Why we need a global humanist movement

May 17, 2017

By Gary McLelland, Chief Executive, International Humanist and Ethical Union. Article originally published in Spring 2017 Humanitie.

2017. The politics of division and fear are on the rise across Europe. Questions of race and identity divide America, in a manner not seen for generations. Environmental destruction continues apace. In South Asia Humanists continue to live in fear of violent attacks at the hands of the machete wielding extremists. Laws against so-called ‘blasphemy’ try to shut down much needed debate within and between religious communities.

Photo of Gary McLelland
Gary McLelland, Chief Executive IHEU

It is a stark picture, but one that we ignore at our peril.

In February, I left Humanist Society Scotland to become the new Chief Executive of the International Humanist and Ethical Union – IHEU. The IHEU is a democratic umbrella body of Humanist, atheist, secularist, skeptic and other non-religious communities from around the world. Humanist Society Scotland is a full member of the IHEU, and helps to fund and provide strategic direction to the organisation through its democratic processes.

So, why do we need a global Humanist movement?

It’s my view that the need for a global Humanist movement is more important now than it has ever been in recent decades. Our values of open, rational enquiry; respect for universal human rights; and focus on an ethical approach to life, mean that we are uniquely well-placed to provide a strong, positive vision for the future.

We need to build our movement. We must grow our movement in places where it is already strong, such as Europe. However, we must also nurture growth in places where the Humanist community is new or developing, such as Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.

As well as being a grassroots movement, we also have to engage with the global institutions. Our opponents who would spread fear and division will, for the foreseeable future, have access to power and resources that we cannot match. However, we must be confident and reassured in our arguments.

We must continue to provide support and solidarity to our friends and colleagues around the world, for many of whom these are literally life and death issues.

Luckily such an international movement exists. As a member of HSS, you join members of over 130 similar organisations who campaign for a rational, ethical, secular future. The IHEU has a small, but dedicated team of staff and volunteers, who work tirelessly on these issues.

The news is not all bad, though. Despite the challenges we face there have been many successes. It’s thanks to the hard work of Humanist campaigners that the plight of secular bloggers in Bangladesh is receiving the attention it deserves. It was Humanists who led the campaign to save Raif Badawi, and others accused of ‘blasphemy’ or ‘apostasy’. We have also seen a huge interest in Humanism in many countries around the work.

What can you do to help? The good news is that you already are. Through your membership of HSS you are helping support the IHEU. There are a few other ways you can help:

1. Organise events, debates, demonstrations in your local community to help  mobilise support.

2. Sign up for our newsletter at www.iheu.org/support/sign-up-for-our-newsletter

3. Join us for our annual conference in London on 5-6 August this year. Details will be released on the IHEU website soon.

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