DRINKS AFTER THE MEETING (A DIALOGUE)
First performance - The British Humanist Association Annual Conference, in Cardiff on September 11th 1998 I played JÒN while SARA was played by Elaine Simons of the Harrow Humanist Group. If you would like to use the script for a performance, please acknowledge me and let me know how you go on.
SARA - I got you a half, seeing as your driving. Is that all right?
JÒN - Yes, fine. Thank you. Where are the others tonight?
SARA - Oh, Simonís rushed off home to watch the football; Lisaís worried about the dark nights, so she wants to get going while itís still light. Mikeís got no money and doesnít want to feel guilty about everyone else buying him a drink when he canít get them one back. Everyone else has some reason or other. You know how it is. Just the two of us left, Iím afraid. I thought Keith was coming, but he must have changed his mind.
JÒN - Ah well. What did you think of Professor Burtonwoodís arguments against The Garden Of Eden tonight?
SARA - He certainly knew his stuff., but frankly, I was a bit bored. I already know we evolved, and that we werenít created in 4004 BC. Heís preaching to the already converted there. If converted is the right word? Maybe not. Weíd be poor Humanists if we thought creationists had valid arguments worth listening too. We have too many of these kind of discussions. If we spend all our time talking about religion, people will think we are one ourselves. Some of our members donít even like us using a Quaker hall for our local meetings.
JÒN - Itís cheaper than most places round here.
SARA - We tend to get too preoccupied with heavy metaphysical issues. We already know there is no God. Weíre Humanists for Godís sake! We need more talks and discussions on general social issues; like voluntary Euthanasia, Capital Punishment, Third World, and not just constantly debunking religion. I feel as though Iíve done all that. Itís time for us to move on. God is dead. Itís not news any more. Nietzsche established that much last century. We need to sing a different song.
JÒN - Many of our members wouldnít agree to your rosy idea of us living in a post-religious society, especially those who were raised believing in God. Take Allison for example. She was brainwashed by a happy-clappy cult. She still feels terribly guilty about that, even though it was never her fault. Itís valuable for her to see some fellow Humanists looking at all religions as though they were just as bad as new age cults and sects. It helps her to stop feeling isolated in her experience. That was her primary reason for joining a Humanist society. A lot of our other members take similar great comfort in knowing that we challenge the fundamental beliefs of religion and superstition. Letís face it, religions are behind many of the social problems we have on our plates today. Religious ritual Female Genital circumcision is an important ethical issue just as racism is. The Salman Rushdie affair is an issue, just like Capital Punishment is. Disestablishment of Church And State is a social issue, just as our secular campaign for Voluntary Euthanasia is. And who are the main opponents to Euthanasia? The Established churches, who think only God decides who should live or die. Euthanasia is a social issue, but it also a religious issue. I say my life is mine to take or keep as I require. A religious spokesman says God owns my life and merely leases it out to me, so I have no right to mark it Ďreturn to senderí. Religion struggles to look objectively at issues like Euthanasia because of its emotive preoccupation with god based dogma. Religious belief is always going to be one of the biggest obstacles to a secular, objective sober-minded look at such issues. As you know, we do try to have as many meetings as possible about other issues. We try to cater to the interests of all our members. We covered Racism in some depth a few months back.
SARA - Yes, and that was great. We got to grips with such a major concern, and with the race riots just up the road the week before, it was very timely and topical. Lots of people came who hadnít been before.
JÒN - Yes, but some people there wondered what any of that had to do with Secular Humanism. The same debate could have taken place in Coronation Street, or in any pub in the land.
SARA - Hardly! It was all about Humanism! It was us visibly being good Humanitarian, morally perceptive, aware, and proving to ourselves as much as to everyone else that we are capable of interacting with society and the community at large.
JÒN - Showing that Humanitarianism is an essential ingredient of Humanism is crucially important, I agree, but lets face it; we have to be much more than humanitarian. Lots of Christian groups will have met in various ways in recent months to discuss racism, and many of them will have come to the same conclusions as us, that prejudice and discrimination are based on ignorance, that can best be challenged through educational awareness programmes. It was all good, moral, ethical foundation laying, but it wasnít uniquely humanistic. We could have been any group of morally aware concerned citizens. The one thing that actually unites us as ĎSecular Humanistsí is that we are trying to be good moral people without having to be religious in any way. We should have added to our concluding remarks in that discussion that such an educational awareness lesson could be given to a school assembly instead of a collective act of worship, so people actually go away from the assembly having learned something useful for a change. That way the Humanist angle on the racism debate would have been more explicitly stated.
SARA - Iím glad you didnít say that in the debate. It would have spoilt everything. Spelling out what Humanism is in that way would have detracted from the main issues at hand. Someone would have challenged such an assertion, and the debate would have slid off at all sorts of tangents. Focused direct talk on Anti-racism was much more beneficial than squabbling and nit-picking over whether we are atheists, or agnostics. If anything, we should get in touch with other groups and societies who are combating racism and show support and solidarity. Even if those groups do have some kind of religious belief, as long as they respect our status as unbelievers, and donít stuff their beliefs down our throat at any given opportunity.
