In Post-WW2 Europe, humanism was marked by antagonisms between humanist factions (for example, rationalist and religious humanists), while at the same time various interest groups of all stripes were succeeding in making their presence known. (These included freethinkers, atheists, Remonstrants, liberal Christians and more). However, Humanists have succeeded in becoming a unified group through jointly agreed positions and widely supported statements of principle (Gasenbeek & Winkelaar, p. 54).
Like any other form of humanism, Natural Humanism is an open, communal story in the process of being written. We hope it will help contribute to a better world.
This publication was created during the years of the Covid Pandemic. The discussions about the pandemic gave rise to interesting developments and initiatives in technology, health, education, agriculture, the media and self-reliance. Both Ronald Meester and Bert de Munck have shown in their books that during the discussions about the pandemic, philosophical debate was not always conducted appropriately. Mainstream commentators with conventional philosophical values stayed further below the radar than might have been expected. Critical voices were dismissed as naïve, unenlightened or stupid; rarely were they taken seriously according to philosophical principles. De Munck noted in his book that discussions headed in the wrong direction: “rather than being about opposing interests or ideological contradictions, political discussions today are about correct or incorrect information, about what is true or false.” (De Munck, p. 70).
The term ‘Natural Humanism’ attempts to identify a common philosophical core connecting everyone involved in these initiatives, and also those outside them, notwithstanding their major differences and varied backgrounds. Natural Humanism does not offer itself as an alternative to existing, broad, religious or non-religious worldviews, but rather as a worldview that is partially-encompassing: one that addresses sub-questions rather than relating to every aspect of life. This, says Rawls, ‘allows scope for the development of an independent allegiance to the political conception’ (Rawls, p. 168)
The analogy with pacifism
Pacifism preceded Natural Humanism as a partial philosophy of life. When conscription was in force, conscientious objectors could plead pacifism to refuse military conscription on religious, moral or ethical grounds. These objections were investigated by a committee which decided on an alternative form of service if it accepted the refusal.
We hope that this publication about Natural Humanism will spur a large number of people who can recognise and further develop its principles and tenets to demand more respect for these principles and tenets.Translating this into the language of human rights, we argue that these principles and tenets deserve legal protection through Article 9 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms relating to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion. This text reads as follows:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Adults with legal capacity must be able to make choices in accordance with their ideas and values, ‘regardless of how irrational, unwise or imprudent such choices may appear to others’ (Judgement of 22 November 2010, No 302/02 (Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow and Others v Russia)).
In the Vavricka judgment of 8 April 2021 (no. 47621/13 (Vavricka v Czech Republic)), the European Court of Human Rights gave a ruling on certain mandatory childhood vaccinations to the effect that they can serve a legitimate purpose and, subject to various safeguards, may be compatible with fundamental rights. However, in this judgement it is also important to note that the Court recognises that refusal to undergo medical intervention can and may be based on philosophical views, and that a procedure for the recognition of conscientious objection must therefore be put into place (the philosophical exception). One of the judges wrote the following about this objection:
“The issue of whether a risk inherent in a medical intervention is one that is worth being taken may be a matter of personal belief, protected by this provision. In any event, the legal recognition of exceptions to the obligation to vaccinate based upon conscientious objection is a very important argument in favour of the compatibility of the obligation in question with the Convention.” (Judge Wojtyczek, dissenting opinion, para. 19.)
In the opinion of this European judge, legislators must arrange and provide the option of invoking conscientious objection for philosophical reasons. The European Court does require that a philosophically-based conscientious objection show a ‘sufficient degree of strength, seriousness, coherence and importance’ (‘degré suffisant de force, de sérieux, de cohérence et d’importance’), though without requiring a complete philosophical worldview. In particular, the requirement for ‘sufficient coherence’ can pose practical problems in terms of providing evidence. These can be alleviated by having a philosophical underpinning supported by some form of visibility and organisation. This can be done through religion (for example, the triad approach of Anthroposophy), but religiously unaffiliated people must also be able to claim the right to conscientious objection. This publication on Natural Humanism aims to contribute to a more coherent underpinning, one of the type required.