Humanists and Dialogue: Why the Non-religious must be Included
AbstractThis paper was delivered at Regent’s Park College, Oxford in May 2022 as part of an Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture and Dialogue Society Seminar Series on Dialogue. Humanist worldviews are characterised by a trust in science as the best method to learn about the world, hence a rejection of super-naturalism. They see humans as social animals capable of developing morality thought empathy and reason, giving their own meaning and purpose to life, seeking happiness, and helping others do the same. They see secularism – understood as state neutrality; freedom of religion or belief constrained only by the rights and freedoms of others; and absence of privilege or disadvantage on that basis – as a key element of a good plural society, based on fairness, freedom, and peace. Humanists UK encourages dialogue between humanists and people of faith in order to contribute to building such a good plural society, while ensuring that Humanism is well understood, and enriching the personal development of those involved. The British religion or belief landscape has changed beyond recognition since the mid 1980s. There is a growing non-religious majority – around half with a broadly humanist worldview according to the British Social Attitudes Survey – and a religious minority, which, while remaining predominantly Christian – albeit not predominantly Anglican – features an unprecedented diversity of religion or belief identities. The potential for incomprehension, segregation, and potential hostility is significant, creating an ongoing need for dialogue. A number of objections and challenges to effective dialogue are reviewed, such as the self-selecting nature of those who choose to engage. While these are real limitations, dialogue – however limited – takes us in the direction of a peaceful, plural, and well-integrated society. Failing to include the non-religious in it – over half the population – makes little sense, and risks further widening a ‘religious versus non-religious’ fault line.