EHYD – Philipp Blom

Second that day was Philipp Blom, an engaging speaker and what seems to be a very approachable and warm person.  His speech was quite long and it was late so unfortunately many people (including me), were too tired to fully participate but the subjects he touched are very important for the shape of today’s society.  He inspired me to read more on these topics (and his books are next on my ever-growing list).

What’s more, he mentioned 2 issues that has been tormenting me for a while, so his speech was of special personal importance – but that will be analyzed on the second part of this article.  His main topic was the enlightenment and the criticism it faces. We live in difficult times – even though many could argue that they’re not so difficult as other times in the past. Still, what you experience always affects you more than what you read in history books so people are striving with many problems and tend all too easily to turn fingers upon the «guilty». Which might not always be guilty at all of course, but we need to point our fingers to someone or something. So many people today think the enlightenment is a failure, either because it had potential but didn’t manage to be radical enough to fully reach it or because its values were not good to begin with and they lead us to an immoral society.

The “not radical enough” side

According to Blom enlightenment gave much less than it actually could, only because the people who are considered to be its prominent figures were too “conservative” in their radicalism. Yes, they did have a vision of a better society and valued reason but they were too comfortable or too afraid to fundamentally question the status quo of the time. It was probably a smart thing to do, you have to see when the world is ready to accept such a change and when it has to be slowly introduced. This resulted of course to many other voices who could profoundly shake the world out of its lethargy being overheard, ignored, lost or forgotten.  Oh, there was also the penalty of death, that can shut many mouths too. He mentioned an example which combines a bit of both, the lengthy testament of Meslier, a French priest who lived in the 18th century and who grew to despise his religion because he saw what the church – but also blind belief – did to the people of his province. He was a kind man and loved his people, and denied not only the church but also the existence of a naturally good God in a world where evil, injustice and ignorance even exist. He is apparently well educated in theosophical issues and he knows his bible so his arguments are quite good.

It always surprises me when I read thoughts written in centuries long gone with direct application to today’s modern society. Well, Meslier was much more rational, clever and educated than many people today; how sad is that in the age of information?

Anyway, I’m slightly drifting away from my point. Which was Voltaire, maybe the most prominent figure of the enlightenment. As some of you may have already guessed this book is called the testament of Meslier because it’s just that, his testament. He lived his life in fear of revealing his thoughts – and not unjustifiable, he would lose his job and everything he had, possibly including his life. So this book circulated in the circles of scholars of the age after his death and eventually Voltaire, recognizing its value, decided to publish it. A concise edition of it. By doing so he apparently left out an enormous amount of accusations against the church and god himself – he presented Meslier more as a deist than an atheist. The result: many radical ideas were presented in a much more «submissive» way.

We can see that the pioneers of enlightenment chose a more “conservative” radical way, and these are the values of enlightenment we have today in our minds when we speak about these years.   We can however re-evaluate these principles and search even further in the works of those who had a brighter vision of the future.

The “way too radical” side

Yet other people accuse the enlightenment to be too radical, too “reasonable” and thus devoid of emotion and morality. Now the fact that some (too many) people seem to think reason and logic are the opposites of emotion and morality is too an important problem to discuss here – it should get its own article. I wonder however, all these people who talk about the immoral society in which enlightenment has led us, how would they define ethics and moral laws if not by logic? They praise tradition and emotion but can you use these to establish an objective map of human rights and dictate moral behavior?

Traditions are regional and it’s all too easy to see they’re often wrong. Human sacrifice was a tradition in many places once, we didn’t get over this by being more conservative and emotional but by being more reasonable. The same goes for slavery, women rights, working conditions etc. Our society sure has its issues but it is much more ethical than it used to be. I think it’s safe to say that at no other time in human history so far were there so many people caring about other people’s rights and welfare. And I don’t mean about people who are in our comfort zone or belong in our group but for people who may live far away or have opinions totally different than we have. Atheists promoting irreligion and “fighting” for the religious rights of minorities could be a good example. Humanistic organizations try to help people in underdeveloped lands in a variety of ways and there were even cases where the international judgment managed to save people from death sentences or provided refugee to people whose lives were in danger. That “immoral” society actually does something no society has ever done before. By defying stagnant traditions and thinking rationally people managed to ascent beyond their own little private worlds and started fighting for a better future for everyone. And all that because we put aside the differences created by traditions and irrational fears (=uncontrolled and unexplained emotions) and we try to use our brains to get to rational conclusions. Being logical doesn’t mean you’re emotionless; you’re just analyzing your emotions and learn from them instead of blindly act without ever stopping to think about it.

All in all, enlightenment did change our world for the better and we shouldn’t discard its ideas so quickly – there were values there that transcend beyond the limits of their age and we should keep looking for, using and developing them.

