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ANDREW COPSON [Chief Executive, BHA]: Opening address

20 April 12

Duration: 20.40, access the accompanying visual presentation below.

Andrew Copson called his opening remarks “A Perspective from a Petri Dish”. He and the British Humanist Association (BHA) have been part of the thing that was being studied, including an observational study. It was part of the work of the BHA to encourage the study of non-religion.

He recounted his own personal story, having both non-religious parents and non-religious grandparents, growing up in a Midlands town where community was not focused on any religious institutions. He had attended an ethnically diverse primary school which never had a religious assembly, and his secondary school was entirely secular. The prevailing culture was non-religious, and his university studies did not include religion. This was, he said, an increasingly typical story.

He drew from this that non-religion should not be studied as a “reaction to” religion. Increasingly non-religion is an experience in its own right.

Secondly, he drew attention to how humanists understand themselves. Many see themselves not as something modern, but as inhabiting an alternative world-view which has a long history. It is a common-sense this-worldly view.

A definition of Humanism:

…a commitment to the perspective, interests and centrality of human persons; a belief in reason and autonomy as foundational aspects of human existence; a belief that reason, scepticism and the scientific method are the only appropriate instruments for discovering truth and structuring the human community; a belief that the foundations for ethics and society are to be found in autonomy and moral equality…

Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Thirdly, he outlined key facts about the BHA. Its aims include:

• The promotion of humanism, which includes giving people confidence about their outlook.

• The conducting of non-religious ceremonies such as funerals and baby-naming.

• Engagement with social institutions, which historically had included services which were dissolved at the inception of the welfare state.

• Speaking out on public affairs and policies, including the ethical and educational.

• Advertising (the recent atheist bus campaign has been dubbed the most successful viral marketing campaign of all time).

• Campaigns, for instance demonstrations against the papal visit, and the Census 2011 public-awareness campaign.

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Associated file:

Religion and Society day on non-religious opening2.pdf

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