A humanist perspective on war
The 2011 World Humanist Congress adopted the following, known as the Oslo Declaration on Peace.
Many humanists, from the Charvaka teachers of ancient India to Bertrand Russell and from the Epicureans in ancient Europe to Jawaharlal Nehru, have worked hard for peace. Holding individual human lives to have irreplaceable value, accepting that all problems confronting humanity must be solved in the here and now, and committed to the active use of human reason and empathy in addressing them, we believe that:
- All wars are started by human beings and war can be ended by human beings working together. Violent conflict is hugely destructive, ruining lives, wasting resources, and degrading the environment. Sometimes it may be the only way of preventing greater harm, but it should always be the very last resort and we should work to end it.
- This is possible. Just as human science has placed the means of total destruction in our hands, so too can a scientific understanding of humanity help us understand and overcome the causes of war. We are not biologically hard-wired for inevitable violent conflict and our nature as social animals can in fact be a source of peace, though we must work hard and make consciously ethical choices to control our behavior.
- Peace is more than just the absence of war. Peace requires respect for the worth and dignity of our fellow human beings, tolerance among individuals, and harmony within each person. It also requires global justice in place of global inequalities, not least the elimination of hunger and thirst in a world that produces plenty.
- The excessive stockpiling of arms around the world is a threat to peace. The build up of arms wastes resources that would be better used to eliminate poverty and provide education, health and other public services. Arms races create political and military instability and increase the chances of war and therefore working for disarmament is an important move in the direction of a more secure peace.
- The United Nations, as envisaged in its original charter, remains the best available international vehicle for the promotion of peace and cooperation. We should urge all our national governments to adhere to the principles of the UN Charter at all times and to work for a better United Nations.
- However, peace initiatives cannot be left solely in the hands of governments. As individuals we must work for peace in our lives. We must also work within the neighborhoods, nations, networks and organizations of which we are part to foster peace among ourselves and a peaceful attitude towards others.
- Unfortunately, self-identified communities are often better at promoting peace among their own members than between themselves and other groups. Healthy pride in our own traditions and people can too easily turn to unhealthy competition or even contempt for other people. Too often communities resort to a shared hostility to a common enemy as a way of bolstering their internal unity. Human beings must constantly strive to overcome these divisions and work together in support of our shared human rights and human values.
- States should move towards democracy and secularism to ensure that all individuals of whatever cultural or religious affiliation are given equal treatment in society and support dialogue between people of different beliefs to reduce tensions and increase mutual understanding.
- Lasting peace must be dynamic not static. We must embrace the noisy peace of the thriving city and not seek to escape to the silent peace of the graveyard. Peace is an active and continuous process, a way of solving problems justly and without violence.
We commit ourselves to working for a more peaceful world by enabling humanists in different nations to make links with each other in a more global humanist community, by encouraging peaceful interaction with those of different beliefs, and steadfastly committing our delegations to the UN and other international institutions to the cause of fostering a more peaceful global culture.
We assert the fundamental importance of education from early childhood and throughout life in building a more peaceful culture and support all national and international developments which advance education for peace.
We urge each of our member organizations and humanists globally to work for a more peaceful culture in their own nations and urge all governments to prefer the peaceful settlement of conflicts over the alternative of violence and war.
Questions: Do you think humanists should be pacifists? Can war ever be justified?
© Humanists UK