Humanist View of Society
A Humanist view of society
As Humanists we base our morality on the value of each and every human being. From this it is no great leap to our commitment to human rights – including the right of others to disagree with us. So we support democratic forms of government, where everyone has the right to participate and the power of the majority to pursue its interests against the wishes of minorities is limited by respect for human rights and individual freedom. The British Humanist Association supports the idea of an ‘open society’ – one in which individual liberty, including freedom of belief and speech, is reinforced by a deliberate policy on the part of government and all official bodies of disinterested impartiality towards the many beliefs within society so long as they confirm to agreed minimum conventions.
So, while we seek to promote the humanist lifestance as an alternative to (among others) religious beliefs, we do not seek any privilege in doing so but rely on the persuasiveness of our arguments and the attractiveness of our position. Correspondingly, we recognise and respect the deep commitment of other people to religious and other non-humanist views, but we reject any claims they may make to privileged positions by virtue of their beliefs.
The ‘open society’ is our ideal, but the present state of affairs is very different. We do not seek to restrict anyone’s right to believe in religion, but we do not see why religion should have powerful privileges written into the law and customs of the land. There is much religious privilege and official discrimination on grounds of religion or belief in the UK in such areas as the legal enforcement of religious education and worship in schools, the bias in favour of religious organisations in marriage law, or in the law on charity, the Government’s promotion of a bigger role for ‘faith communities’ in providing public services or the overwhelming bias in favour of religion on the BBC. There is an assumption of a ‘default Christianity’ in public life, and an established church. And (even worse) 100 years after Gilbert and Sullivan mocked the idea that ‘Nature always does contrive / that every boy or girl born alive / is either a little liberal or a little conservative’, too many people still label children as little Christians or little Muslims long before they are of an age to understand such matters.
Happily, our view of how society should work is supported by the Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief, which is the basis for much of our campaigning.
At the invitation of the UCL Constitution Unit, the BHA submitted a paper to a 2006 seminar on religion and the state
See also: ‘The Case for Secularism: a neutral state in an open society’ by the Humanist Philosophers.