“Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.” – Bertrand Russell
It would seem, after careful study and a few cautious conversations, I am in fact not the simple atheist I once thought I was. Funny, after my rather dramatic renouncement of Catholicism when I was sixteen I assumed I was about done with questions of faith. Apparently not.
Before I step any further into this subject and, indeed, before anyone with a strong sense of belief chooses to read on please know this: my lack of faith is not an accusation. It is my choice and my talking about it here is not meant to offend, ridicule or demean any person with any spiritual perspective.
I was born and raised Roman Catholic, guided by my mother as my grandmother looked on and smiled. I grew up attending church services every Sunday. I was Baptised, took Holy Communion and later my Confirmation. I knew god as an invisible, shapeless presence watching me through the eyes of a Priest. I had faith in the way only a child can; the unquestioning belief in something they do not understand, but take comfort in. Then in my teens I recognised my absence of faith as the traits of an atheist, stopped attending mass and, having little to no education in other philosophies I left it at that.
I didn’t encounter the idea of Humanism until a few years ago and didn’t read too much into it then. As part of the equality and diversity training I received at work I took a test on my own beliefs. When the results identified me a literary humanist rather than a plain old atheist, I was a little confused but didn’t think much of it. Having spent the majority of my life under a religious label I was content without one anyway. Then someone put me on a list called simply ‘humanists’ a few weeks ago and curiosity kicked in.
“We work on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical lives on the basis of reason and humanity. We promote Humanism, a secular state, and equal treatment of everyone regardless of religion or belief.”
The homepage for the British Humanist Association (BHA) is the first (non wiki) link that comes up in Google, so naturally I clicked on it and the above passage is highlighted at the top. Their ideologies sit far better than the ones I grew up with did. I was never very comfortable with the idea that the only reason the people around me were being kind was out of some internalised fear of not getting into Heaven. Nor of the prospect of being forgiven in secret for something you should never have done in the first place.
The idea of Humanism is hardly a new one, with its roots in 6th-century Greece. Ideas that began with a turn away from myth and tradition and towards human reason and free thinking instead, have evolved into a movement which not only looks to science in our quest to understand the universe, but fights for equality as well.
And as most of my followers will be aware, I am a rather large fan of that sort of thing.
I find myself now coming to terms with the fact that, while I do not believe in god, I do believe in some things. Like the fact everyone has a right to an education – that faith should not be simply passed down, or decided upon on the geography of your birth. It should be a choice, made by each person and motivated by discovery, not by fear.
I am a good person not because I believe in an after life, but because I believe every human being should be treated with kindness and respect. My ethics are not drawn from a book or scroll, but from human value. I suppose I should know by now that self discovery doesn’t have a timer on it. You don’t get to a point in your life where all your knowledge and ideals become fixed in place but still, I didn’t expect to be questioning my belief system for a second time.
Here’s a little list of some places you can learn more about Humanism: