Why I became a Humanist

Here we have collected a number of short pieces by some of our committee members giving their story of why they became a humanist.  We hope you will enjoy hearing about our backgrounds, and if you feel inspired by them, please feel free to leave a reply at the bottom of this article giving your story/thoughts! (Please try to keep it below a couple hundred words if possible). We would like to encourage more discussion on our website, so would really appreciate your input.

Dr Simon Nightingale:
I was a devout Christian until 17 years old and then, after losing my faith, I became an “angry atheist” – a bit of a pain in the neck! After attending a wonderful humanist funeral 15 years ago, I decided to find out about humanism and realised that I had always been a humanist!  So I joined Humanists UK (called the BHA back then) largely to support their campaigns to promote secularism, for example in schools and parliament. I felt much happier as a humanist than an atheist – I now had positive beliefs and values.
Then I heard about Shropshire Humanists (back then called the Shropshire Humanist Group) and I really enjoyed their talks and especially meeting like-minded people. Over the last 10 years humanism has played a increasingly important part of my life, training to be a funeral and wedding celebrant, a humanist school visitor, a non-religious Pastoral Carer (a sort of humanist chaplain) and a member of the Shropshire Humanists committee, promoting our ideas, supporting humanist campaigns and developing dialogue with religious or interfaith groups.
I wish that humanism had been around when I was 17!

Sue Falder:
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 (now Humanists UK) 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’, which embraces all with a secular outlook who want to help enrich and support their communities.

Carol Seager:
I didn’t actually become a humanist, I have always been a humanist, I just didn’t know it. It wasn’t until I attended a talk by Simon Nightingale on ‘An introduction to
Humanism’ at the United Reform Church in Church Stretton, late November 2016, that it all fell into place.
My mother was a ‘Church goer’ and as a child I was dragged along to church for good measure. Religion was never talked about in our house, it was just part of the Sunday ritual, along with Songs of Praise. Something to be endured. Although I could recite the service by heart, it didn’t mean anything to me, I felt at odds with it all, I didn’t believe, I didn’t belong.
As I grew up my church attendance dwindled to nothing. I felt relief at not going to church mixed with terrible guilt. I didn’t tell anyone I didn’t believe in God. I was ashamed and confused. I felt that I was a good, caring person and that ought to be enough. I put religion to the back of my mind and just got on with my life.
Fast forward to November 2016. As I sat and listened to Simon I realised he was putting into words everything l felt and believed inside. The relief and joy I felt at realising so many others shared the same thoughts and values as myself was incredibly uplifting. I was about to embark on a new chapter in my life and knew that my future lay in connecting with like minded people. With humanism.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was soon going to need my new found humanist friends more than I could possibly have imagined.

 

Margaret Cann:

  • Painful memories of my parents’ Christian funerals which seemed to describe people I didn’t recognise, with very little mention of their lives, their loves and their achievements.
  • A professional life spent challenging stereotypes and fighting for equal opportunities within many different environments.
  • Hearing Humanism mentioned occasionally and making a mental note to find out more.
  • Hearing Simon speak and feeling I was finally amongst friends – people who believed in honesty, kindness, equality, fairness to all, and who were prepared to stand up and challenge unfairness and cruelty in the world. People who believed that this is the only life we live and wish to live every moment fully, to the best of their ability, in the here and now.
  • Finally, sitting down and reading about Humanism and being amazed that I hadn’t found it earlier.

 

Hollie Whild:
I do remember religion being a part of my life growing up – my grandparents were very active members of their church, and at primary school we sang hymns and attended assemblies held by the local vicar. However, I don’t remember ever truly believing there was a ‘greater being’ watching over me or influencing the world around me.
As I grew up, my various connections with organised religion gradually diminished. Throughout school, I found myself more and more interested in the sciences – leaning towards a more naturalistic worldview. I was quite happy without religion, and that was that.
However, whilst at university I saw a poster for a talk being given Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association (now Humanists UK). I can’t remember exactly what it was that made me want to attend, but something clicked whilst I was listening to Andrew’s talk.
I went on to research more about Humanism and found that it completely aligned with my philosophy on life, and it was interesting to see so many “celebrities” that I respected also associating themselves with Humanism such as Stephen Fry, Robin Ince, Professor Jim Al-Khalili and Tim Minchin. However, I did not class myself as an “active” humanist.
This changed when I returned home from university, and my Mum spotted an advert in the paper for a talk being given by the Shropshire Humanist Group. I attended and immediately felt that this was a group that I could become a part of. I attended the Introduction to Humanism course run by the group, and it was wonderful to have meaningful discussions about big topics such as morality and the meaning of life with people who seemed “on my wavelength”. I signed up to become a member and haven’t looked back!

