OPINION: Humanism a new form of fundamentalism?

April 11th, 2016 12:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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IRONICALLY, just as Shaykh Umar al-Qadri of the Dublin-based Irish Muslim Peace and Reconciliation Council gravely warned of the growing threat to Ireland from imported Islamic radicalism, a form of homegrown fundamentalism in the shape of humanism was spreading peacefully throughout the country, like butter on bread.  

The menace referred to by the good doctor Shaykh Umar al-Qadri was ISIS; compared to which the humanist demand for the removal of religion from the Irish educational system was small beer. 

Thankfully non-injurious, but very hostile to the Catholic Church and anything concerned with sacred matters, our fundamentalists are peremptorily insisting (high and mighty-style) that all state-funded schools should be non-religious. Their intentions, while definitely of the benign sort, are sacrilegiously atheist. 

They dictatorially claim that Ireland must become a secular state without delay or hesitation and that absolutely nothing relating to the supernatural or spiritual should ever, ever, enter a classroom. According to the doctrinaire beliefs of these lads, religion pollutes the minds of children, despite the fact that families enthusiastically participate in the management, support and financing of their local Catholic or Protestant primary school. 


Lost the faith?

They rattle on about it not being fair to ‘pressurise parents into doing something totally against their conscience, i.e. having their children baptised, simply in order to get them enrolled in the local state-funded school’ –which is a very controversial and, some would argue, a quite inaccurate belief.

That is not to say humanists don’t have a point. In urban localities that have an insufficient number of schools, complex regulations are required to ensure admittance for as many children as possible from the catchment area. This, understandably, gets up the collective nostrils of humanists. 

The shortage of schools, however, is the responsibility of the government. But instead of articulating a reasoned and logical position for a change in the situation, our lot chant absurdly presumptuous slogans about religious discrimination. 

‘Last year,’ they roared, ‘one-third of couples getting married had non-religious ceremonies. It’s reasonable to ask: what sort of schools do these want for their children?’ Logic?

And their target isn’t just Catholic schools. They also moan about a situation in which ‘the number of weddings performed by humanist celebrants is now twice those in the Church of Ireland. And yet the Church of Ireland has a national school in almost every town in the country.’ Logic?


Wagging the dog

Among the jumble of uncompromising demands, it’s not hard to detect a nasty attitude to the Catholic and Protestant Churches – an intolerance that is quite new in this neck of the woods, although residents on Belfast’s Ormeau Road are well used to a similar type of narrow-mindedness.

For example, on March 3rd this year, a humanist outfit announced that its hope for the future would be that of an Ireland where ‘children would not be taught to believe in deities because their parents or grandparents believed in them.’  Why? Because ‘warping children’s minds was intellectual child abuse.’ 

The buckos also claimed that State-funded primary and second-level schools that operated according to what they termed the ‘baptismal privilege’ were not only discriminatory, but also ‘abusive of children’s innocent minds.’

Putting matters crudely, our humanists give the impression they inhabit a loony-toony land where discrimination against them is widespread. And, to judge by the coverage in The Irish Times, and the ease with which they access Coalition Ministers for Education and the NCCA, the ‘liberal’ establishment takes them seriously.

Nevertheless, arrogant and dogmatic assertions unsettle parents who are happy with the religious environment in their schools. Yes, Ireland is no longer what it was, but humanists are making no attempt to evaluate in an impartial way the impact of changing religious values on an increasingly secular state. 

They prefer instead to leave a very small humanist tail wag the dog. Hence the mantras and the shibboleths!


Some questions

So here’s a suggestion. Instead of issuing diktats and shouting in our ear holes, why don’t the humanists contribute in a balanced fashion to the ongoing debate on Irish education?  

Here is a question they might like to answer: if religious and social values are undergoing a dramatic process of transformation, what will be the significance for Irish society?

Or this: with the disintegration of religious belief (assuming such a thing is happening) will people be happier? Will Ireland be a fairer place? Or will it lead to people becoming emotionally isolated and detached from the needs and concerns of others? 

That aside, humanism has merit. There isn’t much wrong with a system of beliefs centred on the idea that people are basically good, and that problems can be resolved using reason instead of religion. Unfortunately, comments like the recent one from Atheist Ireland do the cause little good. It labelled the 1916 heroes as ‘undemocratic killers’ and that the State was ‘reinforcing the rebellion’s religious connotations.’  No kudos there!

What’s more, this scribe cannot rid himself of a strange olfactory perception that Irish humanism is imbued with a religiosity that reeks of dependence on pseudo- saintliness! If true, it would make a total sham of what the thing is supposed to be.  

On top of that, humanism has a variety of beliefs as long as your arm: Christian Humanism, Modern Humanism, Secular Humanism, Literary Humanism, Philosophical Humanism, etc, etc. Who knows, but the Irish buckos could even be collectors of Humanisms, and believe in them all!  


Sartre lets rip!

So, fair dues to Jean-Paul Sartre who loathed humanists. In ‘Nausea’ (Penguin Books 1965; pp 168-171) he lets rip: ‘Alas, I’ve known so many of them! The radical humanist is a special friend of civil servants. The so called ‘Left wing humanist’s chief concern is to preserve human values; he belongs to no party because he doesn’t want to betray humanity as a whole, but his sympathies go towards the humble; it is to the humble that he devotes his fine classical culture. The Communist humanist has been loving man ever since the second Five-Year Plan; he punishes because he loves.

‘Then there’s the humanist philosopher who will save men in spite of themselves, the happy humanist who always knows what to say to make people laugh, and the gloomy humanist whom you usually meet at wakes. They all hate one another; as individuals, of course, not as men.’

And Sartre adds: ‘Humanism takes all human attitudes and fuses them together.  If you stand up to it, you play its game; it lives on in its opponents ... It has digested anti-intellectualism, Manichaeism, mysticism, pessimism, anarchy, and egotism; they are nothing more than stages, incomplete thoughts which find their justification only in humanism.’

He concludes: ‘I am not going to be fool enough to say that I am “anti-humanist”.  I am not a humanist, that’s all.’ And so say all of us!

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