Family and Community

The family is just as important to humanists as it is to everyone else, though humanists may have a fairly liberal and inclusive idea of what constitutes a family. The humanist idea of a good family, like their idea of a good community, will be based on how members treat and care for each other, including the more vulnerable members, and how much good it does in the world.

Community is important to humanists as a source of friendship and support, and some humanists find these particularly within the humanist community. But many humanists do not restrict their idea of community to those who share their beliefs, and have a strong sense of the wider “human community”.

Humanist families may practise their beliefs by, for example, sending their children to an inclusive school (rather than a faith school), or in withdrawing their children from school worship or Religious Education (though the latter would be unusual and might depend on the local RE syllabus or a teacher’s interpretation of it; most humanists do not object to their children finding out what others in our society believe, though they also welcome the inclusion of their beliefs in RE).

More generally, humanist parents encourage their children to think for themselves and to become responsible adults.

Humanist families may choose humanist ceremonies such as baby-namings, weddings or funerals. In some countries, particularly those where most adolescents are confirmed, young humanists participate in alternative humanist summer camps or classes, leading to humanist coming-of-age ceremonies. For example, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association runs a preparation course for “civil confirmation” taught by philosophers, which includes:

“ethics, human relations, human rights, equal rights, critical thinking, relations between the sexes, prevention of substance abuse, skepticism, protecting the environment, getting along with parents, being a teenager in a consumer society, and what it means to be an adult and take responsibility for your views and behaviour … There are 2 main rules in our course: 1) it is all right to be different, to dress differently, look different, and hold different views from the majority. And 2) One should be honest.”

The humanist community may practise its beliefs by developing courses and ceremonies for its members – and, usually, for anyone else who feels they are appropriate. It may come together in national organisations like the British Humanist Association, which “supports and represents” humanists and other non-religious people, or humanists may meet together locally.

Both of these are linked by the desire and need for humanists to live lives of integrity, according to their own beliefs. One impact on the wider community is the availability of a choice of ceremonies suited to the non-religious. Another is the greater visibility of humanists and a growing awareness that, for example, legislation on discrimination and freedom of belief protects humanists too.

The impact of belonging to a humanist family or community depends very much on time and place. In some societies it may be accepted as perfectly normal, while in others it once was or is still a source of tension or conflict with the wider community: there are countries where atheism is not accepted at all and where there is no visible humanist or atheist community, indeed such a thing would be dangerous.

In Britain today, to belong to a humanist family and / or community would be a confidence-building source of support, helpful in equipping one against some of the negative assumptions that still exist about atheism and Humanism.

The humanist tradition entails trying to do some good in the world and a commitment to working with others for the common good; many humanists work alongside religious believers in, for example, education and the “caring professions”, and in projects, campaigns and charities which aim to improve the world in some way. In many of these settings whether one has religious belief or not is less important than the task itself and may not come up as an issue.

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