JÒN - Yes, I like that idea too, but we should be careful not to be seen dining at the same table as the opposition. We need to show that while we happen to agree with a Christian who says he is opposed to capital punishment being reintroduced in Britain, we do not also agree with him in his opinion that Jesus died on the cross to save us all from eternal damnation.
SARA - Yes, we need to maintain our identity as radical Humanists.
JÒN - And thatís exactly why we need meetings that address what Humanists do and donít believe, and what it means to us to live in a society where we donít believe in supernatural guidance of any kind. Some members like that kind of discussion. A few of them thrive on it and donít like to settle for anything less. When we did that that questionnaire survey into why we are Humanists, many members wrote down that they like being with like-minded fellow atheists.
SARA - I know, and I agree that we have to cater to that need. The danger is that we are dividing into two distinct camps these days. There are the Humanists who want to bash God on the head at every opportunity, by challenging every aspect of religious belief, and there are those Humanists like myself, who prefer wider, general social issues, and find that religion just gets in the way of that for us.
JÒN - And never the twain shall meet?
SARA - I sometimes wonder if it ever will.
JÒN - The two sides of the coin are equally important, and they can easily be reconciled. We have to keep a balance between them, at meetings, in publications, and publicity leaflets. I agree with you, that we need to show awareness and practical ability to deal with non-religious social issues, like racism, and showing our opposition to capital punishment. But a lot of issues and campaign matters can appeal to the God-bashers too.
SARA - Like what?
JÒN - Stopping compulsory prayer infested school assemblies is a religious issue and a major social concern. The same can be said of Disestablishment concerns, and we can address those as Secular Humanists, rather than just concerned citizens who happen to be secular Humanists. Look where we are most successful in our work, ceremonies. Non-religious ceremonies. Itís an overt, explicit, and dignified expression of Humanism. It tells people we donít believe in God. It addresses a key issue by saying that we provide an essential service for the many people who donít need or require priests in their lives, and we show that Humanism caters for a growing social need. If anything we donít have enough celebrants and accredited officiants to go around.
SARA - Letís not get off the main issue here. Ceremonies are marvellous, but ....
JÒN - They are relevant to what I am saying. You feel that our talk on racism addressed a major social concern, yes?
Sara - A-ha, yes.
JÒN - But surely showing that funerals, weddings and baby-namings can be done without religion intruding into the mix is also a practical social concern, and one that we are actively, and practically doing something about. The racism discussion was all well and good, but ultimately, all we did was conclude that there is racism in the world, and that on the whole we disapprove of it. Itís hardly Earth-shattering, is it? And then weíve gone on to talk about something else. Sooner or later that way weíll have put all the worlds troubles to rights, but only in theory and principle. There are still race related problems out there. And no doubt weíll continue to discuss them, and possibly come up with a some practical ideas on combating the problem. We certainly should not, and will not abandon such concerns. However, in ceremonies, and in campaigning against things like private, exclusive Church owned schools, we are actually doing something positive right now. Not only are we doing and achieving something, we are doing it as specifically, and in many ways exclusively as Humanists, and not just as people at large. That means we are balancing out to cater for the needs of both schools of humanism. The anti-religious members have non-religious ceremonies to promote, and the issues and social policy promotion members see that we are actually doing something to make the world a better place.
SARA - Iím going to have to go shortly, so let me just make sure Iíve fully grasped what youíre saying. Is it that the best topics for discussions, talks and articles for Humanists are those that address a general social issue, but also allow us to feel as though we have a specifically humanistic viewpoint from which to address the problems raised?
JÒN - Exactly, but we should diversify and experiment as much as possible too. We should also have meetings and articles on specifically Humanism and its meaning in relation to religion, and articles, and meetings on social issues in general. That way everyone is going to be happy with something, and hopefully, given the diverse Humanist viewpoints will begin to merge towards one another more and more. Weíll never totally agree with one another on every subject covered, but that is healthy. We are Freethinkers. That means we value our independent thinking ability. So if we all nodded our heads in perpetual agreement with one another, we wouldnít be Freethinking at all, weíd just be another bunch of dogmatists. Do you agree?
SARA - No! Oh, I agree that we should all think for ourselves. Iím just worried that some members wonít appreciate meetings or discussions that either fail to address social issuers on one hand, or fail to criticise some aspect of belief on the other. There are some who want everything in one perspective or another.
JÒN - Tough! As the old advertising slogan went, we canít please all of the people all of the time; so all we can do is ...
SARA - Please most of the Humanists, most of the time...
JÒN - Exactly. Come on, Iíll walk you to the railway station.
The discussion continues, perhaps you would like to take up where JÒN and SARA concluded this time. You may wish to introduce a third voice into the talk, (i.e., the chap called Keith, who failed to turn up on this occasion. This kind of discussion never ends, and probably never should.
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