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Humanism isn’t a hierarchy

By Aaron the Humanist

This article was first published in October 2022 as part of our PDF magazine series. As some of you may have missed it, and it is relevant to this month's topic, we are publishing a slightly edited and updated version today.

Humanism isn't a hierarchy. It exists in many forms, and although many humanists interact and work together on various projects and campaigns, the work of individuals, groups, and national and international organisations is based on cooperation rather than carrying out instructions from on high.

If you identify as a humanist, you remain at the centre of your world as a self-directed person. But you can, if you wish, connect with one or more levels of organised humanism which work together to give humanists a collective voice. There’s no formal hierarchy in the humanist movement. You can be a part of everything or nothing, or anything in-between. Some people attend their local group, volunteer regionally, and help with national and international campaigns, whilst others are content just reading about humanism or doing their bit individually. Every option is okay – we’re all individuals.

Most people would likely find LOCAL HUMANISM in a local group. Here in the UK these can be independent groups or Humanists UK partners, which run themselves, are self-funded and devise everything independently, or branches/sections of Humanists UK, which are assisted, part-funded and run under the Humanists UK umbrella. Groups provide interesting talks, social gatherings, walks and learning opportunities, as well as providing members with a local voice, for example on school governing boards and Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (SACREs), and through school visits.

Some areas have REGIONAL HUMANISM in the form of a network and/or regional events. These consist of groups working together to share resources and work to build humanism in their wider geographical area. NATIONAL HUMANISM, such as Humanists UK and Humanist Society Scotland, seeks to influence government policy, promote humanism via national media, and create online and printed resources for individuals and groups to use. Humanists UK also manages specialised sections such as Defence Humanists, LGBT Humanists, Young Humanists, support for apostates through Faith to Faithless and other networks and groups. They also train celebrants, pastoral care volunteers, and school visitors.

GLOBAL HUMANISM, in the form of Humanists International, works to bring humanism together in all its forms right across the globe – campaigning, informing, and helping those in need have a voice, especially through its internationally-respected Freedom of Thought Report.

Humanists love to communicate with each other, with groups having Meetup pages, newsletters, Facebook pages and more. Humanists UK has a newsletter also, but in recent years a new HUMANIST VOICE has been launched in the form of Humanistically Speaking! This is a free monthly online resource, open to anybody regardless of faith or belief.

At a more personal level, individual humanists also have a wide range of books they can choose from, magazines in various countries, and videos and YouTube sites promoting all aspects of humanism. Often, it can be difficult for a person leaving faith, or someone who belongs to a religious family, to diverge from an expected path in life. Joining a group or belonging anywhere may be difficult, but a variety of options exist for them to step into humanism as boldly or as quietly as they feel comfortable. And, of course, kindred organisations exist, such as the National Secular Society and Atheism UK, all of which help to give a louder voice to non-believers.

Do I need humanism in my life? Not necessarily, but many humanists enjoy that sense of belonging, being part of something bigger than themselves. If you have no religious beliefs and live by a decent set of moral values with a questioning outlook on life, then you’re probably already a humanist. Whether or not you want to take up the badge, wear it, advertise it, keep it to yourself or just not own it at all, is entirely your choice. Many atheists and agnostics are entirely happy just going about life being who they are, with no connection to any identity group. Many don’t know there is anything to be connected with. But humans are a social species, and we enjoy communication and connectedness.

Humanists by their very nature are often natural learners, craving information and constantly asking “WHY?” The big questions in life are areas humanists love to discuss, explore, research and find out more about. This is why talks, presentations, courses and learning opportunities appeal to humanists and are a regular feature in groups up and down the country.

Is humanism just a godless church? That depends how you define church I guess. I would use the word community myself, in that there’s no prayer, no supernatural belief, no fixed rules (beyond the common courtesies) or punishments, no heaven or hell and no priests in fancy costumes. Some groups have a choir, but communal singing isn’t compulsory! As people lose their religious faith (as is happening more frequently) and as more people grow up without a religious faith, they may well still desire a community to go to, to be part of, to feel a sense of belonging. Humanism can offer that, but it’s also nice to hold conversations on all manner of topics with rational thinkers who take a scientific approach, where the answers are not along the lines of “Well, God did it”. Twenty-first century humans need more than that in my opinion.

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