Friends from the whole world, thank you for #prayforParis, but we don’t need more religion! Our faith goes to music! Kissing! Life! Champagne and joy! #Parisisaboutlife
— From Charlie Hedbo cartoonist Joann Sfar
I would encourage you to look at Sfar’s entire series of cartoons at the above-mentioned link. I think they’re an excellent example of a secular humanist response to religious extremism. Secular humanism is about enjoying life and reveling in your creativity in spite of the inevitability of death and non-being. Philosopher Paul Kurtz called this “the courage to become,” a riff off of theologian Paul Tillich’s “courage to be,” which is merely existing in the face of death and non-being.
Orthodox religionists of all stripes believe this life is merely a dress rehearsal for the glory of the afterlife, which means that it’s permissible to put up with social injustices, since they don’t matter in the cosmic long-run. Such a view not only devalues the only life we know we have, but it makes a fetish of avoidable suffering. When girls are subject to female genital mutilation, married off to old men, or denied education, the underlying message is that their “purity” is more important than being free in body or mind and that they must endure a horrible life in this world in the vague hopes of possibly getting some kind of supernatural reward. From a secular humanist perspective, this view is completely unacceptable.
In case you think that such a view is limited only to Westerners, check out this story about a village in Ethiopia with no religion:
The community is called Awra Amba. About 500 people live here in simple wattle and daub houses, and they keep busy in a variety of money-making activities.
The village has a mill, where grain is crushed into flour. There is a textile factory, where villagers make clothes for themselves and to sell. You will also find a café, a tourist hostel, and two stores that cater to people from outside the village.
With all of these businesses, Awra Amba has managed to pull itself out of poverty. Compared with the rest of the region, the average income here is more than twice as high. Literacy rates are higher than in neighboring villages. Mortality rates are lower….
The lack of religion is not the only competitive advantage for Awra Amba. The village invests a lot of energy in educating its children and diversifying its economy. It also embraces gender equality. You will see women here doing what is traditionally considered “men’s work,” like plowing, which effectively doubles the workforce.
Although the people of Awra Amba are still quite poor by Western standards, they are doing extremely well compared to surrounding villages that identify as either Christian or Muslim. They are working hard, educating their children, and enjoying life on their own terms. Unsurprisingly, Awra Amba has been attacked numerous times by people from other villages who distrust the idea of a community without religion. Rather than try to copy Awra Amba’s success, they lash out in fear and jealousy. This is the same sentiment that motivated the attackers in Paris.
Conservotrad and traditionalist Catholic love to call secular humanists and anything and anyone associated with them part of the “culture of death.” But from my vantage point, the radical religionists are the real purveyors of the culture of death, whether its Islamists blowing themselves up to get scores of virgins in paradise or conservotrad Catholics working to deny health services, reproductive or otherwise, here in the United States. What passes as the “pro-life movement” is really little more than a bizarre fertility cult targeting white Americans that might as well have the phallus as the center of its worship. Another one of Sfar’s cartoons is captioned, “For centuries lovers of death have tried to make us lose life’s flavour.” I believe Sfar is referring to the Catholic church and the reactionary elements who are still hoping to roll back the French Revolution and party like it’s 1699. However, Sfar seems to be saying that if the Catholic church couldn’t eliminate the Parisian love of earthly delights, ISIS isn’t going to be any more successful, no matter how many bombs they detonate.
In spite of the many ugly things in this world — social injustice, environmental problems, war, child abuse, and any number of outrages — there is still much that is beautiful in life. Struggle itself is beautiful, from civil rights protesters to that guy with the grocery bags squaring off against the tanks during the Tienanmen Square massacre. The death lovers, regardless of their creed, will always prefer the afterlife to dealing with the life as it is or could be, but secular humanists will enjoy the one life we know we have and improve it for those around us.
Those who love. Those who love life. In the end, they’re always the ones who are rewarded.
— Joann Sfar