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WHY WE BECAME HUMANISTS

  • Member 1
    I was born into a nominally, but not actively, Christian family. By my early teens I had concluded that for such reasons as the wide differences in the comfort and the richness of life of co-existing human beings, and the brutality consequent upon the existence of carnivores, conditions on Earth are not compatible with the concept of creation by a benign being. In later life I concluded that creation by a divine being did not explain the reason for existence, for this requires an explanation of how and why the divine being came into existence if it is not to be a mere evasion of the issue.

  • Member 2
    My father was a scientist and was always interested to discuss with others questions such as whether God exists, much to my mother’s embarrassment. At the bottom of the hill on which we lived was a Methodist church and when I saw children emerging on a Sunday afternoon with interesting coloured leaflets I asked if I could go to Sunday school. My parents readily agreed as I suspect they were pleased to have a bit of peace and quiet. I also joined the Brownie pack which met in this church. As time went on I began to wonder when someone was going to tell me that these unbelievable tales of God and Jesus were in the same category of myths as Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy. When it dawned on me that the adults in the church actually believed it all to be true, I left the Sunday school and joined an athletic club instead. I have been an atheist ever since. I joined the BHA after seeing an article about non-religious funerals and found that my beliefs are in concordance with the Humanist movement. When I retired in 2007 I had more time to be actively involved in local and national humanist activities.

  • Member 3
    I was brought up as a Methodist from a young age, going to both Sunday School and chapel services, and I fully enjoyed the rich social life which Chapel provided. There was a lively choir, who went round singing in Old Peoples’ Homes, lots of dramatic activity and play performances, and many socials and youth club activities. As I got older, I was also really involved in philosophical/religious issues and debates, and went to Bible Reading classes and did Scripture exams too. But equally I began to question the evidence of scripture, and the efficacy of prayer for example. So although I had become a Junior Church member, I didn’t commit to full church membership because of these doubts, although I was allowed to take Communion.

    When I went to University, I was very involved in the Student Christian Movement, which seemed to me to be part of the radical Christian questioning at the time, i.e. the “Honest to God” debate, and I again fully enjoyed the arguments among the people I met about the different churches etc. But my doubts were growing about the truth of the basic beliefs, and in my PGCE year, during a philosophy lecture on rational thought, I suddenly realized that thinking, logic and all the discussions on ethics, from Plato onwards were enough for me! I remember that moment as one like when the heavy burden fell off Christian’s back in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress, and I’ve never looked back!

    I did describe myself often as an atheist, but increasingly I wanted to be affirmative and positive about my beliefs, so I called myself, and felt myself to be, a Humanist, someone who wanted to put all their efforts into ameliorating life for people, rather than spending time and energy on supernatural superstitions. I wanted my children to concentrate on this world, and the communities and people around them instead, as I had during my teenage years, worrying about transubstantiation and constubstantiation for example, and why no one answered my prayers.

    Six or seven years ago I felt it important not only to affirm this belief wherever possible, but also to identify with a group who felt likewise to campaign against the many privileges the faith groups enjoy in the UK, 26 bishops in the House of Lords for example, and so I joined both the BHA, and the NSS to help in their campaigns for a more secular and rational basis for our society. And then three years ago I found the Harrow Humanists and am really pleased to have joined such a welcoming, thoughtful and like-minded group of people. It’s a monthly oasis!

  • Member 4
    I had a strict religious upbringing, as my father was a member of the Exclusive Brethren sect, although my mother was a non-practising Anglican. No television was allowed, and the same went for theatre and cinema visits. Members were not allowed to join any kind of clubs, and were discouraged from attending university.

    In 1960 Jim Taylor Junior, an American with a drink problem, took over as world leader of the Exclusive Brethren, and introduced new rules which many people consider caused it to become a cult. One of these was that life insurance was banned, and another was that non-members could no longer have social contact with members. My uncle, who had always worked in life insurance, committed suicide as a result of losing his job. Three weeks later my parents were visited by members of the Exclusive Brethren who told my father that as my mother was a non-member he would have to leave her if he wished to remain a member. If he didn’t leave her, he would have to leave the Exclusive Brethren and have no further contact with his blood relatives. My mother refused to join, and my father cracked up and attempted to murder her. He was receiving psychiatric care for a year afterwards.

    In 2004 my partner and I became involved in funeral arrangements for a non-religious friend, which was conducted by a Humanist celebrant. Many people who attended were so impressed that they said they would like similar funerals themselves. One of them was my partner, and when he died four years later he also had a Humanist funeral. A neighbour whom I knew slightly at the time got to hear about it, and invited me to attend a meeting of Harrow Humanists, where I instantly felt very much at home.

