‘Think for Yourself, Act for Everyone’

Think for yourself, act for everyone. 

This is the moto with which professor Alice Roberts concluded her advert which appeared on my social media feed. She’s the president-elect of Humanists UK, a kind of umbrella body for atheists. As though mimicking the very religious groups they despise, she urges people to join her organisation. 

It exists for people who are clever, who think for themselves, unlike those religious people who are presumably rather more foolish. I looked her up on her organisation’s website 

The anatomist, author, and well-known TV science host will prioritise promoting awareness of humanism to the British public. Alice sees humanism as a powerful force for good: promoting human togetherness, and forming an important alternative to religious segregation, division and tribalism 

Notice again how similar this sounds to religious groups- the need for evangelism, sharing the group’s truth to the ignorant public; how those same truths bring goodness and benefit to its followers as well as a sense of community. Religious groups, unlike this Humanists UK, only divide and segregate. There’s some irony here, seeing as there is a range of secularist societies, presumably competing for non-believers’ attention and membership subs. Should I join Professor Roberts’ Humanists UK, or Conway Hall Ethical Society? How about the International Humanist and Ethical Union? The Rationalist Association? or the National Secular Society? My point here is not to object atheists’ right to form societies, but the plethora of groups claiming to best represent their members’ interests. 

Terry Eagleton, Marxist professor of Literature at Lancaster argues that secularism is not so much the product of better education and scientific prowess, but dirty old capitalism. He despises violent religious fundamentalism and godless materialism with equal disdain:

What we have, then, is a world divided between those who believe too much (fundamentalists of various stripes, whether Texan or Taliban) and those who believe too little (chief executives, technocrats, Robbie Williams and other hirelings of the inherently faithless social order of advanced capitalism). To paraphrase W.B. Yeats, there are those who lack all conviction and others who are full of passionate intensity. Moreover each camp contributes to reinforcing the other. (Newsweek, 10/5/16) 

As religious fanatics look askance at burgeoning atheism, so arch-secularists bristle with indignation as religious belief refuses to lie down and die. Professor Roberts will, I have no doubt, significantly increase her group’s membership. The many godless Britons to whom she appeals have a communal vacuum left by faith’s departure; Humanists UK is attempting to fulfil the very spiritual yearnings which they suppose never existed.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay