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A Humanist Perspective on Violence

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Human life is all the more valuable if you do not believe in an afterlife, and humanists (indeed any rational person) would think very carefully before supporting any war, because of the loss of life involved. Wars are hugely destructive, ruining lives, wasting resources and degrading the environment. The horrors of war, for example the enormous and pointless destruction and loss of life in the First World War and the genocide against the Jews in the Second World War, have made many people question the existence of a benevolent and omnipotent deity.


Isn't self-defence natural?


Some people say that war is 'natural' and that, as tribal animals, we are bound to want to protect our territory and tribe. Humanists would respond by saying that we should use our intelligence and ability to reason to overcome some natural instincts, and that, in the case of something as terrible as war, we should always seek non-violent solutions first. But to resort to violence in self-defence or for altruistic reasons – to protect the lives and rights of others – can sometimes be justified on a national level, just as it can on an individual level – although some humanists may be pacifists, others are not.


Peaceful solutions are not always easy to find or to enforce, as the history of the United Nations demonstrates, but humanists strongly support the work of the UN aimed at resolving conflicts between nations peacefully. Humanists helped to set up the UN and were the first directors of several UN agencies. Some humanists, such as the famous philosopher Bertrand Russell, have campaigned against weapons of mass destruction and been conscientious objectors and pacifists, though Russell made an exception for the Second World War which he thought was morally justified, to unseat the obnoxious regimes of fascist countries.


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