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HUMANISM & SECULARISM LINKS
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 mothers
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 didnt
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 Christians
back in John Bunyans Pilgrim Progress, and Ive never looked
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.
Its 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 didnt 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 peoples
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 theres
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 thats 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 wouldnt live through the night. I didnt 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.