Dangerous Nuclear Tests

NUCLEAR TEST devices have been exploded first in India, then - in response - in Pakistan. This is to be deplored by humanists around the world.

The Hindu communalists government exploded five test devices to popular acclaim. Pakistan’s fundamentalist Islamic government responded with similar tests-to equally popular acclaim. Allah was thanked in the mosques. It has always been the fear of those arguing for non-proliferation treaties around the world that nuclear bombs would get into the hands of fanatics. Israel probably has the capability. Iran may have aspirations to be a nuclear power.

There must be a danger that conflicts, such as that between India and Pakistan over Kashmir might ignite a nuclear war. In countries where disease, illiteracy and poverty are widespread the cost of a nuclear arms race would be an extraordinary diversion from humane development.

The Western powers who condemn and arrange sanctions against the offending countries are hypocrites, when they do nothing to reduce their own arsenals. The arms trade has fuelled the arms race. Sanctions affect the poorest most. There should be a worldwide effort to reduce the arms trade - not just nuclear arms.

A statement by the Indian Radical Humanist Association has condemned the nuclear explosions in South Asia. ‘At the outset we make it clear that, as a humanist organisation, the I.R.H.A. is totally against any nuclear test whether conducted by India or by Pakistan or for that matter by any developing or developed country.’

The I.R.H.A. urges that ‘Humanists should prevail upon the Indian Government that India should immediately stop the process of weaponisation, and stop at the recently conducted tests. ‘They continued with the statement that ‘Indian humanists and other sane voices, although labouring under a religious fundamentalists government, continue demanding peace with their neighbours, opposing religious fundamentalism and working towards a better future for humanity.’

The I.R.H.A. also point out that the IHEU World Congress in Bombay next year will ‘present an ideal opportunity for humanists of the world to express their solidarity in opposing nuclear armaments, the arms race, fundamentalism and growing violence.’

The nuclear arms race and the armaments industry will be seriously considered at the IHEU World Congress in January 1999 in Bombay.

Editorial, International Humanist News, May 1998

What Humanism is

Jane Wynne Willson *
ALL of us humanists must have been asked many times what humanism is. We all have our own ways of answering, and we probably don’t give the same answer to every person. For example, if a university professor asks you the question, you may answer differently than you would to someone who has not had the advantage of higher education.

I am certainly not advocating ‘talking down’ to anyone, in the way some people persist in doing to children. But I do think it’s the height of bad manners to use words and concepts with which people are not in general familiar. And it gets humanists a bad name if it is thought that we all have our heads in the clouds. Because we most definitely don’t.

Many people are intimidated by the academic aura that tends to go with humanism. They feel that you can only call yourself a humanist if you are sufficiently educated or clever to enjoy taking part in scientific debate and philosophical discussion. This is a grave mistake. It is noticeable that in India, where rational argument goes hand in hand with practical action, this has attracted large memberships to some of the organisations.

Humanism is about living: about living life well in so far as one can; about living and working with fellow men and women for the good of society, now and in the future. You don’t have to be an academic to feel that these things are important.

Academics play a crucial role in the study of ideas and in the promotion of scientific, rational thought. We need experts to sift through moral arguments and ethical dilemmas on our behalf, and to work out a coherent basis for morality. But in everyday living we can take this framework for granted, and it need not concern us too much.

To live one’s life here on this earth knowing something of the past, experiencing the present, and thinking ahead to the generations who will follow, is quite enough for most of us to be going on with! Whether one adds religion to these basic ingredients always seems to me to depend largely on one’s individual character and temperament. Some people clearly have a yearning for something beyond the here-and-now and take to whatever religion they happen to meet like the proverbial duck takes to water. Others cannot accept what they see as the ‘leap in the dark’ that is necessary to acquire, or to keep, a religious faith. The instruction in the Christian hymn ‘Only believe and thou shalt see...’ is not the humanist way.

Humanists, as I have said, have their feet on the ground and face the enormous challenge of trying to make this world a better place for our own and for future generations.

* Jane Wynne Willson is a vice President of IHEU

This article appeared in The Modern Rationalist - October - 1998