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29 October 2014

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Humanist wedding ceremony
A Humanist wedding ceremony

How I became a Humanist

It wasn't until I was in my mid-fifties that I realised I was a Humanist - and had unknowingly been a Humanist since my teens, writes Vince Chainey.

Fact file

  • According to the 2001 census, at least 15.5% of the population is non-religious, making this the second largest "belief" group in the UK.
  • The Humanist vision is "A world without religious privilege or discrimination, where people are free to live good lives on the basis of reason, experience and shared human values."
  • Famous Humanists include scientist Albert Einstein, feminist Gloria Steinem, author Margaret Atwood and philosopher Bertrand Russell.
  • Humanists trace their roots to the rational philosophy first created in the West in ancient Greece. Many regard Socrates as the first and greatest of the Humanists.

My parents were not particularly religious, although probably believed in a God and an afterlife as did most of their generation, so they sent me to a Church of England school.

I was a choirboy and my vicar talked me into becoming the server at our local church, being the boy to carry the cross in front of the choir and then helped the vicar at the altar.

I soon realised that the correctness of the ritual was more important to him than the compassion, which I, as a young sensitive caring lad had been led to believe was religion.

Rejecting religion

I looked at other religions and became interested in science, evolution, and astronomy, as well as history which showed me that religions had been the cause of much anguish and wars, so I rejected religion.

It wasn't until I was in my fifties that a colleague died and his family organised the usual Church of England funeral. I was so disgusted that the vicar had said nothing about his achievements in life or his wonderful character and only talked about God and an afterlife - everything that my friend did not believe in.

A year later I attended a Humanist funeral ceremony and was so impressed by the contrast. I enquired more about Humanism and realised I had been unknowingly a Humanist since my teens.

Vince Chainey
Vince Chainey

I joined the local group which has been going for the past 30 years and has about 50 members which is democratically run by a committee elected yearly.

What it means to be a Humanist

Humanism is a life stance for those who can no longer believe in the various mythical religions of the world, but are willing to base their conviction on respect for human kind as moral beings.

It is a philosophy of life based on rational, logical reason, and our common humanity and advocates the application of scientific method to solve the problems of human welfare and our happiness, rather than relying on dogmatic ancient religions which divides societies.

On a practical level, many people find it hypocritical to go through a religious ceremony when they live their lives without religion.

There are humanist groups all over the country with trained, accredited officiants who perform dignified non-religious funerals, memorials, weddings, same sex affirmations and baby naming ceremonies.

These are widely respected and are evermore popular as society is becoming more secular with over a third of the population now non-religious.

Ethical and moral code

Humanists believe that people can live a happy, just, and fulfilling life based on an ethical and moral code, without worshipping a supernatural god or believing in the promise of a better after life, or the threat of eternal punishment for disbelief.

We have a concern for humanity, as well as for all other creatures and the environment. As this is our only life, we should do all we can to make it happier and better for everyone.

We recognise that moral values have evolved with human society to be the best way for humans to live together on our planet. They are founded on human nature and experience alone and not given to us by a supernatural being.

Open society

We accept and value freedom of thought in an 'open society' and campaign against religious privilege, and the connection between national government and state church, collective worship in schools, and that religious education should be balanced to include all world philosophies and religions.

The Humanist groups are affiliated to the British Humanist Association which was formed just over 100 years ago, but is not a mass membership organisation.

The local group meet in Norwich each month at the Friends Meeting Hall. We have guest speakers and discussion evenings as well as social events. We hold exhibitions and campaign against religious privilege, but do not evangelise.

The Norfolk Humanist Group Meet on the third Thursday of the month at The Friends Meeting House, Upper Goat Lane in Norwich. For more information see the website on the top right-hand side of this page.

last updated: 02/06/05
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