What makes a Humanist?
It isn’t easy to summarise something so vast into so few words, but I’d say that Humanism is a lifestyle that is based on reason and human endeavour, and therefore not based on any god or scripture or religion. We have a morality that is based on reason and our common humanity. Our explanations for the world around us are based on science. We’re not dogmatic, and we accept that our ideas of today may well be replaced in the future by something better. While Atheism is simply the non-belief in any god, Humanism is a positive lifestyle that requires none.
Humanism is what you get when you take the religious aspect out of society. Of course we still have morality – but it’s no longer based on what a late bronze age tribe thought was good or bad. Humanism promotes equality between genders, between races, between sexual minorities and groups. We promote dialogue, working together for the betterment of humanity. We value this life as the only one we have.
There have been people espousing humanist concepts since time immemorial, including Marcus Aurelius and Epicurus, but today humanism is more organised, with regional and national organisations representing millions of humanists worldwide.
Scientific advancements have brought us a long way. But do you think there are scientific truths that will remain beyond human understanding?
The universe will probably always hold new questions to answer, new puzzles to solve. We’re learning new things at a phenomenal rate, but each door opened answers some questions and asks a few more. Some questions are not of an empirical nature, and are therefore more subjective. One can state with precision what is the circumference of the equator, but not which is the nicest colour between green and orange. Similarly, some questions are more philosophical than scientific, such as which is the exact moment when life starts.
What ethical progress do you think and wish will come about in Malta?
Malta has taken some huge leaps forward in our laws, and we’re continuing to make changes. Sometimes, society takes a bit longer to adjust. When divorce was introduced, we were promised earthquakes and a breakdown of society, neither of which happened. There were similar protests at the introduction of same-sex unions and adoption, and again with the Gender Identity bill. Each time, after a short while, people realise that nothing bad happened and indeed, life was made better for another section of society, but I have no doubt that there will be protests each time a change is introduced.
I believe that the introduction of divorce, or rather the debate that preceded it, was a watershed event for Maltese society. Before that, people acted as if the teachings of the church were unquestionable. The debate about divorce saw more and more people publicly stating their dissent from church teachings. When the vote came, a convincing majority of Maltese people voted against the clear teachings of the church – something that I believe took the church by surprise. Since then, people no longer hesitate to speak up when they don’t agree with something.
If a higher power or deity truly exists, and you had to meet him/her, what would you say to him/her?
I’d ask whether he/she is responsible for the atrocities in the Bible. If yes, I’d chastise him for his brutality and immorality. If not, I’d ask what purpose does he/she have in a universe that seems to function without any divine intervention. In short, I’d ask, ‘What makes you a god?’ I might also ask the value of pi, just for kicks.
Who and what inspires you?
There are so many people who inspire me, though I don’t make the mistake of expecting any of them to be perfect. There are inspirational quotes from Jesus, Marcus Aurelius, Gandhi, Gloria Steinem, Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou and others. I admire the ability of comedians such as the late George Carlin, as well as Rowan Atkinson and Bill Maher, who use the medium of comedy to present uncomfortable challenges to their audience. I’m humbled by the courage of people like Malala Yousafzai, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Gulalai Ismail and Raif Badawi, who faced violence and retribution but did not stand down. I’m inspired by many locals, including Gabi Calleja from MGRM, Desiree Attard from Marsascala Local Council, by Mark Montebello whom I consider to be one of the most exemplary Christians.
As to what inspires me, I’d have to say humanity. Despite our dark periods, our big mistakes, our ongoing mistakes, we’ve also achieved a lot, and we continue to achieve. There are times when it seems we’re moving backwards, but when I look at the longer history of our species, I feel nothing but optimism and exuberance for our future.
What had first made you question the existence of a higher power? Why should society question?
The very first time I had a doubt about religion I was either in Year 1 or Year 2 during a religion lesson. Our teacher told us that only Christians can go to heaven. I was very upset, because a short time before we had been collecting some food items to send off to somewhere in Africa where children were starving to death and had never heard of Jesus. I was quite dismayed to think that those kids would live a short and miserable life and then go to hell for eternity. The teacher had a comeback – they don’t go to hell, they go to Limbo. I remember that although that had shut me up, the answer had not satisfied me. I knew, despite my age, that it was wrong.
Over time, I realised how many other things were just unfair, and as I read the Bible, I realised that its stories were just the tip of the iceberg. I realised that if the god of the Bible existed, he was a monster. Of course, Jesus was different, but then we were always told that they were actually one and the same god. So I tried checking out other religions. I read up about Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Baha’i, but they all were flawed one way or another. One of the most telling signs for me was that these gods more often than not held racist, misogynistic, homophobic or bigoted traits. If such a god exists, he wouldn’t be worthy of worship anyway. At the same time, it dawned on me that there really is no reason to believe in any god. There was absolutely nothing that pointed to the existence of a god. The millions of people who believe in Yahweh no more prove his existence than the millions of Hindus prove the existence of the Lord Ganesha. I realised then that there simply is no god, no devil, no heaven, no hell. We have to rely on ourselves to fix our own problems. No invisible man in the sky is going to make things right. We have this life to live, and we should make the best of it.