  • Member 5
    Like many humanists, I am a refugee from Christianity. I was brought up in one of the nonconformist churches, and went to church on Sundays, sometimes twice as both my parents were in the choir. My doubts began at the age of 17, when I began to question with what authority the minister preached to us, what special knowledge he had which he was imparting to us. I continued to attend church after I went to university, and joined the student society linked to it, but a few months later a book came out which may be said to have changed my life. This was Honest to God (1963) by Bishop John Robinson. “Our image of God must go!” proclaimed the Observer on the front of its review section. The book introduced me to thinkers I had never heard of, such as Feuerbach, who treated religion as a branch of anthropology, and way-out theologians such as Bultmann, who “demythologised” Christianity, and Tillich, who defined God as the “ground of our being”. But how do you pray to that? Eventually I came to realise that God exists in people’s heads, that if the human race were wiped out there would be nobody left to imagine him, and that prayer is talking to oneself (and there’s nothing wrong with that!). On my way towards humanism I attended Quaker meetings. I was introduced to the BHA by a friend of mine from school and university, and joined when I was 23.

  • Member 6
    Born a catholic?
    I was born into an orthodox English Roman catholic family of three girls and four boys. I was the youngest boy and the youngest of the family. My childhood was happy, secure and protected. Earliest memories revolve around warm and loving immediate and extended families and the people who attended the parish church and school, who were a sort of trusted additional family. The priests were the most respected members of the community followed by the catholic school teachers and ‘good Catholics’ – deemed to be those who devotedly attended all obligatory ceremonies and a few more besides. Having sincerely grappled with the irrationality of my received religious beliefs I finally rejected my religion at the age of forty-three, a painfully slow learner! The strange and rather frightening thing is that for most of those forty-three years I would have very strongly denied that I was indoctrinated. With hindsight, I know I was. In joining Harrow Humanists I have made friends with others who believe only in what can be investigated in the natural world, as opposed to the supernatural world in which various pearls of the divine wisdom (gleaned from invisible gods) are passed down to believers through the medium of priests, ayatollahs and their ilk as (believe this if you like) facts! It is difficult to express how liberating and enjoyable it is to share the society of my rational Harrow Humanist friends (and that of the wider Humanist community through the British Humanist Association) suffice it to say that I regret I did not join three decades earlier. Yes, I was “once a Catholic” but no child should be said to be “born a Catholic” any more than “born a conservative” or, for that matter “a Humanist”, although we are all born Human – that’s a fact. I now support the view that it is a human right to believe what you choose; preferably from a rational appraisal of the available evidence.

  • Member 7
    I am gay.
    My parents were keen Anglicans, my father being a sideman at the local church and a prominent Freemason nationally. At age seven I was sent to a faith-based primary school where prayers were said every morning and before exams, and grace said before meals. At nineteen I was conscripted to do National Service in the Royal Air Force and during the first two months of square bashing, I knelt, as I was wont, beside my bed every night and prayed. This soon brought a reaction from some of my fellow conscripts, who laughed at me and kicked me in the backside. I felt terribly unhappy. One night, in fear, I decided not to go down on my knees. I was convinced God would punish me for lack of courage and that I wouldn’t live through the night. I didn’t sleep. Imagine my relief, next morning when I realised I had survived unpunished. I then started to feel that my religion was a kind of superstition and became ever more questioning of it.

    After that I came to London University to do my first degree and was keen to meet other gay boys. I started, as most gay men do, with “the scene” but hated its superficiality. You can have a good time if you have good looks and a gym-trained body. I had neither. Then, through a notice in “Time Out” I read of a meeting for gays to take place at Conway Hall, organised by the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA), which has now been incorporated into the BHA. I went. The main speaker was David Starkey. I was welcomed and surrounded by serious-minded people like myself who were unlike most other gay people I had met. They were mostly refugees from religion and I started to realise that most religions are hostile to homosexuality. The problem is not homosexuality, which I now know is inborn, but religion itself. Thanks to GALHA, I now feel “complete” without the shackles of religion. Humanism is a force for love and concern for people whoever they are. I am much happier now that I have found it.

  • Member 8
    I am a Humanist.
    Humanists believe that we experience only one life. Humanists try to follow a way of life inspired by love and guided by knowledge and to keep ourselves sensitive to the wonder, beauty and cruelty of nature. Humanists agree with the Golden Rule expressed in forms of words such as, “Do unto others as you would be done by”. Nature has no such golden rule as the tsunami of 26th December 2004 showed on a massive scale; but humanity can respond to alleviate the consequences, as this memorial meeting testifies. The example of this response must be carried forward by mankind to prevent wars, disease, cruelty and poverty such as are experienced in Africa today. Humanists’ faith is that mankind can do this when it overcomes those mental shackles of nationality, racism and religion that divide us. As Thomas Paine said in 1792, “My country is the world, my religion is to do good”.
    Address given at Harrow tsunami memorial service and conference held at the Zoroastrian Centre, Rayners Lane, Harrow by DL 22 February 2005.
 
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06-10-2016
'One of our members' letter to his MP on new government Faith School plans'

01-02-2016
'RE Classes and Curriculum in Harrow'