by Leo Igwe at A Workshop on Humanism at the University of Cape Coast, On September 25, 2007
Ladies and Gentlemen
I want to welcome you all to this important workshop on Humanism organised by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, in collaboration with the Department of Classics and Philosophy here at the University of Cape Coast. This workshop is the first of its kind in the history of this university. And I want to thank Dr Raymond Osei of the Department of Classics and Philosophy and Mr. Samuel Awuah-Nyamekye of the Department of Religious Studies for helping make this event possible.
This workshop is a follow up to my visit to this University in May. I was here to find out if there were students and lecturers interested in humanist thoughts and ideas.
And to my greatest delight, many faculty heads and members expressed interest in humanist scholarship and research. Particularly I was excited to know that the Department of Religious Studies offers a course on Humanism. And I want to tell you that it was my first time of coming in contact with any university department in West Africa that runs a course on Humanism. So, I want to congratulate you on that.
The aim of this workshop is to explore these potentials and opportunities, and to find out where IHEU can work and partner with this university -and other universities in Ghana- its faculties, departments and institutes. The aim of this workshop is to know the views, perspectives and research interests of students and scholars. This workshop is convened to bring together academics and activists interested in the promotion and propagation of Humanism in Ghana.
At this stage I would like to make a few clarifications. First of all, some of you may have heard about a group that goes by the name the Humanist Movement. The group was founded by the Argentine philosopher Silo. I understand this group has contacts in Ghana . We at the IHEU have no connection with this Humanist movement. At the IHEU, our humanism is secular. IHEU exists for non-religious people. We promote humanism as an alternative life stance to religion. We believe in the good in this world not in the God in the next. We seek to achieve and enjoy happiness in this life and in the here and now, not in the hereafter. We are atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, secularists, rationalists, brights, skeptics and ethicists.
Secondly I am not here to bring humanism to Ghana . Nor am I here to impose humanism on the people of this country. Far from it. As some of you may know Ghana has a rich humanist history. Ghana 's first President Kwame Nkrumah was a humanist. And he exemplified his humanism in his dogged fight against colonialism and imperialism, particularly in leading Ghana to become the first Sub Saharan African nation to gain independence in 1957.
Listen to what he has to say about humanism in Africa . "The African personality is itself defined by a cluster of humanist principles which underlie the traditional African society." (Consciencism, 79)
Nkrumah said it loud and clear that "Fear created the gods, and fear preserves them, fear in bygone ages of wars, pestilence, earthquakes and nature gone berserk, fear of acts of God. Fear today of the equally blind forces of backwardness and rapacious capital . (14)
And I want to add that ignorance created the gods- ignorance of nature and how nature works. Sadly, my dear friends, fear, ignorance and the gods they created including the blind forces of superstition, fanaticism and irrationalism are still ravaging the African continent. This nation- this race, this generation- is being held hostage by alien ideologies mired in religious otherworldliness and superstitious mumbo jumbo. Today Africa is sleeping; Africa is bleeding; our continent is dying due to religious exploitation and skullduggery. So I urge you to wake up-wake up from your dogmatic slumber; wake up from your superstitious slumber. Wake up so that you can help revive, recreate and renew this continent. The day of civilization and Enlightenment is far spent. Again, Nkrumah noted that ' With true independence regained however, a new harmony needs to be forged, a harmony that will allow the continued presence of traditional Africa, Islamic Africa and Euro Christian Africa, so that this presence is in tune with the original humanist principle underlying African society (70).
But this 'harmony' has continued to elude Africa . Why?
IGWE: This harmony has not been forged in Ghana
IGWE: This harmony has not been achieved in Nigeria
IGWE: This harmony has not been achieved in Liberia
IGWE: This harmony has not been realized in Algeria
IGWE: This harmony has not been forged in Somalia
IGWE: This harmony has not been achieved in Sudan
IGWE: This harmony has not been realized in Uganda
IGWE: This harmony has not been achieved in Rwanda
IGWE: This harmony has not been forged in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Instead the legacy of the presence of traditional (animist) Africa, Arabic (Islamic) Africa and Euro (Christian) Africa is still that of chaos, conflict, alienation and stagnation. And there is no African country where these Dark Age forces are wrecking more havoc than in my country Nigeria . Since independence, thousands of Nigerians have lost their lives to religious bloodletting orchestrated by fanatics who want to bring the nation under the rule of their religion, not our reason. Religious fundamentalists want Nigeria to be governed by archaic, anachronistic and antediluvian laws and norms based on outdated holy books called the Bible and Koran. Personally I regard this truth as self evident that all the sacred texts were not revealed by any God through any prophet or message. And anyone who says the the Torah is the word of Yahweh and that the Bible is the word of God and that the Koran is the word of Allah is a liar.(Now imagine how many people who have lied or have been lied to) Go through the holy books and you will know that they are not messages uttered by a perfect being. The sacred texts are the thoughts of some people in the name of a deity some time which fanatics want to impose on the world as absolute and unquestionable guides of all peoples at all times. That was the reseason why Bertrand Russell said that religion was the greatest obstacles to intellectual and moral progress. So we humanists must rise to defend the ideal of free thought. Because freethought is the first condition of humanisty. And religion has done humankind a great diservice by tyrannizing oner human lives with its sacred anachronisms, by preventing people from thinking, and by making a virtue out of blind faith in its mostly outdated doctrines and dogmas. We humanists must rise to defend this 'secular city'-this kingdom of humanity from its enemies-those who seek to destroy it in pursuance of an illusion called paradise.
