A Shropshire Humanist in South Africa

by Simon Nightingale, Chair, Shropshire Humanists

I have recently returned from a two week holiday in Cape Town where I was visiting my son, Sam, who is also a neurologist and is currently doing research there on HIV in the brain.

While there, I met an interesting group of people who call themselves DINK (the Afrikaans word for THINK). They’re all sceptical freethinkers and would consider themselves atheist or at least agnostic. They were keen to hear about humanism and so I gave them a talk. They did a recording of it and you can see it on YouTube.

However, it is similar to the talk I gave given to the Shrewsbury U3A which is rather better recorded.

Interestingly only 17% of the population of South Africa say that they live without religion (in the UK it’s >50%; among young people >70%). Virtually everyone else in South Africa is Christian.

The very large black African community are Christian of one kind or another. The largest group are known as the Church of Zion and it seems they’ve incorporated Evangelist Christian beliefs with a kind of ancient tribal ancestor worship. Very few South Africans call themselves humanist and indeed the members of DINK knew very little about humanism. I encouraged them to consider humanism which is a worldview with positive beliefs and values, rather than just being a negative atheist.

One member of DINK send me a poem that she wrote about my talk and, with her permission, I reproduce it below. I don’t think anybody else has honoured me with a poem – well, not since Keats.

Although the South African constitution is secular, the Christian religion has a very dominant influence and is openly taught in most schools, though this is technically illegal. Nevertheless times change and just remember that it wasn’t that many decades ago that the same applied in England.

If you visit other countries with developing humanism, it might be nice to have informal links with them, rather like a twinning process.

“On  Humanism” by Tersia du Plessis
(For Dr Simon Nightingale after a talk on humanism presented to DINK at Somerset West on 4th April 2019)

My faith was lost at thirty five.
(I was a devout, reformed Christian all my life.)
How the loss occurred is a convoluted tale.
Some see the loss as gain, but most as the ultimate fail.

I was never militantly cross, I think.
I (almost) never deliberately tried to make a stink.
There might be those who disagree,
Even some who at times have hated me.

Living without faith in my land of birth
Does cause a certain loss of mirth.
Calvin’s austere ideas are still very strong.
We never had a king to prove that new kind of pope wrong.

You guys had the likes of Shakespeare, Newton, Darwin and Locke.
Furthermore, you sent the puritans packing to a huge Atlantic rock
We got the Dutch, Huss, Calvin and the Huguenots.
To make things worse, YOU sent us Methodists and Scots!

I lost blind faith at thirty five.
Before I was never this alive.
Yet I daily struggle to live completely free
From shackles of staid, old-fashioned Christianity.

When crooked pastors raise the dead
Or remove rude spirits with insecticide
(Go watch it on the internet)
I want scream and rant and rave “They lied!!”

Thankfully one Englishman has not forgotten us.
A Nightingale talked and shone a light
(I’ll forgive your countrymen the missionaries fuss),
and inspired me to fight for truth with a different might.

In true humanist spirit, even in battle I’ll be kind.
I’ll engage with a kinder, gentler set of mind.
I’ll still fight ignorance and lies and fear,
But I’ll do it while trying hard to really hear.

Perhaps then a swallow will circle in the room,
And dispel blind faith and dogma’s gloom.

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