Religion and Beliefs
When it comes to religion and beliefs, my philosophy can be summed up very simply by these four words:
Live and let live
By this I mean that I fully support and uphold the right of any person to believe in and practise any religion however they see fit – but in return, I expect them to extend the same courtesy to me. The right to religious freedom is a qualified right: it ends when others' rights and freedoms are impacted. So a person must be free to practise their religion, either alone or with other like-minded people; but not to impose their religious beliefs or practices onto those who do not want it.
The Golden Rule principle of treating others as you would wish to be treated – which is found in most religions – most definitely applies here. If you want people to respect your beliefs, respect their beliefs in return. If you want the freedom to practice your religion, allow others the freedom to practice theirs. And if you don't want people to threaten, injure or kill you because of your religion or beliefs, for goodness' sake don't threaten, injure or kill people because of theirs!
I am a Secularist
I believe that no religion should be promoted above any other, and I support an end to religious privilege in all its forms. I am strongly in favour of the disestablishment of the Church of England and the removal of the privileged positions of all churches in all aspects of government and public life, a move that would also benefit the churches themselves by giving them the freedom to operate without interference from the government. I am therefore a member of the National Secular Society (NSS) and I support its work to challenge religion's disproportionate influence on governments and in public life.
One of the NSS's campaigns is No More Faith Schools which calls for an inclusive and secular state education system that equally respects the rights and freedoms of pupils of all backgrounds. While I naturally support this aim, I would go further and support an end to all religious provision of formal education, whether funded privately or by the state. I believe that every child should have the right to a properly balanced, inclusive education that fully prepares them for life in the modern world and is free from religious discrimination, and that schools should teach children HOW to think, not WHAT to think.
I am an Atheist
Based on all current and credible scientific evidence, I do not believe in the existence of any god or deity, and I consider all theistic religions to be false. Further, despite my continued respect for the right of any person to believe in whatever they want (whether that be a centuries-old god or prophet, fairies, elves, unicorns, or a flying spaghetti monster), I consider all religions and objects of worship to be fair game for comment, criticism, parody and satire – the alternative is surely an unquestioning deference to all of the many various systems of belief, which would be quite unworkable, particularly where two such systems directly contradicted each other.
I am a Humanist
I have adapted some of the wording from the Humanists UK page on Humanism to summarise my own thoughts on this:
- I believe that this life is the only life we have, that the universe is a natural phenomenon with no supernatural aspect, and that we can live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity.
- I trust the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works, and I make ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals.
- I believe that human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and by helping others to do the same.
I am a member of Humanists UK which has been putting humanism into practice since 1896, and I support its aim for a tolerant world where rational thinking and kindness prevail.
My religious history
Religion has never played a very big part in my life. This might surprise you considering my main hobby for nearly 30 years was bell ringing, an activity that takes place almost exclusively within church buildings and is most often undertaken to mark religious occasions. However, historically there has been a clear distinction between religion itself and many of the things that are now normally associated with it, such as religious buildings and festivals. Indeed, until the 16th Century cathedrals and parish churches were very much community facilities, providing venues for such diverse secular activities as meetings, celebrations and sheltering cattle. It was then only at specific times – often announced by the ringing of a bell – that they were devoted to divine service.
Turning now to my own beliefs, although I have been christened – two months before my first birthday – and spent a considerable part of my childhood in religious assemblies at primary school and attending church and Sunday School, I was at that time too young to really think about such things and make my own informed decisions. Also, while I would pray in those settings and understood its apparent purpose, it was simply part of the daily routine and not something I ever chose to do by myself. Consequently, I have no qualms about not following Christianity now.
After my transition from primary to secondary school and the consequent end to daily prayer during assemblies, I found I was free to start questioning my own beliefs and eventually decided to stop attending church and Sunday School. For a while I still considered myself a Christian, but gradually my opinions changed to agnosticism, and finally atheism. I continued to participate fully in bell ringing throughout this time, calling others to worship even when I chose not to stay and attend the services myself; but rather than seeing the ringing of bells as an expression of worship in itself, I simply welcomed the many opportunities to ring and thereby keep the sound of bells prominent within the lives of the general public.