In March some muslim students in Nigeria lynched their teacher for allegedly desecrating the Koran. And in June 11 university students were rescued from a forest where they went to look for Rapture. Islamic militancy and penticostal spirituality are killing Nigerian education system softly. Today many Nigerian students spend more time praying, fasting, fellowshipping and babbling meaningless syllables than they do reading, studying and researching for their exams. Since I arrived the University of Cape Coast I have noticed the ubiquitous presence of Pentecostalism on the campus. And I found that worrisome. I hope those who value academic freedom, critical thinking, intellectual culture and free inquiry will work to checkmate the corrupting, corrosive, darkening and destructive influence of transcendental illusion, Christian hogwash and penticostal nonsense on this campus before it is too late
Dear Friends, you will agree with me that Nkrumah had a vision that was in consonance with African liberation, emancipation and enlightenment. Unfortunately the Humanist vision of Nkrumah remains largely unrealized. So I challenge all students and scholars in this Hall today to undertake a study and research into ways of translating Nkrumah's Humanist aspirations into action.
I also think that there are many people in this Hall, many Ghanaians out there, who, like Kwame Nkrumah, share in the humanist outlook. But most of them remain in the closet out of fear or ignorance. If you are among such people I urge you to leave the closet and join the humanist community.
I also want to let you know that there have been efforts to organize humanism in Ghana . In the 80s Ghanaian humanist, Hope Tawiah, started the Rational Center . Due to ill health, Hope is unavoidably absent at this event. And I want to use this opportunity to pay tribute to Hope I want to salute him for his courage, commitment, foresight and thoughtfulness. Hope was among those who pioneered organized humanism in Ghana and Africa . He started the Rational Centre when there were few people who appreciated rational thinking and action. I hope more Ghanaian humanists will come forward and ensure that the Rational Center of Humanism in Ghana holds.
Also, Humanist individuals and groups in Australia and Belgium have been supporting Liberian refugees in Ghana . And we have at this event, a Liberian, Slabe Sennay who coordinates the Liberian Refugees for Sustainable Development-now Center for Youth Empowerment- in Ghana . Slabe, you are welcome. Slabe will tell us about how the support by humanists has changed the lives of many Liberian refugees in Ghana and how Humanism holds a lot of promise for the future of his country, Liberia .
Over the years, the Center for Inquiry and the African Americans for Humanism (AAH) have been working with and supporting many Ghanaian scholars and activists including our own Humanist philosopher Kwasi Wiredu. In 1991 the director of AAH Norm Allen was in Ghana and he met with humanists. In 2002 the former IHEU President Levi Fragell was in Ghana and he met with humanists. This is my fourth visit to Ghana . And on all occasions I have met with humanists.
Dear Friends, all these are clear pointers to the rich and promising history of humanism in Ghana . And today I make this pledge -to work with you all to keep the legacy of humanism in Ghana going and growing. So, I look forward to working with the Department of Religion Studies.
I understand you have few books on Humanism. I will work to get you more. Humanism provides an alternative to religion. And every student of religion should know why humanists think that religion has no monopoly on truth, ethics, morality and meaning.
I look forward to working with the Department of Classics and Philosophy. I want to remind our friends at the department what British Humanist Jim Herrick said that, "Humanism is the most human philosophy of life" I want every student at the Department to make it a point of duty not to graduate until s/he has taken a course on 'the most human philosophy of life'. If the department does not offer a course on Humanism, I urge them to start it now. If you have no books I will help get you some; if you have some books, I will help you get you more.
I look forward to working with the Department of African Studies .The emergence of the humanist strand of thought is already a fertile and promising area in terms of study and research. And I ask the Department of African Studies here at the University of Cape Coast to LEAD THE WAY.
I look forward to working with this University and other Universities in Ghana to enrich humanist learning, studies and scholarship. One of the guiding principles of a university is academic freedom which enables one to learn and explore different worldview even when they conflict with one's own beliefs and traditions. At this workshop I am presenting to you the Humanist outlook and I urge you to study it, explore it, appraise it, criticize it, and if you find it fascinating as I do, EMBRACE IT. I look forward to working with activists to promote, apply and organize humanist and free thought groups at the youth, student, campus, national, local, regional and community levels. Because It is when Humanists are organized that they can effectively defend their rights and interests and bring humanist perspectives to issues such as poverty alleviation, education, legislation, abortion, human sexuality, voluntary euthanasia, stem cell research etc. It is when humanists are organized that can respond adequately to the threat of religious fundamentalism and absolutism; it is when humanists are organized that they can defeat the forces of theocracy and dark age and realize a truly open, secular, democratic, progressive and enlightened society. So if you are a Humanist in Ghana , what are you waiting for? Start organizing and mobilizing now. I hope we can use this opportunity to work out modalities for co-operation and partnership.
Fellow Humanists, Ghana deserves a befitting humanist society. And in the years to come I would love to see humanist chapters established here in Cape Coast , in Accra , Tema, Kumasi, Tamale, Takoradi, Akosombo, Tanoso, Tarkwa, Obuasi, Bolga, Koforidua, Wa, Ho, Sunyani and in other cities and towns across Ghana. We need to have campus/humanist study groups here at University of Cape Coast, at the University of Ghana in Legon, at Kwame Nkrumah University in Kumasi , at the University of Development Studies , University of Education in Winneba, at Tarkwa School of Mines, at Central University , Achimota College and on other campuses across Ghana .
I want us to make it a point of duty to ensure that here in Ghana anyone who seeks an alternative to religion whether for research or life stance purposes finds it. And as the IHEU representative for West Africa I will work to put at your disposal IHEU resources- contacts, information, and expertise to strengthen organized humanism in Ghana .
Lastly, my dear friends, Africa 's humanist possibilities have always been in sight. Today, they are within our grasp. Let's seize them, and make them a reality
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KEYWORDS: Humanism, Ghana
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