Further reading:
A Wicked Company
An intro to Enlightenment
The enlightenment’s true radicals

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EHYD – Afterthoughts on the 1st speech

As expected, this speech made me think a lot about religion and how we evaluate its place in our society. For better or worse when there are conservative problems depriving a minority of people of their rights, religion is always somewhere there, usually in the front row of the opposition, scaring people into hating each other. Again for better or worse Christianity is the main religion in Europe so that’ll be my main target  – it doesn’t mean I don’t dislike other religions just as much.

Now, dislike is a strong word and might annoy even some fellow humanists-atheists but my reasons are explained in detail:

Sophie In’t Veld mentioned at some point how beautiful the diversity we have is. Variety helps us progress as people, improve ourselves. She said a story about a conversation with 2 people, one from an ex communist country and one from Spain. The first one said that in EU he found his freedom, the freedom to believe without being prosecuted for it. The second one said that in EU he found his freedom, the freedom to be an atheist without being prosecuted for it. And there they are, both free in different ways and living in harmony with each other.

That is indeed all very nice BUT the moral of this story is not that it is beautiful when people believe in different things. The moral of this story is that you shouldn’t force any believe or the lack of it to anyone. You can’t make someone be an atheist, that’s absurd and stupid.

But you can and you must educate people. Variety is nice when we like different colors and so we make our worlds colorful and happy – or black and shadowy, now THAT’s variety. Variety is nice when I don’t like mushrooms in my pizza and I give them to my friend who loves them. Variety is nice when we have different experiences and we share them, seeing the world from another point of view and maybe even re-examining some of our ideas.

Now imagine this: you walk in a conversation where one person says lightning comes from Zeus, another says it comes from Thor and another one says it comes from invisible fairies who squeeze the clouds. What are you thoughts?

“Oh gosh, what a great variety of ideas! It just made me a better person to listen to all these different opinions about how lightning comes, I better not tell them the truth and ruin that which they choose to believe”.

I sure hope not! Most people would at least try to explain that this is not a great mystery, we know what causes lightings. Ok, not all of us can explain it in perfect scientific terms but we have a notion of what’s going on and good guy wikipedia is always available for things like that.

Of course it's a real photo sweetie!!

Of course it’s a real photo sweetie!!

Well, I don’t know how to break this to you but that’s what religions are. A distorted and WRONG idea about what’s going on and loads of people who lie to themselves and defy their logic in order to keep an irrational faith. And no, this is not an elitist opinion, it’s a simple fact.

There are 2 big categories of Christians.

1. “I accept everything the church says and does, they are the word of God on earth”.

Ok, I don’t think it’s really necessary to say much about why these people are dangerous but just in case:

These people accept amazingly lots of false information regarding scientific, social and ethical matters. I met someone who thinks the earth is 6000 old. How on this-surprisingly-young-earth can I marvel in the variety of ideas there? He’s just wrong! It’s so wrong that I can’t help disliking people like that. Because they could know the truth and they choose not to. That is plain stupidity in my dictionary.

There are things that we know, things that we’ve known for years and things that the scientists know and we don’t yet cause let’s face it, we don’t bother learning them. It doesn’t mean God and the Bible are the explanation, that’s actually the opposite of explanation. As Dawkins said, if you use God to explain a phenomenon not only you don’t explain it but you also stop yourself from finding its real cause because you stop looking for it.

Also, these are the people who will kill someone because their faith says so. They are more extreme in some countries and explode themselves killing hundreds and subtler in other countries, just letting a woman die to avoid an abortion (I have to note here that they somehow fail to inform people that sex before marriage is also a sin, so having a bunch of unmarried, underage mothers is somehow ok unlike using condoms or having abortions even for medical reasons… Go figure!). I never understood why killing is a sin but letting someone die when you could very easily save them is ok. How isn’t that murder? You deny someone the chance to live, wake up, it’s not gonna send you to paradise. Of course that’s the state’s fault for allowing this things to exist, you just can’t have hospitals that treat people only if it fits their believes.

So for this category of believers I think it’s quite straightforward why the “marvelous variety” thingy doesn’t work. It’s reason and sanity against irrationality and crazy behavior. I’m not saying we should force them to think otherwise, I just think (and hope) that proper education would do the trick and of course laws should protect individuals when their safety is threatened by this insanity.

2. “I don’t accept the church or their interpretation of the bible, they are corrupted and they use it for their own means – I am a good catholic/orthodox/whatever heresy I follow, the church is just wrong at some points”

Yeah, well… No. Orthodoxy is the interpretation of the Bible according to the Orthodox Church, Catholicism is the interpretation of the Bible according to the Catholic church etc etc etc. So no, I won’t accept the easy – yet extremely cowardice – solution of rejecting the church but keeping the organized religion, I’ve done it and I know it’s just an excuse not to look too deeply to things that might shake your faith.

Would you accept he's a humanist if he just claims he is? Words have a meaning, use them right.

Would you accept he’s a humanist if he just claims he is? Words have a meaning, use them right.

