How I became a Humanist

by Sue Falder, Secretary, Shropshire Humanist Group

Like many others of my generation and background, I was brought up within a C of E Christian framework – that is to say it was an accepted part of life to have a reading from the bible every morning in school assembly followed by a hymn, and going to church was a respectable occupation.

My mother, much concerned with what was done, rather than what she herself would like to do, made sure we jumped through the baptism and confirmation hoops, and, since she was musical, attended church regularly to sing in the choir.

I, too, became part of the church choir, became utterly, tediously, familiar with the liturgy and marvelled at the singing and dramatic presentation of the vicar during services. I toyed with ideas of vocation and spirituality, but it dawned on me fairly early on that in fact there was an emptiness in the ritual unless you yourself were prepared to pretend otherwise; and God/religion apparently had no place in the ordinary everyday traffic of life.

Experience taught me that judging people according to pre-conceived notions of what one should or shouldn’t be or do was inappropriate, and I came to the realisation that `right’ and `wrong’ are complex and relative terms.

By the time I was eighteen I privately considered myself an atheist, and I haven’t changed that view since. I have no belief in a supernatural power, in any metaphysical experience which cannot or will not be explained scientifically, or in any version of life after death.

Knowledge of humanism came upon me gradually. I didn’t really recognise it as a philosophy of life or know about its history, but when we wanted a non-religious funeral ceremony for a member of the family I knew that humanist funerals were available. Subsequently I joined the BHA. and began to find out more about what humanism means and has meant.

The more I find out, the more at home I feel within the bounds of the word `humanist’.

Religion – A secular view

By Gordon Hillier

I prepare this note as a person who has only recently become a ‘humanist’ in formal terms – at least as I have interpreted the word ‘humanism’. That, in the simplest terms, is to believe ‘that man controls his own destiny’, In other words, there is not, nor ever has been, a ‘Supreme Being’ or any such supernatural influence upon this planet or upon any processes or living thing hereon.

Through most of my late teens and adult life I became increasingly sceptical of religious teaching of all denominations – for many reasons beyond the scope of these notes. Suffice to say that I accept logical and rational explanations of all events that have occurred on this earth – from the ‘beginning’ (the big bang?) to the present. This includes the evolution of the human race and its behaviour, both individually and collectively, through pre-history to today. The argument that certain things or happenings cannot be explained in purely scientific or holistic terms does not negate my opinion – there is still much to learn! In fact I will accept the idea of a ‘life force’, for want of a better term, which has not, and may never be, defined – but which may exist as a product of animal and human minds and as a product of evolution. After all, what is ‘instinct’ in both the lower animals and in human animals, what controls activities such as migration……?

So I embrace the concept of evolution in the human mind as well as body, from the development of territorial behaviour to protect the group by the dominant male, to the formation of tribes each with different behaviour and customs, and so on to ‘super-tribes’ and thence to nations in historic times. With this simple concept (perhaps expressed here in too simple terms), surely one can understand the progression of humanity to the present potentially catastrophic global situation, where human is pitted against human, nation against nation. The need to protect has now become, by development of a powerful intellect and the acquisition of knowledge about all earthly things, a tool for domination by the powerful over the weak, very often in the name of religion. And so ‘goodness1 and ‘badness’ can be ascribed to human actions, and the effects thereof, which may be good or bad for the society that is involved. Consequently, words such as ‘morality’ and ‘conscience’, which can be (and should be) defined in a nonreligious context, have been taken and exhaustively redefined in many different forms by ‘philosophers’ until the straight-forward meanings relating directly to ‘goodness’ or otherwise, has been obscured by jargon and religious hypocrisy.

Hence, whether a religious institution is Christian, Islamic, Buddhist or any other is of no consequence to me. It is evident to me that their doctrines and teachings give rise equally to goodness and badness in their followers, depending upon the degree of moderation or extremism brought about in the individual human. I cannot believe in the existence of a ‘Supreme Being, God or Gods’ or that such beings could directly control human actions in any way whatsoever. But of course, those with faith in such religion as they may believe in will be influenced to a greater or lesser degree by their teachers in that faith. Their subsequent actions may be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ with respect to other humans, this goodness or otherwise being explained and accepted as having been given by the god or gods of their faith.

With that background in mind, it may be understood that I have had no need for the philosophers and apologists to help my deliberations regarding the acceptance of humanism as my philosophy of life. My sympathy is with those who need to use religion as a comforter and a crutch. Such deliberations are behind me, and no feelings of confusion and doubt remain – I am content.

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