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Building a better world

Watch Andrew Copson introduce what lies behind the humanist motivation to improve our quality of life and the desired features of a humanist society.
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Fundamental to a humanist view of the world is the idea that humanity is on its own - there is no external divine assistance that could help us create a better tomorrow, we have to do that for ourselves. We’re here for each other, we have the resources of wider humanity to build on, as a global population, as a global community - so we’ve got quite a lot of means at our disposal to build a better world. But that is essentially all we have. Now, in addition to that idea that humanity is on its own in this endeavour, there’s also this humanist idea that we only have one chance in life.
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And that too is an important part of the foundation of the humanist aspiration for a better world. If there is no opportunity in a future life, to reach full fulfilment for a person, then that sort of self-realisation, if it were to take place, has to take place in this life. And- I think all all humanists would feel that they wanted to maximise the possibility of that for every other human being.
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A number of political ideas, of social ideas have recurred in humanist thinking around the question of what kind of society do we want to live in? How do we want to make social progress? What areas of society that aren’t working very well? First one of the most obvious ideas is the
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idea of universal human rights: the idea that every single person has a certain baseline dignity and worthiness of respect that needs to be protected by law because we know from history and unfortunately, from atrocities around the world today, what can happen if those rights aren’t enshrined. So the idea of universal human rights has been extremely important in humanist political thinking. The idea of democracy, that every person has a right to engage in the decisions about how their society is run - that’s an extremely important humanist idea, and humanists have often been in the forefront of debates around citizenship and democracy and making sure people have political freedom.
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One of the ways we can full realise our talents and capacities is to exercise them in freedom if you live in a government or state where your repressed where you’re constrained where you’re held back where you don’t have the opportunity to exercise your abilities, you’ll never have the opportunity to flourish in the way that only you can. So allied with the concept of human rights and democracy there’s the very strong support for the idea of human freedom. Now of course freedom can’t be freedom to absolutely anything at any time other people have rights and freedoms and your freedom is in practice circumscribed by theirs but as much freedom as possible for individuals and groups has been a humanist aspiration.
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In the same way people can’t enjoy their freedom if they don’t have equal opportunity to pursue the sort of dreams and aspirations they might want to pursue
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so humanists have always been great supporters of equality: very much equality of opportunity, campaigning against the kinds of irrelevant discrimination that have existed in different societies at different times, discrimination on the basis of sex, discrimination on the basis of race,
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discrimination on religion or belief, discrimination on the basis of disability: all sorts of discriminations that have led to some people’s lives being limited; by law or by society. Equality has been an extremely important concept for humanists. Perhaps one of the most important political concepts that humanists have helped create in the world is the idea of secularism. Secularism is the idea that religious institutions should be separate from state institutions; that if we are to have equal citizenship in a shared society then we need a state that treats us neutrally. Secularism is also about maximising religious freedom; freedom of belief and conscience so that people aren’t restricted in the exercise of their conscience by other people’s opinions that they may not share.
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Secularism also entails the equal treatment of people on grounds of religion or belief.

Chief Executive of Humanists UK, Andrew Copson, explains what lies behind the humanist motivation to improve our quality of life and introduces some of the desired features of a humanist society.

Question: Using what you’ve learned in this video and the video in the previous step, what are your first reactions to a humanist vision for a better world? Is it a positive vision? Is there anything distinctive about it? Is it achievable?

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Introducing Humanism: Non-religious Approaches to Life, with Sandi Toksvig

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