The meeting on 20th January is to discuss the way forward for the Shropshire Humanist Group. Unfortunately, business means that I can’t be there on the 20th. Here are a few thoughts that might be an input into the discussion.
One of the main purposes of a local humanist group is, I think, to make sure that the humanist point of view (or points of view – humanists don’t agree on everything) are heard locally. Of course that does not rule out other contributions such as letters to national newspapers, but I’m going to concentrate on the local area, as this is where we can have the most effect.
The local media give much attention to (usually very particular and not always mainstream) religious views on all sorts of matters, through newspaper columns, published letters and slots on radio programmes. I suggest we should aim, within our limited resources, to try to get as much attention as we can for the secular, humanist, scientifically-informed world view.
Here (in no particular order) are some suggestions as to how to go about it. I appreciate that it’s a counsel of perfection, given our resources, but it’s something to aim for. And remember you don’t need to be a paid-up humanist to have and to want to express a humanist point of view!
We should try to offer material (letters, articles, interviews and so on) on the humanist viewpoint whenever we can. Very often this would be in response to other people’s publications or to events that have been reported, but not necessarily – editors appreciate material that informs people of something novel or opens a whole new discussion.
When choosing topics to write about, it’s easy to select the issues that affect oneself, but when you are writing, you are writing for the general public who have widely varying interests. In particular, don’t forget young people, who have a much more secular outlook than older generations, and are the ones who will inherit the world that others are shaping.
When responding to a religious point of view, mention that you are responding to that person but not necessarily the organisation they represent. You are expressing the positive humanist view, not primarily contradicting the other person. On many issues, humanists and most religious people may well agree. On these matters we are not opposing religion – that should be reserved for the occasions when a religious view or practice is actually doing harm.
When contributing you should mention that you are a humanist – preferably in a way that cannot be easily edited out. However, unless it’s agreed by a humanist group or organisation, do not say you are writing on behalf of any group or organisation.
When writing for publication, be succinct, interesting and express the point clearly. Something will always be edited out, so expect a few sentences to be deleted.
There are people out there who will try to misrepresent what you say. They are not interested in the truth but in scoring points for themselves. So always try to express your meaning in a way that cannot easily be twisted.
There are other important details to bear in mind. Avoid going ‘over the top’ in your argument or tone of voice, or you may be taken for a crank, but at the same time don’t sound doubtful about matters that aren’t. Never say anything personal about anyone. Make sure your English is good – get someone to check for mistakes, if you can.
Don’t be disheartened by non-publication. Only a small proportion of letters ever gets published, but the mere act of sending contributions to the media informs editors and journalists that humanists exist and have relevant information to offer on important matters.
And finally, copy your letters, articles and interviews, published or not, to me so that I can post a selection on this blog. People googling local matters (particularly) will easily find your contribution. And our blog could easily be an important part of the local online media, given relevant content.