In May of 2018, Counterpunch.org was kind enough to publish my essay, “A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance.” That piece was very popular on social media. It even received a “like” and re-tweet from a very well known celebrity who has received the ire of Donald Trump. But as I reviewed my essay, one startling idea jumped out at me, and that was the essay might be too localized. Although, as a stand-alone piece, it served an important purpose in May to rally others to the cause of freedom and against the current American administration in Washington.
But there was lack of a humanist worldview related to resistance to tyranny as not just a United States issue. Humanist resistance is a worldwide concern and one that citizens around the globe should consider and encourage both in terms of dialog and non-violent action to bring social change. Therefore, and upon much reflection, I have updated the work to revise and refocus the first essay.
The United Nations Declaration of Human Rightsis a formidable document and belongs to each person as a birthright. Created in 1945 and updated many time since, I believe this detailed list of global human rights should be lived cornerstone of every nation on our small planet. Unlike many post-Imperial national Constitution’s, which themselves often conform to the important and noble 13thCentury Magna Carta, the UN’s work is a wholly separate and forward facing modern work. It remains a mid-twentieth century high watermark setting a course for human rights and human dignity for our current humanity and beyond.
The global nonbeliever community itself has a long and noble history of resistance to oppression. Often, such activism is focused on the violations of civil rights and attacks on social and secular well-being. Our activism though also includes fighting attacks on modernity, on science and science education, working for environmental justice, and certainly supporting the right of the individual to love who they wish and own their body’s autonomy no matter what a social collective may view as moral or just. Humanists even support the spiritual rights others, within the context of ensuring people can choose to believe as they wish so long as those beliefs do not harm the civil and human rights of others.
Responding to pain and suffering can never rest. Acknowledgment of the anti-humanistic ideas and the violence caused by others who choose to subjugate and harm serves as a constant reminder of our humanistic burden. But one thing is immediately clear, that when we work together and with allied groups that we can have long-term positive impact on local and international politics. We know this because all advances in cultural goodness, from our science to our civil rights, stem from secular humanist and democratic actions.
We have pushed back against violent oppressions, oppressions of the right to think freely, oppression of autonomy within community, and also oppression over the sovereignty of our body. Even in this darker time in world history the cause of humanism will out. It is the people who stand for human, civil and environmental rights who will light the way to a more humanistic future.
It is clear from our past and it especially true through our present day that reason and the expectation of humane governance is part of what makes both nonbelief and secularism so vital. Each idea is vital for the sake of our common humanity and also contingent on the idea that all human life has value. That we are all equal by right of birth and that justice is best served when it is intrinsically linked to making the world safer, richer and kinder. We also acknowledge that it is more than humans who qualify for this just and fair treatment; that it is the right of every single traveler with whom humans share the planet.
This long history of secular action and social awareness that identifies, defines and challenges tyranny is socially constructed but it is also deeply held within our primate genome. Research suggests that nonbelievers are motivated for the sake of humanity to do good without the need for recognition or reward. The evidence also shows that humans act more humanely towards one another when we act without the need to please a divine entity. According to scientific fact, we humans are indeed hardwired towards a non-denominational imperative that fosters the Golden Rule and ensures that we will continue to resist violent people and anti-humanist movements as they arise.
The majority of freethinkers clearly support the most open and cohesive political structures that will expand global human wellness. Two important statements include The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights as well as the Humanist Manifesto III. Each is constructed to promote and defend humanity’s right to life, liberty and freedom from want. Under the umbrella of these exceptional human-focused statements, many in the nonbelief community also work to ensure we and others are safe, that we have adequate education and can most of all pursue individual happiness. After all human rights are equal rights for all.
Therefore, it is vitally important that the nonbelief community, which itself is not monolithic and is diverse beyond race, ethnicity, political views, education and social-economic status, actively call out tyrants and their enablers for their acts of violence against others and that of the planet. Such activism is in support of the UN’s human rights declaration but also demanded by the Humanist Manifesto III, which allies itself to secular human rights, modernity and democracy.
Over the last decade, the world has since the rise of tyranny and political violence based on nativists and fascist-like leaders who have taken political power in many nations. Ironically and in many cases, they have used the tools of democracy which they do not respect to gain control, and then having won elections have moved their country towards nationalism and unilateralism. In other cases, fascist-like leaders have had monolithic one-party rule or dynastic and familial control of their nation’s internal policies and diplomacy.
Whether such form of political tyranny is old or new to a particular society, what often occurs is such aberrations become normalized and even protected by the very citizens they harm. Enabled or acculturated citizens who believe that any dissent or questioning is a form of disloyalty to the tyrant leader, belief system or nation.
But global humanists should and must fight the tide of local and international violence. We must call out those those who would create tyranny or would defend any administration, which actively seek to degrade our human connection to each other as well as debase the sustainability of our planet. These “crimes against moral decency” are many, and include:
- The degradation of immigrants
- The degradation of ethnic and racial minorities
- The degradation of the poor
- The degradation of the environment and environmental conservation
- The degradation of public education
- The degradation of science research and education
- The degradation of the rule of law
- The degradation of reproductive freedoms
- The degradation of journalists and journalism
- The degradation of the wall which separates Church and State
- The degradation of social and economic justice
- The degradation of the right to love freely and associate freely
- The degradation of truth
- The degradation of civility within our political discourse
We owe it to ourselves in our time and for future generations not to be bystanders. We must not ignore or normalize violent dysfunction and outright lies, and we must not permit those who hold power to go unchecked and unanswered. To do so would certainly mean that we are in ways complicit, in effect advocates for the destruction of the ideas we cherish most, the promotion and protection of a just, fair and open society in which all humans are treated with dignity.
Knowing the nature and goals of “strong-men” as well as other controlling and fascist-like leaders requires all of us who hold humanistic beliefs to take action and make a difference. It requires each of us to connect, to join forces with other people and activist groups whenever and wherever tyranny rears itself. It requires us to witness and remember and not allow caustic narratives to diminish or invalidate our birthright to the UN and Humanist freedoms we all should enjoy.
Working with one voice but through many people and ideas, and through constant non-violent protest we must work to wake up masses of people to take political action and to create change until such time that every tyrannical administration is no more. It is to stimulate those who do not see the true danger of tyranny while also sharing alternative narratives to liberate people from their comfort zone, tacit agreement, or a lack of information and slumber. It is to enhance freedom while acknowledging that civil rights and civil liberties belong to each of us. That we must systematically and consciously create nations and global systems that do not endanger or destabilize the planet.
Such awareness also requires us to hold every political administration and government to the same standards and accountability for their policies and actions. However, as humanists we know that we cannot weaponize universality against cultural sovereignty, yet at the same time, cultural sovereignty cannot be used a weapon again universal human and civil rights. Thus, such action requires each of us to not sit idly by as injustice is perpetrated against one group for the sake of another group or those elite whose goal it is to divide us from one another.
Protest as you can and when you can. Come out and show your support for those too afraid or unable to organize or take to the streets. Align yourself with secular and other activist groups. Vote if it means you see change is possible if it is managed from the inside. But do not sit on the sidelines. We are someone else’s history lesson and our legacy cannot and should not be one of disengagement.
When future generations look back and ask, “why didn’t those people stop the tyranny” in their time, if we do nothing such a pointed question will be certainly diminish facing our lives and legacy.