Living as a Humanist: The Family Way Part 3

This originally appeared in Humanitie, Winter 2014 

This is the third instalment of our virtual round table discussion with nine families who were kind enough to share their thoughts on humanist family life. As we got such interesting answers we have extended this series and have decided to give you it in four parts rather than three. The final instalment is in next issue to make sure that you don’t miss out on some of the great answers we got by us editing them out.

The participants are: Louise Young, Stella Potter, Brenda Reid, Marilyn Jackson, Tasca Shadix, Caroline Lambie, Eleanor Adair, Michael Davidson and Anonymous Family (Ages of children in this family are given)


What is your feeling about state- funded denominational (‘faith’) schools, and/or Religious Education and Religious Observance in non- denominational schools? Have you ever been moved to make a complaint, or to withdraw your child from RO at their school, or from an activity, for example a school nativity play?

SP: I think the only way towards social harmony is to educate children together in a secular environment. Our children will not learn to appreciate and be tolerant of difference if they are educated and ‘brainwashed’ in only one small homogenous group, when this world is so wonderfully diverse.

I complained to the primary school that the annual prize-giving was done in church, saying it was inappropriate as there is a perfectly good secular space of the school hall. That was the last year they did that! I did remove my eldest, at her request, from the Christmas church service but I had to take time off work to care for her. It was very awkward.

After that, with the approval of the head, she did not attend school for that half day. So we baked cookies for her classmates and teachers.

EA: Our children are op led out of RO though the decision is with them to decide what they want to do on the day. My eldest always opts out and my youngest tends to join in. My experience is that the majority of parents are not necessarily religious yet don’t opt out for concerns of upsetting the school or making things difficult.

ANON (CHILD, AGE 8): I like hearing stories about other religions it’s cool.

ANON (MUM): I have complained once when my six year old was asked to explain to the class why she celebrated Christmas if she wasn’t a Christian. Mostly, the school go over the top in checking we are not offended. Of course, they take part in nativity plays they are just stories and Christmas activities are mainly borrowed from pagan traditions!!

CL:I would prefer it if all schools were secular and non-denominational I don’t agree that RO should take place in non-denomination schools. I do think Religious Education is an important part of a rounded education. We all need to know about the history of religion as it is a fundamental part of how society has been built.

BR: We don’t have any objection to Religious Education in schools but feel that all schools should be secular. My daughter says she is quite amazed by the number of people who ask her about her humanist beliefs and how they don’t know what a humanist is. Our small village school was very good at identifying if children did not observe religious practices and the staff would make a point of withdrawing them without any fuss.

TS: This question reminded me of the time my daughter wrote the following in a report about a class trip to a Sikh Gudwara: “…religion is not my favourite topic and I don’t believe we should study it in school. But if we do we should also talk about people who don’t believe in God because that would be more fair.” I don’t know if I would have had the guts to write something like that when I was eight! Happily, her teacher told her that he appreciated her comments and would consider having a humanist speak to their class as well.

LY: I don’t agree at all with state-funded faith schools. It’s outdated and creates a divide in society… the public purse shouldn’t be paying for it. I’d prefer no RO in schools as I think we are past that now, and more diverse a society. I wouldn’t withdraw my child though, as I think that makes her stand out as different which isn’t good, especially at those times when making friends and fitting in is very important.

MJ: I think all children should be educated together: that the state should not pay for those who want to opt out of that: but also that all should be taught about the main religious traditions and cultural heritages, and this should include humanism and atheism. I’d also like to see philosophy taught, from primary on, to teach children to think for themselves.

Is your family involved in any sort of volunteering or charitable activity? If so what are some examples? Why are these activities important to you?

SP: We are all individually involved in volunteering… with organisations that reflect our personal paths. Interests and life stances. I have tried to imbue that it is good to give back, not just to take.

MD: Most examples of such activities are based in community action towards MRU general objective (for example improvements to a local park). I think they’re important because they are examples of collective effort towards common good in action. You tend to meet some really nice folk too which is in itself inspiring.

ANON (MUM): Scouting. Great fun, good friends, very irritating that we have to lie to be part of it. (Note: the Promise requirements for Scouts have happily changed since the time of this answer!)

BR: Two of my children – the ones still at home – do voluntary work, as well as helping out with charities. My youngest son is autistic and he like his siblings, is very aware of the difficulties in society today. Duncan is involved with Special Olympics and takes pride in being an ambassador for his sport as well as helping his team- mates. In his words, we need to help those who can’t do it for themselves! We don’t have any objection to Religious Education in schools but feel that all schools should be secular. My daughter says she is quite amazed by the number of people who ask her about her humanist beliefs and how they don’t know what a humanist is.

TS: It’s very important to me to become more involved, and to bring my children into that as well. I volunteer quite a lot in my community, and the girls accompany me and help out often. I want them to understand that changing things for the better takes hard work. If you don’t like something about your neighbourhood, don’t just sit and have a moan do something about it!

LY: I think these things are important as those of us who can and who have should do what we can to help those who can’t and don’t have.

MJ: I’ve done loads of voluntary work over many years, including political campaigning, telephone helplines, charily fundraising, work education, adult helper with the Woodcraft Folk, committee work at local Scottish and UK level with Diabetes UK, as well as serving on the Board of Trustees (and its forerunner the old Executive Committee) of HSS.


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