Two excellent free on-line Humanism courses

Simon Nightingale writes:

For some of you, life maybe even busier than normal, continuing to work while keeping as safe as you can. Some of you may also have your school-age children at home or be supporting those who are self isolating or socially restricted.

Others will have more spare time on your hands and to you I’d like to suggest these two free highly-regarded and interesting on-line courses on Humanism, created by Humanists UK.

Both courses run over six weeks and involve about 2 hours a week of reading and watching videos. No previous knowledge of Humanism or philosophy is required for either course. Some people prefer one, some the other, but most people have enjoyed doing both.

I know both courses as I’m the on-line Mentor and support the course participants.

The two courses are:

HUMANIST LIVES with Alice Roberts
https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/humanist-lives
Scroll down this link and join the course that starts on 30th March or wait until the next course is announced.

This course covers the main aspects of Humanism presented in the form of the personal views of different Humanists.

INTRODUCING HUMANISM: NON-RELIGIOUS APPROACHES TO LIFE with Sandi Toksvig
https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/introducing-humanism
Scroll down this link and join the course that started on 17th February or wait until the next course is announced.

This course is a bit different as it considers various Humanist issues from a philosophical rather than a personal viewpoint.

In both courses there is an opportunity to post comments or ask questions, but this entirely voluntary. However, if you join either course, do at least post a comment to say Hi to me and that you are from Shropshire Humanists!

Noel Conway on radio, talking about empathy and his novel

On Sunday 2 FebruaryNoel Conway gave the weekly “Pause for Thought” on BBC Radio Shropshire’s Sunday morning “Faith and Ethics” program.

Noel is well know to us as an active member of Shropshire Humanists and recognized nationally as an advocate for a change in the law on assisted
dying, a cause of particular relevance to people like him with advanced Motor Neurone Disease. As well as his legal campaigns, he has found time to
write and publish short stories and novels, using voice recognition software as he now has no use of his limbs. To hear his moving talk, listen here between 1.24 and 1.30 on the time line.

Hot potatoes 2020: humanists speak their minds

Another annual Open Mike – Hot Potato evening, which has been such fun over the last few years. The idea is that anybody can speak about anything for 5 to 7 minutes (with or without PowerPoint). The only requirement is that the subject fascinates them and they have to fascinate us! If you’d like to give one of these short presentations, contact Simon Nightingale.

Here is a recording of some of last year’s presentations.

Books on Humanism bequeathed to the Shropshire Humanist Library from the estate of Jonathan Cutbill

Simon Nightingale writes: Geoff Hardy, a member of Shropshire Humanists and a long standing friend of Jonathan Cutbill who died earlier this year, has kindly given 16 books on humanism to the Shropshire Humanist Library.

Geoff showed me around Jonathan Cutbill’s lovely terrace house in Castlefields. I’ve never seen so many books in a private house. Room after room was filled to the roof with many racks of shelving full of ordered and catalogued books. Over many years Jonathan had acquired an extraordinary and indeed definitive collection of LGBT publications. Some rare volumes are of great historical interest. The University of London has been delighted to accept them at Senate House where they will be an important resource for research.

As well as a bibliophile, Jonathan was an ardent and well known defender of LGBT rights and co-founder of Gay’s the Word bookshop in the Bloomsbury district of London. More about his life can be read in this obituary.

Shropshire Humanists, like all humanist groups, strongly supports human rights, including LGBT rights locally, nationally and internationally. Details of Humanists UK’s LGBT community and campaigning can be found here.

We are very grateful to Jonathan Cutbill’s generosity and to Geoff Hardy for arranging his donation. Those who want to see the full list of books available in the Shropshire Humanist Library, can contact our treasurer Peter Cann.

A modest selection of books to borrow or buy will always be available at our monthly Thursday evening events at University Centre Shrewsbury.

