Ten years of humanism in Malta
An update from the Malta Humanist Association
An update from the Malta Humanist Association
Christian Colombo (Chairperson) and Joanna Onions are part of the leading team at Malta Humanist Association. The Malta Humanist Association, a Member of Humanists International, was founded on 7 April 2010. It champions secularism and reason-based morality in Malta, including being a strong voice during the Divorce referendum campaign, fighting for LGBTI+ rights, and providing Humanist Ceremony services, amongst many other contributions.
This article was first published on maltatoday.com
In 2010, at a time when Malta was perhaps not so open to addressing diversity – in culture, religion, and worldviews – as it is now, a small group of like-minded people met to establish a humanist association in Malta, knowing that, while local culture is heavily influenced by the islands’ long religious history, there are those who do not hold religious views.
As the world population continues to soar, the challenges we face together can only increase climate change, immigration, pandemics, and more. There will be faster depletion of non-renewable resources; greater consumption of energy; higher pollution levels; increased movement of people from dangerous or poor societies to safer and more prosperous ones; more international travel; and transmission of new diseases.
In this context, the ethical response as a human family must be a united one, based on a common fundamental set of principles which nevertheless acknowledge a diverse range of cultures and experiences. This is where Humanism has a crucial role: it is based on a set of values that can be the basis of a universal ethical framework.
First and foremost is that humanity needs to base its policies on reason and co-operation. COVID-19 has taught us that science-based interventions, enacted in good time, can save much suffering. Covid has underlined the necessity for a coordinated, rapid, response across all public health sectors, with the free flow of reliable information and objective advice.
The second tenet of a humanist ethical framework is to live a moral life that respects the freedom of others (and brings its own reward in the knowledge that one is living a good life, regardless of an afterlife). As Simone de Beauvoir said, one cannot wish freedom for oneself without also willing it for others. As many feel they are living in an ever more crowded and complicated world, mutual respect and tolerance is the only thing that makes it possible to live sanely together, and advance the common good.
Third, the humanist point of view is based on compassion. Respecting each others’ freedom doesn’t mean we are indifferent to one another. On the contrary, one can hardly be called a humanist if one’s actions do not hear the cries of the disadvantaged and marginalized in our society.
Since its official foundation as an NGO in 2011, the Malta Humanist Association (MHA), for a number of years under its late Chair, Ramon Casha, has championed equality, tolerance, inclusivity, secularism, and reason-based morality in Malta, supporting human rights and freedom of belief for religious and non-religious alike. The MHA was a strong voice during the divorce campaign; supported marriage equality, availability of the Morning After Pill, and cremation; contributed to the National Curriculum on the teaching of Ethics in schools; champions women’s and LGBTI+ rights; and contributes to debates in the press and social media on such as the Constitution and racism. It believes in bodily autonomy and thus supports both a woman’s right to choose and the right to die. Since 2015 MHA celebrants have helped to mark important life events such as funerals or memorials, weddings and baby-welcomings, in a secular but highly personal manner.
The MHA is a secularist organization, calling for the separation of church and state to ensure equal treatment, and tolerance, for all. We do not believe in any deity but respect the beliefs of those who think otherwise, and we are avowedly not anti-religious. We fully support freedom of thought, religion and belief, and all internationally recognized human rights, and abhor unfair discrimination in any form. We ask only that our rational, ethical approach to life is recognized and accepted as an equal, alternative, but non-threatening, world view.
In the 2021 State of the Nation survey, 7% of respondents did not believe in God, and 40% did not agree that religion is important to them. If these figures could be extrapolated to the current population of Malta, it would seem that around 35,000 living on these islands are atheist while religion is unimportant for many more: A non-religious ethical voice definitely needs to be heard in an increasingly diverse and multicultural society.
We have made much progress since the early days and now have some 2,000 followers. But there is still a long way to go before we see a state wholly neutral on matters of religion, belief, or lack of it, and acceptance that, like other minorities in Malta, Humanists are part of the community, bearing others no ill-will, but differing about religion – though not, in many cases, about other fundamental values.
We will continue to work for a focus on rational, constructive dialogue with the Maltese community. To this end, we are expanding our Youtube channel and program of events, including the ‘7 minutes soundbites’ series and our ‘Humanist Exchanges’ on current topics. Because of Covid, these are currently online but we hope to get back to meeting in person soon.
Does this sound interesting? Visit the website of the organization: maltahumanist.org