In Britain there must be in the order of 30,000 people belonging to humanist and secular ethical organisations. In Scotland, it is in the region of 8,000 people. What do they want from the organisations they join?
I have recently joined a small group developing teaching materials on Humanism for Religious and Moral Education (RME) teachers in Scottish schools. I had my first meeting with the group of fellow Humanists from the Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS) last Sunday as we discussed how to go about this. An immediate sensation is that we are, of course, re-inventing a wheel that has been developed over many decades by Humanist around the world. But perhaps we have something distinctive to “sell”.
Is this the capital of the cairn? If you set off north from Fort William in the West Highlands of Scotland, steering for the bridge over the sea to Skye, you will come across a layby on the left hand side where there are hundreds, very possibly thousands, of stone cairns. Most of them are small, admittedly but they have really covered the landscape for several hundred yards along the road. How it started I know not, but passers-by quickly get the hang of this. Just find some small stones and stick them on a pile. Or start a new one. Hey presto, we have a booming ritual, a new invented tradition.
Nothing exercises the ire of British humanists and atheists more than religionists’ monopoly of the “Thought for the Day” slot on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme. Less than 4 minutes’ long, I have found on visiting Humanist groups around the UK that this irritates British secularists in the same way as Americans get hot under the collar about God on the dollar bill. So, complaints ensued when, on Boxing Day (26th December), a guest editor on the programme was prevented from allowing an atheist to broadcast in that slot (though a Unitarian was recruited instead, and the atheist spoke an hour earlier). But developing a Humanist strategy to deal with this longstanding ban requires some understanding of how the BBC bureaucracy has worked since it was founded in the 1920s.
The funeral seems to be dying in Canada. It is not just the case that the funeral is becoming less religious, but that the actual concept is fading. This is giving Canadian secularisation a distinctive hue, and points one way in which nations with rapid religious decline may develop.
A noteworthy absentee from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is Kathleen Nott (1905-1999), who I came across recently. Nott was a poet, novelist, humanist and philosopher, and I think she deserves more attention.
I came across Nott because she wrote the introduction to a rare species of book – the autobiography of a female British humanist and atheist, Yvonne Stevenson, The Hot-House Plant: An autobiography of a young girl (London, Elek/Pemberton, 1976), that I bought (but failed to read until recently) in a second hand bookshop. Nott seems not to have written her own autobiography, but has left a considerable body of work of interest to the historian of humanism.
British adults “nones” (with no religion) are now clearly both non-believers as well as not belonging to a church or religious tradition. The results of a YouGov of 8,455 people, published today, indicate that British secularisation has a comprehensive non-religious character to it.
Whilst 41 per cent of Britons identify as Christian, 38 per cent respond as being of “no religion”. In age groups terms, “nones” are in the majority amongst 18-19 year olds, with 47 per cent amongst those in their 20s, and 44 per cent of those in their 30s. This evidence supports the 2001 and 2011 censuses, and the British Household Survey data since 1983, which show dramatic growth in the proportion of the people not identifying with any religion.