Heart of Humanism Award and witch-hunts in Africa

Opinions Image Opinion

Wed, 16 Sep 2015 Source: Igwe, Leo

Thank you Foundation Beyond Belief for selecting me as the recipient of the Heart of Humanism Award for 2015. I believe I have just received the best award the world has to offer.

Superstition confuses the mind. It distorts reality, hardens the conscience and poisons the heart. Irrational belief drains the well of human compassion causing suffering, death, darkness and destruction. As Voltaire once noted, "Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities". He was right. We see the cult of fear and ignorance raging viciously and brazenly across the globe targeting the most vulnerable members of the human community.

However, humanity has shown resilience and capacity to renew and recreate itself by overcoming the nasty brutish forces of irrationalism and dispel the dark features of the mind. Humanists are known for leading that renaissance by speaking out, actively protesting and extending a helping hand to those in need. These are values we cherish. These are the same values we deploy today to arrest the slow descent of human beings into the cave of savagery and self-destruction.

We humanists need not retreat. We are obliged to beat back the tide of violent religions that are threatening to obliterate humanity. We will not resign out of despair or surrender our destiny to superstition or to those whose sense of caring is impaired by illusion.

Today history beckons us to act this role, to re-ignite the flame of compassion and enlightened care for suffering people around the world and for those in need of humanism whether or not they be humanists. Many people are yearning for that sense of solidarity that flows from the heart of rationally minded people.

There is a serious shortfall in the world today, a yawning gap between what religion and superstition claim as their gifts to the world and the actual results in human lives. This gap is more pronounced in those areas where faith, dogma, and the 'supernatural' take their toll on the human sense of care and fellow feeling. Humanism does not have this gap.

Witchcraft accusation is ravaging many parts of Africa and the world. Just as atheists, skeptics and other freethinkers have, in past centuries, risen to the occasion by taking on established irrationalism and countering superstition-based abuses, so must we in this century. We at the Foundation Beyond Belief and this generation of humanists must respond by using innovative programs like the Humanist Service Corp to tackle the brutality that comes of belief gone mad.

We must bear in mind that today we face a more virulent form of witch persecution that has been fused with established religions. We are confronted with a witch hunting campaign that is sanctioned and sanctified in the brutal writings of religions and carried out by 'churches' and 'mosques'. Christian and Islamic clerics read texts that sanctify violence and follow the deadly instructions. Religions attack the critics that reveal their failings and show the contradictions of their religious texts with cries of blasphemy. In their witch-hunts they routinely murder little children that cry too much, the mentally ill or old women who cannot protect themselves. Bringing an end to witch-hunting in contemporary Africa will not be an easy undertaking but we must make these witch hunts history.

Contemporary Africa and indeed all the superstitious world is in need of a renaissance. Just as in renascent Europe and 17th century America, humanists need to rally, mobilize and vigorously campaign against religious abuses like witch hunting and against the religious writings that legitimize it. We must counter the raging and rampaging forces of unreason and blind faith using courageous acts of compassionate rationalism and humanism.

Thank you once again for this magnificent award, which I dedicate to victims of witch hunts in Ghana's witch sanctuaries, to other victims of witchcraft accusation in Africa and the world - both dead and alive.

Columnist: Igwe, Leo