Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Summer 2005

Humanism (4th edition), by Barbara Smoker

reviewed by Andy Armitage

“Except for ‘faith’ schools, which have special privileges, any school that teaches religion is required to make that teaching objective, fair, and balanced – which means covering a wide range of mainstream religious beliefs. However, balance is impossible in the absence of the one positive moral alternative to all religions.”

And it’s not hard to fathom what that alternative is, as given on the back cover of this accessible little book: it’s humanism – secular scientific humanism, to be exact.

Readers of this magazine will not need to be told what secular scientific humanism is, but everyone can gain from reading this book, which comes at its subject from all sides: the history and traditions, where it sits in relation to values and morals and what it means to live as a humanist.

I read one of its earlier incarnations, too, and, while much of it was not new to me, much more of it was. We all have an idea of what secular humanism is and many of us are happy with the appellation “humanist” for ourselves. But how did it begin? How is it different from mere atheism? Where does it stand on subjects such as determinism, free will, morals, sexual morality, abortion?

How, asks Humanism, can faith schools be justified? What about religious broadcasting?

All of these subjects and more are covered in its 72 pages of main text, which are aimed at Key Stage Four of secondary education in the UK, and is as accessible to students as to teachers.

That should not, though, put off adults – even those who have been living as humanists, atheists, agnostics or religionists, or those who have never seen themselves within the context of isms of any hue.

Smoker’s prose is no-nonsense and readable; it gets to the heart of the matter quickly and with no fuss. To use a cliché, she tells it like it is.

It’s not that long ago that I finished rereading parts of her earlier book – a collection of articles she has had published over several decades in the Freethinker under the title of Freethoughts – and find that her writing has that knack of diving into an argument and winkling out of it the most telling points in order to make her own stance unassailable.

Humanism is different, in that it is closer to a textbook – but far from dry. It’s too short for that, moving deftly from one aspect of humanism to another, holding it up in a good light, as you would expect, while not being critical of religion in any unconstructive way.

Humanism is available from South Place Ethical Society, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL, or you can get both this and Freethoughts from Smoker herself, at 51 Farmfield Road, Bromley BR1 4NF.

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Created : Sunday, 2005-08-14 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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