Toward Global Harmony: An Invigorating Look at Humanism in Canada
This article is by Leslie A. Zukor, a second-semester Reed College sophomore interested in anthropology, applied linguistics, and social thought. She is the Founder and Signator (i.e., President) of the Reed College Freethinkers, a Houston Astros baseball fanatic, avid squirrel photographer, Reed's resident Italian food "connoisseur," and a regular reporter for the SSA eNews.
What was the highlight of my summer, you may ask? Was it the months of much-needed rest after the arduous semester? Or the weeklong women's leadership conference I attended in Portland, Oregon? For as much as I have enjoyed the aforementioned activities, they pale in comparison to the intellectual stimulation I received at the annual Humanist Association of Canada (HAC) conference.
Taking place June 15-18 in Vancouver, the British Columbia event included three days of engaging speakers and dynamic debate. From a rousing speech on the importance of a truly eco-centric humanism by Dr. Madeline Weld, to a protest against the genocide of aboriginal peoples at English Bay Beach, the 30th Annual Humanists of Canada Conference was an eye-opening look at issues facing non-believers up north.
Even though I have always considered myself "environmentally aware," I had never realized that loyalty to other progressive causes might actually hurt our ecosystem. For example, Dr. Weld contended that in our liberal zeal to welcome people of all ethnicities, we inadvertently neglect our earth's carrying capacity. "We don't think of ourselves as part of the web of life," Weld explained, maintaining that progressives ought to be mindful of all disadvantaged species, not just minority humans.
For as much as such speakers left me intellectually invigorated, members of the University of Toronto's Secular Alliance (TSA) were reticent to share my one-sided enthusiasm. "This was a three-day conference and there weren't any activism training seminars," Justin Trottier, TSA President, lamented. "Dr. Weld was the best part of the conference. We enjoy speakers like her, but we would have liked more positive action on meaningful humanist issues."
And Trottier has a point. In a conference of over 150 people, fewer than 20 attendees made the five-minute walk to English Bay Beach to demonstrate in a scheduled rally against genocide. "The rally was a good idea," Trottier explained. "But it interrupted the flow of the conference. It was [at] the same time as the AGM [Annual General Meeting] that everybody was supposed to be voting in. …Most people were upset that it conflicted."
According to the TSA, in Canada, such a paucity of humanist social action is nothing new. To underscore the importance of secular activism, Vice President Jennie Fiddes asked conference attendees a very pointed question, in an impassioned Friday night speech about the importance of the youth movement. "How many humanists does it take to escape from a burning building?" There was a brief pause. The answer, Fiddes emphasized, was none. "They would all hold a meeting, discuss how to escape, and be incinerated in the process!" TSA's VP said sardonically, the crowd hysterical.
The message? According to the Toronto Secular Alliance, abstract theorizing is great, but action on behalf of one's values is equally, if not more important. Toward this end, the TSA aspires to host a conference to integrate the two approaches. And Trottier's organization is well on its way to being a staple of the Humanist movement; to date, the Toronto Secular Alliance is working with about a dozen Canadian groups to mobilize students toward "youthful policy-building." To find out more about what the TSA has been doing, including founding the first Canadian Secular Freethought Centre, visit its newly expanded SSA Best Award Winning website (http://www.secularalliance.ca/), and don't hesitate to email [email protected].