A Day in the Life of a Humanist

This was a text I prepared for a meeting of the Hastings Interfaith Forum, where I was due to speak alongside an Islamic representative and a Quaker.

As a Humanist my day to day life is much the same as many other Humans, so not very interesting. Humanists don't have any statutory rituals to observe. However, I do tend to be a creature of habit, since this leaves one free to devote energy to creative activities. Since I moved back to Hastings in December 2008, besides trying to organise a Hastings Humanists Group, I've also concentrated on my writing, in the hope of finishing some books before I become too decrepit. My interests are wide, including mathematics, chess variants, and history of ideas (see my website So I have interests enough to give me a sense of purpose for two or three lifetimes.

Since my daily routine is dull, I will concentrate instead on 'How I became a Humanist' which may be of more interest in this forum. Fortunately I never received intensive indoctrination in a religion. My father was a skilled factory worker, an engineers' patternmaker, and secretary of the local branch of his trade union. He kept up to date with the advances in science of his day, like radio, making a crystal set when a boy. He was influenced by socialist thinkers like H. G. Wells, and liked detective stories. My mother had a more religious background. She taught sunday school before her marriage, and always preferred the Adam and Eve story to evolution. Her main influence was Pilgrim's Progress rather than the Bible. She was a follower of Robert Owen and the Cooperative movement. She was fond of the saying, often attributed to Owen: "Everyone's queer save me and thee, and even thee's a little queer!"

The first five years of my life were spent in Woolwich during the second world war, though I remember it as a happy time. I passed the 11-plus, and was sent to a Grammar School near Tower Bridge, commuting every day by bus and train. There I learnt science, and got A-levels in Maths, Physics and Chemistry. We also had lessons in Religious Instruction, mainly as I recall about the Gospel according to St Matthew. One term I would be top of the class in that subject and the next I would be bottom. I now feel that it caused me a lot of unnecessary stress. I learnt more from reading books on logic and philosophy from Plumstead library. Writers such as Bertrand Russell, Julian Huxley, A. J. Ayer, Arthur Eddington and the science fiction of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. Also the Eagle comic.

After some clerical work I got into technical publishing as a proof reader, for the Society of Chemical Industry, Taylor and Francis, and the Institution of Chemical Engineers and later went freelance. At that time I just called myself an 'Unbeliever' and thought people could believe whatever nonsense they liked so long as they didn't force it on me. My first contact with organised Humanism was in 1980 when I worked near Conway Hall. I became a member of South Place Ethical Society and went to their lectures and concerts, but I only really became an active Humanist when I moved to Leicester in 1999 and found that Leicester Secular Society held weekly meetings, and the people there were very much on my wavelength. I ended up on the committee, setting up a website for the Society, recataloguing the library, and researching the history and archive of the Society.

It was probably after the 1997 Labour election win that I began to take a greater interest in religion, through the issue of young-earth creationists trying to subvert science teaching, and the related issue of religious bodies controlling schools, particularly when as part of Tony Blair's Academies scheme people like the businessman Peter Vardy began taking over schools to promote their evangelical ideas, and Blair seemed to endorse what they were doing. Then of course there was the resurgence of Islamic jihadism, particularly the 2001 atrocity in New York. It seemed important to ensure that science was defended against obscurantism, and that Humanist ideas should be brought to the fore. I also became a member of the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society.

So you will see that my beliefs are based on scientific knowledge, and I think theology is a vacuous subject. I agree very closely with the views expressed by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion.