learn how to think better and solve problems more effectively seems an unpopular decision to make these days. With 24/7 access to information that some people immediately regard as true and factual, the practice of freethought has become a skill more than a nature.

Critical thinkers know how to give themselves the best chance of success. They know the right questions to ask in a situation—”What is the real problem?”, “What is really causing it?” and “What will really work to solve it?” They have what it takes to ensure that their strategy is in touch with reality. They can control their unconscious bias. They understand their own minds. They find meaning and purpose in life using science, not religion.

Problem solving is the result of critical thinking. It involves finding the best possible solution to overcome an obstacle. Critical thinkers essentially follow these steps to solve a problem:

  1.  Identify the problem
  2.  Define the problem
  3.  Form a strategy
  4.  Organize information
  5.  Allocate resources
  6.  Monitor progress
  7.  Evaluate the results

In the Philippines where a college degree is not proof of developed critical thinking, there is an overwhelming decrease in the ability to distinguish between false and factual information. This happens in spite of college graduates being highly sure about their soft skills, including critical thinking and problem solving. Fake news continue to present a challenge, with politicians claiming negative stories about them are fake news; websites promoting false content to advance a political or ideological agenda; producers making up false stories to make money; and social media platforms allowing false content to be shared and go viral. Are our colleges and universities doing enough to help students develop critical thinking skill?

Discussion on Mental Health by Kates Ante

Humanism on Mental Health

One of the sections of ‘Humanism and its Aspirations: Humanist Manifesto III’ reads, “Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of their survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community.”

People are often drawn to Humanism because they have a passion about something that really matters in their lives. For some, it’s their loved ones—wife, children or grandchildren—and for others, it’s the mental illnesses like depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or anxiety that those loved ones deal with. Mental illness takes a huge toll. As Humanists, helping reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness starts with self-education.

Council for Secular Humanism states: “Secular Humanists reject authoritarian beliefs. They affirm that we must take responsibility for our own lives and the communities and world in which we live. Secular Humanism emphasizes reason and scientific inquiry, individual freedom and responsibility, human values and compassion, and the need for tolerance and cooperation”. However, the paradigmatic practices of psychiatry deprive innocent persons of liberty and excuse guilty persons of their crimes. Unlike typical medical practices based on consent, typical psychiatric practices rest on coercion. Coercive relations—one person authorized to use power to compel another person to do or abstain from an action of choice—are inherently political and morally problematic. The duty to coerce mental patients—to protect them from themselves and to protect society from them—has always set psychiatrists apart from other medical practitioners. The truth is that the treatment of so-called mental diseases is no more successful today than it was in the past. Some state mental hospital patients were imprisoned for offences they were prone to commit, perhaps transforming prisons into the nation’s largest mental health facilities.

As an automobile dealer presumes that his customer is legally competent and responsible for the purchase, a physician whose patient complains of blood in his stool presumes that the patient has a disease, and the legal system presumes that a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty, so does our mental health system presumes that a mentally ill person is dangerous to oneself and others, a power we so trust because its known aim is “therapeutic”.

This article has been by McJarwin Cayacap