When asked to briefly explain why I perceive myself to be a humanist I feel obliged to first of all indicate what my definition of a humanist is. The reply would be something along these lines: I believe that humanity is still evolving, just as all living things are evolving by the process of natural selection as outlined by Charles Darwin. We could eventually develop into a race of truly humane beings. I believe humanism and rationalism to represent another step up the ladder in this development. I want to be part of the movement that is actively aiming to make the world a better place to be in by promoting thought, consideration and responsibility.
How did I arrive at what some might consider such a radical view? Being a trusting kind of person I took the world at face value until the fairly ripe age of thirty or so. Virtually all the people I knew and respected actively or passively supported ?the System?. The world and its passengers were constantly monitored and mothered by Him Up There. As long as one was Good all was rosy and rich reward awaited all of us. In retrospect, how very naive I was, and how slow my critical faculties in developing!
When I saw the photographs taken by the Allies at Auschwitz and similar places I was utterly shocked and for some time deeply depressed. How could human beings possibly do such things to fellow human beings? Did I share common ancestors with these perpetrators of unspeakable atrocities?
Now, after learning to read between the lines in history books, it is apparent that Nazi Germany was nothing new. And in all the years since we witnessed Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Nigeria, Yugoslavia ? Read the Amnesty International annual report which year in year out proves that as a race we are, to put it mildly, not very nice.
But amazingly, now, at fifty-three I have gradually come to a new understanding. I can see that the vast bulk of humanity is not too bad. Not evil anyway. For many, reason is often overshadowed by emotion or by the
prejudices which were installed by parents or fanatical organisations at an early age. Most people are easily led and influenced and soon abdicate responsibility into the hands of a charismatic leader or God or whoever is promising everlasting bliss as reward. There are also those, thankfully not many, who are so mentally deficient that although human in appearance, they are inhumane by nature and when power is given to such, atrocities and genocide will be the outcome.
How could such a depressing story have a happy ending? I perceive the race to be at a crossroads. Of course it is very possible that in some way or other we will annihilate ourselves in the near future. Some think this would not be a great disaster. Life is plentiful in the universe and races are ten cents a dozen and come and go all the time.
But as a humanist and an optimist I like to think that we can overcome the forces of evil. We can encourage more and more people to think. We can convince our fellow human beings to take more responsibility for their actions. We have already compelled our reluctant leaders to adopt MMP style proportional representation. We must now instruct our government to actively seek the establishment of world government. Then it would be possible to derail the Saddam Hussein?s, close the arms factories and the barracks and share the wealth of this great world amongst all those upon it. Wouldn?t it be nice?
Karl Matthys was a Hawkes Bay member and a National Councillor of the Humanist Society of New Zealand.