Coming Out: I’m a Humanist

A group of HSS Registered Celebrants

by Meryl Cubley, originally published in the 2015 Winter edition of Humanitie magazine.

Earlier this year we asked you to get in touch with us and share your experiences of humanism for an article we were writing for Humanitie. Here we feature a selection of known faces of HSS and humanists throughout Scotland who talked to us about Coming Out as a Humanist – the difficulties faced – and some humorous stories…

Liz Rowlett, [former] editor of Humanitie

“I was brought up Roman Catholic – my mum is Catholic and dad an Anglican. Like many humanists (and probably a large majority in HSS) somewhere along the line I lost my (not very great) faith. As a woman, I don’t buy into is at all. Some family members and friends have struggled with my lack of belief. I see my humanism as a positive assertion of my beliefs and my choice over how to describe the values I subscribe to.

“There are certain topics that are off limits, such as equal marriage and abortion, and over the past year watching the news on TV has sometimes been problematic. More recently, the Pope’s suggestion that he defend Christianity from journalists via violence was held to be the right thing by a family member, although this view was accompanied by despair at the angry young men who shot the Charlie [Hebdo] journalists.

“When it came to the death of my long term partner, some people took it upon themselves to tell both of us that he would be in heaven and that his untimely demise after a 30-year struggle with multiple sclerosis was proof that God existed. They meant to be kind and give us hope but he didn’t believe it and neither do I. I have also been told that as a result of his illness he will now be at a sort of ‘heavenly top table’.”

Jackie Grant, HSS Registered Celebrant, Edinburgh

“I gradually discovered humanism as a positive concept about values and ethics without religion. My family were quite relaxed and accepting despite a strong Church of England background. My mother (now aged 93 and very well supported by her local church community) was rather puzzled, although not troubled. She still tells many people that I am ‘a Humourist’, and indeed is proud to tell her friends that I conduct Humourist weddings and funerals.

“My daughter and her family support me and are almost ahead of me. My son is quite relaxed and supportive, but I’m not sure that his wife, a Muslim, really approves.

“When I decided to train as a celebrant, I came out explicitly. I was anxious about this but the reception was accepting, interested and respectful; and indeed one friend asked me to come and talk about humanism to her church study group.”

Holly Garland, humanist, director of Garland PR, Edinburgh

“I remember my new husband’s uncle’s very serious question to us after our humanist wedding ceremony: ‘Was that legal?’ It still makes me laugh. It wasn’t a concious decision to become humanist. My husband and I were both brought up Christians, and Christianity wasn’t something either of us believed in or felt affiliated with in any way. It was only when we were discussing options for our wedding that we did a bit more research and discovered that we were humainsts – we just didn’t know it!

“The reaction of those we told about our forthcoming humanist wedding was primarily one of interest. Essentially we were very comfortable with our choice, and hoped that the ceremony we had written would give people a lot of pleasure because it was so personal to us and we involved as many people in it as we could. After the wedding, lots of out friends told us that this was the best wedding ceremony they had ever attended, which was amazing to hear after the effort we put in with our celebrant.

“We also went on to have a naming ceremony for our baby, with another excellent HSS Registered Celebrant.

“I believe there is some scepticism around humanism due to a lack of understanding about its foundations and values and how humanism is practised. The fact that humanism is soaring in popularity is testament to its ability to resonate with so many people from so many different backgrounds. It’s filling a void for people that are not satisfied by religion. Humanism, in my view, is perceived to be inoffensive, respectful and peaceful, and I think if humanists embody that it makes it harder for tension to exist.”

Ronnie Brown, HSS member

“I first realised that I was a humanist about seven years ago – and I shall shortly be celebrating my 75th birthday! It took me a long time to realise this as I had no idea what humanism was or what a humanist is. It was only when a friend (formerly of Catholic religion) mentioned that he had attended a funeral conducted by a humanist celebrant and how he thought the whole service was excellent and only referred to the deceased and not to any imagined deity. I then decided to enter the word ‘humanism’ into Google and arrived at HSS.

“I told my family and my wife agrees with humanism. My elder daughter thinks it’s all a bit strange and that it is some weird religious sect. Our younger daughter is an HSS member and was married by Craig Campbell [an HSS Registered Celebrant] in 2013, and her husband is also a member of HSS. My sister-in-law attends Church of Scotland twice each Sunday and not long ago she asked my wife: ‘What do humanists do when they meet and what sort of hymns do they sing?’ She did not attend the aforementioned wedding. I think she was a bit frightened she might have liked it. I think my elder daughter was influenced by my sister-in-law. When my sister-in-law mentioned that I attend humanist meetings to her son, his reaction was: ‘Oh, that’s the cardboard coffin people’.

“I think there is a lot of ignorance about humanism and in some way HSS need[s] to project themselves to a wider audience in explaining what they do.”

Caroline Lambie, former editor of Humanitie, and HSS Registered Celebrant, West Calder

“I realised that I was a humanist when my grandmother has a humanist funeral. My friend then has a humanist wedding and I realised that my beliefs aligned with the humanist movement. I think I have always been a humanist. I decided as a child that I didn’t believe in God despite my church-going family. I also had a strong sense of believing in equality. Despite being church attendees my family are liberal and accept that people have different opinions so it has been accepted. I think that people who are religious probably find it strange that our beliefs are secular. But I have never had a negative reaction. I believe that they future is to lead by example and accept that some people believe that there is a big invisible force and it is their right to believe in that as long as they don’t harm other people with that belief.”

So what about advice for those who are about to come out to friends and family as a humanist?

We asked Life Coach Sloan Sheridan-Williams:
“Announcing that you have chosen to deviate from what society and culture dictates as the norm is never going to be easy. However, once you are determined to follow a different lifestyle path to your family or your peers then you prepare yourself to be emotionally strong.

“Self-determination comes from having the courage of your convictions to stand your ground and make decisions that you believe are 100% right for you. It is important to remember that when faced with criticism for your choices, the other person has just as much of a right to their opinions as you have the right to be a humanist. It is not helpful for either side to push their views on the other party. Communication in a calm confident manner will help you get your point across without giving in to emotions and this is the best way to tell people about your choice to be a humanist and what it means to you.

“You can be emotionally strong without having to resort to aggressive or passive-aggressive tactics by not taking things personally. Your family and friends may not support your decisions wholeheartedly, but no matter what they display on the surface deep down they do still love you and only want what is best for you. However, their perception of you may differ considerably to your personal beliefs. This is their issue, not yours, and if they do not have the emotional capacity to give you unconditional love then you have to leave this issue with them.

“It is also important to shift your focus. To move forward and achieve that which you desire for your life, it is vital that you let go of the outcome of wanting to be accepted by others and shift your focus on to your exciting new journey by stepping away from the fear of what other people might think of you because of your choices in life. This can be helped by changing your vocabulary towards more positive language which will re-frame any negative self-talk or unhelpful perceptions about the situation. For example, instead of saying ‘my family have not come to terms with my decision’ you could say ‘my family have not come to terms with  my decision YET’. Adding the word ‘yet’ to the end of such negative statements containing the word ‘not’ seems like a small action but in fact it can have a huge effect on how you view a situation and thus by changing your perception, you will also change your approach to any challenges you face on your life’s journey.”

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