Humanists' basic beliefs:

that all religions were created by human beings; all `holy' books and sacred scriptures were actually written by human beings themselves. They may contain much wisdom, but also suffer from the limitations of the people who wrote them and the times at which they were written,

that human problems will only be solved by human beings; humanists do not believe there is any supernatural source of help, so do not pray to gods,

that the universe in which we live operates in accord with laws which can be discovered by science; that the scientific method (observation, theory, experiment) is a reliable way to approach the truth about the world,

that humans and all other life forms on earth today have a common ancestry, having descended by the processes of natural selection from the earliest life forms which began about four billion years ago; life and mind evolved by natural processes,

that the questions we still have about life and the universe are an exciting challenge to young people to discover the answers (to questions such as the origins of life forms and their DNA, the cures for terrible diseases etc.),

that the fact that death is the end of life and there is no consciousness after death can encourage us to lead a good and worthwhile life,

that, although there is literally no life after death, the achievements of individuals can live on in the memories of those who knew them and the improvements they made in the world,

that the possible consequences of an action should be assessed. One should ask: `Will it cause happiness?' and `Will it hurt anyone?' Faced with the choice of two bad outcomes, they will choose the one that causes less pain (See also Humanist Values),

that we should apply the same moral principles to decisions involving sex as apply in all other matters - not hurting anyone, being responsible, thoughtful and sincere, that every child should be a wanted child.

Humanists value:

all sentient, conscious life, including that of animals, and act to reduce as much as possible the amount of pain and suffering,

people and their happiness and wish life to be satisfying for every individual.

Humanists have concern for the present and future state of the world, including all its peoples, as well as its animals and plants. They feel responsible for the future of Planet Earth.

Humanists value the qualities of imagination, intelligence and creativity, the use of which gives enjoyment and enables the achievement of worthwhile goals,

artistic, intellectual, physical and scientific endeavour,

truth, an essential basis for authentic social interaction and understanding the world, the golden rule, the principle of treating others as you would wish to be treated in their situation, considering this an excellent foundation for ethical behaviour,

social action to improve people's lives because it is by joining together to achieve things that human progress is made,

rationality, giving reasons for their decisions and actions,

fairness and justice, because they regard each person as valuable and entitled to a happy and satisfying life,

compassion, because they recognise that every human action is the result of that person's history. They therefore cannot support vindictive punishment or retribution, although they do of course know the deterrent effect of reasonable sanctions; they prefer to try to reform people,

free expression of ideas and theories because they know that that is how errors are corrected and progress made,

tolerance, because they accept people's right to hold differing views and opinions, so long they do not interfere with other people's freedom, happiness and security.

Humanists value much traditional wisdom and cultures but take a sceptical attitude towards all established religions, ideologies and dogmas because they recognise no infallible authority.

Glossary of useful terms

An agnostic says one cannot know whether supernatural beings exist; religious people may hope that a god exists. .

An atheist believes that gods do not exist, whereas a theist believes that God does exist. Most humanists live as atheists. Not all atheists are humanists.

A materialist believes that life and consciousness are the natural products of the material universe and conform to its laws; they were not put there by any supernatural force.

A secular society would be one where there is no state religion (as the C of E is the state religion of the UK at present), receiving privileges over the other religions and beliefs. Individuals and groups with different religious or non-religious beliefs would be treated impartially in public life and have equal rights to maintain their beliefs and practices. Humanists look forward to a secular society.

Humanism is not a religion but an attitude to life.

Six lesson plans are in process of construction by a sub-group of the SACRE. A resource list will include e.g.

Humanism by Barbara Smoker (4th edition 2006). 80 pages Available from the BHA, 1 Gower Street, London WC 1 and the Ethical Society, Conway Hall. Why Atheism DVD by Team Video.

Compiled by Norman Bacrac in November 2007. Please email any comments on the above to

12 Ethical Record, January 2008