By Dave Pegg
Dave is a Schools Work Leader with the Programme for Applied Christian Education (PACE) – a Christian schools work charity established in 1994 who partner with local churches in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) to serve primary and secondary schools.
Stereotypes can be so unhelpful. As a Christian, I know that many people could assume that I’m anti-scientific and unintelligent, and hate people who are part of the LGBTQI+ community. I also know that atheists can sometimes be stereotyped as cerebral, antagonistic and argumentative. So I love it when I get to visit a secondary school Religious Studies lesson with Humanist friends to compare and contrast our worldviews, and to help people get to know each of us and our stories. Every time we do it we’re surprising people, and there are always lots of brilliant questions from the young people, who are often keen to think about the big questions of life, meaning and purpose with us.
I work for PACE (pace.org.uk) – a Christian schools work charity that teams up with people from local churches to visit schools and help everyone explore the Christian faith. The lesson we have developed with David Warden, Chairman of Dorset Humanists, has been a uniquely valuable one that we are able to offer local schools, and it’s always well-received. Significantly, this has all come from a friendship that has grown between myself and David – one where we have been increasingly understanding one another’s beliefs, values and opinions about all sorts of things. We frequently disagree, especially when it comes to questions about God and other things science can’t observe, but we are able to disagree agreeably and we thoroughly enjoy asking each other questions and thinking things through over a coffee.
On one occasion during a lesson, a lad in the back row threw his hand up when he realised I was a Christian and said, “You’re a Christian – so does that mean you hate gays?” I replied politely, “No. Any other questions?” He clearly wasn’t satisfied with this and straight away asked a follow-up, “But hang on. Doesn’t the Bible say God hates gays?”. “No”, I said, “Any other questions?” At this point David, who was next to me, chipped in, “Actually I know that Dave doesn’t hate people who are gay because he’s had me and my husband over for a barbecue with his family!” The lad at the back was stunned. Another stereotype was being broken down. We went on to have a great lesson with that class, where people felt able to ask all sorts of questions of both of us.
Sometimes David and I will start a lesson by asking the class to guess which one of us is the Christian and which is the Humanist. It’s amazing how many students assume the older man in the smart suit must be the Christian and the slightly younger man with the jeans and a baseball cap must be the Humanist. It’s so easy for people to judge by appearances, and it’s a joy to surprise them again and make them curious to find out more.
My opinion of Humanism as a worldview hasn’t changed much. To me, it’s all the good things without God, and David will describe it similarly. I love that we both agree that we can’t both be right about God. God can’t both exist and not exist. David and I haven’t sacrificed our pursuit of truth or reality in order to be friends. We both think one of us is right and the other is wrong about the existence of God. We disagree about the biggest thing! Yet we have learned to have high quality conversations about it. where we each seek to better understand the other. It’s fantastic! And it has led to other friendships as well.
As I have gotten to know David and other Humanists, I have appreciated how different each person is. Their reasons for not believing in God aren’t all the same. Their experiences, personalities, priorities, passions, opinions, and ways of reasoning are all different. It’s a good reminder for me never to say things like, “All Humanists are…” and start stereotyping them myself. There’s an agreed worldview of course, but it’s fascinating to me how each Humanist is different and we have totally different kinds of conversations when we discuss things that matter to us.
It's great to spend time with people who agree with us about important things. But I think it’s at least equally valuable to invest in friendships with people who totally disagree with us about what matters to us most. It’s not always easy, but if we can seek out these friendships, and work at caring enough to get to know and understand the other person better, I think it’s always going to be rewarding. This culture of ours loves to polarise and demonise or cancel those who disagree with us, but I think we need to learn to raise the bar on the quality of our conversations with those who have a totally different worldview to us. None of us know it all, so I think that means we should aim to be life-long learners and willing to think, “What if I’m wrong?”.
Someone once said that humility is not “thinking less of yourself” but rather “thinking of yourself less”. I’m not as humble as I would like to be, but friendships with Humanists, and others who see things differently from me, have helped me learn to think of and understand others more. I would challenge my Christian friends to invest in friendships with non-Christians, and to have excellent conversations about God and other big questions human beings love to wonder about. And like-wise, my challenge to Humanists would be the same. Let’s not give up on asking these big questions and pursuing truth, reality, humility and friendships that help us keep learning and growing together.
Watch the short Christianity and Humanism lesson introductory video here