Good God, no God?

Stephen Fry – patron of Humanists UK – at London’s WorldPride on 7 July 2012Stephen Fry – patron of Humanists UK – at London’s WorldPride on 7 July 2012

This month's meeting of the East London Humanists at Wanstead Library will present an introduction to Humanism, led by local members. Chair of the group Paul Kaufman reports.

September witnessed a historic turning point. For the first time, over half those questioned for the British Social Attitudes survey said they have no religious belief. Millions of Londoners now lead good and meaningful lives without having a faith. Most probably feel no need to label themselves. However, the chances are they are Humanists.

So, why do some of us identify ourselves in this way? A label doesn't always sit comfortably with ideas of individuality. One reason, to paraphrase Humanist celebrity Stephen Fry, is simply to 'nail our colours to the mast' in the face of irrational attempts to push back progress.

Another is the opportunity it provides for meeting and engaging with other like-minded, open-minded people. Perhaps we take this for granted. However, some find themselves in a workplace where it is difficult to say you are not religious. Others brought up in religious families risk ostracism and the loss of their entire social network if they decide they no longer believe. For them, joining a group provides a haven of support and friendship.

Joining a group is also an effective way to press for change. Modern life involves increasingly complex issues, such as reproductive rights, a woman's right to choose and the right for the terminally ill to decide how they die. Humanists campaign for reform based on evidence and compassion and the right to do as we wish, provided it doesn't harm others. Likewise, in relation to issues such as equality, sexuality and gay marriage. These are all areas where views derived from ancient scriptures have previously held sway.

Humanism is not a set of dogmas. One way of describing it is as a philosophical framework. It helps to articulate views that most ethical, non-religious people hold, often without thinking about it. These include the importance of treating others as we would wish to be treated. This is a universal value Humanism shares with most religions. Another is a strong belief that this is the one life we have and the importance of making the most of it. Humanists also believe that science, evidence and reason are the most reliable tools for understanding the world and our place in it.

The increasing number of Humanist funerals and other ceremonies reflects a growing interest and awareness. But many people still only have a vague idea of what Humanism is or its positive benefits. Hopefully, our meeting this month will help provide some answers.

The East London Humanists' introduction to Humanism will take place at Wanstead Library on 27 November, 7.30pm (visitors welcome; free). Visit wavidi.co/elh


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