You don’t get to follow a ridiculously specific dogma among the hundreds of existing Christian heresies and pick and choose which parts you like and which you don’t. That’s organized religion and dogmas, you get all or nothing. What most people do is following personal religions, choosing the parts of the books that fit better with their personality and ideas for morality. That’s good, but I’d like it if people could be self-aware and recognize that this attitude does not make them members of an organized religion. Yes, I find this very important. First of all I think it makes a person better and stronger to be able to face such simple truths about themselves and it leads them to better self understanding. Plus here is the part where I feel they temporarily pause their rational and critical thinking. Accepting arbitrary bits and pieces of an organized religion and yet passionately loving it as a whole and identify yourself as a follower of this religion even though some of your believes are in direct opposition with its dogma… Well it is kind of messed up when it comes to logic and I really value reason (more will be said in the following article).

My second problem is that they do hurt the human rights movement, even if it is indirectly.

Of course these people can very well accept scientific truths and human rights etc etc so it’s all nice but still, they almost never defy their church. When the church says something like «80% of Europe is Christian» (suddenly the differences between heresies lose their importance) they are included in the percentage. When the church makes stupid decisions and puts pressure in governments and organization to choose the wrong way these people are used as statistics and – what’s worse – they won’t go out and say “Wait, we are Catholics but we don’t want women to be treated like shit, let them do whatever they want with their bodies”. Nope, they are silent and their silence allows the church to speak representing the whole of the herd (no insult meant, it’s bible’s terminology). Their inaction has consequences and they have to face them.

I’m not going to argue over the existence of a God as described by Deism – the philosophy of it is interesting but not within the objectives of this article. Such a God would be out of reach, not represented by holly books and cannot be used as an argument in favour of organized religion which – I can’t stress this point enough – promotes very specific believes and moral behaviour.

Respecting one’s beliefs doesn’t mean you are not allowed to criticize them or to try and educate them if they lack some knowledge or even try to change those beliefs if they result in people getting hurt.

In our strive to be politically correct we forget that people can make mistakes and that sometimes it’s not a matter of different viewpoints but of right and wrong.

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EHYD – Sophie In’T Veld

Soooo, it’s time for my second article for the European Humanist Youth days and the first to present a speech. I am not going to try to transfer exactly what every speaker said, it’ll be mostly the impression I was left with and my thoughts on the context each time. And so it begins:

The first speaker was Sophie In’t Veld, a dynamic and interesting person, who spoke passionately about human rights and their representation in the European Union.

Apparently there are many conservative forces in the committee responsible for human rights and the EU in general keeps a kind of neutral-cowardice position when an issue arises in a country-state. No big news I guess but I have to admit that for me the EU is a beacon of equality, religious tolerance and humanistic ideals. I understand that it doesn’t enforce those ideals on countries but it encompasses them and supports them and that’s a good first step. The problem is that this is considered an awkward issue – still. It’s like messing with each country’s free will – surely you don’t want to impose your ideas on them (but as our speaker said they have no problem imposing them when it comes to economic issues).


I agree that nations should be free to govern themselves as they see fit but there is point where Europe has to interfere (within the Union at least). And that point is when people’s lives are in danger. And not only in actual, physical danger but also in psychological danger.

Sophie In’t Veld told a story of a woman who – not so long ago – died in Ireland because they refused to give her an abortion (I think it’s this one). She had complications, she was taken to a Catholic hospital, they couldn’t do anything and they knew the child would probably die –as would the mother. Yet they didn’t want to take an innocent life so they took two instead.

That is the actual, physical damage that conservatism and blind belief can cause and I’ll come back to that on the second part of this article.

I can’t ignore though the subtler damage done by rejection. Feeling that you are wrong as an entity, a freak of nature who doesn’t deserve to love and to be loved can result to serious psychological issues and consequently to dysfunctional adults with damaged lives. Ok, they’re alive but still…

Being gay for example, can leave you stigmatized and ostracized in quite a few European countries. Of course some will say that there are many people who are ostracized even without apparent reason (some teenagers for example) or because they’re fat etc. And I’ll say “So what?”. The fact that there are several wrongs in our society cannot be used as an argument against trying to correct those we can. Plus if people learn to be tolerant and embrace differences then more than one problems will be solved.

Another “argument” is that this happens mostly in small places, in villages where the traditional values are more prominent, societies are more closed to themselves and blah blah blah. Again: So what? If you are different for any reason all you can do is hope you’ll be lucky enough to be born in an open-minded city or move or live in misery? Why should we accept that?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the situation in Europe is bad. On the contrary, I am very positive and I see a constantly improving attitude towards human rights and equality. I can never forget that if I was born not so long ago – being a woman – I wouldn’t have the right to even say all these things. No, progress is forcing its way to our society, it’s unstoppable and it improves our lives every day. But that doesn’t mean we have to stop fighting. Good things happened in the past because people asked for them, demanded them and so should we. There is room for improvements and we can actively help achieving them sooner.

(For example we might not need to have a death to have these news).

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