Humanist Identity and Belonging

There are few overt signs or demonstrations of humanist belief. Humanists dress like most other secular people of their own societies and there are no obligatory rituals or observances. There is no humanist authority expecting and imposing moral codes or certain kinds of behaviour. On the other hand, to declare oneself a humanist is to commit oneself to a particular ethical worldview, one which demands reflection and a concern for others, as in the humanist maxim: “Think for oneself; act for others”. “Belonging” is an internal and personal matter for humanists, unlikely to be expressed in any obvious external or symbolic way.

Humanists may express their beliefs by, for example, sending their children to an inclusive school (rather than a faith school), and by not participating in prayer or worship. They may choose to celebrate life events with humanist ceremonies such as baby-namings, weddings or funerals. They may simply declare that they are humanists, or they may join a local humanist group or a national organisation like the British Humanist Association, which “supports and represents” humanists and other non-religious people. Or they may simply express their beliefs by trying to live a good life according to their humanist values.

What “belonging” means to a humanist depends very much on time and place. In some societies being a humanist is accepted as perfectly normal, while in others it can lead to discrimination 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 to belong to, indeed such a thing would be dangerous.

In Britain today, an individual identifying as a humanist and belonging to a humanist family or group or organisation will find reassurance and support of various kinds, philosophical and practical. Joining the humanist community can provide companionship with like minds and help to build the confidence needed in a society that, though very tolerant and in many ways secular, still sometimes expresses negativity or ignorance towards atheism and Humanism.

The humanist community will feel it really belongs in society when its organisations are treated in the public sphere with the same consideration and respect as is accorded to faith groups.

Very little is formally expected of a humanist – humanists do not have to join anything, read anything, perform any rites, or go to particular places on particular days. Informally, when people decide they are humanists (and that is all it takes) they are committed to a worldview that is secular, moral and human-centred.

There are no identifying marks or symbols or dress codes for humanists. Some may choose to wear a “Happy Human” badge.

Humanists are, therefore, not easily recognised. Additionally, it is still considered impolite or unduly provocative in some circles to discuss religious or sceptical beliefs and some humanists may, for that or other reasons, choose to treat their beliefs as a private matter. On the other hand, some humanists will be recognised because they have declared themselves humanists (for example when filling in an official form or choosing a school), or because they have chosen to affirm rather than to swear a religious oath or to have a humanist ceremony for a life event or to opt out of a religious ceremony or festival, or by their membership of a local or national humanist organisation.

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