By Leo Igwe
Twenty-first-century humanists need a 21st century Humanists International (HI). For the organization to fulfill this need, this global objective, Humanists International must change. This change will not be a change for change’s sake. Yes, we have changed our name. The faces on the board, the faces of our staff, have changed. The age bracket and geographical spread have changed. But fellow humanists, HI needs to change in order to provide an effective alternative to religions in all, not in some parts of the globe. Let us take a look at the membership spread, those rose dots on our website showing where our member groups exist.
Fellow humanists, that membership pattern has largely been the case since I attended my first world humanist congress in India in 1999. This membership spread has been the pattern since I hosted former HI president, Levi Fragell, in Nigeria in 2002, and since I hosted Roy Brown and other delegates in Nigeria in 2004, This membership situation has been the case since I worked with Sonja Eggerickx, and now Andrew Copson as president. But HI needs to change in order to deliver leadership, and other organizational capacities and competencies to humanists across the globe. HI needs to change to diminish the risks that humanists face in many places and put our growth and development programs on a sound and sustainable footing. And look, we do not need to look outside for these capacities. These skills and competencies exist within the organization, and we have to harness them.
It may interest you to know that in May, I was in the US and met with Dr. Ray and other American humanists engaged in secular therapy programs. We need to take this global. I know the American Humanist Association has a program that empowers individuals to be effective leaders, spokespersons, and advocates for humanism.
In June, I was in Germany and met with Michael Bauer. He told me about the social and school services project of the German Humanist Association. Our European groups have robust humanist ceremony programs. Look, fellow humanists, these programs and services can no longer be American or European, British or Belgian, German or Norwegian, Dutch or Danish, Indian, Nigerian or Ugandan. These services need to go global, and HI must change to make them global.
As you may know, I was trained to be a catholic priest. I did my doctoral degree in religious studies and a post doctoral fellowship in Islam. I understand the religious enterprise and what constitutes an effective alternative to dogmatic religions. I understand the threats and challenges that humanists face around the globe. That was why when, in 2020, they arrested Mubarak Bala, I worked with HI to provide a robust response and sent a clear message that anywhere humanists were persecuted or at risk due to their belief or nonbelief, in Nigeria, Pakistan, Morocco, or Indonesia we would respond.
At the same time, in 2021, I worked with faith leaders in Nigeria to organize the first interfaith/belief dialogue, and represented the HI at a conference on interfaith dialogue in Morocco in June. Fellow humanists, while we have to debate and argue with religious colleagues, we must be ready to dialogue and cooperate with them in realizing a peaceful and tolerant world. More importantly, we need a 21st century leadership for 21st-century humanism.
Leo Igwe is a board member of Humanists International, UK.