In these times where credulity is becoming a virtue, developing the capacity to make critical judgements on what we hear and read is becoming an urgent goal. It is high time to react against the pollution of our minds by the "politically correct", by "conventional wisdom" and by the so called "journalistic objectivity" conveyed by the media whose world vision is becoming more and more homogenous due to their corporate concentration.
The development of modern advertising techniquesand the concentration of the media in fewer and fewer hands are in my opinion destroying the capacity of individuals to think for themselves to the extent that it is becoming evident that the rituals of democracy are more about the struggle between competing manipulators than about surveying the preferences of autonomous citizens.
Everywhere I've been I have noted that is not so much the lack of information that is detrimental to the harmonious development of society as it is the abundance of false informations spread by certain individuals and groups to further their particular interests at the expense of all others. One of the main obstacles to peace is no doubt ignorance but still more important is the intellectual manipulation that causes its victims to act against their own interests and that pits groups against each other.
Faced with the rising manipulative influence of the religious right in our southern neighbor I came to the realization that something had to be done to oppose a resistance to its expansion into Canada. The best defense against manipulation is the development of critical thinking.
Why set up a Humanist Foundation?
I turned 71 in November 2004. That meant that most of my existence was behind me and that in a not too distant future the wonderful adventure of life would be over for me. I don't know with certainty what will happen at that time but I find it infinitely probable that my body will be transformed in other forms of matter and that there will be nothing left of me other than the memory that those who have known me will keep for a certain time
All living beings we observe in nature have a beginning, develop and end up by disappearing without leaving a trace. Even inanimate stars are born, consume themselves and end up by being transformed into something else. As I do not have the pretention of escaping that law of nature I find it extremely improbable that anything would be left of me for after I've stopped breathing. I have seen no evidence of a supernatural world inhabited by souls, angels, demons and gods from which clerics derive their influence and power. For me, man is the supreme being in the universe I know. As I do not claim to know all universes nor to hold absolute truth, I prefer to think in terms of probabilities. I am therefore a humanist that is still seeking answers...
I was very lucky to be born healthy in a developed country, to have been spared the violence of war and of sickness, to have received a good education and to have been able to flourish professionnally, to travel all over our small planet and to have been curious enough to try to understand what was going on. I also have had my share of sorrows, deceptions and treasons like everyone else but on the whole, I have managed pretty well.
I have accumulated many ideas, books, objects and savings that I would like to hand over to someone who would use them in a manner compatible with what I am and on whom I could rely to transmit my values and more particularly the importance I give to the struggle against manipulation. I considered leaving my savings to a university to provide scholarships for a few worthy students but I soon realised that my meager contribution would be diluted like a drop in the ocean and soon forgotten.
Then I thought of leaving money to organisations that struggle against credulity and manipulation like Les Sceptiques du Quebec who campaign for critical thinking in the area of paranormal phenomena, like the Movement laique quebécois that keeps a watchful eye on the separation of church and state and like Info-Cult that informs the public about the dangers of manipulation by cults. I served on the boards of the first two and I liked what I saw. I often heard "we should do this or that project but it would require financial resources that we do not have".
This is how I got the idea of a common foundation whose job it would be to gather the funds required to allow several organisations like the three mentioned above to fully realize their projects and to promote the creation of new organizations pursuing similar goals.
The Foundation, the Association and l'Incrédule
The Humanist Foundation of Québec, created in December 2004 was immediately recognized as a charitable organization empowered to give official receipts for tax purposes. It is structured so as to guarantee the optimum utilisation of the entrusted funds and to ensure that it could not be taken over to be used for different purposes. The Foundation is controlled by its donors whose voting rights are proportionnal to their respective donations. Moreover, a minimum donation of only 100 dollars allows any interested person to have permanent access to all of the organisation's books to ensure the maximum transparency of its operations.
In 2005 the Foundation gave 1500 $ to the Sceptiques du Québec and 1000 $ to Info-Cult. The Foundation's prime function is to collect and distribute funds wisely but it also carries out its own programs like maintaining an assembly hall and a humanist documentation center open to the public and organising various study commitees in its offices.
The creation of the Foundation was followed in July 2005 by those of the Humanist Association of Quebec and of the publisher L'Incrédule. Both were recognised as charitable organisations for tax purposes in January 2006. The Association is a classical not for profit association controled democratically by its members while the publisher is owned and controled by its customers.
In 2006, the Foundation distributed 2 000 $ to the Association, 2 000 $ to les Sceptiques and 1 000 $ to Info-Cult. It also granted a 2 000 $ loan to L'Incrédule.
This is only the beginning for the long term goal of the Foundation is to acquire a building to host a "Humanist Center" serving various organisations that promote critical thinking and of humanist values in Québec. In addition to the humanist documentation centre and various offices, the establishment will include a large hall where to hold conferences and rites of passage (birth, marriage, death), for humanists seeking ceremonies that reflect their values.
I have not invented anything in setting that goal for ourselves. Others have acheived it like the Institute of Humanist Studies which, in 2005 has just inaugurated its Humanist Center in an elegant building in the center of Albany, the capital of New York state. (see left)
This formula of concerted action has also been adopted by the Transnational Center for Inquiry that has also inaugurated in 2005 a brand new building in Amherst, near Bullalo in the state of New York. (see right).
Its affiliates, the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH), the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CISCOP) and the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health (CSMMH), share common premises in Amherst, New York, Los Angeles and Tampa in Florida. These establishments serve several organizations pursuing related objectives such as Skeptical Inquirer, Free Inquiry, Pensar, Philo Online etc..
Two other foundations worth studying as examples of what the FHQ can become are the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) of Fort Lauderdale in Florida and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) based in Madison, Wisconsin, whose Freethought Hall can be seen on the right.
See here a list and links to more than 100 humanist organisations world wide.
Montréal's Humanist Center
There is still a lot to be done before such a center can be inaugurated in Montreal but the concept has been presented and the structures to do it have been created. Now, the Foundation must find a few millions and the Association must regroup a few thousand members.