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HUDSON AT LARGE: Giving a voice to the non-religious
“A VOICE for the non-religious in Swindon,” says the description on the front page of the Swindon Humanists’ website.
If the latest surveys are anything to go by, about a third of us fall into that category, but are they humanists?
“Most definitions,” said Swindon Humanists committee member Neil Davies, “will say we believe this life is the only life we have; there is no supernatural element to consider, and that we should act accordingly.
“Don’t live with any hope of going on to a life beyond this one. This is it. Make the most of what we have now.”
The views of Neil, a 40-year-old illustrator from Liden, are echoed by other members of the organisation.
They include Nikki Dancey, 35, an Old Town music teacher.
She said: “It’s a way of having an ethical approach to life, and believing in a structure to life which is human-based rather than religious.
“It allows us to build our morals on what we can touch and see rather than looking to any higher power or book of other people’s divine inspirations.”
Belinda Neal, a 34-year-old hospital ward clerk who is also from Old Town, said: “It’s just a grounding in the world that you’re in. It’s looking around you and realising that what we have is all there is, and asking how to make the best of it as a person – for people and with people.”
The Swindon group began just over a year ago and meets monthly at The Wheatsheaf in Newport Street.
It’s affiliated to the British Humanist Association, whose supporters include Stephen Fry, Sir Patrick Stewart, journalist Polly Toynbee and singer-songwriter Tim Minchin.
Sir Patrick once said: “The human is the best we have... and all we have.”
But why, apart from fellowship with like-minded people, is there a need for humanists to get together?
Neil said: “Religion is culturally a big part of society, and as humanists we would like to highlight the fact that religion gets a lot of advantages that it might not be deserving of.
“In the House of Lords, for example, I think there are 24 bishops who are automatically appointed to the House of Lords. That seems unfair and not justifiable by rational means.
“One of the things I get annoyed about is when people talk about militant atheists.
“We’re not that militant – we just speak out and argue our points.
“We don’t go around killing people like militant religious people do.
“It’s simply putting out arguments for listening to evidence; rational thought rather than tradition or, ‘This is my religious belief, therefore it trumps everything.’ “We don’t think religion trumps human rights or animal rights, for example.
“People can believe whatever they want, but when those beliefs start to be imposed on other people and affect other people’s lives, that’s wrong and should be challenged.”
Although quite new, the group’s achievements include placing a humanist on the council’s Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education, which helps to set the RE curriculum.
Neil said: “It’s very important that even in a religious education class the point has to be made that you don’t have to be religious – that there are other viewpoints.”
Volunteers are currently being trained to talk to pupils about humanism.
Other humanist campaign issues include opposition to faith schools and advocacy for a rational approach to assisted dying.
Neil said: “I think the religious viewpoint clouds the issue and obscures things that are staring you right in the face, such as the literal suffering of people at the end of their life.
“Any rational person would say, ‘Let’s end this suffering in the most compassionate way possible.’”
All are welcome to attend Swindon Humanist meetings, details of which can be found at swindonsh.wordpress.com and on the group’s Facebook page.
Neil said : “It’s important for people to realise that we control ourselves.
“We’re in an ongoing adventure and there is no book telling us what to do or set of laws written down.
“We have to decide that for ourselves, and that’s what it’s all about.”
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