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You are in: Manchester > Faith > In Good we trust

In Good we trust

The gospel according to John is: there is no God. Like a growing number of people in Greater Manchester, John Coss believes that human beings can lead a good and ethical life based on reason not religion. Because John is a Humanist.

John Coss, Greater Manchester Humanists

'Atheism with ethics' - John Coss

"A Humanist is an atheist with ethics," explained John, 71, the secretary of the Greater Manchester Humanists (GMH).


- Humanist ideas began in Ancient Greece 6 BC
- many Greek philosophers including Epicurus believed in reason over religion
- the term 'Humanism' was coined in 1808
- famous Humanist thinkers were Voltaire, Einstein and Charles Darwin
- Humanism is excluded from UK religious education
- there are 20,000 recognised Humanists in the UK

Every month, John, along with dozens of other Humanists, gathers at the Friends’ Meeting House in Manchester not to worship but to debate ethical issues and the big questions such as evolution, abortion, euthanasia and the environment.

There are about 20,000 Humanists across the country, a growing number of people who want to lead a decent life whilst also being able to mark key life events such as weddings, funerals and new babies without the need for a religious ceremony.

To find out more, we asked John Coss a few questions:

First of all, what is Humanism?

"Humanism is the belief that we can live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs. Humanists make sense of the world using reason, experience and shared human values. We seek to make the best of the one life we have by creating meaning and purpose for ourselves, taking responsibility for our actions, and working with others for the common good."

Charles Darwin

Humanists follow Darwin's theory of evolution

So, you don't believe in God or any supernatural being...

"Humanists live their lives as if there is no God or gods intervening in the world or taking a personal interest in them. Some are strong atheists who believe that no gods exist. Others self-identify primarily as agnostics having no knowledge as to the existence of God: strong agnostics claim that nothing is known or can possibly be known about God."

What do you think of people who follow some kind of organised religion?

"It’s OK so long as they don’t harm other people or frighten the horses! Seriously, it depends on the beliefs and how they are followed: there are many deeply religious people who live good lives. Quakers, Unitarians, other liberal Christians, and Liberal Jews, probably have more in common with us on ethical issues than they do with fundamentalist Christians and Moslems, the Roman Catholic Church, or Orthodox Jews."

Lots of people don't believe in God. What makes Humanists different?

"My shorthand definition of a Humanist is 'an atheist with ethics'. Stalin was probably an atheist but he was no Humanist. Lots of people are Humanists without knowing it, you don’t need to belong to an organised group. The British Humanist Association (BHA) campaigns on behalf of all who consider themselves to be humanists or hold humanist views. Current issues are opposition to faith schools and getting Humanism as a belief system included in Religious Education in state schools. The BHA also trains celebrants who offer Humanist ceremonies to mark important life events such as weddings and funerals."

"My shorthand definition of a Humanist is 'an atheist with ethics'. Stalin was probably an atheist but he was no Humanist."

John Coss, Gtr Manchester Humanists

What are the origins of the Humanist movement in Manchester?

"Humanism in Britain had its origins in the 19th century free-thinker tradition, though the word 'humanism' was only adopted in the 1950s. The Greater Manchester Humanists were founded in 1992 (under a different name), since when we have met every month. We believe an earlier group was active in Manchester from the 1950s until the mid-1970s."

You meet regularly at the Friends' Meeting House. What sort of things do you talk about?

"At most of these meetings, we have an invited speaker on topics such as Humanism in Public Life, Juvenile Justice, The Basis of Ethics, and Humanist Chaplaincy. We also hold in-house debates, for example on abortion, and recently reviewed our course - Introduction to Humanism - prior to public presentation.  In October, Steve Jones will give the public Holyoake Lecture on ‘Is Human Evolution Over?’ "

There's been a lot about Charles Darwin this year. Where do you stand on evolution vs creationism?

"Most Humanists would consider the modern interpretation of Darwinian evolution as the best explanation for the development of human life."

Finally, how do you approach the ethics of death?

"Humanists do not believe in an afterlife. People live on in the memories of those who knew them and through what they did when they were alive. We believe there are circumstances in which voluntary euthanasia is morally justified and should be legal."

last updated: 07/05/2009 at 12:06
created: 07/05/2009

You are in: Manchester > Faith > In Good we trust

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