Thank goodness a book like this has come on the scene. This is out in 2 days time but luckily Michael was talking about it at the Cambridge Literary Festival on Sunday. I couldn’t attend as I was working in the bookshop, but luckily Heffers supplied the books for afterwards. So I found a very good reason to pop over to the Union building (only 2 minutes down the road from the shop) and nabbed one.
I am a humanist. I don’t often stand up and wave my hands around saying so. This does also make me an atheist but I don’t like to focus on my not believing in something, but rather my acknowledgement that people have great potential to contribute to the world in a positive way.
I have a Theology degree and used to teach Religious Studies at secondary level (so mostly Philosophy and Ethics). I was already a humanist when I took my degree. I taught Philosophy and Ethics because it got children to engage with big questions. I still mark the GCSE papers. The subject is still the only one where you actually have to give your own opinion – it is an essential part of your answer.
I was raised as a Christian and found my own way to humanism. But I have my own children now and thinking about what I say and don’t say about religion has been a hard one to consider. They both had humanist naming ceremonies which I wrote myself – I still wanted to mark their arrival in the world. But what about their own thoughts and beliefs?
I have always discussed religion, death, the afterlife and other Big Questions with them. Their interested in such topics started at a very early age which is quite normal – children are natural philosophers. They know people who are religious and they have had religious groups come into school. But what of humanism? Well the trouble with humanism is that it isn’t really a thing. It isn’t an organisation you can sign up to – although there is the British Humanist Association. But humanists can and do think different things to each other. That is one of the great things about it. I have how I feel and I know that it fits into the the description of humanism. It stops there. I don’t have to get a special badge or attend meetings with other humanists. I just am a humanist.
But this has meant describing it, and what it means for other humanists, a little tricky to my two, who are 6 and 8. This is why I am overjoyed with this book. It explains a little bit about the definition of humanism is and then has a snapshot of all sorts of different people talking about what it means to be a humanist and how they view life.
It would be a fantastic resource for schools for upper primary and lower secondary but should not be restricted to the confines of a classroom setting. It is engaging, interesting and simply fascinating. My son is just old enough to read it and understand most of it – and obviously we have discussed the bits he didn’t (like Stephen Fry’s use of the word capricious – always good, word learning). But even though my daughter is younger than the suggested reading age, we were able to read the section on naming ceremonies and look back at her own. I think this made the reasons of why I did write and organise those ceremonies a lot clearer for both of them.
This book is going to be something that we can all turn to again and again. I still support the learning and discussion of religion in school, but I am delighted that there is a well-written, well thought out resource that covers humanism too. Well done Wayland.