Filed under: Atheism, Awards, Milestones.
On Saturday, August 4, 2012, at the annual conference of Humanist Canada, held this year in Montreal in conjunction with the General Assembly of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, bestselling science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer was presented with Humanist Canada’s first-ever Humanism in the Arts award (click the photo above for a high-resolution version).
Comments made by the award’s presenter at the award banquet at the Hilton Bonaventure:
Good evening, I am Laura-Lee Balkwill, Vice-President of Humanist Canada. It is my honour to present our very first Humanism in the Arts Award.
The idea for this award was sparked by a conversation with a young artist who talked about the importance of the arts in symbolizing the values of a culture and telling its story. Look at all of the art that has been celebrated for its depictions of religion, of war, and of important historical figures. And I thought, who will tell our story? Where can we find the symbols of our values, our aspirations, our tragedies, and our triumphs?
Much of our focus as Humanists, as secularists, is devoted to science — usually defending the value of science over ideology as a basis for law, for policy, even, as Chris DiCarlo argued last night, for morality. As important as this focus is, it is not the sum of Humanism, just as it is not the sum of the human experience. Art inspires, it communicates, it reaches people; often more effectively than the most erudite scientific paper or philosophical treatise. Art reflects the Zeitgeist of its times and can often inspire us to do better.
I did a little research on Humanism and the arts. The term first crops up in the European Renaissance, which signified a shift from the glorification of religious figures to the celebration of humans. During the middle ages, humans were depicted as tiny penitent creatures — dwarfed by angels, gods, and demons. In the Renaissance, painters, sculptors, poets, playwrights, and composers made humans the heroes of their art. This laid the foundation for the emergence of secular art, of the representation of the everyday lives of people, of art that offered social commentary, criticism and idealism.
The Board of Humanist Canada agreed that we needed to seek out representations of Humanist values and ideals in all forms of art — to celebrate their exploration of humanity, their depiction of our capacity for greatness as well as our failures.
The recipient of our first Humanism in the Arts Award is Robert J. Sawyer — a best-selling Canadian author who has published twenty-one novels and been published in the journals Science and Nature. He has won every major award for science fiction that you can think of, including the Hugo and the Nebula as well as the crime-fiction Arthur Ellis Award. The people in his novels, such as Calculating God, Factoring Humanity, Rollback, Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids, Wake, Watch, and Wonder — and that’s just a small sample — wrestle with fundamental questions of existence and morality; they talk about faith in god and atheism, they confront ethical dilemmas, and sometimes they do the right thing and sometimes they don’t. Each point of view is presented genuinely, without condescension.
One of the pleasures of reading Rob’s books is that it is difficult to predict who is going to win — the good guys and the bad guys are not always obvious. Reasonable people can disagree — sometimes passionately — sometimes violently — sometimes peacefully. His writing reflects the kind of discourse we are no longer accustomed to — where more than one side of the story is presented and considered.
It is because we find Humanist values and ideals so thoroughly represented in his work, that we are pleased to present this Humanism in the Arts Award to Robert J. Sawyer.
The glass trophy is etched with these words:
HUMANISM IN THE ARTS 2012
This Award is presented to
ROBERT J. SAWYER
for his thoughtful exploration of the secular point of view (most notably in “Calculating God” and the “Neanderthal Parallax” trilogy), and for his stirring descriptions of the wonder inherent in scientific exploration throughout his novels and essays.
His respectful treatment of both religious-minded and secular-minded characters and his articulate and often moving depictions of their struggles with their respective worldviews are in keeping with Humanist principles and represent a conversation we would like to continue.
Robert J. Sawyer’s latest novel is Triggers, published by Penguin in Canada, Ace in the US, and Gollancz in the UK. It features a Republican US president attempting to guard the secret that he’s an atheist.
(Click photo for high-resolution version.)