Leo Igwe on Making Humanism Work for Everyone

My favorite part of the Humanism at Work conference in July was getting to know two amazing activists, Leo Igwe and Hemley Gonzales. I drove Leo from Chicago to Grand Rapids and had several hours to talk to him about his work and his passion. In a recent article on the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies website, he advocates that humanists begin to look more outward than inward.

Persons who are persecuted in the name of religion or superstition often do not have organisations that care for them. They are left in the cold. Humanists need to join the gobal debate of the heart by translating their best selling ideas into projects and programs that benefit humanity. Humanists need to let people suffering in different parts of the world to know that they care, that humanists care in creed and indeed. That humanists have a charity scheme to support them in their time of need.

That atheists and agnostics are here at last to deliver humanist promises, to translate humanist ethical principles into care programs.

For some time, atheists and freethinkers have preoccupied ourselves with exploring how humanism can work for us- that includes how to protect the rights of humanists; how to get humanists elected into public office, how to secure legal recognition of humanist ceremonies. There is no doubt that these are important campaigns.

But now the time has come for us to explore how humanism can work for them- for all human beings including those who may not be humanists but who yearn for humanist promises. So, how can we make humanism work for the victims of witchcraft accusation particularly those of them in the witch camps in Ghana.

You may have heard that there are plans by the government of Ghana to close down the witch camps. These camps exist in the Northern region of the country. The move to shut down the camps is a reaction by the government of Ghana to reports of the deplorable situation, exploitation and human rights abuses in the these camps. The government is reportedly embarrassed by these reports and now wants to disband these places of refuge. Recently, the United Stated embassy in Ghana announced that it was funding a research program aimed at closing down these camps.

Now let us think about this. What is actually embarrassing in this case? Is it the belief in witchcraft or these refuge centers? What’s the real problem here-is it the witch camps or witch beliefs? What the government of Ghana should be preoccupied with- is it disbanding the witch camps or educating and enlightening the people, helping reorient their minds so that they abandon these superstitious beliefs in magic and sorcery?

Actually the situation in these camps is difficult and many of the alleged witches are suffering terribly.The alleged witches live in huts. They have no access to clothing, water or food. Some of them have their family members visit them occasionally to bring them money and food. Others depend on charity and support from NGOs. Others have resorted to begging for survival. But is that a reason why they should be denied a safe space to be? Is that why they should be forced to go back home where they are likely to be murdered by their accusers?…

What we have done so far is just a tiny drop in the ocean of victims of accusation who need support and compassion. Alleged witches and wizards who yearn for the dignifying and humanizing promises of reason and freethought are numerous in the region. They are beckoning on humanists to step forward and take their place at the table- the table of the debate of the heart.

And I’m happy to say that we are doing so. The Pathfinders Project spent several weeks in the Ghana witch camps and the first project of the Humanist Service Corps from the Foundation Beyond Belief is to return there and work to improve the appalling conditions and help those who live there become independent. And we’re seeing this all over the place. Here in Michigan we just kicked off the 2015 Year of Interfaith Service this past weekend with a Habitat for Humanity build. Dozens of atheist and humanist groups around the country are doing great work in their local communities to improve the lives of their friends and neighbors. Let’s keep it up.

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  • Alverant

    I know this is a bit off topic, but I’m writing a sci-fi short story with Humanism mentioned. The problem is that there are aliens so now “Humanism” sounds like a human-supremacist philosophy. What would Humanism be called when there are other sentient non-humans?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=523300770 stuartsmith

    Depends on a lot of factors. Who is in charge, how much power do they have, and how do they feel about that philosophy? Is it a popular position, or one that gets you hunted down as a dangerous subversive, or a minority made up primarily of intellectual elites, or what? What specific traits are they focusing on in place of humanity? Names are as much about when and where a thing was named as about the thing itself. Plus, of course, Objectivism is hardly particularly objective, pro-life folks are pretty cavalier about the overwhelming majority of lives, and social Darwinism has precious little to do with Darwin. With modern movements and philosophies, the names are as often about PR as about accuracy.

    Or you could go with vitalism, maybe?