As you are probably aware, we set up our gazebo and table of leaflets about humanism and secularism, on Saturdays in the warmer lighter months, on the same busy pedestrianized shopping street as do groups of Muslims and Christians of various hues, faith healers and political groups, gymnasts and high wire violin players.
People walking past can be seen to read our banners with definitions of humanism and secularism. Many stop briefly just to say they are glad we are there providing an alternative view. Others are well informed, maybe religious or perhaps wanting to have an intense discussion or brief debate. For all of this we need to be able to engage without getting angry or defensive, so it helps to be confident in our non-religious philosophy of life, and clear about the precepts of humanism and secularism.
Our new chair and long term stand manager, Penny Jaques, kindly organised a workshop for members to brainstorm and discuss best responses to the Frequently Asked Questions, such as:
- ‘How can you know what is right or wrong if you don’t read the bible?’
- ‘You humanists are wanting to stamp out religion aren’t you?’
Each member of the group was given one question or comment and the group members suggested ways to respond, and discussed approaches to what often feels like an aggressive confrontation.
One major general misunderstanding concerns secularism, as many people believe, and fear, that, in a secular state, religion would be banned. We can explain that secularism is basically ‘separation of church and state’, and in a secular society there would be freedom of belief or non-belief, all religions would be equal, and people of all religions or none could live together fairly – promoting equality between all citizens. Religion should play no part in law, medicine politics, or state-funded education. We have copies of National Secular Society’s ‘Secular Charter’ to hand to people who want to know more about the subject and we also give out the Humanists UK leaflets, ‘What is Humanism?’ and ‘Do you believe in here and now, not the hereafter?
Engaging with the public is fascinating, sometimes challenging and often heartening and enjoyable, and the work we do on the stand provides a useful outreach service on behalf of Humanism and Secularism in our area.