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Touring for More and Better Humanism with photos

By Leo Igwe

I just returned from a speaking tour of the United States where I tried to impress on my audience the necessity for a paradigm shift in the way humanists, skeptics, atheists, and freethinkers organize. I have been involved in organized humanism for almost three decades. I have had the rare opportunity to interact with humanists from different countries and continents. Incidentally, very little has changed. International humanism has been more of the same. But to remain relevant in this century, the international humanist movement must change. It must change the way it is organized. The world has been undergoing rapid changes but the way that freethought is organized has been out of step with the changes, and with the times. My tour focused on three themes: humanism and atheism in Africa, critical thinking, and advocacy for alleged witches. I used these themes to underscore one central message: we must abandon the old ways of doing things and embrace the new ways of organizing, growing, and developing humanism and freethought. I drew from the issues in Africa to make a strong case for change. Humanism in Africa is yearning for effective leadership that concerted efforts by humanists and other nonreligious persons could deliver.

Organized humanism must go beyond the West and reverberate across the globe because humanism is a universal outlook. Skeptical rationality is human. We have to move from Western world humanism to truly global humanism.

So far, much of the attention has been on humanism and secularism in the West. This overemphasis on humanism in the West has created the impression that humanism is Western. Truth be told, humanism has made some significant progress in Western countries. Humanism is a force to reckon with in Europe and America. But much more progress lies ahead and beyond the West if only the humanist movement could do things differently. Humanism has a robust history in Western countries. But richer history lurks on the horizon if only the international humanist movement would dare, venture and try something new.

Very little attention is paid to humanism in the rest of the world. And that sucks, especially if one understands the potential and promises of humanism beyond the West.  The humanist organizational model is outdated; it is out of step with the situation and challenges that humanists face in many parts of the world.

As organized, humanism has yielded little and limited effect outside Europe and the United States. Religion rages with force and ferocity in many parts of Asia and Africa. This situation has to change, if only the humanist movement can do more and do better. In my presentation on critical thinking, I explained efforts to introduce the teaching of critical thinking skills in schools in Nigeria. Critical thinking skills are among the most sought-after skills in the world. I highlighted the concept of questionstorm and how it has been used to roll out critical thinking lessons in schools. Critical thinking skills are humanity’s bulwark against the destructive influence of dogmatic and irrational beliefs. 

Incidentally, religious extremism and superstitions ravage many parts of Africa and the world due to a lack of critical thinking and reasoned inquiry, more due to a lack of programs or subjects that foster critical thinking skills in schools, in elementary schools. In Africa, religious indoctrination constitutes a key part of child formation and upbringing.  Memorialization and rote learning characterize the school and learning system. Mental habits that enhance the interrogative abilities of children are necessary. The third topic was the informaction theory of change and advocacy against witch persecution in Africa. While witch hunting has ended in the West, the persecution of alleged witches continues in many parts of Africa and Asia. This presentation explains how advocates are using the Informaction theory to combat witch persecution in Africa.

The tour started on the west coast. First, I spoke at an event that the CFI West and Atheists United organized at the CFI office in Los Angeles. I discussed the critical thinking program. I spoke at two other events. The Humanist Association of Santa Barbara and the Atheists United branch in San Luis Obispo organized them. I also visited a school in Los Angeles where I observed a class on philosophy for children. I traveled to Colorado, where I addressed a meeting at the Secular Hub in Denver. I was also a guest at an event by Jefferson Humanists and then traveled down to Boulder, where I made a presentation on witch hunting in Africa.

Before leaving Denver, I met with Sarah Jack. Ms. Jack is the founding executive director of End Witch Hunts, a nongovernmental organization that “focuses on addressing and ending injustices related to witch hunts, both historical and modern”. We discussed efforts to exonerate and memorialize victims of witch hunts in 17th-century America. We explored how to strategize and synergize to end witch hunts in other parts of the globe. Next, I traveled down to Philadelphia, where I addressed the American Atheists convention. I spoke on a new pact for atheism in the 21st century and invited the audience to do more to further the ideas of secularism and freethought in ways that were in tune with the times. At the event, I met with August Berkshire and other atheist leaders that I have known over the years. I was delighted to see that the atheist organisation was growing strong and stronger.

My next stop was in Washington DC, where I met with and provided updates on our campaigns to officers from the State Department, American Humanist Association, US Institute for Peace, and USCIRF. I made presentations on the advocacy for alleged witches and the critical thinking project. From Washington DC, I traveled to Florida, where I addressed the Unitarian Universalist Church Humanists at Clearwater. Before my presentation, I attended the Sunday fellowship of the UUC. It was my first time at a UUC service. And I enjoyed the service. The sermon was on birds. I salute all those who worked to make the tour possible. From the meetings and engagements, it was evident that the humanist movement is rich but fragmented. And the fragmentation has undermined its ability to make a significant impact beyond the US. Humanists need to create an environment that can make them cooperate and learn from each other. Most challenges that humanists face are transnational. And with the waves of migration to the US and other Western nations, even local issues like Christian nationalism or Islamic extremism have transnational dimensions, which humanists and atheists in western countries ignore to their peril. It is in the interest of the humanist movement in the West and the rest of the world to go global. The world has become more interconnected, and groups need to interconnect to do more and do better for humanism, and humanity across the globe. 

Leo Igwe is a board member of Humanists International.

Leo Igwe
Leo Igwe
Leo Igwe (born July 26, 1970) is a Nigerian human rights advocate and humanist. Igwe is a former Western and Southern African representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, and has specialized in campaigning against and documenting the impacts of child witchcraft accusations. He holds a Ph.D from the Bayreuth International School of African Studies at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, having earned a graduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Calabar in Nigeria. Igwe's human rights advocacy has brought him into conflict with high-profile witchcraft believers, such as Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries, because of his criticism of what he describes as their role in the violence and child abandonment that sometimes result from accusations of witchcraft. His human rights fieldwork has led to his arrest on several occasions in Nigeria. Igwe has held leadership roles in the Nigerian Humanist Movement, Atheist Alliance International, and the Center For Inquiry—Nigeria. In 2012, Igwe was appointed as a Research Fellow of the James Randi Educational Foundation, where he continues working toward the goal of responding to what he sees as the deleterious effects of superstition, advancing skepticism throughout Africa and around the world. In 2014, Igwe was chosen as a laureate of the International Academy of Humanism and in 2017 received the Distinguished Services to Humanism Award from the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Igwe was raised in southeastern Nigeria, and describes his household as being strictly Catholic in the midst of a "highly superstitious community," according to an interview in the Gold Coast Bulletin.[1] At age twelve, Igwe entered the seminary, beginning to study for the Catholic priesthood, but later was confused by conflicting beliefs between Christian theology and the beliefs in witches and wizards that are "entrenched in Nigerian society."[1] After a period of research and internal conflict due to doubts about the "odd blend of tribalism and fundamentalist Christianity he believes is stunting African development," a 24-year-old Igwe resigned from the seminary and relocated to Ibadan, Nigeria


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