I was very pleased to see this story in today’s Guardian. It’s taken a lot of campaigning to allow humanists to be part of chaplaincy teams of any kind, so this is something to celebrate.
I am more than a little confused however, by the related article from Andrew Brown in Comment is Free
Humanism is increasingly the default position in England when people don’t want to think about theology or religious questions. It has replaced “C of E” as the translation of a muffled “don’t know” in questions about religious identity. It’s not the same as atheism, which implies a much sharper-edged conception of identity.
Apart from the careless substitution of ‘Britain’ with ‘England’ – let’s not go there – I think Andrew Brown greatly overestimates public awareness of Humanism.
I wish it were more. As a humanist celebrant I rarely meet anyone who actively identifies as humanist, which is why my reaction on these occasions is one as much of surprise as delight.
I also take issue with Andrew’s notion that Atheism has a ‘sharper-edged conception of identity’. Atheism amounts to no more than a certainty that gods don’t exist.
Secular humanists can be atheist or agnostic, and for most of us, what we believe in is much more important than what we do not.
My lift-pitch version goes like this: Humanists believe that we should behave towards others as we would like them to behave towards us; we believe that we can lead good and worthwhile lives guided by reason and compassion and we believe – as the late Jo Cox MP said in her maiden speech to parliament – that there are more things that unite humanity than divides it.
One day, Andrew Brown may well be right, and Humanism will be a ‘default position’, but not because people don’t want to think about religion.
On the contrary, it will be because people have thought about religion, and want to be part of a movement that celebrates the values that unite humanity, rather than divide it.