Shropshire Humanists Show Garden: HOPE #BelieveInTomorrow

Forecasts of torrential rain and gale force winds were not enough to dampen the high spirits and enthusiasm of the dedicated team of local Humanists as they constructed our third Humanist Show Garden.

Competition this year was tough and the overall standard among the show gardens was very high. We were delighted to be awarded a Silver Gilt medal and celebrated the success of our good friends Pippa and Warren who won the top prize, and our lovely friends in the next show garden, Ben and Emma, who received a gold.

We had many visitors admiring our third Shropshire Humanists show garden. Many people were interested in Humanism and took pamphlets and over 25 were keen to join our emailing list.

The garden, designed by our Shropshire Humanist member Carol Seager, was constructed by her and a merry gang of local humanists. The wonderful design, complying with this year’s theme of “New Horizons”, was transformed by Carol and her team into a stunningly beautiful, ingenious and spiritual garden.

Carol Seager would like to thank the many people who have helped make this possible. Not only the construction team but the many people who have generously donated money, supported the fabulous Plant and Cake Sale, helped resource plants and construct the water feature etc. Most important was the support, encouragement, and love of some very special friends when the going got tough.

We all enjoyed it immensely. Another successful humanist collaboration.

The Shropshire Humanists garden draws its inspiration from the symbolism of two different cultures, Japanese and Maori, to inspire a global message of hope. The Maori Koru, representing new beginnings and rebirth, combines with the contemplative qualities of the Japanese Zen garden to inform us of different cultures and places, helping us to broaden our horizons.

In Maori culture the Koru (spiral) represents the fern frond opening and bringing life and purity to the world, along with a strong sense of regrowth, new beginnings and new journeys. The Japanese Zen garden represents the natural world in miniature; a place to contemplate the intimate essence of nature and to meditate about the true meaning of life.

Bounded by steel edging, the white quartz gravel spiral of the Japanese Zen garden vividly contrasts and complements the lush green foliage of the Maori Koru. At the centre where the spirals meet is a large portal, similar to both the Japanese Torii and the Maori Waharoa traditional gateways. The rainfall water feature forms a symbolic division between two worlds but also provides an opening onto new horizons. The flock of white birds in rising flight through the portal join the two worlds.

The Golden Ratio spiral is a feature of many natural forms. Succulents illustrating spiral phyllotaxis follow the curve of the Zen garden. The colour palette has been limited to green and white with accents of red to echo the vermillion red of the central arch. The garden also illustrates how both minimalist planting and abundant, dense planting can be used to dramatic effect. Both New Zealand and Japan are island nations with similar climates ranging from subtropical through temperate to subarctic and they share similar flora such as ferns, mosses and grasses. Some plant species, palms, tree ferns, aloe and agave which thrive in these countries, can be grown with care in the U.K. Plants from around the globe have been selected for their structural properties and their suitability to thrive at the limits of a temperate climate.

The garden can be viewed as a metaphor for understanding our cultural differences, discovering our common humanity and looking forward with hope to a new horizon where tolerance, reason and fairness prevail.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow “.

20 June: Event to mark International Humanist Day on 21 June

We shall be celebrating International Humanist Day with short talks on various aspects of humanism through the world, including speakers’ experiences of humanism in New Zealand, Germany and South Africa. We will also be talking about the important work of the Humanists International. We shall also review the hostile attitude to humanism in various places round the world, including the death sentence for humanism in some countries.

Thursday 20 June at 7.30 pm, University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ. All welcome.

You are very welcome to come for tea and coffee from 7 pm to meet and chat with other members and guests. A voluntary donation is requested towards room hire and refreshments.

 

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Where do we get our morals? (audio)

A discussion between a Christian and a Humanist in front of a packed house, organised by Shropshire Humanists, between Simon Nightingale (Chair of Shropshire Humanists) and Peter Bellingham (Pastor at The Well, Shrewsbury).

Ludlow and Marches Humanists on 19 March: “Losing My Arrogance, a tale in Three Hats”

Ludlow and Marches Humanists: ‘Losing my Arrogance, a tale in Three Hats’. A talk by Andy Boddington, Shropshire Councillor for Ludlow North.

Tuesday 19 March 2019, 7.30pm, at The Friends Meeting House, St Mary’s Lane, Ludlow SY8 1DZ. All welcome. For more information email: rocheforts@tiscali.co.uk

Please note that  this is not arranged by Shropshire Humanists.

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