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29 October 2014

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You are in: Suffolk > Faith > Features > Humanism

A Humanist wedding


What do people who have no faith do when everyone else is celebrating a big occasion such as Christmas? That was the first question I wanted to ask when I paid a visit to Suffolk Humanists, in December.

While atheism is merely the absence of belief, humanism is a positive attitude to the world, centred on human experience, thought, and hopes.

Most humanists would agree that:

A Humanist greeting card
  • There are no supernatural beings
  • The material universe is the only thing that exists
  • Science provides the only reliable source of knowledge about this universe
  • We only live this life - there is no after-life, and no such thing as reincarnation.
  • Human beings can live ethical and fulfilling lives without religious beliefs
  • Human beings derive their moral code from the lessons of history, personal experience, and thought

At one of their regular meetings in Ipswich, the Suffolk Humanists were being filmed about their convictions for the Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource Group – for a film about the faiths of Suffolk that was to be shown in the county’s schools.

Richard Stock was a first-time visitor to the group. I asked him why he felt the need to attend a Humanist meeting?

“For a number of years now I have been a very strong atheist and I have concerns over the growth of religion in public life. I believe in one life. I don’t believe in God, in an after-life, and I felt I needed to formalise something.

The Humanists are saying what I feel. I think it’s good for people with like-minded views to get together”.

Although it is now common to hold non-religious weddings (and indeed the Humanists have licensed celebrants to conduct such ceremonies),  what about the other “rites of passage?"

Well, in addition to baby-naming occasions, it is possible to have a humanist funeral. Marie Howarth explained to me how, fifteen years ago, she organised the one for her late husband.

“My husband was a lay preacher but we both came round to this idea (…. that you don’t have to have God to be good….) and it was his funeral that introduced me to Humanists.


"When I told the funeral director I wanted a non-religious funeral he said “yes, dear we know all about that - we have a retired vicar that does a very quiet service,” And I thought – you are not listening!

"It was extremely important to have (a Humanist)  sort of ceremony. It would not have meant a thing to have a god, a spiritual gone-on-to-a- better-place sort of thing. We had music, readings,  a celebration of his life  - which is more usual in all funerals now , but I think humanists started  this”.

So – what does a humanist who doesn’t believe in Jesus, the Virgin Mary or God, do at Christmas time?

Those I spoke to included a combination of those who just enjoy a good party, those who use the occasion to mark family and friendship, those who celebrate “Yule tide” - and one who just ignores the whole thing!

All present agreed that they respected the right of others to have a belief or faith – but that it just wasn’t right for them.

last updated: 11/06/2008 at 13:10
created: 22/12/2006

You are in: Suffolk > Faith > Features > Humanism

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