Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Autumn 1998

Humanism, by Barbara Smoker

reviewed by Denis Cobell

This 72-page booklet about humanism has survived 25 years, and now appears updated for the new millennium. It was first published in 1973 by Warde Lock Educational in its Living Religion Series, though, of course, for most of us humanism is not a religion.

In her preface, Barbara Smoker states that the word ‘humanism’ has more than one meaning. She is certainly right about that! It took Nicolas Walter 96 pages to discourse on the word ‘humanism’ in his book subtitled What’s in the Word. Wisely Barbara does not get drawn down this alley, and simply states what most of us mean today when we say humanism: a secular approach to life – what was previously known as freethought.

One of the major attractions of this book is its conciseness, clear verve, and ease on the reader. So much of our humanist literature is discursive, which makes for less popularity. Although written mainly for young readers, this book will surely be acceptable to a wider audience of adults who are looking for a simple explanation of the history, meaning and practical values associated with humanism and being a humanist.

Taking this into consideration inevitably means that longstanding humanists amongst us will find some omissions or errors. And it is to be expected that a slim volume can never satisfy everyone. I noticed Shelley’s absence; but his influence has been tremendous. He wrote The Necessity of Atheism which has recently been re-issued by G. W. Foote. As an influence on the young through his romantic poetry, the appeal of Shelley has never diminished. His poetry remains to enchant us and provide a ‘truth’.

The issue of morality, and the Golden Rule, is explained: the Highway Code provides a realistic and sensible example. Founded on the need for mutual benefit, it may mean some personal sacrifice but in bringing good for oneself it helps bring about good for all. No need for divine reward, or altruism!

The practical world confronting humanists is well documented – for example the stand we ought to make against indoctrination masquerading as religious education.

A major growth interest in humanism since this book first appeared has been the demand for ‘rites of passage’ to be celebrated at birth, death and, for those who take the plunge, at a wedding or gay affirmation. The work of the Pink Triangle Trust, which arranges affirmations for gay and lesbian couples and publishes this magazine, is referred to.

The acceptance of gay and lesbian lifestyles by humanists receives good coverage. Homophobia is still rife, of course, but the notion of personal responsibility in sexual morality has gained ground.

The caption to a cartoon depicting speakers of different faiths, stating: “At best, only one of you can be telling it how it is”, may lead some readers to wonder about the diversity of humanist, rationalist, secular and ethical views. But I reckon that’s our strength. Maybe we should be wary in our criticism, though!

Anyway, this booklet with its eye-catching cover and reasonable price is a very good introduction to the subject.

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Created : Sunday, 1999-11-07 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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