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!
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.
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.
- 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.
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!