Humanist

What makes human beings special is the complexity, intensity and depth of their relationships. There is something exceptionally rich in what we manage to develop together. We benefit so much from others and the diversity of those values that are sometimes called “soft.”

Being a humanist is not limited to education. Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism). It is that deeply rooted belief that there are values that transcend us and shared by human beings that nurtures my life.

I have been educated and grew in an environment that was a legacy of what “humanities” are, sometimes called “liberal arts”. Humanities are academic disciplines that study human culture. Humanities use methods that are primarily critical, or speculative, and have a significant historical element—as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences. The humanities include languages, literature, philosophy, religion, and arts as well as maths and sciences.

Family is the source of life, love and humanity

Nothing is ever as important as family links, even if they can be distant and even estranged. Talking about one’s family is impossible. I am fortunate to be married to Dr Francine Godet since 1970 and we had four children who blessed us with grandchildren. It is the biggest adventure in life: it is never easy, sometimes unstable, often source of joy, but above all it is unique. It is not a tranquil stream: it is a journey. There is no school for it.

Arts and culture are an essential part of culture

Music

Of all the arts, music is the one I developed and know best. My grandmother was a violinist and my mother a pianist. While I studied piano and love it, I would not pretend to be a pianist. But music has inhabited my entire life. I still practice singing with the Master Voices in New York when time allows. It is always a joy to discover the beauty of so many voices in harmony to produce unique choral works. I also built a relationship with an Orchestra that was often playing with the Chorale: the Saint Luke’s Orchestra. It is the form of art I practiced throughout my entire life and continue to enjoy.

Recently, I was approached to help supporting the Music Fund. Music Fund is a humanitarian project that supports musicians and music schools in conflict areas and developing countries. Music Fund collects instruments, repairs them and gives them a second life in 16 projects in Africa, the Middle East and Central America! Music Fund also trains instrument repairers and offers the exchange of teaching skills.

Particularly moving is the story of the grand piano of Gaza, broadcast by the BBC.

I have recently become involved with the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel in Waterloo, Belgium, as part of the organization’s launching of “The American Friends of the Music Chapel,” an American network of partners, supporters and collaborators. View Interview with Georges.

The Chapel has distinguished itself for nearly eight decades as a preeminent institution for the training and development of excellence for exceptional young musical talents.

“Arts is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.”

PABLO PICASSO

Philanthrophy

Over the years, surprisingly diverse and demanding opportunities have crossed our road for the better good. While many of them remain faith-based, the world of philanthropy has grown to a level where it becomes an industry by itself. The size and the multiplicity of philanthropic institutions has created dysfunction of crises (Nepal and Haiti are two recent examples of such aberration). What bothers me is the elitist approach that now prevails in this world.

For a great majority of well-intended, often smaller, philanthropic initiatives, a new world of corporate elite is now dominating a world of self-adulation and ego-competition. The amounts of money that can be mobilized make the visits of Bill and Melinda gates to an emerging country more important than State visits. The Red Cross has become political and absorbed by billions of dollars of internal costs. The last elite is now composed of giving corporate leaders where corporate tycoons meet in a self-congratulatory mode and give lessons to the rest of the world.

I always turn to smaller, on the ground actions where time and money are directly used form those in need.

An example of an institution I support is the “Brothers of Charity” who have set up an ONG, Fracarita International that is managed by the Catholic brothers, but reaches out to thousands of paid and volunteer people who are keen to help an area of huge deficit: mental health. Less spectacular, it is currently opening three training centers for mental health nurses of India with the support of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium) and the Tata Institute for Social Sciences. This is just an example.

Philosophy

The deficit of philosophy is terrifying

While the development of philosophical sciences is increasingly complex and academic, philosophy has lost the place it had in Ancient Greece, China or the Middle Ages. Two forces have concurred to make this a challenge: globalization that has led different philosophies to meet while coming from deeply different sources and theology and religion that have replaced the intellectual backbone of values into “beliefs”. Philosophy has become arbitrary.

It is critical that philosophers communicate to people in an understandable way. Esoterism is the death of philosophy. What do words like respect, relationships, integrity, and ethics still mean. Yet, they are basic values without which a society is built on sand.

Ever, since I studied philosophy in the course of four years, I remained struck to see the replacement of ethics by regulations, respect by political correctness, relationships by social media, and integrity by corruption. We cannot ignore that we have lost our moral compass, and despite fabulous realizations, we live in societies without value.

Our individual well-being is not the alpha and the omega. As essential as it is, it does have a broader purpose. We need to reinvent it.

Religion should never be a source of conflict or hatred

I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church. We were kneeling in front of our radio when the Pope was giving its blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the City and the world). I continue to consider that the message of the Gospels is one of the most powerful ones. It is not the only one. I have very soon become uneasy in the annexation of sexuality by a Church whose leader was “infallible”. Even though the Catholic Church remains a powerful source of inspiration, I refuse the idea that there is only one true religion. If God exists, he is there for everyone, and not only for religious organizations who often enough did not act as they preach. The Middle East war between Shiites and Sunnis is the demonstration of what a religion becomes when it loses its spiritual dimension and becomes criminally conflicted.

This being said, I did believe at 17  that I would become priest and joined the Dominican Order as a monk for two years after high school (humanities, in our language). Spirituality and transcendence are part of humanity. Religions have been the source of inspiration for those who continue to be in touch with that dimension of their soul.

I continue to worship, meditate and  pray, but I also do not recognize myself in parts of the religious landscape. Evangelist churches in the United States use literal reading of the Bible to justify their arch-conservative ideology. The Roman Catholic Church does not allow women to be priests and priests to marry. Muslims do the same in their terrorist fatwas.

I recently joined the Investment Committee of the Missionary Sisters of our Lady of Africa in Rome.

The dark side of religious wars is among us everywhere. I have been inspired by many religious leaders, and sometimes found more religion in some lay people than in mullahs, rabbis or priests. They are the biggest threat for world peace today.

Churches have a huge responsibility in the decline of spiritual values. Is it too late or is a spiritual upheaval possible? The next decades will tell us. Pope Francis seems to be decided to go back to the roots of Catholic religion. It puts him in an open conflict with the Church administration, the Curia Romana. Will he manage to correct the greatest injustice of the Church by authorizing women to be priests? Priests to get married?

Yet, the world needs, more than ever, the inspiration of true spiritual and religious leaders who care about people and this “supplement of soul” that most of us aspire to.