Interview with Simon Parcher — President, Canadian Humanist Publications
Simon Parcher is the President of Canadian Humanist Publications. He is also a Humanist, Humanist Celebrant.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let’s start from the general orientation of Humanist Perspectives. What is it? What are its core values as a publication?
Simon Parcher: The core values of Humanist Perspectives are centered around challenging established belief, especially when it comes to religious beliefs. Humanists often find themselves at odds with conservative elements on issues like abortion and assisted suicide, etc.; the issues on which religion typically has a different opinion. Of course, that’s why we refer to it as established belief, because Christianity, especially, has been around for 2,000 years. Its beliefs are long-standing but often out-of-step with what we know today. These beliefs need to be challenged.
Religious belief was formed 2,000 years ago, in the Stone Age. This is not exactly appropriate for today. A modern and scientific perspective on issues is more fitting and reliable. We cover a broad range of issues in HP, especially current issues.
Sometimes, we address longstanding issue like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the Middle East. We have had articles on this. It is an issue that started in 1948 and is an ongoing conflict. It is quite interesting but also very sad. There doesn’t seem to be any resolution in sight. Anyway, we try to make the publication interesting to humanists of all ages by covering current issues and established beliefs.
Jacobsen: For young people, 18-to-35-year-olds, or those in YHI, what is the importance of questioning the established and assumed truths?
Parcher: We seem to be living in a somewhat enlightened era that perhaps began in the 1960s. We have the ability to be at odds with the establishment. We are not threatened by jail or death in our country, if we do not agree with the ideas such as the existence of God. We can usually question any authority without being threatened. This kind of freedom has been very rare throughout history and even around the world today. It is pretty rare. In most countries, if you challenge the government, the church or the religious authorities, you could be in big trouble. I think it is important to keep this freedom to challenge and protest, in the countries that have it.
There are always challenges to our freedoms. Sometimes, even from within, like when it comes to free speech and the social justice warriors, Humanist Perspectives likes to tackle controversial issues and we try to do so with a balanced perspective.
Sometimes, our editors will take one side or another on the issues. It is important that the younger generation appreciates that we can do this and openly support minority opinions… because this human right could be hijacked sometime down the road, even in a few years. You never know.
If we stop challenging authority, then we lose the ability to challenge authority [Laughing] in the future.
Jacobsen: Does this speak to a tendency in human beings to defer to magical thinking and unquestioned authority?
Parcher: That is partly true. Human beings have the tendency to believe in magic and the incredible. We might be programmed in a way to do that. But I think it is more so those in authority, those with power and the money, whether big business or big churches, or big government; the people in control often or usually are the ones who suppress the masses and force, coerce or manipulate people.to believe incredible things.
Powerful organizations control people so they can retain the most authority possible. When we let those in authority gain as much power as possible, they will take as much authority as we let them have. We have to say, “No, you are infringing on my human rights.” In Canada we can say, “No, you are infringing my Charter rights.”
Humanists have been very active in the international human rights arena. They have been working with the UNHCR for many years to protect freedoms, not just from religion, but from other authorities too.
To summarize, it is more that “absolute authority corrupts authority” or something like that.
Jacobsen: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Parcher: Okay, there we go. That’s it. [Laughing]. The challenge is to make sure people do not have absolute power. I think it is human nature to grab as much power as possible. At least, it has been like that throughout history. We are fortunate to live in this day and age and to have the freedoms that we have.
But we can’t take them for granted, because if so, we might lose them.
Jacobsen: Looking into the rest of 2019 and the period of 2020, what would be some possible topics or subject matter to be covered within Humanist Perspectives? Or, what is already in the pipe?
Parcher: My editors choose the material for the magazine. I have two full-time editors and one part-time editor. I am happy to have them choose the content. So, I don’t really know what they will come up with next.
The theme and articles are always a nice surprise. We don’t usually plan themes far ahead. The theme depends on the articles submitted. Sometimes, we plan a themed issue. We usually do not plan too far in advance. We look at what is submitted and go from there.
If young humanists are interested in a specific area, then they can submit articles to HP and possibly have them published.
Jacobsen: What would be the recommendation for not only keeping free inquiry alive for young humanists? I mean becoming involved in the intellectual culture of humanism. I mean writing.
I mean interviews. I mean getting involved with organization, policies, maybe becoming involved in reinvigorating the intellectual culture of humanism in some way — providing different perspectives within the frame of science, human rights, and compassion, and so on.
Parcher: There is a lot of room for people to become involved in humanism. Usually, there have not been enough individuals involved at the leadership level to give humanism the voice that it deserves, or the publicity that it deserves.
For instance, any humanist that is interested in the direction of humanism in Canada can apply to join the Humanist Association of Canada Board of Directors. Humanist Canada had an election, just recently. If somebody wants to get involved, this is one way to do it.
Another way, of course, is to contact any humanist organization. It could be Humanist Canada, the Ontario Humanists, BC Humanists, CFI-Canada. If there is an area of humanism in which you’re interested, I am sure that you would be welcomed with open arms, if feasible, to do some work in that area.
You can always start on your own humanist project or write a book, etc. I have seen several people do that. This is another way to contribute to the humanist intelligentsia. Or, as I said, you can submit an article to HP and perhaps have it published [Laughing].
There is really no shortage of opportunity to be involved in the humanist leadership, and promote something that you might be interested in.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Simon.
Parcher: Okay, thank you, Scott.