A Humanist’s Tale

Daniel Sharp

Daniel

I still have the little Bible with the black metal magnetic cover given to me by John Rollo, son of Pastor Michael Rollo, when I was a child in a Falkirk primary school. This Bible, with an inscription from John on the inside front page, was a gift to all of us pupils who gave up our Friday lunchtimes to the Scripture Union, an informal Bible study group hosted by John at the school. I also attended youth groups at the Pastor’s local Pentecostal church, where the post-sermon video games, juice, and biscuits made us youngsters impatient for the mandatory service to end.

It has been a long time since I was any sort of Christian, and it was not because of these experiences, which were harmless and quite joyful at the time, that I became an atheist and humanist. I only recall them in the spirit of Christopher Hitchens: to show that unpleasant personal experience of religion was not a factor in making me both un and anti-religious.

In fact, my faith was already wavering not long after, or, rather, it had become irrelevant to me. Whereas in primary school as a child I would argue about how the Big Bang meant there must be a god because how else could it have happened (‘Nenenenene!’), by high school I was at best indifferent to the whole religion thing. And then a friend, of startling intelligence who is now studying for a PhD, recommended to me a little-known book called The God Delusion by a little-known writer called Richard Dawkins. Reading this turned me into an avowed atheist. My own subsequent readings down the years have confirmed in my mind that the empirical claims of all religions are utterly false and that religious instruction is unnecessary to lead a moral life, and in many cases causes otherwise rational and decent people to behave in the most appalling ways imaginable.

So it was that I became an antitheistic atheist, a secularist, and a humanist, and I am all those things today- though perhaps with the growth of my mind over the years I understand the arguments and issues much more clearly than I did in high school. The world as revealed through science and reason are much more interesting, and have the bonus of being true, than the teachings of the faiths, and the resources of literature, history, and philosophy are more than sufficient to live an ethical life, not to mention much richer than anything offered by the faithful.

Once, I decided to be a little rebellious and took Dawkins’s book into one of the Christmas religious services we had to endure at school, reading it instead of listening to whoever was speaking. It was taken from me by my favourite teacher, though that did not stop him from being my favourite teacher. Slightly embarrassing, perhaps, and these services are nowhere near as serious as indoctrination in all-out faith schools (for example), but I think it was a reasonable enough statement against the inculcation of faith in the education system.

I am now a fully paid up member of numerous humanist and secularist organisations in the UK, including Humanist Society Scotland, as well as the president of the University of Edinburgh’s Atheist, Humanist, and Secularist Society. The cause of reason against its numerous, loud, and well-funded enemies is the cause dearest to my heart- indeed it is the central cause of any well-lived human life in my view. I aim to live a life based on compassion, reason, and humanism, and abhor fanaticism and faith. There is no god, and I am happy and, if not a saint (then again, many canonised saints were hardly moral exemplars themselves), then at least a person who tries to be good for both myself and my fellow apes on this cosmically insignificant but all-important-to-us pale blue dot.

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