An Interview with Romeo de Bellefroid — Secretary General, IHEYO

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Recently, you were elected as the secretary general of IHEYO. Why did you run for the position?

Romeo de Bellefroid: Near the end of my second year in university, a friend and I stumbled into a discussion of a lesser-known humanist student organization that advocated for Free Inquiry. Unlike anywhere else, Socratic ignorance was acknowledged and self-questioning was seen as the most moral thing you could do. Two-and-a-half years later, I finished my mandate as President of that association and I was looking for something else to do. I still wanted to work for purposes I believe in. I think no teenager or young adult should be faced with the choice of either submitting to an external moral authority or being left on your own without anyone or anything to help you figure out how you should deal with life. That is, where you live you are not completely shunned, treated like a pariah or even persecuted when I got the opportunity to help people like me all over the world in circumstances often much dire than mine, I did not hesitate for long.

Jacobsen: What are you plans for the first 4 months of the organization, or the latter parts of 2017?

de Bellefroid: As soon as I figure out the tools I’m given, I will set up the elections that are due for our Asia Working Group. The amendments voted in this General Assembly will also need to be implemented. But maybe most importantly I have been told that we may have a window of opportunity for a conference somewhere in Europe. It would be awesome if we managed to set that up!

Jacobsen: What would you really love to see get off the ground for 2018?

de Bellefroid: The membership merge of IHEYO with IHEU opens up an untapped potential of young humanists that we want to reach. I will make sure we cooperate with IHEU and encourage local organizations to direct their youth to us. It is going to be a long process, but it is definitely worth it. I also think we should keep on supporting active local organizations that are very active and motivated, such as those in Central and South America. Then I give importance to being connected with all kinds of other youth organizations with different purposes. As an umbrella organization, I think it is important for us to know what kinds of external networks and opportunities exist, and can be used, for our members. And last but not least, I am curious as to what the other members of IHEYO and our Executive Committee have in mind, as most of them have hung around for longer than I did.

Jacobsen: If you reflect on the super-minority demographics of the humanist population, what are some difficulties associated with that in terms of getting the word out about humanists and humanism?

de Bellefroid: I think one of the bigger problems is that humanism is yet another droplet in a pond of “–isms.” Moreover, core parts of the humanist worldview are, in part, encapsulated in terms that are sometimes better known. Individualism, secularism, freethought, skepticism, those are all terms I have vaguely encountered elsewhere. But it was not until I joined a humanist student association that I began to form a coherent view of what is meant by humanism. It is also the case that humanism expresses itself in different forms. In many countries, humanism is much defined by the struggle to emancipate from religious doctrine. However, in countries with little religious pressure or in already humanist communities, it needs to offer something more.

Jacobsen: What does it take to be a humanist? Can one be a deist, pantheist, and so on — non-supernaturalist, humanist? I ask because the typical association is atheist, agnostic, freethinker, and so on.

de Bellefroid: I consider you a humanist in its broadest definition if you hold reason and morality to be derived from human considerations, aspirations, and needs, and not any authoritative and external source such as gods or holy scriptures. Sapere aude! But how humanism relates to different theisms is a bit fuzzy, people can combine certain theistic beliefs (such as pantheism) with humanism in the definition I gave. Though in practice, most humanists tend to seek morality without ever resorting to supernatural beings.

Jacobsen: What can humanists learn from each others’ honest failures and successes?

de Bellefroid: Well, a lot. We can learn from the attempts of excluding people in the name of humanism or using a particular description of humanism to call certain people less human, which is what Heidegger did in favor of the Nazis. But we can also learn from attempts to use a common feeling of humanity to strive for emancipation, and there I think of the fight against racial segregation in places like South Africa or the US. I think looking back at the latter is especially important, as the current struggles for social emancipation are often framed as a war between identities. This often ignores the heterogeneity of society and, for example, the fact that there are also vulnerable people in dominant groups.

Jacobsen: How else can we bring together the youth humanists around the world?

de Bellefroid: I think we can act as a global hub for today’s interconnected youth. We form a community of values based on the largest common denominator possible. That is why I don’t think we should keep to ourselves but be aware of everything that is done in terms of youth activism, consultation or any other kinds of projects involving youth internationally. I also think that many possibilities that the Internet and social media have opened will unfold in the future. Finally, I think we can be a rallying point for humanists around the world simply by being where it is important to be and offering humanists a positive project for the future. The advances of sciences, from AI, the study of consciousness, the exploration of space, to something very concrete like self-driving cars, all those new subjects have ethical ramifications for society. There is a need for large-scale ethical discussions on what this means for humans in human terms, which is what we stand for.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Romeo.

Original Publication in Humanist Voices.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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