Parliamentarians in the House of Lords debated the contribution of humanists to British society today. The debate was called by Lord Harrison, who is a member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) and British Humanist Association, and contributors included prominent humanists Baroness Whitaker, Lord Soley, Baroness Meacher, Lord Maxton, Viscount Craigavon, Baroness Massey and APPHG Chair Lord Warner.
The debate celebrated the work of the British Humanist Association (BHA), including our campaigning on public policy and ethical issues; the contributions of Humanists and atheists over the decades to defending our democratic freedoms, by campaigning for free speech, secularism, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and an end to all religious privileges; humanists’ willingness (despite the misinformed image of ‘militant atheists’), to cooperate with religious groups on issues of common concern, such as on education issues; the work of Humanist celebrants accredited by the BHA, who conduct ceremonies attended by over 250,000 people each year; and the work of Humanists who provide pastoral support to the non-religious in institutions such as hospitals, prisons and universities.
Lord Harrison commented on the fact that the number of non-religious people in the UK is on the increase (as shown by the 2011 Census and various other surveys), and that many of them have a Humanist worldview. This means that Humanism is the default philosophical position for millions of people in the UK today. Lord Ahmad responding on behalf of the government mentioned the Humanist contribution to charity volunteering, as well as the contribution of individual Humanists to various secular charities which are supported by the religious and non-religious alike. The Bishop of Birmingham talked about the value of humanist funerals and the Church of England’s support of the move towards the legal recognition of humanist marriages and celebrated the contribution of atheists and Humanists to the common good
The enormous contribution to public, intellectual and creative life in the UK from the BHA’s Distinguished Supporters, which includes philosophers, scientists and leading figures in the arts, was noted by Lord Warner, Baroness Whitaker and Lord Maxton. Baroness Massey talked about the work of the novelist E M Forster, who was Vice President of the Union of Ethical Societies (the BHA’s forerunner) in the 1950s, and a member of the BHA’s Advisory Council from its foundation in 1963. Humanism is at the heart of Forster’s work, which focuses on human relationships, and the need for sympathy and tolerance between individual human beings from different sections of society and different cultures.
Humanist support for assisted dying with ethics and personal autonomy at its core featured prominently in speeches given by Baroness Meacher and Lord Warner , with Lord Warner adding “It’s a cause for celebration that more people in UK are moving towards humanism and atheism and politicians, media and monarchy need to recognise this.”
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Humanists in Parliament:
Contributors to the debate:
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Minister)
The Bishop of Birmingham
Lord Harries of Pentregarth
Baroness Massey of Darwen
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
Baroness Turner of Camden
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.