Meeting report: Simon Nightingale’s Introduction to Humanism

Simon_NightingaleA talk by Simon Nightingale at the Shropshire Humanist Group Meeting, March 17th.

The first meeting in our new venue, the University Centre in Shrewsbury’s quayside, was full with standing room only for Simon Nightingale’s talk “An Introduction to Humanism”.

After defining what we mean by life stance and religion, Simon showed with statistics that that living without religion was now common, particularly in younger people, and becoming more common. He explained with examples our core humanist beliefs. Firstly, naturalism, which is the philosophical concept that only natural laws and forces are at work in the work, rather than supernatural forces. So it follows that humanists deny that is a hidden transcendental realm of existence with gods, ghosts, spirits etc or, of course, an afterlife. Secondly he discussed, with entertaining examples, our core humanist belief that moral capacity is intrinsic to human nature.

Simon went on to talk about the core humanist value of reason, explaining that discovered truth (using rational thought and the scientific method) always trumps revealed truth (obtained from a holy book or by divine revelation). He briefly reviewed our social attitudes, including our commitment to human rights (both nationally and internationally) and our provision of humanist ceremonies and humanist pastoral work (i.e. secular chaplains). He explained our wish for “state secularism”, so that all beliefs and religions are on a level playing field, but he emphasised that we were not against religion per se and indeed we strongly support religious freedom and oppose religious discrimination.

He ended with an account of how humanists also have “spiritual feelings”, for example in response to great art, the majesty of nature or profound emotions, but that we believe these originate in our minds, our brains, rather than coming from some divine influence. Simon ended with an explanation of how humanists consider the question “What is the meaning of life?” As with spirituality, he showed that meaning and value are human constructs and so can be understood by anyone, rather than needing a priest or holy book.

We had invited many people with religious faith, for example from the field of Religious Education and Interfaith Forums, so Simon was keen to disabuse them of the commonly held myths about humanism and others living without religion. These myths include that we are few in number, that we are against religion, that we have no morality or sense of spirituality or that our lives are without meaning and value. However the talk was mainly for those who live without religion and we were very pleased in the large number of attendees who asked to be kept on our mailing list or were keen to attend our planned Humanism Course later this year.

In our next meeting on 21st April, we shall be discussing some of the issues arising from Simon’s talk.

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