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One Life Course Week Four: Religion

Central London Humanists

7th May 2021 - 4 min read

On Thursday, May the 6th, we held the fourth session of the Central London Humanists’ presentation of Humanists UK’s One Life Course: An Introduction to Humanism. In the fourth week of the course, we looked at religion and delved into some of the key terms that are used when seeking to understand religion and its role in our societies.

During this session, we considered if the UK could be considered a secular society. There was consensus in the different discussion groups of the enormous power that religious elements still exercise in our society. Namely the Queen as the head of the state but also of the national church, and also the presence of bishops in the House of Lords and the numerous faith schools.

However, it was also mentioned that many people no longer attend religious services often, if ever, but they still consider themselves to be religious and would, for example, indicate this for the census. The conclusion from the breakout rooms is that the UK has no separation of church and state, but the society is not really very religious. One participant suggested that we live in a ‘Secular Rising Democracy’.

The question of whether there was anything that Humanists could learn from religion brought up some mixed emotions. Humanists already have a track history of secularising the good things that religions offer, such as pastoral support, sense of community and charitable work. But, it should be acknowledged that religions often do very good work in the community, such as food banks or the Quakers campaign against the Arms trade.

However there is always a lurking suspicion that there is an ulterior motive, normally proselytising, behind these positive actions. Some participants thought that Humanists should follow the example of religion in terms of developing a culture and infrastructure, with actual community building and creating spaces which reflect our values and demonstrate our presence in the community.

Finally, to the question of the pitfalls of a humanist-religious dialogue, some groups concluded that the dialogue is impaired where there is a lack of mutual respect and an attempt to proselytise. The dialogue needs to be on an equal footing with active listening and a bias towards asking questions in preference to making statements.

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